Podcast

I did a fun podcast yesterday with the folks in Minneapolis who are part of that great Convergence community.  Anyway, here’s the link.  Ka1iban and Mikanhana asked great questions and we had a lot of fun.

Just Enough Trope

The Magic of Longhand

Since I have a computer in L.A. I don’t travel between Santa Fe and Westlake with a computer.  I figure I can read and listen to music during travel times.  But on this trip home I had figured out the next scene and I badly wanted to get it down.

So I fell back on a technique I haven’t used in decades.  I took a notebook with me and wrote it out in longhand.  When I first started writing I did everything by hand and then transcribed it on the typewriter.  It takes double the time however so I taught myself how to compose on the typewriter.  Once I got a computer then composition at the machine was a breeze.  I could rewrite as I went, move scenes, make changes without the tyranny of the paper.

Still there was something almost magical about putting down the words by hand.  Cumbersome because I realized I needed several paragraphs that needed to go earlier so I had to write them, but a bracket around them and then draw an arrow to where they needed to go in the prose.

But it worked and now I’m sitting at the computer about to transcribe the scene onto the laptop and of course make changes and rewriting as I go.  It was proof that you don’t need all the fancy tech to write.  You just need the desire and the will.

As I’ve always said — writing is the one profession where you don’t have to get permission or pass an exam.  You just have to write.

Ant Man and Marvel Movies Overall

I’m just back from seeing ANT MAN with my friends Len Wein and Christine Valada.  I really liked it.  It’s a slight film, but it has heart and humor and thank god we weren’t threatening New York, or the Earth or the Galaxy or the whole damn Universe (Thor: The Dark World).  We were also watching it at the sybaritic Cinepolis theater with the full bar and meals and four kinds of popcorn (caramel corn — yum) and reclining leather seats with foot rests, etc. etc.  Paul Rudd is charming and not at all the muscle bound hero.  Michael Peña damn near steals the film.  Evangeline Lilly is a smart competent woman who isn’t traditionally Hollywood beautiful.  The villain felt like he’d been pulled from central casting — all he lacked was a mustache, but the fight sequences were fun because the direction and writers never took them too seriously.  Scenes that were titanic in power when the guys are ant sized are presented as silly when the would pull back to the real world to show a toy train falling over with a tiny “tink”.

I noticed that GRRM wrote a post about Ant Man and talked about the Marvel movies and his rankings (which are wrong 😏  (Teasing.  You get that I’m teasing, right?  I assume some of you heard our debate at the Worldcon in Reno so you know George and I have a long history of disagreeing in fun and with great abandon.)  Anyway, I thought I’d try and set him straight.  Anyway, here’s my list in order of terrific and why.  The two Spiderman films aren’t technically part of the Marvel juggernaut, but he’s a Marvel character so I’m going to include him.

SPIDERMAN 2 with Toby McGuire and Doc Ock (not those terrible remakes).  The scene where he stops the train and the commuters realize he’s “just a kid” can make me cry every time.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER.  Certainly the first half of that film is damn near perfect.  After that it becomes your typical superhero movie, but the early scenes with Dr. Erskine are just perfection.  I use that movie when I teach because it shows the power of the medium to say in a visual what would take pages in a book.

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY – a perfect little jewel of a movie with flawed characters who touch your heart and who actually grow and change in interesting ways.

IRON MAN 1 — Terrific film about a man finding his soul.  They should have stopped there and just let him be a brilliant asshole in the Avengers movies.

THOR  and not just because… Loki (sigh).  I use that film when I teach to help illustrate the difference between plot and theme.

X-MEN: FIRST CLASS – beautiful evocation of a different time and the relationship between Charles and Erik is gorgeous.  It didn’t hurt that the movie had two top ranked actors in those roles.

AVENGERS – I liked the film a great deal.  Too many action sequences but at least they seemed like they were designed to move the story forward.  Unlike the second Avengers film which seemed designed to just have another big CGI fight.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER – a grown up film about issues of freedom and security and a man and a woman who are merely friends.

ANT MAN – (see above)

X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (the less said about X-Men 3 the better and this film fixed that).

SPIDERMAN – the first film with Toby McGuire

THOR: THE DARK WORLD

So, I think I’ll stop there.  This was fun thinking back on all the hours of genuine entertainment these films have provided.

Orphan Black Season 3 – Reflections on Violence

For those of you who may not have seen season three of this show be warned; there may be SPOILERS!

