If you are a devotee of time travel...

Friday, June 2, 2023

Robots Through the Ages, AI, and Chat GPT

Welcome to Light On Light Through, Episode 353, in which Captain Phil and I discuss the new anthology Robots Through the Ages -- with stories by Ambrose Bierce, Philip K. Dick, and other titans, as well as relative newbies like me -- and AI and Chat GPT.

Links to what is discussed in the podcast:


Check out this episode!

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Fatal Attraction (2023, the TV series), Season One: Welcome to the Jung-le

Fatal Attraction -- the new 2023 series -- finished its 8-episode first season on Paramount on Sunday.  Yes, it's the same story as the 1987 pathbreaking movie, retold and refigured in all kinds of significant and even profound ways, which I think largely succeeded.

[And there will be spoilers ahead ... ]

First, I saw and much enjoyed the 1987 movie, though I don't recall many of the important details.  The TV series is half a retelling of that story, and half a narrative that takes place 15 years in the future, when Dan Gallagher is released from prison after serving his time for killing Alexandra.  As we soon learn, though, he lied when he told he the parole board that he understood the evil he had done in murdering Alex -- he lied to get his freedom, which he intends to use to prove his innocence and find out who really did do the murder.

So that's a pretty strong set-up for a new take on this story, and it's enhanced with an increasing focus on Ellen (Dan and his wife's Beth's daughter), 15 years older, now in college, and immersed in the cognitive joys of discovering the theories of Carl Jung, second only to Freud as the inventor of modern psychology.  Jung has popped up in all kinds of places in our popular culture, but none as explicitly and effectively as with Ellen, who is attracted to Jung's concept of the shadow, and in the final stunner of the TV series becomes an embodiment of the concept, as her shadow takes her over and she becomes the new Alex. 

But who killed the original Alex?  The answer gives us the other shocker of the TV series.  The killer is indeed not Dan, and nor is it Beth, who did the deed in the movie.  I was thinking throughout the series that the killer might be Mike, but it turns out to be Arthur, friend of the Gallaghers, whose wife is dying of cancer, and who will later become Beth's partner.    I thought this worked -- his wife dying was a plausible foundation for taking such a drastic action -- but it was the weakest part of the new story.  First, too much time was devoted to Arthur before he killed Alex, so much, indeed, that I began to suspect that he was going to be the killer, or why spend so much time on him?  And, unless I missed it, I didn't see any foretelling of Arthur's propensity for violence earlier in the series.

But, all in all, I found the TV series daring and intelligent, and well worth viewing.  The acting was superb, with  Joshua Jackson as Dan, Lizzy Caplan as Alex, Amanda Peet as Beth, and Alyssa Jirrels as Ellen especially outstanding.  And hats off to showrunner Alexandra Cunningham (see Jackie Strause's interview with her in the Hollywood Reporter).

Whether there will be a second season is unknown at this point.  I certainly hope there is.  Indeed, Ellen's story itself could well take more than one season to be properly told.

Friday, May 26, 2023

Citadel 1.4-1.6: The Arch Anti-Hero

Well, I held off reviewing the final three episodes of the first season of Citadel (on Amazon Prime Video) until I'd seen the sixth and final episode -- which I just did -- because events were moving so fast in these episodes that I realized I wouldn't know what was going on, at least not well enough to write a coherent review, until I'd seen the final episode.

And, yeah, was I right.

[Huge spoilers ahead ... ]

So the big stunning reveal in the final episode of this season tells us how and why the mole in Citadel brought it down.  And along with that -- who the mole was.   It's none other than Mason Kane, who turns out to be Dahlia's son.   Dahlia of course is the head of what we thought was the nefarious organization Manticore that brought Citadel down.  The revelation that Kane was the instrument of Citadel's destruction is the equivalent of James Bond being Blofeld's son, and he helped his father bring down MI6.

And before that beyond-shocker, we get a quick series of just slightly less profound reveals.  We meet Nadia's daughter, who, unsurprisingly is also Mason's.  This is followed almost immediately with Mason/Kyle being reunited with his new family (we found out a few episodes ago that his wife, whom we met in the first episode, is actually another Citadel agent, who also had her memories wiped and replaced, due to Mason's insistence!).  In a memorable sequences of scenes, we see Mason/Kyle's two families meeting each other for the first time.

And this, as I said, happens right before Mason, his memories restored, discovers that he is the villain he has been searching for and we have been wondering about this whole short season.  If I wanted to get literary about all of this, I'd say this makes Mason an arch anti-hero.  But I'll confine myself to saying these six episodes were fine fictional spycraft indeed, and good science fiction, as well.  I'll be sure to watch and review whatever new Citadel stories become available.

See also:  Citadel 1.1-1.2: Memories and Questions ... 1.3: Jedi

Silo 1.5: Revelations

Well, I said last week that I thought Marnes would survive, and

[Spoilers ahead ... ]

I was wrong.  As we quickly found out at the start of Silo 1.5, just up on Apple TV+ tonight, he succumbed to shotgun we saw pointed at him last week.  And what followed was a powerhouse episode with all kinds of disconcerting touches, such as parents afraid to send their kids to school, which sounds a hell of a lot like the USA right now and our deadly contagion of guns, doesn't it.

