Ridley Scott disses SF Film

According to Ridley Scott, SF Cinema is as dead as the Western, and also thinks all SF nowadays is derivative of 2001:A Space Odyssey. Nothing original is being done. . .

Say what?

Look, I know I’m an iconoclast when I say that 2001:A Space Odyssey is not the best SF film ever made, I don’t even put it in the top ten. (Alien and Blade Runner place, ironically, higher on my own list.) But really, his comments are rank with pretentious bullcrap. I think the artiste in him objects to the fact that SF became popular. (thank you Mr. Lucas, even if I think you needed to quit after the second Star Wars movie.)

Let’s just restrict ourselves to the last 7 years or so: We have . . .

A Scanner Darkly

Minority Report
The Matrix
The Incredibles
Sky Capitan and the World of Tomorrow
The Children of Men

Yeah, today’s SF Cinema is certainly moribund and derivative . . .

Fellowship Fantastic

Due in January. Just got the cover:

This one contains my story, “The Enigma of the Serbian Scientist.” Which is sort of a steampunk homage to Sherlock Holmes, wherein the murder victim is Thomas Edison.

Judging by the description of the other stories (and the cover) I bucked a trend, as it looks like the majority of the stories went more the childhood nostalgia route. . . It’s somewhat interesting, as when I first heard the premise of the anthology, my first thought was “Hey, cool, and alternate history Holmes/Watson story.” I actually asked Kerrie before tackling the story, in case anyone else was planning something similar. I guess I needn’t have worried.

Some things they don’t usually tell you in writing class. . .

Working on my career, I’ve been thinking about the idea of writing professionally as opposed to writing as a hobby. Now I’ve been writing professionally in one sense of the term (getting paid) for a good fifteen years. But there’s another sense, meaning approaching the craft with professionalism. That comprises a whole bushel of things from doing your taxes right, reliably meeting deadlines, communicating with editors and so on. It also applies to elements of the writing itself, elements that apply regardless of what anyone may or may not be paying you. Here are what I think are the top five:

  1. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Writing professionally means that you have enough self knowledge that you are aware of the things you do well, and of the things you do poorly. This is not to commit the mistake of concentrating solely on what you do well. (hey I write really good dialogue, who needs all that narrative crap?) This is to allow you to focus on the areas where you know you’re going to need help.
  2. Know what you’re interested in. There’s nothing worse than something written by a bored writer. You aren’t going to write a convincing Civil War novel unless you find the period fascinating. If what you’re doing requires research, and it isn’t research you find interesting for its own sake, you may want to reconsider. Conversely, when planning a project, hook into your own personal obsessions and what you produce will be richer for it.
  3. Know a dead project when you see it. It is a painful thing to abandon a piece of work, especially if it represents several months, even years, of effort. However, if you hit a wall, and it doesn’t budge, sometimes it isn’t the writer, it’s what you’re writing. If you want to be a professional writer (in both senses) you cannot let a stalled project stall your career. Do something else. If you come back, and it’s still terminal, pull the plug. If you’re under contract, call the editor and pitch something else to replace it.
  4. Know when the project is finished. If you spend three times more time rewriting than you did writing, you’re using the revision process as an excuse to keep from moving on. Submit the thing and go to the next project.
  5. Have a plan. Outlining your career is probably more important than outlining your novel. Know what you want to be writing in five years, and work toward that goal. Even if it doesn’t change the story you’re going to write right now, it may change how you pitch it, and to whom you submit it. The same novel could potentially end up published as dark fantasy, a paranormal romance, or as a supernatural thriller, all depending on who gets to look at it first. Where do you think you want the next book to go?

Top Ten Problems with the Movie Sunshine. . .

Ok, I know when the premise of your movie is flying a bomb the size of Manhattan into a dying sun you have something on your agenda other than scientific and logical plausibility. However, a film that’s largely a homage to 2001:A Space Odyssey should at least give the impression it tried. I get the feeling, though, that the “research” on this film involved a lot of DVD rentals. Here are my top ten problems with it. WARNING: Possible spoilers.

