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Saturday, May 30, 2015

A Philip K. Dick Documentary and Hunting for His Books

It’s been a very busy week for me although a neat one. Even though really heavy writing of articles for clients while trying to squeeze in writing a new short story has been wearing me out, I came across some interesting things throughout the week. Two of them I found on Memorial Day Monday at Beer’s Books in Sacramento. Beer’s is one of the biggest used-book stores in the Sacramento area. You can almost find any book you can think of: anything from an early 20th century hardcover to 1950s pulps to newly printed books. Well, for the last three weeks I had been on a mad hunt for a copy of a book by Philip K. Dick, ideally a collection of his short works but I would have been happy with one of his novels. I’ve read his Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (the novel that the movie Blade Runner was based on) and A Penultimate Truth, plus one or two of his short stories from books I checked out at the library years ago. So I wouldn’t say I’ve been well-read in Phillip K. Dick, though I’ve always dug his stories. They are trips. At least as far as concept goes. Most of his stories involve characters’ confusion between reality and fantasy (in many of his stories, such as Androids, that fantasy being virtual reality).

Well, what made me want to read more of his work three weeks ago was when I had watched a really neat documentary about him put out by BBC (although Dick himself was American). The documentary is called Philip K. Dick: A Day in the Afterlife. The more the documentary talked about how his everyday life and locale inspired his stories, a life in a world infested with consumerism (which the world continues to be today), the more I wanted to get my hands on more of his tales.

I had not imagined that Dick was that popular. I went to four different used-book stores in the area and could not find one copy of his work that I did not read yet. Finally, I said to myself that I would look at Beer’s and if I didn’t find any of his work there that I haven’t already read then I’m not going to find it anywhere in the area and so if that would be the case then I’d better just turn to Amazon.

Well, I found a 1970s paperback copy of his 1957 novel, Eye In the Sky, and a copy of We Can Remember It for You Whole Sale, Volume Five of the Collected Stories which was published by Orion Books. The latter includes the title story that the 1990 movie and last year’s remake were based on, Total Recall. The first movie I hated enough, and the second one even though the characterization looked better it seemed to drift a little too far from the original plot for me since none of it was set on Mars. But I thought the concept was far out and so that’s why I purchased that particular collection. I actually just read the story today and it was a hell of a lot better than the original movie, that’s for sure. 

I’ll give a review of "We Can Remember It" here in the next week or two. But, for now, I strongly recommend you check out the documentary below. If you’ve read any work by Philip K. Dick, the documentary will make you want to read more. If you haven’t read any of his work, the movie will make you want to read it. Watch it and then let me know in the box below what you thought.


Until next time . . .



Saturday, May 23, 2015

Horror Addicts’ Book Release Party and Supporting the Shock

I used to take off to BayCon in the Silicon Valley on these Memorial Day weekends but haven’t done so in the last three years. If there was any year I should have went it was probably this year, since HorrorAddicts.net had their book release party for TheHorror Addicts Guide to Life there last night. But my day job made things a little unpredictable and so I didn’t plan for it early enough.

I did, however, keep up with the party on Facebook. According to Emerian Rich, founder of HorrorAddicts.net, the party went by great. It was a panel discussion/release party where they were giving away prizes and selling books, including the Horror Addicts Guide. I don’t have the numbers but Emerian said they sold several books, whether that included the Horror Addicts Guide or not, I’m not sure. I know they were selling, or at least displaying, a number of other Horror Addict authors’ books that they set out on their table which looked really neat, the main colours of the banner and cloth being those of Halloween (orange and black; see photo below).


A table of books with two women sitting behind it.
HorrorAddicts.net founder Emerian Rich and author Heather Roulo at Bay Con 2015
Photo Credit: Emerian Rich



For those of you who don’t know what the Horror Addicts Guide to Life is, it’s an anthology of articles by various members of HorrorAddicts.net, including yours truly, that discuss various topics of the horror genre both in fiction and the surrounding culture. If you want to know more about this cool book, go to my post that discusses it. Or better yet, read about it and purchase it at Amazon

What is HorrorAddicts.net? It’s a website that discusses everything horror. Just like the Horror Addicts Guide which was inspired by the website. Only, being a website, content is being added daily, and the site’s specialty is Emerian’s podcast which (creature) features some really interesting talks and interviews. I strongly suggest you check it out. I was at the site last night and came across a really neat article about what makes good horror fiction. The article is entitled “Putting Some Cake Under Your Icing: Writing Horror” (no, it’s not a cook book, but you’ll find plenty of that at the site too!), by Selah Janel. Selah discusses what makes good horror and that it’s not simply the scare or shock effect (the “icing”) on the readers (or viewers in film and television). What makes good horror fiction is rooting the story in the human experience. She explains how good horror connects readers to the characters by reminding them what scares us all as human beings. I strongly suggest you read the article.
 
