Monday, October 31, 2016

Rita Ora does The Silk Code

Here's something that every author would love to come across - a big pop star does a video, and it's emblazoned with the title of one of your novels.

In this case, Rita Ora, one of the biggest pop stars in the world, just did a little video for the British fashion line Tezenis, for a campaign to start on November 1.  And all over it is the title of my first novel - in fact, winner of the Locus Award for Best First Science Novel of 1999 - The Silk Code.

Here's the vid -




What's The Silk Code?

Here are blurbs from some of the many reviews -

"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 

"sheer conceptual verve" -- Robert K. J. Killheffer, The 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 explain 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

more about The Silk Code here

Masters of Sex 4.8: "I Love You"

Tender isn't a word you'd usually use to describe an episode of Masters of Sex. But what Virginia softly said to Bill, almost mouthed, astride him after they'd just made love for the first time in a long time - "I love you" - was one of the most tender moments I've seen on any television series for a long time, too.

What it took to get there was far from tender.  Virginia has been trying to work her way back into Bill's heart and arms all season.  She realizes how much she hurt him - she of all people would know that - but couldn't seem to find the right combination of circumstances to help this reunion happen.

In the end, it took the two of them going under cover as a couple who needed sex therapy, a very convincing guise seeing as how they needed just that in their real lives.  Even then, Bill didn't want to perform with Virginia as part of the ruse.   She had to say "it's only sex" to Bill, to get him to not only have sex with her, but make love to her, too.

The unlocking of emotions at this tender moment was beautifully played.  The therapists on the other side of the glass, of course, had no idea what they were seeing.  They congratulate themselves on providing the circumstances for their patients - Bill and Virginia in disguise - to have had a successful sexual experience, but they have no idea what they're really seeing.

We the audience do.  Bill and Virginia belong together.  They have every reason to be together, in all ways, as Virginia has come to realize this season, and as Bill may now be finally beginning to realize, too.

The course of true love never did run smooth, especially when it comes to pathbreaking researchers into the libido, who have been from the beginning their own very best subjects.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Westworld 1.5: The Voice Inside Delores

An altogether excellent Westworld 1.5, with real progress in our understanding of what's going, mostly from Delores, and a little from the Man in Black.  In both cases, conversations with Ford elicit some of the best moments.

I should mention that the conversations with Ford are much better than the conversations with Bernard, which are pretty good, too.  But that's as it should be, since Ford is one of the two creators of Westworld - along with the ineffable Arnold - whereas Bernard is just the head programmer and a sensitive builder of individual models.

But this means that Delores will say things to Ford that she wouldn't say to Bernard, and Ford knows how to elicit at least part of that.  The other part comes, of course, from Delores herself, and we see this tonight point blank when she lies to Ford about her continuing relationship with the voice inside her - presumably Arnold's - a voice that also tells her destiny is to leave Westworld, presumably with William, which is what she convincingly tells him.

Let's stop for a minute at "convincingly". William's convinced - no surprise, Delores is fulfilling a very deep need of his - but so are we, the audience.  And here Westworld is ineluctably partaking of a paradox, or at least an insoluble puzzle, that afflict or animates or maybe just affects every story on screen about human-like androids.

The androids are all played by humans.  And this means that, no matter how well they act - I mean as actors and actresses on the screen, playing androids - their humanity, the humanness of the actor, will shine through.  So when we see Delores behaving so humanly, part of that stems from the actress being human.  It was the same dynamic which made some of the androids in Bladerunner, for example, so appealing.

But back into the narrative - not the narratives that Ford has created, but the narrative of the series Westworld itself, based on the movie by Michael Crichton - an important question is: how much does Ford know or suspect that Delores is lying?

Ford, like the androids becoming human, knows a lot more than he tells us (and certainly more than he tells the hosts and guests he talks to).   He presumably does not have a bicameral mind - the source of the voice inside Delores - but he has a lot more in common with his evolving creations than even he realizes, though who knows how much he realizes, which was the point of my question in the first place.

His conversation with the Man in Black is tantalizing, once again leaving us just a little short of knowing if the Man in Black is a special guest or a special host, though he moved a tiny bit more in the direction of being a guest, i.e., human.   Teddy stops him from stabbing Ford with a knife.  That knife presumably would have hurt Ford, even killed him, but only if the Man in Black was human himself, right?

Come to think of it, it's not quite clear what kind of real damage, if any, guests can do to guests in Westworld.  Well, that's as good a place as any to conclude this little disquisition. Each week grinds our lens of vision a little more clear, and I'm looking forward to more.


