Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Heinlein's 'The Moon is a Harsh Mistress' As A Movie

For many years, I've wanted to see Heinlein's last Hugo award winning novel converted to a movie. Seeing the plucky Loonies fight off the hamfisted Terran Federation would be definitely very enjoyable. Recently, however, I've come to see some major problems with the novel as a movie.

The first relates to a major issue in the novel - the low gravity of the Moon. It figures in many aspects of the storyline. The inhabitants of the Moon are permanentally adapted to the one sixth gee, and can't return to earth for any sort of normal existence. When the Federation lands troops on the moon to suppress the revolt, the troops are hampered by their inexperience, and the Loonies use this to their advantage. In any adaptation of the novel, the gravity should figure in every scene, not just a few. Depicting the low gravity is very difficult.

The movie Gravity did show zero gee very well, and for the full length of the movie. However Cuaro only had to show one person moving in zero gee- not whole families, riots and battles. The one sixth gravity would be quite the hindrance of translating the novel and it has to be shown.

Another issue is that Heinlein told us about a revolt on the moon, but did not show it. Much of the preparation of for the rebellion is laid out in expository pages. Heinlein, master that he was, got away with it, but it won't work for a video art form. The directory could opt for numerous montage scenes, but that gets old fast.

Heinlein also glossed over several character issues. He shows a long discussion with Manny and Stuart Lajoie to enlighten the reader as to the social status of females and the social heirarchy on Luna. He skips later scenes when Lajoie becomes entranced with Manny's family, and not only figures out what's going on, but joins the rebellion as soon as he's informed. In a later scene Manny complains that many of Prof's friends spoke down to him during the time when Luna was preparing for invasion. But this was never shown. The first the reader hears of it is when Manny complains about it.

The obvious solution for these two issues is of course to write more material. Introduce more characters and show them joining the rebellion and what it means. Let us see Lajoie get swayed by Wyoming Knott, watch his face as he puts clues together and figures out whats going on. Show the progression of the revolt from the formation of the cell system, to the gang rape and riots that resulted with the Loonies overthrowing the local authorities. This of course would mean not a movie, but a full HBO or Netflix style series. Maybe show three seasons, one season for the insurgency, one for the rebellion and one for fighting the invasion forces.

Finally their are several  major plot holes that need to be resolved. The first involves the various tricks Mycroft plays on the occupying forces. Unlike 1965, computers are now prevalent in society. The first thing Alvarez would think of would be computer viruses or back doors allowing access to the mainframe. As the local computer consultant, they would heavily scrutinize Manny. Perhaps some sort of LeCarre sting could be worked out to redirect attention to some one else - a very smart computer scientist on the Fed's payroll, but it would still be difficult. Alvarez would know what was happening, he just couldn't prove it. He may even campaign for a total reboot that would destroy Mycroft.....hmmm that could lead to a heist episode where Manny has to download Mycroft to a portable disk drive. Okay, maybe this plot hole could be fixed, but the writers would have to spend some time on it.

The second major plot hole involves sending convicts to the moon to do the Fed's farm labor. With a long waiting list for colonizing Mars, I don't think it would be difficult to find volunteers to colonize the moon. Why send dangerous convicts who would more like as not drag their heels and try to sabotage every project? The moon is only three seconds from the earth- many tasks could be done by drones monitored from earth. The idea doesn't make sense.

Also, consider the whole 'farming wheat on the moon to resolve a hunger crises on earth' scheme. Heinlein was only guessing at the amount of Lunar water, but we now know there isn't very much. The lunar regolith lacks carbon and nitrogen, vital necessities for any agricultural endeavors. Any scheme to send convicts to the moon to farm food for earth would just be met with a puzzled look and the question, "Why not just build more prison farms in Nebraska and Alabama?"

A plot point about the rebellion was the Loonies had to revolt or face a severe ecologic crisis as they mined the last of their water. They would not even be able to feed themselves, let alone the teaming masses of India or China. With all the current emphasis on sustainability, I'm not sure how no one would notice that the Moon is running out of water, carbon and nitrogen. The scheme in the later part of the novel where an indigenous Lunar authority increases grain shipments would be utterly ludicrous.

The idea of the descendants of convicts on the moon revolting against outside authority certainly touches part of the human spirit, but making a movie from Heinlein's book presents far too many problem. It's a shame though, because I'd love to see it.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Leverage - replace term privilege.  Privilege tends to be something people enjoy, and don't work at. Think of it as how much lever arm you have to get things done in your life. Has connotation of pushing down, working on the lever. Also applies to all sorts of situations - Parents stayed married, are supportive, culture of can do attitude. Refer to folks 'He had some short lever days but he worked hard and got ahead.'

Still not perfect. Anybody that had to pull an all nighter to get a project finished or pull multiple weeks of sixteen hour days won't like it. When you're in the trenchs hard to think about your leverage, cause working hard is hard work. Romney is a long lever guy, but wonder how much that crossed his mind in the last three weeks of the election with twenty hour days.

In real life...

These started with a joke I heard back when Independence Day came out. Supposedly during the scene where the Brett Spiner character is getting thrashed by the alien in the exoskeleton, in some theatre somewhere, a small boy piped up "In real life, Data would kick the alien's butt."