And we get all kinds of revelations, among the biggest that Trumbull is likely/definitely the killer of the Mayor and Marnes. He almost kills Juliet, as she's hanging over the side, fighting for her life, which she likely would have lost had those two good Samaritan runners not come and saved her.  I was thinking, as she was struggling, that she's too important a character to die, but then again, the Mayor and Marnes and Holston were too important, too, and that didn't save them.

I had a feeling Sims was going to kill Trumbull, as Sims was remarking how much he liked the quiet of the dead of night, with no one around.  Right, no one around to see him throw Trumbull over the railing.  As I think I said before, Sims strikes me as the most villainous character so far in this story.  I'd say he killed Trumbull because he didn't want Trumbull to tell anyone that he'd killed all these major characters on Sims' orders.

Silo 1.5 also comes packed with all kinds of scientific and tech revelations about what's going on in this hole.  We find out two tonight: that the Pact forbids any automatic ways of getting up and down -- no elevators or escalators.  And the even more significant thing -- more significant to my scholarly work about media -- that the Pact forbids any magnification devices.  Presumably to keep the denizens from reading any fine print and seeing who knows what else.

As I said, a powerful episode, capped off with a discovery of stars.

See also Silo 1.1-1.2: A Unique Story, Inside and Out ... Silo 1.3: Like Chernobyl, Repaired ... 1.4: Truth, Not Quite

Monday, May 22, 2023

It's Real Life audiobook

 on Audible, Amazon, AppleSpotify, etc

My alternate history short story about The Beatles -- "It's Real Life" (which you can read for free here) -- has been made into a radio play, which you now obtain in an audiobook on AudibleAmazon, AppleSpotify, and all the usual places. Among the people and places you'll find in this 24-minute radio play, followed by an 18-minute interview with me: Pete Fornatale, Dennis Elsas, The Beatles, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, WFUV Radio, Barnes & Noble, with musical performances by The Bangles, Anne Reburn, and Spencer Hannabus. Enjoy! 

 "The radio play of 'It’s Real Life' is set on Paul Levinson’s home campus of Fordham University and has a fictional version of the legendary New York disk jockey, Pete Fornatale of WNEW-FM and WFUV (Fordham’s radio station), hurrying through the tunnels under the campus, which transports him to an alternate reality. Full of Beatles references and music, and the interview with Levinson at the conclusion of the play is rich with Fordham and musical history (and music) and is extremely well done — the whole package is highly recommended. Tune in and be transformed into your own alternate reality. --John F. McMullen, Poet Laureate, Town of Yorktown, NY

Friday, May 19, 2023

Silo 1.4: Truth, Not Quite

The excellent episode 1.4 of Silo up on Apple TV+ today is entitled "Truth," no doubt after the word inscribed on the back of Holston's sheriff badge, now in the possession of Juliet.  But there wasn't much truth revealed in this episode, as far as I could see, and hence no spoiler warning immediately after this paragraph.  But the episode was still a pleasure to see, and my guess is some of what we saw will be crucial in subsequent episodes.

It was good and informative to see Juliet as a teenager, and Iain Glen does a fine job of portraying her father over a decade earlier than we see him in the present.  We do confirm that the mortality rate is really high for these denizens of the silo, and not because they all go outside to clean and apparently die.

[Ok, some new developments are ahead, so here's a mild warning about Spoilers ... ]

I'd say the most interesting strategic development in this episode is the deal that Juliet and Marnes pretty much make (pretty much, because Marnes may not be 100% aboard), which is Marnes will help Juliet find out who killed George (even though Marnes is not sure George was murdered) and Juliet will help Marnes find who killed the late Mayor Jahns.   This makes Marnes an even more crucially important character than he's been so far.

Which in turn makes the final scene, and Marnes' survival or not, a really pivotal moment.  We earlier are faked out in a scene in which it looks like Marnes is preparing to take his life, when all he's doing is constructing a punch bag or whatever that contraption is called.  But the last scene clearly shows Marnes on the wrong side of a shotgun, after a valiant fight in which he almost gets the better of his presumably murderous intruder.   Again, I haven't read the books, so I honestly don't know what will happen, but I think that Marnes will survive.  On the one hand, life is cheap in the silo, as I said before.  But on the other hand, Marnes's murder would take away a really big character, and one which Juliet has talked into what would really be an essential deal.

See you back here next week with my review of the next episode.

See also Silo 1.1-1.2: A Unique Story, Inside and Out ... Silo 1.3: Like Chernobyl, Repaired

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

"Robinson Calculator" in Robots Through the Ages

available for pre-order here

Beyond honored and delighted to announce that my 2019 novelette, "Robinson Calculator," will be in Robots Through the Ages, an anthology with stories by Ambrose Bierce, Philip K, Dick, and other past masters of the genre, to be published by Blackstone Press on July 25, 2023.

Here's the Table of Contents.  More details including blurbs, reviews, etc over here.

