Saturday, January 13, 2018

A gnawstick and detarmined to

At first glance, Dick's novels and short stories don't seem that philosophical. 

They're filled with twist endings and switcheroos. Erzatz realities seem all-too real. You're living in a game show, or the virtual reality of the barely alive. Sadly, reality sucks. But simulation kick reality's ass! Organic beings act like machines! And machines that pull the same stunt. The robot who can't admit he's a robot blows up the world when he finds out he really is a robot. The little lost child is also a killer robot. Humanity's Savior is a fraud. He's a savior all the same.

In a lesser writer, this would be a gimmick, period. But Dick was a card carrying gnostic. For Dick, the twist-ending wasn't a gimmick. It's the way our so-called universe works.

As Admiral Ackbar might put it, our physical universe is a trap. We're spirits, living in the material world — as the great philosopher Sting once said. The whole damn thing is a prison.

The Black Iron Prison, as Philip K. Dick once said.

Do Amazons Dream of Electric Dick?

OK, speaking of Dick, I just checked out an episode of “Philip K. Dick's Electric Dreams” on Amazon. (An adaptation of Dick’s SF short stories, dontcha know.) Skipped the first installment, went directly to “Autofac.” And here’s my roundabout reaction …
Year after year, the cheapjack county fair would roll into Sarasota, Florida. (Still does, who cares?) Said fair had a haunted house ride. They’d repaint the exterior with sloppy airbrush work every year or two, but the ride never changed. They’d strap you into a metal car and you’d ride into …
Darkness and pre-recorded screams. Ghostly gauze brushing over your face. A skeleton popping out of a coffin with red glowing eyes and a klaxon sound. EGGGHH-EGGGHH!
Then the car bumped out through swinging metal doors (Klunk-klunk!) to the lights, sounds, smells of the fair. (“Alive! Alive!”) And that was it.
Same old thing, year after year.
One year, I was riding along yet again—and the ride had a glitch. My car got stuck at the bend of a curve. Right in front of that mechanical skeleton!
The thing popped out, its eyes glowed red. The klaxon blared.
Then it happened again.
And again.
And again, and again, and again.
My car was an object at rest. People behind me were yelling in the darkness.
"This thing ain't moving! How come ..."
Stuck as I was, I got a good look at the skeleton. Plastic, papier-mâché. or something, not remotely accurate. The eyes were red light bulbs. I could see the speaker making the noise. The wires connecting the speaker to a power source. And the coffin was cardboard!
Cheap! Fake! Phony!
Everything! The whole damn thing!
Before tonight, the haunted house ride had mildly scared me. Before tonight, I could never get a good look at it. Now, I could see it all so clearly.
And the sight was vastly more horrifying.
A panic attack was crawling up my spine.
Then a carny finally ran out along the track, cursing. He jiggled the car, did something. The wheels started moving on the rail. I bumped back out into the fair. (“Alive! Alive!”)
But the fear stayed with me.
That’s the feeling I get after reading a Philip K. Dick short story.
That is not the feeling I get after seeing this show.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Thor: Ragnarok

"Thor: Ragnarok" delivers on its promise. Do I believe for five seconds that Asgard is a self-consistent alien culture? No. But it's a fun movie.
Thor Ragnarok did not disappoint. It lived up to the promise. You get to see Thor and the incredible Hulk in a gladiatorial situation
Sibling rivalry with Loki; Jeff Goldblum is hilarious. He’s the evil meia mogul who runs a corrupt, entertainment obsessed planet that behind the gladiatorial games. He delivers his evil disctator lines as, well, Jeff Golbulum and it’s hilarious 
The ovie strikes a nice balance between being a working class comedy – a lot of it’s just comedy
Thor is dealing with his ister, hwho happens to be the goddess of death, who’s escaped from the Phantom zone or Asgard maxium security or whatever) she’s the ultimate female gdaass. He throws the hammer at her she gtrabis it; the hammer shatters like glass.
Essentially, it’s the plot of the Shane Black’s iron man movie. Thor’s stripped of his powers , doesn’t have his powers, is exiled, imprisoned, and 
Not the king of the mountain.
Various things revealed later
But a nice comic dynamic – put him at the bottom of everyuthging in this trashy planet that’s strewen with literal garbage and garbage entertainment. He’s not the king of the mountain. He’s got a control device on his neck straight out of Star Trek 
It’s all in the grailer
Working class comic moments interspersed with a gumbo of Shakespearean/Lord of the Rings serious moments. 
Genuinely suspenseful on own terms
The bcillaineess is basically the evil queen from Snow White and the Seven Drwarfves.
Graeat female heroes and female villains it’s a post woneder  woman movie and the XX chromosome pair gets its due representation (Finally) Loki goes from being the dark creep of the second avengers movie to more of a trickster. 

