If you are a devotee of time travel...

Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Love at First Sight: Romance, Sprinkled with a Little Fantasy and Philosophy

Hey, I don't usually review romantic comedies -- or dramas -- but Love at First Sight has both of that, and even a touch of fantasy and philosophy, so the 90-minute movie on Netflix was not only well worth watching but reviewing.

The set-up is charming: Hadley Sullivan and Oliver Jones meet on flight from New York to London, fall in love in the air, but are accidentally separated at Heathrow.  Hadley's phone is dead, and, of course, in this day and age, neither thought to write any contact info down on a piece of paper, so the love they found on the flight may have flown (sorry) before it was declared or got anywhere.

Fortunately, here's where the bit of fantasy comes in.  A stewardess on the plane sees what's going on, and shows up at crucial moments in London, looking slightly the same and seeking to make sure the couple find each other.  Her voice also narrates the story, and in fact her name in the credits is Narrator.

There's even some science in this story, though it's far from science fiction.  Oliver has dealt with the fears and troubles in his life by citing numbers and statistically probable outcomes in every situation.  Hadley is more of a wordsmith.  So Love at First Sight is also a story of math and  poetry.  And if you think about it, math has a powerful poetry to it, and rhymes -- which I always think of as a velcro of the mind -- are a kind of mathematics of sound.  (Rhymes, by the way, were the way people remembered things before there was writing and reading and eventually smartphones.)

The acting in the movie is excellent.  First time I've seen Haley Lu Richardson (Hadley) and Ben Hardy (Oliver) on the screen -- my mistake, Hardy was in a 2017 move about Mary Shelley, for God's sake, and I intend to see that as well catch up with some of Richardson's work.  And Jameela Jamil was good as the Narrator/Guardian Angel, too.

The Narrator also delivers a crucial lesson about fate. If something is truly bound to happen, if a couple is destined to get together, will it happen whatever the obstacles and unexpected setbacks that may arise, regardless of what each member of the couple does? This notion of fate is also captured in the Yiddish word bashert and the Arabic kismet. All three -- fate, bashert, and kismet -- are connected to Tennyson's line, “'Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all," though in the movie that sentiment is taken from the question “Is it better to have had a good thing and lost it, or never have had it?” posed in Charles Dickens' Our Mutual Friend. (Hadley is a devotee of Dickens.) In any case, Tennyson is right, and the correct answer to Dickens' question of course is "better to have a had good thing and lost it." Though, hopeless romantic that I am, I'd say a far better answer still is having a good thing and keeping it forever. 

And I won't say any more about the plot because I didn't warn you about spoilers -- do spoilers matter in comedy dramas? -- except to tell you that the comedy is funny and the drama in Love at First Sight will bring a tear or more to your eye.

I'll add as a postscript, however, that I think the title of the movie is a little trite. The movie was made from the best selling novel The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith, and that would have made a far more accurate and provocative title for the movie.


Sunday, October 1, 2023

Reptile: Like a Season of True Detective in a Movie

I saw Reptile on Netflix last night, a movie with touches of Body Heat and Blue Velvet.  But it's most like True Detective, the anthology (new characters every season) but brilliant HBO series coming back with a new season in January 2024.

Meanwhile, Reptile has its grit and mix of painfully honest and corrupt detectives, investigating a lurid murder case.  The victim is a real estate agent, in a less than happy relationship with her boyfriend, and--

[Spoilers ahead ... ]

It looks like the boyfriend didn't do it.  But it turns out he did, and with a vicious vengeance.  And when I say corrupt detectives, it turns out just about everyone working above or on the same level as lead detective Tom Nichols is running or turning a blind eye to a drug ring that Summer, a real estate agent and the murder victim, was unknowingly involved in.  If this sounds complicated and little difficult to follow, it is.  But the movie is lifted by some great music -- a new version of "Angel of the Morning" by Evie Sands Courtesy at the beginning and in the middle, and Dylan's "Knocking on Heaven's Door" at the end.  And some superb acting.

Benicio Del Toro is always memorable on the screen, but he's better than ever in Reptile as Tom Nichols. Eric Bogosian, Domenick Lombardozzi, and Mike Pniewski are effective as Tom's varyingly corrupt superiors, Ato Essandoh is good as Nichols' junior and devoted partner Dan Cleary, and so is Alicia Silverstone as Tom's wife.  Meanwhile, Justin Timberlake is just perfect as Summer's boyfriend Will Grady, though for some reason his excellent performances in just about every movie he's in continue to surprise me.

Del Toro, by the way, co-wrote the screenplay for Reptile, which has some fine film noir dialogue, with Grant Singer and Benjamin Brewer, and those two also wrote the story.  Singer directed the movie.  So a lot of talent went in to making this movie, and I'd say the movie amply reflects it.  Indeed, I'll predict that Reptile will become something of a classic in the years to come.

Friday, September 29, 2023

podcast: Paul Levinson interviews Dan Abella about his upcoming Psychedelic Festival

Welcome to Light On Light Through, Episode 355, in which I interview Dan Abella about the upcoming Psychedelic Film and Music Festival he is organizing.  The Festival will take place October 20-22, 2023 in New York City, and there will both live and remote events and access.

