Friday Flashback: The Cat From Outer Space

One of Disney’s more light-hearted (and light-headed) offerings in the 1970s. A vehicle for Ken Berry (later of Mama’s Family fame, and let us never speak of that show again) and Sandy Duncan. It’s also notable for having both M*A*S*H colonels in the cast, McLean Stevenson (Henry Blake) and Harry Morgan (Sherman Potter).

Ireland by Paul Johnson

Ireland by Paul JohnsonI’ve been listening to histories of England on audio by Dan Jones and Peter Ackroyd. I am, in fact, looking forward to Ackroyd’s Revolution, which takes England from the rise of William of Orange to the Regency, explaining how George III lost the colonies in the process. (Queen Elizabeth has said, in so many words, because King George and Lord North were idiots.) But an overriding feature of the works of both Jones and Ackroyd is the focus on one particular era of English history. Jones writes about the Plantagenets and the Tudors. Ackroyd goes from the beginnings of Norman rule to the Wars of the Roses through the English Reformation. As such, both authors are able to bring history to life by using vast swaths of their books to focus on specific people, the faults, and their strengths.

So I went into Paul Johnson’s Ireland thinking I’d get the same treatment of Britain’s western neighbor. But Johnson goes from medieval Ireland, as in pre-St. Patrick, to the Troubles to today’s bifurcated nation. Unfortunately, this results in a lot of dates and names getting crammed into short sections of chapters. A whole book alone could have been dedicated to Ireland’s days before English rule, when the nation was a fractured collection of local kingdoms in search of a leader. Ireland did not really fair well under early English rule as the monarchs, the earliest of which were really Norman dukes, considered the island an afterthought. Again, Ireland under the Plantagenets and the Tudors could have taken up an entire book and is really unsuited for rapid storytelling that compresses over a thousand years into less than 300 pages. Johnson, as a historian and a storyteller, might better have served his purpose by starting in the Regency with the rise of Irish culture, the movement to make Gaelic the national language while Irish writers made huge contribution to English literature and thought, and the stirrings of national identity. Ireland truly came into its own after the famine created a huge diaspora whose loyalty to the old country rivals that of the Jewish diaspora to Israel. The most curious part of this, yet another book unto itself, is the rift between Ulster and Ireland. Ulster is not quite British yet not quite Irish and, at least in its political leadership, acts as a perpetual thorn in the side of both Dublin and London. Sinn Fein does no favors to the Republic in the south, and the Protestant-led DUP is proving problematic for British PM Theresa May.

Johnson has taken on a difficult task as Irish history is even longer and more varied than that of England and Scotland. Yet he needs to spread out the tale into a longer work or set of works. Alas, not this time.

Adventures In Home Buying

Condemned houseMy lady and I are buying a house. It’s a three-bedroom in Deer Park, where I lived for eight years. She likes the neighborhood, and my stepson from a previous marriage (Don’t ask. It works for us.) lives there. It has a deck, a pool, and a front porch, as many houses built before World War II do. We love the place.

Only…

It’s a fixer-upper. “Customized” plumbing. Some walls that need patched. Six-legged critters! Right now, the basement is open to the elements and guarded by eight-legged pest controllers who are feasting nicely on pretty much everything that can get into your house short of wasps. Fortunately, there are mortgages that cover that sort of thing, but you have to get a contractor to sign off on doing the work that needs done. Not good when the seller is in a nursing home and in no condition, physically or financially, to do the repairs that need to be done. So we’re getting the place, even with financing a lot of repairs, cheap.

So how’s it been going? Well…

  • A renovation loan is not like a conventional mortgage. Technically, it is a conventional mortgage, but all that repair work the seller usually does before close? You’re paying for it.
  • You have to pay for an inspection. About $500.
  • You have to pay for your own appraisal. Also about $500. I haven’t even brought the down payment in, and I’m already $1000 in the hole.
  • Putting in a bid the week before a three-day holiday weekend does not really work well, especially if you have a tight closing date. Guess what. General contractors take holidays, too.
  • That guy you know who does plumbing/electricity/heating & cooling? Well, he may be your go-to guy when something breaks, but if he’s swamped as far as renovation work, you’re better off letting your general contractor know.
  • Every time you visit a house in need of some love, you find something new that needs fixed: Basement windows, bathroom fixtures that looked fine the first time, dry wall you didn’t look at before.
  • No matter how smoothly getting a mortgage goes, it is always nerve-wracking. Your contractor has his own schedule, but your loan officer needs paperwork three days ago. And then the seller wants their cash by a certain date. Yes, just like at your day job, you’re getting pulled in too many directions.

