Movie Review: Looper. With An Explanation of Time Travel from Captain Underpants. Action. Pranks. Laffs.

Admittedly, I’m late to seeing Looper. I saw it last night because Argo was sold out and The Cloud Atlas wasn’t for a couple of hours but I really enjoyed it and I’m glad we saw it.

The premise: In 2074, time travel has been invented. It’s illegal but is being used by criminal organizations to kill off their enemies. The assassins of 2044 are called Loopers. The main character, Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), needs to “close the loop” when he meets his older self (Bruce Willis), but Old Joe escapes in hopes of changing his future.

Looper’s future doesn’t look that different from 2012. The U.S. has suffered a tremendous economic collapse. The streets are filled with vagrants and everyone sports some kind of weapon that they use freely. Crime is rampant. The cars are familiar except with a couple of extra pipes and hoses hanging off them. Solar panels are ubiquitous. People, like Joe, are addicted to some undefined drug that is dropped into your eye. And Loopers are paid in silver bars until the the loop is closed. Then they get shiny gold bars carved with a beautiful tag.

My favorite part of the movie was when we see Joe’s life between his life as a Looper in Kansas City and his move to Shanghai where he blows through his silver, becomes a contract killer, meets his wife, and eventually leaves the big city to start over. This 30-year backstory is told in a minute or two.

My biggest issue with the movie: The use of children. The Old Joe character comes from the future to look for the guy that will become the Rainmaker, a vicious mafia boss that has order the closing of loops. To prevent that from happening, Old Joe goes after three five-year old boys, eliminating one off-screen, then being caught while after the second. The suspense builds as 2044 Joe connects with Sid, a mechnically-minded young boy that lives on a farm with his super-hot mom (played by Emily Blunt). Did I mention telekinesis? That’s a mutation that has appeared sometime before 2044 and it plays a significant part in the movie.

Without giving it away, there are issues with the ending and that’s because time travel is complicated and messy, right?

Captain Underpants also plays with time travel

The ninth epic novel in the Captain Underpants series Captain Underpants the the Terrifying Return of Tippy Tinkletrousers [links to] also involves time travel. To simplify the concept, time travel gets an explanation in the second chapter, The Banana Cream Pie Paradox. According to Dav Pilkey,

Time machines are awesome. There’s no doubt about it. But they can also be very dangerous. It’s possible that a person could go back in time and accidentlaly change one little thing — and that one teeeny, tiny, itsy-bitsy thing could profoundly affect the future. This is what scientists refer to as the Banana Cream Pie Paradox.

The fact that a chapter book aimed at emerging readers — that is second and third graders, ages 7 and 8 — needs to explain time travel and how messy it can be (it involves Banana Cream Pies and a reference to the Three Stooges fer crissakes) shows how difficult it can be. But at least the second and third graders are being taught about time travel early on.

That said, Looper’s a fun and wild ride. If you’re willing to suspend belief, you’ll enjoy it. If not, there would be no movie.

As for Captain Underpants, I’ll write about him later.


Here’s a couple of posts about Looper: How to Do a Genre Movie Right and The Looper Infographic (warning: spoilers).


You may also enjoy:

My review of Hot Tub Time Machine

My review of Back to the Future

The Ikea Catalogue’s Time Travel Edition

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Maya Warrior Queen Tomb Found: Lady K’abel

Check this out: Seventh-century Maya Holy Snake Lord, Lady K’abel, was just found in Guatemala.

According to the article:

K’abel, considered the greatest ruler of the Late Classic period, ruled with her husband, K’inich Bahlam, for at least 20 years (672-692 AD), Freidel says. She was the military governor of the Wak kingdom for her family, the imperial house of the Snake King, and she carried the title “Kaloomte’,” translated to “Supreme Warrior,” higher in authority than her husband, the king.

The great thing about this story is  you can’t make this up. It’s too good.

Lady K’Abel sounds like a princess from a science fiction or fantasy novel. The Wak kingdom sounds like the place where people are whacky or get whacked. Especially since K’abel was the military governess.

