Monday, August 29, 2011

150 Word Writing Contest

Literary agent Janet Reid held her PANIC writing contest at her website.  We had to write a story in 150 words or less that contains several of the homonyms she listed.  I chose the following: 

rain/reign/rein
marshal/martial
slew/slough/slue
ore/or/oar
faux/foe
weather/wether 


Here’s my story.  How did I do? 
__________________________

Rain.  The fourteenth year of the reign of Great Timarchus, who slew the Ur-panther, and what do we have to show for it?  Dishing around in this slough for yellow ore, when we should have been training the men in the ten martial disciplines, or at least marching. 

Rain again.  The wether wool of each man’s cape is soaked, useless.  “Hey Pelius, give us an oar to walk through this rain, eh?”  Pelius gets that funny look.  He talks of planting faux ore, then watching Timarchus’ adjutant slue around like some clumsy mast. 

The weather breaks.  I look up.  The lead regiment of our foe, the Tregidain, marches in.  Of course.  No regiments here.  Just pans full of sodden pebbles.  I approach their field marshall, arms limp.  I gesture with the rein that should have led my bronze-armored steed. 

“Here,” I say.  “Hang Timarchus with it.”  

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Worldcon V -- Final Thoughts

The convention was held at The Atlantis, Reno’s newest casino/hotel.  The amenities of the hotel were nice, but it was difficult to navigate my way through the main floor to the front desk or restaurants, since that floor was a maze of gambling machines complete with flashing lights and noxious booping sounds.  The place always had people gambling, even when I walked through at 7:30 in the morning! 

The Atlantis modified their flier for us -- note the pointy ear  

Many of the gamblers smoke like chimneys.  I had planned on going to the sushi bar on their “sky terrace,” but it was glass-enclosed, not open-air.  The cigarette smoke wafted up the staircase and escalator, which was not my idea of a pleasant eating experience (and they had their noxious gambling machines on the terrace, too).   My friend Linda Donahue stayed at a different hotel, since she knew she wouldn’t be able to tolerate the smoke. 

There’s a “fun area” on the second floor, featuring video games for the whole family.  And I did see children there.  But these arcade games look so similar to the gambling machines on the first floor (easily visible from the second), I wonder if this is just a way to entice a new generation of gamblers. 

I’m grateful to the Reno fans for arranging everything at the Atlantis Casino, as well as a the Convention Center, but it was a trying experience. 
On the positive side, I had breakfast on the way to the airport at a retro McDonald’s.  Note the golden arches.  I could see them from a good distance!  



Friday, August 26, 2011

Worldcon IV -- Redheads, Paperbacks, Hugos

(Saturday.  Blog supplemental.)
 
My friends Julie Mandala and Linda Donahue are having their novel Four Redheads of the Apocalypse published by Baen. 


Julie and Linda are friendly people who encourage aspiring writers.  They’re always fun to see at the convention parties. 

Later in the day I asked agent/writer Lucienne Diver her opinion about the future of mass-market paperback books.  In a previous blog entry, I mentioned how a major publisher predicted these paperbacks will die out in five years, to be replaced by e-books.  Yesterday, a major editor predicted they will die out in three to four years.  Lucienne Diver has had e-books published herself, as detailed on her blog

Ms. Diver was less pessimistic.  She had the opinion that mass-market paperbacks will die out “eventually,” but not in the next few years.  Just to be clear, all three of these people agree the larger paperbacks -- called “trade” paperbacks -- will survive.  Ditto for the hardcovers.  My question concerned the most common sort of paperback, less than eight inches tall. 

Below is a picture of Ms. Diver and me, with mixed results. 

  
She looks alert and intelligent 
Me, not so much 

Tonight we had the Hugo Awards ceremony.  Fans compare these awards to the Oscars, and I was surprised at the similarities:  A couple of well-dressed hosts bantered back and forth between awards, the big screens showed pictures of the nominees as they were named off, and the winners were visibly emotional. 