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Review: The Orville

Drive-by review: The Orville.
To boldly go where Gene Roddenberry and all his imitators have gone before.
OK. Finally started watching director/producer/lead actor Seth MacFarlane’s The Orville. (Checked out the pilot and 11 minutes of the second episode.) So here’s my reaction …
All-righty then. Yeah. Big Family Guy fan that I am, I want to like it. I see what MacFarlane s trying to do. I see what he actually succeeds in doing. So I want to give him a chance …
But a rude inner voice says, “You see what this is? This is Star Trek cosplay. That’s what this is. You see it, right?”
“Yeah, I see it.”
“You see the flaws?
My inner nitpicker points out the show’s synecdochal inconsistency*, the derivative nature of the experience, the creation of look-for-look’s sake (as opposed to internal logic) and the flat-out bad logic and bad design.
A starship captain would have some kind of monitor/interface at his station; it wouldn’t be in the armrest of his bloody chair. He would know if a certain single-sex species laid eggs. He wouldn’t joke about it with omelet references. Pseudo-Star-Fleet's important, remote science station would be able to send encrypted communications to HQ. (And if it were that important, it wouldn’t be that remote and vulnerable.) The interstellar bad guys would destroy, interdict or commandeer a shuttle on a rescue mission; they wouldn’t accept a killer device on the promise of an access code. On top of that ...
A futuristic hallway full of fluorescent lights? A science station that looks like a mall? What is this, Logan’s Run
Etc., etc.
My inner asshole points these things out. What can I say?
He’s right.
But there are things I like ...
The dynamic of making the starship commander’s unfaithful ex-wife his second officer is clever. Basic screwball comedy. Love it. Her tryst with a blue alien was hilarious—a nice reversal of the Captain Kirk trope.
I also appreciate the comedic rabbit that MacFarlane pulls out of his hat. Or dog.
As in the dog from MacFarlane’s Family Guy.
Captain Mercer is essentially Brian the Dog in space. (Close your eyes and listen to what MacFarlane’s character says. Imagine it’s Brian speaking. It’s funnier that way.) 
Good stuff. Though ...
My inner nitpicker has a point. I can't argue with the flaws he indicates. Each little flaw can be fixed.
But they all flow from one big flaw. 
An essential dilemma that might be unfixable.
The logic of comedy demands that Mercer be bad at his job. If it’s a Star Trek lampoon, the show must poke a pin in all the classic tropes.
The logic of fantasy role-playing demands that MacFarlane deliver a Captain Kirk imitation. Captain Mercer can’t be a f***-up. He must. Do. What must be. Done.
You can’t have it both ways.
Thus says my inner prosecuting attorney.
But my inner jury is still out. I'll give MacFarlane a chance. Who the hell knows?
Maybe he can.

*In written or filmed SF, synecdoche is a good thing. Take Fritz Leiber’s “Coming Attraction.” The citizens of his future, irradiated New York City use subway tokens as currency. Leiber never says that these future New Yorkers hid out in the subway when their city was being A-bombed; he doesn’t have to. It’s a part that stands for the whole—synecdoche, my friends. A very good thing when done right. A very bad thing when the parts don’t add up, fit together or form a whole.

