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Sunday, February 7, 2016

New Pop Culture Blog now Live and Museum Launches Sci Fi Journal

A spacecraft hovers over a few people in a desert landscape.
Photo Credit: Mike Winklemann/Museum of Science Fiction



I just launched my new pop culture blog, The Super Freek. There I’ll discuss everything in geeky (and freaky) pop culture, except reading and writing fiction. Since these last two I post about here regularly, I’m trying to focus the new blog on other forms of pop culture such as movies, TV, pop music, video games and computer technology.

Other news: last week the Museum of Science Fiction in Washington D.C. launched its Journal of Science Fiction. This publication consists of well-researched articles about the genre rather than just your typical quick review of a movie or book. It examines how the genre influences society and vice versa. And the great thing about it is that you can download the premiere issue for free! To find out how to do that, check out my article about it at Examiner.com.

It’s been a long day preparing and launching the new blog and I’m not even finished with it yet. I still have plenty of illustrations and widgets to add, so I’ll be working on doing that throughout the week. So I’m cutting this post short. I’ll be returning to my fiction writing that I put on hiatus for almost the whole week. So next post I’ll have a better idea of when I’ll be releasing my next short story and perhaps I’ll have a little more of an update on The Hidden, too.


Until then . . .  


Haven't had time to read Andy Weir's New York Times best-seller, The Martian? Consider purchasing it on audio at Amazon! Click on the image below for easiest access.





Monday, February 1, 2016

Change of Publishing Plans, New Blog and Avoiding Old Sci fi Tropes

Three aliens gathered under a flying saucer.
Photo Credit: Pixabay.com


The problem with writing science fiction today is keeping up with the increasing speed that technology advances at. Unlike those eras before internet, technology was not as quickly advancing and so it was easier to keep up with it to reflect future technology in writing speculative fiction. But now that much of computer technology is becoming more complex it is able to develop at faster rates and it will develop at even faster ones yet. Because of that, many authors are concerned that it’s harder to write new sci fi without getting stuck with old tropes and so I’m going to talk about that but first I want to bring to light some slight changes in my own current work.

Changes in Publishing Plans and a New Blog

I’m slightly postponing the publishing of The Hidden so I can first publish some of its stories individually. Therefore I’m taking a few of the stories that I planned to include in my second short fiction collection and will self-publish each as its own book. I’m doing this because The Hidden, which I’ve been planning for almost a year now, is turning out to be a bigger hurdle than I originally thought. As much as I’ve self-published a book before, and so am familiar with the process, some of the stories are taking me longer to edit and revise for various reasons and I want to make some available to readers so they don’t have to wait until the whole collection is out which I’m not sure when that will be. I’ll definitely keep you updated where I am with The Hidden each time I make progress. In the meantime, the first story will be out as its own book probably by the end of February. I’ll definitely keep you updated on that as well.

Other news: I’ll be launching a new blog in addition to A Far Out Fantastic Site. The new blog will focus on everything pop culture outside fiction writing and reading. It will feature articles about movies, TV, gadgets, animation, music, video games, etc. Because my area of expertise in pop culture is science fiction and fantasy, the blog will lean towards those genres but will not be limited to them. I want more flexibility to discuss topics that wouldn’t serve the majority of readers here. So I want to be fair to those readers who are more into writing and reading speculative fiction while yet provide an avenue for those who are into other media of the genre.

Avoiding Getting Stuck With Old Tropes in Writing Your Science Fiction

io9.com’s Charlie Jane Anders, just published her first novel for adults, entitled All the Birds In the Sky, and it is already getting great acclaim. She talks about in her article what she learned in writing the mixed sci fi and fantasy novel. She says that the challenge of writing sci fi today is avoiding old literary tropes and rewriting them to create new stories. However, she says this challenge is a good thing because it forces writers to look for new ideas and find new approaches to old sci fi tropes. She says that this type of challenge comes from TV that reiterates old science fiction themes. Anders talks about the apocalyptic theme used in a lot of speculative fiction through the years especially in books. She admits that her book contains an apocalyptic scene. However, she also says that, unlike most apocalyptic fiction authors today, she puts an optimistic spin on the apocalypse in her novel by showing the potential for a resolution.

