Tag Archives: Science Fiction

Life To Writing

Writing is the ability to transform life experiences into art.

This is a bit of a paraphrase from a comment made by Lena Dunham’s father about her work. In an interview on Fresh Air I was listening to this morning, Lena Dunham talked about how she often takes experiences from her life and puts them on the screen, sometimes very soon after they’ve happened. There’s a lot to be unpacked on how you protect others with that content, and what would constitute “over-sharing” but it got me to to thinking about my own body of work.

I rarely take direct experiences from my life and put them verbatim or slightly altered onto the page. Certainly my technical and professional knowledge show up in scenes in Surreality, and a lot of the scenes with the dog Garfunkel are at least in part inspired by my first dog, Simon. Maybe a snippet of a conversation with my wife or with Brian or my Dad show up, but I treat these moments more as “easter eggs” than features that drive the narrative of the book.

An exception to this rule came at a particular moment in Dark Matter. It’s a passage I’m not really sure will make the final cut of the book, and upon reading it again, I’m not sure I’m even comfortable sharing it here, but I can give you the gist.

The majority of Dark Matter was written in a 117 day unbroken period. What broke the streak wasn’t finishing the book, it was being diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and the subsequent required surgery. Early on, long prior to this moment, I’d established that there was a chapel on the space cruise ship that’s the main setting for Dark Matter, and in day 107 or 108, sitting in Crimson Cup, I decided to have my character make use of it.

It’s not really that much text, just a four paragraph prayer. It’s at a moment before the finishing action of the book where it seems like the main character may fail in finding his family, and could lose his life trying:

“Lord,” he began quietly.  “I know we haven’t talked a lot lately, and maybe we should have.  I never wanted to be one of those Christians who only came to you when I was in trouble, but it seems like that’s what I am.  Maybe I’ve needed you before this moment but all I know is I need somebody now.”

Even though I think of writing as a form of worship, this is probably one of the few (or only) times I’ve actually been writing what I was praying at that exact moment.

Whether or not that section makes the final cut (especially considering I plan to completely redraft this book) is uncertain. I don’t like to think of writing as cathartic, as something I do to process emotions. I write because I want to tell stories. But every now and then, writing is the tool I’m most comfortable with using to organize my thoughts. There’s an editor version of myself who’s much more dispassionate about those moments after the fact. But at the time, it was deeply necessary to write those few paragraphs.

Writing about your life and your experiences shouldn’t always be comfortable. It’s not something you should do lightly. But every now and again, it’s something you need to do.

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The Best and the Worst of Both Worlds

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I was raised on Star Trek.

Saturdays in the 90’s were spent with pizza and Star Trek, first Next Generation, then DS9 and finally Voyager. My mom taped reruns of the original series when they aired on Fox after the noon news so I could watch them after school (and homework). One of the best decisions I ever made as a college student involved dropping a database class after the first day, selling back the textbook, and using the money to buy all three seasons of the original series (before CBS decided it needed a CG update).

So naturally you’d assume I’d be pretty excited when CBS announced it will produce a new Star Trek series, airing in January of 2017.

And yeah, I think it’s pretty cool that there will be new Star Trek in the world. The new movies have been fun, and as a comic book enthusiast, I’ve been pretty stoked at the revival in Star Trek comics that’s been happening for the last 9 years.

That said, I suspect I’m not alone in really kinda hating how CBS is doing this.

The first episode will air on the traditional CBS network. After that, the rest of the episodes will be distributed exclusively on the CBS All Access platform, a Hulu-like service carrying CBS content exclusively for $6 a month.

According to executive VP Marc DeBevoise: “This new series will premiere to the national CBS audience, then boldly go where no first-run Star Trek series has gone before…

Behind a pay-wall.

At least in the United States. World-wide it sounds like the series will air via traditional over-the-air networks as well as the all-access app.

All 28 seasons of previously aired Star Trek (not counting 2 years of animated series because who would) were available for free over the air. I know we live in a “different era of television” but this feels a lot like asking us to pay for something we’ve always been able to count on for free.

I can’t decide if CBS’ logic is that the exclusive content will attract more users to the service, or that the series is niche enough that it might be better to go the way of other streaming series like Arrested Development, Community and The Mindy Project. All of those shows had original broadcasts runs and were later revived by Netflix, Yahoo TV and Hulu respectively.