Let me say right up front that I think this show is terrific and that Maslany simply brilliant.  Kudos to the Emmys’  for finally figuring out how to get her a well deserved nomination.  But…..

I think this season was weaker then seasons 1 or 2 and I think that was due to a couple of things.  One was the focusing more on Allison then the other clones.  While Maslany’s performance as Allison is great that particular character can become extremely grating and that was what happened for me.  I found myself actually fast forwarding though some of the tedious school board election scenes.  The other problem may be unique to me, but it did start me on a long process of considering the place of violence in entertainment.

Here is the moment that left me feeling ambivalent about the show for the first time.  It was when Helena kills all the drug dealers with an axe because they have taken her “babies”.  I’m not arguing that the drug dealers were dangerous and violent and evil, but what bothered me in the scene was that it was played for a laugh.  There is the initial confrontation with the hapless Donny and Helena facing down the gang, then Donny leaves and after several beats Helena emerges covered in blood with gore dripping off the axe.  She has her babies and a pot load of money which she gives to Donny.  It was clear this was meant to be funny, but I wasn’t laughing.

Maybe it’s because the past month has held the senseless deaths of nine people at a bible study class who were murdered for being black, and the murder of five young men whose only crime was to wear the uniform of the United States.  Whatever the reason the scene bothered me a great deal.  Not only in the moment, but in the aftermath.  There was no repercussions for Helena’s action.  I wasn’t looking for a reaction by the authorities and the court system, but I needed some acknowledgement inside that family that Helena is dangerous.  If I were Donny I wouldn’t be terribly comfortable about having her around my children or my wife.  Instead there’s just the flippant “We came into some money,” to Allison as he stacks bills in the freezer.

I was discussing this with a friend who pointed out the burying the body in the garage sequence, and she asked if that bothered me as much?  It didn’t, but I wonder if that began this sense of queasiness that culminated in the Helena scene.  I could justify hiding the death of the doctor since the company had already declared him dead, and if Donny had gone to the authorities it would have revealed the sisters and endangered them.  He would also have been charged with involuntary manslaughter and the writer’s probably thought a trip through the court system wasn’t where they wanted to go.  But —

Just as I don’t care for redemptive violence as a solution to a conflict in a book or a movie I’m becoming very tired of violence as a source of humor.  I think violence should have power and meaning.  If it’s used constantly as a joke or as a chest thumping Oo-rah!  Go us! then I think it makes us as readers and viewers more coarse and desensitizes us.  There is a reason that cops are sent to therapy after a shooting incident.  Why soldiers suffer from PTSD.  Taking a human life is consequential.

I love action movies and shows.  The books I write tend to have a lot of action, but I make the point in my Edge novels that my hero, Richard, keeps a count of every person he’s ever killed because he doesn’t want to become inured to it.  He wants it to never be easy.

I dislike the fact that creators and writers are making it easy.

Orphan Black

Yeah, I’m late to the party.  What can I say?  I’ve become spoiled with streaming and none of the streaming services — Hulu Plus/Netflix —  I had downloaded to my XBox were showing Orphan Black when ever I went to look for it.  I don’t want to wait for physical discs to arrive at the house so I kept putting off watching the show.  Then XBox Live offered a free month of Amazon Prime.  I knew Amazon had the series because I watched the pilot over at my friend, Mike Cassutt’s house and loved it.

IF YOU’VE NEVER WATCHED THE SHOW & HATE SPOILERS YOU MIGHT WANT TO STOP READING ————-

 

Long story short.  I started watching.  I have just watched episode one of season 3.  Yeah, I binged on the first two seasons.  This is an extraordinary show made even more extraordinary by the monumental talent of Tatiana Maslany.  I’m in the industry and at some point in the second season I was having to constantly remind myself that this was the same woman portraying Sarah, Allison, Helena, Cosima, Rachel, etc. etc.  It isn’t just the switch in accents, it’s her physicality that’s selling this completely.

What has struck me is that despite being created by two men the show is really a meditation on how the world attempts to own women — their bodies, their minds, their spirits.  It’s brought to the fore visually by the number of times we see these women with their feet in stirrups, vulnerable, being probed, used, viewed as vessels as objects to be harvested.