I started collecting more 'in real life' sayings, where reality gets a littly blurry. Here are two I remember, and will add more as I come across them.

During the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the governor went on TV and pathetically cried, begging the federal government for assistance. In real life, if Laura Roslin was governor, she would have organized and led her own convoy into New Orleans, twenty four hours ahead of FEMA.

While watching Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, I felt a moment of liking for Anakin Skywalker when he insisted they investigate the attempted assasination of Padma. But then I realized, in real life, Lord Auditor Vorkosigan would have unmasked Palpatine in about three days, cutting out the need for a third movie.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Stop calling them the 'Middle Ages'

One issue with the study of the Middle Ages, is the very name of the time period. It postulates a middle ground that implicitly references the two endpoints - the Roman Empire and the so-called ‘Renaissance’. Like the middle child, the Middle Ages gets overlooked because of the name.
Casting about for a new name, I’ve considered two. The first is the Archipelago Ages. ‘Archipelago’ is used to emphasize how each city, village and county was its own little island in both space and time. The name accentuates how individuals study individual islands also highlights the differences and variety of each region. Researchers can also point out how a variety of sources changes how much we know about each island, labeling some islands as unknown due to the paucity of materials - with the unstated challenge that some future historian might some day explore the territory, adding to our knowledge.
Of course, most places are not literally islands, so we can postulate each island is connected via metaphorical ocean currents that allow for trade of culture and technology. Additionally, a tribe or group of people would colonize groupings of islands, thus describing similarities. Islands existing in contact -either geographically or on trade routes - would show similarities with their neighbors as well.
At least two objections to this name come to mind. First, although Europe does possess important islands- Britain, Ireland, Sicily and so on- peninsula is the major geographic feature, not island. Even more importantly, the image of historians studying a metaphorical archipelago holds for many time periods of history, not least of which would be the actual archipelagos of the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Archipelago Ages has distinct disadvantages and doesn't fit.
Concordat Era is the second and more fitting description of the Middle Ages. The one thing that seems common is people, both individually and in groups, were constantly making pacts and promises. Whether between lord and knight, town and king, or guild and artisan, contracts were everywhere. Even peasants made contracts - eg wealthy peasants contracted with poor to provide housing and clothing in exchange for household services. Even parents would contract with children to spell out exactly how much support the children had to provide after the parents retired.
By emphasizing the contracts the various issues of certain other words- eg the f-word-ism-are avoided. We sidestep whether the pacts were for land, money, goods, included juridical powers or military service. The compacts could be implicit by custom or explicit and spelled out in detail. In fact maybe that’s how historians should describe the cultures of the concordat era- the movement of implicit to explicit and back.
Since people like to use things they are familiar with, they would use familiar kinds of concordats, changing them to new conditions as needed. In this scheme, the Crusaders weren’t introducing a particular -ism, but simply taking up the tool they knew, adapting it as necessary and employing this tool for a goal - governance of the land conquered in the Crusades. Same thing for William the Conqueror after Hastings.
Concordat Era gives the Middle Ages new stature, as existing as more than a waypoint between ‘Antiquity’ and the ‘Modern’ era. The new name underscores the primary feature of the time period, including the variability and diversity, without the need for constant hedging about and equivocating. It gives the layperson a handle on what was going on for hundreds of years without extensive study of all cultures in Europe. Let’s start using it today. 

Friday, August 10, 2012

The real purpose of the MSL laser

The Mars Science Lander has a big ole laser on it and NASA says its for science. In real life, there was a secret mission to Mars that's gone rogue. The Cimmeria Advanced Traveler landed in the Terra Cimmeria area seven years ago to explore crater formations. The probe began ignoring commands, responding occasionally, if at all. Scientists have lost all contact and fear the missing probe may biologically contaminate the sandy Martian soil. Extreme measures must be taken. The purpose of the laser is obvious: Curiosity must hunt down and kill the CAT.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Curiosity lands on Mars! See pics on

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Independence Day

I was thinking of the old movie Independence Day, the one with Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum. At end of the movie, humanity celebrated the destruction of the alien mothership and all the strike ships. Happiness and good will pervaded all.

The scene glosses over the reality of the situation. The aliens destroyed the cities of New York, Los Angeles, Houston and Washington DC with their opening salvo. The humans nuked the strikeship in Houston with no effect to the strikeship, but plenty of effect to the surrounding countryside. After the initial attack, the strikeships started moving through out the country, destroying major cities. We could probably add Boston, Philadelphia, and Las Vegas, NV to the list, at least. The rest of the world fared no better, with all the major capitals destroyed, followed by subsequent destruction of major cities.

The power grid was probably destroyed, so most US cities have no power. The refineries near Houston were destroyed also, so gasoline would soon be in short supply. Food could not get from the farms to the survivors easily. The catastrophe grows greater the more you think of it.

And the aliens could have done so much more. Fortunately for us they were a telepathic race with no concept of internet security. Any sort of smart alien invasion we would have little chance against. Most stories of alien invasion deliberately gimp the aliens so humans can take that slender shot, and against all the odds, triumph.I'm all for humans winning, but we may not be so fortunate as our fictional counterparts if we ever contact intelligent alien life.Luckily for us, it appears we have a long time (possibly forever) to prepare.