"Paul Levinson's It's Real Life is a page-turning exploration into that multiverse known as rock and roll. But it is much more than a marvelous adventure narrated by a master storyteller...it is also an exquisite meditation on the very nature of alternate history." -- Jack Dann, The Fiction Writer's Guide to Alternate History

Thursday, June 13, 2024

Criminal Minds: Evolution 17.3: "BAU Gate"

I'd say the most provocative element in the provocate episode 17.3 of Criminal Minds: Evolution up on Paramount Plus today is the team's discovery of a site on the dark web, "BAU Gate".

[Spoilers ahead ... ]

Actually, they've known about the site since 2014.  But AI has souped up the site with ultra-convincing fake porm, and the star of that porn is Jennifer Jareau, which makes sense, given that she started with the BAU as its media spokesperson.  Emily doesn't want Luke -- who was told about this by Voit in words we couldn't hear in last week's episode 17.2 -- to tell JJ about this, but of course he does. And in one fell swoop, Criminal Minds manages to stay cutting-edge current, bringing AI dramatically into the story, and in a way that ties together many of its numerous threads.

Numerous intersecting threads is what Criminal Minds is becoming increasingly all about.  There's Voit and his family, connected via Voit to Gold Star, and now Voit as an Internet demon tells the BAU about BAU Gate.  Also in episode 17.3, Emily is arrested by local police because a conspiracy nut -- who believes Paul really died in the 1960s and was replaced in The Beatles by someone else -- lies about Emily attacking him.  What this has to do with Voit or BAU Gate is not clear, but you never know.

The specific case that draws David and Tara on a plane out West apparently has nothing to do with the above nexus, and the team finds that refreshing.  I'm not sure about that.  Maybe it would be better if everything was connected.  On the other hand, it's good to see the BAU get an unambiguous win or two in the midst of the web of complications that is increasing drawing them and us in,

See also Criminal Minds: Evolution 17.1-17-.2 The Elusive Profile

And see also Criminal Minds: Evolution 16.1-16.4: Outstanding! ... 16.5: Assessment of What Could Have Happened at the End ... 16.6-16.8: Better Than Ever on Paramount Plus ... 16.9: Elias Voit and David Rossi ... 16.10: Gold Star


Some reviews of episodes from earlier seasons:


Presumed Innocent 1.1-1.2: Presumed Excellent, and So Far Is

I saw Presumed Innocent -- the movie with Harrison Ford in the lead role -- in 1990.  I shortly after read the Scott Turow 1987 novel from which the movie was adapted.  That was a long time ago, no blogging, and I was a devoted possessor of a Radio Shack M100.  I thought the movie and book were brilliant, with one of the cleverest endings, one of the most unexpected twists, I'd ever come across in a fictitious murder story.   I still feel that way right now.

So I was tempted not to see the series that just went up -- more precisely, the first two episodes -- on Apple TV+ yesterday.   But of course I did.  And as I was watching these episodes, I realized I had no idea if this new series would tell the same story as the novel and the movie.   And I realized that I didn't want to know beforehand, because not knowing that added it's own level of suspense.

So far, if my memory from 23 years ago is ago is accurate, the story seems essentially the same.  Jake Gyllenhaal is excellent in the lead role -- Rusty Sabich, an ADA in Chicago, whose colleague and lover Carolyn Polhemus is found murdered.  Rusty is married, so he has some reason to want Carolyn eliminated -- to save his marriage.  

Movies and TV series of course are two very different media -- 120+ minutes vs. 8 episodes of around 50 minutes each to tell a story.  So I think there could be some riveting viewing ahead in the series.  Also, as of the first two episodes, I really liked Bill Camp, Peter Sarsgaard, and Renate Reinsve.  I'm going to review the series episode by episode, and I'll try my very best not to divulge any spoilers.

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Podcast Review of Dark Matter 1.7

Welcome to Light On Light Through, Episode 390, in which I review Dark Matter 1.7 on Apple TV+.

