Category Archives: books

Two other books with “special” narratives in the LGBT area, by Bazhe and Baker; why they matter to my writing now

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In the screenplay “Do Ask, Do Tell: Epiphany” which I am about half-way through rewriting (as a shooting script) in a modern Final Draft 9 (which has a lot more facilities for identifying scenes and making notes), I presume that a character, Bill Ldzet, like me finds he has been abducted and is living in an ashram inside a large space station (part of it on a huge centrifuge to increase gravity) created by “angels”.  He undergoes a certain amount of “re-education”, maybe with a slight amount of Maoist purification.

One problem is identifying all the other characters, and tracing their past association with Bill on Earth, and how that creates tensions among them.  Then, there is the question, why is “Bill” special enough to get all this attention?  What about the life narratives of everyone else there?

Part of the answer is that there are not that many other senior citizens on the ashram, who would have a life narrative as long and convoluted as mine.  (The movie “Youth“, for example, as a point of comparison, presents Michael Caine playing a conductor/composer at a spa, retired and apathetic, gradually getting the back stories of a couple other seniors there, especially an aging film director/screenwriter (Harvey Keitel) and an aging actress (Jane Fonda).)

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In fact, I do believe my own life story, through age 72, is indeed very unusual.  That’s one reason I remain “stuck” on mining it for more ironies, rather than getting hired to write other peoples’.  But there are a couple of books, both self-published and from iUniverse, that tell stories of comparable complexity.

One of the best is “Damages“, by B. K. Bazhe (2002).  The author (from the Balkans) tells a complex story of eldercare, dealing with communism and Islam, military service, sexual orientation, and even some cross-dressing requiring “depilation”.  I have a detailed review on a legacy site here.  I met Bazhe in Minneapolis in the summer of 2003 when he was on a speaking tour, shortly before I moved back to the DC area to start looking after my own mother myself.  Don’t confuse the title with “Dispatches” which is an HBO-Channel4 (Britain) film about anti-gay discrimination in Russia.  The books was well reviewed in Minneapolis gay papers in early 2003, as a story that needed to be told, maybe even filmed.

Another such book is “The Sound of One Horse Dancing“, an autobiographical novel by Tom Baker, reviewed by me in 2012 on Blogger here.  Baker was caught up in an incident at the College of William and Mary in the fall of 1963, two years after I was expelled from there in the fall of 1961, but he would eventually graduate and has been active with William and Mary GALA (I met him first at a book fair in New York City in March 2012).   I’m not sure how much of the “novel” is “true” but it presents rejection by family, a lot of conformist social pressures to compete in conventional ways to get business, a job firing, and then making a living as a hustler in the days just before Stonewall.  Baker has authored at least two other books.

I suppose these narratives would deserve “special” status in the plot logic behind the “ashram”.  But the way the screenplay is set up, some sort of effort would have been set up on the space station in advance to receive anyone chosen as “special” enough.

I’ll add that I talked to the William and Mary libraries (Gregg Swem and Law School (Marshall-Wythe) by phone last week.  The Law School has my first “Do Ask, Do Tell” book (don’t know if it is the original 1997 printing, or the 2000 iUniverse which is expanded, more durable, and has some typo  fixes).   The 1997 printing it completely out of stock (and a collector’s item).  The library also has my little 98 page 1998 booklet “Our Fundamental Rights and How We Can Reclaim Them: A Psychological Approach” (original printing only, no POD).  I did encourage the LS library to purchase the next two in my DADT series and to check to see if it has Baker’s book (since Baker graduated from WM).  I would echo the encouragement for Bazhe’s book, which is a complex narrative relating sexual orientation and gender  identity to other social issues (like inherited family responsibility for elders) and political issues in an international context — even more critical today given what happens in Russia, Africa, and the Islamic world.

 

 

Arthur C. Clarke’s “Childhood’s End” and (especially) “Rendezvous with Rama”

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Two particular science fiction novels by Arthur C. Clarke need to be noted on this blog.

Childhood’s End” (1953), will soon be aired as a 6-hour, 3 part series on the SyFy Channel starting Dec. 14, 2015 (link).   I read the novel in 1969, while in the Army at Ft. Eustis.  I recall the arrival of the Overllords, the leader Karellen (who was depicted as looking like an eagle but capable of looking human), and the period of peace and prosperity for Earth (as the Cold War with the Soviet Union was getting going more after Eisenhower took office).  Then a gifted star child is born, and, as I recall, his charisma spreads to other kids, who finally become a group-mind, leading to a ritualistic apocalypse on the final page.