Plus, she was part of the Imperial House of the Snake King. She was the “Supreme Warrior,” the supreme bad-ass.

The full story along with a video about the discovery is here at Futurity.

R.I.P. Chavela Vargas (1919-2012)

A brief moment of silence, a shot of tequila and a grito de un amor perdido for the great ranchera songstress Chavela Vargas.

Chavela Vargas
Chavela Vargas

When I hear Chavela Vargas, I hear ranchera at its most definitive. Her voice expresses hardships and pain, loneliness, bitterness, discontent, desires, love lost and love with a capital ‘L.’

Chavela Vargas was a bad-ass.

Here’s BoingBoing’s Xeni Jardin’s obitHere’s the LA Times obit. And here’s the brief Wikipedia background on Chavela.

UPDATE: In Costa Rica, I saw Vincente Fernandez is on tour. El rey de la cancion ranchera is on his Despedida tour, his retirement tour. I suspect that will be a Madison Square Garden sell-out and as a fan of ranchera history will try to check it out.

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My Modest Reading List: Summer of 2012 Edition UPDATED

UPDATE: Starting in 2013, I tracked the books and media I consumed throughout the year. Want to see what I was into in 2013? Click here. Want to know what I’ve been reading in 2014? Click here.

I’m busy. Unfortunately, that means I can’t read as much as I would like.

It kills me, actually. Because reading keeps me centered, keeps my mind fueled, and serves as inspiration for my writing.

I was definitely one of those kids who would rather sit inside and read than head outside to play. (I don’t allow my kids to do that. They have to get exercise. Then, they can read to their heart’s content.) I’m still one of those people who will drop everything for a good book and will stay up until the sun comes up if I’ve been sucked in by a great author (Murakami has been doing this to me lately but even Lee Child has done it).

I usually keep a running list of the books I’ve read. You can see my board of books I’ve read and recommend here. It’s actually very beautiful.

For the summer, I’m focusing my reading in four areas: Books to expand my spirit, books about entrepreneurship, books to help me escape, and books I’ve wanted to read forever for one reason or another. Here’s the list

Books to Expand My Mind and Spirit

The Places That Scare You (Pema Chodron)

The Way of The Wizard (Deepak Chopra)

The Four Chapters of Freedom (Sayananda Saraswati)

Vagabonding (Rolf Potts)

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (Robert Prisig)

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (Mark Twain)

The Music Lesson by Victor Wooten

Books on Entrepreneurship

The Rational Optimist (Matt Ridley)

I Will Teach You To Be Rich (Ramit Sethi)

The Education of Millionaires (Michael Ellsberg)

The Millionaire Fastlane (MJ Demarco)

Books on Science

Eternity Soup (Greg Critser)

The Red Queen (Matt Ridley)

Abundance (Peter Diamantis)


Books I’ve Wanted to Read Forever

The Ruined Map (Kobo Abe)

A Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams)

The Popol Vuh

The Conquest of New Spain (Bernal Diaz)

Jesus Son Denis Johnson

Tripmaster Monkey (Maxine Hong Kingston)

The Night Circus (Erin Morgenstern)

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (Haruki Murkami)

Books I Want to Read but Wonder When…

The Atlantis Complex: Artemis Fowl 7 (Eoin Colfer)

The Last Guardian: Artemis Fowl 8 (Eoin Colfer)

Blood Meridian (Cormac McCarthy)

Turning Your Mind Into An Ally

What I We Talk About When I Talk About Running (Haruki Murkami)

Pulphead: Essays (John Jeremiah Sullivan)

A couple of the books – The Popol Vuh and The Conquest of New Spain – are research for my series of time travel novels that involve the Conquistadors. The book I’m researching now involves Cortez.

