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Science Fiction and the Symposium

Science fiction is much on my mind this morning, having just been to a second viewing of The Martian (this time in 3D, which I didn’t much care for), and having just read a new paper on wormholes that suggests a bizarre form of communication using them. More about both of these in a moment, but the third reason for the SF-slant is where I’ll start. The 100 Year Starship organization’s fourth annual symposium is now going on in Santa Clara (CA), among whose events is the awarding of the first Canopus Awards for Interstellar Writing.

Screenshot from 2015-10-30 12:13:56

A team of science fiction writers will anchor what the organization is calling Science Fiction Stories Night on Halloween Eve. Among the writers there, I’m familiar with the work of Pat Murphy, whose novel The Falling Woman (Tor, 1986) caught my eye soon after publication. I remember reading this tale of an archaeological dig in Central America and the ‘ghosts’ it evokes with fascination, although it’s been long enough back that I don’t recall the details. Joining Murphy will be short story writer Juliette Wade, novelist Brenda Cooper and publisher Jacob Weisman, whose Tachyon publishing is a well-known independent press.

As to the Canopus Awards, they’re to be an annual feature of the 100 Year Starship initiative aimed at highlighting “the importance of great story telling to propel the interstellar movement” (I’m quoting here from their press materials). In case you’re looking for some reading ideas, here are the Canopus finalists going into the event.

In the category of “Previously Published Long-Form Fiction” (40,000 words or more):

Other Systems by Elizabeth Guizzetti

The Creative Fire (Ruby’s Song) by Brenda Cooper

InterstellarNet: Enigma (Volume 3) by Edward M. Lerner

Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson

Coming Home by Jack McDevitt

——-

In the category of “Previously Published Short-Form Fiction” (between 1,000 and 40,000 words):

“Race for Arcadia” by Alex Shvartsman

“Stars that Make Dark Heaven Light” by Sharon Joss

“Homesick” by Debbie Urbanski

“Twenty Lights to the Land of Snow” by Michael Bishop

“Planet Lion” by Catherynne M. Valente

“The Waves” by Ken Liu

“Dreamboat” by Robin Wyatt Dunn

——-

In the category of “Original Fiction” (1,000-5,000 words):

“Landfall” by Jon F. Zeigler

“Project Fermi” by Michael Turgeon

“Everett’s Awakening” by Ry Yelcho

“Groundwork” by G. M. Nair

“His Holiness John XXIV about Father Angelo Baymasecchi’s Diary” by Óscar Garrido González

“The Disease of Time” by Joseph Schmidt

——-

In the category of “Original Non-Fiction” (1,000-5,000 words):

“Why Interstellar Travel?” by Jeffrey Nosanov

“Finding Earth 2.0 from the Focus of the Solar Gravitational Lens” by Louis D. Friedman and Slava Turyshev

Of Martians and Wormholes

This will be the first 100YSS symposium I’ve missed and I’ll regret missing the chance to meet Pat Murphy and see Mae Jemison, Lou Friedman, Jill Tarter and many others who have made past events so enjoyable. I imagine Jack McDevitt will be there as well; he usually goes to these. His Canopus Award entry Coming Home (Ace, 2014) is another in the Alex Benedict series, featuring a future antiques dealer among whose many artifacts are ‘antiques’ that were crafted far in our own future. I mention Jack because I admire him, have read all the Alex Benedict novels, and thought Coming Home was one of his best.

As to The Martian, it’s a movie I loved for its attention to detail and the sheer bravura of its proceedings. For people who remember Apollo, the idea of a Mars exploration program of similar audacity is a wonderful morale-booster, a reminder that the spirit that took us to the Moon is still alive. It also makes for a jolting comparison between those days and today’s public apathy and budgetary dilemmas, all of which make Mars a target that always seems to be, like fusion, somewhere in the future. Movies like The Martian could do something to reach younger generations, and perhaps ignite interest in both government and private attempts to get to the Red Planet. But be aware that the regular version offers far more verisimilitude than the 3D, whose effects seem contrived and often distracting.

