Thursday, January 30, 2014

Stage Managing

I'm still not announcing anything, but there are things happening behind the scenes, seismic forces shifting and such, that have some really exciting potential. I'm intentionally being vague.

One thing that I can say is that I'm trying out the standing desk thing as I write this. Well, it's not so much a desk as the kitchen table with a laundry basket inverted on stop. It's not quite tall enough but it's not bad. I have an old drawing table that my father made for me when I was a teenager and the intention is to modify that to what I need for a standing desk in the office.

Of course my wife is thrilled that I'm bringing yet something else into the office but if it keeps me on my feet while I'm writing, that's a good thing in the long run. It's becoming apparent that sitting for long periods (I have a 40 minute commute - one way - every day) and my job does require some periods of sitting at times. So this is an elegant solution despite one more piece of furniture in the house.

Also, I'm reading a really fantastic SF book by Ann Leckie: Ancillary Justice. If you look over at my Goodreads account you'll see I'm finding it terribly engrossing and cool. Mostly it's because the writing is so good and the worlds Ms. Leckie is creating are compelling. It's such an interesting take on the whole AI thing that I wonder now about some of the stuff I've written. Maybe I wasn't so far off the mark. We'll see. Anyway, I recommend it to anyone who's interested. Wonderful stuff.

That's enough for now. Gotta get some writing done.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

APPROVED

I'm very much looking forward to the new Doctor. 

































































As an aside, I'm also looking forward to the new BBC America series about Ian Fleming.

Monday, January 27, 2014

On Creativity

Pondering the imponderable.
From this article on the literature of creativity:

Innovation, that is, exists only when the correctly credentialed hivemind agrees that it does. And “without such a response,” the author continues, “van Gogh would have remained what he was, a disturbed man who painted strange canvases.” What determines “creativity,” in other words, is the very faction it’s supposedly rebelling against: established expertise.
 A fascinating dissection of things that essentially try to answer the burning question: Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

The best answer I've seen to that one (I mean, besides the really terrific one that Wyllis Cooper presented in the Quiet, Please episode titled "Where Do You Get Your Ideas?") came from Phillip Pullman via Austin Kleon:

When I’m reading, I’m looking for something to steal. Readers ask me all the time the traditional question ‘Where do you get your ideas from?” I reply: ‘We are all having ideas all the time. But I’m on the lookout for them. You’re not.’
And yeah, that's true of me, too. I'm looking for those connections. Sometimes they make sense, sometimes they don't.  Sometimes I can translate them out to the world and sometimes I can't. The point is that I try. Well, not so much try as do and sometimes win and sometimes fail.

That's creativity. I can't be afraid to fail, I have to put stuff out and hope that it reaches someone, anyone, and that then I hear back that it's reached that person.

So the answer is to look for a connection and then make a connection with a like mind. The biggest hurdle to creativity is the Internet Hivemind. It's so much easier to go along with what everyone else is doing, saying, thinking, reposting, that to be outside that Hivemind is rather daunting. That's why we get so many versions of the same thing including reality TV shows, comics, books, films, etc…

Maybe the real answer is to eschew the Hivemind, walk to the beat of your own drummer and then respect everyone who does that. To not be afraid to walk to that beat and trust that while someone else is walking they'll cross your path and you'll be inspired to do something else, something more. Right?

So share what's on your mind but be open to what everyone else is doing. That's where ideas come from, where creativity comes from. Maybe.

It's at least worth thinking about.

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Filters

Something happened yesterday that I can't talk about here. I don't mean to say that it was super important or anything like that, it's just not appropriate for me to discuss it in a public forum like the blog. Filters up, I guess.

Don't box me in, man.
Sometimes I read things that friends or people I know post on Facebook or Twitter or their blogs and I wonder - was that aimed at me? Sometimes I think 'yes' and other times I can obviously say 'no'. It's the in-between things that get me. That can affect me. (To be sure, I don't think every poison arrow is meant for me. I understand that I read too much into things sometimes, but still, the takeaways from the posted pieces are powerful. That's all I'm saying.)

And I suppose that's the point of those items being posted. Whether the poster had me in mind, or others, doesn't really matter. The point wasn't lost on me.

When I read something that's terribly mean but true, I cringe. It doesn't change the essential truth of whatever it was said, but I wonder how the poster felt when he hit that button that let us all see the inner workings of his mind. Probably that's dangerous but it's cool, too, to gain that insight. To know that person had turned off the filters that day is interesting, revealing.

