Wednesday, May 20, 2020

A ticking potato

Fifteen or twenty years ago, I was at some book sale and I came across a collection of condensed novels.  I think some science fiction magazine back in the 80’s condensed three or four novels from the early 1900’s to fit in a 100 or so page digest sized magazine.  I picked it up – for maybe a dollar – because I do have an interest in classic stories, to see what has and hasn’t changed in storytelling over the last century.  Of course, things don’t often go to the front of my “To Read” pile so it was some time before I started reading it.  But I didn’t get too far.

I don’t remember the title or author of the first story, all I remember is that it was about some guy who had some invention and he needed money to build it, so he went to an estranged, rich uncle.  The uncle invited him to dinner, and the first course comes out and they talk for a bit.  The first course is clean up, the second is brought out, and they talk a bit more.  And I got so thrown out of the story that I had to stop.  What’s the issue, you ask?  Well, when I say they talked a bit, I mean it was like, the First Course arrives, “How’s your sister?” “She died last year of TB.” “I’m dreadfully sorry.” “These things happen.” First Course removed, Second Course arrives.  “How go your studies?” “Very well.” Second Course removed, Third Course arrives.

Now, I don’t know if in the original version their conversation was more in-depth, or if there were long, awkward silences where the narrator looked around at the paintings, or what.  If I can ever find that magazine again – it’s probably in a box in the attic – I’d love to look up the original novel to see what was cut out.  But by the Third Course in less than a page, I was completely out of the story.  I’m not sure what deeper meaning there could be for us having to know what each course was, so I’m not sure why those details were kept. 

I bring all that up, because I’m … I guess you could say sensitive to the flow of time in stories.  For example, something that makes me groan every time I see it is a standard thing in cop shows.  In one scene the main characters are talking at the station when they get a call for a body in a parking structure downtown.  The next scene they get out of their car at the parking structure and continue their conversation as if there wasn’t a twenty minute car ride in the middle.  I understand it’s done because they have the set for the station, and the set for the murder scene, so they want to use them as much as possible.  And it would cost too much to set up a third set in a car and CGI the traffic through the windows.  I understand that, but it still takes me out of the show. 

Fortunately, when writing a story, we’re not limited by a set budget.  But that doesn’t mean there aren’t issues.  For example, in one of my current projects, these people are staying out in the woods for a while and are eating potatoes and fish cooked over a campfire.  My characters will be talking and putting food on to cook.  They’ll then talk for two or three pages.  So far, so good.  But then, maybe only five minutes have passed in their world so I can’t just have them eating still uncooked potatoes.  But I don’t want to just end the scene and come back with them eating or cleaning up and have them start the conversation again.  Did they just sit around the campfire for twenty minutes without saying anything of importance?

I realize that few people would bat an eye if I continued a conversation after a time jump, but it irks me.  I’m doing my best to have natural, realistic, flowing dialogue that drops in little bits of plot exposition, but I don’t want to write half-an-hour’s worth of in world dialogue while the potatoes cook.  My solution, as such, is once I’ve dropped enough plot points, I have a character – usually the dragon – tell a story.  And I do lead the conversation to a story, I don’t just have the dragon stand up in the middle of something and go, “Story time.” I don’t have to write the actual story, just have her start telling a story about X and have some of my main character’s thoughts.  So in a paragraph or two I can have a story that takes as long to tell as the potatoes need to cook.  And then the normal conversation can begin again as they eat.  So they’re not eating raw potatoes, they’re not sitting around the campfire silently, and while there is a time gap it comes without the bluntness of “End Scene.”

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Coronavirus sale II!

So you’re still stuck at home, trying to make masks out of hoarded TP, you’ve binged everything on Netflix, and you’ve read everything on your Kindle, but you’re trying to save your money since you don’t know when you’ll go back to work so you’re not downloading anything new.  Well, here’s your chance to get six ebooks for free.  Between Monday April 6 and Friday April 10, you’ll be able to download these six of my ebooks for the price of a few clicks. 

Everybody complains about politics, but does anyone do anything about it? My attempt to do something about it is to collect forty of my short stories with a political element into this anthology. The stories are either politically neutral or equally condemning of the national parties. Instead of trying to sway you to one ideology or another, my goal is to just get people thinking about politics in the hopes a rose might grow out of all the political manure.

Over the years, I’ve posted several short stories on websites that later – for one reason or another – died. While the corpses of some of these sites are still around where you can read the stories, many have vanished from the internet. And since there are few sites that will publish such previously published works, the only way you could read them was if I self-published them in a collection.

In addition to such “lost” stories, I’ve included some new stories that – for one reason or another – I feel I’d have a hard time finding someone to publish them. So “Seventh Story Stockpile” basically contains stories I didn’t know what to do with. But now I can move on to other projects.

On The Day, for reasons unknown, people began changing. They went to sleep as their old selves and woke in their beds in different bodies: bodies that had belonged to other people. And each time they fall asleep, they wake in a new body. Set months later, “The Only Certainty” follows Derrick Gorton on an average day in this new world as he deals with food shortages, the semi-collapse of society, and how to finish his latest novel.

Partway to a new colony world, board member Geoffrey Ames is woken from hibernation by the caretaking crew of the Lucian. They require him to look into the matter of their fellow crewman Morgan Heller. Morgan’s claims – such as being over 1500 years old – would normally land him in the psychiatric ward, except he can back up some of his other claims.

“Rise” is a standalone story set in my Human Republic Universe. The story follows the events after the tragic deaths of the colonists on a small colony in a distant star system.