I don’t have time to dig deeply into Luke Butcher’s new paper on wormholes, but I do at least want to mention this effort as one that has caught the interest of wormhole specialist Matt Visser, and should intrigue science fiction authors for its plot possibilities. Working at the University of Cambridge, Butcher has been studying how to keep wormhole mouths open, the problem being that although people like Kip Thorne have speculated on using negative energy to do the trick, wormholes appear to be utterly unstable, closing before they can be used.

If wormholes do exist and we could find a way to use them, we might have a way to cross huge distances without contradicting Einstein’s limits on travel faster than light, using the wormhole’s ability to shortcut its way through spacetime itself. Butcher looks at negative energy in terms of Casimir’s parallel plates sitting close together in a vacuum. What if a wormhole’s own shape could generate such Casimir energies, thus holding it open long enough to use?

Wurmloch

Image: Imagining a wormhole. Here we see a simulated traversable wormhole that connects the square in front of the physical institutes of University of Tübingen with the sand dunes near Boulogne sur Mer in the north of France. The image is calculated with 4D raytracing in a Morris–Thorne wormhole metric, but the gravitational effects on the wavelength of light have not been simulated. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Butcher can’t find ways to keep wormholes open for long, but he does offer the theoretical possibility that we might be able to keep one open long enough to get a beam of light into it. Get the picture? Communications moving through the wormhole, with the same effect as if they were moving faster than light, with all the interesting causal issues that raises. From the paper:

…the negative Casimir energy does allow the wormhole to collapse extremely slowly, its lifetime growing without bound as the throat-length is increased. We find that the throat closes slowly enough that its central region can be safely traversed by a pulse of light.

So there you are, science fiction writers, another plot possibility involving communications between starships or, for that matter, between planets in, say, a galaxy-spanning civilization of the far future. Make of it what you will. The delight of science fiction is that it can take purely theoretical constructs like this one and run down the endless chain of possibilities. In our era of deep space probes, astrobiology and exoplanet research, science fiction has truly moved out of the literary ghetto in which it once saw itself enclosed. Canopus Award winners take note: You’re starting to go mainstream.

The paper is Butcher, “Casimir Energy of a Long Wormhole Throat,” submitted to Physical Review D (preprint).

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • william f collins October 30, 2015, 14:40

    The possible existence of Wormholes are the most tantalizing, and fascinating dreams for space travel enthusiasts like myself. If we can’t have instantaneous travel by spaceships, we can have perhaps have instantaneous space communications? I doubt that wormholes exist in reality. The things make great plot lines. though. I did attempt to read /understand Dr. Butcher’s pap er.
    On another note, I saw the movie ” The Martian”, and I and my adult son were both thrilled with this production. A great scientifically accurate plot line, a diverse team striving to save a brave intelligent protagonist plus China-USA collaboration for the greater good – what’s not to love about this motion picture.

  • Hop David October 30, 2015, 16:00

    The December 2015 Asimov’s has an interesting Egan story: The Four Thousand, The Eight Hundred. I hope this story gets some awards.

    A sad, disturbing tale and well written. But such isn’t uncommon in Asimov’s. This story was noteworthy for the setting: Ceres and Vesta. It also talked about the trade between these large asteroids: Ceres sends Vesta ice, Vesta sends Ceres less volatile minerals. There are large populations within both bodies.

    I’m not so enthused about Weir’s “The Martian”. It’s an okay story and I like that it’s set in our neighborhood of the solar system. But the movie isn’t that accurate.

    A lot of people have noticed Weir’s Martian wind storm isn’t plausible. But not so many have noticed that the 124 day trajectory isn’t doable if departing from low earth orbit and arriving at low Mars orbit.

  • Andrew Palfreyman October 30, 2015, 16:08

    I am still patiently awaiting the recipe that tells us where the other end pops out.

  • Michael October 30, 2015, 16:38

    Canopus, notice the two jets, it burns with the brilliance of 15 000 Suns! If we were in orbit around it we would be toast at the same distance we are from our Sun, in fact if you were on Pluto you would burn like you were on Mercury!

    http://aladin.u-strasbg.fr/AladinLite/?target=Canopus&fov=13.57&survey=P%2FallWISE%2Fcolor

  • Charlie October 30, 2015, 16:39

    As always, CAN WE WATCH the proceedings on the symposium online ? I would hope anyone who in the future as a symposium will post the proceedings online so that people can follow along… That should be done just as a matter of course, if they want to keep interest up in what they are trying to accomplish

  • Paul Gilster October 30, 2015, 16:44

    I’ll post any video links as soon as I have them.