Further places:

Check out this episode!

Dark Matter 1.7: Obama Tower

Dark Matter on Apple TV+ continues to get better and better, with episode 1.7 being once again the best episode yet.   Here's why I think why:

[Spoilers ahead ... ]

Jason 1 and Amanda finally get to a beautiful Chicago, replete with monorails, an Obama tower (which reached its full height in our reality on this side of the screen just a few days ago -- a nice feat of perfect timing for the TV series), and the soft breath of Spring.  Amanda loves it so much she wants to stay in this reality, and she invites Jason 1 to stay with her, as the two, dressed in the height of fashion, dine in a restaurant that looks like an updated Windows on the World from a World Trade Center that survived and is now in Chicago.  He's tempted but declines the offer.  He wants to go back to his family that Jason 2 has taken from him.  They part.  Amanda takes the elevator down, alone.  She starts crying, but gets out on the ground floor with a smile and a deep determination.  It's a memorable scene, tear-worthy in itself.  But it's worth noting that with the ampules Jason 1 puts in her purse without her knowledge, he has a feeling they'll be seeing each other again. 

Jason 1 goes on to another reality that he hopes will be enough like his that he can live there.  He comes close, but he finds Daniela in bed with another Jason, and Max -- a twin of Charlie who died in infancy in Jason 1's original world -- alive and with some series problems of his own.  Jason 1 realizes this world won't work, but he finally figures out how to get to his reality, which he does.  He decides to kill Jason 2, tries to buy a gun but settles for a knife and pepper spray ...

Meanwhile, Jason 2 is being pressed by Detective Mason about what happened to Ryan.  He decides to break down the wall he had built last week around the room to alternate realities, and bring Ryan back to Jason 1's world to get Mason off his case.  He also decides to get a gun, and in a final scene that's set to change everything, of course walks into the same gun shop as Jason 1 left less than a minute before.  The gun dealer of course acts as if she's just seen him, and this lets Jason 2 know that Jason 1 has made it back to his world.

So the stage is set for the concluding two episodes of this series (which I hope will be just the first season of this compelling series): Jason 1 back in his world, finally able to get back what was stolen from him.  I have a feeling that's not quite going to happen.

See also Dark Matter 1.1-1.2: Break-Neck Action and Philosophic Contemplation ... 1.3 Missing Fingers ... 1.4 The Multiverse Unveiled ... 1.5: The Lesson ... 1.6 "A Bunch of Chicagos"

Monday, June 10, 2024

What They've Been Saying about It's Real Life: An Alternate History of The Beatles (the novel)

"Paul Levinson's It's Real Life is an incredibly unique and captivating peek behind rock and roll's mysterious curtain. The idea that the story delves into an alternate world adds to its page-turning intrigue. Highly recommended!" -- Steven Manchester, #1 bestselling author, The Menu 

"a fascinating tale of what could have been had John Lennon not been murdered ... a passionate celebration of a musical genius whose life was prematurely cut short ... a science fictional celebration [by] a master of speculative fiction and alternate reality, Paul Levinson" -- Chris Cosmain, Novikov Windows and The Amazon Anomaly

"Such a wonderful story! I grew up as a real science fiction fan and time travel and alternative history has always been a favorite SF genre of mine. The story offers such a speculative piece that keeps one thinking. A detective story mixed with all of this. Just a wonderful story. With synchronicity mixed into it and the mention of Roots of Coincidence, one of my favorite books from long ago. In many ways, a story for our times after Covid as many think we are living in some alternate reality or alternative history." -- John Fraim, Amazon

"What would you do if you came from an alternate reality in which John Lennon was never killed — and you became accidentally aware of our own universe? This excellent, eerie novel explores that question in ingenious style. It’s a page-turner with philosophical heft and a great sense of rock history (not to mention some surprise cameos by Lennon, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, and other luminaries). Highly recommended for fans of Philip K. Dick and/or the Beatles." -- SVL, Goodreads

"Paul Levinson's It's Real Life is a page-turning exploration into that multiverse known as rock and roll. But it is much more than a marvelous adventure narrated by a master storyteller...it is also an exquisite (and absolutely non-didactic) meditation on the very nature of alternate history." -- Jack Dann, A Fiction Writer's Guide to Alternate History


Get the novel on Kindle, paper, or in hardcover here.

