=Borrowed Tides= and =Alpha Centauri= right here

Monday, September 21, 2020

The Platform: Don't Watch Before Dinner

Parables come in all kinds of platforms. The Platform, a Spanish film with English subtitles now on Netflix, is a story about the essence of humanity tested to its very limits. That’s a worthy parable, to say the least. Unfortunately, this movie’s unique way of telling it is disgusting, in the literal sense of that word. The question is: was that kind of stomach-turning story necessary to convey such a crucial message?

The story features Goreng, who finds himself in a "Vertical Self-Management Center,” a tower with hundreds of levels, in which a big feast of a platter is prepared and sent down, level by level, allowing the two people in each cell it reaches to consume as much as they can in a short period of time. Such a set-up allows the people on the higher levels to eat more and much better than the people below them, who are left with successively fewer scraps until there’s nothing on the platter other than empty plates and the longing, furious stares of hungry people. Further, to make matters even more interesting, the inmates, or whatever exactly they are, are sent to higher or lower levels each month, for whatever random reason.

At this point, although watching people stuff their mouths with food is no pleasure to watch, I wouldn’t call The Platform disgusting. But it soon takes a turn which, though logical enough, is certainly physically revolting. When food on the platter is non-existent, there’s always cannibalism. We see this more than once, in blood-dripping detail.

After a series of unsuccessful ventures in moral persuasion – such as trying to convince the people on the upper levels to forego a meal so that the people on the lower levels have a crumb or more to eat – Goreng teams up with Baharat, and together they plan a way of getting the administration of this mostly involuntary hotel to see the error of their system. The two awake one month on a very high level, and a pristine panna cotta is on the platter they receive. If they jump onto the platform with the platter, and take it all the way down to the bottom level, then back up to the top, with the panna cotta uneaten, they can show the administration that the human beings in the tower have self-restraint, and don’t deserve to be treated like animals. Indeed, apropos Marshall McLuhan’s “The medium is the message,” the two voyagers come up with and repeat the mantra that “The panna is the message.”

I won’t tell you the specifics of the very end, except that the mantra changes, and I’m not sure that the new mantra works as well as the panna in this parable. The shift in metaphor feels a little heavy handed. As did the depicted cannibalism and other gross activities that were in one way or another related to food. The movie at least was leavened in places with a little humor – as when Goreng says to a woman who brings her sausage dog with her, “In here, he’s more a sausage than a dog.” My advice: a bit more humor, a lot less gore, would have made this parable more effective. Not that a parable has to be effortlessly palatable to make its point, but it needn’t make you gag.


Sunday, September 20, 2020

Review of Anthony Marinelli's Virtual Production of Sartre's No Exit

Just saw Anthony Marinelli's virtual production of Jean-Paul Sartre's No Exit.  A scorchingly brilliant two hours.

First, seeing this play on a screen was in many ways better than in person.  The close-ups of the faces lent an additional dimension to the performances.  Jeff Musillo's facial expressions in the relatively minor role of The Valet at the beginning of the play, for example, were just perfect, at once powerful and subtle, and would have been not quite as effective when seen from a seat in a physical theater, unless that seat was in a very close front row.  (The virtual rather than physical presentation also made this seem like a full-fledged play, not a "reading," which it is technically billed as being.)

The three performances of the major characters were stellar.  I saw Amanda Greer as a kick-ass Marilyn Monroe a few years ago in a play Marinelli not only directed but wrote,  Max & Domino.   She plays the caustic, vulnerable, gay postal worker Inèz in No Exit, and her delivery will leave singe marks on your fingers.  Heat of course is a major component of this story, because all three people are not only dead but in some kind of hell.  I suppose this also makes them vulnerable, though being dead could also make them invulnerable, and you never quite know with Sartre.

Thomas Gipson plays Garcin, a pacifist journalist who is shot down by a firing squad for his troubles.  The two other characters call him "garçon" -- French for waiter -- I have no idea if that's the way you pronounce Garcin, or Marinelli instructed the other two to call Garcin that as a indication of their contempt for him, but either way, it worked.  And Gipson worked very effectively, too, sincere, logical, and highly aggrieved.

Inèz certainly has contempt for Garcin.  Denise Reed's Estelle mostly wants to seduce him, and though that's not quite an indication of contempt, it's certainly treating Garcin as an object.  Inèz true to form is infuriated by all that, and Reed does a fine job shuttling between vamping and anger, with the undertone of desperate vulnerability that everyone accept The Valet understandably has, though he has a touch of it too when Garcin says something about his looks.

In case you didn't already know, the essence of this play is "hell is other people".  Marinelli does an especially strong job of conveying this, given that this production is not only virtual but the actors are each in separate rooms in their separate real dwellings.  Marinelli intersperses with appropriate filmic footage, which brings to our eyes the backstories that the characters tell us and one another.

