Posts Tagged ‘Hollywood’


Published by Gregory Benford on July 14th, 2012

I used the AMERICAN FILM INSTITUTE list to joggle memory.; for alternatives, see

and retain their numbers for reference.

This is NOT in order of preference, just ones I watch again and again.

Many left out!

1. Citizen Kane – 1941

2. Casablanca – 1942

3. The Godfather – 1972

5. Lawrence of Arabia – 1962

9. Schindler’s List – 1993

12. Sunset Boulevard – 1950

14. Some Like it Hot – 1959

19. Chinatown – 1974

22. 2001: A Space Odyssey – 1968

23. The Maltese Falcon – 1941

26. Dr. Strangelove – 1964

27. Bonnie and Clyde – 1967

28. Apocalypse Now – 1979

30. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre – 1948

33. High Noon – 1952

38. Double Indemnity – 1944

40. North by Northwest – 1959

41. West Side Story – 1961

42. Rear Window – 1954

43. King Kong – 1933

46. A Clockwork Orange – 1971

47. Taxi Driver – 1976

50. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – 1969

53. Amadeus – 1984

54. All Quiet on the Western Front – 1930

60. Raiders of the Lost Ark – 1981

61. Vertigo – 1958

67. The Manchurian Candidate – 1962

71. Forrest Gump – 1994

84. Fargo – 1996

93. The Apartment – 1960

96. The Searchers – 1956


They don’t list, but I do:

A Hard Day’s Night (1964)

Blade Runner (1982)

The Apu Trilogy (1955, 1956, 1959)

The Big Sleep (1941)

Out of the Past (1947)

Barry Lyndon (1975)

Seven Samari



Published by Gregory Benford on January 5th, 2012


I recently reread THE DREAMS OUR STUFF IS MADE OF  by my old friend Thomas Disch (Free Press, 1998, $25). Tom is now gone, but his ideas seem fresh as ever about science fiction and where it’s gone.

Here are some thoughts on the book, which still bears consideration. This sadly sardonic survey of science fiction worries its subject from many angles: historical, literary, sociological. Science fiction (sf) is perhaps the defining genre of the twentieth century, its conquering armies still camped outside the Rome of the literary citadels.

It’s an old story. Throughout this century, conventional literature persistently avoided thinking about conceptually altered tomorrows, and retreated into a realist posture of fiction of ever-smaller compass. By foregrounding personal relations, the novel of character came–especially in a classic debate around World War I between Henry James and H.G. Wells–to claim the pinnacle of orthodox fiction. James won that argument, surrendering the future to the genre that would later increasingly set the terms of social debate.

Disch underlies his wryly witty observations with poet Delmore Schwartz’s resonant title from 1938, *In Dreams Begin Responsibilities*. This “pregnant truth” is his clarion call to the genre that once fascinated him but plainly calls to him less since the mid-1980s. Sf takes up Big Ideas, but does not always treat them well. This unfulfilled promise vexes Disch, and he rummages among the cranks, fakes and crazies that often camped near the Legions of the Future. He treats us to tours of mesmerism from the time of Poe, to UFOs and their exploiters (Whitley Strieber, a flagrant example), to the huge religion invented in an sf magazine, Scientology. These unseemly neighbors of the genre betray America’s great historical trouble: high dreams, ready gullibility. Some skepticism is quite in order, particularly in the New Age.

The persistence of cranks and fools in the ranks of sf is sobering. We’ll scarcely be invited to tea if we keep such companions. This blends with Disch’s class analysis of literature.

Still, “The difference between highbrow and low — between Eliot and Poe, between mainstream and scifi–is not one that can be mapped by the conventional criteria of criticism.” He supports this by showing that Poe is more a formalist than Eliot, and less given to overt lecturing and preachiness. Instead, “The essential difference is not one of aesthetics or of some subtler metaphysical nature, but of the two writers’ antithetical social and economic positions.” Poe was a popular, market-driven writer, a “magazinist,” while Eliot was supported by a high culture with subtle patronage.

Sf is best seen as the voice of a rising class that sprang from the burgeoning American masses, hopeful middle class technological types. Their very earnestness carried their arguments and visions into the souls of the one country most responsible for our visions of the future; sf is notably an American creation, since the great era of Wells.