See also Westworld 1.1: Isaac Asimov and Philip K. Dick Served Up by Jonathan Nolan, Lisa Joy, and J. J. Abrams ... Westworld 1.2: Who Is the Man in Black? ... Westworld 1.3: Julian Jaynes and Arnold ... Westworld 1.4: Vacation, Connie Francis, and Kurt Vonnegut


 

more about Julian Jaynes

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Designated Survivor 1.5: The Plot Thickens

There were two distinct stories in Designated Survivor 1.5 earlier this week.  Both were good. One was pretty much self-contained.  The other has profound implications for the future.

The self-contained thread was a strong story about a Navy Seal mission to capture the terrorist presumably behind the devastating explosion in Washington.   It was nice to see Dylan Walsh back on TV again after his stint in Unforgettable, and a long run of series which didn't last very long, beginning for me with Brooklyn South.  Unfortunately, Walsh's character didn't survive the episode, but he died very bravely.

The continuing story involves the third survivor of the explosion - and the only surviver who was actually at the State of the Union address - Rep. MacLeish.  Agent Wells was already suspicious of MacLeish, and she gets proof that her suspicions are well-founded: MacLeish retired to a room designed to withstand the explosion shortly before the explosion.  That, along with Wells' discovery that everyone who had a hand in construction of the room died mysteriously, pretty well wraps it up that MacLeish is a very bad guy.

And just to make matters even worse, Kirkman is considering appointing MacLeish as his VP. Presumably all this would need to happen would be Senator Hookstraten's (great name!) approval, since she's all that's left of the Senate.  This gives Wells and the FBI two ways of preventing MacLeish from being a heartbeat away from the President:  if they can't get to Kirkman, they can try Hookstraten.

Should be fun to see how this all plays out.  I'm also glad our own real, harrowing election season is coming to an end - I'll be able to enjoy the fiction of Designated Survivor much more.

See also Designated Survivor: Jack Bauer Back in the White House ... Designated Survivor 1.2: Unflinching and Excellent ...  Designated Survivor 1.4: "Michigan's on the Verge of Anarchy"


  terrorist squirrels and bombs in NYC

#SFWApro

Calling on FBI Director James Comey To Resign

The FBI Director should resign - immediately.

Not only because, in violation of FBI policy, he released a political bombshell fewer than 60 days before an election - 11 days, and the most important election in our country, the election of President - but because his announcement contained no evidence, and is in fact just a fishing expedition having nothing to do with why the FBI had previously been investigating Hillary Clinton for her use of a private email server.

That case, the results of which also should not have been announced, was closed, with no charges recommended against Clinton.  FBI policy regarding cases which are closed is to announce just that, not to offer songs and dances about what the subject of the investigation might have done wrong, but was not illegal.  What someone might have done wrong, if not illegal, has always been nobody's business except the FBI and its closed case files.

But in many ways, Comey's announcement yesterday was even more irresponsible and reprehensible. Why was the FBI looking at Hillary aide Huma Abedin's computer in the first place?  Because her sicko husband Anthony Weiner might have used it to send pornographic pictures of himself to underage children.   What does that have to do with Hillary - so much so that the Republicans in Congress gleefully announced that the FBI was "re-opening" its investigation into Hillary Clinton which it closed this summer?  Nothing.

The FBI did discover that Huma Abedin used the same computer as Anthony Weiner on occasion. So?  Having already gone over with a fine-tooth comb thousands and thousands of Hillary Clinton's emails already, and found nothing actionable, what is the likelihood that FBI will now find something, anything relevant to Clinton's emails on Abedin's computer?  Hillary never used the computer herself, and we don't even know if any of Hillary's emails were ever on Abedin's computer.

So this is a fishing expedition.  The FBI is entitled to waste its time, and examine any computer they like.  But announcing this expedition-in-near-absurdity 11 days prior to the most important election in our lifetime is way beyond the pale, and an extraordinary violation of what the FBI is supposed to be: a politically neutral investigative bureau, not an organization than inserts itself in elections - vitally important elections - on the wispiest of reasons.

My father was a lawyer, had friends in the FBI - one lived in our apartment house in the Bronx.  My father was even thinking of joining the FBI.  That was in the 1960s, when the FBI was in the forefront of protecting the civil rights of African-Americans and all Americans.  I was proud of the FBI, then.  More recently, in the past few decades, I have had occasion to give glowing references in FBI interviews to two of my former students at Fordham University who were applying to join the Bureau.  I have hosted FBI agents at conferences I helped organize at Fairleigh Dickinson University about kinesics (non-verbal communication) in 1977 and about The Sopranos at Fordham University in 2008.

