No Battle Plan …

So I had expected to be deep into writing my next novel by this point but I am still outlining the brute. Now I am very happy with the outlining so far. It’s a really detailed document pretty much taking the scene by scene through the entire narrative, but even doing the outline is not going according to plan.

I had a set idea about the end of act four and hour it leads into act five where everything comes together for the ending and then today a new idea slithered into my head.

It’s very different but follows so naturally from the earlier scenes and characters that there is no way to ignore it. Luckily for me it does not blow up the ending and in fact I think make the whole novel much stronger. However I really want to test drive it, kick the tires, and make sure this thing is in shape before I commit to utilizing it. That means it si time for a get away from everyone I know, lose my self in a crowd, and think for a number of hours.

Normally this would call for a Sunday trip to Universal Studios Hollywood but I have one of those planned for next month and it will be me and two friends being crazy and silly together, not plotting out novels. I don’t want to take off for a Sunday two months in a row, missing my walks and lunches with my sweetie-wife so something else will have to be done.

This time it will be the San Diego Zoo Safari, formerly the Wild Animal Park. It’s MUCH larger that the zoo located in the center of the city but it is only about 30 minutes away. The plan is to take Tuesday off from work and spend most of the day in the North County looking at animals, getting in a lot of walking, and making sure this idea is as solid as it looks.

Wish me luck.

 

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A Smart Bomb is no Good to a Dead Man

So the Democrats are launching a filibuster in the Senate to try and derail Trump’s Nominee for SCOTUS. Majority Leader McConnell is threatening to invoke the ‘nuclear option’ and finish the job the Democrats started in killing the filibuster. (Though it should be noted that Threat and the Name for the act started with the Republicans but was not invoked at that time due to the action of The Gang of Eight)

Some have said that the Democrats should hold off, that if they invoke a filibuster all they will achieve is forcing the GOP to change the rules and kill it off, winning nothing. The most cogent argument I have read is that they should hold off until there is a nominee or issue that has more than 50 GOP member willing to vote for it, but not willing to change the rules over it and the nominee.

That’ doesn’t seem wise to me.

The unprecedented obstruction shown by the GOP, refusing even a hearing for the last president’s nominee indicates that there is no deal to be made, no compromise that will stand. The GOP will do whatever it takes, break whatever norm stands in their way to achieve their goals and the Democrats should adapt to the new battlefield.

To those who say invoking it only forces the GOP to kill it I answer, it you can’t use it because you will lose it, then what good is it anyway? If you have a resource you can not utilize then it is no resource.

Failing to take that stand will have consequences. The liberal elements of the political body are energized and they are not in a make nice and let’s all get along mood. Any Democratic Senator who acquiesces to trump’s will without a fight will find that they are in a fight anyway but with their own base.

To me the only logical move is to resist, make your stand clearly with your base, and keep your eyes fixed on tomorrow.

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Critique: Passengers (2016)

This is not a movie review but a critique where I give you my opinion on specific elements of the film and story. In this case I will be discussing what did not work for me and why. Unlike a review spoilers will abound and if you want to remain unspoiled stop reading now.

Synopsis:

Passengers is an SF movie about an extravagantly luxurious colony ship en route from Earth to the colony of Homeworld II. The ship travels at about half the speed of light and the journey is expected to take over a hundred years. because of this the crew and passengers are in cold sleep, the lives suspended between life and death for all but the final four months of the trip. The ship encounters that tired trope of SF movies, a meteor storm and in damaged. Cascading failures results in a passenger, Jim Preston, being awakened from cold sleep. He discovers there are more than 90 years until they reach Homeworld II and there is no way for him to return to hibernation. Jim will spend his life alone on the ship, never reaching the new world. After little more than a year, his will breaks and he awakens another passenger, Aurora Lane, a beautiful writer and lies to her telling her that her cold sleep pod malfunctioned as his did. They get to know each other, they fall into a romantic/sexual relationship, and then of course the lie is exposed. Of course she reacts angrily and they live separate lives, time-sharing the android bartender for company. A third person awakens, a ship’s crew member. He discovers some of the information about the nature of the ships damage and malfunctions, passes to them the access to the secured areas and then dies from his faulty awakening. Together Jim and Aurora discover the precise damage and what is required to fix the ship. Jim is nearly killed but Aurora saves him. Jim discovers that with the Crew Chief’s access he can put Aurora back into hibernation using the ship’s ONLY autodoc. She refuses and stays with him. Ninety years later he crew awakens to discover the ship changed and the record Aurora left behind as both have died of old age.

