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.

Looking for Insults in the Avengers

I have to add an addendum to my thoughts about the Avengers flick.  Apparently a lot of people are very upset about Black Widow in this film because of the scene with Bruce Banner about her inability to have children.  That is not a sexist moment.  Listen to the dialog.  She isn’t saying she’s a “monster” because she can’t have kids.  She’s saying she’s a monster because she was trained to be a killer from childhood.  She’s regretful she can’t have children because of the actions of her handlers, and there is nothing wrong with that moment.  Lots of women want to have children.  Acknowledging that fact is not sexist.  Saying or even implying that it is best and only role for women that is sexist.  This was a character moment.  We learned that Natasha would like to have had children.  That just adds to the character.  It’s not an insult.

Yes Jeremy Renner and Chris Evans did a bone headed thing during an interview calling Widow a slut.  The truth is that she has never been presented as a love interest for any of the male Avengers until this movie.  It was shaded in the first film that she’s sweet on Hawkeye, but with the added information about Clint’s personal life we can also take her concern as a woman who is worried about her best friend.

One of the things I loved about Winter Soldier was that there was no hint of romance between the Cap and Widow.  They were professionals and comrades.  There is respect and they are working toward friendship, but not romance.  Yes, she kisses him.  It’s a ploy and it shows once again that she is clever.  Just as her manipulation of Loki is one of the best moments in the first film.

The exchanges with Banner are the first time we’ve seen her be obviously interested in a man.  And there is much to admire in the man, the compassionate healer.  She lacks his essential kindness, it’s been crushed out of her so she’s attracted to that.  She also sees that they both have a dark side.  It was an interesting choice to have them toy with the idea of finding companionship with each other.

If you want to talk about sexism then you need to pull way back, and look at the superhero genre as a whole.  It’s definitely a bro kind of thing thing.   We have one woman as a member of the Avengers.  The X-Men do a bit better with a large slate of women who get to play at world saving, but slamming this movie for sexism because of this one scene is silly.

I’ve been a feminist since my youth, but when we allow ourselves to insulted by trivial things, or inject sexism where none exists then we hurt our struggle to be equal participants in society at large.

Pondering the New Avengers

I went and saw the Age of Ultron on Monday and enjoyed the sybaritic delights of the Cinepolis theater with the reclining leather seats with foot rests and full bar, gourmet food, etc. etc., and I’ve been thinking about the film ever since, but also realizing that I actually remember very little about it.  Which is a sad commentary.

Then tonight I decided to re-watch Guardians of the Galaxy.  There’s a lot more heart in this film than in the latest Avengers installment, and ultimately if a story isn’t primarily about the people overcoming obstacles both personal and in the wider world, it’s not going to work for me.

But back to Ultron.  Spader clearly had a lot of fun voicing our killer robot and Whedon had some very nice little personal moments in Ultron, but they felt squeezed between all the action sequences.  One of the stand out moments for me was when Clint’s wife points out that the Avengers need him because he is an ordinary man.  He centers the others, grounds them, reminds them why they fight.  There is power in his quiet dignity as husband and father.

All the rest of them are fundamentally damaged — Stark who is trying to both win his dead father’s approval and outshine him.  The man who faces the world with arrogance and a quip.  The Captain a man who is grieving and is lost in time, a relic.  Banner who struggles to control this violent ID creature that can undo all of his humanity and his work as a healer in one horrible moment.  Black Widow who has been twisted both physically and mentally to make her a killer.  The moments when we saw those vulnerabilities, when they actually talked to each other instead of trading quips or insults were terrific.

And I did enjoy the banter, but how many CGI fight sequences does a film need to be successful?  I’d say this one had at least two and maybe three too many action sequences.  We had the fight in the forest, the fight in the Stark building, the fight in Africa in the derelict ship, followed by the Hulk hulking out and wrecking part of a city.  Then we go back to made-up-slavic-sounding-city and have a seemingly endless battle where Hawkeye gets the best line in the movie and which I can’t help but think represented Whedon’s overall thoughts and feelings on the franchise when he says —

“The city is flying! We’re fighting an army of robots! And I have a bow and arrow! None of this makes sense!”

Will I see the next installment?  Oh probably, I’m hooked on these comic book movies and shows, but I have to say that Winter Soldier and X-Men Days of Future Past and Guardians were for me more interesting and enjoyable films.

Arrow Giggles

I love Arrow.  It is completely over the top now, but I don’t care.  Felicity is great, Ray — wonderful.  Thea — cool.  Malcomb Merlyn is my beloved Capt. Jack aka John Barrowman so I’m happy.  Diggle is the essential decent man.  I am a bit worried that Roy is gone from the show and I really liked him.  He’s very easy on the eyes too.  Actually there is just a whole lot of lovely eye candy for the ladies between Oliver, Roy, Diggle and Ray.

