Wednesday, November 30, 2005
Tuesday, November 29, 2005
A Question of Gravity
What I've been wrestling with the last few weeks (and, arguably, on-and-off since March) is the question of gravity. One of these ships, the Further, is central to a Big Time Space Opera. It's far future, post-Singularity, all kinds of wackiness abounding. And it'll have an FTL drive ("underspace impellers," to be precise), which already means that I've stepped off of the beam as far as rigorous science goes. But I keep coming back to the question of gravity. In other stories, I've gone to great lengths to be as realistic about space travel as possible, so no "gravity generators," no "gravitic plating," none of that. If spacefarers want gravity, they have to make their own through the magic of centrifugal force.
In my more "mundane" stories (or Mundane, if you prefer), this works just fine. In fact, it's part of what makes the environment work. But in this big, wacky, galaxy-hopping post-Singularity Space Opera, I can't help thinking that it might be easier to bend, just a bit further, and allow for some sort of magic technology to generate gravitation fields in the crew sections of the ship. Then I wouldn't have to worry about angular momentums, and precession, and rotational velocity, and Coriolis effects, or any of that business. I can just say, "The gravity in the crew quarters was kept at a steady .8 g's at all times, Captain's orders, so long as the power supply held out." Or something like that, at any rate.
I don't know. This is honestly keeping me up nights. How sad does that make me, honestly? I really want to just bite the bullet and include magic gravity on the Further, but I can't help feeling that it'd be some sort of betrayal to do so.
Honestly, I often think there's something wrong with me.
Monday, November 28, 2005
Sunday, November 27, 2005
The Losers' Club
Saturday, November 26, 2005
Lost a Wheel
Thursday, November 24, 2005
I hope that, whoever you are, you've got something to be thankful for this year, and that your reasons to give thanks increase in the coming year.
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
Monday, November 21, 2005
C.S.A. The Movie
Saturday, November 19, 2005
When I was in junior high school, the controller to my Atari 2600 was practically embedded in my hands. I wasted countless, long hours on Combat, and Missile Command, and Asteroids, and god knows how many others. And then, when I was twelve, the games started arriving in stores with these swell little comic books in the boxes, done by the same folks responsible for the DC comics I bought every week (Gerry Conway, Roy Thomas, George Perez, Ross Andru, et al.). The games themselves were no better than the ones I'd been playing (and were worse, in many cases), but these came with free comics! And the comics themselves weren't half bad.
There was Atari Force, all about a group of multi-ethnic explorers who travel the multiverse in a vessel called Scanner One, controlled by the Atari 8000, "the most advanced cybernetic 'brain' ever designed." Or something like that. And there was SwordQuest, which was a full-on sword and sorcery plot-coupon quest, with gorgeous art by George Perez and Dick Giordano, that somehow tied into a larger puzzle competition and sweepstakes that I never really understood (though I used to covet the gold, jewel-encrusted prizes pictured on the contest entry forms, hungrily).
I used to have a couple of those old mini-comics, that had somehow survived the years and any number of cross country moves, but I dont' think I've seen them since several moves back. I'd all but forgotten about them entirely, to be honest, until I stumbled across that link this morning.
Now, thanks to the wonders of the internet (thank you, o internet), I get to read all of those comics again. (And read the installments packaged with games my parents never bought!) I suppose, if I really wanted to do so, I could track down an Atari PC emulator and the roms for all of those old games, too. But I somehow doubt that the games will have stood the test of time as well as the comics might have done.
Check out this site for everything you would ever want to know about SwordQuest in exhaustive detail. And here is a FAQ about the ongoing DC series which spun out of the Atari Force minicomics, written by Gerry Conway and with art by Jose Garcia-Lopez (which I seem to recall was a pretty good science fiction series, at least for its time).
Me, I'm off to read some twenty-three year old Atari comics!
Friday, November 18, 2005
There are two kinds of people: Batman-people and Superman-people (well, I'm sure there must be those who are neither, but who has time for them?). I have two friends (for the sake of convenience, let's call them "John Picacio" and "Lou Anders") who are Batman-people. When the trailers for Batman Begins first started airing, they wouldn't shut up about it, analyzing the things frame by frame, debating the relative merits of casting, costume, lighting and score. My response was a measured, "Looks interesting, I'll go see it." The movie opens, it was good, I had no complaints. I even went to watch it a second time when Jim Minz came to town (who, having an actual job and a baby at home hadn't had a chance to see it yet, poor bastard). But they wouldn't stop going on about it. (Don't believe me? See for yourself.)
