Sunday, February 22, 2015


Let's talk about science fiction television shows. Here's a quick and by no means comprehensive list:

  • Battlestar Galactica (both versions)
  • Doctor Who
  • Revolution
  • Star Trek (TOS, Next Gen, DS9, etc...)
  • Babylon 5
  • Farscape
  • Firefly (and Serenity)
  • Orphan Black
  • Helix
  • X-Files
  • Continuum
  • Twilight Zone
  • LOST
  • The Black Mirror
  • Stargate
  • Six Million Dollar Man
  • Red Dwarf
  • Torchwood
And so, so, so many more. 

For me, the list above isn't in any kind of order and I haven't watched all these shows, some I've only watched parts of. I didn't include the superheroes because they're not always science fiction though they inevitably veer that way. 

Anyway, I'm a fan of Firefly and Continuum and Doctor Who. I've watched the Twilight Zone since I was a kid. I grew up watching the Six Million Dollar Man and other things like Space:1999 and Time Tunnel. 

All my life it's been easy to write off science fiction television as juvenile. That is until Star Trek came along. Social commentary had long existed in SF prose but it reached a new level on TV under Gene Roddenberry's leadership. Roddenberry changed everything. Everything.

In fact you can see the influence in everything on TV from pretty much 1970 on though it becomes more evident in the mid-1990s. When we get to 1999 and the SciFi Channel drops Farscape on us, it's a level up. The Star Wars trilogy in the 70s and early 80s gave us a little taste with special effects going up a dozen notches but not so much in the diversity category or social commentary.

Fast forward to LOST where there's a wide representation of humanity on a tiny island and LOTS of social commentary.

You can see the influences if you look hard enough. Not just in spinoffs like Torchwood from the new Doctor Who but in things like Farscape influencing the relaunch of Doctor Who. Not directly maybe but the production values of Farscape - which as a show would have definitely benefited from attention from the nascent Internet - were so high that Doctor Who had to prove its concept was sound before it could get there but it did.

Storytelling has gotten more complex over the last twenty years too. Seasons/series are entire stories with subplots and that may not payoff until the next series/season. That's the influence of comic books and soap operas.  Continuum is a great example of a mix of character development and complex storytelling. So is Orphan Black.

 Okay, so that's the groundwork. What's your favorite science fiction television show? Why?

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Live Writing

I got confirmation this week that I will have a table in Artists Alley at Planet Comicon March 13 - 15.

So, what will I have to offer? There'll be some assortment of printed stories to sell, a couple of larger sketch-type things too. I hope to have those to preview here in the week leading up to the con.

But the big deal will be doing more Velocity Readouts. Here are the basics:

Give me a prompt - two or three words - and I'll handwrite an original story for you. More details here if you're interested.

Prior to the show, I'll need to do some warmups. This is where you readers come in. Leave me a prompt in the comments below or hit me up on Twitter (@ajasont) and use the hashtag #VelocityReadout if you would, please.

I'll do my best to get them turned around in a day or less. Additionally, over on Twitter and maybe even on Facebook, I'll hit you all up for prompts and do them more or less live. Turned around in 20 minutes or less like I'll try to do at the convention. Sounds ambitious typed out like that. Still, I've done it before.

Stick with me. Help me get my chops up for this. It's going to be fun.

More to come.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

A Day (Not Quite) Mis-Spent

Ah, this takes me back. I was a young guy when this happened. The company I worked for was responsible for bringing these guys in. They got booked before the album broke big and played the show even though there were probably opportunities elsewhere to make a lot more money. Their integrity was solid. 29,000 fans showed up. At least that's the number I heard over and over. Maybe it was less. Maybe not.

Anyway, it's cool that this is online. The sound isn't great and the angle is poor but it's definitely as close to being there as anything else. It was a free show for those that attended. Part of the still-new Day on the Hill series that Student Union Activities put on. There was a great run from SUA in the late 80s/early 90s. Oingo Boingo came through on one of their last tours. Primus and Fishbone did a Halloween show. Nirvana played at KU, so did Faith No More, before their respective records blew up to national attention. Ah, those were the days...

