Archive for the ‘travel’ Category

Them, Robots

Morgan is a great airplane movie. I had no plans to see it when it came out. My expectations were set quite low on a flight last week. It jumped that low bar and gave me some things to think about. Before the thinking, the movie: things are going mighty wrong in the effort to create a fake human (synth, android, robot, pick your poison). Right at the beginning, synthetic human Morgan, looking about 15, but real age five (she’s a fast grower), stabs a caretaker in the eye.

Things are going to get worse. You can tell. Particularly once we figure out this is a movie trotting out the old trope (or cliche, you choose) about building fake humans (synths, robots) to be soldiers. More precisely, weapons. I won’t ruin the end, in case you’re on plane sometime soon.

My thinking:

  1. An entire category of movies and TV shows would disappear if the imaginary robot/android/synth/fake-life manufacturing industry followed Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics. I mean, why would you not put in Law 1? “A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.” The Amazon series “Humans” nods at the law, then walks around it. A character talks about overriding the Asimov protocols in a synth. That. Should. Not. Be. Possible. For a safe society, at least, though boring robot movies.
  2. My next thought, as the movie ground toward its pretty inevitable conclusion, was about how indignant Isaac Asimov was when his laws were not programmed into Hal 9000, the computer aboard the ship in 2001: A Space Odyssey. There was a great exchange between Asimov and 2001 author Arthur C. Clarke, but I can’t find it anywhere on my interwebs. Suffice it to say, Clarke felt he could do what he wanted in his universe. I’ve not read that Asimov protested the hundreds of TV shows and movies after that ignored his Three Laws of Robotics–probably realizing it would do little good. Thus was born a mighty industry making  filmed entertainment about deadly robot-android-synths.
  3. But really, why bother making the movie Morgan when the best film about synthetic human soldiers, Blade Runner, has been around for decades. The banal Morgan dialogue was replaced in my head by Rutger Hauer as Roy, speaking his dying words. “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.”
  4. Credits rolled at the end Morgan, and I got an answer to No. 3.  The director of the film was Todd Scott. I start wondering. Up comes the executive producer, Ridley Scott. Interweb confirms Todd’s the son of the director of Blade Runner. Not only are deadly robot-android-synth movies and shows an industry, they’re a family business.

Time Town

I’m fascinated by time and memory and how they wind round each other. That’s probably why I’m writing a historical mystery series set in the mid-Seventies, and why I’ve got a middle-grade time travel story in the works.

Earlier this summer, I visited the Lake George area of upstate New York for the first time since I was child. Several stops along the way gave me the feeling I was visiting the past—or at least bits and pieces of it.

burleighsDowntown Ticonderoga has its fair share of boarded up shops and closed buildings. The present day reality for the town is the recession hasn’t been very good for the tourist grade. But it also has Burleigh’s Luncheonette, a place that truly deserves to be called luncheonette, emphasis on “ette.” Half of Burleigh’s is taken up by the classic luncheonette counter, really two U-shaped counters built to maximize seating. One row of booths runs along the wall opposite. The place is what it always has been, but also recognizes that it is retro. There are old bikes hanging from the ceiling, copies of hand-typed menus from decades ago and a jukebox loaded with singles. Unlike restaurants dressed up to play the old-time part, Burleigh’s has been presiding over downtown Ti (as locals call it) for a very long time.

Oh, and the food was as good as you’d expect.

Outside the town, Fort Ticonderoga represents the typical time travel available to mere mortals—a fort preserved from the era of the French and Indian Wars, with warriors in replica gear firing muskets and narrating the story of the place. We never visited the fort when I was a kid, though it was in my collection of brochures back then. “I really want to go dad.” I finally got there this summer and discovered my own odd temporal link with the fort. I live in the Town of Pelham next to the Bronx. Thomas Pell founded the town in the 1650s. Almost two hundred years later, the Pell family, with a summer home on Lake George, acquired the fort, which had fallen into ruin. It would be another hundred years before the Pells could begin real reconstruction work in 1909. That is why the huge star-shaped fort is now in excellent condition, run not by the National Park Service but a non-profit foundation.

Why fuss about such an obscure connection? I don’t know. It’s these little ties across time and space that interest me. I live in a town founded by a man whose family saved a place that has fascinated me since I was a kid.

storytownThe last stop on this trip was Great Escape and Splashwater Kingdom, a Great Adventures theme park outside the Village of Lake George. This was like visiting an archeological dig of my own childhood. You see, Great Escape was built on top of Storytown USA, which, in turn, was a homely little amusement park opened in 1954 (pre-dating Disneyland by a year). My family visited Storytown during the seventies. It was our trip to Disney. If you look carefully under the roller coasters and other new rides, you’ll see signs and scenes from the original park left in place to keep the connection. I took the steam train ride—it also looked unchanged—and chugged by a storybook house, vintage Storytown USA signs and  a smiling purple dragon.