And we all do it. It happens in your day job, in your home life, when you're out with friends. We all want to comment on how stupid this or that is, wonder how so-and-so can possibly STILL be drawing breath or anything that's mildly gossip-y. Or even really gossip-y. Why is that, I wonder?

In the end, if someone has an issue with me or with something I've done, I much prefer that there be a conversation about it. It doesn't need to be a confrontation, not at all. Simply point out that I'm at fault for something and let me work to fix it. Or not. Sometimes I get carried away. We all do.

I'm all about learning and growing and being not just a better writer, father, husband or worker, I want to be a better person. That's why the filters go up before I sit down to type anything out into the Internet any more. If it needs to be said, fine. If it doesn't, let it go. Or wait until I'm with others, in person, who would be interested to know.

Maybe that's enough for all of us.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Velocity Readout 005: Wolverine

He's the best there is at what he does. In this case, being sneaky.



Monday, January 20, 2014

Velocity Readout 004: Frankenstein's Monster




The monster hosts a dinner party and the history of his cinematic appearances is discussed.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Holy Motors

I mentioned this film to some friends last night. It's so surreal and so worth watching.


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

On Demand

I use Netflix but no other streaming services. I'm still considering adding HULU because they have more TV that I'd like to watch and they seem to be more current than Netflix in that department. I also get DVDs from Netflix because, well, because not everything streams all the time.

Case in point: a lot of anime, American cartoons from the 80s and 90s (mostly WB stuff) and quite a few films that I saw only once or twice and would like to see again.

Yesterday I went searching the video store down the street from my house (one of only three in a college town!) for a copy of the 1954 version of Animal Farm. Yeah, Animal Farm. I would have taken the 1999 Henson remake but I wanted to show my son the animated version I saw when I was a kid. He'd never been taught the book in school - which seemed odd now even though the USSR is broken up it's STILL relevant - and we'd make an event of it. 

They didn't have either one. Okay, I kind of understand the store not having it because it's not really popular. Fortunately, Netflix did. But only on DVD. Again, not a problem for me because I do both. 

But it got me thinking again how - even with the Internet and the digital revolution - some films are just not easily accessible. Due to everyone wanting a piece of the pie and the few companies engaging in digital delivery, it all comes down to money. 

Sure, 85 episodes of Macross streaming is A LOT, I get it. But would it pay for itself if you could offer it that way? Maybe. I know Doctor Who does, even the classic stuff, and probably hundreds of other TV shows. And yes, I understand that it costs money to stream everything. That's a lot of storage especially when you've got distribution centers all across the country already. I get it.

So it makes sense to have the double option. Stuff you've already got on DVD you're sending through the mail via USPS - who I'm on record thinking of as invaluable - doesn't necessarily need to be streaming. So when I get disc after disc of Batman The Animated Series delivered to my house it's almost like Christmas.

People binge-watch stuff now, though. Yeah, we used to do the all-day Star Wars marathons with our VHS tapes and a couple cases of beer back in the day but that was an event. Something pretty special. Every day I know people who watch four or five episodes of a series (or more) streaming. 

Maybe Netflix is watching out for us? Maybe we're being told we shouldn't be sitting for as many hours as we like watching TV and that's why the Macross Saga and Batman aren't streaming?

Nah. It's money. 

So they get my money and my local video stores are gone. Stores that used to curate to tastes are replaced by the Internet. Stores where I used to visit and walk around for half an hour or more are gone.  Where I used to rent three or four movies at a time to binge-watch on a Sunday afternoon I can stay sat on my ass and just click a button now to watch all thirteen episodes of House of Cards. But I'll have to walk out to the mailbox to get my DVD of The Handmaid's Tale when it comes.

Hm.

Signing off. 

I've gotta get up and walk around.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Velocity Readout 003: Doc Savage 1





Saturday, January 11, 2014

Velocity Readout 002: Shadow




Impression Made

My wife and I went to the French Impressionist exhibit at the Nelson-Atkins museum last week and I came away feeling very inspired. Not so much by the art and photographs but by the subject matter of the exhibit.

Several photographs showed things being built, things that are now about two hundred years old.

Add in the scenes of nature, including glaciers, that are now likely gone and it's a kind of sad commentary that things change so much but also a reminder that they do. Cautionary, actually.

As a document about a place in time, a fixed point if you will, it's a beautiful piece. The history is fascinating and plenty of context is available. I highly recommend spending the $8 a head and going if you're in the area.

But what really stuck with me as we drove home that day was all the details of daily life I saw in so many paintings. These are things that describe perfectly what a day was like at the beach or just trying to get work or run errands. Life wasn't all that different two hundred years ago than it is today no matter how much we might wish it. The concerns are the same even though the details aren't.

