Monday, December 29, 2014

Frontera: Powerful Border Movie with a Minor Problem

Just saw Frontera on Netflix.  Released this past summer without much fanfare, the movie brings to the screen many of the simmering issues presented in The Bridge - on FX for two seasons and now departed.  Ed Harris puts in a standout performance as a retired sheriff whose wife is killed, and devotees of Rectify will be happy to see Aden Young (Daniel on Rectify) as Harris's erstwhile deputy and now successor.   Also on good hand are Michael Peña (just seen as Mark Solano on Gracepoint) and Eva Longoria.

The story has some major twists and surprises, and I won't give any of them away.   But I can say that the movie really excels in a variety of intersecting plots that not only include family life on both sides of the border but sharply drawn differences in decency and brutality, intelligence and not so bright, in the the major and minor characters.   It's a measure of how well presented a movie is when you can remember minor characters such as an older women who helps a younger woman who's pregnant, and a sheriff's assistant who does the right thing.   At the same time, though we think we know the major characters pretty well, our expectations are slapped in ways that keep the story percolating and largely unpredictable - no mean feat in such a well-trodden area.

There was one small part, however, that bothered me, because it presented a conspiracy theory as if it were a matter of confirmed reality.  At one point, the people from Mexico being escorted to the United States by a "coyote" spot two in their group in Islamic prayer.  A bit later they freak out when they hear them talking Farsi.  As far as I know, the idea that political enemies of the U.S. from the Middle East - i.e., would-be terrorists - are entering the U.S. through the Mexican border originates in the over-active imagination of conspiracy theorists and some Republicans in Congress.   True or not, this played no role in the movie, and therefore its inclusion in the movie makes no sense - unless the makers of the movie were trying to smuggle in a half-baked political statement.

That said, I would still strongly recommend Frontera, for its great acting and memorable human stories.


Saturday, December 27, 2014

Secrets and Lies: Excellent Australian Whodunnit

Hey, I want to recommend to you Secrets and Lies, an Australian TV mini-series which I just saw on Netflix.   The story is very much in the Broadchurch/Gracepoint new tradition - a boy is found murdered, and there's no shortage of suspects, including and especially family members and people who live on the same block.  But Secrets and Lies, maybe because of the evocative Australian countryside, but also because of its pacing, has a winning style all its own.

The acting is excellent.  But what especially caught my attention was Anthony Hayes as the lead investigator Ian Cornielle.   He has a quiet power that you don't usually see in cops on any continent - or, at least, how they are portrayed on television - that's almost reminiscent of Mickey Rourke.

The ending was genuinely surprising, if a little rushed, but it certainly made sense in retrospect.   One problem with these Broadchurch kinds of stories is that you soon realize that every new suspect, regardless of how suspicious and convincing, is just a straw man or woman to occupy our attention until the end of that episode.  I'm not sure what can be done about this narrative predictability, because it's so fundamental to the story.   But Secrets and Lies worked quite well anyway.

In fact, so well, that ABC here in America was impressed enough to commission an American version of this same story, from a brand new script.  I'll probably watch it, but it likely won't be quite as good as the Australian original, just as Gracepoint, though it had its moments, generally fell a little short of Broadchurch.  The problem is that however much the remake may change some of the details, we already know the story.   It may well be that the whole notion of remakes needs to be re-examined in this age in which we can easily see TV series from overseas on cable, Netflix, and Amazon.

So my advice is see Secret and Lies as soon as you can, and then decide about its American remake.


What They've Been Saying about The Silk Code - in 23 reviews






Winner of the Locus Award for Best First Science Fiction Novel of 1999

What they've been saying about The Silk Code since 1999:

"As a genre-bending blend of police procedural and science fiction, The Silk Code delivers on its promises." -- Gerald Jonas, The New York Times Book Review

"As twisted as a double helix. " -- Wired

"D'Amato is an appealingly savvy character, and Levinson brings a great deal of invention to the endeavor." -- San Francisco Chronicle

"It is hard to put down, easy to pick up again, and an interesting read. " -- San Diego Union-Tribune

"Mixes up-to-the-minute biotechnology with ancient myth, science fiction with police procedure, and prehistory with the near future. It's an impressive debut." -- Joe Haldeman

"Forensic detective Phil D'Amato is one of my favorite characters, and the puzzles he solves are always imaginative, ingenious, and addictive, but Paul Levinson really outdoes himself this time in a mystery involving murders, moths, mummies, the Silk Road, poisons, fireflies, and forensics, all woven into a mystery only D'Amato could solve! A marvelous book!" -- Connie Willis

