If you are a devotee of time travel...

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Podcast Review of Bosch: Legacy 2.7-2.10

Welcome to Light On Light Through, Episode 362, in which I review Bosch: Legacy, episodes 2.7-2.10, on Amazon Prime Video.

Read this review (with links to reviews of earlier episodes and seasons, including the very first season of Bosch).

Check out this episode!

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Who Killed JFK?: A Review of the First Three Episodes of this Podcast

Rob Reiner and I have a lot in common regarding the assassination of John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963 -- the awful anniversary of which is tomorrow, as I write this.  Reiner first learns about the assassination, as he tells us in the podcast he's doing with Soledad O'Brien, in his high school physics class, when he was 16.  I first found out about the assassination in my calculus class, which I was taking as a freshman in the City College of New York, when I too was 16.  (In fact, we were both born in March 1947 in The Bronx. I was in the "SP"s, which New Yorkers might recall meant that you skipped 8th grade, which would explain why I was a year ahead of Reiner.)   We both read and were very impressed by Mark Lane's Rush to Judgement, the 1966 book that attacked the Warren Commission's conclusion that one man, Lee Harvey Oswald, had been responsible for killing JFK.  And most important, Reiner and I both felt and feel to this very day that the Warren Commission and the American government has been lying to us all these years about who killed JFK.

To be clear about the impact that assassination had on me, Reiner, and who knows how many more Americans and people around the world, that assassination was "the end of the innocence," to quote one of Don Henley's best songs, about the end of a true love affair.  All of us 16 and younger and no doubt at least some years older found we instantly had a new view of the world, a sad, wise, and cynical view, the moment we heard Walter Cronkite or whoever it was deliver this terrible news.  Cynical because, well, it's tough to see your optimism shattered, leaving you feeling naive to have had it in the first place.  No amount of Beatles and landing on the Moon could change that, and the murder of John Lennon in 1980 only reinforced that horror in the soul.

Reiner seeks, if not to remedy that (it can never really be remedied), at least perhaps to reduce it, by getting at the truth of what really happened on November 22, 1963.  In the first two episodes of his podcast, which O'Brien helps him deliver, Reiner explains how and why the CIA came to loathe and fear JFK.  He didn't back it up to its satisfaction when it tried to wrest Cuba from Castro, and he let that attempt end in the Bay of Pigs.  He started working hard to get a real peace with the Soviet Union, when he saw how close we came to destroying our civilization in the Cuban missile crisis.   Reiner tells us of the note the newly widowed Jackie sent to Khrushchev.  That's all in the first episode.  And in the second, we learn of the various attempts, from people ranging from Geraldo Rivera and Dick Gregory, and others I hadn't heard of before, like Dick Russell, to get at the truth.

I'll be listening to every remaining episode of this important podcast.  Its tone and intelligence scratch an itch that will always be there. I have no idea if Who Killed JFK? will address a question I've had since that day in Dallas when the curtain came down on my unbridled optimism about the good guys always winning.  Why didn't Robert F. Kennedy, who remained Attorney General until September 1964, do everything in his power to find out what happened to his brother?  Perhaps he would have, as President, if he hadn't been murdered himself in 1968.

Added 22 November 2023:  Review of Episode #3

And today is the 60th anniversary of JFK's assassination.  I would have thought about him and that heinous event on this day, anyway, but having listened to and reviewed the first two episodes of Rob Reiner and Soledad O'Brien's podcast last night, the assassination and the government "narrative" about it has been especially on my mind.

In the third episode, Reiner says "narrative" is a good word for what our government told us about the assassination, because so much of the government's story was fiction.  Coincidentally, I've been thinking and reading a lot about alternate history recently -- and writing some of it -- and I found myself agreeing with the authors quoted in Jack Dann's Fiction Writer's Guide to Alternate History that a lot of our so-called real history is fiction.

In the third episode of Who Killed JFK?, Reiner details how the findings of what he aptly calls "the most important autopsy in American history" were not only kept from the American people, but deliberately bent to support what the government didn't want us to know -- that more than one shooter was firing at JFK in Dallas 60 years ago.  We learn that Dr. James J. Humes, one of the two pathologists who performed the JFK autopsy, burned his first autopsy report, presumably because it contradicted the "single bullet" theory that our government was pushing.  Reiner, O'Brien, and the experts they interview systematically explain why the single bullet theory is absurd -- way too much damage was done to Kennedy and John Connally, who was sitting in the front seat of Kennedy's limousine.  We also hear convincing testimony that some of JFK's wounds came from the front, obviously impossible if Lee Harvey Oswald, firing from behind, was the only shooter.

So, today, November 22, has been and always will be a sad day for those of us who were cognizant the day that JFK was assassinated.  But the Who Killed JFK? podcast is a welcome ray of hope that maybe we're finally getting close to the truth of what happened 60 years ago.

Here's an interview I did with Walter Herbst, who published a book on this subject two years ago.

And here's an alternate history I wrote, "It's Real Life," in which John Lennon was not murdered.

