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It’s the story, stupid

I had a pile of laundry to iron the other night, so I fired up Solo (A Star Wars Story). It was one of those films I wanted to see, but didn’t manage to catch it in the theatre.

After an hour, I finished the laundry. And then I turned off the movie.

More to the point, I switched over to a BBC nature documentary, which had maybe 5% of Solo‘s shooting budget but a much more compelling set of characters. And story.

There’s the rub.

Solo isn’t a bad movie, but it didn’t engage me. It certainly didn’t pack the punch of Rogue One, which had a set of (mostly) unknown characters and a we-knew-it-was-coming ending. We all went along with the ride since it was a ride. The characters had agency, they had conflict, they had cool stuff to do.

In contrast, Solo started with a vehicle chase, shoved in some quick background, attached another vehicle chase, then quickly flittered to war scene/montage/introduction of cool kids and THEN A TRAIN ROBBERY.

How exciting.

I didn’t care. And I was annoyed at the level of expository dialog that felt like the writers (and I’m sure there were many) were checking all the Star Wars boxes:

  • Solo wants to be a pilot
  • Solo does the “thermal detonator” trick
  • Chewbacca needs a nickname. Why not “Chewie”?
  • The Millenium Falcon is won in a card game. Or is it?
  • There’s a Kessel run.
  • Et cetera.

Two of the most interesting characters were killed early in the process, leaving some rather second-string folks to carry the show. (Okay, I’ll give props to Donald Glover for his turn as Lando Calrissian. But poor Paul Bettany – someone told him to BE EVIL, OKAY?)

I didn’t read reviews beforehand, or troll the film blogs, and perhaps that was a mistake. If I had known about the director swap, the rewrites, and the reshoots, I probably would have set my expectations accordingly. As it was, I thought I was going to get a high-quality popcorn flick that played off my nostalgia and (maybe) brought something new to the table.

Nope.

The takeaway for me is focus in storytelling. Pick an angle, a theme, a character. Run with those. Give your audience something to care about, and then drag them along. Hell, they’ll come willingly.

Second, don’t be afraid to walk away when it doesn’t deliver. The BBC is always there with life and death struggles of snow leopards in the Himalayas.

Strange things, indeed

Ironically enough, my appearance in the new anthology, Strange Economics, was delayed due to… production problems. Things didn’t arrive on time, or in the wrong format, and printing was delayed, which meant we missed launching during Worldcon (and my birthday). Oh well.

But now everything is back on track and you can have your very own copy. Get the physical version and I’ll sign it (if we meet) or send you a nice thank you note. Something. Seriously. I was tickled to find this Kickstarter project and even more pleased that they decided to give a home to my leprechaun mafia.

Enjoy!

Strange Economics cover

Living in a climate change world

The original title for this post was “living in a science-fiction world” but I changed my mind since this isn’t Fiction but reality here in California.

Today I did the semi-annual maintenance on the house solar panels. That starts with cutting back the clumping bamboo we planted to give my daughter’s room some shade and privacy. It works well, but once the bamboo crests the edge of the roof it starts growing over the solar panels so it has to be tamed. Once I’ve cleared a path, I check the gray water connections to the laundry.

Then I perch myself on a ladder, wash down the panels, and capture all that runoff into rain barrels, which I use to water the Japanese maple tree out front. Otherwise, I let it soak the bamboo so it does its thing.

Finally, I rake and sweep and generally tidy up, collecting everything for composting. (More importantly, I cut back/disguise all the plants that were, ah, damaged during my efforts).

So next month, the city will do its audit, and if it’s been another dry year, all that extra sunlight will mean I’ve produced more electricity that I consumed. I’ll get a rebate check.

And probably buy more bamboo. It’s easier than a lawn.

The dilemma of work

In my post-Worldcon funk, I had to deal with an interesting ethical dilemma.

Last night, my daughter complained that she was getting “bug bites” and feeling frustrated with her new school schedule (plus the difficulty of returning to school after summer and surgery). My wife and I went for a walk, and when we returned, we found our daughter in something of a panic, with all manner of skin irritations.

