Post Worldcon entry

I am sorry that the daily entires dropped out. but I was just too dang busy. That’s a good thing when you are at a worldcon. The previous entries had been written at breakfast, and on those days I ate breakfast alone. The last few days of the convention we discovered a chain place that was suitable to both my and my sweetie-wife’s diets. So having breakfast with my sweetie-wife took priority over blog posting.

The Con was a blast. Each day I was there at the start of panels and they carried through into the late night. The fires nearby were bad. Sadly a few firefighters were killed battling the blaze. On Friday the winds shifted and the smoke overtook downtown Spokane. By evening the air quality had degraded to ‘hazardous to all’ and everyone was advised to no go outside unless required and to wear filter masks. Luckily this condition did not last long and Saturday the winds flipped again and it became much better.

I hung out with friends, learned new things in publishing and science, played a new game, and had the wonderful reinvigorating time I needed. I am already looking forward to next year in Kansas City MO. (2017 was won by Helsinki Finland, a convention I am unlikely to attend.)

 

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WorldCon Day 2

Well there was certainly a lot going on yesterday. Programing started at 10 am and for me the last panel ended at 10 pm. I did managed a short dinner with my sweetie-wife, but other than that it was panels panels panels. All of which made for a happy Bob.

I’m not going to recap all of them, there are simply too many and too much, so here are my highlights.

150 Years of Alice in Wonderland. A standing room only 10 am panel. Fun panelists, informative and well worth the time. Got a chance to introduce myself to my potential publisher as I wait for her acquisitions editor to make a call on my novel.

Pluto in the Rear-View Mirror. A standing room only panel on the recent discoveries at Pluto by the New Horizons mission. Pluto joins the list of bodies in the solar system that has produced unexpected mysteries.

From Starship Troopers to Honor Harrington, a look at Military SF. Informative and lively the discussion covered the topic well without getting bogged down in politics.

 

 

All in all things are a blast.

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Worldcon Day 1

So here it is at the start of Day 2 and I’ll give you a recap of the previous day here the 2015 Worldcon in Spokane Washington.

First off we awoke to a weather report of warm and smokey. Wildfires near the city have turned the sky yellow/gold, casting a lovely light but everywhere is the smell of smoke. As sunset approached the sun became a fiery red blood color more suited for an alien world than the pacific northwest,

We had registered and picked up our badges the day before so we avoided the long lines at the convention. The panels were good on the first day. I started out with  the best advice I had been given on writing. Nearly all of the advice I already knew but the speakers were entertaining and I had fun.

I followed that with Understanding Contracts, a useful topic and one that I feel is going to become more and more important to me in the near future. There were just two panelists, but both were experienced from different angles (Author and Agent) and provided plenty of precautionary advice.

Next up was a spot of fun with a discussion of Hard SF films. There I learned that Connie Willis truly does not like with Interstellar. The panel could have been better, a little too much audience taking over, but I still enjoyed it.

My sweetie-wife and I then went to a panel designed to welcome Discworld fans to the WorldCon. Naturally I know quite a bit about worldcons and I am a discworld fan, but it was nice seeing the con introduced from a different perspective.

There was time for a dinner break at a local spot The Onion, it was nice but I think I liked the burger at the Irish Bar the night before better. Then back to my final panel on legends of the Northwest followed by horror film in the film festival. (Most were okay but one was a dry dull nothing happens slashers film. boring)

now onto day 2.

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Movie Review: The Man From U.N.C.L.E

1-The_Man_from_U.N.C.L.E._posterWhen talking about books and movies about spies I find it helpful to divide the genre into two large sub-genres; Secret Agent stories and Espionage stories. Espionage stories are more grounded, more like reality, that are more often about the careful work of deception and the moral grayness of the field. John Le Carre’s work, such as Tinker Tailor, Solider, Spy is an excellent example of this sub-genre. The Secret Agent stories are not about reality. They deal with fantastic, often impossible gadgets, uber-competent heroes, fantastic plots and plenty of thrilling action. The platonic ideal for the Secret Agent story is of course James Bond. Neither style or approach is superior to the others, that are matters of taste.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E., the original television series and the 2015 feature film, belong quite solidly in the Secret Agent landscape. I will admit that the few episode I have seen of the original series did not win me over and I can not be counted among the fans. That said, I did go along with my sweetie-wife on Sunday morning and watched the feature film adaptation.