10. That bomb is really dense if it’s the mass of Manhattan Island. It looks about the size of the Astrodome.
9. Then, again, it may be since it seems to have its own gravity at the ending sequence. But then how come it’s a cube?
8. Why the hell is the only rotating part of your spaceship the communications array?
7. Why are there no backup computers on either ship?
6. The amazing plot-driven gravity drive! (The crew compartments don’t rotate, so they must be under constant acceleration but there’s all those long corridors, then they go into orbit. Then when they pressurize the airlock everyone stops being weightless. . .)
5. If the comm array was going to (literally) fry when it got hit with direct sunlight at this distance, it was going to fry anyway once the bomb separated, the Icarus II itself has a much smaller shield than the bomb. The comm boom sweeps beyond it. (why is it rotating again?)
4. The Icarus II’s transmission gear is less effective than 20th Century unmanned space probes, losing all contact with Earth before it reaches Mercury.
3. Let’s send the Capitan and the only guy who can operate the bomb on a potentially life-threatening EVA repair mission.
2. Hell that went so well, let’s do it again with our new Capitan!

And the number one problem with the movie Sunshine. . .

1. You’ve towed the mass of Manhattan Island 93 million miles. And you’re going to do last minute course changes and put it into a temporary parking orbit? With what reaction mass? How in the hell are you going to get it moving again?

US Airways Continued. . .

I said I would keep you posted. So here’s what I got from them shortly after sending my prior letter.

Dear Mr. Swiniarski,

On behalf of US Airways and the entire Customer Relations team, please accept our sincere apology for the travel difficulties you experienced. Your concerns have been thoroughly documented and your comments have been shared with the appropriate management teams to help us improve our service.

To convey our apologies we have authorized two $250 Electronic Travel With Us Vouchers as a gesture of goodwill, in hopes you will allow US Airways another opportunity to regain your confidence. Your E-TUV is valid toward the purchase of travel on US Airways or America West Airlines. Please be advised the E-TUV is not valid with Internet bookings. The E-TUV must be redeemed one year from the date of this letter. In addition, please take a moment to read the terms and conditions below […]

Doesn’t this make you feel all warm and fuzzy? Why, US Airways actually cares about us. This little e-mail has all the warmth and sincerity of the recorded message, “your call is very important to us.” Of course, you must admire the absolute chutzpah of the person who first thought up this idea:

ROB: Hey, the biggest untapped market for airline passengers are. . . get this. . . pissed off airline passengers! Follow me here. Let’s respond to customer complaints by giving people coupons for money off ANOTHER FLIGHT! We shut the poor bastard up, and we sell another ticket!

PHIL: Rob, you’re a genius, I’m making you the new VP in charge of customer relations.

Needless to say, I’m not particularly enamored with the idea of “allowing US Airways another opportunity to regain my confidence,” especially as our use of air travel amounts to once every seven years or so. So I’ve sent them another letter (e-mail) that I reproduce here for your edification:

To whom it may concern,

To recap our complaint with US Airways: You canceled our flight for no good reason, your employees lied repeatedly about our ability to get back to Cleveland, and after several hours of a hellish runaround in the Philadelphia International airport, you gave us no choice but to rent a car and pay for our own hotel room, and to add one final insult, you damaged our luggage and sent it to us 48 hours late despite many assurances that it would be on the next flight. This entire episode has cost us $900 out-of-pocket, including a ticket we never actually got to use.

Now, in response to this abject abuse of your customers, you offer us two $250 “vouchers” that we can apply to an attempt to relive the horrible experience you put us through. Frankly, this proposed compensation is not commensurate with the fact that we are out-of-pocket $900, a good chunk of which WE paid YOU for the unused ticket. Even if you raised the “value” of these vouchers to $450 each, you are still responding to actual monetary losses with a phantom coupon that costs you nothing, is non-transferable, and has no intrinsic value. To add insult to injury, your supposed compensation literally forces us to use your services within the next twelve months if we want any compensation at all. This is unacceptable.

I will repeat my request from my prior letter. I want you to reimburse us financially for the expenses we incurred. I want you to reimburse us with actual money, not with “vouchers”, “coupons”, “miles” or any other instrument that requires a business transaction with US Airways beyond the cashing of a check.

I expect you to send us a check for the full $900 by August 19th, or I will consider other options by which to achieve satisfaction from you.

Keep your laws off my starship. . .

Lois Tilton over at Deep Genre doesn’t like Libertarian SF, at least some Libertarian meme she sees as infecting some SF. In a nutshell her main complaint seems to be with the idea that space would be more “free” (meaning absence of regulation) when she sees the scarcity of resources (such as air) resulting in a much more regulated environment.

