Giving

A friend of mine is hosting an event. IF you’re in my area (Central PA) I really hope you’ll come out for The Resurrection Pact launch for Leukemia Research & Family Support event.

Saturday May 13th at the FABULOUS Cupboard Maker Books in Enola from 1 pm to 3 pm is when it all goes down!

The part I find most exciting is that I was asked to help. Here are the details:

“Welcome to your alternate life!”

This is the theme of our The Resurrection Pact book launch and signing event taking place at Cupboard Maker Books on May 13th from 1-3pm to benefit The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society of Central PA and Vickie’s Angel Foundation Both assist the greater Harrisburg area and do great work.

The theme reflects the idea of who you project into social media and virtual worlds like Facebook, free-play realms like Second Life, and online role-playing platforms such as World of Warcraft. What mask do you wear online? Are you a troll? A romantic? A super-heroic adventurer? A robot from the future? Fry Cool on Venus? Come out and show your “alt-self”!

Cupboard Maker Books has agreed to donate 50% of ALL used book sales on Saturday (open to close) split equally between LLS and Vickie’s Angel Foundation. Jay will be donating all proceeds from book sales from 1pm to 3pm. There will be auctions, some small prizes awarded, and we’ll have some special guests (to be announced). Best of all, you’ll be supporting a great cause.

Plus, The Wicked Kitchen will provide some amazing snacks for those stopping in to the event!

This event is intended to benefit the programs that help research new treatments for leukemia and also assist families and survivors pay their bills and help them in the rigorous daily challenges of supporting loved ones fighting cancer and help survivors offset the costs of returning to life after winning the toughest battle of their lives.

Come out and help support a friend and a worth cause!

Reviews

From time to time I get to post reviews of military science fiction over at MilSciFi and I’m really happy about that. I like being able to share what I thought about various works in a field I enjoy.

When I’m not writing “official” reviews over there, I post up reviews of what I’m reading over at Goodreads. I cross post a lot of my reviews from there to my blog here, but I think it’s worth being on a list like that to see the recommendations (or warnings) from friends about what’s good to read out there. I’ve posted about all this before…

The part I don’t think I’ve written about before is the fact that when I signed up I made a choice. I decided not to go backward. I hadn’t thought about that choice until a book popped up in a friends feed the other day that I remember reading years ago.

I remember this being a good book!

I used to read a ton of epic fantasy. Everything I could lay a hand on. I’ve got hundreds of books here at the house… but I haven’t gone back to list any of what I have on Goodreads. None of them, unless I read them again. There are a couple of aspects to this. First, my memories of how good something was vs. how good I would think something is now matter to me. Second, if I just listed a couple hundred books up on the site would anyone consider my “stars” relevant?

It seems like a daunting task to go back through all the shelves and list all those works. What do you think? Should I figure a good way to list all the books I have up on Goodreads or let it go? What have you done?

Persuasive

One of the things I’m working toward understanding better is how persuasive a really well written piece can be. I’ve been struggling with some of my writing lately and have thankfully had good readers and editors that have helped me get through the work.

I almost always get caught up in the idea of people reading what I write. That sounds silly since I write and publish stories and articles. Every single time I want to put anything on line, on my web site or even on my Facebook feed where it’s only family and friends I have anxiety over my word choice, my punctuation, my lack of grammatical knowledge and my own imposter syndrome issues (not that I’ve really achieved anything to have that issue, but it’s there).

I know some really excellent writers. I am frequently moved by their descriptions of their travels, words written about the works they’re doing or even something as simple as a book review. I have put more than one thing up on my “to read” list because I read a review written by somebody I know – even if it’s a book about something I have no real interest in reading about.

Letting the truth and passion behind the typing is something I’ll be working hard at. I want to be that good – and that takes practice. Maybe I’ll even get persuade people to pick up a book with one of my stories in it…

Man And Machine!

Man and MachineMan and Machine by Mike McPhail
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Right up front – one of my stories is in here. I *might* be biased in my rating.

I really did enjoy the stories in this book. There are some really good stories and very talented writers in there and I’m very happy to have the chance to share the pages with them.

I won’t give any spoilers, but there is a punch to the feelings at the end.

Go, get a copy!

View all my reviews

Your Protest May Vary

This is a republish of my article from the March issue of Watch The Skies Fanzine.

