Friday Flashback: Dark Star

John Carpenter’s first film also served as a dry run for Alien screenwriter Dan O’Bannon. Dark Star is about a crew of an interstellar ship faced with disaster far from Earth. Though there’s no xenomorph in this one, O’Bannon would transfer many of the themes to his more famous work. And unlike AlienDark Star is a dark comedy in keeping with Carpenter’s subversive mindset.

A Dance With Dragons by George R.R. Martin

A Dance With DragonsI finished the most recent Song of Ice and Fire well after season 6 of Game of Thrones ended. I can already say that Martin now has a lot to live up to.

I found A Dance with Dragons a little harder to get through than seasons 5 & 6 of the show, which straddle this book and the upcoming (and still unfinished) The Winds of Winter. The book is, by necessity, more complex than the series. The broad strokes shown on the series are there: Cersei’s fall and humiliation at the hands of the Faith Militant, Jaime’s having to pull the Frey’s fat out of the fryer, Jon Snow’s murder, Tyrion’s harrowing trip to Mereen, and Dany’s disappearance on the back of a dragon. But they are more complex.

There are differences. Jorah Mornmont is not the aging love-sick knight but something of a brute. Tyrion’s trip to Mereen includes posing as a dwarf performer to hide his identity. Stannis lives, which will make The Winds of Winter very interesting. But it’s long, and Martin has a tendency to bog down his prose. The book probably could have been two hundred pages shorter. I think Martin might be pulled in too many directions in an epic like this.

That said, yes, I will be grabbing The Winds of Winter as soon as it comes out.

Amargosa 2: Whuddup Wit Dat?

typewriter

George Bridgman by Creative Commons

The downside to writing a trilogy is figuring out what comes next. I’ve had one writer suggest I burn it all down and rewrite everything because he finds regular humans a bit too boring as main characters. Well meaning advice, but not really good advice for what I’m working on.

The biggest problem with the Amargosa Trilogy is not so much how it ends. I know in broad strokes how it ends. The trouble is getting there. There are a lot of ideas and concepts that come up not just as you write the first installment but as you write other work in the interim. What makes it worse for me is that my interim work has been novellas set elsewhere in the Compact Universe. Broken Skies and the two unpublished follow ups reveal a lot about the Gelt, the Compact, and even JT Austin. That confuses matters more than when it was just The Children of Amargosa.

But I’ve narrowed it down. Editing notes from the original have helped me to focus the POV characters. I may add a storyline from Kray’s POV to amp up tension and broaden the story as Book III looks to be a sprawling epic unto itself. After all, I sent him up a ventilation shaft leaving our protags worried. What are they worried about? And what is that slippery bastard up to?

I did a rough outline, but a chapter outline will allow me to not just write but dictate. Quickly. One of the problems with writing a novel is that authors tend to get bogged down in a novel’s middle. Act II Hell is how one writer put it to me. A lot of it has to do with a novel being a marathon not a sprint. And having run a 22 mile workout, I can tell you it stops being fun after about mile 7. I’ve only run two half marathons, but that last mile is AWESOME! I want dictation to force me to get through that saggy middle quickly.

I hope to have the outline done by this weekend. But when do I start writing?

 

Is The Blockbuster Dead?

The Enterprise crew in Star Trek Beyond

Paramount

Last week, social media was awash with questionable declarations that Star Trek Beyond was a flop. The reason? It didn’t sell Titanic-like numbers and completely reshape the motion picture landscape. My response?

Rubbish!

I don’t say this as a long-time Star Trek fan. Beyond worked in ways Nemesis should have. Much of the grousing comes from those pining for the “real” Trek (posited by that lowest form of fan life, the purist, who sucks the joy out of anything moderately interesting and would probably whine incessantly if Firefly got its long-rumored second season.) Some of it is clickbait, generally not worth reading. And some of it, it must be said, comes from Axanar producer Alec Peters, who seems to equate his copyright dispute with Paramount and CBS with Brown vs. the Board of Education. (Hint: It doesn’t even rate the same attention as a few unpaid parking tickets. Sorry, Alec.)

In reality, it has a lot to do with how we view movies. For instance, I usually watch TV when I blog. (Hence the typos and the constant overuse of parentheses.) Ninety percent of what I watch is streaming. Hulu. Netflix. HBO Now. I’ve only seen a few movies in the last 12 months, and virtually none until the new Star Trek in the last six. Why?