Predictably, its grandiose dreams lead to its worse faults. Sf’s greatest vice is lecturing. In the face of such large ideas, many authors became the “School Teacher Absolute, a fate that would befall so many later sf writers–Heinlein, Asimov, Bradbury, Le Guin, Delany–that it must be considered an occupational hazard.” It can carry a writer away. Disch sees the later work of Philip K. Dick, particularly the important Valis, as “madness recollected in a state of borderline lucidity.”

Such faults go with the territory, but they do not dominate. The true strength of the genre lies in its power to convince by imagining. “A theory can be controverted; a myth persuades at gut level.”

We sf writers were often great makers of myth, some lifted from written sf and tarted up for media consumption  *Star Trek* is notorious for looting the more thoughtful work of writers for their striking effects, leaving behind most of the thought and subtlety. Of the show’s huge global audience, he observes, “few audiences like to be challenged,” for after all, “it is traditionally the prelude to a duel, not to a half-hour of light entertainment. Any artist’s first order of business is not to challenge but to entice.”

He views this most persistent of any TV show from a fashion angle: actors in pajamas. Their starship looks much like an office from the inside, with lookalike uniforms: “the same parables of success-through-team effort that can be found on such later workplace-centered sitcoms as The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Designing Women.”

Trek was thus the prophet of the  politically correct multicultural future just ahead of us, with workplace equality conspicuously displayed. Disch wrings much humor from this insight, yet surely the crucial nature of both Star Trek and Star Wars lies in their invocation of family. The strangeness of outer space futures had before been so daunting  for audiences that typically it is the backdrop of horror (the Alien series, etc.).

Star Trek’s insight lay in the promise of going to the stars together, with well defined stereotypes who could supply the emotional frame for the potentially jarring truths of these distant places.  That is why the cultures they meet proved so boring: “Blandness and repetition can be comforting, and comfort is a major deseratum in bedtime stories.” Alas, the genre set out to do more than rock us to sleep.

The market now mirrors his withering analysis. Despite his assertion that “three or four slots on the best-seller lists are occupied by SF titles” in fact their occupants are fantasy tomes and Michael Crichton clones, not actual sf at all. Only one true sf novel I can recall from the 1990s made the lists for long, Arthur Clarke’s 3001, a media-driven sequel to a sequel to a sequel. Instead, fantasy reigns supreme.

Indeed, Disch believes that once space travel, sf’s grand metaphor, proved to mean long voyages to inhospitable places, the genre reverted to fantasy-like motifs.  There is truth in this, both in the rise of genre fantasy in books (now plagued with a numbing sameness and endless trilogies) and in the Joseph Campbell (savant of the mythic archetype theory of storytelling, as used by George Lucas in Star Wars) over John W. Campbell (tough-minded editor of Astounding magazine, the font of sf’s Golden Age, yet also the crucible of Scientology and crank ideas like the infamous Dean Drive).

This retreat from the observable fact–that the moon in indeed a harsh mistress–to Disch signals the end of sf’s best days. Though he scorns the Heinlein-Pournelle wing of hard sf (“Space is like Texas, only larger.”) he confesses a fondness for that seminal work of physical exploration, Hal Clement’s Heavy Planet.

Certainly, “hardness” in the sense of scrupulous concern for the facts and methods of science remains for many the core of the field, and its always hopeful promise. Hardness has been appropriated by some for political hard-nosed analysis, often with a libertarian bias, sometimes even for a conservative one — a seeming contradiction, for a “literature of change.”

Clement’s seminal world-building took us to far exotica, to meet the strange face to face. Indeed, aliens are the most pointed sf motif.     “If God can’t be coerced into breaking his silence, at least he can send emissaries,” a neat compression of science’s failure to reveal the holy, and sf’s literary attempt to find it metaphorically in the alien. Aliens are only passingly interesting to see; what one wants to do is talk to them, sense the strangeness of another mind.

Yet this is not the focus of the movies and TV, which have turned sf’s aliens into horror shows or neat parables. “Screenwriters do not have the luxury that novelists enjoy of taking the time to explain things, to pose riddles and work them out, to think. Such bemusements can be the glory of sf (as of the deductive mystery, another genre poorly served by film)” and we see it seldom in the torrent of special effects circuses pouring from our screens.