Now we do have 3 cats, and one of them spends a lot of time outside, but I didn’t think we had suffered a massive flea infestation. Spiders? Mites? Bad-tempered pixies?

So we moved her to the study and began cleaning her room, washing all the bedding and stuffed animals and getting ready to spray the floor. But then we realized a simpler answer might be at hand: drug reaction. For the past week, my daughter had been taking a prophylactic dose of antibiotics to deal with what appeared to be a minor infection following her jaw surgery.

A quick internet search confirmed that this particular drug had certain less common side effects, including hives and (rarely) irritability. Ah ha. We called an advice nurse, who hooked us up to a doctor, who then prescribed some countermeasures.

This morning, the teen was in better shape, but needed to rest, so my wife began re-arranging her schedule so she could keep an eye on things. I went off to work.

And felt miserable. I work remotely 2 days a week, but this wasn’t one of those days. I had no project deadlines. So I sat there, worrying about my child and our loss of income (my wife is self employed). Finally, I told my manager I was heading home to do remote work for the rest of the day.

The dilemma: my work at home schedule is an experiment, and I’d already pushed the issue during my daughter’s surgery and recovery time (since I couldn’t take enough vacation time to cover everything). Doing it again so soon after my Worldcon vacation might bring unwanted attention to me, and that’s never a good idea at a traditional Japanese firm. Conformity and consistency are safe. Doing your own thing (even if you meet your goals) is dangerous. 

While I have a responsibility to contribute income (and health insurance) to the household, I also have to be a parent. The choice was difficult. And clear.

You have to work, but how you work is up to you.

I went to Worldcon 76 and didn’t get a tee shirt

Actually, I got TWO. Purchased the official tee (below) and won a very cool Escape Pod shirt during their live podcast.

Why did I buy a shirt? It was something of a reward for standing in line for > 90 minutes on Thursday afternoon to get my badge. Ugh. I attended San Jose Comic Con in the same location a few months before, and those lines were never bad. (There’s something to be said for mailing tickets to early registrants.)

So, having arrived a bit later than expected, and spending far too much time getting my hotel/badge, I had to update my plans.

THURSDAY (Updated)

2 – 4 PM – Panels on fighting and historical fencing (for novel research)  Standing in lines

4 – 6 PM – Volunteer duty at the SFWA Suite at the Fairmont. Set up all the beer and soft drinks. Emptied out the ice machines on the 6th and 5th floors!

For dinner, I met up with fellow Viable Paradise alum, Katrina Archer, and some of her friends, but our intended destination, Mezcal, was hosting a company event so they couldn’t accommodate 7 people. (I learned that 6 is a magic number for restaurants. Anything more than that requires a serious sacrifice and early reservations.) We ended up at Élyse, a French/Vietnamese place. Great food and excellent service.

FRIDAY

8 am – SFWA business meeting. The convention center didn’t open its doors at 8, so we had to wait until someone came down and unlocked an entrance for us. Fortunately, everyone else was delayed and there was still breakfast.

A chunk of the meeting addressed the whiney puppy protest (and counter-protest) scheduled for Saturday. There were contingencies and Secret Plans in place, and best we simply ignored the instigator should we encounter him. (As it turns out, the guy did try to crash the event, and was turned away most soundly.)

10 am – Main exhibit area – One of my favorite publishers, NESFA, had a table running. Some years ago at ConJose, I purchased a copy of Norstrilia from them. Now I scanned the complete hardcover collection of Roger Zelazny short fiction and dreamed of my next bonus check.

I also had the pleasure of helping my friend Rosemary Claire Smith, writer of dinosaur stories, get ready for her professional portrait by the talented Richard Man. (He did my picture at the Nebulas a few years back.)

Rosemary and I were Team Red this year:

11 am – Book contract panel. SRO for this one. Some nice reminders about sample contracts and keeping your eyes on the reversion of rights clauses.