Podcast: Foundation 2nd Season: Cora Buhlert, Joel McKinnon, and Paul Levinson discuss

Welcome to Light On Light Through, Episode 361, in which Cora Buhlert, Joel McKinnon, and I talk about the second season of Foundation on Apple TV+.

Relevant links:

Check out this episode!

Saturday, November 18, 2023

The Lazarus Project season 1: Time Travel Done Superbly Right

So, a friend in the UK -- James Harris -- who knows how much I enjoy time travel stories (as a reader, a viewer, a reviewer, and an author) recommended The Lazarus Project, and sent me a link to a trailer, for its second season.  I figured before I watched even a trailer for the second season, I might as well watch the first season, which I just did -- and thought it was brilliant -- and then discovered that although the second season debuted in the UK this month, it has not yet made it over to this side of the Atlantic.  Why TV series can't be released at the same time all around the world, I have no idea.  But rather than keep complaining about that, I thought I'd tell you why I not only think the first season of The Lazarus Project (which I binged on TNT) is brilliant, but the best time-travel series I've ever seen on television, bar none.

[And there may be some spoilers ahead, but I'll try to be as general as possible.]

First, the ambience was great, reminiscent of Utopia (the UK version), and its unique mix of gravity and humor, life-and-death situations leavened with nonchalance.  But it's the story, and the attention it gives to consequences of time travel, that puts it on the very top.

Here's the set-up, which I'll enumerate to make as clear as possible:

1. There's a time travel process -- not a "machine" per se, but some kind of process, which isn't quite revealed -- that sets time back to 12 midnight, July 1, from whatever time the process is invoked in the subsequent year.  So, if the switch or whatever is flipped right now, our world would go back to 1 July 2023. And we and just about everyone in the world would be doing whatever we were doing on that midnight.

2. Just about everyone in the world has no idea that this, the reversal in time, is happening.  We have no idea we're going through this time a second, third, or who knows how many times.  But a very few people -- mutants -- are aware of this Groundhog syndrome, and a serum has been invented/discovered which opens up the awareness of a few other people to the repetitions in time.

3. Numbers 1 and 2 above are the basis of the Lazarus Project, which seeks to protect the world or least we humans in the world from extinction events.  And the head of the Lazarus Project -- at least as far as we know -- gives the order to invoke the time shift.  

4. But remembering the lost time is a heavy burden, which can become excruciating in all kinds of ways.  A baby born during a year that is later erased won't exist after rollback.  Imagine how the parents who remember that year -- parents who are in the Lazarus Project -- would feel.   Or, if you lost any loved one during that year, you might well want the time set back as soon as possible, to give you a chance to do something to prevent that death.

5. But the problem is the Lazarus Project also has a principle of setting time back as infrequently as possible, and only to derail mass extinction events.  To give an example that's mentioned early in the narrative -- September 11, 2001 didn't qualify, as terrible as it was.  But COVID did, and the speed with which the vaccines were rolled out in our reality is cleverly explained as due to the Lazarus Project buying more time by literally setting time back, giving microbiologists as much time as they needed to come up with the vaccines.

But ok, I'm coming close to spoiler territory, so I'll just also tell you the acting and production were excellent, and creds to Joe Barton who wrote the narrative. I'll leave you with this recommendation: if you're a fan of time travel, see The Lazarus Project.  Not only will you not be disappointed, you'll be glued to the screen and thrilled.  And the good news is that if you want to see it again, you won't need some kind of switchback in time to do that.

Friday, November 17, 2023

For All Mankind 4.2: The Fate of Gorbachev

Well, I said last week in my review of For All Mankind 4.1 that I was very glad to see Gorbachev still in power in the Soviet Union at the beginning of the 21st century.  In that alternate reality, we might well have avoided Putin and his savage attack on Ukraine.

[Spoilers ahead ... ]

But at the very end of For All Mankind 4.2, up on Apple TV+ tonight, it looks like the tolerant Gorbachev may not be in power much longer or at all after all in that alternate history.  Margot encounters some kind of very serious unrest in Moscow, which ends up in police knocking her to the ground, taking her into custody, and leaving her glasses broken on the street, never a good sign.

I was unhappy to see that scene, but it certainly was the most exciting in this episode, at least in terms of the course of history.  The runner-up and most of the other action took place in Mars, which has become no bed of roses, or maybe not yet a bed of roses, since it had no home-grown flowering shrubs to begin with.  But this track in the episode at least had a happy ending.  With communication back-and-forth with Earth not working because a satellite needed repair and rebooting, Poole orders Baldwin shortly after she arrives to make fixing the satellite a highest priority, and Baldwin gets his crew to fix it.  The denizens of Mars now have dmail and video-mail, as they call those modes of communication in this alternate reality.

Of course, though communication may be necessary, and the source of essential connections between the people on Mars and their relatives and friends back home, this doesn't mean that the people on Mars will be happy.  Miles, the best new character at this point, certainly isn't happy, and it will be interesting to see how his story plays out.

But as I said last week, it's the alternate reality more than the space exploration that keeps me most eager to watch For All Mankind, and I'm now especially eager to see what happens in the Soviet Union in next week's episode.

