Why Spock?

As I’m trying to process the news of Leonard Nimoy’s death I found myself reflecting back on original Trek, and what it was about Mr. Spock, our beloved Vulcan science officer, that so touched generation after generation of viewers.  For me Star Trek was the first visual evocation of what I had read and dreamed about almost since I learned to read.  The stars, other worlds, alien civilizations, space ships.  But where Spock was concerned I think it went deeper then that.

It did seem like people fall in love with Trek in adolescence and in many ways Spock was the personification of all those adolescent angsts.  Who am I?  Where do I belong?  Will I ever fit in?  My emotions are out of control and sometimes terrifying to me.  Added to that was and is the fact that a lot of science fiction fans are brainy and probably didn’t spend junior high and high school running with the cool, popular kids, being captain of the football team or a cheerleader.  When the Enterprise first flew across our television screens “geek” and “nerd” were not terms of approbation.

Suddenly there was this fascinating (and for the girls) sexy figure who was super smart and now we all had a role model that said it was okay to be smart and conflicted and occasionally awkward, but the best and most loyal friend you could ever want.  It told us outcasts that we had a place and we had value.

Apart from all the wonderful stories that Original Trek brought to us — City on the Edge of Forever, Charlie X, Space Seed, Journey to Babel, Trouble with Tribbles, Where No Man Has Gone Before — to mention just a few there was this weekly morality play about the interplay of Heart (McCoy) Mind (Spock) with Kirk plotting (ideally) that middle way or the golden mean as the Greeks called it.

Taking a Note

So I’m writing a very emotional scene in my current Wild Card story and George R.R. had given me a note to add in thoughts and mentions of another character and earlier events in a particular exchange.  I was trying to answer the note because it’s a valid note, but it was a jarring leaden intrusion into the flow of the scene.  So I went looking earlier in the scene and found the perfect place to insert this call back to previous events.

That’s one of the harder lessons to learn for a new writer (actually the hardest lesson is learning to take a note, but more on that later) — you want to please the editor/show runner, but you don’t want to write a bad scene.  You have to trust your instincts and talent enough to find that alternative.

Interesting Advice On Blogging

I got some very interesting advice from a friend and fellow writer yesterday over lunch.  She said my essays here on my blog are too long.  She explained that people don’t tend to scroll.  That made sense to me, and gave me an enormous sense of relief.  If I don’t have to craft such long thoughtful posts I may be more inclined to post here.  So I’m going to try it.


I Think They really Are Gunning For Our Birth Control

It’s common among younger women to say “Oh, I’m not a feminist”.  Which kinda drives me crazy since a lot of us fought very hard to get into law schools and medical schools and not have to be secretaries, nurses and kindergarten teachers any longer.  I think in some ways this new generation thinks these fights are over and it’s all been settled.

Weeel, it doesn’t look that way.  Yes, the right has always been opposed to abortion and I agree it is a complex and difficult subject to discuss when one side thinks it’s murder — full stop, but some on the right now seem to have set their sights on limiting if not outright denying the use of contraception because —-??? Sluts?  It’s God’s will that women have babies?  On the more fringy, crazy, hateful part of the far right they seem obsessed with the continuation of the white race.  Who knows what is behind this.

Maybe it is really just the fact they can’t stand the fact that the pill freed women and gave us enormous power.  I reprinted an essay I wrote about what makes women dangerous and I said it was the Pill.  I guess these men agree with me.

We had Santorum inveighing against the pill, and Huckabee with his Uncle Sugar remark, and now this delightful loon, Matt Walsh, who is a staple on Glen Beck apparently.  I can’t possibly say it any better then this hilarious article from Wonkette, and the visual had me snorting my morning tea.  Enjoy.


It’s About The Constitution, Stupid

This morning I was doing my usual scroll through various news sites to see what was going on in the world, and I ran across Mike Huckabee opining on how he could have gay people as friends — big of him.  I gather this was him moderating his position that the states had the right to ignore a Supreme Court ruling on same sex marriage.  An issue that was settled by a little event called the Civil War.

