A Brief Political Post

People who have read this blog for sometimes know that I will post about politics and may have noticed that I have been mostly quiet these last three weeks. It is not from a decision to retreat from political writing or advocating positions but I will confess to still being in a state of shellshock from the results of the election.

However I may feel we had the election and the results as distasteful as they are are looking to remain.

I do believe that we are in for a particularly bad administration. In my opinion we are likely to see worst level of corruption in the Federal government since the 19th century and it will take a great deal of action and vigilance to protect the gains and right of all Americans from the right’s reactionary forces.

That said I have seen quite a few comments comparing our current political trouble with the rise of Nazism in the Weimar Republic. These comparisons I believe are wrong.

One must remember that the Weimar Republic was quite young, born in 1919 from the cataclysm of WWI that government’s institutions were weak and had no long standing traditions to rely upon when challenged. It is also important to understand just how violent and unstable Weimar really was. Not only did they suffer attempts to be violently overly thrown there were nearly 400 assassinations in just three years. (1919-1922) That makes for a well plowed field to grown a dictatorship.

The United States is not in the same conditions. Our institutions are well established and our social scene is quite stable.

Again that does not mean do not be vigilant, That does not mean that this is business as normal. Trump is not a normal president and these are not normal times but do not like hyperbole sway you into despair.

I believe that the man is a racist and has empowered racists.

I believe that the man is corrupt and will continue to be so.

I believe that extreme forces on the right will attempt to undo tremendously important gains.

I also believe that the rights of all Americans are terribly important.

I believe that these forces can be thwarted.

I believe that we are enduring a painful period as the worst forces on the right as die off. (It may be important foe some to remember that ten years I ago I considered myself a Republican. They drove me from the party and I know I was not alone.)

By a real margin the population did not want Trump the wisdom of the American people is still strong and while fighting, while being vigilant, it is important to remain hopeful as we..

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What I Miss In Science-Fiction

I’ll admit that what I am gripping about here is mostly in the areas of film and television, thought the prose area is sparse just not as bare as the visual media.

There used to be a time when SF movies and shows were about professional explorers. Perhaps the best known and best overall example of this is the classic television series Star Trek. Every episode opened with a prolog telling you in no uncertain terms that this show was about explorers and their now famous five year mission.

But before Star Trek this was a well plowed field, most movies about going to the moon were about the competent professional crew, and the dangers they face. Forbidden Planet, for all of its lifting of themes and ideas from the Bard’s The Tempest, abandoned the concept of the shipwrecked visitors for the intelligent and hyper-competitive crew of the United Planets Cruiser C-75-D. (And yes Joss I spotted that reference in your film Serenity.)

I will admit that the idea of the explorers over time and misuse got beaten into a trope. A trope that met its end when in the wake of Star Wars 20th Century Fox release Alien.

The blue-collar truck drivers of space took their big rig Nostromo and turned the profession explorers into road-kill. Yeah I get the trope had been way over used, but now we have turned too far away from what is a very useful and interesting sub-genre of science-fiction.

I think cynicism is one of the reasons why this style of story has fallen out of favor. To have a serious story, without eye rolling irony, about professional explorers you need to accept that people, human people, can be intelligent ad ethical while exploring ad that is a thing few people are willing to admit that they can believe in. It is easier and cooler to play the cynic to substitute that cynicism for wisdom and optimism.

As a culture and as a language we elevate the cynic, the very term sounds of gravitas but we have no comparable word to act as its antonym.

I really hope that the new Trek series gets back to exploration, but that universe is so mapped that my hope is a fool’s hope.

Still, I hold on to my hope and refuse to give in.

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Well, This Was Kind of Cool

Recently I posted an essay where I broke down the classic film Alien into a five-act structure. Now I am sure that Dan O’Bannon likely thought in three acts, but acts of artificial anyway. The common audience member isn’t looking at the story as it unfolds and trying to work out a structure, ideally they are swept away by the characters and events, forgetting that it is even fiction. However as a writer I am always taking plots apart to see how they work or did not work. (I think you can learn a lot from a failed story if you can work out why it failed.) So the essay was just me sharing my thoughts on act structures and using Alien as an example to illustrate my ideas.

Now, I am also a member of the local chapter of the Horror Writers Association. We have productive meetings each month and I have met some rather cool people there. One of the members has asked that I give a presentation on using an act structure in novel writing. I’m excited by the prospect. I already use both three and five act structure when I plot out a novel and sometimes ever for short stories. Putting it down in a formal presentation would be helpful to me and hopefully helpful to whoever is present when I give it.

Time to get proficient at PowerPoint

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What Do You Call this Creature?

This is a topic I have visited before and for those who have experienced the earlier ranting you can skip this post.

Alien and images are copyrights of 20th Century Fox

Alien and images are copyrights of 20th Century Fox

I saw the film Alien on its initial theatrical release. It is a movie of stunning power and with a tremendous legacy. To this day people are still copying the plot and making rip-off version more than 30 years later, Consider this, since Alien, the crew of trained and experienced explorers has been abandoned as a trope for SF films.