Here’s where I’m getting the giggles.  The League of Assassins operates out of Nanda Parbat in this hoary old building.  Now I understand it would be hard to wire the joint for electricity, but seriously, the League can’t spring for a few generators?  All the candles and fire pits are very atmospheric, but electricity is your friend.  Not only lights, but refrigerators, charge your cell phones, etc.

It was one of the things that always drove me nuts about X Files too.  Why doesn’t somebody try the light switch?

Check These Out

In case you come straight here and don’t go through the home page — Here are the new covers for my reissued Edge Series, along with the cover for the new book 3, THE EDGE OF DAWN.  So pretty and they really give folks a sense of the books.

 

 

Daredevil Part 2

I finished the final two episodes this afternoon.  There will be some spoilers in this section so if you haven’t watched the show yet you are hereby warned.  I still love the show, but here were my problems.

 

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I had loved the Ben Urich character because he was the older, wiser man to the kids.  I had been worried that he was going to come to bad end which would end up turning the character into Hollywood’s “magic negro”, and unfortunately they did just that.  I am also getting quite tired of watching a movie and knowing the sympathetic actor of color is going to die.  I half watched Pompei the other night, and yep, Jon Snow’s… er gladiator dude’s best friend ends up dying so he can escape.  At least in this one the young lovers don’t life happily ever after.  But I digress.

Karen.  I had started out caring about this character, and really liking the fact they seemed to be hooking the pretty blond up with the schlubby sidekick/best friend.  But that seemed to get erased in the season finale, and it was hinted that she and Matt would get together.  Dull.  Been there, done that, have the tee shirt.

I know Karen was supposed to be the voice of justice, but she ended up coming across as obsessed and fanatical.  I found many of her actions in the later episodes to be problematic if not down right disturbing.  Where she really lost me was the manipulation of poor Ben regarding a retirement home.  Leading him to believe this was about his beloved wife and then doing the bait and switch made me despise her.  There was the hint when she shot Wesley that there is some darkness in the lady so I’ll reserve judgment until I’ve seen more of her.  I just have to say that I lost all sympathy with the character, and really wish we had more of Claire instead.

I thought the fact that Leland, the accountant was the snake was telegraphed a little too obviously, but maybe that’s because I write these things that I had figured him for the Judas early on in the series.

I really liked the conclusion where Matt takes down Fisk, but nobody dies and Fisk is going to face judgment in a court of law.  Too often these shows devolve to redemptive violence and nothing else.  This was a very pleasant change.

Bottom line.  I can’t wait for the second season of this show.

Daredevil

I love our modern age where I can call up Netflix on my XBox 360 and start streaming their new original television series DAREDEVIL.  I adore the fact they shoot the entire season then put it up so I can gulp it down or pace myself with an episode at a time.  (I’m a gulper – 2 to 3 episodes at a sitting).

Let me count the ways I think this show is great.  The star Charlie Cox.  He caught my eye in the movie based on a Neil Gaiman novel Stardust.  He is pitch perfect as Matt Murdock.  Elden Henson is the kind, funny, befuddled best friend and law partner, Foggy Nelson.  Vondie Curtis-Hall is the voice of wisdom and age as the reporter Ben Urich.  And then there is Vincent D’Onofrio who is just killer as Wilson Fisk.  The portrayal of nobility and savagery is astounding.  One moment you find him compelling, fascinating and the next he is repellant.

The women — Rosario Dawson brings grace and courage to the role of Claire.  I was loving Karen, but that has changed.  More on that in my next post.  Wai Ching Ho is fascinating as Madam Gao and Judith Delgado as Elena show that older women can have power and strength and be interesting in their own right.  Compared to the men there are fewer women, but they are all complex, strong and interesting.

The look — it’s great.  It’s the mean streets.  It’s also visceral in its portrayal of violence, and the effects of violence.  Matt can’t just shake off a beating.  It takes time for him to heal, Claire is constantly stitching him up and he hurts.  It’s such a pleasant change from action and violence without consequences.  This is what Wild Cards should and could be with the right backers.

Puppies! — My Two Cents

I’ve hesitated to wade into this mess.  Not because I’m particularly cowardly, but because so many thoughtful people with far more stature in the field then me have very eloquently spoken out about the Hugos and the slate.  I’m speaking of course about George R.R. Martin and Connie Willis.  Here’s what I thought I could add to the discussion.

