Category Archives: SCI-FI/FANTASY

Be it resolved…

This has, without a doubt, been an absolutely terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year. Probably the worst one, evah! (The only, and I mean only, bright spot was I finally got my Masters Degree in English . . . and even that’s pending until next year when I pay for and turn in super-expensive copies of my thesis and pay the rest of my school bill — not counting, of course, student loans I need to start paying on.) The badness is butting right up to the very end of the year in the last days. There’s been serious financial difficulties; there’s been a scary person, terrorizing my private and work life because they were offended by a political opinion I expresses online; there’s been legal scares; I’ve failed to make any progress on any of my writing career goals; our beloved family pet died; and the turmoil associated with completing my previously mentioned thesis. This year can’t end soon enough.

With the coming of this completely arbitrarily demarcated new year and new decade (contrary to popular opinion, decades begin on “1” years, e.g.: 2011, not “0,” e.g.: 2010), I need to make some serious changes; I need to refocus, re-prioritize, and start anew. As someone I don’t recall said, “If you want things to be different, you must do something different.”

Part of my problem is frakkin’ Facebook. It’s an evil, evil bane on productivity and a facilitator of my getting distracted and bent-out-of-shape about subjects that, while are important, serves only to make me upset and completely unproductive in regards to what’s even more important in my life: my nascent, budding writing career that I hope to make into a viable “second job,” with aspirations of it being my main job within a couple/few years.

In addition to the craptacular events that have sideswiped me and/or made me utter a general “WTF, world? W. T. F.?!” every other week, it seems, I recently read a blog post by writer/director Kevin Smith: “SMonologue #2.” The first half he discusses “Clerks 3” and the cost/process of investing in a movie idea and making it happen. But the important bit is the last half, in which he writes:

Continue reading Be it resolved…

In space, no one can hear you Trick or Treat. Sad, really.

Ah, Halloween! Sadly, as an adult, I find October passes by much too fast with my barely able to enjoy the season before it’s gone.

But in my mind, Halloween will always evoke the memory of grade school in Westminister, Colorado: paper skeletons with brass brads for joints and bloody paper weapons taped onto their hands; lawns of dead and crackling leaves; gray skies and a chill air, sometimes with a little snow on the ground; that big, old house several blocks away with the unkempt yard and odd, metal star attached to the chimney, a house that begged to have a role in a Bradbury story with overly inquisitive kids. Halloween was my favorite holiday in the middle of my favorite season.

I don’t do much to celebrate any more, and that’s my loss and my fault. But often, when possible, at the last minute on that Halloween night, I’ll try to at least watch an appropriate film before the clock ticks into the month that begins the season for family and food. This year, I have a weekend in front of me and no thesis or papers to keep me from taking a couple evenings to enjoy the spirit of the holiday.

Here’s what I think I’m going to try watching:

“It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” is an absolute requirement, period.

“Coraline” should be a good one. We’re hoping to get the kidlet to watch that and maybe “9” (the animated film, not the musical) with us.

Then, once she’s off to bed, the pool of possibilities are: “Shaun of the Dead” (hilarious, plus Wife likes it, too); “Zombieland” (though I did already watch it again a few months ago); haven’t seen “Splice” yet (supposed to be good); “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” (hey, I liked it [despite Keanu], lay off); “Alien” (more on that in a moment); “John Carpenter’s The Thing” (haven’t seen that since I was 13); maybe “Something Wicked This Way Comes” (also been a long time, and it may be another with-the-kid movie).

Something you didn’t see in that list — slashers. I hates slashers. Ridiculous plots, horrible acting, nihilistic and pointless violence, no redeeming qualities whatsoever. With a couple exceptions: The first “Scream” was not bad, but mainly because it was the first postmodern slasher with a unique take on the genre. And I’ve seen a couple of the “Saw” movies, and while it’s nihilistic violence wrapped in a veneer of moral didacticism and life affirmation (ROTFL), the mechanized tortures remind me of the computer games “7th Guest” and “Phantasmagoria,” and the convoluted and complicated plot with looping timelines is really kind of intriguing. I’m curious to know if the clever yet highly impossible timeline coinciding-plots were planned from the beginning or have been kludged together for each film.

My favorite editor, Ellen Datlow, discusses her Halloween film pick, “Alien” on this page. Interestingly, one of my favorite SF authors, John Scalzi, dismisses “Alien” as unscary in his Filmcritic article. (While I disagree with him about its non-scariness, I have to say, I’m completely with him on why he finds the kind of film he does find scary, to be so.) I first saw “Alien” when I was about 13 or 14, and it scared the flip out of me.

(Although, not as much as seeing Kubrick’s “The Shining” did at 12. To this day, the image of Nicholson’s Jack limping through the snow with the shiny-bladed ax, chasing Danny, gives me jeebies of the heebie variety. That said, I still think Kubrick totally f-ed up what truly made the novel frightening, even more so now that I’m a husband and a father — the idea of a good man who slowly crumbles into insanity, and you’re not quite sure how much of it is within him and how much is supernatural influence. Kubrick’s “The Shining” starts out with an unhinged Jack and puts all the horror on the actions of the hotel. Even as a teen, reading Stephen King’s novel, I could understand the brilliant way he made the horror come from out of the character drama. But I’ve really digressed….)

