Posts tagged ‘Films’

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington


Remember that great old black-and-white movie, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington? That was the one where Jimmy Stewart, the Boy Scout leader who becomes a senator by accident, discovers what a gang of crooks many politicians are and filibusters until their misdeeds are exposed. It’s a great moment in the movie — unfortunately not quite as great when the filibuster is used in real life to paralyze action.

For instance, there’s what is going on in the Senate right now. A few Republicans in the Senate don’t like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that Congress voted into law over their objections. Now they’ve got a second shot at crippling it.

By Constitutional law it is the President’s duty to appoint someone to head it, and the Senate’s to vote, aye or nay, to confirm. When the President did what the Constitution requires and passed the name of his nominee to the Senate he learned that one senator was blocking it by filibuster. So the headless Bureau can’t function as well as it should, and “financial protection” for many Americans is still just a promise.

A handful of senators have pulled the same trick on scores of other nominees, particularly judges. There are nearly a hundred federal courthouses sitting vacant today because a senator has filibustered a veto on voting for them. This has caused some real hardships, not just for judge-appointees who sometimes can’t take other jobs before their confirmation hearings (are they supposed to apply for unemployment insurance?) but for many persons up for federal trial. The Constitution promises them a speedy hearing, since “justice delayed is justice denied.” But any single senator can delay a trial indefinitely.

Most Senators, both Democrats and Republicans, will admit that the filibuster rule needs to be fixed, since it is just as immoral when the roles of the two parties are reversed, as it was in the Bush years. But that doesn’t stop almost all Republicans from chiding the President for not getting enough done, even when it’s their own party that does its best to tie his hands.


When the great world of non-English-speaking science fiction fans began to flex their young muscles and develop their own brand-new sorts of clubs and cons there was o way to slow them down. So it was no surprise to us Americans that, when there sprang into life an annual science fiction film festival, it was on the other side of an ocean, in a city called Trieste.

When some fan asked what country it was in, some wise guy — it may have been me — asked, “What country was it in when?” Because in the memory of living people — -that is, of people who were living in the 1960s — Trieste had alternately been Austro-Hungarian, Yugoslavian or Italian. And that doesn’t count those periods when the wars that changed things were over, but the old men with the chalk in their hands hadn’t quite finished drawing those map lines that dictated who would live where, and what they. would call themselves.

By the time Trieste hosted Il Festivale di Fantascienza, though, it was irrevocably (they said) Italian, and that’s what got us there. We were sitting on our porch in Red Bank, New Jersey, my then wife Carol and I, me reading the final pages of my latest collaboration with Jack Williamson, the Old Master himself, and Carol studying a map of eastern Europe.

I had just finished the final pages, having made only a handful of penciled improvements, none that required retyping whole pages, which meant all I had to do just then was put it in the mail for a final lookover by Jack. Unless he found something he wanted me to do over, which he almost never did, the next thing I would have to do with that one would be to deposit the check for the on-delivery half of my part of the advance when it turned up in the day’s mail.

That’s when Carol said, “Ðubrovnik” pronouncing the name as though enjoying the flavor of it.

What I said then was. “What?” I don’t know exactly what thoughts had been floating around my easily distracted mind at that time, but I was sure that they had nothing to do with towns with funny names..

She filled me in. “I said, ‘Dubrovnik,’ because I always said I wanted to visit some place that had a name I couldn’t pronounce.”

I reminded her that she had just pronounced it, and she shook her head at me. “How do I know I pronounced it right? Anyway, that’s not the important part. Look on the map here. Here’s this Dubrovnik place, and it’s right down the coast from that sci-fi film thing you said you wanted to go to, the one in Treesty.”

“There isn’t any such place as Treesty,” I informed, “The Film Festival is in Tree-esty. And all I said was maybe one of these years we might take a look — ”

“Well, what’s wrong with this year? You said you wanted to go there.. And just the other day, Mother was asking if we were going to want her to mind the kids while we went somewhere. I told her I’d ask you, so now I’m asking.”

I said, “Hum.” That was my coded expression for meaning, Let me mull this over in my mind, because Carol had a point. Back in those wartime days when my personal travel agent had been the U.S. Air Force, they had shipped me all over the map of Italy, except for two areas they somehow missed. One of them was Sicily, way down at the farthest south. The other, in the farthest north, was that spur of land at the top of the Adriatic Sea that held Trieste. The opportunity to see more of a country I had come to love simply couldn’t be passed up. So we made our plans, Carol and I, and we checked to see that our passports were up to date and that Carol’s mother, Carolie Ulf, was still cheerful about supervising the youngest children for two or three weeks, the two older ones being off at school,.

And next thing you know, our Alitalia jet was touching down at Milan’s airport and we were shifting our not inconsiderable baggage into the trunk of a Hertz car and heading east.

Continue reading ‘Under Three (or Maybe More) Flags, Part 1’ »

Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury

A few days ago, I received a telephone call to tell me that Ray Bradbury had just died.

I can’t write a proper obituary about the man who had been a friend for very nearly three-quarters of a century, ever since that day in 1939 when both of us — kid fans, yearning to be writers, though neither of us had sold a story yet — ran into each other at the very first World Science Fiction Convention ever. Ray had dreamed of going, but didn’t have the price of bus fare until the great father figure of fandom, Forrest J Ackerman, loaned it to him — and, once present, Ray spent most of his time trying to interest New York editors in the cover art of his friend, Hannes Bok.

In the seventy-odd years since then, our lives intersected from time to time. Now and then I would buy something of his for some magazine or anthology I was editing; sometimes we would appear on some con program together, occasionally I would take him to lunch in the endeavor, usually unsuccessful, to persuade him to write more for me.

