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Saturday, January 31, 2015

Banshee 3.4: Burton and Rebecca

I'm a little late with my review of Banshee 3.4 - sorry - because I've been binge watching Sons of Anarchy.   The two shows actually have lot in common, both mainly taking place, as they do, in fictional small towns which seem to attract every kind miscreant and bad guy in the book.  An episode 3.4 of Banshee even had a biker.

But the main action in the episode took place in three other theaters.

Siobhan knows the truth about Hood.  Will she turn him in?   Unless the series were to undergo a change of brain, this of course can't happen.   Nor can Hood leave Banshee, as he tells Job, Carrie, and Dava he will, because that would also totally change the show.  So when Siobhan says she won't out him at the end, that's no surprise.  And we can also rest assured that something will happen between her demand that Hood resign and his resigning - which indeed happens at the very end with Chayton attacking the sheriff's headquarters.  Still, the scenes between Hood and Dava, and Hood and Carrie, were powerful.   But I just hope Hood's continuing as the law in Banshee isn't made possible by Siobhan dying as a result of Chayton's attack.

Chayton's understandably upset about the reversals his people and plans have been taking of late, most lately at the hands of Burton and Rebecca, in the best scene of the hour.  The expressions on their two faces as she accelerates the car, not to mention that Burton's now willing to work with her, are just priceless.   Will be fun to see where that goes from here.

The other big fight of the evening, between Proctor and Hood, I don't know what to say about.  But I will.  First, Hood's motivation is not completely clear.  He thinks he's leaving town, and he views Proctor as the main threat to the people he loves, so he wants to get him behind bars?   Seems a little forced as a motive.  And in the fight, it takes Hood about to wield a hammer to Proctor's head to win? That certainly doesn't feature Hood at his best, but maybe that's the point.

Back to Samcro, and I'll be back here next Friday with a review of the next episode of Banshee, which promises to be even more explosive than usual.

See also Banshee 3.1: Taking Stock ... Banshee 3.2: Women in Charge ... Banshee 3.3: Burton vs. Nola

Like crime stories that involve the Amish? Try The Silk Code


Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Americans 3.1: Caring for People We Shouldn't

Good to see The Americans back on television for the debut of its third season tonight.  The whole episode was enjoyable.  But like an old-fashioned sandwich in which the bread is the tastiest part, my favorite scenes in the show were at the bumpers, or the beginning and the end.

The opening sequences of scenes were vintage The Americans, and capture precisely what is so remarkable about this series.  Elizabeth almost gets nabbed by FBI agents on the street - worse, she and the two FBI agents are bruised up pretty well, and, even worse, the agents work right alongside Stan, and even worse than that, one of the agents is Frank, Stan's boss.

Stan, of course, is in the improbable position of being both in the FBI and Elizabeth and Philip's next-door neighbor.  On this night, he comes back home with Philip and sees Elizabeth with some damage to her face.  The very next day, he sees Frank and his partner, also with bruises and putting hospitals and doctors on alert for a woman who took some hits as well - Elizabeth.

So Stan at this moment has the essence of our story, the fate of our heroic anti-heroes, right smack dab in his hands - or, better, in his brain.   And yet he fails, again, to make the connection.  And, for some reason, I as a viewer can just about believe this.  And that's the essence of The Americans right there.

The ending was excellent for different reasons.  Philip's on a mission, involving a woman who previously pleasured him in a car.  Now this same woman is undercover with some kind of agent - neither American nor Soviet - who realizes she's an agent, and apparently strangles her to death. Philip enters the room just a bit too late to save her - assuming she is dead - but was that deliberate on Philip's part?  He in any case looks ready to use the woman's death to blackmail the killer.

And in that whole scene, I'm not clear just who these people are - other than Philip - and what larger role they're playing.   So the show begins with a sequence in which just about everyone is known to us and ends with a scene in which almost no one is known to us, and the one thing they have in common is the relentless adrenalin of people we shouldn't be caring about but do, being in mortal danger.   That's good television.