Yeah, “Alien.” It scarded me! I’ve always realized because, even though it was sci-fi, it was entirely believable and realistic. Plus the hard SF’ness was uber-cool. But, I started watching it again a couple weeks ago, and I realized something disturbing: The script for the movie, the dialog, really sucks! Bad. Yet, the acting is superb! So natural, so believable, that they were able to take a bad script and make you believe it despite. The directing was so well-done, the pacing and mood and film-work, that it entirely enhanced the actors’ valiant effort — culminating in a truly effective film that one remembers as perfect despite the near-embarrassing script. Man, if Joss Whedon had been a script doctor back then, I can’t imagine how truly perfect it could have been. (I understand Ridley Scott is planning to make a prequel film. Note: he wasn’t involved in any of the sequels (although Joss was). I hope he gets as good of a cast as “Alien” had and even a marginally better script.)

Between that film, and OMNI magazine (hey! An Ellen Datlow degree of separation!), I’ve loved H.R. Gieger’s art ever since.

So, those’re my thoughts on Halloween at the moment. I think I might read some Poe to kiddlet this weekend. That’d be a cool tradition to start. 🙂

Leviticans

Hmm, not just repost day, but apparently it’s religion day as well here at CelticBear.

Here’s a fantastic post by wonderful SF author (and orciest of all orcs) John Scalzi.
Certainly it should be read by other non-theist humanists, but I think it must be read by Christians! (Note to the latter, afeared of its message: it’s ultimately Christian-positive.)

“In my opinion, the best thing Christians can do is recognize this group within their host — one that reads the same book, purports to follow the same teachings and alleges to worship the same Christ, but through its actions proves itself time and again to be something other than Christian. And I think Christians should ask these people: Who are you?”

Where to place the Haunted Mansion?

Haunted MansionCory Doctorow, (writer, electronic freedom activist, and Walt Disney World aficionado), Tweeted a message earlier today that I took great interest in: “This woman writes smarter, better stuff about #Disney parks than anyone I’ve ever read: http://passport2dreams.blogspot.com/“.

I read the latest post, History and the Haunted Mansion, and was blown away! It’s a perfect mix of serious and studious scholarly work worthy of any peer-reviewed journal of criticism (she quotes Frankfurt School cultural theorist Walther Benjamin for goodness’ sake!), and highly entertaining pop culture. Not that the two have to be mutually exclusive, but I’ve read articles in Science Fiction Studies that could turn fun incarnate into Sahara Desert dry.

Her analysis of the Disney Haunted Mansion attraction is absolutely fascinating in the way she explores its own history, and its pastiche of American history. Why it’s located in Liberty Square, and even its specific location in Liberty Square. She addresses a little known fact about the history of Disney’s Main Street, and discusses a fascinating take on the fluidity of time within the Haunted Mansion attraction.

Fantastic article! A must-read. I plan on devouring her previous articles.

A doubleplus good day!

And why is today, just more than half done, and beset by a major setback, such a good day?

I was able to take a 2-hour lunch which allowed me to spend a little time browsing at Barnes and Noble, pick up a paperback, and eat leisurely while reading. That’s it. That right there is a sure-fire way for me to have a great day!

I think part of it comes from back in high school, YEARS ago *pout*, when I worked at the local small town Pizza Hut. I’d get off work late at night, but the local grocery store (this was before Walmart took over) would still be open. In I’d walk and with a bit from my wad of tips money I’d buy a new paperback. There was no Web, no cell phones — I’d have to browse the backs and pick some scifi or fantasy novel that promised excitement and adventure.

Then home to my basement bedroom where I’d read ’til I fell asleep. And, nearly always, I would keep on reading the next day during all my classes, book snuggly wedged against my lap and my desk. I seriously doubt I actually fooled any of my teachers; I guess they didn’t really care. (There’s probably a reason the only AP class I had was English.)

These were halcyon days where I went through probably 3 to 5 books a week, I discovered Steven Brust and his Vlad Taltos series, and had no obligations except to speech-and-debate and to immerse myself in my passion for SF. These were good years! (Aside from, of course, the mind-crushingly angst-ridden sexual frustration, which is also probably a result of my obsession with speech/debate and reading SF.)

So today, taking this very rare time to enjoy a mid-day book-buying break and reading just for pleasure, has washed away, even if for a shirt time, all my current troubles and worries. I’ve decided I absolutely must request a 2-hour lunch once a week.

Life is too short and wonderful to find yourself mired in spirit-crushing worries and drudgeries of life! Find those little things that make you truly happy and embrace them. Celebrate them. Enjoy living!

Brust on Capital.

First, a little story:

I’ve been a huge fan of SF author Steven Brust since circa 1988 when Taltos came out. (I didn’t know at the time that was not the first in the “Vlad Taltos” series, but it worked out OK.) After becoming a fan, I discovered Brust was a self-described Trotskyist. Being in my teens, early to mid-20s, I really didn’t have any idea what that was but I knew it was somehow connected to GASP! evil Communism! One part of my brain processed this information something like, “Huh, his writing is kick-ass, he seems really cool…perhaps whatever Trotskyism is it’s either a) inconsequential to who he is, or b) it’s not some all-encompassing evilness as my culture leads me to believe.” The other half of my mind processed more like, “LA LA LA LA I’M NOT LISTENING! I SEE NOTHINK! I HEAR NOTHINK! MOVE ALONG, CITIZEN!”

So the cognitive dissonance was dealt with by ardently ignoring it.