"This damn book has everything: interesting science, suspense, characters that live on the page - and that we like! -- and it debuts a new series hero, Dr. Phil D'Amato, forensic detective. I couldn't put The Silk Code down. I'll wager you won't be able to either. Oh, and this is the kicker: The Silk Code is Paul Levinson's first novel. " -- Jack Dann

"At last we get Paul Levinson's superb forensic sleuth, Phil D'Amato, in a full-length novel. If you know Phil from his previous appearances, I need say no more. If you don't, kick back and enjoy a mystery that spans the ages." --Jack McDevitt

"The Silk Code is an intriguing story refreshingly rich not only in action but in ideas. Seldom have I seen a story so engagingly weave together so many seemingly disparate (dare I say it?) threads." --Stanley Schmidt, editor ofAnalog

"Paul Levinson is an exceptional new writer, behind whose work stands an impressive body of knowledge and a great deal of human understanding. His first novel signals a writer to watch for the provocation and pleasure that he will bring to thoughtful readers. The Silk Code is smoothly written, evocative, and spicy! Highly recommended." -- George Zebrowski

"The Silk Code is a splendidly imaginative novel that explores worlds of ideas both scientific and philosophical, while carrying the reader effortlessly across countries, times, and cultures." -- Charles Sheffield

"The Silk Code is science fiction in the classic style, with an innovative mystery that breaks new ground. Acclaimed for his short fiction and insightful writing on the computer age, Paul Levinson now brings his many talents to a complex novel that will keep you guessing until the last page. " -- Catherine Asaro

"... sheer conceptual verve" -- Robert K. J. Killheffer, Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction

"...cerebral but gripping" -- Booklist

"Combining Neanderthals and mechanical looms, cantaloupes and coded butterflies, Levinson's debut novel...offers a flurry of amazing prehistoric technologies, demonstrating that the mysteries of our past can be just as fruitful as those of our future... Levinson creatively explains gaps in both ancient history and biology... providing more wonders than many a futuristic epic." -- Publishers Weekly

"...well-informed and imaginative" -- Kirkus Reviews

"...spins an ingenious web of genetic manipulation and anthropological evidence" --Library Journal

"A rare thriller that actually achieves its goals as a detective tale and a work of boldly speculative sf." -- Gary K. Wolfe, Locus Magazine

"I read this book quite a few years ago but I felt compelled to re-read it because parts of the story have been so firmly wedged in my brain that I needed to experience the entire thing again." -- Cannonball Read

"This is one I don't hesitate to recommend." - Jandy's Reading Room

"Paul Levinson's The Silk Code is inventive. I can't said I'd ever read another SF novel that included Neanderthals, bioengineering and the Amish." - Kristin's Book Log

"I found the genetic manipulation that Levinson describes absolutely fascinating." - Silk Screen Views


"I was entertained" - The Review Curmudgeon

more about Phil D'Amato here on Wikipedia

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Book Review: #Berlin45: The Final Days of Hitler's Third Reich by Philip Gibson: Delightful, Important, Informative

I was happy to learn of Philip Gibson's #Berlin45: The Final Days of Hitler's Third Reich, given that I had rave-blurbed Robert K. Blechman's Executive Severance, a mystery novel written in real-time tweets, back in 2011.   Amazingly and ironically, Executive Severance has not yet been published as a Kindle - it's available only in paperback - but is delightful nonetheless.

#Berlin45 is available as a Kindle ebook, is also written in tweets, and is also delightful - as well as historically informative, making the brutally true story that it covers a pleasure to read.   Unlike Executive Severance, the tweets that comprise #Berlin45 were never posted on Twitter, and in fact are in the mouths - or from the fingertips - of leading historical figures who presided over the fall of the Third Reich, ranging from Hitler himself to his top aids and clerical assistants to allied leaders in the United States, England, and the Soviet Union.   As such, #Berlin45 constitutes an alternate history of sorts - what would have been tweeted in 1945 in those finals days of the Third Reich had all the major parties Twitter accounts and used them as you and I - but not yet Presidents and military leaders - use them today.  Thus, we really get a double alternate history in this fast-paced volume - the general alternate history of Twitter in 1945, and the more specific alternate history of leaders often obsessively tweeting.

One opportunity that may have been missed in this book is the major and minor players responding to each other's tweets - or at least RTing and Favoriting tweets.   The narrative instead consists of tweets largely uniformed by the tweets of others in the book, though because the tweeters are often talking about the same events - Hitler and his minions about the Russian approach to Berlin - the tweets are often connected in theme.

The history is well-researched and accurate.   The only slightly misleading phrase I noticed was in this background blurb about Stalin - "After entering into a non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany, from 1941 to 1945 he oversaw the defense of the Soviet Union" - which would have been clearer as "After entering into a non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany, dissolved by Hitler in 1941, Stalin from then to 1945 oversaw the defense of the Soviet Union" - but that's a minor quibble.  

