Category Archives: Reviews

#272: To the Bride Live

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #272, on the subject of To the Bride Live.

There aren’t a lot of albums that I’m going to mention in their own articles; this might in fact be the only one.  That’s partly because this is a collaborative effort–our last two spotlighted artists, Barry McGuire and The Second Chapter of Acts, went on tour together with support from a band called A Band Called David (which supported artists on other tours as well).  It is also because this live album easily falls among the best recordings of its decade, with wonderful performances of great songs and an unrivaled concert ambiance.

By Source, Fair use

However, it is difficult to present much of this album, because very little of it can be found online.  One of the two cuts I had linked in the early notes was removed because the account holder had been cited for multiple copyright violations (although I found another copy of it).  None of my searches uncovered any cuts from this album by The Second Chapter of Acts.  However, they did most of their repertoire to that point, and Barry also sang quite a bit as well as talking to the audience.  His chat about Dolphins is available online (or was as of this writing, although I had to find a different link for it).  He also sang the wonderful song I Walked a Mile.

This was apparently the debut tour for Acts, as Barry, the known figure from his secular successes, introduced them as those three skinny people “not to be confused with the microphone stands”, and told the story we’ve already related about hearing them at Buck Herring’s house after dinner one night.  As they begin presenting their part of the concert, it is obvious that they, unlike some of the secular vocal bands of the era, were every bit as good live as in the studio.

The two-disk album is enjoyable and compelling throughout, a performance and concert experience rivaling any.  If I could have only one album from that decade, this would be it.

The Second Chapter of Acts appeared on other live albums with other artists, but although they always delivered unblemished performances, the presence of Barry McGuire here made it a great concert, a cut above anything else I ever heard.

I recently saw that Barry released a new album in October, 2018.  It might be accompanied by a concert tour.  If you have the opportunity to attend one of his concerts, it’s worth it.

*****

The series to this point has included:

  1. #232:  Larry Norman, Visitor;
  2. #234:  Flip Sides of Ralph Carmichael;
  3. #236:  Reign of the Imperials;
  4. #238:  Love Song by Love Song.
  5. #240:  Should Have Been a Friend of Paul Clark.
  6. #242:  Disciple AndraĆ© Crouch.
  7. #244: Missed The Archers.
  8. #246: The Secular Radio Hits.
  9. #248:  The Hawkins Family.
  10. #250:  Original Worship Leader Ted Sandquist.
  11. #252:  Petra Means Rock.
  12. #254:  Miscellaneous Early Christian Bands.
  13. #256:  Harry Thomas’ Creations Come Alive.
  14. #258:  British Invaders Malcolm and Alwyn.
  15. #260:  Lamb and Jews for Jesus.
  16. #262: First Lady Honeytree of Jesus Music.
  17. #264:  How About Danny Taylor.
  18. #266:  Minstrel Barry McGuire.
  19. #268:  Voice of the Second Chapter of Acts.

#266: Minstrel Barry McGuire

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #266, on the subject of Minstrel Barry McGuire.

I met Barry McGuire thrice; I’ve mentioned that, and I’ll tell you about it, but his history goes back before mine.

Barry might be the first successful secular artist to become a leading contemporary Christian musician.  He was a member of the successful folk group The New Christy Minstrels–not a founding member, but co-wrote their first hit, Green, Green, on which his characteristic voice can be identified on lead vocals.  He went on to appear on stage in the Broadway hit musical Hair, but was best known for his single–which knocked The BeatlesHelp! out of the number one spot–Eve of Destruction.

In 1973 he recorded his first Christian album, Seeds, on Myrrh Records.  I was aware of the album, and am sure I heard it, but don’t recall any titles on the track list.  His signature song Happy Road, recorded in several versions on several disks, was originally released on Lighten Up in 1974 (and the backup vocals might sound familiar, but we’ll get to them).

His most famous studio album was undoubtedly Cosmic Cowboy, whose title song rose on the Contemporary Christian music charts when it was released.  I think most of us didn’t know what it was–Rap was brand new and at that time exclusively black, so a song in which the lead singer talked all the way through had more in common with Country/Western ballads, but the heavily-orchestrated disco-like background music was incongruous with that genre.

About the same time he got a lot of airplay of the title song of a children’s album, Bullfrogs & Butterflies.

I always found that Barry’s studio work did not do him justice.  I met him at a concert somewhere near Boston in probably 1976 or 77, and he impressed me by taking time to talk with me about music ministry; that’s been recounted in web log post #163:  So You Want to Be a Christian Musician, and it inspired me to write my song Mountain, Mountain (Barry is the mountain, not just because he is a large and imposing person and personality).  In March, 1977, I opened for him at a Gordon College banquet we called the March Thaw, but was unable to play the song for him then, and then when I was at the radio station he stopped by one day when he was singing in the area and talked with me on the air, but I didn’t have a guitar (and silly me I should have sung it for him a capella, but I didn’t think of it and didn’t think I would never see him again).

He appeared on the Keith Green tribute album First Love, and reportedly retired but returned to tour with Terry Talbot.  I find no report of him since 2016, but no obituary either.

We’ll have more of Barry after the next entry, because his music for a time was intertwined with another band who recorded with him numerous times but is much better known for its own career.

*****

The series to this point has included:

  1. #232:  Larry Norman, Visitor;
  2. #234:  Flip Sides of Ralph Carmichael;
  3. #236:  Reign of the Imperials;
  4. #238:  Love Song by Love Song.
  5. #240:  Should Have Been a Friend of Paul Clark.
  6. #242:  Disciple AndraĆ© Crouch.
  7. #244: Missed The Archers.
  8. #246: The Secular Radio Hits.
  9. #248:  The Hawkins Family.
  10. #250:  Original Worship Leader Ted Sandquist.
  11. #252:  Petra Means Rock.
  12. #254:  Miscellaneous Early Christian Bands.
  13. #256:  Harry Thomas’ Creations Come Alive.
  14. #258:  British Invaders Malcolm and Alwyn.
  15. #260:  Lamb and Jews for Jesus.
  16. #262: First Lady Honeytree of Jesus Music.
  17. #264:  How About Danny Taylor?.

#263: The Ten Book Cover Challenge

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #263, on the subject of The Ten Book Cover Challenge.

As mentioned, Jeni Heneghan tagged me in a ten-bookcover challenge on Facebook.

**1**

I’m starting my list–and I know I’m not really supposeed to say anything about the books, but that seems a bit pointless to me–with one of the books I most enjoyed in recent years, Ian Harac’s Medic.

I had previously read his The Rainbow Connection, and enjoyed that thoroughly, but I think he topped that with this one.

I am also tagging Ian Harac to take up the challenge.  The deal is for ten days post the cover of a book you “love” (take that however you wish) and name someone to do the same.

My Goodreads review is here.

Interestingly, at the time I appear to have liked Rainbow Connection better, but in retrospect Medic is the one that comes to mind.

**2**

It’s a busy day, but let me not forget my obligation to Jeni Heneghan, who challenged me to post ten book covers of books liked or something in ten days, and nominate ten people to the same task.  This time I’m going for something non-fiction, The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt.