Several of the books are re-reads – Hitchhiker’s Guide, Tripmaster Monkey. I hated Hitchhiker’s Guide the first time around. I’m hoping a re-read will change my opinion of it. I remember enjoying Tripmaster Monkey about as much as I’ve ever enjoyed any book. Tab just read it and said it was incredible. Kristen packed it in with her summer’s reading saying she had always wanted to read it, so why not.

Looking at this list makes me wish I was one of those guys who had a book on his desk at the office. One of my business partners was like that. He always had one and would stop to read a couple of pages during the course of the day. Definitely better than random internet surfing. It also makes me wish I could just spend more time reading.

My prediction, I expect I’ll make it through at least half of these. I’ll load up several on my iPhone’s Kindle app and on Kristen’s Nook. Read some while we’re in Costa Rica or in Panama. Read some while I’m sitting my office before I start my writing day. Keep them on my desk to inspire me.

Books. There is nothing better.

Want to see someone else’s list. Here‘s master fiction writer Donald Barthleme’s list. Update: 8.12.2012 13h20 Here’s Xconomy’s Luke Timmerman’s summer reading list for biotech pros.

UPDATE. As of August 1st, I had read the following from the above list:

The Places That Scare You (Pema Chodron)

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (Mark Twain)

The Ruined Map (Kobo Abe)

I also read:

Jailbird (Kurt Vonnegut)

And am in the middle of reading

The Ruined Map.

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Using Your Bloody Red-Eyed Insomnia to Get Things Done

I had two good friends make suggestions on what I should blog about and I liked what they suggested, so here’s the first post for my good friend Laura Thanks to X’s “Nausea” for inspiring my title.over at Learning Catalan.

The mark of sleeplessness

My name is Karl and I am an insomniac.

As a kid, I always had a hard time falling and asleep and would toss and turn two-three hours before I finally fell asleep. I’m pretty sure my mind was filled with kid-thoughts like: What if I fall asleep and don’t wake up? What if mom and dad disappear while I’m asleep? How will I get out of the house if there’s an earthquake? (I grew up in California, lived through several earthquakes, and thought about them constantly.)

The insomnia got worse as a teenager. My sleeplessness was fed by teenage angst and a steady diet of post-apocalyptic SF. My mind would bounce from, Does Leslie like me? and I wonder what it’s like to kiss a girl? to What if the Russians really are aliens and bomb Ventura tomorrow? and Am I punk enough?

I didn’t think there was anything wrong with me. I would flop around in my bed in the dark, mind racing, examining my worries, my longings, my ideas, dissecting every song I knew, every skatepark I wanted to skate, until eventually sleep would open her gentle arms and invite me in.

As far as I can remember, insomnia left in college and in my 20s. I’m sure the new-found combinations of work, alcohol, relationships, and staying up late sent the insomnia into hiding… for a while.

At the same time, I cultivated two bad habits that invited insomnia back into my life: Napping and staying up late to write.

I taught myself to nap in college so I could stay up later and study longer. That habit served me well while I was memorizing the Krebs Cycle and would serve me well a few years later when the most important thing in my life was going out to see a band or hang out at a club. Today, that habit means I can basically fall asleep on demand. Give me a chair, a bit of floorspace, or a subway pole to hang onto and I’ll crash for fifteen minutes and feel refreshed.

The second habit, staying up late to work seemed pretty normal when I started  it. I’d come home from my job at the PR agency, at the dotcom, even from working as a freelancer, then start writing at 10pm. Often, I’d stay up until 4am, go to to work, sleep on the F-train to and from work (only missing my stop once in the 8 years that I did that). The upside to this is I realized that working from 2 am to 4 am is extremely productive. I have five completed novels and six screenplays to prove it.

I suspect those two habits along with the inconsistent sleep habits of three growing little boys invited insomnia back into my life in much more permanent way.

When each boy was born, I learned to get by on four hours of sleep. I would got up for feedings, changed diapers, sat with little baby boys until they fell asleep, then would climb back into bed and wait for sleep to invite me home. Unfortunately, when the boys finally got on their regular sleep schedules – it took Alejandro and Felix until they were 5 and Tomas until he was 3 – my insomnia came back with a vengance.

