Category Archives: Now and Then We Time Travel

Two that didn’t work for me (and why)

Can we learn from failure? With the obvious caveat that one viewer’s failure is another viewer’s work of genius, yes. Caution: spoilers ahead.

UNDERMIND (1965) is a British series I started watching for The Aliens Are Here, then dropped when it didn’t appear to have an ET element (I was wrong, but I’m focused primarily on US TV so no big). Anne Herriot (Rosemary Nicols) and her brother-in-law Drew (Jeremy Wilkin) discover Drew’s brother Frank has been brainwashed into committing acts of sabotage. Frank is unusually sensitive to high frequency sound, which is the method fo control; Drew and Anne stop the sabotage plot (Frank dies) but realize there are others out there. The enemy, whoever they are, will stop at nothing to see Britian … undermined.

What follows is a variety of plotlines dealing with ripped-from-the-headlines stuff (prostitution, corrupt politicians and juvenile delinquency) mixed in with more tongue in cheek stories: using children’s books to make them accepting of human sacrifice, arranging for incompetent students to cheat on their tests so that Britain’s best will be incompetent, unimaginative failures. A plot about Irish opposition to British rule treats the Irish as comic-relief seniors when (according to this review) the “Troubles” were already ramping up. The comedy could have worked on The Avengers but we’re supposed to take Undermind more seriously.

Doctor Who writer Robert Holmes comes on for the last two episodes and does as good a job as possible wrapping things up. It turns out “Undermind” is extraterrestrial-based (they’d hedged on the possibility before) but the sonic brainwashing is wearing off; an agent in British intelligence tries to reboot their puppets but fails. In the process we learn their agenda is to build a stargate that will bring their invasion forces to Earth. Of course that raises the question of why they bother with tricks involving children’s literature or discrediting politicians; we don’t get an answer. On the whole it’s watchable, but not satisfying. And the ending for Anne — she’s dating one of the security men they met in the course of the adventure — comes as out of the blue as Leila pairing off at the end of Doctor Who: Invasion of Time. “You can’t legislate against an alien radio signal!”

IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON (2019) is a lot less watchable. In 1988, several people’s heads mysteriously explode; Lockhart (Boyd Holbrook), a cop, becomes convinced there’s a serial killer behind it.When he meets her, Rya (Cleopatra Coleman) knows a lot about him and also that she’s going to die, accidentally, in a matter of minutes. She does — but several years later there’s another wave of exploding heads and Rya shows up again.

Having literally written the book on movie time travel. it wasn’t hard to guess that Rya was a time traveler, and that she was also Lockhart’s granddaughter. In a more entertaining movie that would be forgivable but this one’s too much a plodding obsessed cop vs. relentless killer yarn.

What makes it a failure, though, is the backstory. It turns out Rya isn’t killing at random: she’s changing the future to prevent a 2024 terrorist incident (implied to be 9/11 level) followed by civil war. Rya is using time-travel tech developed by Dr. Rao (Rudi Dharmalingam), who explains her mission to Lockhart midway through the film. Rather than just kill the people who led the country into Civil War, she’s out to kill the people who inspired them with their ideas. His comparison is that to stop the 1860 Civil War it wouldn’t be enough to kill Lincoln, Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee — you’d have to kill the people who influenced and inspired them to see Civil War as the answer.

Dude, WTF? Are writers Gregory Weidman and Geoff Tock seriously equating Jefferson Davis, who led a secessionist nation founded on race-based slavery, with Abraham Lincoln, an opponent of slavery? And the script makes it sound as if civil war was the idea in 1860, rather than stemming from two conflicting underlying ideas, that humans can become property or that they can’t. Spoiler, these ideas are not comparable; it’s not “there’s some good and bad on both sides.” Slavery is bad. Treating human beings as property is bad.

Nor is it easy to see how this maps to a near-future civil war, but perhaps that’s the point. By implying both sides in whatever conflict lies ahead are equally objectionable the movie doesn’t have to take sides; by not saying what the conflict is about, it avoids offending anyone. But when you’re going back and killing people who, according to Rao, are not directly responsible for what happened, it requires a clear case to convince me that right is on Rya’s side (Lockhart eventually sides with her). If the movie were a lot better otherwise, that would still sink it for me. “If it begins with you warning me here on this beach then it always ends with me dying.”