See also The Americans 2.1-2: The Paradox of the Spy's Children ... The Americans 2.3: Family vs. Mission ... The Americans 2.7: Embryonic Internet and Lie Detection ... The Americans 2.9: Gimme that Old Time Religion ...The American 2.12: Espionage in Motion ... The Americans Season 2 Finale: Second Generation

And see also The Americans: True and Deep ... The Americans 1.4: Preventing World War III ... The Americans 1.11:  Elizabeth's Evolution ... The Americans Season 1 Finale: Excellent with One Exception


Like a post Cold War digital espionage story?  Check out The Pixel Eye

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Touching the Face of the Cosmos: Call for Papers and Stories

Touching the Face of the Cosmos: On the Intersection of Space Travel and Religion

Call for papers, articles, short stories, for anthology edited by Paul Levinson and Michael Waltemathe

Short explanation:  Military advantage and scientific advances have been the main motivations for humans leaping out into space so far.  Commercial reasons have also become more important recently.   But there is a deeper reason that most human beings would want to see us get off and beyond our planet: we will never know who we truly are in the larger scheme of things, never understand our place in the cosmos, from just our vantage point here on Planet Earth.  Touching the Face of Cosmos will explore the intersection of space travel with religion and philosophy, with the goal of tapping into the public's latent but keen interest in this.  The anthology will consist of essays, short fiction, scenarios, and any form of writing which works best to delve into these issues.


Human spaceflight has always been closely connected to religion. There have been Bible readings and communion on the Moon, Christmas celebrations and Islamic prayer on the International Space Station, and Chanukah dreidels spun on the Space Shuttle.  Religious scholars have written treatises on how to uphold religious tradition in the new environment of space and rituals have been transformed to be valid in space.  Astronauts have spoken about their religious experiences during their time "out of this world".

But humans in space and religion have an even deeper connection. Themes and topics that have for centuries been recurring in religions all over the world are now represented in human spaceflight. There are saints and martyrs of spaceflight. Outer space itself can be described as sacred insofar as the destiny of humanity; it can be seen as a physical haven of salvation for the human race beyond the eventual possible extinction of our planet and solar system.   Although military advantage spurred the initial drive into space, and scientific dividends and knowledge  as well as potential profits from commercial ventures continue as powerful benefits of people in space,  humans beyond this planet may provide answers to some of the most fundamental questions in our existence – what are we doing here in this Universe – and such philosophic and spiritual insights may provide the ultimate motive, still as yet largely untapped,  for space exploration.

This anthology will address the connection between spaceflight and religion from different perspectives.  Examples of religion in contemporary space-activities are welcome, as is theoretical thought on the structural analogies between a space mission and a religious undertaking such as a pilgrimage or construction of a cathedral. We think it is high time to address ways in which religion and human presence in space can benefit each other.  Our goal is to motivate space exploration by drawing on the tradition of religious thought throughout history and explicating ways in which humans in space and religion profoundly coincide.

Papers from 500 to 5000 words. Style can be scholarly or more suited to the popular press. Science fiction scenarios and stories could also work. Atheistic and agnostic perspectives on these issues are also welcome. Due 1 July 2015.   Query with proposals first, or just send the paper. Terms: non-exclusive rights, for ebook and print publication. Authors receive a pro-rata share of 50% of the sales (e.g., if the anthology contains 10 papers, each author will receive a 5% royalty).   This anthology will be published as an ebook by Connected Editions shortly after all papers and stories have been received and accepted.

Contact: Levinson@Fordham.edu


Contents of anthology as of 1 August 2015

Monday, January 26, 2015

Snow, Pleasure, and Paradox

Just got back from swimming 20 laps at the New York Sports Club, with the snow falling dangerously and beautifully outside the big windows.  In many ways, this strikes me as one of the heights of civilization.

