Dark Stars in the Sky

We’ve lost quite a few prominent artists this last week. It’s provoked quite a bit of thinking on my part. Especially because these artists in particular all took their own routes to expression.

David Bowie is a classic example of an artist who, on paper, shouldn’t work. Yet, his content re-invention and seeking of his own weird gave him a deep place in our world. They don’t hold Second Line celebrations like this for folks who didn’t make an impact.

Bowie kept creating until the very end. He followed his weird. I think we’re all richer for it.

 

Thoughts on The Force Awakens

There’s no reason for this particular image other than I thought Daisy Ridley looks awesome here.

I’m mostly writing this out to articulate a few thoughts I’ve had about a core critique of The Force Awakens: It is just a rehash of the original Star Wars, which was far more intellectual and original.

Snobbery aside (I mean, have you seen the Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers serials? You’ll see prototype Star Wars right there), it got me thinking: why didn’t TFA strike off in some new direction or original narrative? Why bother with the callbacks at all?

It’s a matter of trust. And regaining it.

Or, to be even blunter: If George Lucas had not made such a hash of the prequel movies, TFA may have been a very different film, and possibly a bit more experimental. We are already seeing signs Rian Johnson’s Star Wars film will be very much a Rian Johnson movie: a little off kilter. But that room to play was purchased by TFA regaining the trust lost by the prequels.

Tim Buckley at CTRL-ALT-DEL does a way better job explaining it than I can, but in order to pave the way to the future, TFA had to call back to the past. It had to be familiar. It was the franchise’s way of saying, “Look, we’re sorry about that experimental neoTexan-Danish fusion dish. How about a twist on these Hassleback potatoes?”

The trust an audience gives to a storyteller is precious. It is gold. When that trust is violated, over and over, one must go back to the familiar as a starting point. And I think that’s the job TFA had: to tell the world we’re starting with familiar building blocks, so we can then make something new.

And if you don’t think there’s a lot new, I’ll present Phil Noto’s amazing art to show you:

We’ve shown our love and respect for the past. The future looks like this. And I can’t wait to see more.

A Few Notes on 2015

  
I’m starting my last entry of 2015 with one of my favorite inspirational images. If I could have this rendered as a print, I’d post it everywhere.

This year was a surprisingly productive year. I saw myself in print for the first time in over a decade. It’s something I hope to repeat in 2016. I’ve been actively writing short stories (have several which need an eyeball before I start them on the submission grinder), and I’ve been submitting regularly.

I’ve also written over 60K words in Metaphysical Graffiti. There will be much cutting when I get to the editing phase. I’m finding myself writing out scenes which could be trimmed down, just to get the emotions of the characters out.  And I’ve found myself adding more interludes from outside the main character’s perspective.  So it will be an interesting process.

The writing of Metaphysical Graffiti also brought me to my first NaNoWriMo win.  I suspect that may be tied to some of the bloat.  But Tis better to have more and trim down, than to have less and add more. 

What did not go so well this year: I’ve only had one publication acceptance. Several flash fiction pieces and short stories are now in the ‘bin’ for recycling. One may get resubmitted this year as over the last year, I’ve made substantial changes to it. 

And my photography has not done so well. I’ve had less time to process photos than I’d like,  and what I have still feels pedestrian at best. There’s only so many times you can hear about your lovely photos of landscapes and statuary without gritting your teeth. 

Lastly, my networking… I’m convinced now that I need to keep a hip flask filled with rakia and Xanax nearby. Maybe mixed in a cocktail. Much as with my photography (for anything involving photos of the living), when it comes to promoting myself and my writing every bit of social anxiety I’ve developed over the years kicks into overdrive.  My bar cons sound like blues songs: sitting in the corner, drinking, looking to get up the courage to do what needs to be done. 

So, this brings me to my plans for next year. I’ll keep them simple:

  • WRITE: Keep writing and finish Metaphysical Graffiti. Finish a short story every two months. Write Flash Fiction any time I can. This will likely be impossible, given I’m getting married next year, but I need to keep working to a steady output.
  • REVISE: I must revise faster. Not sure how to do it, but I need to figure this out. For short stories, it’s easy enough. It’s the novels which get me.  Also, I need to force moe of my friends to read things I’ve written. My writer’s group has more stories to crit than it can handle, so I can’t monopolize them. 
  • SUBMIT: Keep submitting.  And hope I keep getting very nice, helpful replies. The folks from Uncanny, Apex&Abyss, and Urban Fantasy magazine took the time to reply to me directly on my stories and I greatly appreciate their commentary. I just need to find places to submit the weirder fiction.
  • PHOTOGRAPH: I need to face a fear of mine and, once again, try to photograph humans. 