The Lazarus Project 2.1: Shades of Gray

When I saw and reviewed the first season of The Lazarus Project on TNT last November, I said it was "the best time-travel series I've ever seen on television, bar none." Having just seen the first episode of the second season on TNT last night, I feel exactly the same.

Time travel as a genre brought to the screen excels in protagonists going back in time and doing the same thing with suitable modifications over and over until they get it -- saving a life or taking a life -- over and over, again, until they get it right, or not.  George is the perfect character for this.  And  Paapa Essiedu's face shows just the right range emotion of someone going through this.

[Spoilers ahead ... ]

But George is on the outside of The Lazarus Project now, excluded from the group, and the from the gun-carrying elite, because, as he aptly put it, he put love before loyalty to the project and its all-important mission.  And this is especially hard on George, given that the recipient of his costly love, Sarah, has now taken his place with group.

The other big development in this episode is that a group headed by Dr. Kitty Gray, at first thought to be separate from Lazarus, has developed its own old-fashioned time machine.  Wes, understably worried about what this H. G. Wells inspired machine could do to Lazarus's struggle to save existence, wants someone to keep an eye on Kitty and her work.  All the more surprising, then, to see Wes in a photograph in the audience of a group taking in a lecture by Kitty.  Apparently Kitty and her time machine are not as separate from Lazarus as Wes would want us to believe.

A good set-up for the second season, the rest of which I'm eagerly awaiting!

See also The Lazarus Project season 1: Time Travel Done Superbly Right


my latest novel (with a touch of time travel) -- to be published 8 February 2024

“Paul Levinson’s It’s Real Life is an incredibly unique and captivating peek behind rock and roll’s mysterious curtain. The idea that the story delves into an alternate world adds to its page-turning intrigue. Highly recommended!” 

-– Steven Manchester, #1 bestselling author, The Menu

"Paul Levinson's It's Real Life is a page-turning exploration into that multiverse known as rock and roll. But it is much more than a marvelous adventure narrated by a master storyteller...it is also an exquisite meditation on the very nature of alternate history." 

-- Jack Dann, The Fiction Writer's Guide to Alternate History

get It's Real Life in paperback, hardcover, or on Kindle here

Friday, June 7, 2024

Criminal Minds: Evolution 17.1-2: The Elusive Profile

Criminal Minds: Evolution is back on Paramount Plus with the first two episodes of its new season (17, if you count the original Criminal Minds on CBS).  I saw them last night and they were excellent.

[Spoilers ahead ... ]

The story picks up two weeks after the events in the Season 16 finale.  Elias Voit, the mastermind networking serial killer from last season is in jail, but his capture has taken a toll on our heroes.  Rossi is hallucinating conversations with Voit, Emily's on a razor's edge, but the BAU is mobilized to the find the Gold Star killer, whose moniker was introduced at the end of last season.

The only thing that's clear about who and what Gold Star is, well, is that Voit is not Gold Star per se.  Or, to be more precise, he couldn't be the person who actually killed any of the victims in the first two episodes of this new season, because he was behind bars all the time.  Emily thinks Gold Star may be a killer out West, but when she says we're ready to deliver the profile, Rossi tells her no, we're not.  As always, the BAU is rent with disagreement, as well as the FBI Director wanting to get rid of them, but they manage to move forward.

As in the last season, the use of explicit language is refreshing and realistic.  I could do, though, without the explicit gore, but that's just me.  And as long we're talking about how streaming has liberated television from network prudishness, a little nudity -- for our living characters -- wouldn't be bad, either, just sayin'.

