Not doing too badly

The last few weeks I have been waiting for word that could signal a major change in my writing trajectory. This has produced days of endless nervous tension and lots and lots of email checking.

While I have been waiting, and a little too nervous to write properly, I have had actually not too bad of a time. I have read two books. (The Martian by Andrew Weir a damn fine novel and Hide Me Among the Graves by Tim Powers a favorite author of mine.)

Last weekend was Condor 2015 a local SF convention. It’s on the small size but I had a terribly good time. So busy that I never too the time for a lunch on any day of the con. I was busy from the time I arrived to the time I left for home. (Because it is very local, just a few miles away we did not stay at the hotel.) I participated in three panels (Vampires and Zombies: Why do we keep writing about them, Emerging Epidemics, and What to do when you feel like quitting. All with great fellow panelists and lots of good interactions)

Tuesday a friend came into town for her book launch. My sweetie-wife and I took a half day off from our jobs and spent the afternoon having a lovely lunch, long discussion, and tasty coffee and tea.

I’m still a ball of nerves waiting for word from professionals back east, but I have to say I have also been quite happy the last few days.

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Sunday Night Movie: Predestination

predestination_ver2The reason I became a reader of science-fiction and eventually a writer of that genre is due to the work of Robert A. Heinlein. A grand master of the form his works influenced the arts and sciences for decades. Despite being a best-selling and ground breaker author very few of his works have been adapted successfully into films. The Puppet Masters became a mediocre film fatally damaged by a third act that abandoned the source material for cheaply ripping off other films. Starship Troopers practically ignored the source material and where it didn’t it engaged in a malicious misreading in favor of the director’s favorite obsessions. Given this background I approached Predestination with a healthy sense of apprehension.

Adapted for the screen and directed by the Spierig brothers a pair of Australian filmmakers Predestination overcomes Heinlein’s troubled history with adaptions to become not only the first film to faithful to the source material but a movie that also works well in its own right.

It’s difficult to discuss the plot of Predestination without an abundance of spoilers. This is a time travel film and one needs to go into the viewing with an open mind towards the crazy world of time paradoxes.

Ethan Hawke, returning to work with the Spierig brother again following their partnerships with the novel vampire film Daybreakers, is an agent with basically a time police agency. Hawke’s character is leaping through time in pursuit to another time traveller who is leaving a trail of nasty explosions in his wake. This entire cop and bomber plot is the invention of the filmmakers, yet they fold it into the narrative from the short story in a seamless and tonal consistent manner.

Sarah Snook plays in effect several parts, principally she plays a man who writes confession stories and drinks away his life nursing a grudge over the person who ruined her life. Hawke and Snook’s writer character form an unusual partnership with staggering implications.

The original story ‘All you Zombies…” was written many decades ago and of course its portrayal of the future has become horribly dated. Following in the footsteps of Zack Snyder and his adaptation of the graphic novel ‘Watchmen’ the Spierig brothers do not attempt to ‘update’ the setting or characters, but rather the entire story takes place in an alternate time-line where history, particularly space-travel, followed a different course. This works very well for me, but I’m not sure how many casual audience members would follow this construction.

A low budget film, Predestination, never got a full theatrical release; this is a shame. I think the brothers have shone again that they are able to realize amazing visions with limited resources. Especially in dealing with a film that jumps over 40 years of period, from 1945 through 1985, they pull it all off with style and realism. This is a film that is going to become part of my collection. I urge you all to view it at least one.

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Exclusion Is Not The Answer

Recently author K.T. Bradford issued the challenge for people to for one year to not read anything written by a straight, heterosexual, while, cis-male author. The goal of the challenge, as I understand it, to expand the readers awareness and understanding of the world and its people by exposure to culture, thoughts, and individual from outside the main stream. Make no doubt I agree that the firehouse of material from mainstream media, print, TV, and film, is very much one in which the white, straight, cis-male voice is overwhelmingly dominate. I think it is a terribly good idea for everyone to read and write outside their comfort zone. All readers should seek out material that comes from author who are not like themselves. When you read only from people like yourself you do yourself and others a grave disservice. It is only by such exposure that we can learn what it means to be different and only when we learn that can we begin to have true empathy. That said, I think this exclusion of voice is a terrible concept. No one should be excluded because of the circumstances of their birth. The exclusion of any whole class of people, particularly based upon inherent traits, is an ugly action. Now supporters of challenge may feel that the firehouse of media is so overwhelming dominated by the straight, white, cis-males that the exclusion does no real harm and is justified in the name of social justice. To me such an argument only works if you take the mental step of not remembering that each and every one of those authors, straight, white, and cis-male, are all individual persons. They are not a class, They are not a category. They are people. They are individuals that, by participating in this challenge, your are slighting, excluding, and devaluing their voices. For well-established authors, choosing to not buy their books as part of this challenge is a very minor affair in terms of damage. A man like John Scalzi, an ally in this sort of action, has a well established and devoted fan base. His career is made. However a new voice, a new author needs every single sale he can get. He has to proved that the investment in his art by the publishers is well worth it. It is much more damaging to a first time novelist to have people excluding his work from purchase based solely upon his inherent characteristics that it is the well known and successful. I would urge you to expanding your reading. Expand your understanding. Expand your empathy, but do it by inclusion not exclusion.