I very much enjoyed this movie. Guy Ritchie, one of the credited writers and the director, walked the line between credible threat and campy fun perfectly. The story has been dinged as rather simplistic, but personally I think this works in the movies favor and not against it. Set properly during the cold war in 1963 A former NAZI scientist has developed a new and easy method of enriching Uranium. Said Scientist has vanished it is is thought a new independent player has arrived on the field, threatening to upset the balance of power between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. The global adversaries must work together to investigate and neutralize this threat. America’s best agent, Napoleon Solo is forced to partner with the Soviet’s best agent Illyan Kuryakin. From elements at the start of the film both men have reason to distrust and hate the other, but both men also have needs beyond their respective services.

The movie is a  romp through a James Bond that is having fun with the material but not winking so hard at the camera as to shatter disbelief.  The comedic moments are perfectly timed and the reversals and reveals move the pace and plot along with a brisk momentum. This is an origin story, but it is one that gives the characters a chance to grow into their final forms. Director Ritchie also handles digital effect far better than most working in the industry. Using digital camera to create swooping impossible tracking shot he keeps the geography fixed in the viewers mind during a cross mountain chase without losing any sense of the speed or danger in the pursuit. His use of split screen to convey the impression of a massive battle without slowing the film was also masterful.

In short I really enjoyed this film and heartily recommend it if you want some light summer fun.

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Thoughts of the Republican Primary Season

Clearly this is a political post and if that’s not your cup of tea, skip.

America is gearing up for the 2016 Presidential contest and the Republican after getting beaten the last two out is gunning for a win.  The process starts early and runs long. there are, I think, 17 candidates running to represent the Republicans in the autumn contest. this far out early polls have very little predictive power about who the eventual nominee will be, but that can give you insight in the party, its factions, and its troubles.

Last week the first debates Fox News hosted the first debates. They held two, one for candidates who polled very low and another prime-time debate for the top 10. I did not watch the junior varsity debate, but I did watch the main event. Everything that follows is opinion only. I possess not special knowledge or training in this field.

It looked to me that the host, Fox News, long accused and rightly in my opinion, of presenting their material with a bias for conservatives and the Republican Party, managed the debate with bias for factions and candidates within the Party. It seemed to me that some candidates were treated in a manner that would enhance their standing within the contest while downplaying their weaknesses. Other candidates were subject to hostile questions to looked to me to have the intent of driving a wedge between the candidate the party’s base.

Candidates that were treated favorably in my opinion were Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and Scott Walker. Bush often received questions that allowed him to answer with his resume as a governor while sliding past the fact that these facts and reports were already nearly a decade old. Walker and Rubio were treated with opportunities to boast of their social conservatives ideals, playing well to the base. All three in political writings are often referred to as candidates acceptable to the business/establishment faction of the Republican Party.

Candidate treated less well included Trump, Paul, and Kasich. All three were questioned about stands or actions taken that might be considered heresies with the conservative base. Trump endured the brunt of the attack questions while Paul and Kasich both had fewer but given their positions more policy-oriented questions. (Paul in a previously proposed budget suggest cutting all aid to Israel and his isolationism doesn’t play well with the hawkish elements of the base. While Kasich was pulled onto the carpet for expanding Medicaid in his state, and thus committing the sit or working with Obama’s hated health care reforms.)

It is interesting to watch some conservatives react with anger and surprise at Fox’s behaviors during the debate. It hardly surprises me. If they present a blatant bias in other areas it is quite reasonable to assume that they have biases within the party and its contentious factions. As the old saying goes, what is good for the goose is good for the gander.

Far more fascinating to follow is is the entire war on Trump. Now in my opinion Trump is a buffoon, an egotist, and narcissist, and a terrible, terrible choice however he’s tapped into the anger and resent that Fox News and the conservatives have cultivated within the base of the party. Anger is not rational, and those who are standing for Trump are not doing so because of policy and position, but because of passion. They see someone standing up and ‘telling it like it is.’ The problem for the republican party is that what Trump is spewing is pretty much vile, racist, sexist, shit. Fox news tried to use this at the debates to destroy Trump. They launched their nukes and watched the monstrosity of their creation withstand the blast and grew stronger. Instead of driving a wedge between Trump and the base, they drove a wedge between the Base and Fox News. Trump threatened their ratings and Fox folded. (Revealing the critical flaw in running a news organization as a for-profit business. Can any report from them ever be trusted again?)

Trump has the go to keep running even if he can’t win. He has the money to do it big and loud, as he does everything. he has the petulant nature to run purely to hurt those who have hurt him. Where in the last cycle the fringe candidates like Herman Caine eventually flamed out and crashed, Trump has the cash to survive anything crisis he wants to survive. I do not think he can win the nomination, but I do think he can stay in the race, dividing support, and maybe even throwing next year’s convention into chaos if the leading candidate doesn’t have a clear majority of the delegates. All of that would critically wound the eventual Republican nominee, nearly ensuring a Democratic victory. But what tools, what weapons does the party have to placate Trump?