Then I read this statement:

“And as a biblical issue, unless I get a new version of the scriptures, it’s really not my place to say, ‘Okay, I’m just going to evolve.’”

“It’s like asking somebody who’s Jewish to start serving bacon-wrapped shrimp in their deli. We don’t want to do that,” Huckabee continued. “Or asking a Muslim to serve up something that is offensive to him or to have dogs in his backyard.”

No, it’s not.  Because a particular religion’s holy book is not the law of the land in a secular pluralistic nation.  The issue will be decided on two cardinal principles of American jurisprudence and the Constitution (which conservatives swear they venerate though that adoration only seems to apply to the second amendment).  Those foundational precepts are Due Process, established in the Fifth and the Fourteenth Amendments, and Equal Protection found in the Fourteenth Amendment.

Huckabee’s entire argument is nonsense.  One’s choice of food, or a person’s choice to keep a pet has no impact on the lives of other American citizens.  The right to marry, the right to have that marriage recognized across state lines (another little concept from the Constitution called full faith and credit) that has an impact on people both financially and socially, in terms of health decisions, establishing parental rights, etc. etc.  These are not trivial matters and comparing them to shrimp and bacon and dogs does just that.

American Sniper

Last night I watched AMERICAN SNIPER.  There had been so much heat and very little light around this movie that I had been feeling ambivalent about seeing it.  It’s absolutely worth seeing.  It’s a masterful piece of film making with Clint Eastwood getting out of the way and letting the story unfold in all its brutal detail.  Bradley Cooper did a phenomenal job of portraying Chris Kyle his loss of humanity, his grief over that loss, and his fight to regain it cut short by the bullet of another deeply damaged and mentally scarred veteran.  To watch Kyle go from a charming, rather chatty man to a figure lost in silence and grief with this constant uncomfortable throat clearing that precedes the few words he will utter was very well done.

At its heart this is a character study of this one man and how he is damaged by the war he volunteered to fight.  Whether it’s pro-war or anti-war depends on the prism through which you view it.  If you want to see it as a rah rah, USA!  USA! you can, but truthfully I think Eastwood meant it and it’s true when he said it’s an anti-war movie.

It’s no secret that ultimately soldiers fight to protect their buddies.  They may have enlisted for god and country and all those other ideals, but once they are in combat they fight for the man or woman next to them in the foxhole.  That is so clearly and beautifully demonstrated in this movie.

The problem for Kyle was he was denied that sense of belonging and his isolation and loneliness is exemplified by his physical separation from the men Kyle is protecting.  They are in squads going door to door.  He’s on a rooftop often alone or with only a spotter with him knowing that the men in the streets below him are depending on him to keep them alive.  How burdensome it must be to be the “guardian angel”, and the guilt when you fail was presented as crushing.  Even the title they give him “The Legend” ends up separating him from his peers.  All of this Eastwood presents in this elegant, understated way.

It’s pretty much agreed by the majority of the American people that the invasion of Iraq was a disastrous move for this country, but this movie isn’t about that decision and the men who made it.  It’s about one man who thought he was doing the right thing to protect his family and his country.  Eastwood doesn’t ignore the doubts and the questions.  They  are there, expressed in the voice of Kyle’s brother who says in anguish “I don’t know why we’re here?”  There is some mention of the fact the citizens of Iraq are fighting against people they perceive of as invaders.

It does seem that much of the criticism has arisen over the portrayal of the Iraqi people, and I can’t argue with that.  They’re cyphers and none more so than the Iraqi sniper with whom Kyle has a personal duel.  This was added as a way to personalize the situation.  I get that, but I kept wondering as I looked at the etched profile of the “enemy” sniper, his dark eyes and long lashes, if he was undergoing to the same destruction to his soul and mind as his American counterpart?  Did he have a wife and children wishing he would come home.  Wondering what had happened to the man they knew?  Should that have been dramatized?  Maybe, but this was a character study so the focus was kept tight on Kyle and his situation.  If Eastwood had zoomed out to the enemy then it becomes a different film.