Links to some of what we discuss in the podcast:


Check out this episode!

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Review of Chris Cosmain's Novikov Windows

Novikov Windows

I'm going to here review a a very recently published, nearly 500-page time travel novel -- Chris Cosmain's Novikov Windows: A Time Travel Novel (that's the sub-title) -- I've just read, in two days.  That should give you an idea of how compelling I think this novel is.  

Because of that, I'm not going to give you any big spoilers in this review.  If you haven't yet read this novel, and doubt or would like further elaboration on any of the points I make below, my best advice is: read the novel.  (You can buy a copy over here.)

Now as to the narrative.  It has a 19th-century flavor.  In fact, important parts of the story take place back then.  But more than that, its style and pace feel as if it could have been written by H. G. Wells.  And it combines that ambience with all the mod-cons:  3-D printing, DNA and junk DNA, computers, and rockets all play a role.

I've said many times that I can't enjoy or take seriously any time-travel tale which ignores the paradoxes that time travel engenders, and gives the intellect (or at least mine) so much to deal with.  The one that comes up most often is the so-called grandfather paradox -- if I go back in time and accidentally kill my grandfather, before he sleeps with my grandmother, I wouldn't exist, so how have I gone back in time in the first place?  (By the way, that's not only so-called, but called in a way that's unnecessarily violent and sexist -- I can trigger the paradox by going back in time and obstructing either set of my grandparents from ever meeting.  The obstruction doesn't have to be death, and I don't need to divert one of my grandfathers, it could be one of my grandmothers.)  But Cosmain has a daring way of positing why this paradox would never arise.

Another favorite time-travel paradox is what I think of as the "where did it come from" paradox.  A man, somewhat older than me, who looks very familiar, knocks at my door with a package.  He advises me to open the package then walks away.  The package contains explicit instructions on how to build a time machine.  The instructions say it will take me ten years to build it, and after I build it, I need to travel ten years back in time and give myself the package.  So ... where did the package and its instructions come from in the first place?   That kind of paradox plays a crucial role in Novikov Windows.

Here are ten more specific elements I especially enjoyed in this novel (the enumeration reflects not where they appear in the story, but just the order I felt like putting them in):

1. Novikov Windows has one of the most ingenious time travel methods I've ever come across in a novel, story, movie, or TV series: the person or object is scanned down to the atomic level, the scan is sent back in time, in a device that recreates the person or object at the destination.

2. Vincent van Gogh makes an appearance. There's something about that Impressionistic Age and its love affair with light that just cries out time travel, isn’t there.

3. There's a refreshing, almost boyish, Tom Swiftian quality in the descriptions of the science and the tech necessary for time travel.  That's part of what I meant when I said H. G. Wells could have written this.

4.  The novel also has romantic passion ... deep kisses, deeper feelings, more.  That's why I didn't say the novel was Asimovian (my favorite science fiction author, but portraying love wasn't his strong suit).

5. Cosmain deals with the problem of not only traveling through time, but to the intended place.  You often don't find this in time travel stories.

6. The addition of new, important characters throughout the novel gives the characters we already know the need to explain to the new characters what's really going on, i.e., how the time travel works, its limits and specifications, which in turn provides us, the readers, another chance to understand this.  Yes, the science and effects of time travel in this novel are complex, but time travel that isn't is usually not worth reading.  And the time travel in this novel is something you likely haven't seen before, which also makes the story commendable, and worthy of Aristotle's advice to the teacher to teach the lesson three times: tell the students what you are going to teach them, teach them, then tell the students what you just taught them.  We all are students when it comes to time travel.

7. Speaking of education, we also learn some new words in this story, including the Australian larrikinism (rebelliousness) and the Japanese shouganai (a cross between the French c'est la vie and the Yiddish bashert).

8. Biology plays a major role in this novel (its author is a medical doctor), as indeed it should in a time travel story that transports living things across time. So does medical care.   If traveling in a plane can get you dehydrated, who can say what being scanned, sent back in time, and recreated would do to the body and mind.     

9. And time travel literally and figuratively becomes a bedfellow for these characters, often animating but also taking its toll, especially on the very composition of their families.

10. This story also has lots of nice little touches, including one involving Stephen Hawking and another the extinction of dinosaurs (well, that certainly doesn't seem nice, but you know what I mean, and it did leave our planet open for the success of mammals, including human beings).

I could go on, but I've already veered all too close to spoilers, and I don't want to spoil any of the fun for you.  Novikov Windows is a remarkable combination of hard science fiction, probing philosophy, ethical argument, and sheer adventure.  If you're not already a fan of time travel, chances are you'll become one after you read this novel.  If you are already a fan, this novel will go to the top of your list, and stay there as an accomplishment against which past and future time travel stories you may read will be judged.


My best-known time travel works:  The Plot to Save Socrates, Unburning Alexandria, Chronica (the Sierra Waters trilogy); The Chronology Protection CaseThe Loose Ends Saga; Ian's Ions and EonsMarilyn and Monet


And you can read my short story, "Slipping Time," free, any time!