Haidt explores six facets, what I think if memory serves he calls pillars, which are the bases of our notions of “good”, and how most people in the world use all six but modern liberals use only three, and how this results in very different views of what is right.  It’s perhaps the best exploration of these ideas I have encountered.

Again, my GoodReads review is here.

And I almost forgot:  I nominate Eric Ashley.  I’ve enjoyed many of the books he sent me.

**3**

Time to post a book cover (thank you Jeni Heneghan for the invitation).  I said I would try to avoid the obvious Lewis and Tolkien titles, but this is a close friend of theirs, Charles Williams, of whose handful of wonderful books I think my favorite is still the first one I read, Descent Into Hell.

I first read this in college as a course assignment in modern fantasy/sci-fi literature, and was immediately much impressed.  It was probably two or three decades later that I found it again, along with a couple other of his titles (War in Heaven, Greater Trumps), and was not disappointed in the least.

Williams is wonderful at blurring the line between the material and the spiritual, the natural and the supernatural.  His characters interact with each other, whether alive, dead, or imaginary.  This book also gave me some very challenging concepts–such as that bearing each other’s burdens was a real active thing.

And because this book reminds me of someone else who read it in that course who also found it interesting, I’m going to tag Richard Van Norstrand to take up the challenge.  You’re not required to do so much as I do, just over the course of ten days post the covers of ten books you “love” in whatever sense, and invite someone else to do the same.  This is my third.

For what it’s worth, I’m also building a web log post from these, so once the ten have run you can expect a complete summary, largely because I hate these multiple-first-post threads when I want to know what the other posts were.

**4**

Back in the early 1970s when I was at Luther College the library had one of those books sales, clearing out old copies.  I wound up standing beside the Dean, Dr. Harm, as he examined a book clearly older than I was, and commented that it was once the classic book in apologetics.  For twenty-five cents, I figured I could afford it.

I’m about 98% certain that the cover and title page gave the name as Evidences of the Christian Religion by William Paley.  I don’t find that title on Goodreads, which apparently finds no editions more than ten years old and calls it by various names of which Evidences of Christianity is the nearest to the original.

I don’t have a review of it posted anywhere.  In fact, it was a ponderous read for a college sophomore, and when I was about three-quarters finished the aforementioned Richard Van Norstrand borrowed it and took it home, only to have his father borrow it from him, and I never saw it again.  Still, I got through the bulk of it.

This was the book in which Paley presents the teleological argument for the existence of God in its most famous form, the watch argument, that if you find a watch you deduce that there must be a watchmaker, and since the universe runs like a watch, there must be a universe maker.

I was impressed by the meticulous way in which Paley presented his argument–no leaps, no skipped steps, no assumptions that the reader will see how to get from A to D without having been told what B and C are.  Part of that no doubt is that writing in the nineteenth century (and I’ve read several other nineteenth and early twentieth century books) he did not have to compete with more concise forms of entertainment–readers expected books to be long, because otherwise they didn’t get their money’s worth.  Yet it was instructive, in that many writers, and perhaps including me, tend to make such leaps and assume the reader understands the intervening reasoning.

I keep swithering concerning who to tag next, but I think I’ll go with Nikolaj Bourguignon.  Odds are he’ll post a lot of books I can’t read (the word for someone who speaks several languages is multilingual, while one who speaks two languages is called bilingual, and one who speaks only one language is called American, and that’s pretty much me–I took French in high school, but can’t even read the French translations of my own articles at the French edition of Places to Go, People to Be).  Still, I know he’s a reader with broad interests, and that will make it interesting.

**5**

Almost forgot the book cover on this overladen day, but I’d already selected the book, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.

I read the book in high school as part of an English course in science fiction literature, and having more recently re-read it cited it as recently as a couple years ago.

My Goodreads review is here.

In short, this book is everything a great science fiction classic should be.  It tells a compelling story in a futuristic world while making a significant point about contemporary issues.  The primary issue here is censorship, government control of information, and while government control of information doesn’t seem like a significant concern our articles in recent years on freedom of speech might suggest otherwise.

I’m going to invite Rick Maus to play next, because he was in that class and as I mentioned somewhere else in my writing was a member of that Great Meditators Society decades ago (he probably doesn’t even remember it), and it might be interesting to see what books he’s been reading.  The invite is to post ten book covers in ten days (it does not require saying anything about them other than implicitly that these are books you in some sense “love”–that part is just my inability to keep silent) and nominate ten people along the way to do the same.

I’m also adding a tag to the current location of the Freedom of Expression series in which Bradbury is mentioned.

**6**

Again with acknowledgement that Jeni Heneghan invited me to participate in this, let’s do the next book cover.  I know I promised not to clutter the list with C. S. Lewis–undoubtedly my favorite author, and I could name easily a dozen from A Horse and His Boy to Perelandra to Mere Christianity to The Great Divorce, but I’m going to go with God in the Dock.

My Goodreads review is here.

The book is a collection of essays and letters previously published in many sources covering a wide variety of subjects, and arguing them intelligently.  You might not always agree with Lewis, but if you haven’t read his arguments you can’t really effectively defend your own positions.

I’ve been meaning to tag Edward Jones to invite him to play.  The game is, post ten covers over ten days of books you “love” in whatever sense you want to take that; it is not required that you say anything about them (I just do, because, well, you know me, I have to talk about stuff).  You are also supposed to invite someone else to do the same each day.  No obligation, of course, but I’m interested in what books you would pick.

(We actually have a copy of a book here that we bought for you some years back and haven’t had the chance to gift.  Maybe if it sits here a bit longer I’ll read it again.)

**7**

For today’s book cover I’m stretching the meaning of the word “love” a bit.  By stretching a bit, I mean I hate this book, and I hated it when I read it–but I think it’s an important read, partly for many of its ideas, and partly because people think it says things it doesn’t.  The book is 1984 by George Orwell.

I read his Animal Farm in high school, and found it interesting and entertaining, so when I saw this book I decided it might be more of the same.

Boy, was I mistaken.  It is a bleak story with a horrible ending.

Yet it is compelling, and the world it paints is filled with concepts that are important for us to grasp–notions like doublespeak, when the words you say don’t mean what the words mean.

However, people often think that Orwell predicted the world in which we presently live.  His vision is completely wrong on the critical points.  In the world he presents, the ruling powers control all information, rewriting the records whenever they want history to be different from what it was, and it is impossible to find anything other than the party line.  In our world, the problem is reversed–we have an information explosion, and you can find everything, every position, every opinion, expressed on the Internet, with no one in control, to the point that it is often difficult to know what information is true.  No one controls it.  So Orwell was wrong.

He still tells a compelling story, and no one should cite this book who has not read it, because it doesn’t say what many people claim it says.

I’m going to tag Donald Chroniger next:  you are invited to post ten book covers of books you “love” (however you interpret that) over the next ten days, and invite one person each day to do the same.  You are not required to say anything about the book beyond identifying it.

Have fun.

