Burn It With Fire

My wife has a very simple rule when it comes to fiction: If fire could solve the problem, there has to be a good reason for the characters not to try it.

Take Sleepy Hollow. I love the show, but this week’s episode featured a serial killer who confined to a painting in between murders. The simple would see the characters take the painting, toss it in the fire place with some lighter fluid, and the episode is over by the first commercial break. Unfortunately, this isn’t what the characters did, instead going a route that required tracking down magic bullets embedded in a dead body (always leave one bullet in, no one should have to say that!) and using them to shoot the painting.

Because…shooting a painting instead of burning a painting?

Look, if there’s a simple solution to a problem, it is going to occur to the audience. Who will then wonder why it doesn’t occur to the characters. So it needs to occur to the characters and be dismissed for one reason or another. This takes two lines of dialogue, a mere blip in a story, TV episode, or movie.

It’s the simple things, it really is.

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The Great Hugo Watch

I noticed something odd when I began the Great Hugo Read two years ago. At that time, of all the Hugo winners, only three had been adapted to film. One was Starship Troopers, a controversial adaptation that is probably one of my top ten favorite films of all time. One was Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which grabbed a win for the series by beating out A Storm of Swords. The third was Dune.

Oh, Dune. I grabbed the movie out of curiosity as part of a four movie DVD pack. I started watching, but was interrupted by a baby nap not lasting nearly as long as it normally would. I never ended up coming back to it. Paul was just heading out into the desert, and there was shockingly little movie left for how much plot they still needed to cover. I’ve still never finished it. I’m not sure I will. I just don’t really feel any great need to watch it. I’d be far more likely to track down the miniseries.

There have been attempts to turn other Hugo winners into movies, and more recently television shows. Several have failed. The biggest one currently limping along trying to find a home is the on-again-off-again adaptation of American Gods. Some, however, are moving forward. One I’ve heard about for awhile was the Ridley Scott helmed adaptation of The Man in the High Castle. I wasn’t aware that they were moving forward. Or casting. Or filming. So it was a surprise to learn that the pilot was not only complete, but that it was part of the Amazon pilot program release this week.

And it’s fantastic. There’s no other word for it, it’s just fantastic. It takes most of the background elements of the book, several of the characters, but fixes up the plot to better fit the format. While I thoroughly enjoyed the novel, it isn’t really plotted in a way that lends itself to adaptation.

Of course, this is just a pilot. Just one episode. If its going to become a series, it needs viewers, and it needs those viewers to rate it. While the eventual series, if we get one, will require Amazon Prime, the pilot can be watched by anyone. So go watch it. It’s great. Then rate it. Because I need more episodes of this show yesterday.

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Early Hugo Thoughts

Welp. It’s 2015, which means the eligibility period for the Hugos has wrapped up and the nominations will open up soon enough. Or eventually. Still, never too soon to have a few thoughts, including my annual thought: stop nominating so much Doctor Who! Yeah, I enjoyed this past season too, Peter Capaldi has brought a new energy to the role, and they finally figured out how to use Clara. Still, this is the golden age of television. Which means there are dozens of science fiction and fantasy shows on television, and most of them have managed at least one episode better than the fourth best episode of Doctor Who.

A few thoughts, some of which will be on my nominating ballot (the list is currently too long):

  • Agents of SHIELD: Turn, Turn, Turn or What They Become
  • Person of Interest: Deus Ex Machina
  • The Leftovers: Two Boats and a Helicopter
  • Adventure Time: Escape from the Citadel
  • Sleepy Hollow: This is War
  • Stephen Universe: Lion 3 Straight to Video
  • Game of Thrones: The Lion and the Rose

My probable Long Format ballot while I’m at it:

  • The LEGO Movie
  • Guardians of the Galaxy
  • Edge of Tomorrow
  • Over the Garden Wall (showed as episodes, but eligible to be nominated as a unit under Hugo rules)

As long as we’re talking the Hugo, I would be remiss to not mention my one eligible work (I am not yet Campbell eligible): The Face of the Serpent, published in Bad Ass Faeries: It’s Elemental.

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2015 Resolutions

It’s time to sit down and look at the year ahead. Well…the year 98.9% still ahead of us, as we’ve already blown through 1.1% of 2015. And I still don’t have my hover board, or my cool whatever the hell kind of hat/helmet thing this is:
Actually, the hat is awesome, but for the real look of 2015 check out the plastic breast plate on circuitry designed facial tattoo on the left there. We're all going to be dressing like that by no later than June.

What that means is that it’s time to sit down for some New Year’s Resolutions! In the past years I’ve reached for the stars and only ended up frustrated, so this year I’m keeping it simple with just three resolutions:

Resolution One: Write More! That doesn’t mean kicking my ass to write every day (already failed that one yesterday) but it does mean no weeks on end where I don’t write. I’ve got too many languishing ideas, I need to have some form of forward momentum on them. I’m not going to promise to finish this or outline that or query the other thing, just write more.