In the late 1990s we have entered an era when special effects can show us just about anything, sometimes at surprisingly little cost. This could liberate sf in the arena by which it is increasingly judged, the visual.

I believe this to be the great challenge to the genre: to use its insights and methods to reach the great potential audience with more than simple spectacle. The western made such a transition in the 1950s, producing its highest works (High Noon, The Searchers, Shane) before running out of conceptual gas.

Written sf may have lesser prospects. Media tie-in work fills a (thankfully) separate section of the sf division in the larger book stores. In the rising tide of media spinoff novels and “sharecropping” of imaginative territories pioneered by early greats, Disch seen the genre’s probable fate: “more of the same and more of the sameness.”

Need this be so? I find the quantity of fine written sf has never been higher, counter-balancing the media tie-in clones. This goes little noticed in the windy passageways of the literary castles, for the division of that Wells-James debate persists. There is a curious mismatch between the reviewing media and the reading public. One would expect an efficient market to shape book reviewing to the great strengths of contemporary America: genres, from the hardboiled detective to cutting-edge sf to wispy, traditional fantasy.

In the end, Disch seems saddened because the promise of the New Wave, just breaking when he entered the field in the 1960s, hissed away into the sands of time. But the legacy of his generation is deeper, raising the net in the genre’s perpetual tennis match between conventional literature’s subtle, stylish stamina versus sf’s blunt, intellectual energies. True, Disch’s fellow marchers have largely fallen silent, but the advance of hard sf after them used weaponry they had devised. From Clement’s beginning, hard sf has fashioned a whole armament of methods, some of which mainstream mavens like Tom Clancy, and savvy insiders like Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, have built rich provinces of their own. Neal Stephenson’s cultural insights and technoriffs too have found a huge audience.

Genres are best seen as constrained conversations, and sf is the leader and innovator in this. Constraint is essential, defining the rules and assumptions open to an author.  If hard sf occupies the center of science fiction, that is probably because hardness gives the firmest boundary.

Genres are also like immense discussions, with ideas developed, traded, and variations spun down through time. Players ring changes on each other–a steppin’-out jazz band, not a solo concert in a plush auditorium. Contrast “serious” fiction–more accurately described, I believe, as merely self-consciously solemn–which proceeds from canonical classics that supposedly stand outside of time, deserving awe, looming great and intact by themselves.

Disch seems to sense the central draw of sf, but because he has been so isolated from it for so long, his expedition never reaches the core. Genre pleasures are many, but the quality of shared values within an on-going discussion may be the most powerful, enlisting lifelong devotion in its fans. In contrast to the Grand Canon view, genre reading satisfactions are a striking facet of modern democratic (“pop”) culture.

Disch does deplore the recent razoring of literature by critics–the tribes of structuralists, post-modernists, deconstructionists. To many sf writers, “post-modern” is simply a signature of exhaustion. Its typical apparatus–self-reference, heavy dollops of obligatory irony, self-conscious use of older genre devices, pastiche and parody–betrays lack of invention, of the crucial coin of sf, imagination. Some deconstructionists have attacked science itself as mere rhetoric, not an ordering of nature, seeking to reduce it to the status of the ultimately arbitrary humanities. Most sf types find this attack on empiricism a worn old song with new lyrics, quite retro.

At the core of sf lies the experience of science. This makes the genre finally hostile to such fashions in criticism, for it values its empirical ground. Deconstructionism’s stress on a contradictory or self-contained internal differences in texts, rather than their link to reality, often merely leads to literature seen as empty word games.

Sf novels give us worlds which are not to be taken as metaphors, but as real. We are asked to participate in wrenchingly strange events, not merely watch them for clues to what they’re really talking about. Sf pursues a “realism of the future” and so does not take its surrealism neat, unlike much avant-garde work which is easily confused with it. Thes followers of James have yet to fathom this. The Mars and stars and digital deserts of our best novels are, finally, to be taken as real, as if to say: life isn’t like this, it is this.

The best journeys can go to fresh places, not merely return us to ourselves.  Despite Disch’s sad eulogy for the genre’s past, which he considers its high point, I suspect there are great trips yet to be taken.




Published by Gregory Benford on September 13th, 2011

So there I was in fabled Hollywood, having lunch at the Fox Studios. The food was good and I was with a movie producer who was interested in a story idea I had pitched.  While a professor of physics at the University of California, Irvine, I had published several novels, mostly science fiction. Hollywood, just an hour up the freeway, was a constant temptation. I succumbed to it after three decades of doing intense physics.