The serial killer -- in this case, Voit -- being a necessary but ever dangerous ally of law enforcement is of course something we've seen already with Hannibal Lecter.  But Zach Gilford as Voit was a great addition to the show -- even though every time I hear or write the name I think of Chicago PD -- and it's great to see him back in this new season.

Speaking of which, I'm hoping to see Spencer back before this season is over as well.

See also Criminal Minds: Evolution 16.1-16.4: Outstanding! ... 16.5: Assessment of What Could Have Happened at the End ... 16.6-16.8: Better Than Ever on Paramount Plus ... 16.9: Elias Voit and David Rossi ... 16.10: Gold Star


Some reviews of episodes from earlier seasons:


Thursday, June 6, 2024

Podcast Review of Dark Matter 1.6

Welcome to Light On Light Through, Episode 389, in which I review Dark Matter 1.6 on AppleTV+.

Further places:

Check out this episode!

Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Dark Matter 1.6: "A Bunch of Chicagos"

Well, I thought the best line in Dark Matter 1.6 on Apple TV+ today came from Jason 1 to Amanda 2 about their having visited "a bunch of Chicagos" so far, and none of them were too good.

But that was only one of many good lines in this episode, and the series has now progressed, in my opinion, from excellent to outstanding.

[And here's the place I'll advise you about spoilers ahead ... ]

I'll bullet some of the best moments:

  • Jason 2 gets Charlie 1 some ice cream with nuts, and he has to be rushed to the emergency room where he's saved.  I'm hoping this was just an accident and not something much worse, and I wouldn't put much past Jason 2.  He does give his son who's not his son an Epinephrine shot, and that more than the hospital was actually key to saving him. But Daniela 1 is hit hard by this in any case, the worst in a list of events and characteristics including flossing and leaving keys in the wrong place that's feeding her suspicion.
  • To top off Daniela's misgivings about Jason 2, he takes her to an art show where one of her paintings is hanging, and she's moved to tears -- of fury, because she wasn't finished with the painting yet, and the last thing she wanted was to show it to the public.
  • But lest you think Jason 2 is a good guy, he strands poor Ryan in one of those infinite Chicagos.
  • And here's a thing I really liked in this episode: lots of time for Amanda 2 and Amanda 1.  She's a pivotal character, and Jason 1 may be falling in love with her (he's certainly a consummate gentleman, asking Amanda to leave their bed, though he'd certainly like to sleep with her, in both meanings of that word).
  • And last but not least, an at-once high and low scene at the end of this episode has Jason 2 following through on his vow to seal off or lock up his box/corridor to alternate realities.
So I thought this was a top-notch episode indeed, and I'm looking forward to its consequences in what's to come!

Monday, June 3, 2024

Dune Part 2: Not as Good as Part 1

I'm beginning to think I'm bound to be disappointed seeing a science fiction trilogy I love brought to the screen.  Those of you who have read my reviews of Foundation, and/or listened to my discussions of the Apple TV+ series on podcasts, will know my frustration with that TV series.  In a sentence, the part that had nothing to do with the original trilogy, the Cleon clones, was the best, and the series lacked some of the strongest parts of the trilogy (or the extent of the trilogy that has so far appeared on the screen).

Ironically, I thought the first part of Denis Villeneuve's rendition of Dune was excellent on just about every level (here's my review).  But the second part, which I just saw last night, indulged in major changes in major characters, and left others completely out.

[Spoilers ahead ... ]

Let's start with Chani.  The love that she and Paul had for each other lit up the second half of Dune (Frank Herbert's original long novel).  In the movie, she's annoyed or angry with Paul in just about every other scene of the two, including storming off and away at the end.

Alia, Paul's sister, an extraordinary character in the novel, with all kinds of powers derived from the spice she received in Jessica's womb, is seen in the movie only briefly as a young adult in a vision Paul has of the future.  A child with such wisdom and power was a cardinal element of the novel.  In the movie she's reduced to a voice that Jessica hears, presumably coming from the baby she's carrying.  

