Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A Little Light Research

As everyone knows, you can’t trust everything on the Internet. But it does hold all kinds of treasures for the working author in need of a quick fact fix. Like fabulous pictures. And maps of other worlds. My latest discovery is this neat little solar system clock that shows the positions of the planets at any given time. Forward the outer planet view to 2225 AD to find out what my characters have to deal with in the ongoing (it’s an applet, so if you want to check it out you’ll need Java).

Now some people might think that making sure that all the planets are lined up in their correct position is taking research a little too far. Especially as my characters are buzzing about the Solar System on ships powered by fusion motors that haven’t yet been invented. Could it be that I’m taking this hard SF lark a mite too seriously?

Well, maybe. But the fusion motor is a convention -- shorthand for some kind of advanced space technology if not yet realisable is at least possible. And it doesn’t mean that my characters are able to buzz about at impossible speeds, so that means that not only does the Solar System still seem like a big, roomy place, but the relative position of the planets they’re travelling between is important. And since that’s important to my characters, it means it’s important for me to try to get it right, or at least to hint at the problems this may causes interplanetary travellers every now and then. Besides, while I’m not above stretching the odd fact or two if they get in the way of the story, in this case the relative positions of the planets have helped me to focus on the direction of the narrative. Sometimes this research lark pays off.

I was going to write something about The Dark Knight, but work intervened over the weekend, and it seems a bit pointless to contribute to the deluge of opinion and comment and sheer hype on the net and elsewhere. For what it’s worth, I liked it a lot, and it certainly delivers the film we were promised at the end of Batman Begins, when the Batman turns over a card to reveal it’s the joker. It isn’t the best film every made, and it certainly isn’t as good as Godfather 2, but it’s a fine large-scale Hollywood action film, although very dark and very grim, but hey, in these times maybe we get the Hollywood action films we deserve. Christopher Nolan has done a great job in bringing the franchise bang up to date, dropping the gothic noir in favour of a technothriller sheen. The bank robbery in the opening five minutes is a worthy homage to Michael Mann, the master of technothriller films: William Fitchner, who plays the shotgun-toting bank manager, played crooked financier Roger Van Zant in Michael Mann’s Heat. Heath Ledger’s turn as the Joker is full of malign energy, twisting like a snake on a punji stick, winning the iconic moment competition when, dressed as a nurse, he walks away from an exploding hospital. Christian Bale is forced to act with nothing much more than his chin when he’s in Batman gear, but he’s grimly elegant as Bruce Wayne, and does a great bit of truck fu. Forget the critical gabble about how the film repositions our ideas of heroes and heroism; although it does attempt to say something about how far you can go when trying to protect citizens without losing sight of what you’re protecting in the first place, it fudges the issue with a get-out clause that may work as a plot twist, but doesn’t hold water in the real world. And besides, the kinetics of action films means that it’s impossible to maintain any kind of serious dialogue or examination about any kind of issue. And this is a seriously kinetic bit of film-making: if it’s spectacle you want, it definitely delivers.


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