Now, it's my turn. I'm Superman-people, people. I see a guy in a red cape, hovering in low-Earth orbit above a city at night, before swooshing off in a blur of blue and red, and all I can say is "Fuck yeah!" Look, I'm enough of a Superman fan that I suffered through the entire fourth season of Smallville, for which I should have received hazard pay. And watched most of the first season of Krypto the Superdog, for fuck's sake. Between now and next summer, I'll have ample opportunity to go on at length about casting, costumes, lighting, and score. I'll bore them silly, comparing and contrasting this new incarnation of the character with the old Fleischer animated shorts, the Donner film, the Bruce Timm-Paul Dini Adventures of Superman, the best executed of the comics (inarguably the all-too-rare Alan Moore "pre-Crisis" Superman stories, though the new Grant Morrison-Frank Quitely All Star Superman promises to be the ur-Superman text we've been waiting for, all these years), the character's origin as portrayed in Smallville compared and contrasted to the recent Superman:Birthright ... As I said, now it's my turn.
If you'll excuse me, I'm off to watch the trailer again.
Thursday, November 17, 2005
Doctor Who "mini-episode" online
"The BBC's website for the Children In Need charity event notes that the special Doctor Who mini-episode being broadcast on Friday 18 November after 9pm will be available for viewing on the web for an undefined period at this website starting the same evening at 9:30pm. There is currently a trailer available on the website."I know where I'm going to be tomorrow night (or tomorrow afternoon, I suppose, since these times are presumably GMT).
Another New Adventure Review
Wednesday, November 16, 2005
Arise, Citizen Journalist!
"The new era of citizen journalism—inspired by the proliferation of ICTs—is only just beginning.
It represents an open moment for free flow of information and good journalism: if we seize the moment, it can help us to reclaim the public interest that has been sidelined or forgotten by most sections of commercialised media."
Tuesday, November 15, 2005
New Adventure Review
"In the spirit of early-20th-century pulp magazines, Adventure is the debut volume of an annual anthology of original fiction that will feature, according to editor Chris Roberson, stories from all genres with the common thread of literary sophistication, pulse-pounding action, and unadulterated adventure. Featured in this collection's inaugural offering are 17 wide-ranging works by some of the biggest names in speculative fiction, including Michael Moorcock, Mike Resnick, Kage Baker, Paul Di Filippo, Neal Asher, and John Meaney.
Di Filippo's 'Eel Pie Stall' is an after-death adventure chronicling a dead woman's passage through the bardo -- a Tibetan term referring to the surreal realm that a soul inhabits between lives -- and her unlikely enlightenment. In 'The Island of Annoyed Souls,' Resnick continues the continent-hopping adventures of Right Reverend Honorable Doctor Lucifer Jones, this time in the perilous Amazon jungle. When the freewheeling Jones discovers an island inhabited by talking animals -- and the mad scientist who created them -- he must find a way to escape before he's forced into embracing his more primitive side. 'Prowl Unceasing' by Roberson pits the young Dutch physician Abraham Van Helsing against a nightmarish Southeast Asian legend. Chris Nakashima-Brown's 'Ghulistan Bust-Out' throws a TV producer filming on the treacherous Afghan frontier into a necromantic, demonic adventure worthy of Conan himself!
Featuring science fiction, fantasy, western, mystery, and horror stories, this diverse collection is first-rate all the way. From the consistently high quality of the stories throughout to the outstanding cover art by John Picacio, Adventure, Vol. 1 is easily one of the best -- and most memorable -- anthologies to come along in years."
In this same installment of Explorations Allen also reviews another new MonkeyBrain Books offering, the Win Scott Eckert-edited Myths for the Modern Age: Philip José Farmer's Wold Newton Universe :
Myths for the Modern Age is a nonfiction anthology that examines Philip José Farmer's vast Wold Newton family tree, a group of heroic and villainous literary figures -- Tarzan, Doc Savage, Sherlock Holmes, Charlie Chan, Philip Marlowe, and James Bond, to name a few -- that Farmer saw as members of an extended generic family.