And what happened to Thufir Hawat the Mentat?  And the Space Guild?  Their way of bending space with their minds actually received more attention in the Foundation TV series, though they indeed were extensively developed in the Dune novel. 

Meanwhile, Feyd-Rautha had plenty of screen time, but I thought his character was reduced to a cartoonish cliche, complementing one Atreides opponent before he kills him, and Paul himself as Feyd-Rautha is about to die from Paul's superior knife-play.  The actual fight, I'll admit, though, was excellent.

And while I'm on the subject of what was excellent in Dune Part 2, I thought Javier Bardem delivered in every scene as Stilgar, whose part was well-drawn in the movie, as did Florence Pugh as Princess Irulan, surprisingly relevant in the movie as in the novel.  Indeed, all the acting was fine or better in Dune Part 2, as was the cinematography.

But I'll end with one more complaint: I don't know, but the scenes of Paul riding the sandworm just weren't as impressive as the scenes required.  All too often, they looked to me as if Paul was riding some kind of undulating carpet made of sand (I was half expecting to hear Steppenwolf in the background).

In sum: see Dune Part 2 -- if only to prepare yourself for the third installment, which will bring Dune Messiah to the screen, which I hope will remedy some of the many problems in Dune Part 2.

See also: Dune, Part 1: Half the Movie, Twice the Power of Most Other Complete Films


Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Podcast Review of Dark Matter 1.5

Welcome to Light On Light Through, Episode 388, in which I review Dark Matter 1.5 on AppleTV+.

Further places:



Check out this episode!

Dark Matter 1.5: The Lesson

Well, Jason 1 appears to have learned a crucial lesson in the fifth episode Dark Matter, up on Apple TV+ just a few hours ago.

And that lesson is--

[Spoilers ahead ... ]

What he needs to do in his original world -- World 1 -- is block the box off, so no one can use it.

He found this out the hard way, in which he and Amanda were treated to a succession of differing horrendous realities, as they tried to wish/will the world they were going into, into being -- which was the lesson that they and we thought we learned last week in episode 1.4.

But as the two applied that logic -- the world-creating power of a feeling (B. J. Thomas's "Hooked on a Feeling" would have worked well here, though his "Rock 'n' Roll Lullaby" is such an outstanding record) -- Jason 1 and Amanda found the worlds they entered were flooded, wracked by a deadly plague, and last but not least a world in which the analog of Jason 1 was in prison, presumably convicted for some kind of terrible crime.  So Jason 1, now -- presumably -- back in World 1, says he needs to wall it off.

This of course will prevent far more than Jason 1 and Amanda not being able to use the box in the alternate realities any more.  It will mean that everyone currently in World 1 will be stuck there.  Including Jason 2. Which means that Jason 1 will have to share his bed with Daniela 1 and Jason 2?

That would be a pretty rough world for both Jasons, right?  Which means, what?  That once Jason 2 got through the box/room into World 1, everyone's life in the infinity of worlds was in one way or another worse than it was before?

I'm not sure.  But I certainly don't hold out much prospect for a happy ending in this fascinating, complex story.

See also Dark Matter 1.1-1.2: Break-Neck Action and Philosophic Contemplation ... 1.3 Missing Fingers ... 1.4 The Multiverse Unveiled

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Podcast Review of Dark Matter 1.3-1.4

Welcome to Light On Light Through, Episode 387, in which I review Dark Matter 1.3-1.4 on AppleTV+.

Further places:


Check out this episode!

Dark Matter 1.4: The Multiverse Unveiled

A highly informative episode 1.4 of Dark Matter up on Apple TV+ today, as Jason 1 and Amanda make their way through "The Corridor" (the title of this episode) and therein partake of the doors to the multiverse.