“The artist is the creator of beautiful things.
To reveal art and conceal the artist is art’s aim.”
Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

“Protesting” by pouring thousands of words onto your blog or into your Facebook driven slactavism has become so knee jerk reactionary most people don’t give it any thought. I can’t stand it. I have outrage fatigue. The number of things I see raging across my screen on a daily basis is exhausting. Instant calls to action for the slightest affront. Demands that I join your current bandwagon, even it it’s nothing I’m interested in talking about. Boycotts for things I wouldn’t buy anyway. Petitions wanting my signature despite being something I have no experience with or connection to. It’s a bit like the tiny print that flashes past at the bottom of a car commercial, you see it, but you don’t read or understand it. You go for the flashy picture and the punchy lines. If you noticed the small print or actually stopped it and read the words it would undermine the whole commercial. That’s similar to how I feel about these new, first world, so called protests. The best description I’ve ever heard for this is “The burning of the library of Alexandria by way of the Hot Topic t-shirt printing press”. Grab the easy slogan and go with it. Make a t-shirt and ‘tag’ your friends.

I’m betting that within my first couple of lines here you’ve worked up a comment or two. You’ll soon discover a reason that I am wrong then the venomous words will slide out. By the time you reach the fourth paragraph someone will be trying to figure out what I look like so that I can be burned in effigy. Ready?

There must be both accountability and separation when discussing creators and the things they make. The creation can and should be judged separately from the creator. The creator should be accountable if they take their views public, but their creations can and must be considered apart from the creator. Long, important, creative and scientific endeavors can be brought crashing down in mere moments, potentially without hearing more than a slogan. Don’t believe me? Ask Tim Hunt. Think I’m totally wrong already? Point to Milo Yiannopoulos. Both really interesting examples to discuss.

What does this mean for me? I might go and pick up (or watch or listen to) things created by people who hold political or religious views I don’t agree with when and if I find them worthy of my entertainment dollar. I think Orson Scott Card works best as my personal example. I can’t totally back away from a man so totally intertwined with science fiction as I know it. Do I want to support him? No, I really don’t. For anyone that doesn’t know, Mr. Card is a very well known author. His writing, one of his stories in particular, is the basis for the relatively recent movie Ender’s Game. His list of accomplishments is many and varied. He’s famous. He’s also directly politically opposed to certain views I hold. Personal, important things to me are the opposite of what he wants. When the movie was announced a large and vocal group of people denounced his work based on his personal views. I couldn’t say they were wrong.

In all honesty I’m still trying to figure out where the line is that separates the creator and the work. I realize my personal example is old and out of date now when it comes to protests, but the principle remains. There are no easy answers when it comes to supporting what you believe in and laying out your hard earned money to buy something you enjoy. It absolutely matters, but everyone must consider these things in their own way. The current political climate makes this an even more dangerous place to tread. There have been lots of people smarter, more creative and far more famous than I am that have covered variations on this topic. Oscar Wilde went to jail. George Orwell tried to come to grips with it. I’d rather go with a much more personal example to me because that’s how I think each person should handle their choices.

Here goes –

I am lucky to have a handful of my works published and by way of those publications get invited to attend science fiction conventions. That was actually one of my earliest stated goals as a writer. I wanted to publish enough that I would land on the guest list rather than paying my way in (thus saving me a not insignificant amount of money along the way). In achieving that goal I also learned a great deal about the nature of the industry behind the genre I love that I have taken small, faltering steps into.

I was scheduled to be part of a panel at one of the first conventions I was ever invited to be a guest at. I had very little experience sitting on the presenter side of the table. I had done some research but I was anxious about the topic being presented. I was nervous about being an unknown person sitting before a room full of people interested enough to pick this panel over another. What reason did anyone in the audience have for caring what I had to say about anything, let alone the matter at hand? The panel got rolling and the moderator kept things on a steady path. He had bounced different questions around to the other panel members, then did something I totally didn’t expect. He asked me a direct question based on what he knew of me and what he’d read about me in the convention program. I was stunned. I almost dropped the ball on answering the question because I hadn’t expected anyone to know who I was or care why I was there. I managed to use words and form complete thoughts, but I can’t for the life of me remember what the topic was. I was just blown away.

It was a vital lesson in convention panel attendance. Know who you’re going to be working with when you’re up there in front of people. I had to go and ask somebody who he was when we were done because I’d been so wrapped up in the panel topic I hadn’t remembered I was there to share things with other fans. I had forgotten how many well known people started off as fans and convention attendees. I had no idea who I was sitting with.

Turns out that person was part of the editorial staff for Intergalactic Medicine Show. Somebody working in the industry and in a position to work with writers far better known than I am took the time to look me up and know something about me. He took the time and made the effort when others I’ve met have not. He was unfalteringly polite when we all got a chance to shake hands and chat at little at the end of the panel. It was moving to know he bothered. What I found out later was that he was working directly with OSC at the time. OSC is the publisher and executive editor of Intergalactic Medicine Show. Direct connection to somebody I didn’t want to like or like anything connected to him.