I did watch the series and reviewed it here.

Rendezvous with Rama” (1972) is relevant to my own “Do Ask,, Do Tell: Epiphany” screenwriting project.  There has long been a film project involving Morgan Freeman which Wikipedia describes as being in “development hell”.  It would be possible to imagine crowdfunding, given the popularity of the novel.

The story starts in 2077, when an asteroid hit causes huge casualties and damage on Earth, coming close to permanent extinction.  60 years later, in 2037, Earth has set up better early warning systems, and sends out a space party to examine the approaching craft, which turns out to be a 50-km-long cylinder, rotating to create artificial gravity on the inside surface, and with interesting landscapes and cities inside, divided into two “hemi-cylinders” by a “cylindrical sea”.

There is a scene where an astronaut jumps off a cliff in this world.  My understanding is that artificial gravity requires contact with the inner surface to work, so that the actual surface presses on you and creates “weight” from your mass;  there is no “field” to pull on you without contact (that requires mass, which “Star Trek” gets around with super dense (like neutron-star material) gravity plates underneath).


In my own screenplay, there is a an alien “angels'” space station on Titan, which has 1/7 Earth’s gravity, so the “ashram” (with the “abductees”, so to speak) is built on the inside of a Rama cylinder that sits perpendicular to the surface.  (Of, if NASA has seen it, they just won’t tell us!) But the pull of Titan would still distort the sense of gravity, producing a sense of tilting, and could pull a person (at a velocity of the square root of 1/7 Earth’s) toward a “wall” if he jumped off the group, so people would need magnetic shoes until they got used to the environment.  I’ve wondered how you could really jog inside a rotating space station depending on centrifugal effects for gravity.

(Published: Friday, Dec. 4, 2015, at 1:30 PM EST)

From National Book Festival, II: Military science fiction author David Weber

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An earlier session Saturday afternoon at the National Book Festival had featured novelist David Weber, who focuses on military science fiction and fantasy.  Weber is author of the “Honor Harrington” series with a female hero.

Clip 1  (how Weber first got published)

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Weber talks about storytelling.

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Weber talks about the author’s “soap box” as projecting “who he is.” He also discusses the fact that most readers don’t have personal experience with violence.

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Weber talks about cinema and TV adaptation, as opposed to literary fiction.

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Weber talks about the difference between fantasy and science-fiction. It’s easier to draw “good and evil” characters in fantasy, he says.

(Published, Monday, September 7, 2017, 3 PM EDT)

From National Book Festival, I: Kristof and WuDunn speak about inequality (“A Path Appears”)

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I did attend the National Book Festival, sponsored by the Library of Congress, in Washington DC Saturday afternoon, September 5, 2015, and I wanted to pass along some video remarks by Sheryl WuDunn and (husband) Nicholas D. Kristof, about their book and accompanying video series (shown on PBS)  “A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity” (Vintage); their site.

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A recurring theme is that inequality needs to be addressed in the earliest part of childhood, with interventions appropriate for the situation (like deworming in some countries, or improving the opportunity for parent-child contact, or very early education. Another idea is that “personal responsibility”, as a moral ideal, needs to be viewed with regard to the capability of someone brought up in poor circumstances to grasp the idea.  Kristof points out that rich people give less of their resources proportionality because their lives are somewhat shelter from “walking in other people’s shoes”, they are insular.

Clip 1

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3  (why rich people donate less in proportion to resources — “insularity” problem)

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4     (here is the comment on “personal responsibility”)

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6   (a parable)

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(Published Sunday September 6, 2015, at 5:45 PM EDT)

Illustrated version of Clive Barker’s fantasy masterpiece “Imajica”

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Recently, I splurged and bought an upgraded paper copy of Clive Barker’s fantasy novel “Imajica”, from Harper, ISBN 0-06-093726-2 (older review).

The edition has a glossary by Hans Rueffert, with black and white drawings throughout this appendix.  The book cover shows a photographed lake with a canoe, with would match the narrative in the Third Dominion  near Chzercemit.

The illustrations tend to make many of the beings of the Imajica look a bit frightening. When I read the book in 1998, I felt that the beings were more like us than the illustrations make them look.

The drawings of the cities tend to make them look jerry-built with middle-eastern like structures. Some or built on top of sharply pointed mountains.  That is true of Yzordderrex and Chzercemit especially.  I would love to have seen the train from the Third Dominion shown.  The Unbeheld (or “God”) is pretty terrifying in appearance.