INTRODUCTION by Robert Silverberg
PERFECTION by Seanan McGuire
MOXON’S MASTER by Ambrose Bierce
WITH FOLDED HANDS by Jack Williamson
GOOD NIGHT, MR. JAMES by Clifford D. Simak
INSTINCT by Lester del Rey
A BAD DAY FOR SALES by Fritz Leiber
SECOND VARIETY by Philip K. Dick
THE GOLEM by Avram Davidson
FOR A BREATH I TARRY by Roger Zelazny
DILEMMA by Connie Willis
THE ROBOT’S GIRL by Brenda Cooper
R.U.R.-8? by Suzanne Palmer
TODAY, I KNOW by Martin L. Shoemaker

Monday, May 15, 2023

Paul Levinson interviews Spencer Hannabus

Welcome to Light On Light Through, Episode 352, in which I interview Spencer Hannabus, who sang "If I Traveled to the Past" at the end of the It's Real Life radio play adapted from my alternate history story about The Beatles, streaming on Killerwatt Radio.  We also discuss our views of The Beatles and their preeminent role in popular culture.  The interview concludes with a mini-concert of three songs by Spencer Hannabus.




Check out this episode!

Friday, May 12, 2023

Silo 1.3: Like Chernobyl, Repaired

A thrilling edge-of-your seat episode 1.3 of Silo, that felt a lot like Chernobyl, except the damaged generator is ... repaired.

And, of course it had to be, because if it wasn't back up and running, it would have killed everyone pretty quickly, and that would have been the end of the series right there.

[And there are spoilers ahead ... ]

Which would have been a shame, because Silo is shaping up as one riveting series.  Juliet not only comes through on the faulty generator -- along with her crack team -- but she's agreed to be the new sheriff, after the mayor gives Juliet the sheriff's badge, and Juliet turns it over to find her predecessor, Sheriff Holston, left her a one-word message: "truth".  There's definitely something vital going on here.

And then there's that big shocker at the end: Mayor Jahns is dying or dead. And she apparently knew she was dying, that's why she excused herself and asked Marnes to choose a dusty bottle of wine.  At least, I think so.  But if she knew she was dying, how long did she know that?  And was she dying because someone poisoned her, and she knew that?  Other possibilities are she took her own life, or she died of natural causes.

One thing is clear so far in the first three episodes of Silo:  life is pretty expendable, in this haven, or prison, or whatever this silo is.  It's pretty clear, now, that anyone and everyone can die, with little or no warning, at any time.  An excellent state for a drama to be in.

See also Silo 1.1-1.2: A Unique Story, Inside and Out

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Silo 1.1-1.2: A Unique Story, Inside and Out

Just saw the first two episodes of Silo on Apple TV+, show-run by Graham Yost, whose previous impressive credits include The Americans, Sneaky Pete, and Justified, based on the Wool series of novels by Hugh Howey that I haven't read.   These first two episodes bear some resemblance to most post-apocalypse stories, and even more to Apple TV+''s much lauded  Severance.  But Silo has a story and an ambience all its own, and it looks to be on its way to a top-notch science fiction series.

[Spoilers follow ...]

The narrative so far takes place in, well, a silo.  You can leave, if if you want, but that's apparently a ticket to death, because there's poison in the air outside.  I say "apparently" because, in the first episode, there's some talk that the deaths of people who leave, which inhabitants see in the silo on a big screen, is what we would today in our off-screen world call deep fakes.  But in the second episode, it seems that Holston and his wife, who left the silo two years earlier, really did die.  If I had to bet ... I don't know, but I'd come down on they're both being alive.

At this point, I don't see too many villains at hand -- maybe the Judiciary, which wields ultimate police power -- but just about all the action involves a bunch of varied people who for a variety of reasons think and maybe are sure that there's something more outside.  These include Sheriff Holston and his wife Allison, who now are either dead or alive outside; George who has discovered something crucial about the silo but is now definitely dead inside it; and Juliet, an engineer, George's lover, sure that he was murdered, and now she's determined to find out what's really going on in and outside the silo.   As I said, a unique narrative in a genre -- post-apocalypse -- where it's not easy to be unique.  And characters are very well played by David Oyelowo as Sheriff Holston, Rasheeda Jones as his wife, Rebecca Ferguson as the engineer, and Will Patton as Holston's deputy.

Eight more episodes to go on a weekly basis, and count me in as an eager viewer.

Saturday, May 6, 2023

The Ark 1.9-1.12: Real Science Fiction

I binged the final four episodes of the first season of The Ark -- again, I was busy talking about the radio play of my alternate history story about The Beatles, "It's Real Life" -- and I'm glad I did, rather than watch those episodes on a weekly basis.  Especially for a narrative like The Ark, binging is the way to go.

And what kind of narrative is The Ark? It's classic science fiction, in the tradition of Hal Clement, and Analog Magazine (where my science fiction has been published more than a dozen times, so I'm a bit biased).  But the hallmark of that kind of science fiction, which The Ark does so well, is life-and-death problems arise which can be solved by the application of ingenious science.

[Spoilers ahead ... ]

So in The Ark, that strange disease killing Bryce and Maddox can be cured by an anti-toxin in which the active ingredient is a spider's venom.  Except it doesn't work. The scientists in Ark 1 come to the rescue: they realize the venom quickly decays, so to get it into the system of the afflicted people, they need to be bitten by the spiders, which naturally injects their venom directly in Bryce's and Maddox's bodies.  That's what I call real science fiction.