But there’s something about the CBS service that has always felt less than other services like Hulu and Netflix, even Amazon Prime. It sets a precedent for a la carte channel services. I like that my $8 a month to Hulu buys me current and past ABC, FOX, NBC, CW shows (and countless other networks). Just today I was marveling at how much obscure Anime, British television and Korean drama came with my $8 a month. I’m sure CBS has some of the same, but after a while it feels like we keep spending money to buy the same things over and over again with only slight differences.

I only watch two CBS shows currently: The Big Bang Theory, which I binge watch on DVD, and NCIS, which just got 12 seasons streaming on Netflix. The only other CBS shows I’ve been watching have been available on other services, Elementary on Hulu, Numb3rs on Netflix, etc. I’d watch more CBS shows when they come on services I already own, including CBS owned back episodes of Star Trek. I would even go back to appointment television if CBS aired the new series traditionally. I’ll probably buy it if/when they release it on DVD. But until then I’ll have to wait.

Unless we can change CBS’s mind…

If you think the new Star Trek should be available over the free airwaves for all, as it has been for 50 years, send a message using the hashtag #StarTrek4All to @CBS or @StarTrek. Tactics like forcing Star Trek fans to pay for a new series, run the risk of dooming that series before it starts.

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The Future of Newspapers in 1995

My wife wanted to take a nap on Sunday, and since she said she didn’t care what was on the TV as long as it wasn’t Anime, I took the opportunity to watch some Season 2 episodes of Babylon 5. Estimations of future technology have always been kind of a tricky subject in science fiction. Some things it gets right, like the tablets, cell phones and laptop computers in Star Trek, and some things it gets hilariously wrong.

This one I’m not too sure about.

In episode 19 of Season 2, “Divided Loyalties” Ambassador Delenn and Captain Sheridan are standing in front of an unusual dispenser:

Instead of USA Today, Babylon 5 dispenses “Universe Today”. Subscribers deposit their previous day’s issue into the slot which is recycled with a flash, select their preferences, and are issued a new paper edition customized to their needs.

Now the logic of this is a little questionable. In the same episode Sheridan and Garibaldi have an extensive discussion about the lack of trees on the station (except for those in the orchard), and yet there is an ample supply of paper being shipped to the station for a newspaper. Presumably recycling the issues cuts down on the amount of stuff that would need to be shipped in, but paper can only be recycled so many times, and relies on everyone depositing their previous issue to get the new one.

Leaving this aside there are some things about the concept that are brilliant. I think a lot of us have a cycle of 5-10 sites we check every morning for news, media and whatever strikes our fancy. There are RSS feeds and news aggregators and even apps that deliver magazine like content from different to our tablets. The Universe Today concept takes news from what must be hundreds of sources and condenses it down to a particular user’s interests, like Delenn’s “Eye on Minbari” section. And it delivers it cleanly, in an easy to digest format.

Today, a lot of local papers are using news writing software to deliver personalized content about sports and financial stories. Technical journals with a very narrow audience are being automatically created using software as well, producing analysis and reports for very specialized needs.

The idea of the paper newspaper surviving until the 23rd century, let alone the end of the 21st century, may seem far-fetched. But personalized, customized, and even echo-chambered news is already here.

Now if only someone can make a White Star I’ll be all set.

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Review: The Fuse Volume 2 – Gridlock

Crime-procedurals in space, illegal races, drug smuggling and terrorism, The Fuse Vol. 2 has something for everyone.

The Fuse Vol. 2: Gridlock

Writer – Antony Johnson, Artist – Justin Greenwood

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Ristovych and Dietrich are on the case again, this time investigating the murder of the #1 racer of an illegal grid-locking league. But Starlight’s murder soon reveals connections to drugs, weapons smuggling, terrorism, and fights over television rights. The two detectives have to contend with the I-SEEC side of the wall, the DA, vice and homeland security if they want to solve this case. And what’s the real reason Ralph volunteered for this assignment to The Fuse?

Johnson’s second outing on The Fuse continues to be full of intrigue, humor and suspense. We get a better picture of the different social strata of The Fuse, not just the wealthy on level 50, but also the station’s slums, and the wall separating Midway city from the engineers and workers who don’t want all these civilians around. We also get some clues as to Ralph’s real motives for volunteering for this post (the last page is a real shocker). We get some softening of Ristovych both in the way she interviews certain witnesses, and a grudging respect for Dietrich, consenting occasionally to calling him by this real name. I’m still loving this character, her determination, dry humor, and take no prisoners attitude.

