John C. Wright on Time Travel: An Absurdity Wrapped in a Non-Starter

It’s a longish post, but well worth your time.

In science fiction stories, there are a limited number of ways to explain the conundrum of how time travel can work in a world where there is both the appearance of free will and the appearance of cause and effect.

I doubt I can list all the various answers of the various imaginative authors who have attempted in an entertaining way to address the paradox. It makes for entertaining bull sessions by college students and philosophers, however.

But I can mention some basics:

In effect, the effort is to see how you can keep one or both of the appearances of cause and effect and of free will.

Wright mentions a number of methods (he calls them “options”) for dealing with the paradox:

  1. Free Will Doesn’t Exist (You can go back in time, but you will do exactly what you did, because that is what happened. This is the Slaughterhouse Five answer. “The Moment is Structured That Way” say the Tralfalmadorians).
  2. Cause and Effect Doesn’t Exist (You can go back in time, but in changing the past you only eliminate yourself).
  3. The Universe Doesn’t Like Things Changed (You can go back in time, and change the past, but the universe will order itself so that it gets the desired result in spite of your actions. This is the Tralfalmadorians-on-Steroids).
  4. Time Travel is Just a Scene-Change Device (Dr. Who, Quantum Leap, etc.)
  5. Multiple Time Lines Without Consequence (the easiest solution, in which no matter how much mucking about you do, the only changes will be cosmetic, and you can always go back and re-do it, and you will discover that you in fact, already have)
  6. Time is a Hard Drive Being Overwritten (By changing the past, you destroy the original timeline in which time travel was invented. So time-travel has the result of eliminating time-travel)

It’s great fun to consider, and I’ve always admired the Back the Future precisely because it makes Time Travel very difficult. You’ve got to have a Flux Capacitor and you’ve got to have 1.21 jiggiwatts of electricity and you’ve got to get that car up to 88 mph. Miss either one of these, and the time travel won’t happen.

I also especially enjoy the second movie because the plot takes it back inside the structure of the first movie, and revisits the exact same scenes without disturbing any of them, or indeed having anyone in those scenes notice that they’re being observed. It fascinates me. I’ve never seen a sequel deconstruct the first movie so entertainingly.

I Dislike Pynchon So I’m Reading More Pynchon

So I finally finished The Crying of Lot 49, and while I’d like to say the ending defied my expectations, it didn’t. My Goodreads review is as follows:

** spoiler alert ** A series of non-statements and mild suggestions and endless asides which we are supposed to forgive the author because he assigns his characters ridiculous names and makes his protagonist wander about having LSD-style revelations in longish semi-Faulknerian sentences. There’s a conspiracy to do something, and if you want to find out if any of its real, you’re going to have to decide for yourself, as the book merrily refuses to tell you. I guess you could call that a spoiler, but honestly there isn’t anything to spoil, and that’s the point. I want to punch the author for wasting my time.

But. This was an early work, and Pynchon has had a multi-decade career as a novelist. And really, what picqued my interest, as I said, was a viewing of the film for Inherent Vice. So I went to the library this weekend and picked it up.

So far, a chaper and change in, it doesn’t suck. The ridiculousness of the names are toned-down to something approaching verisimilitude, and the loose plot-logic is so far within the bounds of noir. I expect I’ll enjoy this one far more.

And that’s a good thing. It’s fun do damn a book, and even to condescend to an author from a great height, yet it’s also a shame.

Bonus: the Red Letter Media guys review the Inherent Vice movie:

Quick Review: The Outlaw King

outlaw-king

What the wags have called Braveheart 2 came out this week on Netflix, and being a medievalist nerd, I was all about it.

It is a more accurate film that Braveheart in several respects. For one, it gives us the real struggle Robert the Bruce had in claiming the throne of Scotland. None of this sudden Hollywood climax decision with a full army at his back for the Bruce: he had to claw his way to power, bearing a crown no one respected, hiding in the heather from his own countrymen for a number of years. For another, it’s depiction of Edward I of England is probably truer than the cartoon villain Braveheart gave us. If you loved Patrick McGoohan’s moustache-pulling (and who doesn’t? “The trouble with Scotland is that it’s full of Scots!” that’s A+ movie-villainry right there), you might not like the merely iron-fisted politician this film gives us. But Edward I of England wasn’t a cartoon, he was a real man, a puissant ruler and crusader, a man who struggled to restore royal authority after the turbulent reigns of his grandfather John and his father Henry III, and largely succeeded. Call out his excess in this if you like. Say that his cruelty to the Scots crosses the line into wickedness – I can’t refute it.  But he was a man, and not a devil, and this movie does him the courtesy of making that real. You may not recognize Stephen Dillane – Stannis Baratheon from Game of Thrones – in the part, but you will appreciate him.