I'm still proud of the FBI.  It's one of our great American institutions.  But Director Comey has disgraced the organization - twice now - with his kowtowing to his Republican Party.  He needs to leave.  If not, President Hillary Clinton's Attorney General will need to ask him to leave as a first order of business.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Frequency 1.4: Glimpsing the Serial Killer

So we finally get a glimpse of the serial killer in Frequency 1.4 - though maybe I shouldn't say finally, since we're only in episode 4 - but it isn't much a glimpse, anyway, just the killer from behind as he's burning his car.

I say "he," but who knows if it's really a he, though it probably is.  But what did we learn for sure about the serial killer from what we saw last night?

Well, his height rules out Gordo, since he was just a boy - not that tall - in 1996.  But are we sure the car burning took place in 1996 and not 2016? That's the assumption, because Frank almost nabbed the killer in 1996 based on recognizing the car.  Conceivably, the killer could have hidden the car, then decided to burn it 20 years later, based on what the older Gordo may have gleaned from Raimy in 2016.

But that unlikely scenario becomes even more unlikely when we consider who was driving the vehicle in 1996.   Certainly not young Gordo, who would've been too young to drive.

Is it possible that there's more than one serial killer, or the serial killer has an accomplice, the young Gordo?   We've seen stories like this on everything from Bones to Criminal Minds.   But, at this point in Frequency, it's still not possible to say.

In the meantime, we'll have to be happy with the little satisfactions of time travel - Frank trying to make sense of what seem to him to be lightning fast Internet speeds in 2016 (hey, they still seem fast to me), and the inability to send visual data through Frank and Ramy's ham radio connection across time, and how the two work around that.

Frequency continues to be both a pretty good police story and a better time travel tale, and I'm looking forward to more.

See also Frequency 1.1: Closely Spun Gem ... Frequency 1.2: All About the Changes  ... Frequency 1.3: Chess Game Across Time



                       more time travel




Rectify 4.1: Rummy

An exquisite start of the fourth and final season of Rectify on Sundance tonight, just what you'd expect from a series of unsurpassed poetry, beauty, and sensitivity to the human soul.  Actually, tonight's episode was so good, it was even more than that.

The high point comes with Daniel's conversation with Avery, in which we learn some things a little more clearly, things we already sort of guessed, but need to know a little more clearly as this final season begins.

Daniel honestly can't remember whether he killed Hanna, and everything he's done in his life since his release from death row stems from his honestly not remembering what happened. He can see himself killing Hanna, but that doesn't mean he did.  He's said that he's killed her, at various times and for various reasons, but that of course doesn't mean killed her, either.

Avery gets that not only has Daniel been trying to live on this knife-edge cusp of not knowing, but Daniel has been leaning on the side of sort of assuming that he did kill Hanna.  This also explains just about everything we've seen Daniel do in the first three seasons.

Avery suggests that Daniel take a crack at playing the other side - assuming that he didn't kill Hanna. Let's just stop here for a moment.  I've felt all along that someone with Daniel's sensitivity could never have murdered Hanna.  I still think so, and what we saw of Daniel tonight makes me feel even more that way.  But this, of course, is what the show's producer wants us to see and think.  Is this some kind of trick?  I don't think so - but that may only mean that the trick worked on me.

Art is the vehicle which Daniel will use to give that side of him a chance - the side that he didn't kill Hanna.  Caitlin FitzGerald - so good on Masters of Sex - will be Daniel's guide on this, and maybe more.  And so will the guys, in their own ways, in the house in which Daniel is living - Avery's house.  And the episode ends with Daniel playing cards with them, saying he used to play Rummy when he was a boy.  And that's a kind of art, too, in this brilliant disquisition of a show on the human condition.

See also Rectify 3.1: Stroke of Luck ... Rectify 3.2: Daniel and Amantha ... Rectify 3.5: Finally!

And see also Rectify 2.1: Indelible ... Rectify 2.2: True Real Time ... Rectify 2.3: Daniel's Motives ... Rectify 2.4: Jekyll and Hyde ... Rectify 2.6: Rare Education ... Rectify 2.7: The Plot Thickens ... Rectify 2.8: The Plea Bargain and the Smart Phone ... Rectify 2.9: Dancing in the Dark ... Rectify Season 2 Finale: Talk about Cliffhangers!