Until around 2007 when I started grad school and my first instructor was Dr. William Burling: the most influential professor, and one of the most influential persons, I’d ever met. I had the privilege of being a student of his for three (almost four) fantastic classes. What his greatest influence on me was to introduce me to the idea of questioning culture, society, government, art, everything. Everything is, to a greater or lesser degree, either a product of or a reflector of the socio-economic base of a culture and nearly everything in the culture is in service to those who control the wealth in society. In short, Dr. Burling was a Marxist, and by the fortune of serendipity, happened to come into my life just as I was questioning political structures.

At that time I was moving from Democrat to vague libertarian. It took nearly a year of questioning and study and investigation and debate, but eventually I too became a self-described Marxist. Although I’ve barely scratched the surface still of Marxist theory.

So, at one point as Dr. Burling and I were discussing Marxist theory and SF and fantasy literature, I realized something from the long forgotten recesses of my mind… (See, I kinda stopped reading Mr. Brust’s books by this point–not because I stopped liking them, but I’d pretty much stopped reading for pleasure altogether! I am glad to say I’ve since picked pleasure reading back up and have caught back up with all of Mr. Brust’s “Taltos” books at least.) I recalled that tidbit of info about my favorite fantasy author being a Trotskyist. I asked Dr. Burling, who had introduced me to Stanley Kim Robinson, and China Miéville, and Philip K. Dick, and a Marxist outlook of William Gibson (who, now, I have no idea how you couldn’t read Gibson with a Marxist outlook! My god, the man is postmodern materialist cultural criticism up and down!) if he had read any Steven Brust. He replied, somewhat dismissively that he didn’t have time for any pleasure reading. Then I mentioned Mr. Brust was a Trotskyist and, if I recalled, wrote in a couple of his novels about a peasant uprising in his fantasy world.

Dr. Burling grabbed a pen and asked me what that name was again.

Sadly, Dr. Burling passed away a couple of years later. I never did find out if he started looking into Brust’s writing. Probably not; he was pretty busy, in addition to teaching, editing a book of essays on Kim Stanley Robinson and working with  Miéville on a book of criticism about Marxist SF. *sigh* I still feel acute sense of honor of having been able to know the man and learn from him. He changed my entire way of looking at life and I could have missed it if I’d been a couple of years too late.

Anyway, so now that I’m deep in trying to learn and understand Marxist theory, both as it applies to literature and culture, guess what my favorite Trotskyist fantasy author has started doing? He’s reading and commenting on Karl Marx’s seminal work on socio-economics, Das Kapital.* (Volume 1, I believe, which is the one Marx had worked mostly on before he died, while Engels wrote the other volumes.)

What’s really cool is that just before this he had read through and commented on Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations (arguably the father of and the manual of modern capitalism). This kicked-ass because not only did I learn something from it (unfortunately I came in rather late), it just goes to show that Brust is interested in exploring all the angles of modern socio-economics and doesn’t just surround himself with material that fits his perceptions or ideologies. That’s certainly a quality to admire and emulate.

marx-victoryI’m looking forward to reading what he has to say about the tome. And I’m very glad that one side of my brain stopped being a pest and started paying attention. Marxism is not evil, Trotskyism is not evil, communism is not evil. These are just ideas, concepts, ways of investigating and ideas are never evil. They may not be good or practical ideas, but one should never dismiss a way of thinking, a way of investigating, because authority has proclaimed it verboten, taboo, out of bounds. Question everything, especially authority. There’s a reason why they are in power, and a means by which they stay in power.

* I think he’s moving his blog over to a new location. I’ll try to update this link if I can when it happens.

Dies the Book

Book: Dies the Fire(This review originally published on my GrogMonkey blog:http://grogmonkey.org/blog/2010-01-03/dies-the-book)

As a new year’s resolution, I’m hoping to do more quick, literary themed writing, i.e.: book reviews and the like. I’ve been reading a lot of books lately (e.g.: the entire Vlad Taltos series, again) and would like to review them. (Actually, I’m in the early process of writing a scholarly paper on Steven Brust’s Dragaeran books and their use of Marxist theory.)

Anyway, here’s my first review of the year, and it’s a bit of a cheat…I didn’t finish it. I couldn’t finish it. It’s S. M. Stirling’s Dies the Fire: A Novel of the Change. It’s the first in a trilogy, which is itself the first of two trilogies (so far). The conceit is really fascinating: for some unknown reason all modern (circa last 1000 years) technology stops working: electronics, gunpowder, internal combustion. The book follows two separate groups as they deal with what’s happened, find and join with other people, and try to find a place to set up and survive. One group led by a competent ex-Marine and pilot, the other by a stereotypical red-haired Celtic music playing Wiccan and her merry band of Wiccans.

The setting is compelling and intriguing and has so much potential! But it’s utterly squandered by Stirling. This is the first book, I think, that I’ve ever intentionally put down half-way through (as opposed to just kinda forgetting about and losing interest in). To review why requires spoilers:

Continue reading Dies the Book

Lead based body painting.

OK, not quite what you may be thinking. 🙂

I started painting lead miniatures when I was around 15 I think. Had no idea what I was doing, often used enamel paints meant for model cars, they looked not too spiffy. But, it was still fun and exciting to see what was, in a way, creating 3-D art.

I got a lot better at painting miniatures, but I seem to have lost most of them over the years. Or maybe they’re still in an unpacked box somewhere. But here’s a few of them I still have around.