  • Al Jackson October 30, 2015, 20:17

    @ Hop David

    Andy Weir wrote a totally different catastrophe, for the start, something about habitat failure, I think, but discarded it for the sake of drama.
    (He knew the ‘sand storm’ was wrong.)
    Like Gravity I think of these stories as being set in an alternated universe, a fine old science fiction construct.

    Man! I tell you if you had to sit through Plan 9 from Outer Space, Fire Maidens from Outer Space or Cat Women of the Moon (and the list goes on) , like I did in the 1950’s you’d never complain about The Martian!

  • Paul Gilster October 30, 2015, 20:54

    Amen, Al. I do remember Fire Maidens from Outer Space all too well! And re Cat Women of the Moon, the greatest ever line from that era’s SF movies was the Cat Woman leader saying to the just arrived astronauts: “Welcome to the Moon!”

  • Colorado October 30, 2015, 21:24

    “Andy Weir wrote a totally different catastrophe, for the start, something about habitat failure, I think, but discarded it for the sake of drama.
    (He knew the ‘sand storm’ was wrong.)”

    And that is why I have given up on sci-fi movies. I have not seen one in years that did not pander to the lowest common denominator. It is just insulting to have to sit through that kind of blatant marketing.

  • Marko Amnell October 30, 2015, 23:04

    If an unrealistically strong Martian sand storm is the worst scientific error in The Martian (notice also how the plastic sheet Matt Damon uses to repair his “Hab” after the airlock fails flaps too much in the Martian wind), then Ridley Scott is doing very well compared with, say, Edgar Rice Burroughs. See the list of 28 scientific errors in ERB’s Martian series in “Errors in Marvelous Voyages II” by Laurence Lafleur (Popular Astronomy, May 1942): http://adsabs.harvard.edu/full/1942PA…..50..249.

  • Hop David October 31, 2015, 10:15

    Willful suspension of disbelief? WSOD is no problem. I can enjoy Harry Potter. Since no one is arguing that Harry’s wand is real, there is no need to point out it isn’t.

    But there are people saying the orbital dynamics of “The Martian” are sound. They are not.

    The acceleration of Hermes is 2 mm/s^2. With this low thrust it would take Hermes more than a month to spiral from low earth orbit to earth escape. See this Stack Exchange question: http://space.stackexchange.com/questions/8420/general-guidelines-for-modeling-a-low-thrust-ion-spiral

    It would also take a week or two to spiral from Mars C3=0 to low Mars orbit. So of the 124 day trip from earth to Mars, 45 days is spent just climbing in and out of planetary gravity wells. That leaves 80 days to go from a 1 A.U. heliocentric orbit to a 1.52 A.U. heliocentric orbit. Not doable with 2 mm/s^2 acceleration.

    Had Hermes departed from a high earth orbit and arrived at a high Mars orbit, the 124 day trajectory is plausible (given 2 mm/s^2). A better place for Hermes to park would be EML2 (Earth Moon Lagrange 2). EML2 is about 9 days and 3.4 km/s from low earth orbit — the astronauts could have been sent to EML2 to board the Hermes (and thus avoid the slow spiral through the Van Allen belts). This would not have damaged the story line.

    Avoiding Low Mars Orbit is more of a problem. The Hermes might dock at Deimos. But then you’d need more able Mars Ascent Vehicles (MAVs) if the MAV has to reach Deimos rather than low Mars orbit.

  • Michael October 31, 2015, 10:46

    Off topic but in a past blog, Unusual Orbits for Unusual Missions

    Downloaded Orbiter Version: 100830 (192.7 Mb) from

    http://www.orbithangar.com/searchid.php?ID=5418

    And I downloaded R2012a (7.17), which seems to work, the others did not from,

    http://uk.mathworks.com/products/compiler/mcr/

    Further info

    https://gmat.gsfc.nasa.gov/

    It is a trajectory software package MATLAB, I will have a little play later me thinks.