The notes make the four reconciled dominions geographically connected, as if countries on one planet.  I had perceived them as four separate planets, with the In Ovo comprising what physicists speculate as a “wormhole”.  The Lenten Way is like an Interstate Highway 3000 miles long, connecting the third and second dominions, but it would have to do a “ferry crossing” to get across the In Ovo.  Likewise, there are other shortcuts, which would be made available to the Earth after the Reconciliation.

There are reports that Kevin Smith is going to make a television series of the novel.  I hope this happens, and it would probably take about ten hour-long episodes.  A film, in two parts (following the two parts of the book), each close to three hours, in Imax 3-D could be imagined.  I have always thought the material comparable to Tolkien, but the drawings make the Imajica look darker.

How about a board game, showing a map of the Imajica?  Or, yes, a computer game.  Maybe an Orlando theme park, or a Las Vegas hotel, with one building for each dominion.

Does Imajica relate to the world of my screenplay?  (Previous post).  In my little “Rama”, there are separate communities (and not completely free movement among them), and a big city, but I don’t have communities on tops of high peaks.

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(Published: Tuesday, August 4,  2015, at 3:15 PM EDT)

Books on libertarianism

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As a political and cultural tradition, libertarianism has always offered the publication of a large number of books.

Probably the most straightforward series of books is that by Cato Institute scholar David Boaz.   In 1996, The Free Press published a duet of books:  “Libertarianism: A Primer” to be accompanied by a long collection of essays edited by Boaz “The Libertarian Reader“.  In 2015, Boaz rewrote and updated the primer with “The Libertarian Mind“, now published by Simon & Schuster.  I will give a more detailed review soon on my Book Review blog on Google’s Blogger.

Boaz’s narratives are rather straightforward and stick to basic principles, like non-aggression, freedom to contract, personal responsibility, and the idea that clear boundaries in the rule of law should exist when rights come into conflict.  He pays more attention to “gay rights” in the second version, but still emphasizes the idea of marriage as a private contract, an idea already gaining traction with other libertarian-oriented writers (like Jonathan Rauch) in the 1990s.

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Of course, the best known writer might have been former Libertarian Party candidate Harry Browne (“How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World“) but Charles Murray may have been the most provocative.  In 1997, he had written the little missive “What It Means to Be a Libertarian“,  but in 2012 he wrote the stunning “Coming Apart“, where he analyzed the breakdown of “social capital”, which he says is particularly harming lower income or working class communities (he examined the Fishtown neighborhood of Philadelphia).   In fact, Boaz seems to share Murray’s concerns about voluntary social cohesion, pointing out that community-centered or “fraternal” companies and organizations (like in life insurance) have tended to serve special needs of people better than government.

My own series of “Do Ask, Do Tell” books has a history that somewhat parallels Boaz’s.  My first book came out about a year after Boaz’s “Primer”, and I was writing it at about the same time.  And my DADT III book was written about the same time as Boaz’s “rewrite”.  There are major differences.  My books have a lot of personal narratives, which Boaz does not (although the essays do).  Curiously, Boaz calls the third book “A Manifesto for Freedom”, and my first book (in 1997) was often called “The Manifesto” by friends.  I spend much more attention to the motivations others have for interfering with personal lives and expressions and demanding loyalty and solidarity with “the group”, even in areas like the military draft as well as public health.

One could even say that Jack Andraka’s “Breakthrough: How One Teen Innovator Is Changing the World” is a libertarian book, when it comes to the spirt of innovation.

(Published Friday, March 20, 2015 at 11:30 PM EDT.)

Author QA’s at Cato (Aitken, Gans/Shapiro)

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QA session at Cato Institute Thursday, Dec. 11, 2014 for book forum, “The Blue Tent Sky: How the Left’s War on Guns Cost Me My Son and My Freedom“, by Brian D. Aitken

First item:

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Brian D. Aitken speaks.

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Walter Olson speaks.

Second item:

 

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QA session and debate at Cato Institute Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2014 for book forum, “Religious Liberties for Corporations? Hobby Lobby, the Affordable Care Act, and the Constitution“, by David H. Gans and Ilya Shapiro, with Georgetown University law professor Randy Barnett making closing remarks.