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Movie Review: Kingsman: The Secret Service

kingsman-the-secret-service-is-like-honey-whiskey-it-s-sweet-and-fun-but-packs-quite-a-punch-6e0f94ae-b350-452d-a8d7-daef70bd5f15So Monday morning after I had – mostly – recovered from the weekend writers conference, my sweetie-wife and I attended a matinee showing of the new Colin Firth film, Kingsman: The Secret Service.

The premise of this romp is that after the Great War (WW I for those not historically inclined) a group of British aristocrats formed an independent secret service to keep the peace and protect the world. (hmm I think history has already pronounced that they failed, but this film is far too light in tone to address such matters.) The members all have code-name taken from England’s greatest myth, yeah that Arthurian one they nicked from the French. Anyway Galahad –Firth- after botching a mission and costing the life of a teammate many years later recruits the dead man’s son into the service.

This introduces the first of many logical inconsistencies in the story. Our hero is lower class, a punk, but if all the Kingsmen are from the highest levels of British society how did this come about? Never mind, skip over it.

So there’s two plots going on. One is the kid going into training and competition for the single slot open in the organization. The second is Galahad casing down leads into mysterious kidnappings where the victims remain free and more Kingsmen have been killed.

Samuel L Jackson, adding an unusual lisp to his voice, plays the Jeff Bezos-like maniacal villain, bent on a world killing and world saving plan. (In a bit you can think he’s like Hugo Drax from Moonraker.) Naturally the mentor is removed from the story and the kid has to step up and prove his worth.

This film has serious tonal issues, light and funny one moment, too serious the next, and it can’t make up its mind if it going to be graphic or silly. The ending has a quite problematic issue with sexual blackmail of a kidnap victim by the hero. It’s across the line and in direct violation to the ‘gentleman’ spy tone for the rest of the heroes.

I would not waste money on a theatrical screening, but some might enjoy it when it eventually becomes available for streaming.

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Myth, Culture, and The Moving Picture.

John Scalzi over at his blog whatever posted an essay in response to this blog post. Like Scalzi I would urge you to go read the pose and then come back to my thoughts.

While Scalzi addressed the idea of taking back SF conventions, award, and SF culture in general, I am more interested in the whole concept of the right myths to be telling.

Mr. Lehman seemed to be supporting a stand that principle American myths in SF were being undermined by ‘enemies’ and that it was important that the right myths be told, and written.

I agree with him utterly that myths are one of the primary definitions of a culture. Understand their myths and you have gone a long way to understanding them. Myths are also critical in the transmission of culture across generations. So there we are again in agreement.

What he seems to miss in my opinion is just how fluid myths are. They are never the same from tale to tale and their alteration, divergence, and mutations is part of what drives changes in culture. He speaks of the cowboy myth, one that was born of dime novels and expanded upon my film and television. I wonder which cowboy myths are the right ones? The Roy Rogers, white hates and black hats, never shoot anyone in the back, always tell the truth cowboys? Perhaps the gritty people are no good and you cannot depend on them myth of ‘High Noon?’ Or maybe the violent, murdering butchers of ‘Unforgiven?’ just within the cowboy myth and over a few short decades the meaning changed and the truth as I see it is that there is no ‘correct’ or ‘right’ cowboy myth. All of them speak to something about America and its people, all of them speak to the changes that she endured and continues to endure.

Myths change the people and people change the myths. It is a feedback loop of a dynamic unstable system. Science-fiction myuths used to be something else, but they changed as new voice came in, added their own experiences, as the culture changed and elevated myths that better spoke to them as that time. It is a constant process. It is not one driven because some people went to mechanical engineering school while others plotted and planned in social engineering schools. SF is a business first and what you see on the shelves today is a result of the market demanding it be there. (I speak of course concerning the traditionally published, outside of that everything in the world is available.)

There is no perfect set of SF myths and stories anymore than there are for cowboys or knights. Trying to restrict it top a perfect set a platonic ideal of what SF is about is as futile as reducing a motion picture to a singe perfect frame and insisting that only that frame need be viewed.