Resolution Two: Read No Less! I would say read more, but I’m very happy with the amount of time I spent with my nose in a book last year. Tracking my 2014 on Goodreads I read 54 books (down from 56 in 2013, but “book” is such an imprecise length of reading). So I want to keep that up. Right now I’m working my way through Roger Zelazny’s Lord of Light. I’m not going to emulate Garth Marenghi by being one of those people who has written more books than he’s read.

Resolution Three: No Back to the Future Part II jokes! Oops.


State of the Writer: October 2015

Damnit, who let it get all dusty in here? And what’s with all the cobwebs? It’s still a little early for Halloween decorations, right?

So it’s been a few months since I’ve sat down on the first and wrote out what I’ve been up to. Which means there’s a lot to cover. First up, I had a short story published in the most recent edition of the Bad-Ass Faeries series, which had a rather exciting launch at Balticon. It’s the first time I’ve been in a room where someone was buying a copy of my fiction, which is an odd experience, and one of those milestones of writing that I’ve never thought of. The anthology has gotten some positive reviews, including at least one that has specifically called out my story. Which is exciting.

The characters and their conflict appear in a world masterfully designed to meet their supernatural needs, and the resolution is a beautiful solution perfectly suited to the lucha libre world in which the story is set.

Aw shucks. It’s my first positive blurb. Which kinda gave me happy chills the first time I read it.

In ongoing projects news, my generation ship novel is now a complete story that has a beginning, an end, and stuff that goes in between. It’s in a rough state, but it’s also in the hands of some beta readers who will tear it down so I can build it back up that much stronger. After that, I’ll probably be looking for some more beta readers. If you’re interested, do nothing for now except remember to watch this space, and follow me on Twitter. When I’m looking for beta readers, I won’t be quiet about it.

Nickajack has been in a holding pattern while I’ve been working on Back Half, but October is as good a time as any to get back into it. There are some chapters that need to be written, some that need to be rewritten, but it’s still a novel I’m enjoy, and still a story that I think works on the page like it did in our heads. My wife and I are in the early stages of our next joint project, which will probably be a Lovecraftian novel that salvages a lot of elements of a spec pilot we wrote years ago.

(WordPress isn’t sure whether I meant “salvage” or “savages” in that sentence…suddenly I’m not sure either.)

I’m also playing around with the idea of an epic fantasy space opera. Which really hasn’t gone too much farther than me wondering if I have the chops to write an epic fantasy space opera. I have a notion about how the magic will work, how the science will work, and where the interaction between them will be. Now all I need is a plot. And characters. And some settings. But, really, aren’t those kinda secondary.

The nose is to the grindstone, believe me.


The Typewriter: Prologue

“What would you say to a project?”

This is the question my wife asked while she was trying to track down a birthday present for me. Would I be interested in a project? I was intrigued. I have a mixed history with completing projects I’ve bought for myself. Not to worry, however, as she said that the project was worth having even if I didn’t do it.

That was my hint. Well…that and the fact that if I did complete the project I could sell it for a significant profit. I’ll admit, those clues had me completely stumped. I briefly thought it might be a kit for launching a camera into the upper atmosphere, something that I have talked about in the past, but not something that could be turned around for a profit.

So my birthday came along, and two boxes sat on the table. One  small and wrapped, the other looking like a small vintage suitcase. The wrapped box was a USPS box from an Etsy store, a storefront that sells conversion kits for turning classic typewriters into USB keyboards. You’ve seen those, right? They often get lumped in with steampunk, but that’s not quite right. The aesthetic is something a little different.

The other box contained an Underwood Portable. This Underwood Portable:

IMG_1930It looks a little like a hockey player that’s taken one too many pucks to the teeth. But it’s in remarkably good shape for a piece of tech that’s just under 90 years old. Two of the keys, H and M, aren’t rebounding, and those will need to be fixed before I can even consider breaking into the kit. So it’s really two projects in one: Restoring an old Underwood, and then turning that restored Underwood into a keyboard.

A few interesting features. First:

IMG_1938You’ll notice something is missing here. The 1 key was not an original feature of the QWERTY keyboard. To insert the number 1, the typist would use a lower case l. To insert an exclamation point, the typist would use the single apostrophe (located on the 8 key instead of an asterisk), back space, then type a period. That is, by the way, why the one and exclamation point are on the same key on a modern QWERTY, because they were added to the keyboard at the same time.

Speaking of hitting that back space key, I love that it’s labeled  “Back Spacer”. Along those same lines, the tab key is the Tabular Key on this keyboard.

IMG_1937There’s that pesky asterisk, sharing a key with the dash. Oh, and while there might not be a one or an exclamation point on the keyboard, there is this highly useful key:

IMG_1939That’s right, the ever useful ¾ key. Right near a key that combines the wayward at sign with the cent sign.

So, if a future novel or story of mine has no characters who ever get excited about things, a lot of jobs that are left ¾ finished, and avoid the letters H and M, you’ll know I’ve got the keyboard up and running.

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Unofficial 2014 Hugo Packet

I’m sure I’m not the only one waiting for the Hugo Packet to drop. So I thought I’d look to see what’s currently available for free (free being the keyword) to tide over until the official packet is available. Linked titles go to the story online, unlinked stories I can’t find for free.


  • Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
  • Neptune’s Brood by Charles Stross
  • Parasite by Mira Grant
  • Warbound, Book III of the Grimnoir Chronicles by Larry Correia
  • The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson




As a bonus, I found this site which has an archive of The Mercury Theatre On Air and Campbell Playhouse, which will get you four of the five nominees for the 1939 Best Dramatic Presentation. Nominee #5 (RUR from the BBC) exists in no known form and is thus running entirely on it’s reputation of being the first known science fiction television broadcast.


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Loving Ace Doubles

Threshold of Eternity by John Brunner. Artwork by Ed Emshwiller.

Threshold of Eternity by John Brunner. Artwork by Ed Emshwiller.

Take a look at the cover to the right. I’ve made it larger than most images I include on posts because…well, it’s glorious. This comes from the first batch of Ace Doubles I bought at a library sale two years ago. I knew nothing about the book, I didn’t even really know what Ace Doubles were at the time. All I knew is that the cover was glorious, and I wanted to own the book.

I picked it back up today because I was looking for something to read while waiting for the Hugo Voters Packet to get put together (yeah, I bought myself a supporting membership to Loncon so I could get the packet and a vote). Since I’d be reading a lot from 2013 and 1939, why not split the difference at around 1959. I pulled the book out and the first thing I noticed was the name in bold at the bottom right corner.

John Brunner.

I probably don’t have to go into who John Brunner was on this blog. However, the particular point of interest is that the name John Brunner had never before appeared on the front cover of a book until this one. He’d pseudonymously published one novel a few years earlier, but Threshold of Eternity, published by Ace in 1959, is the first John Brunner novel.

But it’s the cover that dragged me in, and it’s the cover I wanted to know more about. So I went to an Ace reference site that lists cover artists for the classic Doubles and Singles of the late 1950s and early 1960s. That drew my attention to four letters hidden in the whirling fan blades just above Brunner’s name: EMSH. This is the signature of Ed Emshwiller.

Emshwiller was a graphic artist who won the inaugural artwork Hugo in 1953, then called Best Cover Art. He went on to be a four time winner in the updated Professional Artist category in the 1960s. Including the year 1960. Since this novel came out in 1959, this cover would have been part of his portfolio under consideration by Hugo voters.

It would be an exaggeration to call it a Hugo winning cover, but it was a cover published in a year that the artist won a Hugo for his work during.

So just grabbing a book that caught my eye at a book fair, I ended up with the first real novel by a future scion of the genre, with a cover by a five-time Hugo winning artist.

Oh, and on the flip is a book by some guy named Poul Anderson.

Ace Doubles are awesome that way.

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Hugo reminder

Just a near-last-minute reminder that Hugo nominations are closing soon.

And that Welcome to Night Vale is eligible as a dramatic presentation short form.

And that The Sandstorm should have at least two nominations if you’re looking for an episode to back.

Just saying.

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A Writer Reviews: Total Recall

No no, not the new one. Look, I didn’t dislike the new one, but it’s the first shot of a troubling new trend in the film industry: remaking Paul Verhoeven movies that are still perfectly good on their own. We had a new Total Recall in 2012, a new Robocop a month ago, and there is fresh rumblings of a new attempt at Starship Troopers that hews a little more closely to the book.

I’m a huge fan of all three of these Verhoeven movies. They make for a fantastic triple feature if you want to just sit down and enjoy some fantastic satire connected through their jaded view of televised entertainment. But this isn’t about fawning over some of my favorite movies, it’s about taking one of them to task.

So what’s the big question at the center of Total Recall? The one question that people debate when they’re actually debating something so silly as 90s Schwarzenegger movies?

Does the movie happen or not?

Answer one: Yes. The movie is chronicling the actual events as Douglas Quaid learns that he is a secret agent who had his memory wiped and is living out a humdrum life on earth. Answer two: No. The movie is entirely the memory that Rekall has implanted into Quaid.

It’s a fun question. It’s at the heart of any unreliable narrator, just what parts can you believe or not? Unfortunately, and I hate to find such a glaring flaw in a Verhoeven movie, there’s only one possible correct answer. Douglas Quaid is, unambiguously, as the movie presents him. I will accept no other answer, because the movie makes it very clear in one important way.

Parts of the movie happen without Quaid on-screen.

If the movie was meant to be an implanted memory, these scenes wouldn’t exist. They couldn’t There is no way for Quaid to know what happens in these scenes, and thus no way for these scenes to otherwise exist. Sorry, the whole thing falls apart on that one moment, and any exploration about the nature of memory or reality is destroyed, leaving only a ridiculously fun story.

In the world of writing, this is what we call “head hopping.” That moment that a narrative jumps from one person’s point of view to another. On its own, head hopping is not a problem. Some stories (I’m looking at you, Frank Herbert) do it constantly. Some stories will switch between points of view at scene or chapter breaks. Some will stay firmly in a single point of view. Some will back off it all. The problem comes when head hopping happens accidentally. When that happens, it can feel like a cheat, pull the reader out of the story, or even destroy some of the potential drama.

So pick your point of view. If it’s not working, change it up. Just make sure it’s internally consistent.


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