A memorable rendition of an eternally classic play, and never more relevant in its story conveyed via literally separate rooms in these our Covid times.


If you'd like to see this in an in-person theatre, here's where you can make a tax-deductible donation.



Friday, September 18, 2020

Raised by Wolves 1.6-7: The Look on Mother's Face

Lots of important, even game-changing events in episodes 1.6-7 of Raised by Wolves, up on HBO Max yesterday:

  • Campion and Paul are becoming rivals, even though it looks as if they'll still ultimately have each other's backs in life and death situations.  But other than that, Campion is representing spirit and Paul logic and science, which is interesting in itself since Campion comes from the atheists and Paul the true-believers. This may be a significant indicator of the future and the changing roles of central characters on this planet.
  • The difference between true believers and atheists is also raging inside Marcus.  He of course is an atheist in the skin of a true believer.  But he's hearing voices that tell him not to kill Mother, and in the end of 1.7 he comes to believe he might be the true-believers' chosen one, the orphan who lights and leads the way to a better world.
  • It was night of sharp turnarounds, to say the least, for Father and Mother.  Father is re-wired to become a robotic servant of the true-believers.  All that's left of the original Father - courageous and wise and devoted to both Mother and their adopted children - is a tremor he betrays in one of his hands.   Mother herself is almost destroyed, saved only by the voice in Marcus's head.  At least she gets to have some good virtual sex with her human creator/programmer.
So where do we go from here?  Marcus is convinced that he can get Mother to fight on his side.  Ironically, that side is likely ultimate the atheists - since that's where Marcus originally came from - but he seems to be tipping into the true-believers.  As for Mother, the expression on her face right after Marcus almost kisses her, his lips just a long fraction of an inch from hers, must hold some clue.   It's not a look of hate or revulsion - certainly not only that.  It's more a look of profound hurt -- some kind of, I don't know, recognition of deep connection between her and Marcus.  Is there even somehow some love there? The image is below - what do you think?

One thing I'm sure of is I hope we see all three concluding episodes next week.

Trump Ban of TikTok Violates the First Amendment

Welcome to Light On Light Through, Episode 147, in which I offer a lecture I gave just last night -- the night before Trump's ban on TikTok was announced -- about why that ban violates the First Amendment.  I discuss such issues as why the public's right to know protects non-American media in the United States, why entertainment is and has long been protected under the First Amendment, and Trump's real reasons for the ban.

Further reading: 

TikTok, the First Amendment, and the Public's Right to Know

Check out this episode!

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Wisting: Nordic Noir at its Best

When they came up with the name Nordic Noir -- whoever that they was -- they surely had something like Wisting in mind.   Not only does it take place in Norway and feature a seasoned detective and his team hunting not just one but at least two serial killers of beautiful blonde women, but in its single-ten-episode season it manages to weave together two quite separate though connected murder stories, and tell us compelling backstories for at least half a dozen diverse characters.

Many of the characters are of course police.  William Wisting, whose name the series takes, is head of a unit with Nils (a detective Wisting's age who has almost nothing but contempt for the FBI pair who come to assist Wisting in the first half of the season, because the serial killer is likely a transplanted American), a younger male detective earnest but unseasoned, a woman who has to juggle in-vitro fertilization with her work on a breaking murder case, and like that.  Carrie Anne-Moss (The Matrix) plays one half of the FBI team, and I didn't know the rest of the actors, but they are were superb.

The biggest personal story that runs through the season is the relationship between Wisting (a recent widower) and his daughter Line, an investigative reporter with penchant for crime stories, blonde, and you just know she's in danger from at least one of the serial killers, which in fact she is.  She's played by Thea Green Lundberg whom, come to think of it, I did see in another fine Norwegian series, Occupied (with a memorable Dylanesque opening song), and she was excellent in both.  And as long as I'm giving kudos to the actors, let me mention Mads Ousdal as Nils, who almost could be a Norwegian Jean-Paul Belmondo, and Sven Nordin, who does a perfect job as Wistng.

In addition to all that, the scenery is a sight for pandemic-sore eyes.  Characters have homes on, over, or near the water, and the roads and the forestry are lush.  Hey, I'm not a detective, but the environment was so inviting I was tempted to jump through the screen and see if I could be of any help.

I'll have to settle having seen a captivating season, and looking forward to a season two.


Monday, September 14, 2020

We Hunt Together 1.6: The Sacrifice

I thought the finale to We Hunt Together's short six-episode first season, on Showtime last night, was just right:  meaning, all four central characters ended up just where they best, or most appropriately, belonged.

Let's start with the killers.  Freddy has been on the top of the game all along.  Even that, though, didn't guarantee her a ticket out of the situation she and Baba found themselves in: in a house surrounded by police, most of whom wanted to go in blasting.   Fortunately, Baba had a solution.  And Freddy had the smarts to play it to the hilt.