Saturday, September 23, 2023

Harlan Coben's Shelter: Stranger Things Meets Hunters

Stranger Things meets Hunters: that's what came to mind after seeing the first three episodes of Harlan Coben's Shelter (that's its name) on Amazon Prime Video back on August 18th, and I felt the same after seeing the finale eighth episode of what I hope will be just first season last night.  By which I mean: the center of the story are a bunch of idiosyncratic highly intelligent high school kids (Stranger Things) but the larger picture is not some Duffer Bros horror story, but a group of all-too human slave traders descended in some way from the Nazis (Hunters).

Stranger Things starred mostly unknown or little known performers with the exception of Winona Ryder, Hunters was pretty much the same except it had the mega-star Al Pacino, and Harlan Corbin's Shelter was more like Stranger Things, with Tovah Feldshuh the biggest star.  My wife and I first saw her on Broadway in Yentl years ago, and it's always good to see her again.  The rest of the acting in Shelter was pretty good, too, with standout acting by Jaden Michael as Mickey, the hero of this otherwise ensemble story.

I'm not going to say anything specific about the plot, because there are narrative-upending developments in just about every episode.  But I will say that you won't be sure or likely right about any of the villains until close to the end, and not every character you've come to know survives, and the ending will make you unsure about even that.  I'll also say that just as Stranger Things exults in the 1980s, Shelter is very much in the present, with even a political awareness displayed by some of the characters, and that's very much Harlan Coben and very much welcome.

I'll also say that I wish all eight episodes had been put up all at once, as Amazon and Netflix used to do it. That's what created binging, which turned the TV series into a novel, where you could enjoy as many chapters as you wanted in one continuing experience, but that's become an increasingly endangered species, as the streamers want to maximize their continuing subscribers.

But now that all eight episodes of Harlan Coben's Shelter are up there, you can binge them in this our degraded media environment, which I highly recommend.

And I hope to see you back here when I review the second season, which I intend to do it there is one.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

AI-Generated Video Translation

Here's an AI-generated translation of my English into Hindi by Emon Hassan -- it's of me talking about my 2006 time-travel novel, The Plot to Save Socrates, in 2010 (AI by Hey Gen; from an interview Emon conducted w/me in 2010) (English follows Hindi in video). I actually think I sound a little better in Hindi than English :)

I'm also very glad Hey Gen ID's itself in lower right corner -- a good way of demonstrating that AI is not attempting to deceive.  I understand that this watermark appears only on sample or test copies of the Hey Gen AI product.  And, also, that it's easy to remove them.  But I'd nonetheless like to see these logos on all AI products -- they should be mandatory and indelible.

You can also watch the video here on Instagram.


Friday, September 15, 2023

Foundation Season 2 Finale: Pros and Cons

Well, you probably won't be surprised that I have mixed feelings about the Foundation Season 2 finale, just up on Apple TV+ tonight.   And, if you've been reading my reviews of this second season, you probably won't be surprised that, although there were things I really didn't like in this episode, the things I did like were in the majority, if not in number then in intensity.

[And you definitely shouldn't be surprised that there will be spoilers ahead in this review ... ]

Here's what I liked:

1. Everything on Trantor, and concerning the Cleonic clonal triumvirate, Dawn, Day, and Dusk on and off that planet.

1a -- I especially liked the life-and-death battle between Day and Riose, and the way it was resolved. I liked this even though it had cloudy connection to the story of Bel Riose that Asimov told in Foundation and Empire, the second novel in the original trilogy.

1b -- I also liked everything Demerzel said and did on Trantor, which was every scene she was in.  What we saw not only clarified and strengthened her character, but it set up a provocative foundation, if I can use that word without it being capitalized, for what we will likely see in Season 3.  Demerzel is both very much in control but keenly vulnerable.  That's a provocative combination for such an intelligent, sophisticated android.

Here's what I didn't much like:

2.  Almost everything other than what I said in #s1, 1a, and 1b.

2a -- Although The Mule isn't much like what he was like in Asimov's trilogy (where he appeared in Foundation and Empire and Second Foundation), that's not what really bothered me about our knowledge of him that's been doled out in this second season.  What bothers me is the way we become aware of him, in a series of nightmare flashes that Gaal endures.  What this does is rob the television series of one of the prime thrills in the trilogy, the way the Mule continually surprises us.  Instead, we a get a vision that Gaal is urging the living Hari to prepare for.

2b -- I don't see the purpose in killing Salvor.  And, frankly, that whole extended scene felt like it was included because the producers thought it was necessary to at least have a very major good-guy hero character die, especially since Hari himself, as I predicted when it seemed he had drowned, actually survived.


So, these are big negatives, but the superb story of the Empire clones and Demerzel is more than enough to make me eager to see the next season of Foundation.