This reminds me of a story that I’ve been grinding away at in its revision process but am now finally completing. In this story, the old tropes are gargantuan alien monsters and zombies both of which attack people. The twist: they don’t go anywhere; they don’t move an inch. Yet they will kill people. This may sound like a science fiction version of an Eastern koan, and maybe it is, for now at least. If you want to solve the logic of that “koan”, you’re welcome to do so; just let me know your answer in the box below. But if you want me to give you the answer, you’ll have to wait until I publish the story which I’m not sure when that will be and whether it will be one of the stories that I’m putting in its own book or that I’m waiting to include in The Hidden.

But, you might be asking, isn't rewriting an old trope to make a new one just rehashing an older story? Not really, because we all bring our own experiences to the stories we tell. In doing so we add elements from our own lives, our own unique ways of thinking and perceiving the world; we are creating a new story in the process. Plus, the world is always changing. Society changes, new issues come up all the time. And, as far as science fiction goes, new discoveries and advancements in science and technology are being made more now than ever. These are opportunities for new stories regardless of the literary tropes used in them. Anders talks about this plenty in her article so I suggest you take a look at it. 


I might have a new article at Examiner.com in the sci fi “column” by the end of the week; I’ll let you know in the next post. I’ll also let you know when my new blog launches. It might be ready to go by the end of the week, too. Also, I'll have more about The Hidden and my upcoming short story that you’ll be able to purchase at Amazon. To stay updated, subscribe to my blog in the box to the right that says “Subscribe to this blog!”

By the way, you can purchase Charlie’s novel, All the Birds In the Sky, at Amazon. Just click on the image below to get there! 



Until next time . . .

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Dystopia Pointing to Utopia In Science Fiction


Early 20th Century Depiction of a Futuristic City
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons



Last week’s blog  was about Martin Luther King’s Dream as a utopian vision and its relation to science fiction. I said it relates to science fiction because the genre is basically a vision of social change for the future, good or bad. There is the utopia and the dystopia, the first one being the perfect or ideal society the second being a messed up society struggling to remain intact. Many might say that if all science fiction is utopian or teaches a need for a utopia then it’s boring because there’s no story or it sounds too much like a lecture. That’s not necessarily true. Science fiction does not have to take place in a utopian society in order to convey a need for social change. In fact, the best science fiction is probably just the opposite: dystopic yet often serving as a warning so we won’t allow such a bleak future to occur and so we can work towards the utopic.

Science fiction being visionary shows us where we might go as a society. It shows how future technology or scientific discovery can impact us. Good sci fi will do this without preaching and therefore without sounding like a boring lecture. However, there is science fiction that talks about social reform more overtly. Authors such as Octavia Butler and Margaret Atwood have done this yet without sounding like lecturers and so have done it well. So whether it intends to or not, if science fiction is written well it will serve as a social commentary about both present and future society regardless of the time period it is set in.  

Like much of art and literature of any genre, science fiction is a starting point for social awareness.The best sci fi asks the what-if question: “What if we can download our consciences to computers?”; “What if we come in contact with aliens” (a more typical and classic example); “What if we could change our biological identities anytime we wanted to?” Then it shows how these phenomena effect society by showing how characters respond to them. Some examples: stories that show people downloading their consciences to machines might show the drive for capitalising on those consciences and the controversy it brings; humans will turn racist toward aliens that settle on our planet; if people could change their biological identities anytime they wanted to, there might be more crime in the world that would eventually lead to anarchy. Any of these three examples can lead to a dystopia even if they started out with utopian intentions on the characters’ parts, such as introducing instant biological identity shifting for reasons of annihilating inequality.

So science fiction can serve as a vision for utopian purposes even if it’s set in dystopian societies.  It criticizes society by showing what may happen to it if necessary changes are not made.