Or realizing that what was thought to be water on Proxima B is actually methane, which explodes part of the planet when it's set in motion.   In this case, the only cure is getting out of the way of the debris from the planet, which Ark 1 only barely does, with the ship barely intact.  Science doesn't provide much of a fix, but at least an understanding of what has happened and why.

It used to be said about classic science fiction that it may be good with the science, but not with the human relationships in the story.  That was never really true in the first place, and The Ark does a pretty good job at this, in any case.  I guess my favorite couple is Bryce and Markovic, though outside of that relationship, Bryce is too quick to throw a punch.  But Markovic makes up for that with her savvy and her smile.

I was happy to see that The Ark has been renewed for a second season.  All the way out there in space, on the more advanced Ark 15 now, this story has a lot of life left to it, and I'm looking forward to watching it play out in the years ahead.

See also The Ark 1.1: Worth Watching ... 1.2: Why I'M Enjoying It ... 1.3: Asteroid and Comet ... 1.4: Hallucinations ... 1.5-1.6: More than One ... 1.7: "You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)" ... The Ark 1.8: "Follow Your Future Selves"

a second ship around Proxima Centauri B, too ...

Friday, May 5, 2023

Citadel 1.3: Jedi

So, I said in my review of The Diplomat that it had elements of James Bond.  Citadel, an outright spy thriller, set in the future, of course has elements of Bond, too.  And tonight, watching the third episode, I was struck by the vibe of Star Wars it conveys, too:  Citadel which fell, with just a few disparate agents left, is a lot like the Jedi, and the few of them that remained in the darkest days of the fall and then rise of the Force.

Of course, Star Wars takes place way way in the future, across the galaxy,  and Citadel is all in here on Earth.   But the Jedi excel in mind tricks, and the surviving Citadel crew exult in that, too.

Bernard as a prisoner put on a good show of that tonight in episode 1.3.  He's not just a prisoner, he's a captive on the verge of getting his brain cut into by a ruthless enemy intent on knowing what he knows.  And Bernard talks his way out it, or, at least manages to get his prime torturer to do his bidding by promising something very dear to this guy with a beard.

Meanwhile, we're earlier treated to a great Bondian Jedi scene some ten years earlier, when Nadia, a brand new agent, first meets Mason, and rescues him on a crucial mission.  Speaking of which, we've yet to understand how and why Citadel fell.  Mason is wondering about this, too, including if Nadia was the inside agent which Manticore deployed to deconstruct Citadel.  Of course she isn't, and neither Mason.  I also don't believe that Bernard is some kind of arch double agent.

But, if not one or more of these three, who?  Possibly Carter, whom Citadel was desperately trying to rescue years ago, but I sort of doubt that, too.  All of which is making for a good spy story, which, as I said before, I wish were already all out there for full season streaming.

See alsoCitadel 1.1-1.2: Memories and Questions

Wednesday, May 3, 2023

Star Trek: Picard 3.4-3:10: Biological AI

Well, I stopped reviewing Picard Season 3 after the 3rd episode of that season in March.  Why?  A combination of work on the radio play of my alternate history story about The Beatles, "It's Real Life" ... and, truthfully, I wasn't finding this final season all too captivating.  But I've watched the rest of it in the past few days, and I thought the final four episodes were pure gold.

[Spoilers follow... ]

The dominant theme in those final four episodes was the interface between biology and AI, a fortunate coincidence, given all the attention Chat GPT has been getting these days.  In this final season of Picard, we have Picard himself, whose human mentality was infused into what we would today call an android that looked just like Picard.  That happened in an earlier season.  In the final episodes of this third season, we see Data, an android to begin with, finally achieving the full dimension of human intelligence and spirit he has been so desperately seeking, going way to back to the original Next Generation television series.

But the decisive example of the bio-AI in this streaming season on Paramount Plus is the Borg, in particular, their evolution from circuits to DNA as conduits of their totalitarian order, and in particular, the merger of bio and Borg that we learn close to the end of this season is embodied in Jack, Crusher and Picard's son.  This not only makes biological sense, given that Picard once and in some sense still is the Borg Locutus, but Jack as Borg makes for one of the most exciting life-and-death battles in the whole Star Trek universe of series, as the Borg take over almost all of Starfleet, and threaten the Earth itself.

By the time this fearsome battle in multi-facets is played out, we have the entire original major cast of TNG re-assembled, including Riker and Troi, Geordi, Data, Worf, and Beverly Crusher, who along with Riker had been aboard in the story from the first episode of this season.  The battles were not only breathtaking, but sparkling with humor, with Worf falling asleep and snoring after winning some hand-to-hand combat with some of the Borg in their cube.

And there were heartwarming scenes of the original crew around that poker table, and the depth of the retrieval of the original characters was excellent, going so far as Q in a coda (I had thought that Jack's affliction was caused either by Q or the Borg) and a descendant of Chekov from TOS (voiced by Walter Koenig).  I did regret not seeing Whoopi Goldberg again as the older Guinan, and I did miss Alison Pill as the Borg Queen.

