Why I Love Sam Johnson

By John Hertz:  Now and then I say something positive about Samuel Johnson (1709-1784).  Something like “one of the greatest writers English has known”.

Is it because you agree with his politics?

No.

Because you agree with his religion?

No.

Because you agree with his opinions?

No.

Because you want to write like him?

No.

He says things wonderfully.  We don’t use English today the way 18th Century people did; I don’t propose to try.  But put your mind there for a moment. Here he is in his Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland (1773; published 1775).  He’s on the Isle of Mull.

that care which is always necessary, and will hardly ever be taken

Here’s one more – earlier, actually; he’s just entering the Highlands.

every claim of superiority irritates competition; injuries will sometimes be done, and be more injuriously defended; retaliation will sometimes be attempted, and the debt exacted with too much interest

Isn’t that (as I heard the beatboxer D-Nice say the other night) superdope?

Isn’t it amazing astounding fantastic?

In Happy Pursuit of Jeopardy!

Alex Trebek and Brendan DuBois

[Introduction: Brendan DuBois is the New York Times bestselling and award-winning author of more than 25 novels and 190 short stories, some of which have appeared in Playboy, Analog, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and Asimov’s.  His 1999 novel, Resurrection Day, won the Sidewise Award for Best Long Form Alternate History.]

By Brendan DuBois: We few walked forward in awe in the dim light, looking agape at the huge display before us, acting like we were the hominids in 2001: A Space Odyssey, seeing the alien shape before us, seeing yet not comprehending.

But this object wasn’t a shiny black monolith.

It was real and large and well-lit, and it represented the dream place for so many millions of people.

It was the Jeopardy! gameshow display screen one saw all the time on television, in real life, just yards away, here inside the cool Sony studios.   Six rows across with the categories, columns of five numbers under each.  To the right of the large display was Alex Trebek’s podium, and nearby were the three contestant stations. 

There were sixteen of us here, and before the end of the day, all of us but one would have our thirty minutes of fame — or infamy — in this very special place.

But how did I get here?

It started in March 2012, when I registered for the on-line Jeopardy! test.  This would be my second try, which consisted of fifty questions with just several seconds to come up with an answer for each.  I took the test, thought I did okay, and promptly forgot about it.  I’ve been a fan of trivia for years, but never in any organized fashion or league

A month later, on April 24th, I got an email from Sony that started thus:  “Congratulations!  We were happy to confirm your appointment to participate in the full audition for Jeopardy!

To this day I was pretty sure my neighbors heard me yell out.

What next?

I went to Boston on May 9th to participate in another 50-question test, an interview, and a mock game against 20 other potential candidates.   I had dressed like a prep school professor prior to arriving.  I had on a blue Oxford shirt, red bowtie, blue blazer, khaki slacks and brown shoes.  I also made it a point to sit in the first row.

Before things got underway, we learned about the incredible odds it takes to get on Jeopardy!   At that time, about 100,000 people take the test.  Out of that amount, only 2,000 pass the test such that they’re invited to an audition like this one (ours was the third audition of the day, the first two having taken place earlier).  From those 2,000 invited to audition, only 400 to 500 were chosen for the contestant pool.

And I thought the odds against first-time authors was tough!

When the testing was over, the interview completed, and the mock game played — I remember not being particularly good — we were told about the odds facing us, and were told that “The Call” would start on June 1st, and other calls would continue for the next eighteen months.  But I made sure I stood out, especially at the end, when I was the only potential contestant to shake hands with the three people from the gameshow.

In other words, don’t call us, we’ll call you.

Of course, on June 1st, I got what’s known in Jeopardy! circle as The Call.

And from there, I entered into Gameshow Bizzaro World.

That summer seemed to fly by, until one warm July morning, I was waiting in the lobby of the DoubleTree Hilton Hotel in Culver City, with a garment bag carrying three changes of clothing, waiting for the shuttle bus to take me and the other contestants to the Sony studio.

Why so many clothes?  Because Jeopardy! tapes five shows a day, three in the morning and two in the afternoon, and if one was lucky enough to become a champ, you had thirty minutes to change into a new outfit, and to be ready to hear Alex Trebek utter that lie, “Yesterday’s champ…”

The shuttle bus parked in the Sony lot, we surrendered our cellphones, went through a metal detector — in 2012, how sadly prophetic — and we were shepherded into a crowded room that was called the Green Room.  There, we were lectured, briefed, and had stacks of paperwork to sign.  Stacks and stacks.  We then introduced ourselves and we ran the gamut from high school teachers to stay-at-home moms to college students. 

Then, after the briefings and such, we were led out as a group — and another rule was that we were always under escort, always — and went past a trophy case filled with Emmy Awards, and a cardboard cut-out of Alex Trebek.

I gave Alex a pat on the head for luck, and those nearby gave me a good laugh.

Then, into the studio.

It was like being in some sacred place, for we all talked in whispers and low voices.  For me and others, this was when it struck that this was all real, that we were actually here, and that one way or another, by the end of the day, we would have played Jeopardy! for real.

To the left were rows of seats for the audience members (not yet there) and a separate, smaller section that we contestants would sit in as the show was taped.  Fun fact:  the next time you watch Jeopardy! and the camera pans to the audience, you can clearly see the smaller section set aside for the contestants.

Then we were all set up with microphones, and we did a test run, playing the game for a few minutes each, so we’d all have a feel of being there on the soundstage — still a surreal experience, trust me — and getting the feel of being there.

But it’s not real.  Not yet.  The lights were dim, there were a lot of technicians and other personnel wandering around, and the seats for the audience were empty.

Then it was my turn up at the podium, and I held the buzzer in my moist hands.  This was the key to Jeopardy!, and one can see it on every show.  No matter how smart one might be, the deal was to learn how to “buzz in” when Alex finished reading the clue.  Buzz in too quickly, and one was “frozen out”… that’s why you see contestants frantically punch the buzzers during the show.

Another thing you don’t see was that on either side of the huge clue board were rows of white lightbulbs, that light up when your buzzer goes “live” and you can signal without being locked out.  But there’s a rhythm to the game, where players judge the best time when Alex stopped talking.

Even doing the test run didn’t quite feel real.

The real feeling would come later, after we were in the green room for a while, and the contestant coordinator called out the two names that would go up against the returning champion.

I felt relief, because who wanted to go first?

We march out and whoah, now it was real.

The seats were filled and as we sat down, other contestant coordinators call out, “Don’t look to the left, don’t look to the left.”   Decades after the game show scandals of the 1950s, game producers were still paranoid after contestants having any contact with the audience or anyone else.

We few, we happy few, we band of Jeopardy! contestants huddled together and then Alex Trebek came out to thunderous applause, and now it felt real.  Johnny Gilbert, partially-hidden to the left, announced this show like so many hundreds of shows prior, and off we went.

I watched along, ballpoint pen in hand, as the previous two-time Jeopardy! winner stomped her two new opponents.  The time for final Jeopardy! came and I knew the answer, and felt a bit cocky.  Yeah, I got this.   Then we were hustled back to the Green Room and I felt some sympathy for the two contestants who were now heading home after their loss.  All this effort and time to play, and they were done before 11 a.m., ready to fly back home.

Then we were trooped back out, the second game got underway, and  the same thing happened at the end.  The “Final Jeopardy!” clue was read and bam, the answer came right away to me.

A little flicker of hope started to come forth.

Maybe it was all right.  Maybe I could win after all.

One more time, and once again — thankfully — I wasn’t chosen.  I got to see the third game get taped, and I played along, clicking my ballpoint pen, and then it came time for the third “Final Jeopardy!”

It was a blank to me.

Not a clue.

Hoo boy.

Now it was time for lunch, and we were brought over to the Sony cafeteria, and that’s when I had my first celebrity sighting.  I was standing in front of the deli portion of the large dining hall, deciding on my sandwich choices, and I glanced to my right there was Seth Rogen, doing the same.

I let him be, and went to sit with the remaining contestants.

A funny observation that I made, while eating and joking with the six other contestants.  As friendly as we were, it was like something out of the gladiator training school in Spartacus.  Once we were in the ring, all friendship would leave, and we would try to emerge the winner.  But here we were friends.

The fourth game was picked, and I was left behind again, so I knew the fifth game was going to be mine.

Back up into the audience with the other two survivors — one of whom was a “spare” from Los Angeles and who would go home today with the guarantee that he would return in a few weeks to tape his own show — and we watched the game unfold, me with pen in hand.

“Final Jeopardy!” comes up and… arrghh.