Of course central to the movie was the monster itself, a terrifying parasite that gestated inside its victims and possessed seemingly unstoppable agency. The story, images, and themes resonated so well that sequels and prequels continue to this very day.

But what do you call the monster at the heat of this experience?

For years the term of I heard most was simply The Alien, you could practically hear the capital letters in a person voice when the subject was discussed. Slowly though that fell out of favor for the generic sounding Xenomorph.

I have issues with that name. First, it sounds generic, and it is generic. The word itself simply means ‘other-shaped.’ The character Lt. Gorman uses the term when briefing the squad saying, “…A xenomorph may be involved.” He can’t be referring to this particular type of creature as at this point in the story no one, except Burke, believes Ripley. He’s using the word to say in a fancy way that an alien of some type is involved. However fans have latched onto this word as a proper name for the monster.

For decades I have been a gamer and gamers steal from books, TV, and movies for  monsters to throw at their players, including the terrifying creature from Alien. I have been no exception and I needed a name, between the films Alien and Aliens, I landed on what works for me.

In Alien when they crew awakens early they discover that instead of being home, at Earth, that they are in fact just short of Zeta Two Reticuli. one half of a binary pair about 39 light years from Earth. Now I saw the film in theaters, before VHS and DVDs and Blu-Rays and misheard the name. For years I called it Beta Reticuli, but eventually I learned the local stellar neighborhood and the proper name for the star. My name for the creature is the Zeta Reticulian Parasite. Yes it is long but I think it has a ring to it and it sounds like a real bit of nomenclature.

I know I will change no one’s mind on this. I am the lost voice in the wilderness screaming at the horrid tag ‘xenomorph,’ and everyone will ignore me, but hey, your mileage may vary.

For me it is The Zeta Reticulian Parasite.

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An Analysis of ‘Alien’ Using the Five Act Structure

I am the sort of writer who plots his projects out ahead of time and when I do that plotting I like to have a structure for the story. Most of the time I use a three-Act system of Establishment, Conflict, Resolution, but lately I have been experimenting with five acts. One way to digest and understand an act structure, particularly if you intend to use it for your own work, is to look at something already in existence and see how the structure fits on that. This is not to say that the screenplay writers for Alien used a 5 act system, they most likely used a 3 act method, but nearly any story can be broken down by either method.

ACT I Establishment

In the first act of a 5 act story not only are characters and conflicts established in the first act, but themes and the nature of the world is laid out for the audience/reader. In Alien I would suggest that the first act goes from the film start, naturally, and concludes with the decision to land on the planet/moon about Zeta-2 Reticuli. Quite a bit is covered in this passage. We learn our heroes are working class people, not space explorers as in other films of the genre, we learn that they don’t get along, and that they are deeply concerned with money. The ‘Company’ unnamed in the original, is a source of threat and power that exists in almost omnipotent state off screen.

ACT II Complications

Here things go wrong and the characters are tested with a series of setbacks. The setbacks are dangerous and threatening to the order of the world, but not yet irreversible.

The Landing goes badly, damaging the ship. The trip to the source of the signal that they have been forced to investigate – at this point the nature of ‘force’ appears to be solely the threat of money being withheld, is difficult and the first translation hint that the signal is not a distress call but a warning. Cain is ridden by the creature and interpersonal tensions flare. While attempts to remove the creature from Cain fail, the ship is repaired and the crew leaves the planet for home.

ACT III Crisis

In Act three, classically called the Climax though today we tend to use that for resolution, there is a fundamental change that is irreversible, MacBeth has Banquo murder for example. There is a clear turning point in the plot that takes place in Act 3 from which the character become trapped in their choices and must face the consequences that their fates hold.

Cain appears to recovery from the alien parasite but shortly dies in a horrific manner. Now the crew find themselves trapped on a ship with a deadly creature and increasingly dangerous attempts to deal with it result in further loss of life.

ACT IV Resolution

With a 3 act structure it is usual to think of resolution as the ending, how everything turned out in the end, but with a five act structure this also includes the final reveals and plot twists that lead to the Hero’s victory or failure in their plot. Act 4 for Alien is Ripley’s act, it is where she is revealed to be the actual hero of the story and takes charge to deal with the creature. Act 4 also reveals Ash to be the turncoat and company man working against their interests. With all the important elements in place and revealed the hero, Ripley, drive to the solution, here destroying the ship with the creature aboard.

ACT V Denouement

In my opinion Act V for Alien is everything on the shuttle after Ripley launches from the ship. It is the final confrontation between the hero and villain, this case a monster, but nothing new is added. All the elements, including the plan to ‘blow it out the airlock’ have already been established and are in place. The final obstacle is faced and the hero either overcomes and grows from the experience or fails due to their tragic flaw, Of course in Alien Ripley overcomes and earns her ‘happy ending.’

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Loscon 43 Day 3

Sunday was the final day of the convention. in spite of being up past midnight engrossed in good conversations I arose shortly after 8 am and took in a buffet breakfast in the hotel restaurant, A friend, Mark Fogg, joined me for breakfast and the good conversation from the previous night continued.