As for Baba, it was becoming increasingly clear that there was nowhere in this world he now fit.  He loved Freddie, and was willing to kill for her, but he hated doing that.  What better way than to sacrifice himself, and in that one fell swoop atone for his sins and give Freddie a way out.

Jackson was at his best trying to talk Baba into surrendering.  Even though that conversation failed, Jackson's sense of self, already strong, got even sharper.  He'll be an even more effective detective in the second season, which I certainly hope there is.

Lola's trajectory in the finale was the most complex, but also the most rewarding.  She was furious that Freddy was getting away with it.   But she applied that fury and came up with evidence that shows, at least to her and Jackson, that Freddie was involved in the murders.   A good lesson there: fury can be a powerful asset, if it's logically applied.

So ... I really enjoyed this short series, and would welcome another season, with more of Jackson and Lola, and maybe Freddy (though another case would be fun, too).

See also We Hunt Together 1.1: Compelling Pairs ... We Hunt Together 1.2: Upping the Game ... We Hunt Together 1.3: Fine Tuning ... We Hunt Together 1.4: No Murder, But ... We Hunt Together 1.5: Short and Deadly


Sunday, September 13, 2020

First Amendment and Public's Right to Know Could be Put to the Test: ByteDance rejects Microsoft Bid for TikTok

The news just broke that ByteDance just rejected Microsoft's offer to buy TikTok*.

This is big news, with profound First Amendment implications.  Trump has threatened to ban TikTok in the United States.  Were it owned by Microsoft, an American corporation, banning any of its media would be an obvious, ipso facto, violation of the First Amendment, and its provision that "Congress [i.e, the Federal government] shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press".

But what about TikTok, now owned by the Chinese company ByteDance?   Some would argue that the First Amendment pertains only to American media.   I (and others) would argue otherwise.  The First Amendment is designed to protect the public's right to know -- Congress is prohibited from banning or restricting media because that seriously interferes with everyone's right to know what's going on.  How else can a democracy function?

I'm glad that ByteDance said no to Microsoft. I have nothing at all against Microsoft -- in fact, I defended Microsoft against our government's foolish threats to break up their alleged monopoly back in the 1990s -- but I'm glad that ByteDance's action will put Trump's blustering to a legal test.  If that happens, if he doesn't back down, it will ultimately be up to the U. S. Supreme Court to determine whether the First Amendment protects the public's right to have access to international media, which is becoming increasingly important in our interconnected world.

You never know for sure about any Supreme Court decision before it's rendered, but I'm always glad to see an issue like this, which gets at the First Amendment and its foundation of our democracy, put to the judicial test.

*PS: And news just came through that ByteDance decided to make Oracle, a U. S. firm, as its partner for Tikok.  Will that qualify for TikTok as being an American firm?

Friday, September 11, 2020

Amazing Stories (2020)1.5: "The Rift": Time Travel and a Candy Bar

Well, Amazing Stories saved the best for last in its short five-episode season on Apple+ TV this past Spring, and it made a fine bookend with the first episode, because both were about time travel.

This time the time travel involves a World War II pilot, shot down and meant to die in Burma in December 1941 but thrown through "The Rift" instead, winding up in his home town in Ohio in early 2020 (right, before COVID).  (A second parenthetical note: I can't get too much time travel.)  As in many time travel stories, this going through a rift has a purpose: he never said goodbye to his wife when he left her in 1941 to go off to war.  But in a nice additional touch in this kind of story, the pilot's travel through time has a second purpose.

The second story is also a kind of love story, with a happy ending, in its own right.  Actually, even happier than the primary story, in which the pilot after giving closure to his wife has to go back to 1941 to die.  The people who help the pilot -- a boy and his step-mother (nice job acting by Duncan Joiner as the boy and Kerry Bishé as his mother), on her way to delivering the boy to his aunt in Indiana, so she can leave the painful memory of her late husband behind, and start a new life in California -- also see their lives changed for the better, when the pilot convinces the step-mom to take the boy with her out West.  

But here's what I really liked best about this fine episode.   The pilot gives the kid a Whiz candy bar - which really existed in our reality, by the way.  Later, we find out that in order for The Rift not to rip up the current world, anyone who went through it has to return to the past exactly as he or she left it on their trip to the future.   The boy needs to give the candy bar back to the pilot -- but the boy has eaten the bar (he got hungry).  No problem -- the pilot realizes that as long as the purposes of the time travel trip are served, The Rift's needs will be served, so it doesn't matter if he travels back in time with no candy bar.

You can always tell a good narrative by how well it handles the details.  "The Rift" handled them perfectly, and gave us a happy ending in a time travel story.   It did get me in the mood for a chocolate bar -- which I'm going to resist -- but that's ok, because I'm even more in the mood for more Amazing Stories, which, just like the Whiz candy bar, began its life in our reality a long time ago.