**8**

This is number eight in the book cover challenge Jeni Heneghan invited me to tackle.  I’ve gone with a book by a recently deceased friend, C. J. Henderson, my favorite of his books and the first in the Teddy London series, The Things That Are Not There.

C. J. wrote a lot of Cthulu Mythos stuff, with the blessing of the Lovecraft family, and although the monster here is called Ctala it’s the same kind of being.  Rather than coming from outer space, C. J.’s unimaginable creatures come from parallel dimensions, more credible in the modern age.

The other significant difference, as he shared in our chats at Ubercon, was that whenever his characters faced these incomprehensible evil beings, he found he could not stop them from fighting back.  London in this book is hired by a girl who thinks she is being followed by something–and then the something falls through the window, and he and the office maintenance man struggle to kill it and take it to a doctor to attempt in vain to identify it.  From that point forward they discover that they are on the front line to prevent the opening of a bridge from another dimension whose chief denizen wants to devour all of humanity.  It is a tense and exciting book throughout, and I’ve read it twice and will probably read it again one day.  I’ve read the rest of the series, and although most of them are good, this is far and away the best.

I’m going to tag Harry Lambrianou, because he’s commented on a couple of these book postings so I know he’s following the series and will know what to do.

Oddly, I have no idea what book I’m going to post tomorrow, or who I’m going to tag, so it will be a surprise for all of us.

**9**

I decided on today’s book.  The copy I happen to have is actually two books in one cover, but although I’ve read the first ten or so of the series and enjoyed them all, the first book is the one I’m tagging:  Robert Lynn Asprin’s Another Fine Myth.

It comes alone or in this two-book set, or in a five-book volume (I think).  It’s a playful bit of fantasy that tells a good story while at the same time being very tongue-in-cheek about fantasy tropes.  My Goodreads review of it is here.

Looking for someone to tag, I stumble upon Dave Mattingly, who was himself a publisher for a while and even put one of my books in print, so we’ll give him the chance to pick ten covers of books he in some sense “loves”, and name ten people to do the same.

**10**

I long debated what the final book on this list of ten should be, and settled on Paul Tillich, A History of Christian Thought:  From Its Judaic and Hellenistic Origins to Existentialism.

It’s certainly not “light reading” by any stretch of the imagination, but it is an excellent source either as a text or a reference for the development of western theology and philosophy from the second century through the Enlightenment.  It gets a bit weak after that, but still covers many of the important names.  My Goodreads review is here.

I’ve got a couple of honorable mentions to post.

First, let me apologize to my (first) cousin (once removed) T. M. Becker (Writer of Young Adult Fantasy).  Her novel Full Moon Rising was truly excellent, as my web log post #223:  In re:  Full Moon Rising asserts.  Honestly, the choice tipped on the fact that I had already posted six fiction titles and only three non-fiction, and I thought that if I couldn’t balance them at least I should get closer.

Also on the “almost made it” list is F. F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents:  Are They Reliable, a classic which more people should read which also has the virtue of being relatively short.  I chose otherwise mostly because this one is a rather limited subject–an extremely important one which he handles extremely well, but still not as valuable as a reference.

I need to tag one more person, so I’m going to choose Tsiphuneah Becker, to see what sort of books she likes.  In case you’ve not been following, you are invited, without obligation, to post covers of ten books, one a day, over the next ten days.  They should be books you in some sense “love”, and you are not obligated to say anything about them.  You also are asked to post, again one per day, names of ten people to undertake the same challenge.

*****

So that’s the conclusion of the ten-bookcover challenge.  I hope you found an interesting book in that batch.

#232: Larry Norman, Visitor

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #232, on the subject of Larry Norman, Visitor.

I floated the suggestion on social media that I might begin a somewhat disjointed series of my recollections of the Christian Contemporary and Rock music scene in the late 70s and early 80s, and it was well received, so I’m going to begin.  It seems that one cannot begin such a discussion without Larry Norman, so that is where we will start.

First, though, let’s clarify my credentials.  I was in high school from 1969 through 1973 (that’s four years, fall to spring), and although the east coast was a long way from the center of the action, the Jesus Movement had hit our town hard, so I knew a fair amount of the music of the time.  I then attended two Christian colleges in succession, and after obtaining two degrees in biblical studies along with a lot of exposure to the music my peers were hearing, I tried out for an established Christian band (more on that later) and in 1979 took a job as a disk jockey on a Christian radio station, WNNN-FM, which a short time before my arrival had been ranked the #12 CCM/Christian Rock station in the country, and just before my departure was said still to be on the short list of fifty radio stations which Christian record company promotions people made sure to call every week.  We reported our top songs to the magazine then called Contemporary Christian Music Magazine, which later shortened its name to Contemporary Christian Magazine but kept the CCM logo.  More significantly, during that span of five years and a month I heard every contemporary Christian recording released by a major label, and quite a few independent ones.  I lived this music.

Of course, memory is imperfect, but it’s one of those things that the longer you think about a subject the more you recall, so we’ll be remembering a lot along the way.

Song title links are to YouTube videos; no representation is made as to whether they are legal copies.

Larry Norman Photograph by Michael Sierra upon induction to San Jose Rocks Hall of Fame

My problem with discussing Larry Norman is that I don’t really feel that I knew him all that well.  I owned a pirated copy of the live performance of Sing that Sweet Sweet Song of Salvation (link is the studio version), and I must have heard other recordings of his.  I jammed on Why Don’t You Look Into Jesus with some college friends who knew it, and knew Six-Sixty-Six, Unidentified Flying Object, and I Wish We’d All Been Ready–three songs strongly reflecting his premillenialism, the last of which made it into a few hymnals–but I was never a serious fan beyond recognizing his importance in the field.  I attended a concert he gave at Gordon College, but only remember the conversation I had with him backstage afterwards (the gist of which is given in my previous web log post #163:  So You Want to Be a Christian Musician); my wife says we heard him again at the Levoy Theater in Millville, New Jersey, but I do not remember so much as being at the Levoy.  I can picture the cover of his cleverly-entitled album Only Visiting This Planet, but barely remember the title song and am not certain I heard any more of it than that.  In the five years I was on the radio station, we never received a single recording from him, so although he was still touring for years (it’s what musicians do, apparently–I recently heard that Blood, Sweat, and Tears was playing at the Levoy) he seemed to have largely dropped off the radar by the early 80s.  He died early in 2008 at sixty years old.

Still, his impact was never insignificant.  He is known to have been instrumental in the salvation of early CCM folk-rock artist Randy Stonehill (and we did receive one album from him during those early 80s years).  He was an acquaintance of Paul McCartney, and I recently heard that Bob Dylan came to Christ in Larry’s kitchen.  He is said to have been the original Christian rock musician, and may well deserve the title.

