February 26th, 2009


Arguing With Reviewers (grin)

The Sage Advice Is...

Arguing with reviewers? Don't.

On The Other Hand

Actually, I'm not planning on arguing with reviews or reviewers. I've wanted to point out for some time my thinking on my 29th century universe where much of my writing takes place. Six years ago, in February 2003, my short story "Lines West X4334-W" won Second Prize in the N3F National Fantasy Fan Federation 2002 Short Story Contest. Besides being my very first "pay day" for writing, I was amused by the comment from the judge that he wasn't sure there'd be trains in the 29th century. Well, he's right. There might not be. On the other hand, you have to admit it's a very efficient system for moving large amounts on land -- and there's no Physics reason why transporters or stepping disks will exist in the 29th century or ever, or if they do exist that they'd be cheap enough to use for all commerce. Just sayin'. (You can read a 2007 version of my railroad story here.)

This of course percolated up because of a comment in the first review of my story in the May 2009 issue of Analog:

"The Brother on the Shelf" - Philip Edward Kaldon - a new writer with a very old-fashioned story. This wouldn't have been out of place in ASF in the 40s. But the "dates" got me - I kept on thinking how different lifestyles are today than they were 8 or 9 centuries ago. Why would things be so mid-20th Century-like 8 or 9 centuries from now?

The way I see it, my 29th century has a lot in common with the Technological Age of the late 20th and early 21st centuries -- much more in common than say the non-Technological 11th and 12th centuries. Plus our 20th century culture is going to survive, via recordings, for as long as the media can be recopied and read. Why must it be so different? Provided we're not going to put them in sweatshops, kids growing up in the future will still run around in the summer and still collect odd things, get a cold drink, etc.

A Different Argument

But today I spotted Gary Westfahl's piece Pitfalls of Prophecy: Why Science Fiction So Often Fails to Predict the Future on LocusOnline. Much like the complaints about Star Trek: The Next Generation's "Planet of the California Joggers", Gary points out the fallacies of single-mindedness which show up in a lot of SF. And how much of the future doesn't happen.

Indeed, a refusal to believe in extravagant and extraordinarily new developments in the future is remarkably logical. For, no matter how much we may desire, or fear, a radically altered future, we can observe throughout our history remarkable continuities in human activities and behavior. Consider, for a moment, everything that you did yesterday, and how your day would compare to a similar day 100 years ago. Some of your actions, of course, would be entirely unfamiliar to your ancestors: you used a computer to check your e-mail, you sent out a fax, you called a business associate on your cell phone, you watched some television, you played a video game. However, most of your activities today would be entirely familiar to a person from the distant past: you woke up from a bed that, aside from some space-age materials in it, was similar in design to the beds of one hundred years ago; you ate a breakfast, lunch, and dinner featuring foods similar to those eaten one hundred years, consumed while you sat at a table and employed utensils just like those employed by people one hundred years ago; you spent most of the day meeting, talking, and working with people, just like people one hundred years ago; and if it was Friday or Saturday, you spent your evening at a party, a movie, or a concert, socializing with your friends, just like people one hundred years ago.

To which I say... exactly.

Dr. Phil

Things I Didn't Know About The Universe

Or Why Facebook Is A Very Strange Place

A friend of ours was listed as having written on The Universe's wall on Facebook. Naturally intrigued, we had to check this out:

1 album
Universe Created about 8 months ago

The Universe wrote on its own wall.
August 14 at 12:40am

The Universe updated its profile. It changed Location.
July 6 at 10:14pm

Universe - 5 new photos
July 6 at 10:09pm

The Universe joined Facebook.
July 6 at 9:55pm

Apparently there is no time Before Facebook. (grin) The Universe is about 8 months old? Huh. And The Universe writing on its own wall? Would that be the Great Wall of Galaxies perchance?

But I particularly liked that in updating its profile, The Universe changed its location.

Facebook. It has a language all its own. Not saying it's right. Not saying it doesn't sound stupid. Just all its own.