See also For All Mankind 4.1: Back in Business and Alternate Reality

And see also For All Mankind 3.1: The Alternate Reality Progresses ... 3.2: D-Mail ... 3.3-3.4: The Race

And see also For All Mankind, Season 1 and Episode 2.1: Alternate Space Race Reality ... For All Mankind 2.2: The Peanut Butter Sandwich ... For All Mankind 2.3: "Guns to the Moon" ... For All Mankind 2.4: Close to Reality ... For All Mankind 2.5: Johnny and the Wrath of Kahn ... For All Mankind 2.6: Couplings ... For All Mankind 2.7: Alternate History Surges ... For All Mankind 2.8: Really Lost in Translation ... For All Mankind 2.9: Relationships ... For All Mankind 2.10: Definitely Not the End

It's Real Life

get the paperback or Kindle of this alternate history here

or read the story FREE here

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Black Snow: Sinister Histories

I consider Travis Fimmel a must-see actor.  His unique, edgy style lit up his starring roles in Vikings and Raised by Wolves (canceled much too soon by HBO, in my arrogant opinion).  So I would have watched Black Snow, an Australian cold-case crime drama, for that reason alone, but the series pays off not only with Fimmel but all kinds of other good reasons.

Fimmel in Black Snow plays police detective Cormack, who is drawn to investigate the murder of Isabel Baker, 17, back in 1994, because the murder took place the same day that Cormack's brother went missing.

[Spoiler's ahead ... ]  

By the time the series of six episodes ends (or the first season of the series), it looks like there is no connection between Isabel and Cormack's brother.  But there's at least another season of storytelling in Cormack searching for his brother, and I'd be happy to see it.  And the first season establishes Cormack as a not only intelligently edgy and driven character (Fimmel's specialty), but also someone with a possible romantic relationship with Isabel's younger sister Hazel, who by 2019 (the date of the present in the series) is a totally suitable age for Comack.  And the two do have a chemistry.

Black Snow has all kinds of suspects with all kinds of real and imagined motives, but on the chance that you haven't seen it, I won't reveal the killer to you.  I can tell you that in addition to Fimmel's convincing acting, the rest of the cast is good, too.  Talijah Blackman-Corowa has a thousand-watt smile that makes you regret Isabel's murder even more, and Jemmason Power delivers the range of emotions needed for Isabel's sister who has grown up a lot since Isabel was murdered.

As I mentioned above, there's plenty of room for a second season, and my wife and I will be watching it as soon as it's up on Acorn via Amazon Prime Video.

                   another kind of police story 

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Podcast Conversation about The Beatles 'Now and Then'

Welcome to Light On Light Through, Episode 360, in which Joel McKinnon and Cora Buhlert join me for a conversation about The Beatles' "Now and Then".  We had reconvened for a conversation about the second season of the Foundation series on Apple TV+ -- I had asked them to join me to talk about the first season back in 2021 -- but Joel, who's been in a band for decades, asked me what I thought of The Beatles new single, and this led to a conversation about the new single, The Beatles in Hamburg, AI and recording, and lots of observations you won't hear any place else.  (And look next week for the conversation about Foundation that ensued.)

Relevant links:


Check out this episode!

Sunday, November 12, 2023

The Killer: Highly Recommended with Questions

It's rare to see a movie about an assassin that surprises you.  But The Killer does that, and in more than one crucial way.

Before I get to the most crucial part, and warn you about spoilers, here are two things I found especially enjoyable that don't entail spoilers:

1. The 1hr 58min movie comes in chapters, in different cities, with different settings and pacings.

2. Indeed, the first chapter consists entirely of the assassin's thoughts.

Now let's get to the spoilers ...

[Spoilers ahead ... ]

The Killer -- most of the major characters have no names, and go by The Target, The Brute, The Expert -- but The Killer, very well played by Michael Fassbender, is extremely efficient, but misses his first mark through no fault of his own... Or is that right?  The Target is a man,  but when the The Killer finally sees him, The Target is with a woman.  The Killer waits for a clear shot, but the woman is still in the room, and she takes the bullet when she unexpectedly approaches The Target.  The Killer's failure to deliver sets the whole rest of the story in motion.  But why didn't he wait until The Target was alone?  Maybe because he was being pressured to finish this job already.  But if that was the reason, maybe he should have mentioned this to us, the audience, in his later musings.

The other, even bigger question, comes at the end.  Why did he not kill The Client, as he easily could have done?  This certainly leaves open a reason for a sequel, but I'd like to know The Killer's logic in this movie -- especially because sparing The Client violates The Killer's principle of no empathy.

And while we're at it, The Client has a name -- Claybourne.  So does The Lawyer, Hodges.  So in addition to one being spared but not the other, why were these two characters given names, but not the others?

Questions like these only show how much attention I've invested in this movie, which is exactly what the makers of the movie want.  The movie was directed by David Fincher, who directed House of Cards and all kinds of other great works.  The story was derived from a graphic novel series.  So there's lots of material here for a continuing story, and I'll watch it as soon as it starts streaming on Netflix.

