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Thursday, July 18, 2019

Years and Years 1.1-4: "Democracy ... Worn Out"

My wife and I just watched the first four episodes of the British Years and Years on HBO.  It's about as powerful and caustic a depiction of the rise of fascism in our time - that is, so far in the short series (six episodes), 2019-2027 - as you'll find.  Which is, searing and gut-wrenching indeed.

As one of the lead characters in the Leeds family remarks - Edith - whose lives we follow in England into the near future, "democracy was a very nice idea for a while, but now it's worn out".   Although the action is in the U. K, where a demagogic woman is rising to power, the U. K.  and the rest of the world are driven by the United States, where Trump is not only President, as he is now, but re-elected in 2020, making this a horror story as well science fiction.  As a parting shot from his regime, he sends a nuclear missile to an artificial island off China and kills 45,000 people.  Pence is elected President in 2024.  These two events, as depicted in Years and Years, should be enough to make every American vote in 2020.   And the depredations continue.  A U. S. bank crash throws the world into recession.  Fascist regimes arise all over Europe.  Roe v. Wade is overturned in the U. S.  As I said, an all-too foreseeable horror show, if we don't vote Trump and the Republicans in the Senate out of office in 2020.

There are good technological touches in this near future.   Smartphones literally in your hand (as in, embedded).  The beginning of artificial eyes that can function as cameras.  And there are love affairs and break-ups and personal tragedies that I won't tell you about, except to say they're moving, because I've told you enough and I don't want to give everything away.

But I highly recommend this series - fascism as only the Brits can show it - and I'll be back with reviews of the two concluding episodes.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Jeff Lynne's ELO at the Prudential Center

There are few groups who are almost as good as The Beatles (none are as good as them).  Jeff Lynne's ELO (Electric Light Orchestra) is one of those few.  Their string of hits through the 1970s into 1981 - "Can't Get It Out of My Head," "Evil Woman," "Strange Magic," "Livin' Thing," "Telephone Line," "Turn to Stone," "Sweet Talkin' Woman," "Don't Bring Me Down," and "Hold On Tight" are my favorites - are every bit as a good as part of the Beatles output (e.g., "Golden Slumbers," "You Never Give Your Money," etc), and this puts ELO in the rarefied company of the Beach Boys and the Rolling Stones.

But Lynne after he left ELO also went on to do some extraordinary work.  He was a member of the Traveling Willburys supergroup with George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, and Tom Petty.  He produced and co-wrote (along with Petty) Orbison's "You Got It" (last record before his death).  He did the same for Petty's huge hits "I Won't Back Down" and "Free Falling".  And just to top it off, he produced Lennon's posthumous beauties with the Beatles, "Free as a Bird" and "Real Love" (hey, here's the beginning of reading I did at Readercon just this past Sunday of a new story I wrote about that song that's an alternate history Beatles tale).

Indeed, there was always something science fictional about ELO, with their other-worldly sounds, which is another reason I love their music.   Add to that Lynne's integration of media-theory themes into his lyrics - in "Telephone Line" and "Sweet Talkin' Woman" ("insufficient data coming through") - and how could I not be crazy their music?  It connects to my three greatest interests in popular culture - the Beatles, science fiction, and the impact of media.

I was really looking forward to Lynne's ELO concert last night, and my wife and I were not disappointed.  They played everyone of my favorite songs except "Strange Magic" and "Hold On Tight," and that's a pretty good hit list.  Lynne's still in fine voice - indeed, better than ever in "Can't Get It Out of My Head" and "Sweet Talkin' Woman" - and the performances and arrangements were top-notch.  "Sweet Talkin' Woman" (yeah, I've always especially loved that song) was replete with a cool electronically modulated "sweet talkin' woman" interspersed throughout the song, and Dhani Harrison (who did a good nine song opening set) singing his father's lead part in "Handle With Care," and Ian Hornal doing a fine rendition of the Orbison part.

Few of the greats of the 60s, 70s, and even the 80s can put on a show like this any more.  Paul McCartney is a remarkable and unsurprising exception.  I would say that Jeff Lynne, in terms of the great songs he wrote, produced, and still performs in fine voice, is a very close second.  Right up where he belongs.   Catch him if you can.

Monday, July 15, 2019

The Rook 1.3: Gestalts

The most compelling thing(s) about The Rook 1.3 on Starz earlier this evening was the Gestalts and the short but effective explanation we got about them.  They make a nice piece of science fiction, especially for the television screen, and work well in that Philip K. Dickian tradition.

They're a special kind of rook, a group of four in constant telepathic connection, emotional and visceral as well as intellectual.   When Eliza passionately kisses Myfanwy, her three empathic blond brothers feel it to the extent that one of them drives off the road.  Of course, that's not what Chequy recruited, bred, trained, whatever exactly intended for them.  That would be to fight, which we also see a neat example of as the four get Myfanwy out of a perilous situation on a train.  I'm always up for an action scene on the London underground, and this was a good one, ending in the Gestalts capturing a vulture.

That would be someone out to kill or capture a rook, and it's instructive to see the tables turned.  Of course, this captured vulture can't be expected to tell Checquy and us too much, and that's exactly what happens (or doesn't happen).   We still haven't much of clue, for example, as to who is the traitor in Checquy's midst.