  • Charlie October 31, 2015, 12:20

    You mentioned Mr. Gilster the following:
    Movies like The Martian could do something to reach younger generations, and perhaps ignite interest in both government and private attempts to get to the Red Planet. But be aware that the regular version offers far more verisimilitude than the 3D, whose effects seem contrived and often distracting.

    It seems led you like myself hate the new 3-D formats that movies of all types are now being presented in. I’m just curious since you seem to share of the dislike for that particular way in which the movies are shown, do you think that they show movies in that format simply to get more dollars for viewing a particular film in that manner ? I don’t think it can be for the sheer enjoyment of watching the film; it’s almost torture on the eyes to have to be exposed to that effect of 3-D.

  • Hiro October 31, 2015, 14:19

    “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang is adapted to film which will come out next year, I think. I expect many people will be disappointed because there is no BANG BANG anywhere unless the writer or director changes some of the content.

    From my personal point of view, The Safe-Deposit Box by Greg Egan is quite intriguing, a quasi-Inception style. Sadly, no one has any interest adapting this piece of short story into an exotic movie.

  • Brian October 31, 2015, 19:37

    So on wormholes, just wondering obviously not an expert, but how do we deal with the causality thing?

  • Eniac October 31, 2015, 23:07

    Paul:

    Canopus Award winners take note: You’re starting to go mainstream.

    Right. To me, the process of “going mainstream” was completed in the 80’s and 90’s, when a number of blockbusters were released based on Philip K Dick stories. They include Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, Paycheck, plus some lesser known works. The full list is here:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_adaptations_of_works_by_Philip_K._Dick

    This “going mainstream”, for some reason, has not been noted much by those who always yearned for it. Some yearn for it, still….

  • Paul Gilster November 1, 2015, 9:16

    Charlie writes:

    I’m just curious since you seem to share of the dislike for that particular way in which the movies are shown, do you think that they show movies in that format simply to get more dollars for viewing a particular film in that manner ? I don’t think it can be for the sheer enjoyment of watching the film; it’s almost torture on the eyes to have to be exposed to that effect of 3-D.

    Well, I do know the 3D films cost more to get into, but I don’t know how much more expensive they are to make. But I agree that it can’t be for the sheer enjoyment of the film. For some of us, this format is jarring and artificial, and detracts from the movie’s verisimilitude. So I’m not planning any more 3D excursions any time soon.

  • Paul Gilster November 1, 2015, 9:20

    Eniac writes:

    Right. To me, the process of “going mainstream” was completed in the 80’s and 90’s, when a number of blockbusters were released based on Philip K Dick stories. They include Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, Paycheck, plus some lesser known works.

    A good point indeed, with Blade Runner leading the way. Philip K. Dick’s influence was enormous, much larger than I had realized at the time.

  • william f collins November 1, 2015, 11:20

    Phillip K. Dick’s works seem to me to have the greatest success with the ” mainstreaming” process of any modern science fiction author. By “modern” , I exclude the works of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells for example.

  • Etienne November 1, 2015, 16:28

    About FTL communication through artificial wormholes, read “The Light of Other Day” by Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter. Exciting story. Wormholes in this novel are also used as telescopes into faraway space and times!

  • Charlie November 1, 2015, 17:48

    Mr. Gilster regarding the wormhole business that you mentioned in your initial paragraph. I believe. Could you ask your friend Dr. Davis to explain in some simple way how these so-called wormholes KNOW how to direct themselves, so to speak, as to where you want them to be connected to so that you can travel to that particular destination.
    It’s never been clearly explained how one can drive (if that’s the proper word) the phenomenon of such that you can control where it is you’ll be going. I don’t need a mathematics lesson since I wouldn’t be able to follow it anyway.

    With regards to your last entry concerning the Blade Runner movie; yes, I’m surprised that your not more familiar with some of the adaptions that Hollywood has made with regards to Philip K Dick’s books. His books in my opinion are very poor with regards to holding the general readers attention, but the Hollywood adaptions are very, very good in my opinion. Take, for example, Tom Cruise in minority report or Ben Affleck in the movie Paycheck. I strongly suggest that you check those out (in 2-D naturally!)