And see also Rectify: Sheer and Shattering Poetry ... Rectify 1.5: Balloon Man ... Rectify Season 1 Finale: Searingly Anti-Climactic

 
another kind of capital punishment

#SFWApro

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Timeless 1.4: Skyfall and Weapon of Choice

An historically rich Timeless 1.4 last night - rife in twists and connections to our popular culture as well as our real history, and the potential of travel to the past to change all of that up - with our three heroes interacting with both Ian Fleming (not only creator of James Bond, but also a real secret agent) and Werner Von Braun (responsible for both the V2 rockets out of Nazi Germany and the launch of the US space program).  Indeed, Von Braun's role in this episode makes it a story not only about time travel but space travel.

But starting with Bond, Wyatt recognizes a feature of the architecture back in a 1944 Nazi stronghold that played a role in Skyfall (the 2012 James Bond movie), with Fleming taking that in.  But that certainly had no influence in our history, since Fleming had nothing to do with that recent Bond movie.  However, at the end of the episode, we learn that Fleming did write a story, "Weapon of Choice," which tells what happened with our characters in this episode of Timeless.  That story is of course unknown in our reality.  And there's a quip about Never Say Never Again - in our reality, the name of the second adaption of Fleming's Thunderball, and the one-film final return of Sean Connery to the Bond role in 1983. Ah, the course of popular culture never did run smooth when time travel is concerned.

Meanwhile, in real reality, concerning both the end of the World War II and the space race in the 1960s, Fleming wants to kill Von Braun, seeing as how the rocket scientist's missiles were wreaking such havoc on London.  Flynn, whose ultimate motives are still not clear, wants to kidnap Von Braun and deliver him to the Soviets, which would mean that they not the U.S. would likely have gotten to the Moon at the end of the 1960s.   Fortunately, our team succeeds in preventing both changes to history, which means that the changes in history wrought by the time travel in this episode are limited only to popular culture, with our real history intact for now.

Timeless continues to be a strong program, with appealing episodes, and the underlying stories of Lucy wanting to get her sister back, and our other characters striving to maintain their personal identities and equilibrium, providing a good, roiling backdrop.


See also Timeless 1.1: Threading the Needle ... Timeless 1.2: Small Change, Big Payoffs ... Timeless 1.3: Judith Campbell


             more time travel in the 20th century




Monday, October 24, 2016

The Walking Dead 7.1: No Specific Spoilers, But ...

The Walking Dead is the most watched show on television, and the story is gripping, to say the least, so it's hard not to watch it.   But tonight's episode was so disturbing, which is exactly what it's supposed to be doing, that I'm getting close to skipping it, for at least a few weeks.

The underlying theme has been harrowingly clear for a while now - the worst entities on the show are not the walkers, but the humans who have survived by becoming more depraved, more brutal, than anything we see in the real world around us, as distressing as that is, especially in this election season.

Negan apparently broke Rick tonight, and the way he did was both a psychological horror show as well as the physical horror show The Walking Dead usually is, figuratively and literally.  Whether Rick is ultimately not broken, the degree to which what is left of our group remains unbroken, remains to be seen, and will provide some of the suspense in the episodes ahead.

And then there are the people, Carol and Morgan, who mercifully were spared what we saw tonight. They will no doubt play a role in the fight against Negan, too.

I'm interested in seeing this.  I'd probably stream the whole season if it were available in the next few days.  But I'm also glad it's not.

So ... I'll be back here with another review, at some point in the series, but I don't know when.

See also: The Walking Dead 6.1: The Walking Herd ...  The Walking Dead Season 6 Finale: Who Was It?

And see also: The Walking Dead 5.1: The Redemption of Carole ... The Walking Dead 5.3: Meets Alfred Hitchcock and The Twilight Zone ... The Walking Dead 5.4: Hospital of Horror ... The Walking Dead 5.5: Anatomy of a Shattered Dream ... The Walking Dead 5.6-7: Slow ... The Walking Dead 5.8: Killing the Non-Killer ... The Walking Dead 5.9: Another Death in the Family ... The Walking Dead 5.11: The Smiling Stranger ... The Walking Dead 5.12: The Other Shoe ... The Walking Dead 5.13: The Horse and the Party ... The Walking Dead 5.15: The Bad Guy ... The Walking Dead Season 5 Finale: Morgan and Optimism