The voices of the tweeters - or, better, tweeting styles - all ring true, as do the psychological tensions and chess games that we know from history, such as the mutual exasperation between Hitler and his generals in the last days of the war.   Gibson also works in some good narrative connectors, such as Hitler ordering the flooding of the Berlin subway system to slow the Russian advance, after Joseph Goebbel's wife separately muses about a bathtub in the bunker.

I was bound to really enjoy this book, being a fan of alternate history, having written extensively about Twitter in New New Media, and being a World War II history buff to boot.  But you'll love this book if you're any one of those, and maybe even if you're not at all.  #Berlin45 is part of a growing series of books like this by Gibson ("hashtag histories")  - including a presciently written one about the Cuban Missile Crisis in tweets - and I expect I'll be reading all of them sooner or later.  In even shorter than a tweet, I can say:  Gibson has given us a compelling way to witness history.



Monday, December 22, 2014

The Affair season one Finale: The Arrest and the Rest

A wild, strange and powerful finale of the first season of The Affair tonight.

I'm going to pretty much put aside Noah's story in this review/analysis, even though it had some excellent moments such as Noah having sex with three successive babes at the beginning - starting with the one he flirted with at the pool in the very first episode - and a great bit in the purgatory of tenured teachers brought up on charges. But Alison's episode ends with the detective arresting Noah, and Alison and Noah together, and since we've yet to see Noah's side of that, it makes most sense to go with that story as the reality we'll be bouncing off of next season.  I mean, I suppose Noah's view of that last scene could be Alison is getting arrested, but I somehow don't think so.

Alison's story is sheer dynamite in the confrontation of families out on Long Island.  Cole finally comes into his own, as someone who loves Alison so much, he might kill her, if he doesn't kill Noah. And Alison's putting herself in front of Cole's gun is what gets Noah to stay with her, after Helen and their daughter leave.

What's still not revealed is who killed Scotty?  Noah was trying to bribe the mechanic who fixed his damaged car - but, for all we know, he was not the one who was driving it.   The culprit has to be someone who had motive to kill Scotty - such as Oscar - but also someone whom Noah would be motivated to protect.  That wouldn't be Oscar.  It could be Alison, obviously.  Noah would also spend money to protect Helen.  Anyone else?  Could Noah's oldest son somehow have been behind the wheel of that car?  Not very likely, but not impossible, either.

Alison's saying to Noah that she'll get him out of this is also very significant.  How would she do that?  By implicating herself?  That's not something that Noah would want her to do, especially with their baby.   But if the killing of Scott is connected to his drug dealing - as I mentioned briefly at the end of my review of episode 6 - then possibly Alison knows who the real killer is.  This would also explain why Noah would keep silent about the real killer, since any police investigation into Cole's drug dealing could implicate Alison, the last thing that Noah would now want.

So The Affair first season concludes with the affair itself somewhat settled, with Noah and Alison together.  But the murder investigation part of the story is just about to take off, with the detective finally moving from his own story splintered between Noah and Alison, to a story - the arrest of Noah - that happens right in front of both of them.   Indeed, since this happens well after the last scene in Noah's half hour, that's even more reason to think this is more than just Alison's story.   At least, I think so.  What I'm sure of is that this is a great place indeed to begin next season, and I'll be looking forward.



podcast review of every 1st season episode



Homeland 4.12: "Out of this Together"

An off-pace, unusually quiet, taking-stock finale of the season for Homeland tonight - but one which sets the table for next year.

The centerpiece is Quinn and Carrie in each other's arms back in the USA - but not for long.  Quinn says he wants to leave the business once and for all, but can't do it without Carrie.   She obviously deeply cares for him, but can't commit.   We discover that she needs to see her mother to do that - to learn that bi-polar men and women are not always the ones to end or mess up relationships.  But before she has a chance to tell Quinn that good news, he's off on another dangerous, deadly mission - this one to Syria.

So Quinn, who wanted to leave, is back in the thick of it.   And who does Carrie have left?  There's always Saul, but before the evening is over, he's back in it, too.  Dar Adul gets what presumably is the only copy of the video of Saul in Haqqani's hands, which would make it impossible for Saul to ever get back in the CIA - and Dar gives it to Saul, thereby earning Saul's silence about Dar being in the back of the car with Haqqani, and Saul getting a green light to get back into the CIA.

Can Carrie count on Saul now, for anything?  Hard to say - probably.  But sometimes, the more things change, the more they remain the same, and not being 100% sure of Saul's support is always the way it's been for Carrie.

