Quick WorldCon 2016 report

Hello Everyone:

Well I have unusually returned to my hotel early – it is now 9:25 pm – and I can make at least a brief report on MidAmericon 2 here ins Kansas City MO.

The programming has been very good. From the time it starts – and the Academic Track starts at the unheard of hour of fandom of 9 am – until it ends there is nearly always something I want to attend. To make room for lunch or dinner usually requires me to jettison some programming I wanted to see. This is not me complaining, it is far better to have too much to see than too little.

The last minute change to a hotel more than a mile away has been mildly annoying. There is a free streetcar/trolley two blocks from the hotel and then two blocks from the convention center so that works out most of the time. (It was walking from the streetcar to the convention center at night where I stumbled over a but of uneven sidewalk and tumbled, spraining my wrist.) Tonight as we came out of BRGR where we have had dinner twice rain started and the trip to the hotel turned quite wet. (Thunder and lightening — yup we’re in the midwest in summer.)

I’ve seen good friends, had good times with people I primarily knew on-line, and in general I have been more social than most conventions. A good thing.

The first night here I even had a very — unique — encounter. My sweetie-wife had turned in, tired from our day of travels – and I had gone down to the hotel’s lobby to edit and work. After a while I took a brake from the editing to play a little Pokemon Go — the lobby has two Poke-Stops –. I was engrossed in play when I heard a female voice to my right say ‘Sir?’

I looked up and to my right, as I did she darted to my left side, kissed me fast on the cheek, and hurried away to her friends. She was maybe 17 or so and said ‘thank you’ as she retreated. I have no idea what was up. I assume the entire thing had been some sort of dare from her gaggle of friends. I went back to my game and eventually back to my editing.

Time to start sorting out what I want to do and attend tomorrow, I do know I will get to met an editor who bought my last story and that I am looking forward too.

 

 

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Paramount Studio Tour

Here is a brief and very top level account of my 4 1/2 hours tour of Paramount Studios this past Thursday.

First off I arrived at the studio a full 30 minutes before I had expected and spent a little time decompressing and drinking an English breakfast tea. Then it was off to the studio.


IMG_0988I checked in, got my badge, and was informed that in all likelihood I’d be hearing my name a lot during the day. (Robert Evans is a producer at Paramount and was involved in some of their most famous films.) People waited for the tour in a staging area with items from films and Oscars on displays. Soon my tour guide arrive, Aaron, collected the three other people in our group and we were off. (My V.I.P. tour was just 4 people which made for a vey nice and conversation experience.)IMG_0978

We drove around the lot and Aaron was very well informed and knew his job quite well. We IMG_0988visited the historic Bronson gate where people used to arrive in hope of scoring jobs as extra and bit players. Charles Bronson was discovered there and took his name from the street. (The street is no longer there as the Studio has expanded since then.)

We drove past active soundstages and though Aaron was not allowed to tell us what was shooting on the film stages I worked out from the clues that it was the up coming SF film, The God Particle. IMG_1116Another interesting location was the old production buildings where writers, directors, and star under IMG_0993contract worked. You can see the producers builders in the Star Trek Episode Patters of Force doubling as the NAZI headquarters.

Of course their backlot has a New York set, one locale is where the famous statue of Liberty head comes bouncing down the street in Cloverfield. There was another standing exterior set, The Alley, which is used as the dangerous street/alley in many television shows.IMG_1003

IMG_1109We also visited on of the four film vaults on the property. This was not a film vault per se as it was a vault of VHA, BETA, and all sorts of various storage media for the titles.IMG_1042IMG_1038

They provided a buffet lunch outdoors, picnic style. The weather, though warm, was pleasant and the others guests and the guides all made for a friendly setting.IMG_1082

We visited the archive, which is the closest thing Paramount has to a museum. IMG_1073I have the impression that unlike Warner Brothers Paramount only recently began a corporate culture of preservation of artifacts in the last few decades. However unlike WB they allowed photos in the archive while WB forbade them in their museum.IMG_1076

We ended the tour in the Prop Warehouse, a place where many oversized props are stored and displayed.IMG_1123

Over all I very much enjoyed the tour and would recommend it if you come to Los Angeles.

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Should a woman play James Bond?

That may look like an easy question, but I think it is the wrong question. There are deeper levels and assumptions that need to be teased out to find the right questions. The next level question is really:

Can a woman play James Bond, for is the answer to that is no, the ‘should’ never comes into it.

Clearly ‘can’ does not refer if a female actor has the ability to learn the lines, the blocking and such because only a fool would think otherwise. No, the can in that question pertains to the nature of gender and the character, and thus leads us deeper to another question that requires answering first.

Can the character of James Bond be a woman?