(Facebook readers, you’ll need to go to my actual blog post to see the pictures.)
Click image to see full size:

group a front
group a front
group a front alternate
group a front alternate
group a rear
group a rear
group b front
group b front
group b front alternate
group b front alternate
group b rear
group b rear

(Ugh, I need to learn techniques of photographing tiny painted miniatures!) Group A are D&D miniatures, and group B are from Warmachine. That’s a game I would love to get more into.

Anyway, so a recent blog post by Scott Kurtz of PvP Online comic really built up my desire to start painting minis again. It’s time consuming, but like any craft, the result of spending so much time and attention and care into something can really be worth it.

Adventures in SciFi Publishing returns!

adventuresinscifipublishing-com Picture 1Hey all, just a quick note to report that one of the podcasts I consistently listen to, “Adventures in SciFi Publishing,” is back in production!

They took an extended hiatus earlier this year, but it looks like things are back in order and they already have two new episodes out.

AISFP has had some great interviews and discusses the publishing industry (particularly, obviously, as it relates to the amorphous SF genre). Their first episode back has an interesting interview with first time published author and already Nebula Award nominee, Greg Van Eekhout, author of Norse Code.

Head over to “Adventures in SciFi Publishing” by going to this link: AISFP – 78

Enjoy! 🙂

Watchmen; better for the geek failure.

First, I have to say that now that the semester’s over, I’m going to need to start blogging more to clear out my backlog of topics. I can’t use my work PC for anything non-work related, so every once in a while I check my collection of RSS feeds on my iPhone and Instapaper it for latter blogging. Maybe if I do 3 to 5 a day I can get through them in a month. 🙂

Last meta topic: Facebook readers: this post came from my official blog; the auto-transfer to FB tends to strip any embedded images.)

watchmen-ozymandiasI finally got to see Watchmen at a 2nd run theater this weekend. (Just to get that out of the way: the sound was meh. Mediocre quality and an audio channel or two would cut out now and then. If possible, always see highly visual/auditory movies in a good theater. But, $2 to see a film in a theater isn’t a bad thing either!) And my general reaction: A-frakkin-mazing! I was totally blown away! I even had chills watching the incredible opening credits.

Chances are most people reading this will have already seen Watchmen or have decided not to. Instead of an in-depth review of the movie itself, I want to express some of my personal background and reaction to it. Hey, it’s a personal blog, after all–not a news ‘zine. 🙂

I was aware of the Watchmen comics when they first came out in the 80s, but I never read them. The covers were compelling, and even though I didn’t have comic book fan friends, I was still aware of some kind of buzz surrounding these comics. But, I never got into comics at all, really, despite my really wanting to. Once, as a kid, I had gotten a copy of Ghost Rider, and it has some action which was cool…but what it mostly has was a confusing plot that depended upon previous issues of the comic in order to understand what was going on. And that very early experience with comic books prevented me from ever really picking them up as I realized some of these comics had been going on for years! How could I possibly get involved in X-Men or Teen Titans much less any of the Super- or Bat- characters if I’d be lost without the years of backstory?

It doesn’t help that I didn’t have any comic book-loving friends (even though we were definitely geeks–we played D&D pretty much every weekend and rode our bikes to see every scifi and fantasy movie we were allowed to go to), nor any comic book shops nearby. Well, not that I knew of. I mostly grew up in suburbs of Denver, yet the only hobby store I knew of was a train and model store I’d get my model rocket parts from. I always got my D&D stuff from Waldenbooks. So…I was never given any advice in how to get into comic books in the middles. In high school I used to walk to my mom’s work after school, stopping by 7-Eleven, and I started getting The ‘Nam and Groo from the beginning, but I always saw them as pale substitutions for real comic books. (Mmm, that was also the beginning of my love for chili picante Corn Nuts!)

watchmen_rorschach1Ironically, I didn’t get into Watchmen for that reason despite the fact it was a finite story that was published over a year or two. Once I was older and realized it was a limited story, the excitement of Watchmen had turned into legend and reverence and the comics were re-issued and collections were published. I could have gotten into it then. But something else turned me off: the artwork. In my opinion, it was and still is pretty horrendous. It reminded me of Sunday comic pages. I understood by that time that Watchmen was unlike anything that had come out before. There was something about it that elevated the comic book to literature status: it was mature, it was deep, it deconstructed the super hero, it was revolutionary. But still, every time I was reminded of it and I told myself “I’m not worthy of geek status until I read Watchmen, I would look at the old style inking and terrible coloring, and couldn’t bring myself to actually read it.

And now I’m glad! Because I think the movie freakin’ blew me away exactly because of this specific condition I find myself in. For more than 25 years I knew of the cult status of Watchmen so when the trailers for the movie started coming out, I could join in the excitement of it. (And even if I knew nothing of the history and legend of Watchmen, the trailers were freakin hawsome! I got chills the first time and the 20th time I’d watch the trailers.) But since I had no early impressioned love of the content of the comic books, I could enjoy what the movie did without expectations or criticism for not sticking to the script, adding something, or leaving something out. I could enjoy the movie for what it was.

But then, I’m pretty forgiving when it comes to movie adaptations. I’m very aware of how impossible it is to translate a book to film and not have to change things in order to make a coherent and enjoyable movie. For example, I love the original Dune novel, every time I read it I get something completely new from it–it is so amazingly rich and deep. But I liked David Lynch’s movie just fine, enjoyable on its own terms, as it’s impossible to film that book. Likewise Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings was probably the best that could possibly be done and capture the themes of the novel(s) and still make a movie that would make sense, and be enjoyable. I thank goodness there was no Tom Bombadil in the film!