 

This film has a number of glaring problems and failures in execution. Unlike the movie I watched the night before, Get Out, Passengers becomes worse the more I consider it. Of course let’s get the monstrous sin out of the way first; Jim waking Aurora is an evil act. Perhaps you can understand his motivations, driven to near madness by isolation is a powerful thing, but understanding and excusing are two radically different things. Jim kidnapped Aurora from her life and forced her to live his. He did this to satisfy his needs and his desires. Some have called her eventual reaction to him ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ and I can’t argue with that. I am sure the writers think of it as love, but it’s hard to buy that when she has no choice and no options.

Next up on the great fail parade is the nature of the two characters. Jim is going to Homeworld II because he is a mechanic and no one Earth fixes anything anymore. He is going to fulfill his professional need to build things, and there he will help build a new world, a new society. Aurora is also going to fulfill a professional need. She is searching for the story that will allow her to outshine her father a great and award winning writer as well. He plans were to go, spend a year there and return, half slept through more than two hundred years for the chance at this great tale.

On the surface these characters seem to be treated very much alike, but they are not. With Aurora we get little video messages from her friends she has kept spelling out that what she really needs is not a great jump professionally, but someone to fill the hole in her heart. To be a complete person she must find love, but Jim has no such lacking or hole in his heart. Going there to build is enough. This is a classic bit of bad writing when approaching female characters. Their needs are too often about finding emotional completeness, and they find that in a man.

Another failure in executing her character is that Aurora has no agency in her storyline. I don’t mean that Jim forces her into the situation, but after she is awake and supposedly a full character she has no decision points, no action of hers material advances her story or her plot line. Her only meaningful decisions are about Jim and accepting him back or not. Everything about who she is gets reduced to her call on him. It’s crap writing for any character and especially for female characters.

The crew Chief is nothing more that Chief Exposition. he is awakened to grant access to Jim and Aurora, explain the situation, and then die getting his ‘mentor’ archetype out of the way for the third act. It’s lazy, blatant, and boring.

There are also the plot holes in the story.

There are no faculties for putting someone into hibernation/cold sleep aboard the ship, but there is a crew to run her at the destination. Did they not need a crew to launcher her? They only need it to bring her into orbit? Also there are no provisions for the crew to awaken during malfunctions? No regular awakenings to inspect the ship for function and damage? This is a terribly designed mission and I would not step aboard for that flight.

Passengers is a failed film that looks good and competently acted, but at its heart it is stupid and immoral.

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Movie Review: Get Out

It has taken me a little longer to see this film than I had planned. There’s nothing about this film that I did not like and that did not work. Get Out is Jordan Peele’s freshman outing as a feature film director but you would not know that from the quality of the product.

Horror movies are a difficult beast to pull off well. There are tons of low budget horror films released each year, some to theatrical release and many directly to home video and streaming. What most horror films have in common as a weakness is an over reliance gore and explicit violence intended to shock an audience. Of course that very over reliance dulls any effect of gore and explicit violence, repetition turns the shocking into the mundane. Peele, as writer and director, understands the nature of horror far better than many who have toiled in the field for decades. Horror is a mood, is a sense of wrongness that creates unease. I have once heard horror defines as a knock on the door at midnight and when you open the door, there’s a clown.

Get Out is about a likable young man, Chris Washington, going away with his girlfriend Rose for a weekend at her family home. Going to meet the parents is always stressful, but this trip is more so because Chris is African-American, Rose is white and she has not warned her parents of Chris’ ethnicity. When They arrives Chris is aware that not only is he isolated in a sea of Connecticut Caucasians but the few other African-Americans in the small town act decided odd and suspiciously servile.

This movie has been favorably compared to the 70’s classic The Stepford Wives, and that is not an bad point of reference, though the plots of the two stories are distinctly different. Get Out does not rely upon ‘body counts’ to drawn the viewer into tension or to raise the stakes. The film is smart and expects its audience to be smart as well. there are details and elements that seems merely odd on the first viewing but later maker perfect sense and without the story stopping to explain them to you. This film is powered by mood and for me really getting into the terror of being alone and the other. The cast are uniformly great at their roles but I have to give a particular shout out to Betty Gabriel who takes a smile and a look and delivers gigabytes of information and terror.

This is a terribly good movie and one that should not be missed.

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My Car Two Weeks In

So, just about two weeks ago I purchased a used 2011 Kia Soul as a second vehicle so that my sweetie-wife and I would no longer need to share a single car.

Before going out and buying a used care I did tons of research, looking for a make and model that scored well on reliability, economy, and safety. In addition to those criteria I wanted a small car that would feel cramped for my six foot two inch frame. The data lead me to the Kia Soul and after a few test drives I settled on that make and model.