  • Jon November 1, 2015, 20:00

    I’m surprised no one has mentioned The Light Of Other Days, by Stephen Baxter. A company invents a way to send light through a wormhole at the beginning of the book and that turns into the essential invention that sparks the rest of the book’s plot.

  • Paul Gilster November 1, 2015, 20:55

    Charlie writes:

    Could you ask your friend Dr. Davis to explain in some simple way how these so-called wormholes KNOW how to direct themselves, so to speak, as to where you want them to be connected to so that you can travel to that particular destination.

    No one knows how this might be done, I’m afraid. It’s a real problem with wormholes — if they exist and you go through one, you never know where you’re going to wind up!

  • Rafik November 1, 2015, 22:06

    IF we could send a probe/telescope through a wormhole; and
    IF we could use quantum entanglement to enable instantaneous communication

    THEN we could send probes throughout the galaxy/universe and collect information in real time – the possibilities, and implications, are staggering.

    No longer would we be doing Astronomical Archaeology by looking at what happened thousands/millions and billions of years ago rather we would be observing stellar systems/planets/moons etc as they exist today.

    IF an ETI has this technology it would be almost impossible for other ETIs/us to observe their activities.

    Congratulations Paul on your recent posts CD (and the comments) are becoming compulsive reading. Would be interested to know which of your posts in the past few years have had more than 100 comments.

  • Rob Henry November 1, 2015, 22:34

    Having not seen “The Martian” I will comment anyway. If I had to mount a rescue with Hermes I would use hardened electronics, then maneuver it to an extreme elliptical orbit with only one end in LEO. I would transfer the astronauts only when Hermes was in a position to break free with one last pass using lunar gravitational assist. This Earth crew transfer would likely be described as a LEO one, even if that confuses a few of the more technically minded.

    Spiraling out slowly from true LEO through the van Allen belts is just crazy – if they implied that it was a clear misspeak or communication error, of the sort that happens in the real world every day. Incorporating such an understanding of human psychology in a film would make it more technically correct not less so.

  • Eniac November 1, 2015, 22:36

    No one knows how this might be done, I’m afraid. It’s a real problem with wormholes — if they exist and you go through one, you never know where you’re going to wind up!

    Then again, if the beautiful picture you picked to accompany this article is any guide, you would be able to see the stars on the other side and figure out the location by astrometry. With a bit of luck if it’s not too far, that is.

    Incidentally, while there are many reasons to commend this blog; to me the selection of pictures ranks near the top of them

  • Paul Gilster November 2, 2015, 10:45

    Rafik writes:

    Would be interested to know which of your posts in the past few years have had more than 100 comments.

    Others have asked this question recently, so I’ll go back and take a look sometime soon. I’ll post what I find. I do know that usually SETI stories involving ‘interstellar archaeology’ and Dysonian concepts tend to draw lots of interest.

  • ljk November 2, 2015, 15:00

    Look at what the author of The Martian had to go through to become the novel and cinematic blockbuster it is now.

    Apparently all that science stuff and the main character not having constant sex and/or going through severe emotional collapse and rebirth were considered unmarketable by most publishers…

    http://anniecardi.com/2015/10/26/the-martian-rejection-and-finding-your-reader/

    http://rainmaker.fm/audio/authorpreneur/andy-weir/

    Now of course they will claim they knew it would make a fortune all the time!

  • Hop David November 2, 2015, 17:09

    Rob Henry wrote: “Spiraling out slowly from true LEO through the van Allen belts is just crazy – if they implied that it was a clear misspeak or communication error,”

    No communication error, rather a mistake stemming from ignorance.

    In his book as well as several online places Weir has said Hermes acceleration is 2 mm/s^2. From LEO that would give a slow spiral through the Van Allen Belts.

    The Hermes departure from LEO is mentioned at 1:15 in Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-fdKyszL1Zo
    Also in the Fox movie back story:
    http://www.foxmovies.com/movies/the-martian#section_container_mission-brochure

    The 124 day trajectory from earth to Mars is just as wrong as the destructive wind storm that strands Watney. Weir has copped to the implausible windstorm. But so far no one has acknowledged that it would take a 2 mm/s^2 ion craft more than a month to climb out of earth’s gravity well.