I don’t want to support views directly opposed to something important to me. If I lay out my hard earned money and the person directly benefitting from that uses the money to oppose me am I implicitly helping? My problem is multifaceted. I have never personally met the man. I have heard from many others that have met him and worked with him that he is generous and helpful. I’ve enjoyed his work in the past and often refer to parts of it in discussion with my friends. My direct experience with somebody on his staff was more than positive. Going out of your way to work with somebody that doesn’t directly benefit you is a good thing – and I have since continued to encounter folks directly connected to his organization who have been unfailingly polite, helpful and welcoming. They have always been good to me. Where is the line? This is my dilemma, but it also points to the bigger picture.

I am not a scholar of history by any means but it seems to me an inverted symmetry to have OSC trashed so completely in the same manner as Oscar Wilde more than 100 years ago. Wilde was put on trial and jailed for being against the moral character of society at the time and OSC has been attacked (if not properly tried) for being the diametric opposite of Wilde. The issue remains the same – the artist is not separate from his art. The problem as I see it now is that many folks don’t look beyond that flashy image or the catchy phrase they believe states their position so clearly. Hit the like and share buttons and move on. Mission accomplished. Trial by public opinion – no facts needed.

Much like Lord Henry living vicariously through Dorian’s hedonism most people don’t really commit themselves. They rely on the voyeuristic nature of the internet to maintain a safe distance all the while denouncing everything they watch. They add a virtual voice without any personal stake.

It’s beyond time for people to take a step back and pause before launching the latest barrage of indignation at the world. Did it truly affect you? Do you have direct experience with the subject? The consequences have become much more significant these days for even the smallest missteps. The current atmosphere will kill creativity and expression and discourage others from reaching out and making a learning connection if we are not significantly more cautious. Get out from behind your screen and go talk to people. Meet some folks that aren’t your normal circle. Stretch and learn and try to see things from a new point of view.

Today the pen clearly kills more than the sword. As for me, I’m going to keep working, keep writing and continue trying to find that line separating the artist from the art. I’m going to hope I can convince people to learn to trust and see value in differences. I want people to connect and I particularly hope they do so through the filter of science fiction. I suggest everyone take a serious look at things before denouncing them. Seek out articles and opinions from many sources, not just those that agree with you. Take your time. Do your homework. Step back and consider your reaction before you launch your words out there. Remember to read the small print; your protest may vary.

EDIT:

The creator’s work, judged without his name attached seemed to do OK – see File 770.

All You Can Make Up

This article was previously published in Watch The Skies (I’ve been meaning to get it out here for a while now).

Rogue One is the latest installment of the Star Wars saga. It was the number one movie for a number of weeks. It will be remembered as a landmark film – particularly for visual effects. The effects are simply amazing. If you haven’t seen Rogue One yet, please consider yourself warned that I may spoil part of the film for you. I don’t think it’s particularly “spoilery” but some people might disagree.

Grand Moff Tarkin is in the movie.

How is that possible? I hear you ask, the actor that played his part in the original film died in 1994. It’s true. Peter Cushing, an actor with more than 130 film credits and star of many of the Hammer horror films did indeed pass away at the age of 81 back in 1994. Now, through the magic of visual effects he’s back on screen and acting again.

I’d like to tell you that was as much science fiction as the rest of the film franchise, but it’s not. We have landed firmly in a time when a person may be inserted into a picture, or a film and they don’t actually have to be there (or even alive) for that to happen. We can take footage of any person – however famous and change what their faces and voices do on screen.

Let that sink in for a moment.

If this were only about science fiction movies I don’t think it would be nearly the big deal that it is. Unfortunately the state of voice and image manipulation has reached a point where people can create an entire speech from a mere sampling of video that can be found on YouTube or from a digital creation of somebody that’s been dead for more than twenty years. There is no need for the person’s approval. There is no easy way to be certain what has been doctored and what has not been doctored. So far the people doing these things have been in the entertainment industry and have had the blessing of the actors or their estates. What if they didn’t?

I don’t want to seem alarmist about this technology. I actually like that Tarkin’s in the movie. It makes sense for the story. They had permission from the estate to do that (and presumably the estate got paid).

What if this tech was applied to a fake news story during an election cycle? What if it was applied to a public safety alert that wasn’t real? Think how people reacted to the broadcast of War of the Worlds. We have recently seen just how much money and how much influence supposed news sites can have on the average internet user. There are dozens upon dozens of stories that have no basis in fact that continue to swirl around the net. Now couple with that somebody being able to take the face swap technology and create fake news using old news conference footage and you have a recipe for a genuine disaster. Users – who might have a lower ethical standard than the folks at ILM, or who might have a specific agenda they want to push – can create anything they want and make it believable to the point of being impossible to refute without professional assistance. Want to say that Tom Cruise has admitted to being the second gunman in the Kennedy assassination? That can totally happen and the film footage and voice are becoming more and more believable. It will look like him and sound like him.