Things to Come

Speaking about necessary changes, I may have to change my agenda a little for The Hidden. Instead of publishing my short stories in this second collection, I am thinking about publishing each individual story as its own book first, mostly through Kindle. The good news is that readers would be able to buy each story for a lower price than they would an entire collection. I will eventually publish the stories under one collection as originally planned, it’s just that I won’t be doing it right away. I found out that putting all of them into one book is going to take a little longer than I originally thought. I’ll talk more about my reasons for this change in plans next time.  For now let me leave you with that and some further reading relevant to science fiction as social criticism. You can purchase each of the items below by clicking on their links.

Further Reading 





Until next time . . .




Sunday, January 17, 2016

A Sci Fi Tribute to Martin Luther King Day: Afrofuturism

This week has been one of tragic loss of two people in science fiction and fantasy, and also commemorates a tragic loss that occurred more than 40 years ago. As many of you already know, we lost former rock star David Bowie and Harry Potter actor Alan Rickman. It's easy to see how Rickman relates to the world of sci fi/fantasy but, unless you're a Bowie fan, it's perhaps not as known how Bowie relates to it (unless you happen to be a fan of the '80s movie, Labyrinth, which I'm not although Bowie's acting in it was good). But Bowie produced many sci fi-related songs and albums, his most popular being Ziggy Stardust (which was also a movie he starred in) and another that is perhaps not as popular but said by Westword.com to be very good is Low

David Bowie playing guitar as Ziggy Stardust
David Bowie on guitar as Ziggy Stardust
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Alan Rickman of the "Harry Potter" films
Alan Rickman of the Harry Potter films
Photo Credit: David Shankbon/Wikimedia Commons


A loss that was tragically experienced by the nation in 1968 was Martin Luther King, Jr. He may not have many close speculative fiction connections, at least not overtly, but he is relevant to this blog in a very big way: He was a visionary like many sci fi and fantasy artists. He had a vision for a future America, even a future world as a whole in certain respects, which at that time could have been considered a science fiction but one that was meant to turn into science fact, social science fact to be exact: an America of racial equality. Unfortunately, the vision hasn’t turned into science fact. It is becoming science fact. Blacks, as with many minorities of colour, have moved up in society a great deal since the ‘60s. For example, we have blacks who star as strong, major characters in movies unlike most movies in the ‘60s and back. The latest example is John Boyega who plays Finn in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

The reason I say that King’s vision is becoming science fact is because racism is not dead. The causes of the Black Lives Matter movement are examples of this. So this “science fiction”, this vision, is becoming science fact and much of it has already become it, but much more still has to materialise. The vision of equality is not only limited to racial issues but other social issues such as women’s rights, disability rights and tolerance of marginalized religions like Islam (marginalized in the western world, at least).

Such a vision is a major element of the black science fiction movement now becoming more known--Afrofuturism. If you're clueless to what Afrofuturism is specifically, check out one of my earlier posts at the links to below. The links make up a list of Afrofuturism sources, a list I conjured up as a tribute to Martin Luther King's ongoing dream. It's in no way exhaustive. So if you know of any other sources, please list them in the box below. Let’s all continue contributing to making the vision, the Dream, come true.

Afrofuturism Sources


I discuss Afrofuturism a little in this earlier Far Out Fantastic Finds post.  

A short post from last month about W.E.B. Dubois' science fiction. However, there is a link there to the Examiner article I did on the topic that gives a little more information.
   


This article talks about black super heroes, particularly Marvel Comics’ Black Panther who they will be making a movie of. It also talks about the fictional nation of Wakanda in the Black Panther comics as a kind of African utopia and futuristic society.

This New York Times calendar of events talks a little about the Black Comic-Book Festival running this weekend at the New York Public Library and black science fiction.


Nichelle Nichols as "Lt. Uhura" from "Star Trek" the Original Series
Nichelle Nichols of the original Star Trek series was one of the first black actresses to play a major role in a science fiction TV show.
Photo Credit: NBC Television/Wikimedia Commons



Until next time . . .

