2049 – Special Screening

I don’t miss many Watch The Skies meetings. Getting together with my friends, spending time debating a novel we’ve read and dishing on all the latest we’ve found out about our collective interests always makes me feel better.

I was unable to attend the meeting this month. I was disappointed because we were lined up to do something we hadn’t done before, namely discuss a novel AND the movie(s) that accompanied the novel. Blade Runner was a fantastic pick for this – and I wasn’t going to be there.

I reigned in my disappointment when I found a monumental bit of coincidental timing. I was going to be out of state at a conference for work. The software company putting on this conference also happens to be the same company that makes and supports the software that many film makers use for their CG special effects shots. There was going to be a special showing of Blade Runner 2049 with a warm up talk given by the lead special effects director on the exact same night that I would have been at the meeting back home. I may have squeed a little – but it was very manly.

When that night came around I was in line for the “overflow” folks. I couldn’t get one of the few reserved seats much to my dismay. I had to stand in line and hope. Hope can be cruel. I was the next person in line to get in when they cut the line off. I was literally next up and they said “nope”. So I didn’t get to listen to the effects director then watch the show.

What I did get to do was be first in for the second run the next night. The director couldn’t be there to speak again, but I did get to see Blade Runner 2049 in the room they had set up for the showing. Then I got to go to the special “after party” set up the conference had lined up at one of the restaurants where we were staying.

I could see her in that version of LA.

I really enjoyed watching the film. It would have been an awful lot more fun to have had all my friends there to break it down with and discuss all the finer points. The party afterward had some fun aspects. All in all it was a very memorable way to “miss a meeting”. I look forward to sitting down and chatting about the finer points of the whole thing at a later date.

Until then, I will stick with being inspired by peeks behind the scenes.

Desire

You can read one of my stories for free!

I do actually still write. I know I am not nearly as prolific as many (most) of the other writers I know, but it is still something I do.

This past Wednesday the folks that came to the Watch the Skies meeting in person got a physical copy of the fanzine. I bring that up because my story Desire is published there.

IF you’re looking for a short story to read head on over to the website and check it out!

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.

Weird Moon

Chasing the MoonChasing the Moon by A. Lee Martinez
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When I started reading this book all I could think was, “This is just weird…”. IF that sells a book for you, you’ll really enjoy this one. There are a large number of odd moments that sound like they’re directly from a nightmarish subconscious or a kids cartoon – and sometimes both at the same time.

“You wouldn’t happen to have any Monopoly money on you, would you, Number Five?”
She shook her head.
“Damn. The mole lords are not going to be happy about that.”
He withdrew into his room and shut the door without another word.

I want to sum the book up in some way that’s better than that, but I don’t think I can. The level of acceptance of those things changes throughout the book, but as I think about it there really isn’t much in the way of “action” at any point. There are lots of relationships and oddness, but this feels more like a character study than anything else.

Having said all that, I like the characters and the setting was amusing. The book moved at a smooth pace and was a very quick read. It was light and fun and if you’re into odd (hearing Winona Ryder as Lydia Deetz in my head, ‘I, myself, am strange and unusual…’) then this book could be for you.

View all my reviews

Nobody

Nobody Gets the Girl (Whoosh! Bam! Pow!, #1)Nobody Gets the Girl by James Maxey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I don’t know that I would have picked this book up if it were not for WTS. I have stalled on a couple of things I’ve been reading lately but this book certainly didn’t have that issue. I bought it Thursday afternoon and had it finished by Friday afternoon. It was fast.

It actually felt like I wanted to see it as a graphic novel, not a novel. There were parts that felt like they were full page panels.

I came away from the story wondering if I liked the hero or not. I think he’s got a lot going for him, but he’s also got a lot going against him. He starts as a regular guy and ends up working with comic book style characters to “save the world” but he’s also a murderer. I look forward to a discussion about this one.

View all my reviews

Mars

The MartianThe Martian by Andy Weir
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A friend of mine said she started this book one evening and couldn’t put it down. I should have listened.

I started and finished this book this morning. I’m actually giving it 4.5 stars. It was a super fast read. There was a lot of “science” in there, but I put it in quotations because I can’t confirm any of it. You know what? I’m OK with that. It all sounded reasonably plausible to me (even the parts that I figure aren’t could work, right?). In the end this I think the science could be substituted out for any inhospitable landscape and particular level of ingenuity. Don’t get me wrong, placing the story on Mars makes this what it is but that’s just the backdrop. The really wonderful part here is the characters. They’re all people. There’s no trouble at all believing all of them as real. I totally believe this story could happen in our near future.