It’s nearly $10 for a matinee. Get a popcorn and a soda, and that’s another $10. Take a date, and you’re out $40, plus dinner. Even going Dutch is expensive. I did go see The Force Awakens twice, but the second time was on Christmas Day. To me, a Christmas movie was a novelty. I was alone and had no plans. Beyond that, it’s just too damn pricey to see a movie. I can sit at home and watch Guardians of the Galaxy on Netflix in my boxers while eating whatever’s in the kitchen. (Note to Netflix: When I’m binging, don’t send me those annoying “Are you still watching?” messages. If I’m paying for streaming, you shouldn’t even care.)

But then The Martian came out on HBO last month. And it’s been out on Blu-Ray for a while now. Star Trek Beyond comes out on disc in another month. Wait a minute! The movie came out last month. How’s it out on disc already?

Simple. The average life expectancy of a movie in first run is now three weeks. If that. Why get dressed and go spend three hours having dinner and going to a theater and dropping as much as $70 when you can stay home and do Netflix without getting dressed?

I don’t think going to the movies is dead. There’s something about the experience of watching a movie in the theater. But there’s a reason Game of Thrones and Walking Dead and Stranger Things are huge. With television an on-demand technology now, why would you leave the house to see a movie more than a couple of times a year?

Broken Skies: Austin And Burke

Broken SkiesIf you haven’t noticed already, the novellas don’t focus on one set of characters. JT and Lizzy are in both Gimme Shelter and The Children of Amargosa, but Gimme Shelter is a prelude to ChildrenThe First One’s Free/Before Amargosa feature the Gelt duo of Kai and Tishla and luckless Compact bureaucrat Douglas Best as they are conned by the man with multiple names. Broken Skies, however, has the most direct connection, besides Gimme Shelter, to the Amargosa trilogy. It’s event begin literally hours after Children ends. But it, too, focuses elsewhere.

Like Before AmargosaBroken Skies is set in the wider Compact, giving readers a bigger picture of the universe where all this takes place. But instead of JT Austin, Quentin Austin is the POV character. As JT’s father, he has a personal stake in retaking Amargosa. But even he knows that wasn’t the Compact’s best move. When we meet him, he’s balancing his need to rescue the son he stranded on Amargosa as an act of tough love and his realization that another colony, one held longer, might have made a better place for the Compact to counterpunch the mysterious Realm that’s seizing human worlds.

Austin is relatively young for a flag officer, only in his forties in an era where two centuries is common. Yet he behaves as one who has seen much and expects to see more. Part of Austin’s role is to be the audience’s way into the Compact Universe. Sure, he’s a high-ranking officer, but this sudden war has thrown him into a situation thousands of other people are in – a loved one is behind enemy lines, and all he or they can do is carry on with life as usual. Fortunately, life as usual involves breaking those enemy lines.

He’s aided and supported by the rather comely Admiral Eileen Burke. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because I lifted it directly from Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct. Having read a couple of novels with Burke as a character, I read up on the rest of her history in that series. Burke, a police detective, is young, almost immature, and winds up being traumatized in the line of duty. Plus, and I hate to say this because McBain was such a good writer, Burke was basically the token girl in McBain’s testosterone-laced precinct.

My Eileen Burke, so named on as a homage to McBain, is on the opposite end of McBain’s Burke. Pushing 120 years, with her age genetically frozen at 35, she’s gone through even more than McBain’s Burke. The result is a young-looking old lady who’s seen it all, done it all, and managed to survive.

Burke also serves to show the effects of stalled aging and extreme longevity on human society. She handles her superiors deftly and even alien commanders seem intimidated by this female who fails to be impressed by armor and firepower.

Austin and Burke appear again in Warped, which is in rough draft. Burke is a mentor to quite a few of officers in the Compact Navy. Austin emerges from Broken Skies with a certain contempt for the bureaucracy and the rules. It’s not the Gelt who need to worry that they’re in command. It’s the enemies within humanity who are in trouble.

Friday Flashback: Zardoz

Sean Connery has made many fine films since hanging up his Walther and letting Roger Moore become Bond.

This is not one of them.

The Angry Optimist by Lisa Rogak

angryoptimist“Jon Stewart is our daddy,” Trevor Noah announced on his first day as host of the long-running Daily Show. The South African Noah hilariously followed it up with “And now there’s a stepdaddy. And he’s black.”

It’s the type of self-deprecating line that had come to define The Daily Show since Stewart took over in 1999. Originally, the show had been hosted by Craig Kilbourne, former ESPN anchor, and described as personality-driven and a bit mean-spirited. Stewart decided to play the straight man, letting his correspondents, many of whom are now famous in their own right, underscore the absurdity of the news. Kilbourne could never have brought back the show from 9/11, but Stewart had long been considered a front-runner for several late-night gigs, including The Late Late Show, hosted, ironically, by Kilbourne for a time.

