Come see me at Condor

This weekend, starting tomorrow Friday January 19th, is San Diego’s local SF convention, Condor.

Condor is small, intimate, and friendly convention, and one I have always enjoyed even before I began appearing on the panel discussions.

Here is my schedule for the weekend. It’s the busiest one I have gotten yet and it looks to be loads of fun.



Noon: If I Had A Time Machine. Room: Presidio

1pm: How Reliable is Science. Room: Garden II

3pm: This Is A Game? Room: Garden II

4pm: Social and Economic Ramifications of Teleport. Room: Garden II

6pm: Post-Apocalypse Fiction. Room: Presidio

9pm: First Line, Last Line. Room: Garden I

10pm: Can I Get A Prozac. Room: Garden II



10am: Online-Only TV Series. Room: Garden II

1pm: TV Noir Part Deux. Room: Presidio

2pm: Friend’s Sidekicks, and Other Hooligans. Room: Garden II

4pm: My Favorite Doctor. Room: Presidio

6pm: Large Scale Continuity in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Room: Balboa

8pm: Back to the Future. Room: Balboa

9pm: Scientific Urban Legends. Room Balboa



10am: Our Favorite Time Travel Movies & Shows. Room: Presidio

Noon: Six-Guns, 38s and Laser Pistols. Room: Garden II

1pm: The Internet: Valuable Research Tool or Kitten Photo Gallery? Room: Presidio

3pm: City on the Edge of Forever. Room: Presidio


Documentary Review: Five Came Back

I did not get any fiction writing completed last night. While I have finally gotten over my flu, and this year’s number is quite a little beast, early in the evening the migraine gnomes arrived with his less than anticipated gifts. Instead, after taking the required medications, I settled into to complete a documentary series that I had started while still recovering from my flu; Five Came Back.

A Netflix original and based on the book of the same name this series, three episode each just over an hour in length, examines the lives of five legendary and award winning directors before during and after their service in World War II. Each man served as a filmmaker and as with everyone else who saw service in that global and terrible conflict each was changed by their experience. The Five were John Houston, John Ford, William Wyler, George Stevens, and Frank Capra.

The films produced by these men range from instructional movies and cartoon, including the classic Private SNAFU which featured the earlier work of Ted Geisel better known as Dr. Seuss, through blatant propaganda, and touching revelations about the ravages of psychic wounds.

A movie I commented on here a few months ago, Know Your Enemy: Japan a racist piece of propaganda, I can happily report was never actually screen to our troops. It only made it to the front just three days after the surrender and MacArthur banned its presentation.

If you have an interest in film, history, and the Venn diagram where these two fascinating fields overlap I cannot this series enough.


The Framing

Whenever a story or narrative is presented there is also a framing as to how that story is presented. The frame, a negative space of assumptions and implicit understandings, guides in both how the story is told and how the story is understood. When you can see this supporting scaffolding you have a better understanding of what was left unsaid.

Usually the framing is not a conscious choice. All of us work from assumptions and things we simply accept implicitly so all of us use these shortcuts as foundations, but it is a good exercise to think about and search out these assumptions. Sometimes there are true, sometimes they are harmless fictions, but sometimes they reveal an uglier set of cultural biases.

Consider America’s current opioid crisis. There are tons of stories out there about the economic hardship, cultural devastation, and despair that have acted as the engine driving this addiction crisis. In addition to those factors others narratives portray the major pharmaceutical corporations as the bad guys, pushing drugs onto a weakened and depressed population.

There are several aspects to this framing of these narratives. There is the condescension, about theses economically and emotionally depressed people and how they have turned to drugs to alleviate their distress. There is also an element of agency-less. These poor people are victims of circumstance and forces beyond their control, pushed and pulled into a terrible addiction without the ability to determine their own course of action. It is not coincidence that the narratives tend to be crafted by elites in great urban centers about people and sub-cultures that the authors have little or no direct experience with.

But there is another layer to the framing and to see that one you need to think back on other great addiction waves and the narratives associated with those health crises.