So, what am I doing this Memorial Day weekend? For sure, I’m going to get some fiction writing done. Last night, I finally finished revising a short story I had been working on for several weeks trying to get it just right. And so this weekend I’m going to write a new one. I also plan to get some artwork done, especially for my book cover, which the book itself  I’ve put on hiatus for a while because I’m submitting some short stories to some publications and so need to see which stories I’m going to use for the book. Most publications don’t like simultaneous submissions and that often includes self-publishing. Other than that I’ll catch up on my reading, probably do some book shopping and definitely spend time with family.

So what are you doing for this three day weekend? Feel free to leave your answers in the box below.

Until next time . . . 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Intergalactic Expo Highlights and Retro Future Sci fi, Part 2

(If you missed part one of this topic, you can read it here.)

Last time, I went over some highlights of day two of West Sacramento’s Intergalactic Expo. I also went over in my article about how so-called outdated sci fi can be read or viewed as alternate timeline or retro future sci fi. If you missed these, then you can read about them here. Now for the second part to both these discussions.

Intergalactic Expo Highlights, Day 2, Part 2

Let me begin by concluding my highlights of Intergalactic Expo which occurred the weekend of May 2nd and lasted through Sunday, in which Sunday is what last week’s post was highlighting. If you want to know about events for Saturday of the con, then please check out my post forthat weekend. (In that post I talk about the panel on female characters in Josh Whedon’s films and television shows, collectively known as the Whedonverse.)

On the second day of Intergalactic Expo, May 3rd, after the table talk with JP Aerospace, I attended the panel on Doctor Who, held in the council chamber of City Hall. It was hosted by Sac Who, Sacramento’s dedicated Doctor Who fan club. The panel was somewhat freeform and so a lot of it was question-and-answer based and discussed the current happenings in the world of Doctor Who, including the current and upcoming seasons of the show. I don’t remember the details of what was discussed on the current and upcoming seasons, which is partly due to arriving at least 15 minutes late since I was getting lunch at the Wicked ‘Wich cafĂ© across the street. The other reason I can’t remember the details is my life-long bad memory.

I do remember, however, that someone in the panel’s audience brought up Neil Gaiman’s episodes that Gaiman wrote the scripts for. I was surprised to find out that Gaiman wrote as many as four episodes for the show. I’ve been a big Gaiman fan since I read his Neverwhere nearly 10 years ago and I knew he was going to write for a Doctor Who episode when it was talked about on the sci fi fandom and news websites. However, I didn’t know about the three additional episodes until the panel. I don’t get the BBC channel, unfortunately, and the series on dvd is hard to come by. Neither do I do streaming video rental much; maybe it’s time for me to get a Netflix subscription.

Then another attendee in the audience brought up how Gaiman’s episodes leaned more towards fantasy elements than science fiction ones. This didn’t surprise me since Gaiman writes much more fantasy than science fiction. But I’m not dismissing his episodes as unplausible yet (I haven’t seen them yet). With Doctor Who and its concept of multiple and parallel universes, anything can happen.
After the Doctor Who panel, I went across the street to the Black Box Theater inside the community center to check out the “Sci Fi Comedy Hour”. It was an hour of live comedy acts based on sci fi favorites such as Star Trek and Star Wars. They were hilarious while still being family-friendly, something reminiscent of the 1970s’ Carol Burnett Show only sci fi.

By the way, if you want to really see a sci fi geeky comparison to Carol Burnett’s comedy, check out two acts from her show. One spoofs Star Trek and the other does a double spoof: a spoof on As the World Turns, only this one is “As the Stomach Turns”, and a spoof on Close Encounters of the Third Kind in which Tim Conway plays the alien (he already had the big forehead for it!).  This second act I was not able to find on YouTube so you’ll have to find it elsewhere on internet or on a dvd of Carol Burnett’s show, sorry.