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The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step and stuff like that

Which is to say I can see real progress on Alien Visitors though nowhere as much as I’d like to see. The biggest challenge is trying to explain my insights into the various subgenres coherently and not having too much of a listicle feel. When I’ve read chapters to my writing group, the recurring complaint has been that there are too many points where I just list movies without any context or identifying information. And because several shows and films are referenced in multiple chapters I’ll eventually have to prune information that I repeat in too many places.

Still I have everything but the comedy chapter in a reasonably good shape (the superhero chapter is a little rough). I’m not sure why comedy is proving so elusive, but it is. But I’ll work on comedy and superheroes this weekend, as well as figuring out how to manage my time for November between now and the Nov. 20 deadline. Then all I have to do is deliver on it.

That includes time for watching various TV shows (Roswell Conspiracies, X-Files) and movies. Because I keep discovering new insights or examples when I watch new movies, so it’s worth making the time. This week, for example, I got good ideas from both Lilo and Stitch and Absolutely Anything (details when I get to the review post in about a week or so). So I keep pushing myself, even though it’s sometimes hard to find the time.

Other than that, I got some Leafs done — I should have most of next week Leaf free, which will be great for the book — and a friend showed me his cover designs for Undead Sexist Cliches. I think we have a winner; cover reveal will come soon. Oh, and I’ve finished all nine chapters so I just have the afterword to proof.

And showing why proofreading is necessary, I discovered I’d screwed up the footnotes to chapter nine, which I am fixing as part of the final revisions. It’s quite obvious I won’t get the book done by the end of this month but I can still finish it simultaneously with wrapping up Alien Visitors. I hope so, anyway.

I did finish and resubmit my edited golem article so that’s out the way. And I’m pleased with my work too. Much like the way I break down Alien Visitor films and TV into various patterns and themes (I did the same thing for time travel films in my last book), I look at golems as defenders, destroyers, artificial life forms, their relationships with other people and golems vs. the Holocaust. My editor was pleased with it too — the rewrites were minor.

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Today I stopped work and ate the frog

You may be familiar with the time-management term eat the frog. The idea is that if there’s something you’ve been putting off, you force yourself to do it first thing in the morning. That way you get it done, you have a feeling of accomplishment and everything else looks easy.

Between lack of sleep and the added demands of Wisp on top of the dogs, I’ve been letting a lot of frogs slide. Today I decided to skip most of my work (practically speaking, that only left me a couple of hours short) and get them done. Cleaning the kitchen. Cleaning the fridge. Cleaning my disgusting bathroom. Sorting through paperwork. Sorting out my browser bookmarks and deleting useless items from my desktop. A couple of paperwork things TYG delegated to me.

Done! Now I can kick back this weekend without being haunted by the feeling I should get up and clean stuff.

Of course that meant the week was underwhelming for productivity. The lack of sleep didn’t help, and having Wisp around when I wake up early apparently leads to me not starting work as early as I would otherwise. I got some research reading done, and a bunch of Leaf articles. I published an article on the Bronze Age Shade, the Changing Man over at Atomic Junkshop, plus a Valentine’s Day post about the film Quest for Love.

I also began proofing the hard copy of Undead Sexist Cliches. This is not the cover that will be on the book, but it will do for now. Think of it as a cover non-reveal.

The bad news: I did find some errors and places where I had to tighten up my writing. The good: not that many. It’s a pretty clean manuscript.

Another good: Got my royalty statement for my books from McFarland. Not a lot of money, but the fact it’s still coming in, even on books more than a decade old, is pretty damn cool.

I got some movies watched for Alien Visitors but no writing done. Despite which, I consider this a satisfactory week. Particularly getting to those damn frogs.

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From schoolboys to soldiers: books

Anthony Buckeridge’s second Jennings book, JENNINGS FOLLOWS A CLUE has Mr. Carter introduce Jennings to Sherlock Holmes, who blows the boy away much as it did me at that age. So naturally, he and Darbishire set out to become the Holmes and Watson of Linbury Court Preparatory School (I had no illusions I could pull that off, just in case you were wondering). What follow are the inevitable misunderstandings and catastrophes as the boys spot crimes and thieves that don’t exist, before the equally inevitable climax in which they redeem themselves by busting a real crook. Not up to Jennings Goes to School, probably because kid detectives is such well-worn ground; fun, though, with more kid slang (I so want the opportunity to call someone a “prehistoric ruin!”) and the debut of General Melville, an Old Linburian who plays a semi-regular role in the series from then on.