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(Published Thursday Dec. 18, 2014 at 12 noon EST)

“Outbreak” (1995 film) and “The Hot Zone” (1994 book) prescient for “Ebola Bill”

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On a day when Ebola virus is big news, as a Texas hospital failed to hospitalize a patient who had traveled to Liberia, it’s well to remember one of the most important science-fiction films about something similar, “Outbreak“, by Wolfgang Petersen, in 1995, from WB.  I remember that this film was shown to honors and Advance Placement chemistry classes one time in the spring of 2005 when I was substitute teaching at West Potomac High School near Alexandria, VA, a curious artifact of my own history (more here).

There is also a TV mini-series, “Robin Cook’s Virus” (1995).

The film supposes that an Ebola-like disease in Africa (the Motaba River Valley in Congo) had been vanquished.  The virus has mutated to airborne form and accidentally been imported into Cedar Creek, CA in present day by a money.  And there is a government plot to destroy Cedar Creek with a bomb. The film ran longer than one block at school and seems like a strange fit for high school.

Of course, the classic book on Ebola is Robert Preston’s “The Hot Zone“, (Knopf) which covers the stories of some related viruses like Marburg.  It also covers Ebola Reston in 1989, which appeared among primates brought to northern Virginia but which did was not transmissible to humans.  I bought that book in the 90s at a book fair in the company cafeteria at work, which earned me the nickname “Ebola Bill”.  How prescient!

Laurie Garret’s “Coming Plague: Emerging Diseases in a World out of Balance” talked about Lassa Fever, Marburg and Ebola, detailing a European who survived Ebola in the bush but went totally bald.  There is also Judith Miller’s “Germs: Biological Weapons and America’s Secret War

On Anderson Cooper’s AC360 show on CNN today, David Quammer discussed his book “Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic” (2013),  (NPR discussion) where he suggested that Ebola may be unlikely to become airborne, but it might be shed in body fluids before there are symptoms (which is true of HIV), but that would mean we need a much more sensitive test for the antigen.  Why not a Western Blot test?

(Published:  Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014 at 11:30 PM EDT)

Classifying my angels

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One Sunday night in October 1983, I was returning to Dallas in my 8-speed Dodge Colt  from a weekend trip in Oklahoma (and as far as Springfield, MO), and had actually hit a dog who had run out in front of the car on an isolated road.  After crossing back into Texas, and driving somewhere around Commerce, I heard a sermon from a fundamentalist preacher, talking about what happens when you “die”.  An “angel” comes and accompanies you as you are processed for your judgment, he said.  He spoke about an angel as a real person, an idea which I found interesting.  Now, living in Texas then, I had gotten used to hearing a lot of car radio sermons arguing for post-tribulationism v. “Pre”, which is beyond me now.  “Pre” makes more sense.

There’s something intriguing to me about the number 144,000.  In Rev.  14:3-5.  One of the interpretations of this number is that it is a count of redeemed make “virgins”.  I’m not quite sure why they would need redemption (except that all of us do, in Christianity), but it sounds like there is something special, or permanent about these men.

In at least two of my screenplays, and in the main novel “Angel’s Brothers” that I will describe soon, the concept of an “angel” comes up , in a few different contexts.  I’ll lay out the “rules of the road” for them in this post.

There really haven’t been a lot of movies about the topic (outside specifically “Christian’ films like the Left Behind series).  One of the best is “Astral City: A Spiritual Journey”, by Wagner de Assis, from Brazil, a 2011 release from Strand.  Of course, we remember “What Dreams May Come” and “Reviewing Your Life” and even “Ghost”.  Some of the leading males in television series and comic book movies (ranging from “Smallville” to “Spiderman”) may be seen as having angelic characteristics.  There is a female angel who travels between Purgatory and Earth in the play “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot.”

In the vision, I’m laying out, the characters comprise several kinds of entities:

(1) Biblical angel.  Such a person could be one of the original 144,000, if still alive (essentially immortal).

(2) Original angel,  Such a person would be born with the reincarnated memories of one of the 144,000.   Such a person would not have children.

(3) Ordinary angel.  Such a person has been elevated in such a way that he has some of the memories of one of the 144,000 but only through those of other people, transmitted to him through infection with a bizarre virus (dealt with in the later novel manuscripts). Such a person does not have children after “conversion”.

(4) New angel.  Such a person has memories of other individuals with whom he has had close contact.  He has also been infected by the virus in a superficial, non-symptomatic way.  The number of “new angels” varies with the number of those of the first three types lost in various ways.  The number tends to converge so that the total will be close to 144000. Susceptibility to the right kind of “infection” may result from some kind of supernatural contact early in life. Such a person may or may not have children at any time.