Meanwhile, back at the con . . . they used to rename the Black Box Theater the “Black Hole” theater for the convention, but for some reason they didn’t do it this year. I wish they would have, even though “Black Box” isn’t bad and still connotes the mystery that sci fi explores.

After the comedy hour, in the same theater, was the cosplay. I had gone off to check out the vendors before they closed up and so I got to the cosplay late, during intermission to be exact. But I was there in time to hear Sacramento Star Wars-themed punk band Mos Lively perform who had some really far out tunes. I asked them if they had any albums out and they said, if I remember correctly, they were currently working on one. But you can listen to some of their stuff at their website, Moslikely.bandcamp.com. The cosplay pretty much closed the convention for the year. Hopefully it will be even bigger and better next year. It’s come a long way in just three years! 



Four Star Trek fans dressed in Starfleet costumes.
Sacramento Star Trek Fan Club, The U.S.S. Independence at Intergalactic Expo 2015
Photo Credit: Steven Rose, Jr.


Four costumers depicting characters from the video game Destiny.
The Winning costume team of Intergalactic Expo's cosplay. They depicted characters from the video game, Destiny.Photo Credit: Steven Rose, Jr.



No Such Thing as Outdated Sci Fi in this Age of Alternate History, Part 2

Blade Runner is the future that might have been even though we haven’t arrived at the year it’s set in yet which is 2019. It’s doubtful dominant usage of payphones will be making a come-back in only four years from now. But this movie already has elements of retro futurism with its film noir style conveyed in the main character’s, Decker’s, cop-type character and his girlfriend’s, Rachael’s, ‘40s hairstyle. Then in Philip K. Dick’s 1968 novel that the movie was based on, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, there are television “news” propaganda shows with painted flats of the outside world instead of photo-digitalized ones. In this novel, we can either interpret “painted” as being the term for digitally coloured (as it has come to be used today) or we can interpret it as a retro-future where computer technology has not advanced at the common level as it has today.

Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles was written during a time of popular belief in intelligent humanoid beings living on Mars  and an anticipation that Earth would colonise the red planet by the 1990s. There’s an alternate history/retro future novel. And perhaps more importantly, George Orewell’s 1949 novel, 1984, may not superficially reflect today’s culture and the story’s technology may be clunky even by 1984’s standards. However, it’s an alternative history, particularly a parallel universe story, since we have the controversy of government hacking and internet privacy today.
 

Real science fiction is storytelling that asks, “What if this scientific or technological phenomenon were to occur?” Can’t it also ask “What if this scientific or technological phenomenon had occurred?” The science fiction of 20 or more years ago asks this question any time we read or view it. Do you think science fiction can ever become outdated as long as today’s subgenres of alternate history, alternate universes/timelines and retro futurism continues attracting a following? Please feel free to leave your answers in the box below. 




Until next time . . . 

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Intergalactic Expo Highlights and Retro Future Sci fi, Part 1

I made sure I didn’t hold off on the article about old sci fi this time, but I also said I would have more highlights on last weekend’s Intergalactic Expo. [link] So I have both here, but I decided it would take up too much space in one post. So I’m dividing each of the two topics between this weekend’s and next weekend’s posts.

Intergalactic Expo Highlights, Day 2

Sunday, day two of the con, went by way better than Saturday (day one). Because I took extra preparation to catch the bus at a certain location, I made it to the expo a lot earlier and so saw a lot more there. Day two saw the con’s Outpost Bazaar which consisted of sci fi/fantasy arts and crafts booths in front of City Hall. I spoke with punk musician/author Charles Passarell about his Star Wars-themed band, Mos Likely (punned off of Mos Eisley Space Port in the first (1977) Star Wars film) that would play later that day and about his satirical sci fi novels he was selling at his table. These included his latest, Pina ColadasIn Space. He said his novels were humourous in the manner of Douglass Adams. I also looked at artist Gloria Pearson’s work at her table, which consisted of clocks and lamps themed off of books. The clocks were made to look like books with the face and hands on the front cover and the lamps had bases made to resemble stacks of books.

A short time later, I went inside City Hall, where part of the con was held, to attend JP Aerospace’s table talk, “Hacking to Space!”. I had a hell of a time finding the room it was supposed to be in. The convention map said it was in a room called the Galleria on the second floor but I could not find any room with that name. Then I ran into a friend from a sci fi/fantasy writers critique group I belonged to several years ago. We talked about where we were at in our writing. I soon had to tell him that I didn’t mean to cut the conversation short but that I was on my way to attending the table talk. That’s when I told him that I was having a hard time finding it and if he happened to know where it was. And what do you know, he said I was already there! He was right.