Lisa Rogak gets under the skin of Jon Stewart and reveals a man who is pretty much what you see. He’s not funny all the time. In fact, close friends say he’s not all that warm and cuddly. But Jon Stewart is a man who deeply cares about what he does and how it affects the world around him. Rogak demonstrates that the show’s environment was never perfect. Quite often, only Stephen Colbert, later of The Colbert Report, seemed to carry any weight backstage. And it’s not been the friendliest workplace to women. Though creator Liz Winstead admits finding correspondents who could hold their own with the likes of Colbert, Steve Carrel, and John Oliver was often hard during her tenure. Harder, in fact, considering Samantha Bee was a mainstay on the show for almost as long as Stewart (and now hosts her own Full Frontal.)

Stewart describes himself as a guy who, if not given the old Jon Stewart Show, guest slots on The Late Late Show during the Tom Snyder years, or The Daily Show, would be sitting around in his boxers yelling at the TV. Like many of his fellow Daily Show denizens like Colbert, Oliver, and Noah, he’s a self-professed news junkie. He also, despite an obvious liberal bias, served for a long time as the voice of the moderate, the people who didn’t want their ideology to come out of a can.

What struck me the most about Rogak’s profile of Stewart is the ordinariness of Jon Stewart, the private citizen. Stewart has his causes, 9/11 first responders most notably, but he seldom attends black-tie affairs, is seldom seen on the red carpet, and prefers to be a homebody with his wife, kids, and pit bulls. The Daily Show might have been a passion for him, but it was still a job.

And oh, what a job Stewart did.

Multiverse! (Or “Oh, Dear, I’ve Gone Cross-Eyed”)

Austin Powers goes cross-eyed contemplating time travel

New Line Cinema

Parallel universes. Alternate timelines. Other universes. This has been a staple of science fiction since at least the pulp era, if not before. Harry Turtledove built his career on the Confederacy winning the Civil War (a frequent premise.) And somehow, alternate histories always seem to result in the proliferation of Hindenburg-like aircraft in the skies, minus the explody tendencies.

But parallel universes are not just speculation. They’re a part of quantum theory. And there’s not just one theory of it. There are several. Brian Greene tries to explain some of them with varying degrees of success in his book, The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos. I say varying, because some of the underlying physics challenge even Greene himself, a theoretical physicist. In one case, explaining how new universes might be formed, he uses South Park as a metaphor. If you don’t get the concept, at least you get a de facto new South Park episode in which Kenny does not die. But there are three Greene outlines.

The first is the most obvious. If we assume the universe is infinite in size and that matter and energy are distributed more or less equally, then at some point, patterns of energy and matter that make up everything repeat, or at least form very similar patterns. In other words, somewhere trillions of parsecs away, on another Earth, there is another TS Hottle sitting on his couch on a Wednesday night the week before you read this, tapping this blog post out.

Or maybe he’s writing real people porn about himself and Amy Schumer in a hot tub. Who knows? It’s trillions of parsecs away, so we’ll never know. (BTW, I don’t write porn, and while I am a fan of Ms. Schumer, writing Mary Sue porn about her is kinda creepy. I’m sure she would agree.) In any event, matter and energy can combine in only so many combinations before they start to repeat. So, in an infinite universe, there’s another you that’s not reading this right now. He or she is probably uploading cat pictures and arguing about politics instead.

The more complex theory is that there are multiple universes. This seems to be the most likely scenario as it also explains the Big Bang quite nicely. It suggests, via string theory, that there are universes very close to each other, just in directions we can’t perceive. What happens is that each universe moves toward entropy – That whole pesky heat death thing we’re going to have to address in a couple of trillion years. I plan to be in Florida by then sipping mojtos, so not my problem. Anyway, when a universe achieves entropy, it touches the universe closest to it and boom! Another Big Bang. I’m grossly oversimplifying it as my degrees are in computer programming and business analysis, but this should get you into the ballpark. This suggests not parallel timelines or alternate versions of our reality but wholly new and different universes, possibly with different laws of physics. Some may be empty or completely hostile to life. Others may be filled with worlds we cannot even imagine. It is hard to say, and articles claiming to prove their existence have tended to be click bait, not unlike the wilder stories about the Large Hardon Collider. (It’s been a month. Aren’t we due for another National Enquirer story about a scientist getting sucked into a black hole created by the collider?)