One thing I think we can be pretty sure of, however, is that it isn't the Gestalts.  Because one couldn't be a traitor without the other three knowing.  And, if all four were traitors, that would likely be easier to spot than just one.  I'm thinking the traitor could be Myfanwy herself - or, rather, the Myfanwy whose memory was wiped, and left messages for the current rook with that name.  That would make, say, Farrier likely to know this, and her current game being to find out what made the original Myfanwy turn.

But I'm getting too far ahead here, and I'll see you again next week after we find out more.

See also:  The Rook 1.1: Dickian Pastiche ... The Rook 1.2: Live Details

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

Sunday, July 14, 2019

The Loudest Voice 1.3: Prelude to Trump

The most chilling part of The Loudest Voice 1.3 tonight on Showtime is Roger Ailes, in his speech in Warren, Ohio after Barack Obama's victory, saying we need to "make America great again".  That, combined with the talk about immigrants ruining America, on the day that our ICE gestapo began rounding up immigrants for deportation, is an eerily prescient voicing of the worst instincts in America in 2008 and shortly after - when Obama won and became President.

Before that, we see Ailes struggling to stop that from happening.  But he's hampered by his boss Rupert Murdock, who genuinely wants Fox News to live up to its "fair and balanced" moniker.  And he's hampered by the sheer dumbness of Sarah Palin.  And by David Axelrod, who stands up to Ailes and his political abuses.

On being dumb, we also get an eerie glance at our present day when Ailes says Biden, the VP candidate, is "dumb as an ash tray".  Again, our modern day fascist in the White House has said much the same about Biden today.  Trump has not originated much.  He's good at borrowing insults from Ailes and the cunning intelligentsia of the new right in America.

We also see more of the ways that Ailes preys on women.  All of this is leading up to what happened with Gretchen Carlson, which we saw the beginnings of in this episode.   We've yet to see what Ailes did to get Trump in office - in addition to giving him phrases - and get the disaffected in the midwest to leave the Democratic Party.  The Loudest Voice continues to be one of the best accountings of how fascism has managed to get such a grip in America.  In laying that bare, it may also show some pathways for rooting it out.

See also:  The Loudest Voice 1.1: Fox Launch ... The Loudest Voice 1.2: September 11 and After

Big Little Lies 2.6: It (Isn't) Over

First, let me say about Big Littles Lies 2.6, just on HB0: wasn't it sublime to hear Roy Orbison's "It's Over," played in its entirety, over the closing credits?  You don't hear that every day, or every year or decade, on television.  And it befits a show as special as Big Little Lies.

This episode was creme de la creme, especially the court scenes.  Celeste's cross-examination by Mary Louise's lawyer laid it all out.  The only thing he was wrong about was who pushed Perry down the stairs.  But, even so, Celeste still deserves custody of her kids.  And her move at the end, to get Mary Louise on the stand, and personally question her, was a moment of brilliance.

Meanwhile, we finally get Bonnie confessing to pushing Perry - to her comatose mother.  And the confession finally tells us exactly why she pushed him: she was pushing her abusive mother down the stairs.  Unfortunately for Celeste and Jane, who have most motive for killing Perry, Detective Quinlan was not on hand for that confession.   But she's never too far behind.

And the alliance continues to crack, with Madeline this time being the one to publicly doubt why they're protecting Bonnie.   There's a lot to be worked out in this story, and there's only one episode left this season.

Unlike Orbison's finale song, this series definitely isn't over.   And I'm not talking about just next week's finale.  Here's a strong vote for it not being the series finale - contra to what HBO boss Casey Bloys says.  We'll see.  And I'll definitely see you all here next week.

See also Big Lies 2.1: Grandma On a Mission ... Big Little Lies 2.2: Perry's Progeny ... Big Little Lies 2.3: Together ... Big Little Lies 2.4: Bonnie's Deepest Motives ... Big Little Lies 2.5: Little Red Riding Hood

And see also Big Little Lies: Big Good, Truly ... Big Little Lies 1.5: Multivalent Whodunnit ... Big Little Lies: Elvis and Answers


Monday, July 8, 2019

City on a Hill 1.4: Enjoyable Derivative

City on a Hill 1.4 chugged along with no great surprises but a bunch of significant developments.  My favorite, this time, was DeCourcy with the grand jury.  Not that anything too exciting happened here, either, but you don't see grand jury proceedings too much in TV drama, and it was fun to see this one.

Otherwise, Jenny and Father Doyle got to the next predictable step - he invites her to do volunteer work in the church, so he can be close to her - but that doesn't get beyond the first minute, due to Jackie's intervention, i.e., carrot and stick with Doyle.  I'm still holding out hope of seeing Jenny and Doyle in bed together.

Cathy Ryan (well played by Amanda Clayton) had a strong role in at least two ways in this episode.  She puts her foot down on her daughter seeing a shrink (never a good idea when the family is involved in crime) and knows just what to do when one of the gang is thrown in jail for physically going after DeCourcy at the grand jury.  Again, we've seen this all before, but it's nonetheless enjoyable to see it so well played.

But while I'm in a complaining mood, I heard someone mention Richard Nixon.  Sheesh, this is 1992, no one was talking about Nixon anymore by then.  And, unlike JFK, Nixon had no intrinsic connection to Boston.