I was surprised the Hugo for best movie went to Inception, beating out last year’s Harry Potter movie.  For my contention that the characters in Inception were derived from the characters in the children’s novel Alice in Wonderland, see my previous blog entry on the subject.  (Hint:  The main female character uses a pawn as her totem.) 

The Hugo for best short story went to Mary Robinette Kowal.  Yes, she’s the same person I had an appointment with on Thursday (which I missed) and who put on the puppet show on Friday.  She gave a heartfelt acceptance speech, in which she explained she told her parents and husband to not bother to come, since she didn’t think she would win. 

 Photo of Ms. Kowal © 2010 Annaliese Moyer

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Worldcon III -- Star Trek, Pirates, Puppets

(Friday.  Blog supplemental) 

Lest you think I only saw steampunk types at the convention, here’s a picture of someone representing a different aspect of Worldcon: 

tereshkova2001
A Star Trek fan.  Can you tell?

On a different note, I saw Carrie Vaughn on a panel, both yesterday and today.  Yesterday, she talked about the research she did for her young adult pirate novel Steel, which I just ordered through Amazon. 


I asked how to keep from unloading too much research on the reader, which good writers know just bogs down the story.  She said she does the research when she needs to know something for the passage she’s writing.  She’ll put brackets down for needed information as she writes, then go back and fill in the brackets.  I realized I do the same.  If I don’t know what tree is needed for a scene in ancient Greece, I might write “he tended the [     ] tree.”  When I do the research, I go back and fill in the brackets, which in this case was a chaste tree (it really exists).  Thanks, Carrie, for the affirmation. 

The big treat for the evening was the puppet show Whatnot, performed by Mary Robinette Kowal, Jodi Eichelberger, and Lance Woolen. 

 © 2010 Annaliese Moyer
 See my previous entry on Mary 

To call it a traditional puppet show doesn’t do it justice.  The series of pieces they present range from the tragic to the comical.  They also include audience interaction -- audience members choose the next prop for the performers to use.  A standout piece featured two performers wearing tape recorders on their heads, alternately playing lines from science fiction or fantasy that supporters had submitted during the previous weeks.  Whatnot was an unusual treat for us all.  

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Worldcon II -- Steampunk

(Thursday evening, blog supplemental) 


What is steampunk?  Forget the “punk” part of the name.  It is more properly called “Victorian science fiction” or “gaslight fantasy.”  These fans have a fascination with Victorian times, and you can see them in period dress, but what’s with the goggles?  The stories are alternate versions of Victorian times with advanced dirigibles or other flying machines, extravagant steam-powered mechanisms, and lots and lots of gears. 

Some fans dress in elaborate detail. 

Same girl, different outfits

The day’s steampunk events culminated with the Girl Genius Ball.  Participants learned Victorian/Regency dances.  


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Worldcon I -- Arrival

(Thursday.  Blog supplemental) 

Worldcon -- the world’s largest science fiction convention -- is in Reno, Nevada this year.  It’s great so far, but I had my traveling issues: 

Rubbing blood into my pants leg  I bashed my knee on the door of the shuttle van while getting out at the airport.  I kept rubbing it throughout the day, then found out later I scraped some skin off. 

Wrong plane taxiing up to our terminal gate  Propellers spinning and all!  The women at the boarding counter looked surprised, then announced this plane had to be serviced before our flight (already late) could take off. 

Missing my appointment with the puppeteer  See my previous entry on author, speaker, and puppeteer Mary Robinette Kowal.  I was going to read a novel excerpt (assuming I ever get published) in a private session, and she would give me tips on public reading.  As to why I was late, see above. 

A typical author reading an excerpt 
from her manuscript at the convention

On the plus side, I had my picture taken with my favorite author, John Hemry.  


He’s an experienced Navy man.  His Fleet series, under the pen name of Jack Campbell, has made the New York Times bestseller list.  Now he’s bringing out reissues of his Stark series, beginning with Stark’s War (see cover above).  The setting may be the moon, but some issues don’t go away:  A vastly experienced non-com -- Sergeant Stark -- has to deal with the uncaring and incompetent officers above him.  When he’s ordered to send his soldiers into a pointless, suicidal battle, what can Stark do? 