I didn’t know the answer.

So far, in four games, I’d only gotten two “Final Jeopardy!” answers correct.

Not a good win-loss ratio.

Back to the Green Room, and my make-up was refreshed.  Out to the studio, heart thumping, palms moist.

This was real, this was real, this was real.

A soundman put the microphone device on me, and I nodded and smiled at my two opponents:  Erica, the returning champ, and Stephanie,  a newbie like me.  I took the third podium and wiped my palms on my pants, and waited.

The music started, Johnny Gilbert said his usual phrase, but this time, my name was spoken, and God bless him, he said it right!  Then Alex strolled out and after a brief welcome, off we went.

I picked up the buzzer — or in official terms, the signaling device — and quickly decided, we’ve been here all day, let’s have some fun.

The categories were revealed, and the game began, and —

It’s fast.

It’s wicked fast.

It’s fast, fast, fast.

I joined in, getting some answers right, a few others wrong.

And before I knew it, the first round was over.

I had $2,200, Erica was ahead with $3,200, and Stephanie was third with $400.

Technicians swarmed over us to make sure everything was right, water was offered and greedily consumed, and then the floor manager said it was time, and Alex came out, and it was time for the contestant interviews.  This was when I got a bit tongue-tied, knowing millions would eventually see this bit of dialogue.   We talked about my writing career and then I noticed something:  despite being impeccably dressed and groomed, Alex’s fingernails were bruised.

How?

And it came to me, knowing that one of his cherished hobbies was home improvement and working around the house.

Now, the game resumed.

Fast, fast, fast.

Bing!

The category was “North Dakota” and I got the Daily Double.

Here’s another insight.  If you’re watching at home, look at the contestants when they hit a Daily Double.  They usually look up and to the right.  Why?  Because they can’t see each other’s scores listed on front of the podium.  Up in the rafters three scoreboards were present, showing the current score.  So when the contestants look up, they’re checking their own score and that of their competition.

Erica was in a commanding lead, with $5,800, and I had $4,000.  Stephanie was in third with $1,800.

But I didn’t have the guts to make it a True Daily Double.  I bet $1,500.

Alex read out the clue.  “This largest city in North Dakota was named for a pioneer in the shipment of goods by express.”

Argh!

My mind whirred along like a timepiece gone crazy.  I lowered my head, looked away from the board.  Think, think, think.  I let out a breath of air, audible on camera.  Names of cities floated through my head and I thought of trains and shipping and companies and Pinkerton and Union Pacific and Wells Fargo and –-

Yes!

I raised my head, look to Alex.  “What is Fargo?”

“Yes!” he called out.

The game resumed.

And just as quickly, this round ended, and the scores were thus:

The returning champion Erica, $5,800; me, $4,500, and the newly energized Stephanie, at $3,800.

During this pause, Alex came out once again, and we two new contestants had our photos taken with him, and then, it was “Double Jeopardy!”, and we were off to the races.

Not much time to think, just play, read, push the buzzer, answer when you could

I got another Daily Double correct because of my slight knowledge of Shakespeare, and the scores ran up and down — at one time I was in third place — but when the final buzzer rang out, ending this round, I looked up to the rafters.

Me:  $14,500.

Stephanie:  $11,400.

Erica:  $10,600.

I’m in the lead.

Holy moley, I’m in the lead.

Not much time to rejoice at that, for it was time for “Final Jeopardy!”

The category?

“Toys & Games.”

Toys?  Games? 

If it has anything to do with video games — which I don’t play — I’m doomed.

Since I have no kids, if it’s anything to do with current toys, I’m doomed.

What the heck.

I was in the lead.  I bet to win.

Some very confident Jeopardy! players in the past have bet so that if they do win, they win by a dollar.

I’m an English major.

I bet so if I do win, I’ll have a comfortable $200 margin.

And since I was in the lead, I was going to bet to win.

Some more hustle and bustle from the soundstage crew and technicians, and we were back in action.

At his podium Alex said, “It’s not fun and game, it’s toys and games, as the category for our final today.  And here is the clue” — bing! — “when Milton Bradley released this home game in 1966, competitors accused it of ‘selling sex in a box.’  Thirty seconds.  Good luck, players.”

The famous theme song kicked in — yes, we can hear it on the sound stage — and I thought games, sex, bodies —

Twister.

Of course.

I scrawled down “twister” and waited, breathing hard.

Could it be?  For real? 

Alex went to the third-place contestant, Erica — the returning champion — and she wrote down “twister.”

The correct answer.

I kept my face as bland as possible.

But a tiny voice inside of me said I won, I won, I won!

Next was the second-place contestant, Stephanie.  She also got the answer correct.

I won, I won, I won.

Now Alex came to me, my answer was displayed, and I muttered “unbelievable”, and Alex says, “Hey folks, we have a new champion on ‘Jeopardy!’, Brendan DuBois, with $23,000 he’ll get to take home.  He’ll enjoy the weekend and he’ll be back to play on Monday.  I hope you will too!  Till then, so long.”

Oh, what a day.

Probably one of the happiest of my life.

That night I did not sleep a wink.

And I went home to New Hampshire, and returned to Los Angeles for taping on Tuesday, and…

On my second game, I got my proverbial butt kicked, coming in third place.

But I took consolation in this:  that when my obituary is written, some decades in the future, it will note that for one glorious moment I was a Jeopardy! champion.

Some weeks after my show aired in September, I sent Alex an autographed copy of my latest novel as a gift.  Much to my surprise, a few weeks later, I got a typewritten letter in return, a note of thanks from Alex Trebek.

I took it out some months ago, upon his passing, and carefully put it away.

It, and the memories of being at the Sony soundstage, are among my most precious memories.

Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions #60

Short Takes: Zack Snyder’s Justice League, 2034: A Novel of the Next World War, the Discon III Update and the Georgia/Dragoncon Situation

By Chris M. Barkley:

Zach Synder’s Justice League ( Warner Brothers/DC Comics, 4 hours 2 minutes) with Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Ray Fisher, Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller, Diane Lane, Jeremy Irons, Connie Neilsen and J.K. Simmons. Story and screenplay by Chris Terrio, Will Beall and Zack Snyder, Directed by Zack Snyder.

Bechdel Test: Passed.

I want to start by saying that I have a very soft spot in my heart for the Justice League. Back in 1997, I wrote a 13,000 plus word essay for the print edition of File 770 detailing my two year odyssey to obtain a copy of Justice League of America #47, the second part of a memorable JLA – Justice Society annual team up. The hunt for that comic book started my education about the history of comics and eventually, a decade later, to my entry into sf fandom.

When the first version of Justice League was released in November of 2017, I had no idea that Autumn, the daughter of director Zach Snyder and co-producer and partner Deborah, had died March of that year during post-production and that they had stepped away to deal with their grief.

Writer-director Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Avengers) was brought in for extensive re-writes and re-shooting major portions of the film. Even though the film went on to earn $657 million at the box office, it was considered a financial failure for failing to earn back enough to cover its production and marketing costs.

(For the record, I gave the original film a enthusiastic review here in a File 770 column: “Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions — #20”.) 

Had I known then what I know now, had I been better informed,I would have written a very, VERY different review…

When we left Batman at the end of the previous film, Dawn of Justice, he was in a very tight fix: Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) had hinted that he had signaled dark forces from beyond Earth that Superman (Henry Cavill) was dead and the planet was ripe for the taking.

When an alien emissary known as Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) invades Earth looking for a set of powerful alien artifacts known as Mother Boxes, Bruce Wayne, along with Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), seek out and recruit other super powered individuals (Ray Fisher, Jason Momoa and Ezra Miller)  to help against the threat.

But after being on the losing end of several encounters with Steppenwolf, Batman eventually realizes that the only way they may have a chance to survive is to revive Superman from the dead, even though they have no idea whether or not it will work or not.

The fan-driven drumbeat to release the “Snyder Cut” of Justice League began before the end theatrical run of the original film. And when the social media uprising started, I thought it was extremely foolish to expect Warner Brothers to even respond. Never in the history of filmmaking or marketing had a film studio seriously contemplated doing what happened after nearly two years of hectoring, with Warner Brothers shelling out a reported $70 million dollars to complete a film that only existed digitally on Zach Snyder’s laptop.

What was produced is remarkable; a complete origin story of Victor Stone/Cyborg,  the emotional fallout that Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and Martha Kent suffered from the loss of their beloved Clark Kent, the fleshing out Barry Allen’s (Ezra Miller) slightly goofball but brilliant scientist and several tantalizing looks at DC Comics ultimate villain, Darkseid (voiced by Ray Porter).

