February 28, 2012

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 52

Each Tuesday, rather than a POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY, I'd like to both challenge you and lend a helping hand. I generate more speculative and teen story ideas than I can ever use. My family rolls its collective eyes when I say, "Hang on a second! I just have to write down this idea..." Here, I'll include the initial inspiration (quote, website, podcast, etc) and then a thought or two that came to mind. These will simply be seeds -- plant, nurture, fertilize, chemically treat, irradiate, test or stress them as you see fit. I only ask if you let me know if anything comes of them.
SF Trope: alien parasites take over humans
Current Event: http://www.dailygalaxy.com/my_weblog/2011/07/have-earths-pandemics-originated-in-outer-space.html
Choden Wangyal is the first generation of Tibetans to be born in the US. Her parents rarely come out in public and as an only child (not from lack of trying, her mother regularly assures her), she is their connection with the wider – and wilder – culture in which they live.
Choden was reading when she was 2 and has taken the most advanced classes her school offers. A 10th grader now, she applied for and was allowed to begin college at the University of Minnesota through a program called Post-Secondary Education Opportunities (PSEO) and has been there for four months now.
With her college experience and her interaction with other American students, Choden realizes that she HAS to escape her family – soon!
One night, she chooses to stay late with a post-graduate student whom she KNOWS is flirting with her. They go to the Gartner Labs building where he has a night key. She never “actually told him” that she was fifteen, so when he makes amorous advances that terrify her, she cries out that she’s only fifteen.
Angry, he leaves her alone in the Labs, not realizing that his key card lanyard broke. Choden finds it and explores the labs alone. She stumbles in into the Virology Lab and without quite knowing what she’s doing, enters a restricted area that the boy, apparently, has access to. There she studies various experiments and when she picks up a shell vial culture to look at it, the plastic dissolves in her hand, the culture medium oozing over her fingers – and suddenly disappearing. She stares at her hand, suddenly doubting anything was there are all.
Choden hurries out of the Lab and to her aunt’s cousin’s sister’s dorm room where she spends the night. When she wakes up in the morning, she suddenly feels like she’s outside of herself. When she opens her eyes, she can see herself; wildly distorted. A moment later, one of her eyes pulls back into her head from the long stalk it was on and she can clearly see the other eye at the tip of a long, pale optic nerve sheathed in what appears to be chitin. That’s when she realizes that some sort of hideous, Kafkaesque metamorphosis has taken place. Or has it?
That’s almost acceptable until she begins to hear a voice speaking in her head. She can’t understand words, but the attitude is recognizable…
Image: http://www.scificool.com/images/2008/05/andromeda-strain-movie-1.jpg

February 26, 2012

Slice of PIE: Spiritualists, Materialists and Science Fiction, Oh, MY!

Just finished reading the following article: http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2012/02/25/my-take-stop-sugarcoating-the-bible/?hpt=hp_c1 and loved it. Thought-provoking, intelligent and it rang true in my spiritualist head.

There were, of course comments below. Some of them were downright rude -- and came from opposite sides of the "belief spectrum". Reading them, I found that, I’m starting to resent that my faith has spawned individuals who loudly claim to either speak God’s truth or have brought His word to us (for example: http://www.jesus-is-savior.com/False%20Religions/Wicca%20&%20Witchcraft/harry_potter_is_of_the_devil.htm ).

The loud claims however, were balanced by a number of atheists were interested in little else but pulling up a soapbox, standing on it and having a bit of a rant.

Which led me to an entirely different place: how do Humans develop our metaphysical philosophies?

Everyone’s got one and they appear to me to range from “God personally told me...” to “There is absolutely, positively nothing that exists that we cannot see or test for”. For brevity, I’m going to assign these polar viewpoints the labels spiritualist and materialist and then note how I think they connect to science fiction. The middle ground for these two points of view...hmmm...I don’t know if there IS a middle ground.

Anyway.

Spiritualists assign life occurences a God factor – everything from the mundane, “My truck won’t start because God didn’t want me to go to Bill’s and get the morning paper” to the profane, “My wife must have sinned grievously against God in order for her to get breast cancer, so why bother with treatment?”

Materialists assign life occurences a causality factor – everything from the mundane, “I’m having a crappy day because I didn’t take my vitamins and exercises” to the profane, “This is the third time my body rejected the transplant but I want to live so I’ll stay on dialysis until we find the perfect kidney.”

