Unquiet Thoughts About “A Quiet Place”

Watched twice on HD TV.

It’s been a bit overpraised, though you can sure understand why reviewers would be grateful for a horror movie that wasn’t screaming in your ear and slapping you in the face relentlessly. Nevertheless, Get Out or Arrival it is not.

I say it would make a dandy Saturday matinee at my Dad’s old movie theaters. First-rate Creature Feature. What most bugged me the initial watch is that I detected no clue where these superpredators came from. Can’t just come out of the Monster Hole. And because they’re beasts with no technology, it’s impossible to imagine them invading from UFOs.

Second time through I noticed a headline I had missed in the Dad’s War Room: “METEORITE HITS MEXICO.” The idea being that these monstrosities could be hibernating inside a smallish Asteroid, which would explain why there are not so many of them.

Horror highlights:

the opening sequence, which is perfectly paced, terrifying, believable and unforgettable.

the scenes with the grain silo, which center on one of my favorite little-known deadly dangers of the things and reveal that the predators are hard and strong enough to rip right through metal.

the clever climax which showers posthumous honor on Dad and shows Mom has unlimited courage. Once again, I believe it was A.E. Van Vogt who came up with the idea that a particularly deadly quality of an alien being would be its ability to remain perfectly silent and still and then attack with supernatural speed.

Prediction:

Millicent Simmonds is going to be a superstar. I was in her power after the first five minutes.

Yeah, the UnScience Never Fails (And Hardly Changes)

This reminds me why I stopped doing pieces debunking pseudo-science in that the journalism exposes aren’t going to change anybody’s mind. The believers take such comfort and identity from their convictions that they are immune to persuasion. But I do think a vehement “What the fuck color is your car?!?” is a good tactic to shake up the faithful.

What Most Grinds Me About A.I. and Even Automation in General

Excellent piece, well worth perusing. But the assertion (which the article does not endorse) that has been popping up since I was a kid and has proven false every time is that “machines doing more of our work will mean more leisure time for everybody.” No, it just means people with less power will be out on their ear and have lot of “leisure time” with no income.

Storm the Fort

I’m reposting this five-year-old entry because I happened to see that the complete works of Charles Fort are now available online (see link at end of post).

 

Just to prove I’m more than a big, steaming plate of obnoxious noodles, here’s a quick rundown of what I would consider a basic (if now rather dated) library of pseudoscience/paranormal phenomena overviews — with a strong slant toward the skeptical. (I’m probably missing a couple of key titles in my haste.)

Charles Fort, The Complete Books of Charles Fort
From 1919 to the early ’30s, British Museum and NY Public Library gnome Charles Fort invented the modern concept of the uncanny/unexplained event. In a dry, wry, sprightly newspaperish style he chronicles rains of fishes, rains of blood, weird noises from the earth, secret passages beneath continents, odd giant patterns in the sea and so forth and so forth. His tone is tongue-in-cheeky most of the time, with the occasion flash of “who knows — maybe so.” Sample a few passages in a store or online. If you like him, you’ll really like him.

Jerome Clark, Unexplained!
Clark is the great modernized, popularizer of Fort principles. Too credulous and gee-whiz, he nevertheless knows all parts of the field and is well worth reading as a survey.

The Fringes of Reason — A Whole Earth Catalog.
This thing is dedicated to fun and you can get it for peanuts on line. Lot of kicky writers and the subtitle says it all: “A Field Guide to New Age Frontiers, Unusual Beliefs & Eccentric Sciences” Includes guides to much other lit and sly essays about, for example, how meteors were once considered utterly impossible …. scientifically.

Various, Science and the Paranormal
Wide-ranging and nicely organized collection of essays from the usual hard-asses like Martin Gardner, Issac Asimov, Carl Sagan, James Randi, etc.

speaking of which —

Martin Gardner, Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science
The grandaddy of debunking books. Again, reading a couple pages will tell you if you need this on the shelf or not. If you find Gardner too stuck in the mundane mud —

Terence McKenna, The Archaic Revival
Ol’ dead ‘n’ gone Terry McKenna certainly is not. This is a loopy ramble-tamble of all the connections between psychedelics and the unseen world and the unknown mind that processes them both. You’ve never read anything like. On the other hand, the foreword is by Tom Robbins and that may tell you you don’t want to read anything like it.

Michael Shermer, Why People Believe Weird Things
Probably more relevant than when I read it almost 10 years ago. This is, at bottom, a book about the pervasive appeal of the irrational (to fear, to ego, to career advancement) in the modern world. Very sharp on Holocaust Denial, Creationists, and the limits of intellectuals (hey, just because you’re certifiably smart doesn’t mean you’re smart about everything).

Robert Park, Voodoo Science: the Road from Foolishness to Fraud
This overlooked book details how honest intentions in research and curiosity can become twisted into anxiety- and venality-driven BS. Especially important in this science-uncertain time.

More Fort info and link to works at end of entry.

A.E. Van Vogt’s “Discord in Scarlet”

A bit of spooky-sci-fi entertainment for Friday night. This story is a landmark: not only is the writing almost eerie-flawless and the tale an even-more-brilliant extension of the author’s groundbreaking “Black Destroyer,” but it’s the clear originator of the “alien monster on a spaceship” concept that would become Alien decades later.

Also, “Xtl” — they knew how to name aliens back then

PS: I should  clarify: certainly “Black Destroyer” is the first “alien monster on a spaceship” fiction. But the problem is that the Black Destroyer looks like a deadly monster and no matter how sweet-puddy-tat he acted, it seems dubious that the crew would get such a creature on board with them. Xtl is a hidden agent, undetectable until he’s on the ship, and therefore much, much more dangerous.

Le Guin Nails the Charm of Ace Doubles

In the introduction to the first Volume of her Hainish Novels and Stories she recalls from 50 years earlier::

The first three novels in this volume were published by Donald A. Wollheim, the tough, reliable editor of Ace Books, in the Late-Pulpalignean Era, 1966 and ’67. The first two, Rocannon’s World and Planet of Exile, came out as Ace Doubles: two short novels by two different authors in one paperback cover, like two trains running towards each other on one track. When one train hit the other you turned the book upside down and started from the other end. And Ace Double was a very good deal for under a dollar. It was not a very good deal for the authors, or a brilliant debut in the publishing world, but it paid, it got you into print, it had readers.

And one of them was this high-schooler in Montana named Miles. I loved Ace Doubles because they were well-edited and of reliable quality. And even on my teeny budget I could get whatever ones appealed to me. Of course, the what didn’t occur to me is that, “Yikes, this low price means the writers didn’t get paid scrunt!” I didn’t read Le Guin until the unavoidable The Left Hand of Darkness, but some of my favorites included: James White Second Ending / Samuel R. Delany The Jewels of Aptor (1962);  Samuel R. Delany The Towers of Toron / Robert Moore Williams The Lunar Eye (1964); Fred Saberhagen The Golden People / Lan Wright Exile From Xanadu (1964); A. Bertram Chandler Space Mercenaries / Emil Petaja The Caves of Mars (1965); Jack Jardine and Julie Jardine (jointly as Howard L. Cory) The Mind Monsters / Philip K. Dick The Unteleported Man (1966); Lin Carter Tower Of The Medusa / George H. Smith Kar Kaballa (November 1969). I took a pretty extensive break from sci-fi from the time I graduated college until I moved to MA.