No matter what happens, it’s time to buy stock in popcorn.

 

 

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Sunday Night Movie:Xanadu A Flawed, Failed, and Favorite film.

35 years ago the musical fantasy Xanadu arrived in theaters. The film failed to perform well at the box office, suffering for a number of troubles, mostly in the script, but survived by finding a dedicated fan base turning into a cult film and eventually into campy Broadway musical.

I saw the film in its initial release and it became my favorite film. It is the comfort movie I go to when I am down and the 1-Xanadudark walls of depression are closing in from all sides. That said this is not a well made, and particularly, it is not a well-written film. If you graph artistic quality on an axis, it is a mistake to lay emotional reaction on that same axis. It is possible to love a piece of art that is flawed. There will be spoilers in my essay.

As a writer, the script stands out to me as the most glaring failure of the production. The character Sonny has no strong arc through the plot and too many critical events — such as both instanced where he runs into Danny and forms a friendship — are the product of coincidences. Coincidences are to be banished from your plot, everything should proceed from the characters and the choices that they make.

In the film, Sonny works as an artist duplicating album covers into giant posters for promotional purposes. When we meet him he is returning to Airflow records because his attempt to go pure artist has failed and he is again broke. Kira comes into his life, she is a Greek goddess, a Muse, (remember this is a musical fantasy) and her job is to inspire him. However the backstory is that he always had trouble with his bosses, adding more the pictures he’s supposed to be duplicating because as he says ‘he sees more than what’s there.’ Sounds to me like he already has inspiration. The writerly fix would be to make him the cynic at Airflow records, deriding others who want to chase ‘art’ but secretly it is his heart’s desire. Kira can then arrive and cause the hidden artist to flourish. There, no you have an arc. I could go on, there are lots of troubles in the script. Too many scenes lack conflict. People just show up and do things. That’s not a script, that’s boredom. (Bonus points for anyone who sees what I did there.) I am not going to go over all the flaws, the static camera, the choices in casting, because I am already conceding the filmmaking to be bad.

So why do I love it?

Two reasons dominate that landscape. The first is the theme. Like another cult film, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Xanadu is a deeply anti-cynical film. Both movies are about dreams and dreamers. RHPS could be boiled down to the line ‘Don’t dream it, be it.’ and Xanadu’s theme can be distilled down to the lines ‘<Sonny>Dreams die. <Danny> No, no, No, Not by themselves. We, we kill them.’ Your dreams end when you give up on them. it is not surprising I am a fan of both movies. I am a dreamer. I am trying to be it, and I will not kill my dreams. It helps I love the music – I had been a fan of Olivia Newton-John’s singing for years before this film arrived, but for me the theme seals the deal.

The second reason is who I discovered the film with. It was a special time and special woman. The years have passed on, but happiness can live forever in memory. Like dreams, remembered happiness only dies if we kill it.

 

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A Fantastic Image

This week NASA release an image from the Deep Space Climate Observatory. This is a satellite positioned at the L1 point, about a million miles away, between the Earth and the Sun. This point, while dynamically unstable, if a position in space where a satellite can be in one position relative to the Earth and the Sun with a minimal expenditure of fuel. This is an excellent spot to observe the Earth and make measurements about our climate.

Being a million miles out, it is about four times as distant as the moon and so the moon passes between the satellite’s cameras and the Earth producing a sight never before seen my the eyes of humanity. The Earth and the Moon both fully illuminated by the sun and clear for us to marvel at, the farside of the Moon. the side that never faces the Earth.

This image is striking and I adore it.

earth:moon

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A Proposal

Or possibly more like a notion.

I think we are watching the disintegration of the primary system for selecting candidates for President of the United States of America. The primary system itself, as we know it today, is a rather recent development. It truly started with 1968 and the Democratic Party trying to making the process more responsive to popular opinion and the voters. Watergate in the early 70s accelerated the reforms and both parties adopted a system where they hold elections to see who’s going to stand in the election. On the face of it the system looks sound. candidates campaign, as tested int he waters of an actual election, and the people can votes based upon who they agree with the most.

As we can see this cycle, and in previous cycles, that is not reality. Candidates jump in who have no intention of winning the primary but rather developing support bases for further financial gain. Once that pays off it encourage more of the same, candidates vying for base votes play to the most fanatical elements of their own parties, sounding more and more extreme and reaping rewards for such actions.