At first, I didn’t mind. I went back to late-night writing and became productive again. I’d leave the bedroom, do client work, then dedicate time to my latest fiction project.

The problem arose when I had to start getting up at 6:30 every school day to feed the boys and get them to school. Going to bed at 4 or 5 then waking up an hour or two later just didn’t cut it. I found I was moody, grumpy and downright mean. And the last thing I want to do is be the MEAN DAD, though I fear I’ve already cultivated that reputation.


No one is surprised by my insomnia. Every parent goes through that brutal sleepless night phase. I Googled “number of Americans with insomnia” and found an NPR story that says there are a staggering 60 million of us.

My friend Tab though, he said, consider your insomnia a blessing and use it productively.

So I did and I do. And here’s what I do when I find myself up between 1 am and 4 am and I know – because if you’re like me with your insomnia, you know – I’m not going to fall back asleep.

First of all, I make friends with the sleeplessness. I give thanks and tell myself I’m going to do something productive and move myself as far away from Kristen and the sleeping boys. I remind myself that there is nothing from earlier in the day that I need to pay attention to and I can start on something with a new outlook.

Used to be the first thing I would do is fire up the laptop, answer email and mindlessly surf the web, shopping for vintage Porsches and VW Microbuses, catching up on the news in Chile, checking the waves or downloading obscure music. The hours would go by and I’d realized I wasted two-three precious hours.

I don’t do that any more.

Especially now that we know your computer screen contributes to your insomnia.

These days, if I’m up and I absolutely, positively have to use the computer, the first thing I do is boot up the Freedom app to disconnect me from the Internet and its time-sucking temptations.

Insomnia (1997 film)

Second, I decide what I’m going to accomplish: I sometimes wish I could be one of those people who cleans the house or cooks while I’m not sleeping. I’m not. I restrict my night-time activities to writing, reading or yoga/meditating.

Since I’ve already spent years of my life writing late at night, that’s usually what I do. How I am productive as a writer is a topic for another blog post.

Reading is also pretty simple since I have an ever-growing list of books that I want to read. Since I also have the bad habit of staying up all night to read books I’m into (I just did this with The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo triology), I have to decide if I’m going to try to go back to sleep (business book) or stay up (fiction).

As for the yoga and meditation. I practiced yoga at 11 PM for several years. It helped me tremendously with my insomnia.

(I had a yoga teacher say she was surprised I could practice yoga so late  then go to sleep. She called yoga “energizing.” No doubt it is, but the purpose of yoga is to prepare the mind for meditation [the yogis elegantly say, “the purpose of yoga is to unite ourselves with our highest nature”], so late-night yoga is great for calming the mind and falling back asleep. Plus, you can do it quietly.)

Meditation is a relatively new thing for me. The Meditation Society of Australia’s free podcasts really helped me kick off my meditation practice. If I decide I’m going to meditate late at night, I’ll turn on the White Noise app or use my Insight Timer app and sit and meditate for 30 to 45 minutes. I am finding meditation is one of the most productive uses of my insomnia.

Third, I do it. I  tell myself I’m going to read, write, meditate or do yoga, for an hour or two, then quit and try to fall back asleep. Usually that works.

(In a separate  post, I’ll outline what I’ve done and do to keep insomnia at bay, but our friend James Altucher has a good section on dealing with insomnia in his blog post How to Live Forever. In short, I’ve dealt with mine by (1) turning off all electronic devices at 11, (2) cranking up the exercise, (3) (occasionally) supplementing with melatonin, and (4) meditating.)

So, if you’re suffering from insomnia, what do you do to be productive?

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Thanks to X’s Nausea for inspiring the title.

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Someone’s been selling illegal fairy technology to goblins. The Lower Elements Police Reconnaissance Unit (LEPrecon) suspects Artemis Fowl, a 13-year old criminal mastermind, who previously cost the fairies of the Lower Elements a half-ton of gold and the embarrassment of being outwitted by a human.