So here is what has changed in Homeland, as we look ahead to next year. Lockhart will be out.   But everyone else is still or back in, albeit in somewhat different relationships.  Carrie wants to find Quinn to tell her she wants to be with him - presumably, marry him? - yeah, I think so.  That's significant and different.  Carrie has gotten over Brody for sure - even if her daughter looks just like him - and she's learned, or at least thinks she's learned, that she can have a longterm relationship. Saul is older, wounded, and wiser - though he was more wise than most all along.  And Dar may yet turn out to be a patriot, though he always seems too close to the other side.

This was a surprisingly low-impact season finale.  But maybe that's realistic - storms followed by calms.   No gunfire, no deaths, but lots of foundations for whatever story Homeland may bring to us next year.




And see also  Homeland on Showtime ... Homeland 1.8: Surprises ... Homeland Concludes First Season: Exceptional

#SFWApro  #SHO_Homeland


  different kind of espionage

Friday, December 19, 2014

What They've Been Saying about The Plot to Save Socrates - in 37 reviews

 

List price $7.99 reduced to $2.99 through January 2, 2015

The Plot to Save Socrates is on 10 Perfect Summer Reads Authored by NYU Alumni list,  along with novels by Joseph Heller, Suzanne Collins, Candace Bushnell,  and Danielle Steel

What they've been saying about The Plot to Save Socrates, since 2006 ...

"...challenging fun" - Entertainment Weekly

"Da Vinci-esque thriller" - New York Daily News

"...a fun book to read" - Dallas Morning News

"resonates with the current political climate . . . . heroine Sierra Waters is sexy as hell . . . . there's a bite to Levinson's wit" - Brian Charles Clark,Curled Up With A Good Book at curledup.com

"a journey through time that'll make you think as it thrills ... so accessible, even those generally put off by sci-fi should enjoy the trip." - Rod Lott, bookgasm.com

"Levinson spins a fascinating tale ... An intriguing premise with believable characters and attention to period detail make this an outstanding choice... Highly recommended." - Library Journal*starred review

"Light, engaging time-travel yarn . . . neatly satisfies the circularity inherent in time travel, whose paradoxes Levinson links to Greek philosophy." - Publishers Weekly

"A thinking person's time travel story... I felt like I was there." - SF Signal

"This is a dazzling performance. . . .History as science fiction; science fiction as history." - Barry N. Malzberg

"... quick-to-read, entertaining treatment of the problems inherent in time travel with style and flair" - Booklist

"There's a delightfully old-fashioned feel to The Plot to Save Socrates. . . . Levinson's cool, spare style reminded me of the writing of Isaac Asimov. . ." - Colin Harvey, Strange Horizons

"Paul Levinson's new novel is both very different from anything he has done before and very satisfying. . . . This, I think, is the first of Levinson's novels to deserve to be called a tour de force. Watch for it on award ballots." - Tom Easton, Analog: Science Fiction and Fact

"it's exciting to see a book as daring with both its ideas and its approach to narrative structure as this one hit the shelves . . . It's an absolute treat to sit back and be wrapped up in a story that gives a retro SF premise like time travel such a brilliant new kick, and it's doubly delightful to find the story as fun and entertaining as it is thought-provoking." - SF Reviews.net

"proves that excellent entertainment can and ought to be intellectually respectable -- a glorious example to us all." - Brian Stableford

"...readers are sure to enjoy his take on the paradoxes of time travel" -BookPage

"Intricately and intriguingly woven, lots of fun, and extremely thought provoking." - Stanley Schmidt

"Paul Levinson has outdone himself: The Plot to Save Socrates is a philosophically rich gem full of big ideas and wonderful time-travel tricks." - Robert J. Sawyer

"as happens with Kurt Vonnegut's Billy Pilgrim . . . . the reader soon becomes unstuck in time . . . . Levinson presents one of the most unique books I've ever encountered. A highly recommended read." - Matt St. Amand

"Paul Levinson brings both intellectual heft and affection for his delightfully depicted characters to this highly original story of time travel . . . bringing all of its threads together in an ending that is emotionally satisfying and extremely moving. The Plot to Save Socrates will provoke thought long after readers have finished the book, at which point many may want to pick it up and read it again, to savor its twists and turns." - Pamela Sargent, SFWeekly

"Fast-paced and full of plot twists." - Davis Enterprise (California)

"an elaborately-reasoned temporal tale - a novelized thought experiment whose logic and ideas Socrates would have approved of" - John Joseph Adams, intergalacticmedicineshow.com

"a philosophically rich, engaging time travel story . . . a charming portrayal of Socrates" - Fantasybookspot.com