And I have to say that my favorite spoken line in this episode is when Jason tells Amanda that the entire corridor with its doors don't really exist, they are rather the result of their human minds struggling to make a little sense of a reality that the human mind cannot comprehend.  The only thing missing in this astute observation was that the true conduit(s) to the universes Jason and Amanda were accessing were the thing-in-itself, which Immanuel Kant realized the human intellect could never comprehend.

Kant made that observation in the 1700s (in our universe).  Jason 1 also draws upon a fundamental principle of quantum mechanics, which of course brings us to the 1900s, and underlies all of Dark Matter. That principle is that the mere observation of a subatomic particle can change it.  Jason explains that he and Amanda can get to the alternate reality they seek by merely clearly thinking about that reality.  This QM on the macro-level has been a staple of lots of science fiction, and Dark Matter is parlaying it very effectively.

Indeed, Jason goes on to explain that his kidnapping that launched this narrative was the result of Jason 2 figuring out in which alternate universe Jason 1 was residing, because Jason 2 wanted to give Jason 1 some of the pleasure of having Jacob 2's accomplishments as a world-famous scientist -- actually, not figuring it out, but envisioning it in some intense way, and thereby finding and identifying the door into that reality.  Since the multiverse consists of all possible realities, which in practice is an infinite number of places, this QM way of locating the place that you want to visit is a good thing to have on hand.

And Dark Matter, as of its fourth episode, is a very good thing.  It's rare to find philosophy woven so well into a thriller, inside a corridor with so many tempting and dangerous doors.

See also Dark Matter 1.1-1.2: Break-Neck Action and Philosophic Contemplation ... 1.3 Missing Fingers

the corridors under Fordham University figure in this novel ...

Thursday, May 16, 2024

Dark Matter 1.3: Missing Fingers

Just saw Dark Matter 1.3, the third episode of what I'd call the interchanging alternate reality series on Apple TV+.  I thought it was excellent.

[Spoilers ahead ... ]

Dark Matter 1.2 ended with the shocking murder of Daniela 2 in Jason 1's reality -- that is, not the Jason who actually built the full-size superimposition box/room that makes shifts into alternate realities possible -- and this in effect is an announcement that this story, or at least some of the characters in it, really mean business.  Their motives are still not clear by the end of the third episode, but Dawn losing a few of her fingers as she tries to stop Jason 1 and Amanda after firing a gun at them confirms that this narrative means business indeed.

The loss of the fingers also serves another important purpose.  We're told that four characters in World 2 entered the box/room, and, who knows, there could be more.   We'll at least now know immediately that if Dawn suddenly shows up in World 1 with missing fingers, she's actually Dawn 2.

But lest you think that Dark Matter is all quantum mechanics and gore, there's also some nicer clever touches in 1.3  My favorite is the guess who's coming to dinner party in World 1, in which Jason 2 struggles to know who everyone is and what they do -- using an iPhone to help (of course it's an iPhone, the series is on Apple TV+) -- and Ryan 1 tells Jason 2 that he's looking good (which he should -- award-winning scientists probably do live and look at least a little better than their harried professor counterparts).

Dark Matter continues to be philosophically provocative, hard hitting, and we can now add, suitably wry. More than enough for me to eagerly continue to watch.

See also Dark Matter 1.1-1.2: Break-Neck Action and Philosophic Contemplation

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Paul Levinson interviews Mark Dawidziak about Edgar Allan Poe

Welcome to Light On Light Through, Episode 386, in which I talk to Mark Dawidziak about his latest book A Mystery of Mysteries: The Death and Life of Edgar Allan Poe, and another iconic author Mark has written about, Mark Twain.

Check out this episode!

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Podcast Review of Dark Matter 1.1-1.2

Welcome to Light On Light Through, Episode 385, in which I review Dark Matter 1.1-1.2 on AppleTV+.

Further places:


Check out this episode!