Friday, November 10, 2023

Bosch: Legacy 2.7-2.10: The Highs and the Powerful Lows

A superb quartet of concluding episodes of the second season of Bosch: Legacy, put up last week and tonight on Amazon Prime Video.  Every one of these episodes had the masterful dialogue, riveting action, and mix of surprise and satisfaction that comes from seeing characters behave as you ultimately expect -- all of which typify Bosch at its best, which this second season of Legacy certainly is, as I've been saying all along.

Here are some of the highlights for me:

[And of course here's an advisory about Spoilers ahead ... ]

1. Maddie saves Harry, literally, just as Harry saved her at the beginning of this season, albeit in very different circumstances.  Maddie gets even closer to her father as a result.  But one of the fundamental, seemingly inviolable principles of this series and these characters is the two can't be happy together at the end, however close they may have become.  Whatever demons Maddie maybe be able overcome in her relationship with her father, which means everything to do her, he will always do, or will always have done, something that can and maybe does undermine that father-and-daughter unity.  It's tough to see, but realistic, given who Harry is.

2. I said in an earlier review that it was good to see Mo get some love.  Well, it turns out that the love was not physical, and worse than that, the attraction was not completely mutual.  But Mo is put in a position where he would have had to turn on Harry and Honey, and of course he's not going to do that, and so he can't continue with the woman he was falling for, even though she truly had at least some feelings for him.  Tough world, tough life -- there's that word again -- for just about all the main characters in this series.

3. Speaking of Honey, she's on her way to an unexpectedly big job.  At least, she hopes so, and I hope so, too.  Will be fun to see her in this new job next season.

4. As I've been saying in these reviews, the acting this season was outstanding, and especially impressive was Madison Lentz as Maddie.  By the conclusion of this season, I'd say she was on a par with Titus Welliver as Bosch, which is high praise indeed.

5. But speaking of acting, it was good and sad to see Lance Reddick one more time in his role of Irvin Irving in the season finale.  A great actor in everything from The Wire to Fringe, and I'm glad we all got a chance to see him one more time, filmed before he left us in March of this year.

See also Bosch: Legacy 2.1-2.4: Better and Better ... Bosch: Legacy 2.5-2.6: Maddie Steps Up

See also Bosch: First Half: Highly Recommended ... Bosch: Second Half as Fine as the First ...  Bosch Season 2: Dragnet with Uber ... Bosch 3: Best Season So Far ... Bosch 4: Delivering and Transcending the Genre ... Bosch 5: Room with a Killer View ... Bosch Season 6: The Best Police on Television ... Bosch Season 7: Can't Let Go ... Bosch: Legacy: Even Better than Bosch

                   another kind of police story 

For All Mankind 4.1: Back in Business and Alternate History

For All Mankind is back with the debut of its 4th season on Apple TV+ today, and it's excellent in all kinds of ways.

[Mild spoilers ahead ... ]

As readers of my reviews -- and for that matter, my novels and short stories -- will no doubt know, what I most like about this series are not its life-and-death adventures out in space and here on Earth, which are suitably staged and enacted, but the alternate history framework in which all of that is presented.

As the world turns into the 21st century in this new season, among my favorite alternate history highlights are Gore is elected President in 2000 (good), Gorbachev is still in power in the Soviet Union (better), and John Lennon's doing concerts (best of all).  I've written time-travel science fiction about the first (Ian's Ions and Eons), thought a lot about the second, and have an award-nominated novel (The Loose Ends Saga) and a short story (It's Real Life) that's won and been nominated for awards, made into a radio play, and I'm currently expanding into a novel, (a world in John Lennon is alive and The Beatles still together in 1996).   For All Mankind excels in this kind of stuff, which is catnip for alternate histories devotes like me.

Meanwhile, there is lots of adventure, ranging from political and personal intrigue down here on Earth, and life-and-death situations resulting in death out in space.  This is realistic, and has been part of this series since its first season.  When you're pressing the boundaries beyond this planet, accidents and misjudgements are bound to happen.

The keys to avoiding them, or making the best of them, of course reside in the personnel.  I miss all the characters who for one reason or another haven't made it into this fourth season.  And it's too soon for me to get to have confidence in the newcomers.  But I'm very glad this series is back on the air, and I'll be reviewing every episode.

See also For All Mankind 3.1: The Alternate Reality Progresses ... 3.2: D-Mail ... 3.3-3.4: The Race

And see also For All Mankind, Season 1 and Episode 2.1: Alternate Space Race Reality ... For All Mankind 2.2: The Peanut Butter Sandwich ... For All Mankind 2.3: "Guns to the Moon" ... For All Mankind 2.4: Close to Reality ... For All Mankind 2.5: Johnny and the Wrath of Kahn ... For All Mankind 2.6: Couplings ... For All Mankind 2.7: Alternate History Surges ... For All Mankind 2.8: Really Lost in Translation ... For All Mankind 2.9: Relationships ... For All Mankind 2.10: Definitely Not the End

It's Real Life

get the paperback or Kindle of this alternate history here

or read the story FREE here


another alternate space travel history

The Loose Ends Saga 


Tuesday, November 7, 2023

Podcast: Paul Levinson interviews Jack Dann about Alternate History

Welcome to Light On Light Through, Episode 359, in which I interview Jack Dann about his book The Fiction Writer's Guide to Alternate History and other things science fictional. 