In sum, City on a Hill is derivative to a fault.  I wish it had something more.  But I'll keep watching because I'm hoping it does and it's still fun to watch if it doesn't.

See also City on a Hill: Possibilities ... City on a Hill 1.2: Politics in a Cracked Mirror ... City on a Hill 1.3: One Upping The Sopranos


The Loudest Voice 1.2: September 11 and After

The Loudest Voice continued to make history in its second episode, depicting September 11 and its aftermath in way that's never been done before.

That way is the reaction and the role played by Roger Ailes.  As a disclaimer, I should say that I have no idea if what Ailes is depicted as saying is 100% true.  I was on Fox Magazine for a 10-minute interview on October 20, 2001 about propaganda in wartime, but that's the closest I got to Fox News in this crucial period.   Ailes is shown to be shocked by the twin towers attacks - as was every American, especially those of us living and working in New York - and then quickly turning to his seeing how this could be an advantage for Fox News, and then close to calling some of the shots with Dick Cheney and through him Bush and the White House in the subsequent attack on Iraq.

What is undeniable is that this was the period of time in which Fox surpasses CNN to first place in cable news.  MSNBC was so far behind in third place that it's rarely seen or mentioned.  Ailes got Fox to this commanding place by both supporting the US attack on Saddam Hussein and to a degree making it happen.  In that sense, Ailes is like William Randolph Hearst, who at the end of the 19th century leveraged the U. S. into the Spanish-American War over Cuba with his newspaper's reporting.

That war set up America for the 20th century, just as the war in Iraq, based on the fiction that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction - a fiction promoted by Fox News - set up America for the 21st century.  Given the current war of words with Iran, which grew far stronger when we crushed Iraq, we clearly are still experiencing the effects of that war in Iraq today.

If nothing else, The Loudest Voice is a vivid tableau on the media determinism of television news.  But it is much more than that, and I'll be back with a report on what I see next week.

See also:  The Loudest Voice 1.1: Fox Launch

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Big Little Lies 2.5: Little Red Riding Hood

I thought Big Little Lies 2.5 was the best yet of this powerhouse second season.  It had Madeline riffing on "Natural Woman" (Reese Witherspoon did a great job as June Carter in Walk the Line in 2005, it was great to hear her sing again), Mary Louise yearning for "an app like that," i.e., one which would enable people to just enjoy each other's company, and all kinds of good stuff like that.

But the centerpiece, like a gathering hurricane, of course concerns Perry's death.  Celeste worries that she and her friends will be called to testify in her custody hearing.  Renata assures her that they can all go down for perjury if they are asked about Perry's death, and they stick to their story - which Madeline still insists they keep adhering to as the best way to move forward will no ill effects, as they've been doing.  And this discussion takes place right in front of Bonnie.

The nub of this elephant in the room is why should they all protect Bonnie?  They didn't ask Bonnie to push Perry down the stairs, let alone kill him, though none of them were unhappy that that happened.   We the viewers still don't know the deepest reason that Bonnie did this.  Neither do her protectors.   This means that, sooner or later, this ring of protection will come apart.

Bonnie clearly has homicidal tendencies.  It looked at the end of tonight's episode that she's on her way to mercy-killing her mother.  But I'm going to go out on a limb and make a prediction for how this season will end: someone, maybe more than one, is going to kill Grandma Mary.  Like a new version of Little Red Riding Hood, in which the grandmother/wolf is killed by one or more women from the town.

Anyway, great episode tonight, and we'll see what next week holds in store.

See also Big Lies 2.1: Grandma On a Mission ... Big Little Lies 2.2: Perry's Progeny ... Big Little Lies 2.3: Together ... Big Little Lies 2.4: Bonnie's Deepest Motives

And see also Big Little Lies: Big Good, Truly ... Big Little Lies 1.5: Multivalent Whodunnit ... Big Little Lies: Elvis and Answers


The Rook 1.2: Live Details

The July 4th weekend is over, episode 1.2 of The Rook was just on Starz, no more lazing around by me with leisurely reviews.

This new episode contained a bunch of important new details.   The two most important were:

1.  EVAs - people with Extreme Variant Abilities - are not limited to the British Checquy.  EVAs are known worldwide (less than one-percent of the population) and at least two other top-secret government organizations have them.  These would be American (from which presumably Monica hails) and Russian, at least thus far in the story.  Each organization has a suitably recondite name, and (unsurprisingly) the Russian is at odds if not war with the British and likely the American.   I said last week that The Rook was reminiscent of Counterpart, and it still is.  But this international scope is something that Counterpart never got around to.   Also, it's worth mentioning something that was just hinted at last week: EVAs have different super-talents.  That's what makes Myfanwy (I keep wanting to spell that My Fanny) so important.

2. Apparently one of the talents is coming back from the dead, apropos the last scene of a guy in the morgue rising.  Now that's a theme that runs all the way from Frankenstein to The Walking Dead.  But in The Rook, it holds all kinds of new possibilities.   In a sense, Myfanwy has come back from the dead, at least the dead zone of her memory.  It was nice to see this metaphor turn into a reality with the guy on the table getting up and walking out.   Presumably his memory is still intact.  Is he always invulnerable to death, or just the way it was meted out in his case?

Lots of interesting questions and areas for exploration in this compelling new series.  I'd like to learn more about the blond Gestalts.  I'll see you here next week with reflections on what I learn from the next episode.

