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Random Stuff

So tomorrow there’s going to be a press conference about the Higgs-Boson.  This is a particle that may tell us what the heck space is made of.  Not the stuff in space, but space itself.  I’m really stoked about this.  I have no understanding of the mathematics that suggested to geniuses like Higgs that this might exist, but the entire concept just fills me with wonder.  I’m also so proud of us — humans.  They fact we can ponder these questions and search for answers is just cool.  Which is why I hate the whole ancient astronaut stuff so much.  The idea we were too dumb to figure out how to build a pyramid is nuts not to mention demeaning.

I now have so many things to write that I can’t possibly do them all.  Several projects are just going to have to get pushed off into September.  I can write on two different projects each day, and keep that up without total brain meltdown.  I can even add in a third if it’s my silly little Mass Effect project because that’s like eating ice cream after working in the yard for hours.  But to do three big, real projects in a day — don’t think I can do that.

But I have so many things I want to write.  I want to finally finish the third Edge book.  I want to prepare chapters and a proposal for my big space opera, Imperials.  I really want to write my WWII Hitler’s bunker story set in the Edge universe.  Bottom line — I like to write.

Other things that I’m pondering in no particular order.  How do I get Vento up to the vet clinic at CSU, so I can have him collected?  (That’s sperm we’re talking about.)

Why did the Santa Fe opera put together such a “meh” season this year?

And how did the baby bull snake end up in my office since my cats never go outside?  Is there a bull snake opening into my house?

Men In Black 3

Perhaps my expectation were very low, but overall I enjoyed this movie (up until the end).  It was wry and funny, and Will Smith is the most charming and charismatic man in the world.  Well, I guess it’s a contest between him and Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark.  But I digress.

I’m actually an outlier on the second movie.  It wasn’t as good as the first film, but I found the love story sweet and compelling, and it had Patrick Warburton (The Tick) as Agent 1, and a hugely appealing you woman that I would cast as Rhiana if anyone ever made a movie of my Edge books.

This new film was fun, and Josh Brolin was just amazing channeling Tommy Lee Jones as a younger man.  Every lowering of an eyelid, scratch at the jaw line, the deadpan voice.  All of was just perfect.

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At the end the thing that has left K rather embittered is the fact that he wasn’t able to save J’s father’s life.  It was just so self-referential that it made my teeth ache, and the story should have been about K and what was important to him.  The levels of coincidence were just too much and so what should have been an emotionally satisfying revelation ended up falling flat because it couldn’t bear the weight of so many coincidences.  The audience ended up with  an “Ah, come on!” reaction.

And while I know a movie audience will give you slack in terms of connective tissue that little kid alone in a car on the beach as the moon launch is taking place just strained credulity.

 

 

 

**************************************END SPOILER****************************

 

 

But it was a pleasant way to pass a hot summer afternoon so I’m not sorry I saw it.

Silly, Silly Fan Fic

I started my Mass Effect 3 story last night.  I knew the opening scene and several more beyond that.  The only thing that saved my from typing even later into the night was the discovery the battery on the laptop was in the red and I was too lazy to get out of bed, and get the power chord.

Kimchee also helped by deciding to hurl on the bed.  I thought I had gotten him onto the floor, but he had managed to drop one nasty horck right on the summer blanket. So then I had to change the bed at 1:00 a.m.

It strangely fun to write on this thing.  Probably because there is literally nothing riding on it aside from my enjoyment.  No editors, producers, executives, readers or viewers to make happy, or not let down.  I just have to make me happy.  And it’s fun capturing the voices.  Kaidan, Garrus and Wrex have very distinctive voices.  Shepard has a lovely baritone voice, but he doesn’t give away much.  Channeling that reticence is hard to do in prose.  I do have the advantage that he is very fragile both mentally and emotionally after the events in Mass Effect 3 so I can have him more emotive.

Of Hedgehogs and Superheroes

Last night I was a bit agitated so I listened to music and played solitaire and spent some time in my own held evaluating life and what makes it important.  Because I was fairly wired and anxious, and had slept very little the night before I opted for some sleep aid    I did my usual thing of getting up two or three times for a drink of water, and to make certain the stars were still in their customary places, and went back to sleep.

Then just before when I awoke at (god help me) a bit past 9 o’clock I had this intense dream about African hedgehogs and Wild Card superheroes.  The hedgehogs were terribly important to the solution of the Big Frankin’ Problem, but I can remember neither the problem, nor how a hedgehog ball would have sovled it.

I just love our subconscious, don’t you?