But those are minor quibbles indeed, and having seen all three seasons of Picard, I'd now say it is a memorable success, and a jewel on the Starfleet of Star Trek series.

how AI has been written about through history -- Robots Through the Ages

Saturday, April 29, 2023

Citadel 1.1-1.2: Memories and Questions

Saw the first two episodes of Citadel on Amazon Prime Video -- all that are available this week.  Very good, recommended, and --

[Spoilers ahead ... ]

The key ingredient in this series so far is: memory.  Or, more precisely, memories.  We see in the first episode that the memories of Citadel agents can be remotely erased.  (So, obviously, this takes place in the future.)  This erasure makes lots of sense if you're part of an international organization of good spies (Citadel) at war with an international organization of evil spies (Manticore), because if the bad guys capture you, your top-secret information can't be tortured out of you or otherwise taken.  And then we learn in the second episode that Citadel uploads and stores all the memories of their agents, and keeps them in vials which, when injected into their bodies, brings back the memories of the agent that were previously erased.  This makes lots of sense, too.

It also raises lots of questions, which may or may not be explored in the episodes ahead.  For example, if Agent X's memories are injected into Agent Y, or any other human being, will that recipient suddenly have Agent X's memories?  Or what happens if one person is injected with two or more sets of memories from other people?  Could there be a sage somewhere with a whole collection of memories from agents gone and still present?

But the story is just beginning, so we'll just have to see.  What we do know, by the end of the second episode, is that Mason Kane and Nadia Sinh's memories were at first erased, but only Nadia has recovered hers because, well, it looks like the vial with Mason's memories was damaged and some of the vital fluid leaked out when the bad guys attacked him and Bernard (see below), but who knows, which is to say, I don't really know, because maybe there's still enough of that fluid left in the vial for Mason to at some point recover his memories?  In other words, can just a droplet of memory be cultured to yield someone's full set of lost memories?

Which raises another question: is there any other way that lost memories can be recovered?  Mason and Sinh both seem to have bits in their heads of who they were, which come to them in brief flashes and dreams (which I assume are longer than the flashes, who knows).  And while we're at it, can memories in vials or otherwise be copied of cloned, so that we could actually have two Masons and two Nadias running around?  And/or, can memories be edited, so that only some of the memories can be edited?  And depending on how advanced this memory tech is, could new memories be created in the storage unit, so that when they were injected into the person, they had memories they didn't have in the first place?

Bernard (always good to see Stanley Tucci on the screen), who was in charge of Mason and Nadia before they lost their memories, and apparently still is, would likely know the answers to at least some of these questions.  But he has been wounded and captured by Manticore.  And, also, I'm not clear if he is the ultimate head of Citadel, or just Mason and Nadia's superior.

Anyway, lots to discover in this high octane, fast-moving futuristic spy series, and I'm all in, even if, as you may no doubt already know, I'm grumbling that it's being doled out to us on a less than bingeable basis.


If you like science fiction about memory on the screen, check out RemembranceRememory, and Mnemophrenia.

Monday, April 24, 2023

The Diplomat: West Wing Meets Bond

My wife and I just binged the first season of The Diplomat and loved it.

[Spoilers ahead ... ]

To begin with, it seemed like for most of the first episode -- in fact, until to the very end of that episode -- we were watching an updated, 2023-rendition of West Wing, on a more global scale.  Which would have been very welcome. But the news at the end of this first episode made The Diplomat much more than that.  Almost a James Bond, without the central character being an MI6 agent with a license to kill.   So think The West Wing in politics, and Bond in terms of intrigue bringing the world to the edge of nuclear war, and that's even more welcome than just an updated West Wing.  More welcome, that is, as fiction on the screen, not of course as reality.

Speaking of which, I'd say The Diplomat is the best treatment of world politics in the aftermath of the Russian invasion of Ukraine I've so far seen on the fiction screen.  The attribution of the attack on the British ship to the Russians instantly moves the whole rest of the story into the dilemma of what can be done to punish the Russians, given that Putin has already threatened, many times, to unleash his nukes on Russia's enemies in our off-screen world.

And then there are the twists, the biggest being the one near very end of final episode of this season, that the attack on the British ship was ordered by the British PM, apparently as way of enabling him to be a Churchill of our time, and show Britain and the world how his country deals with deadly aggressors.  I didn't see that coming -- not at all -- and yet it all makes sense in retrospect.

Before I get, though, to the big question, let me say that the acting was superb, on every level.  Keri Russell as the diplomat, Kate Wyler, US Ambassador to the UK, was outstanding, delivering her lines, her facial expressions, and body language with sheet perfection, exceeding her previous peak performance in The Americans.  And Rufus Sewell as her husband Hal was equally outstanding, though I wouldn't say he exceeded his performance in The Man in the High Castle, because that was in a class of its own.  So what I will say is his Hal in The Diplomat is his best performance, other than as a character added to the TV adaption of a science fiction novel that almost single handedly defined a genre.  And in The Diplomat,  Russell and Sewell, individually but especially together, were a pleasure to see.  And the same for everyone else.

