The Corner

Spidey Roundup

TOTALLY my last posting on that wretched movie.

Reader: “My favorite moment: Prof.: ‘When tau is equal to zero, who can

tell me the eigenvalues?’ Parker: ‘Point-two-three electron-volts.’ Being

a physicist, and watching it with physicists, all I have is one word:

guf-FAW.”

Me: If the screenwriter had read PRIME OBSESSION

http, he’d know what an eigenvalue

is.

Reader: “Dear Mr Derbyshire—You say: ‘The central, fairly preposterous,

premise that time travel is possible….’ Of course time travel is

possible; I have been able to achieve it for a number of years, travelling

forward at the rate of one hour per hour. I believe Einstein showed this

rate could be varied simply be changing one’s velocity. As for travelling

backward, I understand (actually, I don’t) that certain adherents of quantum

mechanics profess no theoretical impediment, although Einstein, of course,

would not agree.”

Me: According to Big Al (Einstein, not Sharpton), you, and me, and

everything else in the cosmos, are all traveling through space-time at the

same speed — the speed of light — for ever. It’s only that the

space-component of our motions and the time-component are all different. To

get around THAT is some trick. Relativity allows travel into the future at

a speed higher than one hour per hour (as, if we ever master it, would

suspended animation), but it doesn’t allow you to travel backwards. The

most recent physics I have read about seems to permit travel backwards in

time, but only back to the point at which time machines are invented…

Reader: “I know exactly how you feel about Spiderman’s science (although I

liked the rest of the movie.) The problem isn’t that comic book movies only

get to have one preposterous, unscientific event. The problem is that in

Superman or Batman, the main character isn’t a scientist. Peter Parker is a

brilliant science student, Dr. Otto Octavius is some brilliant physicist

who’s managed to create controlled (sort of) fusion. In the first Spiderman

movie, where the science was weird and outlandish, they glossed over it and

didn’t try to explain it (no one explained what powered the glider, what

chemical strengthened the Green Goblin, how that bizarre bomb worked, etc.)

In this one, on the other hand, they felt a need to provide stupid

pseudo-scientific explanations for the fusion reactions, etc. (stablizing

harmonics? Intelligent tentacles?,) even when they weren’t relevant to the

plot. There was no need to explain the weird reaction that had the power to

destroy New York, or even to claim it was fusion. If they had just made

things up completely, it would have made more sense.”

Me: I agree that preposterous science is best left un-”explained.” It

should just be what Hitchcock called a McGuffin — take it or leave it. And

I repeat my point that in a good sci-fi story there should be only *one*

McGuffin. If the time traveler encounters a race of telepaths in the far

future, the discerning sci-fi reader feels instinctively that something is

wrong. (Is this a time travel story, or a telepathy story?)

Pursuant to which: Has there ever been a good telepathy movie? I always

thought Eric Frank Russell’s THREE TO CONQUER would make a good one, or A.E.

Van Vogt’s SLAN, or Theodore Sturgeon’s MORE THAN HUMAN… I’d go with

Russell, for the car chase scene.

John Derbyshire — Mr. Derbyshire is a former contributing editor of National Review.

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