Hemry writes passionately about the ethical conundrums of loyal, patriotic soldiers who are given terrible moral dilemmas.  He also sprinkles his story with hilarious moments when Stark and others have to say “Yessir” to panicky junior officers and those small-minded senior officers who micromanage their every move -- even when they’re charging into battle.  Add to this his realistic descriptions of combat in the low-gravity, airless conditions of the moon, and you’ll see why Stark’s War has been issued again.   

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Star Trek Blogfest

At the risk of appearing geekish, I’m participating in the Star Trek blogfest that Ellie Garrett is hosting.  She dresses like this all day -- just ask her. 



Instead of being self-indulgent, I can use this as an exercise in synopsis writing.  What follows are synopses of my favorite episodes of the four main series: 

The old Star Trek:  “A Journey to Babel”  Spock’s parents arrive at the eve of either an important diplomatic breakthrough or an interstellar war.  As diplomats argue and an unknown ship stalks the Enterprise, Spock’s father ends up needing a massive blood transfusion from his son.  But Spock cannot do that and fulfill his duties while the ship is in danger.  Torn between duty to the ship and duty to family, and between his stern father and his caring mother, Spock suffers in an anguish he cannot show.  Leonard Nimoy once said that Spock was the most human of the characters, because of the struggles he went through. 

Star Trek: The Next Generation:  “Legacy”  The android Data, who professes to have no emotions, spent much time with his deceased shipmate, Tasha Yar.  When her outlaw sister Ishara is taken onto the Enterprise because she has knowledge that may resolve a hostage situation, she is greeted with skepticism.  Data finds himself advocating ways to help integrate her with the crew and offers personal support.  But is Data really prepared for the emotional implications of trusting such a person?  Data is not a dour character like Spock; he has more of a childlike approach to serious emotional situations. 

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:  “The Wire”  Garak is the only Cardassian on the Deep Space Nine space station, and the human Doctor Bashir is the closest thing he has to a friend.  Garak collapses and lies close to death from an implant in his brain from the Obsidian Order—Cardassian intelligence.  In terrible pain, he shouts contradictory stories to Bashir—he was kicked out of the Order for killing civilians, he was kicked out for sparing some civilian children, he tried to betray his best agent friend but was betrayed first.  Bashir complains that none of the stories were true, but Garak says they were all true, “especially the lies.” 

Star Trek: Voyager:  “Someone to Watch Over Me”  The Doctor—an artificial intelligence hologram—tries to give social lessons to Seven of Nine—a woman so cybernetically modified she is unfamiliar with sensitive emotions.  No matter how much the suave Doctor advises Seven with the concepts of dating and other encounters, Seven’s brusque manner turns each one into a social disaster.  Seven remarks they have much better interactions with each other.  The Doctor is left with a quandary—since he is Seven’s teacher, is it ethical for him to develop feelings for her? 

We were asked to come up with five favorites.  I will come up with an odd category of favorite short segment:  The first 20 minutes of the movie Star Trek: Generations.  The Enterprise B has successfully launched, complete with reporters for a little publicity tour.  But Captain Harriman is soon in over his head as refugee ships need rescuing.  He swallows some humble pie and asks his special guest—the aging Captain Kirk—for advice.  Kirk tells him to risk the Enterprise to save the refugees.  What follows is fantastic Star Trek compressed into a short segment:  Energy beams in space, the ship getting rocked, and Kirk doing it once again and saving the ship.  The young Ensign Demora Sulu is a joy to watch. 

By the way, my published short story is in  Star Trek: Strange New Worlds V.  If you use this link to Amazon.com, you can use their Look Inside feature to read part of my story.  It starts on page 33.  


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Convention Proposal

I’m going to be in Worldcon in Reno this Thursday through Saturday.  If you recognize me, please come up and say hello.  I hope to have good pictures and stories to share. 