So forget about what the naysayers are saying; Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a big, exciting, sprawling, violent, intense, profane, beautiful and ultimately moving film.

Snyder may never write or direct another DC property but he exits this arena leaving everything (and I do mean EVERYTHING) on the field for us to admire. To him, the cast and crew and especially to his filmmaking partner Deborah Snyder, I say BRAVO!

2034: A Novel of the Next World War by Elliot Ackerman and Admiral James Stavridis, Penguin Press, March 2021, 320 pages.

When I was a lad in high school in the early 1970’s, I read John Hersey’s classic and landmark piece of historical journalism, Hiroshima, which chronicled the struggles of six survivors of the first atom bomb attack. Upon reading it, I hoped that every President of the United States, and every leader of a nation who had atomic weapons, should have some incentive to read it.

When it was published, in its entirety, in the August 31, 1946 issue of The New Yorker, it caused a shocking and sickening realization to unaware civilians that this new type warfare could herald the end of civilization. (Fallout, Lesley M.M. Blume’s equally compelling story of how John Hersey circumvented the US military’s coverup of what really happened at Hiroshima, was published last August).

In the seventy-five years since those attacks, the human race has, on several precarious occasions, managed to avert the end of the world. But since then, it seems to me that the further away we have come since Hiroshima and Nagasaki the more people have truly forgotten how horrible atomic warfare could actually be.

This past Christmas I received a year’s subscription to WIRED Magazine. The very first copy I received was the February issue, which entirely devoted (for the first time, I believe) to a work of fiction, an excerpt of the novel 2034: A History of the Next World War by Admiral Jim Stavridis, USN (Ret.) and Elliot Ackerman.

As I read the excerpt, which vividly and realistically describes a expansive international conflict between China and the United States, I got the same terrifying feeling of dread I  felt when I first read Hiroshima.

It begins when a flotilla of US destroyers are lured into an elaborate trap while at the same time an advanced Navy fighter jet is inexplicably hijacked in mid-flight and grounded in Iran. From there, various characters from all over the world are drawn together as the drumbeat of war grows louder and no one at any level of the crisis seems to be inclined to stop the oncoming catastrophe. 

I had just finished reading 2034 on March 28th when the New York Times published the story below, which announced a 25-year alliance between China and Iran, which happened a mere 20 days after its publication: “China, With $400 Billion Iran Deal, Could Deepen Influence in Mideast”.

This novel, written by two veterans who have an extraordinary and extensive experience with the military and governmental affairs, is an alarming piece of speculative fiction that has every possibility of being prescient in EVERY sense of the word. I urge everyone to read it because if the prospect of this scenario doesn’t scare you shitless, I don’t know what will…

Additional (and IMPORTANT) Reading:  “What Did I Just Read? A Conversation With the Authors of ‘2034’”.

The Discon III Update

This past Sunday, the DisCon III convention committee issued an update on the current situation regarding the Wardman Park Hotel and whether or not the Worldcon would be virtual or in-person:
“Update on Convention Dates and Hotels”.

As you can see, there isn’t much to report on either front.

And seeing that we are on the cusp of April, I would not be pushing the panic button just yet. But if there isn’t any movement by mid to late May, I think the convention committee should seriously think about an all virtual convention.

If the American gets it act together and the vaccination rate reaches 90% or better by mid-summer, I think it MIGHT be safe to hold a full or partial in-person convention.

But until there’s some breaking news, all we can do is wait.

With some degree of measured optimism, I can truthfully say that  I’m fine with that.

The Dragoncon/Georgia Situation

By now, nearly every conrunner and convention committee knows what’s going on in the state of Georgia.

To wit; on Thursday, March 26, the Georgia House of Representatives and the state Senate passed SB202, a “voter reform bill”, in rapid fashion on that very same day. Governor Brian Kemp said that the bill was created mainly in response to what he referred to as allegations of “fraud and irregularities” and “five-hour-long lines at the polls” in the 2020 election. He also stated that the “election reforms” would restore “voter confidence” in the state’s election processes.

Oh, if only that were true.

Many critics of the bill have claimed that the creation of the bill and it’s rather astonishing rate of passage to Governor Kemp’s desk was in direct response to President Joe Biden’s narrow victory in the November elections, followed by the election of two Democratic US Senators in a special election held in early January of this year.

Some of the more odious parts of the legislation include the arbitrary removal of Georgia’s current chief elections officer, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and of any county’s board of elections should there be any recurrence of what the House and Senate obliquely determine to be “voting irregularities”. And never mind that the new law would also severely restrict voting by mail and outlaw the giving of food or water to any voters waiting in line to combat what the Republicans called “potential voting electioneering and influencing”.

What the governor and Georgia Republican state legislators conveniently forget to mention is that it was Kemp, as the previous Secretary of State in 2018, in league with the legislature, were responsible for a number of changes, including overseeing the removal of voting machines and the closing of polling places in majority black districts, which resulted in people waiting for many hours in line to cast their ballots.    

Compounding all of this was the arrest of Democratic representative Park Cannon, who was taken into custody and forcibly removed by five white Georgia State Troopers as she sought entry to witness Governor Kemp’s signing of SB202, which was being done in the Governor’s Ceremonial Office with the door marked with a “Governor’s Staff Only” sign. When Cannon knocked on the door, she was seized and handcuffed in a very humiliating manner and was subsequently charged with two felonies, felony obstruction and preventing or disrupting a general assembly session. (Representative Cannon was released on bail several hours later.)

Ordinarily, this wouldn’t be of any concern to organized fandom (I mean, besides the threat of voter voter suppression and a general threat to democracy) if it weren’t for the fact that Dragon Con, arguably one of the largest annual gathering of fans in the United States, is permanently headquartered in Georgia capitol, Atlanta.

As of this post, there has been no comment yet from the Dragon Con convention committee or its board of directors. I suspect that they are carefully weighing their options seeing that a number of progressive political activists are calling for a boycott of Georgia businesses, venues and events. It should be noted that a majority of their fan base has been known to lean to the right politically. But there is no telling how many of them outside that base will react to a pro or con statement from Dragon Con. 

Luckily (I suppose), for Dragon Con, the COVID-19 pandemic is still ongoing and while there are three vaccines in circulation at the moment, no one is quite sure whether or not it will be safe enough to attend a convention in person safely.

Having said that. Dragon Con can easily punt their way out of this situation by calling for a virtual convention and hoping that the growing numbers of activists, business, judicial and political forces can make Governor Kemp and Georgia Republican lawmakers see the error of their ways and just make this all go away.

But, as a major, for profit business concern in the state of Georgia, they cannot afford to do nothing. The longer they wait, the more complicit and compromised Dragon Con will be perceived by a significant number of fans. Enough fans, I would think, to affect either their standing in the community, their financial bottom line, or both.

They cannot escape making some sort of statement about the situation. As of this post, there hasn’t been any word from Dragon Con on this situation. The authors, editors, artists, cosplayers and fans who do care about the precarious state of affairs in the state of Georgia do have a tremendous amount of influence in fandom and have long memories as well.

Tick-Tock,Tick-Tock, Tick-Tock….  

Inexplicable Phenomena and How To Approach Them

[Introduction: Wolf von Witting is the editor of the fanzine CounterClock, full of information about Europe’s science fiction fandom, its history and future.]

By Wolf von Witting: A phenomenon reported to me on this day, prompted me to write this account. My interest in this subject grew gradually. Over twenty years ago, as I was emptying the washing machine I pulled out a dry and dirty sock among the wet, clean laundry. For a moment I stood dumbfounded with sock in hand. I tried to grasp what I had just experienced and how to explain it. It is not exactly the kind of thing which merits an article by itself.

This thought also crossed my mind while I still held the sock.

I assumed that the sock must have been on top of the machine. I didn’t see it. When I opened the hatch, it must have fallen down and bounced on the hatch into the machine. I didn’t see that either. But it is the only rational explanation and a fully satisfactory one.

Since then I have observed a number of phenomena I have been unable to explain. And some occurrences which have been resolved. There was a painting which slid down the wall. It happened in the next room, but I was facing the door and saw when it fell. It slid straight down along the wall and positioned itself between the furniture supporting our TV and the wall. My fiancé stood with her back to the open door. She only heard it fall. At first, none of us expected it to be strange at all. I went to pick up the painting and looked at its back. No, the wire it had been hanging on was intact. So, the nail must be… No! The nail was still in the wall. What the…?!