Need That End

I can plot like a fiend.  I’m really good at it.  It’s usually very easy for me.  Easy when I know the final scene of a book or a story.  I had a final scene for my Old Mars story, but had a feeling placing the action off stage wasn’t going to work.  Sure enough Gardner and George told me it didn’t work.  They liked the family dynamic and the tensions within the family so I started to rebuild the story around that.  But I don’t know the end scene.

I know the problem.  I know the emotional crises.  I just don’t have the solution.  Which means I can’t plot worth a damn right now.

Perhaps inspiration will strike while I sleep.

Walking While Black

And apparently the penalty is death.  I know several African-American fathers who advise their sons — don’t ever run in public.  Don’t drive your car in predominately white neighborhoods even if you went there to visit a friend.  Now, according to Geraldo you shouldn’t wear a hoodie either.  What a horrible burden we are placing on these kids.  Make one mistake, be exuberant and you can get killed.

This reminds me of women getting blamed for being raped because they were wearing a mini-skirt or shorts.

What happened in Florida is such a tragedy.  People were never required to retreat from their homes, though I’d rather retreat then get pulled into a gun fight, but this law enables you to become aggressive even if you have the chance to get away.  Madness.

My karate teacher always taught me that whenever possible run away.  Fight only when you are absolutely forced to it.  This shooter has ruined his life too because he didn’t wait for the police.

 

Situational Ethics in Mass Effect 2

As many of you have no doubt gathered by now I have, (tragically or happily depending on your point of view) become an X-Box addict.  I’m making my way through my second play through of Mass Effect 2 so I will be appropriately studly when I have to face the Reapers in Mass Effect 3.

And I noticed on my Cerberus network that there was new downloadable content.  So I downloaded ARRIVAL where Shepard rescues a scientist captured by the Batarians, and I learn something dangerous about the Reapers.  Sounded cool so I started playing.  I made it halfway through before the start of Bubonicon, or local science fiction convention, and then I picked it back up on Tuesday night once I was home.

SPOILERS….SPOILERS……SPOILERS…….SPOILERS……….SPOILERS…………SPOILERS

 

 

The rescue of the scientist was a straight up shoot ’em up and since I’m a soldier and I hadn’t retrained to get the “snoop and poop” power I just had to bust her out in a fairly noisy fashion.   So we get back to the base on a giant asteroid, and Shepard learns that they have found a Reaper artifact and the visions imparted indicate an immediate invasion.  The Reapers are giant machines that periodically sweep through the galaxy and kill all intelligent life.  They’re bad guys without a lot of nuance to their bad.

The Mass Effect device in this solar system is on a straight line to the most populous part of the galaxy.  The Reapers can reach Earth in two days so this base has been established to run said, aforementioned asteroid into the Mass Effect machine and destroy it.  Down side, the explosion will destroy the solar system, and there are 300,000 Batarians colonizing this system.  Shepard gets blasted with the vision and it’s true the Reapers are coming and will arrive in two hours.  

At which point I thought — “Oh this is awesome.  This is going to be a lesson and a test in situational ethics.  How brave and thought provoking on the part of Bioware.

I kept playing and thinking I would be offered some kind of clever choices that would help me to save the Batarians, or I would have to actually think about the terrible act of genocide I was about to commit.  But no, the game just put me on a path to the inevitable destruction of the ME device and the death of 300,000.  The only obstacles I faced were numnuts with guns. 

Turns out the scientist has been completely brainwashed by the Reapers, and she’s trying to help them invade so she’s rigged the asteroid to blow apart rather than destroy the gate.  And damned if I didn’t want to help her because otherwise my actions led to the deaths of 300,000 people.  If I had chosen to sit down and let the scientist blow up the big rock my conscience would have been clear, but apparently the Reapers arrive and kill all life in the galaxy — trillions and trillions of people.  Game over, want to play again?  Also, if you don’t complete the adventure in the two hours allowed the Reapers arrive, kill all life in the galaxy, game over want to play again?

There’s a tag at the end where the admiral who sent me off on this mission turns up, and says, “wow, you sure killed a lot of people.  Are you sure that was necessary?  Oh, and you killed my dear friend scientist/doctor/chic.”  Shepard says it was necessary, and then the admiral shrugs and says.  “Well, okay then.”  If you’re playing a good guy Shepard you offer to turn yourself in, and Hackett tells you you will have to be tried on Earth.  _That_ I’m looking forward too since it shows some sign that the creators of this add on understand consequences.

