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.)

Where Did It Come From?

One of the questions over on Facebook was what was the origin of the IMPERIALS series.  It was actually a reaction to the Return of the Jedi.  Certainly an inferior film compared to the first two Star Wars (though it looks like Shakespeare compared to what followed).  But I digress.

So here we are, Victor Milan and I watching Return of the Nehi… Jedi when suddenly there’s another damn Death Star, and it’s not really only half-built, it’s a trap.  I leaned over to Vic and said, “I want to see the legislature or parliament that would authorize the funds to build another one of these despite the Emperor being all evil and shit.”  I expect the conversation went something like this.  “You want how much money after you lost the last one to a hick farmboy?  Uh, no!”

At that moment a character popped into my head.  The Chancellor of the Exchequer for a galaxy spanning empire.  The more I thought about him I realized he had a taste for exotic sex so then there was an alien girl, and a revolution, etc. etc.

I actually wrote almost all of the first Imperials novel before I realized it just wasn’t working so it went into the trunk.  (Every writer has at least one trunk novel).  But George R.R. Martin had heard me read from the novel at a convention and fell in love with the univers.

We tried to sell it as a shared world anthology a la Wild Cards, but to no avail.  That’s when I took my character from the stillborn shared world and had a million ideas about him.  I wrote several stories set in the universe and featuring Tracy and Mercedes.  They sold and then the series sold to Titan Books.  George generously gave me his character who was my character’s nemesis to use in the novels.

And that is how IMPERIALS was born.

My Process

We’ve been discussing my writing process over on Facebook, but I thought I’d move the discussion over here to the website.

These space opera books are going together differently then my other novels.  I plot very carefully, I know all the big “tent pole” scenes that need to be in a novel.  I know the little fiddly bit will occur to me as a write, but on these books I finish a chapter and have often moved several chapters beyond it when a scene will occur to me that needs to be added back into that earlier section.  So I go back and add and then adjust by moving scenes forward so the chapters don’t get to long.  By the way, this is very easy to do in Scrivener  as is adding in a new scene.

I’m not a writer who can jump forward to scenes that will come later in the book even if I know what they are.  I have to experience the journey with my characters.  Otherwise I won’t know where they are emotionally and then the writing seems forced.  But I do seem to be able to go back and flesh out earlier chapters.  It’s often not something that I need to add to a scene, but an entire new scene that I realize has to be there.  So I go back and write it.

These mad insights usually occur when I’m working out, taking a hike, riding.  Physical activity really does help power the brain.  It’s also one of the reasons that writing is so exhausting.  You never stop working as long as you’re conscious.  And even in my sleep I often dream about the characters I’m writing about.

Inquisition Second Play Through

I’ve been moving very slowly on my second play through of Inquisition.  Part of that is life intruding — a script to be written, a return to N.M., back to L.A., a move, and back home to New Mexico.  I also hit a bug that irritated me and since I’m a completest I had to go back to a save prior to the bug and get it fixed.  I couldn’t get the damn dragonologist to realize I had taken care of the White Claws and move his ass off to Skyhold.

As I mentioned earlier I did discover there were more agents to be recruited if you had the right party member with you.  You need Vivienne to get the mage at the Crossroads (or be a mage yourself apparently), you need Varric to recruit the missing scout who it turned out was having sexy time with an apostate mage.  I also managed to get a band of mercs on the Storm Coast this time because I hadn’t sold this medallion.

What struck me as I was playing last night was that this game hasn’t aroused in me that desperate need to replay that the original game awakened.  Don’t get me wrong.  I still love Inquisition, but Origins is still my favorite despite the silent protagonist, the awkward combat system, the far less elegant visuals.

I thought quite a bit about this last night as to why I was having this reaction, and I think it’s a writer’s reaction, and my own personal taste in stories.  I love stories about the isolated underdog who has to overcome the odds.  That’s really the arc of Origins — after Ostagar your character and Alistair are the only Grey Wardens in Ferelden and you are baby Grey Wardens.  You are being hunted by the crown as well as darkspawn.  You’re the ultimate underdogs.  By the end you have gathered an army, ended a civil war, etc., but for most of the game you are the outsider.