See also Amazing Stories (2020) 1.1: "The Cellar": The Tops ... Amazing Stories (2020)  1.2: "The Heat": Life After Life ... Amazing Stories (2020) 1.3: "Dynoman and The Volt!": Sweet Superpowers ... Amazing Stories 1.4: "Signs of Life": Happy Revivals

more about Whiz candy

Podcast Review of Raised by Wolves 4-5

Welcome to Light On Light Through, Episode 145, in which I review episodes four and five of Raised by Wolves.  (Cameo by Tina)

Further listening: 

podcast review of Raised by Wolves 1-3

Further reading:

Touching the Face of the Cosmos: On the Interaction of Space and Religion

blog post reviews:


Check out this episode!

Raised by Wolves 1.4-5: Halfway to Dune

I thought the 4th and 5th episodes of Raised by Wolves were really good, especially the 5th, because it gave us a nice big origin story about Mother - how she was created, and endowed/programmed with her mission.  Her maker tells her she's humanity's last hope, a nod to Star Wars mythology.

But maybe because I saw the trailer for the new Dune movie the other day, maybe I would have thought this anyway, maybe both factors are at play, but Raised by Wolves really felt to me tonight to be deeply indebted to Dune.  The sweeping sand dunes, the monsters hidden in and under the sand, the boy - with the two possible candidates - as the savior, all these speak Muad'dib on Arrakis.

Meanwhile, Travis Fimmel's Marcus, now leading the pack of Sol true-believers, seems increasingly like Ragnar in Vikings.  Not only because Fimmel's mannerisms are the same in both narratives - which I don't mind and in fact find appropriate in both - but the characters both are subject to visions, seek advice from strange characters, and have the same reactions to women.   In other words, the Marcus character played by Fimmel was deliberately designed to recall Ragnar, and that's also fine with me.

One of those characters also resonates with the Count of Monte Cristo and his mask.  Except this mask was put on the character because he raped women in hibernation over the long voyage.  His reason: Sol commanded him to populate the species, though he doesn't deny the carnal pleasure he obtained from following Sol's commands.   Since he's in a mask, that can't help but raise the question of who he is?  I'll make a wild guess: maybe the master programmer of androids who created Mother back on a dying Earth?

Anyway, these echos of Dune and Star Wars, not to mention of course Blade Runner, point to the depth of Raised by Wolves, not that it's too derivative.  An important science fiction series should be standing on the shoulders of giants, and I'll be back here next week to tell you how Jack and the Beanstalk fares with these giants.

See also Raised by Wolves 1.1: Fast Action and Deep Philosophy  ... Raised by Wolves 1.2-3: More than Meets the Eye

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Books about Trump: Reasserting the Power of the Book in Democracy

I often say to my students, when we talk about which is the most powerful, predominating medium in our political world, that you shouldn't count older media out.  Trump made Twitter his medium, because he had a talent for the short, vehement missive, and it allowed him to communicate directly to his followers, without the intervention of the press (Hitler loved radio and its affordance of direct broadcasts from him for the same reason).

Although Obama had a Twitter presence, his medium was television.  He became the last television President, ending a reign that began with JFK.  But television hasn't disappeared, and the pandemic has given it a new importance, as leaders like Andrew Cuomo, NY Governor, used it to inform and reassure the people of New York, just as FDR had done via radio with his "fireside chats" to all Americans during the Great Depression of the 1930s.   And as we approach the most important election in American history, television may be re-asserting its role as the pre-eminent political medium.

But there may be an even older contender back in the fray: the book.  In the past few months, at least seven books have been published (more precisely, six, plus one about to be published) about Donald Trump and his massively destructive Presidency.  These come from reporters (Michael Schmidt and Bob Woodward), relatives (Trump's niece Mary), people who worked for him in one way or another (John Bolton and Michael Cohen), a former counterintelligence FBI agent (Peter Strzok), and a close friend of Trump's wife (Stephanie Wolkoff).  These books have increasingly replaced Twitter as a source of television reporting and commentary, not to mention providing the bases of extensive and extensively intelligent interviews of their authors by TV hosts like Rachel Maddow.

Will they influence the election?  I'll have more to say about this in the weeks ahead.  In the meantime, here are those seven books:

June 23, 2000

July 14, 2020

September 1, 2020

September 1, 2020

September 8, 2020

September 8, 2020

September 15, 2020

Amazing Stories (2020)1.4: "Signs of Life": Happy Revivals

The fourth episode of the revived Amazing Stories (2020) on Apple+ TV was about a woman revived from a thought-to-be irreversible coma.   So, just like Amazing Stories, she comes back to active life, albeit not the same life she had before she was put in a hospital out of the day-to-day world.

