Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Harry Potter and the Cursed ChildIt took 18 years, but JK Rowling finally returns to not only the Potterverse but to Harry and his crew themselves. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a play that picks up with the final scene in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. It could easily be called Hagwarz: The Next Generation. The story centers on Harry’s youngest son, Albus, and Scorpius Malfoy, the only child of Harry’s nemesis Draco. Scorpius is just what his father wanted him to be, which is everything he wasn’t growing up. Albus feels the pressure of growing up Potter and being named for two of the Wizard War’s greatest heroes. But when it turns out someone is using time turners to bring back Voldemort, Harry, head of the Ministry of Magic’s law enforcement division, suspects Scorpius.

And let’s be frank, Harry’s kind of an ass in this one. You can see why Albus is such a rebellious teen. Albus and Scorpius meet Amos Diggory, father of the late Cedric Diggory. Amos, now an old, doddering man, blames Harry for Cedric’s death. So what could it hurt to go back and make sure Cedric survives the fateful Tri-Wizard Tournament?

Albus’s attempts make Star Trek‘s Kelvin timeline look like a slightly rescripted version of its own origin. Albus manages to wreck the timeline and compound the problem each time he tries to fix it. Eventually, Harry, Ron, Hermoine, and Draco have to intervene, but it ends up coming down to Albus and Scorpius, proving themselves to be worthy successors to the original Dumbledore’s Army.

Harry is realistically aged here, a 40-year-old man dealing with a famous past and sometimes needing to smooth things over with wife Ginny. Hermoine is the driven and scrupulous Minister of Magic (at least in the “prime” timeline) with Ron her patient working class husband. But it’s really Draco who shows the most development. Through with the Death Eaters forever, he finds himself having to prove to Harry that he is not the conflicted, somewhat cowardly teen from Hogwarz. He even tells Harry he was rather jealous that Harry had Ron and Hermoine around him, that his own circle included Crab and Goyle, whom Harry concedes were not exactly paragons of the wizarding arts, even the Dark Arts.

Most likely, this will become a movie, and just as likely star Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, and Tom Felton. But Snape makes a couple of appearances, one flashback and one alternate timeline. To do this story without Alan Rickman is almost grounds for recasting the entire story.

Amargosa 2: It Has Begun

Painting of woman writing in the nudeBy setting a scene quota each day, I was able to complete the chapter outline for Amargosa: Second Wave (quite possibly not the final title, but it will work for now.) I even sent the final line of dialog to Stacy Robinson, who will most likely edit the second or third draft of this next year.

Which means…

Sunday morning, I plugged in my mic, fired up Dragon and Microsoft Word, and started writing. Chapter 1 is in the can, folks. Hopefully, by the time you read this, I’ll have cranked out 2000 more words, maybe more. Once I hit my groove with Dragon, I’m good. I just have to remember to let Dragon be Dragon and come back to it later. Some of this, however, is training my Dragon. I’ve got a story set 500 years into the future with strange names. Fortunately, it likes “Gelt,” the tongue-to-navel copulating aliens from Before Amargosa. However, it capitalizes “colonial,” probably because I made Dragon glom all the Compact Universe novellas and The Children of Amargosa before starting this round of writing. There “Colonial” usually refers to the government of Amargosa, though there are references to “colonial transports,” where the word is generic, not specific.

Because I write first thing before work, I now have no excuse to put off revisions on Warped. In fact, I need to have it ready to go in late November. Which means I need betas, reviewers, and a red pen. Revisions are a lunchtime/evening effort. Writing that first draft is a morning exercise, to be done when my brain is still fresh and unhindered by the vagueries SQL code, C#, and whatever the marketing department told our clients we can do that is beyond the collective skillset of our software developers. (Yeah, I’m gonna need to go ahead and get another cup of coffee. That’d be great.)

I’m having fun now, but that’s because Amargosa: Second Wave has that new project smell. Wait’ll it has that second act stench reminiscent of a catalytic converter going bad. Then this weekly post will get all whiny.

It’s what we writers do.

Bad Advice

Writer with quill stressed outIf you write for any length of time, you get advice, solicited or not. A lot of it is cliched and not very good. “Write what you know,” is an old chestnut that doesn’t really wash. William Faulkner was a postal clerk when he started out. I’m pretty sure he would not have become a giant in American literature if all he wrote about was slacking off at a post office on a college campus in the Deep South. Stephen King’s first novel was about a high school, which he taught at the time he wrote Carrie. And many of his tomes are about writers. But most of his characters are not. He’s not a sheriff or an architect or even a supernatural cowboy. Use what you know, yes. But write what you know usually implies that you can’t write about astronauts or sea captains or gangsters. Dick Francis takes this to the nth degree, relying on research by his wife and, later, his son. If you don’t know what you write about, go know some more stuff.