I headlined this post “Time Town” not just for its topic, but in memory of a Lake George amusement park that is long gone. The area once had a number of other parks besides Storytown: Frontier Town, Gaslight Village. One of the last to be built when I was a kid was Time Town, essentially a knock-off of Epcot offering attractions on the space and the future. Damn the brochures looked good. I so badly wanted to go there. And was so baldy disappointed when we did. Real-life mosquitos big enough to have traveled forward in time from the Jurassic era were the feature I best remember. The book Amusement Parks of New York mentions it just once, on a list of “gone but not forgotten” parks.

It wasn’t forgotten by me, time and memory winding round each other.

At the crossroads of America

The crossroads of America is right outside my Super 8 room in Ticonderoga. The Walmart in the rear is in full view of the window. Catty-corner across the intersection are the remains of a grocery store the Walmart must have cratered. McDonald’s, at Walmart’s entrance, advertises the kinds of job America is being built on these days. “Closing shifts, 8p – 1a, $6 an hour.”

There’s a Dunkin’ Donuts in a faux Colonial house-type building with faux chimney. Subway, the great bottom feeder of American retail, is in a building that definitely looks like it was something else before. Nearby are boarded up, run down and creepy, Pyscho looking motels of the old school. You know, the kind with an office at one end and a line of rooms—each with door, window, small bit of porch. At one of these, the weeds and vines grow up and around the motel section as two kids play in the grass in front. Looks like a family is living in the office part.

My favorite place is the 24/7 massive mini—so not really mini—mart and gas station across the street from the Super 8. I get all the candy, beef jerky, iced tea and other provisions I need to work. What work am I doing here?

In the mornings, I’m writing work-in-progress DROP DEAD PUNK, the second in the Coleridge Taylor Mystery series. In the afternoons, I shuttle the Boy Scouts of mighty Pelham Troop 1 to activities the troop does away from the camp. They need the dads to provide transport for some 40 or so scouts, so I turned this into a one-week writer’s retreat. Things are pretty productive here at the crossroads of America. I complete four chapters in one week, an all-time writing record for me. I get real motivation from having to finish a certain amount if I want to participate in the scout activities.

The second day I didn’t get to kayak, sitting instead at a picnic table at base camp banging away at the word count. That was motivation the following two days. I really wanted to attend the rodeo and go white water rafting.

This crossroads, symbolic as it seems of the recession the country’s been through, is appropriate to one of the themes in the book, which is set during the October and November days of 1975 when New York City almost went bankrupt and nearly dragged the country—and perhaps the world—into something far worse than what was already a bad recession. The only difference is other trusted institutions dragged us into this one.

Timers, the blurb

Below is the pitch for my work-in-progress, a YA science fiction adventure that Dawn Dowdle of Blue Ridge Literary Agency has just agreed to represent. In January, she signed to handle my historical mystery LAST WORDS.

TIMERS: Samuel Tripp’s Adventures Across Time with Rip Van Winkle, the Connecticut Yankee and Ebenezer Scrooge (oh, and he saves all of history)

SAMUEL TRIPP is lost in space and will soon be lost in time. His con-man father moves the family every four months to chase a new get-rich scheme. This leaves Sam without friends and tired of trying to make them in every new school. His life is upended when RIP VAN WINKLE appears in the Tripp’s garage and tells Sam that they both are members of a legion of time travelers known as the Timers.

Moments later, a monstrous Clocker attacks Sam and Rip. Clockers kill Timers to get their power. But the Clockers now want Sam more than any other because of the Timers watch his dead mother passed on to him. They will use it to punch a whole into another universe so they can hunt down more Timers. The downside: They will also destroy Sam’s reality. Sam races across time to save his kidnapped little brother JAMIE, lost girlfriend EMMA CORRS and all of history. He is joined in the fight by two more first Timers: HANK MORGAN, known to most as the Connecticut Yankee, and EBENEZER SCROOGE. Also helping, and confusing Sam about his feelings for Emma, is MACKENZIE MAGUIRE, a girl he’s just met at his new high school. Sam must travel a long way, deep into the past and forward to the far future, to find the home he’s never had.


Monorail ride to the future past

Walt Disney spoke from the TV:  “We call it EPCOT. Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow.” I sat cross-legged on the floor of our basement rec room (what family rooms were called once, in the age before flat-screens, Playstation and great rooms). Walt was taking ten-year-old me — me personally — through his plans for Walt Disney World. Of all the things that caught my fancy, the thing I ached to visit most was the Contemporary Resort Hotel, the giant A-frame with the monorail that ran right into its Grand Canyon Concourse lobby.

The hotel and monorail were something out of the science fiction books I read then, like something right off one of the covers. I honestly can’t remember any of the theme park rides Walt talked about, but I do remember the monorail zipping silently into the hotel.