In the strictest cannon sense one would think the answer is no, but that same sense you could never remove Bond from an immediate post WWII setting. therefore I reject a strict cannon based answer. That hardly means the answer is an automatic yes. What we’re closing on is:

Can the essential characteristics that make James Bond who he is be also present if the character was a woman?

Ahh now we are getting into the meat. I know there are people who feel that a male author can never justly write a female character and there are those who disagree and believe that men can write believable and credible female characters. This divide and where you fall on it is the real answer to the question of casting a female actor to play the role of James Bond. (But I suspect that some will not follow through to the logical conclusions of their stand on men writing women.)

Start with the assumption that Men and have core characteristics they derive from their sex. (That is a highly debatable to assumption and not one I am putting forth as necessarily true, but it is essential to this discussion.) You can think of it as a Venn diagram, a red circle for men a blue one for women (or vice versa, the colors are meaningless.)

In your mind how much do the circles overlap?

Not at all? are Men from Mars and Women from Venus and they are so different in core characteristics that no man can credible get into the head space of any woman? If that is the case and the circles do not overlap then James Bond could not possible be a woman as the core characteristics of the character would not be found in a woman. But if that answer makes you happy it also means that if you are a man you can’t write women. They are alien to you as any being from a distant star.

Perhaps the circles overlap a bit. That there are characteristics found in both men and women, but by and large the defining characteristics are unique to each sex. If that is the case James Bond can be woman, and played by a woman, but only if his characteristics are found in that sliver of overlap between the circles.

Maybe you think the circles overlap a great deal and that differences between the sexes are primarily culturally generated. That at heart men and women are human beings sharing more in common with each other than not. If that is the case than certain the character of James Bond could be credibly written as either sex and could therefore the portrayed by an actor of either sex.

What I find curious in the thought experiment are the people I think who lis ikely to be dead-set on one answer or another. Many of the people I know who that insist that men cannot write women I suspect would jump at a female portrayed James Bond, and yet I don’t see how you square that circle about the core characteristics to make it plausible. Conversely those who would insist that James Bond must be a man, no women allowed at all in the job, would also be insistent that they can get into a woman’s mind-set easily and as such work from an assumption that there is no real difference.

It is a curious thing to ponder.

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Firearms in Space

I do not think I am getting much fiction writing done tonight. A doctor’s appointment threw off my schedule and here in the early evening I am utterly knackered. So In a few I will go veg in front of the television and stream something mindless.

Given that I am going to be about 500 words short of my target today I will write a bit on a subject recently brought to my mind. On Sunday my sweetie-wife and I watched the MST3K version of Moon Zero Two. For those who do not know this is a 1969/1970 Hammer production billed as the first space western. Before you go getting vision of Firefly stuck in your head it was nothing like that show. I had very vague memories of seeing this movie when I was younger. Actually it is not terrible and gets more science right than many sf films today.

One of the things the film depicts is the use of pistols. gunpowder firearms, in the vacuum of space. Contrary to what Joss Whedon would have you believe in the Firefly’s episode “Our Mrs. Reynolds” firearms do not require atmosphere for combustion; the oxidizer is packed in the with charge in the cartridge. Think about it, that bullet and cartridge are sealed together there is no avenue for the atmosphere to participate in the charge combusting.

So, if the cartridge will fire, are there any real issues with pistol packing spacemen? There are.

First off there is a serious issue with heat. Guns get hot and here on Earth a handgun relies on the air to carry away the heat by convection. Even then it is possible to fire the weapon so fast that the metal overheats, expands and jams. (This was apparently a factor in the British Army’s defeat at the Battle of Islandlwana.) A gun fired in the vacuum of space will have few options of dumping its heat. There will be no atmosphere for convection, the spaceman is unlikely to volunteer to do it through conduction and that leave just radiation which works best once the metal starts glowing. of course by then jamming will be only one of many problems.

Another issue is lubrication. Guns use a variety of lubricants that allow the moving and sliding parts to smoothly work. Unless you select lubricants for a vacuum setting I think it is likely you are going to find that they may freeze is in shadow or boil away if directly exposed. Either way it bears ill for the proper operation of your gun.

The last significant factor in my opinion is one determined by setting. If you are in a gravity field, say the moon’s, you’ll need to adjust your sighting to compensate for the change in gravity, but that’s merely technique. However, if you are in free space, floating free you have a new problem. No, not that the gun will kick you around like a jet pack, the force from a tiny slug going very fast is still going to be much less than what is required to move a person. No, I think the trouble will come from off-balanced forces. It is unlikely that the vector of the shot will pass cleanly through the marksman’s center of mass and that means the marksman is likely to start tumbling.

None of these issues are insurmountable. Perhaps vacuum rated guns could be designed with gasses to carry away the heat, and finding the right lubricants is an engineering issues I will wager has already been solved. The off-center force is most easily solved with small jets on the pressure-suit that would be slaved to the gun and fired to produced a counter-force with each round shot.

