Monday, December 26, 2016

Robinson Crusoe and his Girl Friday in Space—Review of Passengers

Suppose you were on a voyage to a colony on another planet, and you’re in one of those sleep chambers. Then you wake up, recover from years of suspended animation, then stroll through the ship—and find no one else awake.

That is the puzzle Jim Preston (Chris Pratt), a mechanic, finds himself in. When he makes inquiries, he gets frustrating responses from cheerful holograms. He finally figures out he was woken up early—ninety years early. Unless he can figure out a solution, he will die on the spaceship, alone.

As you can see from the previews, there’s a girl involved, Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence). While Jim wants the challenges of putting his skills to work on a new planet, she’s a writer who paid for a round trip to get new experiences to write about. They are the unlikeliest of couples.

Passengers is a fun and satisfying movie, in contrast to the awful movie Arrival, which I reviewed here. The holograms who give Jim cheerful answers to his awful fate are genuinely funny. And the total despair he falls into after being alone for a year, eating bland food and having no human to talk to, is an experience easy to sympathize with, thanks to the affable and engaging performance by Chris Pratt. Although his portrayal of a man struggling against the universe is good, he gives the most depth to the man struggling against himself.

When Aurora comes along, they have their awkward initial scenes, then an extremely fun date  (I don’t think I’m revealing anything by saying they fall in love.) There are a couple of implied sex scenes I could have done without, though oddly enough Jennifer Lawrence’s swimsuit made me more uncomfortable. But the story goes into full swing as we watch them fall madly in love, do stupid things together, and inevitably throw stuff against the wall.

Although the rotating spaceship, shown from multiple angles, is an awesome spectacle, their artificial gravity wouldn’t actually work the way they show it. And there are problems with the climactic actions scenes—like staring at nuclear fusion without eye protection. But if you want someone who likes romance to watch science fiction, or vice versa, Passengers is a worthy experience.

P.S. In Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, wasn’t she named Aurora? Yeah. 

Sunday, December 25, 2016

The War on December 25

I remember reading as a teen a very detailed newspaper article on how the date of December 25 as the birthday of Christ was a Medieval tradition. That is, there was some kind of important pagan celebration around the time of the winter solstice, and the church simply tacked the celebration of Christ’s birth onto that as a way of coopting the pagans.

But it is well established that the church began using December 25 as the birth of Christ a little after the year 300. This was well before the Medieval period. So what was all that stuff about the date coming from a Medieval tradition?

It was simply stuff and nonsense. Anyone who spent a half hour in an average public library would realize the tradition was ancient, not Medieval. Looking back on the matter, the article was as a subtle attack on Christianity. That is, if the central truths of the faith are just Christianized versions of pagan religions, there is nothing special or uniquely true about Christianity. But the facts were made up.

And the attack would not work, anyway. Christmas may be a highly visible part of Christian practice, but it is not a part of Christian belief. That is, the Bible does not give us a date for Christ’s birth, so deconstructing December 25 does not touch the substance of Christianity.

Now that the knowledge that December 25 is an ancient tradition is widespread, the attempt to deconstruct the date takes a different but familiar angle. The ancient Romans had a festival called Saturnalia around the same time. It originally started on December 17 and later expanded through December 23. So we are assured that the church made up the date of December 25 to coopt the pagan celebration.

Obviously, that is not a match. If these people who want to assert a cynical motive for celebrating on December 25 are going to have the attitude that “close” counts, they ruin their own argument. The Romans had so many feasts and holy days, one could almost choose a date at random and either match one of those dates or be close. The argument defeats itself.

More importantly, there are no ancient Christian writings that said, “The Romans are being gluttons, drunkards, and gamblers during Saturnalia, so let us say that Christ was born close to one of those days, because that will help us convert people to Christianity.” Nothing even close.

The church at that time had their own reason for choosing that date, and it sounds odd to modern ears. They decided that a martyr died on the date of his conception. After making a nice calculation for Easter in the relevant year, they added nine months and came up with December 25.

If you want to say this sounds as odd as the Medieval winter solstice and the Roman Saturnalia stories, go ahead. But this was based on what some early Christians believed, not made-up stories of Christians trying to take pagan celebrations and making them their own.

A more biblical/historical method involves noting that Jesus was conceived six months after John the Baptist was, and that John the Baptist was conceived right after his father performed a certain priestly ceremony, as recorded in the Gospel according to Luke. Historians then try to figure out when that father’s priestly division was on duty. They tie this together and come up with Jesus being born in December.

However, that historical calculation can be and has been disputed, so we are left with no certain answer.

But, as was stated above, disputes about the date of the birth of Christ do not strike at the Christian faith. Christians tend to be comfortable celebrating Jesus’ birth on December 25. But it has nothing to do with a cynical ploy on the part of the church to tag along with pagan celebrations. The cynicism is in the minds of people who make such assertions, weak and baseless as they are.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Now THAT’S a Bell

Here is a lovely bell choir that was playing Christmas music at a mall. Along with the normal size bells, there was one in the center about the size of someone’s head.

Actually, it pretty much obscures the head of the person ringing it. But a good time was had by all. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Wifely Concerns—My Vampire Parody

It’s been a while since I posted an excerpt from one of my manuscripts. This is from my vampire parody, where the main character is Dee, a full-time housewife.

To tee up this scene: Dee walks in on her friend Hope, who happens to be dressed up in a French maid’s outfit in anticipation of her husband coming home. After some laughter, Hope goes off to change. The idea is to parody urban fantasy by showing things from a housewife’s viewpoint. 

photo by SoHome Jacaranda Lilau

She heard Dee call her name. Hope grimaced at the maid’s hat in her reflection, noting the polyester didn’t keep its shape well. “It’s no bother. We French maids change all the time.” She wondered if vampires could really blank themselves from mirrors at will. No wonder the females don’t bother with makeup.
Still with the one earring in her hand, she began to work on the left one when she heard Dee’s muffled voice again. Something bad. And how had she missed the sound of a struggle on the sofa?
Hope kicked off the little black shoes. Her nylon-stockinged feet zigged and zagged on the carpet as she charged into the living room.
Two vampires. Stockings or no, she tackled the female vampire on top of her friend. 
It was a klutz move, but it worked: She and her opponent both ended up on their backs. But the female vampire was on top of her, smelling like it had slept in some ditch alongside the freeway. “I just vacuumed, you stupid vamp!” 
Dee was still on the sofa, and Hope got a glimpse of her friend turning into a whirlwind. Now free of the female vampire, Dee whipped a leg up over her shoulder and kicked the male vampire who was holding a sack over her—dead in the face.
“Hey, great soccer kick.” 

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Mad Hatting—The Correct Writing Environment

If you write for hours on end, you need the correct writing environment. I usually start with pencil and paper in a mall. Why? Because if I do most of my writing at home, I start to think of things I need to clean or throw out.

click to enlarge 

Then I enter my writing into my computer, correcting or making changes along the way. Yes, I use a desktop. I can’t imagine doing creative writing for hours on a laptop.

This makes it easy to research on the internet while writing. Can this lead to distractions? Yes. But discipline is not hard to maintain.

I managed to find a chair at Costco that fits me and is comfortable. Spend the money for a good one. This is not just for comfort—it’s your health.

And, of course, there’s the hat.

The one I really use has Bella, Edward, and Jacob on it. But their faces are so trademarked, they probably owe money to Stephanie Meyer when they look in the mirror.

Okay, I don’t wear it most of the time. But choose wisely, to match your mood.


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