New voices will always come in, they will always bring in new idea, some will be accepted, some will not. Some old ideas will endure, others will fade. It is the nature of culture to change.

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My Report from the Southern California Writers Conference 2015

This past weekend I attended my very first writers’ conference. Now, over the years I have attended many many SF conventions and often there are writing program tracks and occasionally writing workshops, but this was a weekend dedicated to the craft and business of the writing.

If you have been to small SF conventions a lot of this looks familiar. The registration table, the meandering about in the hallways chatting with like inclined minds, books for sale, and conventions spaces that are over air-conditioned far too often.

However surface looks are deceptive.

The meeting rooms are not laid out with rows and rows of chairs, nor are their generally panels of people prognosticating from their perch. Here the rooms were set up with tables and the workshop facilitators sat or moved among the conferees. There aren’t as many tracks of programming, but the focus is much tighter. The workshops typically lasted 90 minutes with a ten minute separation between them.

In the evening, after the workshops, there are speakers, and after that ‘rogue’ workshops where people gathering informally to read their material and receive feedback. These nighttime read and critique sessions lasted as long as endurance allowed. I never lasted to the end of one and never made into my bed before two in the morning.

I had a grand time. I met loads of great people and made new friends. I received invaluable feedback on my writing from both professionals and my peers. While much more expensive in both money and sleep then what I would normally pay for a conventions, I regret nothing.

If you write, and if you can get to one of these workshops, do it.

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Rand Paul thinks you’re stupid

In the video above Senator Rand Paul, considered by many to be a viable and serious presidential candidate for 2016, plays both sides of the street. On one hand be pays homage to the scientific breakthrough of vaccines and their importance to public health, and on the other hand he spreads falsehoods and disinformation about vaccines that suppress their use.
When some uses the word ‘but’ you need to pay close attention. In most cases what follows that word is a negation of what went on before. Several times in the video Rand Paul praises vaccines and then with a ‘but’ turns on them in his friendly, folksy ‘gosh, I just love freedom’ manner.
There are three major flags in his discussion of vaccines in this piece.
1) He insinuates that simultaneous vaccinations are a bad thing, referring to spreading out the scheduled for his own children. There is NO evidence that multiple or simultaneous vaccinations are unsafe or compromise the immune system of the vaccinated. Spreading out the vaccinations creates no benefits and leave gaps for possible infection.
2) Senator Paul stress that Hepatitis B is transmitted by sexual activity and blood transfusions. This is true, but is a prevarication. There are multiple methods of transmission and infection for Hepatitis B that place children and new borns at risk. It is typical of a social conservative to show reluctance at vaccines that interact with a person’s sexual life, such as the HPV vaccine.
3) His worst offense and the one that has generated a bit of a media controversy from this interview is the senator repeating the idiotic and ignorant canard that vaccines can cause mental retardation. The day after this interview he has tried to ‘walk back’ the comment by asserting that he did not says that vaccines caused mental retardation merely that they were, his words, ‘temporally related.’ Instead of manning up and talking the heat for saying a damn stupid thing, he’s insisting that you should believe him and not your lying ears,

It is true that he praised vaccines in the interview; it is true that his children are vaccinated, and it is also true that he repeated and insinuated anti-vaccine myths, either because he himself believes them or he believes that it plays well to people who matter to him.

Either way it looks like Rand Paul thinks you’re stupid.

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Now My Problems with the Left

A few posts back I gave some of my reasons as to why I could not longer in any good conscience vote for the Republican Party. That does not mean I am all happy and satisfied when forced to vote on the Democratic side of the ballot. The issues I have the liberal side f the equation are less pressing than those I listed from the right, but they give me serious hesitation and also trouble my conscience. So in no particular order are some of those issues.