So we had gone over the whole plot structure, the breakdown into three acts (a Hollywood commandment, Act I ending at 30 minutes and II at 90 minutes in a two hour film). Plus the usual baggage of character, logic, setting, the works.

Everything seemed set. Everybody agreed. They thought that the female lead character seemed particularly right, a match of motivation and plot.

Then the producer, a woman in her thirties, leaned across the lunch table and said, “She’s just about right, now. Only…how about, halfway through, she turns out to be a robot?”

I looked around the dining room, at the murals depicting famous scenes from old movies, at stars in shades dining on their slimming salads in all their Armani finery, at the sweeping view of little purple dots that danced before my eyes because I had neglected breathing after that last remark.  “Robot…?”

“Just to keep them guessing,” the producer added helpfully. “I want to really suck the juice out of this moment.”

“But that makes no sense in this movie.”

“It’s science fiction, though—“

“So it doesn’t have to make sense,” I finished for her.


So there I was a few weeks later, talking to a story editor. His development company was interested in making a TV miniseries from my novel, The Martian Race. The whole point of the approach was to portray Mars the way it would really be, hard and gritty and unforgiving. The story editor liked this a “whole lot” and thought it was a “breakthrough concept” and all, but he had his own creative input, too.

“I want a magic moment right here, at the end of the first hour,” he said. “Really suck that ol’ juice out!” (One of the signatures of H’wood is the incessant use of cliché phrases, the rule of advanced, glance-over-the-shoulder hipitude.)

“Magic?” I asked guardedly.

“Something to bring out the wonder of Mars, yeah.”


“See, when the astronaut is inside this cave—“

“Thermal vent. From an old volcano—“

“Okay, okay, vent it is. In this vent, he’s trapped, right?”

“Well, not actually—“

“So he’s banged up and he thinks he’s going to die and he thinks, what the hell.”

“What the hell.”

“Right, you get it. He says what the hell, he might as well take his helmet off.”

“Helmet. Off.”

“Right, you got it. Big moment. Cracks the seal. He smiles and takes a big breath, and says, ‘Oxygen! There’s oxygen here. Let’s take off these helmets!’ Whaddaya think?”

“I like the robot better.”


That moment expressed Hollywood’s basic rule, the Law of Thermodramatics. To get more audience, turn up the gain. If you must use scientists as characters, make them odd, nerdy, obsessed, self-important or, even better, quite mad. The Law overwhelms the niceties that scientists would like in movie depictions of them, especially logic or truth.

Pitching a movie or TV project is humbling. Everybody in the room is passing judgment, lounging back on sofas in their H’wood casuals, wearing the baseball caps and jeans Stephen Spielberg made into a uniform. Each got his turn at bat. In my world of scientists, the rule is Everybody has a right to their own opinion, but they don’t have a right to their own facts. In Hollywood, I learned, the part after the comma does not apply.

After a few dozen pitch sessions in fashionable 40s-style bungalows, I began to notice that nearly all of these Exec.Prods. and Production Managers and Personal Assistants were under 30, and most came from backgrounds in Film Studies or Journalism. They hid behind dark glasses, style victims of hipitude.

I had sold the production team of producer Jon Debont on my novel, Cosm, by bringing along pictures of particle accelerators. High tech, the bigger the better, helps visual people see the movie. They even liked the idea of shooting the film at UC Irvine, where the novel is set. Shooting in the larger LA area keeps costs down. Actors and crew must get themselves to the site every day on their own, if the shoot lies within a radius that just barely includes the UC Irvine campus. Except for the stars, of course.

For Cosm Debont lined up preliminary agreements to star from Dustin Hoffman and Angela Bassett; Time magazine carried this news. I like Hoffman as an actor, and he would play the Einstein-like figure of Max from the novel. The core of the novel was the vexed black woman lead, though, and I wondered if Bassett could do that. Of course, I had no say in any of this, being a mere writer, though I had volunteered those two names in the pitch session.