Since seeing Watchmen, I’ve tried to find scans of the original comic book online so I could see what the differences in dialogue may be, and honestly, from what I’ve seen, I think the movie did a better job. Some of the dialogue in the movie was a little stilted or odd sounding. Not much, though. But while most of it was word-for-word from the comic book, the movie would eliminate some dialogue that was in the original that was even worse. Almost ridiculous. From my limited experience, I think the film-makers did an amazing job keeping the best of the original. And I like the little details. For example, I noticed in the film when Rorschach was in the prison interview room, his had both hands on the table, as if he may have been required to do so, or he was ready to strike out if need be. I later saw, in that image from the original above, that you can just see his hands flat on the table.

Watchmen was an absolutely amazing film, whether you’re into super heroes or not. It was pretty violent and gross in places, but not too bad. (All the violence in this movie doesn’t even come close to the horrific two instances of violence in the French drama, Irréversible, but that really is for another blog post.) I really need to see it a couple more times before it leaves the theater. Am I getting the DVD? Hellsyeah!

SF writer Kim Stanley Robinson on social responsibility.

Last week, on Earth Day, during my university’s day-long thingie on “social development” and environmental concerns, SF author Kim Stanley Robinson spoke for a bit on social responsibility for humanity’s future. He said some great things, I took notes, he signed a book of mine and we had a very brief conversation. Here’s a summary of what he said, mostly paraphrased quotes, and a lot I’ve forgotten. I’ll try not to digress too much.

KSR is an award winning Utopian author (with a PhD) who’s written, among many other critically acclaimed works, the Mars trilogy and the “Science in the Capital” trilogy. The former is about terraforming Mars and “Utopian” society that develops there, and the latter is about the effects of global warming. In his regular life, KSR is an “American-leftist” and works for social change and climate change awareness. (He made interesting comment that when he started writing, “utopian fiction” meant writing about perfect society, nowadays it means simply society surviving. Kind of indicative of some significant social change.) His talk was in dedication to Dr. Bill Burling who he collaborated with and edited a book of critical essays about KSR. (Dr. Burling was my professor and mentor who I recently mentioned passed away.)

Alright, so, what he said:
Continue reading SF writer Kim Stanley Robinson on social responsibility.

Cheated and betrayed.

I’m listening to multi-award winning SF author Robert J. Sawyer on the SciFiDimensions podcast (I’m on my iPhone so you’ll have to google for a link), and he’s asked why so many award winning and critically aclaimed SF writers come out of Canada and the U.K. His answer: socialized health care.

There’s an addage that anyone who can spend 10,000 hours at something will become accomplished at it and can start producing quality after that. When you have socialized healthcare you can start your writing career at young age because you don’t have to worry about the cost of illness and injury. (Author and technology guru Cory Doctorow (Canadian) after living in the U.S. for many years, moved to the U.K. with his wife to start their family and has said he’ll never live anywhere again where there’s not socialized healthcare.)

Listening to Sawyer explain how socialized healthcare is the greatest gift a society could give to it’s people and the arts in particular brought up angry tears. My life since undergrad has been all about working for that “gift” of American for-profit health insurance. Every job I worked, every job I overworked, jobs I desperately wanted to leave, decisions not to work jobs I wanted more, have all been predicated on making sure my family had health insurance. My desire and drive since childhood to write has taken a back- to non-existant seat to slaving away for g–d– health insurance.

And the freakin irony is even with the generous and patriotic boon of for-profit health insurance, we’ve still had to pay thousands in medical bills and premiums and deductables. And even with god’s gift of health insurance upon the only modern nation to not have socialized healthcare, should my family become visited by a little more significant of a health issue, we could become broke, bankrupt, broken.

I’m middle-aged now, barely able to eke through the beginnings of my 10,000 writing hours, and I’ve done shitall except work 40+ hours a week as a drone at mind draining jobs for the gift of health insurance that’s STILL a financial drain on us. I fucking hate capitalism.

Final fraking BSG.

The more I think about it, the more I really dislike the final Battlestar Galactica episode. It had OK moments, but in general, it was a slap-together, haphazard, poorly thought-out, seat-of-the-pants, plot-hole riddled, bad ending to one of the greatest scifi shows of all TV/movie history. One of the best TV shows evah.

The apparent fact that they must have been just making it up as they went along, and had no idea how they were going to revolve anything until like the week before shooting the episode, seems painfully obvious.

So much of it didn’t make any sense, and most of the rest of it strains credulity. I wanted to like it so bad, because of how the series has been in general…. For example, the episodes with the final appearances of Gaiden and Dee were simply, utterly amazing. *sigh*

I miss BSG.

In honor of Bill Burling.

I think that’s the first time I’ve not written “Dr. Burling.” I’d known him since my first day of grad school three years ago and he’s had more of an impact on my life than anyone I’ve ever known, short of my wife and daughter. He was my professor, my mentor of sorts, my scholarly and philosophical model…and he died this weekend from cancer.

I actually first met him a few times at the local astronomy club before I enrolled in grad school. He was the guy who first helped my sight my new telescope in to Saturn, and that’s an incredible sight! Imagine my surprise when weeks later on my first night of English 600, I discover he’s my teacher.