But the most bizarre is one in which matter is made of not so much particles as points of probability. It suggests that every part of every atom exists in every possible location at the same time. So those tales of a new timeline being created where Firefly got a second season merely because you drank coffee from the Beavis and Butthead mug instead of the corporate mug your boss gave you on your birthday? Yeah, that totally happened. Because, yanno, probability. There is some validity to this theory as we cannot track electrons properly. Either we can see where they are at a point in time or we can see how fast they are going. Never both. It’s suggested, rather simplistically, of course, that this is the basis for branches of time forming. Think Schrodinger’s cat, whose litter box both needs to be changed and doesn’t need it, at least until you take a really good sniff.

From two rooms away, assuming you’re in a universe where they don’t have truly odor free cat litter. (Which is most likely all of those where cats evolved.)

Of course, this is all pretty esoteric stuff, and I freely admit much of it is wrong. (Except the creepy obsession with a parallel Amy Schumer. That’s totally happening somewhere trillions of light years away. I’d have SETI send up a restraining order for her, if I were Amy Schumer. ) The strangest part is that all three of these theories and much more may be true at the same time.

Except in a parallel universe where they’re not.

Okay, that last joke’s officially been beat to death, so let’s let it die in all possible universes, shall we?

 

NEO Comic Con

This past Sunday, I went to my first science fiction convention in 20 years. Last time I attended was in Columbus. I dressed as a Klingon, annoyed Margret Wander Bonanno, and probably scared the hell out of Walter Koenig (the original Chekov.) On the other hand, I sat through a talk given by one of the writers for Star Trek: The Next Generation next to this old man who looked familiar.

It was James Doohan, who played Scotty. Sweet.

Boba Fett at NEO Comic ConThis time, I showed up in my Flying Pig Marathon shirt and probably stuck out for looking normal. NEO Comic Con is a small one-day affair that takes place in Cleveland every August. As the name suggests, it’s geared toward comics. But there was plenty of love for the scifi and fantasy fans. The Star Wars-oriented 501st showed up in force. I hired Boba Fett to help find my car keys.

Harley Quinn

More fine art for my office.

But the big draws were the artists, most of whom came from the Cleveland area. Many of these people draw for the comics or even put out their own comic books. The one I’ll single out is Jay Fife, whose work has a wicked sense of humor. I must say I enjoyed his… um… reimaginings of Smurfette and Velma from Scooby Doo. And he did a killer poster for Young Frankenstein. But what really caught my eye was a piece of fine art that now hangs in my office. Yes, we now know what Harley Quinn would look like on the cover of Playboy. That one was hanging in my office half an hour after I got home to Cincinnati.

Marcus Calvert

Marcus V. Calvert

And I got to talk to writer Marcus V. Calvert, best described as the bastard child of Frank Miller and Hunter S. Thompson. He described his short stories as a series of what-ifs. One cover shows someone holding an axe and wielding it at a gorgon. For those of you who don’t know your Greek mythology, gorgons have snakes instead of hair and turn anyone to stone who gaze upon them. Only this gorgon is shrinking away from some unknown axe murderer. So why ain’t he petrified? That’s how Marcus’s mind works. And he can’t stop spinning tales.

NEO Comic Con is a labor of love put on by Shawn Belles, a local nerd whom I ran cross country with in high school. There’s considerably more of either of us these days than back when we were blaring David Bowie’s Young Americans in the locker room, but we never lost our inner nerd. They’ve already started planning next year’s event.

TS Hottle at the TARDIS

I regret to inform you that Peter Capadli will be replaced by a far-sighted middle-aged Yank.

The Children of Amargosa – Now As Wide As Its Author!

The Children of AmargosaThe Children of Amargosa is now available on most platforms (Nook still pending as I write this on Sunday afternoon.) Yes, the tale of five kids stuck in the middle of an alien invasion and fighting a very human warlord is available on iTunes, Kobo, Scribd, and Smashwords.

JT Austin and Davra Andraste, two teenagers living separate, quiet lives on remote Amargosa, find themselves fighting for survival when an alien force seizes the agrarian colony. Hunted and cut off from the rest of humanity, they each fight their way across the plains, dodging ground troops, wild animals, and even a nuclear blast to join the resistance. Before they meet, they learn they have another enemy who is all too human.

“Grabs you by the throat from Page One and doesn’t stop.” – Athena Grayson, author of the Huntress of the Star Empire series

“Hottle clearly understands how to start a great story with a bang. He keeps the main engines on full until the very last page.” – Scott McGlasson, Administrator of Space Opera and Space Opera: Writers

“This book is non-stop action that takes the reader on a relentless roller coaster ride, but where it really shines is in the character development. The teen characters and their main adult ally are such well-developed individuals, they are almost like real-life acquaintances.” – Jennette Marie Powell, author of the Saturn Society series

Book 2 is deep into pre-production, the next round of novellas begun so stay tuned.