One particular lunch, early on, sticks in my mind. We were walking toward a restaurant in Century City when a cab driver slowed, leaned out of his window and called, “How you doing, Ray?” And somewhat sheepishly Ray admitted to me that many of the cabbies in the Los Angeles area knew him well, as a steady customer, because he never himself drove a car. (Later, as he prospered, he kept a car and driver of his own.)

I saw Ray last a couple of years ago, when he and I were joint guests for the science-fiction program at UC-Riverside. He was feisty as ever, rather startlingly denouncing current science fiction as trash or worse — though it turned out that what he meant to be denouncing wasn’t print science fiction, but only the current crop of sf films. I would have liked to go into that in more detail, and to ask if he included the film Avatar. But time didn’t permit, and now I never can.

So long, Ray. You’re leaving me feeling a little lonesome.

Frederik Pohl IV

Frederik Pohl IV

I used the word “movie” in conjunction with the word “Gatewaythe other day, and several quick-witted blog readers wrote in to ask what was going to happen with a film for my novel of that title. I shouldn’t have said anything, because it’s a long way from anything tangible, but I was kind of excited about it.

The small amount of news behind my remark is just that, after the previous producers spent somewhere around a million dollars on scripts without finding one they could film, I decided, in collaboration with my son Rick, aka Fred the 4th, to write our own. I do hope it works out well and maybe earns us at least an Emmy or something.

Rick already has three Emmys of his own, but his problem is his good wife is collecting them faster than he is, so what he would really like is an Oscar.

Of course, before we can start thinking about that we really should finish writing the script.

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How many of you have read that excellent novel, Gateway? And, pray tell, how many of you remember the novel’s most important character? No, I’m not talking about Robinette Broadhead, though it’s true that he gets more space then the other guy. I’m talking about the wise, kindly and super-smart computer who goes by the name of “Sigfrid von Shrink.”

Happens I know that there were groups of readers who paid special attention to Siggy because I know that a couple of them, one around MIT in Massachusetts and the other in England, tried to build working models of Sigfrid for themselves.

(Actually that’s not hard. I believe both groups were inspired by a math-teaching program that I had seen in operation in, if I remember correctly, North Carolina and written something about at the time. These pseudo-Sigfrids were not really at all intelligent, but they could carry on a conversation, and if you looked at a transcript of it it looked pretty much like a real psychologist and couch session.)

Anyway, for reasons connected with the movie business, I’d like to know if any old Sigfrid-builders are still around. If you are, or if you know of someone who is, please drop me a line c/o this blog.

Part 7 of “Alfred Bester and Frederik Pohl — The Conversation,” recorded 26 June 1978 at The Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK.

Alfred Bester, ca. 1964.

    Alfred Bester, ca. 1964.

Pohl: I want to tell you something about this arrogance that you were talking about. It is not just editors, although the best in science fiction have been pretty insufferable in one way or another. We’ve mentioned Horace Gold, who was also demented. John Campbell clearly had a very decisive personality and impressed it on everybody around him all the time.

Some years ago two psychologists decided they wanted to find out what science-fiction writers were like. They sent out a questionnaire to a bunch of science-fiction writers and asked them to answer the sort of questions you get on psychological-testing papers. How do you feel about your mother and this and that. And from these they prepared a group psychological profile of science fiction writers.

They compared it with a similar group profile for some other kind of writers and for a third group of people. They found out that the science fiction writers were in many ways similar to most human beings! There were a couple of differences, and one was in what is called “aggressive” versus “withdrawn” “cyclothymia.”

Bester: What is “cyclothymia”?

Pohl: It’s a kind of lunacy. [Editor’s note: Cycling mood swings, but short of actual bipolar affective disorder.] But the question was not whether you had it, but if you had it which way you would go. Withdrawn cyclothymic people are more or less passive and tend to let things go; they overlook something that is wrong. The people who tend the other way are stubborn and won’t take nothing from nobody, and have their own opinions which you’re not going to change with an ax!

And science fiction writers were like that — the stubbornest, most difficult human beings alive!

Audience: How do writers get along with their readerships?

Bester: Fine, splendid. People ask me questions, and I answer them. People ask for autographs and I sign them. People want to talk to me. They’d like to be writers, so l try to help as hard as l can. I get along fine with readers.

Fred, have you ever been attacked by a reader?

Pohl: Not physically, no! But I went to a meeting in Boston some years ago; it was a Mensa meeting, and I was supposed to talk about science fiction and discuss it with somebody else, and this person came up to me and handed me a copy of one of my books.

I said, “Oh, you want my autograph.”

And he said, “No, I want to give it back to you. I hate it. I don’t want it in my possession.” And that’s the closest I ever came to being attacked. Of course, I started out as a fan.

Bester: So did I. I read what’s his name’s Amazing Stories when I was only that high. I couldn’t even afford to buy any. I used to read it on the newsstand. Until they chased me, and I’d come back five minutes later and I’d finish the story.

Pohl: Well, I didn’t do that. I bought them in secondhand stores and got them for a nickel. I identify more closely with readers than I do with most writers. I still read science fiction for pleasure. Not all of it, because who can? 1,200 books a year is more than I can handle. But when I have finished reading what I have to read professionally in science fiction, I read some just for fun.

Bester: Fortunately I don’t have to read it professionally. I read it just for fun, and I do read science fiction regularly.

Alas, there is not as much fun for me today because now that I’m a professional writer, always in the back of the mind is the critical writer, saying “Oh man, you loused that scene, you could have done it better.” That kind of thing kills a lot of stories for me. But occasionally a beaut comes along.

Continue reading ‘Me and Alfie, Part 7: Cyclothymia’ »