"a fun romp through 2500 years of Western history" - freshfiction.com

"I've never read anything like this before . . . The Plot to Save Socrates is highly, original, creative, and engaging. I enjoyed it from the first page." - Book.of.the.moment at myspace.com/book_of_the_moment.com

"revels in the possibilities for paradoxes . . . . fresh and welcome" - Steven Silver's Reviews at sfsite

"frankly, he [Levinson] is one of my 'read on sight' authors . . . The Plot to Save Socrates is a tapestry of times and characters and philosophies, with an excellent look at history. . . ." - Jerry Wright, Bewildering Stories at bewilderingstories.com

"a very intelligently written novel . . . ." - GF Willmetts, at SFcrowsnest.com

"Paul Levinson handles a complicated plot and a multitude of characters in a manner that can only be described as masterful. . . . I highly recommend this book, and I won't be surprised if it wins several awards." - Scott M. Sandridge, specmusicmuse

"This book was a lot of fun, and surprisingly poignant at the end. (Yes, I'll admit I cried a little.) . . . I was worried this would be a fairly cold sci-fi book, where I never got to like any of the characters, but somehow by halfway through I found I really cared about them. I'm not sure how Levinson managed that . . . but somehow they all just got inside me." - Lady Amalthea, eharlequin.com

". . . a new metaphor for the literary tradition of time travel." - Robert Blechman, blogcritics.org

"Socrates has always seemed a rather dour and dull figure to me but Paul Levinson breathes new life into this time." - Debbie, ck2skwipsandkritiques.com

"an extremely engaging, entertaining story. . ." - Laurie Thayer, Rambles.net

"truly a thought-provoking, breathtaking, and highly entertaining novel." - Lysette Brodey, PerpetualProse.com

"The Plot to Save Socrates turns on its head Plato's report of Socrates' poisoning ..." - Gerry Elman, Esq., Stanford Alumni Blog

"Doppelgangers, deception, and the sheer amount of historical reference alone make this novel magnificent, but that is not all!... Paul Levinson has created a historical text for all ages, making the plot flow like wine and pleasing to even the most hesitant of readers." - Jenna A, luxuryreading.com

"I was hooked by the second page." - Kanti Burns, Book Reviews and More


"A lively cast of historical figures populates this epoch-bending adventure, highly recommended especially for fans of alternate history novels!" - Midwest Book Review



"I was rapidly drawn into this tapestry ..." - Kath Middleton, Ignite Books

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Thoughts about Sony's Scrapping The Interview

Some thoughts about Sony's pulling The Interview not only from theaters, but any digital distribution, due to threats from the hackers -

1. I wrote the other day that I wasn't too upset about the hacking of Sony emails that revealed racist exchanges, and the media's reporting on this.  I also said that hacking and release of financial and medical information was a different matter, and ought to be strongly condemned and investigated by the FBI.   Obviously, threats against theaters are far worse, and indeed constitute a kind of terrorism.

2.  But theaters that refused to show The Interview may have over-reacted.  There's a world of difference between cyber hacking and terrorist attacks in the physical, off-line world.  There's no reason to think - certainly nothing that's been reported - that whoever launched the cyber attacks has the wherewithal to launch physical attacks.  Significantly, President Obama said yesterday that he thought there was no reason Americans shouldn't go to the movies.

3. Still, the reaction of the theaters is understandable.  Not quite as understandable is Sony's decision to pull The Interview from any possible digital distribution.   Obviously, people watching The Interview on Netflix, Amazon, or any cable on-demand channel would be in no physical danger. Possibly, Netlfix, Amazon, Time-Warner, Comcast, Verizon, or other digital channels told Sony that they did not want The Interview.  But, if so, there has been no public report of that.  So we're left to assume that Sony made this decision on its own.   As many have pointed out, it's a bad decision, because it shows that a major movie company is willing to give in to a vague terrorist threat.   Either make the movie or not.   I could well understand a movie company deciding not to make a movie about any topic, for whatever reason.  But if you make it, stand by it - on behalf of the people who created the movie, and on behalf of the public.

4.  To be clear, this is not a First Amendment issue, or a case of the government interfering with communicating, in this instance, the public's access to a movie.   But the self-imposed censorship by Sony is unfortunate, and sets a very bad precedent.

more on cyber security is New New Media

Ascension: Ups and Downs

I thought the first part of the three-part Ascension was really good, until the very end.  I thought the very end of the third part was good, too.  And the rest, well, it had its moments, but was largely derivative and predictable.   Still, there was enough to enjoy in the entire three-part series to make it worth watching.