This adventure literally gave me nightmares, and I think it’s a terrible cheat that there are no psychological consequences for Shepard built into the game.  I want to see him tortured with nightmares, and maybe doing therapy with the ship’s doctor, and popping anti-depressants.  After all, this guy has died, and literally been brought back to life by enemies he fought in the first game.  He’s faced with a terrifying and implacable foe, and now this horrendous choice and action.  I foresee many years of couch time and intensive therapy before he’s able to function in normal society.

It was also a cheat on the part of the designers because it’s a Batarian colony and the Batarians are slavers, and they prey on humans, and we don’t much like them.  This should have been a human colony or at least an alien race the humans don’t have a hard on about.  It was a lazy writers cheat of “Well, they’re bad people so it doesn’t matter if they die to save everyone else in the galaxy.”  That should not be allowed to serve as a moral fig leaf.

In the body of the game I wanted a lot more thought and interaction with people where Shepard has to weigh the consequences of the decision he’s about to make.  I’m not asking that Shepard be offered a happy, Disney solution to this untenable situation, but I want some actual consideration of this act, and a recognition of what this is going to do to Shepard morally and emotionally.

So if anybody has a line into Bioware would you point them toward this little rant.  I think they need to see it.

Willamson Lectureship

Back on April first I was one of the featured guests at the annual Williamson Lectureship at Eastern New Mexico University in Portales New Mexico, and please hold the  remarks about me being the April Fool’s joke. 🙂  ENMU is a small college town out on the eastern plains of NM surrounded by ranches and peanut farms, and it was the home of the legendary science fiction writer Jack Williamson.

For those of you who might not be familiar with his work Jack sold his first story THE METAL MAN to Amazing Stories in 1928, and had his final novel, THE STONEHENGE GATE was published in 2005.  He died the next year at the age of 98.  Jack is the only man I ever met who is credited with adding words to the English language.  To wit — genetic engineering, terraforming, psionics, humanoid.  Jack was a friend and a mentor to me and I treasure every memory of time spent with him.  Even with Jack gone I love going to Portales for the lectureship, to spend time with his family and friends, and visit the extraordinary science fiction library collection named for and endowed by Jack.

The topic of this years Lectureship was Six Minutes into the future: Science Fiction/Fantasy in Film and TV.  This year there were two guests, myself and my good friend, and fine writer, Michael Cassutt.  Both of us write science fiction novels and both of us have worked in Hollywood.

I took the optimistic look at S.F. in movies and TV, and I thought I’d recreate my speech here for those of you who might be interested.  After a wonderful and very funny introduction by Connie Willis I took my place at the podium, and lowered the mic to my midget level.  Connie had mentioned my work on Star Trek: TNG so with that context in mind I began —

“I bet you all thought Star Trek: TNG was just a television show.  Not so according to Professor Courtney Brown of Emory University.  To quote from Professor Brown’s book — Cosmic Voyage — “My original goal was to learn whether ETs were somehow manipulating the minds of the writers so that they would come up with the ideas for the show.  I assumed that the ETs wanted human culture to become more open to the complexities of galactic life and popular television shows would be one way that ETs could indirectly mold the collective thinking of the broader public regarding such things.”

Because Brown has the ability to do remote viewing the professor has it on good authority from the Martians living under Santa Fe Baldy mountain that the idea for the Star Trek series was inspired by aliens to get humanity accustomed to the idea of working with alien races in a Federation, and not only that, but specific episodes were suggested to someone on the show via a brain implanted telepathy device.

My friend and colleague, Rich Manning, who worked with me on Trek sent me the newspaper article about Professor Brown and his theories and assertions, and during our discussion Ricky asked rather plaintively, “But why did the aliens beam us such shitty stories?”

Now, I don’t think I have an alien implant (pause) but of course the Martian would WANT ME TO THINK THAT, WOULDN’T THEY?

And lest you are worried about the intentions of the Baldy Mountain Martians Professor Brown has it straight from the Martian’s brains that their only desire is to seek our help to return home.  Really.  They promise.

But seriously, while Professor Brown is clearly a couple of sandwiches short of a party tray, and while I’m certain Emory University is rethinking the wisdom of tenure — I think he actually makes an interesting point.

I think the triumph of science fiction over entertainment — movies, television and games — is valuable.  I think it’s important to offer a vision of a future with space ships exploring distant planets, humans stepping beyond the confines of this little ball of dirt, and maybe meeting other intelligent life, and having a conversation about life and love and art and sports.