The exploration of gender and sexuality issues is also one of the shows great strengths.  Cosima is a lesbian, Allison is one up tight lady, Rachel very much into being a dominatrix.  there is Tony the trans clone.  And the exploration of these issues isn’t limited to just the clones.  One of the other actors who deserves mention is Jordan Gavaris who plays Felix Sarah’s gay foster brother.  There is a fearless and yet vulnerable quality to this performance that deserves recognition.

Setting aside the performances and the underlying theme of the show I have to tip my hat to the writers ability to keep pulling more and more and more layers off the onion.  Each time you think you found the explanation for the clones another layer is revealed.  It may be that they are just winging it and haven’t thought this through, but so far it’s working and I haven’t gotten that feeling they are just throwing shit to see what sticks.  I hope they have thought this all out as clearly been done with my beloved PERSON OF INTEREST, but for right now I’m more then happy to go along for the ride.

Mass Effect Fantasy

Major game neepery is about to ensue so if you’re not into Mass Effect this may seem like I’ve begun speaking in tongues.

So I had this fantasy about the DLC I’d loved to have played.  I had fun with the Citadel DLC, but thought there were a number of missed opportunities.  And I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the Shepard clone.  (Mostly while I’m stuck on an elliptical machine for 40 minutes.  It’s good to let your mind wander.)

Anyway, my Shepard who is a boy scout tried to save his “brother”, but of course that didn’t work out.  But it occurred to me that this is another Shepard and Shepard manages to elude death and even actual death on a regular basis.  So what if Shepard clone survived the fall from the Normandy and ended up in a clinic down in the Wards getting patched up.

BioWare indicated that when the Reapers decided to relocate the Citadel to Earth some people would have holed up, barricaded themselves down in the Wards and kept fighting.  In my alternate reality you have a Shepard on hand, and so you could have him/her limping around organizing the defense and keeping people alive until the other Shepard could save the day.  It would be a way for the clone to learn to stop being a racist asshole and also redeem their soul.

My feeling is why waste a good clone.  😏

I Guess They’re Scared

I’ve been pondering and honestly trying to understand the rightwing freak out over the marriage equality ruling.  What is it that is so alarming, unnatural, perverse about two people who love each other being married?  They’re always talking about god’s law as revealed in nature — well there are gay animals too so obviously if their god is omniscient then gay critters and people are all in the plan, right?

Then I remembered a conversation I had a few years back with my mother-in-law and I realized that while science fiction may not be 100% predictive it actually does a pretty good job of at least exploring potential advances and changes to technology and how the culture will be affected by those changes.  What had caused my mom-in-law’s distress was Dolly the Sheep.  She asked me in breathless tones “What do you think about this cloning thing?”  And my response was a blasé “What took so long?”  Because I had been reading about clones for years before Dolly came baaaaing onto the scene.

It’s the same thing with the idea of gay couples being fully equal under the law.  We’ve been talking about that in science fiction for decades.  And the new media — video games is equally accepting.  In the games that lean more toward role playing you can be straight, gay, lesbian, you can sleep with aliens or you can just shoot things if romance doesn’t appeal.

I actually wonder if one reason young people are so accepting of marriage equality is because science fiction won.  We are popular entertainment on every level and by and large our field presents an accepting view of how societies should behave toward it’s citizens — gay, straight, trans and maybe someday even aliens.

Bravo Mercedes And Thank You

One month ago my workhorse of a vehicle, my Mercedes diesel GL SUV up and died in the middle of Yale Blvd. down in Albuquerque.  I had just dropped off friends at the airport (thank heaven it didn’t happen on I25 or during my drive back from L.A. with my cats on board.)  I called Triple A and got towed to the Mercedes dealership.  The provided me with a loaner and I headed home thinking this would be simple.

It was anything but.  For three weeks the techs were baffled.  They kept hooking the car up to the computer which told them the car was fine except the car wouldn’t start.  (Apparently there are no longer mechanics just guys who read computer printouts.)  Eventually they called Germany and found the answer.  The fuel pressure pump had blown apart.  Of course it’s a modular unit and has to be replaced and it was expensive.  I say okay because this is a diesel and they should be good for 300,000 miles.

A week later another call.  When the pump blew apart it sprayed metal shavings into all six fuel injectors and wrecked them too.  Now the cost of the repair had doubled to $10,000.  At this point it was time to think about a new car.

But I was bummed and annoyed.  This was the second Mercedes vehicle that had fallen apart at 100,000 miles.  I made a Tweet to that effect and got a Tweet back from Mercedes national headquarters saying to call them.  I did and they opened a file about my vehicle.  With the wonders of computers they could see that I had done ever scheduled maintenance and all of them at dealerships.