My take on the snow has changed over the years.  When I was kid, it was nothing but a pleasure to get off from school, have snowball fights on the streets off Allerton Avenue in the Bronx, and even shoveling was an opportunity to earn a couple of bucks, usually less, but hey.

Now, as a professor, I still don't mind classes being cancelled, but that can sometimes come with the price of having to make them up near the end of the term, usually a sunny day in May.   As for shoveling, it's no longer a source but a drain on money, especially in a big storm in which we pay someone to do the shoveling.

And the snow itself?  It still has a magic, an expression of reality, of soft interaction with sky, that's inimitable.  A snowflake is itself a paradox to touch, because the touching wipes it out, obliterates the texture, and thus is a great example of a self-eradicating proposition.   But the snowstorm is no paradox, and about as straightforward as it gets.

Driving in the snow is certainly no pleasure, but there's an exhilaration in that too, as you best the elements in your trip back home, or wherever.   Front wheel cars have made driving in the snow a lot less dangerous, and my wife's four-wheel drive is a safe bet in everything but a blizzard.

Power outages and falling trees are real dangers, and that's where I pretty much draw the line about my enjoyment of a big snow.   If we get through this one without any loss of power, I'll count this first big snow of 2015 a blizzard worth experiencing.

Ft. Tryon Park, NYC,  in yesterday's snow, photo by Emon Hassan

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Black Sails 2.1: Good Combo, Back Story, and New Blood

Black Sails was back for its second season last night, in all its brutal beauty.   Among the best sequences -
  • Flint and Silver, working together to get a ship to set sail off the island on which they landed, wrecked, last season.   The two have always represented the best of Black Sails together, and I wouldn't mind too much if their story was given even more time in the series.   Flint is brilliant, but so is Silver, and the two of them made a formidable combination.   Will be fun to see where this leads us this season.
  • London in 1705, with Flint's back story, when he went under a different name, and was a leftenant - archaic and British for lieutenant.   This thread in the new season promises to give us some important insights into Flint's character - and we can use all we can get.
Meanwhile, back on Providence Island, we get another inconclusive, complex round with Eleanor and all the assorted pirates.   Eleanor has always been problematic - it's still not quite believable that a young woman could be in any kind of command in that day and age, as noted by the Captain of another ship who is killed in the first few minutes of the episode. But the Captain is right.  And Eleanor's dialogue is not quite believable.  In addition to saying "fuck" every few minutes, her grammar is off.  At one point, she says "between you and I" - but a woman of her upbringing would know the proper usage is "between you and me".  It's a mistake a lot of 21st century writers  make in television scripts, but it rings out especially clangingly in a show taking place in the 1700s.

But there's still a lot to like on the island, including tough Anne Bonney seduced by Max, and new blood with Ned Low, the pirate who killed the aforementioned Captain.   Low is not only scary, but carries a mystery that we know nothing of: the woman that he took from the Captain's ship.

It's good to see Black Sails and its pirates back in business - the opening credits are still primo - and I'll be back with more next week.

See also Black Sails: Literate and Raunchy Piracy ... Black Sails 1.3: John Milton and Marcus Aurelius ... Black Sails 1.4: The Masts of Wall Street ...Black Sails 1.6: Rising Up ... Black Sails 1.7: Fictions and History ... Black Sails 1.8: Money


pirates of the mind in The Plot to Save Socrates 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

12 Monkeys series 1.3: Paradoxes, Lies, and Near Intersections

Well, I broke down and watched the next episode of 12 Monkeys - 1.3, available on SyFy On Demand for just 24 hours from midnight last night.  Hey, why shouldn't I watch a show earlier than it's being aired, it's a show about time travel, right?   But be forewarned - or warned, or whatever the proper usage - to either not read this review until after 10pm Eastern next week, January 30, or get a few soft spoilers here.