Goblins, fairies, LEPrecon and a teenage criminal mastermind?

For readers of the Artemis Fowl science-fantasy series, the combination of fantasy, near-future fairy technologies and thrills is par for the course.

Artemis Fowl II
Artemis Fowl

ARTEMIS FOWL 2: THE ARCTIC INCIDENT picks up one year after Book One. Artemis is trying to rescue his kidnapped father from the Russian Mafia when Fairies Captain Holly Short, fungus-cigar-smoking Commander Julius Root, and the tech genius centaur Foaly of LEPrecon bring Artemis and his mountain-of-a-bodyguard, Butler, to the Lower Elements for questioning.

Holly Short

Artemis proves he has no involvement with the illegal weapons transfers and helps the fairies realize it’s likely one of their own is behind the illegal technology transfers and may be inciting the barely-intelligent goblins to riot.

Artemis cuts a deal – he’ll help the fairies find the traitor if they help him rescue his father.

THE ARCTIC INCIDENT splits the action between Ireland, Paris, Los Angeles, the Lower Elements, and the Russian Arctic. At the start of the novel, there is a great deal of suspicion and animosity between fairies and humans, but the need to cooperate allows the characters to develop trust and admiration for each other along the way.

Like Book 1, THE ARCTIC INCIDENT is a page-tuner. The action is as fast-paced as a thriller of the Mission Impossible type. Along the way we see fairy technologies that are decades ahead of their human equivalents (example, the Pressure Elevators, the massive natural shafts that fairy shuttles ride to quickly get around the earth), get to know the human and fairy characters (the hilarious Mulch Diggums and the evil Opal Koboi), and enjoy a great deal of humor.

For me, THE ARCTIC INCIDENT is the best of the Artemis series. When I started to read Artemis, it was the first I read. But on re-reading, I realized how tightly plotted and well-written it is.

Highly recommended.

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SF+F OWW: Columbus Circle of Time is an Editor’s Choice

I am proud to say the first four chapters of The Columbus Circle of Time were chosen as an Editor’s Choice on the Science Fiction and Fantasy Online Writer’s Workshop. When I heard at the end of last month, I couldn’t believe it but when the review came in I couldn’t stop smiling.

Here’s a few excerpts from Karin Lowachee‘s review:

This month’s EC shows a strong beginning that launches right into the action, and immediately tells the reader that this is a fantastical story: the game, the Aztec calendar, the jumping around time. There are exotic locations, an interesting culture, and a lot of the Spanish language. The Aztec mysticism lends itself to fantasy and science fiction both.

Salvador Dali’s The Dream of Christopher Columbus (1959)


The dynamic between parents and children is wonderful – Sofia and Isabel, Cristobal and Diego. You want authenticity and too often parents are absent from kidlit or are portrayed in a negative light. Here there is a realistic affection and the adults don’t talk down to the children. Sofia’s relationship with her kids reads very modern, but still sweet; Cristobal’s with Diego feels affectionate but with a realistic divide of understanding that happens between an adult and a child. The children themselves have a great authenticity to them, from Grade 9 aged Isabel to 6th Grade Diego. This is important, because nothing will make a kid put down a book faster than reading about protagonists that they can’t identify with. There isn’t a strong sense of adult authorial intrusion on the kids’ personalities, which sometimes happens in YA or middle grade literature.

Karen’s review also provided me a ton of very constructive feedback that will be useful as I launch into Draft 5 and begin the marketing of the book.

Thanks Karen. And thanks Eugene for getting me onto SF-F OWW.

Blatant Consumerism: End of Days Limited Edition Capitalizing on the Mayan Prophecy

This arrived in my mailbox today on the backpage of the Fountain Pen Hospital catalogue.