Meanwhile, plotwise, I'm still not 100% convinced that their marriage wasn't working out, even though Kate explained that to Hal and us at least a dozen times.  But maybe that's the point -- that Kate feels the need to say -- most of the time -- that they can't make it as a couple, because she knows how deeply she loves him, and still hasn't really convinced herself that the two need to split.

And let's get to the very ending:  a car bomb in London that may have killed Hal, Stuart (Kate's second in command in the US Embassy), and Ronnie.  There are tears in Kate's eyes when she gets the news in Paris.  This means that at very least all three did not escape unscathed.  If I had to bet, I'd say Ronnie was killed and Hal and Stuart survived, both headed to the hospital.  All three dying would dramatically change the basis of the story -- and that would be more true of Hal dying than Stuart dying, so, of the three, I'd say Hal is the most likely survive.  But I'd put my money on seeing Stuart next season, too.

I also have no idea if a decision has even been made as to who will be returning in Season 2.  All I can tell you for sure is that my wife and I will be watching Season 2 of The Diplomat that day that it comes up on Netflix.

Sunday, April 9, 2023

'It's Real Life' on Captain Phil's Planet

Welcome to Light On Light Through, Episode 349, in which I visit Captain Phil's Planet on WUSB Radio (Stony Brook University) where he plays and we discuss the radio play "It's Real Life," adapted from my short story, narrated by Bobby Roberto, produced and streaming on Killerwatt.co Radio.


Check out this episode!

Friday, March 31, 2023

Paul Levinson interviews Anne Reburn

Welcome to Light On Light Through, Episode 348, in which I interview YouTube star cover artist Anne Reburn, who did the cover of John Lennon/The Beatles' "Real Love" in the It's Real Life radio play adapted from my short alternate history about The Beatles, streaming on Killerwatt Radio.


Check out this episode!

Thursday, March 30, 2023

The Night Agent: Right Good

The wife and I binged The Night Agent on the Netflix the past few nights, and enjoyed it.  Both the story, and the fact it was streaming rather than spun out episode by episode over ten weeks, or shown in two parts.

Shawn Ryan put it all together. He did The Shield, probably the best cop show ever on television, and Timeless, not the best time travel ever on television, but pretty good.  I'd say The Night Agent is better than Timeless and not as good as The Shield, but that means The Night Agent is well worth watching indeed.

It's the most reminiscent of 24, even though it takes longer to unfold than a day, and there's no clock literally ticking.  In fact, two of the medium important actors from 24 -- D. B. Woodside and Kari Matchett -- had important roles in The Night Agent, and they both did well.  Woodside played a President (of the United States) in 24, and Matchett plays the same in The Night Agent.

The two lead characters -- Gabriel Basso as Peter Sutherland who works for the Night Agents and Luciane Buchanan as Rose Larkin -- who evolves from depending on Sutherland for her very life to saving his more than once -- are a sharp, spunky couple, and I look forward to seeing them again, whether in another season of The Night Agent (just renewed for a second season) or in other shows.

The villains are probably the weakest part of the story, on all levels, because we've seen something like all of them in one way or another many times before.  But they propel a plot with surprises in every episode, and take part in lots of superb action scenes.

So, yeah, see The Night Agent,  hold on to your seat, and enjoy.

Sunday, March 26, 2023

The Ark 1.8: "Follow Your Future Selves"

Checking in with a review of The Ark 1.8.  If it seems that I'm posting this review a little later than usual, you may be right.   On the other hand, that may just be your perception.  Maybe, in reality -- whatever exactly that may be -- I actually posted this review a day or two ago.  It only seems to you that I'm posting this now, because we're traveling faster than than light, so what happened yesterday or the day before yesterday seems like it's happening now.

That makes sense, right?  Don't ask me, because if I'm traveling faster than light I probably wouldn't know.  Now, last time I checked, we here on Planet Earth are not traveling faster than light.  We're traveling at whatever speed it takes for our planet to circle around the sun, in what we call a year.

Is that clear now?  Of course not.  But I've got to give The Ark credit for presenting this enigma on the screen in a way that almost does make sense.  Alicia, genius that she is, has figured out how to retrofit Ark 1 with the faster-than-light drive that powered Ark 3.  This was developed in principle by Trust but actually put in motion by Trust's successor.   So Trust understands it, or least how to make sense of being on a ship that's moving faster than light, and he helps guide his wife and Alicia to get to a place on Ark 1 where the three catch up to their future selves, i.e., things seem normal on Ark 1, though the ship is apparently not closer to Proxima B.

His wife, by the way, is the jealous type.  Sooner or later she'll walk in on Trust when he's pursuing his proclivities, and who knows what might happen then.  With any luck, someone on the ship will increase its speed even faster -- analogous to exceeding Mach 10 like we saw in Top Gun: Maverick -- and that could shake the wife's confidence in what she thinks she's seeing.

Star Trek has portrayed faster-than-light travel ever since 1960s.  Creds to The Ark for portraying it in a way I haven't seen before.  About the closest might be John Stith's murder mystery on a ship traveling FTL in Redshift Rendezvous -- but, hey, that hasn't been as yet made into a movie or TV series as yet.  So to see it on a screen -- assuming you haven't seen this yet -- follow your future self and watch this episode of The Ark.