And see also The Walking Dead 4.1: The New Plague ... The Walking Dead 4.2: The Baby and the Flu ... The Walking Dead 4.3: Death in Every Corner ...The Walking Dead 4.4: Hershel, Carl, and Maggie ... The Walking Dead 4.6: The Good Governor ... The Walking Dead 4.7: The Governor's Other Foot ... The Walking Dead 4.8: Vintage Fall Finale ... The Walking Dead 4.9: A Nightmare on Walking Dead Street ... The Walking Dead 4:14: Too Far ... The Walking Dead Season 4 Finale: From the Gunfire into the Frying Pan


Sunday, October 23, 2016

Westworld 1.4: Vacation, Connie Francis, and Kurt Vonnegut



Vacation - it was the name of a Connie Francis song in the early 1960s (Wikipedia says 1962, and that it was Connie's last big hit, and I remember hearing and singing it high school), and it was probably the most important word spoken in Westworld 1.4 earlier tonight.

Well, definitely one of the most important.  And music does have deep relevance to Westworld, which is why we see so much android hand on piano in the opening credits, a nod to Vonnegut's 1952 novel Player Piano (his first, as a matter of fact), and the automatic player pianos in the 19th century on which the title of that fine novel was derived.

But as to Westworld, "vacation" is what the Man in Black angrily says he's on in the park - "fucking vacation," to be exact - and that's important information, indeed, along with his talk of Arnold, because it adds evidence to the likelihood that he's some kind of special guest, not a host, which seemed pretty much the case before, seeing as how he is immune to bullets.

Of course, given Ford's ambitious reprogramming, which we still don't know too much about, it's still possible that the Man in Black is a very sophisticated new kind of host.   But that's appearing less likely - and there's also the conversation we see him having with Ford in the coming attractions, which doesn't seem like the conversations we've seen Bernard having with Delores, that's for sure. But those conversations are like nothing else we've quite seen on this show yet, either, with Bernard showing signs of moving from the equivalent her therapist (programmer) to feeling something much more, as in tonight not wanting to see, maybe not being able to bear, Delores overwrought with emotion.

Delores is becoming more hunan by the hour - as is also Maeve, who is beginning to realize and approach in a more strategic way than Delores that there's more to her than what her programmers intended, though it's not clear exactly what Maeve is beginning to see as she puts some of the pieces together.  But this leads, again, to what is becoming the central question of the series:  are what Delores and Maeve experiencing malfunctions, or deliberately intended, embedded routines and subroutines - or, to put a finer point on this, the result the bicameral mind in the hosts starting to come together? (So far, without Julian Jaynes, the creator of that theory, yet to be acknowledged by name.)

Hey, come together, will there be some mention of John Lennon in Westworld, too? Probably not. But I bet he loved Connie Francis spelling out Vacation in her song, too.


See also Westworld 1.1: Isaac Asimov and Philip K. Dick Served Up by Jonathan Nolan, Lisa Joy, and J. J. Abrams ... Westworld 1.2: Who Is the Man in Black? ... Westworld 1.3: Julian Jaynes and Arnold


 

more about Julian Jaynes

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Goliath on Amazon: Law Drama as it's Meant to be Seen

David Kelley - who created L. A.  Law, The Practice, and so many excellent law shows over the years - has checked in with a powerhouse on Amazon, eight episodes of bruising, exquisite law stripped to the bone or the soul or whatever your deepest buttons in a streaming series that pulls out stops you've never quite seen on any kind of law show on television.

Goliath flatly could not have been done on network television.  It might have been done on a cable, but watching it all at once or at least three or four episodes at a time added to the effect, and likely was even essential to this story.   Indeed, the closest cinematic narrative to Goliath was literally in cinema, The Verdict in 1982, staring Paul Newman as a down-and-out attorney who takes on a huge corporation represented by a mega law firm.   I saw that movie in one sitting, too, and loved it.

Indeed, The Verdict and Goliath also have the similarity of high-wattage star power.  Billy Bob Thornton as the David-like attorney in Goliath is not Paul Newman - who is? - but Thornton is one superb actor, having last distinguished himself on television in Fargo.  And the bad Goliath attorney is played by William Hurt, in of the best performances of his life, even more memorable than James Mason as the big corporate attorney in The Verdict.

But enough with comparisons.   Goliath has a pressingly relevant story about a big U.S. arms manufacturer, and outstanding characters including the judge and supporting lawyers all over the place.

If you like law drama realistically portrayed - and given that my father was a lawyer, I especially do - give yourself a treat and see Goliath.   But don't drink too much coffee or tea beforehand, you'll get all the stimulation you'll need on the screen.


Why Brexit and Waldo Won't Play as Trump in the U.S.