See also Foundation 2.1: Once Again, A Tale of Two Stories ... 2.2: Major Players ... 2.3: Bel Riose and Hari ... 2.5: The Original Cleon and the Robot ... 2.6: Hari and Evita ... 2.7: Is Demerzel Telling the Truth? ... 2.8: Major Revelations ... 2.9: Exceptional Alterations

And see also Foundation 1.1-2: Mathematician, Man of the People, and Cleon's Clones ... Foundation 1.3: Clonal Science Fiction, Hari Seldon as V. I. Lenin ... Foundation 1.4: Slow Hand, Long Half-Life, Flipped Coin ... Foundation 1.5: What We Learned in that Final Scene ... Foundation 1.6: Folded Variations ... Foundation 1.7: Alternate History/Future ... Foundation 1.8: Divergences and Convergences ... Foundation 1.9: Vindication and Questions ... Foundation Season 1 Finale: Right Up There


Thursday, September 14, 2023

My Essay, "The Beatles and Podcasts," Just Published in the Journal of Beatles Studies

Read "The Beatles and Podcasts," FREE, over here.   And the whole rest of the issue, free, over here.

And here's "It's Real Life" -- free alternate history short story about The Beatles, made into a radio play and audiobook and winner of The Mary Shelley Award 2023 and current nominee for the Sidewise Award

Saturday, September 9, 2023

Reinventing Elvis: The ‘68 Comeback: An Appreciation

I just saw Reinventing Elvis: The ‘68 Comeback.  The new documentary, narrated by Steve Binder -- about Elvis Presley's Comeback Special that aired on NBC back on December 3, 1968, directed by Steve Binder -- has been streaming on Paramount Plus since August 15, 2023.  The documentary did for me and my appreciation of Elvis what Peter Jackson's masterpiece The Beatles: Get Back did for me about The Beatles.  Except The Beatles since the first time I heard (and saw) them on The Jack Paar Program in January 1964 have always been much higher in my estimation, more prominent in my life and love of music, at the pinnacle of that, in fact, than was and now is Elvis.  But Peter Jackson's documentary both reaffirmed and lifted my connection to The Beatles, and Steve Binder's documentary did the same for me for Elvis, albeit at very different levels.

I saw The Beatles: Get Back the night the first third of the documentary went up on Disney Plus.  Why did I wait weeks to see Reinventing Elvis?  Well, I guess that's just another indication of the difference between The Beatles and Elvis Presley in my life.  I did see the Comeback Special when it aired on NBC on December 8, 1968.  I was in the recording studio the next day, recording a demo of a song I had written with Ed Fox -- "Sunday Princess" -- with a singer whose name was Joey Ward.  We talked about how superb Elvis was on that special.  Joey said he was so taken with it, he was going to start combing his hair like Elvis.  I remember laughing to myself, and later telling Ed I would never do that.  I was happy with my long straggly hair and moustache.  Another example of the difference between my appreciation of The Beatles and Elvis.

But Elvis was the best he ever was in that special -- better than what I'd seen of him on The Ed Sullivan Show a decade earlier and better than most of his movies (though I think Jailhouse Rock is a great movie and a really great song, and the same for Viva Las Vegas (well, certainly the song, though Ann-Margret was nonpareil in the movie).  You don't see or hear any mention of that song or the movie in Reinventing Elvis, but the documentary is a nearly continuous explosion of powerful and beautiful performances.

My favorite part of the documentary, other than those performances, is a sequence which Binder tells us the geniuses at NBC cut from the 1968 special, the bordello scene, which was too erotic for NBC's censors, and is hot even by today's standards.  The sexual energy between Elvis and one of the women dancers is palpable and realistic, which is exactly what a documentary should be.

Another scene that caught my eye is seen earlier in the film.  Elvis is walking through a crowd, smiling, but as he turns his expression briefly changes to sheer dislike.  Who was Elvis looking at?  It's tempting to think it was Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis's notorious manager, who we learn in the documentary was not a Colonel and not named Tom Parker, either.  He's literally identified as the villain in the movie, and I do recall how Elvis said it broke his heart when the Colonel refused to let him play the male lead in the 1976 movie A Star Is Born.  Kris Kristofferson got the role, and Elvis died a year later.  Reinventing Elvis barely tells us why Elvis didn't once and for all break free of the ersatz Colonel -- he was a "father figure" to Elvis -- and confined himself to defying the Colonel only when he had a strong person like Binder at his side.

If you ever liked any of Elvis' work, definitely see Reinventing Elvis.  You'll like it and appreciate it and understand it and Elvis even more.

Friday, September 8, 2023

Invasion 2.3: Casper and Luke

[Spoilers ahead ....] 

The high profile thread in Invasion 2.3 is Mitsuki hacking the invaders' code, with the result that a whole bunch of their ships (seven -- of course not all) fall mostly into the sea.  A very important development, to be sure, but that wasn't the most interesting part of episode 2.3 for me.

And that would be the special connection that Casper and Luke, on two different continents, have to the invaders.  We don't see Casper in 2.3, but Trevante -- now in the same American small town as Sheriff Tyson in Season 1 -- has one of Casper's drawings, and Trevante is beginning to put two and two together, though the math and the situation is much more complex than that.