I really enjoyed Rogue One. The special effects were amazing. This will be a film that is noted in history for what it has done. My hope is that notability stays in the entertainment industry and is not the harbinger of something far more dangerous.

Go and see face swap and hear about voice additions/corrections:

https://petapixel.com/2016/03/21/face-swap-technology-getting-creepy/

https://www.engadget.com/2016/11/06/adobe-experiment-adds-words-to-recordings/

Article from Yahoo!

https://www.yahoo.com/movies/rogue-one-the-digital-grand-moff-tarkin-is-terrifying-for-all-the-wrong-reasons-203157451.html

Watch some background on making the effects happen:

http://io9.gizmodo.com/watch-how-ilm-brought-back-tarkin-and-leia-for-rogue-on-1790812003

Compared to what?

I’ve been a bit busy lately – and most of it has been the “day job”. That’s not a bad thing – being bored or slow at the day job leads to cuts… and we don’t want that.

So, less on the writing and art front – but still making cool things. This is a comparison between a render I made in the computer and what was actually built. I think we got pretty close…

The day job is on a crazy deadline over the next few weeks, but I’ll still attempt to get things out here when I can.

Pale dreaming

The Bone Season (The Bone Season, #1)The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

First – I find it annoying that this posted to the “read” shelf despite the fact that I didn’t do that. The electronic connection isn’t making me happy.

Also – the version of the book I bought had an “extra” of the prequel “The Pale Dreamer”… at the END of the book. It would have made sense to put that at the START since that’s where it is in the time line of the story. Instead, I got the history of why the folks in her gang like each other AFTER they went through the adventure of the whole previous book. That really put me off.

So, on to the book itself. I liked the style of writing. I liked the main character for the most part. She grew, learned and took on the mantle of hero when she needed to. I have issues with the romance in the story, but that’s my issue – not the story itself. I don’t like the “I hate you, but somehow that means I love you” connection with people. I file it directly next to “boys are smelly throw things at them if you like them” emotional level. Doesn’t work for me.

The world building was a little… odd? There was an awful lot going on. That wouldn’t be such a big deal except at certain points it overwhelmed the stuff I was trying to get out of the story. It was futuristic, but also had alternate history of our current time line. There were bits of UK terminology that were in there that distracted from time to time. There are a handful of little things that I found distracting.

I gave the book 3 stars, but I really think of it as a weak 3 stars. I finished the book, but I don’t see me going and looking for more.

View all my reviews

Lost Something…

Lost EverythingLost Everything by Brian Francis Slattery
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I picked this book up for a couple of reasons – and none of them appear to have been the right reasons.

The setting of this book is the area where I currently live. Descriptions of places are easy for me to picture. Things like the Market Street Bridge can be seen from my office on a daily basis. That was not nearly enough to make me enjoy the book more.

My first issue was the writing style itself. It was an odd sort of future reminiscence – almost as if somebody on the other side of this unholy disaster was looking back fondly at a time during the disaster itself. The author often skipped from current time line to flash back in the middle of a chapter because the narrator was describing things nobody in the scene could possibly have known. It was distracting and constantly kept me out of the flow of the book.

The flow… seemed to just wind along with the river and not actually go anywhere despite journeying all the way up the Susquehanna to New York. I struggled to care about any of the characters and related to none of them.

On the plus side, I did actually finish the book. The story does seem to conclude, but I couldn’t bring myself to get excited about it. I’d have trouble recommending this one.

View all my reviews

The New Year!

So here we are in the all new year – a happy, shiny, just out of the packaging 2017.

I’m pleased to say that part of the reason my posts here have been slow during the holiday season is that I am blessed with many family and friends. Part of the reason my posts here have been slow is that I have been working on things that don’t involve me being here and posting. Professionally (day job) things are moving forward toward a goal I’ve had for many, many years. It’s going to make things here slow. I’ve started moving toward finishing a lot of things that I’ve started. This should make for a very interesting year to come.

Yes it’s a convenient way to mark the time. Calendars are good like that. What it is not, is a time when I “make a resolution”. I’ve posted about this in the past. It hasn’t changed. If you want to be consistent, then what it takes is an ability to keep showing up. I have found that is one of the things I’m actually really good at. I can certainly keep showing up.

I look forward to seeing all the big things the coming year has to offer. Keep showing up. I want to hear what’s going on with you as well!