Walking through the exhibit I kept thinking to myself 'world building' over and over. The details of a bridge or the figure in front of the castle posed there to show the size of the massive structure stuck with me.

Details.

The first draft and even into the second one of any story I'm writing doesn't include a lot of detail about things. I don't like to tell the reader, for instance, what color the skin of my main character is. To me, it doesn't matter. You can infer whatever you like by the name of the person or how someone else might react to them, but my stories tend not to be about any one person's race. Yes, I've used multiple races in my science fiction, one has to. The delineation I like to use is the one where people are people whether they're carbon based bipeds or something else.

As for the worlds that surround the characters in my stories, I will only give the reader enough information to fill in the blanks. I can't stand reading books that are all about the minutiae of the story. It tends to slow me down and minimize my enjoyment of the story. So I don't write that way.

But after viewing this exhibit, I realized where I can add details that enrich the reader's understanding of the world I'm creating without bogging down in endless descriptive paragraphs that people like me tend to skip.

People have lives, they do things. Right? That's where little details can sink in and reveal something about character.

Like when they visit an exhibit at the museum.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Finding New Books

A teeny-tiny, itty-bitty slice of my 'to read' shelf.
My resolution to read more books written in this century poses a bit of a problem: finding them to read.

I mean, not really, because I know where to look for books, whose recommendations tend to speak to me and my ear is sometimes to the ground listening for the title that will appeal to me. But that begs the question - where do other people find new books? Would there be some books there that I might like, too?

So I'd like to know, really, where you get recommendations from. Is it GoodReads or LibraryThing? I mean, I don't want to be locked into reading only things that my friends recommend though I've read several that came to me that way. This article mentions a couple of websites in comparison to the Los Angeles Review and that's cool. (It's also terribly, terribly dour about the 'state' of books and reading. Bah. Still.)

I remember seeing authors on news programs talking about books that were fiction though I can't recall anyone in particular. It's much more common to hear an author on NPR than anywhere else, I suppose, but where else? (Seriously, though, if you haven't you owe it to yourself to check out their Book Concierge. Whoa.)

My particular desire is to find good, current science fiction but I like to read some non-fiction history-type stuff, too. Sometimes biographies. (The one on my shelf is about T.E. Lawrence and I just finished Peter Biskind's My Lunches with Orson Welles. I highly recommend one about Roald Dahl, too, called The Irregulars. Moving on.) Right now I'm reading Gene Wolfe's latest: The Land Across (so far it's fantastic).

And, despite owning two collections of his short stories, I've never read anything by Wolfe before. Been too steeped in the past trying to get a handle on where SF has been to understand where it should be going. I suspect reading James Gunn's Transcendental will bridge the two.

Also - YA. There's some great stuff there, too. I've got a trilogy on my shelf to read and I'm really looking forward to the follow up to Mark Frost's The Paladin Prophecy. Yep, THAT Mark Frost. As an aside, good YA is as much fun, as entertaining as any comic book written in the last twenty years and often it's better. That's not to say that comics are bad, they aren't. I read some good ones last year.

Let me know in the comments.

Friday, January 03, 2014

SF and Subgenres

What is Science Fiction, anyway?

One definition is that SF is a "literature of ideas". Authors use it to explore possibility and make commentary on modern-day events either through satire or outright attack. By this measure anything that deals with Time or Technology in a fictional setting (despite bearing a resemblance to the modern day world) is science fiction.

So we need to have subgenres that allow for further categorization. Steampunk, cyberpunk, time travel, space opera, alternate histories, military, superhuman, apocalyptic, post-apocalyptic, dystopian, utopian and the list goes on and on.

Related to science fiction are the genres of Science Fantasy and Speculative Fiction. There are subgenres within those, too. In Science Fantasy, someone is usually carrying a sword ala John Carter of Mars.  In Speculative Fiction one tends to see more literary aspirations including the likes of Harlan Ellison, Margaret Atwood and even Kurt Vonnegut. These authors don't necessarily want to be marked as science fiction writers or they don't want to be constrained by the perceived limits of science fiction.

It seems to me that despite whatever boundaries are set upon the subgenres or related genres, it's all science fiction. Yet why is there a need to delineate differences between these subgenres?

Marketing.

The average bear likes things to be neat, needs to have pigeonholes to put things in in order to feel satisfied that everything is clean and neat. That's not necessarily my way nor is it the way of others. I've read many a SF novel that had fantastic elements to it and many fantasy novels that dealt with hard science of its world and time. My library lumps SF and Fantasy together. Several organizations do so, as well. It's convenient.