See also The Ark 1.1: Worth Watching ... 1.2: Why I'M Enjoying It ... 1.3: Asteroid and Comet ... 1.4: Hallucinations ... 1.5-1.6: More than One ... 1.7: "You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)"

a second ship around Proxima Centauri B, too ...

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

It's Real Life radio play

My alternate history short story about The Beatles -- "It's Real Life" (which you can read for free here) -- has been made into a radio play, which you can listen to for free, anytime here.  Among the people and places you'll find in this 24-minute radio play, followed by an 18-minute interview with me: Pete Fornatale, Dennis Elsas, The Beatles, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, WFUV Radio, Barnes & Noble, with musical performances by The Bangles, Anne Reburn, and Spencer Hannabus.  Enjoy!

"The radio play of 'It’s Real Life' is set on Paul Levinson’s home campus of Fordham University and has a fictional version of the legendary New York disk jockey, Pete Fornatale of WNEW-FM and WFUV (Fordham’s radio station), hurrying through the tunnels under the campus, which transports him to an alternate reality. Full of Beatles references and music, and the interview with Levinson at the conclusion of the play is rich with Fordham and musical history (and music) and is extremely well done — the whole package is highly recommended. Tune in and be transformed into your own alternate reality. --John F. McMullen, Poet Laureate, Town of Yorktown, NY

Thursday, March 16, 2023

The Ark 1.7: "You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)"

The Ark 1.7 offered a dazzling array of concepts and developments, and was the best episode so far in this new series.  If I've said this before, that's an indication of how good The Ark has become.  Even if I hadn't said that, The Ark has moved into some fine science fictional territory.

[And there will be spoilers ahead ... ]

So, I said in my review last week that I thought that other Ark floating motionless out there in space was Ark 5, carrying William Trust, the creator of the Ark project, who had planned on going out to Proxima B in Ark 5.  And, though Trust plays a big role in episode 1.7 (see below), turns out that the motionless Ark is not 5 but 3.  I got the name but not the number right.  Reminds me of that Beatles song, "You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)".

But how did that later Ark get to this place before Ark 1?  Here the series pulls out an old but still surprising science fiction chestnut:  Ark 5 had faster than light travel, developed by Trust's successor.  It, too, was disabled, most of its crew destroyed, by some kind of powerful, unexpected force.  Which turns out to be ... Ark 15.  Hey, once you can travel faster than light, you can travel faster and faster, right? That's logical, as Spock might say.

And as icing on the cake of this fine episode, here's the big role that William Trust plays: at the end of the episode, two of our favorite characters, thinking they have only seconds left to live, are about to kiss ... when a code that only William Trust could know is delivered just in time to save them.  Thanks Lane for bringing Trust out of suspended animation just in time.  You can always trust Dean Devlin to deliver an excellent episode.

See you back here next week with my review of what I hope is the season one (not series) finale.

See also The Ark 1.1: Worth Watching ... 1.2: Why I'M Enjoying It ... 1.3: Asteroid and Comet ... 1.4: Hallucinations ... 1.5-1.6: More than One

a second ship around Proxima Centauri B, too ...

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Press Play: Time Travel Via Cassette

So, I just watched Press Play on Hulu.  I don't know why I didn't come across this movie sooner.  It has the two most important elements in my pop cultural life, time travel and music, and, you know, it's quite good.

[Some spoilers ahead ... ]

Here's the set-up:  Laura meets Harrison in a vinyl and cassette shop in Hawaii run by Cooper (played by Danny Glover).  They both have a love of mixtapes, and fall in love.  Then, four years after Harrison is killed on the way to surfing by a car, Laura discovers that she can go back in time, to before Harrison was killed, every time she plays a song on a mixtape that she and Harrison were making.  When the song ends, she's back in the future in which Harrison was killed four years earlier.  She warns Harrison to be careful about that car, but he dies anyway in a different accident. So, the gist is: Laura can change only the circumstances of Harrison's death, not his death itself.

That's a pretty nice set-up writers James Bachelor and Greg Björkman put together.  Glover is always good to see on the screen.  Clara Rugaard was winsome and winning as Laura, and Lewis Pullman was sensitive and cerebral as Harrison (first time I've seen Rugaard, and Pullman was good in Outer Range).  The music was appealing, too, and new to me.

Now, I generally prefer science fiction to science fantasy -- in time travel, that would be a time machine vs. click your heels together -- but Press Play had such a sweetness, a refreshing innocence, that I'm fine with its fantasy.  It kept within the contours of its story -- music takes us back in time, all the time, in our minds, so why not play with the fantastical possibility that it can also take us back in time in reality -- and the ending was ...

Well, see it yourself, and see if you agree with me that the ending was right.

It's Real Life

alternate reality about The Beatles on Amazon, and  FREE on Vocal

Monday, March 13, 2023

The Last of Us Season One Finale: The Limits of Utilitarianism

Well, the season one finale of The Last of Us, just up on HBO Max tonight, was everything it could be and even more.