Was Kyle an admirable person?  Hero or villain?  For the men whose lives he saved they would say hero.  To the relatives of the people he killed a villain.  What I think this movie was trying to portray was that he was neither.  He was just a very fallible human being in an impossible, soul destroying situation.  The tragedy and horrible irony is that he was killed by a man he was trying to help.  A man who had also been seared and brutalized by this unnecessary war.


Is BioWare Insidious? (I Think Yes)

Yes, I have been obsessively playing Dragon Age:  Inquisition, and loving it.  Great companions.  A worthy task that seems far more noble and important then the problems set out in Dragon Age 2.  There was a power to Dragon Age: Origins in that you are basically a kid with out any support who has to save your country.  You basically grow up and have to deal with not only the Blight, but a civil war that threatens to tear your nation apart.  It also felt like a big world.

Then along came Dragon Age 2 and the world became very cramped and small — Kirkwall and a series of identical dungeons, and the stakes were equally cramped and small.  Get enough money to buy mommy a house.  Deal with some surly Qunari (though that act was the strongest of the three), and finally have everybody go nuts and have to fight them all no matter what choice you made.

And now Inquisition has arrived, and it’s gigantic.  Not only my beloved Ferelden, but Orlais and the Storm Coast, and the Emerald Graves.  Well, you get the idea.  In this campaign you are much more involved in being an effective commander and building a powerful army to protect, literally, the entire world of Thedas.

My fingers are crossed that BioWare learned from the disaster of Mass Effect 3 and they will give us a satisfying ending.  I’m still a long was from that ending, but I’ll let folks know once I get there.

Here’s what struck me as I was playing the other night.  You craft a lot of armor and weapons in this game, and you better because you will die if you rely on loot alone.  But no matter what kind of armor I build for the dwarf, Varric he ends up basically bare chested and sporting his bearish chest hair.  Then there is Iron Bull who is an impressive Qunari, and his armor leaves his chest pretty much bare as well.  I think I’ve finally got Bull covered so a sword doesn’t take him in one of his man boobs.

Then I remembered Mass Effect 2 and how Jack and Samara would accompany my male Shepard into a alien ship that had been breached and was open to vacuum.  I’d be in battle armor and they’ve be wearing spandex and virtual pasties with tiny breathing masks.  I had remarked on this foolishness, contrasting it with Mass Effect 1 and I know that other commenters had mentioned it as well.

So here come two males in Inquisition who are flashing some flesh.  Of the three female characters only Vivienne, a mage is wearing anything remotely sexy or revealing.  Overall I love BioWare.  They design the kind of games I like to play, and this just struck me as a little wink from the designers, and that they had they tongues drilled deeply into their cheeks.

So kudos to you BioWare and thank you for the man boobs and the chest hair.





Is It Relevant?

I want to give a shout out to Pat Rothfuss  index.asp.  There is a very valuable writing lesson in his novel A WISE MAN’S FEARS.  I had read THE NAME OF THE WIND when it first came out, and now I finally picked up Wise Man’s for my trip home to New Mexico for the holidays.

I’m very much enjoying this book.  Kvothe is a terrific character, and the framing device selected by Rothfuss works beautifully.  But today I’m here to praise a choice that he made in Wise Man’s Fears.  The set up is that our young hero is told that perhaps he ought to take a break from his studies at the arcane university because of a court case.  A friend sets him up to work for a nobleman in a different country.  There is a discussion about the dangers of a sea voyage versus a land journey, and I thought “oh no, here we go.  There will be shipwrecks and pirates and sharks and god knows what else.

And then Rothfuss surprised and delighted me.  He skipped it all.  Because it wasn’t relevant to the story he was telling.  The framing device is that Kvothe is telling his life story to a chronicler.  He is hitting the important thing.  The things that made him into the man he is today.  So Rothfuss dispenses with the journey in literally a paragraph.  He basically says there was a storm at sea, pirates, robbery, the upshot being that he arrived in the new city broke and dressed in rags.  I literally jumped up and gave a shout of joy over this elegant choice.  Because none of this so-called-action was relevant to the theme of the story he was telling.  Instead we got to see how Kvothe used his actor background to bluff his way into the palace so he could present his letter of introduction.  How his arcane training helped him serve his new lord, etc. etc.