Dark Matter 1.1-1.2: Break-Neck Action and Philosophic Contemplation

Dark Matter, the first two episodes of which debuted on Apple TV+ today, is the third alternate reality narrative I've seen on the screen in the past month (see my reviews of Quantum Suicide, a film created by Gerrit Van Woudenberg which should be streaming on some major app by the Fall, and Constellation, another series on Apple TV+).  All three bounce off the at-once famous and infamous Schrödinger's cat.  Quantum Suicide has the feel of Primer and the work-at-home scientist.  Dark Matter, as of the first two episodes, has a similar feel.  And I'm beginning to think I don't want to think about these matters too hard, because the more I think about them, the more I think it's possible that I could be in an alternate reality myself, right now.  But, hey, I'm so dedicated to doing this review, that I'll risk it, anyway.

[Some spoilers ahead ... ]

One thing that makes Dark Matter, adapted by Blake Crouch from his novel of the same name published in 2015 (which I haven't read), different from the many other alternate realities that I've encountered on pages and screens is that the two versions of the lead character Jason, once the story gets going, share the same knowledge of themselves and the alternate worlds they inhabit, up to a point.  Or, to be more precise, the two versions of Jason have switched realities -- for some reason we do not yet know -- and each quickly learns about their new reality, while retaining knowledge of their original reality before the time that their original reality split in two.  

We also are beginning to understand that the fork in this particular double reality happened 15 years earlier, when Jason had to make a decision about how he felt about his girlfriend Daniela's pregnancy.  Our story begins in the present, with Jason and Daniela happily married, with Charlie their 15-year-old son.  Before too long, Jason is kidnapped and ends up in an alternate reality in which Jason didn't want to be a father, Daniela had an abortion, and they're living separate lives.  As the two episodes unfold, with an appealing mix of break-neck action and philosophical contemplation, we find the Jasons beginning to struggle with the question: In one reality, he's a happily married father, but he and Daniela have lackluster careers.  In the other reality, Jason is a pathbreaking, enormously successful physicist and Daniela a famous artist, but neither has much of a personal life.  Which life will/would Jason choose?  That is, assuming Jason has the power to now make such a choice.

I'll definitely be watching every episode of this new series, and posting reviews here as appropriate.

Sunday, May 5, 2024

The Singer Sisters: The Musical Mystique

There's a meta-genre of fiction epitomized in different but overlapping ways by Eddie and the Cruisers, Rob Reiner's This Is Spinal Tap, and Daisy Jones and the Six -- the first and the third adapted to the screen from novels -- that helps us understand what those who make music that lights up our nights are doing when they're off-stage and not in the studio.  Sarah Seltzer's The Singer Singers, a debut novel to be published this August, not only fits well in that narrative family, but in some ways exceeds it.  I'd expect to see it adapted on some kind of screen before too long.

The Singer Sisters actually tells us two stories, deftly interwoven.  One is a moving snapshot of the folk-rock music scene,  and therein the larger music venue in which folk-rock played, in the last third of the 20th century.  The other is a tableau of upper middle class Jewish culture, in New York City, Boston, and beyond, in the same period of time.

The Singers -- aka the Zingleman sisters -- strive to succeed across two tempestuous generations along with other fictional singers and writers, against a backdrop of real superstars that even non-devotees of folk-rock will instantly recognize.  The characters worry about "stealing from Dylan".  One of the singers concludes that "Joan Baez was right and Dylan wrong, that kindness mattered more than genius" (I would say that both are crucial).  There's a quote from Gordon Lightfoot's "Early Morning Rain" -- "see the silver bird on high" -- and a mention of Phil Ochs (not a superstar but shoulda been).  And there are fictitious characters that the cognoscenti will surely know, like the rock critic who uses his way with words to unfairly lambaste brilliant work (as the real rock critic did to Phil Ochs -- not to mention Paul McCartney). Meanwhile, the Singer songs are not only spoken of by the characters, but Seltzer actually delivers more than a dozen sets and snippets of original lyrics, demonstrating a considerable talent not only as a novelist but a lyricist, and leaving the reader yearning to hear them put to music and fulfilled in song.  In addition to a movie or a limited TV series, The Singer Sisters also has the makings of a Broadway musical.

