Fact or Fiction

After the Ice: A Global Human History, 20,000-5000 BC B After Ice 2003

Written by:  Steve Mithen

Published by:  Harvard University Press

Copyright:  © 2003

The Earth has experienced at least 6 major episodes of glaciation in the past. Three in the Pre-Cambrian, which is a time older than 0.542 billion years (Ga) and three in Phanerozoic, a time younger than 0.542 Ga. All appear to have had a profound effect on life on Earth; not so much the beginning of  any particular ice age but what occurred when the glaciers melted. The first glaciation, Pongola, occurred from approximately 2.9 to 2.75 Ga. The end of this glacial period saw a build up of oxygen in the oceans until it reached critical levels and began charging the atmosphere. Around 2.45 Ga, oxygen levels reached levels sufficient to cause cooling of the Earth, by removing greenhouse gases, and thus starting the second glacial period, the Huronian from 2.4 to 2.1 Ga. Shortly before or after the glaciers melted, around 2.2 to 1.6 Ga, eukaryotes, cells with a nucleus, appeared. Eukaryotes are everywhere, you, your cat, your flowering plants that your cat eats, the spiders in the corner of your bedroom that your cat will not eat, everywhere. Next up is the Cryogenian, a glacial period in Earth’s history occurring from 0.720 to 0.635 Ga. Shortly after they melted, the ozone layer was created, a cloak desperately needed to protect life from the harmful rays of the sun.  The Cambrian Explosion of life followed the ozone creation.  Moving on to the next glacial, the Andean-Saharan, occurring from 0.450 to 0.420 Ga, predominately in the Silurian Period but also sucking up some of its predecessor’s, the Ordovician, time. This glaciation is followed by significant accumulation of life, plants and animals, moving beyond strictly marine habitats to occupy solid land and Amazon distribution centers. The Karoo Ice Age, from 0.360 to 0.260 Ga, is followed by the largest extinction event this planet has ever seen, occurring at the end of the Permian and the beginning of the Triassic.  At this point glacial melting does not appear to be the causative event for the extinctions but may have provided a nudge. The final event, known as the Quaternary Glaciation, started 2.58 million years ago and is still active today. Currently we are within what is called an inter-glacial period. These inter-glacials are preceded and followed by glaciers marching towards and receding from lower latitudes.  Note to self and you: these glacial periods last much, much, much longer than 2.58 million years. With the exception of Antarctica and Greenland, the current set of glaciers reached their maximum extent about 20-25,000 years ago and have slowly retreated, essentially disappearing  by 9600 years ago. Around 25,000 years ago, human populations started to increase.  By 9600 years ago his technological progress exploded.

Dr. Steven Mithen, the author of After the Ice, attempts to record our history from when the ice sheets began their retreat to the time the Sumerians first developed a system of writing 5000 years ago, a period partially covered by what we now call with the broad brushed term; pre-history.  Dr. Mithen primarily uses an archeologist’s box of tools to decipher ancient Homo sapiens sapiens style of living, their diet, housing, religion, culture; their existence and growth as a species, all from a time when our ancestors were not consciously plastering their material world with sticky notes.

After the Ice is a global tour of archeological finds and their interpretations, from our hunter-gather roots in the Pleistocene to a more sedentary and cosmopolitan life as a farmer, artist, city-dweller; parsing one continent at a time. There is little in the way of original research in this book, more a compendium of secondary source material, known sites, and the results obtained from them. Exactly what I was looking for when I picked up this book to read.

The author covers most of the major sites and imparts to us what all the shell debris, bone carvings, and flint scrapings mean. He does this beautifully and when confronted with differing possible interpretations, he carefully constructs a point-counterpoint argument to help resolve the issues.  His discussion and synopsis of the initially controversial, Monte Verde site in Chile, which ultimately pushed humanity’s origins in the Americas back about 2500 years, from Clovis times to 14,500 years ago, was expertly relayed to the reader, leaving little room for alternate meanings: a real education one may add.

This book and author excel when relating the artifacts found and their possible meanings and its thoroughly fascinating stuff, but he manages to turn the affair into an awful, muddled mess of narrative excess by introducing a time-traveling archaeologist, John Lubbock, to add color to the play-by-play.  John Lubbock, who actually was an eminent archeologist in the late 1800s, observes humans at various times and places in our pre-history, providing second person comments on the existing state of humanity and the world.  It’s all a bit much and very distracting, annoying even.  An all too common example; meaning to give an example, I just opened the book, put my finger down and copied whatever was there:

Lubbock left the cave at Lukenya Hill with a hunting party late one afternoon.  As they walked, spider’s webs within the grass were illuminated by the setting sun, momentarily exposed in a narrow band between clouds and distant mountains.

Keep in mind this happened 1000s of years before writing was invented so this is little more than pure unadulterated fiction. To add authenticity and license to his fiction he occasionally appends a footnote. And it’s liberally interspersed throughout the book amounting to equal parts Lubbock fantasy to Mithen facts.  Take out Lubbock and the book goes from a blathering 600 pages of confusion to 300 pages of something that may be worth reading. Mithen just can’t seem to make up his mind, does he want to write a factual history or historical fiction.  Actually he did make up his mind, he decided to do both.