Pretty good analogy, huh?  But I did think this was the most interesting, complex, and original of the four stories I've seen so far.  Even though I did guess what was going on pretty early in the episode.

It was fun seeing it played out.  Lost's Josh Holloway is always good to see on the screen.  Last time was in Colony, unfortunately canceled after just three seasons.   Significantly, there's a connection between Colony and "Signs of Life": extra-terrestrials.   But I'm not going to say anymore about the plot.

Back to the acting, Holloway always manages to deliver a combination of toughness, hipness, and underlying warmth.  It's not a common or easy combination.  But the deeper warmth in this episode of Amazing Stories resides in the mother (who came out of the coma) and daughter relationship.

I mentioned in my review of the third episode that every one of these stories so far has a happy ending.  The fourth episode is no exception.  And I've got to say I'm happy about that.  Science fiction and its weird tales cousin are usually short on happy endings.   We could use a lot more of them in our real world and our fiction.

This first season of the new Amazing Stories is just five episodes, making it more a half season than a season.  That's certainly not a happy ending.  I hope there's a second half down the road.  But I'll be back with a review of the fifth episode as soon as I get a chance to see it, in the next day or two.

See also Amazing Stories (2020) 1.1: "The Cellar": The Tops ... Amazing Stories (2020)  1.2: "The Heat": Life After Life ... Amazing Stories (2020) 1.3: "Dynoman and The Volt!": Sweet Superpowers ... Amazing Stories (2020) 1.5: "The Rift": Time Travel and a Candy Bar

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Amazing Stories (2020)1.3: "Dynoman and the Volt!": Sweet Superpowers

Just watched Amazing Stories (2020) 1.3 on Apple TV+, and I realized something: there's a real sweetness running through at least the first episodes that I've seen, making this incarnation of Amazing Stories a lot different than The Twilight Zone or Outer Limits.  It's consistent with Spielberg's masterpiece Close Encounters, and the literally wide-eyed sense of wonder it so abundantly projects.

And this third episode has something else, something very special, with a capital "S" in the stars.  It is Robert Forster's very last appearance on screen, made before his untimely death at age 78 in October 2019.   I've loved Forster's work ever since his great appearance in Medium Cool in 1969 -- the cinema verite story of the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago -- and he made a memorable contribution to the TV series Heroes.

I mention Heroes because it has the same general theme as "Dynoman," the main difference being that the heroes in Heroes had natural superpowers, in contrast to Grandpa Joe Harris in "Dynoman and the Volt," who acquires his superpowers from a special ring, delivered to him just when he most needed it.  That ring results not only in a big adventure, but the psychological reunification of Grandpa Joe with his grandson and son, who also get superpowers from the ring.

In the end, we get a heartwarming story which is more about real family than comic-book heroes, and that was a good thing to see.  Thank you, Robert Forster, for bringing the world so many good hours of your great performances.   I'm sad that you left us, but happy that you went out on such a profound and nurturing note.

See also Amazing Stories (2020) 1.1: "The Cellar": The Tops ... Amazing Stories (2020) 1.2: "The Heat": Life After Life ... Amazing Stories (2020) 1.4: "Signs of Life": Happy Revivals ...  Amazing Stories (2020) 1.5: "The Rift": Time Travel and a Candy Bar


Review of Tobias Cabral's New Eyes: Newer Worlds

Tobias Cabral picked a good time to send me his 2018 novel New Eyes for review.   Mars is in the air.  Actually, it's always been in the air, or at least, at the top of the air, in the sky.  But NASA's Perseverance is on its way to Mars, with a landing date in February of next year.  Elon Musk wants to colonize the Red Planet (I'm 100% on board, here's a talk I gave at the 19th Annual International Mars Society Convention at The Catholic University in Washington, DC on 23 September 2016):

And I just saw, loved, and reviewed the first season of Away on Netflix.

Cabral's novel starts in February 2047.  Trips to Mars take just four days.  There's a space station named "Jeff Bezos," a ship named the "Elon Musk," and androids are "equipped with ‘minds’ that could not just pass but proctor the Turing Test" (italic and quotes around 'minds' in the novel).  And, at least one is capable of murder.  With the result that New Eyes is just as much in the tradition of Westworld and the new Raised by Wolves (see my reviews) as it is a descendant of The Martian Chronicles and The Martian.

But as the title suggests, the fulcrum of this narrative are eyes, in particular Gaspar's "Martian eyes".  The character's a "bio-cyberneticist," women desire his body, and his new eyes in effect make him a human on the way to becoming an android, in the time-honored Six Million Dollar Man way.