Dr. Phil

Revolutionary? Not Exactly

Competing Against Yourself

In the lead up to this year's Academy Awards, the always amazing actress Kate Winslet found herself in two films with Oscar buzz. It happens from time to time that someone goes up against themselves, and usually splits the votes and thereby loses. It's an election, not a lottery -- it's not you have two lottery tickets and therefore twice the chances. (grin)

But the Golden Globes "solved" this dilemma for La Kate by nominating her for Best Supporting Actress in The Reader and Best Actress for Revolutionary Road. And after being shut out of the Globes for all these years, Kate managed to take home TWO, though everyone was left scratching their head trying to figure out how the hell she was a supporting actress in The Reader.

The Oscars solved the dilemma in a different way -- give Kate just one nomination. And so FINALLY, this extraordinary actress is 1-for-6 and won Best Actress for The Reader. That other film? Not mentioned. Oh, except for a Best Supporting Actor nod for Michael Shannon in a brilliant performance of a troubled man who actually speaks the truth.

Revolutionary Road [R]
Celebration Woodland #1, 12:50pm, $3.50

Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio. After making a small picture in 1997 which racked up a couple of billion in ticket sales worldwide, pairing them up a decade later is NEWS and a BIG BOX OFFICE DRAW. Or could've been if a lot of people had gone to see this film. Looks like about $20 million domestic and about the same internationally so far.

But of course I'll see Kate doing anything -- and her role here is tough and meaty, exactly her forte. Leo DiCaprio, not my favorite of actors, is becoming one of our great period actors (Titanic, The Aviator, Catch Me If You Can, The Quick and the Dead, Gangs of New York -- and even a promise of Leo as Theodore Roosevelt!) and in Revolutionary Road adds the muted monotone dull suburban life of a 1950s American salaryman to his body of work. Perfectly complimenting Kate as the suburban housewife hauling out the trashcans in makeup, jewelry, skirt and heels.

Revolutionary Road is an actual road, where the neighborhood changes from pickup trucks and tradespeople to the better end of town. Frank and April Wheeler are caught in the honey trap of working a loveless job to support a suburban lifestyle they don't like. Supposedly they have two children, but the children appear and disappear without much trace that they actually live in the house with the Wheelers. Kate's reluctant motherhood in Little Children was more convincing. Instead we get much discussion of babysitters without ever seeing one, while we are subject to numerous acts of 1950s home entertaining, and food plates out of all the best ladies' magazines, plus multi-martini lunches and going out for drinks and dancing at a local place with "atmosphere".

It is jarring in 2009 to see so much smoking -- like watching an episode of AMC's Mad Men on steroids. And drinking -- my god I've never seen so many martini glasses and bottles of Johnny Walker, etc. So many of the optimistic conversations are drenched in drinks after drinks, that we know that their dream of chucking it all and moving to Paris is either going to end in disaster or never happen. Is this a couple in love? A couple in 30-ish angst? A couple in raging hate? A couple in burnt out tolerance? Some dungeon master somewhere is rolling dice and changing the characters from one scene to the next -- these people have Problems.

The sets and costumes and cinematography are superb. The scenes of Frank at work, and the scenes of Frank -- a man in coat and jacket and tie lost in a sea of men in coats and jackets and ties surging through New York's epic Grand Central Terminal, up and down the streets and elevators, and riding the New Haven back to Connecticut -- in his tiny blip of an existence amongst the lemmings of the commuters are well done. The movie has an R-rating, and it is a film for adults. But I've seen far more naked bodies and foul language in PG-13 movies. I suppose it goes along with what I've heard recently that the F-word doesn't merit an "R", unless you actually apply it to F-ing.

Had this film been made in the 1970s, it would've been hailed as a bold exposé of the 50s. Mrs. Dr. Phil mentioned 1980's Ordinary People as reference. Neither of us have read the book -- I was surprised to see it was from 1961 -- and so we don't know if it goes deeper into how they all got into this mess. Or how WW II really impacted on the then young Frank. After an opening scene where Frank and April meet, we are mostly just thrust into seven or so years later and a life of lies and manipulation. Here in 2009, we've seen some of this before and so the visceral impacts of this film have been muted.

This is not a happy film, but I shall reluctantly recommend it for the visuals and the view of a world both gone and transmogrified into today's cube farms. The cast, though, from Kate and Leo, to Kathy Bates, the neighbors, the real estate agent's mentally disabled son, and the poor misled secretary, are all excellent.


Dr. Phil