Relevant links:


Check out this episode!

Thursday, November 2, 2023

Thoughts about The Beatles Now and Then

The Beatles "Now and Then" was released today, the last of three John Lennon demos Yoko gave the Beatles after John was murdered.  The first two were "Free as a Bird" and "Real Love".  I've always loved "Real Love", and as many of you know, it inspired my short story "It's Real Life".

How does "Now and Then" compare to those two songs, brought back to life by Paul, George, and Ringo, with Jeff Lynne producing, in 1995 (released in 1996).   Well, "Now and Then" is heartbreaking beautiful --- as was "Real Love" -- but "Now and Then" is clearly in a class of its own.   As the 12-minute The Beatles - Now And Then - The Last Beatles Song (Short Film) makes clear, "Now and Then" is the product of three ages: John Lennon after The Beatles break-up, in NYC in the 1970s; Paul, George, and Ringo in Paul's studio recording "Free as a Bird" and "Real Love" in 1995 (and working on but not finishing "Now and Then"); and Paul and Ringo singing and playing "Now and Then" in 2022, and talking to us about it in 2023.  

Indeed, this crucial little film actually shows us John; and then Paul, George, and Ringo; and then Paul and Ringo, in all three times.  All three of these times in their and our lives.  And this brings home how unique -- and uniquely heartbreaking and beautiful -- "Now and Then" truly is.  This little movie is itself unique and wonderful.  Every moment in the movie tells us something profound, at the core of our being and our knowledge of history, beginning with the newsreel ambience at the start of the short film, which reminded me of the spinning newsreel segueing into "Edelweiss" at the start of The Man in the High Castle series on Amazon Prime Video.  The story of beauty then horror to the soul, which the loss of John Lennon will always be to every Beatles fan who lived through it.

So The Beatles - Now And Then - The Last Beatles Song (Short Film) is an indispensable companion to the "Now and Then" recording, which is indeed the last Beatles song.  But I've seen a lot a people saying "Now and Then" is our chance to say goodbye to the Beatles.  And that's the opposite of the way I feel.  The recording is a chance to love The Beatles again.  And in a way in which we can't exactly say we love any of the other Beatles recordings, because we know them so well.  That's a very different kind of love than loving something for the first time.

"Now and Then" opens up a new part of The Beatles universe, which was and is nearly infinite, in the way it commands our rapt attention.  The new recording does bring the pain of making us think, once again, what the world and our lives would have been like if John hadn't been murdered.  But wondering about that, well that  happens every time I hear a Beatles song, whenever it was recorded, anyway.  And the joy that "Now and Then" brings vastly outweighs the pain.

The short movie explains that the recording is a combination of Peter Jackson's advanced technology which enabled him to make The Beatles: Get Back documentary, which also changed the world for the better, and Paul McCartney's perseverance in hearing something in the murky demo that was so keenly worth making in this record.  We all and the world of music owe both of them a world of thanks.  And Ringo, too.


It's Real Life -- free alternate history short story about The Beatles, made into a radio play and audiobook, and Finalist for the Sidewise Award 2022, and Winner of The Mary Shelley Award 2023

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Podcast Review of Bosch: Legacy 2.1-2.6

Welcome to Light On Light Through, Episode 358, in which I review Bosch: Legacy, episodes 2.1-2.6, on Amazon Prime Video.

Read this review (with links to reviews of earlier seasons, including the very first season of Bosch).


Check out this episode!

Saturday, October 28, 2023

Bosch: Legacy 2.5-2.6: Maddie Steps Up

Bosch: Legacy episodes 2.5-2.6 are now up on Amazon Prime Video, continuing this powerful season of this stellar series.

[Spoilers ahead ... ]

First, Madison Lintz continues to really impress with her performance as Harry's daughter, Maddie Bosch.  Her stepping up and confronting her attacker in the courtroom as she testifies to the deleterious impact the attack had on her life, was an outstanding piece of acting.  And she's equally good in her scenes with her partner as well as her boyfriend, delivering emotional subtlety and even humor in the breakneck world she inhabits.

It's good to see Max Martini back on the screen -- I first saw him years ago in The Unit -- this time as the brutal, villainous Detective Don Ellis.  Bosch in the original series was always confronting crooked cops, but this time, Ellis is highly intelligent, with a strong partner Detective Long who's willing to do Ellis's bidding, and together they make a formidable adversary to Harry, Maddie, and Honey Chandler.

Mo also continues at the top of his game in these episodes, as well as finding some romance with a sexy podcaster.  Good for him.   He deserves more from life than just chips and hacks.  And Harry will need all the help he can get against Ellis and Long, as he slowly gets to the bottom of the murder that brought Honey and Maddie and him into the sights of these murderous detectives and what bigger marauders they may be working for in the first place.

And I'll see you back here after Prime Video dishes out some more episodes.