And in that class I was introduced to the concept of questioning ideology. I’d been a born-again skeptic for a couple/few years before that. But Dr. Burling taught me to go even deeper and examine and question the very base of all cultural assumptions and the very concept of “common sense” and “natural law.” It was from him that I learned that “Marxism” was not a dirty word. That I learned about critical theory and cultural criticism, of Lacan and Derrida, and Adorno and Jameson. I learned in that class about the politics of academia, the ideological nature of education, and the value of scholarship. That was literally a life-changing class.

And the next two classes I’d have with him continued that incredible education. I learned that science fiction was not embarrassing genre fiction meant for geek entertainment, but had a special place in cultural criticism. I would never read sf, (which I had always loved simply as escapism but knew just subliminally that it spoke something more to me, but I didn’t know what), the same way again.

He inspired me my first year to write a paper for a conference. I did, and presented it. And would the next year thanks to him. He inspired me to write for peer-reviewed scholarly journals. I have. He gave up his time to help me write at a much higher level than I ever realized I could. He spent a collected many, many hours talking with me in office hours, after class, in e-mails, about everything from the origins of sf to underlying ideological assumptions in current politics.

He was going to have Kim Stanley Robinson, who he had been corresponding with for quite some time and had edited a book about him, come talk to the class he was teaching this semester. This would-be 4th class I would have had with him. Now, whatever synergy of Dr. Burling and Kim Robinson’s time together with us could have gifted us, is gone forever.

I learned so much from him, and I was only just beginning. There was so much more I was planning on learning from him, so much more he could have taught me. It’s a selfish loss, I know. But I’m keenly missing the lost opportunity to confer with him in my future writing and scholarship, to seek his advice and counsel, and continue to learn from him. His wit, his audacity, his brilliance, gone. I’m not ready.

He had on a few occasions called me his peer. That was the greatest honor he could have ever given me.

Dr. William Burling was fiercely intelligent, absolutely committed to his students and the subject of his expertise, dedicated to the ideals of critical thinking and learning which surpassed the confines of organized, institutional education. He inspired me, pushed and challenged me, opened my eyes and changed my life. It’s a little darker of a world without him in it.

Some graph paper, numbers and arcane abbreviations.

Since having to cancel XM Radio, I’ve been doing a lot of catching up on podcasts lately, listening to them in the car. One that I fell way behind on and have been doing some marathon listening to, is Fear The Boot–a role-playing game based podcast.

I’ve been a long time RPG’er. Since I was 8, lo some 30 years ago. Since around 2003 I’ve been a member of a local gaming group, boasting as many as 40 dues-paying members. We;ve shown up en force in local gaming conventions, have hosted our own conventions, and some of the members have been involved in regional and even national activities dealing with game and adventure design.

Well, since I started back to grad school, my involvement has gone from very active to non-existent. In fact, I think I’ve attended a game once in the last 12 months. 🙁 And I used to run games (especially Spycraft) a lot. (I had an adventure I wrote for their “living” campaign published.) Well, since listening to the gaming podcast, I’ve started to miss gaming very terribly!

But it’s also made me feel nostalgic for the halcyon days of Dungeons and Dragons and disappointed at D&D they came out with version 3.0 around 2001. D&D has become a tactical table-top minis game and really no longer puts any focus on role-playing. The rules and character attributes/features are centered around 1″ grids and power-gaming. I miss role-playing.

Now, one can make a legitimate argument that the origins of D&D are steeped in crunchy rules and tactical battle as the focus–since the game did evolve from a table-top tactical minis game back in the early 70s. But the thing is, regardless of D&D’s origins, the days of AD&D 1 and 2 tended to be imagination focused play with seat-of-the-pants rules using, and minis used just for visual enhancement. The 3.0, 3.5, and 4 rules are written with 1″ grid battlemats and appropriate minis required, while the old rules, meh.

Here’s a memory I’ve been thinking about a lot lately: I must have been about 12 years old. Maybe 13. I was still living in Denver at the time and just entered actual Boy Scouts instead of Webeloes (sp). I’d gone to this weekend long Boy Scout convention, and I remember a convention hall filled with everything from camping displays and woodcraft demos, even a rappel wall and zip-line. Booths and booths of demonstrations and how-tos. And some entertainment-based events masquerading as education of some sort. One troop had a booth with TRS80 computer running the old ASCII Star Trek battle game. Loved that! But what really got me, and got me in trouble for spending too much time there instead of helping at my own troop’s booth enough, was a group that was running D&D games all weekend long.

Now, like I said, I’d been playing D&D for around 4 years already by that time. But with the same 3 or 4 friends in my class. Using pretty much the same “red box” basic rules, then the 1st ed. AD&D core books (player’s guide, dungeon master’s guide, monster manual). Fun fun, but also a little routine. This group were gasp! honest to god teenagers! And the way they were playing, I don’t know–I recalled had some appealing and intriguing style to it. Their display table had all sorts of early D&D paraphernalia I’d never seen before in my local Waldenbooks store. And while my group had always used standard character sheets, these guys had their characters hand-written on graph paper, using only a few lines for the the important info:

Name, class, attributes (str, int, wis, dex, con, cha), the 5 saving throws, hit points and armor class, and your weapon or two with to-hit and damage bonuses. Minimalist, to the point, efficient and deadly. But, that was it in those days. And that was all that was needed in order to have a group of players imagine they’re in the middle of adventure.