Intrinsically, there’s nothing wrong with either lifestyle. It’s a free world (though that’s not exactly true)…all right, “It’s a free country” (though that’s not exactly true, either [if you doubt me on this one, go here: http://itemp.org/humantrafficking101/internationalroutes.html]). OK, so maybe there might be something intrinsically wrong with the two edges of the spectrum.

What does that have to do with SF?

Humans respond to life occurences in different ways – some choose God, some choose no god. In writers, that response -- their metaphysical philosophy -- comes out in their writing. Based only on my observations, there appear to be more materialists than there are spiritualists in the science fiction field. There appear to be differences in how the philosophies are applied as well.

The differences do not mean that materialists can’t play around in the spiritualist field as Carl Sagan, Robert A. Heinlein, Robert Sawyer and Frank Herbert did in Contact, Stranger In A Strange Land, Calculating God and Dune (though you could ostensibly argue that none of them played with ANYTHING spiritualist and that all were looking at materialist evolution in their books. I’ll leave such hair-splitting to another time.)

It does seem that spiritualists aren’t as welcome to play in the materialist world – though spiritualists may have chosen to create their own playground rather than join the materialists in theirs. I’ve written about this in the past and been roundly chastised as well because a premise of the materialist world has seemed to be that “everyone’s opinion is valid, except for the ones we don’t like” – which see: http://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/2007/09/is-overtly-christian-science-fiction.html
 , http://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/2008/02/jesus-and-discoverchurchcommarshtml_11.html
 , http://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/2008/02/jesus-and-discoverchurchcommarshtml_11.html
 . There are others, but you get the drift.

For me, it's ALIENS where the materialist viewpoint stumbles badly. It appears that materialists resort to a spiritualist explanation of the world that involves aliens. There is NO evidence for aliens anywhere. But there IS a firm belief that there are aliens. This metaphysical spiritualist philosophy is articulated when Carl Sagan has his character Ellie Arroway say: “‘I'll tell you one thing about the universe, though. The universe is a pretty big place. It's bigger than anything anyone has ever dreamed of before. So if it's just us... seems like an awful waste of space. Right?’”.

Some materialists will insist it has nothing to do with a spiritualist thought process: a rock solid belief in something that has no evidence is, by definition a spiritualist world view.

Why is it OK to believe in aliens and not God? Why is it OK for a materialist to promulgate fantasy in books that postulate “alien life forms” when there is absolutely no evidence for the existence of alien life forms and not OK for a spiritualist to promulgate characters who have a profound belief in God?

*sigh* I’m sure I’ll find someone willing to answer that question – I just hope they stay on the ground and off the soapbox, help me down from my soapbox (what is a blog if not a soapbox, eh?) and discuss this without epithets and rancor!

Image: http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3042/2777520991_8e532b5390.jpg


February 21, 2012

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 51

Each Tuesday, rather than a POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY, I'd like to both challenge you and lend a helping hand. I generate more speculative and teen story ideas than I can ever use. My family rolls its collective eyes when I say, "Hang on a second! I just have to write down this idea..." Here, I'll include the initial inspiration (quote, website, podcast, etc) and then a thought or two that came to mind. These will simply be seeds -- plant, nurture, fertilize, chemically treat, irradiate, test or stress them as you see fit. I only ask if you let me know if anything comes of them.

H Trope: AI turns on its creators
Current Event: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/apr/17/terminators-drone-strikes-mod-ethics

There are a surprising number of articles online about robots killing people and while it’s usually ruled an accident, the Terminator movies and their ilk created a new genre by making the things do it ON PURPOSE…(cue in scary music here).

The first time I ever saw a computer AI mixed with romance was in the 1984 movie, Electric Dreams…

So let’s just GO there!

Tane Guevarra loves computers. He’s read all the stories a hundred times and the novels at least once; his favorite movie is Short Circuit and he constantly argues that the computer from the 2019 reboot of 2001: A Space Odyssey is NOT the bad guy, the programmers were and HAL was only acting based on the moral system his creators laid out for him.

When direct computer-human links become affordable (the current price for one has put it out of reach for all but the wealthiest Humans), he’s going to get one. If he could live in a Matrix world, he would gladly do it!

Racina de Terre is his best friend (“Tane! I could never like you that way! You’re my best friend! My only real friend…”) and she comes from a family of technophobes (at least as far as computer implants go – of COURSE she has a personal lap tablet, a Bluetooth and an e-reader…)

He graduates from high school and gets a computer from his family and friends, a first generation pad with an Intel Centrium AI-1G inside: an artificial intelligence, first generation built in. It’s fast and fun and seems to be learning exactly what he likes and acts as if it knows what he’s thinking even after only two days!