Meanwhile, on the East Coast, Luke has quite a night, sensing that the invaders are increasing their attack, going out to fight them, and making what could be a romantic connection with one of the young women in the group.  Unfortunately, though, this part of the story has no happy ending, as Luke's mother finds his sister missing at the end of the episode.

The connection that Casper and Luke have to the invaders raises all kinds of questions.  First and foremost would be: why do they have those connections?  Were the invaders here on Earth prior to the invasion featured in the TV series?  Are Casper and Luke in some biological sense related to the invaders?  Can they telepathically connect to each other?  Are they unique, or are there other people like them?  (In a way, Mitsuki has that connection.)  Or, is it possible that all humans have that kind of brain, but the connection has to be triggered to be realized?

I like those kinds of questions, and that's just one of the reasons that I continue to like this unusual series.

See also Invasion 2.1: Tenuous Meeting of the Minds

And see also Invasion 1.1-3: Compelling Contender ... Invasion 1.4: Three Out of Four ... Invasion 1.5: The Little Creepy Crawly Thing ... Invasion 1.6: Close Up! ... Invasion 1.7: Two Boys and their Connection to the Invaders ... Invasion 1.8: Contact! ... Invasion 1.9: Tables Turning ... Invasion 1.10: Peering Through the Opaque

first starship to Alpha Centauri, with just enough fuel to get there

Thursday, September 7, 2023

Foundation 2.9: Exceptional Alterations

The next-to-last episode of season 2 of Foundation on Apple TV+ -- episode 2.9 -- was riveting and brilliant.  I couldn't take my eyes off the screen.  Even though the story it told diverged from the equivalent time in Asimov's second Foundation novel -- Foundation and Empire -- in crucial ways that indeed were among the best parts of the original trilogy in the 1950s and the subsequent sequels and prequels in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Here are my thoughts on some of the major developments in episode 2.9:

[Spoilers of course are ahead ... ]

1.  We get more of Demerzel's story in the powerful opening scene.  We don't hear the name R. Daneel Olivaw, but what Demerzel tells us is not inconsistent with R. Daneel's origins on Earth, and Demerzel does speak the name of our planet.  As far as what is new in the TV series, and what I still do think is the best part, we learn something very important:  it was the first Cleon, not Demerzel, who came up with the Cleon clonal triumvirate.  This suggests that the relationship between the clones and the android are closer to equal than we may have thought before.  

2.  The action around Terminus was thrilling, and surprising in the way it diverged from Asimov's accounting.  Hari's hologram is impressive, but it fails to convince Day of anything.  And indeed, Bel Riose, ordered by Day, all but destroys the Foundation outpost on Terminus at the end.  At that moment, can we say that psychohistory has failed or succeeded?  I don't see how can it be the latter.

3. Meanwhile, we get the satisfaction -- maybe not the best word -- of Hari beating Tellem to death, in a scene that was so strong it was almost physically revolting even as it was ethically welcome.   And unless I radically missed something in my understanding of holograms, the Hari who killed Tellem was corporal, physical, not a hologram.  Which means, either the physical Hari was indeed not dead (as I said in my review of episode 2.7), because Tellem didn't kill him in the first place, or Hari's physical being was reconstituted off-screen (as I suggested in my review of episode 2.8).  Either way, I count the continuation of the physical Hari, along with the holograms, as a good thing for the television series.

4.  We get another glimpse of the Mule.  I'm thinking now that in the third season, we'll see a three-way fight between Hari, Empire, and the Mule.  And Demerzel's allegiance won't be as clear as it's been up until episode 2.9.

We'll just have to see.  And I'll see you here next week with my review of the Season 2 finale.

See also Foundation 2.1: Once Again, A Tale of Two Stories ... 2.2: Major Players ... 2.3: Bel Riose and Hari ... 2.5: The Original Cleon and the Robot ... 2.6: Hari and Evita ... 2.7: Is Demerzel Telling the Truth? ... 2.8: Major Revelations

And see also Foundation 1.1-2: Mathematician, Man of the People, and Cleon's Clones ... Foundation 1.3: Clonal Science Fiction, Hari Seldon as V. I. Lenin ... Foundation 1.4: Slow Hand, Long Half-Life, Flipped Coin ... Foundation 1.5: What We Learned in that Final Scene ... Foundation 1.6: Folded Variations ... Foundation 1.7: Alternate History/Future ... Foundation 1.8: Divergences and Convergences ... Foundation 1.9: Vindication and Questions ... Foundation Season 1 Finale: Right Up There


Monday, September 4, 2023

Special Ops: Lioness: Women in Focus

I just finished watching the 8th and final episode of the first season of Special Ops: Lioness on Paramount Plus, and here's my shot at a mostly non-spoiler review.

To begin with, this is a story about a recruit to a CIA hit team.  The recruit is a woman, the target is an Arab oil magnate who funds terrorists, and the way the recruit is supposed to get to the target is she becomes friends with the target's daughter, so much so that she'll be invited to the daughter's wedding.