See also Bosch: Legacy 2.1-2.4: Better and Better

See also Bosch: First Half: Highly Recommended ... Bosch: Second Half as Fine as the First ...  Bosch Season 2: Dragnet with Uber ... Bosch 3: Best Season So Far ... Bosch 4: Delivering and Transcending the Genre ... Bosch 5: Room with a Killer View ... Bosch Season 6: The Best Police on Television ... Bosch Season 7: Can't Let Go ... Bosch: Legacy: Even Better than Bosch

                   another kind of police story 

Friday, October 27, 2023

Review of Jack Dann's The Fiction Writer's Guide to Alternate History: A Tour-de-Force Treasure Trove

Fiction Writer's Guide to Alternate History

I've always had a keen love of alternate history science fiction.  Amazon Prime Video's The Man in the High Castle series (2015-2019), a mostly brilliant adaptation of Philip K. Dick's path-breaking 1962 novel, in which the Axis won the Second World War, was pretty much from the moment I started watching it easily the best drama I've ever seen on television, and still is.  (Here's an interview I did with Rufus Sewell in 2021 about the leading character he played in the series, one who wasn't in Dick's novel.)

But as much as I love alternate history, I didn't really start writing it until "It's Real Life," a story in which John Lennon wasn't murdered and The Beatles were still together and making music in 1996.   That story was a finalist for the Sidewise Award, bestowed today for the best "short form" published in 2022.   An ideal time for me to read and review Jack Dann's Fiction Writer's Guide to Alternate History.

The heart of this remarkable book is a colloquium, conducted in the previous decade among the leading writers of alternate history.  I heard of all of them, met some of the them, and have read something between between all and some of their alternate history fiction.  They respond to Jack Dann's prompts, and I don't think they saw each other's responses.  They differ on what the "rules"of alternate history should be, including about whether there should be rules at all, consciously or unconsciously followed.  They of course draw upon their own works as examples, in seeming violation of I. A. Richard's warning against the "intentional fallacy," that is, relying upon what authors say they intended in their work, but this doesn't really matter, because the authors in Dann's book also talk about work by other authors in the book, as well as authors not in the book, and their arguments can be evaluated without reference to their work.  

One of their points that most struck me is Bruce Sterling's (p. 119) that “Commonly they’re [alternate histories] about troubled times in which the author has some kind of solution to offer.”  This is exactly why I wrote "It's Real Life": it always seemed to me that the world in which John Lennon was assassinated was a deformation of the way reality was supposed to be, and I wrote the story to give the world a taste of the way it was meant to be.  Pamela Sargent (p. 121), makes a similar point, writing that “Back in the early 1990s, I gave a talk at one convention in which I said that I had the persistent impression that all of us were living in a weird variant that had branched off from the main continuum," as does Paul Di Filippo (p. 97), who tells us that “I think the best such [alternate history] stories arise from creating a world the author would like to at least explore or even inhabit."

These and numerous other insights and explications in Dann's handbook are invaluable to authors at any stage in their careers.  If they're just starting out, it provides a blueprint -- which as Dann makes clear, they needn't follow if it goes against their grain -- and if you're an old hand, you'll find the comfort of better understanding just why you chose to do this or that in the narrative you just wrote, or maybe just finished, because you started it a long time ago, a crucial way of writing for many a writer, also discussed in Dann's book.

Another point of discussion of special interest to me, because I've written half a dozen books on media history, and that's a lot of what I teach as a professor at Fordham University, is what these authors of alternate histories think of our "real" history.  I put "real" in quotes because, as George Zebrowski (p. 120) notes, and I agree, “Tentative history is all we have, and in science fiction we can rehearse as many as we can imagine.”  Yet to make this issue even more provocative, while Kim Stanley Robinson (p. 90) agrees that "all history is a fiction, and as such, maybe it’s always an ‘alternative history,’” John Kessel (p. 83) insists that “I want the counterfactual to illuminate some element of real history,” and I agree with that, too.  Indeed, I think for a counterfactual or alternate history to work (some of the authors argue these have two different meanings, I do not), the story has to have some number of real signposts, to keep our appreciation of the alternate history on track.

Jack Dann of course also writes tellingly about his own alternate histories.  He talks about how Milton's Paradise Lost and John Martin's illustrations of them a century later were inspirations and building blocks for Dann's own Shadows in the Stone (2019).  All authors need inspirations, they're obviously essential, but you can't create them.  The best you can do is recognize them and then act upon them when you're ready.  In effect, the whole of The Fiction Writer's Guide to Alternate History is a treatise, in part multi-authored, of what inspires the imagining and writing of alternate histories.

I realized the moment I started writing "It's Real Life" that I was inspired by Peter Jackson and his The Beatles: Get Back documentary.  I saw its three parts the instant they were released on the Thanksgiving weekend in 2021, and wrote "It's Real Life" in January 2022.  In a way, that documentary is both an alternate history and it epitomizes the interplay of alternate and "real" history that is one of the central themes of Dann's book.  What were The Beatles really like as they stood on edge of disbanding in the history we all remember and most of us deeply regret. Jackson has hours of outtakes recorded when The Beatles were making the depressing Let It Be documentary that proves they were far happier than we've been told and we "remember".  Or were they?  After all, they did break up.