My bad luck with first of the day panels also continued as the retrospective on Military Sf was canceled. Instead I spend my first block period watching space-related cartoon from Warner Brothers and MGM.

Just a few topics and panels consumed the rest of the convention for me. A nice overview of the science gained from our most recent Martian rover, a lively discussion of tropes and cliché’s in fiction, and I ended it on science with a look at the result of the New Horizons mission to Pluto.

At about 4 pm my wife and I left the convention for home. The drive home passed uneventfully. We stopped for a meal with friends also heading to San Diego, and did a little grocery shopping near home before finally reaching our condo.

I stayed up a littler later than my sweetie-wife watched most of The Martian, but then exhausted I turned in for sleep.

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Loscon 43 Day 2

Day 2, Saturday, was my very busy day at the convention. Now to be honest the day did not start off well. The first panel I attended, the subject being why are manuscripts dead on arrival, was one that presented very little information that I did not already know and my alternate panel had been canceled, but those are the risk of a convention.

The next block featured a panel in which I was a participant, the subject being Redshirts, body counts and drama stakes in story telling. The panelists were all lively and informed, our discussion ranged far and I think went to very interesting places.

After that I took in a panel on stealing from history, Shakespeare, and other sources. Any panel featuring both Harry Turtledove and Tim Powers is neatly always worth attending.

The rest of the afternoon was taken up with science presentations on the Dawn Mission, a read and critique workshop that I facilitated, and a bit to eat rather late in the evening.

My final event was panel that I had suggested to the programming chair, discussing Roddenberry’s failed pilots of the 1970s.. I had envisioned this taking place during normal con hours with a panel of 4 or 5. Instead it was scheduled for 9pm, and while the programmers had slotted two panelists, I was the only one that turned up.

An audience however did attend and so the show had to go on. Luckily the audience was willing to roll with just me up there and in the end I think we had a lot of fun talking about the pilots, the filmmaking of the era, and Roddenberry’s career before Star Trek.

With the last panel completed I spent the remaining hours, until well after midnight, in a lively hallways discussion with friends old and new.

A truly good end to a good day.

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Loscon 43 Day 1

Things went fairly well for me on Friday. Now my day-job requires that I work ‘Black Friday’ as this is also the time of the year when Medicare complete applications arrive in a flood. However I was able to shift my work schedule so I started early and completed by shift at 3:00, then my sweetie-wife and I drove quickly from San Diego to Los Angeles and I arrived just twenty minute before my first scheduled panel.

The panel discussed Science, Fiction, and Politics. Despite the explosive potential the room remained civil and instead on rancor we had plenty of reasoned statements. I sat next to Harry Turtledove and managed to not make a fool of myself.

The evening was hanging out with friends, Ice Scream social, dinner with my sweetie-wife, and open room parties. I even managed to squeeze in about 40 minutes of editing on a new short story. All in all the day was good and ended well.

Now I head into day two and this time I have thee panels or workshops that I will be participating in.

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LosCon 43 this weekend

Thanksgiving weekend if when I head to Los Angeles for LosCon, an L.A. area Science-Fiction Convention. I have been attending for nearly twenty years and though my job now makes me miss most of Friday it is still one of my favorite conventions.

This year I will be on a few panels and here is where you can find me if you are going to the conventions.

FRIDAY

5:30 Science, Fiction, and Politics – St louis Room

SATURDAY

11:30am Redshirts and Body Counts – Atlanta Room

5:30 pm Rogue Read and Critque – St. Lous Room

9:00 pm Roddenbery’s Forgotten Dreams – St Louis Room

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Movie Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them 2016

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone in the USA who celebrates this holiday and happy Thursday to everyone else. This morning my sweetie-wife and I went to an early morning screening of the latest film set in the Harry Potter universe, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. I am thankful that I did not hold high expectations for this film for it would not have met them.

1-fantastic_beasts_and_where_to_find_them_posterThis is not a bad movie, but nor it is a good one, it is at best middling and a mildly entertaining bit of spectacle. The problems with the film rest primarily with J.K. Rowling who is credited with the script and is a producer as well. The story has a fairly inconsistent tone veering from whimsical fun with silly magical beasts to dark conflicts endangering countless people. it takes a very deft hand to combine such disparate tones and Rowling fails in that task. As I said to my sweetie-wife on the drive home from the theater, ‘Whimsy and the threat of genocide do not belong together.’

This movie also takes quite a bit of time to get going. Oh, events happen right from the start, it doesn’t engage in the mistake of heavy exposition for a beginning, but the actual start of the plot is quite delayed and as such I found myself wondering just why I was watching. The twine plots, whimsical and serious, eventually meld but that unification takes place far too late and without much in the way of emotional stakes for the characters.

And that is the film greatest failing, the lack of deep emotional stakes in the climax. This is a move with lots of plot but very little story. There are hints and set-ups for possible future stories, but I really wanted more than what was delivered on the screen. All the fast paced action and dazzling special effects are hollow without a powerful emotional connection.

For me the film failed though not as badly as other major productions, but still it failed.

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