StarBlog

The Uncanny Orville

There is a term known as the “uncanny valley”, which references the disassociation and revulsion felt by human beings that encounter an android that is built close to but not at human standards. What you are seeing causes a disruption of your expectations. It doesn’t mean that what you are seeing is a failure but rather that it has not achieved the perfection necessary to satisfy what is often an unconscious reaction. The Orville presents itself as a comedy, but at the same time it is deliberately designed to provoke comparisons with Star Trek and other scifi shows of a serious nature. If that wasn’t enough, The Orville has also decided to take on some decidedly non-humorous topics such as gender reassignment, genocide and indoctrination of children. Now here’s the odd part, I actually enjoy the show so far. But as I watch, I see all of these things: the interior design, the uniforms and the background music pointing the audience toward an association with Star Trek and often specifically to Star Trek : The Next Generation. There’s nothing wrong with that, since associating your show with a known success in terms of a parody is just good marketing and shows Seth McFarlane’s fascination with the franchise. Sometimes, it comes across really strongly though. The little laugh together moments at the end of an episode, crew-bonding moments over dinner, the pseudo holodeck – I’m just waiting for the poker game to start up with Bortis dealing. Then there are the jokes, and they sometimes feel like they are invading a familiar space. Now STNG had its humor too, but it was a different brand, less crass and spontaneous, almost formal in nature. There are shows that have found a way to encompass both humor and serious issues, such as Farscape and Stargate. Farscape always had a small element of the ridiculous to it and a great deal of John Crichton’s dealing with the overwhelming nature of his new life was through wisecracking, laughter and sarcasm. Stargate on the other hand contained Jack O’Neill’s wry humor playing off of T’ealc’s deadpan delivery, Daniel’s too smart for his own good confusion and Carter’s frustration at having to explain complicated technobabble to O’Neill who would simply reply with, “Sure, whatever.” Neither of these shows were billed as comedies, but their scope was broad enough that something comedic could be added and the audience typically didn’t flinch. Let’s face it; the ones who are pigeonholing The Orville as a comedy are the marketing people. It could be that McFarlane is taking a page from Gene Roddenberry and using a vehicle to comment on social issues and it may simply be that what our expectations are comes too close to what we are seeing, but do not take that final step. It may be that The Orville is a broad enough comedy to entertain as well as take on heavier fare. Ultimately, it is up to the viewer to decide if they are entertained or bemused and we can only hope that for once Fox doesn’t swing the act prematurely.

By Jeff Young

 