Before the primary system, the Convention is where the candidate was selected. It was a time of smoke-filled rooms and party bosses calling the shots, but it was mercifully short and tended to produce stable competent candidates.  Convention today are coronations more about spectacle than policy. How could we devise a system that selects the best of both worlds, voter input and party competency?

Here’s an idea, just a spitball off the top of my head concept.

Retain primaries, make them closed, (after all this about selecting the party’s face and that should be restricted to party members.) but remove individual candidates. Instead politicians or just folk run election trying to gather votes for factions. The factions are awarded the delegates and at the convention the factions, using their delegates, vote and select the standard-bearers for the party. Factions could raise money, unlimited money in fact, but at the end of the primary all excess monies go to the party for the general election. Politicians who stumped for the faction would certain have a leg up on getting the nomination but if they stumbled or embarrassed themselves or the party they’d be plenty of time and ability to move to a better candidate. Because the money went to the factions and not an individual person, there would be less emotional blackmail associated with massive donations reducing the corrupting effects. This would also open up a party to greater inclusion as it would be unlikely that a single faction would amass a majority of delegates right off and a nominee could only be picked by consensus.

Remember that the current primary system is not part of our system of government. It is not dictated by the laws of the land, it is the rule by which a party selects its candidate. It’s a recently developed method and I think it’s unstable. (Trump)

 

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The Two Most Influential SF Films of the 1990s.

If you are new to my blog, and I recognize it’s traffic is primarily friends and family, I have had an occasional series on the two most influential SF movie by decade. Of course, this is no objective listing but purely by spitball take on the films that had a lasting impact on movies beyond any box office success.

I covered the silent era, quite unfairly I am sure, in a single post, and then proceeded by decade covering the 1930s, 1940, 1950s, 1960, 1970s, and the 1980s.

Now I will continue into the 1990s.

The MatrixThe Matrix – (1999)Personally this is a film that did not work for me. The tropes concerning what is or is not real are old hat and many of the aspects of the plot make little to no sense. (If there is no sunlight, then people are dead and the 100 or so watts you can get from them are hardly worth harvesting.) My biases aside this film, in addition to spawning a franchise with  sequels heavily influence the look of film for the next decade and beyond. ‘Bullet time,’ the hyper slow-motion with a moving camera, stunned audiences in 1999 and many filmmakers quickly copied the stylistic look of the Wachowski Siblings.

Visual style for SF films ceased being the domain of art-house productions and moved into the mainstream.  Love or loathe it, The Matrix influences films to this day.

 

jpJurassic Park (1993) Arriving earlier in the decade than The Matrix Jurassic Park’s impact on filmmaking is difficult to understate. When production began on the adaptation of Michael Crichton’s novel the filmmakers had planned on using traditional stop-motion animation to bring their dinosaurs to life, a technique that goes back the 1933’s classic film King Kong. However during pre-production the computer graphics team at Industrial Light and Magic demonstrated photorealistic CGI dinosaurs and the world changed. Influencing every special effects film follow, Jurassic Park freed the images on the screen from physical photography to anything that could be envisioned. Every summer is now swamped with good, bad, great, and terrible CGI animation. Studios are learning that great CGI can not save a film and that CGI stunts quickly bore the audience. This year’s Mad Max: Fury Road and Star Wars: The Force Awakens in part are rebelling against the CGI revolution started by Steven Spielberg with Jurassic Park.

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Tie-In Fiction

If you go into your local bookstore you’ll find quite a few shelves of tie-in fiction. Books, stories, and novels set in popular franchises such as Star Trek, Halo, and many many others.

There are authors who despise tie-fiction and hold the belief that creating such work-for-hire is somehow selling out and not true authorship. It is a free country and they have the right to hold such opinions, but it is feeling that I do not share. I personally believe that there is no wasted writing. That anytime you are putting words in a row, struggling with ideas, trying to punch up your prose, it is good for you as a writer and makes you better. I have never looked down on those who write fan-fiction, I have written a few pieces myself, and tie-in fiction is fan-fiction that you can get paid for.

Now if you are an unpublished writer getting a tie-in contract is nearly impossible. That is an understandable arrangement. The corporations that hold the right are not looking to develop new and interesting voices; they are looking for journey professionals who can deliver the product on time and within specifications. Because of these restrictions I have never attempted a tie-in novel. It’s far more work than it would interest me for a piece of fan-fiction. (There are those who write full novels of fan-fiction and more power to them, but if I am going to put in that many hours on a project I want at least the possibility of selling professionally.) However, I would not turn up my nose at the thought of writing tie-in fiction. More than that, I really would like to write some. I have a few ideas for popular franchises and who knows maybe one idea I too can do that work-for-hire.

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