TIME AND CHANCE by Alan Brennert has two alt.versions of the same man — one drowning in rage that he never left his small town, one a successful actor who misses the people he left behind — somehow meet and exchange lives only to discover, ultimately, that there’s no life like their own. I watched so many films like this for Now and Then We Time Travel Twice Upon a Time, Quest for Love and Family Man, for instance (all covered in this post) — that this was too familiar for me to really like, even though I read it all the way through. If you haven’t read anything like this before, you might like it better.

THE WAR FILM by Norman Kagan is a small but interesting book that tackles the subject both chronologically — Great War films, WW II, Korea (Kagan sees Korean War films as reflecting America’s awareness it was now the world’s policeman) and ‘nam (the book dates from the early 1970s) and thematically (anti-war films, films about understanding our allies or enemies, war comedies). A good overview, though not deep, with some interesting observations such as the emphasis in 1950s WW II films on the burden of command.

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Brooding and counter-brooding

So my flash fiction Rabbits Indignateonem came back Saturday with a “Excellent piece, we enjoyed reading it but …” response. Which is nice, because compliments are always better than “that had massive flaws in it” (I get those sometimes) or a No without comments (got that on Death Is Like a Box of Chocolates midweek). But it’s not a sale. And always leaves me worried I’m good, but not quite good enough. That I can’t sell to better markets or more frequently or that I’ve just run out of steam; the last new story I sold was 2018 (two reprints from earlier sold this year). Thoughts of this nature make me broody.

But then again, part of that may be that I haven’t had that many new stories. 2015-16 I was working on Now and Then We Time Travel in addition to my Leaf work; 2017-18 I was doing Screen Rant and those eventually consumed much more time than when I started (hence no longer doing ’em). The past year I’ve put in a lot of time on Undead Sexist Cliches. And of course I was finishing up Southern Discomfort somewhere in the middle of that too.

If I had more stories out circulating, the odds one of them would find a publisher who likes one of them would go up (at least I hope so). I wouldn’t say that’s the only factor in play — I’m definitely not at the level of NK Jemisin or Robert Bloch — but it is a factor.

Once I finish Undead Sexist Cliches my slate will be a lot clearer for fiction. Still doing Leaf, and I have my upcoming Alien Visitors book for McFarland, but that won’t be as demanding as Now and Then .. was (much less ambitious). So, who knows? Perhaps I can elevate myself to at least selling semi-regularly again.

Fingers crossed.

Now, as to this week, it was moderately productive. Did my Leaf articles, and I got close to the end of Chapter Four of Undead Sexist Cliches, which has proven the toughest to organize. Unfortunately the temptation to do just a little more on that book kept me from working on either Questionable Minds or Alien Visitors (formerly titled Space Invaders). Next week I’ll start with them to make sure I put some time in. TYG’s work is going to be crazy for a while which will probably lead to extra dog care, but I’ve had practice working around that.

And unfortunately my cover artist for Questionable Minds, whom I was looking forward to working with, seems to have been sidelined by pandemic stress. No blame attached, this is a rough time for all of us (I’m obviously not finishing the book as fast as expected), but I am disappointed.

Oh, and I posted on Atomic Junkshop about Cast a Deadly Spell as a hardboiled PI movie (matching with my post here about the movie as urban fantasy).

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Filed under Now and Then We Time Travel, Personal, Screen Rant, Short Stories, Time management and goals, Undead Sexist Cliches: The Book, Writing

A blog post to blow your minds! Or maybe not

First, McFarland finally accepted my proposal for a book about ETs on Earth, tentatively titled Alien Visitors. It will be a simpler structure than Now And Then We Time Travel: Rather than cover every movie, each chapter will take a different theme (alien invasion, alien superhero, aliens and kids, alien love) and focus on one particular movie as an example, with a list of other films at the end. While I enjoy the encyclopedic approach, this is probably better for me: the time travel book consumed a huge amount of time — not that I have any regrets — and I won’t be sorry to work on a more manageable project this time around. It’s due October of 2021, which is more than workable.

Second, McFarland, by a happy coincidence, is offering all its pop-culture books at 40 percent off through May 17. So if you want my time travel book or any of my others, now is the time to strike. Or if you’d look some of their other excellent books such as The Saint, Bell, Book and Camera or Keep Watching the Skies.

Besides mulling over a delivery date and then signing the McFarland contract, I had a productive week. I reviewed several chapters of Undead Sexist Cliches looking for any major glitches or edits, and added quotes from several websites and Twitter feeds, like right-wing hack Michelle Malkin declaring that Prince Harry has been emasculated by American feminism — look, here’s a picture of him in the military and now he’s married and wears a suit! Apparently Malkin would like us to think no military men pre-feminism have ever worn civilian clothes or gotten married.

