The news media is horrible and it’s filled with horrible people

October 18, 2016

You remember Ken Bone, right? The guy in the red cardigan that became an internet meme? Or, more accurately, became promoted by the mainstream media as an internet meme. He rose to prominence on October 9th. He tried to exercise some control over his pre-ordained fame, and did an AMA on Reddit, and all of a sudden we have so-called journalists gleefully deconstructing every potentially objectionable thing this poor guy ever said or did on the Internet.  This wasn’t any sort of rational investigation, the man was a private citizen of little or no notability except that which the media gave him.  But, because the media gave him that, he had to be destroyed.  By October 14th, the New York Times— let me repeat that— The New. York. Times. was gleefully, and somewhat condescendingly, printing details that Mr. Bone had posted on one of Reddit’s pornography forums following in the footsteps of that paragon of journalistic virtue Gizmodo. (And I’m sorry, Gray Lady, the fact you cast your story as a story about faux-journalists blowing up a faux-story about a faux-celebrity and causing a real person real damage, that does not excuse you. In fact it makes you the worse actor because of the pretense that, if it ain’t your shit, so you can fling it how you like and not get dirty.) And they aren’t the only big paper indulging in this pathetic excuse of a story.  This is not some angry Internet stalker doxxing someone on 4chan.  These are supposedly legitimate news agencies first creating a celebrity, just to the point where the poor guy might be notable enough so they can engage in the moral equivalent of revenge porn without getting sued.

Everyone involved in this story should be ashamed of themselves. And have their browsing history made public.

How to get your readers to trust you forever.

October 13, 2016

(Or at least until you screw up big time.)

I’ve been listening to a new (for me) favorite author on Audible, Gregg Hurwitz.  If you’re one of my SF/Fantasy fans, don’t feel too bad if you don’t know him.  He’s a thriller writer, not SF, and if that isn’t your genre and you don’t pay attention to the NY Times bestseller list, he may have escaped your notice.  But, on the basis of two of the fifteen books of his I’ve been through, Survivor and Orphan X, I highly recommend him. Survivor, in particular, does something that instantly earned him my trust as a reader. To talk about it, I’m going to have to enter spoiler territory, so consider yourself warned.

Trust from your reader is a nebulous thing, but it really amounts to how willing that “willing suspension of disbelief” actually is. As a thriller author, Mr. Hurwitz has a tougher row to hoe than myself. Everything Gregg Hurwitz puts on the page must have a level of real-world plausibility that many SF and Fantasy authors don’t have to deal with. More importantly, for his books, that willing suspension, that trust, can be much more fragile. A reader who’s already bought into werewolves may have a bit more flexibility to accept strange mutations of police  or medical procedures. A contemporary thriller writer doesn’t get that kind of slack.

So how did Mr. Hurwitz gain my trust?

In his book Survivor, his main character is a guy on the run from the Ukrainian mob. Nasty dudes. He is also in the early stages of ALS. He’s still mobile, and, at the moment, is only having a few neurological symptoms here and there.  So we have a great setup (my description here doesn’t do it justice) with a guy who’s facing life threatening issues on two sides, one of which is certainly going to kill him. I’m on board. (I should also mention that Hurwitz has a Stephen Kingesque ability to create sympathetic characters, both heroic and villainous, with very quick precise strokes.) So as the novel goes on, the symptoms of the ALS become worse and worse… And suddenly I’m wondering, can the disease progress that quickly?  It’s only been a few days. Maybe, I think, Hurwitz is taking some liberties with the symptoms.  Ok, I’ll give it a pass because I’m caught up in everything else.  But it nags me.

Then he sees a doctor. And Hurwitz, like magic, explains exactly what’s happening. Our guy, who’s been prominently popping his ALS meds along with an antibiotic prescribed in the first few chapters by some other ER doc, is having an adverse drug interaction. We’ve been watching his body react to the antibiotic he’s been taking nearly every chapter…

If you’re a writer and can answer a reader’s unvoiced question like that, in a way that it all makes sense retroactively, you got their trust.


Luke Cage II

October 11, 2016

I’m two episodes further along than I was my last post. And damn.


Luke Cage manages a mid-story twist that’s on a par with the first season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. or the shower scene in Psycho. It’s all the more impressive because it’s not an information reveal— at least, not in the sense that the information revealed is the plot twist. Luke Cage manages a moment that forces you to reassess the roles several characters play in the story (as in, who, fundamentally, the story is actually about) without any major piece of hidden information, no secret plots or allegiances suddenly coming to light, no one revealing that X is suddenly Y. It’s just one character doing something that’s been set up for seven episodes, and the reason it’s shocking is because it’s 1) sudden, 2) brutal, and most important 3) breaks an ingrained expectation of what roles specific characters are supposed to serve, and how their stories are supposed to play out.  It not only breaks the generic tropes of the crime drama/superhero story we expect, but also deliberately takes a right turn away from the expectations laid by Marvel’s two prior Netflix shows.

