My Dad The Nerd

My dad the nerd

My mother never understood the wave-particle duality of electromagnetic phenomena. She had no interest in the fact that objects traveling near the speed of light shortened in their direction of motion. And she never grasped how an airplane managed to stay up in the air at all, even though her husband flew planes for a living. Continue reading

The 100-year-old man who climbed out the window and disappeared is like Forrest Gump with explosives

the hundred-year-old man who climbed out of a window and disappearedI have a new favorite absurdist movie: The Man Who  Climbed Out  the Window and Disappeared. This Swedish farce, adapted from the book by Jonas Jonasson, was a huge hit in its home country, then proceeded to take the rest of Europe by storm. It didn’t make much of a splash here in the U.S. (yet), but of course movie studios were falling all over themselves to get the rights to it and they will, of course, make it with American actors and adapt the script where it will never be as good as the original.

I saw it on Apple TV, but I’m sure it’s rentable all over the place.

Anyway, on to the movie.

The premise is, on his 100th birthday in a senior-care facility, Allan Karlsson just gets up and leaves the facility, picks up a suitcase full of ill-gotten drug money, and is chased by those tasked with recovering the suitcase and the money intact.

Sounds like a typical Hollywood formula movie, huh?

Not so fast.

It gets weirder and funnier. The 100-year-old man runs into a bevy of odd–but lovable–friends, experiences some very funny flashbacks where he plays pivotal historical roles with Franco of Spain, Robert Oppenheimer at the Manhattan Project, and even runs into Albert Einstein’s dim-witted brother, Herbert. Along the way, Allan blows up a lot of Russian nesting dolls, bridges, a treacherous local merchant urinating in a field, and even a ravenous fox that that kills his favorite cat, Molotov. And the bad guys (and a few good, but misguided ones) die in scenes that had me roaring with laughter.

Great science-fiction films: Ex Machina

Truly lost in the cosmos ex machinaThere are no explosions in Ex Machina. No battling armies firing high-tech weaponry. No viral agents being released into Earth’s atmosphere. No gloomy post-apocalyptic landscapes decimated by nuclear wars or android invasions.

The action that takes place in this thrilling science-fiction film occurs in your head. Well, and in a drop-dead gorgeous and sleek modernist home deep in the mountains of Norway. (Those parts that aren’t on a movie set, that is.)

If you haven’t yet seen this film, it’s astounding. The actors, the sets, the cinematography, the plot and the music all come together to create a tell a gripping story of Artificial Intelligence where it’s difficult to know who to trust.

I won’t throw in any plot spoilers, but as I watched this movie a second time (on Apple TV…just $5.99), I realized what a classic science-fiction movie this will become. If you haven’t seen it yet, go rent it. Or buy it. If you’ve seen it, watch it again. I picked up even more the second time around.

Great science fiction and fantasy authors: Terry Pratchett

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Terry Pratchett is the best-selling fantasy author many people have never heard of. By the time he died in 2015, he had sold over 85 million books (based mostly on his Discworld series), and until JK Rowling rolled around, he was the best-selling author in Britain. Including his last book, The Shepherd’s Crown, he published over 41 Discworld books. Not to mention dozens of others in different genres and subgenres.

So who was this guy?

First, he wrote fantasy books. With a comic twist.

Now before some of you start groaning, these fantasy characters aren’t like anything you’ve ever read. First of all, they’re funny. There are dwarfs six feet high, vampires who’ve taken a pledge not to drink blood, and a witch who hates riding brooms.

Secondly, they have real depth. They come alive. They have idiosyncrasies and flaws, but what makes them so endearing is that we can see ourselves in them. They’re us. Granted, they’re us if we lived on a flat world supported by four elephants standing on an enormous tortoise that soars through the cosmos.

And they’re likable, including Death, which became one of his most beloved characters.

Are you still with me?

It’s not just the characters that draw fans to his series. In each novel, he managed to slip in some wry social commentary, allowing us to see our world reflected in his.

In Thud!, he draws attention to racial prejudices, taking aim at those who fan the flames of hatred against particular groups. In Equal Rites, he makes a case for equal opportunities for women way back in 1978. And in Small Gods, he has something to say about the misuse of religion for political (or personal) gains.

Besides everything mentioned above, few authors could mix science and fantasy with such flair. Of course on Discworld, science became magic. Tiny ants build sugar pyramids to their dead queen under the flagstones of the Unseen University. Magic causes light to slow down and take its time crossing Discworld, sometimes piling up at the foot of mountain ranges. Tantric sex magic books have to be stored under cold water to keep them from bursting into flames and “scorching their severely plain covers.” And of course, few can coin a phrase like him. In the bad parts of town in Ankh-Morpork, he has “ladies of negotiable affection” working the street.

These are not just silly, harmless fantasy romps. They make us think. And wonder. And laugh. All at the same time.

That’s an amazing legacy to leave behind.

(Postscript: The author himself, in his biographic-essay collection A Slip of the Keyboard suggests beginning Discworld readers not start with his first two books, The Color of Magic and The Light Fantastic. True, as time went on, Mr. Pratchett’s writing became more masterful and in some cases, darker, but his first two entries are awfully darn good. If you want to start a bit later in his series, I suggest Hogfather and Mort.)

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Great Podcasts: Studio 360

great podcasts trulylostinthecosmos

I chanced on this great website while looking for, as usual, all things scientific. Besides great podcasts (the one that led me here was about parallel universes…a subject near and dear to a sci-fi writer’s heart), studio 360 has articles, videos and blogs about current music, books, movies, and other pop culture happenings with a good dose of comedy thrown in (another subject near and dear to my heart as a comedy writer). It’s kind of like an alter-ego to another podcast favorite, Radiolab. Best of all: it has a separate page for science and technology, containing for example, videos of Darth Trump, artists at CERN, and what dark matter would look like if you could draw it.

Enjoy.