I got a little more editing done on Questionable Minds and started reading up on marketing and promotion. I don’t anticipate this book (or Undead Sexist Cliches) turning into a cash cow, but I wouldn’t mind selling more copies than my previous self-published books. I’m also thinking about trying a service besides, or more likely in addition to Amazon’s self-publishing arm; some services would let me sell straight through my website, and I’d get a better slice of the profits than Amazon provides.

I didn’t get much fiction written, but I did put in a lot of work. On Laughter of the Dark I got a workable structure for the story (I think) and finally got an opening I’m reasonably happy with. Even though I didn’t get very far writing it, that’s a win. I rewrote The Glory That Was and I think it’s ready for a final draft later this month. And I worked out the rules for traveling to the past via old maps, which should make the next draft of Oh The Places You’ll Go a lot smoother.

I read some useful articles about pitching to magazines and websites because I’m in the mood to do more of that. Oh, and I had a post on Atomic Junkshop discussing comics writer Steve Englehart and his flair for turning obscure characters such as Deadshot into stars, or at least good supporting players.

And now the weekend and a chance to relax. Stay safe in these pandemic days, everyone.

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There is disorder under heaven but the situation is pretty good

For starters, the digital magazine Kzine, which published my Kernel of Truth in 2015, now makes hard copy issues available via Amazon.

I got mine. As I love having copies in hard copy, this made me very happy. Though my smile looks weird here, it’s sincere.

The big disruption this week was Trixie. Sick stomach again on Sunday, vet appointment Wednesday. They suggested another new food, but Thursday she wouldn’t eat it, so we kept her home from daycare. At the end of the day, she scarfed down a kong full of soft food, so she’s back to normal.

But what is normal? Is her lack of interest in breakfast a sign of a constant low level of whatever this problem is? Or is it that she just doesn’t like kibble (we thought about a tooth problem but she has no hesitation with hard foods that she likes)? Given we’re supposed to feed her mostly the new kibble plus a little of the soft food, will we have to go the other way around to get her to eat? Stay tuned.

I’d planned to use my dog-free Thursday to donate blood and catch a movie. But even if Trixie had been hale and hearty, it wouldn’t have worked. TYG has a bad bug, I have a mild version, but I didn’t think I should give blood. And we had a contractor stop by in the afternoon so I couldn’t have made the movie anyway. Frustrating. And today hasn’t been massively more productive, mostly research reading. And an Atomic Junkshop post on Christmas time-loop movies.

Despite all of which, the week was productive. I did a redraft of Death Is Like a Box of Chocolates and I think I see how to fix the ending on the next draft. I wrote a couple of chapters of Impossible Takes a Little Longer and redrafted my Oh the Places You’ll Go. I’d been planning on a much more elaborate rewrite, but one of the writers in my group said that it worked great as it was; I’ll look at the redraft next week and see if I agree (it certainly would be quicker to get it done).

I only got about 40 percent through Chapter Three of Sexist Myths And Why They’re Bullshit. I wound up doing more Leaf this week than I’d expected and for once the time came out of my nonfiction rather than my fiction. I’m okay with that, and I think I can make it up next week.

So confused, and certainly stressful when Trixie was miserable (though the veterinary drugs we got help a lot), but pretty good. And now it’s only a few days to Christmas — where did the time go?

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Filed under Impossible Takes a Little Longer, Nonfiction, Now and Then We Time Travel, Personal, Story Problems, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals, Undead Sexist Cliches: The Book, Writing

The most sensational news you’ll read today! Or at least in this post.

So McFarland, which publishes my four movie books and dozens of others, is having a 40th anniversary sale. Everything 25 percent off, including my four movie books. It’s a great opportunity to buy one, two or collect the entire set! It’s always cool to have the entire set, right?

My books are:

Cyborgs, Santa Claus and Satan, a book on made for TV specfic films of the 20th century.

The Wizard of Oz Catalog, an encyclopedic look at Oz books, movies, TV shows, radio shows and stage plays. A lot of oddball material such as a 1930s women’s college film and a sales-training video, The Wizard of Sales.

Screen Enemies of the American Way looks at American fears of the enemy within — subversion by Nazis, Japanese, Commies, pod people, Stepford Wives and extraterrestrials.

Now And Then We Time Travel lists and reviews time-travel television and film stories from around the world.

The sale runs through the end of the month. I’ll be buying a couple of books (maybe more) myself, though I haven’t completely settled on which ones yet. Prime contenders are one on The Saint in his many fictional forms and a book on witches in films and TV, Bell, Book and Camera.