The novel also has resonance to the work of Orson Scott Card (sims play an important role, as in, you often can't tell what's really really real) and, to my eyes, at least, the novel reads a lot like Isaac Asimov (a big compliment in my book).   But as to the plot, well, Mars is "a mostly-unpopulated planet" at this point,  and this "young Martian society" is populated by humans and increasingly by androids.  Could this actually happen by 2047?  Probably not (more because of the androids than living on Mars).  But my late editor at Tor, David Hartwell, always told me that readers are willing to grant you at least one big part of a story they find unbelievable, and I'm happy to grant Cabral that.   I should also mention that Cabral throws in a bit more repartee humor than does Asimov -- someone comments that someone has a "nice assonance... that sounded naughty" -- and there's even some rapping in this story.

But that still doesn't tell you much about the nuts and bolts of the plot, does it?   You'll need to set your eyes on the novel to find that out.  Ok, I'm in a good mood.  Here's a quote from the novel: - think "alternate branches in a Many Worlds Hypothesis time travel story".  And enjoy.

first starship to Alpha Centauri leaves from Mars Vestibule ...

Monday, September 7, 2020

Young Wallander: Done Right

Doing a narrative of a younger version of a famed older character is a tricky business.  Without going into which ones worked and which ones did not, and why, let's just say that some of them, maybe even most of them, did not.

So Young Wallander, now on Netflix, had its work cut out for it.  The older Wallander, a detective whose emotions got in his way, and had trouble with personal relationships, for every part of him that was a brilliant police detective, was a hard character to get right in his formative stages, indeed, his first sojourn as a police detective.   And I thought Young Wallander got it right.

First, the series made the right decision to the put the story in the present.  Although history can be fun, it was even more fun, I thought, to see Kurt Wallander starting his career in a world, our world, of YouTube videos and smartphones.   And Malmo, Sweden in the present looks good, too, and a fit place to grapple with current problems like immigration.  (No mention of COVID-19, though - the series couldn't be that current - but I bet we'll see that next season.)

But most satisfyingly, we see young Wallander striving with a lack of complete success to keep his emotions out of his work.  He can't, because his insights into crime flow from his keen emotions.   He also has trouble establishing a relationship with Mona, who in later times will be Wallander's ex-wife.   All of which is brought together by a fine cast, including Adam Pålsson as Wallander, Ellise Chappell as Mona, and Richard Dillane who always delivers as young Wallander's boss.

I'll say no more about the plot - I've so far said almost nothing about that - because I don't want to give anything away.   But these are a thoroughly excellent six episodes, and I'm looking forward to more.


Sunday, September 6, 2020

We Hunt Together 1.5: Short and Deadly

We learned two very important things about Freddy in We Hunt Together 1.5:

1.  Nothing the teacher did at that school turned her into a murderer when Freddy was still Lily.  Instead, Lily was already a murderer, or at least became a murderer, when she killed the original Freddy, who, it turns out, didn't commit suicide.

2. Freddy doesn't need Baba to do her killings.   Maybe she needed him at the beginning of the story, but not any more. She takes matters into her own hands when Baba objects to killing the teacher, and kills him herself.

This might mean, if the series were continuing beyond the next and final episode of this season, that Freddy might leave Baba, or even kill him, to cover her tracks, because she no longer needs him to do her dirty work.  On the hand, maybe she truly loves him, and would want to be with him in any case.  Who knows?   And the point is we'll likely never know, because next week is the season finale.

Which is too bad.  We hardly learned anything about Jackson and Lola in episode 1.5, except Jackson got pretty angry with his wife, and cursed her out on the phone.  Why?  Because he's falling in love with Lola?  I doubt we'll get the answer to that, either, next week.

Which makes me wonder what we will find out next week?  That Freddy and Baba get apprehended?  I don't know,  I can't quite see that happening, either.  Which is testament to how good and different We Hunt Together is, which speaks to the reason for another season, which is what I've been saying in these last few paragraphs.

See you here next week.

 See also We Hunt Together 1.1: Compelling Pairs ... We Hunt Together 1.2: Upping the Game ... We Hunt Together 1.3: Fine Tuning ... We Hunt Together 1.4: No Murder, But ... 


Away: Relationships and Reality in Space

My wife and I just finished binge-watching Away, a 10-episode series, on Netflix. I can't recall a better movie or television series about missions to Mars or early human settlements on Mars, and that includes contenders like The Martian, The Martian Chronicles, and Total Recall.

The great strength of Away, that puts it in a class of its own, is its attention to families and loved ones of astronauts back on Earth, and relationships among the five space travelers in the Atlas.   These include Hilary Swank in one of the best performances of her career as U. S. Commander Emma Green and Mark Ivanir, whom I don't think I've seen before, as the Russian cosmonaut Misha with the most previous experience in space.  Vivian Wu as Lu (Chinese), Ray Panthaki as Ram (from India), and Ato Essandoh as Kwesi (from Africa, and devoutly Jewish, which adds a religious dimension to the story) round out the international crew.  Each one of has a special combination of talents, and powerful personalities which are often abrasive, vulnerable, and usually devoted to the mission, which makes for a compelling tableau of a first mission to Mars narrative with humans aboard.