First, and this is not a spoiler, I've been meaning to point out the coincidence of 12 Monkeys on television as a series so soon after the Ebola outbreak that dominated much of our news in the real world this past Fall.   This obviously trumps and is much more significant that the fortuitous North Korean coincidence in episode 1.2 last week (or, actually, yesterday).   Indeed, the nearness of Ebola to 12 Monkeys gives the series an urgency and verisimilitude that it wouldn't have had just last year, in January 2014.

And a lot of the action in 1.3 takes place in Haiti, as Cassandra goes there in 2014 to stop a plague that could be THE plague but turns out to be just river fever, whatever exactly that is.   But the real action here is Cassandra (and Jones) telling Cole to keep clear of Cassandra in Haiti - he too is on a mission there - so as not to contaminate i.e., bend the timeline which Cole will need from Cassandra in the future. Back in Haiti, Cole also manages to scar the Tom Noonan creepo character, thereby closing that little loop, as well as kill someone that Cassandra slept with and was beginning to really care about, but Cole doesn't know this (until later, in the future, when he lies to Cassandra about killing Andre).  All of which is testament to the care that this series is taking in following the logical consequences of the paradoxes that time travel engenders - keep the paradoxes ever in mind, and steering clear of them whenever possible - which as I said in my review of the first episode is a hallmark of good time travel science fiction in my book.    I should also say, apropos Cole and Cassandra, that Aaron Stanford and Amanda Schull are both doing a really excellent, appealing, and convincing job in those lead roles.

Meanwhile, there's also some important action taking place in the 2040s future of the story - much more than in the movie, by the way.   Ramse (played by Kirk Acevedo of Fringe fame) is a major character in this future, where we learn that the time travel facility may soon be under attack from some kind of human group not sick, as far as we know.

At this point, I'm enjoying the television series about as much as the movie - including the differences, which is saying a lot indeed, because the movie was superb.  But the paradoxes, lies, and near intersections through time are making 12 Monkeys exceptional television.

See also 12 Monkeys series on SyFy: Paradox Prominent and Excellent ... 12 Monkeys 1.2: Your Future, His Past ... 12 Monkeys 1.4: "Uneasy Math"

podcast review of Predestination and 12 Monkeys

 three time travel novels: the Sierra Waters trilogy

 photo LateLessons1_zpsogsvk12k.jpg
three time travel stories (with more to come)