Brad Torgersen who is one of the Sad Puppies wrote the following on his webpage —

“A few decades ago, if you saw a lovely spaceship on a book cover, with a gorgeous planet in the background, you could be pretty sure you were going to get a rousing space adventure featuring starships and distant, amazing worlds. If you saw a barbarian swinging an axe? You were going to get a rousing fantasy epic with broad-chested heroes who slay monsters, and run off with beautiful women. Battle-armored interstellar jump troops shooting up alien invaders? Yup. A gritty military SF war story, where the humans defeat the odds and save the Earth. And so on, and so forth.

These days, you can’t be sure.

The book has a spaceship on the cover, but is it really going to be a story about space exploration and pioneering derring-do? Or is the story merely about racial prejudice and exploitation, with interplanetary or interstellar trappings?

There’s a sword-swinger on the cover, but is it really about knights battling dragons? Or are the dragons suddenly the good guys, and the sword-swingers are the oppressive colonizers of Dragon Land?

A planet, framed by a galactic backdrop. Could it be an actual bona fide space opera? Heroes and princesses and laser blasters? No, wait. It’s about sexism and the oppression of women.

Finally, a book with a painting of a person wearing a mechanized suit of armor! Holding a rifle! War story ahoy! Nope, wait. It’s actually about gay and transgender issues.

Or it could be about the evils of capitalism and the despotism of the wealthy.

Do you see what I am trying to say here?”

Torgersen presents these alternative stories as if they are a bad thing.  I don’t agree.  The world has changed.  People have different expectations about what is normal or accepted, and the rules have changed which means while the traditional has its place it’s not the only place where we all have to live.

We inhabit an amazing world where technology has advanced to the point that I can have a real time conversation with a person on the other side of the planet.  A person whose race and culture and gender are vastly different from mine.  Where in the words of Carl Sagen we are all living on a “small blue dot”,  “…a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam”.  Yet we’re all the same species with the same drives and loves and passions.  These are the things that bind us together.  Why we have told stories around campfires for thousands of years, familiar stories of love and loss, bravery and heroism, themes that cross every culture and transcend our differences.

While the underlying themes may be the same the solutions to these themes can differ and that’s wonderful.  It would be such a boring world if there was only chocolate ice cream or just vanilla ice cream.  How much better to have Spumoni, and raspberry, tutti frutti, butter pecan….

Science fiction is now a world wide source of entertainment from our movies to our TV shows.  Shouldn’t our prose also try to reflect this wonderful kaleidoscope of human diversity?  In fact prose is probably the best place to present this fascinating dance of differing outlooks and beliefs, to speak to and hear from people who aren’t just like us.

I think it deepens and enriches our genre when we have women, and people of color and the LGBT community, and different religions or no religions discussed and explored.

Over the years I’ve had people ask “what do you do?” and when I tell them I’m a writer their initial reaction is “oh cool”.  Then they ask what I write and when I say science fiction the reaction becomes “Oh, that’s kid stuff.  I don’t read science fiction.”  By broadening our field to include this rich symphony of different voices I think science fiction has graduated from being that “Buck Rogers, kid stuff” into a genre which is perfectly positioned to discuss big issues and the deepest human motivations in really interesting ways.

This isn’t to say there isn’t a place for some good old fashioned buckle and swash, but that shouldn’t be the entirety of our field.  Let’s not eat just vanilla ice cream or sing one kind of song.  Let’s explore all of the wonder that the minds of humans can imagine.  I see no evidence that the buckle and swash is being forced out in favor of a more diverse fiction.  The pie is getting bigger not smaller.  More books are being published.  More voices are being heard.  Today readers have an expansive feast to be enjoyed.

What I’m trying to say is none of us should be afraid.  It’s a small blue dot and because of advances in technology we have the ability to hug each other close and face the void united in our humanity and celebrating our differences.

Under the Heading — Small World

I moved from the L.A. condo into a townhouse out in Westlake Village today.  Chris Valada had recommended ABC movers, and they were terrific.  I knew when I called to book that it was Russian owned and the crew of guys who turned up were fascinating.  I bought them lunch and while we sat out on the patio and ate our cheese burgers I quizzed them.  Vlad was from Ukraine, Robert was from Russia but had been living in Georgia (not the American one), and Baha or Baja (not sure how he spells it) was from Talas in Kazakhstan.  I suspected as much because despite speaking fluent Russian he had epicanthic folds.

This is where a large section of the Wild Card book Lowball takes place, and where much of High Stakes the upcoming Wild Card book is set.  He was delighted that I had not only heard of his country, but that I knew quite a bit about it.  I showed him a section in LOWBALL where one of our villains is talking about Talas.  He was grinning from ear to ear, and when he saw mine and George’s name on the cover he was even more delighted.