It is a stressful time right now, but so worth it. We are starting a new chapter in this place, and we saw the house as a blank canvas.

Besides, it has a deck and a pool. Those are getting fixed first after the contractors leave.

No Marigolds Update – In Which Crichton Takes The Lexx Into The Typhon Expanse

surface of mars

No Marigolds in the Promised LandWe’re headed into “Headspace” territory. “Headspace,” for the uninitiated, is a standalone short story in which an AI specialist named Rafe uses his rather forbidden specialty to upload the mind into a virtual environment. I go a different direction with that story, but now No Marigolds is heading in that direction. The rovers, parts of the domes, and storage vaults have what are called “AI interfaces,” pre-packaged personalities that make it easier for people to interact with otherwise “nice and stupid” AI systems. Some come from the factory. Others are based on people who used the system previously.

Our boy Farno has found one based on a former terraformer. The interface quickly deduces that Farno cannot survive alone and begins expanding her control over systems he needs. He’s aware that he’s violated several laws dating back to our near future. But he’s been alone for weeks now, and when he finds a habitable dome that’s not quite ready yet, he needs someone to help. The best he can hope for is his new AI friend. She works with him, pointing out that she will have to delete herself when help finally arrives.

And yet there’s another AI personality planted in all of Barsoom’s systems by one of the projects backers. And he wants to run the show to upload back to Earth and report back to the man he’s based upon. He and Farno’s friend do not get along. It’s a fun twist.

And now I have to decide what I want to do next. Bring in the Gelt? Switch back to humanity when they realize someone’s still alive out there? Have him wake up to find Bobby Ewing in the shower?

Tishla – Why Did I Do It?

TishlaOriginally, there was not going to be a Tishla. I had envisioned three novellas preceding each novel in The Amargosa Trilogy. The Magic Root and The Marilynists are the two before The Children of AmargosaGimme Shelter, which started out as the first ten chapters of Children is the third. Tishla, like Kai and Laral Jorl, were supposed to be throwaway characters, a brief glimpse into what made these invading aliens tick. But my editor, Stacy Robinson, really fell in love with Tishla. On top of that, on Game of Thrones, Daenerys Stormborn’s storyline had begun to really heat-up at the time we were combining The Magic Root and The Marilynists into one novella. (I’ve since done away with that based on reader feedback.) The idea of a tough, deceptively beautiful girl rising up to take her place with giants in interstellar politics intrigued me. So in some ways, Tishla is Dani’s spiritual sister.

But I also did not want the Gelt to become like the Klingons before the Star Trek movies or Next Generation. They needed a culture. They needed an explanation. And Tishla was the best way to show that. She knows what their ideals are, and knows they fall down. The Sovereign offers her a chance to become both an adviser and a mistress with his own consort in earshot, something she wisely turns down. She has been among humans and knows how they think. So she knows how to appeal to both sides.

She has one disturbing tendency. At the beginning of Tishla, she offers herself up for execution if the humans decide they want all the Gelt off her planet. Luckily, they pass (or Tishla would only be about ten pages long. Sorry, but this is not a spoiler.) She later offers her own life again on more than one occasion, causing one in her inner circle to point out that, for someone upon whom both species depend on for survival on distant Hanar, she throws away her life rather casually.

Tishla is hardly a messianic figure. For starters, she became a concubine for her childhood friend so he would pay for her honors (kind of like a college degree) in genetics. It’s a mutual burden neither minds bearing. But she expected to be parted from her friend when her term of indenture ended. She would have her career, and he would go off and do whatever nobles did. Obviously, that doesn’t workout, and this humble servant girl finds herself at the center of an interstellar war.

It was her pregnancy in The Magic Root that convinced me to write Tishla. It’s the basis for her becoming free, becoming Kai’s wife (if only through his death), and becoming something both human and Gelt can rally around when the two big powers in the galaxy abandon them. She is, like any leader, lonely on her unwanted throne, but she also has a mother’s rage when her children are threatened.