Because of the desire to attract the holy grail of movie audiences — the teenage boy, many S.F. movies tend to be about alien invasions and brave human freedom fighters with lots of guns and lots of explosions.  Examples abound — Battle: Los Angeles, V.  Battlestar Galactica, Independence Day, theTerminator films.

Forgive me  a brief aside, but it’s interest that in almost all of these scenarios the aliens (and robots) always want our women and our water.  It would be nice if Hollywood hired a few science fiction writers, or even a few scientists to disabuse them of these silly notions.  Water is one of the easiest resources to find — comets, ice covered moons such as Jupiter’s Io and Europa, the rings of Saturn, and basic biology makes it pretty clear that our women wouldn’t do the aliens a lot of good except as sexual novelties.

But there have also been examples of peaceful interactions between humans and aliens in entertainment.  All of the Star Trek franchise, Babylon 5, Alien Nation, E.T., and I’m sure you can think of many more.  Since drama is about conflict of course problems arise within the framework of these shows and movies, but none of them start from the premise that all aliens are evil and must be killed.

Confession time — I’m an X-Box gamer, and a game I’ve particularly enjoyed is Mass Effect and it’s sequel Mass Effect 2.  In it you build a human/alien team to save the galaxy.  There’s a lot of shooting along the way, but they are presenting a world with many cultures, religions, attitudes and worlds to explore.  There’s even a chance for alien romance.

I live with a foot in each camp, both novelist and screenwriter.  On the bookshelves science fiction has been pushed aside by fantasy and it’s new modern cousin, urban fantasy, and by zombies… lots and lots of zombies.  Which is a sub-genre that leaves me rather cold.  Where do you go with zombies?  What is a zombie’s character arc?

I read both science fiction and fantasy (in all it’s forms), but I prefer hard S.F.  An editor made an interesting point to me regarding fiction today — much of it is a fiction of death.  Vampire lovers, zombies, ghosts.  It makes cross-species romance with werewolves seem healthy.  There is nothing about these books that is particularly uplifting or inspirational.

Much of fantasy is the fiction of nostalgia, and comfort.  It postulates a structured world where people know their place in society.  A simpler less confusing world and one in which order can be restored through the actions of one great hero and usually a magic sword.

Science fiction has broken into three threads — evil alien invaders and brave freedom fighting humans.  The post apocalyptic worlds caused either by nuclear holocaust, or biological or environmental disaster, but all of this destruction is brought about because of human venality and short-sightedness.  And finally we have the optimistic kind.  The kind of science fiction that Jack Williamson wrote.  Stories that celebrated human ingenuity, a “can do” attitude that promised us a future filled with excitement and adventure and discovery.

And maybe a world filled with other intelligent beings who might want to have a margarita with us and talk about football, and listen to Mozart and read a Jack Williamson novel.

Republican Nightmare

Well, I’m home in New Mexico again, and after going to physical therapy and stopping by George’s for a visit I went to one of my favorite Mexican restaurants.  As I was sitting, sipping my margarita, I was listening to the people around me.  (Occupational hazard for writers.)

Most of the wait staff and the busboys were speaking Spanish.  Then I realized that fully half the patrons of the restaurant were also speaking Spanish.  I sat letting the music of the language wash over me, and picking out an occasional word and phrase.  (To my shame I have never learned to speak Spanish despite a lifetime spent in New Mexico.  In my defense I have no talent for language.  It’s a real struggle for me.)

But that’s when I realized that this was probably some kind of vision of hell for some on the Right.   Or the America Glenn Beck is constantly warning us about in one of his fetid broadcasts.

I think it’s wonderful.  They view it with horror.  They better get used to it.  We’re becoming a much more vibrant and interesting society.

Rango

Went off to see Rango tonight.  Had dinner at Cleopatra’s a lovely Middle Eastern restaurant right next to the theater then in to watch Johnny Depp as a lizard, or chameleon.  I was never quite sure.

What I am sure about is that this movie is a delight.  It is a love letter to the Western, and to movies in general.  If you are a movie buff you will constantly be reacting to a line of dialogue, a camera shot that makes you remember another film.

I highly recommend this film.  Go, laugh, have fun.  It’s great.

 

I am an Idiot

I just realized that the Stewart rally is the weekend _after_ Mile High Con.  If I’d figured this out sooner I might have been able to work it in.  As it is, I don’t think I can add the trip into my agenda.  I’m going to be in Minneapolis the weekend of Nov. 12th through the 14th, then I leave for L.A. on the 16th to give a lecture at USC.