Some may argue that he skipped over events that would have been exciting.  I don’t agree.  It’s only exciting if it’s important to the story.  Otherwise it ends up feeling like filler.  How many movies have we seen recently where you can hear the audience give an annoyed sigh when yet another CGI action extravaganza begins when all they really wanted was to see if the girl and guy get together, or if the hero finds his father and learns his identity — in other words something real that matters.  That is about human connection.

Think about the latest Hobbit movie.  The only authentic moments in that movie were the ones with Bilbo when he tries to reason with Thorin, when he takes the arkenstone to Bard the Bowman and Thranduil, king of the woodland elves.  The rest of it is sound and fury signifying nothing.

I had made the decision that in my current space opera I’m going to jump two years to two really important scenes between my hero and heroine that occur as they are graduating from the military academy.  I’m skipping two years because while I could make up some events to fill those years what happens during them is not relevant to the story.  And who really wants to read about the classes characters are attending?  I was pretty sure about my decision, but after seeing what Rothfuss did in THE WISE MAN’S FEAR any doubt I might have had about my choice was swept away.

I think the “show don’t tell” meme has been taken too far in writing and it can lead a beginner into a swamp.  Sometimes a simple declarative sentence is really what’s needed.  Not a detailed description of every step in a journey.  Or as my old boss on Star Trek used to say to me.  “Just say the words, Melinda.”

Globe Trotting Aces

Hey, the new edition of ACES ABROAD, the fourth book in our Wild Card series is now available from Tor books.  It also has extra crunchy goodness with two new stories.  One by Carrie Vaughn www.carrievaughn.com, and another by Kevin Andrew Murphy Kevin.A.Murphy.  Do check it out.  The Wild Card series has often set stories in diverse places around the world, and our alternate history can be both fun and alarming.


The Heavy Hand of Hollywood Notes

Last night I settled down to watch my screener of the Benedict Cumberbatch biopic on Alan Turing, THE IMITATION GAME and the heavy hand of less than good Hollywood notes was evident in many, many scenes.  I’m not sure if I should both with spoiler warnings since most people know Turing committed suicide at age 41, and the world lost one of its foremost minds to a ridiculous  prejudice.  But just to be on the safe side I will do so.

I also know a lot of people have complained the film is inaccurate in its details about Turing.  I’m no expert on the man so I can’t speak to that.  Though after seeing this film I’m going to buy a biography of Turing.  He was that fascinating.  As for the inaccuracies.  I’d just point out that this wasn’t a biography, it was a movie where the first goal is entertainment and any education is just gravy.


The biggest problem was the structure of the film and several of the scenes which felt inauthentic in the extreme.  Framing devices can often be very useful and work very well.  It didn’t work all that well in this film.  They open in 1951 with the investigation of a break-in at Professor Turing’s home, and the story is told by Turing to this detective who is at first hostile and then sympathetic and won over by Turing’s story.  The problem is that the Enigma project was classified and top, top secret for decades so the idea that Turing would just blurt it out to this cop in Manchester strained credulity.

And then there were the two scenes that gave me hives.  I have been in the room when a producer or a studio suit has given me the note that is going to result in the two scenes that most irritated me in the movie.

The first was when the team realize they have broken the Enigma code and that there is a civilian convoy that is going to be destroyed by German U-Boats.   The scene we got was one of the team tearfully begging Turing to alert the Admiralty so the attack can be neutralized by the RAF because the man’s brother is a sailor on one of the escort ships.  Turing refuses and we get the breast heaving denunciation that Turing is “a monster”.  The scene was fraught, overly dramatic and as a result felt completely inauthentic to me.  I know exactly what was said in that notes meeting — “But we need to make this personal.”  Yeah, that’s not a bad instinct, but not that way.