I have no idea where this is going now, and I love it.

Luke Cage— or what Marvel can learn from itself

October 4, 2016

I’m only five episodes into Luke Cage and I think I can say Marvel’s managed to hit it out of the park again.  Like the prior two Netflix series, Daredevil and Jessica Jones, Luke Cage manages to draw on all the strengths of the MCU in a smaller-scope more street-level fashion.  It perfectly encapsulates one chief strength I’ve mentioned before, superhero as trope as opposed to genre.  What Winter Soldier owes to 70’s era espionage movies, Luke Cage owes to the Blacksploitation flicks of the same era, while still being relevant, modern, and part of the wider Marvel universe.

It also shows that Marvel’s Netflix lineup continues to avoid one of the major problems of the MCU.  (See, I’m not a complete drooling Marvel fanboy, I admit the movies do have some problems.) Like its two small-screen predecessors, Luke Cage has a primary villain who isn’t a non-entity, a plot device, or completely ‘meh.’

My favorite Marvel movie, Guardians of the Galaxy has an antagonist that could be swapped with the one from Thor: Dark World and no one would even notice.  How many great scenes do you remember with Red Skull or Whiplash?  Do you even remember anything about the villain from the first Iron Man movie beyond the climatic fight scene?  When the high water mark of cinematic villainy is the guy from Ant Man and Ben Kingsley pretending to be a terrorist, you have a bit of an issue.

But in Luke Cage, Cottonmouth is a villain that’s as fascinating and scary to watch as Wilson Fisk or Killgrave.  The achievement is that much more impressive since a lot of his character echoes that of Fisk; the snaps of violence, the deep roots into his city, the desire to be a pillar of his community… but the acting sells it.  Cottonmouth has an edge of desperation that makes him both more sympathetic and more threatening.  Whenever he starts laughing, you expect someone to die.

Yeah, the series is recommended.

A Ten Video Defense of Cultural Appropriation

September 29, 2016

“Cultural Appropriation” has reared it’s sombrero-sporting head in the literary community once again in another series of critiques and critiques of critiques and critiques of critiquing and those doing the critiquing, over something that should, in the end, be a fairly straightforward caution for authors to just get it right, that somehow never ends up that simple.

Rather than attempt to spill more words into this never-ending tumult, I instead present a series of videos in defense of “Cultural Appropriation:”

So white dudes can’t rap…

This is really problematic…

If this isn’t cultural imperialism, I don’t know what is…

A university costume party goes really off the rails…

This has to be because we nuked Japan…

…or this is…

Italy, Fascism,  Eastwood, that empty chair, it all makes sense now…

A movie this fun must be bad for you…

That don’t look like Deep Purple…

And we all know country music is problematic…

So I have a fan theory

September 27, 2016

movie_poster_zootopia_866a1bf2So I noticed that the movie Zootopia is on Netflix now, and it reminded me of a little fan theory I developed back when I saw the movie in theatres.  If you’ve seen it, you may have noticed something that differentiates this film from the typical Disney (or any) “funny animal” story.  In stories of Mickey, Donald and Goofy, the world the characters inhabit is simply a proxy for the real world us humans inhabit.  If species is mentioned, it’s only for the sake of a joke, or as an obvious metaphor for class or race or nationality and we just accept the characters are just humans in funny suits.

Zootopia is very different in this respect. The story spends science-fictional levels of effort world building to show that we’re not just dealing with furry humans. The eponymous city spends vast technological resources to accommodate everything from radical size differentials to having separate artificial ecosystems emulating everything from artic to tropical conditions.  Most importantly, it acknowledges a past history where the animal denizens had the predator-prey relationships we’re familiar with. “Thousands of years ago,” these animals didn’t have culture, technology, or even the anthropomorphic posture they show in the present time.  This is, in fact, a major plot point… Which leaves a question dangling.

How does one get from there to here? Everything about the film is sfnal in its attention to detail, but it mentions “thousands of years” for this transition in the first few minutes.  That doesn’t seem enough to build a technological culture from scratch.  Also, no humans are in evidence. While we could posit this is an alternate Earth where humans never evolved, we still see at least one major character that seems to have developed from a domesticated species.  Also, it seems that these animals, mammals at least, all developed intelligence at roughly the same time, evolutionarily speaking.

brain-wave-coverNow consider the plot of the Poul Anderson novel, Brain Wave.  From Wikipedia:

At the end of the Cretaceous period, Earth moved into an energy-damping field in space. As long as Earth was in this field, all conductors became more insulating. As a result, almost all of the life on Earth with neurons died off, causing the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event. The ones that survived passed on their genes for sufficiently capable neurons to deal with the new circumstance. Now in modern times, Earth suddenly moves out of the field. Within weeks all animal life on Earth becomes about 5 times as intelligent. The novel goes through the triumphs and tribulations of various people and non-human animals on Earth after this event.