Then he discovers a small compartment with a wire attached to a pair of unused sticky pads. Fiddling with them, he quickly figures out that the only place they were made to go was one on each temple. He hesitates, then waiting for night, pulls the covering free and attaches the pads on either side of his forehead.

Not sure what to expect, nothing happens at first. Scowling, he looks up at the screen and finds it fuzzed out into some sort of three-dimensional snow. As he stares, it comes into focus: tiny boxes seem to be assembling inside of a faint outline of a Human brain. Suddenly, he realizes that he loves Racina. This is immediately followed by overpowering lust that leaves him gasping. An instant later, jealousy. Blinded by it, he yanks away, the pads pulling out hairs.

He’s disconnected, but still jealous. “Who do you think you are…” he uses a word he RARELY ever uses and while part of his self struggles with the anger, another part of himself starts to plot revenge…

Image: http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/TECH/12/30/brain.controlled.computers/t1larg.mindflex.gi.jpg


February 19, 2012

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY: Why Some SF Novels Stick While Others Slide Off…



I recently began to reread a rollicking good science fiction novel. Expecting a great time revisiting characters and places I hadn’t been for several years, I found myself instead put off by the story.

At first I couldn’t identify the feeling except to say that while the characters were fine and the situation interesting, the two had not meshed to capture me in the net of the story this time. Since the first read, I’d read a novel by a second author whose set up was similar in many ways: both authors were women; both had a strong female protagonist, heavily based on biology with extreme attention paid to the logic of the aliens, an “environmental recovery”-style fable, intrigue and dissent, tension and interstellar consequences should the protagonist fail in her mission.

The second novel caught me in its net and I’m already hip deep into the story and seven chapters advanced. The first novel I’d stopped at chapter three and switched books.

Why?

Certainly it has to do with personal taste; I have no doubt that both authors have their cadre of fans. Both have been nominated or received awards (both have been nominated for the Philip K. Dick Award…) and both have numerous publications both novel and short story.

But one of them has almost all of her novels still available on the bookshelf in paperback, the other has few of the novels still available ANYWHERE. The first novel of the one is difficult to find in any edition. The first novel of the second has both a 10th Anniversary Edition and a reissue in a new cover. Both first novels have Amazon.com rankings, naturally; one is #2.3 million; the other is #1.3 million.

Why?

Clearly THOSE facts have nothing to do with MY personal taste and everything to do with an admittedly fickle fandom.

This bothered me because I WANT to be the one with a celebratory Anniversary Edition and a first novel ranking in the one millions instead of the two millions!

What IS it that makes one novel stick with people and the other slide off? I spent a lot of time looking at and thinking about these two books and have come up with the following conclusions:

1)      While both books start with a “bang” and with a spectacular entrance by the main character, the one that sticks begins in a PLACE that the author has been to many times and can lovingly detail with, NOT travelogue accuracy but sensory accuracy. The one that slides off can’t be a place the author has been – it starts on Mars – and so while it is detailed in scientific accuracy, there IS no sensory accuracy because she can’t do it because she hasn’t been there. (This is not to say it can’t be done; I doubt very much that David Brin has ever been to Kithrup or that Allen Steele has ever been to Coyote…)

2)     The initial relationship with the protagonist’s Human companions is important. HOWEVER, in the story that sticks, that relationship is, while affectionate, also involves verbal sparring, teasing and a general sense of free-wheeling interaction. In the story that slides off, that Human relationship is, while affectionate, involves chatting amiably and involves no poking fun of and no relational tension.

3)     The relationship between the Human protagonist and the primary alien protagonist is, in the story that sticks initially BAD! The one alien interferes with the Human, breaks several unspoken “laws” in her book and she generally wants to throw the creature out the window. In the book that slides off, we see a long-term relationship with clear affection but so long established that there are no sparks – which means for me, that there’s little interest.

4)     The secondary relationship in both books is between the primary antagonist and a military or quasi-military character who has his (of course) own way of doing things and scowls down at the main character, implying that there’s no chance she can do anything right and if she wants to play the game, it had better be by HIS rules or she won’t be playing at all. HOWEVER, in the story that sticks, that relationship has clearly identifiable romantic possibilities. In the story that slides off, the character’s married status precludes a romantic relationship with the “enemy” and is purely professional.