So, the first two parts -- the recruit being a woman, the target being a terrorist-funding oil dealer -- is obviously nothing new.  But the way the recruit is supposed to get to the oil man is somewhat new, and the nitty gritties of the eight episodes are bristling not only with excitement but lots of originality.

Perhaps the most original is the impact this hit job has on three women:  Cruz (the recruit), Joe (her superior and primary trainer), and Kaitlyn (head of the operation).  I don't recall any CIA series in which women had so much power, and that in itself makes this series well worth watching.  Men play important roles, for sure, but in many ways their most important roles are those that they play in the three women's lives.

And there is a fourth woman who also plays a central, crucial role -- Aaliyah, the target's daughter.  Suffice to say that Cruz's mission to get to know Aaliyah has all kinds of unexpected consequences.  Aaliyah is well played by Stephanie Nur, as is Cruz by Laysla De Oliveira.  I don't recall seeing Nur on the screen before.  De Oliveira was in Needle in a Time Stack, but I don't particularly remember her from that.  It's a safe bet that I won't forget either of them after seeing Lioness.  And Zoe Saldana as Cruz and Nicole Kidman as Kaitlin are of course very well known to me and everyone, but I've never seen them play characters quite like Cruz and Kaitlin.  All of this adds up to characters who are fresh and powerful and convincing.

There were some cliched elements in the overall story, but I can't tell you what they are without giving too much away.  But even if ten or twenty percent of the story is something we've seen in one way or another before, those kinds of tropes are unavoidable, and they really don't detract too much if at all from this blockbuster, painfully and redeemingly human, of a narrative.

Thursday, August 31, 2023

Foundation 2.8: Major Revelations!

Well, finally an episode of Foundation -- 2.8 -- that's really firing on all cylinders.  By which I mean, the Trantor parts and the other parts were nearly equal in power, and that power was impressive, answered all kinds of questions, and stood on the verge of answering more.  So, good thing that two more episodes await us this season.

Here are some of the major revelations, as I see them:

[Spoilers of course are ahead ... ]

1. The opening conversation between Dusk and Rue gives us some essential info about Demerzel and her origin, but not yet the complete story.  By the end of the episode, Dusk tells Rue that Empire is doing Demerzel's bidding rather than vice versa.  Yes indeed.

2. Hober's attack on Trantor, and his rescue of Constant, was literally a much welcome merger of the Foundation and Empire stories -- and indeed, we heard that phrase later in the episode -- and it was good to see Hober and Constant carnally together after they were off the planet.  Lots of good sex in general in this episode, including Dawn and Sareth.  Will be interesting to see the impact of the child they engendered.

3.  We learned more about the Second Foundation, most importantly from the conversation between Salvor and one of the digital Haris.  And the most important takeaway from that conversation is that Hari's idea is that both Foundations were intended to be mutually ignorant of each other.  This is a divergence from Asimov's trilogy, in which the First Foundation was ignorant of the Second, but the Second knew just about everything about the First.  Which is ok by me, at this point,

4. I remain in strong dislike of Tellem, which of course we're supposed to be.  She seems on the verge of inhabiting Gaal, which is repulsive.  And apparently she did kill the corporeal Hari -- though if new flesh-and-blood Haris can be created, that may not matter.

So, good job, and I'm looking forward even more than usual to the resumption of this riveting story next week.

See also Foundation 2.1: Once Again, A Tale of Two Stories ... 2.2: Major Players ... 2.3: Bel Riose and Hari ... 2.5: The Original Cleon and the Robot ... 2.6: Hari and Evita ... 2.7: Is Demerzel Telling the Truth?

And see also Foundation 1.1-2: Mathematician, Man of the People, and Cleon's Clones ... Foundation 1.3: Clonal Science Fiction, Hari Seldon as V. I. Lenin ... Foundation 1.4: Slow Hand, Long Half-Life, Flipped Coin ... Foundation 1.5: What We Learned in that Final Scene ... Foundation 1.6: Folded Variations ... Foundation 1.7: Alternate History/Future ... Foundation 1.8: Divergences and Convergences ... Foundation 1.9: Vindication and Questions ... Foundation Season 1 Finale: Right Up There


Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Invasion 2.2: Jamila and Trevante

Episode 2.2 of Invasion had two good, non-intersecting stories about Jamila in the UK and Trevante in the USA.

[Spoilers ahead ... ]

I thought Jamila's story was tighter at this point than Trevante's.  She's determined to find Casper. She knows he has some sort of mental connection and control over the invaders.  She feels she's been in some sort of touch with him.  She joins up with the two of the young gents from last season, picks up another other guy and his young sister, and they're off to Paris, where she has reason to believe Casper may be, and the newbies say their parents have a flat.  The makings of a good story.

Trevante's starts off a little lamely.  He saves his young nephew, who jumps into the deep end of a pool, and screams at him after he's out of the water and awake.  Trevante's sister is so furious at him for screaming at the kid that she throws Trevante out of the house.  Does that make sense?  She wouldn't be happy about Trevante screaming at her son, true, but where's her gratitude for Trevante saving the boy's life?