This mystery was solved after 12 years. I told a colleague about it and he said that maybe the painting wasn’t hanging on the wire to begin with, but on the frame itself. First chance I had to examine the painting again, I turned it around and scrutinized its backpiece. Yup, my colleague’s theory held up well. There was even a mark from the hook. 

If memory serves, it was in 2002, I saw a rare phenomenon called a moonbow. I only descibed what I saw. I didn’t know what it was and very few on this planet have ever seen one. I had to wait nine years before I found out what it was. 

Another solved mystery was that of the vanishing pancake. A friend of mine, by profession police officer, was standing at his stove, frying pancakes. As we both did with pancakes, we flipped them around in the air. So did my friend on this day.

His mystery was that the pancake never came back down. It vanished. There was no trace of it.

He had his suspicions but didn’t pursue the matter at the time. The conundrum was solved after nine months as his family of two was moving to another apartment. When they pulled away the oven from the wall, the pancake was found standing upright between the stove and the workbench next to it. It had turned green. The pancake had come down exactly in the narrow opening between stove and workbench, like a coin dropping down a slot and not left the slightest trace.

This story was told to me, as I began to investigate “paranormal experiences”. I phrased myself as follows: “Have you ever experienced anything you can’t explain? If so, then please describe the event. Eerie coincidences were among the least remarkable events I was told.

But it puzzled me, that some mature people and elderly had seen one, two or more strange things, while others had seen none. Ever. And they were not inclined to believe in any such occurrences either. My supposition was that people who consciously or subconsciously fear the unknown, immediately suppress a weird, unusual occurrence because their rational mind can’t explain it. Almost instantly after, they don’t remember anything weird happened.

Location, south Sweden, farmland. Number of observers: 1 – A man was in his youth chopping wood in a woodshed. Suddenly he felt the axe being pulled out of his hands from behind. There was no one there. He held his hands over his head and ran out of the shed, afraid the axe would come back down somehow. It started to get dark and he didn’t return to the shed until the next day. The chopped logs were gathered and piled, but the axe was never found.

Location, north-east Italy, small town. Number of observers 2 – A few days ago, two women were out walking, in the middle of the day. Ahead of them was a beautiful white cloud in the clear blue sky. Suddenly the cloud pulsated. It looked big, then small, then big again, small again, big again. While they were looking at it. Both saw it. It was as if the cloud suddenly twice moved into the distance. The observation took less than a minute and the transition was instant, not gradual.

I can speculate, but I don’t know for certain what weird tricks the atmosphere can play on the eyes.

A possible explanation should not raise additional questions or be attributed to gods, demons or aliens. There are plenty of inexplicable phenomena and none of them are evidence of visitors from outer space or supernatural beings. Not that I wish to exclude any such possibility exists. I just find it reasonable to look for less spectacular explanations first. It doesn’t make it boring. And we are not crazy.

Location, Stockholm, railway station. Observer 1 – As we arrived in town, I had to urgently visit the bathroom. I rushed into the station and towards the emergency exit for male employees. As I was in reach of the door, the door itself conveniently swung open and I could release the pressure on my bladder shortly after. As I turned around I stopped at the door. It was not an automatic door. There was no device to move it. The door was hanging on regular hinges. There was nothing to cause it to move by itself. But it did. I swear it did! I have never been able to explain it. The easiest explanation, is that I was hallucinating it. It was only me there, so no one else could have observed it.

Location, south Sweden, farmland. Observers 3 (one of them being the axe man). The attic in the main house was a spooky place. The walls appeared to be glowing in the dark. Sometimes it was heard a sound as if someone was trying to tune in a channel on the radio and sometimes in the night, footsteps were heard from the attic. They told a neighbor about this and he just laughed. “Tear down the wallpaper, he said. You will find your explanation.” They did so.

It turned out this very old wallpaper contained a type of glue with phosphorus in it. This explained the glowing. Under a wooden beam they found a porcelain cup hanging with two metal wires going into it. When a gush of wind moved the cup, the wires created this eerie sound of someone turning the dial on an old radio.

One day they had a guest who had a trained police dog with him. The steps were heard again from above and the dog went to the stairway leading up to the attic and stood there growling. The owner had never seen his dog behave this way before. He went up the stairs and into the attic. He found nothing. The footsteps were never explained.

Even when a story doesn’t have an explanation. This is not evidence for the existence of a ghost. We don’t know what it was and nobody is mad to believe it happened. It happened. We only tell the story. We’re not trying to explain it, because we can’t. Somebody else may be able to.

Finally the weirdest of them all.

Location, Stockholm city. Observers 3+ – A former colleague of mine was out walking with his sister and parents. In a park, over a distance he saw his brother. His parents and sister saw him too, but only my colleague went over to talk to him.

His brother asked if he wanted to join him to visit… (I forgot what it was) “We’re on our way home,” he answered. “I’m with them,” he said and gestured to his parents and sister.

They went home directly. As they came home, his brother just comes out of the shower and he swears he had been at home all of the time. My colleague didn’t know what to make of it. But he had since then been wondering what had happened, had he gone with the man he thought was his brother.

Wishing William Shatner A Happy 90th Birthday

Steve Vertlieb, William Shatner, and Erwin Vertlieb (1969).

By Steve Vertlieb: I interviewed William Shatner for British magazine L’Incroyable Cinema in the Summer of 1969 at The Playhouse In The Park whilst Star Trek was still in the final days of its original network run on NBC.

My old friend Allan Asherman, who joined my brother Erwin and I for this once-in-a-lifetime meeting with Captain James Tiberius Kirk, astutely commented that I had now met all three of our legendary boyhood “Captains,” which included Jim Kirk (William Shatner), Flash Gordon/Buck Rogers (Larry “Buster” Crabbe), and Buzz Corry (Edward Kemmer), Commander of The “Space Patrol.” It’s marvelous how an ordinary life can include real life friendships with childhood heroes.

William Shatner turns 90 years young on March 22nd. Wishing the most beloved star ship captain in the universe a joyous Happy 90th Birthday of interplanetary proportions.

Good Names for Bad Guys

By John Hertz:  During 1937-1956 a radio program called “The Answer Man” was broadcast over the Mutual Broadcasting System.  People sent in some 2,500 questions a day, a million questions a year.  The program’s offices were across the street from the New York Public Library, which helped a staff of forty manage the questions.  The office kept thousands of reference books and a 20,000-card index.

From the start the Answer Man was Albert Mitchell (1893-1954), although others were Answer Men for particular markets. He went to Paris and U.S. agencies dealing with the Marshall Plan a few years before his death; the program went to re-broadcasts. It ran fifteen minutes, twice a day, in a simple format.

Announcer.  Trommer’s White Label, the premium beer that is two ways light, presents Albert Mitchell’s program, The Answer Man.  And here he is, the Answer Man.

Mitchell.  Good evening, ladies and gentlemen.  Now if you’ll read the first question.

Announcer.  Certainly.  A West Orange, New Jersey, man asks, “Does the British Who’s Who still list Hitler’s telephone number?”

Mitchell.  Yes, it does.

Even people whose questions were not used got a written answer.

This was satirized by the great Ernie Kovacs (1919-1962; his name, incidentally, is Hungarian for smith) as Mr. Question Man, whom people supposedly sent answers, to which he gave – comically fitting – questions.

Steve Allen (1921-2000) did likewise.  A version by Johnny Carson (1925-2005) was called “Carnac the Magnificent”, who perceived answers with mystic powers.

In 1964 Merv Griffin (1925-2007) dropped the comedy for the television game-show Jeopardy!  That’s not my exclamation mark, it’s in the title.

Some high-school friends and I came up with this ear-joke – I have to give it to you in writing, where it won’t work.

Announcer.  The answer is, “It’s good enough for me.”  And what is the question, Mr. Question Man?

QM: What was the patriotic cry of loyal Russians from 1585 to 1605?

We knew how to pronounce the name of the regent, then Tsar, usually given in Roman letters as Boris Godunov.  Ha ha ha ha ha ha 

Well, so did the great Jay Ward (1920-1989), whose widow I met once at the Dudley Do-Right Emporium while I was looking for a cel of Crusader Rabbit and Ragland T. “Rags” the Tiger to give a rabbi whose initials were A.G.S. and kept signing notes “RAGS”.

Ward after inventing Crusader Rabbit – Ward was Jewish, incidentally, as am I; we have a possibly unfair historical bias against crusaders – grew even more famous with Rocky the Flying Squirrel and Bullwinkle the Moose.  The main bad guy in The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends – who once cut out the r after the F – was Boris Badenov.