When the crack cocaine epidemic swept the nation’s urban centers throughout the late 80s and into the 90s do you remember such sympathetic narratives? Did the author of article after article go into the terrible economic conditions of the decaying urban centers? Were column inches devoted to the hopelessness and despair that swept through the effected communities?

I will leave it to the reader to come to their own conclusions why the framing narratives have changed so radically.


No Oprah in 2020

I have nothing against her as a person or her talent and considerable achievements but Oprah Winfrey has two large strikes against her for being a serious contender for POTUS.

First, she has no experience in government, and this is scarcely the place for On the Job Training. Even in the best of times that is a bad idea and following the correct occupant this nation will need someone with mastery and knowledge in government, diplomacy in all their intricacies to help begin repairing the damage. Some of which may take decades if ever to undo. We cannot trust that to a novice.

Second, the most important characteristic in selecting a person for leadership is judgment. We are not installing someone to simply mirror the public mood, polls can do that, we need someone who can weigh evidence and come to consistent sound conclusions. In many area it would appear that she can do this, but her repeated instances of giving platform and support to pseudo-science and quackery including anti-vaxxer madness, disqualifiers her as clearer as if she were a climate denier. Truly it is the same thing just pushing different crackpot ideologies.

She is a tremendous woman, a talented businessperson, and a passion advocate, but she should never be president.


Running for President for Fun and Profit

There is an excerpt from Michael Wolff’s upcoming book Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House where Wolff reports that Trump did not want to be president and that he and his people fully expected to lose. The gist of the story is that Trump and others ran the campaign as a method of creating branding, expanding media connections, and in general as a moneymaking operation. (Wolff also reports that Trump went through a number of stages of shock and fear before becoming certain that he was going to be a great president. He lacks nothing in grandiose self-image that is not backed up by anything resembling talent, intelligence, or taste.)

Now some have taken issue with Wolff’s report and poked holes where the details do not align with history so we’ll have to wait a bit longer for that judgment. However I find it entirely credible that Trump at least started the campaign as a moneymaking and image enhancing

The Republican Party has allowed charlatans and grifters access to the presidential nominating process, business people, second tier politicians turned TV personalities, and flash in the pan conservative celebrities flooded the fields, turning the solemn and serious affair of selecting the person to lead the most powerful nation on earth into a cash grab and celebrity stepping stone platform.

It’s really should not have been a surprise that eventually this charade, coupled with a base that had been purified to that rejected facts for ideology, would eventually shove aside any serious politician for the flashier, louder, and most grandiose snake-oil pusher.

This is the doom that the GOP has visited upon America and on the world. This is the end result of their cynicism, their abandonment of principal, and the surrendering of all their honor.

There are a lot of things in traditional conservative thought that are worth considering, worth valuing, worth upholding, but covered in gold plated, celebrity apprentice crap, it all becomes crap.

The nation needs a new conservative party.


New Year’s Eve Movie

This posting is a few days late but I am still shaking off the effect of this year’s flu, which for many is particularly rough.

New Year’s Eve a local movie appreciation society Film Geeks San Diego hosted an invitation only screening of an undisclosed title. Getting an invitation was easy, all I needed to do was respond to the posting. I arrived at the Digital Gym, a fine micro-theater and school, gave the supplied password, and I was in. This sounds much more cloak and dagger than it was, but the air of what unknown film my friends Miguel and Beth had selected supplied a lot of fun. After three cartoons the title was announced to the twenty people invited to the private screening: Liquid Sky. I had heard of this film but had never seen it and that was perfectly fine by me. I love cinematic experimentation. We stopped the film just before midnight to ring in the New Year and then continued with the screening.

Liquid Sky is a movie about the lives of a small collection of aspiring models, actors, and fashion people living lives of hedonism, experimental music, and drugs an alien spacecraft lands in the milieu, manned by tiny unseen creatures that have come in search of opioids. A scientist from West Berlin follows the aliens into the neighborhood, studying the extraterrestrials and hoping to warn the residents of the dangers that are in. It would seem that the aliens have switched their habits from heroin to opioid like chemicals produced in the human brain. What unfolds is a story of sex, manipulation, assault, and eventually murder as the visitors harvest their ‘crop.’