But then Debont’s big project, a film combining science fictionand westerns  titled Ghost Riders in the Sky got axed by Fox because it ran a prelim $115,000,000 shooting budget.They cancelled it mere weeks before the cameras rolled on special effects. Debont had to earn his keep by shooting a horror film based on The Haunting of Hill House, a remake. It did not fare well in critical opinion, though it  made some money. This set him down a notch in the Fame Ladder of H’wood, so even though he had made Twister and Speed he could not get the $90 million needed to go with Cosm. And anyway, the first script, written for a cheapo $150,000, was clearly inadequate. I offered to do one that actually used dialog from the novel, instead of lame technospeak, as the H’wood writer had done, but no, that was impossible—novelists seldom get a shot at the  mysterious craft of screenwriting. “I’m afraid that puppy’s dead, for now,” my manager said.

So Cosm is stalled, awaiting a million or two to finance another screenplay. Not that the screenwriter gets that much, though quite a few thirty-somethings make a good, steady living writing screenplays that never get made.

Stalled also is a TV closed-end series I proposed to the SciFi Channel, which took characters clear to the end of the universe and then saved them—too big a budget, some said at several networks. They had a point; showing all of space and time does run up those costs.


I got a good agreement with Mandalay Productions to do The Martian Race as a miniseries, after only one pitch to the CEO. We had tried it on several other companies with various aborted starts, but this looked real. I pitched it with Michael Cassutt, an old TV hand who knows science fictionand has written a fair amount for magazines and even novels. We based our outline on a story I had written with the biologist Elisabeth Malartre, who was to be the technical advisor.

Then Mandalay started stalling, over and over, going through three drafts of the contracts–wasting nine months while Cassutt and I polished our outlines for the script. They were afraid of the coming big Mars movies, though we could shoot the TV series and have it out before anything reached the theatres. But then somebody came out of left field  at us, as well—a small production company that had tried to buy the right the year before. There it was in the TV schedule: Escape From Mars on UPN. It was the original Malartre-Benford story, wrenched around and with eye-widening technical errors.

They used centrifugal gravity on the way to Mars, as any expedition must, to avoid the effects on the body of more than a few weeks of zero-g. But their scheme had the ship as the axis, while the counter-weights spun around it, so that the weights felt the centrifugal effect, and the ship and its crew did not. It sure looked pretty, though.

Add to this dreadful acting, lousy science—including the obligatory meteorite storm, with pellets smacking into the Martian soil every few meters, like a red hail storm. Sucking the juice from bad astronomy.

So we sued. They acted outraged. Lawyers traded shouting phone calls and documents for nine months. Got nowhere. So we told our lawyer to file—and within an hour the Escape From Mars money office gave in. We got  a lot more than I would’ve expected for the TV rights to the novella.

At least it was over…or so I thought.


So there I was, having dinner with James Cameron to discuss his TV series, and the parallels between it and my novel, The Martian Race.

Cameron is unlike H’wood types—his lead face conveys that he is earnest and practical and focused. He showed me and Bob Zubrin (the Mars advocate) his study, where for many months he edited Titanic when the world outside was baying for him to release the film. He had plenty of Titanic books around, and told us about how accurate he had tried to make the film. There really had been a clever passenger who stood on the tail as it submerged. He survived, swept upward to the surface by the churn, then finding in the seconds of consciousness remaining a floating table to crawl up onto.

Cameron’ssprawling villa in Malibu is chock full of books, mostly sf, and he took us to his favorite Italian restaurant in his Humvee, splashing through streams down an oak-studded canyon; not the usual H’wood type, no.

Like many in H’wood, Cameron subscribes to the neo-auteur theory of film: all must spring from his brow. So he swerved around the huge similarities between his ideas and my novel (already in print), though he couldn’t resist talking about scenes that we had in common. “When she makes the run from the collapsed greenhouse, across open ground, without a helmet—wow!”

“Ummm…You’ve got a scene like that?” I asked.

“Well, no.” Sudden caution. “But maybe something similar. I need to suck the juice from a moment that’s, uh, kinda like that.”

There I learned that the usual practice of making people see scenes when pitching a project had a real point: making a film is really making scenes, sometimes months or even years apart, that get squeezed against each other in the final film. Each must frame against the other, and the transitions in mood must be accomplished in collaboration between the moment of shooting and the moment of truth in the cutting room. Novelists don’t come under such pressures, especially not with Exec. Prods. fidgeting daily about the mounting costs.