And that’s my contribution under the title above.

James Bacon Reviews “Noughts and Crosses”

Noughts and Crosses 
BBC and NBC

‘In a world divided by colour, love is never black and white’

By James Bacon: Based on the YA novel Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman, this is a brilliantly conceived alternative history set in a  London which is the capital of Albion, a colonial state of Aprica. The world is very different, 700 years ago Africa colonized the European Continent and got as far as Albion. After the Great War, Europe was divided amongst the Aprican Empire, the Malian Empire and the Moors and Russia were pushed back.  History tells that after the Great War, Aprica came to Albion’s rescue and was their savior, protecting them, and so the people of Albion have been under a form of Colonialism for 700 years. In Albion the White Noughts are the suppressed majority under the heel of the Black Crosses. 

Into this incredibly beautifully-conceived London we watch on as Jude, Danny and Callum have a great time in the back streets of South London, Jude pulling donuts in a car, music loud, until the Cross Police sirens start, and the three boys encounter two cops, and soon there is an affray. The mistakes that people make, which lead to unintended consequences and the frustration of being oppressed are a thread that weaves throughout the six hour-long episodes of this wonderful drama. The Police Officers, their large hardback 4×4 in a disruptive pattern blue, are perfect, their uniforms modern, but instead of truncheons, they have Knoberries, instead of the cliché encounter we watch as these Noughts, these white boys, get thrown against the car and are shown their place, with Danny left in a coma. 

There is no justice here, there is only racial segregation and brutal oppression. 

Callum has ambition, he wants to be an Army Officer, and his Mom, Maggie is so proud of his determination to overcome prejudice and hatred.  Maggie works for Kamal Hadley, the Home Office Minister, who believes in the strong arm of the law, of ensuring that ethnic tensions are dealt with in a heavy-handed way, but his daughter Persephone, ‘Sephy’ who is studying political science is more liberal, and when she meets Callum a childhood friendship rekindles into something more, as her interest both in him and a desire to see what is going on, leads them into a romantic story, affection and love, hurt and pain, it all follows in a quick-paced fashion.

Sephy (Masali Baduza) and Callum (Jack Rowan)

This thought-provoking assessment of how a colonialist society at its peak of oppression and stability can exist so eloquently while so brutally oppressing the people, pulls few punches.  The Liberation Movement is a classic terrorist organization led by the immoral and manipulative Nought Jack Dorn who has no respect for Cross or Nought life, as long as it brings closer freedom from the yoke of tyranny. Be it civilian targets, murder, betrayal, kidnapping, these are just the tools in his fight, and into his toolbox falls Jude, Callum’s brother, only too willing to be used like a pawn or soldier. 

The story quickly becomes more complex and intertwined, with moments that make the viewer gasp, the coincidental and unintentional mixed with just brilliant storytelling, to make for a gripping and passionate televisual experience. 

It is hard to know who plays the greatest part in this story. Callum McGreggor, played by Jack Rowan, is very good, developing through the short series, and overcoming hatred and anger although not sufficiently in many ways. Paterson Joseph who plays Home Secretary Kamal Hadley is utterly brilliant, his conniving smiling beautiful English public school accent, manners and velvet charm belie how dangerous and hideous his ambitions and aspirations are. I think while many of the supporting characters are utterly brilliant the relationship between Housekeeper Meggie McGregor played by Helen Baxendale and Jass Hadley played by Bonnie Mbuli is fantastic, as their families come into more contact in a way that is not desired, familiarity breaking down servant and master barriers, and the mothers’ stories entwine into the complexity of mad violent men who have no reason. Yet it is Masali Baduza playing  Persephone “Sephy” Hadley who, for me, carries this through; she brilliantly and perfectly captures the hardest part, the privileged upper-class educated elite who pains for the plight of others, and cannot follow logic or expectations when it comes to matters of her heart. 

The moment where she calls a group of Noughts who are attacking her and Callum ‘Blankers’ the pejorative term for Noughts is just fabulous acting and a scene where everything stops perfectly, as even Callum cannot believe it. 

The complexities of Sephy’s and Callums situation, as they escape at one stage into a seedy and underground area, so they can even dance together, never ends, throughout it all they battle against so much and at times each other as their lives and relationship becomes beyond impossible. 

Sexism and misogyny play a part too, despite the Prime Minister Opal Folami (the incredible Welsh actor Rakie Ayola) desiring to ease the segregation laws and wishing to calm any unrest peacefully. This unsettles members of the patriarchy, and we see that a number of male characters believe that a woman should do as she is told, what is expected of her, so that despite all the wonderful trappings of prestige, expectations, and wealth, women are controlled by a level of bullying and subtle malice that is clear to the viewer. 

There is of course a wonderful level of hypocrisy exhibited as those in power strive to curtail others, to suppresses inter racial relationships, protect identities and maintain segregation, separation and what one might consider genetic purity. Their hypocritical behavior plays into the overall story. 

As we see Sephy and Callum fall into a proscribed relationship together, it is wonderful that love is their main motivation, and a mutual respect and learning, while this is no easy journey and indeed it is the most difficult and problematic of relationships to sustain which is then seemingly assaulted by predicament and unfortunate circumstance, some innocent, some unintended, and at times misguided. 

There is a fusion of modernity of London with African styles, art and aesthetics, colorful and brighter, and as we see the Thames, the North of the River has amazing architecture, while south of the river, has flat blocks, which while adorned with some color set the tone for this divided metropolis. 

African styles and fashion are predominant, with everyone wearing patterns, cuts and garments that reflect the Aprican influence. The stunning color and beauty of the costumes of the Cross characters, especially  Prime Minister Opal Folami’s wondrous headdresses are incredible, and worn not so much as a crown but with everyday business style. Yet there is subtlety, so the Deputy Police Commissioners hat band is a blue and white diamond pattern and under his Sam Browne belt he wears a ceremonial sash-like belt, highly colorful and striking, and even his medal ribbons call on a slightly different color palette. It all works so ably, at every stage the fusion of modernity with African heritage is perfect. 

The same can be said for the music, which is very strong and distinctive and seems to eschew any one type per se, but fuses classical, modern and African influences, to create a new and fresh tone, one where one just assumes that classical music as we know it, of course has an African heritage. 

The world is very thought-provoking and I did ponder the comparisons to Imperial occupations, colonialism, and these drove speculations, driven by the brilliance of this story and yet there are incredible moments, when one realizes that story tellers have heart, especially when Callum is sitting at the end of a motorway bridge that is leading to nowhere. 

There are uncomfortable moments, but throughout Sephy does such a wonderful job, naive yet well-meaning, determined and intelligent, caring and human, we follow her and Callum and as this very different romantic drama progresses in this fantastical London, the viewer is only left asking so much and hoping even more. As her lecturer explains that Noughts drink as that is what they do, and that despite them being cheerful you do get ‘uppity ones’ she is challenged by her own society as she questions and yet she follows her heart.  


Written by Toby Whithouse, Lydia Adetunji, Nathaniel Price and  Rachel De-Lahay
Directed by Julian Holmes and  Koby Adom, filming and production took place in South Africa.


This is the best Science Fictional TV series of 2020.

Four Thoughts from Coleridge

By John Hertz: (reprinted from Vanamonde 1432)  We know Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) mainly as a poet.  There’s The Rhyme (he spelled it Rimeof the Ancient Mariner, and for SF-lovers in particular there’s the sublime fragment “Kubla Khan”, to which SF has paid tribute in “The Person from Porlock” (R.F. Jones, 1947; included in Conklin’s first-rate Treasury) and I suggest also “The Skills of Xanadu” (Sturgeon, 1956; often reprinted).

Coleridge in his day was also known as a critic.  Reading the 1978 Penguin reprint of I.A. Richards ed., The Portable Coleridge (1950) I thought to offer you these.

The arrogance of ignorance

1812, on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet  (p. 421)

As long as there are readers to be delighted with calumny, there will be found reviewers to calumniate.

1817, Biographia Literaria ch. 3  (p. 461)

He who tells me that there are defects in a new work, tells me nothing which I should not have taken for granted without his information.  But he, who points out and elucidates the beauties of an original work, does indeed give me interesting information, such as experience would not have authorized me in anticipating.

(p. 465)

Dante … speaks of poets as guardians of the vast armory of language, which is the intermediate something between matter and spirit.

1818, on The Divine Comedy  (p. 407)

Hoping you are the same.

Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions #59

Top Recommendations for the 2021 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation,

Part Two – Stand Alone Films

By Chris M. Barkley:  Decisions, decisions, decisions…and time is running out.

In Part One of my Recommendations for the 2021 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, I listed a relatively INSANE number of television series that were eligible in our pandemic year of 2020.

While the Covid-19 pandemic may have been box office poison (literally) for theater owners, movie lovers who were mostly confined to their homes had plenty of options, thanks to the abundance of premium and streaming channels eager to serve (and collect cold hard cash from) a captive audience.

But theaters aren’t down for the count just yet; with several vaccines in circulation and the infection rates projected to drop precipitously by the end of the year, I have no doubt whatsoever that people (like myself) who are starving for a complete spectrum of theatrical experiences are definitely going out when it’s safe and that going to the movies will be at the top of nearly everyone’s to do list.

And thankfully, some of the highly-anticipated films postponed from last year will make their big screen debuts in 2021; Denis Villenueve’s adaptation of Dune, Marvel’s Black Widow, Morbius, Spider-Man: No Way Home and Shang-Chi, A Quiet Place Part II, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, DC’s Suicide Squad sequel and the fourth film in The Matrix series are on the schedule.

But, before I reveal my BDP Hugo Nomination Ballot choices, let’s contemplate these ten outstanding films from 2020.

The Invisible Man (Blumhouse Productions/Universal,124 minutes), with Elisabeth Moss, Aldis Hodger, Storm Reid, Harriet Dyer, Michael Dorman and. Written and Directed by Leigh Whannell based on H.G. Wells novel The Invisible Man.

One of the oldest storytelling tropes in the books is throwing an entirely innocent person into an impossible pit of problems and seeing if they can emerge from the ordeal relatively intact.

In this modern retelling of H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man, Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) barely escapes from an abusive partner Adrian (Oliver Jackson- Cohen). And just when she thinks she’s quite safe, Cecilia is beset by the odd feeling she is being observed and other strange occurrences. And by the time figures out she’s being stalked by an invisible tormentor, her family, friends and most notably the police, think she has most definitely lost her mind.

This movie has everything going for it, a crackling script full of mayhem, murder and suspense, some impeccable direction and special effects and some superb acting from the lead actors, Elisabeth Moss, Aldis Hodger,  Harriet Dyer, Michael Dorman and Storm Reid. Somewhere, Alfred Hitchcock is smiling because this is precisely the sort of film he would make if he were around today. 

Tenet (Warner Brothers, 150 minutes), with John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Dibecki, Micael Caine and Kenneth Branagh. Written and Directed by Christopher Nolan.

After an extraction mission in Ukraine goes disastrously sideways, an unnamed CIA field operative (John David Washington) is recruited into a mysterious organization called TENET, which is (seemingly) dedicated to looking into strange anomalies. “The Protagonist’s” first case is to investigate who is receiving weapons being sent back through time from the future (through a process called “inverted entropy”). His “antagonist” is Andrei Sator, a ruthless Russian arms dealer, whose estranged wife Kat, (Elizabeth Dibecki) could hold the key to destroying his empire.

The plot description I outlined above is far, FAR more complex than I can possibly do justice to. What makes Tenet a fantastic film is that it is not only a “anti-James Bond” film, it is also essentially an “anti-time travel” tale as well, as it perfectly subverts genre tropes by setting a whole new set of cinematic rules. This high octane, mind bending thrill ride is certainly the equal of (or BETTER) than Inception, Christopher Nolan’s 2010 BDP Long Form Hugo winner.

YES, Christopher Nolan is screwing around with our heads again and I am LOVING every moment of it.

The Old Guard (Netflix, 125 Minutes) with Charlize Theron, Kiki Layne, Marwan Kenzari, Matthias Schoenaerts, Luca Marinelli, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Harry Melling. Written by Greg Rucka, based on The Old Guard by Greg Rucka and Leandro Fernández, Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood.

“Forever Is Harder Than It Looks” is the promotional tagline of The Old Guard, and a brilliantly realized adaptation of  Greg Rucka and Leandro Fernándezo’s graphic novel.  If you think immortal beings have it easy, this film disabuses you of that notion from its bloody and brutal start..

Andromache of Scythia (Charlize Theron) and her crew of deadly mercenaries, Booker, Joe, and Nicky (Matthias Schoenaerts, Marwan Kenzari and Luca Marinelli are quick healing immortals who live in the shadows. Their activities and remarkable regenerative powers come to the attention of Merrick (Harry Melling), the head of a pharmaceutical firm who wants to capture and experiment on them. Things become even more complicated when they have to take a newly emerged immortal Nile (Kiki Layne) under their protection while constantly on the run from Merrick’s forces.

What makes The Old Guard a cut above other entries in this genre is not the explosive action sequences (which it has aplenty), but an unusual amount of emotional heft (mostly delivered by the immortals in the cast) that other films are sadly lacking. This film demands that you sit up and pay attention to their plight and that is rare and noteworthy.

Wonder Woman 1984 (Warner Brothers, 151 Minutes) with Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Kristen Wiig, Pedro Pascal, Robin Wright and Connie Neilsen. Written by Patty Jenkins, Geoff Johns and Dave Callaham, based on Wonder Woman by William Moulton Marston. Directed by Patty Jenkins.

It distresses me no end when armchair film critics and film fans on social media go out of their way to lambast a popular film when they have no idea how films are actually made.

Wonder Woman may have been created by psychologist William Moulton Marston in 1941, but today this comic book icon is the sole intellectual property of DC Comics and Warner Brothers. They, and corporations like them, are actually run by lawyers, agents, accountants and marketing drones, not creative artists.

And since they value it as a very valuable commodity, it took decades for a theatrical Wonder Woman film to be developed and made. And by an incredible stroke of good luck, they chose a gifted director, Patty Jenkins, to bring Wonder Woman to the big screen and grossing over $820 million dollars at the box office.

But Jenkins did not have total creative control of the first film; late in the filming, executives did think very much of the more subtle (and decidedly non-violent) ending she and the screenwriters came up with. Instead, they forced her to film a more bombastic endgame, figuring that audiences would just love a Die Hard-like finish.

Segue to filming the sequel; when Jenkins presented the new screenplay, co-written with Geoff Johns and Dave Callaham, the lengthy opening sequence featured a young Diana being taught an important lesson by her mother Hippolyta (Connie Neilsen) and aunt Antiope (Robin Wright). When the studio executives gave her notes indicating that that the sequence was unnecessary, Jenkins, having been burned once before, drew a line in the sand and said that the sequence was going to be done or she wouldn’t be doing this project. The executives, fearing a fan backlash and no 2020 summer tentpole film to present backed down.

Wonder Woman 1984 finds Diana Price (Gal Gadot) still mourning for her lost love, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) who sacrificed himself during the climactic battle of the first film. A chance encounter with an ancient artifact seemingly revives Trevor from the dead and attracts the attention of a fellow scientist Roberta Minerva (Kristen Wiig) and a power mad businessman Max Lord (Pedro Pascal) whose plans may bring on an apocalyptic event…

While the film itself received decidedly mixed reviews from film critics, a large number of fans were calling it a complete and utter failure. (As of this writing, WW1984 is rated  5.4/10 on IMDb, 59% on Rotten Tomatoes, 60% on MetaCritic and 67% on Google.com)

As for myself, I loved it and think it is quite as Hugo worthy as its predecessor. And yes, I plan on buying the Blu-Ray edition when it comes out at the end of the month. Enough said.

Palm Springs (Limelight Productions, 90 Minutes) with Christin Miloti, Andy Samberg, J.K. Simmons, Peter Gallagher, Tyler Hoechlin and Meredith Hagner. Written by Andy Siaraand Max Barbakow, Directed by Max Barbakow.

When I first heard about the buzz being generated by time loop comedy Palm Springs at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2020, I admit I rolled my eyes a little at the prospect. Because these tales of repeated time travel paradox have become its own sub-genre since 1993’s Groundhog’s Day and I can only account for a handful which are of any merit (Looper, The Edge of Tomorrow, Interstellar and Source Code being my primary choices on the subject.)

I also admit that I am not really a fan of Andy Samberg’s work as an actor, at least until I saw Palm Springs. Samberg plays Nyles, a wedding guest who became trapped in a time loop. When he starts flirting with the bride’s troubled sister, Sarah (Christin Miloti), she returns his interest. But their romantic interlude is interrupted when a mysterious stranger named Roy (J. K. Simmons) suddenly and savagely attacks Myles and Sarah finds herself trapped in the loop as well.

