Thursday, 14 September 2017

It IS English, you thickwit...

A resounding trumpet toot and bow of respect to the TV show "Salvation"!


For years, movies and TV have run this scene:

Scientist explains the situation, the solution, the problem in words of more than one syllable.

The person or persons receiving this explanation now grunts and says "In English, doc!"  With enough condescension dripping on his tone to make clear what he thinks of anyone who fills their brain with so much weird knowledge.

I grind my teeth every time this exchange occurs.

The rough, tough "everyman" never comes across as apologetic for not keeping up with the information.  The script is strictly pandering to the cheeto-covered viewers at home who have accidentally tuned into the show instead of "Dancing with Bachelor Pawn-brokers".

Over and over I wish the nerd-scientist would just snort and hand the Everyman Hero a dictionary.  "It is English, Sparky.  Try to keep up with the class."


Last night on "Salvation", this scene came up twice...but didn't.

1)  A technical explanation prompted "Could you translate that for the layman?"

2)  A high-powered explanation prompted "I don't speak tech..." with a quirky smile.

A perfectly respectful exchange.  You're the expert.  I'm not.  Could you somehow make it plain to me?

In a world where ignorance is running amuck, we need a little more respect for actual nerds and science.

Saturday, 26 August 2017

Every year? Well, it's description discussion time again...

Follow me, if you will, to an invitation to supper at someone’s home.  I sit down at the table and I begin to drool in delight as the host brings out a big circular pizza platter.!  I have a momentary concern about what toppings the host might have chosen, but, hey - pizza is pizza.  As long as it’s not some kale and kumquat on gluten-free...never mind.  

To my surprise, the host places a triangular piece of flat pizza bread on my plate.  By the sheen catching the light, a splash of oil was added in the baking.  My nose detects a whiff of, in all likelihood, a sprinkle of some pre-mixed “Italian Seasoning” dashed over the surface.

But nothing else.  Not one topping one would associate with “pizza”.

Seeming to anticipate my puzzlement, the host jumps in with an earnest and exuberant explanation.  “I think food is a team effort between chef and eater.  I don’t want my efforts to get in the way of your experience.  Take a bite of the crust and imagine all the marvellous pizzas you’ve eaten.  Remember the wonderful homemade sausage you once bought at a farmer’s market.  Let your memory glide over that smooth, top-shelf mozzarella cheese you loved on a trip to Little Italy.  Dream on that rich, thick sauce they make at your favourite pasta place.”  He sits back, beaming with anticipation, urging me with eyes and body language to...  “Eat!  Eat!”

I pick up the slice of bread.  It’s kinda limp, so I have to bring in my second hand.  I have a bite.  I follow the host’s advice and recall all the glories of pizzas-past.  My imagination is more than sufficient to the task.  

All these memories do, however, is starkly highlight that all I am currently chewing is a mouthful of vaguely seasoned baked bread.  All this talk of imagination and memories is doing is making me ravenous and grumpy.  All I’m thinking about is how soon I can politely leave and where I can score a decent real pizza on the way home.

AND that is lengthy analogy of how too many writers out there currently craft their “stories”.  They refuse to waste words on describing a spaceship because readers have seen Star Wars or Star Trek and will just fill in the blank canvas.  They try really hard to justify a total lack of character description because it will “spoil the reader’s immersion.”

What a pile of horseshit.

This nothing but lazy, hack excuse-making.  They would be better served transferring the creativity used in making these stiff rationalizations into their actual wordsmithing.

If any of this held any water at all, then why do people go to movies?  If these halfwit “rules of writing” had validity, we’d all be keenly anticipating this summer’s radio play blockbusters.  No panoramic vistas of glorious scenery harshing our buzz.  No bulging beefcake heroic actor or svelte sexy villain spoiling our immersion.  Nothing but our own imagination doing all the work!

A great writer is a tour guide.  They know how much detail, how many facts, what serving of setting to provide to you for your visit and then they know when to shut up and let you drink in the moment.  A good book is team effort between author’s words and reader’s imagination.

These slack-jawed scribblers think “team” means, well, making a thin flat of bread and calling it a pizza.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Character substitution

My tastes in film run to the fantastical.  And when those types of movies turn epic, with aliens invading or asteroids on a collision course or a zombie plague spreading, the plot visits the White House.  Well, these movies are often made in the USA and, arguably, a lead responder to a global threat would be the White House.

Even in less fantastic movies, where the international danger is rooted in reality, if no actual protagonists are in the government, there will still be scenes informing the audience with how the White House is reacting.

