Archive for February, 2014

A Writer Reviews: Almost Hollow, the Sleepy Human

SleepyHumanTwo new genre shows debuted on Fox this year. One was an insane notion of turning the legend of Sleepy Hollow into a weekly series. The other was a high concept future buddy cop show headlined by a successful movie star. If I had to put money on only one of the two shows succeeding, I’d have put the one starring a bankable star with the safer premise.

Which is to say, I’d have bet on Almost Human beating Sleepy Hollow.

However, we’re now in mid-February. Sleepy Hollow got a pickup for season two before any other new show this season, and Almost Human is possibly limping towards cancellation. So this raises a question, what did the one do so right, and the other do so wrong?

Let me first say, before I start digging into the shows, that I really do love both of them. Almost Human is one of the first hours of television I catch up with every week. However, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t plenty to indict the show on, nor has my enjoyment of the characters left me blind to the flaws of the show.

First, these two shows are equally weird. That I felt Almost Human was more approachable demonstrates my bias towards science fiction over fantasy. However, asking a broader audience to accept androids, quasi-sentient bullets, and sexbots is no different than asking them to accept the headless horseman, witches, and zombie George Washington. That’s right, zombie George Washington is the sexbot in this comparison. You’re welcome.

Fantasy has also been on more of a winning streak on television lately. But I don’t think that the problem comes down solely to the different genres. One of the most popular shows on television, Person of Interest, has slowly become one of the more compelling science fiction shows of the last two decades.

So what did Sleepy Hollow do right that Almost Human did wrong?

If I had to chalk it up to one factor, I would say Sleepy Hollow better compelled an audience into its world. From the word go, the show hardly let up. It trusted the audience to be willing to come along for a ride. Frankly, it had to. I was dubious going into the show, but it didn’t give me enough of an opportunity to think about what an insane piece of media I was watching.

Almost Human, on the other hand, has given the audience too many opportunities to stop and think about what they’re watching. Look, the dynamic between the two lead stars is incredible, but too often the show has relied on their dialogue in the car. The world is painted on, a thin veneer that relies on the audience to remember Blade Runner. It was only in Episode Nine when the show was willing to embrace the world, and show the audience that there was something out there beyond a familiar pastiche. Unfortunately, that’s too late for a lot of viewers.  Nearly a third of the initial audience has abandoned the show.

It’s far too late to make a thesis statement now.

So what’s the lesson?

First, trust your audience. They want to be taken for a ride, take them for that ride. Don’t feel the need to apologize for a story being what you want it to be. There are so many stories and novels that someone can pick up and read, be your own.

Second, make sure you have a world. If you spend too much time giving your audience a chance to build the world on their own, many are going to fight that. Others are going to paint in another, similar world, and be upset when they get the details wrong. Don’t give them the opportunity to make the world their own, because the world is your own.

I’m still holding out hope for Almost Human. Both from the story telling department, and in my hopes that it gets a second season. Plenty of brilliant genre shows have had slow starts. If it does survive, then everyone needs to stop giving Fox shit about cancelling science fiction.

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Alternate History and Science Fiction

“I see you’re reading The Grasshopper Lies Heavy,” [Childan] said. “I hear it on may lips, but pressure of business prevents my own attention…A mystery? Excuse my abysmal ignorance.” He turned the pages.

“Not a mystery,” Paul said. “On contrary, interesting form of fiction possibly within genre of science fiction.”

“Oh no,” Betty disagreed. “No science in it. Nor set in future. Science fiction deals with future, in particular future where science has advanced over now. Book fits neither premise.”

“But,” Paul said, “it deals with alternate present. Many well-known science fiction novels of that sort.”

–Philip K Dick, The Man in the High Castle

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The Juvenile and the Juvenile

stranger_in_a_strange_landThere’s one unavoidable name when reading the Hugo winners: Heinlein. For anyone following along at home, we’ve now made it through thirteen months and four Heinlein novels, with one coming up in December. It’s been, to be frank, a mixed bag. I know there are Heinlein devotees out there, those who devour every word he’s written and love them to pieces. With the four books we’ve read together these last few months, I’ve now read 6 Heinlein books.

I can honestly say I thoroughly enjoyed two of them. I rather liked reading Starship Troopers, though I like the movie better (sorry-not-sorry), and I loved reading Job a dozen years ago.

You’ll notice neither book from January on that list of books I loved. That’s not to say I disliked them, it’s just to say I didn’t love them.

This time around, the Hugo Awards served up one of his adult books, and the Retro Hugos served up one of his juveniles.