The Zingleman sisters are Jewish, and their Yiddishkeit permeates the novel, not only in cream sodas, but their parents' wise view that they'd rather see their children fed with goishe food than go hungry without it. In this sense, The Singer Sisters has a kinship with Philip Roth's Goodbye Columbus, and I hope the novel is recognized as the compelling portrait of Jewish culture in America that it is.  It's especially important, given the rising wave of anti-Semitism that's afflicting our country and the world.

In case it's not obvious, The Singer Sisters is very much a woman's novel, explored in sisterhood, motherhood, and daughterhood, with love, heartbreak, pain, exultation, and a panoply of uniquely female emotion in every chapter.  But men might well get a necessary education from this novel too, and I heartily recommend it to any human being.

Pre-order The Singer Sisters here.


"Paul Levinson's It's Real Life is a page-turning exploration into that multiverse known as rock and roll. But it is much more than a marvelous adventure narrated by a master storyteller ... it is also an exquisite meditation on the very nature of alternate history." 

-- Jack Dann, Fiction Writer's Guide to Alternate History

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Podcast Review of Rebel Moon, Parts 1 and 2

Welcome to Light On Light Through, Episode 384, in which I review Rebel Moon, Parts 1 and 2.

Written blog post reviews of Rebel Moon, Part 1 and Part 2.

Check out this episode!

Rebel Moon, Part 2: The Robot and the Freshness

Just saw Rebel Moon, Part 2, on Netflix the other night.  I enjoyed it.  For some reason, my favorite character was the robot, JC-1435, aka James or Jimmy.

I'm not sure what that says about this second part of the movie (which, based on the ending, may well be the beginning of a series of two-part or one-part movies in a saga that now feels to me much more like Dune than Star Wars).  Maybe it's the antlers on Jimmy's head.  Maybe it's the voice -- you can't go wrong with Anthony Hopkins doing the voicing of anything.  But all in all, James conveyed a sensitivity that's rarely seen in robots or androids in movies or TV series, and which in its own way had a subtlety that even Data in Star Trek: TNG seldom quite achieved.

The battles were good and exciting, strong edge-of-your seat stuff.  The villains, however, often verged on cartoonish.   The heroes had more subtlety, and maybe that's because there were more of them than the villains.  I won't warn you about spoilers, because there won't be anything specific in this review, but I will say that this part of the movie which I hope will be a series concluded with fewer heroes than it had at the beginning.

Yeah, I hope we'll see more.  I like looking at the state of the human species at times like these, when we've gone way out into the cosmos, and met other intelligent beings, some of them now deadly foes, others of them loyal friends.  The problem with both Star Wars and Dune, and we can add Foundation to this list,  is that if we've done any reading or watching, we already know who the major characters are and who they will be.  Sometimes we even care about them so much, we don't like it if they're substantially changed in the new treatment (or at least, I feel that way).  But Rebel Moon, even though it deals with very well worn tropes, has a winning freshness and relevance to it.  The heroes in Rebel Moon, when they're not fighting Nazis, are harvesting grain.  Just like they do in Ukraine.

And that's why I'm totally aboard to see more.

See also: Red Moon, Part 1: Galactic Heroes and Villains

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Podcast Review of Constellation

Welcome to Light On Light Through, Episode 383, in which I review the first season of Constellation.

Written blog post review of Constellation.

Mentioned in the podcast:



Check out this episode!

Sunday, April 21, 2024

50 Years After Understanding Media: Audiobook of My 2014 Keynote Address at Baylor University

Just published:  Audiobook of my 2014 Keynote Address at Baylor University, "50 Years after Understanding Media".  Listen to a free audio sample, buy the audiobook here.

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Podcast Review of American Rust 2

Welcome to Light On Light Through, Episode 382, in which I review the second season of American Rust.

  • written blog post review of the second season of American Rust

Check out this episode!