In the last few months, I’ve rewatched some old favourites.  When the President is briefed on the Bad Thing, when a table of uniforms and top people assemble for strategy, when the nuclear option is considered, these films and shows are giving me a new level of horror and chills.  I’m swapping out the characters and replacing them with President Drumpf and his Capering Gang of Incompetents.

If you want an anus-clenching experience, watch anything with the Oval Office and substitute Drumpf making the hard decision while advisors debate which is the best choice.  It’ll breath a whole new dynamic of terrible excitement into your movie choices.

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Saturn Run review

Saturn Run
by John Sandford & Ctien
G.P. Putnam's Sons

In Saturn Run, we are taken to the Earth of fifty years from now.  One small aspect of this future is the advance in pharmaceuticals.  In moments of ultra stress, citizens are not hesitant to use a pill or shot to "smooth out".  There are still side effects, but nowhere near as harsh as we suffer today.  This sort of moment only appears a handful of times in the plot, but...the whole book feels like it has been "smoothed out".
What I mean is that the author(s) apparently were unable or unwilling to describe any messy emotions.  A few characters are possessed of hot tempers and become angry, but it is nothing but "telling" instead of "showing".  It's like a sock puppet show where the feature character declaims "Grr, I am mad".  Characters are mostly reasonable and pleasant thru out the story.  A sex fling starts to take root and becomes an actual relationship with tangled emotions.  Just as we're wondering how these characters will sort it all out, the author(s) use a deus ex machina to extricate themselves from this gooey mush stuff.  And in the aftershocks, where a well-written book would take us thru the heart ache and depression, the character reaches for that aforementioned drug and smooooths out.  The novel returns to blandsville.  Whew, that was close.  We couldn't have any undue excitement with our characters.  No arguments, no jealousies, no wild guffaws, no narrow-minded biases...just all pleasant and reasonable.

I have to stop now to reverse this negative stance.  The science adventure aspect of the book carried the weight of the plot well enough.  If semi-hard science fiction is your love, then you'll enjoy this aspect.  But, as with all too many modern books, Saturn Run needed to be 500 pages long like I need a couple of extra earlobes.  A couple-three decades ago, it would have been more like 200 pages and been an enjoyable afternoon's read.  I've read books like this in my life and felt my time well spent.  When I have to spend 500 page worth of time, I want a lot more bang for my investment.

In short, it is a good idea and well-thought out race across the solar system.  After 500 pages, though, I felt like I'd walked to Saturn and back.

I want to endorse Saturn Run, but I can't.  Despite what I've written so far, neither can I condemn it as a stinkburger.  If you have buckets of free time to spend, and space travel science is your passion, then go for it.  I'll have pretty much forgotten most of it by the end of the week.

Oh.  I consider myself, at best, only a reservist in the grammar army.  Still, I can't ignore the way the authors hosed the book down with colons and semi-colons.  They must have gotten a helluva bulk deal and then had to use them before they hit their expiration date.  I've never seen colons used in the spots these guys use them.  Ever.  It looked pretty stupid, most of the time.

So, a straight up the center not-good, not-bad for Saturn Run.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Landing on the Moon


You all are under-appreciated.  Nobody seems to truly understand the rigidity of your concentration, the intensity of your focus and the depth of your expertise.

Before Apollo 11 launched, and certainly after July 20th when photos and information flooded the media, you know who kept a dark and glittering on eye on events?  The USSR.  You can bet your last nickel that the KGB analysts, the Soviet space scientists that put the first rockets into orbit, and any number of expert eyeballs, examined those public photos and published documents long into the night.  To deflate this American victory in the Space Race would be a triumph of unimaginable proportions.  

(We’d be remiss if we failed to include Communist China and other forces in the 1970’s who’d enjoy making the USA look stupid.  Their experts no doubt took a gander at the same material.)

Apparently nothing was ever found for nothing was ever reported.  The years ticked by.

It wasn’t until you and your co-believers examined those same public photos, checked the same public records and studied the same space mission blueprints that the truth came to light.  Only your combination of genius and expertise could see the fluttering flags, the misplaced shadows and truly understand the lethal impossibility of such a space flight.

So, foil hat off to you for cracking a problem that exists for nobody but you!  Thanks for keeping the eye on the prize and not being distracted by your mother coming into your basement to do laundry!  Your revelations give the world a dull headache behind the left eye, but by golly, it’s a world that’s well informed!