I initially tried to skim Lubbock’s narrative and just stick with Mithen’s discussion but the author so intertwines them both that bypassing one makes nonsense of the other. This could have, should have been a great book dealing with the world’s archeological quest to unravel our past.  There are moments in the book where Mithen brings his and his colleagues’ science to life but in the end it just too dang hard to enjoy the meat when he coats the entire thing in Lubbock’s wispy, sticky cotton candy.

I am once again on the lookout for a decent account of humanity’s pre-history.

A Short as a Feature – A Drama as a Mystery

Anti Matter (2017)  Rated: NR  Runtime: 105 minutesM AntiMatter 2017

Genre: Drama-Mystery-Science Fiction-Thriller

els – 4.0/10

IMDb – 6.3/10

Amazon – 3.4/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics – 7.2/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience – 4.3/5

Metacritic Metascore – NA/100

Metacritic User Score – 7.5/10

Directed by:  Keir Burrows

Written by:  Keir Burrows

Produced by:  Dieudonnée Burrows

Music by:  Edwin Sykes

Cast:  Yaiza Figueroa, Tom Barber-Duffy, Philippa Carson

Keir Burrows is a celebrated short film director and writer making his feature-length movie debut with Anti Matter; a low-budget, moderately, but mistakenly, cerebral science fiction flick set in the present at England’s Oxford University.  Ana (Figueroa), a doctoral candidate, along with two of her fellow student accomplices: Barber-Duffy as Nate and Carson as Liv, design a protocol to transfer matter from one point to another, instantly, via a wormhole.  After successfully transferring inanimate objects and small life-forms Ana, to guarantee future funding for her research and the subsequent commercial development of instantaneous globe-hopping, transfers herself through the wormhole, after which her mind ceases to retain any new information or memories, thus beginning the mystery of why that happened and how to correct it.

This movie has received fairly positive reviews; this will not be one of them.  The title of the movie is an enigma and a charade, anti-matter does not enter into this story one way or another; it is never mentioned, that I can remember, and wormholes are predicated on the curvature of space-time and negative energy, at least according to the current working hypothesis.  Why name the movie Anti Matter? The title “Negative Energy” certainly would have been more honest and just as good, if not better.  Additionally, the subtitle: “Science and Hell have Come Together”, is also a non-starter, an illusion of horror, likely used in the title and story synopsis only to drum up interest and sales. The only hell is the one contrived by the director and writer to create a mystery that only exists with the viewer, and if the viewer is paying attention, the mystery does not last for long. The acting is abysmal; paying for real actors would have paid big dividends. Liv who plays, unconvincingly, the world’s greatest jerk, making Sean Penn and Don Rickles look like well-mannered saints, hopefully, never sees the glare of another movie set light in her life, and she can rightfully blame the director-writer for her atrocious nature and character development, or maybe not. This is a movie that has all the appearances of a short that was stretched, unforgivingly, into a full-length feature film. Cutting 25 minutes of celluloid, 80 minutes is still a feature film, may have saved this movie but the director’s ambition in creating a mystery-thriller out of a sci-fi drama outran his talent.

If you are into B movies, by all means, watch this film, otherwise take a pass and do something else with your time.

Zombies — or Not

PredestinationPredestination.jpg

Theaters:  March 2014

Streaming:  February 2015

Rated:  R

Runtime:  97 minutes

Genre:  Drama – Mystery – Science Fiction – Thriller

els:  8.0/10

IMDb:  7.5/10

Amazon:  3.9/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics:  6.9/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience:  3.7/5

Metacritic Metascore:  69/100

Metacritic User Score:  8.0/10

Awards:

Directed by:  Michael and Peter Spierig

Written by:  Michael and Peter Spierig (screenplay) Robert A. Heinlein (story- All You Zombies)

Music by:  Michael and Peter Spierig

Cast:  Ethan Hawke, Sarah Snook, Noah Taylor

Film Locations:  Melbourne, Australia

Budget:  $NA

Worldwide Box Office:  $5,386,852

Ethan Hawke, temporal agent and bartender, must find and eliminate the Fizzle Bomber before he explodes one last devastating bomb that will take thousands of lives.

For the child of God, time is linear and unidirectional; we are born, we live, we die; the beginning, the middle and the end are all planned out except you can choose what to do with God’s offered grace.  Predestination, the doctrine, the outcome is a certainty; Predestination, the movie, the outcome is in doubt.  For predestination versus free will, the doctrine, is not a contradiction because, for God, time is immaterial, all moments are present in their immediacy. For predestination versus free will, in this movie, it is not a contradiction because time is circular and the protagonist can Keep On Keeping On until he selects good over evil, death over life (Live Die Repeat and Groundhog Day).

The Spierig brothers are identical twins born in Germany, living and working in Australia, creating movies from the ground up.  They write, they direct, they produce, they create the music, but they don’t act. Predestination is their 3rd feature film.

Predestination is a faithful rendition of Heinlein’s All You Zombies with enough temporal displacement to develop a very twisted noodle. The movie provides enough clues that you should figure out the plot well before the end credits roll; but knowing the plot ending neither diminishes the fun nor un-scrambles your brain.

The directing, writing and acting are all superb, but the story is what puts it on my to watch again list.

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