Long story short they discounted the repair by %50 so I could get the car fixed and wasn’t faced with buying a new car right now.  I also want to point out that sticking with the dealership for your repairs and doing the scheduled maintenance can pay off in the long run.  I should also mention that Mercedes traded the loaner sedan for a loaner SUV because I needed to take my trash to the dump.  Also great customer service.

I just want to say — Thank you Mercedes.  This is how customer relations are supposed to work, and I’m very grateful.

Inside Out

There will be some spoilers (not huge and probably obvious) but you have been warned.

I went to see INSIDE OUT last night.  I liked it a lot, but I didn’t love it as much as I’d expected to.  Like FROZEN I think it suffered from the hype.  It’s still a very fun and charming movie, but on balance I liked Tomorrowland better.

The reason was a basic writing 101 problem — they didn’t ground me in the theme early enough in the film.  I thought the idea that we need both sadness and joy if we’re to have a full range of experiences was the message/theme, but it was a little unclear until fairly deep into the film.  They kept offering me other alternative threads that might be the theme so I kept grabbing mentally at them instead of being taken where the writers wanted me to go.

I did love the fact that a brain researcher was part of the team that made this film.  In many way Len Wein had it right when he said this was a film for adults that kids would probably enjoy.

Lewis Black absolutely stole the film in his type cast role as Anger.  Amy Poehler was appropriately chirpy as Joy (to the point that I wanted to kill her).  The other stand out for me was Richard Kind as Bing Bong.

My two favorite moments were when our heroes had to go into the area of abstract concepts, and the cat brain at the very end.  It was also fun when they cut into “headquarters” in the parents brains as well.

This is one of those films where I may need to see it again with my expectations re-calibrated and re-evaluate.  I had that happen on Thor: The Dark World too.  It was a good deal better than I initially thought on my first viewing.

Have They No Shame?

Forgive me. I try to keep things fun and talk mostly about writing or horses or games or cool science stuff, but what happened at the Mother Emanuel Church in South Carolina has left me shaken. The killings themselves are a sadly familiar story.  Black churches have been targeted before.  In 1963 four little girls were killed when a black church was bombed. As Larry Wilmore pointed out Larry Wilmore The Nightly Show nobody back then tried to claim this was about religious liberty, or that the bombers were architectural critics who thought the building was an eye sore, or some other bogus claim. Everyone knew why that church was bombed. It was done to terrorize African-American citizens in this country as they demanded their equal rights.

It was racism that killed those children.

The spectacle yesterday of a supposed news network twisting themselves into knots as they attempted to cast these murders as something other than racism was disgusting. There are presidential candidates who have taken up this same line of “reasoning” rather then face the fact that racism still runs like a toxic infection through the body of our nation.  I feel sorrow over the senseless deaths.  I feel rage over the actions of a certain segment or our punditry and politicians that refuses to acknowledge the legacy of America’s original sin.

Even if these so called journalists and national leaders didn’t want to grapple with these difficult issues couldn’t they have at least accepted the facts as presented by the killer himself?  Dylann Roof has confessed that he murdered these people because they were black.  Because he wanted to start a race war.  This had nothing to do with religion.  I expect the next move to avoid having to look in the mirror is to talk about mental illness.  No, Dylann Roof isn’t crazy.  He’s a racist.

Ta-Nehisi Coates has written far more eloquently and with greater knowledge then I of the history of oppression in America. Google him, read the articles. You’ll come away with a much deeper understanding of how much of our nation’s wealth was created on the backs of enslaved people.  John Stewart in a powerful monologue pointed out that not only does the confederate flag, a symbol of a rebellion launched in an effort to own human beings, still flies at the state capitol of South Carolina, that African-American citizens drive on roads named for confederate generals.  The Daily Show.

If mapping the human genome has taught us anything it’s that race is meaningless.  At the most fundamental level, in out DNA we are all the same.  We’re human beings.  Maybe someday we’ll come to accept that fact.  But not until cowards stop trying to change the subject.

And The Mad Bullet Beat Goes On

I’m still trying to wrap my head around the horrific shooting in South Carolina. As most of you know I’m not religious, but there is something particularly repugnant about a killer entering a church or a mosque or a temple to kill peaceful worshipers. And suggestions on Fox news that pastors/priests/ imams ought to be armed just shows how mad this entire discussion of guns and their place in our society has become.