2 PM – SFWA Suite – Met up with my mentor for the day, Julia Rios, the amazing editor (Uncanny Magazine/Fireside Fiction/Strange Horizons). Julia and I had crossed paths at Worldcon 75 in Helsinki, and she was familiar with my Fireside Fiction flash story, “We Who Stay Behind.”

Julia and I had a great talk about my current WIP, general life challenges, and my writing process. She raised some very interesting questions about my choice of setting for my proposed novel, and helped me get things in perspective. (Sunday night, she would win a Hugo for her editorial work. So I guess can say I knew her before she was famous.)

6 PM – pre-birthday dinner. Two of my compatriots from Paradise Lost – Beth Morris Tanner and Rosemary – plus their friend David D. Levine (author of Arabella of Mars) joined me for dinner at a Greek place, Nemea. We actually started with 7 people, but that broke the reservation system, so three folks went off on their own.

Decent food but the band was too loud.

Later that night, fellow Bay Area writer and baker extraordinaire, Effie Seiberg, stopped by hotel room for a nightcap. She and her partner (Jason) brought me Game of Thrones’ swag from the George R.R. Martin interview up in Redwood City as an early birthday gift.

Incidentally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that my best friend Dan Malcor sent me Spider Robinson books before Worldcon, so he gets First Birthday Gift award.

SATURDAY

10 am – Escape Pod – Live! What a great panel. I had the chance to meet and listen to the editors and voice talent for Escape Pod, Pseudo Pod, and Drabblecast as they celebrated their Hugo nomination with a live reading plus CAKE by Effie. Birthday cake before noon – rice crispy treats, pretzels, chocolate!

My favorite Escape Pod host, Alasdair Stuart

2 PM – In Memoriam: Harlan Ellison. Another SRO event, in a larger space. They could have filled the main ball room, I suspect. I arrived 20 minutes early and managed to get a seat. Even GRRM had to sit against the back row.

The panelists included Robert Silverberg, David Gerrold, two other writers I didn’t know, a photographer, and Nat Segaloff, who last year published the authorized biography of Harlan.

The whole hour was funny and profane, somber and sweet. My own small experience with Harlan was donating to one of his large lawsuits against an early ISP who didn’t act against people pirating and posting his work. Harlan won that lawsuit, and paid back most of the money to his supporters. “Good faith money,” I think he said. It was paying it forward, in my mind, and for years I kept his postcards on my bulletin board next to my word processor.

After that emotional time, I wandered down to the Dealer Room and saw that Kelly Robson was signing. Unfortunately, Borderland Books had run out of her novel, so I asked her to sign a book plate for my birthday. She told me she had one copy left and it needed a good home:

Also had a surprise birthday  granola “cake” from Waypoint Kangaroo author, Curtis Chen.

4:30 PM – The Fated Sky launch party  Nope. By the time I got through the Dealer Room, I needed a quick rest (standing a lot) before walking over to dinner.

6:00 PM – Birthday dinner at The Spaghetti Factory. The best and worst part of my weekend. Despite our reservations, the restaurant failed to anticipate the crush, and we languished for more than an hour before getting even the generic salads. Our host, a family member of a local writer, picked up our bar tab (huzzah!), but mediocre pasta wasn’t worth it.

What saved the night was the conversation. I was surrounded by smart, funny people: entertainment accountants, attorneys, artists, and plenty o’ writers. One of them is the foremost expert on the Klingon language. They sang “Happy Birthday” to me when the waiters ignored us, and I taught them the Swedish version.

Late night: crammed into the SFWA suite at the Fairmont, where I met a writer and her spouse who had just moved back from Spain, and connected with the legendary writer and editor Eileen Gunn. When we were introduced, I told Eileen that we had met earlier in San Antonio at a writing workshop. She thought for a moment, and said, “I don’t remember the story exactly, but I remember that it was very good.”

I could live on that compliment for a month.