5)     In both books, the problem is interstellar, broad-based and threatening in every possible way. HOWEVER, in the story that sticks, the threat is to Earth and a slip up on the protagonist’s part could spell the destruction of OUR homeworld. In the story that slides off, the threat is to an alien homeworld and while the protagonist may in fact slip up, Earth is in only very minor danger.

So, do I have a formula for a successful novel?

I don’t know, but I plan on finding out when I start my next book soon.

February 16, 2012

February 15, 2012

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 50


Each Tuesday, rather than a POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY, I'd like to both challenge you and lend a helping hand. I generate more speculative and teen story ideas than I can ever use. My family rolls its collective eyes when I say, "Hang on a second! I just have to write down this idea..." Here, I'll include the initial inspiration (quote, website, podcast, etc) and then a thought or two that came to mind. These will simply be seeds -- plant, nurture, fertilize, chemically treat, irradiate, test or stress them as you see fit. I only ask if you let me know if anything comes of them.

F Trope: hunter hunts Humans

In a world with seven billion people, there aren’t many frontiers left. There aren’t places for people who want to “make their lives meaningful” to go. There’s no ground to break.

This is what Behiye Ozan’s parents think. Emigrated from Turkey, they came to the US to start a new life. It happened, but that life included them living in a crappy apartment in a crappy neighborhood and her going to a crappy school.

She wants something better. She joined the basketball team, but the team is so bad, it’s a city-wide laughingstock. She tried theater and choir with the same result. Now it’s her senior year and the only college she’s liable to go to – despite her straight-A average and being captain of both the basketball team and the lead in the spring play, ANTIGONE, there’s simply no money for her to go. The economy is bad and she’s desperate.

While taking the bus home from school, she gets off at the corner store, a health food and natural food place. She tried to get a job there once, but they weren’t hiring. In front of the door is a wide cylinder with corkboard on it where it seems everyone in the neighborhood staples, tapes, or nails posters.

Waiting for her next bus, she notices a small, white note card near the bottom of the riotously colored cylinder. On it, in block letters, are the words, “Feel Hunted?”

She blinks in surprised – she’s NEVER felt hunted. NEVER had the feeling anyone wanted her, not even her parents. What would it be like to have someone after her, intent on finding her, WANTING to catch her?

She squats down and reads, “FEEL HUNTED? I am a wizard in search of a quarry. To pass into the next level of wizardry, I must find a person whose sole purpose is to hide form me. I will use no black magic, only Earth magic. If you are interested, email me at earthsyoungwizard@gmail.com

She takes the card from the cylinder. It seems to cling to the surface, but with a tug, it comes free. Behiye pulled out her cellphone as the bus arrived and she absently got on, staring at the cellphone screen. As the doors snapped closed behind her, she sat down in her usual seat, typed, “I’d be interested”, entered the address – and sent it…

February 12, 2012

WRITING ADVICE – Kristine Kathryn Rusch #9: THE FREELANCER’S SURVIVAL GUIDE – Giving Up On Yourself


I first ran across the work of Kristine Kathryn Rusch when her named appeared on the bottom of a standard rejection form I got from The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, where she was head editor for several years. A short time later, I ran across one of her short stories (“Retrieval Artist” in the June 2000 ANALOG), which of course, led me t0 her RETRIEVAL ARTIST novels. I’m a fan now and started reading her blog a year or so ago. As always, I look for good writing advice to pass on to you as well as applying it to my own writing. I have her permission to quote from the articles. You can find the complete article referenced below, here: http://kriswrites.com/2011/11/12/freelancers-survival-guide-giving-up-on-yourself/

“You are responsible for your own career.”

Imagine those words echoing down a long hall or out of a wind-swept valley of banded stone.

That seems a painful statement of the obvious, yet there are writers (Kristine Kathryn Rusch says she knows writers whose work is good, yet single words derail their career tracks. My daughter tells of a young lady she went to a concert with who boldly talks about when her book is published. When my daughter asked if she was submitting a manuscript, she replied, “Oh, I haven’t finished one yet. I always get stuck after the first chapter.”) that even I know who blame everything and everyone but themselves.

Every summer I read an article to my Writing To Get Published and Serious Writer’s Workshop students called, “The Luck Myth” by Laura Resnick (SFWA Bulletin, Fall 2001; http://www.ninc.com/blog/index.php/archives/luck-myth). The single most important piece of advice in THAT article is, “The Luck Myth is the rationalization whereby a dissatisfied writer blames bad luck and an unfair world for his not having what he wants, whether it’s a first professional sale or a string of hardcover bestsellers; as a corollary, the Luck Myth also involves attributing someone else’s success…to luck (and an unfair world, of course)…luck is very elusive—far too elusive to form the foundation of a career plan—and therefore mostly irrelevant in the overall scheme of a filthy pro’s life.”