Fortunately, Trevante finds a better reason to leave Florida -- he finds there's some kind of invader activity in Oklahoma.  At this point, his story gets back on track, as he maneuvers his way to getting where he wants to go, and gets put behind bars for his effort.

In both cases -- Jamila's and Trevante's -- the authorities and their military and police are worse than useless. getting in the way of our heroes, obstructing their worthy actions, at every turn.  This is an old story in science fiction, but one which alas seems ever reasonable.   See what I said about governments and invaders from space on Ancient Alien (at 1 min 23 seconds in the video) 13 years ago:

And I'll be back here next week with something to say about the next episode of Invasion.

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

"It's Real Life" Nominated for Sidewise Award


Some really good news came in this morning: "It's Real Life" (my alternate history story about The Beatles) has been nominated for the prestigious Sidewise Award (short form) for Alternate History. The winners (short form and long form) will be announced at the World Fantasy Convention in Kansas City at the end of October. Congratulations to the other nominees -- deeply honored to be among you. (Details in the attached press release.)

"t's Real Life" -- read the short story for FREE, buy it for Kindle or on paper, listen to the radio play for FREE, or buy the  audiobook 

See also the article by Larry Yudelson in The Jewish Standard

Friday, August 25, 2023

Foundation 2.7: Is Demerzel Telling the Truth?

Another excellent episode of Foundation -- 2.7 -- which may be the best episode so far this second season, which means maybe the best episode so far in the series.

I'll address three issues here:

[Spoilers follow ... ]

1. Demerzel tells Sareth she's the last surviving robot, that once upon a time robots were bound to follow three laws which makes them bound to prevent any harm from befalling a human, by action or inaction (actually, just the first law of Asimov's Three Laws) but that changed and now she's bound by only one law, to "serve Empire".

Ok, but is Demerzel telling Sareth the truth?  Is she bound by any robotic law to never lie to any human?  Or never lie to Day's betrothed?  Not likely.  And why did she mention the three laws to Sareth, and then only recite to her the first law?  Was that just inexact writing, or is there some meaning in that omission?  And is Demerzel telling the truth about being the last surviving humanoid robot, aka android? How exactly could she know such a thing across the vast expanses of the galaxy? Are robots in some sort of telepathic touch across the galaxy? (And, while we're at it, what happened to Asimov's Zeroth Law, which says that more important than never letting any harm to befall a human, a robot should give priority to humanity as a whole? A nice enactment of the utilitarian principle of the greatest good for greatest number.)

2.  The Cleons had quite a night.  Day had Demerzel kill Sareth's family. (a stark example of the overthrow of Asimov's first law). She understandably hates him.  Day and Demerzel know this, so why are they going ahead with the marriage?  And Sareth beginning to seduce Dawn is a risky and exciting venture indeed.  I don't see how they'll be able to hide that from Demerzel.  Also notable is Brother Constant conveying the holographic Hari in the meeting with the Cleonic clones and Demerzel in a very strong scene -- actually, any scene with the Cleonic clonic triumvirate and Demerzel is good to see, let alone one with any version of Hari.

3. But speaking of Hari -- it looks like he's also alive in the flesh, with his head above water, just as I said I thought was likely the case last week.  And now Salvor has joined him?  Well, not exactly, her face is down in the water, but if Hari survived why can't she?   On the other hand, this episode is entitled "A Necessary Death," and whose death is that?  Sareth's family? Not likely, especially since that happened off-camera. 

Tellem Bond does say something about a "little death" being necessary, so what does she mean by that? Optimist that I am, I'd say that that could mean that maybe Salvor and Hari are in some sort of coma, deep-sleep state -- which would be in accord with Hari's head above water -- and Tellem might be thinking and plotting it might be a good or necessary idea to revive them someday.

Lots of information and lots of questions, which is why I much enjoyed this episode.

See also Foundation 2.1: Once Again, A Tale of Two Stories ... 2.2: Major Players ... 2.3: Bel Riose and Hari ... 2.5: The Original Cleon and the Robot ... 2.6: Hari and Evita

And see also Foundation 1.1-2: Mathematician, Man of the People, and Cleon's Clones ... Foundation 1.3: Clonal Science Fiction, Hari Seldon as V. I. Lenin ... Foundation 1.4: Slow Hand, Long Half-Life, Flipped Coin ... Foundation 1.5: What We Learned in that Final Scene ... Foundation 1.6: Folded Variations ... Foundation 1.7: Alternate History/Future ... Foundation 1.8: Divergences and Convergences ... Foundation 1.9: Vindication and Questions ... Foundation Season 1 Finale: Right Up There


Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Two-Hour, In-Depth Interview about My Music


a nearly two-hour interview by Greg Shanks about my music, with details 
I haven't written or talked about before

Invasion 2.1: Tenuous Meeting of the Minds

Invasion -- the latest narrative that explores an H. G. Well's War of the Worlds scenario -- is back on Apple TV+ with the first episode of its second season.  It's entitled "Something's Changed," but I don't think all that much has changed, unless change is defined as zooming into elements that were already there in the first season, which is fine with me.