On the other hand, it might well be argued that his early dominance can be attributed to a lack of competition.  His at times squeaky tenor voice is an acquired taste, and his songs were mostly simple pop progressions and melodies with shallow lyrics–good solid evangelistic material, most of it, but not very competitive with the sounds that would come starting in the mid seventies.  If you liked Larry Norman, it was almost certainly because he was the first decent alternative to secular rock and pop music, or because you had met him and heard him live.  He was charismatic on stage, and well worth seeing in concert.  He was a powerful personality off-stage, and a minister with keen discernment and an understanding of the people he met.  His ministry counts for a great deal, even if his music is not all that remarkable.

And in heavenly terms, that’s what really counts.

#227: Toward Better Subtitles

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #227, on the subject of Toward Better Subtitles.

Decades ago I saw a joke birthday card.  On the face it raved about how it was the first perfect birthday card, designed and printed entirely by a computer so nothing could possibly go wrong.  Inside, it said in Courier Block lettering, MERRY CHRISTMAS.

It came to mind recently because I have come to watch television with the subtitles activated so that if somehow I miss what someone says I can read it and keep up, and sometimes they can be rather silly.  In a recent time travel movie I analyzed, Paradox, one of the characters at one point asks what it is they are seeing, and another reasonably clearly says, “Quark gluon,” but the person writing the subtitles apparently had insufficient education in advanced particle physics to recognize those as words, and so subtitled it “[Speaks Indistinct]”.  My wife recently reported watching a British mystery series and seeing the name “Wetherington Perish Church” as the local parish church.

Image captured by Gwydion M. Williams

The reason I thought of the birthday card is upon reading some of these I began to wonder whether someone was experimenting with speech-to-text software, feeding the soundtrack into a computer and getting it to figure out what everyone is saying.  I somehow doubt it–speech-to-text software has its limitations, but some of the mistakes I’ve seen could only be made by a human.  The kind of mistakes I see strongly suggest that someone is sitting at a keyboard listening to the soundtrack and typing what they hear, and that no one is proofreading the finished product.  Yet it strikes me that the people who do these subtitles are missing an obvious aid in their efforts.

I once watched an excellent Spanish-language time travel move, Los Cronocrimines a.k.a. TimeCrimes, which was both subtitled and dubbed in English, and it was intriguing to me to notice that the subtitles did not always match the dubbing.  My conclusion was that the subtitles were probably the more accurate rendering of the original Spanish.  My reasoning was that the dubbed text had to be adjusted so that the words we heard in the audience credibly matched the movement of the lips of the speakers, but the subtitles would be a direct English translation of the original Spanish dialogue.  Therein lies my solution:  use the script.

It wouldn’t work for a lot of programs–news, reality shows, talk shows–but the majority of the television I watch is scripted.  The people on the screen aren’t making up their lines; they’ve memorized them (or sometimes are reading them from a teleprompter).  The script is available, and given the ubiquity of computers it’s almost certainly available in an electronic file format.  So the obvious fix is for those who write the subtitles to start with the script, copy/paste the text into the subtitle program, and then simply adjust it whenever the actor got the line wrong–or not.  I often see subtitles in which the actor actually said about twice as many words as the subtitle, but didn’t really change the sense.

This solution seems so obvious to me that I find myself swithering between two conclusions.  It may be that the people responsible for the subtitling just aren’t bright enough to realize that they have an available resource for any text of which they are not certain, or to recognize that what they typed can’t possibly be right.  On the other hand, maybe the attitude is based on that corollary to the familiar law, Anything not worth doing is not worth doing well.  After all, how many of us out here really rely on subtitles?  Why spend a bit more time, a bit more money, a bit more effort on getting them right?  I’m constantly reading and reviewing books which are poorly edited; should I expect better of television and movies?  Does the subtitle audience really matter?

Maybe we don’t–but we aren’t all hard of hearing.  Some of us use subtitles because we watch late at night and don’t want the television to be so loud that it disturbs the sleep of others in the house.  Some use subtitles because we’re watching at work, such as night security, and we don’t want the noise of the television.  Some use subtitles to get past character accents that are sometimes challenging to understand (oh, that’s what she said!).  They’re a convenience–but an annoying one when they make stupid mistakes.

I don’t have much influence in the film industry.  I write a few articles about time travel in movies, and I’m aware that a few independent film producers have read them, but in the main I’ll probably be ignored.  However, it would be nice to have the subtitles match the dialogue, or at least accurately represent it, especially if the people typing them can’t understand what the actors are saying–that, after all, is when many of us most need to have the written form.  So here’s hoping that those who provide the subtitles can do a bit better for those of us who use them.

#223: In re: Full Moon Rising, by T. M. Becker

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #223, on the subject of In re:  Full Moon Rising, by T. M. Becker.

Prologue

Although I did a number of book reviews in the previous Blogless Lepolt web log a decade ago, I have done none in the mark Joseph “young” web log but one that was time travel related.  Part of that is because I write my book reviews at Goodreads, and have been reading enough lately that I did not want either to overload the web log with reviews or play favorites with inclusions and exclusions here.  However, this is a special case.

That requires full disclosure.  The author, T. M. Becker, is my first cousin once removed–my mother’s brother’s son’s daughter.  Yet I cannot say we know each other very well.  I can pronounce her given name (or at least, I believe I pronounce it correctly) but am not going to embarrass either of us by pretending I’m completely certain how it is spelled.  We have been in the same room three times in our lives, all at family gatherings (although with her nine children I imagine it always seems she is at a family gathering), the first when she was perhaps five years old, plus or minus a couple years, and the other two within the past couple years.  I did not immediately recognize her when she came up to me at that last one.  She connected with me via social media shortly before this book was published, and I offered to write a review in exchange for a copy.

That is the kind of offer a writer immediately regrets, as the fear arises that you won’t be able to say anything good about it and don’t want to damage a relationship by saying something bad.  Fortunately, that is not a problem in this instance.  Thus I offer

Full Moon Rising
by T. M. Becker

I have high praise for Becker’s first published novel.  It is excellent in many ways.

Let’s begin with the little stuff.  I read a lot of books in which I cringe at editing mistakes, typos, grammatical errors, spelling errors, misused words, punctuation problems, and the like.  Here the editing was immaculate.  I think there were perhaps two sentences in the entire book which I thought I might phrase differently, one place where I had to pause and figure out who made one statement in a three-way conversation.  There is no editor credit other than thanks to a writer’s workshop group; I am guessing that it is her own linguistic skill that is responsible for this.

She somewhere has acknowledged the influences of J. R. R. Tolkien and J. K. Rowling, and her story fits comfortably between Hobbits and Hogwarts but never blatantly borrows anything significant from either.  She demonstrates familiarity with subject matter, such as proper medieval architectural terms, common medicinal herbs, fashion and textiles and jewelry, and equestrian matters.  It at least feels as if she knows what she’s describing.  Her characters and creatures and settings while familiar are all original, or at least sufficiently distinct from any I have encountered elsewhere to say I don’t feel as if they were borrowed.

I struggle with titles.  I’m not sure that this book is well named, as the rising of the moon while significant in the main character’s life was less prominent in the story.  However, I would be hard-pressed to find a better title, and titles after all are essentially handles by which to identify stories.