Well, that’s my essay for the night.

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Politics and Prose

Over the last few years, though certainly not only those years, there’s been a marked debate about politics in the SF/Fantasy/Horror genre. It is understandable people are passionate about what they believe in and the is reflected in their genre tastes and their politics. In the midst of this you can often hear the plea to please just make good stuff and leave the politics out of the story.

While I am sympathetic to that viewpoint it is a futile. Politics is baked into the creation of any art and doubly so where you consider stories that fall into the SF/Fantasy/Horror genre. Politics is about social conflict and how it is resolved. When someone crafts a new story their engage in world-building, and that entails much more than the placement of rivers, forests, mountains, and mythological backgrounds. When as an author you create a story you draw upon your understanding of how the world works, what makes people and cultures tick, and those ideas are usually the core concepts in your political views. It is not more possible to remove political viewpoints from a piece than it is to remove the concepts of what is right and what is wrong.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not talking about soap-boxing where the author often creates straw-men to knock down and prove the validity if their cherished ideals. The blatantly political, written to score points is certainly an obviously political piece and they can be good and they can be terrible, but their existence, glaring and garish, does not eradicate the political in every other piece.

Like bias the political is always there and like bias the best course is not to pretend that it doesn’t exist in a false quest of objectivity, but to seek it out, recognize it, and manage it.

Be aware of the underlying assumptions about people, about governments, and about reality that inform your world building. This is not an easy process and like the quest for perfection in prose it is an unending quest. However once you start seeing your own assumptions you can then use them to create a wider array of stories. Unshackled from your default settings you are more free to use the assumptions that better serve the plot, the characters, and the story.

For example I have a military SF project currently being shopped by my agents. The underlying assumptions in this setting are, from an American perspective, center-right. This is the best way to create the world, cultures, and conflicts that inform these characters. My current work in progress works primarily from a left perspective. Again by using a different set of base assumptions of what works and how people react to them I create a different set of cultures and different characters. (Or at least that is my objective, in the end only readers can tell me if I succeeded.)

No one can be truly unbiased and not work of fiction can be truly apolitical. Instead it is best to really try to dig down deep, find those underlying assumptions you have about how things really work and turn them to your advantage.

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I’m back

 

Well, the last couple of weeks were less than fun. A week ago Thursday my sweetie-wife dropped me off at the curb for my day-job. This is all very routine but what followed was not. I swung the car door closed with my left hand. My wife, thinking I had released the door, put the car into motion. The motion jerked my fingers, partially wrapped at the window frame of the passenger window. She stopped at once and I did not think that I had suffered any injury, waved her off and went to work.

Ahh, the lovely delayed action of soft tissue damage.

By the time I reached my desk pain, sharp and deep, pierced some of my finger joints. Within fifteen minutes the swelling grew prominent and it was clear that there had been some sort of injury. I soldiered on for a few more minutes but I was forced to admit I needed to seek medical help.

I logged out and caught on Uber to a nearby medical facility. A couple of hours and an X-ray later I was home with the 3rd and 4th fingers of my left hands strapped to splint, putting me out commission for typing.

The doctors diagnosed the injury as pulled tendons and predicted I would need to wear the splint for 1-2 weeks. Seeing as I type at the day-job for a living the doctors put me on limited duty and I was sent home. I watched a lot of videos, movies, and T.V. shows frustrated that I could not work at either job. My novel had reached 73,000 and my assessment of it was rosy.

Luckily I healed on the faster side of the range and a week later the medics cleared the removal of the splint.

I am back at work at the day-job and back on the novel. Where I had hoped to complete the first draft by this week it now looks like another two weeks before I’ll get there. (There was the one-week down and the book is running a bit long. I think it will land between 85,000 and 90,000 words instead of 80,000.)

Still, it is good to be back.

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The 5 Rules of Writing

Robert A. Heinlein famously set forth his 5 rules for success as a writer. If you go to a SF convention and they are brought up at a writing panel there is almost always contentious disagreement on exactly how good and how much you should implement the various rules. Since I have a shortage of humility here are my thoughts on the 5 rules.

Rule 1: You Must Write.

Okay this is a very good rule and usually one that doesn’t promote arguments. Clearly if you do not write you can not be a writer, but I find the rule too vague on how much and how often you should write. Some author prescribe that you must write every day, but that’s too much for me. I personally write 5 days a week. Monday through Friday, leaving my weekends for fun and relaxation. This schedule of writing has been very beneficial for me and I believe that you should have a schedule to your writing. maybe 7 days a week is right for you, maybe three days a week, maybe even just 1 day a week. Whatever it is I think you should have one and you should stick to it. If you rely on inspiration and mood you’ll spend more time dreaming and less time composing. It is the act of actually composing where you practice your craft and you have to do it to get better. Screw waiting for the muse, get out there and write. We go to our day job without the muse’s help writing is the same way.