We had been talking right in front of JP Aerospace’s table which was also the space for the table talk, though the area didn’t strike me as being much of a gallery since it was a main walkway just outside a council chamber (where other panels and talks were held). That’s when I remembered that my friend works for the organization. He introduced me to JP. I found out that, so far, I and one other gentleman were the only attendees there for the talk. Then a few minutes later a few others joined us.

JP talked about his organization, JP Aerospace, which is a volunteer space program that experiments with alternative methods and technologies for space exploration. According to JP, the program has done what the U.S. Air Force and NASA had proven cannot be done. One of the feature experiments he talked about was one that the program did by sending a craft full of ping pong balls into space. JP was so delighted about our interest in the program, he gave yours truly and the other gentleman mentioned above each a DVD about the program because we were the first two to show up.


Jedi Catcher, Intergalactic Expo

Photo Credit: Steven Rose, Jr.






Sith Batter Up!, Intergalactic Expo
Photo Credit: Steven Rose, Jr.



Two members of Sacramento Steampunk Society at Intergalactic Expo

Photo Credit: Steven Rose, Jr.



Article: No Such Thing as Outdated Sci Fi in this Age of Alternate History, Part 1

For those of you fellow authors of sci fi, I hope you took the time to read one of the suggested articles I linked to in my post for the 18 April. It was the one entitled “10 Ways to Create a Near-Future World That Won’t Look Too Dated”, by Charlie Jane Anders. It has a lot of great tips there about how to make your science fiction more believable, and even if you write more distant future science fiction like yours truly, it can still be helpful. I enjoyed that article and it made a lot of sense, except I saw a little bit of contradiction to the argument in it. Tip number 7, “Introduce a few dramatic changes, then follow the dominoes”, talks about making a future setting that is organic and so connects to our own present time (or is made to seem to, at least. Remember, it’s science fiction.)  The author says to imagine “second-order effects [of events] as well as immediate effects. That way, even if you’re proved wrong [about future events or real life details of them], at least you’ll have a thought-out alternate timeline—and alternate universes never get old.” So he sort of goes from how to prevent your science fiction stories from becoming outdated to how to make them seem realistic if they do become outdated. However, it’s a contradiction that works for me since I’m a big fan of retro-futurism and vintage sci fi.

So how do you make your science fiction stories remain convincing even if certain details were to become outdated? As Anders says, you make them in such a way where they could be believable as an alternate timeline. That means if details mentioned in them, such as real-life companies like Coke-A-Cola, were to go obsolete by the future year the stories take place in, they could still be convincing as parallel or alternate universe stories. But when you think about it, no science fiction story can ever really become outdated because the alternate timeline, also known as the alternate history, is a growing popular trend in the genre.

There are so many science fiction fans and writers who are in love with alternate timelines and alternate universes. It’s exemplified in today’s steampunk movement. There are at least two types of alternate history subgenres. One is the alternate history story where a particular period in history is reimagined with its events taking turns other than the ones they took in real life. For example, what would happen if the difference engine of the 19th century had succeeded? William Gibson and Bruce Sterling answer this question in their novel, The Difference Engine. In which the novel is set in the period that this predecessor to the computer was invented in, only it is put to social-wide use in the story. That’s an alternate history in the truest since of the term: a past that might have been.

The other alternate timeline subgenre type is the retro future which is a future based on how it was imagined in a past period. Much dieselpunk and atompunk do this. Dieselpunk often depicts future settings the way society of the World War II era imagined it would be and so much of the elements in these settings more closely reflect the technology and culture of that period even though they are set in the future. One example is air ships that can travel to space. Atompunk depicts the future in a way it was imagined in the late 1940s through early ’60s, and so depicts future settings where there may be cars run by computer yet with shark fin, neon coloured designs, and where spaceships may be bullet-shaped.

Examples of alternate timeline fiction are Cherie Priest’s and China Melville’s steampunk novels. Examples of atompunk are Adam Christopher’s  novel Age Atomic, which is set in the 1950s but the events reflect the science fiction of that period, including futuristic visions based on the period. One series of atompunk novels that can truly be considered retro-futuristic is Dante D’Anthony’s The Pandoran Chronicles. For a retro future atompunk short story, read “The Assassin” by yours truly. An example of dieselpunk is William Gibson’s short story “The Gernsback Continuum” (from his collection Burning Chrome) and the film Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.