And that’s a dynamic we don’t often see in speculative fiction. An enraged mother could be far more dangerous than a megalomaniac with a military propping him up. Against that kind of determination, Hitler would never have stood a chance.

Friday Flashback: Buck Rogers In The 25th Century

Yeah, I know. I scheduled the Battlestar Galactica flashback a day too early. So it was Throwback Thursday. Sue me.

Anyway, after Galactica was canceled, Glen Larson recycled some of the effects and sets and rebooted (Was that even a word then? In terms of TV shows?) the classic serial, Buck Rogers. Those of us of a certain age liked Twiki (voiced by Warner Brothers master Mel Blanc) and lusted after Erin Gray as Col. Wilma Deering.

And Queen Ardala was easy on the eyes, too.

The Dispatcher by John Scalzi

The Dispatcher by John ScalziScalzi’s forays into fantasy are strange. The God Engines turned the concept of divine beings on its head. His latest fantasy effort, The Dispatcher, is more urban fantasy. It takes place in a near future where murder is extremely difficult. If someone is killed, their body vanishes and reappears where they live, restored to their condition a few hours before death. Suicides and death from illness are permanent, but death by someone else’s hand results in a reset. While this has made killings rare, it also has given rise to the dispatcher, a paid specialist who kills those near death to restore them.

Valdez is one such dispatcher. We meet him in an operating room where he “dispatches” an old man when his surgery goes badly. After his latest dispatch, a cop named Langdon asks him to help investigate the disappearance of another dispatcher. As they investigate, we discover there is a dark side to dispatching. It gives rise to particularly brutal fight clubs and bizarre private dispatches for the wealthy.

So how does Scalzi, who usually does a good job building his worlds, handle such an obviously fantastical premise? Well, the physics of murder victims amount to “I dunno.” No one does. It just happened, and the focus is on the consequences of living in a world where murder is nearly impossible. Nearly, but not completely.

Friday Flashback: Battlestar Galactica

Before the Cylons were human-made contraptions turned flesh, before Mary McDonnell, before CGI centurions and a female Starbuck, there was the original Battlestar Galactica. And our teenage selves tuned in every Sunday to listen for that really cool Cylon voice. Unlike the reboot’s gritty realism and shaky cam views of the fleet, there were Colonials in disco outfits, lots of reused stock footage for effects shots, and Jonathan Harris as a gay robot.

Doing Cons

Shatner: Get a Life

NBC

Until last year, I hadn’t been to a science fiction convention in about 20 years. I’d done Bouchercon during the mid-2000s as a crime fic author, but for all Bcon’s pretensions of being a fan event, they’re really author hangouts. And awesome ones at that. But I hadn’t been to an SF con since the mid-1990s. That was a Dover Peace Conference, a Klingon-themed event that was mainly an excuse to get drunk and dress up in costumes. The problem was every time I put on the full Klingon getup, I would get sick for days afterward. Hence my exit from cosplay before cosplay became cool.

However, I find I sell more books if I talk them up in person. Word of mouth is better than all the social media BS foisted on for a “reasonable cost.” People can see you get excited about your work. When people here someone get excited about a book, a movie, a video game, they want to check it out.

So I will be attending NeoComic Con in Cleveland in August. Stop by and say hello. For once, I’m going as an author. I’ll be there looking like Mr. Suburbia, but it’ll be fun. I went last year as a guest of the con organizer. I scored an awesome Harley Quinn poster in which she was sketched as a Playboy cover model. The costumes were more varied, everything from classic Trek and Star Wars to the Marvel movies of today. When you’re on the outside looking in, you’re there having a good time. Which is not to say the cosplayers aren’t doing the same. But it was fresh for me, not an obligation but something different and interesting.

And of course, I’m hoping to make some fans of my own. That gets easier when your all there for the same reason.

No Marigolds Update – In Which The Orville Is Launched Into The Antares Maelstrom And Uncovers The Cylons Preparing A Dalek Invasion While Obi-wan Makes Toast

No Marigolds in the Promised LandDueling AIs.

That’s all I’m gonna say about this weekend’s progress. Dueling AIs.

You’re welcome.