Most of all, I need to keep writing and finding my voice. What was that old quote? “There’s no future in the past?” I have to keep marching forward no matter what. 

Here’s to another trip around the sun.

My Science Fiction Can Beat Up Your Science Fiction

I admit, this entry was inspired by the most recent in a series of articles about science fiction getting ‘real’ as opposed to being fantasy with science fiction trappings (I’m looking at you NPR). But I think this really harkens back the old hard SF versus “soft” SF versus using SF as a literary mode debates. In fact, it’s as old as some of the genre’s founding documents.

Both Jules Verne and H.G. Wells wrote about travels to the moon, but while Verne stuck strictly to the technology of the time, Wells brought his protagonists to the moon using Cavorite, which can negate gravity and, as yet, is undiscovered. Verne took Wells to task for this, asking if he could show the wondrous material which blocked gravity.

Wells wasn’t that interested in detailed realistic plans for reaching the moon. He was interested in what he would find there, and how he could relate it to life on Earth. (Kate Beaton’s Hark! A Vagrant. has a lovely take on this.)

The fight between ‘show me the blueprints’ and ‘I’m trying to talk about colonialism’ continues today. We’ve added another layer to it with the debate between so-called ‘hard’ sciences (engineering, material sciences, physics) and soft sciences (anthropology, sociology, psychology).

It’s something I’d expect a stereotypical Dad to go on about, “Forget one of them girlie degrees in a hippy science with trees and shit. Get yourself a real job, with like an electrical engineer. Or one of them guys who makes jet fighters!”

All these debates, discussions, ‘sudden trends,’ all boil down to the same fight in my view.

“I like SF. This is my view of what science fiction should be: If it doesn’t have the following elements, well it’s pseudo-literary-fantasy nonsense and doesn’t belong.”

Or, put another way, “Hey, they’ve got a keyboard on stage! That’s not real rock & roll!”

I have my own personal definition of SF. For me, SF is a literature discussing the impact of change in our world, using ideas and speculation as its toolkit, and thoughts of what could be as its materials. It still is the literature of “What If?” but the style is what comes after the “What if?”
What if we could mine the asteroids? Great question. What about the ones you ask afterwards?

  • How would it be done? What would be the technical requirements? (traditional hard SF)
  • What would be the impact on the global economy when wealthy nations can get their resources from space, and pull out of developing countries? (a soft SF approach)
  • What would one of these remote asteroid miners be thinking about as he watches a drone destroy a worldlet? Is he imagining some greater civilization doing the same with planets? (Space opera. Or Literary SF depending on the tack you take. Or a poem!)

Fantasy takes the tools of What If, of ideas and speculation, but applies it to what was or what was dreamed about in the past as its materials. “What if the War of the Roses happened in a world where magic was returning, slowly, and people ignored a great threat in the north?”

I think you may know that one.

When we have these articles about “Big thrusting spaceships are back!” and such, we’re basically redrawing lines in the sand from old debates. And those old debates honestly boiled down to the same boring argument: “This type of story is better than others, because it’s the type I like.”

But it’s not. It’s just different. Check out just one of the many Best Of lists out there: Barns & Noble’s best of SFF of 2015 There’s a variety out there, from hard SF to more fantastical notions of the future. And we should celebrate and promote that variety.

To mangle Voltaire, “I may not enjoy your style of science fiction, but I’ll fight to the death for your right to enjoy it.” And I’d rather talk about the vast variety of SF out there than rehash the same partisan debates and weaponized nostalgia.

Unless you’ve got a good story about weaponized nostalgia… I’d be in for that.