However, when it comes to Edward II, I think the earlier film got it right:  the second of the Three Edwards (for a century, from 1277 to 1377, the King of England had the same name) seems to really have been a dilettante who had neither capacity nor wish to charge into battle at the head of an army. We see the younger Edward’s weakness in Braveheart, his terror of his father, and silent yearning to be utterly unlike him (a yearning that made him a poor ruler indeed). In this film, the younger Edward is just a bad chip off the old block.

The film doesn’t run the length of Braveheart, so it can’t spend the time building and enriching the emotional life of the characters. We don’t quite see Robert’s emotional motivation to rebel in the same way we saw William Wallace’s. Chris Pine holds more back than Gibson does, preferring to act with his eyes in something of a slow burn. How well he pulls that off is for the viewer to decide.

Bottom Line: it’s both less thrilling and less fanciful than Braveheart. It runs close to the truth, and is never boring. Worth a watch.

Why I Don’t Go To the Movies Anymore

Every now and again I catch myself with a free evening to catch a movie. Usually the little ones are off somewhere, or I’m off somewhere, and I have some hours to spare. Inevitably I have the same conversation with myself or others:

“What’s playing?”

“Anything I want to see?”

“Anything possibly entertaining?”

“Hell with it. To the local food eatery/dispenser of spirits!”

But the plural of anecdote is not data (or is it?), so let’s consider what’s in theaters this very weekend. Mayhaps I will be surprised:

First Man: I’ve already blogged about this. I don’t care at all. Spoilers: he lands on the moon.

Venom: Venom is not a hero. I’m going to retype that bold and in all caps: VENOM IS NOT A HERO. Venom is a villain (and I don’t care how many nerds want to argue and say that on their character dimension chart, he’s Chaotic Neutral or some nonsense. Venom fights Spiderman. That makes him a villain. Also, Chaotic Neutral is the laziest kind of character creation, because it just means you can do whatever you happen to need to do. It’s not edgy, nerds). Villains should not be protagonists, because they are villains. I’m looking at you, DC with your insistence on making The Joker the soul of the Batman world. Stop that now.

Bad Times at the El Royale: Looks like a script for Smokin’ Aces 3 got manhandled by someone on Tarantino’s editing staff. I like Jon Hamm doing noir stuff so I’ll probably check this out at some point. But not in the theaters.

A Star is Born: They are now so far down the remake well that they’ve hit this muck. And don’t tell me it’s not a remake. They didn’t have Bradley Cooper grow a Jesus beard to not look like Kris Kirstofferson. People struggle towards fame and sing songs and become famous and Lady Gaga’s voice is like Buttah! Pleh.

Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween. This might be fun if you made a drinking game out of it. And you brought booze into the theater. And went by mistake.

Smallfoot. The Yetis don’t believe humans exist, until a misfit Yeti teaches the community that what they think is wrong. IT’S LIKE A METAPHOR YOU GUYS.

Night School. Kevin Hart is wacky – in school. It’s probably funnier than whatever Adam Sandler poops out next. But not much funnier.

Halloween. Am I the only one that thinks its weird that they haven’t remade Nightmare on Elm Street yet? I hope so, because if I’m not they’re eventually going to remake it. And it will suck. Just like this will.

The House With a Clock in It’s Walls. The Kids Doing Magic genre is getting thicker…..

….and Jack Black is getting laaaaaaarger.

The Hate U Give. The Social Justice flick of the season. Sleeper Oscar favorite. The star will be lauded, give speeches, and then never have a career.

Have I always been this cynical?

A Simple Favor. There’s a reason Paul Feig keeps getting work, but I’ll be damned if I know what it is. That said, this might be worth a Netflixing.

Hell Fest. In which horror tropes go meta. I really do tire of horror’s self-awareness sometimes. Just splatter the blood and stop acting like you’re Fellini.

The Nun. Like The Name of the Rose, but stupider.