See also:  The Rook 1.1: Dickian Pastiche

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

Friday, July 5, 2019

Absentia 2: Even More There Than the First Season

Absentia showed up for its second season on Amazon Prime a few weeks ago.  I liked it even better than the first, for at least three reasons:

1.  The villain was a terrorist group rather than a serial killer.  Emily's story - she was chosen for a combination genetic/conditioning experiment to bring out her innate violence - is still paramount.  But her prime antagonist is an international group bent on lethal damage to society.

2. I liked the new characters introduced, especially at the FBI.  Rather than Emily as a former/current FBI agent against her superiors and colleagues, season 2 provides a much richer tableau of agents with all kinds of agendas.

3.  In part as a result of #2, but for other reasons as well, there are more surprises in season 2, including unexpected deaths and one huge surprise about one of the villains.   Even in the first season, most of the characters were so conflicted that they easily could have turned out to be demons.  This is accentuated in the second season, giving it a more edge-of-your-seat ambience, especially in the concluding episodes.

All in all, Absentia has carved out an unusual niche for itself, in a television field crowded with female FBI agents all over the screen.  Emily has a unique provenance with an unusual set of traits, and she slowly is becoming one of my favorite characters on television.

See also: Absentia: In Your Face and Worth Watching

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

City on a Hill 1.3: One Upping The Sopranos

What better day to review City on a Hill and its Boston story than July 3?  Well, maybe tomorrow, July 4, but I'll be spending most of that day in Cape Cod Bay, and likely won't be writing many reviews.  As for City, of its three primary interlocking stories lines - police Jackie, DA DeCourcy, and heister Frankie - I continue to find Jackie's the most powerful, in particular the story of Jackie and his wife Jenny.

In 1.3, Jenny, like the mostly good Catholic she is, seeks the advice of her priest in dealing with her frustrating lack of sexual relationship with her husband.  The priest's counsel is, unsurprisingly, not very helpful.  But note the handsome young priest who is also sitting in on the conversation.  Jackie certainly did, though she kept it to herself in the conversation.  The audience certainly did.   It whispered a revisiting one of the most memorable interludes on The Sopranos.

Carmela Soprano had, well, not an explicit sexual relationship with Father Phil, but there was erotic energy in every plate of food she made for him.  Jenny is not quite there yet with Father Doyle, but his paying Jenny a visit at her home later in the episode is a big step in the right direction.  Carmela never got beyond the food surrogate.   Maybe that was because, let's face it, Tony might well have killed Phil if his relationship with Carmela went any further.  But Jackie's not a killer - at least, not that kind of killer - so that leaves more room for Jenny and Doyle to sooner or later end up in bed.  Add to that the fact that Jenny is far more motivated than Carmela - Jenny's been sex-deprived for how many years? - and I'd say it's a very good bet that the comfort they'll share will be more than food.

Hey, enjoy the 4th and the food and the family, and I'll see you here next week.

See also City on a Hill: Possibilities ... City on a Hill 1.2: Politics in a Cracked Mirror


Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Big Little Lies 2.4: Bonnie's Deepest Motives

Big Little Lies 2.4 is finally beginning to get down to brass tacks on what Bonnie's real or deepest motives were in pushing Perry down those stairs.  The question has been looming since the season 1 finale, and has been lurking around every episode in season 2.

The proximate fuse we all saw was Bonnie reacting to the abuse Perry was dishing out to several of our leading women.  But what did that fuse ignite that was already inside Bonnie?   Nothing out there in the open as yet, but clearly that fuse is connected to Bonnie's mother.

And all of this is happening just in time, at least for us, the viewers' sake.  Because what we also saw in episode 2.4 is Bonnie's coalition of conspirators beginning to come apart.  It's a bad thing when your coalition of supporters is beginning to talk amongst each other about ending that support.

Meanwhile, although this may not have much relevance to what happens to Bonnie - though everything is complexly connected on this show - I've got to say that I don't have much sympathy for Ed.  I mean, true, he cheated on Madeleine, but he's still acting like something between a nebish and a schmuck.  I'm thinking Madeline and he may not wind up together in the end, after all.

And speaking of together, it's ominous, at least for their mothers, to see all of Perry's children getting closer and closer together.   Not exactly one big happy family, with each of the mothers having ample reason to hate Perry, and Perry's mother pushing the family buttons at every available time.

More reflections next week.

See also Big Lies 2.1: Grandma On a Mission ... Big Little Lies 2.2: Perry's Progeny ... Big Little Lies 2.3: Together

And see also Big Little Lies: Big Good, Truly ... Big Little Lies 1.5: Multivalent Whodunnit ... Big Little Lies: Elvis and Answers


The Rook: Dickian Pastiche

The Rook on Starz starts off with a bunch of familiar premises - someone (in this case, a young woman) wakes up in a dangerous situation with no knowledge of who she is.  She gradually learns about her past and situation from a series of helpful messages from her younger self, who knows she's in danger of having her memory wiped.  We and she learn that she (Myfanwy is her name) is part of an MI6-type British secret service group.  And soon another very different, but also very familiar, trope is revealed:  Myfanwy has some kind of super powers - the ability to inflict physical damage on people via her mind - and the MI6 group (Checguy) is somehow all about this.

