Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Time Machine (book)

Its very title, The Time Machine (1895) suggests that H.G. Wells’ tale of time travel is the first such book to suggest a literal journey in time, through the use of a scientific machine specifically built for that purpose.

In fact, Wells did coin the term "time machine" though there were a few stories which played with the concept of traveling backward in time written prior to this piece, which was serialized before its being revised into a book.

In my play, On the Dark Side of Twilight, I trace the history of vampires in literature, and how the definition of their existence had changed from era to era. Some rules, like their need to drink blood, definitively defines what it means to be a vampire, and so has remained constant. That they cannot walk in daylight was not true at first, and has recently been dismissed.

Some fun might be had writing a similar story on the history of time travel, and what ideas our imaginations can accept, and which they cannot. Wells did not trouble himself with the idea of paradoxes, never questions whether his protagonist - who has no name, only The Time Traveler - or whether or not to kill Hitler, who would only have been six at the time, anyway.

In fact, Wells does not even venture into the past, only the future, and in doing so he sets in this one story several paradigms for our idea of time travel, many of which have never changed, and has inspired countless imitators.

Unlike Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, in which she doesn’t actually describe how man reanimates man, just that it happens, Welles describes a few precious materials which compose the machine and make it work. We now refer to this as Techno Babble, a term devised to describe every word anyone says on Star Trek.

The Future, as defined by Wells, is originally assumed by the Time Traveler to have one set of realities, and as his veil of ignorance is lifted, he discovers to his horror is something entirely else. This “Discoverer’s Error” is a mainstay of plots for Star Trek and Dr. Who - these programs often presenting the opposite discovery, that that which appeared monstrous was merely misunderstood.

Mary Doria Russell’s award-winning novel The Sparrow even lifts the central conceit of Wells’ mystery, the concept of two sentient in a symbiotic relationship where one exists as food for the other.

I found the final passages of The Time Machine extremely affecting, especially or due to their brevity, in the which the Traveler leaps millions of years into the future, twice, the witness the Earth in its final days. As the globe ceases to spin on its axis, and either the Sun expands or the Earth comes nearer to it, the seas crust with salt, all appears reddish or pink to the eye … and giant creatures described as similar in appearance to crabs roam the shore.

The Traveler is nearly attacked by one and manages to escape with alacrity. I couldn’t help but be reminded by Stephen King’s Gunslinger, who had no means of escape when set upon by mutant crustaceans on a foreign beach and was terribly maimed.

Wells’ uses his time machine to ask what if, and to play out a fantasy of a future time where the worst fantasy of man’s inhumanity comes to pass. There are several allusions to the downfall of humanity through Communism, but it is Capitalism which is the true culprit, how a permanent underclass will eventually turn on its master. The image of workers underground while idle classes play above (a literal image from the Victorian period) is reflected in films like Metropolis, and many others.

Time travel has always been a tool for writers to reflect their own time back to their readers in metaphors which are exciting and easy to digest, with or without Jessica Paré.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Great Globe Itself: First Reading

Last evening, we had the first reading of my new work, which will be presenting as Great Lakes Theater’s 2015 free, outreach touring play, visiting 27 sites in Cuyahoga, Summit and Lorain Counties.

Tim Keo, James Rankin and Arthur Chu were invited to read the piece, the company will consist of three men, playing a variety of characters from several points in history. I had requested they prepare to read in three different accents, and it was very satisfying to hear the lines spoken that way. We will be engaging a dialect coach, but their advance preparation was greatly, greatly appreciated.

The Playwrights’ Unit generally takes a break during the summer, so I was very to happy to have those who were in town and available attend and provide extremely valuable feedback. Many thanks to Deb, Margaret and Eric C., and to Lisa and Emily for their assistance and comments.

Working from the assumption that people 1) like to know how things work 2) dig insider information and 3) like to get teased, allow me to present ...

General notes on a play you don’t know nothing about yet:
  • The players come and go. The Globe remains.
  • It takes an American to get things done.
  • The creation of plays always incorporates the story of those who created it.

  • Art is inextricable from business and politics.
  • The Globe Theatre moves through time and space.
  • More than any other theater building in history, this theater has an inalterable connection to its playwright.
  • In a weird way, theater has always been made by the same kind of people.
Red flags:
  • What are the rules of interaction between people from the past to those in the present.
  • What are the politics of the First Globe?
  • What is the conflict in the Third Globe?
  • This will be an exciting, humorous and enjoyable show to experience, but I personally don't describe what it's about very well.
  • Cut the floating vial of poison (see rules of interaction.)
  • Make it clear that the speech will bring controversy onto its speaker.
  • “Am I going to destroy my reputation?” Make explicit.
  • Revise the opening verses, add detailed stage directions.
  • Expand the stage directions, in general, for the company to clearly understand what’s happening. You can cut them later.
  • Abbreviate the Dr. Who business.
All of David Hansen's plays are the same play. This is not the first time I have heard this.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy (film)

The most interesting aspect of the new Marvel Comics summer blockbuster Guardians of the Galaxy is, of course, The Awesome Mix Vol.1. Our main protagonist ... well, our main protagonist is Rocket, but the guy we follow from the beginning of the film, the one human in the company, is Peter Quill, was abducted from Earth in 1988, when he was about ten years-old. 