[And there will be spoilers ahead ... ]

So, first, here's what happened.  Turns out, at least as far as the docs in the hospital that Joel and Ellie finally get to, think: only by destroying Ellie's brain can her immunity to the fungi be disseminated to the rest of humanity.  We never find out if they're scientifically right or wrong, because Joel, once he finds out what the docs plan to do with Ellie, kills the doc about to perform the surgery and everyone else in his way so he can make good his escape with Ellie.

But here, then, is the question: was Joel right to do this?  Was he right to go against the fundamental principle of utilitarianism of the greatest good for the the greatest number, and deprive humanity of its rescue from death, all so one person, Ellie, can survive?  I tend to be utilitarian in many things, but ...

I would have done exactly what Joel did, had I the lethal prowess, to save Ellie.  Does that mean I'm weak?  Did Joel ignore logic and give into his emotions? Well, he did follow his emotions, but that doesn't mean he was weak or even illogical. Maybe there's a higher logic at work here.  The logic of going with your deepest emotion, if that emotion is love.

Joel acted on that principle, but he's not a philosopher.   He unconsciously refuted the utilitarian principle, and then he compounded that ethically dangerous action by lying.   Parents often lie to their kids -- the younger the kids are, the more often they're not told the truth, presumably for their own good.  I said Joel was right to save Ellie.  The docs could have been wrong.  Even if not, he was right to save her.  But was he right to lie to Ellie at the end of the episode when she asked him if he had told her the entire story of what had happened back at the hospital? Here I'd say, probably not.  I'm pretty sure I think he owed Ellie the truth.

On the other side of both of these issues, we have Marlene. She kills Ellie's mother Anna, her friend, after she'd given birth to Ellie, after Anna had been bitten, on Anna's instruction. She saved baby Ellie's life. Marlene is able to think clearly, rise above her emotions, and make tough decisions. The decision to kill Ellie, the baby she saved, years later, was an even tougher decision. She went with her head, not her heart. John Stuart Mill would have approved. It's tough to hate or even dislike her, because she was really trying to do the right thing. Unlike Joel, she told the truth. But Joel had to kill her -- fittingly, the last person he killed -- to escape with Ellie. I think he made the right decision here, too. 

Being right two out of three times in these hellish circumstances ain't bad.  And The Last of Us was 100% right to give us such an ethically wrenching season finale.  I'll certainly be back here with more reviews when the series resumes.

See also The Last of Us 1.1-1.2: The Fungus Among Us ... 1.3: Bill and Frank ... 1.4: Gun and Pun ... 1.5: Tunnels ... 1.6: Joel ... 1.7: Riley's Wise Advice ... 1.8: Ellie vs. the Resort

I talk about The Last of Us, beginning at 40mins 40secs

Saturday, March 11, 2023

Luther: The Fallen Sun: The Risen Hero

I just saw Luther: The Fallen Sun -- the continuation of Idris Elba's Luther TV series, in a 2+ hour movie on Netflix, and thought it was excellent, in all sorts of ways, for all kinds of reasons.  In fact, minute for minute, I thought it was better than any of the many series we've seen of Luther since it came on the screen in 2010.

[I'll warn you here of spoilers, though you won't find too many here, other than what you see in the blurbs and the trailers.]

So, Luther's in prison, not because he was framed, but because of the corners he illegally cut -- what he "had to do" -- to get the criminals in the past.  His adversary is a brilliant sicko, Robey (played by Andy Serkis), who is adept on the Internet and in torturing and leaving his victims hanging, literally.  One of his victims is a young man, and Luther was on the case but unable to get Robey before Luther was incarcerated.  Fortunately for Luther, the storyline, and the ultimate resolution of this movie, DCI Raine, who is currently investigating Robey without much success, suffers her daughter being kidnapped by Robey.  This is fortunate for the story, because it obliges Raine, who starts out being adamant about not enlisting Luther, and keeping him in prison, to instead welcome him in the frantic hunt.

As most of you no doubt know, Idris Elba was at at one point being considered to play James Bond, but recently actors his age were ruled out of that running.  First of all, Elba looks young enough to me.  More important, he's an outstanding one-of-a-kind actor who played and defined the indelibly memorable Stringer Bell in The Wire and continues to do the same in Luther.  He would have done the same for Bond.   I mention this because the Luther is this story has Bondian aspects, especially in snow and ice-water action near the end of the movie.   The Luther in the TV series rarely if ever made it out of London, if I remember correctly.  The Luther in this movie is now both literally as well as figuratively a man of the world.

But apropos both Bond and previous Luthers, I did miss any love interest (such as Indira Varma's Zoe Luther) or even the partially erotic spark (with Ruth Wilson's Alice Morgan) in this Luther movie.  Maybe that's because two hours is a little too short for such relationships to really start, let alone play out, when there such a demonic psycho to be caught.  But that absence is yet another good reason to make another Luther movie.

See also Luther 5.1: Back in Fine, Depraved Form ... Luther 5.2: "A Chocolate Digestive" ... Luther 5.3: Bitter Fruit ... Luther 5.4: Lethal Love

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


My Picks for the Best Time Travel Novels that Respect the Paradoxes (Don't Worry, I Didn't Pick Any of Mine)

read all about them here