Rule 2: You Must Finish What You Write.

I have a whole essay on my thoughts that the most important skill a writer can master is completing the tale; this is the same thought. An unfinished piece is no good to anyone, not even the writer. Mind you not all pieces can be completed, but you need to avoid quitting because it got hard or you got lost. that can be a habit and a very bad one. It’s been more then ten years since i started a novel and not finished writing it. Some of those I did finish were garbage and you will never see them, but they were completed.

Rule 3: You Must Refrain From Rewriting; except to editorial order.

Oh, this is the rule everyone fights over. Let me give you my take on it. This rule is not an excuse to avoid proofreading and corrections. This rule is an excuse to avoid polishing your prose and tightening your plot. This rule in my opinion is not about revision but about rewriting. It is about second guess that voice inside you that has something to say. It is about letting fear take out the thing you think really matters because you’re afraid how people will take it. It’s about making your stuff dull and lifeless and like everything else out there because a million voices are yelling that you’re doing it wrong. Trust that your vision, your idea, your voice is worth the time and don’t back down from what you want to say. (The editorial order is a concession that checks in hand beat art and principle and may have been more of his public image than hi actual practice.)

Rule 4: You must put the work on the market.

Well, you want to be a professional and paid writer, yeah you gotta do that. If you want it on your blog, something that didn’t exist in 1947 when these rules were drafted, knock yourself out. The point is get coin for your words you must overcome the quite common fear of rejection. Strangely enough this has been the least problematic rule for me. I send it out, I get rejections, and move on, rarely worrying about that rejection for more than a moment.

Rule 5: You must keep the work on the market until it is sold.

Don’t surrender on the first rejection. Really if you’ve survived the first, the second stings far less. The truth of the matter is a single rejection tells you nothing except that the piece did not work for that editor on that day. You need to send it back out, again and again until either you sell or there are no market left. Now perhaps no markets left means – no paying markets, no markets you’d care to be seen dead in, that doesn’t matter. As long as there is a market where the piece might work, send it out. It is your job to write it it is the editor’s job to rejection and never do the editor’s job for them.

 

Well that’s my thoughts on the five famous formulations.

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Liberty Station

Today walk was out at LIberty Station in the Point Loma region of San Diego. For those who do not know San Diego used to be home to one of the navy’s three Naval Training Centers, the other two being in Orland (Where I did my basic Training) and up int he Great Lakes region. Several years ago the USN gave up NTC San Diego and it has since been trnasform into a bayside park,  business & Arts district.

Here is a panoramic shot I took today of Liberty Station. It didn;t turn out half bad.

 

Liberty Station

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Presido San Diego CA

For walk today, on the weekend my wife and I like to go out for walks as our exercise, my sweetie-wife selected Presido Park to avoid the crowds near downtown as Pride ramps up into full swing here in San Diego.

I was not aware that today is the anniversary of San Diego’s founding and as such the meusem at Presido Park was free. It’s not a big muesem but it was my first time there.

Here is a photo of the outside if the Presido, and one fo Mission Valley, the area of San Diego I call home, looking east from the mission’s tower.

Presido

Mission Valley

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Sunday Night Movie: Gun Crazy (1950)

As many people already know I am a fan of film noir though there are many, many movies of that genre I’ve yet to see and Gun Crazy was one of those. Based on a short story Gun Crazy is about a pair of lovers, pistol trick shot artist, who enter into a life of 1-gun crazy001crime and hold-ups. It is surprisingly accurate to the short story, with only mild modifications. Made in 1950 when the production code remained in effect this film still manages to be a fairly straightforward piece that attempts to capture the addictive thrill of crime and anti-social behavior.

In the best tradition of the genre the plot is driven by a femme fatale, in this case the character if Anne Laurie Starr, a woman who has a vast appetite for an expensive life, action, and lethal undercurrent of anger in her personality. Doomed from the moment he met her is Barton tare. Presented in the film as the only man who has outshot Annie the film’s title actually references Barton and not Annie. It is his story that we really follow and his obsession with guns never has a clear genesis but if the defining characteristic of his personality — that and his inability to use a gun to kill. This deadly mix, a woman with an explosive anger and sharpshooter unable to fire on a living thing, place themselves in the worst possible life choices, becoming stick-up artists. They are likable but flawed characters, and the film is deeply engaging. Though produced on a modest budget the director Joseph H. Lewis manages a number of craftily staged pieces including a bank robbery that is shot in one continuous take and solely from a vantage point inside the get away car.

Of course a film made under the production code cannot end well for criminals. The Code required that all characters who engaged in crime met a just end by the film conclusion. Sometime that created forced endings, but with Gun Crazy the ending has the right tone and does not come off as moralizing. Rather like Lord and Lady Macbeth Bart and Annie are characters doomed by their natures and their choices.

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