Now, I'm a sucker for all of that stuff - I stayed with Heroes until the very end, including its sequel - so I'm open to seeing another rendition of it.  And I liked what I saw in the first episode, which, for a variety of reasons including the pacing and cinematography, actually reminded me more of the late, departed, superb Counterpart, also on Starz, than anything else.

The ambience and story-line is of course also very much in the Philip K. Dick mode, which is also always welcome.  Dick was a master of exploring people not knowing who they are, and the voyage of discovery uncovering all kinds of wrinkles and black holes, figurative and literal, in the universe.  The Rook looks to be more down-to-Earth, and that's ok, too.

There's also, apropos Heroes, an almost Japanese flavor to this narrative.   Although the locale is London, lots of the scenes felt like they were somewhere in Tokyo.  But this also loops back to Dick and the Bladerunner movies.

All in all, then, The Rook is intriguing, colorful, and I'll stick around at least a little while to see how it plays out.

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

Sunday, June 30, 2019

The Loudest Voice 1.1: Fox Launch

The Loudest Voice just launched on Showtime tonight, with an episode about the launch of Fox News.  Or, more specifically, about how Roger Ailes (stunningly portrayed by Russell Crowe) launched Fox News, and with just about everyone else on the screen (the screen of The Loudest Voice) kicking and screaming.  That includes owner Rupert Murdock, and just about everyone else in Ailes's orbit.

First, a few words from me about Fox News.  Although I've strongly disagreed from the outset with its politics, I've admired their green rooms (I've been a guest on O'Reilly, etc), and, more importantly, the savvy they've shown in how to present a news opinion show.  It wasn't the least bit surprising to me when they jumped to first place in cable news, leaving CNN and MSNBC in the dust.  This state continued until Trump and his awful Presidency drove up viewership of both Fox competitors, especially MSNBC.

But I digress.  I was never on the inside of Fox News.  I knew Fox News just as a viewer and as an occasional guest on one of its prime time shows.  So I have no idea how truthful or not this story of Ailes and the begetting of Fox News is.  But it certainly conforms to what I do know.

Not only did the green rooms have a great assortment of bagels, juices, and teas, but the corridors were buzzing with an energy I never saw when I was a guest on CNN or MSNBC.  You could tell when you got a peek at the control rooms that the people who worked on Fox knew they were part of a revolution in news presentation, and loved it.

Of course, as we'll see in weeks ahead, not everyone at Fox continued to love it or had reason to love it.   But that's a different part of the story, and there's no denying that Fox utterly dominated cable news in the first decades of its existence, in an age right between the hegemony of network television and the rise of social media.   The Loudest Voice offers a crucial and compelling picture of just how this came to be.


FYI, here's a list of my television appearances.

And here's an example of me and O'Reilly:

Minor Quibble with Kamala Harris: The Opposite of Science Fact is not Science Fiction

Although it's at most a minor quibble with Kamala Harris's superb performance in this past Thursday's Democratic debate - see my assessment of that over here - I thought, as a past President of the Science Fiction Writers of America (1998-2001), that I ought to weigh in on a concern which has made it all the way to The Washington Post.

The concern arises from Harris's point made during the debate that our response to climate change needs to be based on "science fact not science fiction".   Unfortunately, this contrast, likely the product of one of Harris's writers not what she herself may think, shows a woeful misunderstanding and ignorance of science fiction.  Anyone who has read any of Asimov, Heinlein, and Clarke, not to mention Verne and Wells, would know that science fiction does not deny or belittle science.  To the contrary, the essence of science fiction is to use science as a foundation to explore dramatic situations, including global catastrophes, and predictions of the future.

As a science fiction author myself - of novels and short stories - I have had the majority of my short stories (some 17) published in Analog Magazine, aka Analog Science Fiction and Fact Magazine.  Over the years, newer writers have asked me what I would recommend for enhancing their chances of getting published in Analog.  My answer: get your science right, and make sure it plays a decisive part in your story.

The fundamental connection between science fiction and science fact has been recognized by scientists such as Marvin Minsky, who said Asimov's robot stories inspired Minsky's life-long work in AI, and by Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman, who cited Asimov's Foundation series as inspiration for Krugman's work in economics.

And, to get back to Harris's inapt comparison, it's not that hard to find suitable opposites to science - pseudo-science, fantasy, conspiracy theory, all would have worked well in Harris's formulation.

But, as I said, this is a minor quibble, and now that I've gotten it of my system, I can return to thinking about who is the best candidate to beat Trump.  Harris's performance on Thursday makes her a major contender.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

First 2020 Democratic Presidential Debate, Part 2 of 2: Winners and Losers

I thought the second part of the first 2020 Democratic Presidential debate was better than the first part - on yesterday - in that more of the ten on stage had standout moments.   My assessment follows, in descending order of what I thought were the best performances:

Harris was clearly outstanding and the best tonight.  She was powerful and eloquent on health care and immigration.  She was strong on the need to curb racism, including an attack on Biden for working with Southern racist Senators.  I liked her intention to take executive action on banning assault weapons (though Swalwell was even stronger on this issue), and she had the best closing statement.

Gillibrand did a lot of good for herself on the need to curb gun violence, and on the danger of compromising on women's rights.  I think she'll rise in the polls as a result of tonight's performance.