There are ways that angels can “fail”.  These would include

(1) Moral corruption, similar to ordinary human failing (call it “Satanic” if you like).

(2) Being challenged and failing the challenge. Failure can come from (a) not recovering lost appearance or function or (b) enjoying defeat in a morally inappropriate way.  But some angels are not challenged.

My manuscripts present only males as being angels (partly as a result of the “144000” idea).  In fact, the characters are depicted as white males., from Bill’s “world”  There is nothing wrong with the idea of female angels (as in the play by Andy Guirgis) or those of other races.  But in one of the screenplays, “Bill” will become involved in the process of “choosing” who can become a new angel, and perhaps who (among those already established) can be challenged and survive.  Bill, in a different sense, makes a similar choice in the novel (among a smaller set of people).

In “my world” (especially “Angel’s Brothers”), the rest of the population comprises

.(5) Old souls (“Bill” — although Ephram was called an “old soul” in “Everwood”).  Such a person can survive indefinitely but “intermittently” through a new angel, but usually must have children first. The old soul is not an angel himself.

(6) “Ordinary People” — and that was the name of a hit 1980 movie.

Infection is supposed to happen through a micro black hole or quantum mechanical black hole embedded in a retrovirus, with generally low but somewhat unpredictable transmission. The surface of the micro black hole would hold the information or track records of other people’s lives., sometimes even living people.

In general, the screenplays depend on various characters knowing the content of Bill’s later novels, particularly on the idea that “Angel’s Brothers” has been published and established.

Does the concept of an immortal or nearly immortal human make sense?  (In NBC’s “The Event”, the aiien humans could live ten times as long as us.)  It could make space travel a lot easier.  (In a couple of the screenplays, I’ve posed the idea that the angels use Titan, the largest moon of Saturn, as a base.)  On the other hand, entropy is part of physics, and a cycle of reproduction, procreating new beings with new instances of free will, seems to be a way for nature (or “God”) to counter entropy.

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There is something disturbing, however, about the idea that the character “Bill” has invested so much in identifying and nurturing angels or “superheroes”.  What about those who are not so gifted?  (Conservative columnist George Will has written about this issue in his own family, as he recognizes a divide between those who are gifted [like in sports, intellect, arts] and those who are no,; a discussion for another time.)  If it is acceptable to ignore them when they come knocking, then that can have very dangerous consequences for society (as history proves).  Perhaps for someone like Bill, a requirement to “pay your dues” is the only answer.   On the other hand, when Bill accomplishes and finds “what he wants” be becomes more generous with his time and attention.

 

(Published: Monday June 9, 2014 1t 3 PM EDT).

“The Signature of God”: this is a series of sermons (not a film) reconciling the Bible with cosmology, sort of

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The Signature of God” is offered on Netflix as a rental DVD (from Questar), running 81 minutes, dating from 2003, where Grant Jeffrey explains the physical and historical evidence that “the Bible is the Word of God”.
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In fact, it seems to be a series of sermons (there is an audience) about various categories of evidence for creationism and that the Bible is an authoritative scripture of the Word of God. The series accompanies a book which Jeffrey promotes here.
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There are some interesting ideas in the sermons. Jeffrey mentions entropy, as actually being noted in Genesis, as the idea that in nature things run down. One could say that a Creator can reverse entropy, but one can make the argument that it is life and reproduction (especially sexual reproduction) and the possibility of free will that counters entropy.
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He talks about physical evidence of the Tower of Babel in Iraq, underneath an artificial “mountain”, looking rather like a landfill, that covers the ruins of Babylon. All human languages, he says, comes from one root.
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He also talks about the billions of other galaxies, and about the idea that elements (including ice and water) are found in the far reaches of the Solar System, as evidenced by comets. Why would God create billions of galaxies, each with billions of stars and solar systems, without other civilizations?
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Our own civilization has made amazing progress in the past two decades in communications, allowing anyone to become a publisher and broadcaster and make his own reputation without having to navigate the previous modes of competition (or even form and preserve a family). It hasn’t made comparable progress with “man in space”, despite the initial promise of putting Man on the Moon in 1969. Perhaps that progress will come suddenly, with the ability to communicate with the Afterlife, and deal with wormholes or new experience of space-time. I don’t think it can happen in my lifetime, but maybe it will in the lifetimes of younger adults whom I pay attention to.


(Published Saturday June 7, 2014 at 12:45 PM EDT)