A lot of bitter-end Trumpists, clinging to any last hope they can find as their candidate goes under, cite Brexit as what will happen in the United States on Election Day.  If they were more literate, they might also find comfort in Black Mirror's science fiction episode, "The Waldo Moment," in which a cartoon character disrupts the political process in the U.K., and comes in second in a three-way heated campaign.   Indeed, Black Mirror creator and Waldo writer Charlie Booker has gone on record saying that Trump could well win.

Here's why I think not -

First, as far as Brexit is concerned, although the pro-Brexit "leave" vote was trailing the anti-Brexit "stay" vote in the lead-up to the U.K. referendum, the two were closer (just a few points in the polls) than Trump is now to Hillary Clinton in the United States (he's ten or more points behind in many states, including some swing states).

But those numbers aside, the electoral system in the U.K. is very different from what we have in the U.S.  In the U.K., everyone voted once, pro or against, Brexit.  The potential for surprise that goes against the polling is much greater in that kind of system than in the U.S., in which the Presidential election takes place months after the conclusion of a series of primaries.

Why is that important?  Well, not to be too cynical about it, but our U.S. system gives more people more time to come to their senses, and not vote their first impulses.   Indeed, Trump won the primaries because people were indeed voting their first impulses, which they didn't have all that much time to think over, and in the Republican Party were not all that antithetical to Trump in any case. But Americans including Republicans now have had lots of time to find out about Trump's treatment of women, his refusal to say he'll abide by the election results, and lots of other very disturbing factors not many people knew about during the primaries.

Nothing is impossible in elections.  But John Milton and Thomas Jefferson's belief that if truth is in the market place of ideas with all the falsity, sooner or later a majority of rational human beings will recognize it, seems to be at holding sway in the United States, where the truth about Trump has had time to get known.

We all have to vote, but I'm looking forward to watching Waldo where he belongs, not in the White House but on Black Mirror's darkly satirical television.


Thursday, October 20, 2016

Frequency 1.3: Chess Game Across Time

Frequency 1.3 continued to play the chess game across the time that provides the script for most time-travel stories, in the case of Frequency how a daughter in 2016 can work with her father in 1996 to save her mother from being a murdered, an event which itself happened when the daughter saved her father from the same fate, right after the connection in time had been established.

Going after the murderer - in this case, a serial killer - is a logical move on this chess board.  But in time travel, not only is time itself your ultimate opponent, but so is a perpetual lack of crucial information.  It's hard enough to know all the relevant factors - in the case of police work, identifying the correct suspects - but when you're doing this across time it gets even harder.

So if you're familiar with the playbooks of time travel, it's no big surprise that Raimy and Frank, after zooming in on and chasing the guy they were increasingly sure was the serial killer, across two episodes, discover that he's not.  But the payoff was nicely done, with the guy disappearing literally before Raimy's eyes, as he's hit by car as he's trying to run away from Frank in the past.

In a way, this is a good metaphor for Frequency and all good time travel: you can't run away from your fate.  This could be the theme of any powerful story, but in Frequency, the tension is heightened by our not knowing exactly what that fate is.   As I've said in reviews of earlier episodes, Frequency is a story not about major, world-changing events but about a family, a daughter and her father, and this makes it all the more appealing.

One more thing: here's my prediction for who the killer is:  I think it's Raimy's neighbor.  Not that he's done anything wrong, but there's something about the way he keeps popping up that's making me think he's up to no good.

See also Frequency 1.1: Closely Spun Gem ... Frequency 1.2: All About the Changes


                       more time travel

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

In Final Debate: Trump Says He Might Not Abide by Results of Presidential Election

It's pretty astonishing, even for Donald Trump.  He's said this in speeches to his supporters.  But to tens of millions of Americans watching the third debate, he flatly said he'll have to see what happens in our upcoming election - he'll have to see what happens - before he decides whether to abide by the results of that election.

As many political commentators have been saying, and as Steve Schmidt just said on MSNBC, that statement of non-support for the very essence of our democracy is "disqualifying".

Trump has said many awful and outrageous things.  But this is the worst.   This brutal, abusive person - who has verbally attacked immigrants, disabled people, women, and has physically attacked women, too - now has doubled down on this contempt for and abuse of our very electoral process.

It will be a real relief not to ever have to see or hear this spiritual ugliness ever again.  Trump will lose, but he and his supporters will keep pushing their poison.  But it will be a relief not to have to worry that somehow this monstrosity might, against all odds, get into the White House.