The Chronology Protection Case movie 

~~~ +++ ~~~


Banshee 3.3: Burton vs. Nola

The promo for Banshee 3.3 told and showed us we'd be seeing Burton vs. Nola, and the episode delivered splendidly on this promise, with one of the best one-on-one battles not only in Banshee but in anything I've seen on television over the years.  Indeed, the battle reminded me of Bond vs. Grant in From Russia with Love, still my favorite all-time one-on-one in a contemporary cinematic fight.

The gravity and stakes of the fight are announced by Nola, when she tells Burton not only what she's going to do to him, but then to Kai and Rebecca.   She starts off with a big advantage, an axe in the shoulder, sucker thrown at Burton.  Was this deliberate on Nola's part - did she deliberately not want to kill him with the axe blade, because she relished the subsequent fight? - or was that just where the blade landed?   In any case, it wasn't enough to stop Burton, and when he says in sotto voce, "I don't think so," about what Nola says she will do to him, Kai, and Rebecca, the battle is on.

I wasn't surprised that Burton won, any more than I was that Bond beat Grant.   Nola was an extraordinary fighter, but Burton is something else and more, a killing machine without equal on Banshee.   I'd include Chayton in that - who, impressive as he is, was beaten decisively last season.   In any case, Burton continues to be one of my favorite characters in all of television.

It was good to see the Jason Hood story continued and maybe wrapped up last night, too.  One of the strengths of Banshee is the way it gets back to loose ends from previous seasons, and wrenchingly ties or tries to tie them up.   I was glad to see that Lucas spared the new FBI guy, who promises to be an interestingly unpredictable character.

And speaking of interesting characters, Emily Lotus is quickly moving into the number one position in that category this season.   She not only has a relationship with Brock, but is quick to comfort Kai, and Burton, who is not used to a woman's soft touch on his shoulder.   All of this is good foundation for some violate possibilities.

See you next week!

See also Banshee 3.1: Taking Stock ... Banshee 3.2: Women in Charge

Like crime stories that involve the Amish? Try The Silk Code


Helix 2.2: 15 Months Pregnant

Helix continued its second season in episode 2.2 last night, on a higher, better plane than the first season.  I guess I like lush islands better than forbidding Arctic tundra.  But the story this year is also more creative.

For example, we learn near the end of the episode that Sarah is 15-months pregnant with Alan's baby. We've seen alien-human hybrids on all kinds of televisions series before - such as V - but in the context of Helix, and the partial transformation of Sarah into a more healthy human, her being with child is especially pregnant with possibilities.

The parallel narrative across 30 years continues to work well, with buildings decaying and regenerating in quick time on the screen.   I wasn't at all surprised that Alan wasn't buried in the grave with his name - he's too important a character to waste - and this raises the question of where he is 30 years from now.

A meeting between Caleb, Julia, and Alan in the future is bound to happen sooner or later, and raises the question of who is Caleb?  Is he connected to someone we've already seen in 2015?  My best guesses at this point would be he's Sarah's baby or maybe the boy who was sick and recovered in 2015.  I didn't get the boy's name, but even if it wasn't Caleb, he could always have changed his name.

The cultish part of the story on the island is the least impressive, so far.   At best, it's a warmed-over take on Lost, as I mentioned last week, and in any case it's nothing we haven't seen before, for example, also in Revolution.   But the differences in the various people in the cult have potential, and it will be fun to see where that develops.

It occurred to me last night that a story about a plague should have special relevance these days, given the Ebola outbreak that gripped much of our news this past Fall.   For that reason alone, Helix should be situated to really take off.

all kinds of epidemics in this trilogy


Friday, January 23, 2015

12 Monkeys series 1.2: Your Future, His Past

12 Monkeys continued its story on SyFy tonight, with a phrase that captured the predicament of Cole and every time traveler.   When he asks his boss, Jones, how someone could say Cole was responsible for a scar, but Cole has no memory of even meeting that person, Jones replies that you'll meet him in your future but his past. That's about as neat an explanation of twisted interconnected timelines as you're likely to get in a time travel story.

And we don't even know the name of the guy that Cole will scar.   We know he's played by Tom Noonan, who has a pretty good beat on the weird, creepy, slightly psychotic, having played one very well back in Hell on Wheels - in everyone's past, that is, in the 19th century, unless you haven't seen the fine series as yet, in which case it also will be in your future.

Meanwhile, there are other significant conversations between Cole and Jones.   He doesn't like taking orders from her, but who does (like taking orders).  And although she starts the episode strictly forbidding Cole from interacting with Cassandra - lest he throw off the timeline that resulted in the future first finding out about a possible way to stop the plague - she comes to realize that the mission may need Cassandra, after all.   So Jones, like all good heroes in time travel stories, including the scientists behind the missions, is willing to risk paradox on behalf of the mission's success.   If they weren't, they likely wouldn't have gone into time travel in the first place.

Speaking of missions, this episode of 12 Monkeys had a brief gambit that was positively prescient about what recently happened in our own off-screen timeline less than a month ago.  Cole ends up for a few harrowing moments in North Korea, in, what was it, 2006?   Now these kinds of misfires are common enough in time travel stories - we saw them in Quantum Leap, and, for that matter, in the 12 Monkeys 1995 movie.   But North Korea?  Are you kidding me?  Unbelievable coincidence with our reality - I half expected to see Seth Rogan in the scene with Cole.   It's a good thing the North Koreans didn't hack the SyFy Channel and start making demands, though maybe I shouldn't be joking about this.

But there were lots of interviews in this episode - sorry, I couldn't resist - the best being the one with Cole and Jennifer, who looks like the best kind of nutcase character, or one with some very serious, not crazy, information.

Looking forward to next week, which I may or may not see in the next 24 hours, on SyFy On Demand.

See also 12 Monkeys series on SyFy: Paradox Prominent and Excellent ... 1.3: Paradoxes, Lies, and Near Intersections ... 1.4: "Uneasy Math"

podcast review of Predestination and 12 Monkeys

 three time travel novels: the Sierra Waters trilogy

 photo LateLessons1_zpsogsvk12k.jpg
 three time travel stories (with more to come)

The Chronology Protection Case movie 