The set-up for Part 1 was compelling, old-school science fiction.  An Orion starship is launched from Earth in the Kennedy years, in the early 1960s, and no one knows about it and its mission - which is to deliver a human crew, descendants of the original crew, on a hundred-year much-slower-than-speed-of-light voyage to Proxima, the third sun in the Alpha Centauri trip star system, the closest star to Earth.  As such, journeys to Alpha Centauri have always been attractive to science fiction writers, and I've published both a novel, Borrowed Tides, and written a song, Alpha Centauri, on this theme.

But the launch of an Orion-type starship in the Kennedy years is a great start for this story, seeing as how a real rocket scientist, Werner von Braun, actually proposed such a ship in our real history. Further, a story based on no one on Earth knowing about this creates a powerful tableau.  It's 50 years into the voyage.  Earth is right where we are now, in 2014.  And although it's 2014 on the ship, too, their culture is still in 1960s JFK style - just before Dylan and the Beatles, what we saw in the first few seasons of Mad Men.

When we find near the end of Part 1 that someone on Earth does know about this - the son of the rocket scientist - that adds to the story.   But when we learn at the very end of Part 1 that the ship had never left Earth at all, and the crew and their descendants were just one big experiment about how humans might fare on a trip to the stars without actually getting there - well, that makes our story something very different.

It's a pretty nice twist, but one which is reminiscent - actually the reverse - of the famous twist at the end of Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game, when we learn that a kid training in virtual combat on a computer war game is actually directing the action in a real interstellar war.  In Ascension, what we thought was a trip to the stars turns out to be simulated journey, on a ship that has stood in its hanger for 50 years and never left the ground, not even Earth let alone our solar system.

What we know have, for the rest of the three-part series, is a biosphere story, about what happens when people live in a self-contained bubble with no information or food or anything from the outside, and how the people outside react to this.   That's a good enough platform for a story, but not as good by a mile as a ship that was really, secretly launched to the stars in the JFK's administration.

The very end, as I said, does offer something more interesting, a kind of trip to the stars, but the vehicle is apparently not a ship, but a girl with Carrie-like powers.   This, at best, is a new turn on a trite motif - but it has some promise, and at least gets Ascension finally off the ground.


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Why I'm Not Too Upset about the Sony Hack

Aaron Sorkin, among others, has been attacking the media for their reporting of the content of the Sony hacks - including, among other things, "an inappropriate and racially charged exchange" in private email between Sony producer Scott Rudin and Sony exec Amy Pascal.   To be clear, I think hacking is wrong, and release of private financial and medical information even worse.   But "racially charged" email, though understandably embarrassing to the emailers, surely falls under a newsworthy event that the public might want to know.  And, therefore, contra Sorkin,  the media are only doing their job in reporting on these emails.

Further, the people who wrote the emails should have known better - or known what anyone who has been online, going back to the 1980s, should always keep firmly in mind: anything you put online, anywhere, anyplace, in private email or on Twitter, can in principle be seen by everyone in the world a few seconds later.  Anthony Weiner obviously discovered this to his chagrin.   The principle is inexorable: if it's digital in any place other than your own computer, laptop, phone, or tablet, you might as well put it up in lights over Times Square.   An even when it's on your own device, you need to take care these days that your app isn't automatically set to put your content up in a cloud - from where it could wind up over the equivalent of Times Square.

This might sound like it's blaming the victims - the Sony execs who were hacked.  But aren't the real victims, not to put too fine a point on it, the object of the racism that was expressed in these Sony emails?  It mystifies me that Sorkin is more upset about what the media are doing than the racism that inhabits at least part of Sony.   I'm surprised that Sorkin has given in to the all-too common instinct in our society to blame the media - in this case, for reporting about admittedly just a tinge of racism, but racism nonetheless.    An executive and a producer at a media giant like Sony bantering about Barack Obama's taste in movies -  "Should I ask him if he liked DJANGO?” ... "I bet he likes Kevin Hart" - is indeed worthy of the reporting it's received from the news media.

Again, I think the hacking and release of financial and medical records is terrible, and should be condemned and opposed.   But regarding the racist bantering:  the emailers should either keep their opinions to themselves, certainly not email them, and better yet don't have them in the first place.




Michael Burstein's review of "Loose Ends"

This is what happened the last time "Loose Ends" went on special sale, in December 2014.   As indicated in this little screenshot, the novella did quite well, and I thank everyone who downloaded it.