His most treasured possessions are a late-80s model Walkman, and more importantly a cassette tape given to him by his mother while she was dying from cancer. On it are songs she thought he needed to know and love as she did.

All well and good, when a Baby Boomer aged parent believes they are acting to hold back the onslaught of rap music and hair metal which would otherwise poison a boy's love of real music. I could go on about Baby Boomers and their arrogant insinuations that the music of their childhood was the last great pop music, but in the past ten years I have heard enough members of my generation saying the same thing about the 80s and 90s. It's an American thing.

However, as the music on The Awesome Mix is almost entirely from the 1970s, it should be noted what a peculiar time in music history that was. The Baby Boomers, as always the dominant force in taste and culture, shaped the pop charts for a longer period than any other generation in history. So as the "Me" Decade stretched on, with Boomers aging into their late twenties, the pop charts became more adult, introspective, and maudlin.

The number one song of Summer 2014 was Fancy by Iggy Azalea. That is a song for teenagers. The number one song of Summer 1978 was the Doobie Brothers' Minute By Minute, a song which has the sonic medicinal qualities of warm milk. That is a song for shut-ins.

Peter Quill's mother apparently thought it was vitally important he be lulled into an early sense of self-involved torpor by including I'm Not In Love by 10cc. I mean, I had to listen to that song on the radio ten times a day when it was current, and it made me the solipsistic man I am today. Why on earth would anyone intentionally subject a child to that kind of abuse?

Throughout the film, I was also painfully aware of how each of these songs were chosen as a marketing device, to satisfy the parents in the audience who were accompanying their children to this big, loud, superhero flick. I mean, I wanted to be there, too, I am not pretending I didn't, but I also felt I was being pandered to. It's not like these are deep-catalog cuts, they are entirely ultra-familiar songs, most of them having been featured prominently in numerous previous films.

Hooked On A Feeling? Isn't that one of K-Billy's Super Sounds of the Seventies?

However, let us at last take the premise of this mixtape gift from dying mother to son sincerely, and at face value. As our favorite songs from our youth remind us of who we are, so does the gift of our favorite music say, this is who I am. Remember me. 

I am reminded of the Canadian film Last Night (fans of Slings & Arrows take note, it stars and was written and directed by Don McKellar - deal with that) and takes place on the final evening before the world ends. Why the world ends isn't important. I mean, it really isn't, we never learn why or how it is everyone knows this is the case. It's just a dark comedy about what everyone might do if the end of the world were certain, and known. I love this movie.

From time to time, we hear a DJ on the radio spinning the "Greatest 500 Songs Of All Time". The thing is, they are obviously not the greatest songs of all time, they include such non-hits as Jimmy Loves Mary-Ann (from the same clowns who recorded Brandy, You're a Fine Girl) and Heartbeat It's a Love Beat by the DeFranco Family.

The man says, "We've reached number twelve on the top 500 of all time, according to ... me, all right? So don't bother calling in. This time, it's my choice." 

And that's awesome. 

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Kindle Paperwhite

Let us assume that when I am not updating my Centennial blog on a regular basis, it means that instead of musing about writing, I am I the process of actually writing.

This is not actually true most days of the year, but let us assume it is so.

However, most recently, certainly this year, it has been so. My New Year’s Resolution has endured, I scribble for at least a half-hour each morning. That is far from the three hours of scribbling I would be doing if my sole profession were writing, but it is a half-hour daily more than what I used to attempt.

And when I say scribbling, I mean writing exercises, short meandering stories and complete nonsense. You should try it, and by that I mean every single day. That is in addition to the writing.

In calendar year 2014 I have now written the first drafts of three new works. Yes, I have. And it’s only August. A couple days ago I filled holes in The Great Globe Itself and have scheduled a reading for Wednesday. It is a mess, but truly my own, no one would mistake for anyone else’s. Leaps in time, historic references and lots of them, music, dance and a little magic. It’s what I do.

Unfortunately (perhaps) the homestretch occurred during vacation. You can’t choose when these things are going to come together. I needed to relax, some perspective, and enough time to read, write, and not write, without feeling too much pressure. But with the deadline fast approaching, a little pressure. There has to be a little pressure.

The unfortunately is because I spent a great deal of time in front of this screen, tapping away and re-reading when I should have been kayaking, swimming, fishing, playing D&D or just plain wandering around with my wife and children. These things did happen, just not in the quantities I would have preferred.

Waah. As I have to remind my son, there are children in Afghanistan who don’t even have screens.

The great good news was that I received as a belated birthday gift a Kindle Paperwhite from my brother and his family. My son objected. “But … you can’t play games on that!” That is correct, my son. Like my iPod nano, which still works and was a gift to me eight years ago, it does one thing, and does it very well.

Perhaps it is the novelty of the thing (a light, elegant thing, a pleasure to hold, so beautiful to look at) but I downloaded two books and read each of them in roughly two days each. Because screens. Even elegant, beautiful screens. But I can’t Minecraft on it, so I just keep reading. Because mellow, handheld, glowing screen. I love screeny screen screen.

Meanwhile, the reading fed the writing, sitting, staring at the sea, discovering how point A meets point G. The book reports come later, for now I have a 46-page script … with an extensive bibliography. Wish it luck.