Adverbs are another dead horse that gets flogged way too much. The worst offenders (Mr. King?) are often the most vocal critics of the practice. Fewer adverbs does make for cleaner prose, but the almost jihad-like campaign against them can lead to some stilted and boring narrative.

Simlarly, show, don’t tell, is one I’d like to see buried with all the people we didn’t want to lose in 2016. True, showing is much better than telling. Most of the time. A lot of times, however, showing would make for slow, plodding pacing when it’s easier to tell something that doesn’t really advance the plot enough to warrant two or three pages of showing.

But the worst advice I ever got came when I decided to switch from crime fiction to science fiction, having put my foot down on doing another rewrite of Holland Bay, a police procedural that owes its existence to The Wire and 87th Precinct.

“Why not just change the setting to space?”

This is one of those arguments I hear about fanfic. “Oh, just file the serial numbers off and change the names.” Well, then you either have a really lame rip-off of something else or you have to completely rewrite the story. But then fanfic is mainly designed to get a fan’s yeah-yeahs out.

For Holland Bay, this is an atrocious idea. That story is as much a function of its setting and the culture depicted in it as it is the characters. Rewriting it as a science fiction novel would have made it either lame or required a complete rewrite. You could argue that The Wrath of Khan is really Moby Dick, but in reality, they’re not. Khan takes cues from Moby Dick, but the white whale had no Spock sacrificing himself to save it. Khan might make a good analog for Ahab, but his “white whale” is not only a human being surrounded by other human beings, but James T. Kirk is an man, not nature personified in a mute but angry beast.

Friday Flashback: The Terminal Man

This one is, like The Andromeda Strain, based on a Michael Crichton novel. This one has a man paranoid of computers rising up to subdue humans, taking part in an operation to implant a computer in his chest. The implant is to treat his epilepsy, but since his fear borders almost on mania, his psychiatrist fears this will turn him psychotic.

Brothers Of Earth by CJ Cherryh

Brothers of Earth by CJ CherryhKurt Morgan is the lone survivor of a human warship who finds himself stranded on a world populated by the human-like Nemet. He’s not the first human to fall to Earth, so to speak. Adopted by a native named Kta, he finds himself in a city ruled by a high priest named Djan, a human woman who originally was on the opposite side of the war from Morgan. The rest of her crew were either killed or driven into the wilderness. These have become bloodthirsty primitive tribes, the source of Nemet hatred of humans. So when Djan reacts badly to Morgan’s premise, she intervenes in Kta’s family in a way to precipitates a civil war.

This is Cherryh’s first novel, but it was published second. The Nemet she creates are a pre-industrial, almost Viking-like people. The culture is a blend of Viking and Far Eastern traditions with an almost Klingon-like language suggested by the names. (This is three years before James Doohan and Robert Wise gave us a series of scripted grunts that evolved into the Klingon language, but the comparison is somewhat obvious.) She sets up an interesting conundrum. The interstellar war is between two factions of humans, and Morgan has likely participated in the battle that will soon result in humanity’s extinction. Yet Morgan marries a local after some time on the planet, which means that Djan cannot sire an heir, the remaining humans too savage and warlike to live among the Nemet. The one quibble I have is the title. “Brothers” implies there are two male human protags. While Morgan and Kta become brothers legally and by personal bond, Kta is a Nemet.

Best Time Of Day To Write

writing longhandIt’s considered conventional wisdom that a writer should have a set time of day to work everyday. I’d love to tell you that I was consistent with that, but weekends I either do a long run or sleep in. But during the week, it’s usually between 6 and 7. That’s the easiest for me. It’s first thing in the morning, before work, and coming off of sleep. The brain is fresh.

It wasn’t always like that. Years ago, I would write at night. I would come home zonked but too wired to sleep. I worked nights a lot, do middle of the night was awesome for writing. I once came home from a long shift and sat at the keyboard typing with my eyes closed.

A friend of mine is a stay-at-home mom. She gets the kids off to school, does housework in the morning, and has the afternoon to work. It’d be nice to be able to do that. I used to be able to get in about 1000-2000 words a day. Now, unless I dictate, it’s about 500. Some of this is getting pulled in multiple directions. But some of this is having to get out the door on time for work.

There’s something to be said for having a regular time to write. Anymore, I can’t just write at anytime anymore. It’s probably because my life is busier. I do write at lunchtime one day a week, but aside from that, it’s after I stretch or workout, depending on the day of the week. But that regular time is a signal to the brain that it’s time to make stuff up.

