Should you watch Arrival?  Yes.  You should watch Arrival.  This is the film Contact (“Whatever it is, it ain’t local.”–sorry Jodie) wanted to be twenty years ago.

Arrival begins with a trope best known from Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End, not to be confused with the television adaptation that, tragically, fell victim to the pitfalls of that format but is definitely still worth a watch.  Twelve large coffee beans, obviously representing the Apostles, appear hovering at various positions on Earth and offer contact in the form of doors that open periodically to allow ingress.

We prefer a coarse grind.

This film caught us completely off guard.  We remained deeply skeptical even after enjoying the first half of the film, but as the pieces clicked together, we were swept away by Arrival’s elegant undertow.  If you are caught in a riptide, you should swim sideways.  We let this one carry us out to sea.

We cannot say too much about the film, except that it depends on the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis.  Our rudimentary understanding is that the language you speak defines the way in which you think.  We are not linguists, but this does remind us of Marshall McLuhan’s theory that a medium that enables communication also structures, or limits, communication.  (The DMS recommends this reader if you are unfamiliar with McLuhan.)  Noam Chomsky’s work is heavily critical of the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, and it looks as though modern linguistic theorists (yes we know that Chomsky is still alive) are also skeptical.

We realize that we are mixing linguistic theory and media theory, but when you have a scumbag in office whose preferred method of communication is limited to 140 characters, it is worth thinking deeply both about language and the media we use to communicate.  Arrival begs us to think deeply about these things insofar as it literally centers on our relationship with aliens.  The message there is relatively overt.

To use an example from McLuhan, think about an automobile as a medium for communication.  We built our country’s infrastructure around the automobile, and now we are finding it difficult and costly to change that infrastructure.  Here at the DMS, we care about how people consume media and communicate.  Arrival explores how we may be limiting ourselves.

Walter Kovacs again?

All Our Wrong Todays

One of the benefits of being kind to librarians is the occasional advanced proof of a book that feels written just for you.  Sometimes, as is the case with Elan Mastai’s wonderful All Our Wrong Todays, these advanced copies even include a short note beginning with “Dear Librarian,” which makes even the Dystopian Movie Society feel intellectual and savvy.

Don’t you love this guy already?

Mastai’s stunning first novel is a break from his day job, writing movies.  No wonder we here at the DMS fell in love.  The main character, whose name I shall not print here for reasons that will become apparent if and when you purchase and read this book, is kind of a dick.  Naturally, we can all relate to him.

The narrative begins in a utopian society, fueled quite literally by the invention of a device that harnesses the rotation of the Earth to generate unlimited clean energy.  Because the inventor dies shortly after his proof of concept, he makes this technology free and open to everyone.  Maybe we have watched too many films of a certain genre, or maybe we know too many human beings, but the DMS is deeply skeptical of the idea that unlimited clean energy would lead to the utopia described at the beginning of Mastai’s brilliant story.

The utopia readers see at the start of the book, however, is a prelude to the time travel narrative in which our protagonist becomes the first time-traveler, accidentally creates our reality as a dystopian alternate timeline, discovers the concept of temporal drag, and maybe loses his mind.  It is phenomenal.  Of the many differences noted between the teased utopia and our own world, my favorite was Kurt Vonnegut.

As the main character tells it, “Vonnegut’s writing is different where I come from.  Here, despite his wit and insight, you get the impression he felt a novelist could have no real effect on the world.  He was compelled to write, but with little faith that writing might change anything. . . . [I]n my world Vonnegut was considered among the most significant philosophers of the late twentieth century.  This was probably great for Vonnegut personally but less so for his novels, which became increasingly homiletic.”

So it goes.


If you enjoyed Charles Yu’s How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, you will love All Our Wrong Todays.  Both deftly navigate the narrative pitfalls of branching alternate realities while somehow making the personal relationships explored in each book more important than their time travel plots.

Pre-order All Our Wrong Todays before we run out of tomorrows.  Excerpts of the book, ready for public consumption on February 7, 2017, may be read here and here.  Support great literature by buying this wonderful read here.