~~~ +++ ~~~


Justified 6.1: Low Flying Duck

Justified returned for its final season this week, with a crackling strong episode that got right to the core of the entire series, and will no doubt dominate these concluding episodes: Raylan vs. Boyd.

And although it was good to see Raylan back with his patented style and swagger, the center of gravity in this episode belonged to Boyd, who not only delivered the best line of the night - "I'm so hungry, I could eat the ass out of low flying duck" - vintage Justified - but killed poor Dewey.

Coupled with the silently powerful last scene of Boyd looking at Ava as she sleeps, the killing of Dewey says it all about what we can expect from Boyd this season: he's a survivor, if nothing else, and he's not going to let anything or anyone get in the way of that.   He was looking at Ava with something other or more than love.  There was just a hint of evil gleam in Boyd's eyes - superb acting, as always, by Walton Goggins - and this is telling us that, yes, Boyd could even sacrifice Ava if he got any inkling that she was working against him.

And, in fact, in the other most telling scene of the episode, Raylan is doing just that to Ava, applying his customary maximum pressure on her to work with him against Boyd.  This, I've got to say, puts Raylan in not the best light.  Surely he knows that, if Boyd gets wind of what Ava is doing, he could well kill her.   And Raylan thinks, what, that's ok?  Or that he's so omnipotent he could stop that?   A hazardous game to play, with someone else's life.

At this point, Boyd likely has no specific idea of what Ava may be up to.  But his instincts are right on target in being uncomfortable about Ava.   And if she makes even one mistake, well ...

Meanwhile, it was good to see everyone else back in motion in Justified, including Art, who's recovering, and Winona, with her and Raylan's adorable little baby.  Winona also gets off a memorable line, wondering aloud what could be more important to Raylan than spending this precious time with his little baby.  What, indeed, is the story of Justified.

See also Justified 5.1: Finest Words Around ...  Justified 4.1: Literate Boyd Quotes Asimov and Keynes

different kind of crime


Radio Free Albemuth: Philip Dick Nixon

Just saw Radio Free Albemuth on Netflix, the 2010 movie released more widely in 2014, based on the Philip K. Dick novel written in 1976 and published posthumously in 1985, or a year after 1984.   The movie is thus an adaptation of late Dick, very late Dick, and contains a smorgasbord of gonzo Dickian conceits, often brilliant, always enjoyable, served upon a constellation of brazen political critique and at times lurid and ingenious science fictional speculation.

The story occurs in an alternate historical America, which diverged from our own some short time after the assassination of John F. Kennedy.   Someone named Fremont is President (played by The Walking Dead's Scott Wilson), reelected umpteen times, and more Nixonian than Nixon.  In this 1984-like dystopia, all agents of the government, not just the plumbers, do the President's illicit bidding, which in this world is not illicit.

Rock music plays a crucial role as a conduit of subversive messages, a realization of the paranoia that gripped the real Nixon administration, whose FCC sought to punish radio stations that played songs glorifying drug usage (this resulted in the banning of Phil Ochs' "Small Circle of Friends" and the Temptations' "Cloud Nine" by some radio stations - two songs that actually were condemning drug usage).  In Radio Free Albemuth, the government shuts down Progressive Records, and executes the man who sought to release a record with a subliminal subversive message - Nick Brady, played by Jonathan Scarfe, who made a memorable contribution to Hell on Wheels last year.