In the meanwhile, watch this fun proposal that seems to be taking place at a science fiction convention.  You’ll see at the end why I think it’s a convention.  


Friday, August 12, 2011

Harry Brown


You’ve seen the news about the riots and fires in London this past week.  Do not listen to the talking heads who say this is the poor against the rich.  That is an insult against all the poor people there who do not riot or loot.  And forget about saying this is a rising up of the working class.  These hooligans do not work. 

To understand these gang members better, rent the movie Harry Brown.  The movie’s namesake is an elderly pensioner played by Michael Caine.  He lives in a neighborhood where the residents stay inside as much as possible, peering out their curtains at the violence perpetrated by gang members.  These hooligans deal drugs and literally push people around in broad daylight, and terrorize the night.  As Harry tells a female detective while they are both hiding from an attack, these thugs kill for entertainment. 

When Harry Brown is forced into a kill or be killed situation, we find out  he is not so frail.  After all, he’s a former Royal Marine.  And when a good friend is killed, he is pushed too far.  Harry becomes the unlikeliest of vigilantes.   But will he be a match for the worst of the gang members, and will this new detective figure out what he is doing?

Harry Brown may be Michael Caine’s greatest movie, and that’s saying a lot.  He does not play a tough vigilante.  Caine was in his 70s when he made the movie, and he plays it as a man in his 70s.  We see the horror and grief in his face when confronted with the brutality around him.  This is a man who wants to live the quiet life, and we see how only the most extreme circumstances force him out of it. 

In the DVD comments, Michael Caine said he was surprised at how well-received the movie was among women.  His wife doesn’t like watching violence, so at the premiere he told her to just excuse herself for the restroom when she couldn’t take it, and he would join her.  She stayed for the whole movie.  Yes, there is blood at times.  But this is no Charles Bronson bloodbath.  We sympathize with Harry Brown and the plight of his whole community. 

Caine’s DVD comments also give some good tips on acting, and also some out-and-out funny stories.  But keep in mind these vandals who bully and rob and start fires are doing it for sport.  Our sympathies are to be with the victims of their mayhem, and especially those few who try to fight back.
 
 
Kayleigh Herbertson, who lives in Plymouth, has a refreshing perspective on the riots on her Articulate and Intricate blog.  

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Bulwer-Lytton

The annual Bulwer-Lytton contest inflicts itself on us in the name of Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, the man who penned that immortal line, “It was a dark and stormy night.”  The challenge is to write the worst possible opening sentence for a novel.  Those of you who have an excellent chance of winning (and you know who you are) may enter at

This year’s winner in the Purple Prose category is Mike Pedersen of North Berwick, ME:

As his small boat scudded before a brisk breeze under a sapphire sky dappled with cerulean clouds with indigo bases, through cobalt seas that deepened to navy nearer the boat and faded to azure at the horizon, Ian was at a loss as to why he felt blue.

Among the Miscellaneous Dishonorable Mentions is Betty Jean Murray of Richland, TX:

Maggie said they were birthmarks and they very well could be, but the three very small black moles in a horizontal line just above her right eyebrow looked like an ellipsis to some, but to others who did not know what an ellipsis was, they looked like three very small black moles in a horizontal line just above Maggie's right eyebrow.

All this brings me back to my glory days in 2008, when yours truly was named the runner-up in the science fiction category: 

Lightning flashed from the blue-black sky of this alien world and shattered the engines of the spaceship, destroying Reninger's last chance of escaping and reminding him of the time his sister returned from New York with the tips of her hair dyed blue, except for the part about the lightning and the spaceship. 

You’re welcome.  

Monday, August 8, 2011

Daniel Radcliffe Sings the Periodic Table

I had no idea Daniel Radcliffe was this intelligent.  In the video below, he sings the names of every single element in the periodic table! 


But what does he do with the rest of his brain cells?  

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Two Worlds Meet

Below is an excerpt from Day 10K, my science fiction manuscript.  Kendrick and Mannheim have been forced down after a missile hit their landing craft.  Kendrick is not sure if the colonists approaching them are part of the group that shot them down.  Their captain, from their ship in orbit, is addressing them over video. 