From the Wold Newton family tree's bizarre inception -- a fallen meteor near an English village in 1795 caused beneficial genetic mutations to residents, endowing them and their descendants with extremely high intelligence and strength -- to speculation about what literary figures are and are not possible descendants, Myths for the Modern Age includes almost 30 essays (many by Farmer himself) that will spur endless hours of lively discussion between genre fans. For example, in "D Is for Daughter, F Is for Father" by Mark K. Brown, he theoretically connects Sue Grafton's private investigator Kinsey Millhone with the "Farmerian Monomyth." Is she really part of the Wold Newton family tree?
Informative, witty, and endlessly fascinating, this anthology of post-Farmerian speculation should appeal to literary scholars, genre aficionados, and lay readers alike. Science fiction and pop culture fans who enjoy this kind of mind-expanding literature should also check out other nonfiction MonkeyBrain releases like The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana by Jess Nevins, Wizardry & Wild Romance: A Study of Epic Fantasy by Michael Moorcock, and Projections:Science Fiction in Literature and Film, edited by Lou Anders -- all invaluable resources for genre historians."
Monday, November 14, 2005
Breaking Stories and Rules
"Every episode – every episode – on Trek went through a process known as “The Break,” wherein the entire writing staff was gathered in Michael’s office to “break” the episode on a white dry erase board in excruciating detail, before a word of the teleplay was ever written. Michael ran the breaks and he was the final arbiter of what went on the board (and hence, in the show) and what did not. With a roomful of writers, this means a continuous running argument about where the story should and should not go and it takes a particular kind of show-runner to successfully guide a break session without blood on the walls. "What's interesting to me about this is that the process Moore describes is virtually identical to my own writing process--if you substituted "Me talking outloud to myself" for "a room full of writers," and "spiral bound notebooks" for "white dry erase board." When I'm writing, whether a short story or a chapter from a longer work, I block out a rough outline of where I anticipate the plot will begin and end. Then I take that outline to pieces, attacking it from all sides--to see if there are any points where the plot falls apart, any instances of characters behaving in illogical ways just to advance the needs of the plot, any plot holes or dangling threads needing stitching up. Then I work up another outline, in more detail. Then I go at this more detailed outline, this time with thematic concerns in mind, to make sure that the story still says what I intended it to say; sometimes, a bit of shoring up brings the theme back into focus, and other times it turns out that the message of a story is something other than I originally intended. Then I break the story down on a paragraph by paragraph level, and comb through it to make sure that crucial bits of information are revealed to the reader at the right time--not too soon, not too late, or, worse, not at all! Only when I've done all this, and built and rebuilt the plot several times over, do I write the first word.
I don't think I'd known previously that the Star Trek writing staff used this same sort of approach--I've found a similar approach in the "story is king" approach used by the Pixar folks, though; the audio commentaries on any given Pixar DVD are the best instruction in the art of storytelling that I've ever found--but it's impossible to calculate the kind of impact that ST:TNG (and, later, Deep Space Nine) had on my conception of storytelling. I was a senior in high school when "Encounter at Farpoint" relaunched the franchise on television (and changed the face of syndicated tv forever... but that's a different matter entirely), but I was in college before the series developed to the point that it was anything like "good" (it's not a coincidence, I think, that the quality of the series picked up exponentially when Piller came onboard as a staff writer, based on what Moore has said above). My friends and I watched and rewatched every episode of TNG with a level of devotion and attention that approached that of medieval rabbis poring over the torah. Admittedly, it became a game early on to see who could predict the ending of the story earlier than the others. In later seasons, we perfected the game to the extent that we could often predict with unerring accuracy the entire shape of the plot, from beginning to end, by the time the opening credits ran, seeing the whole encoded in the shape of the opening few minutes worth of teaser. There was definitely a formula to what the TNG writers were doing, but for all of that it was a good formula, one that served them well. Arguably, it was a good enough structure for storytelling that they were able to cost for the better part of two decades, spinning series after series out of the franchise with only minor retooling.
I think that formulas, and by extention the formulaic conventions of genre, can unquestionably be limiting, and the best writers are those who grow beyond them. But it is through understanding these formulas in the first place that most writers learn their craft in the first place. (I say "most," while I was tempted to say "all," because I'm sure that there are those who arrive at their craft sui generis, owing nothing to the traditions that preceded them; but I don't know any of them.) It's like that old saw--"You have to learn the rules before you can break them." And while I hadn't really recognized it before, one of the classrooms in which I learned the rules of formulaic storytelling were the years I spent watching Star Trek: The Next Generation. And I suppose, in hindsight, that I ultimately have Michael Piller to thank for that.