Aliens and extra-dimensions also make an appearance, in what is probably the weakest part of the story, distracting from the realpolitik attack on Nixon Agonistes' America.   But this part is true to Philip K. Dick, who also plays a major role in this story, as a science fiction author named Phil, who has written among other familiar tales an alternate history in which the Nazis won the war (see my recent review of The Man in the High Castle television pilot).   Dick is well played by Shea Whigham, who also put in a great performance as Eli Thompson in the late, lamented Boardwalk Empire.  And good to see Jon Tenney (The Closer) and Rich Sommer (Mad Men) in cameos as evilly madcap Federal agents.

While I'm mentioning names, I should also say I was happy to see my erstwhile science fiction editor at Tor, David G. Hartwell, thanked in the credits.  And the science fiction shown darkly brightly in all kinds of quick bits in this movie, including an alternate reality within this alternate history, of a Portuguese States of America, created in an alternate history in which there was no Protestant Reformation, hence Portugal and Spain, not England and Spain, split up the New World.

An unsurprisingly muddled  review at The New York Times missed all of these touches and more this past June, and Radio Free Albemuth hasn't exactly wowed those who pass solemn judgement on movies from their officious perches.   But that wouldn't have surprised Philip K. Dick, who considered literary theorists KGB agents bent on disabling American science fiction.   As for the movie, I have no doubt that it will amply survive, and go on to become a cult classic in many ways more true to Dick's vision than the high-octane enjoyable big films also derived from his work but which soared off in their own directions.

time travel and alternate history


Monday, January 19, 2015

The Man in the High Castle on Amazon: Outstanding

Note: This review is just of the pilot (first episode); for a review of the complete 10-part series, see here; for further analysis, with spoilers, see here.

2015 is quickly shaping as a year of superb science fiction on screen - Predestination (the movie of "All You Zombies"), 12 Monkeys the TV series on the SyFy Channel, and now The Man in High Castle TV series - from the Philip K. Dick alternate history masterpiece - on Amazon.   I just saw the first episode and it is outstanding.

The story is that the US lost the Second World War to Nazi Germany and Japan, who split the US down the middle, with a small neutral zone between them.   The year is 1962, and the man in the high castle is part of the resistance, distributing movies on reels which show the United States and its allies not Germany and Japan winning World War II.  Whether these films are just propaganda, or reflections of the truer reality (in fact, our reality) that this man in the high castle has access to, remains to be seen - and is a great example of the flickering nature of reality that Dick is so well known for.

The fine touches and subtleties in the pilot are excellent - swastikas and Japanese suns popping on all kinds of public places including Times Square and the Golden Gate Bridge.   The tension between the Japanese and the Nazis is also well taken and well played.   The Nazis always considered the Japanese inferior, and its alliance with Japan was one of convenience.   On the Japanese side, although they're far from angels, their reign is not quite as brutal as the Nazis in the US East.   We see African Americans and all kinds of people in the West that the Nazis would find unacceptable.    In contrast, we get a grizzly scene in which the Nazis are incinerating "cripples".

Hitler is old and likely to soon die.  The Japanese correctly fear that his successor - Himmler or Goebbels or Goering - will drop nuclear bombs on the Japanese in San Francisco.  (In this alternate reality, Germany was most responsible for winning the Second World War because it beat the US in getting the atom bomb, and used it on America.)  This is the backdrop against which the American resistance, whatever it exactly is, most contend.

There's a kick-in-the-gut twist at the end of the pilot episode, which I won't tell you about, in case you don't know the story.  What I will say is that in pacing, storyline, and carefully constructed 1962 alternate history environment, The Man in the High Castle on television looks set to do Dick's novel some memorable justice.  I was quoted earlier this year about 2015 being the year in which streaming moved into really high gear and even dominance as the mode of television presentation.  The Man in the High Castle on Amazon certainly is a strong piece of evidence in favor of that prediction, and that's no alternate history.