It was also the first time I got a taste of culture, society with the D&D universe. Those first few years was all about dungeon crawls and amassing treasure. The monsters had no life about them, just their stats in a book. The dungeon master at this Boy Scout convention booth described a near miss by an arrow with black dyed goose feather fletchings. One of the players nodded knowingly, “all, orcs!” Wha?! A creature can have a known and persistence cultural trait beyond what’s described in the rules? No way!

And a whole new world of fantasy gaming opened up to me. Where before I sat at that table, a character consisting of a few hand-scratched stats on the table in front of me, surrounded by somewhat scary and intimidating “old kids” who were infinitely wiser and more knowledgeable than I–I was a child fiddling with a toy. After that day, my innocence was gone and I had developed a thirst for realism, verisimilitude, story and plot, rich character development. And from then on I stopped being happy being a player and I started becoming primarily, if not completely, a game master. I wanted to create these worlds and experiences and help other players see what richness can come from the imagination. I despised rules lawyering, despised power-gaming. Story and character and drama ruled above all in my games.

…and that was all made infinitely harder to promote once D&D moved to rules crafted in such a way as to demand 1″-grid table-top tactical roll-playing and encouraging min-maxing character stats and “breaking the game” rules contorting in order to get that tactical edge. Bah!

So, my exile from gaming the last 2 years has lately been mainly for lack of time, but it started with discouragement at the way D&D was being played by pretty much everyone I knew. All d20 games, even the Spycraft I really enjoyed.

Unfortunately, storytelling, role-playing focused games like Serenity (based on the Firefly series and movie) and the new Savage Worlds came out at the time grad school was getting going hard, so I never got a chance to try those to revitalize my gaming spirit.

But man, listening to these podcasts that really speak to the role-player in me, and eschew the D&D empire that rules this area, has really got me egging to get involved. Soon….

I never get tired of being inspired. The debate is old, though.

I came upon the subject through a blog entry on Skepchick:

I started watching the video apology the creationist is “forced” to give for unethically and possibly illegally invoking DMCA to try to extort a critic of his to remove his critical videos. I got bored and stopped watching it. While I’m glad justice prevails and no slimy lawyers had to get involved (no offense to my friend* who’s a lawyer; he’s a public defender and not a civil suit lawyer anyway *grin*) I get no pleasure fr0m the schadenfreude inherent in celebrating his (just) public apology.

I watched a couple of the Thunderf00t YouTube videos in which he categorically refutes the creationist VFX’s video claims, and they’re extremely well-informed, researched, reasoned, evidenced-based, etc etc yadda yadda. I don’t mean to imply the videos refuting the creationist are boring or uninspired in any way–they’re quite good (if a bit rough in the audio quality) and I would absolutely recommend them to anyone interested in the debate between empirical reality and Biblical literalism…

Thing is, it’s getting tiring to me. I’ve spent nearly eight years now actively following and reading and watching all I could get my “hands” on regarding the fight between evolution and creationism, and I feel like, not that I’ve seen it all (although I am seeing the same old creationist misunderstandings/fallacies/mistakes/lies and the same old empirical evidence/logical reasoning/evidentiary refutation fr0m the evolutionist side over and over), it’s more like I’m tired of the existence of the debate itself. It’s become obvious this will never end. It’s like digging a hole in water.

No matter how much factual evidence is out there, completely open and available to anyone and everyone who wants to bother looking for it, there’s still armies of people who are quite happy living in worlds of cognitive dissonance (I used to freak out but now I just sigh when people, like this VFX does, decry science as all ideological and full of fantasy and imagination and lies, and then use (a misapplication of) whatever scientific laws and processes is convenient for them to try to prove their creationist argument) and mythological fantasy as far as the eye can see. Change needs to be made and humanity needs to finally enter the 21st century, but the fight is wearying.

In any case, I skipped to the most recent video by Thunderf00t, and the first two-thirds and a refutation of one of VFX’s latest videos using terrible reasoning to accept micro-evolution but claim macro-evolution is “evil.” And the last third of Thunderf00t’s video, though, becomes a philosophical criticism of the concept of “eternal life” as a creation of greedy humans, as the idea of eternal life is not only horrific to sentient beings, but removes all value fr0m life! The fact that we are finite sparks of life in a vast universe gives the ultimate meaning and the greatest importance possible to life. It was a very inspiring closing and for that reason alone I highly recommend viewing it!

*Update, 11 Nov, 08: I had written there all this time, until today, “non-friend”. I have no idea how that typo happened, and I do hope if the friend in question saw that, he realizes that was a mistake. I dunno, maybe I intended to type “non-slimy friend”. 🙂

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Cory Doctorow puts the Singularity into perspective.

An interview recently released (but recorded a year ago) with writer and technoculture critic Cory Doctorow, on Reality Break podcast, has what I think is a brilliant observation about the subjectivity of contemporary issues and the concept of “the Singularity” specifically:

Science fiction is about reflecting the present not the future, so, all science fiction writers predect the present and that means they write in the style and the form of the day. And you know I think the “Singularity” right now reflects a sort of social anxiety about technical people who are slipping. You know, it’s kind of like an après moi le déluge. You know, “once Vernor Vinge can’t keep up with technological progress, technical progress will no longer be keep-upable with.” And I think there’s something to that, I think there’s this feeling that when you transition from being a bright young turk to grumpy old fart that what’s changed is the world and not you, and that the world has changed in a way that is truly wrong. My friend Jim Griffon says that “If it’s been invented before you were eighteen then you assume it’s always been there, if it’s invented before you’re thirty you assume it’s the best thing ever made, if it’s invented after you’re thirty you assume that it should be illegal.”