The story revolves around Arabella.  It took me a while to learn her name, because it is written in the first person (and on this, kudos to Becker for never noticeably breaking perspective) and her name is rarely spoken–but I admit I often have problems with names of people, whether fictional or real.  There are quite a few conflicts and mysteries surrounding her, such as the disappearance of her mother, the oppressive regime that has conquered her country, the strange dreams she has when the moon approaches full, the magical trunk in her bedroom, the nature of the horse she rescues, and the threat of the evil wizard.  Some of these are not resolved within the book, and some are resolved too easily, such as the downfall of the oppressive regime after Arabella has fled the country.  However, the book is not about those stories.  It is very much about Arabella’s self-perception, the person she sees when she looks in the mirror and why she does not believe when others tell her she is beautiful.  It is a good story, and perhaps very meaningful for the target young adult audience; I recognized what was happening before the reveal, but I think we were supposed to be wondering why everyone saw her as beautiful but herself, and Becker accomplishes this layered into a story laced with adventure and excitement.

If I have a disappointment, it’s that I don’t know what Becker will write next.  Arabella has lived through her teen years and is about to marry her prince (unclear in the epilogue whether the wedding had occurred, but if not it is imminent); she would not be a suitable central character for the next book unless the villain kidnaps her before the wedding.  Speaking of the villain, we think he is dead, but he might have survived, but continuing Arabella’s story beyond a few weeks would not fit the target audience of the first book.  There is much that could be explored in this world, but difficult to set so good a plot to it as the one about Arabella in this book.  I fear my curiosities about the other fortresses, the secrets of Aramis, and so many other questions about what is just beyond what we were told will go unanswered.

Yet perhaps that is as it should be.  There is room in her world for another story, and room on the shelves should she decide to create another world.

I am giving the book five stars on Goodreads.  I think it one of the best books I have read in several years.

#206: Temporal Thoughts on Colkatay Columbus

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #206, on the subject of Temporal Thoughts on Colkatay Columbus.

I realized that the premise of this movie was absurd enough that it was probably not going to be a serious time travel film.  Found on Netflix, the blurb simply said that Christopher Columbus arrives in Kolkata, India in the present, where two young men seek his advice in their own searches for success.

What was not evident, though, was that the movie itself was not intended to be absurd nor even comedic, and it might not involve time travel at all.  It is an Indian movie, viewed with subtitles.

Apart from the intrepid explorer himself, who plays a significant role in the story, our primary characters are called Sam and Ray.

Sam has a longer more ethnic name, but he shortened it and cut all ties with his family eight years before the story opens.  He is reasonably successful as a radio disk jockey (an “RJ” in the parlance of the film), but wants to be a musical recording artist.  To this end, he has begun dating an entirely self-absorbed girl solely because her father is wealthy enough to finance the production of an album for him–despite the fact that he has a very close relationship with a girl who adores him.

Ray is a corporate office worker who writes short stories in what little spare time he has, and wants to succeed as a writer, but with mixed objectives he also wants a promotion up the corporate ladder.  His complication is that he is clearly attracted to a girl who is his superior, perhaps supervisor, in the company, and she to him, but although he would like to pursue a relationship he is too concerned about persuading her to pull some strings to get him promoted.

One day the two young men are riding in the back seat of a car driven by one of their friends when they almost hit a man, maybe sixty or so from appearance, dressed in Italian Renaissance clothing.  They are curious and engage him in conversation, and he claims to be Christopher Columbus, the discoverer of America, or at least of quite a few islands off its coast.  Then when he swoons (and hey, wearing all that heavy warm clothing in India, it’s surprising he lasted as long as he did) they catch him, bundle him into their car, and then debate whether to take him to a hospital or take him to their home to see if he can help them find success.

That is certainly the theme of the film, that everyone is exploring, searching for something.  Columbus believes himself to be the greatest explorer, and wants to help people find what they seek, so he becomes involved in advising the boys on reaching their goals.  It is genuinely interesting, if you aren’t stymied by the slow pace, but it is not the point of our investigation.

At this point we have three plausible understandings of who this person might be.  He might, of course, be some crazy person who believes himself to be Christopher Columbus, memorized much of his history from available sources such as Wikipedia, and dresses and acts the part.  He might be the real Christopher Columbus, rumors of his death having been greatly exaggerated, still alive half a millennium later.  He might be the real Christopher Columbus leaping across time to the present.

When the film is rising to its climax the first of those is knocked out of consideration, as fifteenth century Portuguese explorer Bartholomew Diaz (first man to navigate around the southern tip of Africa to reach India by water) shows up at the apartment looking for Columbus, saying that the latter gave him the address and asked him to bring a hammock so he could sleep better.  It appears that they are genuinely who they claim to be, despite the weak explanations for their fluency in the local language and somewhat native appearance.

However, Diaz explains that he has been living in South Africa in recent years, along with Gandhi, and that suggests that they are not time travelers at all.  They simply are the continuations of their original selves from years before, still alive after their deaths.

That may be the significance here.  In the closing scene, two other young men are asked for help by someone in a military uniform who claims his motorcycle broke down and gives his name as Che Guevara.  In some way, these famous people are still around.

There might be a clue to the author’s intent in the fact that a couple times characters engage in tossing quotations from famous people at each other.  One even comments that if you become famous, silly little things you said become famous quotes.  There is thus a sense in which those famous people are still with us, still influencing us, still in some sense alive in our midst, having a sort of immortality that is manifest within the movie by their corporeal presence.

I had some concern that at some point Columbus might return to the past.  Indeed, there is pressure on him to “go back”.  However, he only returns to his ship, and we can reasonably conclude that he does not travel through time in any way different from the rest of us, he only has continued to do so for five centuries beyond when we thought he died.

So despite the notion of Christopher Columbus appearing in the early twenty-first century, there is no time travel in this one.

I appear to have access to copies of Paradox, Synchronicity, The Man from the Future, and Abby Sen, all of which have strong claims to containing time travel elements.  Watch for posts, either here on the web log or as full page analyses in the Temporal Anomalies in Time Travel Movies section of the site.

MJY Blog Entry #199: Time Travel Movies that Work

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #199, on the subject of Time Travel Movies that Work.

A few weeks ago, one of my readers specifically asked what time travel movies I thought actually worked, temporally.  My musings on this were interrupted by an extended hospitalization, but I have felt for a while that I ought to be writing something about time travel and for various reasons have not been able to obtain copies of any new time travel movies, so here’s a review of some of the old ones.

Paul Nigh’s ‘TeamTimeCar.com’ Back to the Future DeLorean Time Machine

Let’s clear out a few issues first.  The first two Terminator films, and the third, were all “workable”, but they required a tremendous number of less than probable events.  That is, if we were in the world where the onscreen stories were occurring, we would know that we were in a statistically unlikely world, but if we were in the world from which those events might have arisen we would be very foolish to trust that things were going to work that way.  A lot of our movies are like that, and I’m not going to include a lot of movies which “work provided a lot of improbable events occur”.