Note added February 20, 2015: Delighted with the news that Amazon will be putting up at least one season - The Man in the High Castle could do for alternate history on television what Star Trek did for science fiction on TV in the past century.

What if the Soviet Union had survived into the 21st century
and Eddie and Cruisers were a real band?

more time travel and alternate history

podcast review of Man in the High Castle

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Helix 2.1: Improved and Intriguing Scenario

Hey, I just saw Helix 2.1.  Last season had some good moments, but was by and large a mixed of bag of missed opportunities and implausible gambits.   Still, the first season of Helix had something, which is why I watched the beginning of the second.  And that first episode was excellent indeed, in many ways a whole new and much better science fiction series.

Harkening back to the first season, we finally get to see Peter Farragut in an hour of his own as a team leader.   Alan is barely on hand, except at the end, in a nicely unexpected reveal.

Which gets to the best part of this second season of Helix so far.  We're treated to not only one story, but two, in the same place, literally, but 30 years apart in time.   We first find this out in a great little scene in which a rabbit carcass turns into a dusty skeleton right before our eyes.

The Arctic environment of the first season has mercifully given way to a lush environment on the fictional island of St. Germaine off the West Coast, not too far from Seattle.  This island is apparently the source of a deadly new pathogen - not the NARVIK - which has at very least killed a shipload of people, and maybe/likely many more on the island, if the massive number of human skeletons found in the woods is any indication.   Peter - with Julia and a wise-cracking (which is to say, welcome) new addition, Dr. Kyle Sommer - get to the island to investigate.

The island has a cult - the really only trite part of this otherwise strong episode (a little too close to Lost) - but it's led by Brother Michael, played by Steven Weber, another fine addition to the cast. Julia's on hand - but thirty years in the future, and, in another significant twist, apparently no longer immortal - and the viral-hunting game, across a 30-year tableau, is on.

The second season of Helix is off to a creative, promising start, and I'm looking forward to more.

all kinds of epidemics in this trilogy

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Banshee 3.2: Women in Charge

Well, Banshee was back in its top, inimitable form in episode 3.2 last night, with women putting men in place in a variety of excellent scenes, including

  • Rebecca starting the shootout with Kai's competitors because she didn't like the disrespect they were showing her and her uncle
  • Nola kicking the creep's ass - the creep who was bothering Carrie - and instructing him not to talk about her own ass
  • Rebecca, again, almost holding her own when the two tribesmen came to take her (and Kai) on Chayton's orders.  The goons just do manage to get the better of her, but not to worry, Burton takes care of them with little effort.
So, at this point, Kai, Burton, and Rebecca are clearly superior to what Chayton has thrown against them,  but this doesn't include Nola, and Clayton himself, in actual combat.

Meanwhile, we get at least two fine lines regarding Hood.   The first is from Job, who complains that Hood's sheriff work is getting the in the way of his real work, which would be planning and executing superior heists.   This is an important comment, because it reminds us, lest we forget, that Hood is not and was never really law enforcement.  And yet, he spends a lot of time and energy on the sheriff job. Speaking of which,  the second line comes from Hood himself, when he sarcastically asks if he looks like the kind of man who knows what's good for him.  He clearly doesn't, and that one line is clearly the story of his life.  Being sheriff isn't especially good for him, and yet he repeatedly finds himself unable to resist doing that work with the badge.

We also got better introduced to the fourth corner of Banshee this season - in addition to Hood and law enforcement in Banshee (1), Kai and his family and operation (2), and Chayton, Nola, and company (3) - that 4th being the quasi military unit led by Carrie's now former lover.   In case we didn't already know, this guy is as brutal as the worst or best of them on Banshee, and his operation is the target of the heist that Job was complaining about.

Good stuff all around, this second episode was reassuringly very edgy, and I'll see you next week.

See also Banshee 3.1: Taking Stock

Like crime stories that involve the Amish? Try The Silk Code