At the end of the novel the humans develop interstellar travel and it’s implied that they leave for the stars. Given how close the apes are to humans, they may have joined them. The super intelligent animals left behind wouldn’t need to develop technology, language, or culture from scratch, the humans would have left that all behind for them. A few thousand years would be enough time to build a culture out of those remnants, and also probably enough time for the animals to self-select, breeding for a more “human” appearance and posture, emulating these long-disappeared humans, their progenitors, who left for the heavens…

Zootopia is a sequel to Brain Wave, set about nine or ten thousand years after the humans left.

Throwback Thursday

September 22, 2016

I’ve been blogging off-and-on for years, and today I’d thought I’d go point to the ten most popular blog entries I have according to Google Analytics. Predictably, six of them are writing related. (Note, these don’t include the Plot and Worldbuilding articles that drive about half the traffic here. Those aren’t blog posts.)


Speaking of the 80’s. . .

September 20, 2016

I just finished the 1987 apocalyptic doorstopper of a novel, Swan Song by Robert McCammon.

My first thought:

As 80s as Chuck Norris stabbing a dirty commie.

As 80s as Chuck Norris stabbing a dirty commie.

If any one piece of literature embodied the pop-culture zeitgeist of a particular decade, it is this novel. This book could not be more eighties if it was sporting a mullet and fronting for Van Halen. It’s eighties like a block of government cheese, leg warmers, and slasher movies on VHS. Don’t believe me? Let me list some of the elements we’re introduced to:

  • The homeless bag lady.
  • The pro wrestler.
  • The crazy ‘Nam veteran.
  • The computer nerd who’s into gaming so much he has trouble distinguishing the game from reality.
  • A fleet of homemade armor-plated cars straight out of the Road Warrior.
  • The Cold War, natch.
  • At least one Rubik’s cube.

My second thought:
The book is enjoyable, but I suspect those with a more sfnal bent may have some substantial problems with it. It works as an apocalyptic fever-dream, or an extended allegory, but if you try to bring any real-world logic to the proceedings after the bombs drop, your brain will hurt. (Example: If you know anything about dressing game, the wolf-hunting scene makes about as much sense as the turkey dinner scene in Eraserhead, and has a similar effect on the audience. ) One of the points to the book seems to be the nuclear war creates a literal hell-on-earth, and everything from physics to biology seems to be twisted to this purpose. In this sense, it may almost qualify as a proto work of bizarro fiction.

Weekend of the Pooka

September 15, 2016

pookawebbanner2015This coming weekend I will be participating along with other local authors Saturday & Sunday 1:00pm to 5:00pm at the annual Bedford, Ohio “Weekend of the Pooka.” at the Bedford Commons. (730 Broadway Avenue, Bedford, Ohio.)

In addition to myself, attending authors will include Vince McKee, Michael Heaton, Jonathan Knight, James Renner, Gail Bellamy, Kelley Grealis, Laura Peskin, DM Pulley, Les Roberts, Shelley Bloomfield Costa, Irv Korman, Charles Cassidy & Wendy Koile.

In addition to the authors, there will be art and wine :)

Hope to see you there.

Choice of Games update

September 13, 2016

My effort on the “Welcome to Moreytown” game proceeds apace. I am currently finishing up chapter seven of twelve, and hope to have eight completed by the end of the month.  Entirely coincidentally, a member of my writing workshop had her game critiqued, which prompted a discussion with yet another member  of the group who teaches game design… (As an aside; is it me, or is there much more overlap between the gaming and SF communities nowadays than there was five or ten years ago?)

Anyway, that discussion brought home what a different mode of writing this actually is, and not just because of the amount of coding that is involved.  It’s almost the inverse of script-writing.  With a script, as a writer, you must leave stuff out.  A lot of stuff.  As a novelist, it can feel like most of the stuff.  Most of the visuals, costuming, stage business, all relies on other people.  That’s why scripts are so lean vs. prose, a feature film script can run about 100 pages, and if there’s more than a couple hundred words a page it’s probably too dense.

With this type of gaming script, you end up writing a lot more than you would with comparable prose.  Code aside, it’s possible for a player to go through the entire thing and only read about half of what you’ve written.  Also, given the permutations, it will be a very rare pair of players who end up reading the exact same portions of it.

Also, what a computer can do, opposed to the old choose-your-own-adventure games, is allow choices that change narrative elements other than the story’s plot progression.  An obvious example, if you play one of Choice of Games’ free sample games, is the swapping of gender.  In the “Choice of Broadsides” game, your gender selection affects the entire navy. But there are other interesting things you can do.  An example from the WiP “Welcome to Moreytown,” is the choice of PC species comes with choosing a primary sense (vision, hearing, smell) that doesn’t do a lot to affect the story, but changes the descriptions of various scenes throughout the game.  Another example, the PC meets an NPC and the player chooses how they see that NPC: irritating, ridiculous, creepy or interesting.  the encounter proceeds roughly the same way for each choice, but the descriptions provided to the PC differ according to that first impression, and it colors every time that NPC is refrenced or encountered through the game.

Needless to say, a much different experience.