Unfortunately I wasn't there. I had to work that day and I needed the money so I missed out. Now I can watch the show anytime I want and I can drink beer while doing it. (The KU campus had just gone 'dry' shortly before this.

Here you go. Pearl Jam at Day on the Hill at the University of Kansas. 1992. Enjoy.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Art-Making Animals

Unfortunately I misspelled Gauguin's name on Twitter. Fixed that here.
Image from here.
Last night I attended a wonderful, inspiring lecture given by author Margaret Atwood. The ambitious title of her lecture (“Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?: The Arts, The Sciences, The Humanities, The Inhumanities, and The Non-Humanities. Zombies Thrown In Extra”) presaged an evening of insight, laughter and deeper thinking. The whale testicles were apparently a bonus. (You had to be there.) She wondered out loud if perhaps the invitation committee had asked Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, or Ruth Rendell before they'd approached her.

She riffed on being in Kansas (sigh, as so many often do) by making reference to The Wizard of Oz. Instead of being tedious about it, she took it a step further by challenging us to be Not Kansas. That is, be more exotic, exciting, perhaps even dangerous by creating "an embarrassing pop star of your own". That said, it's disappointing that the world only really knows Kansas by the film of a hundred year-old novel series. We need to work harder at being Not Kansas.

Going even further, she talked a great deal about the above painting by Paul Gauguin, adding layers of meaning by intimating that the topless Tahitian ladies might be talking to an off-panel figure. (I think she mentioned it might've been the Pope but I didn't take a lot of notes.) I mention this only to note that like any author she looks at something and starts reading into it something more that becomes entertaining.

In the heart of her talk, Atwood told us that humans are born artists, though not necessarily good ones. As soon as we see crayons and wallpaper we want to draw. She called us "art-making animals". I love that tag and I will wear it proudly.  "We do art". Yep. Absolutely.

She wound up our time together (there were 1100 of us that came to hear her and the crowd was expected to top out around 400 or so) by talking about zombies, vampires, werewolves and Frankenstein's monster. Zombies are the perfect metaphor for how people tend not to think when faced with oppression. Vampires are elegant, given to tell-all books and rich. Werewolves are not so elegant, running around only in fur and wondering "Was that really me last night?" As for Frankenstein's monster, despite his ill-fitting clothes he is still intelligent when he needs to be and especially talkative when met in the Arctic.

Zombies, though, zombies don't care about their clothes and seem only to be running around biting anyone they can find to turn their victims into more zombies. They are mindless, uncaring in the extreme and relentless. They are reflective of how we think of ourselves. Their currently popularity should frighten the hell out of anyone who takes the time to give it any thought at all.

From that I inferred that she means for us to think more, to read more, to be more like vampires who take the time to improve their lot because they live longer. Theoretically. As long as there's not some Slayer running around intent on cutting short that extra life. Anyway, I digress. As always, Atwood inspires us to be better, to pay more attention. When talking about Humanities as a course of study, in concert with science, she drew a line very clearly that "the Humanities are not rocket science".

Rather the problems that face us as humans on this earth must be solved by crossing disciplines. Human culture needs to be speculative and critical and must work in concert with the empirical nature of science. This is something that doesn't seem to happen much anywhere, let alone in our corridors of power.

We must open our minds, absorb everything we need to thrive. Our ancestors did it, we do it as babies. Instead, we get hung up on one thing and we become Kansas: comfortable, safe, sedate.

Let's look at things like she does: let's imagine something even more interesting than what's presented to us. Then let's pursue that line of thinking and see where it takes us.

During the Q&A, a teacher mentioned that her students, when they read Atwood's stories, feel "overwhelmed and depressed" which seemed to please the author. Her advice to the young students who feel that way is this: It's just a book. Close it. Take it as a cautionary tale and work hard to not let these things happen.

Which summed up the entire evening nicely. I hope that her talk will be available online or in print somewhere. She was brilliant as expected. Which explains the crowd that filled two rooms completely.