Besides being an outstanding comedy, Palm Springs is also an introspective character study of three people trapped in a circumstance that is seeming out of their control and mediation on love, relationships and drinking WAY too much alcohol at weddings. And seeing that it clocks in at ninety minutes, it’s one of the rare feature films these days that can safely be nominated in the Short Form category.

Soul (Pixar/Walt Disney, 101 Minutes) with Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Angela Bassett, Graham Norton, Rachel House, Questlove, Alice Braga and Phylicia Rashad. Music by Trent Reznor, Atticus Finch and Jon Batiste. Written by Pete Docter, Mike Jones and Kemp Powers, Directed by Pete Docter.

Just when you think the geniuses at Pixar cannot possibly outdo themselves, they damned well do it AGAIN.

Joe Gardner (Jamir Foxx) a middle aged, middle grade music teacher in New York
City is still dreaming of scoring his big break as a jazz musician. When his friend Lamont (Questlove) gets him an audition to play with the great contemporary jazz player Dorothea Williams, he impresses her with his piano prowess and gets a gig playing in her band. Unfortunately for Joe, he’s so excited that falls down a manhole and finds himself struggling to escape “the Great Beyond”, where all souls migrate to after death. With the help of 22 (Tina Fey), a pesky proto-soul trying to figure out her path in the universe, Joe just may make it back to Earth in time for his gig…

If I were going to introduce a child to a film that might instill a love of music, especially an enduring art form like jazz, I would definitely make sure they saw Soul (SORRY, Not Sorry, La La Land!). The ambient score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Finch combined with the original songs by jazz composer Jon Batiste are perfectly bound together. I can say without any hesitation at all that Soul is probably the front runner to be nominated and win the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film.  

And the voice casting is spot on and the plot is light, airy, and not terribly scary, which makes it perfectly suitable for kids and the Hugo Awards final ballot as well.     

The Midnight Sky (Netflix/Smokehouse Pictures, 118 Minutes), with George Clooney, Felicity Jones, David Oyelowo , Kyle Chandler, Demián Bichir, Tiffany Boone and Caoilinn Springall. Screenplay by Mark L. Smith, Directed by George Clooney.

The Midnight Sky was yet another casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic, having a limited theatrical release last December followed by a quick turnaround to Netflix shortly thereafter. Almost immediately the word spread pretty quickly that it was either too slow, too episodic or too depressing. Of course, being the contrarian I am, I say nonsense.

George Clooney plays Augustine Lofthouse, a seriously ill scientist who is on his own after an Arctic research station is abandoned in the wake of an unnamed ecological calamity sweeping the Earth. He has given himself the task of making contact and warning off the Aether, a manned spacecraft with a crew returning from a successful mission from Jupiter. His task is complicated when he finds himself caring for a little girl who was supposed to have been evacuated earlier.

Meanwhile, aboard the Aether, the crew (Felicity Jones, David Oyelowo , Kyle Chandler, Demián Bichir and Tiffany Boone) are facing their own set of problems; despite their best efforts they have lost contact with Earth and have an unexpected course correction that takes their ship into an dangerous and uncharted section of the solar system. 

Eventually, the story of these characters come together towards the end of this beautiful and poignant film which, through no fault of its own,had the bad timing to come out during a worldwide pandemic. Eventually, I hope The Midnight Sky will eventually find an audience that will appreciate it for what it is, a soulful parable about the endurance of the human spirit under crushing circumstances.

Sputnik (Vodorod Pictures/Sony Pictures/Hulu, 113 Minutes), with Oksana Akinshina, Pyotr Fyodorov, Fyodor Bondarchuk and Anton Vasiliev. Written by Oleg Malovichko and Andrei Zolotarev, Directed by Egor Abramenko.

While I have nothing but scorn and contempt for the political situation in Russia, I can easily and eagerly praise one of their horror films, which is one of the best genre films released in 2020.

Set in 1983, a Soviet space mission ends tragically when one cosmonaut is killed and another, Konstantin (Pyotr Fyodorov), suffers a traumatic injury. Quarantined at a remote military base, he is examined at length by Tatyana Klimova (Oksana Akinshina), a controversial neurophysiologist brought in by the base commander, Colonel Semiradov (Fyodor Bondarchuk).

Klimova soon finds out her true mission is to study and eventually find a way to control an alien creature inhabiting Konstantin’s body so the military can deploy it as a biological weapon. But Konstantin, and the creature, have other plans…

I haven’t watched very many foreign sf films until this past year and I more or less picked Sputnik out of the cornucopia of genre films made available on various streaming services. And I was quite surprised at how tightly scripted, well acted and directed Sputnik is. And on top of that, the production design, practical and visual effects are the equal of any other film made today. Sputnik deserves your attention as a potential Hugo nominee this year.

Possessor (Elevation Pictures, 104 Minutes) with Andrea Riseborough, Christopher Abbott, Rossif Sutherland, Tuppence Middleton, Sean Bean and Jennifer Jason Leigh. Written and Directed by Brandon Cronenberg.

One of the last movies I came across that really intrigued me was Possessor, which turned up on the Thrilllist.com and the Film School Rejects websites as highly recommended.

The setup is perfectly twisted; Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough) may seem like a divorced woman who still has some feelings for her ex-husband Michael (Rossif Sutherland) and her adorable son Ira (Gage Graham-Arbuthnot), but you would be dead wrong, in every sense of the word.

Vos is a cold blooded assassin who employs a high tech trick; she has her personality electronically inserted into a person who has access to the intended target who then kills and conviently commits suicide or is killed by the police. And Vos is pretty good at her job until she gradually starts losing control of her latest host, Colin Tate (Christopher Abbott), the fiance of Ava Parse (Tuppence Middleton). Vos is possessing him in order to kill Ava and her father John (Sean Bean) in a murderous power grab by their board of directors.

As Vos spirals out of control, she finds herself in a constant battle against her increasingly fragmented memories and personality versus Tate’s traumatized and confused persona.

Possessor is the second feature film of Brandon Cronenberg, the son of the acclaimed Canadian director (and occasional actor) David Cronenberg. And from the looks of this film, we can see that the creative apple of this family fell VERY close to the trunk of the tree. If anything, the younger Cronenberg has taken his father’s themes of body horror, self loathing, sexuality and questions of personal identity to the Nth degree. I am not very fond of horror movies on the whole but I must say that I will be very, VERY interested in seeing his next film project.

Hamilton (5000 Broadway Productions/Walt Disney, 160 Minutes) with Lin-Manuel Miranda, Leslie Odom, Jr., Phillipa Soo, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Daveed Diggs, Christopher Jackson, Jonathan Groff, Anthony Ramos Okieriete Onaodowan and Jasmine Cephas Jones as Peggy. Written and Composed by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Directed by Thomas Kail.

And finally, we have Hamilton.

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s extraordinary musical dramatizing the life and times of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton is an incredible marriage of song, story and history.

I am not here to sell you on how brilliant the melding of hip hop, rap and traditional Broadway into the score is. Or how great the costuming, lighting, choreography and production design are. Nor am I going to tell you what this rendition of historical events is even more potent and heart rending as Peter Stone and Sherman Edwards classic 1776. 

(But, C’MON MAN; Daveed Digg’s electrifying performance in the double role of the Marquis de Lafayette AND Thomas Jefferson alone is worth a Hugo nomination. But, I digress…)

But what I am telling you is that when a cast made of mostly people of color portray some of the most famous figures in American history not only gives a new perspective on how troubled America’s origins (and its subsequent action since then) are, it also is an infectious and energetic retelling that will inspire theater goers AND film fans for generations to come.

And through that particular lens I proclaim that this production of Hamilton most DEFINITELY qualifies as a tale of alternative history.

I am nominating Hamilton for a Hugo Award in the Best Dramatic Presentation – Long Form category.

Anyone want to duel about it?