Walt Disney spoke again from the TV. They were the same words, the same clips. But it was earlier this week, and I was on the bus from the airport to Disney World for our stay at The Contemporary. Few things survive four decades of wanting. The hotel and the monorail are now a vision of the future from the past, a vision of future past, if you will. But as late I arrived to the place, I loved every minute of my stay, perhaps as much as the aching ten-year-old would have.

The rooms were a little beat on — chips in the finish here and there — from wear and tear since 1971, but they were still a sleek, clean-lined vision of what living the day after tomorrow was supposed to look like. A mosaic of glass covered the area where the fireplace should be, and a light switch created a glimmering, smoke-free hearth. The desk with its separate, elliptical table for a laptop was as serviceable a hotel workstation as I’d ever used, and the individual spotlights in the ceiling above the beds the best reading lamps.

I met a man during my stay who said that when he brought his dad to Disney World for the first time, all the father wanted to do was ride the monorail. So he did. I understood that desire.

EPCOT was planned as something akin to a permanent World’s Fair, with pavilions dedicated to different countries and to the exploration of science. World’s Fairs, New York 39 and 64 in particular, conjure up their own images of the past’s view of its happy future. I am now as fascinated with those visions of the future as I am with the future itself. Maybe it’s because I’m getting old, or maybe because the retro-future is as weird as the stories we’re writing now.

It’s easy to be jaded and ironic, snicker even at Walt’s happy visions — all his visions of wishes and dreams and a Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow. Not for me, not looking out across the Grand Canyon Concourse from the eighth floor as the monorail whispered in from the Magic Kingdom.

A calendar that tracks time travel

Designer Alex Griendling’s peculiar calendar project gave me a chance to tryout crowd sourcing and indulge my love of time travel. Almost no strand in science fiction—I hate the term sub-genre, since it sounds so “sub”—has enthralled me more than time travel. It started with “Danny Dunn, Time Traveller” and the bad Irwin Allen TV series, “Time Tunnel,” and has continued through every chronology-bending, Grandfather-paradox-killing book, show or movie I could get my eyes on.

The only stories that ever trumped time travel, at least in my pre-teen mind, were dystopian tales of post-apocalyptic futures, since running from mutants and hunting your own irradiated food across a disaster-blasted planet Earth sounded like pure adventure to a 12 year old. What’s wrong with a life expectancy of 22?

I have proof that obsessive attention to a topic can have its benefits. My second novel is a YA time-travel story called “TIMERS: Samuel Tripp’s adventures across time with Rip Van Winkle, the Connecticut Yankee and Ebenezer Scrooge (oh, and he saves all of history).” I started it in late September and I’m flying—18,000 words written so far—and I’m having a blast. There’s nothing that says you can’t have fun writing. But I digress.

Griendling proposed on Kickstarter to create the 2012 Time Travel Calendar and I plunked down my $10. He got it funded and I got this great calendar. Each month, instead of a picture, the calendar lists important, and not-so-imporant, moments in history visited by time travelers in TV shows, films, videogames and comics. January begins with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles back two and half billion years battling Slash in a 1992 video game, and ends in December with Superman trapped in the year 1,001,963 under a red sun with no super powers.

In between is a bounty of time travel trivia. The Titanic hosted both the dwarves and Kevin in the great film “Time Bandits” as well as Dr. Anthony Newman of craptastic “Time Tunnel.” Eighteen years later in history, Kirk and Spock travel to the Great Depression to stop McCoy from altering the past. This Star Trek episode, “City on the Edge of Forever” written by Harlan Ellison, was where I first encountered the change history, timeloop condnundrum that has fascinated me ever since.

The calendar also marks key dates in the history of time travel stories. You’ll find Skynet became self-aware on April 21, the day after Passover this year, the novel “The Time Machine” was published on May 7, as well as the birthdays of Robert Zemeckis and Stan Lee. I could go on and would if I weren’t already well beyond reasonable post length. It’s hard not to with a calendar that on one page alone cites “The Time Machine,” “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” “Somewhere in Time,” “Midnight in Paris” and “Timecop.”

Who doesn’t have time for that?

Riding bikes

My front yard: Six bikes, six kids. They stopped for a snack. This all happened without recourse to phones, email, iCal or that linguistic abomination, “playdate.” I’m time traveling.

Step right up

I marked the end of summer the same way I did as a kid, with a trip last week to the Dutchess County Fair in Rhinebeck. I’ve been to the giant Ohio State Fair, and our own New York edition in Syracuse, and I can promise that you don’t need to go any farther then two counties north for a top-drawer cows-ice cream-and-rides experience.

The Dutchess County Fair remains, after 160-plus years, a wonderful combination of an agricultural exposition, an ad-hoc shopping mall for things you really don’t need, and a giant carnival. My siblings and I wax nostalgic about how much it’s changed since we were kids, what’s missing and what we miss. But to be honest, much remains that makes it a true county fair, the nearest such to us here in Pelham, and well worth a visit during its six-day run.

via Step Right Up: The Real and True County Fair Experience is a Short Drive Away – Pelham, NY Patch.