A Void of Compassion

My friend Bob is a mountain climber, and has summited Everest and other Himalayan peaks. So it was with a great deal of sadness he passed along a story about the death of revered Lama Geshe, 87, of Pangboch, Nepal. With his death, we also lost kindness, understanding, and compassion, perhaps the ultimate Buddhist blessing on us all.

After greed, guns, lies, racism, inequality, and planet-cide, this is a sorrow that affects me deeply. We need more people of compassion. Everywhere. Please read the blog post by the mountaineer who initially reported this tragedy. 

 

 

Deny. Deny Deny. Global Warming Is A Hoax (throws up).

It is 1 PM on the afternoon of 4 February (13:00 for my friends in Europe) and it is 77 degrees (again, for right-thinking countries, 25 degrees). This is a bit, um, unusual. Generally speaking--and us in Northern Californians keep it a deep-state secret -- January and February are pretty darn nice, particularly when you know that June through August is always socked in with fog. There's a reason why they sell so many sweatshirts to non-California tourists at Fisherman's Wharf. And , again, generally speaking there's usually a few days here and there between January and April where the weather can be warm for a day or two. 

Um, not so much this year. This is the 5th day in a row of 70 + (21 +) degrees with no measurable precipitation or cooling in sight. It ain't normal! Now, as completely fucked up as the gestalt of wrong this is, you kinda have to take advantage of good weather when you can get it -- particularly in The City (NOT Frisco and NOT San Fran!). Yet if is the new normal, I'm alarmed, as most  people should be. 

Oh, well. Time for another Mai Tai. Sees yuz!

 

 

Trying to Make Sense of the Series Mentality

First, a message from your sponsor: Happy 2018 to everyone—let’s hope we don’t have a repeat of 2017 with political strife, natural disasters, and international gamesmanship. Can’t we just give peace a chance?

It’s been amazing to experience the process of creating a series of books with interlinked arcs. There is no one way to do it, just your way.

808f13b0-4975-4ee7-b292-78163f456aeb.jpg

I was reminded of this watching Babylon 5 for the third time through. For those unfamiliar with the 5-year syndicated SF show from the 90s, it was J. Michael Straczynski’s masterpiece of storytelling. It might have not had the special effects of The Expanse, or the taut drama of the Battlestar Galactica reboot, or the off-beat characters of Firefly, but the story is remarkably—some would say uncannily—tight and complete from end to end.

When I first binged it at my brother’s recommendation, the point was to “find out what happens.” I think this is common to all series, whether visual or written; it’s only in subsequent viewings or readings that linkages and foreshadowing make sense. These connections enrich the story over time; I am re-reading The Malazan Book of the Fallen at present and the richness and complexity of the story comes forth in ways I completely missed first time through.

In my second binge of Babylon 5, I found a similar richness; how did the writer know that an action in season 1, episode 12, would be pivotal to a turning point in early season 4? The series is rife with these long-distance foreshadowings and connections. When I realized this, I could only shake my head at Straczynski’s genius.

Now, however, in the third binge, I’m not so sure it’s pure genius. Oh, certainly there is a great attention to story detail and major character growth—a hallmark of Bab 5 as opposed to the Trek canon, where Kirk and Picard will ALWAYS be the same Kirk and Picard. But in creating the linkages in The Fifth Circle—now conceptualized through 5 books—I think there’s something less magical going on. It’s called happy accidents. Was that turning point in season 4 deliberately foreshadowed in season 1, episode 12 or when Straczynski was writing season 4 did he said to himself, “Wow. I could use that thinga dinga I did in season 1 episode 12 to get through this tricky turning point.”?

Having said that, I have no doubt those who write series—movies, TV, or books—have an intent and a deep understanding of how their world plays out. But is it ALL deliberate? In my personal experience, no. And the more I look at series from that perspective, the more I see the combination of careful planning and serendipity at work. Every creator’s mileage will vary, but that balance, to me, is what makes the process so damn interesting!

 

Friends Of The World

I have tried to keep my political commentary to myself because I know it will ruffle feathers (scales?) in certain enclaves. But I have to bust out with this one because I am so god damned frustrated with the politics in the USA. Most thinking people never though it could happen, yet it did. Another reminder we need as we trudge toward harmony amongst the ratfuckers.

"Don't be afraid of anything Don't be afraid of anyone. "

 

Love Triangles Bad for SFF?

Just read a Reddit thread where people complained of having to put up with love triangles in SFF. I'm not sure I agree. 

When I began writing The Fifth Circle, it was always meant to have a love interest because Jeff was a happily married Earthan and his world view is deeply colored by his relationship with Jenny. It provides a very natural dramatic tension when he is uprooted against his wishes.  