Stand Alone Films: Honorable Mentions

  • The Vast of Night
  • Bird of Prey OR the Fantabulous Emancipation of Harley Quinn

Other Eligible 2020 Films of Note

  • Mulan (Walt Disney/Good Fear Productions)
  • Freaky (Universal/Blumhouse)
  • Onward ( Pixar/Walt Disney)
  • The Witches (HBO Max/Warner Brothers)
  • Vivarium (XYZ Films/Fantastic Films)
  • Time To Hunt (Netflix)
  • Archive (Vertical Entertainment)
  • Synchronic (XYZ Films)
  • Love and Monsters (Paramount)
  • Bill and Ted Face the Music (Orion/United Artists)
  • Save Yourselves (Bleecker Street)
  • Spontaneous (Paramount)
  • Sea Fever (Signature Entertainment)

After months of watching and research, filling in the ten slots on my Hugo Nomination Ballot was hard. In fact, the selection process was so tough, I’m not quite sure I’ve made my final choices. But, as of Sunday evening, I chose these productions as my nominees in the Best Dramatic Presentation categories:

Best Dramatic Presentation – Long Form Nominees

  1. Dark – Season Three
  2. Lovecraft Country
  3. Tenet
  4. The Midnight Sun
  5. Hamilton

Best Dramatic Presentation – Short Form

  1. Palm Springs
  2. Star Trek Discovery – Terra Firma Parts 1 & 2
  3. The Mandalorian – “Chapter 15: The Believer” with “Chapter 16: The Rescue”
  4. Soul
  5. Star Trek: Picard – Episodes 9 & 10 (“Broken Pieces”and “Et in Arcadia Ego”).

To those of you who have read both of these columns, I hope you have found the information and opinions I have presented here helpful and informative. I urge everyone to nominate and submit their favorite books, stories, non-fiction works, films, tv shows and other dramatic works by the upcoming deadline, which is 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time (PDT) on Thursday, March 19, 2021.

Good Luck choosing!

Trigger Snowflake and the Dessert

By Ingvar: Trigger arrived back at his combined Sheriff’s Office and home, after a productive day of patrolling Fort Corallium. All the citizens seemed happy, and he was looking forward to a nice, relaxing evening in the company of his beloved wife, Coraline.

He opened the door, hung the belt with his twin laser revolvers on its assigned hook and locked the door behind him.

“Coraline, I am home!”, he shouted, then proceeded to climb the stairs from the office space to his domicile. Once unencumbered by his street clothes, Trigger leaned back in his comfy chair and relaxed.

Not even fifteen minutes later, his reveries were disturbed by Coraline’s agitated voice.

“Trigger! Trigger! You won’t believe it!”

“Hmm?”

“You know Futuristo Magazine? There’s just been an article published about one of their side businesses!”

“From the sound of it, nothing good?”

“No, I am wondering what they’re going to do about it?”

“About what, beloved?”

“So, Futuristo Magazine have this, well, salon. It is called Bistro Futuristo. And apparently, Sulphurists have been putting emetics in the buffet. And until just recently, it had just never been spoken about. I mean, imagine it, you go to a poetry and literature salon, and the next thing you know, you’re spilling your figurative guts over everything.”

“I’m sure we will see a sensible response from the editors and owners of Futuristo.”

“I so hope that is true, Trigger.”

          #          #          #

A few days later, down at the Coffee Emporium, Trigger was having breakfast. A nice cup of Bean of the Day and a grilled synthecheese. As he finished the last bite of the synthecheese, Barbara Dimatis walked up to his table.

“Sheriff Snowflake, may I sit?”

“Why, sure, Ms Dimatis. What troubles you?”

“You’ve heard of Bistro Futuristo? Well, turns out that the editor and owner of Futuristo Magazine has made an announcement.”

“From what my beloved Coraline said, I hope it was a sensible and well-reasoned announcement?”

“Not so much. Actually, it may be easier if you just read it yourself.”

> It has been brought to our attention by some helpful folks, that emetics that not everyone want to ingest have been present in Bistro Futuristo. In order to fully investigate these serious allegations, and the Bistro’s ‘no forcey’ rules, we will be closing the Bistro from Wednesday at noon, and all patrons will have to take their lawful acts of appreciation elsewhere.

“Now that,” said Trigger, “is not the response I would have expected.”

“Well, ven Sveller, the owner and editor of Futuristo Magazine, have shown Sulphur sentiments in the past, but, the way I read this is that there’s basically no way he didn’t know.”

          #          #          #

A long and tiring day of patrolling the neighborhood later, Trigger arrived home.

“Trigger, darling, have you heard?”

“The ven Sveller apolonot? Yes, Ms Dimatis showed me at the Emporium this morning.”

“No. Well, related, but not that. Here, read this!”

An outrage of cancel culture run amok! by Whalie Correadore

As a poet and contributor to Futuristo Magazine, it has been my custom to visit the Bistro, to bask in the presence and splendour that is the collective intelligence and with of the Bistrovians, as we jokingly call ourselves.

I have been an active Bistrovian for 23 years, and I have never had a problem of being slipped emetics. But, I normally stick to the coffee and the Danishes. I mean, people who go for the candy get what they deserve, right?”

Trigger blinked. Was this the beginning of a brewing storm?

None of the sections I curated and collected recipes for ever had a problem. Therefore, this report of inserted emetics is pure hogwash, constructed by the rabidly anti-Sulphur literati. Not, mind you, that I am a Sulphurian myself, but I know several of them.

Trigger shook his head. This was obviously not heading anywhere good.

“Oh, darling, here’s another LoC that you should read.”

Cancelists by Carl Sparkrock

I have been a Futuristo contributor for 30 years. I am probably the most anti-Sulphur Futuristo contributor there is. And I condemn everyone for these false emetics allegations. Why, I used to be a regular in the Bistro, and there was never anything like that going on then.

Sure, I have been on a different planet for 15 years, but I am sure that nothing would ever change in the Bistro, as it is so lovingly curated and managed by not only James, but by several community curators. They ensure that fresh fare is brought forth and every bowl, carafe and pump thermos is kept in good order.

They’re a good bunch, the Bistrovians, I am sure they would never do anything like that.

Trigger simply shook his head. This whole story was becoming more and more unbelievable, for every single report that came out of the Bistrovian camp.

          #          #          #

Later that evening, Trigger found further letters of comment, touching on the matter of the Bistro Futuristo.

My thoughts, by Anna min Scotch

There have been overblown reports of emetics all over everything in the Bistro. As a regular Bistrovian, I can say that this is blatantly false. I have a strict “no emetics” policy for the salad bar. Over in the dessert section, I guess there’s some emetics in among the Cleveries. It’s a known thing and it’s not as if everyone doesn’t already know to stay away from the candy section in general and the Cleveries in particular.

No, this is clearly overblown and there is no emetics problem at the Bistro. I am outraged that James has been forced by these anti-Sulphurians to need to shut the Bistro down. It is a valuable resource for us who publish with and contribute to Futuristo Magazine. They should be ashamed for closing the Bistro down.

This Bistro Futuristo thing. Leanne Ackie

I have occasionally visited Bistro Futuristo. Mostly, I would say, it is a nice, clean, and food-safe environment. But, there are sections that are definitely not.

I am not going to name names, because I do not know them. But, having taken samples from various parts of the Bistro’s buffet of comestibles, I can definitely say that in my sample, one out of roughly every five purple Cleveries candy was absolutely coated in emetics. I also found a single chocolate truffle that had emetics on the inside.

Based on this, I think these self-congratulating reports about “no problem at all” are interesting and show, possibly, a tendency to defend the Bistro while either intentionally obscuring what they know (or should know) or (as some did) simply not knowing, on account of not having visited the Bistro for well over a decade.

Make of this what you want. There was a problem, and either James ven Sveller knew and let it continue. Or, probably worse, ven Sveller didn’t know what was being done in the name of his magazine. Either way, a temporary close-down to ensure that there are no stray emetics, as well as making a strong statement that it is not acceptable going forward, is necessary.

          #          #          #

The next morning, Trigger woke up to Coraline pacing in the bedroom.

“Beloved, what is the matter?”

“Well, it seems that there have been threats against the person who first reported the Bistro Futuristo problem.”

“But? What? Why? That makes no sense. At best, it accomplishes nothing, at worst it puts the Bistrovians in an extremely bad light?”

“Honestly, dear Trigger, I don’t understand it and I am not sure I want to.”

“Threats for what reason?”

“Apparently for not having engaged with ven Sveller before publishing the report. Or possibly for having brought it to light. Something like that.”

“Metaphorically putting my Sheriff’s Hat on, I don’t see why that would have been necessary. We can safely assume that ven Sveller has been aware of what’s going on. I mean, it’s not as if the other Bistrovians weren’t aware, they just chose to declare it ‘not a problem’. And as the proprietor, ven Sveller is fundamentally responsible for the quality of food served in his establishment, even if he has volunteer curators assisting with quality assurance. Also note that, if I understand correctly, the person dosing the Cleveries with emetics was a volunteer curator, pointing towards failures in judgment by ven Sveller. Now, I will go to the kitchen and make us a nice, nostalgic, breakfast of beans on toast.”