The Predator. Does anyone else think it’s weird that they haven’t done a Commando remake…

And the final result?

spideylol

John C. Wright Hates the Last Jedi

He hates it soo much

flames

…that he devotes a series of posts at his block to smashing it into tiny bits, and then jumping on those bits. Not gonna lie, it’s pretty amusing. But in one of these bromides, he does kind of gloss over some stuff that I think would merit a more thorough discussion:

Hotshot Pilot, now demoted to Dogcatcher, goes to the new commanding officer, who is not fan favorite Admiral Ackbar, but instead is a thin-faced crone in a sadly sagging evening dress with brightly-dyed purple hair, hereafter called Girl-General Gender Studies van Grievance.

He politely asks her what plan he and his men should be following to preserve their besieged and dying flotilla from the hot pursuit at that moment shooting at them. She replies by telling him men are the inferior sex, and are not allowed to hear plans invented by Gender Studies crones with purple hair.

He must obey orders without question, mechanically and mindlessly. After all, that is the principle and the philosophy the rebellion has stood for during the entire Star Wars canon of films, novels, and comics: The Empire stands for freedom and initiative, and the Rebels are fighting to bring about a regime based on perfect mindless obedience of authority. How clear. How reasonable.

Okay. A couple of things on the Vice-Admiral Hole-Card Super-Secret Escape Plan:

  • In the military, you don’t have any right to have your orders explained to you, or your superiors plans laid out for discussion. Ours is not to wonder why, ours is but to do and die. So I’m completely fine with Hole-Card not explaining things to Captain Jump-Into-An-X-Wing. At first.
  • However, there’s a scene later on, when Jumpy emits a J’Accuse at Hole-Card, and names her a Coward and Traitor, in full view of everyone on the bridge. In every navy that has ever sailed, this constitutes mutiny. So Hole-Card has one of two options:
    1. Pack him off to the brig and let him cool his heels while they get out of this situation, whereupon he can answer to a court-martial,
    2. Take him aside and Explain Her Stupid Plan to him.
    3. Why not Do Both of those?
  • Instead, she does neither, and carps at him to leave the bridge, as if that’s going to solve the problem, and has the nerve to look surprised when he tells her he’s cooked up his own scheme to save the day, which he is prepared to back up with Non-Technical Mutiny. You’ve got a guy you’ve sussed out as being Dangerous and Hot-Headed, who just got a stripe ripped off for pushing the envelope, and all he wants from you, is BEGGING for from you, is to know what you’ve got in mind that isn’t Wait for the First Order to Blow Us All To Hell. And you’re Surprised that he wasn’t content to sit on his hands while his comrades were dying?
  • Because, while an admiral doesn’t have to explain her orders, it’s generally a good idea to build consensus among officers, to have them point out potential pitfalls, to allow them to keep morale up among the ranks. This is called Good Leadership, and it makes following orders you don’t agree with easier. When you know the plan, and get a chance to get heard, you tend to accept the decision better, even if you really think it’s the wrong call. Militaries at the upper echelon do operate that way.
  • It’s kind of a clever plan, except for the fact that it has no flexibility. It depends on a surmisal of First Order operations, which is to say, it depends upon your enemy doing something one way and not another, when you have no means of influencing that. And once committed, you have no backup plan. You’re in these lifeboats that have no hyperdrive, shields or weapons, and you’re sitting ducks, and the only thing that has to turn this from Clever to Nightmare is one First Order officer saying to himself “any chance they loaded up escape pods and headed over to the salt planet?” I dunno, I feel like Sun Tzu would have had a problem with this.

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Why I’ll Continue to Dislike Mamma Mia

Making a movie is hard. Making the crappiest B-movie requires thousands of man-hours and and Sisyphean struggle. Making a moderate cheeseball popcorn flick for a major studio, such as Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is a huge undertaking, from which humans rightfully earn a hefty salary.

So I accept the “Get Over Yourself, Shut Up and Singalong, Dorks” spirit of this review from The Onion:

That said, I can’t actually follow the advice proffered. This is why:

  • I Dislike Musicals. Musicals are that genre of entertainment that interrupt the story so one ore more actors can sing a song about how they feel about certain aspects of the story. I do not like this device and never have. I’m the kind of guy who doesn’t need the story explained to him. Sit me down midway through any piece of entertainment, and within five minutes or so I’ll be able to figure out who is who and what part of the story we’re in. So I don’t need the ingenue to describe her romantic longing to me with string accompaniment. You want to not be where you are, got it. Let’s get you there.