Missions to any world off this planet are inherently perilous just about every moment, and Away conveys these dangers unsparingly and harrowingly.  Fortunately, The Good Wife's Josh Charles plays Emma's husband Matt, who is good at both taking care of their understandably very worried teenaged daughter Alexis (well-played by Talitha Eliana Bateman) and coming up with some ingenious solutions to the Atlas's problems in space.  But none of these solutions are easily implemented, and to watch the ten episodes of Away is to be treated to a continuing set of close encounters with failure and death, often stunningly presented, and making you feel that you're in a front-row seat somehow somewhere in space or on the ship, watching the incredible events unfold.

Two minor quibbles.  One, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow puts in an appearance as herself early on, and she looks exactly as I just saw her last night on MSNBC.  Since Away must be taking place at least a decade or two in the future, what did Rachel do, drink some immortality tonic in the next year or so?  Second, the Atlas crew talk to people back on Earth via instant smartphones for the first half of the journey, and then normal phone conversations become impossible.  In reality, the capacity to have a conversation should have deteriorated gradually and continually throughout the voyage to Mars.

But there are small quibbles indeed, and I very much hope there's another season.

my Summer 2015 interview with John  Glenn

Friday, September 4, 2020

Podcast Review of Raised by Wolves 1-3

Welcome to Light On Light Through, Episode 144, in which I review the first three episodes of a powerful new science fiction series, Raised by Wolves.

Further reading: 

blog post reviews:

Check out this episode!

Raised by Wolves 1.2-3: More than Meets the Eye

I just watched Raised by Wolves 1.2 and 1.3, on HBO Max.  It's all that is available there now (along with the first episode that I saw and reviewed the other night), but the three are more than enough to convince that this will be a major science fiction series, with a complex, multi-level, intriguing narrative, indeed.

First, we learn a couple of things.  There's a lot more to Marcus than meets the eye.  He's actually an atheist, who along with his wife Sue underwent plastic surgery, so the two could take the place of the original Marcus and Sue that the atheist "Marcus" killed, so the new Marcus and Sue could get on-board the great Sol-believer interstellar arc.  And they also became parents of the original couple's young son, whom the new Marcus (I think) gave a little white mouse to, as a present, before they all embarked on the arc.  All of which play a role in the story, which gives it a Space Family Robinson or Lost in Space on speed or LSD kind of quality, or quite a ride.

And that's less than half of it.   Mother is a much more powerful android than is Father, who is just a general-purpose not deadly weapon android, but he's equipped with plenty of smarts, too.  And heart.  When Mother starts blaming herself for the death of the other kids (other than Campion, who is alive and well and brilliant), Father discovers the real reason the other kids died.  And Mother, wanting to recreate the family she lost to this unforgiving planet, has taken a bunch of other kids of various ages from the defeated arc.  These range from cute to pretty interesting, and they include Marcus and Sue's "son".

And there's still more.  There are some sorts of monsters at large on this planet, which presumably are indigenous species, but, who knows.  So all of this adds up to a great, provocative start for a highly intelligent, vividly depicted science fiction series, which I'm looking forward to watching.

See also Raised by Wolves 1.1: Fast Action and Deep Philosophy 

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Amazing Stories (2020) 1.2: "The Heat": Life after Life

Life after death stories - the departed coming back to help, haunt, or otherwise interact with the living - are a dime a dozen. Amazing Stories' (2020) second episode, "The Heat," manages to visit this well-trodden path with a story that is at least somewhat original, even if that originality relies upon yet another very well-worn gambit in fiction.

Tuka and Sterling are track athletes and best friends, until a typical teenager argument leads to Tuku getting killed in a hit-and-run, right before Sterling's horrified eyes.  Most of the rest of the episode tells the story of Tuka's ghost connecting with Sterling, and helping her run and compete again, and maybe win a crucial track-meet race.

Except, Sterling doesn't, and here's where "The Heat" veers into both originality but some kind of ultimate cliche.  The originality is in Sterling's not winning, which would be the expected result in what had come before. But what happens after that, when the ghostly Tuka tries to comfort and inspire Sterling is, well ...

It turns out - at least, I think that's what's going on - that Tuka wasn't really killed in the hit-and-run.  She's just temporarily stunned, and comes back to full consciousness and life after she asks Sterling to kiss her, tenderly on the lips, aka romantically,  Now I thought the kiss was excellent because it showed the two young women had a deeper connection than just friends, and it harkened back to the fairytale ending of kissing the deceased back to life.

But that ending also means that everything we saw earlier in the episode was, what, going on in Tuka's mind while she was unconscious on the street?   That kind of ending - that what transpired was a protagonist's dream - is even more cliched that the dead coming back as a ghosts.