We'll have that satisfying moment in just a few weeks, when Hillary Clinton is elected our next President. Tonight, Trump gave yet another reason to fervently look forward to that night next month.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Steve Schmidt Moved To Tears on the 11th Hour on MSNBC

I don't think I've ever seen anything quite as moving and profound from a Republican commentator on television.

I first became aware of Steve Schmidt when he was campaign manager for John McCain's unsuccessful 2008 Republican campaign the U.S. Presidency. I didn't much care for Schmidt or his candidate, and even less for Sarah Palin, who would have become Vice President had Schmidt succeeded in his campaign.

Perhaps Schmidt has grown wiser.  It happens.  Perhaps Schmidt correctly sees that as, dangerous and out-of-her mind as Sarah Palin was, Donald Trump is 10 times or whatever big multiplier worse.

Schimdt recounted on the 11th Hour with Brian Williams the dignity of FDR on the White House lawn after Pearl Harbor.  He reminded us that Hitler didn't take power by force, but because democracy in Germany was weak.

Schmidt could barely contain himself, and neither could I.   His voice and the tears in eyes conveyed the threat that Donald Trump poses to our democratic process, conveyed the disgust and despair Schmidt feels when he compares Trump to any former American President.   The obscenity of his election would trash what not only FDR but every American President has struggled to uphold and preserve our democracy, and the respect upon which it is predicated, respect for the choice of the people as reflected in the votes they cast on Election Day.

One of the silver linings of Trump may the unity he has unintentionally brought forth among all Americans of rationality and good will, Republicans as well as Democrats.

I'm looking forward to seeing them work together together to build a better America, after the political illness that is Trump is defeated.

Timeless 1.3: Judith Campbell

Timeless 1.3 took an interesting turn tonight, bringing our team back to the time of JFK, but not to attempt to prevent his assassination.

This is actually more than interesting - it's unusual for a time travel series whose first two episodes saw our heroes attempting to stop big-time historical disasters, the Hindenburg explosion and the Abraham Lincoln assassination.  The team succeeds in the first, only to have the Hindenburg blow up anyway, a little later.  And the team refrains from attempting to stop the killing of Lincoln, concentrating instead of keeping Ulysses S. Grant from also being killed, which would have had serious consequences for subsequent history.

So even when they're on the scene to stop big historical catastrophes, Lucy, Wyatt, and Rufus end up doing something slightly different.   And this sets up the story for tonight's episode, in which they do something completely different from stopping a major disaster.

Indeed, it's so different, that it's not completely clear what exactly the team was trying to stop - not clear to the team, never clear to them, and tonight certainly not to the audience.  And when we finally find out - at the very end - that the purpose of Flynn's mission was to get an atomic weapon to a place in the dessert in the future, we still don't know why.

But that's ok - actually, it's good to have an uneven, edgy pace in a time travel series - and the focus on Judith Campbell, likely JFK's mistress in our reality, definitely in the episode, was actually refreshing, in contrast to seeing another JFK assassination story.  And the episode offered a significant note on the difficulty of changing the future from the past, with Wyatt's unsuccessful attempt to save his wife in the future by sending her a telegram from the past.   Lucy's future changes when she doesn't want it to change.  Wyatt's future stays the same when he tries to change it.  What's the deeper significance that?

I'll be watching for more clues next week.

See also Timeless 1.1: Threading the Needle ... Timeless 1.2: Small Change, Big Payoffs


                       more time travel

Monday, October 17, 2016

Westworld 1.3: Julian Jaynes and Arnold

An outstanding episode 1.3 tonight of Westworld, turning out to be one brilliantly philosophical ride of a series, as we would want a drama about artificial intelligence in android bodies to be.

We learn from Dr. Ford that Arnold, who co-created the androids with Ford, thought that the creations could achieve true sentience via a bicameral mental process, in which the two halves of the mind worked together - one talking to the other - to attain human consciousness.   This, as far as I know, is the first time this theory of Julian Jaynes - that our own human consciousness arose from bicameral minds - has ever been employed as a mechanism in a science fiction television series.

It's appeared in science fiction - including in one of my own novels, The Consciousness Plague - but not as an explanation for the design and emergence of artificial sentience.  Jaynes was a real person, by the way, whose book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of Bicameral Mind caused something of a stir when it was first published in 1976.   Jaynes argued that prior to the invention and adoption of the phonetic alphabet in the Middle East, human beings were not conscious in the way that we have been ever since and are today, but instead heard voices in their heads that told them what to do.   Those voices are now known in our history as the voices of the Biblical prophets, and they survive today in schizophrenics.