As Ed Green and I discussed later a better way to have done that scene was to have the young man point out quietly that “the Reliant (I don’t remember the actual name of the ship) is escorting that convoy.”  The rest of the team gives him an inquiring look.  And then he quietly says, “My brother serves on that ship.” or “My brother is on that ship.”  Then you cut to the footage of the burning  and sinking ships, the harsh klaxon of alarms, etc.

You then go to the meeting with MI6 convincing them that the world must not know the code has been broken, followed by scenes where the team does statistical analysis deciding who lives and who dies.

The next moment that really didn’t work for me was when Turing’s former fiancee turns up at his house after he’s been medically castrated, and she sees his mind and body have been destroyed.  She then gives this speech about how he made such a difference, and people are alive and cities exist because he mattered!  All, of course, delivered in passionate heaving tones.

This felt like the studio feared the audience wouldn’t actually understand the enormity of Turing’s accomplishment unless the put in this very on-the-nose explanation.

I had one final quibble which was Joan.  I have no idea why or how they ended their engagement, but the scene in the film didn’t work for me.  She is willing to marry him even thought she knows he is gay, but when he tries to push her away she gets mad and slaps him.  Now Joan has been working with him for years, she knows he’s way out there on the autism spectrum, but she believes this nasty comment and walks away?  That again felt forced, like the writer, producers, director — somebody — didn’t want to take the time to craft a scene that was more in line with their personalities. 

What I liked.  Well Cumberbatch.  He’s amazing.  A Best Actor nomination better be coming or I give up on the Academy.  I love anything about WWII.  Particularly the British resistance to Hitler.  It’s awe inspiring.  There was a very nice scene when by listening to a man and woman flirt and then a casual remark by the woman gives Turing the key to reprograming his machine so it can break the code more quickly.  That was a terrific moment and it was set up very well.

I also loved the irony that the repeated phrase Heil Hitler is what allowed the code to be broken.  There’s a certain poetic justice to that.

Bottom line — go see this movie if only for the extraordinary performance by Cumberbatch.  And because in this cynical modern world it’s good to reflect on the heroism of our grandparents and great-grandparents who defeated Hitler and the Nazis.

Bowing to Hackers or Bowing to Insurance Companies?

For obvious reasons I’ve been following this Sony flap over THE INTERVIEW. I have no idea if the film is brilliant and funny, or lame and silly. It is unfortunate that threats have led to the banning of a piece of art and because they “won” this will probably lead to more efforts to force companies to back down on controversial content. Based on this episode the companies will back down.  If somebody had been willing to show the film I would have gone just to make my small statement.

That being said, since I was trained as an attorney, I am also very aware of the other side of this. Once a threat of physical violence was launched the studio and the theater chains were in a tough place with their attorneys and, more to the point, their insurers, saying “no way”. Let’s say I own a movie theater and I want to refuse to give in to anonymous threats from unknown actors. Then my insurance company calls and tells me they are going to cancel my policy if I show this film. Now suddenly I have no coverage for a slip and fall in the bathroom, somebody gets hurt when the popcorn popper blows up, etc. etc.

In our complex world it’s no longer just a single person’s decision to take the risk. There are so many other players involved in what seems like a simple decision.

What I can pretty much guarantee is that all the studios are beefing up security on their computer systems.

In Our Name

I usually keep the conversation light, focused on writing and games and horses and TV shows and movies. But the torture report which was published today (and keep in mind this is a mere 20% of the actual report a 500 page summation of a 6700 page report that is classified) is harrowing, horrific, stunning and a detailed look at how we lost our moral compass and our way after 9/11. I am sickened and furious.

Torture was rejected at the very founding of our country by GeorgeWashington. When asked how to care for British prisoners he said, “Treat them with humanity, and let them have no reason to Complain of our Copying the brutal example of the British Army in their treatment of our unfortunate brethren…. Provide everything necessary for them on the road.”