Though it is a product of the early eighties Liquid Sky, in part due to is highly unusual and stylized make and androgynous characters possesses a strong Ziggy Stardust sensibility. Made on a small budget the film is devoid of the special effects so common to 1982 and for a story with as much sex and sexuality as it had is even restrained in it in on screen depictions. (Though be warned that there is an on screen rape scene presented, as it should be free of titillation.) Liquid Sky gained a cult following and lately there has been talk of a sequel.

Following the feature there were more material presented but I could feel my energies flagging and made the short drive home, all in all not a bad way to start off 2018. I know many people are hoping that 2018 will be a better year than 2017 to which I say, do not hope, make it a better year, the choices are up to us.


Explaining the Inexplicable

Over the last year there have been a number of articles in mainstream newspapers exploring the supporter of President Trump, seeking to understand why they voted for him, how they have reacted to his erratic presidency, and as we near the end of his first year, if and why they still support him.

With each round of these articles I have seen opinion pieces, blog posts, and general comments from liberally inclined persons irritated, annoyed, and even outraged at all the attention poured upon Trump’s supporters. The lack of articles and investigations into those opposed to Trump and those whose policies are more directly impacted by him feels inexplicable.

I think it is explainable but that the answer is not where you might generally look. The reason lies in bias, and particular liberal bias in the news media.

Now let me take a moment to tell what I think liberal bias is NOT. It is not a conspiracy to undermine the Republican/Conservative efforts. It is not a cabal of reporter and producers and editors working out how they can advance their team or their cause. The caricature of liberal bias in the media by such outfits as Fox news is at best a straw man and more likely a delusion.

What is going in, and there was a great article a few weeks back from a former PBS producer is that there are few people working at the top levels of news with direct experience concerning conservatives and their lives. This creates a distortion born not of malice or intent but ignorance.

In an environment where every rational person understands that Trump is at best erratic and petty and at worst corrupt and authoritarian voting against him is so expected as to be unquestioned. No right thinking person could do otherwise. But to vote for him, to support him, and to do so after he has been active for nearly a year, that seems inexplicable. That has to be investigated and understood. So of course more pieces, more surveys, and more trip to ‘Trump’ country are engaged as that understanding is sought. The bias that makes supporting trump inexplicable drives the desire to explain it.

Now they should investigate his support, it is an important question, but we also need to understand the opposition and those directly impacted by his erratic and often petty decisions.


Rebels and Mutineers

So this post will be about a bit in Star Wars: The Last Jedi that has upset some corners of fandom, that means there will be spoilers, light ones, and if you are not in the mood for spoilers, engaged your hyperdrives now.


Ok, you have been given fair warning.


Star Wars, all the films, are American stories, told by Americans and aimed, principally at Americans and Americans love rebels. Our national was born in rebellion and even when a segment of the country took up arms against the rightful government we tell the story as one of honor and duty, not slighting those who rebel against us. It is baked into our national psyche to root for the underdog, the person throwing themselves against impossible odds. This carries over in our science-fiction.

Think how often commodores and admirals of Starfleet are either idiots, morally compromised, or simply insane, and our heroes are forced to ignore orders, throw mutinies in order to do what needs to be done. Over and over again we are treated in our fiction to mayors, governors, presidents, and police captains that must be disobeyed and ignored. This is one of the most used and well-known tropes of fiction. (Hell, I use it myself in the military SF novel currently being shopped around.)

So, even setting aside the gender issues and those are no insignificant, in The Last Jedi when Poe Dameron defies Vice Admiral Holdo we are conditions by generations of story telling to side with Poe. He’s our known hero, we’ve adventured with him before in The Force Awakens, this Holdo is an unknown, a stranger, and a superior who disregards our Hero’s sound advice. Of course we are going to think that its Poe who is in the right, we’re going to pull for his mutinous actions and secret keeping, and we’re going to expect that Holdo will get her comeuppance.

Only, that isn’t what happens.

Holdo knows what she is doing and it is Poe who is off the reservation. Poe’s action threatens everyone and in the end his mutiny is just that, a mutiny while under fire from the enemy.