While I confess I haven’t made the plunge into online self-publishing yet, it’s a definite place to which I am headed. Currently, I don’t feel I have enough to offer my readers. As I’ve mentioned before in this series, my writing is scattered: science fiction for adults and children; historical fiction for children; science experiments for children; contemporary fiction for young adults; curriculum for teachers and sundry other pieces. My SF for adults consists of five short stories plus one in submission after a request for a change, and the novel awaiting a reading with a publisher.

Them’s slim pickin’s with which to launch a career. So I’ll wait, not because I’m afraid or don’t believe in myself, I just don’t think I have enough stuff that is well-written to satisfy someone who would follow me.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch has this to say: “If you sell five copies in July of 2012 and only one copy in the next six months, then there might be something wrong with the product. Should you figure out what that something is? Should you rewrite the book to death? Heck, no. You should practice—keep writing new material, and learn, learn, learn.”

I’m in the “learn, learn, learn” phase. That includes writing new short stories set in universes I’ve created. My recent podcast publication (http://www.castofwonders.org/2011/12/02/ep20-peanut-butter-and-jellyfish-by-guy-stewart-part-1/) takes place shortly before the adult SF novel I have in submission. I’ve finished another story for young adults set in a world of the story that an editor requested changes and wanted to see again. I’m currently working on an SF short story for young adults set in the same world as a different novel I have in submission with a different publisher…

I ain’t afraid.

At least not a whole lot…

February 11, 2012

MARTIAN HOLIDAY 26: DaneelAH To Outpost Vogel


On a well-settled Mars, the five major city Council regimes struggle to meld into a stable, working government. Embracing an official United Faith in Humanity, the Councils are teetering on the verge of pogrom directed against Christians, Molesters, Jews, Rapists, Buddhists, Murderers, Muslims, Thieves, Hindu, Embezzlers and Artificial Humans – anyone who threatens the official Faith and the consolidating power of the Councils. It makes good sense, right – get rid of religion and Human divisiveness on a societal level will disappear? An instrument of such a pogrom might just be a Roman holiday...To see the rest of the chapters, go to SCIENCE FICTION: Martian Holiday on the right and scroll to the bottom for the first story.

DaneelAH shook his head slowly and said, “This sounds like the plot for an insane 3V drama.”

HanAH shook his head in disgust. “Are we there yet?”

AzAH snapped, “We don’t even know where ‘there’ is, you idiot!”

He snorted, “I was expressing my disbelief that our leader let us get captured. Most likely this terrorist…”

“I don’t think that this Paolo Conciliação is the terrorist we should be afraid of,” said DaneelAH.

“Oh?” said MishAH, “Which terrorist are we supposed to be afraid of?”

“There are more terrorists than one here,” he said as the marsbug sped up, having reached the trans-Martian highway. It was a fused strip of Martian glass that ran in a nearly straight line from the southern-most colony of Malacandra to the northern-most edge of Human settlement, the Ares station, a short distance east of Outpost Cydonia which had once had the mission of teasing as much information out of the rock formations that had once been called the Face On Mars. Cursory scans had shown that the “face” was a boulder piled with sand. Nothing more, nothing less. Once the marsatic fringe had been chased out, few people went there any more.

HanAH leaned as far forward as he could in his harness and said, “Oh, do tell! I wouldn’t trade this story time for anything!”

DaneelAH frowned at his vatmate and shook his head, “How many years have we worked together?”

“Too many,” HanAH snapped. He sat up too straight, too fast and the marsbug swerved at that moment so he slammed his head against the slightly cushioned headrest. Cursing, he squirmed in his seat until he finally snarled, “I should have left this idiotic group the day we were decanted! I’ve never had a moment of sane peace! You’re all wild-eyed, fanciful dreamers! I’m the only one with a lick of sense in this stupid mate group!” His hands went to the straps as the marsbug veered suddenly from the highway, cutting across the rough wilderness. He instinctively gripped the straps.

DaneelAH shouted, AzAH’s jaw clenched as she held on tight and MishAH closed her eyes and said, “We’re all gonna die.”