Re: NaNoWriMo

Well, I participated in NaNoWrimo using the novel I’d planned out earlier this year. It’s one of my running projects, Metaphysical Graffiti. I used Michael Stackpole’s 21 days to a Novel process to create character backgrounds and an outline. And it helped. I could just dive right into writing the book, and found that because I knew where I was going, I had an easier time getting to my goal. So, day by day, bit by bit, every chance I could I added to my word count. Until this happened:

NaNo-2015-Winner-Badge-Large-Square

I honestly thought it wouldn’t be possible: that I wrote to slowly and got too distracted. But thanks to my fiancee’s support, and a lot of backing from my writer’s group, I found this a much easier journey than past years. And I found myself adding scenes to the outline, creating new bridges to see where they’d take me.

Will I finish? Yes, I am going to keep plugging away at this. But now I’ll also be able to dedicate some time to short stories and flash fiction as well. I’ve had at least two ideas show up while writing this and I don’t want to leave them on the shelf.

I’ll be back to the word mines soon enough. But for now, I think I’ll take a day off. ^_^

Gonzo Science Fiction

Taking a break from my NaNoWriMo work and preparing for an insane series of trips in the near future (by which I mean 3 hours from now) , I wanted to take a moment to roll an idea over, and see if I could get it to shine: Gonzo Science Fiction.

No, it does not involve this gentleman writing science fiction novels.

Which is a shame, because I think he’d write some amazingly out-there SF. And he also looks really sharp in this outfit.

No, what I mean is a type of SF that has more in common with Gonzo Journalism than one of my favorite Muppets.  Think of traditional SF and hard SF as traditional journalism. It relies on very strict adherence to specific tenets: use science as it exists now, focus on the idea first, ‘real science’ involves engineering and physics, etc. It’s the type of SF folks think about when they talk about the Trinity of Asimov, Clarke and Heinlein.

But I think there’s an undercurrent to SF – a back channel which always reacted against this style. It crystallized into movements like New Wave and the cyberpunks, but you could see echoes of it in the old planetary romances of C.L. Moore and Leigh Bracket, or the short stories of Alfred Bester and Cordwainer Smith. It’s the part of SF that said, “Hey, let’s get a little crazy with this and see where it goes.”  The dearest example to me is Dune.  There is a deeply weird current to that book – as someone recently put it, everything revolves around sandworm waste which gives people precognitive powers and allows them to fold space without an AI’s predictive capacities.

That’s some weird shit.  And it goes in some weird places. Much like Gonzo journalism, this vein of SF doesn’t stay detached and stick to the facts. It goes someplace weird with it. It veers into satire, self-mockery and exaggeration. If there was ever a visual representation of what Gonzo SF means to me, it’s this picture by Phillipe Druillet:

les_six_voyages_de_lone_sloane_illus5Click on it to see the whole thing, but this is from his comic Lone Sloan. I first saw this in a book called Futuropolis, with text by Robert Sheckley. This is the border into the realm of a decadent and corrupt lord.  And, yes, those are small dying suns buried in the feet of those gargoyles. This was made by someone who said, “Yeah, we could just make a Dyson sphere with our nearly godlike technologies, but where’s the style in that?”

In this image there’s imagination, majesty, dread, terror and decadence. And I want more, and stranger. It can be on a grand scale, like this or any of Jodorowsky’s comics, or even in a small-scale like Tanith Lee’s amazing episode of Blake’s 7, Sarcophagus. It’s the fiction of ideas (which is what SF has always been in my view) but broken free of ‘But, only ideas you can cite and explain in a series of equations.’ (And rockets. Big, thick, powerful rockets thrusting skywards … you know what I mean).

What if you could rewrite yourself as if you were a program?

If we get so many medicines from fungi and animals, what if  you didn’t process the products, but the animals themselves to make the meds?

What if things got really weird from there?

It’s hard for me to find the literary equivalent of this image. I keep searching, though. Maybe one day I’ll be a decent enough writer to create a sliver of the wonder this engenders in me. But I’d love to see SF get away from the dudes with rocket ships everyone seems to love so much, and delve a bit more into bat country…

 

 

“The Mirror Man” on Daily Science Fiction

For those who may not know, Daily Science Fiction has published my flash story, “The Mirror Man.”  It’s the first story of any sort I’ve had published in quite some time and I’ve gotten some good feedback from it. I hope I’ll be able to continue the trend, improving with each story and publication.

I still think my favorite reaction came from my Dad, who said, “Andrija, I’ll read your story. I won’t understand it, but I will read it.” Ah, family!

Hope others enjoy it, and understand it.

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