When the time comes to return home to NM for good I will be using ABC.  They were not only wonderfully efficient they were very reasonable.  And with what other company would you get to discuss the Silk Road, and the politics surrounding Ukraine?

Pensive

I’m in a pensive mood today.  I’m depressed over what has happened to the Hugo awards and to Worldcon.  I haven’t really addressed the Sad/Rabid Puppy mess because when two of the most respected figures in our field — George R.R. Martin and Connie Wills — have weighed in there really isn’t much for me to say except — boys, you’re whining and it shows.

I’m also very homesick for New Mexico.  My return to L.A. was uneventful, but now I’m into a frenzy of unloading stuff at the new place, lugging really large boxes out of the storage unit, preparing for movers on Monday which means I have to pack like crazy over the weekend.  Fortunately I don’t have a lot of things in California.  Still it feel daunting.

At the new townhouse I discovered that the deadbolt catches when I try to unlock the door, and I lacked the strength to force it.  I had to call my realtor to come and get the door opened.  The sellers were so kind and left me an orchid plant and a bottle of champagne.  I’ll open it with friends once I get moved in.  Still the place seems like a set and not a home.  This was only the second time I’m seen the place.  I offered on it after seeing it once.  Have I made a mistake?  I don’t know yet.

After off loading some things I headed to the barn.  Everyone has gone to the World Cup in Las Vegas.  I was ambivalent about going, but now it feels like I’m missing the party.  I was going to ride Vento, but I couldn’t fine my saddle and by the time I had located my tack it was getting late.  It was funny when Vento heard my voice he gave a stallion “bugle”.  I’ve never heard him to that before.  All the grooms starting laughing, and said he was giving me what for and indeed he was.

After the barn I headed to the market and the storage unit, and now I’m trying to figure out where and what to eat for dinner.  The other strange thing is having no television and only my personal hotspot for internet.  I turned it off while I was away for so long, but now I’m regretting that.  I can’t even fire up the XBox because without wireless throughout the condo I can’t get to the cloud saved games.  Sometimes I think I rely on the television to fill the silence, as a surrogate for companionship.

Which bring me to the final most pensive thing.  Someone who was very dear to me has pulled away.  Even though I didn’t see him often there was this sense that he was near and available.  The ground seems shaky now that he’s gone.  I wish I could do anger better.  All I feel is sad.

Write a Script First

So I’m adapting my Edge books as a potential TV series.  There is a reason I picked a novel — in fact a series of novels — and I have George RR and the success of Game of Thrones to thank for that.  Hollywood is now eager to pick up properties based on novels, particularly novels where there are multiple books.

I’m writing the pilot now, and even if it doesn’t got as as show it’s a new writing sample for my manager which is all good.  As for using my own work — well, I have the rights to it so no options involved, and hey, if you’re going to steal, steal from yourself.

Of course I’m making a lot of adjustments.  In the novel I could have a very long conversation between my hero and the Prometheus figure, but I can’t do that in a script.  After three pages a scene starts to “creak” so I have broken up the scene and even given some of the dialog to another character.  I’m dropping bread crumbs rather than laying out the entire feast at one sitting.

And I think it’s much better then the structure in the novel.  If only I’d written this out first as a screenplay I might have seen that and doled out information in a slower and more controlled manner.  Of course THE EDGE OF REASON was my first foray back into book writing after years in Hollywood so my excuse is that I was rusty.  At least the books keep getting better when is all any writer can hope for.

Point of all this is that I am even more convinced of the efficacy of outlining first.  In a way a script is a shorthand outline of a fleshed out novel.  You do that and I think you end up with a better book at the end of the writing process.

Getting Roped In

So this is what happens when you’re friends with George R.R. Martin.  A few months ago I was home in New Mexico and stopped by the Jean Cocteau theater.  George had really urged me to come by because Sibel  Kekilli who played Shae in Game of Thrones was in town filming a segment for the French/German show Durch die Nacht or Into the Night.  It was a pleasure meeting Sibel, but the next thing I know George has me on camera and he’s urging me to tell tales about filming my pilot STAR COMMAND in Potsdam Germany and all the hilarious things that happened.

Well, the show is now available to watch so here’s a link.  I haven’t had the nerve to check it out, but some of you might want to see what George and Sibel got up to in the wild night spots of Santa Fe (just kidding they roll up the sidewalks at 9:00 p.m. in my town), and see if I embarrassed myself.

You can watch the show by going through George’s blog.  Here is the link.Into The Night via George R.R.

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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