Among all the crucially important issues that beset us, I put reducing gun violence, aka gun control, at the top of the list.   I therefore agree completely with Swalwell putting gun control at the top of his list.  His plan to buy back assault weapons makes good sense, and he captured the stakes in this issue well with his observation that we need to "love our children more than our guns".

Bennet was correct to speak about Nazi concentration camps in his denunciation of the camps for immigrants at our Southern border, and he was right to stress the need to win back the Senate in the 2020 election (as Booker did last night).

Sanders had a strong closing statement, and he was passionate as always on the need to equalize wealth in America.

Buttigieg was powerful and articulate on the need to end police racism, but Swalwell did him one better by challenging him to fire the Police Chief of South Bend.

Biden took a long time to come alive - too long - and responded pretty well to Harris's attacks (but he should have kept talking).   He was excellent on the evil of putting children in cages, strong on the need to get our troops out of Afghanistan, and right to hold gun manufacturers responsible (but why let the NRA off the hook?).  His closing statement was ok - which is about the best you could say about his overall performance.

The other three either outright crazy (Williamson), too focused on a single issue (Yang), or nothing special (Hickenlooper).  I don't expect any of them to be on stage for the next debate.

But I'll be back here with another review.

See also First 2020 Democratic Presidential Debate, Part 1 of 2: Winners and Losers

Joe Biden does become President in this 2014 novel

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

First 2020 Democratic Presidential Debate, Part 1 of 2: Winners and Losers

I thought the first Democratic debate - the first of two - was excellent and inspiring.  Here are my thoughts on the winners and losers:

There were no outright gaffs by anyone - the closest was Ryan saying the Taliban were responsible for 9/11 (the Taliban did support Al Quaeda) - so I'll share what I thought were the strongest moments.  If I don't mention someone, that means in my opinion she or he did not do very well.   The following is in descending order of what I thought were the best performances:

I thought DeBlasio made the greatest number of excellent points, beginning with his opening statement on the soul of the Democratic Party.  He followed with a powerful denunciation of the greed of health-insurance companies, and the need to replace them with Medicare for all.  He later  made the astute point that Americans have lost their jobs not due to immigrants but the actions of big corporations.  He was also eloquent on the need to do more about police victimization of minorities, and on the need for Congressional approval of U.S. military actions.  And I liked his answer on the biggest threat to the U.S.: Russia and its interference with our elections.  (Given the number of times that the 2-hour MSNBC broadcast was interrupted by blank screens, I wonder if the Russians weren't hacking some of MSNBC's computers.)   All in all, I thought DeBlasio established himself tonight as a passionate and articulate candidate.  Given his low standing in the polls, his performance was the biggest surprise.  As someone who works in NYC, and lives close by, I'm happy to see this.

Booker was excellent, too.  He was right on about health-care insurers profiteering, and on ICE and their Nazi tactics (my word not his).  I also liked his vision of the Democrats not only winning the Presidency but both Houses of Congress in the next election.  And it was good to hear him talk about the need to protect LGBQT communities.

Warren started out great on the need for healthcare for all, and for Roe vs. Wade to be enacted by Congress into Federal law.  But she wasn't strong enough on gun control, and was silent or didn't say enough on some major issues, including immigration.  Given that she is pretty high up in the polls, her performance was not as good as expected.

Klobuchar, on the other hand, was better than expected.   I liked her brief for a sane foreign policy, and she was excellent on kids leading the charge for better gun control.   I think she came out a lot better than she went in on this debate.

Castro was likable and very effective on ending the criminalization of illegal immigrants (those violations should be civil offenses).  And he was 100% right when he said the tragic drownings of a father and daughter in the Rio Grande today should not only break our hearts but "piss us all off".  I think his performance tonight made him much more of a contender.

And ... that's it.  No one else made much of an impression, including Beto O'Rourke, whose weak performance tonight might be the effective end of his campaign.

See you here tomorrow after Part 2.

See also First 2020 Democratic Presidential Debate, Part 2 of 2: Winners and Losers

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Luther 5.4: Lethal Love

Luther concluded its fifth season - with episode 5.4 - in the U. S. on Sunday night with a permanently game-changing series of developments.

I said in my review of 5.3 that it was unlikely that Alice would be killed, but the only thing I was certain about was Luther surviving.  I was right about that, but never expected that Alice would take her own life, and, even more so, after killing Detective Sgt. Catherine Halliday.

But in retrospect it all makes sense.   Halliday was Luther's partner, and though there was nothing romantic between them, Luther's partnering with a woman was more than Alice could abide.  She loved Luther with a vengeance, in all meanings of the word.

And Luther loved Alice.  In their final discussion, Luther acknowledges that this is what love was - the "this" being the agony of his loving someone like Alice, a sociopathic killer, and she loving someone like him, a police detective.

And, although Luther wasn't physically killed, that love got him shot up pretty badly, and maybe killed his career as police.  Well, maybe not that, maybe not that fast, but Luther's being led off in handcuffs, with Martin wanting Luther's overcoat over those handcuffs to protect him from media embarrassment, was quite a scene.  The emblematic overcoat over handcuffs, symbolizing how far Luther had gone to protect Alice.

It was a powerful and decisive season, and, as ever with Luther, I'm looking forward to more.