Nights of the Living Dead Review

            As editor Jonathan Maberry points out in his introduction to the new anthology, Nights of the Living Dead (St. Martin’s Griffin; Trade; ISBN 1250112249), George A Romero’s groundbreaking 1968 film was a shock to people who had never seen anything quite like the unnamed monsters laying siege to an Evans City farmhouse. These creatures would go on to be called Zombies (Romero called them Ghouls) and start a trend that saturates media to this day. Books on the folklore and psychology of the living dead are everywhere. The monster fascinates us. Our culture revels in the “What if..?” of finding ourselves in the middle of such an outbreak.
Like any monster, however, over-exposure tends to diminish their fear factor. We all know by now that zombies are (or should be) slow and can be put down with a shot to the head (unless they are the Russo zombies from the Return series or… wait, I digress) and if we’re fans of the genre, we’ve already planned our escape and worked out our home defense strategy. Brilliant storytellers have taken the genre into new realms of possibility, putting us in every possible peril against the zombie menace.
The story of our survival drives the narrative. People, usually, are the focus of the zombie story, not the monsters (I know there are exceptions). When zombie movies and stories fail, it is because they rely on the gore of the monsters and the gruesome kills to drive interest, reducing the cast of living characters to a one-dimensional menu of inevitable victims. Even when the narrative POV is the zombie itself, there is an emotional arc as we find in Dead of Night (by Maberry) and Warm Bodies by NsOTLD contributor Isaac Marion.
With so many stories and takes on the monster and the genre, it is difficult to make zombies terrifying and fresh (so to speak) in the way they seemed so long ago when NOTLD bowed in theaters.
This anthology, I am thrilled to write, succeeds. Maberry has assembled an all-star team of genre veterans and horror masters, each presenting a master class to writers and literary nerds like me in how to tell a truly frightening tale. Even if you read or write a lot of zombie fiction as I do, this collection will give you chills.
As a longtime reader in the genre, producer of a zombie horror audio series, and fan of both Maberry’s fiction and Romero’s movies, I was thrilled to learn that this collection would be set, specifically in the world of Romero’s films. It’s also a bit strange to consider the specificity of that world because the films span four decades, set in the “modern day”, but treated as direct sequels pretending the previous film took place shortly before or concurrent to the first. However, this provides authors more room to play in Romero’s universe (or multiverse, however you want to see it.)
It is a thrill to look back at those original characters and situations from different perspectives as we do with “The Girl on the Table” by Marion and “The Day After” by John A. Russo. But it is also exciting to move to other locations and encounter different characters dealing with their end of the world propositions.
These stories reflect many of the reasons why people fear zombie stories. Our fear transcends the horrible notion of being eaten alive or becoming a flesh-craving monster. Zombies represent our deeper dread about change in our lives, our relationships, our health, our world, and that ultimate change at our personal end of days – death. In this way, zombies are very real because one day we will all look up and see the world has changed irrevocably, turned ugly and hostile and we fight the rest of our lives to avoid being consumed or absorbed into their ranks. That’s a feeling that applies if you’re young and resisting the call of adulthood conformity or an adult resisting the onset of physical and intellectual obsolescence. One of the best of these stories is Keith R.A. DeCandido’s “Live and on the Scene” which offers both the media’s witness account of the initial spread of the dead and a simple, yet heart-breaking tale about of death, family, heritage, and loyalty.
These stories are about how we struggle to survive while preserving bits of the world that is dying. They also speak to how we cope with death and change. Zombies, themselves, are a rather dull adversary. Nights of the Living Dead recognizes this and drives conflict through realistic, intriguing character stories. Introspective stories like “Fast Entry” by Jay Bonansinga and broader ensemble tales like “Williamson’s Folly” by David J Schow rely on fascinating, different, and well-rendered characters orbiting a personal or interpersonal conflict while making the best use of the Romero mythos.
Each story approaches the Romero brand of zombie monster (not to be confused with the John A. Russo spin-off series which uses different rules) and weaves it into the author’s own brand of horror with generally breathtaking results. Stories range from the full-throttle bad-ass Texas horror of Joe R. Lansdale’s “Dead Man’s Curve” to the Byronesque poetry of Mike Carey’s tale “In that Quiet Earth.” Between there are fresh and inventive tales of madness, intrigue, and adventure that rarely stray into the familiar tropes or overdo the familiar pattern of survival horror tales.
We are not, I’m pleased to say, stuck moving from one fortress to another engaging in the interpersonal intrigue while the monsters close in. So many zombie short stories start with running and end up somewhere the characters can engage in some tired tale of revenge or madness. Carrie Ryan’s “The Burning Days” comes close to this, but the setting is handled in an inventive way.
This brings me to my only, significant disappointment with the collection because it uses that trope poorly and has other issues:
If there is any story that feels out of place it is Russo’s “The Day After” which is an adaptation of a screenplay excerpt co-written by Romero continuing the events of the original film into the direct sequel. It is, to me, the weakest entry of the lot. While an interesting extension of the original tale, it reads like a script summary, often in passive voice, and devoid of any of the passion or tension that is consistent throughout the rest of the stories. It has the feeling of a story stuck in an early draft, an artifact from a late author’s estate with a commentary on the greatness to which it aspired but would never be realized. That is the only excuse I can think of to present such a tale among so many great entries. Of course, Russo was there at the beginning and he is royalty in the Kingdom of the Zombies so I understand why he appears in the anthology.
Having read both the book and listened to the audio, I have a profound respect for the quality of the work performed and produced by Skyboat Media. The voice talent is excellent and the production values – particularly in the fullcast-style digital-epistolary tale “Orbital Decay” by David Wellington – are outstanding. I highly recommend buying the book AND downloading the unabridged audio.