Friday, November 11, 2005
J. Michael Straczynski, Self-Publisher
Last year Allison and I watched all of Babylon 5, beginning to end, and while it wasn't always my cup of tea, I found a lot to admire in it: principally, the level of creative control JMS was able to exercise over the series. And you really can't get a greater degree of creative control than self-publishing, so it seems a natural fit.
Thursday, November 10, 2005
Cool Whedon News
He goes on to talk about the possibilities of a Spike movie, which would conceivably tie into the new comic series.
I came late to the Whedon party, not starting in on Buffy or Angel until they were in their last seasons, once the first few years were all available on DVD. Now, I'm a solid convert, having watched both straight through from beginning to end. The thought of more of these characters from the pen (or keyboard, as may be the case) of Whedon himself is a very attractive notion.
The Georgia Dance
Wednesday, November 09, 2005
Kansas & Nonsense=1, Science & Reason=0
Kansas Board Approves Challenges to Evolution: "Among the most controversial changes was a redefinition of science itself, so that it would not be explicitly limited to natural explanations."
Can we go ahead and start scouting for real estate on Mars now, please? We'll be safe from these people, I promise. Anyone whose definition of science includes "Because God said so" isn't going to be able to follow us, so we can leave them here to make whatever crazy laws they want.
Tuesday, November 08, 2005
My Fellow Texans & Hatred=1. Fairness & Reason=0
On the upside, if the supporters of this hateful nonsense are to be believed, all of the state's problems are now over. Right? I mean, if two men can't share each other's lives in the eyes of the state, we won't have to worry about any of that violent crime, drug abuse, poverty, illiteracy, and teenage pregnancy that gay marriage supposedly would be causing.
Christ almighty. Can we go ahead and start terraforming and colonizing another planet now? I'm getting pretty fucking tired of this one.
Monday, November 07, 2005
Only 361 days until the next World Fantasy Convention. I'll see you all there.
Tuesday, November 01, 2005
Self-Publishing, with Extras
This is interesting, and reminiscent of the relationship between Chris Ware and Fantagraphics for Ware's announced self-publishing efforts (though Ware, of course, will be handling his own design work). In both instances, established comics creators are initiating self publishing projects, with their previous publishers handling all distribution (and, one assumes, order fulfillment, accounts receivable, and the like, at least from retail). From the perspective of the retailer, then, and the end consumer for that matter, the transition will be an invisible one. Presumably Morse's self-published efforts will be listed with all of AdHouses's other offerings in their catalogs and such, just as Ware's will be with Fantagraphics. But editorial control and, evidentially, the financial risk is entirely the creator's.
This is an interesting model. In the broad strokes, its somewhat similar to creator-financed outfits such as Digital Webbing and the like, except that with the extant examples the financial risk is largely (or wholly) the creator's, while the "publisher" still exerts some level of editorial control. It's hard to think of any similar construction in prose publishing, barring subsidy publishers, more commonly known as "vanity" presses.
I suppose that this is similar, too, to some aspects of independent film. The festival circuits are crowded every year by film-makers and their self-financed films, looking for someone to pick up the distribution rights. Even George Lucas, an "independent film-maker" any way you slice it, uses just this sort of model in his relationship with 20th Century Fox--he pays for all of the production costs, has complete editorial control, and Fox handles distribution, in exchange for a cut of the profits, naturally.
In prose, at least, this kind of structure would only work with really well established writers (and, arguably, the same is true in comics, as well). I can't imagine retailers or readers troubling themselves to pick up books from untried authors, by and large, unless the publisher logo on the spine is a familiar one. If the publisher and the author is unfamiliar, the book is likely to remain on the shelf, if in fact it was ever ordered by the store in the first place. (This was, largely, the lesson of Clockwork Storybook.)
On the other hand, if someone were to set up a structure whereby established prose writers could publish anything they liked, assuming all of the production costs themselves, with someone else in the chain to handle all of the printing, distribution, and accounting on the back end, could that work? Possibly. But I think that the old adage, "Money always flows to the author," is so deeply ingrained in prose publishing (albeit for good reason, in the vast majority of cases) that I doubt that many writers would seriously entertain the notion.