And for me, the best time is when I come right off of dreaming.

Amargosa 2: The End Of The Beginning

Quill and skullEven when outlining, you know what sucks about writing a novel? Act II. The mushy middle. All that maneuvering the pieces on the board. The beginning is cool because it’s a new story, or it’s a new take on a continuing story. It has that new story smell. But even when just sketching out the story chapter by chapter, when you get into the meat of the story, it’s a slog. As in, “Oh, God, is this ever going to end?”

But then you get to the end, and you start seeing light at the end of the tunnel. You realize this thing is finally going to be done.

It’s also the climax. And if there’s anything we all love, it’s a good climax.

But this book is Act II, my Empire Strikes Back. And I’m breaking up the fellowship. One does not simply walk into…

Sorry. Got carried away there.

It looks like I will be starting on it next week. Which means I probably should do a few practice sessions with Dragon before hand.

Broken Skies – Juno

Broken SkiesThe catalyst for this whole series is a GMO company called Juno. One would think their very business makes them suspect only…

It’s 500 years in the future. Humans have moved out into the stars and found Earth- and Mars-like planets to inhabit beyond our own solar system. But those planets are not Earth. To get edible food to grow on these strange new worlds requires that outfits like Monsanto get their corporate act together. There have to be regulations, both governmental and industry self-regulation. There have to be standards. We go from worrying about killing honeybees to “Hey, can you make a carrot grow in a thin-aired desert with no radiation protection like Earth has?” There’s a DNA app for that.

So what’s Juno’s problem? Well, the GMO companies stay in business for so long because they develop standards and codes of ethics, which are expensive. But if you’ve been around since World War III, or at least since humans began moving out to the stars, you have the resources to make that happen.

Juno is a startup in a field that does not welcome startups. It’s too expensive. The usual customers don’t trust new companies. And let’s face it, they cut corners. So Juno get creative. They find clients who really need them even if they don’t want to work with them. They cut corners.

And they reach out to potentially hostile life forms. Like the Gelt. Tishla and Kai, in Before Amargosa, discover this when Marq brings them a potato.

But something else is going on here. When Quentin Austin goes to investigate, he meets Sarai, assistant to CEO Walter Pope. Pope, for those who read “The Marilynists” in Before Amargosa, is that same CEO who likes to conduct business meetings while swimming nude in the corporate swimming pool. When Austin arrives, even Sarai is shocked by Juno’s convoluted structure. She discovers that several key executives technically report to her.

But what is Juno really? Who are they? Broken Skies doesn’t quite answer the question, but it points out that Earth has enemies much closer to home than the Gelt.

Friday Flashback: Phase IV

Aliens tell ants to take over the Earth.

This was a weird offering frequently shown on ABC’s Friday night movie.


The Robots Of Dawn by Isaac Asimov

The Robots of DawnIn Isaac Asimov’s third Robot novel, The Robots of Dawn, Terran investigator Elijah Baley finds himself summoned to Aurora to investigate the destruction of a robot, Jander Panell. There, he is partnered with one of Asimov’s most enduring characters, R. Daneel Olivaw. It is a time when Asimov’s Spacer worlds, the first interstellar worlds settled by humans, are in ascendancy, long before the Empire originally depicted in the Foundation series.

Baley is also paired with a less-than-human-like robot named Giskard, whom Baley takes an instant dislike to. But the dislike is nothing compared to what he faces when trying to extricate his host from accusations of “murdering” his creation Panell. What makes his stay more palatable is his reconnection with the Solaran woman Gladia Delmarre (with whom Baley became enamored in The Naked Sun.) Gladia is firmly entangled in what she considers to be murder as she refers to Panell as “her husband.”

The Solarans, represented here solely by Gladia, are some of the most bizarre humans in Asimov’s sprawling universe. They are so anti-social that married couples only meet in person to copulate for reproduction. In Foundation and Earth, they’ve re-engineered themselves as hermaphrodites capable of impregnating themselves, no in person interaction needed.

But in Dawn, Earth is clearly in its waning days. Aurorans consider humans walking sacks of disease and seek to prevent them from moving out into the galaxy. Perhaps most striking is the difference in how Terrans and Spacers view robots (really androids). Terrans have feared them since the days of I, Robot while Spacers see them as an integral part of humanity’s spread into the galaxy.

Dawn is a mystery, but unlike most mysteries, Asimov tells his stories through long, drawn-out, and, it must be said, sometimes convoluted monologues on why one character holds the upper hand. For one of Asimov’s classics, it’s actually the least action-filled novels. Nonetheless, it’s a fascinating look at the universe Asimov built.