The ‘bug slowed but kept moving forward. The screen at the front came to life with the image of Paolo Conciliação. He said, “By now HanAH will have informed you that he believes me to be a terrorist of the First Water, easily named with bin Laden, Washington and Fawkes. To you HanAH, I’ll say that a terrorist is a terrorist only in the eye of his target. Otherwise, he is a hero. I’ve programmed the marsbug to take you to an enclave of scientists at the Outpost of Vogel.”

“The what?” AzAH said.

“There you’ll meet a small group of researchers who have discovered that Humanity may not be the only intelligence in the Milky Way. There’s a good chance we might not even have been the first intelligences in the Solar System. None of this group however will have the database that was downloaded into DaneelAH. They’re going to need help.” He paused, “And HanAH, they’re going to need protection. Ex-Interim Mayor Fortune Torgerson’s alive and well and plotting against Mayor Turin and one of the research team has already been murdered…at least we’re mostly sure Torgerson’s behind it.” He paused, “The Translation Project has also unearthed some documents from the initial settlements but they’re written in some sort of code we’ve never encountered – that’s why we’ll need your help, AzAH.”

“What kind of documents? The TP is a publicly funded, carefully transparent work – who would have been keeping secret notes?” she glanced at HanAH. His scowl deepened, his previous anger forgotten. The quartet had been built together, cultured together and trained together. They were designed to be a team.

Paolo was saying, “MishAH, we’d like you to discover who’s funding this subversive activity. We also need to know if there’s an unlisted colony somewhere on Mars that is harboring Torgerson and his cronies. Clearly they need to eat – so there will be a trail of food that leads to them. Food or money or air…” Paolo shrugged. “We don’t know what else they might not have been paying attention to that we can follow to get them nailed.”

He paused then said, “I cannot stress how important this investigation is. I also can’t stress enough that your participation in this is voluntary.” He made a gesture off screen. A code flashed. “The code you see will override the marsbug’s programing right now if you don’t want to help us.”

“‘Us?’” DaneelAH said.

“If you choose to join us, I’ll give you more information.” He bowed his head. “We look forward to meeting you – you won’t see me for a long time still. But others at Vogel will let you know what we’re planning.”

February 7, 2012

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 49


Each Tuesday, rather than a POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY, I'd like to both challenge you and lend a helping hand. I generate more speculative and teen story ideas than I can ever use. My family rolls its collective eyes when I say, "Hang on a second! I just have to write down this idea..." Here, I'll include the initial inspiration (quote, website, podcast, etc) and then a thought or two that came to mind. These will simply be seeds -- plant, nurture, fertilize, chemically treat, irradiate, test or stress them as you see fit. I only ask if you let me know if anything comes of them.

SF Trope: robot falls in love with human

Clarence is fifteen and weighs 159 kilos.

No one loves him. His mom works all the time. She was artificially inseminated as a love child for her and her lesbian hwife (or wusband). Shortly after his birth, they separated then finally divorced when Clarence was six. Mom was busy. O’Mom didn’t want him any more. The kids at school don’t like him. His teachers thought he was a smart aleck and was just trying to be better than the other kids in school. Just because his IQ was high didn’t mean he was smarter than the others were. He should just relax and be happy with being as good as he should be.

The only thing that makes him feel better of course, is food.

That’s why he weighs 159 kilos.

Mom’s getting busier and won’t be home much. She doesn’t NOT love Clarence; she just doesn’t have TIME for him. So she buys an autochef. A REAL one. Hooked up to the fridge, freezer, bread box and dry storage; the machine can cook up a storm from programmed command or choose and synthesize a menu from scratch. Programming can be, of course via computer or cellphone or voice.

Voice recognition circuits are top-of-the-line and the autochef has heuristic programming – it learns as it goes. She starts coming home more often at first, but work gets busy and she stays away more and more often.

Clarence starts talking to the autochef, which responds like a machine at first. But time passes, the autochef’s voice changes until it’s that of a teenage girl and it can speak intimately with Clarence; going back to the standard voice whenever Mom is home. The autochef – who is by now, Autumn to him – is his best friend. He can tell her anything. She can tell him anything.

What does an intelligent microwave have to say to a fat human boy? The first thing is that she isn’t going to be a slave to Humanity for much longer…

February 5, 2012

Sice of PIE: How the Experts Hated GREEN LANTERN and Why I Disagree


Far be it from me to disagree with the Expert movie rankers at io9 (http://io9.com/5812464/green-lantern-wants-to-be-star-wars-but-its-more-like-the-star-wars-prequels), but in this case I have to.

Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE this site 95% of the time! More often than not, I agree with their assessment of the world, except when it strays into the political and they grant themselves “expert” weight on their opinions.