It's back on sale again, on the following schedule -

March 1, 12:00am - March 3, 8:00am  $0.99
March 3, 8:00am - March 5, 4:00pm $1.99
March 5, 4:00pm - March 8, 12:00am  $2.99

You can get it here.  And I thought, for those who might be interested, I would post Michael Burstein's Summer 1997 review of "Loose Ends" that appeared in Tangent magazine's SF by Starlight column.   Michael and I hadn't known each other all that long back then, but we went on to become good friends, and admirers of each other's writing, and Michael served as Secretary when I was President of the Science Fiction Writers of America in 1999.   The review was never posted anywhere online, and Michael was good enough to send it to me just yesterday for its posting here.

SF by Starlight: Michael A. Burstein

"Loose Ends" by Paul Levinson (ANALOG, May 1997)
For my generation, the event is not the assasination of 
John F. Kennedy but the explosion of the *Challenger*; and the 
date is not November 22, 1963, but January 28, 1986.  I can 
remember exactly where I was when I heard the news: in my high 
school library, near the end of lunch.  I can still see my 
classmate Tina Sormani (now a professor of mathematics at Johns 
Hopkins) tell me the news; and I can still remember my face 
dripping with tears.
Paul Levinson has taken the brilliant step of combining the 
emotional impact of these two tragic American events into his 
excellent novella "Loose Ends."  Time traveler Jeff Harris comes 
from a miserable future, one in which the *Challenger* explosion 
has been identified as the pivotal event that made things go 
from bad to worse.  Sent back in time to prevent it, he finds 
himself instead in 1963, a day before the Kennedy assassination, 
too early to prevent the later tragedy and effectively too late 
to prevent the earlier one.  Trapped in the past, he carves out 
a life for himself as a professor of philosophy, wondering all 
the while how he can manage to complete his original mission.
Throughout the story, Levinson creates a nostalgic mood, 
one that even those of us born after the end of the sixties can 
appreciate.  Historical themes are developed through parallelism 
with the music of the time, especially that of the Beatles.  
Levinson answers the question of why the sixties were such a 
turbulent time by postulating that that time period became 
polluted with freethinkers from the future, who ended up 
affecting history in ways they never intended.  It all ties in 
with the Kennedy assassination.  It may be true that preventing 
the assassination of JFK has become a cliche' for time travel 
stories, but Levinson manages to make it fresh again, with an 
explanation that could almost be used to explain why so many 
people write time travel stories about Kennedy in the first 
place.
But Levinson does much more.  He creates a love story set 
against an evocative portrait of New York City, all the while 
never losing track of the main themes of his novella.  Harris 
continues to regret his missed opportunity in Dallas, and 
wonders how he can complete his original mission while almost a 
quarter-century before the disaster he needs to avert.  His 
explorations of the past are wistful and charming, even when the 
story must face up to some of the horrors of the time.
Finally, Levinson ends the story with a logical surprise, 
and one that leaves the reader hopeful for the future.  The 
message for the reader is that one person can, in fact, make a 
difference.

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Affair 1.9: Who Else on the Train?

Well, The Affair 1.9 was near as perfect as a story with two different perspectives can get, sometimes mirroring, sometimes opposing, and tonight converging literally at the end as Noah arrives at the train station in time to see Alison and Cole the second we left them at the end of her half hour, which in this episode - as once before - started first.

The last time Alison started first - in episode 1.5 -  I said I especially liked the flow of that episode with the one that came the week before it, because that in effect gave Alison a complete hour, starting the previous week and ending with the current week's episode.   That worked well again this time, from Alison's arriving in Brooklyn, happier than we've ever seen her, in bed with Noah, until she discovers Whitney's pregnancy test and thinks it's Helen's.   Her mistake epitomizes both her and Noah's problem: with the at best partial evidence they have of each other's lives, in their pounding carnival of illicit love, it's almost impossible for there not to be some misunderstanding.

What happens next with Alison is heart wrenching, and Ruth Wilson's best acting to date on this powerful series, as we finally find out what happened to Gabriel and why Alison feels so guilty about it.   And that guilt is what leads her to the train station.

Noah gets to that place in a very different way, for other reasons.  Probably the tipping point for him is seeing the guy jump off the building to his death, because it signals to Noah what he's in effect doing with his own life if he doesn't leave Helen to be with Alison.  Significantly, Noah leaves even though knows that the best thing he can do for Whitney as a father is stay with his family.   Yeah, Helen throws him out after he tells her about his feelings for Alison, but the reason Noah does this is he wants to leave.  Love like this conquers all is the message, even a conflicting requirement of parenthood.

So the question now is, back on the station at the end, is Alison going on the train (a) expecting Cole to follow, (b) expecting Noah to follow, or (c) expecting/hoping that no one follows, so she can go off on her own?    There are arguments in favor of each of these - though I'd expect (b) -  but we'll have to wait until next week to find out, unless Alison walks right back out of the train.