The evening ended with a surprise birthday beer from Athens, Georgia, hand-delivered by Sandy Parsons, whom I met last year in Helsinki:

SUNDAY

10 am – Viable Paradise alumni brunch. A goodly horde of us descended on a hipster eatery, Social Policy. I had already eaten at the hotel, so I settled for some homemade bread, butter, and green tea. Oh, and a little bit of this draught, courtesy of a Finnish writer:

Noon – 5 PM

TBD, but probably SFWA suite, writing, and souvenir shopping.

I didn’t make it to any more panels, but picked up a signed book from David Gerrold, some themed soaps for Lilly-Karin, and a few cool Japanese glasses for Elizabeth.

Hugo Awards

Since Monday was a working day (and my daughter started back at school), I decided to skip the Sunday night festivities. Congrats to all the nominees and winners! It was a truly excellent slate this year.

Afterward

I know I’m forgetting some events, and certainly some people. Cons do that to your brain, especially when you’re trying to have a birthday in the middle of one.

Author/Editor bingo (alpha order)

  • Andy Duncan
  • Curtis Chen
  • David Gerrold
  • Eileen Gunn
  • George R R Martin
  • Greg Bear
  • Greg Benford
  • Joe and Gay Haldeman
  • John Joseph Adams
  • Kelly Robson
  • Larry Niven
  • Mary Robinette Kowal
  • Navah Wolfe
  • Neil Clarke
  • Patrick Nielsen Hayden
  • Rachel Swirsky
  • Robert Silverberg
  • Spencer German Ellsworth
  • Spider Robinson
  • Teresa Nielsen Hayden

And my fellow less-famous writers (for now):

  • Benjamin Phillip
  • Effie Seiberg
  • Rosemary Claire Smith
  • Beth Morris Tanner
  • The Lauras
  • Karen Birkedahl Rylander
  • SB Divya
  • Katrina Archer
  • Danielle Burkhart
  • Setsu
  • Chris Cornell
  • and many others

Special shout outs to the SFWA gang: Cat Rambo, Terra LeMay, Kate Baker, Kellan Szpara, and Lawrence Schoen!

Finally

Arrived home to find another much-appreciated birthday gift of Swedish matches from my thoughtful cousin, Anna-Karin:

and a very purring Decaf:

Okay, that’s enough for now.

Worldcon 76 schedule

Due to recent stressful events in Mundane Reality, I’m keeping my Worldcon schedule pretty loose. I’m not appearing on any panels, but here’s where you can generally find me.

THURSDAY

I’ll be arriving midday, and then dropping off stuff at my local base (Hyatt).

2 – 4 PM – Panels on fighting and historical fencing (for novel research)

4 – 6 PM – Volunteer duty at the SFWA Suite at the Fairmont. If you’re not attending the opening ceremonies, drop by!

Thursday night is OPEN for dinner, drinks, bar con. Ping me on Twitter, FB, or email.

FRIDAY

8 am – SFWA business meeting

10 am – Main exhibit area

11 am – Book contract panel

2 PM – SFWA Suite (event)

4 PM – Skulking about the autographing area

6 PM – pre-birthday dinner. Join me!

SATURDAY

10 am – Escape Pod – Live

2 PM – In Memoriam: Harlan Ellison

4:30 PM – The Fated Sky launch party

6:00 PM – Birthday dinner and general writerly stuff

SUNDAY

10 am – Viable Paradise alumni brunch

Noon – 5 PM

TBD, but probably SFWA suite, writing, and souvenir shopping.

 

 

Birthday month Cover Reveal

This month features two important events: Worldcon in San Jose and the publication of Strange Economics, an anthology that explores the economic underpinnings of common SF and F tropes. Deal with the devil? Taxes in Fairyland? Got you covered. The book’s at the printer, so I hope to have an ordering link VERY SOON.

(Oh, it’s also my birthday month. If you’d like to get me a present, buy this puppy! I’ll send along a bookplate, or sign it in person if I see you at Worldcon.)