            The captain faced them on the screen.  “The psych says their body language indicates no deceptionjust varying amounts of fear and nervousness.  Their hand gestures mean they come in peace.  You are authorized to make contact with these Vallannans at your discretion.  If you do so, have Mannheim cover you, in case of snipers on the hills behind them.  Put your headsets on.” 
            Kendrick complied, knowing his every word and every step would be monitored.  Mannheim had also heard, and he clambered down with goggles on his head, flipped up, so his eyes could be seen.  He had a sidearm at his side, which could be slaved to whatever the goggles focused on, for accurate targeting.  Another one was in his hand, and he made the gesture of hefting it. 
            Kendrick shook his head.  Then the captain’s voice sounded in his earpiece.  “Ensign, take the sidearm.” 
            He placed the holster on his left side. 
            The voice sounded again.  “Remember their culture.  Under-wimples on women denote modesty.” 
            Another look at the monitor showed the Vallannans with their arms at their sides, slightly bent at the elbows with palms open, facing the coracle.  Except for the girl in the white under-wimple, who still held the bowl.  He slid open the inner hatch door, then entered the narrow space that served as an airlock.  Mannheim braced himself against one side, ready to fire.  Before he flipped his goggles down, his eyes showed steady, with no undue excitement. 
            Kendrick gripped the mechanism for the outer hatch door.  
#
            Shushan concentrated on the bowl in her hands.  She remembered Elder John’s lessons, that courage was not so much a matter of bravery; it was a lack of fear.  Fear was a result of concentrating on oneself, on one’s own safety.  She had to concentrate on the task before her:  To keep an open and friendly look on her face, to make no move that seemed aggressive or suspicious, to offer the bowl of chuppa.  If she believed the task was important enough, she would not have time to think about herself, would know no fear.  She walked forward slowly, deliberately.  She only wished she could check her under-wimple again. 
            The ship was opening. 
            Gasps came from the families behind her.  It was mysterious, the way it opened up like that.  Shushan did feel fear at that moment.  And then the stranger came out.  

Monday, August 1, 2011

Cowboys & Aliens

Cowboys & Aliens attempts to take us back to the days when Westerns were epic movies.  Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) is a gunslinger with a price on his head, but he wakes up with no memory of his past and a strange device attached to his wrist.  Ella (Olivia Wilde) is the mysterious woman with a gun on her hip who hints she knows what happened to him.  Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) is the cattleman who acts like he owns the town and has no compunction about leading a gang of toughs to spring his troublemaking son from jail.  These three collide when flying objects devastate the town and make off with a number of the townsfolk. 

We’re in the know that these are aliens, but the old West characters have to grasp their way to figuring out how to get their people back from these “demons.”  What helps is the device on Jake’s wrist is a piece of technology that gives them a fighting chance.  Along with Ella’s secret knowledge and Doharhyde’s unflagging determination, they track down the aliens on horseback, guns ready to take on them and their technology. 

photo by Caroline Bonarde Ucci

Cowboys & Aliens may not be a great movie, but it certainly is worth watching.  I enjoyed Daniel Craig’s gunslinging and Harrison Ford’s transition from mad arrogance to world-weariness.  We’re treated to actors actually riding on horseback, Clancy Brown (the sergeant in Starship Troopers) as the crusty preacher, and Apache Indians on the warpath.  A weak point is that Dolarhyde’s son isn’t worth rescuing.  And contrary to rumor, Olivia Wilde does not appear naked -- just the typical view of her bare upper back.  But it’s a successful melding of the Western with science fiction. 

photo by John  Griffiths

P.S.  When 43% of the critics on Rotten Tomatoes likes a movie, but 65% of the audience likes it, you might wonder what’s going on.  As far as I can tell, some reviewers flat out don’t like Westerns.  They seem to be disappointed that the movie did not lampoon the genre.  But the director Jon Favreau treated the genre with respect. 

P.P.S  Source Code is now out on rental.  See my review on this excellent movie.  

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