In Inquisition you are very briefly a suspected murderer, but that soon ends and then you are placed in de facto commend of the nascent Inquisition and then after Haven and the end of act one you are named Inquisitor.  From the beginning you have troops and scouts at your disposal, and then you have a mucking big castle that you proceed to repair.  A brief aside here, but I was stunned that the final confrontation with Corypheus takes place back at Haven and not at Skyhold that you have so carefully restored.  That felt like a missed opportunity.

But back to the topic — despite the hole in the sky I find that I have far less sense of jeopardy in Inquisition than I felt in Origins.  The vulnerability of my young Warden felt very real to me and evoked a real emotional reaction to the game.  I think the bug in Inquisition that has also left your companions virtually mute while you go adventuring is adding to the lack of emersion I’m feeling.  I really hope BioWare gets a patch for that, and very soon.

It was probably wise that the designers didn’t try to just remake Origins and instead had Inquisition go in a different direction.  It’s pretty clear your Inquisitor is older than your Warden in Origins and you are a commander of not only an army, but a political entity that has the power to shake thrones.  If I were the rulers of both Orlais and Ferelden I’d be worried and perhaps that is where BioWare will go with game 4.  We’ll have to see.

Again, this is not a criticism so much as an observation.  Inquisition is a great game.  For me it was far superior to Skyrim, but it has a different emphasis then Origins and for me the stakes ended up feeling smaller.  I have replayed Origins four times all the way through, and started a few other campaigns that I never finished primarily because I suck at playing mages.  I just keep dying.  😀

Just wanted to give an update on the play through.  As more things occur I’ll jot them down.

Another Hugo Nominee

Yesterday I finished reading the second book in Ann Leckie’s series, ANCILLARY SWORD.  I really enjoyed this book, and it was in this volume that her use of only the female pronoun “she” was revealed to me in all its true genius.  I was suddenly aware of a subtle bias in myself that I had hitherto been completely unaware existed.

HERE IS A SMALL SPOILER *********************BEWARE***********

One of the sub-plots is about the heir of a house or “daughter of the house” as they are called who has been preying sexually on field workers in the tea plantation.

Because everyone in Leckie’s universe is referred to as she you have no idea of the actual gender of the person unless she gives you a physical hint which she almost never does.  When the plot revealed that this character was a sexual predator I immediately assumed the character was male.  Then I discovered the victim was a young man of 16, and I realized this person demanding sexual favors by dint of their position of power could just as easily have been female.

My bias had been revealed in the most stark way, and I loved it.  It made me stop and consider societal norms and the danger of assumptions.

That’s what good, ambitious books do.  Bravo to Ann Leckie.  I’m really looking forward to the next book.

The Goblin Emperor

As I indicated on my Facebook page I really liked this book.  Primarily because it was a character study and I read for the people not for the problem.  Katherine Addison evokes the insecurities of an 18 year old who is suddenly thrust into the role of ruler when his father and half-brothers are all killed.  The elven/goblin culture is fascinating with a mix of swords and airships and there is enough touch of archaic language to ground you in the world without making it difficult to read.

There are two things in particular that I truly appreciated in this book.  The first is Maia’s acceptance that he must marry and he must marry a woman of appropriate birth and rank.  The search for a bride is handled by his secretary without any sentimentality.  Addison is willing to ignore modern conventions and attitudes when presenting her culture and the duties of a ruler.

SPOILER!!!!!!!

 

 

I also loved the fact that the big win in the book is managing to build a bridge.  That’s it.  The kingdom is not threatened by a great evil, the world isn’t about to end if Maia doesn’t get up to speed and become a warrior king.  There are threats against the emperor because he is viewed as unworthy and unprepared (which is true), but he doesn’t save himself by turning into an action hero.  In one instance he is clever  and in the other he is saved by his guard.