Well, this is a classic “yes but.” The “but” here is the fact that Libertarianism respects much more small-scale governmental systems, and the classic Libertarian scenario has each starship/habitat/whatever being sovereign unto itself and the crew of said starship/habitat/whatever being present by choice, and voluntarily subject to the rules/laws/regulations therein. And often those rules can be a lot more draconian than a typical State’s laws, and subject to harsher penalties. They just cover a much smaller jurisdiction, population, and subset of human behavior.

I don’t even see L. Neil Smith at his most didactic devolving into the über-individualism that Tilton seems to dislike. I can’t help feeling that she’s upset with a caricature of a mindset that she doesn’t happen to like in the first place.

It’s not that I don’t want no rules on my starship. I just want the rules set by the people on the starship, and not by a committee of career bureaucrats who never stepped out of a gravity well.

Tough Day to be a Pet Owner


This is a picture of Little Dog.

We found her running in the street seven years ago. We were driving though our neighborhood when we used to live in Cleveland Heights, and my wife stopped the car yelling, look at that dog. There was a small brown Beagle/Dachshund mix strolling through the intersection, oblivious to traffic. We got out and tried to catch her, but the poor thing was terrified and ran right under another car sitting at a stop sign. She wedged herself in front of the rear tire of the car. So, while my wife yelled at the person in the car not to move, I tried to retrieve her. Every attempt I made was met with terrified growling and snapping. The standoff lasted about ten minutes until some guy in a pickup pulled over. He had heavy leather work gloves and was able to reach under the car and remove her, placing her on a tree lawn where me and my wife could check her for injuries. Fortunately, by then she had calmed down and stopped snapping, and we were able to tell she was all right. By that time, both the woman driving the car and the guy with the work gloves had both vanished, and we were left with a dog.

We called her “little dog” because we were certain that someone loved her and her owner would turn up. We went door to door, called shelters and posted signs, but her owner never claimed her. By the time we realized she was ours, she was answering to “little dog.”

She was already somewhere between eight and twelve years old when we found her, but she was always in good spirits, if somewhat cranky with our Labrador. But today, after a long series of health problems that came and went, we had to put her down.

This was especially hard, as two months ago we had to make the same decision with our cat Mu. Mu was another rescue case. My prior cat had died, and we went to the Geuaga County Humane Society to look at cats. While my wife filled out the adoption paperwork, I sat down and this large black and white cat with an underbite decided to jump on my shoulders. When she draped herself across my shoulders and started purring, I knew we had found a cat. Despite my wife’s protests, “That funny looking thing, no, you’re kidding. . .” she was eventually convinced that Mu was the best cat ever.

I know we were happier for having both of them in our lives. Its also nice to think that their lives had been much better for being with us.

The ironic thing about all of this, in a circle of life sort of way, is that we had been planning since last week to get a kitten tomorrow. We had already set things to pick her up before Little Dog took her bad turn last night. . . So, to make up for this depressing post, I’ll be giving you some kitten pictures by Friday.

Baen’s Best

I’m in yet another anthology, this time it’s the heavy hardback The Best of Jim Baen’s Universe, which, in addition to being a memorial to the late Mr. Baen, promises to be an annual event. You should also check out the web-zine that birthed this anthology.

Within you will find my mid-east terrorism alternate history time-traveling sniper story, “A Time to Kill.”

A Non-SF Novel Every SF Writer Should Read

People trolling in the genre mines of Science Fiction and Fantasy often harbor some resentment towards “mainstream” authors who manage to write books with heavy genre elements and get them to be taken seriously by people whose job it is to take books seriously. (The Road being one recent high-profile example.)

There is a sense that such examples of “not science fiction” (to borrow a phrase from Maureen McHugh) are simply appropriating our toys and not giving us the credit. Leave aside the simple-mindedness of defending a commercially defined genre as if it was some walled garden being despoiled by outsiders. . . There’s an assumption in the above that the “mainstream” is all take and no give.

To this, I say, not so. I have just finished (on my trip to Europe) what I believe is the best fictional portrayal of an alien mind that I have seen in print. It isn’t SF. It isn’t even arguably SF. It isn’t slipstream, or magic realism, or anything that could potentially fit in the ever-widening tent of speculative fiction. If you really wanted to shove it into a genre, you might convince someone it is a murder mystery. Maybe.

The book is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. It is told exclusively from the POV of an autistic boy named Christopher, and his autism informs everything in the book from the narrative voice, the details he relates (and more importantly, and sometimes shockingly, he doesn’t relate) and how he reacts emotionally to his surroundings. If you ever want to write about an alien, especially from an alien POV, you would do very well to study this book.