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Skating along the edge of victory

So this week the only thing I worked on was Southern Discomfort. Well except, Thursday, when I was exhausted and spent the day working on my insanely ambitious goals for next year (I’ll get to that in a future post).

I wrapped up last week with slightly over 50,000 words. I’m finishing this week with slightly under 70,000. Given I have five work days left before 2018 ends, it’s possible I can finish, but I’m not quite as confident as I was last week. Especially as I’ll be working around other holiday distractions. But it’s conceivable I can make it.

I’d be better off, obviously, if I’d spent yesterday working on the book too, but cumulative insomnia finally left me worn out. Last night I took an Ambien, this weekend I should get some solid sleep in (I usually do when I don’t have to work the next day), so fingers crossed. If worst comes to worst, I can wrap it up first week of January without disrupting my other writing plans too much.

While I’ve had a lot of tidying up and cleaning up to do — making sure the reactions and conversations flow logically from moment to moment — I haven’t run into any major plot problems since last week. That’s good; hopefully it’ll stay that way as I work through the rest.

Wish me luck.

Oh, and I’ve had a couple of Christmas-themed posts up at Atomic Junkshop. One on the way Christmas sucks movies to it and one about A Christmas Carol as a story of loneliness

And the Science Fiction Research Association Review gave a great review of Now and Then We Time Travel (“Sherman has put in lots of hard work and produced a very useful reference that is fun to sample—open it to page 125 to find Here Comes Peter Cottontail (1971 stop motion television special with the voices of Vincent Price and Danny Kaye) followed by Peggy Sue Got Married (1986). There are many similar delights of juxtaposition.”)

While I hope that leads to a few more sales, getting such a good review is a delight in itself.

And here’s a photo I’ve been meaning to post for a while. I batted a pillow at Plush dog but instead of chewing it as he usually does, he simply stared at me. And looked adorable doing it.

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September goes in, August goes out

I accomplished about 55 percent of my August goals and almost none of them were writing goals. Part of that was working on the Leaf articles; part was devoting the last week to my sister’s visit and then Dragoncon; and part of that just getting distracted by extra doggy care and other duties. I also didn’t get a lot of various paperwork tasks done — no bills left unpaid or anything, but stuff like finding replacement lights for one fixture (it’s an older one and apparently it won’t be easy) has fallen by the wayside.

This month I have no Leaf to work on, and I’m determined to get tasks accomplished (I have a list). Plus, you know, regular stuff. And after the wonderful relaxing week hanging out with TYG I feel up to the job. Hopefully the feeling will stick around. To make that easier, I’ve also been rearranging my schedule in various ways so that I can hopefully adapt to unplanned extra dog care when TYG has a sudden work call or the like.

I’d expected Wednesday, the first day I got back, would be wasted. I’d be off my game and the dogs would be uber-needy after being in Suite Paws all week. Don’t get me wrong, the staff there are wonderful and clearly love dogs, but Trixie and Plushie really missed us. Surprisingly, the day went great: a few thousand words done on Southern Discomfort, a little bit of progress on No One Can Slay Her, two short stories submitted and another blog post up at Atomic Junkshop.

Thursday though? I had a great night’s sleep but when TYG got up, she found Plush had puked on the bed. Cleaning that up took us some time, then I drove to the 24-hour drugstore near us to get him some Omneprazole. Plush began puking every night mid-August so we took him and the vet suggested we try it for two weeks. It stopped the puking and generally he seemed happier and more comfortable. Tuesday evening, which was about a day after he went off the drug, he puked massively. So it looks like he needs the stuff to keep his tummy happy (the doctor says we may able to lower the dose, but it won’t hurt him if not). It’s already making him more comfortable; unsettling to realize his stomach may have been aching a lot and we didn’t know.

Anyway after all that, I finally got back to work maybe 25 minutes before my morning tea break. So it seemed pointless to start work until after the tea … yeah, you can see where this is going and it’s not “I finished the entire manuscript before dinner!”

Friday we finally had to take Plushie into the vet for the puking. No real conclusion what caused it yet, so we’re giving him special food and meds while they run some tests to rule out stuff. He did seem much better this morning so possibly whatever it was has passed but best to cover our bets.

Even so I got more work done on Southern Discomforts. I put a lot of thinking into No One Can Slay Her — I think I’m going to have to write another scene to make the plot build properly.

So a good start to September’s writing, not good at all as puppy parent.

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