See also Luther 5.1: Back in Fine, Depraved Form ... Luther 5.2: "A Chocolate Digestive" ... Luther 5.3: Bitter Fruit

And see also Luther: Between the Wire and the Shield ... Luther 3.1: Into the Blender ... Luther 3.2: Success ... Luther 3.3: The Perils of Being an Enemy ... Luther 3.4: Go Ask Alice


City on a Hill 1.2: Politics in a Cracked Mirror

City on a Hill 1.2 continued to develop Jackie's connection to the Kennedys.  He joined the FBI, we learned, back in the 1960s, when RFK was Attorney General, and Jackie wanted to be part of his team.   He lost his faith in politics after voting once for Jimmy Carter.  And as a political marker of when the series is taking place, in 1992, we see a bit from Bill Clinton's "come-back kid" speech in New Hampshire.   (Speaking today, when I watched this, our past Presidents all look like angels compared to what we've got now in the White House.)

I like the way Jackie's character is developing.  His mother-in-law gets the call from the docs, telling her that Jackie has no venereal disease.  She lies to him and tells him the docs said that he does.  This forces Jackie to decline his wife's invitation to have sex that evening.  With Jill Hennessy playing Jackie's wife Jenny, that really showed commendable restraint on Jackie's part.  Jenny, not knowing why Jackie said no, thinking she's unwanted, is left upset and crying.   Altogether one powerful scene.

Decourcy has a strong night, too.  He admits he never knew MLK.   He also admits that he lost his eye to cancer not his father.  His no-compromise stance is actually reminiscent, in a way, of RFK.

No big action from the heist men in 1.2.  Instead, we see the screws continuing to tighten on them.  It's not easy being on the wrong side of the law, even in Boston in 1992.   City on a Hill is roughly based on real Boston history.  But I'm not looking on Wikipedia, because I want to be surprised.

Sterling acting, as I mentioned in my review of 1.1.  I liked the second episode better than the first, always a good sign.   Count on me, for what it's worth, to watch the entire season, and report back here with reviews of every episode.

See also City on a Hill: Possibilities


Monday, June 24, 2019

Big Little Lies 2.3: Together

One of the most impressive and endearing things about Big Little Lies this season is the way the women conspirators hang together - well, not conspirators in terms of explicit planning, but witnesses to a death, Perry's, of which for one reason or another they deeply approve.

In episode 2.3, we see a great example of this mutual support as Celeste comes to Madeline's emotional aid, reversing the vector of support we saw last week.  Madeline is one of the stronger women in the group, perhaps the strongest, but she's in real need of help to deal with her husband finding out about her brief affair.   The shrink was almost no help at all.   Celeste gave Madeline the conversation she needed.

Of course, one powerful woman who isn't teaming with the rest, and is indeed their inexorable antagonist, is Perry's mother Mary.  In 2.3, she has, well, the gall, to confront and grill Jane on her rape by Perry.   In her zeal not just to understand her son's death but save his good name, she applies her knowledge of Perry's violence - obtained from Celeste - to concoct a theory that maybe Jane lured Perry into some kind of rough sex by some kind of signals she gave him.  Whether she gave them consciously or not, Jane is suitable outraged by the suggestion, and holds her own against the prosecutorial Mary.

Also of note in episode 2.3 is the continuing potential undermining of the alliance to protect Bonnie.  Last week we saw a reason Renata might have for turning Bonnie in.  This week we saw a simmering problem between Bonnie and Madeline.   Big Little Lies continues as an excellent example, not of a whodunnit, but what happens to the person whodunnit in an environment in which her protectors are both staunch and unstable.

See also Big Lies 2.1: Grandma On a Mission ... Big Little Lies 2.2: Perry's Progeny

And see also Big Little Lies: Big Good, Truly ... Big Little Lies 1.5: Multivalent Whodunnit ... Big Little Lies: Elvis and Answers


Sunday, June 23, 2019

The Old Man and the Gun: Don't Retire

So, right in the middle of a fabulous little squall on Cape Cod last night, which knocked over chairs and an umbrella stand on our deck, my wife and I watched The Old Man and the Gun on HBO.  The squall was more exciting, but The Old Man starring Robert Redford had it beat hands down in sheer charm and style, and was much more enjoyable in its understated beauty.

The signature of Forrest Tucker, the real life bank robber and escape artist portrayed in this movie, was his smile -- at least in this movie.  And who else on this planet to better play a charming, smiling bank robber than Redford?  He announced after completion of the movie in August of last year that he was retiring from acting.  Here's a strong hope that he shouldn't.

Sissy Spacek, who isn't retiring, was a great recipient of Tucker/Redford's charm.   In fact, the two make one of the best couples I've seen in a while in a movie.  And, refreshingly, she's not like Bonnie with Clyde.  Instead, she provides a sensible, caring restraint on Tucker, who, however, can't resist his larcenous influences for too long.

Good supporting acting from Casey Affleck, Danny Glover, and Tom Waits, along with a comfortable early 1980s ambience, make all of this a pleasure to see.   Tucker wasn't quite Robin Hood - he generally kept his ill-gotten gains to himself - but I've always had a soft spot for a thief with a heart, and Redford with his winning smile brings him home to us just perfectly.