I can say that after two week I have no second thoughts about my purchase. The car drives well and easily, it handles in a manner that I find both easy to control and fun to drive. Yes, it has a simple four cylinder engine with a four speed transmission, Kia upgraded the transmission with the next year’s model, but I am not interested in a sport car or I would have gone for one of those.

The car had 60,000 miles on it, under the industry average of 12-15 thousand miles per year for American cars, and the results of the mechanical inspection well very good, indicating a car that had been well maintained. I suspect the own before me sold the car off once the 60,000 warranty had expired.

In May I look forward to a drive to Los Angeles when two friends and I, the three of us have not hung together in 30 years, will spend the day at Universal Studios Hollywood.

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Tell, Don’t Show

Wait Bob, isn’t that backwards? Nope, that’s exactly the advices I want to speak about today.

Beginning writers are told, it’s really hammered into their head, Show do not tell. A lot of the time this is really good advice. It takes skill, time, and patience to slow down and show the reader the character, the world, and the important details of the story. Many times if you are a novice at fiction writing you are so energized by the ideas and characters cascading through your head that you do not take that requisite time in crafting scenes and rush to tell the grand glorious tale. In those case the advices, Show, don’t tell is spot on.

But there are other cases, where writers slow down the pacing of otherwise wonderful stories to show every detail of the character’s life and each tiny action in the scene. Here they need to skip the show and just tell us.

So what the yardstick to measure if you show or tell?

Of course there is no one answer, but for me the default is what is the drama of scene? If there are no stakes, no drama, then skip writing it out as a scene and just tell the reader in narrative what happened.

For Example:

 

Bill enjoyed his usual Sunday Brunch. He stopped over at the cafe, consumed his favorite breakfast at a leisurely pace, savoring the late morning decadence Stepping outside, the cool autumn air brushing his hair across his face, the sky blackened with the arrival of the invader’s massive starships.

 

Where is the drama in that bit? Right there at the end when alien invaders arrive. That last sentence will transition from telling into showing as we follow Bill and his now very unusual day. Everything that happened before is set-up and while it can be expanded a bit to illustrate character there is little there we have to experience directly. I could write pages about that brunch. Where he sat, how the smells, sounds and light of the dinner created an atmosphere, his banter with the waiter, even loving descriptions of the food itself, but there is no drama in any of that. A little bit for flavor and mood is great but too much and the reader’s desire, if they possess any left, is to skip ahead to where ‘something happens.’

In many ways this ends up at Elmore Leonard’s advice to writers: “Cut out the parts that people skip.”

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Sunday Night Movie: The Remains of the Day

While the vast majority of the movies I watch on Sunday nights are genre films of one variety or another not everything I watch falls into those fields of Sf, Fantasy, or Horror. The Remains of the Day is one of my favorite films and it is a movie of nothing but quiet dialog. Based on the award winning novel of the same name by Kauzo Ishiguro the story centers on James Stevens the butler of Darlington Hall and it concerns Stevens relationships with his employer Lord Darlington, Steven’s father, and the Hall Housekeep Sara Kenton. This is a story about service, devotion, and repressed emotions.

Stevens is played to perfection by Anthony Hopkins, it is hard to imagine another actor who would be able to convey such volumes of information while his character says nothing about how he truly feels. Steven is a man so driven by his concept of duty he never questions to the actions of his employer, even as Lord Darlington toys dangerously with Fascism during the run up to World War II. Nor is Stevens able to able reveal his deep feeling and affections to Miss Kenton, played by Hopkin’s equal Emma Thompson. This is a love story without first names. There is no rom-com misunderstandings, but instead this is about people trapped by their nature and their culture.

In addition to the already fine actors mentioned the boasts an impressive casting list; Christopher Reeve as an American politician, James Fox as idealistically naive Lord Darlington, Hugh Grant as his godson who has a bit better vision just what is going on, and two future cast members of HBO’s smash hit Game of Thrones, including a much younger Lena Heady is a small part.

From the moment I watched this in the theater this has been a moving film for me, one where I have tremendous empathy for Mr. Stevens and is doomed inability to express himself.

You only live your life once, make sure it is your own.

 

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How to make Hillary President

Oh, the bonfire that is the Trump Presidency burns hotter, fiercer, and larger than I had ever imagined during the election. There is ample cause to suspect that corruption, incompetence, and out right collusion with a hostile foreign power go all the way into the Oval Office.