We studied Jaynes in the Media Ecology PhD Program at New York University under Neil Postman. I once asked Marshall McLuhan what he thought of Jaynes and he said it was "science fiction" - another prophetic observation of McLuhan, who talked about the global village decades before the Internet and social media.   I met Jaynes a few times - he was charming and erudite.  But I thought his theory foundered in Far Eastern cultures, which are conscious the way we Westerners are, but never had a phonetic alphabet.

But that's no reason Jaynes' theory couldn't be brought into Westworld, which was really on a philosophic roll tonight, also invoking Karl Popper's notion that learning proceeds via mistakes, as Bernard muses about life and intelligence.   Neither Jaynes nor Popper were mentioned by name, but the presence of their core concepts in Westworld makes it not just science fiction but philosophic fiction, an amalgam you don't get on the television screen every day.

Meanwhile, Dolores's story (very well played by Evan Rachel Wood) is progressing beautifully - in beautiful sorrow, apropos her name - and we see some monsters in the park, with unclear origins. Also, a host kills himself with a rock to the head - presumably to stop himself from hurting one of the programmers.

Westworld is a trip for the mind as well as the senses, and I'm all eyes and ears for more.

See also Westworld 1.1: Isaac Asimov and Philip K. Dick Served Up by Jonathan Nolan, Lisa Joy, and J. J. Abrams ... Westworld 1.2: Who Is the Man in Black?




more about Julian Jaynes

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Why Bob Dylan Deserved the Nobel Prize for Literature

With so much wrong and out of control in this world, it was a tonic indeed to learn that Bob Dylan is being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature for his lifetime of song writing.

Who are the other great American songwriters in the past few hundred years?  Stephen Foster wrote eternally beautiful songs, with haunting music and gossamer lyrics, in the 19th century.  Cole Porter was an unsurpassed master of wordplay in the first half of the 20th century.   Lennon & McCartney wrote a ton of incredibly catchy and some songs very profound of lyric and music a little later.

All of these songwriters occasionally reached heights that Bob Dylan attained over and over, many dozens of times, in the 1960s.  His protest songs, like "Masters of War," are just peerless.  His commentaries on the human condition, like "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall," devastating and unforgettable. His love songs, like "Just Like A Woman," are right up there with the best of Romantic poetry - and for that matter, Shakespeare and the Greek poets, too.  And Dylan did this, countless times.

Someone asked me today if Dylan really deserved the award, since songs aren't books, and thus not really a form of literature.  But what is literature?  Words put together to tell a story - or exactly what Dylan did with his words in his songs.  And he molded those words, sculpted them and strung them together, mined their metaphoric depths and extended them to surprising, stunning, breathtaking places, in a way that only James Joyce in fiction, Marshall McLuhan in nonfiction, and few other soaring writers have done.

Dylan's songs would've been heard 10, 000 years from now, even without this Nobel Prize. But the Prize is a worthy recognition of this work.


Frequency 1.2: All About the Changes

The question whenever a TV series is made out of a movie is whether the series can continue to tell a riveting story, or a story much longer than the movie.  So far, as of its second episode on the CW tonight, Frequency is doing a very good job.

The essential theme of the movie is how changing the past to prevent something bad can work, but with the price of making other things bad.  In the first episode of the TV series, Raimy learns this lesson, twice.   She saves her father but her mother dies.  And, just for good measure, she loses her fiance in the bargain.

Tonight's episode serves us another unwanted consequence.   Raimy's mere investigation of the serial killer who murdered her mother in the new reality results in him moving away and out of Raimy's radar in 2016.   The specific way this happens is neat, and a good example of how little differences can lead to big changes in time travel.  Frank, urged on by Raimy from the future, goes to the home of the likely serial killer.  The very visit sets in motion a series of events that get him to leave, which in turn leaves Raimy with no suspect at hand in the future.

And the lesson brings home to Raimy something she already knew: that anything she does to change the past to improve the future could also make things worse in the future, too.  This puts Raimy in a difficult situation which makes for an appealing narrative: she has to weigh every single change she contemplates.   Grasping completely the contradictory indications of any change in time, because she remembers all the original and changed timelines,  makes Raimy (well played by Mad Men's Peyton List)  the perfect time-traveled character - and she's not even traveling, just sending information from the future to her father in the past.

At this point, it's clear that the consequences of what Raimy is doing, and for that matter her actions in every episode, are unpredictable - or exactly what we want to see on television.

See also Frequency 1.1: Closely Spun Gem


                       more time travel
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