Fast forward to Here and the dynamic changes completely. We are introduced to Mykanna, Titus's mate, and Jeff--now Titus as well--can't help but to feel drawn to her, particularly after he finds that Jenny was a re-programming of Shandann, the captain of his house guard. After her rescue, Shandann is deprogrammed--but not completely--and she still harbors deep feelings for Jeff/Titus based on an unrequited past and her role as Jenny. 

So it's a triangle no one wanted, but it exists and must be dealt with. It does not play to type, but provides any number of branching dramatic arcs that, I think, make the backbone of the story stronger.

What do you think? 

 

 Jenny Miller

Jenny Miller

 
 Shandann

Shandann

 Mykanna

Mykanna

 

YES - Making Art The Right Way

Saw Yes (featuring Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin, and Rick Wakeman) at the sumptuous Mountain Winery last night. I have always been a progressive rock fan and have seen Yes, Genesis, Pink Floyd, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, King Crimson, and myriad prog rockers countless times over the years.

What frosts my gnarlies is the critics’ easy wash of prog as “sci-fi/fantasy music.” Because it ain’t. As a musician (jazz) I appreciate composition, arrangement, dynamics, and melody/harmony. Just because a record jacket was designed by Roger Dean or Hipgnosis doesn’t make it “sci-fi.”

I was reminded of that last night when the band played one of their signature songs under an enhanced arrangement that was unexpected and gorgeous, much more Sibelius than Stanislaw Lem. I think this is what we writers strive for in our own craft, taking tropes and turning them on their ear so everything is new again. That is craft. That is imagination. I couldn’t conceive of working any other way.

YES-featuring-ARW-Rick-Wakeman-credit-Fred-Kuhlman.jpg

The Fifth Circle Goes Hollywood

Those following The Fifth Circle know that the story begins on Earth with architect Jeff Miller inadvertently roped into a major Hollywood fantasy blockbuster set up by an alien black ops extraction team. Of course, he has no idea that the story is real and he IS the star in that story. I feel remiss, however, in my excerpts, not harkening back to the first part of the story that takes place on a production lot in LA and moves for filming to the storied Pinewood studio in England.

Just to prove that Jeff is as inept at film as Titus can sometimes be at being a dragonmaster, I thought I'd change things up a bit with a new excerpt. This has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that I saw Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets over the weekend and am still puking my guts out. On that um, er, happy note... enjoy!

Fifth Circle excerpt. 

 Vivian Fleisher -- Executive Producer, Predator Studios

Vivian Fleisher -- Executive Producer, Predator Studios

 

 

Finally, A Jeff I Can Love

Finally, A Jeff I Can Love

When I first started working on The Fifth Circle gallery with the incomparable illustrator Dejan Delic, we started with an illustration of architect Jeff Miller, the book's main character who doesn't realize until later that he is in reality Titus Dragonmaster. But...

Read More

My Crazy Obsession

Some people like fast cars. Never saw the appeal. Some people like an expensive watch. I'd only lose it. Some people like boats. Too much work.

But when it comes to throwing away disposable income, I do have an Achilles heel: rock concerts. Back in the day, I was a DJ at the college radio station and developed a life-long passion for concerts and have seen perhaps every notable band live, from Led Zeppelin to 30 Seconds to Mars. And, as anyone who has followed the demise of the recording business knows, bands make their money from concerts these days rather than sales. Hence, sky-high prices

My obsession's particular manifestation, however, is a little more pernicious because it involves another life-long love, travel. In 2004, it wasn't just enough to se the band Yes in LA, San Jose, and Vegas, they were also playing in Lugano, Switzerland. Badda bing, badda boom. Europe, here I come.

I bring this up because I had another attack of grand madness over the weekend. Having seen the insanely fantastic Roger Waters Us+Them tour in San Jose last week, I was casually checking Ticketbastard for his other tour dates--casually, I said--and lo and behold, he's playing in Vancouver at the end of October. Hmmm... Vancouver...2 hours from SFO... miles... Hotels.com... Well, before I even had a chance to curb myself, tickets were bought and the itinerary set. 

It's truly a sickness.

For those who didn't go or aren't going, a taste:

The Fifth Circle -- Volume II

Tonight I sent of The Fifth Circle, Volume II to my estimable developmental editor, Sarah Kolb-Williams. She has been an invaluable source (read: godsend) for identifying story arc flaws, inconsistent character actions, plot holes, and MC motivation and stakes, among her many other talents with track changes. Can't wait to get through the process because if you thought Volume I was a doozy, you ain't seen nothin' yet. More reveals, hidden pasts, military sci-fi, deep mysteries of the Here cosmology, and, of course, dragons. And no IPA. All narrated but a twenty-first century dragonmaster who swears like a sailor and wears pop culture refernces on his sleeve. Great new characters, expanded roles for favorite regulars, and an ending you have to read to believe. 