(Suspect! I hear some of you cry, and Renault remains Shocked to find gambling going on at Rick’s. Nothing has yet been proven so I leave it to you to follow your own noses in tracking the stench that is the Trump operation.)

One thing I think is clear is that the modern GOP is quite unlike that one of the 70’s and they will never remove Trump from office no matter the stink, the mud, and the crime, but there is an election next year and that could change everything.

Now what follows is fanciful but within the realm of possibility and law; as a speculative fiction writer it fun for me to dream up implausible for possible futures.

One: The Democratic Party wins the election taking back the House and the Senate next year. The hill remains steep in the House but Trump is proving disastrously bad as a president and he might sink the GOP’s majority.

Two: The House names Hillary Clinton as their New Speaker of the House. (Nothing in the constitution or the House rules require that the Speak be a sitting representative.

Three: Trump has proven himself corrupt enough that the Democrats impeach and remove him from office.

Four: They follow that up with impeachment of President Pence, provided that they can make those charges stick and given the grime that appears to be swirling around this administration it might be possible.

Five: Hillary Clinton as Speaker of the House become the 47th President of the United States.

Wait, I hear you Bernie supporters screaming about Step two, because after all if anyone can be named Speaker of the House and third in line for the Presidency why not your guy, Sanders?

Quite simply, he’s not the popular vote winner of the last contest and to me that carries weight. However if you want someone other than Hillary I would suggest that you go with someone who meets the requirements for the officer but who would be Constitutionally ineligible to seek a term via the 2020 election, (The 22nd Amendment prevents presidents from being elected to more than two terms.), so they just give the job back to Barak Obama.

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Is This A Dagger …

Well if they stick to their schedule the U.S. House of Representative will vote tonight to repeal the ACA ‘ObamaCare.’ Note that this is a budgetary bill and as such should it survive in the Senate will be immune to filibuster.

As I write this it is uncertain if Paul Ryan has mustered the votes to pass the bill out of the House. To satisfy the more conservative members of the GOP he has recently added even more draconian amendments to a bill that has already been scored by the CBO as pushing up to 14 million people off their health insurance by next year’s off-cycle election.

Now in addition to allowing insurers to charge older patients up to five times the rate of younger patients while slashing subsidies so that their prices sky rocket, this bill now seeks to strip out the essential coverage requirements of the ACA. This is a list f ten essential aspects that all health insurance now must cover, such as drugs.

This amendment stripping the coverage requirements may not survive the senate because it can easily be ruled as beyond the budget and that would open it up to a filibuster. Even if the parliamentarian rules the amendment allowed there are wavering GOP Senators unhappy with the such extreme measures, and the GOP’s vote margin is one vote. (Normally it would be two, but one member is out ill.)

Why add this is it almost certainly cannot pass the Senate?

Because they are facing a pressure that they cannot resist, the Tea Party Base.

For six years the number one target on the Tea Party’s hit list has been the ACA and the GOP has gone along, promising repeal on day one of they reign. There are people who hate the ACA because it is not single payer, there are people who hate the ACA because of limited networks and high costs, there are people who hate the ACA because it forces you to buy insurance, and there are people who hate the ACA because it makes some people pay more in taxes.

Some of these group can be made happy by reforming and adjusting the ACA, but those last two can only be happy with killing it. Amid the GOP no faction has the number to impose their will and many have the number to kill anything they hate. Ryan has been trying to square that circle and to my eyes he’s given up.

He’s going to win over enough of the Tea Party/Freedom Caucus to get the thing off his desk and onto McConnell’s where it will likely die.

If it dies in the Senate McConnell should look out for knives in the back – a grand Senatorial tradition even if this time they will be metaphorical. The conservative GOP Senators, Cruz and the like, will be blaming him and Ryan will be pushing that train with everything he’s got. His only hope is selling the lie that Repeal would have worked if the Senate have gone all wobbly.

This is a trap of their own construction and if millions of lives didn’t hang in the outcome I’d be getting the popcorn.

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CRS – Chronic Rewriting Syndrome

This is not to be confused with the prevalent and related issue of Terminal Rewriting Syndrome(TRS). Those afflicted with TRS rework their prose and poetry, revising, rewriting, and refusing to consider a piece complete until they have wring all life from whatever art that had nearly crafted.

Chronic Rewriting Syndrome, while related, displays itself in different symptomology. Patients afflicted with CRS suffer distress when encountering writing that varies from their own style. Their minds instantly edit and rewrite the prose and product of others, wishing it to conform to their own standards. Afflicted persons can often be heard mumbling out their preferred lines while viewing television and feature film presentations.

There is currently no cure or treatment to alleviate the symptoms.

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Literary Saboteur

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