Here is a portion of the President’s remarks. “At some point as a country, we have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries,”

This is a hate crime driven by racism. It had nothing to do with Christianity or religious people. This young man was targeting African-Americans. So let’s dispense with that ridiculous fig leaf.

Another interesting question has been raised by several news outlets — is South Carolina going to fly the Confederate flag that still flies over the state house at half-mast? The very thought is sickening. It’s also cognitive dissonance of the highest magnitude.

The Rabbit Problem

Today as I was working on the second space opera novel, EVIL TIMES, I was faced with the perennial science fiction problem.  What do you do about animals on alien worlds?  Or in a fantasy novel?  In my universe Old Earth is a climate change decimated hell hole.  The capital of the Solar League is on a planet called Ouranos, capital city Hisselek.  Naturally Earth animals have been brought with the settlers, but there are local fauna as well.

The problem isn’t that there are going to be native fauna, the problem is what the fuck to call them?  Do you make up an annoying name — rabbithorn — or do we assume the human settlers will just use familiar word to describe the critters?  If it fills the spot that rabbits fill on Earth why not just call it a rabbit?  Or use a foreign word — lapin or conejo or a older word like coney or hare.

I was thinking about C.J. Cherryh’s FOREIGNER series where the riding animals aren’t called horses, she uses the alien’s word mechieta for the critters.  (Except she admits she’s misspelled the word in her own novels.  Maybe just saying horse is easier).  The difference in my books is that there wasn’t an evolved race living on Ouranos before the humans arrived so I guess the humans get to call the native animals whatever they’d like.

This does mean when the books move to the worlds native to various aliens I’m going to have to come up with the Hajin, Isanjo, Tiponi Flute, Sidones words for rabbit.

*Sigh*

It’s Starting To Happen — Wheeee

I got an email from Audible who publish my Edge books as audio books.  Book three THE EDGE OF DAWN —

Is now available to order.  You can find it here:B00Z7DJTPW?source_code=AUDORWS0612159DWY&

Pavlov Meet App

My technology is training me into a conditioned response.  I downloaded this pedometer app for my IPhone, and now that I’m home in NM where it is beautiful and I’m not breathing exhaust when I go outside I have been taking a lot of long, brisk walks.  Since I don’t have a gym here I’m using free weights at home and these walks as a way to stay in shape.  I generally average around 8500 steps each day or about four miles.

But yesterday I hit 10,000 steps in one day and my phone had a party.  Suddenly there were fireworks and showers of green and gold petals falling across the screen and a message YOU DID IT!

I was suddenly filled with a sense of enormous accomplishment.  I felt good and special.  And now I have to do it again so my phone will throw another party for me.  I resented the fact I had to go to Albuquerque today for appointments and a board meeting because it meant I could only walk my usual four miles and not get the fireworks.

I welcome our robot overlords and I’m happy to know mine loves me when I walk 10,000 steps in one day.

Razor Shortage?

Okay, the stubble thing is starting to bug me.  Oliver Queen in Arrow, Mr. Reese in Person of Interest, Grant Ward and all the other pretty boys in Agents of SHIELD.

I also notice that elegant villains get to shave — Loki, Harrison Wells in The Flash,  Hannibal in Hannibal.  Most of the leaders of Hydra.  Scruffy seems to indicate you’re a low rent villain, a drug dealer or a terrorist.

Then there’s a class of good guys who get to shave.  Mr Finch in Person of Interest, Phil Coulson in AofS, Barry Allen in the Flash, Gordon and Alfred in Gotham, Captain America.

So what determines the stubble thing?  Hunks don’t shave?  Stubble = virility?  And do they make a special razor that leaves you with just the right amount of stubble?  Is it named for Yasser Arafat?

(This is where your brain goes after you’ve written six pages in one day.)

Appearances

  • August 8th 4:00 p.m.
    Book signing at Page One
  • August 12th
    7:30 p.m.
    Book signing at Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego
  • August 28th-30th
    Bubonicon
  • September 4th-7th
    DragonCon
  • September 12th 1:00 p.m.
    Autographing at New Mexico State University, Las Cruces N.M.
  • September 22nd 7:00 p.m.
    Autographing at the AZSF Reading Series, Scottsdale A.Z.
  • September 24th 7:00 P.M.
    Autographing at The Last Bookstore, Los Angeles, C.A.

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