You know what else? I hope this and other stories of people overcoming great odds to accomplish things that move us toward outer space exploration (ahem, Apollo 13) become the sort of thing that inspires people to push for more exploration. This book was a heck of a ride. I can’t wait to see the movie.

View all my reviews

Going Off Site

This was originally published in Watch The Skies.

A couple of weeks ago Watch The Skies did something we’ve never done before. We headed off

site and set up a table at a charity event. Any other time in the past 14 years when something

was going on, people were coming to us. This was new and exciting.

The event was the Carlisle High School SciFi Saturday. This was the second annual version of

the event. I have to say, the turnout and enthusiasm was far, far more than I expected.

The CHS SciFi club was working with a number of charities raising money and donations. The

charities included Project Share, Community Aid and Furry Friends Network. They lined up a

gymnasium full of folks interested in what they had going on and laid out a whole day filled with

events.

This was a charity event, but it really seemed more like a mini convention than anything else. The

participants spanned all kinds of genres. There was a media star there (no, I’m not saying who it

was – you should show up next year and see for yourself) there were artists, costumers, authors,

editors, comic book shops, and all kinds of fun stuff. A DJ set up in one corner. I heard the theme

to Land of the Lost at one point during the day – how often do you hear that blasting from a DJs

speakers? That Game Place was set up and running game demos through the course of the day.

There was a lot going on.

The school had club members ready and willing to help carry things in and out. Everyone’s space

was laid out on a map. Set up was quick and easy. In terms of logistics, I’m not sure it could have

gone better.

WTS wasn’t actually selling anything. We were there for promotional purposes only. We donated

a couple dozen cans of food to the food drive but that wasn’t the bid deal. The big deal was that

we gave away 90 books. That’s right, we were promoting science fiction, fandom and reading by

giving away books. I believe there were a lot of folks that didn’t know how to feel about what we

were doing. Yes, for free. No, it’s wrapped up so it will be a surprise when you open it. Gave them

all away. Many thanks should be given to Jeff Young (our fearless fanzine editor) for organizing

the book collection and getting our group all set up. It was a grand success.

In all, the only thing I can say was we didn’t see enough people show up. Sure there were lots of

folks in the gym, but it would have been better if it was packed. That’s the part where you come

in. If this even runs again next year (and I suspect it will) I plan to be part of getting WTS there

and participating again. What we need is for YOU to be there. I certainly hope you will be.

Star Lord

Did We Win

This is a post of my rant that was originally published in Watch The Skies. I have edited it for print version references from the original. IF you’d like to see it in the Fanzine, check it out over at Watch The Skies!

There’s been a lot of talk over the past few years about how geek chic and other indicators show how “we’ve won” from the “nerd” point of view. “There’s all those comic book movies and that TV show with those funny nerds and just look how important computers are!”

Bullshit.

What we have is the opposite of winning in the worst ways. It’s loss of identity combined with the strip mining of things once proudly known, only to feed the masses entertainment that makes them all believe they’re one of the “neglected” or “unpopular” side of society. I hate that I feel that way, but this feeling is deep inside me and it won’t let go.

A few weeks back I read a story about a convention that was attacked. There’s no other way to put it. If the same thing happened at a hotel where a political event were happening the entire place would have been crawling with very serious looking talking heads wondering if it was another example of domestic terrorism and likely trying to tie it to the middle east somehow. If it was your local high school football game it would probably have been handled better. Instead, what we got was a supposed news person that fails to maintain professional composure and what amounts to a “human interest” story mentioned only in passing. I’m not going to revisit all the details as it really is old news. You can read some really good takes on the story here and here. This is just the latest on a long list of things that concern me about the fan community. It might seem a little crazy or perhaps over-reactive.

At one of our recent meetings I was talking about that attack among other things and the starting point, the basis, of why I feel this way. I realized a huge segment of the population doesn’t understand because they weren’t there. I mentioned something about “The Satanic Panic” and got a questioning look. No idea what I was talking about. No idea why I was upset or what in the world I was blathering on about. It stopped me short.

That moment made me think about my reaction. Is it really just me? After a great deal of introspection I thought, maybe, but it will take me a long, long time before I’m willing to speak with abandon. I keep my passion close to me and let very few others in. Deep down inside I’m still worried about reactions the way I was when I was 12. How many people will turn and walk away because I’m associated with that “devil game”? Maybe they’ll hand me a pamphlet on how to save myself. How many people who might have still been my friends were denied that because their parents bought into the hysteria of the day? How many people won’t take me seriously because my art or my writing “look like that nerdy stuff”? How many times was “that dummies game where nobody wins” talked down or belittled even though it would become a life long attachment for me? Perhaps there will be a couple more books or movies that claim a position of “factual relevance” while disparaging music and games. Forgive me if I’m hesitant to put myself out there.