Aside from being a moral abomination this is _illegal_. We executed Japanese officers who had waterboarded American service men, there was a little thing called the Nuremberg Trials. We signed the Geneva Conventions.  So where is the accountability?  Why are the men who besmirched out honor not being prosecuted?  I have been a supporter of President Barack Obama.  I understood why politically he didn’t take action against the torturers when he first took office, but I kept thinking — “he’s a Constitutional scholar and lawyer.  Someday he will act.”  Well, he better act now.  With the release of this report people can no longer pretend these acts of barbarism were perpetrated by a “few bad apples”.  This went to the highest levels of government.  America has taken the stand that we will go after and punish war criminals.  Now the message we are sending is that we won’t prosecute when they’re our war criminals.

Yes, 9/11 was a grotesque assault on innocent people.  Yes, our enemies do horrific, inhuman things to prisoners.   Are supposed to emulate them? Is this what American exceptionalism has become? If you want a very detailed analysis of the report I refer you Andrew Sullivan who is live blogging about the report as he reads through the 500 pages. Be warned — it is horrifying and upsetting.   live-blogging-the-torture-report

And don’t forget — for every American — this was done in our name.

When Writing Is Really Fun

Most people who know me know that I’m a big proponent of the outline or the story break.  I think it helps you meet deadlines and not fall into seductive dead ends that look good at first then you write a hundred pages and realize you’ve been dumped in a swamp.  The argument against the outline is that it’s rigid, a straight jacket, confining.  But it’s not.  If you know the big scenes and the ultimate end of the book there is still plenty of room to move and breath and adjust.

Yesterday afternoon I finished a big scene about economics and using money as a weapon.  Then last night I realized that I could go back to a chapter much earlier in the book and add in a small exchange between my hero and his father that will resonate incredibly in the scene between my heroine and her father.  I won’t draw any attention to it — it will be a bit like an Easter Egg embedded in a video, but I’ll know it’s there and that will delight me.  And some readers will spot it and that will be fun too.

It’s always a balance between being too subtle and “hiding the football”, and being too “on the nose”.  That’s when beta readers really come in handy, and I’ll be looking for one once this book is completed.  I want fresh eyes to see if the entire story holds together.

My Process

I’m closing in on the end of the first book in the space opera series — THE HIGH GROUND.  I knew in a general way what the big action sequence was going to be, but I’m almost there, and it’s crunch time.  A general sense wasn’t going to be good enough.  I needed specific scenes.  So I grabbed the cards, assigned a colored pen to my two POV characters, and another color for my antagonist, and settled onto the floor in front of the board and started tossing up actual scenes.

What is Mercedes doing?  What is Tracy doing?  What will go wrong?  What do we learn about non POV characters?  Amazing how this all started coming into focus from just the act of writing.  I still have one outstanding question regarding the antagonist, but I have some cards and questions to myself off on the far side of the board.  Sometimes just writing down the questions starts the brain turning.

I know that “pantsers” or “gardeners” would have just started writing and hoped the subconscious took them in the right direction, but sometimes the subconscious gets lost and confused and then you’re just typing aimlessly waiting for inspiration to strike.  I prefer to find the pitfalls before I’ve written several thousand words.

Superhero Shows — The Creepy & The Lame

Overall I’m really enjoying both ARROW and THE FLASH, but before I sing their praises I need to complain about a couple of things.  THE FLASH is squicking me out over Barry’s romantic mooning over Iris.  They were raised from childhood as siblings.  The research indicates that normal humans don’t fall in love with their siblings, and this rule holds true even when they are unrelated by blood.  Basically the studies found the close association creates sexual aversion.

And over on ARROW I really need Laurel to take a pill and calm the hell down.  Now normally I’m all for kick ass women, but we have plenty of kick ass women on the show.  I adore Felicity because she proves that she can be effective and powerful and not carry nunchucks.  She has her brain and her training.  I’d like Laurel to remember she has a brain and training.  The law is a powerful tool.  It should be honored and celebrated.  Yes, it’s a show about a vigilante, but can we have a little balance here?


Who knows most, doubts most. — Robert Browning (1812-1889)


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