Monday, January 30, 2017

Oh no, John Hurt Passed Away

I really liked John Hurt. He was so convincing as Winston Smith getting tortured inside the Ministry of Love in 1984, I was always surprised to see him alive and looking okay afterwards.

photo by Georges Seguin

It kind of shows my taste in movies that I remember him from 1984, and as the guy who had an alien implanted on his face in Alien, and as the Viking king in Outlander (the science fiction version of Beowulf).

I know he played Caligula in I, Claudius, but I can't really think of him as playing that role, though I vividly remember a number of the Caligula scenes. As an odd twist, my mother said she recognized him in Alien from his body, not his face, because she had seen him doing his odd dance in I, Claudius

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Progress—Writing Submissions

In late August, I sent my vampire parody to a major agent I had pitched to at a writers conference. That was the Pacific Northwest Writers Conference in July, which I described here. Although the word was that the market was too saturated with vampire submissions, one agent thought it was intriguing.

Then in November, I sent it to a major science fiction/fantasy publishing house. Why did I wait so long? Probably because I was transitioning between jobs.

During the conference, Andrea Hurst, a major agent, was very generous in giving free advice. She recommended the book Self-Editing for Fiction Writers.

This was the most helpful work I’ve read in a long time. I thought that internal dialog was one of my strengths. This consists of a character thinking to herself, denoted by italics. I had my main character Dee do this while contemplating a neighbor’s lamp:

. . . and admired the two-headed floor lamp in the corner with orange and white panels. Practical for reading to the kids. She didn’t think Hope would mind if she reached back to turn—

But much of the time, this can be part of the narrative. It actually has a stronger feel to it when done this way:

. . . and admired the two-headed floor lamp in the corner with orange and white panels. Practical for reading to the kids. She didn’t think Hope would mind if she reached back to turn—

Of course, sometimes internal dialog is so idiomatic, it should just stay as internal dialog,  as when Dee’s younger sister discovers an important file:

“Alchemical Source of Vampires.” The holy grail. I’m so good, I don’t know what to do with myself.

An unrelated but similar-looking correction from Self-Editing is the overuse of italicized words to indicate which words are stressed in a sentence. I can’t find an example from my old writing too quickly, though books with that minor problem do get published, as my previous post indicated.

And sometimes it is necessary to italicize a word, as when Dee’s older sister tells her during an online chat that something is behind her.

It was some thing, heading away from or towards . . . the kids.

So I’ve thoroughly gone through my science fiction manuscript Alpha Shift and my science fiction/fantasy take on the The War of the Worlds and made a number of corrections. Now I’m going to do the same for a historical fantasy that I’ve never posted excerpts for yet. Stay tuned. 

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Young, Blonde, and Captain—Review of The Oncoming Storm

Kat Falcone is only twenty-nine but looks nineteen thanks to her flawless genes, and she is suddenly promoted to captain of a heavy cruiser in her Commonwealth of worlds. Although she was a capable officer, thirty others more senior than her should have been considered for this command. She was given it because her extremely wealthy and politically powerful father pulled strings for her.

Though infuriated at being given special treatment, Kat’s father informs her she is to investigate Cadiz—their farthest world. A rival power is obviously preparing for war, refugees have streamed into their Commonwealth, raider attacks on their civilian ships have increased, and the admiral in charge of Cadiz might not be up to the task of defending them. Kat must go there and report back.

She boards her ship and meets her executive officer, who is in his sixties and has gray hair at the temples. He thinks she looks like a child.

With The Oncoming Storm, Christopher Nuttall has established a fresh voice in military science fiction. Instead of detailing the workings of military equipment or all the ratings and sub-ratings of the non-commissioned, he realistically describes the thoughts and emotions of two people put in impossible positions: Kat, who knows that everyone realizes how young and inexperienced she is, and William her executive officer, who must do everything to support her while knowing he is the most experienced officer on the ship.

The tension between the two is not as great as Nuttall led us to expect from this setup, since Kat is incredibly competent and William is dedicated to his duty. Also, Nuttall italicizes too many words for emphasis—often the wrong word in a sentence, if you know what I mean. But the tension is high throughout the book as they take their dangerous journey to Cadiz and there confront an unexpected situation when they arrive. 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Another One Bites the Dust—Barnes & Noble

The Barnes & Noble at the Crossroads Mall in Bellevue, WA, where I spent many an hour, closed on December 31.

What hit me was I could still see the desks inside, where I often spent time writing fiction. 

It reminds me of my previous post, which showed how a Borders bookstore became a Forever 21 store. What will happen to this closed store?

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Dollhouse Cascade Effect

If you read my previous post, you’ll know that a little girl was talking to the Alexa feature of Amazon’s Echo Dot, and the next thing you know it delivered four pounds of cookies and a huge, expensive dollhouse to her home.

And here’s the cascade effect: A number of other people who left their Echo Dot on while watching this story on TV have said that Amazon delivered dollhouses to them. This will become another news story, and on and on. Eventually, the North American continent will sink under the weight of the dollhouses.

public domain dollhouse by Thomas Quine

Echo Dot is voice-activated. How does this work? Well, in order to voice activate it, the thing has to always be listening to you: in the living room, bathroom, bedroom, etc. Um, are you really comfortable with that?

You can imagine what will happen if people add other listening devices to their homes. Men will have to stop any women from wishing out loud for diamonds. (Wait, I just discovered Amazon delivers jewelry. “Honey, I ordered that on accident.”) Of if you have security listening devices installed, you could be watching a gunfight on TV where someone cries for help, and the next thing you know a SWAT team will show up. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Cookies and Airlocks—The Perils and Virtues of Voice Commands

A six-year-old girl in Texas was delighted when the family received an Echo Dot for a holiday gift. It features Alexa, the digital assistant that answers questions and handles calendars, etc. The girl asked Alexa questions about cookies and a dollhouse.

The next thing you know, Amazon delivered four pounds of cookies and a $170 dollhouse. Alexa had interpreted the conversation as an order.

All this goes to show the danger of voice commands. It also serves as a segue to an excerpt from my latest science fiction manuscript, Alpha Shift.

 photo by Constantin Barbu 
“Emergency shutdown of docking.” Akajima spoke slowly and clearly into the arm of his chair. The ship’s systems were mostly not operated by voice commands, since past experience had shown that an officer lecturing his crew on how to fire weapons could have disastrous results.

But officers could still speak certain emergency measures into life.

A watch stander jerked his head at a monitor. “Shutdown confirmed.”

Akajima knew that in that distant part of the ship a sheet of metal as thick as the hull had rammed down at great speed in front of the airlock, sealing off the ship from its connection with the shuttle. It didn’t matter if the armor detected by the scan was armored crewmen coming out of the cylinder into the main part of the shuttle in order to board the Panama, or an armored crawler meant to speed its way through the passageways. They were denied.

His next words were addressed to the appropriate crew around him. “Action Stations Yellow. All off-duty personnel confined to their berthing compartments.”

Flashing amber lights and a shrill alarm assaulted the senses—not just any alarm, but discordant high notes mixed with simulated baby screams that threatened to crack the brain case of all who heard. Some off-duty crew had been known to sleep through fistfights in their berthing compartments, but this combination of nightmare sounds would jolt them off the bunks. 


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