I was so energized by Jackson's documentary that I wrote an alternate history in which The Beatles didn't break up.  I've expanded it into a short novel that I haven't yet shown to anyone, except my wife, who read an earlier draft.  I'll no doubt go over it at least a few more times before I decide what to do with it.  Will I be influenced by the exhilarating experience I just had reading Jack Dann's Fiction Writer's Guide to Alternate History?  Will I follow or break some of the rules that Dann and many of the authors in that book say can and maybe should be broken?  I don't know.  But you can find out by reading The Writer's Guide to Alternate History now, and It's Real Life the novel whenever it's published.

Get "It's Real Life" in paperback, or on Kindle, or read for free here.

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

My World Fantasy Convention (Zoom) Schedule

I'll be at the World Fantasy Convention 2023 this weekend -- VIRTUALLY via Zoom -- starting tomorrow, Thursday, and on two panels: 

THURSDAY: 12:00 PM - 12:50 PM (Central Time)  The Best of Both Worlds? Hybrid Self/Traditional Publishing In the unending debate of traditional vs self-publishing, some authors ask, why not both? Join a panel of hybrid authors as they talk about their journey to hybrid publishing, what the positives and negatives have been for them, and how might this model serve you? Paul Levinson (M), Summer Hanford, Gini Koch 

SATURDAY: 10:00 AM - 10:50 AM (Central Time) Beyond Dirigibles: Mixing Historical Fantasy with Futurism Let’s take retrofuturism a step farther. Beyond steampunk or even gaslamp, what happens when someone drops futuristic technology into a historical fantasy? What are some of our favorite examples? Jenny Rae Rappaport (M), Molly Tanzer, Aparna Verma, Paul Levinson, Rich Horton 

Both of these panels are hybrid, meaning you can attend them in person if you're at the Con, in the Atlanta/New York room. 

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Podcast: Roundtable Discussion of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds 2

Welcome to Light On Light Through, Episode 357, in which I join Captain Phil on WUSB-FM Radio (Stony Brook, New York) and Marybeth Ritkouski, Michael Rizzo, and Roy Bjellquist in a 2-hour in-depth, fun discussion of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.

Check out this episode!

Sunday, October 22, 2023

Bosch: Legacy 2.1-2.4: Better and Better

I caught the first four episodes of the new (second) season of Bosch: Legacy on Amazon Prime Video, the post-Bosch series in which Harry has moved from LAPD to private investigator (still living and working in Los Angeles) and his daughter Maddie has joined the LAPD.  I thought and said the original Bosch series was the best cop show on television, and the first season of Legacy was even better than Bosch.  Well, so  far the second season -- or at least the first four episodes -- are sheer dynamite, emotionally, and in overall storyline and acting -- and even better than the first season.  (Queue The Beatles' "It's Getting Better All the Time".)

[Spoilers ahead ... ]

Maddie is really coming into her own as a police officer, indeed so much so, she attracts a kidnapper and becomes the centerpiece of the first two episodes.  Poppa Bosch will understandably do anything to save his beloved daughter, and he's helped by his old partner J. Edgar, as well as the perennial Crate and Barrel.  Now, obviously, the Legacy series wouldn't be so dumb as to kill off Maddie, as big a star in this sequel series as her father, and knowing this makes the tension and excitement of how she's rescued even more impressive to see on the screen.

The third and fourth episodes introduce a new, suitably dangerous story, as it pulls some strings embedded in previous seasons.  Unlike the first two episodes, in which Maddie's kidnapping is resolved as her father uses every ounce of his intelligence and instincts to save her, the fourth episode keeps us on the edge of suspense right through the end.  Maddie gets a promotion, Honey Chandler plays a central role, and these episodes teem with the full gamut of LA cops, good, bad, and former.  It was also good to see Mo back this season with tech smarts and sarcasm.

The acting is better than ever.  Madison Lintz as Maddie is the epitome of getting better and better, and everyone else, including Titus Welliver as Bosch are as superb and incisive as ever.  I'll conclude this review, though, with my typical current complaint about Amazon Prime Video and Netflix: I miss the days when I could binge complete seasons as soon as the new season was available.  So ... I'll see you back here as the new episodes of Bosch: Legacy are doled out.

See also Bosch: First Half: Highly Recommended ... Bosch: Second Half as Fine as the First ...  Bosch Season 2: Dragnet with Uber ... Bosch 3: Best Season So Far ... Bosch 4: Delivering and Transcending the Genre ... Bosch 5: Room with a Killer View ... Bosch Season 6: The Best Police on Television ... Bosch Season 7: Can't Let Go ... Bosch: Legacy: Even Better than Bosch

                   another kind of police story 

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

What's Wrong with The New York Times

I'm really getting sick and tired of The New York Times.  I first began getting more than irritated with the newspaper of record when it over-reported the non-story about Hillary Clinton's emails, on the eve of the 2016 election.   I won't go into all the poor reporting I've noticed in their pages since then.