Monday, January 11, 2016

Good Sci fi News for a New Year and Writer’s Resolutions

2016 New Years greeting within a mosaic style border.
Photo Credit: Pixabay.com


I hope everybody had a great holiday season. Mine was groovy. One of the best gifts I got was from my brother. He knows how much I like Neil Gaiman’s work so he got me Gaiman’s latest biography, The Art of Neil Gaiman: The Story of a Writer by Hayley Campbell. Campbell does a super job telling the story of Gaiman’s career as a writer and uses abundant photos and interview clips.

I’ve been a little burned out from writing several articles for clients over the weekend and so that’s why I’m posting late again, but I should be back on my Saturday publishing schedule this weekend now that the holiday rush is done. I’ve also had a bit of a cold today and so have been mostly taking it easy on this slightly moanday Monday, so I’m going to keep this post simple and short. I said I would post my writing resolutions for the new year but first I want to leave you with a couple of links to good sci fi news to start the year off.

Print books have actually rose again and so more werepurchased in 2015! While this may be news that already occurred last year, it actually occurred at the end so it can be considered news that carries into 2016. So, hopefully print books will have a greater influence on both the market and reading culture this year. This, however, in no way means that ebooks are out. People still don’t like lugging a pile of books around when they travel, so there’s still sales to be made with ebooks. But at least the art of tangible books will be around for a while longer, hopefully a lot longer.

The other good news is that more people read science fiction and fantasy last year! That shows you the speculative genre is becoming more popular and mainstream, even among books. Check out more about these two trends at io9.com.  

Speaking about the greater acceptance of sci fi and fantasy literature, the other great news is that the New York Times published their first science fiction/fantasy book review column! You can find out more in my article at Examiner.com. 

And now my writers’ resolutions for 2016:

  • Write a whole novel(la) (first draft).
  • Make a stricter and more organized writing schedule.
  • Learn a new medium to promote my work (e.g. video, podcasting).
  • Improve my networking. I tend to take too much work on my own thinking I can do it all.
  • Invite more guest bloggers. I’m going to try to feature more this year. So people who are interested in guest-blogging, please let me know in the box below and we’ll set something up that works best for you.
  • Guest-blog at least twice this year. Those of you who are looking for a guest blogger-- again, talk to me in the box below.

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So what are your writers’ or readers’ resolutions for the new year?


Until next time . . . 

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Special Holiday Post: Christmas List, Krampus List and Links

A jack o' lantern wearing a Santa Claus hat.
Happy Hallow-Days/Scary Nightmare Before Christmas!
Photo Credit: Pixabay.com


I apologise for posting so late again, but I wanted to make this a special Holiday edition. And after spinning the gears to the point of going brain dead over what to include in this post, I overloaded the stocking with so many ideas that I couldn’t even put them all here due to lack of time. So I’ve included both a Christmas list and a Krampus list of chain-jingling links. What’s a Krampus you say? You’ll soon find out, and better here than in your room at night during this Holiday Season. But first I want to update you a little on The Hidden.


Amazon's Preview Tool and  The Hidden

I had said a while back that I’ll be releasing The Hidden for beta readers but I may release an excerpt of it for previewing first. Just this weekend I found out about Amazon’s Create Space’s Preview tool which allows authors to post excerpts of their books before publication so people at large can read the excerpts over and provide feedback. This helps us authors get an idea whether the general direction of our books are working or not. As a previewer, I tried the tool out and it wasn’t bad. It classifies the book excerpts into several categories similar to how Amazon's  store does with its books. However, the “fiction and literature” category isn’t subdivided like it is on the store. There is a separate science fiction/fantasy category but it includes both fiction and non-fiction about the genre, and, like “fiction and literature” it is not sub-categorized.