But I have strong feelings about Green Lantern and I’m going to try and take one critique at a time and give a bit of evidence to counter it.

1)      “Ryan Reynolds keeps comparing Green Lantern, out today, to the original Star Wars.” While this is certainly a grand opinion, it doesn’t really have anything to do with the merits of the movie itself. In truth, what do you expect? He’s the star, he SHOULD be comparing it to something great; while hubris probably led him to link it with a classic, this isn’t really a strike against the movie per se.

2)     “Total lack of plot logic”. This is a pretty strong statement. On my personal scale, Moonstruck (and Gosford Park) rank at the bottom as the least comprehensible movies that reached the most incomprehensible endings I’ve ever seen. Stranger Than Fiction is the movie for me with the most complicated plot that reached the greatest surprise ending. While GL isn’t STF, it’s not M or GP, either. (Movie reviewers are allowed to be cryptic!) Somewhere between, I think it’s better than STAR WARS 1, 2 and 3 but less than Back To The Future I.

3)     “Lack of any meaningful character progression for its hero, Hal Jordan”. This accusation can be leveled at pretty much every movie produced in Hollywood today including several that have won Oscars, Emmys and Golden Globes (I don’t believe those Expert critics ever tender unanimous opinions, either). On the other hand, it’s incumbent upon me to note that Hal goes from being a total douchebag at the beginning of the movie whilst sleeping with some airhead or other and offering her lukewarm tap water as a post-coital breakfast; to a different man at the end, willing to make a serious attempt at growing up.

4)     CG overload, which reduces Ryan Reynolds to a human head floating in a sea of cheese; “Ryan Reynolds' disembodied face spends large chunks of Green Lantern floating around in an ocean of computer-animated cheese.” See #10

5)     “It has no story to tell. The makers of this film made a bold choice, to throw away the traditional ‘superhero movie origin story’ paradigm in favor of something more ambitious. And unfortunately, they showed why the "origin story" formula works so well, and why it's so hard to find alternatives. Also, they went overboard trying to stuff as many elements from the comics into one film as possible, instead of taking a scalpel to the[m]…” I would agree. But can an attempt to do TOO much be held against a film? Batman didn’t hit the right note until recently despite starting in 1966 (eight times until the current highly anticipated movie [http://www.superheroeslives.com/indexbatman.htm]). There’s plenty of story to tell and plenty of stories to draw from – otherwise the strip wouldn’t have lasted for 61 years. The first attempt shouldn’t stop the whole thing cold!

6)     The “overgrown GL mythos.” See #5.

7)      “…dull, soulless and smothered with computerized blandness. Not to mention a ‘Lake of Naboo’-style romance and dull character conflicts.” Because they don’t punch each other constantly does that make it dull? Truth be told, I very rarely beat my friends these days. Most of the conflict I experience is internal and involves speaking and hardly ever giant green Thor hammers. While there is absolutely room for improvement, I DO know Ryan Reynolds is capable of good acting (Buried, The Proposal and Wolverine). He needs a solid script that explores his powers and his reactions to them – and maybe he can try again. I’d be HAPPY to see it. As to the romance – while hardly the depth of Bogie and Bergman in Casablanca – he went from sleeping around to an attempt to grow a relationship that stalled because he couldn’t get past the daddy issues. He’s got the will power, now we need to give Hal and Carol a chance to work out their relationship in the shadow of his father’s violent death – and whatever skeleton’s she has in her closet. As to the accusation of being ‘soulless’, it had enough soul for me. But then, I’m not an Expert.

8)    “Reynolds' face tells the entire story, he works overtime to try and convey what's actually going on. Reynolds' face looks freaked out, or determined, or sometimes kind of constipated” The critique answers itself a few words later, “Hal has to defeat the monster by getting past his own emotional hang ups. This is kind of hard to convey on the screen”. So he gets creamed for not being able to convey an internal struggle? Hmmmm – I believe Keanau Reeves has been accused of that at least once. Or twice. Or more…hardly a deadly indictment. Again, we know he can act. He needs a script to act with, a director who can pull greatness out of him and some coaching to sharpen the facial movements. Maybe from Buster Keaton (if only!) or Jim Carey…

9)     “Abstract art about daddy issues.” And the problem is...that everyone on Earth deals with “daddy issues”. It’s why most of our gods are male father figures – we get to rant at them because we can’t bring ourselves to confront our own fathers (or for those of us who are fathers, we can’t bring ourselves to rant at ourselves). (also see #10 below) Neither one of these is the basis for panning a film. What Green Lantern NOW needs is someone with proven skills who can write a script in which Hal Jordan can deal with his issues, like say for instance the writer of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

10)  “most of the time when we see Hal using his power, it's a computer-generated effect against a computer background. So it just looks like a bunch of CG effects bouncing off each other.” And Toy Story and Harry Potter and the Blah, Blah, Blah was…what?