But now there's something much worse than all of that.  When word first came in about the terrible loss of human life caused by the rocket or bomb exploding in the courtyard of the Palestinian hospital yesterday, the NY Times ran a headline that there was massive outrage in the Middle East (correct) about the attack made by Israel, according to the Palestinians.  The second part of that headline was technically correct -- the Palestinians thought and still think that an Israeli bomb caused the damage -- but it was very misleading, for two reasons.  First, the "according to the Palestinians" came at the end of the headline, and it's a well-known fact that readers of news often don't get to the end of a long headline.  Further, there should have been a prominent indication in the headline that Israel was denying that they were responsible for the horror in the courtyard, and indeed an Hamas-related terrorist group launched the rocket.  The Times has since removed the misleading headline, but the damage was already done.

And today, we have news that US intelligence has independently confirmed the Israeli explanation, based in large part on US infrared sensors that show where the rocket that caused the deadly damage originated.  Jeremy Bash on MSNBC has justly lambasted the lame headlines that stirred so much anger at Israel.  Accurate reporting, including accurately descriptive headlines, is always important.  But never more so than in the tinderbox that the Middle East has become in the aftermath of the monstrous Hamas attacks, and the increasing number of human lives at stake.

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

podcast: Paul Levinson interviews Chris Cosmain about his Time Travel Novel 'Novikov Windows'

Welcome to Light On Light Through, Episode 356, in which I interview Chris Cosmain about his novel Novikov Windows and time travel. We also discuss how to succeed as a science fiction author.


Check out this episode!

Monday, October 16, 2023

Why I Had to Kill You While You Slept: Husbands -- Make Sure You See It Before You Go To Sleep

Nah, I think I'm probably kidding.  If you're a husband and you see Anthony Marinelli's hilarious new short, Why I Had to Kill You While You Slept, before you go to sleep, you may not be able to fall asleep.  Ok, I'm probably kidding about that, too.  But you likely will feel a little guilty.  And you'll certainly be laughing.  And note that I'm not saying I'm kidding about that and that.

This 15-minute comedy and tutorial about what not to do if you're a husband provides a vivid little catalogue of what wives get upset about around bedtime -- snoring, not cutting your toenails so you accidentally gash your wife's thigh, going to sleep after you're satisfied but she's not, and you're... well, doing something that requires a powerful air-freshener to at most partially remedy.  And then there's what men shouldn't do before they leave the bathroom -- leaving the seat up and not flushing.

Now, just to be clear, I've been married to the same woman for almost fifty years, and I've done none of that -- I'm innocent, your Honor, innocent!   Ok, maybe I snore a litte, at least according to my wife.

But forget about me, and back to the movie.  Marinelli wrote (with Bradley Griffiths and Lisa Riva) and directed, and the dialogue is barbed and funny.  So is the rendition.  Amanda Greer is perfect as Donna the long-suffering wife, as she's been in everything I've seen her do on stage and screen.  So is Denise Reed as Lisa, Donna's friend, who manages to be both rational and receptive as Donna spills out her story.  And Peter Argento was fine as Jim, the horrible husband, as was Jackie Kuczinski as his sexy sister, Michael Yadvish as her boyfriend, and Joseph Casesse as Lisa's not so horrible husband.

The movie was shown yesterday at the Chelsea Film Festival in Manhattan.  It's 15 minutes you'll no doubt enjoy, unless you're like Matt, in which case you should see the movie and maybe learn a thing or two. 

science fiction/fantasy novelette

Sunday, October 15, 2023

Is It Possible to Eradicate Hate?

A friend on Facebook asked me if it's possible to eradicate hate?

This was my answer: It's not possible to eradicate hate. But it's necessary to try to eradicate this particularly depraved rendition of hate that is Hamas. Just as was done with Isis and Hitler's Nazis. In both cases, the eradication was not complete, but surely the world was and is better without them.

I'll add here:  In both cases, the destruction of ISIS and Hitler's Nazi regime also resulted in the death of innocent people.  This opinion piece in The New York Times by David French, What It Would Mean to Treat Hamas Like Isis? explains why that loss of innocent life happens, and why it's possible to limit that loss of life but never prevent it entirely.  French is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.  He also thinks that the loss of innocent life in the attempt to destroy Hamas could well be less than what happened with ISIS but still unavoidable.

Hamas did unimaginably horrible things last week and set in motion a horrible situation with excruciating choices for Israel.  Not only does Israel not want to harm innocent people, surely the last thing Israel wants now is to be responsible for the loss of more Israeli people.  But Hamas took hostages, and though all sane and decent people hope all the hostages will be freed, it's clear that they will be endangered by whatever military action Israel takes in Gaza.  

Amidst this hellish situation, Israel has even managed to take some humanitarian actions.  US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told CNN a few hours ago that Israel has turned the water back on in southern Gaza.  I don't know any more than you about how the Israeli campaign against Hamas will proceed.  But I am hopeful that Israel will do everything in its power to minimize the loss of innocent life as it seeks to make sure that Hamas and its hate will never destroy an innocent life again.

Saturday, October 14, 2023

36-Second Announcement about an Interview from the Future

You'll be able to hear my interview with this author at 12 Noon New York time this coming Tuesday, October 17 -- watch here for the link. More about this author and his novel about time travel over here.

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.