There are also a couple of movies that land on the time travel desk which “work” because either there is no time travel within the film (although time travel issues are raised) or we don’t know any details about it.  Terminator Genisys [edit] Salvation is noteworthy in this regard, as there is a lot of concern over what happens if Kyle Reese is killed before traveling back to become John Conner’s father.  Also in this category is the very enjoyable Safety Not Guaranteed, in which we are never entirely certain whether the machine actually does travel in time until the end.  These are good movies and technically time travel movies that work, but do so because the time travel is outside the frame of the film.

The first movie that genuinely impressed me as near perfect was Twelve Monkeys.  It still is impressive, although there are problems with it that I missed because I had not yet recognized them.  Perhaps the biggest is that it appears they are using a time travel projector/collector, and as we saw in Timeline they are seriously problematic.  That problem is resolved if, as we suggest in the beginning of our Twelve Monkeys analysis, the return trip is not initiated from the future but based on a timer that determines when he returns.  So although there are more caveats than there once were, this is still on the list of the better films.

Source Code genuinely blew me away, because it works brilliantly–but not as a time travel story.  Explaining what it actually is would be a major spoiler, but if you have not seen it, do so, and then read the analysis.

I genuinely love Eleven Minutes Ago.  It is a quirky independent film in which a time traveler accidentally crashes a wedding party, falls in love with one of the bridesmaids, and woos her by returning to the party in eleven minute segments out of sequence.  The most difficult part of this film is the card trick, but even that has a better than even chance of working.

Also on the list of films that work is Los Cronocrimines a.k.a. TimeCrimes.  It is certainly temporally convoluted, but with a few not entirely unreasonable assumptions we obtain a working story.  The time machine itself in this instance suffers from the same problems as that devised by H. G. Wells:  once someone is using it, why are they not inside it if someone else tries to use it to travel the same temporal path?  However, since no one knows a way to travel through time, we tend to avoid looking too closely at the methods suggested.

That is also the main problem with Time After Time, in which H. G. Wells pursues Jack the Ripper into the twentieth century.  The end of the movie might create some genetic problem issues, but that is beyond what we know from the film.  Of course, this works largely because the time travel is only at the beginning and not part of the larger story.  There are a few temporal hiccoughs in the beginning, though.

I should mention Back to the Future, the first part.  It has some nonsense in it concerning what happens to the photo and to Marty when it appears that his history is being undone, and in the end it should not be the Marty we know but the affluent Marty who grew up in that affluent home whom we see in the future, but otherwise this does a reasonable job of producing a replacement theory story.  The sequels are fraught with impossibilities and problems, but I saw the original at its twenty-fifth anniversary showing and thought it stood the test of time, even though this was the second analysis (the third film) I had written.

The Star Trek movies deserve mention, particularly Star Trek IV:  The Voyage Home.  There are some problems with it, but in the main it holds together.  The other three time-travel-based films in the series are all over the map, from the disastrous Generations to the slightly problematic First Contact to the challenging Star Trek (2009).

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was a surprise because I knew that the time travel in the book did not work, but discovered that because of one small change that in the movie did.  It’s not perfect, but its functional.

I also need to mention Flight of the Navigator, which lands on the list because we are provided with the A-B timeline only, with Davey being delivered to the beginning of the altered C-D timeline at the end of the film.  That of course changes everything, and we don’t see how, but we can envision a solution to the time travel problems (indeed, more than one), and so reasonably can include it in movies that work.

There are other time travel movies I like and would recommend, not because they work easily but because they’re funny (Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel, Blackadder Back & Forth) or engaging (Happy Accidents, The Time Traveler’s Wife) or intriquing in their ideas (The Jacket, Next), but you can read my analyses of those and many other films, along with theory discussions, correspondence, and other articles, indexed from the main Temporal Anomalies in Popular Time Travel Movies page.

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#189: An AnimeNEXT 2017 Experience

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #189, on the subject of An AnimeNEXT 2017 Experience.

This should be prefaced with the admission that I was quite trepidatious about attending the AnimeNEXT convention as a “guest” this year, for reasons that have nothing whatsoever to do with the convention itself.  To provide a brief background, I was invited to attend AnimeNEXT in 2014, when it was still in Somerset, New Jersey, at the now defunct Garden State Exhibit Center (it is now in the Atlantic City Convention Center), and I accepted and went and had a good time, running Multiverser for quite a few people most of whom had no experience with it, and seeing a couple of people I knew from Ubercon (a convention which I attended as guest for all but the first).  I was invited to return, and planned to do so despite the fact that it falls on the weekend of my birthday.

One week before the 2015 convention we lost our electric, and were without it up to the Friday the convention was to start–leaving me with refrigerators and freezers filled with garbage that had to be cleaned and taken to the dump on Saturday.  I did not make it to the convention, regretably.  Then in 2016, the night I was supposed to be driving to the con I was instead driven to the emergency room, where I was admitted to emergency surgery and kept in house for a week.  I joked that for my birthday I was given a hernioraphy and bowel resection, gifts I would use for many years to come.  (The joke was on me, because in March I was back to have the hernia repair repaired, and I’m not entirely certain that the repair is holding.)

Thus with the 2017 convention looming I was superstitiously worried about what sort of disaster would befall us preventing my attendance yet again.  Mercifully none did, but I was still on edge as on the Thursday night on which I was supposed to check into the hotel the person who was to drive me got sick.  I was as much concerned that I would get there as that I would not, not having run any live Multiverser games since the previous con and not having run any online since Gaming Outpost crashed, and hoping that the materials still packed in the box of books and papers from the last time were going to include everything I needed this time, without ever having a moment of preparation time to check them.  Fortuitously everything on that count worked.  I arrived Friday, too late for breakfast but in time for lunch.

I was immediately in the game room, and soon entertaining players.  Regan and Kaseeb (I hope I got those spellings right) dove right into my Tropical Island setting–the one all convention players know because I start everyone there and then blow the volcano and kill them all (that is, their characters) so I can scatter them to other worlds in the multiverse.  Both players saved me that trouble.  When Michael di Vars was explaining what had happened to them, and that whenever they were killed they would awaken in another universe, Kaseeb called him “crazy”, which as a clear expression of disbelief demands proof, and the proof is that di Vars shoots him with a gun big enough to be instantly fatal.  Regan thereafter was not so skeptical, but chose to explore a cave into which a stream poured and from which steam arose, and when he fell on the slick wet polished volcanic glass streambed he decided to attempt to crawl deeper into the cave, resulting in an abrupt slide into the boiling pool at the bottom.

Both players returned on Saturday, and I’m not certain exactly where the break was in their games.  Kaseeb landed on the bridge of the Starship Destiny, where after being beligerent and getting locked in the brig, he became cooperative, started requesting equipment he recognized would be valuable in the long term (such as a water purification system), and made himself part of the crew.  He went on a raid of a Federation listening post under construction, but got killed by security when things went wrong.  I’m afraid he tended to roll particularly bad general effects rolls, so when he needed things to go well for him the dice said they went badly.  He awoke in a forest, but I’m not going to say more about that in case he does contact me to continue play, other than to record for my own sake that he is in the same world in which Derek Jacob Brown started in the fourth novel–so those who follow the novels will probably know what world that is in a few months, if all goes well.