Clearly it’s not that I won’t talk about my hobbies. It’s not that I will deny loving science fiction or fantasy. I spend a great deal of time reading, writing, gaming and all other manner of fan based things. I help run conventions now. I write in fanzines.

But I know my audience when I’m doing those things. I’m still in the relatively sheltered alcove where others like me hang out. It’s mostly safe. I still don’t trust people outside of fields related directly to these pursuits. The news person from the convention attack is just the highest profile, most recent version of that.

I hope that I can use this small essay as a starting point. I want to avoid my knee jerk reaction. I’d like to be positive and sharing of the things I’m most passionate about. I want to avoid becoming the stereotypical anti-social curmudgeon warding off people with random expressions of anger. I’ve tried to look for the bright side. There are positive articles out there. Stories that talk about “lifestyle” or show the “benefits” of playing like I always have. There is so much good and fun it needs to be shared.

Have we won? No, we haven’t but our hobbies and passions have never really been about winning, have they?

SYFY is Back?

This was originally published in Watch The Skies for November 2014

“If I insult you, it’s probably because you deserved it.” Harlan Ellison

Disclaimer: I don’t have cable any more. More than two and a half years ago I got fed up with another rate increase. I had just taken my second paycut in an attempt to survive a floundering economy and things looked bleak. I was forced to take a long, hard look at what cable television programming had to offer me and that programming came up wanting. Choice made, cable cut. While the seperation was difficult, I believe much like dropping a dangerous addiction, I don’t miss it.

I have stated many times that I am a fan first and foremost when it comes to all things science fiction and fantasy. One of the things I enjoyed when I had cable was the channel where those things I loved could call home. Then came a number of very poor choices from that channel, not the least of those being professional wrestling. While professional wrestling is fiction of a sort it fails to meet the criteria for science fiction on every front. I spent a great deal of time bashing and despariging the network that once gave me a weekly dose of crumudgeon (and I still miss those rants). I was not alone.

While the channel carrying the name of my beloved genre was busy trying to shed the loyal fan base the entertainment, the core, the very shows that should have lived there dashed off to other channels where they met with wild success. There are now far more popular genre television shows on other channels as there are on the network that claims them, if only in title. There were a number of failed experiments in genre programs that I would have thought should have been on a channel dedicated to science fiction. It should have all been on a channel dedicated to science fiction. Reaching out and trying to attain something is vital. Own the subject, good, bad or indifferent. The channel didn’t, it ran and hid. It was, and is frustrating. The experiments, the thought provoking stories wrapped around circumstances not of this world were popping up anyplace other than “home”.

Giving credit where credit is due, the channel I have often compared to a sexually transmitted disease now seems to be owning the error of their ways. A recent article published by EW gives some insight into how things will work going forward and gets the new head of original programming Bill McGoldrick to answer some of these criticisms. The article is full of hope and positive, forward thinking statements.

“I think now it’s about giving our audience some fresh stuff.” Mr. McGoldrick said. He gave out some thoughts on where the channel has been and where he sees things going. I’m intrigued by what he has to say. I like the idea that the channel dedicated to science fiction will be heading back to outer space. The mini series Ascension looks like it could be absolutely fascinating. The other thing it is? Most importantly it’s not like other things that are on right now. The things that do the best, the ones that get the highest ratings or score the biggest returns are the things that give a story that’s different than what’s out there. I don’t want another procedural. I want compelling story telling.

They talk a good talk, but can they walk that good walk or are they just walking dead? I look forward to finding out.

http://insidetv.ew.com/2014/10/28/syfy/ The EW article is worth the read.

Old News?

On the off chance that I catch a reader here that isn’t connected to me via Watch The Skies where I posted this originally – how original is Hollywood?

Hollywood is unoriginal. Shocking to hear I’m sure. Somebody’s gone and done a study to try to back that up. I linked it below, but I question how the whole thing is broken down, grouped and quantified. I’m not opposed to a movie based on a book (or comic) if it’s something that hasn’t been done 3 times before (rebooting Spiderman again anyone?). I’ve got something all written up and ready to take on SyFy for this month’s Watch The Skies Fanzine, but I saw this and thought I’d see what others had to say on the subject a little ahead of this month’s meeting…

Study