As soon as I get it back and apply a good polish, I'll post some Volume II content. Try it... you'll like it.  In the meantime, I plan to update Volume I excerpts -- there's a lot of cool shit that hasn't seen HTML. Stand by.

Taking The Reading List To Task

Catching up on my bedside reading stack. Over the last four months, I’ve read KSR’s generational starship saga Aurora, not one of his best but still a good read; Seveneves by Neal Stephenson, which is fine if you like endless lectures on near-future space technology, such as orbital dynamics, and characters that resemble crepes, they’re so flat; Gene Wolfe’s A Borrowed Man which was mildly disappointing to me, as are all of his gumshoe-narrated novels; The Last Days of New Paris, China Mieville’s percussive novella about Nazis, demons, and surreal art come to life to do battle in an alternate history occupied Paris circa 1950; and Paul Park’s All Those Vanished Engines, that follows a thread of repercussions from an alternate US Civil War history, but was such a self-indulgent exercise in metafiction, I put it down half way through.

Also caught up on Ann Leckie’s last two Ancillary Books which I thought were more accessible and narratively compelling than the mega-award winning Ancillary Justice. Liked them both a lot and appropriated the glove fixation for my own work. How could I possibly forget Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel’s sumptuous meditation on hope in our world juxtaposed with that of a dystopian future, and Christopher Priest’s The Gradual, a rumination of time lost and gained, set in his beloved Dream Archipelago.

Plenty of re-reads as well, most notably taking my time going through Steven Erikson’s The Malazan Book of the Fallen (just started on The Bonehunters, volume 6 of 10); a KSR favorite, the lyrical, wise, and very funny The Years of Rice and Salt; In Other Worlds, a short, but wonderful volume in A. A. Attanasio’s Radix teratology that can easily be read standalone, as the four books are typed by different themes; Richard Brautigan’s In Watermelon Sugar, a charming, simple allegory of the people who grew up during the 1960s. Plus bits and pieces of books here and there to explore ideas, reacquaint myself with craft-specific minutiae, or just ‘cause.

The pile started anew today with the arrival of KSR’s New York 2140 and there’s a couple others floating around somewhere, I think. Plenty to keep me busy while I crank toward my dev edit deadline of May 1 for The Fifth Circle, Volume II.

Sit Rep

Here it is almost February and it’s time to post a situation report. After a developmental and copy edit of The Fifth Circle, Volume I, the manuscript is locked and loaded and looking for a home at a reputable publisher. Actually, a reputable agent who can connect it with a reputable publisher. Reputably. So queries are going out. A few months late as the schedule goes, but I’ve been sucked back into brand strategy engagements for a branding and identity consultancy; it pays some bills and is actually pretty darn interesting and fun.

Closing fast on finishing The Fifth Circle, Volume II and will put it through the same editorial mill as above. If you want to become a beta reader, drop me a line. Happy to share and I have a thick skin.

The Fifth Circle, Volume III is beat-sheeted (outlined) and the first draft is about a quarter complete. The Fifth Circle, Volume IV is underway, with various scenes drafted out. Still need to beat-sheet it, but it’s going to be a gas to write, as is everything else Fifth Circle.

Hope to have more regular updates (hah!) now that the big push is over. As Titus would say, “I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.”

The Greatest SF Movie Never Made

Last night I watched Jodorowski’s Dune, a documentary about film maker Alejandro Jodorowski’s attempt to bring Dune to the big screen in the 1970s, long before the 1984 David Lynch version. It is the portrait of a true creator, taken with his vision to an obsessive level to see his unique version of Dune come to fruition. The story, concepts, art, and overall vibe, however, were way too weird for Hollywood and Jodorwski’s Dune became the “greatest science fiction movie never made.”

Just a short list of the participants Jodorowski assembled tells you much about the movie’s gestalt: David Carradine, Orson Welles, Salvador Dali, Mick Jagger, Jean “Moebius” Giruad, H.R. Giger, Dan O’Bannon, Pink Floyd, and Magma.  

Much more than an autopsy on how the feature was developed, and why it failed to be made, the film is a love letter to audacious creativity, the drive to see one’s vision come to fruition, and an almost messianic fervor to get the right people involved because of their own creative gifts. Central to the documentary is the filmmaker’s 2010 interview with Jodorowski, madman or genius, specifically for the film. The guy is whacked. I loved him.

Most interestingly is the “book” they finished, all the concept art, costuming, character design, and story boards, which the film lovingly shows off during the feature. You have to see it to believe it.

I don’t want to give anything more away; as practitioners or lovers of film, literature, or art, or anyone who liked Dune, I leave it to the viewer to bring their own perspective--but expect to have your mind blown. It’s on Blu-Ray and cost me less than a couple stiff drinks. I can’t recommend Jodorowski’s Dune highly enough.