Ever since Thor: The Dark World I’ve become ever more disgusted with the need to ramp up the stakes to outlandish levels.  In The Dark World the Dark Elves want to destroy the whole damn universe.  So where do you go from there?  Would it be so terrible to tell a small, simple story with deeply personal stakes that doesn’t require New York, the planet, the galaxy or the universe to be threatened?

 

Mad Max Returns

Yesterday I went off to see the new Mad Max film with Len Wein and Chris Valada, her sister and son.  It gave me exactly what it promised, and I happen to really like the Mad Max movies though I realized last night that when I think Mad Max I’m really thinking about the second movie — The Road Warrior.  I often forget about the first film, Mad Max which didn’t have the sheer wonder and bizarre world that was presented in Road Warrior.

In some ways this recent film was an even more frightening look at the world.  Back in the 1970’s Road Warrior was a meditation about oil, a reaction to the recent oil embargo.  This one had much more of a general and terrifying environmental apocalypse feel with the soil “soured” as it’s phrased in the film, massive dust storms, rain that falls too fast and too hard and in the wrong places.  The marsh visual was one of the creepiest in the film for me.  And finally the lack of potable water.  Considering that we are already starting to see the result of drought — war in Syria and many countries in sub-Saharan Africa — this to me was one of the most disturbing things about the film.

It’s a fascinating script as well given that there is almost no dialog.  I’d be curious to know just how many words Tom Hardy actually uttered as Max.  Thirty?  Fifty?  It really is Furiosa’s movie and Charlize Theron’s intensity just burns off the screen.  The action was stupendous and virtually all of it practical which gave it far more power then the endless CGI battles that have become a staple of summer movies.

It was also weirdly comforting to me as regards my current book series.  I’m writing about a culture where women have once again been into very limited roles in society because of the inherent dangers involved in colonizing new planets.  I had worried that that would seem quaint today and that such a societal change could never happen (though even today there are many cultures in which women are grotesquely curtailed and oppressed).  Watching FURY ROAD just intensified my belief that when times get tough it may be that women will again only be valued for their ability to breed.  So yeah, I case the angry little Men’s Rights guys were right that this was a deeply feminist movie.  That’s one of the things that gave the film it’s power.  So deal with it, boys.

Musing on Starting a New Novel

First let me say upfront that I find starting a book to be the most difficult part of the process.  What drives that?  Stone cold fear.  Fear that I can’t possibly do this.  Fear that this will be the project that verifiably proves that I have no talent and I have just been fooling publishers, editors and readers all along.  I’m like a dog or a cat circling the pillow trying to figure out if they will lie down and in what position they will do so.  Once I type that beginning sentence and once I get to the first paragraph down I’m generally fine.

As I’m getting rolling on EVIL TIMES the second volume in my Imperials saga a couple of things have presented themselves.  First my male protagonist is a really angry guy and it’s not much fun to write him.  I feel like I’m sipping his anger and it’s affecting my mood in the real world.

Second, that the first part of this book really seems to want to be about my female protagonist which is  very different structure then I had on book one where I pretty much alternated scenes between Tracy and Mercedes.  For the moment I’m going to go with the flow and see how this works.  That’s the great thing about writing — the rewriting.  Or as I sometimes say — “I’ll fix it in post.”

This Won’t End Well

I can’t decide whether this calls for a <headdesk> or just open mouthed, gobsmacked disbelief.

youre-gonna-love-disneys-new-white-african-princess

It also falls under the who-ever-thought-this-was-a-good-idea-and-do-they-still-have-a-job? heading.

Appearances

  • Convergence
    July 2nd - 5th
  • Lecturing at the NM Institute of Mining & Technology
    July 15th
  • Book signing at Page One
    August 8th
  • Book signing at Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego
    August 15th
  • Bubonicon
    August 28th-30th
  • DragonCon
    September 4th-7th.

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