The case itself is a lot more complicated than the first arc, but Johnson does a good job of tying all the loose ends together in an understandable frame. I read a lot of these issues as they came out, and my only complaint is that it can be a little hard to keep things straight month to month, but that makes reading these trades all the sweeter. Overall I’m really liking this 6-month case structure, with ongoing mysteries throughout.

This collection does not include the backup story “Tabloid” though frankly that story didn’t live up to Johnson’s standard for the series. Getting a story in 1-page chunks over six-months never seemed like a great structure, and read together there’s only so much story that can be told in that few pages. Though the world of The Fuse is intriguing, it’s the relationship between the two detectives that keeps me coming back. The cover montage for the six-issues is pretty cool, and would make a decent poster for fans of the series.

I can’t wait for the new arc in August. In the meantime I’ll have to content myself with reading these two trades again.

(5 stars | Better the second time around)

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May the fourth be with you, and also with you

Happy Star Wars day everyone!

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Image Source: Total Hangout

Now I am decidedly a Trekkie in the whole Trek versus Wars debate (and yes I meant to say Trekkie not Trekker which is a whole other debate). Actually I’m more of a B5’er or whatever you call people who love J. Michael Strazcinski’s 5 year epic that should have been subtitled “The Rise and Fall of Londo Molari”. But I think all of us nerds can agree we really love both. Wars and Trek appeal to different parts of our brain, and even though there have been times I’ve complained of Trek heading in more of a Wars direction (particularly with the last couple of Abrahms movies), I’m still going to watch, game and read many of the things these two properties have to offer.

Though not either properties’ animated series.

Here’s the thing though. In a way this debate feels archaic, or at least should feel archaic. I’ve heard an update of this might be Babylon 5 vs. Battlestar Galactica, but even those series have been off the air for a while (I personally found Galactica depressing and grinding after a while). I’m a brown-shirt too, but let’s face it, 14 episodes, a movie, and a few comic books are really all we’re gonna get out of that.

It’s like people who still cite the ABC’s of Science Fiction (Asimov, Bradbury and Clarke). These are all great writers (or great thinkers anyway). I wish I had the talent for imagery and crafting short stories of Bradbury, and I find myself striving for some of the same things as Asimov without trying to be too much like Clarke (the ending of my first ever completed novel was a lot like the ending of 2001 which is to say, incomprehensible and bad).

To me both Wars, Trek and the ABC’s are a solid grounding in the classics. But have we reached a point in science fiction where it might be time to start defining the genre by more than just these two titles? The Trek versus Wars thing feels more like an external classification than an internal one, and it seems maybe even a little dated despite the lasting legacy of both these series.

Now I say this as a guy who is on a bit of a mission to convince people that Deep Space Nine is better than The Next Generation, and as someone who still buys Star Trek comic books, and was thrilled for his 30th birthday to receive a Starship Enterprise sushi set. This is a nudge more than a shove.

I wish I was a little better versed in some of the great work of modern authors (besides Doctorow and Scalzi), and I’m making an effort every day to find the people who are writing this generation’s Trek or Wars. So far the place I’ve found it is in comic books, with titles like Letter 44, The Fuse, Saga, Copperhead, Roche Limit and Black Science (most of which I’ve reviewed on the blog). I guess lately I’ve been finding the idiosyncratic and personal work of comic book writers to be more appealing than larger more mass marketed properties. That said, a lot of individual authors still do great work on these series (and we haven’t even gotten to the behemoth that is Doctor Who which is again a 50+ year property).

Again, I love these old shows, movies, etc. I want my kids and my grandkids to enjoy them. I just want to make sure that when we (or the people outside) talk about science fiction, it seems like there is more to talk about. There’s something out there in science fiction for everyone to love, not just us nerds.

And maybe today of all days is a good time to have that discussion. If someone talks to you about Star Wars today, have fun with that, and maybe throw in something else you’ve read lately that really grabbed you, and that they might enjoy.

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Forty-Minute Story “Gray”

This is a sequel of sorts to a scene I wrote about eight months ago, itself a tangential piece relative to one of my works in progress. Before you read this scene, you may want to go back and read “Dust“. Enjoy!

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The orange sphere arced through the air on the way to its target. Cora stood watching the ball, her “fingers” still out-stretched hoping to hear the satisfying flick of “nothing but net.” All her ears were met with, however, was the capricious clank of backboard, and rubber against the gym floor.

“Pretty close from half court,” a familiar voice shouted.

The last few months had brought a degree of informality between Cora and her commanding officer. Instead of snapping into a salute, Cora ran forward to pick up the errant ball and position herself back at the center line.