  • Identity Politics: There is a great tendency on the left to see people as the check boxes that they are assigned. Too many times have I heard responses start off with a recitation of a person’s categorization placing such labels above the person’s ideas in importance. I am far too much of an individualist to see people first as a label and secondly as an individual. They is not to say that as a culture we do not have miles go in fighting all manner of discrimination. Nor is it saying that the proper view of the world is to pretend to be colorblind. (Or any other kind of blindness) which invites someone to ignore the pain and struggle that others have faced and continue to face. However putting people in little boxes invites other forms of discrimination, such as expecting that person of a particular race, orientation, or what not is a traitor to their own if they hold contrary and unpopular views. The problem with bean counting is that in the end it reduces people to beans.
  • Paternalism: The liberals are far more likely than the conservatives to pass laws for someone ‘own good.’ Seat-belt laws, Helmet Laws, Smoking Laws, and so on, laws, taxes, and regulations meant to guide the common person towards the preferred behaviors. For years I have referred to this tendency as ‘the enlightened man’s burden.’ It springs from a conceit that they know best and it is an obligation to make sure that everyone lives in the manner that the enlightened know is best. Often couched in terms of societal costs (helmet-less riders cost us X dollars every year) it is an insidious argument freedom has no dollar value and as such always looses. People have a right to be stupid and free.
  • Luddism: From nuclear power, and genetic engineering, to vaccines there is a powerful tendency on the left to harbor fears of technology. The same people who would chastise conservatives for refusing to listen to climate scientists will happily embrace fears of GMO without any more scientific support than the conservatives that deride. They will happy boost for more space exploration, and yet protest the use of nuclear fuels for those same spacecraft. It is my opinion that the conservatives are often anti-science but that liberals are often anti-technology. (there is talk in the news today of GOP candidates and their anti-vax stands, but this idea is much more at home in the upper-middle class college educated left.)
  • Utopianism: The idea that humanity is perfectible seems to be a meme that is much more infection among the left. There seems to be a desire, a dream, to find the system that will bring out the perfect system where everyone is happy and there is no want. A place where racism, sexism, and other ills are diseases of the past. I think this is why the left has always flirted with socialism and communism. Communism really is an atheistic religion promising heaven on earth and an end to all suffering. I do not believe that people are perfectible. There will always be the base drives and desire that propel so much human misery. The idea that we can find a utopia is a delusion that distracts us from the work we can achieve.

As with my post on the Republican Party, the subject of the post and comments is the liberal philosophy and the Democratic Party. You are welcome to comment but stay on topic.

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My Superb Owl Sunday

(Taking a hint from Stephen Colbert I shall refer to yesterday’s big game day as Superb Owl Day and thus side stepping any trademark issues.)

So I do not follow any sports. Being a spectator is boring for me and there is no sport that is so engrossing that I would watch it over doing something myself. As such it has been a recent tradition of mine that on Superb Owl Sunday I drive from San Diego to Los Angeles and spend the day at Universal Studios Hollywood. (The Entertainment Capitol of L.A. – what a sad little proclamation. I remember when, before they build parks around the world, they boasted of being the entertainment capitol of the World.) This is a great day to take the trip. The freeways are clear and the park attendance is low as everyone is home watching 22 grown men fight over a piece of inflated pig hide.

The drive north was fairly clear except as I passed the San Onofre nuclear powerplant the CHPs had stopped all northbound traffic. Luckily it didn’t last more than fifteen twenty minuets. I was close enough to the head of the stoppage to see the flashing lights and what looked like a drone of some sort passing overhead. They released the traffic and there were no clues as to why they stopped us.

I made this trip by myself. As an introvert there are times when I need serious time away from my friends and loved ones, spending hours with just my own thoughts. And while I wander the crowds of the theme park, I am alone, never having to same more than ‘Give me the hot dog.’

This year big sections of the park were closed off. They are currently building he Wizarding World Of Harry Potter, slated for a 2016 opening, and in addition that had taken advantage of the slow season to do refurbishment of the stunt show and other attractions. I felt a little bad for the tourists for whom this would be there first visit to the park, but I still had a quite fine time.

I took the studio tour twice. (It varies slightly by the tour guide and some of more entertaining than others.) Rode all my favorite rides. Got soaked on the Jurassic Park Ride. (Last row of the boat is certainly the one that catches the most water.) Ate foods I normally avoid and in short thoroughly enjoyed myself and returned home that evening energized and refreshed.

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A Bad Idea

Anyone who knows me is aware that I hold anti-vaxxers in the same sort of contempt that I reserve for creationist and anti-evolutionist. Recently I spotted a proposal that parents should be required to confer with a physician before being allowed to opt out of getting their children vaccinated.

No! This is a terrible idea.

When justice Alito was up for confirmation to SCOTUS one of the things that troubled me from his judicial history was upholding a law that required married woman confer with their husband before obtaining an abortion. Granted it gave the husband no legal standing, he had no way to legally forbid the process, the woman merely had to inform and confer with her spouse on the matter, the decision was still hers. It was a terrible idea for the exact same reasons as this proposal about vaccinations.

Freedom of speech and expression is not just a positive right. In addition is have the freedom to express your ideas, you are free from having to participate in expression of ideas. Compelled speech is not free speech.

Ban unvaccinated children from schools. I support that.

Require the vaccinations for public health. No trouble with that at all.

But for heaven’s sake do not infringe on freedom of expression to get there.

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