My once and future fan

(Warning: longish)

I recently received some copies of Metaphorosis magazine’s annual anthology (which features one of my trunk stories). As usual, I’ll put one copy on the brag shelf and mail another to my old partner-in-crime, John, a retired professor of American History.

We met in grad school. We worked in the same campus office, both of us sweating through our classes and research, trying to make it to the finish line before our tuition credits evaporated. Our boss, the University Librarian, was a former Ambassador to England, former history professor, and all-around blowhard.

Hard work but good times. John introduced me to photography, beat poetry, and decaf espresso. I shared my love of science fiction and British humor.

After graduation, John took a job at a low-budget publishing house, and I joined him for a bit. When the parent company was bought by another, bigger publisher, we all got fired and sought our fortunes elsewhere. John went on to teach in Bakersfield and I disappeared into IT.

A few years later, John re-married, and invited me to photograph the ceremony (a task he performed at my own wedding). Years passed, and we fell out of touch, even with that new-fangled interweb.

When I began selling my stories on a more regular basis, I tried to reconnect with John. But he stopped responding to his old university email account. I mailed the occasional letter or story to his house, but heard nothing for years.

Finally, John’s wife Lori sent me an email. She told me that my old friend—a great bear of a man, a keen researcher, a talented writer, and generous soul—was now living in a full-time care facility due to the effects of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. He could no longer read or write without great difficulty.

Now, John is not an old man; he’s perhaps 15 years my senior. I can only imagine how hard it must be for him.

His short-term memory is pretty bad, but he can cast back 30 years without straining himself. And that’s about the time we were working side by side.

So when Lori gets one of my packages, she brings it to John and reads it to him. He closes his eyes and hears that brash young man in the words, and smiles, and talks about how much he appreciates my work.

We all need such fans.

The miracle of life

(Note: I’ve been buried lately under new Day Job responsibilities and some life coaching. More on that in another post.)

Tribe,

I’m going to borrow a situation from my best friend, and talk a moment about life. Specifically, the miracle of life.

My best friend is an IT guy for a Big Insurance Company, and part of his job is monitoring servers. He noticed that a server managed in Omaha had dropped off the network, so he discretely emailed the sysadmin there to deal with the problem.

Well. Turns out the Omaha sysadmin had died the day before. My friend then saw that his daily calendar from The Onion had this story:

“WASHINGTON—Saying that despite the possibility you may have briefly been able to distract yourself from the incontrovertible fact by browsing the internet, hanging out with friends, reading, working out, or via some other diversion, sources confirmed Friday that you are still going to die one day and there is nothing you can do to prevent it.”

That reminded me of a line from the stage version of Peter Brooks’ The Mahabharata, where a character is asked about the miracle of life. He replies, “Each day death beats at our door yet we live as if we were immortal.”

So, yeah, you can get caught up political tomfoolery, financial scandals, trash pandas climbing office buildings, or servers going offline. But death is beating at our door.

Maybe we should take note of that and act accordingly.

March Madness ends

Sportsball fans like stats, so here are mine for the month:

  • Publications – 3 (a new record)
    • “The Astrologer of the Fifth Floor”
    • “The Long View”
    • “Just Another Night on Telegraph”
  • Publications in premier issues – 3* (again, a record)
    • Abandoned Places – the first imprint of Shohola Press (“Astrologer”)
    • Reading 5×5 – first fundraising anthology from Metaphorosis Publishing (“The Long View”)
    • Factor Four Magazine – Issue 1 (“Just Another Night”)
  • Number of stories out for submission – 1 (lowest number in 10 years)
  • Number of stories in progress – 3
  • Number of stories in the trunk – 2
  • Number of stories that have at least some notes but aren’t really in progress – 8

Thanks to all of my tribe who helped me achieve these milestones. You folks are the best.

Coming up next month: Futurescapes in Utah and the Leprechaun Mafia!

*”The Long View” also appeared in an expanded “Writing” edition of Reading 5X5, published simultaneously.