“I’d like to see you do better.” Cora pulled the ball up to her chest, her elbows flying out to chest pass the ball, but dropping at the last second with a little laughter, and a softer toss.

“A throw like that and you’d put me down in rehab with you,” He joked, passing the ball casually from hand to hand.

“No thanks,” Cora said, using her flesh and blood arm to wipe the sweat from her forehead. “Been seeing too much of you as it is.”

“I notice the arm’s sill gray.”

“Yeah, what of it?”

“You know the nanites can be rearranged to realistically mimic skin. You’ve got yours looking like a prosthetic arm from twenty years ago.”

“Mimic skin, huh? Like this?” Cora flicked her wrist and within in an instant she had a flesh and blood hand, attached to a dull gray robotic arm. She flayed her fingers to examine them.

“I could never get my nails looking this nice, even with a dozen manicures. See?”

She held up her other arm for comparison.

Her commander took her hand. It was cool to the touch, but otherwise felt perfectly normal. Her fingernails scratched his hand as she pulled back suddenly, another flick restoring the cold gray appearance.

“I keep it this way because I don’t want to stand out from the other soldiers. It’s bad enough I’m one of the only ones with a private room, I don’t need anyone else prying about the special hardware you’ve grafted onto me.”

“Excuse me?”

“I’m no fool. This wasn’t just a new experimental procedure, the next generation in prosthetics or whatever line you sold me. You built me for a purpose, and I think it’s about time you told me.”

She swiped for the ball with the new arm and flung it toward the basket without looking. The ball was palmed in her iron grip as her arm stretched and arced, her eyes never breaking contact with her commander. When her hand was just above the basket she just dropped the ball, and was rewarded with the swish she’d been looking for.

“That’s why I’m here, Cora. I think it’s time for your first assignment.”

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Forty-Minute Story “Dust”

The bed was wider than a hospital bed should be. She was in a private room, no curtains separating her from other patients, but no windows to the outside world. Yet somehow the light was warm and natural, as if the sunlight had trickled down into whatever deep place she had woken up in.

Of course she knew where she was, where she’d been for the last few weeks getting ready for this first moment of waking up, of trying her new arm.

She looked to her right and all she saw was a pile of grey dust.

Why they left her alone like this she didn’t quite understand. Somehow this pile of dust, these “nanites” were going to be her arm, but none of the doctors or nurses had told her how it was actually going to feel. Maybe they didn’t know. The piece she couldn’t see was the interface. It had been inserted a few days before, but she’d been asleep for that, been asleep for days recovering as they rebuilt her piece by piece.

She thought about lifting her arm an inch off the bed. Cora watched with fascination as the worthless pile began to wave and shimmer, like one of the bed-sheets in the wind. But it had no substance, no form of an arm, and it moved in ways she really didn’t think she was controlling. Even as she watched, the dust settled back into an indistinguishable lump.

Maybe moving the whole pile was unrealistic. After all, what had her real arm been but a bunch of flesh hung on a piece of bone? Her body only had to contract a few small tendons to move that bone, and everything moved with it.

Cora closed her eyes and thought of a wire hanger, like the ones she used to get with her dry cleaning. She bent out the hangar in her mind until it was straight, then bent it again in the middle where the elbow should be, and once more a few inches above her “hand.”

She opened her eyes and saw the hanger. A small portion of the dust had formed a rod that was sticking out of the stub of her body. She bent the rod this way and that and her new arm moved with her, thinner than a pencil, but still under her control.

She thought about flesh but somehow that seemed still too heavy. Instead her wire hangar became the trunk of a tree, with branches sticking out at intervals. The silvery particles were forming a crystalline-like structure, slowly beginning to cross and interleave, like the wire frame of paper-mache.

Just then the door opened and her commanding officer stepped in. It had been weeks since they’d seen each other, not since the first day of this, and Cora snapped into a salute almost by instinct. The sharp branches of her tree poked her forehead, and she thought she felt a small drop of blood forming.

“At ease, Lieutenant.”

Cora moved to put the arm back in the pile of dust but found it had dissolved on her top sheet. She leaned a little to one side to allow the nanites to fall into the pile. Her commanding officer leaned over and with the tip of his thumb brushed her lip ever so gently.

“You had a little of your arm on your mouth, Lieutenant.” The gesture was playful but also showed some of the almost fatherly concern the commander was barely trying to hide.

Cora smiled. “Yes, sir. Better than my foot.”

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