End of Days Fountain Pen

I know people are capitalizing on the Mayan 2012 prophecy, have been for the past few years, and I expect more will follow but for some reason this really amused me. Here’s the marketing copy (bolding and italics are mine):

The 2012 Collection will stand as a tribute to the enduring wisdom of the Mayan culture as well as the precision and accuracy with which they predicted the conditions of the world and events in the heavens in our day.

It happens only every 26,000 years; the Galactic Alignment, where the Earth’s Winter Solstice Sun passes through the Dark Rift of the Milky Way, marking the end of the 13-Baktun Cycle in the Mayan Long-Count Calendar. In astronomical terms, the Sun conjuncts the intersection of the Milky Way and the plane of the ecliptic. The Milky Way extends in a general north-south direction in the night sky. The plane of the ecliptic is the track the Sun, Moon, planets and stars appear to travel in the sky, from east to west. It intersects the Milky Way at a 60 degree angle near the constellation Sagittarius. This rare galactic alignment was predicted anciently by the Maya, whose culture, calendar and beliefs were based on their prophetic interpretation of these significant celestial events.

According to researchers, something definite happened in the middle of the first century BC and it was carved in stone by the Maya. Something also happened in 830 AD (in Baktun 10) which signaled the ‘Beginning of the end’ for the Maya civilization. The Maya considered these events to be so significant that they calculated a ‘countdown’ of sorts, beginning August 11th, 3114 BC and ending on December 21st, 2012.

Better hurry, they’re only making 52 of these babies and they’re going for a mere $4,900.

Review: The Hunger Games

I’ve mentioned before that I like to read what my 11-year old Alejandro is reading and last summer, I noticed several of his friends were reading The Hunger Games. Alejandro tore through the three books in the series in a matter of days. And when I finally had a chance, I read the first two in four days.

They are that good.

The story takes place in a near-future in a not-so-recognizable America where each of the 12 districts must send a boy and a girl to The Capital to fight to the death in the gruesome Hunger Games. The winner brings prestige to his or her district, as well as food, something that is lacking nearly everywhere.

Written from the main character’s point of view, you can’t help but feel (and fall for) 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen. Katniss volunteers to take the place of her younger sister, Prim, in the games. Katniss comes from District 12, a coal-mining district, which I would suspect is near our West Virginia or so. Katniss has a couple of secrets, the main one is that she hunts illegally outside her District’s boundaries and has mad archery skills.

The book is a reality-show on steroids. You speed through the Katniss life in District 12, awe at her volunteering for her sister (and putting her life at risk), feel her uncertainties when dealing with the tributes from the other Districts, and finally get to experience the rollercoaster of suspense during the games.

Fanfic Video of a key scene in the book.

I’m not going to spoil it for you but will say the books are worth it. You will be sucked in and you will feel for Katniss, the tributes, and the situation that they are thrown into.

As I read the book and was faced with the brutality of the games, I kept asking myself, “Is this book appropriate for 10 to 12 year olds?” I felt that the level of brutality was too much, kept wondering how exposing children to a book like this would sit with them. Yet, I remember listening to Alejandro talk to one of his best friend’s about the book and it was one of most literate, intense conversations I’d ever heard him and this particular friend have.

The Hunger Games provides kids insight into a type of entertainment reality TV is only a few steps away from, it shows them a political system that takes advantage of individuals and Districts. If your kid is squeamish or easily disturbed, I wouldn’t recommend it.

Review: Hot Tub Time Machine

A group of three middle-aged best friends whose lives didn’t turn out as expected. A friend who spends all his time online. A ski resort that has seenbetter days. A hot tub, a squirrel, vodka, and an illegal energy drink. These are the elements that transport these four guys back to the eighties when their lives were simpler.

Hot Tub Time Machine had me laughing. It’s full of raunchy jokes. Makes tons of references to the 1980s. And plays off the idea that changing the past allows you to change the future – find a new love, learn to stand up for yourself, find your own mojo, and make sure you really do exist.

There were a couple of times when my interest waned but the concept of time travel using a hot tub, plus the changes in the future were pretty happening.

BTW, it’s going to be over most kids’ heads.