Krampus’s List

Now to answer that question from earlier: What’s a Krampus? Actually, it’s more a who than a what. Krampus has been called an anti-Santa Claus, more like a “Santa Claws” if you will because that’s exactly what he has: claws instead of hands. He is a nightmare before Christmas for bad little kids who do not receive presents from Santa. In Germanic folklore he rides with Santa in his sleigh on the eve of St. Nicholas Day, which is celebrated December the 5th in many Germanic countries. While St. Nick delivers gifts to the good children, Krampus kidnaps the bad ones and scares them with nightmares. This creature is coming into American pop culture more, and stories about him can be likened to Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. You’ve probably already heard of or maybe even seen the Universal horror film that came out at the beginning of the month, Krampus. I wouldn’t be surprised that there will be more of that kind of holiday big screen film next year and the years to come.

Parents in Europe have been known to tell their kids horror stories about Krampus to scare them into being good. Maybe that’s what we need more of in our own country of overly commercialised holiday events that take the focus off of the true meaning of the season--which is love, peace and goodwill to all humanity--and spoils our kids because of. Well anyway, because Krampus is relatively new to pop culture in our own country, I thought I’d provide you a list of links to more information about this fierce but fascinating creature.


My friend, David Watson, writes up a great explanation of Krampus here. He also provides links to further reading and some neat images of the half goat, half man monster.


This and the next article at the link below talk about the festivity of Krampus. Yes, people give this demon his own celebration like they do with St. Nicholas. It’s kind of like a Halloween of the Christmas season and so kind of does for St. Nicholas day what Halloween does for All Saints Day, purges people of their tensions to prepare them for the following festival of light.


“13 Terrifying Christmas Traditions” 

This is fellow Examiner.com writer Mary Parker’s article on both Krampus and other like-frightening legends of the yuletide season from around the world.

“A Krampus Carol” 


And here’s a short animated film about Krampus by an Anthony Bourdain. This is not your Rankin-Bass or even your Nightmare Before Christmas holiday animated tale so I would suggest watching it by yourself before showing it to your younger kids (11 and younger?). Unless, of course, your kids need some scaring so they will behave themselves this holiday season. To do otherwise would defeat the purpose of the Krampus legend, wouldn’t it?


A vintage holiday card depicting the busts of St. Nicholas the bishop and Krampus grinning at each other.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons


Christmas Viewing/Reading List

Speaking about frightening Christmas creatures, I wanted to give you a Special Hallow-Day list of links to strange viewing and reading:


Yours truly’s list (within a list) that I wrote several Christmases ago for the sci fi column at Examiner.com.


There are so many similar elements in the 1960s B-rated kids’ flick, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians and Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. I wouldn’t be surprised if the former inspired the latter. In Santa Claus, St. Nick gets abducted by Martians so the Martians can bring Christmas to Mars.  Nightmare also involves Santa getting abducted, only not by Martians but by ghouls so they can bring Christmas to Halloween Town. Even though Santa was played by live actors, it was cheaply made even by its own time’s standards yet, like Nightmare, it’s become a cult classic as with many B-rated flicks (though I wouldn't call Nightmare B-rated).

So a couple seasons ago, I wondered and speculated about what Santa would look like today, especially in the toy battle scene “ripped off” from Disney’s Babes in Toyland, and then drew a parody of it. If you haven’t seen Santa then you probably won’t get the humour in the drawing. If you’re not the kind of person who can take sitting through a B-rated movie from a time before you were born, then you can catch an episode of horror hosted movie show Cinema Insomnia that features it, and skip over to the scene at about 1:43:29 where the bad Martians break into the toy factory on Mars and then watch it up through the toy battle scene. Then view the cartoon drawing at the above mentioned link and you’ll probably get the humour.

“A Cosmic Christmas” 





This half hour Canadian-made animated film came out about the time the very first Star Wars movie released, 1977, only during Christmas (Star Wars released May of that year). No, I haven’t seen The Force Awakens yet, but regardless of what I said about it about four posts back , I’m willing to give Abrams’ direction of it a chance and so will try seeing it around New Year’s. Anyway, this half-hour holiday feature is basically a sci fi version of the story of the Magi (a.k.a. the Three Kings). It’s not bad. I enjoyed it when I saw it as a kid and still enjoy it as an adult.