Meanwhile, Regan landed in Ruritania’s royal game preserve, where he was discovered by Colonel Sapt and Fritz Tarlenheim–Prisoner of Zenda, where he was as near the exact duplicate of King Rudolf as one could ask.  He pulled the rug out from under me, though–when in the morning the king had been drugged or poisoned and could not be awakened, Regan tapped his medical and herbalism background to purge the drug and revive the victim.  The king thus made it to the coronation, very sickly but adequately, and Regan was smuggled into the royal suite in the Castle at Strelsau after dark, to attend to the continued treatment of the problem.

I also started a game for Glen on Saturday afternoon.  Oddly, all three of us working in the game room–Ahmetia, Kevin, and I–felt ill after lunch.  I excused myself for a while when Regan and Kaseeb had left, but when I returned Glenn had also departed.  He did stay on the island until it exploded, although he was trying to build a raft to escape it when it happened.  He drowned, but I was still trying to decide where he would awaken when I took my break.

I had no players on Sunday, but sat in on half a game of something called Fiasco that Kevin was running–an excellent story-driven game that I would probably recommend but that at just about the halfway point two of our players had to leave and the game could not be continued once players had left the table, so I don’t really know how it plays out to the end.

Outside the RPG room, I made one run to the dealer and artist showcase room–combined in one large area with little distinction between the two.  It was larger than I could even bring myself to run through, but apart from the rather pricey and common dice (all the standard polyhedrals, but no d30s and nothing unusual like the tiny dice or the d24 I got at the last Ubercon) I saw nothing that interested me much.  That’s not really the fault of the con–it’s that I’m not the best target audience for it.  Kevin is an expert on the paranormal, frequent lecturer on the subject, but his expertise is focused on Western phenomena.  At AnimeNEXT panels address either anime or Japan, and outside our game rooms nearly everything at the convention is about one or both of those subjects.  As Chaplain of the Christian Gamers Guild I have several years attempted to connect with someone about hosting a non-denominational Christian worship service on Sunday morning, but have never been able to figure out who that would be, and suspect it is partly because Christian worship services are not really thought to fit into their overall program.  There is also an extremely high level of cosplay here.  The few other cons I’ve attended were mostly people in plain clothes with occasional costumed characters.  Here the plainclothes attendees are more the exception, and many of the cosplayers look like cartoon characters peeled from the celuloid.  I am very impressed by their skills in this regard, and they clearly impress each other–it is typical to find a crowd of photographers surrounding a well-costumed individual.  I even saw someone I thought would make an excellent image for my Lauren Hastings character, but she was down the escalator before I could react, and I was rushing late to dinner, and I never saw her again.

I have a couple times mentioned food, and I reluctantly have to say it was disappointing.  I say I am a guest of the convention, but I’m technically listed as staff in the tabletop games section.  I don’t attend staff meetings because they’re generally held (seems like every week) more than two hours away from where I live, and although in theory one can attend via online video conferencing I have no microphone or camera on my computer.  I consider myself more a special guest, like the professional wrestlers they had performing some exhibition on Saturday afternoon.  As “staff” I get free room and meals.

It is difficult to assess the Sheraton.  Upon my arrival, there was a freak incident in which the bellhop, who was apparently required to bring my luggage to my room, spilled my coffee on the rug and promised to get housekeeping to clean it.  I never saw housekeeping, and the stain remained through our entire stay, but it was mocha so it probably stains pretty well.  A moment later I noticed that the drain cock on the bathroom sink did not open.  He promised he would have maintenance fix that as well, and it was fixed by the time I returned to the room that evening.  However, at six in the morning when one of my roommates, Paul, tried to take a shower, the tub drain was clogged.  He called the desk, and we had someone there by six thirty waking the rest of us but getting the drain cleared.  Obviously there are going to be such problems, and the response was swift, but it is passing strange that we had two bad drains in the same room.  It causes me to wonder about the plumbing and other maintenance of other rooms in the hotel, but it might be simply that we had a bad general effects roll.

I hate to say that the meals were a disappointment.  Three years ago the food was wonderful, breakfast and dinner buffets worth good money.  This year, breakfast was continental, and while the donuts, bagels, loaf cakes, and other basic bread products were good quality, and the coffee excellent, I had been eagerly anticipating eggs and meat and hot cereal.  Friday’s dinner included one entree, chicken parmesan, which was passable.  I was ill Saturday and lay down over dinner time, but others at the convention described the meal of pizza and pasta salads rather derisively.  Lunch all three days was hoagies and wraps, and I was fairly happy with the roast beef on Friday and the tuna on Sunday, but on Saturday I forced myself to eat half an Italian hoagie and half a roast chicken sandwich with the roasted peppers pulled off (I do not do well with spicy foods), and probably made myself ill trying to eat it.  (Kevin and Ahmetia ultimately decided that their infirmity arose from lack of sleep, having stayed up too late Friday night and arisen too early Saturday morning.)  Of course, it was food, and it was free.  The cookies were good, the homemade potato chips got mixed reviews.  Coffee, tea, and orange juice were available with breakfast, but lunches and dinners were served with Nestle’s Pure Life bottled water in tiny bottles (eight ounces each).  The coffee was swept away very quickly at the end of breakfast, but Kat and I were able to prevail upon the polite and helpful catering staff to provide us with cups to go from the kitchen mid-morning Saturday.

I approach the food issue with mixed feelings.  I am reminded of a Mad Magazine mock of a movie entitled Marooned (which perhaps presciently told the story of three astronauts stranded in space before the Apollo 13 fiasco), in which at one point Ground Control replies to the stranded astronauts, “Hey, we had to cut the budget somewhere–we couldn’t have wall-to-wall carpet and a back-up life support system.”  There are a lot of expenses involved in running a convention, and the people at the top want to see it turn enough of a profit that they have money ready to do it again the next year.  I think it unfortunate that some of my fondest memories of 2014 were about the food, which was the basis of my worst memories of 2017.  On the other hand, I had money in my pocket and there were places to eat in the neighborhood, so the fact that I did not eat well proves ultimately to be my own fault.

Ahmetia is already expecting me to return next year, so although I have not been formally invited I’m guessing at this point that’s a formality.  Hopefully this year will go well enough that I will be in better shape in every way in twelve months, so I’ll start planning for that.  I understand that there were about two thousand people (give or take a couple hundred) through the gates, and that there were some there that I know who never came by to see me, but there were some who remembered me from three years ago who know me from nowhere else, and that was an encouragement.  So perhaps I will see you there in 2018.

I also promised Regan and Kaseeb, and maybe Glen, that if they contacted me I would find a way to continue their games online.  I am contemplating adding a forum to this site for that purpose, but have not yet heard from any of them–although I expect that if I decide to do this, I will be innundated with players from previous games wanting to continue online, who are probably already thinking that I should do this.  I am considering it.  No decision has been reached at this point.