    This isn’t a hard and fast rule. I do like some musicals, either because the story is good enough for me to look past the singing device, or because the musical numbers are entertaining enough to overcome my antipathy. I like Guys and Dolls. I like West Side Story (although “I Just Kissed a Girl Named Maria” is the classic example of the kind of song that violates my rule above. I know you kissed her bro, I JUST SAW IT). I like Singing in the Rain (even with the over-the-top movie-within-the-movie that stops the story cold in its tracks. It’s fun enough so that it doesn’t bore me). I liked Rent. There might be one or two others (I’d probably like The Sound of Music better than I did as a kid if I watched it today. I didn’t hate it then, truth be told).

    But a musical in which the story is wrapped around old pop songs that were not written for that story? No thanks. Which leads me to…

  • I Really Dislike Jukebox Musicals. The trend of building a musical around a pop musician’s body of work reeks of the genre’s desperation for “relevance”. It has not resulted in good musicals. It has died the death and needs to be buried. However much I dislike Oklahoma, I appreciate that the songs in Oklahoma were written for that story. They are a part of the story. I’m not big on Rogers & Hammerstein, but I recognize how hard they labored for their art. Jukebox musicals are dreadfully lazy by comparison. They are to actual musicals what The Emoji Movie is to Wreck-It Ralph.

    So instead of a variety of songs written in a variety of moods, to suit the story (yes, I don’t like the result, but that’s just my opinion), we have a story shoehorned to fit around ABBA songs, which mostly all have the same mood and tone. Which brings me to…

  • I Really Really Dislike ABBA. ABBA has an emotional resonance and wavelength that does not reach me. All of their songs are in that orchestral-disco pop style that formerly made me cringe and now provoke weary sighs. There’s a strangeness and a cloyingness to them that I cannot get past. Yes, they’re a multiplatinum, international success. Yes, millions worldwide love them. Good for them.  I do not. A musical based on ABBA songs nights as well be the Ludovico treatment to me.

    Ludovico
    Why are they singing again? MAKE THEM STOP SINGING

All of which means nothing more than I’m Not Their Target Audience. Which is fine. Lots of people like ABBA, and even more like musicals. So I can simply ignore this product for one more to my liking. If you’re the sort of person who likes this sort of thing, then that’s completely cool. I like enough of my own dumb stuff, which is by no means superior to your dumb stuff. Which brings me to…

  • Mamma Mia is Transformers for Women. Which is to say, it’s wish-fulfillment schlock, appealing to women in the same way that dumb action schlock appeals to men. Husbands and boyfriends dragged along to see this will feign Interest and Appreciation the same way wives and girlfriends do for a Fast and Furious sequel. Emotional Europop and romance and Cher snarking it up are just car chases and ‘splosions and “Yippie-ki-yay, motherf$%*er” for the fairer sex. And since it’s obligatory to lament the very existence of dumb guy schlock every time it makes its presence known to us, it should be equally obligatory to do the same for dumb chick schlock.

Sound fair?

Wes Anderson’s Doom: Special Screening of Awaited European Animated Film at Cannes

In my fisking of Variety’s pre-advertising for next year’s Oscars, I made this prediciton about Wes Anderson’s film Isle of Dogs:

See? There’s already a ghetto for cartoons. “Dogs” will get nominated for this, and then lose to something Italian that gets a limited release in New York for a week.

And that was before Wes Anderson’s movie was declared “problematic” by the problematic-declarers.

Well, it’s not Italian, but here’s the film that’s going to win the Best Animated Film Oscar

“Another Way of Life” chronicles the graphic, harrowing and near-hallucinatory experiences during the 1975 Angolan civil war that drove Polish war correspondent Ryszard Kapuściński to write the book that forged his literary reputation. The animation-live action hybrid film wowed attendees at an industry gathering last month at Bordeaux’s Cartoon Movie event, where 15 minutes of footage was shown at a sneak-peek screening. Attendees were impressed with the mix of animation, live-action cutaways, archive footage and contemporary interviews.

Post-modern, harrowing, and foreign? Just give it the Oscar now, so Kimmel can riff a little more about how much he hates Mike Pence.

I don’t know how well Dogs is doing at box office, but that’s probably all Anderson will get out of it.