“I think of myself as a writer, really,” he said, well into our second bottle of Borolo, a great Tuscan red.

“So do I,” I said blearily.

“Huh? But you are.”

“Actually, I have a day job, professor of physics.”

“My God, you mean the physics in those novels—“ and here he quickly named four, to my amazement—“is true?”

“All physics is metaphor,” I said.


Will Cameron’s series use much of The Martian Race? I’ll have to wait and see, though as they say in H’wood, his people are talking to my people (actually, I only have one–a manager, not an agent). “I think that puppy’s dead,” my manager says, “but I’ll try.”

What have I learned? Never expect much, because this is a collaborative biz. Even though the whole thing gets started by a writer having an idea (or, in many cases, purloining one), writers are not seen as primary.

I remembered that in the comic strip Peanuts, Snoopy wears a Tshirt saying WHAT I REALLY WANT TO DO IS DIRECT.  That’s where all the power lies (other than with the money boys, but that’s another story). As John Gregory Dunne said, “Wanting to be a screenwriter is like wanting to be a co-pilot.”

In the ‘90s, the biz evolved until style has become content and any schmuck with a viewfinder is an auteur. A few directors have final cut, and so some artistic autonomy, but less than one would think, so they counter by getting into the early creative track, actually writing the script (or maybe just an outline; good dialog is hard). No writer has ever had final draft, unless he was the director, as well—a more prevalent pattern, as the quest for power broadens. The director of Boogie Nights wrote the script for his next, Magnolia, with disastrous results. Cameron both writes and directs. And since Titanic, he hasn’t made a feature film.

Making good, big movies depends often on one strong, creative person big enough to defy the grinding media locomotive that wants to run on old, familiar rails. That may be a star, a director or even a producer, but it’s damn sure never a writer.

Then there are the “new” creative forces, especially the special effects wizards. When I saw the big feature film  Mission to Mars, an excruciating experience, I could tell where the director had thought that the Big Effect Scene was going to save the otherwise clunky script—which reportedly cost two million. It was like a film made by children with money, who could vaguely recall being, like, really turned on by Kubrick and Clarke’s 2001.  Special effects are often used to cover script problems, by distracting the audience with spectacle. Yeats called this “asking the will to do the work of the imagination.” But then, he never got a script into production, right?

An old saw: You can teach technique, but you can’t teach talent. Its unseen corollary: Logic and facts don’t matter if you can keep the viewer’s eyes moving. The Law of Thermodramatics dictates that plot momentum trumps all other suits.

Too many producers and story editors think the larger public cares only for sensation, spectacle, fiery explosions and creepy monsters galore. Plot logic gets trampled along with physical reality. Not that this wasn’t often true in old Hollywood. The studio system just plain didn’t get the technical accuracy and hard-edged grandeur of 2001. Their idea of a near imitation was Silent Running, a maudlin, sentimental, forgettable epic, which hinged upon nobody’s realizing that a space-borne greenhouse would get less sunlight as it cruised out to Saturn.

Hollywood views science fiction as a genre of detachable ideas. That is why so many science fiction works have their concepts and story structures shoplifted, the serial numbers filed off. Behind this lurks the more insidious notion that writers of short stories and novels don’t have screenwriting savvy or skills.

Defeating these assumptions will take a lot of effort and some counter-examples, such as the tight collaboration between Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick for 2001: A Space Odyssey. I remember my last conversation with Phillip K. Dick, when he had just returned from seeing the rushes for Blade Runner. He said plaintively, only a few weeks before his death, “I sure wish they’d let me work on some of the dialog.”

But then, he lived in a small apartment in Santa Ana and didn’t wear sunglasses indoors.


Perhaps, as technical methods get cheaper, and entertainment more flexible, we can get stories that pay true attention science. Making abstractions loom large and real and yet grittily human is the essential art of an advanced cinema. This means not just shoplifting ideas, as in The Day After Tomorrow’s muddled mess of global climate change.

At least some of us in the audience would go see actual thinking on the screen. This is far from certain—witness the respectable but not large audience that greeted Gattica. Maybe, just maybe, a scrupulous effort to not actually lie to the audience could catch on.

On the other hand, maybe I should’ve just nodded my head, saying, “Sure, make her a robot. When can you cut a check?” And with a deadpan look, not even a wink, “I’d like to suck the juice out of this puppy.”