So, all in all, a mixed bag of an episode as far as originality.  But "The Heat" did have heart - as it turns out, a never unbeating one - and Hailey Kilgore and Emyri Crutchfield put in good performances as Tuka and Sterling, so I'd  recommend it.

See also Amazing Stories (2020) 1.1: "The Cellar": The Tops  ...  Amazing Stories (2020) 1.3: "Dynoman and The Volt!": Sweet Superpowers... Amazing Stories (2020) 1.4: "Signs of Life": Happy Revivals ...  Amazing Stories (2020) 1.5: "The Rift": Time Travel and a Candy Bar


Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Raised by Wolves 1.1: Fast Action and Deep Philosophy

I just saw Raised by Wolves 1.1, courtesy of HBO Max, where the series is set to debut this Thursday, September 3.  In a sentence, it's a big concept, altogether excellent combination of fast action and deep philosophy, as befits Executive Producer Ridley Scott, and especially well-suited to our pandemic ridden time, when the very fate of humanity could well be at stake if things get much worse.

The narrative features androids and space travel (the action) and a conflict between true believers and atheists (the philosophy) who have left a dying Earth.  As such, the series is one big step more promising than the excellent Westworld, at least to my science fictional tastes, because it tells a story not only of humans and androids, but sets it way out in space, on a planet around another star.   The flavor is therefore closest to 2001 than anything else, even though Raised by Wolves has not much else in common with Clarke's story and Kubrick's movie.

The special effects and overall cinematography are top-notch to the point of breathtaking at times.  The acting is also fine, and it was good to see Travis Fimmel from Vikings back on the screen.   Amanda Collin is fine as Mother the android, and her character comes with the awesome power of killing everything around her with a scream (reminds me, in an odd way, of the episode "Sound that Kills" in the ancient Science Fiction Theater television show).  Munro Lennon-Ritchie and Jadon Holdsworth as Campion put in good performances, and it will be fun to see how this crucial character - a young boy whose allegiances to belief have not been settled as yet - develops.

I'd add that if ever there was a series I wanted to binge-watch to the end - at least, of this first season - Raised by Wolves appears to be that.   But I'll take it the way it's being presented, and will be back here with subsequent reviews.

Amazing Stories (2020) 1.1: "The Cellar": The Tops

I finally had a chance to take a bite out of Apple TV+'s reboot of Amazing Stories (it's so quiet when I write, you can sometimes hear a pun drop),  and I thought I'd tell you what I thought of it.

First, I should mention that I haven't read any of the reviews.  I really have no idea if people loved or hated this episode. or just felt blah about it, and the same about the other four episodes in this inaugural season.   As readers of this blog will know, I'm often at odds with myopic, dyspeptic critics, and that would be the case for this first episode, because, well, I really enjoyed it.

In part, that's because I'm a sucker for most time travel stories, being an author of same myself, and a fan long before I started publishing.   But there's a difference between liking and loving.   In order for me to really thoroughly enjoy a time travel story, it has to be done right.  Meaning, it has to take some account of the inherent paradoxes in time travel, and make some attempt to deal with them.

So let's begin with the general observation that there are two types of travel-to-the past stories.  One, in which the protagonist tries to do something to improve the course of history, like killing Hitler before he got to power or saving Socrates from the hemlock (a course I chose in The Plot to Save Socrates).  The other is do something in the past to improve your subsequent personal life (as in the movie, Peggy Sue Got Married).  "The Cellar" is the latter.

In order for such a time travel story to work, you have to have appealing, sensitive characters, and if on the screen, played by actors who project that.  Dylan O'Brien does a good job of that as Sam, who renovates houses with his brother, and travels instantly 100 years into the past (2019 -> 1919), when a fierce storm causes some extreme drop in pressure when Sam's in the cellar.  (I think Frequency had some kind of storm as the time-travel or communication back in time trigger.  Fine with me).  Victoria Pedretti who played a completely kind of character in You plays Evelyn in "The Cellar," and does a great job of playing a young woman in 1919, which isn't easy.   The dress, music, and other aspects of 1919 life in Iowa were spot on, as far as I know, and that made for a crisp, colorful, believable narrative.

I won't say anything more about the plot, except the obvious that of course the course of true love never did run smooth, and that's especially true when it comes to time travel.  But the twists and turns are not predictable, and the ending even tucks in an alternate reality which is always nice to see in a time travel tale.

I'm definitely going to watch the other four episodes of this series, and I'll be back here with reviews.

See also Amazing Stories (2020) 1.2: "The Heat": Life After Life ...  Amazing Stories (2020) 1.3: "Dynoman and The Volt!": Sweet Superpowers... Amazing Stories (2020) 1.4: "Signs of Life": Happy Revivals ...  Amazing Stories (2020) 1.5: "The Rift": Time Travel and a Candy Bar