I just don’t think I’ve got the time or the energy to go from Colorado to Washington D.C. to Minneapolis, home to Santa Fe and then to L.A. within a five week period.  Sometime I have to finish these books and keep reading for the PKD award.  Now the books are starting to pour in.

I’ll be cheering you on all of you who are attending.  Give an extra muted and polite shout for me.  🙂

 

Another One Bites the Dust

I was sorry to read that FLASH FORWARD has been canceled.  I liked the show a great deal.  Appealing cast, with very grey characters, which I love.  An interesting mystery, emotionally satisfying relationships.  Science babble that at least sounded like science instead of just techo babble, and scientists who weren’t just heavies or comic relief.

NBC’s fall line up looks particularly awful though I will give the Smits show a try because he is a very appealing actor.  Premise is really stupid.   it’s about a Supreme Court Justice who quits and goes back to practicing law — yeah, like that’s going to happen, but it’s Jimmy Smits.

I’m starting to run out of shows to watch.  I know BREAKING BAD and SONS OF ANARCHY are supposed to be great, but they’re just not my cup of tea.  This isn’t any kind of comment on their quality, just a comment on what I enjoy watching.

Looks like Netflix and I are going to get very well acquainted.

Breathtaking — And Not In A Good Way

Let me bring your attention to the following exchange between Bush DoJ lawyer John Yoo and a questioner .

Q: I guess the question I’s raising is, does this particular law really affect the President’s war-making abilities….
Yoo: Yes, certainly.
Q. What is your authority for that?
Yoo: Because this is an option the President might use in war.
Q: What about ordering a village of resistants to be massacred? … Is that a power that the president could legally-
Yoo: Yeah. Although, let me say this. So, certainly, that would fall within the commander-in-chief’s power over tactical decisions.
Q: To order a village of civilians to be [exterminated]?
Yoo: Sure.

Let me direct your attention to the last time a “commander and chief” and political leader of a country acted on that theory.  It was in Czechoslovakia, and every one in the village was killed as retribution for the killing of SS commander Reinhard Heydrich by Czech partisans.  If you aren’t familiar with Heydrich he was one of the most terrifying members of Hitler’s inner circle.  He is the man along with Himmler who was directly responsible for “the Final Solution”.  Adolf Hitler ordered Heydrich successor to “wade through blood” to find the people responsible.

Yoo is also the man who defended the use of a prisoner’s children to force them to talk.  The act in question was crushing the testicles of a male child in front of his father.

Every time I think I’ve reached the limit of rage regarding the Bush administration something like this emerges.  It is terrifying how close this country came to becoming a totalitarian regime — secret wire taps on American citizens, arrest without due process, and torture that _was done in my name_!

And the Obama DoJ whitewashed the lawyers who gave legal cover to these thugs and torturers because of a political calculation.

I’m still enormously grateful that Obama is president and not McCain, but there are things he has done that have disappointed me.  This is the big one.


The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

The Cassutt’s managed to blow my day in terms of accomplishing anything productive.  They shoved The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson into my hands and said “read this”. 

It started out slowly, interesting but slow, two separate stories that slowly merge, and then BOOM, this book just grabs you and won’t let go.  Actually even before the journalist and the girl start working together I was totally, hopelessly hooked.

I actually read a little over 300 pages today because I couldn’t put this book down.  There are two “sequels”, but alas the author died a few years ago so no more to follow.  I’ll be strolling down to Ventura Blvd. to buy book two this evening.

Since I’m a plot and structure maven I found the plotting to be convoluted but totally workable.  My quibble is with the end — it went on for a bit too long, but Larsson managed to tie together three big plots and amazingly it didn’t feel forced.

Up In The Air

Watched Up In The Air last night.  It’s a little jewel.  The dialogue is crisp and funny and poignant all at the same time.  The performances are just lovely.  It circles back on itself beautifully so that every little touch pays off.  The direction is creative yet understated.

I can see why it was nominated for Best Picture.  I don’t think it will win — it will be viewed as too slight, but that’s a shame.  I don’t want to give too much away, but watching the young, bright-eyed bushy-tailed newly graduated efficiency expert get a lesson in the necessity of humans deal humanely with each other from a man who hasn’t got a sincere bone in his body, is genius. 

And to see that man find his humanity and get screwed in the process is a lovely note.  I saw it coming, but that was okay, it was so well done.

This movie is a treasurer.  Go see it.  You won’t be sorry.

And for all of us S.F. geeks — hey there are _two_ science fiction movies on the ballot.  How cool is that?