Saturday, June 22, 2019

my Readercon 30 schedule Quincy, MA, July 12–14, 2019

July 12, 5:00 PM Salon 4 • Fascism as a Genre • Gillian Daniels, Ruthanna Emrys, Paul Levinson (moderator), Howard Waldrop Many thinkers have approached fascism as storytelling. In 1936, Walter Benjamin wrote, “The logical result of Fascism is the introduction of aesthetics into political life.” Umberto Eco’s 1995 essay “Ur-Fascism” considered this approach. And in 2018, Nick Harkaway tweeted, “Part of the danger of Fascism is that it’s less an agenda and more a style.” How can the lens of genre help us understand and combat fascism in the present era? What would anti-fascist aesthetics look like, and how can we write them into speculative fiction?

10:30 PM Salon 3 • Meet the Pros(e) Each writer at this party has selected a short, pithy quotation from their own work and is armed with a sheet of 30 printed labels, the quote replicated on each. As attendees mingle, the request “May I have a sticker?” provides a convenient icebreaker for tongue-tied fans approaching the pros whose work they love. Rearrange stickers to make a poem or statement, wear them as decoration, or simply enjoy the opportunity to meet and chat with your favorite writers.

July 13, 12:00 PM (Noon) Salon 3 • The Implications of SFWA’s Rate Increase • Scott H. Andrews, Pablo Defendini, Michael J. DeLuca (moderator), Paul Levinson, Romie Stott SFWA will be be raising their designated qualifying rate for fiction from 6 to 8 cents per word in September. It might seem a small change, but it has the potential to alter the field significantly for a lot of writers, readers, editors, and publishers. This panel, led by Michael J. DeLuca, will discuss what the change means for specific markets, who’ll be able to meet the new rate, who benefits and who doesn’t, and how this relates to the broader economic and political climate. This session has CART real-time captioning.

July 14, 11:30 AM Salon C • Reading: Paul Levinson - I'll be reading, for the first time in public, my new alternate-reality Beatles short story, "It's Real Life"

12:00 PM (Noon) Autograph Table • Autographs: Paul Levinson, Dianna Sanchez

More details here - come on by!

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

City on a Hill: Possibilities

I saw the first episode of City on a Hill on Showtime.  I'll probably keep watching - mainly because its story and characters are nothing we haven't seen before, in movies and on TV, but very well paced and acted.

Kevin Bacon is back playing another FBI man, this time a seasoned and cynical agent in Boston in the 1990s.   He forms an unlikely alliance with a gung-ho DA in Boston by way of Brooklyn, played by Aldis Hodge, last seen by me in Turn.   (The two B's always did have a lot in common, though less so since the Brooklyn Dodgers decamped to LA in the late 1950s.)  As I said, the narrative is well acted.  Another Kevin - Chapman - who has played a cop or detective well in countless television shows, is back doing the same again.

The antagonists are a family of bank robbers (actually, armored car, to be more precise), who, like most of these Boston capers, aren't exactly Brinks robbery calibre.  But it's good to see a Boston crime family again, in full Boston accents, replete with leaders, dummies, and traitors.

The 1990s setting is the most original element in the series, and good to see.   But I thought the commentary was a bit too obvious.  I don't recall anyone especially talking about JFK in the 1990s, even in Boston.   On the other hand, yeah, it is Boston, so if he was talked about anywhere in the 1990s, that would be where it was.   And he did give the famous "City on a Hill" speech there as President-elect in 1961.

There's a great twist at the end of the episode, which of course I'm not going to tell you about.   But it was enough to get me off the fence and decide to watch at least the next episode.  Hey, I'm on Cape Cod right now, in almost shouting distance from Boston, and that's the least I can do.


Monday, June 17, 2019

Luther 5.3: Bitter Fruit

Alice's killing of George's son bore bitter fruit in Luther 5.3, as George goes after Alice and Luther to exact his revenge.  Of course, that's just what Alice intended - to draw George out into an all-out war against Luther, on the bet, probably safe, that Luther would prevail in the end and rid Alice and everyone else of George.

Did she worry about collateral damage?  Probably not.   Poor Benny went that way.  Alice herself is now at the other end of a gun.  But I can't see her succumbing after all this good effort to bring her back.

Meanwhile, the Lake story has come to an end of sorts, at least for Vivienne.  Her attempts to restrain her psycho husband fail.  After imploring him not to endanger her with his nefarious deeds, Jeremy drugs her, undresses her, tucks her in bed, in the hopes that she won't find out about his latest victim, at this point a kidnap.  But of course she does, and before the evening is over she's arrested by Luther, on the verge of dismembering the poor young woman to cover up her husband's evil work.

He manages to escape, so here's where we are on the edge of the season finale next week:  Jeremy's at large, desperate to escape and do who knows what.   George's hit men have Alice and Mark in their possession, with a tough road for Luther to free them, unscathed, and unhurt himself.   Actually, unscathed is no doubt impossible at this point.  The best we can hope for is unkilled.

And even though I can't see Alice dying - which would be a double death for Ruth Wilson in tempestuous characters in love affairs these past few years - I'd say the only survival we can be sure of Luther's.

See also Luther 5.1: Back in Fine, Depraved Form ... Luther 5.2: "A Chocolate Digestive"

And see also Luther: Between the Wire and the Shield ... Luther 3.1: Into the Blender ... Luther 3.2: Success ... Luther 3.3: The Perils of Being an Enemy ... Luther 3.4: Go Ask Alice