Sunday, October 8, 2017


"Blade Runner: 2049" is a brilliant extrapolation of screenwriter Hampton Fancher's brutal corner of the Philip K. Dick universe. 

By way of explanation ...

When a good screenwriter adapts a novel, they get into the mind of the author who wrote it. This is a dangerous occupation if the mind is visionary and/or insane.

PKD was a straight-up gnostic. He believed the physical universe was the Black Iron Prison. A trap created by a Demiurge—a fake god, putting on Daddy's shoes and feeding on souls ascending to the light. 

That's the mind Hampton Fancher got into. And the worldview that poured out of Fancer's typewriter. But not unedited.

A great screenwriter's never passive. "How can I make this better?" is the heresy in the back of your mind. 

Dick's original androids were soulless, unempathetic things. Roy Baty pulled the legs off a spider ... because why not? Humanity is empathy. Fake humanity has none.

Fancher retained that idea with a tweak. His replicants were a new model. Childlike, not soulless. Four year olds in adult bodies. They were learning empathy ... and on the verge of becoming truly human. This explained their four year life span. They had an expiration date, that shut them off before they became effectively human.

Aside from that change, and a tighter story structure, Fancher kept Dick's original ideas. The world he created was a hell realm of psychic cannibalism, eploitation and sickening utility.

Hamton Fancher's first draft was brutal.

Roy Batty sneaks into Tyrell's compound. Under the pretext of a gryphon his he's giving his daughter for her birthday party. Batty begins by crushing the pelvis of a butler, then slaughters everyone at the party. grabbing the butler in the groin then shattering his pelvis in his vice likke grip. Deckard kilsl raachel.

The movie is the Care Bears Happy Birthday funtime in comparison.

blade runner 2049 unfolds in the same universe. of Fancer's original scripty.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Charlie Manson is watching you

Avoid strong discussion. For that matter, avoid discussion.
Stay in your room.
Thatguy at the next table might have a gun.
Walk soft. Avoid eye contact.
Stay away from hot button issues in public places. The Vietnam War, gun control, religion, whatever.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Review: "9-11"

What if? In the right hands, the question can generate great stories. In the wrong hands, it can generate bad stories. For inexplicable reasons, some of these stories hit the best-seller list.
Case in point: Marty Fugate’s latest potboiler, “9-11.” Rea
ding through this "near future thriller" (as I am paid to do) several questions spring to mind :
What if a hack writer decided to steal the plot of “The Anderson Tapes,” and expanded it to a geopolitical proportions in a style blatantly lifted from Tom Clancy?
What if …
A neophyte American president was sitting in the Oval Office? A cunning cabal of Arab terrorists (yawn) with engineering degrees was hiding in caves and devising a fiendish plot? A perfect storm of interdepartmental rivalry and compartmentalized intelligence, preventing any law enforcement official from acting on obvious warning signs of this unfolding conspiracy — including the piteous prophecies of the obligatory Cassandra? (With this theft, Mr. Fugate goes a bridge too far. Great writers steal. Bad writers cut-and-paste.) What if a handful of Arab terrorists (armed with box cutters!) hijacked three fully-fueled airplanes and turned them into deadly missiles on a suicide mission?
All of which ends in a successful terrorist attack on …
Wait for it.
The World Trade Center towers!!!
And the Pentagon.
This carnage described in 23 pages of gory detail. A disaster movie Irwin Allen would find in bad taste. (A film adaptation the author dearly and clearly hopes for.)
What if (being symbolically inclined) the aforementioned masterminds launched their attack on the day which corresponds to the American phone number to emergency responders?
What if these supposedly cunning terrorists targeted the same building they tried to demolish two years ago? A presumably well-guarded structure. As opposed to, say, a fresh target? Not the Sears Tower, the Chrysler building, the Pan Am building, no, it has to be the World Trade Center!! Why? Is this terrorism or an extreme form of architectural criticism?
What if an author utterly lacking in shame built a best-seller on the bones of the six victims of the 1993 bombing?
What if enough shameless readers bought his lousy book—and actually read it? Even though they weren’t being paid?
What if?