Perhaps it's the nature of fandom to tick off boxes and divide the genre of Science Fiction into smaller, more manageable parts. Dystopian means something very different than cyberpunk, after all.

But when authors crossover the subgenres it gets confusing and so Science Fiction becomes the banner for the work. It works the same in the Mystery genre, too, where there are a number of delineations such as cozy mysteries, detective fiction, crime fiction and subgenres within those, too.

So the publishers saw an opportunity to pinpoint certain audiences with neat classifications and marketed to fandom subsets. What got ignored was the tendency of many readers (like me) who read across genres and find that Fantasy is just as much fun as a good Mystery which can also be as interesting as a political Thriller. My friend Rachel writes urban fantasy stories, another friend writes detective stories and I read both. And I love Science Fiction and many of its children.

Things have become too neat, too stodgy. A Science Fantasy Mystery should be a helluva lotta fun, right? And yet books that mash up too many genres get lost and end up failing to attract any readers. What happens instead is a title mashed up with urban fantasy or horror elements. I tell you I'm just waiting for someone to go whole hog and release Uncle Tom's Cabin in the Woods. I won't read it and I won't promote it but someone will be silly enough to do it and self-publish it, at least.

Or perhaps that's a line that won't be crossed. I hope that's the case.

People tend to lock themselves into only reading or watching one kind of story. Even in the case of Science Fiction. I recommend reading not just across the genre you tend to like most but to read across all genres. Watch a lot of different kinds of movies. Listen to a wide variety of music, too. Your mileage may vary from mine, but I've found a lot of inspiration and a world full of stories and entertainment I mightn't have if I'd only ever watched Star Wars and its sequels.

Variety, as they say, is the spice of life.

And yet the Science Fiction in this belief is that it's a Fantasy. Nothing will change unless you help someone do it. If you're genre people, try something you haven't before. Widen your horizons.

Try out some new ideas.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

A Resolution

Let's do some reading. Are you with me?
Happy 2014, everyone! Another year down, a new one ready to go. Hope your hangover isn't too bad. Mine's all right. Should be a good day.

Let's see, I suppose I should tell you what my resolutions are. Or the one resolution I'm making, anyway. (Don't worry, though, I'm sticking to the whole 'lose 5 pounds a month' thing. That's not a resolution. That's determination.) So, here it is:

Read more books from this century.

That's my resolution for 2014. Usually I make some complicated, overfull list of everything I want to accomplish in a New Year. Over the last few years I've done some really thoughtful, oblique kinds of resolutions that I've been able to mostly keep to. I didn't necessarily put them up here, but I made some little posters that I kept in my office at work and at home. I'm posting this here this year because I want to be held accountable.

Here's the explanation:

I want to be a full-time science-fiction writer. I've spent my life reading a really pretty narrow list of writers who've been influences on me: Heinlein, Bradbury, Dick, Burroughs, Moorcock, et al. For 2013 I vowed to read more authors whose work I've heard of and even read about but never actually cracked open.

I did that. Read quite a few: Jo Walton, Kurt Vonnegut (I know!), Nancy Kress, John Scalzi, James M. Cain, Clifford D. Simak, James Thurber, Norman Spinrad, Jack McDevitt, Kage Baker. I enjoyed every single one of them. I also read Stephen King, some Michael Moorcock, Richard Kadrey, Alex Grecian, Mike Carey (can't WAIT for his new one), George R.R. Martin, Warren Ellis.

Not as many books as I wanted to, but more than last year. I think

My friend Christie is vowing to read a hundred books this year. No way I can do that. But what I can do is read books that have been written in the last thirteen years. That list of authors I read, many of them were books that were twenty or more years old. The stuff I grew up reading was nominally current to the time I read it, thirty years ago.

So it's time to read some more current stuff. Starting off with some cool stuff that's only six or seven years old, moving on to Year's Best SF 18 which is the only anthology I read every year. It's consistently, consistently packed with awesome science fiction shorts. After that, things are kind of up in the air. I should read another Charles Stross book, I really want to read the Prophet comic but I haven't sourced a copy of that. Lots of other things on my radar. Probably some Michael Swanwick. I love his short stories. More Scalzi. Right now I've got a Connie Willis collection of short stories that's tugging at me, too.

Lots to choose from. SF is alive and well and doing just fine. I'm going to get current and then we'll see what happens. Lots of good things, I hope.

All I have to do is crack open a book. Or two. Or seventeen.