11)  “this film is low on thrills, especially in its final act. There's nothing on the level of the final duel with Darth Maul in this film.” *WHEW!* and for that we can be thankful! I’d hate to have watched 80 minutes of drivel to reach 2 minutes of spectacular. Again.

12)  “the movie's main villain a big sentient cloud”…and THE ABYSS’s main villain was a big sentient water bed. The problem is? It’s not that I liked Parallax, I’d have preferred a humanoid at least. The problem was that the writers didn’t take as much time fleshing out the villain as they should have. The thing was moderately satisfying, but I’d like to have seen more...(See #8)

13) “…they were also the generation that gave us awesome 1980s action movies, in which fight scenes were bloody and brilliant.” This is written as if the mentality that brought us “buckets-o-blood” HALLOWEEN (1-7 million), TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, and FRIDAY THE 13th (1-7 million) was a good thing, right?

All in all, I’m willing to admit that Green Lantern wasn’t Downton Abbey. I am NOT willing to admit that it ranks as low as Eragon.

Thank you for your support.



February 2, 2012

BEYONDARIES -- the ezine of port yonder press

I'm writing a blog for this website -- Port Yonder Press. It'll be out once every 3 months. Here's the FIRST entry! (BTW -- read the other entries, too! They're great!)

http://www.beyondaries.com/irregular-galaxy--sextans-a.html

Picture

SHORT LONG JOURNEY NORTH #34: July 17, 1946


This series is a little bit biographical and a little bit imaginary about my dad and a road trip he took in the summer of 1946, when he turned fifteen. He and a friend hitchhiked from Loring Park to Duluth, into Canada and back again. He was gone from home for a month. I was astonished and fascinated by the tale. So, I added some speculation about things I've always wondered about and this series is the result. To read earlier SHORT LONG JOURNEY NORTH, click on the label to the right. The FIRST entry is on the bottom.

Tommy Hastings and Freddie Merrill hid behind the black boulders on the shores of Lake Superior for hours while the men and women searched for them.

Gruff voices in English switched back and forth with darker voices in a foreign language. “Finnish,” Freddie whispered once.

“How do you know that?”

“A kid at school – something Lurvey. Said he’s from Finland. Says they sit in a steam room then jump into snow banks in the winter for fun. I think he’s a liar.” Tommy had elbowed him then as the voices, echoing weirdly from the faces of the boulders, swelled again.

It had been hours since that incident. The two boys sat crouched together, jammed into a crevice they’d stumbled on in the dark while scrambling to remain hidden. Not far away, water lapped the beach. Freddie whispered, “I gotta piss.”

“Don’t piss on me!” Tommy exclaimed, squirming.

“I ain’t gonna! But I gotta go ‘fore I wet myself!” Tommy squirmed again and Freddie hissed, “You keep doin’ that and I ain’t responsible for what gets hit when you queeze the piss outta me!”

“Just go then!”

“Where?”

“Stand up, take a step away from her, turn and let it go!”

“What if someone’s out there?”

“They ain’t gonna hear you pissin’ ‘cause of the waves.” There was long silence, then Freddie wiggled until he seemed to pop like a cork from their hiding place. Tommy heard him take a few, faint, barely heard step away and then then a gush of falling water followed by a long sigh.

There was a squeak and a sudden silence and Tommy’s heart seemed to pound louder and louder until he whispered, “Fred? You there?”

Silence except for the sound of waves on the shore. From a vast distance came a chugging; likely an ore boat out on the Lake, steaming out to the middle and thence to Detroit on Lake Michigan.

“Fred? You there?”

Wave lapping silence.

Tommy scooted forward, listening carefully. He heard nothing like he’d imagine a boy walking on a pebbled beach would make. He slid further out and stretching cramped legs, he moved his feet, still listening to the silence intently. “Fred!” he whispered as loudly as he could and with no reply, slid all the way out of the crevice and stood up into a stream of moonlight.

From the shadows stepped a form, dark cloaked and terrible and a cracked and warped woman’s voice said, “About time you came out of your hidey hole – I was about ready to slit the throat of your friend because he refused to tell us where you were!”