Now some have tried to push the blame back on Holdo because she did not share her plans with Poe, but that is wrong. Poe, a hotheaded pilot disciplined for ignoring orders, has no need to know her thoughts or plans. No superior military officer is obligated to explain themselves to their junior officers. (Only in the face of illegal orders does a junior officer have not only the right but also a duty to disobey.) Poe was not command staff nor was he part of the logistics to implement the plan. Given his record and his position Holdo is perfectly justified in telling Poe only what he needs to know. In the end Poe learns how wrong he is and that is part of the theme of the film. We learn from our mistakes and Poe’s mistake costs them dearly but know it was his mistake.


Movie Review: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Spoiler Free


As is our custom my sweetie-wife and I waited until Sunday morning to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi, crowds are more behaved and the ticket prices are cheaper. I enjoyed the last film in this saga, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but I can certainly see the critique that some of leveled at TFA as nothing more than a rehash of the original Star Wars. Now, I believe that going back to the original story beats was a feature and not a bug. I think the powers that be knew that they had to regain the fans trust after the terrible disappointments of the prequel trilogy. That leaves the question ‘Will the next film be a rehash of The Empire Strikes Back?’ IF the sequel to the new trilogy were a rehash then the franchise would be nothing but call back and a money grab.

The Last Jedi is not The Empire Strikes Backs.

It is the middle film of a trilogy and this is the section of the story where things get darker, where the antagonists gain an upper hand, and our hero suffer defeats and loses. All that happens in The Empire Strikes Back and The Last Jedi, but the story beats and more importantly the themes are very different.

The Last Jedi is a very different beast of a Star Wars movie. The theme takes a new path, the reveals are more nuanced, and the backstory that is uncovered strikes right at the heart of Campbell’s Heroes Journey. There is one reveal that I have already seen people flat out refusing to believe is accurate. Just as so many fans refused to accept that Vader was in deed Luke’s father; this bit of information is also rejected. And just as with the ‘I am your Father’ reveal this one fits too perfectly with the story’s theme to be a red herring.

Picking up where the last film concluded, The Last Jedi carry on the struggles of Rey as she tries to discover who and what she is, Poe Dameron and the resistance fighting for their survival, and Finn finding that his loyalty still facing deep tests. The movie is two and a half hours long but it rarely drags. The plot moves at lightspeed, and with the well-established disregard for space’s vast distances. (Really, how does the Falcon get from Hoth to Bespin without a working hyperdrive?) But with Star Wars you disable those critiques. This is fantasy not science-fiction and it must be approached in that manner.

The film makes several very unexpected moves. Going into this knowing it is the middle of a story creates expectations, ones that the writer/director seems to delight is subverting. This too is a feature and not a bug. I had a great time and can’t wait to see how this all concludes.


Movie Night: Xanadu (1980)

There is no denying that the musical/fantasy Xanadu is a bad film. The main character has no real arc, scenes just sort of happen with advancing even its threadbare plot, and for the ending is incomprehensible.

With all that said it is an emotional favorite of mine. The movie is pure Romanticism, a celebration of love, and the heights that love can take us to personally and artistically. In addition to this the central theme of the film, and many films fail to even have a theme, is stated in the line ‘Dreams don’t die, no, not by themselves. We kill them.” is a principal I continue to live by.

So when a local organization, Filmout San Diego, hosted a presentation at a Landmark theater, well I just had to be there.

Filmout San Diego is an organization that uses film and films screenings to raise money and awareness for local LGBTQ issues and groups. The fact that money spent on the ticket would help these groups was an added benefits in my book.

The screening sold out but I got my ticket before that happened. It was quite interesting to see this movie again in a theater with an enthusiastic audience. While I own the movie on blu-ray, the shared experience of seeing a movie is quite different than the home viewing experience. There were fun trailers for equally campy films before the main event including Roller Boogie and The Apple. During the film people clapped in time with the songs performed by Olivia Newton John and the Electric Light Orchestra, bursting into applause at the end of each number.

While I noticed new flaws in the script, as I said it is not a good film and suffered from continual rewrite throughout the filming, I thoroughly enjoyed myself and basked in an evening of happy nostalgia.


Literary Saboteur

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