Stranger in a Strange Land is the most famous science fiction novel of all time. At least, that’s what my copy says on the cover. I will admit, I know no other science fiction novel name dropped in a Billy Joel song, though I do wonder what books others might think deserving of that title. The book is certainly Heinlein’s opus, and in many ways is the quintessential Heinlein book. Which is to say it delves deeply into the philosophical, allows characters to expound for chapters on end, and eventually includes a woman offering herself to a father figure.

Alright, that last one isn’t necessarily quintessential, but is something I’ve stumbled across in both this book and, more literally, in Farnham’s Freehold.

farmer-in-the-sky-robert-a-heinlein20-lgeBut the debates, those have shown up in several of his books. In Starship Troopers they took the form of future military history classes, expounding on the nature of force and citizenship. In Stranger it’s the nature of religion and humanity. I’m never sure where the characters end in a Heinlein novel, and the author takes over. Perhaps I don’t actually want to know.

There were some hard jumps in Stranger that didn’t sit well. There is, most startlingly, the sudden introduction of a Greek chorus looking down on the action from heaven. It’s necessary for the conclusion of the novel, but even in a book that has Martians, an element like that is a rather sudden change.

It’s an odd shift to jump from a novel postulating a religion based on group sex to one of Heinlein’s juveniles. Farmer in the Sky was originally published in Boys’ Life, the magazine for the Boy Scouts of America. Which is important, as it explains why one of the primary plot points revolves around whether or not the main character will achieve Eagle Scout status. It’s always hard to figure out what to say about novels that I liked but didn’t love. It’s a novel that I read, a novel that I put down, and a novel that I’m already having a difficult time putting thoughts together on.

What can I say? Not every novel is going to win over 100% of readers.

And so the Read pushes on, into a month of alternate history. Our primary read is one of the scions of the Nazis-win-WWII novels, The Man in the High Castle. The secondary read postulates a Confederate victory in the Civil War in Bring the Jubilee.

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Bad-Ass!

BAF-ItsElemental_lgI’ve been beating around the bush with my recent short story sale. I like to make sure everything is nice and official before giving details about the whens and wheres. However, there’s now a live table of contents, so it’s pretty damn official at this point.

I’m going to be in the upcoming Bad-Ass Faeries 4: It’s Elemental.

This is the latest in the award-winning anthology series, and I’m excited to be part of it. More so that I’m in it with one of my best friends and writing cohort NR Brown. There will be an official launch of the anthology at this year’s Balticon with the full and proper launch date currently scheduled for some time in September.

For those unfamiliar with the series, it delivers exactly what the title promises. Each story focuses on a different faerie, and their general ass-kicking ways. This fourth edition is broken into the elements of Earth, Air, Water, Fire, and Spirit.

To go briefly behind the scenes of the anthology, each element was judged separately. My story, The Face of the Serpent, is among the Fire Element stories. NR Brown’s is among the Water. That means we weren’t in direct competition, which was a comfort, because her story is damn good.

I’ll be talking about the anthology more, worry not. I’m just excited I can get out these initial details.

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State of the Writer: February 2014

Cold! The writer is god damned cold and ready for this winter to end!

That said, January was a pretty damn good month. My new writing schedule is working out. If you’re here, you’ve probably noticed the uptick in blog posts, and I’ve enjoyed having a few days a week dedicated to short stories. One is making the rounds, another got written and is an editing pass away from going into circulation. Plus there was the sale in late December, more on that later in the week.

Plus, a few days ago I wrapped up the rough draft, extremely rough draft, of the generation ship novel I’ve been working on. It clocked in at just over 70,000 words, which is a little disappointing, but it also needs a lot of work. Nothing about its current length, or arrangement, or plot is untouchable. Because isn’t editing fun?

February will present a few challenges, including a night where we’re dropping the baby off with her grandparents and just getting out for a night. I don’t want to give myself that day off, but it means finding some earlier writing time than I might normally.

State of the Author’s Bees. They’re alive! The bees are alive! We lost one hive early in the winter, but the other is hanging in there. We had a warm day this weekend (well, warm for this winter) so my wife took a look in the hives. The dead hive apparently fell victim to a mouse invasion. Which is a shame, but it’s also nice to have a specific cause to point to. The other hive is alive and kicking. So we gave that hive all the uneaten stores of the dead hive, some tasty sugar syrup, and a patty of artificial pollen.

The queen should start laying new eggs soon. They’ve only got another month until they’re through the worst of it, but it looks like we’ll actually bring a hive through the winter. First success in four tries, but we’ll take it. It means there’s also a good chance of being able to harvest some honey this summer. Not a lot of honey, but some.

So. Forward and upward! This month the Great Hugo Read delves into alternate history with Phillip K. Dick’s classic novel The Man in the High Castle, and one of the books that inspired Dick, Bring the Jubilee. The novels are at the forefront of what are now two of the standard tropes of alternate history, exploring what would happen if the Axis or the Confederacy had won their respective wars.

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