There are many people out there who are critical of older science fiction especially that of the 1970s and back. Even some of the most award-winning films of the genre have been criticised for having outdated elements. As Anders mentions in his article, 2001: A Space Odyssey makes reference to Pan-Am and people are still using payphones in Blade Runner. Spool tape-based and punch-card-based computers are no longer used today and probably never will be again but they are used in the future settings of 1950s-through-‘70s science fiction.

So what do we do with these science fiction tales that do not reflect a likely future? We read or view them as alternate timeline fiction. Now, 2001 can be an alternate history/retro future film since it is set in the early 2000s but was made in the 1960s. It becomes the movie about a future that might have been which is now a recent alternate past.

To be continued . . .




Next Time: More on day two of Intergalactic Expo, including a Doctor Who panel and video game costumers, and Part 2 of the article on outdated sci fi as alternate history.

Until then . . .


(Go to part two of this topic.)

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Intergalactic Expo’s Panel on Female Characters in the Whedonverse

West Sacramento's Intergalactic Expo promotion poster with images of "Doctor Who" Tartus, "Star Trek" Enterprise and "Star Wars" characters.
Photo Credit: West Sacramento's May the Fourth Be With You



I hate to say this, but I’m going to have to put off the article on older sci fi another week. It’s been a very long, insane Saturday and so I didn’t have time to finishthe article. But I did say last week that I would talk a little about Intergalactic Expo and so since I won’t be sharing the article at this time, I’ll talk more about Intergalactic Expo even though there’s not much more I can talk about than originally anticipated. That’s because I arrived there way later than intended. I meant to arrive there by 3 PM at the latest but all because the bus driver did not stop at the stop we were waiting at in downtown Sacramento, my cousin and I had to walk more than three miles from there to the West Sacramento Civic Center where the con was held and so we didn’t get their until 4! That’s the problem with the bus system in Sacramento: compared to many other metropolitans in the nation, it is not reliable.

When I got there, I was so rushed to see certain things such as the next panel which was an interesting one on female characters in Josh Whedon’s TV shows and movies, that I forgot to take pictures for tonight’s post. (Sorry about that, people. I’ll have some for next time though, since the con continues through tomorrow.) The two panelists, both women, had some really good insights and intelligent things to say about strong female characters such as Buffy from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the Black Widow from Marvel’s Avenger movies, and River from Firefly. I’m not a Buffy fan so I wasn’t familiar with most of the Buffy characters they went over but I still found the characters to be interesting.

So the panelists mostly talked about the roundedness of these characters in terms of the multiple archetypes that make them up which breaks the stereotype of so many past female characters that are often based on one archetype such as the seductress, the chaste virgin, or the passive sidekick or lover. They talked about how the characters are often a combination of these and other archetypes, different archetypes playing out at different times. For example, Buffy may be the heroic leader at one point, but then the nourishing mother figure at another, or River the insightful mystic type at one point, the child type at another point and the helpless victim at another.

Then the subject came up of why it’s so difficult for most male sci fi/fantasy authors to write strong, distinctive female characters. One reason is because there’s very few (though this is changing at a rapid pace) female speculative fiction authors and so most male authors don’t get the feel for strong female characters because they’ve mostly read male authors’ works all their lives. One of the few exceptions (besides Whedon), according to the panelists, is Neil Gaiman. In which I partly agree, but most of his protagonists tend to be male. However, the few female protagonists in his stories as well as the more secondary female characters tend to be well rounded.

This got me thinking about how I need to reconsider my own female characters in my fiction, even if most of them are secondary or minor. Even if the female character is not the main one, she should reflect a distinctness that breaks the stereotype. To throw a female character into the story just to support the plot, yet that character has no distinctive or realistic traits, makes the character flat and look too much like a mere cog in the machine called plot. After all, one of the best ways to make a story believable is by making the characters believable, and this also goes for the minor or secondary characters even if it’s to a smaller degree proportionate to their roles.

I’ll be attending more panels and activities at Intergalactic Expo tomorrow and so will give you more highlights (along with the article on “outdated” sci fi) next week with photos. If you’re in the area then you might want to take a look at the con’s website and consider dropping by tomorrow. It’s only $10 dollars to get in and a portion of the proceeds goes to a good cause (the Make-A-Wish foundation).


Until next time . . .