#185: Notes on Time Travel in The Flash

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #185, on the subject of Notes on Time Travel in The Flash.

Let me first say that I do like the current television incarnation of The Flash–not as much as I enjoyed the 1990 version, but more than some superhero efforts I’ve seen.  I have small complaints, such as that this Barry Allen seems a lot younger, and a lot less capable at his day job, than the one I remember from comics in the nineteen sixties, but a lot of what is different from what I remember is good–and hey, it’s been half a century since I was reading comic books, so I have no idea what it’s like now.  It’s an entertaining show, and I look forward to more episodes appearing.

img0185Flash

It’s the time travel elements that irk me.

I really hope that doesn’t surprise anyone.

Let me also say that the totally bogus notion of how to travel through time, by traveling fast enough, does not particularly bother me either.  Maybe it’s because I remember Superman doing it when I was in grade school, and I remember realizing that it didn’t really make sense that flying around the earth fast enough in one direction would take you to the past, and doing it in the other direction would bring you back to the present, but it made for a good story.  Peter Davison’s Doctor (Who?) once said not to trust anyone who thought he was going to go back in time by exceeding the speed of light, because it really didn’t work that way, but since no one knows how it works I usually give a pass on method.  This speed trick is popular–even Star Trek used it in the original series and in Star Trek IV:  The Voyage Home.  You can’t do it that way, but it’s only a story, and in that world apparently you can.

At this point I have seen all the episodes in what is, I think, the first two seasons, and there has been an inordinate amount of time travel.  I have elsewhere explained why I do not do detailed analyses of time travel television shows, and a lot of those reasons apply here–Barry frequently travels to the same point in the past, and so do his enemies, and thus we are faced with the fact that what happens in later episodes is going to alter what happened in earlier ones.  So I am not dealing with those kinds of details here; I am just looking at two concepts that can be abstracted from the story, and the problems I have with these.

The big one is the time remnant.

The concept here is that you can duplicate yourself by traveling to the past–and that much is certainly true.  It is a kind of a joke skill in Multiverser, that a character who can time travel to the past fights for one minute, then in the next minute uses his time travel skill to go back two minutes to the beginning of the fight so that there are two of him, and does this at the end of every minute until he manages, by sheer numbers, to win the fight in one minute.  Then, since every duplicate version of himself has to travel back to become the next duplicate version of himself, a minute later all vanish but the last, who does not make the trip to the past but continues living into the future.

The problem with the skill is that you absolutely have to survive those first two minutes without any assistance, because until you get to the point in the future where you can travel to the past, you have not yet arrived in the past.  Your arrival in the past changes history, but in order to change history there must have been an original history to change, a history in which you did not arrive.

The problem with the time remnant is that he becomes disconnected from his own linear history, and thus he cannot exist.

Let us create a hypothetical.  Barry is supposed to meet his boss to discuss a case over lattes at that coffee shop, but as he is on his way he learns that Killer Frost is robbing a jewelry store downtown.  He quickly dresses as The Flash, manages to nab her and deliver her to holding back at the collider, and then realizes that he has missed his meeting with his boss, who is going to be unhappy and does not know that his not entirely competent lab technician is secretly The Flash.  The boss has been fuming over this incompetence, pays for his latte, and heads back to the office.  Barry decides this is important, so he travels fast enough to go back in time.  Now as his one-hour-younger self is headed downtown to stop Killer Frost, he dresses as Barry and meets his boss, who has no memory of the original history and so does not know that Barry did not show.  They have their meeting while Killer Frost is being captured and taken to holding, and at this moment there are two Barry Allens in the world–one of whom just captured Killer Frost, the other of whom did that an hour ago and has since had a meeting with his boss.

However, the Barry Allen who just captured Killer Frost still has to travel to the past to become the Barry Allen who meets with his boss.  If he does not do so, that Barry Allen will never come into existence.  However, when he does so, he ceases to exist in the future–because for him, he lives through that hour twice, but there is only one of him before that hour, and there is only one of him after that hour.

If the first Barry is killed before he travels to the past, then he never makes the trip and there is no duplicate–no “time remnant”.  However, if the second Barry is killed, then it becomes inevitable that the first Barry will travel to the past and be killed–or if not, that time will become caught in an infinity loop, in which two different histories are vying for reality.

This also means you cannot create a temporal duplicate of yourself “before the fact”–that is, Barry can’t say, “I have to stop Killer Frost, but I have to meet with my boss, so I’m going to travel back in time a minute so that there are two of me, and then one of me will go stop Killer Frost while the other meets with my boss.”  He can create two of himself for that minute, but at the end of that minute either the one of him that did not just arrive from the future a minute ago has to go back and become the other, or the other will cease ever to have existed and no one will ever do anything again.

So Barry could create a temporal duplicate of himself, but it would not work the way we see it in the show.  His duplicate self would be dependent on him making that trip back at the moment in the future when he did so, at which point the “original” becomes the “duplicate” in the past, and the “duplicate” continues into the future.

Of course, the show allows that there are consequences to playing with time:  if you duplicate yourself, you become the target of time wraiths.

What the heck?

I’m afraid that D. C. Comics, or at least their television production affiliate, has now stepped into the realm of theology.

They probably want us to think that the Speed Force exists in, or as, some para-natural parallel dimension, but it does not act like a parallel dimension.  It acts like a supernatural being.  It might not be God, but it certainly has the qualities of a god.  Those Speed Wraiths are its minions, its “angels”, if you will.  Sure, they look more demonic than angelic–but it’s no accident that they recall scenes from Ghost, taking the spirits of the wicked departed wherever it is that they go.  They really have nothing to do with time travel itself, except that since they work as supernatural enforcers for a supernatural being involved with time and temporal distortion, they punish those who cause severe temporal problems by grossly violating the rules.

The part I don’t like about them is that they are a poor replacement for what really happens when you mess with time.  There’s no particular reason why such supernatural beings could not exist in the service of a temporal god connected to the power of super speed.  They are not, however, a logical consequence of breaking the rules of time.  They are a supernatural intervention.

I am sometimes asked whether I think God would intervene to prevent a temporal disaster.  I do not know, but this is not that.  Grabbing the time traveler and removing him for punishment after he has caused the damage does not undo the damage.  Of course, in theory temporal agents could, as in Minority Report, capture the time traveler before he causes the disaster–but then, he would not know for what he is being punished, and has a reasonable justice-based defense to the effect that he cannot be punished for what he was going to do but never did.  God might know that he would have done it, but he himself does not know that he would not have changed his mind.  It is certainly not impossible for God to prevent the effects of a time traveler’s stupidity, even to prevent an intentionally-created grandfather paradox–but His intervention would be unseen, because the cause of the problem would be prevented (in exactly the way fixed time theorists would expect) rather than the effect undone.

So I’ll accept time wraiths as supernatural minions of a god overseeing time and velocity, while recognizing that they have never done anything to protect time except punish those who have done the damage.  There are still major problems with time travel in the series, but they would require so much more work to address even at this point, and are likely to be altered significantly as the series continues, so we will ignore them.

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