Free Fiction

Finally, I know I’ve featured this before in past Christmas posts but want to give it to you in as much as one place as possible. It’s a free version of The Fool’s Illusion, my special gift to you. Okay, not quite; it’s actually an excerpt of my short story collection because I’m only presenting the links to one story here. But if you read it and like it then you will probably like the other stories in the collection and you might consider buying it as a holiday gift for that special fellow sci fi fan in the family, or for yourself, or, better yet, both. Right now, you can get the Kindle version for only 99 cents. (It will not remain at this price for long so don't delay too much. You don't need a Kindle device to read it.) Why did I include this story in a Holiday post? If you go to the first link of this three part story, and read my intro to it, you’ll find out.


I’m going to take a week or two off from the Fantastic Site to celebrate the Hallow-days with family. But these lists of links should give you plenty to occupy yourselves with until then. I’ll talk about my plans for the new year when I come back and will have more updates on the progress of The Hidden.

But I thought I’d conclude with telling you one of the things I’m asking Santa or the Three Kings to bring me for Christmas. And that is the graphic novel adaptation of Harlan Ellison’s original script of Star Trek’s “City On the Edge ofForever” episode. So, what are you asking for Santa or the Three Kings (or even Krampus?) to bring you? Feel free to drop your answers in the box below.


Happy Hallow-Days to you all, and until next time . . .

Monday, December 14, 2015

4 Far Out Sci Fi and Fantasy Finds

I apologise for the delay in posting. My car had been in the garage/shop for a full two weeks and I just got it back Friday. I was going back and forth to the shop to find out what was wrong and then I had to wait around for the tow truck to have it towed to a different garage. So that pushed me back in many of my projects including my short stories I’m working on for The Hidden and the cover illustration I’m making for it. Oh, yeah and after all that fuss I was told nothing was wrong with my car to begin with! Maybe it’s playing tricks on me because it’s jealous and doesn’t want me to succeed in my writing career and so has a mind of its own like Christine or that ‘70s horror flick The Car. Then Saturday I was at a holiday charity drive held at Empire ComicsVault in Sacramento. They were collecting for Toys for Tots and artists were there doing work on commission for a children’s home. So I haven’t really had time to get together a topic for an article this weekend and so decided to give you a list of some Far Out Fantastic Finds in sci fi and fantasy news.


This is an interview with the above mentioned author who talks about his novel which I wouldn’t mind checking out. I just don’t know if I dig the “novel-writing apps” he says he used to write his story. But he doesn’t say exactly how he used them, so how can we really know?


Very few female authors in the 1950s were known for writing science fiction, but here’s one who wrote some good ones and then, later in the late ‘70s, contributed to the script for Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back! Speaking of which, the next find is . . .


“Thing” number six gives a little detail of an early draft that Brackett wrote. So there’s two little-known Star Wars facts you can take with you when you see Episode 7: The Force Awakens which opens Thursday! But now here’s another one, one that really struck me: “Thing” number nine: “Stanley Kubrick nearly killed the set.” Kubrick happened to be making The Shining, a favourite of yours truly, in the same studio space as Lucas’s Empire. No wonder why the setting for the former resembled the planet Hoth so much!

A space squadron fighter fires its laser cannon in battle.
Photo Credit: Patrice Audet/Pixabay.com


This is probably the most far out fantastic of the finds! You may have heard about the new annual science fiction/fantasy anthology that came out not too long ago: The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy. Inspired by the long-time running annual The Best American Short Stories, it’s an example of how science fiction and fantasy have become not only more mainstream but also more accepted as literature rather than simply escapist entertainment. This article talks about that major turning point in the genre and the people behind the anthology, including horror author Joe Hill who acted as guest editor. This would make a great holiday gift for science fiction/fantasy readers.


That’s it for now. Until next time . . .