Episode 2.1 is indeed less crowded with simultaneous stories of the interstellar invasion that were happening all over the world, and I found myself missing that frenetic, often inchoate pace.  On the other hand, at least one of the remaining segments has some promise, and the other one coming into focus looks like a pretty good if less original story, too.

[Spoilers ahead ... ]

The mind-bending story, maybe literally, is Mitsuki's, who opts to go face-to-face, or mind-to-mind, with the interstellar intelligence mounting the invasion, although I guess we don't know that this billowy entity mounted the invasion for sure.  Significantly, Mitsuki is not so much brave as certain that she'll survive this encounter, because she already feels some undefined connection to the invaders.

How's that?  We'll no doubt find out.  But I'll hazard a guess and say that's because these destructive visitors have been here before.  In the one scene in which she and the extra-terrestrial have close to a physical but apparently not yet a figurative meeting of the minds, the two seem to know each other.  At very least, the star-traveler doesn't kill Mitsuki or destroy her mind, at least, not yet.

The other main story in this episode is Aneesha and her children, who come under the protection of the "Movement," a human para-military operation who are trying to help.  As I said, this is a far more conventional science fiction story, found not only in invaders from space narratives, but threats to the human species that come from Earthly pathogens.  But Aneesha and her kids are so appealing that I really don't mind seeing this kind of invasion story again.  

So, I'll be here watching and reviewing the second season of Invasion, and letting you know how I think it turns out.

See also Invasion 1.1-3: Compelling Contender ... Invasion 1.4: Three Out of Four ... Invasion 1.5: The Little Creepy Crawly Thing ... Invasion 1.6: Close Up! ... Invasion 1.7: Two Boys and their Connection to the Invaders ... Invasion 1.8: Contact! ... Invasion 1.9: Tables Turning ... Invasion 1.10: Peering Through the Opaque

Friday, August 18, 2023

Foundation 2.6: Hari and Evita

Well, I thought Foundation 2.6 was one of the best episodes so far.  Here's why:

[Spoilers ahead ... ]

1. Young Hari -- both as a boy and a young man -- was pure gold.  It was a neat, powerful story all on its own.  Hari and Yanna were a great, pivotal couple.  And the way he killed Yanna's killer Tadj was perfect -- standing in just the right place in the middle of a stampede, so he was safe (just as he had taught himself how to do as a boy) and she was trampled was an epitome of what he is trying to do as the older Hari we have come to know deals with the stampede of ongoing and upcoming events, and the current renditions of Empire.

2. Speaking of which, I enjoyed Sareth sounding like Evita as she stood next to Empire who had just proclaimed her to be his and the populace's Queen. Indeed, her proclaiming to the people that she was them, and they were standing up there via her at the center of the universe, could have been taken right out of that Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice musical.  The only difference was that Juan Perón really valued Evita beside him, unlike Day who didn't seem too thrilled with what Sareth was saying.

So those were two outstanding segments and themselves worth the price of admission.  The rest, I didn't like quite as much.

3. As I always say about what I see on any fictional television screen, if you don't see a character's head blown off or to smithereens, there's a fair chance the character might live.  Further, in science fiction, there are all kinds of ways a seemingly killed character can survive.  In the case of Hari, there is already a digital Hari who would survive the flesh-and-blood Hari's death.  And, yeah, I see the poetry in his dying, just as he's thinking about and we're learning about what  happened to Yanna.  But I didn't like seeing him drown, anyway, and I hope we see him in the flesh again.  I've gotten to like Hari alive, even though he's not flesh and blood in the original Asimov stories at this point, and even though his digital self would be a passable approximation of the recurring Seldon hologram in the novels.

4. I also don't especially like Tellem, even though she does have a great name that makes me think of that Exciters song every time I hear it.  And I suppose the Second Foundation she may actually be beginning to think she could help create could be a believable victor, eventually, over The Mule.  

But, well, we'll have to wait and see.  I'll add here that there was a character in a fedora hat in 2.6 who showed up twice without saying a word -- a sure sign that this character is someone important.  Just four more episodes to go this season.

Note added: Joel mentions the Spacers scene in his comment.  I wanted to add here that, although the Spacers come from Asimov's novels that take place in a time well before the Foundation stories -- they were the first humans to colonize worlds in other solar systems -- the idea of Spacers who have unique abilities to power spaceships comes from Dune. At least, that's the first place I encountered such human-derived beings who could "fold" space.

See also Foundation 2.1: Once Again, A Tale of Two Stories ... 2.2: Major Players ... 2.3: Bel Riose and Hari ... 2.5: The Original Cleon and the Robot

And see also Foundation 1.1-2: Mathematician, Man of the People, and Cleon's Clones ... Foundation 1.3: Clonal Science Fiction, Hari Seldon as V. I. Lenin ... Foundation 1.4: Slow Hand, Long Half-Life, Flipped Coin ... Foundation 1.5: What We Learned in that Final Scene ... Foundation 1.6: Folded Variations ... Foundation 1.7: Alternate History/Future ... Foundation 1.8: Divergences and Convergences ... Foundation 1.9: Vindication and Questions ... Foundation Season 1 Finale: Right Up There