(He also has some great discussion on why social networking software is so addictive and how absurd end user license agreements (EULAs) are by forcing us to assume a contract by our behavior–for example, those rediculous stickers on software CD envelopes (or the notices sometimes inside the envelope) that state “by opening this envelope you agree to….”)

Anyway, I find this comment about the nostalgia for the past and the fear of the future intriguing since I’ve been spending a lot of time the last year researching the “death of science fiction” (or rather, its absorption into all genre) and having spent many brain cycles on this concept of the Singularity. It’s an idea put forward by author and scientist Vinge that posthuman technology is advancing in such a way that when humans today would be incapable to perceiving or understanding the “human” of the future, humanity will have passed through the Singularity and modern human history will be at an end. This event could be when artificial intelligence has overtaken homo-sapien and we have been relegated to a “lesser” species, or when homo-sapiens have fundamentally changed via genetic manipulation and cyber enhancement.

It’s an idea that’s gaining a lot of ground both in sf and in technoculture–but one has to wonder, does putting such a connotatively fatal demarcation seperating the two not imply fear of the advancement?

“Year Zero” may become a series.

I’m a huge Nine Inch Nails fan. I think Trent Reznor is a brilliant musician and a savvy marketer and electronic music guru. From Nine Inch Nails one can draw lines of influence to bands and performers like Filter and Tweaker and Marilyn Manson (as Reznor had something more than a minor direct influence on each of them). His mixture of sonic dissonance and noise with sublime melody and often poetically emotional lyrics and a powerful and compelling voice… amazing.

Anyway, a couple of years ago he released a concept album (previewed online for free and setting the stage for the appropriately modern and technology aware marketing of the later Ghosts albums) entitled Year Zero which looks at a world several years in the future should the current neo-con trends in politics continue. Politically charged without being so pedestrian as to refer to any actual people or events and thus forever dating itself, the message of the album is clear if subtle, and the music is varied and strong.

But one of the best things about the album was its marketing. Its release was preceded by alternate reality game type elements including Web sites which extend the story of the album, “lost” USB keys with music found in various venues, etc. I love ARGs and what they’re capable of (although fascinating, the Year Zero ARG wasn’t very huge or intricate like Halo 2’s “I Love Bees” and A.I.‘s “Beast” games).

Anyway, all that said, a limited length series based on the story of Year Zero may be in the works!

Glee!

Novel length has been achieved!

quillAs you may know I’ve been writing my master’s thesis for my English (Creative Writing) M.A. as a creative thesis–a novel. It’s based on an idea I’ve had for a few years now but never got more than five pages into it. So when I started my ENG 699 (Thesis) coursework this last Spring, I had the opportunity and drive and motivation to get off my metaphorical arse and actually get the writing going.

This last weekend I broke 50,000 words! That’s a generally accepted publisher and agent minimum for being considered a novel! (Approximately 200 mass market pages.) In my projected plotline, I feel I’m about 60, maybe 70% finished. About 90,000 words in the final project feels about right. (80,000-100K is considered the norm for novels especially from first-timers.)

I’m still behind schedule, however. I planned to have the 1st draft completed by the end of Summer, before classes start up again, and I’m not sure I’m going to reach that. I would need to write about another 76 MLA formatted pages (that whole 1-inch margins, double-spaced, Times New Roman @ 12 thing–the format style I’m using since this is first going to end up as my thesis) in the next three weeks. Not entirely impossible–I’ve written 15-page class papers over a weekend before (after having all my research already done), so in many ways this isn’t all that different. I have the overall plot mapped out in mind and this is only a 1st draft, not a polished version. I think if I force myself to work an hour a day, and then as much as I can get away with over the weekend, I can knock it out. (Cory Doctorow wrote all of Little Brother in a month, and it’s 120K words total. But then, he vowed he’d never do that ever ever again.)

“Great Opening Sentences From Science Fiction.”

Yesterday\'s digital blue.All-things-scifi Web site, io9, has a wonderful article today:

As a student of creative writing and hopeful one-day teacher of it, I’m acutely aware of how important a good first line or two is for capturing the attention of the reader, and especially the editor who’s sifting through the slush pile of submitted manuscripts for publishing.

I think my favorite opening line I’ve written so far is:

“Ash was too late to see the end of the universe; it was already dead when he woke up.”

In the comment thread for this article, commentor Timeshredder remarks:

“The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.” – William Gibson, Neuromancer.

Great line. More menacing when a television tuned to a dead channel wasn’t bright blue.

I so agree. When I first read Neuromancer when I was about…(OMG) 22 years old, I lingered over that opening line–it was poetry! It was my kind of poetry. Technopoetic. Then I read it again last year and yeah, the second thing to immediately pop into my head was an unmarred field of urgent blue. The new appearance of the “detuned” television channel creates an entirely and fundamentally new feeling to the atmosphere and tone of the novel.

Of course, as one continues reading they’ll start to appreciate the gritty urban decay Gibson was going for, which will simply conflict with and then overshadow the idea of the sky being a bright digital blue.