One of other thing: I don't think Noah killed Scott - that would be too obvious after what happened this week.  I have a slight feeling that Cole killed his brother.  But - hey, maybe it's that lying detective?  Nah - I'm not sure, but if I had to guess, I'd say it's neither Oscar nor Noah, but Cole.




Homeland 4.11: The Twist

Homeland this season has been looking more like 24 at its best, which in my book is strong indeed. Important people being killed, people like Max therefore moving up into more prominent positions, characters from the almost-past coming back in pivotal roles - all of that keeps the story a little dangerously off-balance, never quite allowing us to get our bearings as viewers, which makes for fine television indeed.

Consider, for example, Dar Adal.  He seemed something of a snake last season, ostensibly supporting Saul but also always on the verge of knifing him in the back, or so it seemed.  In tonight's episode he resurfaces at the very end.   But as what?

 photo homeland_krieg_nicht_lieb_zps98e6230a.pngAt very least, he's the reason Carrie doesn't take a shot at Haqqani, after she stops Quinn from killing Haqqani to save Quinn's life (we just knew Quinn couldn't succeed, because he never quite does, however well he plans), and after that Pakistani military guy who seems not that bad but somehow never or rarely does the right thing gets in Carrie's face right there in the street with Haqqini's car driving slowly by, slowly enough for Carrie to shoot. But what stops Carrie is the sight of Dar Adal in the backseat of the car - the car with Haqqani.

Doing what?   Is Dar the new CIA chief, or on his way to becoming that, and the U.S. is now negotiating with Haqqani?   Hard to believe.  Or was Dar in league with Haqqani all along, that is, working with a terrorist, against US and even some Pakistani interests?   That's a little easier to believe, but also doesn't seem quite right.

What is clear is that Carrie's fate is to some extent, and against most odds, more in Dar's hands now than anyone else's.   Whatever Dar's ultimate motives, his presence in this pit severely restricts Carrie's range of action - that is, unless Dar is somehow, and after all of this, a good guy.

You just never know with Homeland, especially this season, which is a large part of what is making this season so good.




And see also  Homeland on Showtime ... Homeland 1.8: Surprises ... Homeland Concludes First Season: Exceptional

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  different kind of espionage

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Farewell Newsroom

Well, The Newsroom gave itself just the kind of send-off we've come to expect: brilliant, touching, touching all kinds of bases including some we didn't know existed, including a great performance of Bobby Bare's "That's How I Got to Memphis," with Will and Jim definitely singing and likely definitely playing guitar (you never know one-hundred percent on television).   But it sure sounded nice, and being in a garage right by Charlie's funeral, it was bound to bring not just a smile but a tear to the eye.

A lot of the show was about Charlie, back in the flesh in the prequel before the very episode of the series, which took up about half of this farewell episode.  The other half is what happens to our team in the aftermath of Charlie's death.

Everyone lands on their feet, some even promoted.  Is that realistic?   I don't know - I've never been part of a news team - but it felt right for this series.   As far as personal relationships go, everyone also landed on their feet, and, given the frustrated love that animated so much of the series until now, these happy endings seemed realistic, too, part of the universe righting the balance in favor of some happiness.

Jim and Maggie will stay together with a long-distance relationship - but not that long-distance, given the proximity of New York and Washington - while Jim's promoted to MacKenzie's job and Maggie may be on her way to the job of her dreams.   Don and Sloan are finally happily together also, with neither getting a promotion.   And Will and MacKenzie are having a baby, as MacKenzie is getting  promoted to Charlie's position.

Too much happiness?  Hey, these characters are entitled to it, not only after all the unrequited love they've endured, but the often gruesome nature of the news they were daily obliged to cover.   And we the audience deserve it, too, as a remembrance of a show the likes of which have never been seen on television before, and not likely to be any time soon, again.


analysis of the first two seasons

See also The Newsroom 3.1: Media on Media ... The Newsroom 3.2: Ethics in High Relief ... The Newsroom 3.3: Journalism at the Barricades ... The Newsroom 3.4: McLuhanesque "Books Are Like the New Art"... The Newsroom 3.5: Penultimate Prescient

And see also The Newsroom Season 2 Debuts on Occupy Wall Street and More ... and (about Trayvon Martin) If Only There Was a Video Recording ... The Newsroom 2.2: The Power of Video ... The Newsroom 2.7: Autopsy of a Bad Decision ... The Newsroom 2.8: The Course of True Love ... The Newsroom Season 2 Finale: Love, Triumph, and Wikipedia

And see also The Newsroom and McLuhan ... The Newsroom and The Hour ...The Newsroom Season 1 Finale: The Lost Voice Mail

 
a little news in this story too

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