Over the last few years a lot of people have caught Mars fever. It seems a week doesn’t go by without a report of some new group wanting to send people to Mars, or some big name in the industry talking about why we have to go to Mars, or articles talking about the glorious future humanity will have on Mars. All of this worries me. In my opinion, a Mars base is currently not sustainable because there’s no way for it to make money. A few missions may fly doing extraordinary science, but if it’s then cancelled for cost the whole Mars Project may just be seen as an expensive stunt.

Fortunately, there are other places in the solar system besides Mars. While bases on the moon and amongst the asteroids won’t be as inspirational as one on Mars, they will have opportunities for businesses to make goods and services as well as profits, meaning less chance of them being outright cancelled. This will make life better on Earth and secure a firm foothold in space for humanity. The essays in “The Moon Before Mars: Why returning to the moon makes more sense than rushing off to Mars” allow me to describe my ideas on what can be accomplished on the moon and with the asteroids, and why Mars isn’t the destiny of humanity its cheerleaders make it out to be.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Thoughts on Picard

So I’ve had a few days to think about the first season of Picard, and I have to say that I wasn’t all that impressed with it.  Now some will start claiming that the reason I didn’t like it was because I don’t like strong women, or some such shit, but the real reason I didn’t care for it was because I think it’s poorly written.  For example:

One of the key points for the show is the attack on Mars.  But what exactly happened?  We see some synths go mad and kill people and then lower the defenses and some ships show up – from somewhere – and blow up Mars.  But knowing what we know – that this not-so secret Romulan group hijacked the synths to make people hate them – that doesn’t really make much sense.  Like, if I were in charge of this not-so secret Romulan group, what I would have done was program the synths to take hostages.  Then have them call up the Federation Council with some bizarre demands like all the organics being evacuated off Earth so it can become a Synth Homeworld or something, and that for every five minutes their demands aren’t met they’ll kill a hostage.  And to show that they mean what they say, they kill two hostages because it’s been ten minutes since this started.  Then, when Starfleet Security shows up to rescue the hostages, something goes awry and the shipyards blow up.  That wouldn’t lead to as many casualties, but I think it would be better.

During the, I don’t know, Janeway Commission that investigates what happened on Mars, they might find incidents of “minor malfunctions” of the synths in the weeks leading up to it which in light of the events would just be seen as them preparing for the showdown.  It would all be wrapped up in a neat little bow and everyone would think the synths are deranged terrorists that we cannot negotiate with. 

Instead, we get this mystery: why did the synths go mad?  Because an organization known for “boldly going where no one has gone before” would look at a mystery, shrug, and go it’s not our concern.  Oh, wait.  When the problem seems to just be a malfunction – instead of deliberate maleficent – people would look into it, and what are the odds that the anti-synth people are better programmers than the pro-synth people?  All it would take would be the slightest bit of evidence that the synths were hacked to destroy the entire plan.  You would think that this not-so secret Romulan group would understand that people want to solve mysteries, so it’s best to do your big conspiracy thing in a way that leaves little mystery.

Moving on from Mars, I believe that in the first few episodes they talked of a “darkness” or something in Starfleet.  This would suggest a cabal of officers going against the ideals of Starfleet for their own gain.  That was interesting.  Until it turned out to just be Commodore Oh.  Which just makes me wonder how one officer had such influence, not only over Starfleet, but the Federation Council? 

I guess she’s just lucky.  I mean, at the end, when everyone knows that she was involved in the attack on Mars, she’s allowed to just leave.  No attempt is made to take her into custody and put on trial for this major act of terrorism. 

Of course, she’s rather stupid.  She ruined her plan.  If she hadn’t mindmelded with Agnes, then the bad synth wouldn’t have figured out she needed to build a transmitter.  I mean, it’s not like the not-so secret Romulan group had access to warships that they could have used to kill Picard on one ship and thus prevent him from getting to Maddox and learning where the other sister was.  If Oh had just used the resources she had – instead of trying to bring in some unknown – she could have killed Picard in an unfortunate attack by “bandits,” gotten Maddox because weren’t they already on their way to him, and still had the sister on the cube.  They could have gotten the information, went to the synth planet, use “planetary sterilization plan five” or whatever (side note, how many planetary sterilization plans do you need?) and nobody would have known.  This was less a case of the good guys figuring out the bad guys plan as much as the bad guys tripping all over themselves and the good guys going, “Hey.”

Since I mentioned the bad synth, let’s talk about the big bad Cthulhu synths.  I’m guessing that they started with this idea of how will people react to synthetic life.  It’s an idea that will move from science fiction to science fact sooner than many people suspect, so I applaud the idea of getting people to think about it.  I just don’t think Star Trek is a good vehicle for such a story idea.  Anyway, we understand that organics can be devious and can even kill to further their goals.  So we can either show the synths to be better than us, or just as bad.  And it’s safer to go with the idea that they can be just as bad, I mean, we don’t want to make the audience think too much.  But to muddy everything up, let’s just introduce these big bad Cthulhu synths because, well, they couldn’t use the Borg to be the menacing threat anymore.  Does that mean that whatever Star Trek there is in thirty years will just have a Cthulhu synth as part of the crew?

I think the problem with Picard is that they took ten, thousand piece puzzles and took one hundred pieces out of each, and tried to make one puzzle.  Here and there you have five or six pieces that fit together, but you also have seven corners.  The more I think about the show, the more inconsistencies I see.  And not just with the other Trek shows, but even within itself.  Like, the synths can make a magical wrench that can fix unreparable mechanical things, but they can’t use it to make surgical equipment to fix Picard’s brain thing? 

I’ll watch season two – probably dealing with a group of Klingons trying to bring about their version of Ragnarok – but only because I’ll probably get more enjoyment out of watching people rip the show apart than I will get from watching the show.  I mean, I’ve seen people say that they think Picard is the best Trek in years, but that’s not that high of a bar to clear.