  • Hiro November 2, 2015, 18:05

    Greg Egan’s Diaspora hurts my head every time I read, too bad that it can’t be adapted to movie due to its complexity and not many people want to watch the “extinction” of all normal human beings and cheer for AIs, finally the living in 5+1 spacetime part is just too much in 3D, maybe those who smoke weed are immune to the projections of quasi-Calabi-Yau manifolds into 3D.

  • andy November 3, 2015, 18:34

    Of course, a realistic movie about NASA going to Mars would consist of a bunch of (mostly) guys sitting around on Earth drawing up neat PowerPoint presentations and having pointless conferences about how they’d do it if they had time and budget and any kind of feasible plan whatsoever, which they would never achieve.

    In this scenario, the question of how fast the spaceship can get out of Low Earth Orbit, or how much damage a Martian storm would do would never come up.

  • Hop David November 4, 2015, 11:14

    Andy wrote “Of course, a realistic movie about NASA going to Mars would consist of a bunch of (mostly) guys sitting around on Earth drawing up neat PowerPoint presentations and having pointless conferences…”

    That pretty well sums it up.

    “In this scenario, the question of how fast the spaceship can get out of Low Earth Orbit … would never come up”

    It comes up all the time. The NASA Spaceflight Forum community includes a number of competent engineers (as well as many starry eyed space cadets). Rest assured there are discussions on ion propelled craft and how they’re not well suited for climbing in and out of planetary gravity wells.

    http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php

    At this point, colonizing Mars is a bridge too far. By setting an impractical goal, the Zubrinistas are successfully keeping mankind confined at or below low earth orbit.

    There are possible routes for humanity to move beyond Cradle Earth. If science fiction were to present these possibilities in an entertaining fashion, it could play a role in moving us forward. But “The Martian” doesn’t do this. This innumerate tale only adds to a mythos that was old and tired back in the twentieth century.

  • Alex Tolley November 4, 2015, 18:52

    I’ve skimmed back through the novel but I cannot find the reference to the Hermes acceleration of 2mm/s^2. The 124 transit time yes, but not the acceleration. I see teh value used in some discussions, but I cannot tell if this is from teh novel or teh movie.
    Anyone have teh page # of this info?

  • Hop David November 5, 2015, 7:50

    Alex, Page 395.

  • Alex Tolley November 5, 2015, 11:28

    @Hop David – My hardback copy, published by Crown only has 367 pp. (I checked p 295 just in case). Is there a log entry # to home in on it?

    I checked AMZN and both the paperback and kindle editions have 385 pp. (Hard cover no longer available?)

  • Hop David November 5, 2015, 15:41

    My paper back version has 435 pages.

    On page 395 of my book Lewis is talking about rendezvous with Watney’s MAV. “Our engine’s two millimeters per second may not seem like much, but in forty minutes it can move us up to 5.7 kilometers.” A few paragraphs later it goes to LOG ENTRY: SOL 526.

    It is also a few places online. For example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=khIHZp_GTEI

  • Robert November 6, 2015, 16:32

    Finally saw the Martian. Wow. A great movie. I forgive the dramatic strength of the initial wind storm.

    Also if interest to me was the fact that used plastic sheeting to allow the hab to be pressurized after the airlock failed. Since Bigelow proposes inflatable space habitats I suppose this sems okay except for the gentle flapping in the wind. It would be a pretty tight stretch over the opening.

    My biggest question, again this was for the drama, but why didn’t he immediately have or rig a simple radio link to the various Martian satellites in orbit? To believe that radio was only in the main lander vehicle is a bit much.

  • Alex Tolley November 7, 2015, 0:15

    @Hop. Thanks. I located the passage on p334 of my hardcover edition.

  • Eniac November 9, 2015, 0:44

    Also if interest to me was the fact that used plastic sheeting to allow the hab to be pressurized after the airlock failed.

    To me, that was the biggest believability problem in the entire movie. Never mind overblown storms and wind-flapping. That opening looked to be at least 3 or 4 square meters. At one atmosphere of pressure, that flimsy bit of plastic and duck tape would have held back 30-40 TONs of pressure. Yeah, right!

    At least in the book, it was high strength fabric especially made for the purpose.

    Of course, one really should not quibble with such minor suspensions of disbelief; overall I found the movie quite good.