xiii – Acknowledgments
xv – Nights Of the Living Dead: An Introduction by George A. Romaro
xix – Reflections of a Weird Little Kid in a Condemned Movie House: An Introduction by Jonathan Maberry

  • 001 – “Dead Mans Curve” by Joe R Lansdale
  • 025 – “A Dead Girl Named Sue by Craig E Engler”
  • 043 – “Fast Entry by Jay Bonansinga”
  • 065 – “In That Quiet Earth” by Mike Carey
  • 079 – “Jimmy Jay Baxter’s Last Best Day on Earth” John Skipp
  • 097 – “John Doe” by George A Romero
  • 115 – “Mercy Kill” by Ryan Brown
  • 135 – “Orbital Decay” by David Wellington
  • 157 – “Snaggletooth” by Max Brallier
  • 181 – “The Burning Days” by Carrie Ryan
  • 197 – “The Day After by John A Russo
  • 217 – “The Girl on the Table” by Isaac Marion
  • 229 – “Williamson’s Folly” by David J Schow
  • 257 – “You Can Stay All Day” by Mira Grant
  • 281 – “Pages from a Notebook Found Inside A House In The Woods” by Brian Keene
  • 295 – “Dead Run” by Chuck Wendig
  • 311 – “Lone Gunman” by Jonathan Maberry
  • 335 – “Live and On the Scene” by Keith R.A. DeCandido ・ a heart-wrenching tale of family, heritage, and change.
  • 355 – “Deadliner” by Neal and Brendan Shusterman

review by Jay Smith

 

Stream It!

 

Being on the wrong side of the pond can put you out as far as watching Classic Doctor Who since Netflix dumped their random selections of episodes from various Doctors. However, the Brits have finally come through for us in a rather large way. Created by ITV and BBC, BritBox has your Doctor Who fix. In fact, their actually planning on adding audio for the lost episodes as well. Not only are things organized by Doctor, but there are other categories in case you want to follow the Master, watch Unit’s adventures or even keep up with Sarah Jane Smith. $6.99 a month will also get you Fawlty Towers, Red Dwarf, Black Adder, and the Young Ones. Also it’s www.britbox.com for streaming, but if you want something to nosh on whilst whiling away the binge watching hours, www.britbox.biz will hook you up with your traditional British snacks.

 

For an even better deal, check out Go90 who is offering all 5 seasons of Babylon 5 at www.go90.com. If all of those episodes weren’t enough, you can also find Fringe, Terminator:The Sarah Connor Chronicles and Almost Human streaming here as well. A quick look through Go90’s repertoire shows a very eclectic mix, so those tidbits above may be just the tip of the iceberg for your watching pleasure.

 

If you are looking for other SciFi and Fantasy TV a great place to start is SciFi Stream—www.scifistream.com—a website that can direct you to where your favorite show is streaming, let you know what’s current and what’s coming up soon.

 

“The artist is the creator of beautiful things.

To reveal art and conceal the artist is art’s aim.”

Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

 

“Protesting” by pouring thousands of words onto your blog or into your Facebook driven slactavism has become so knee jerk reactionary most people don’t give it any thought. I can’t stand it. I have outrage fatigue. The number of things I see raging across my screen on a daily basis is exhausting. Instant calls to action for the slightest affront. Demands that I join your current bandwagon, even it it’s nothing I’m interested in talking about. Boycotts for things I wouldn’t buy anyway. Petitions wanting my signature despite being something I have no experience with or connection to. It’s a bit like the tiny print that flashes past at the bottom of a car commercial, you see it, but you don’t read or understand it. You go for the flashy picture and the punchy lines. If you noticed the small print or actually stopped it and read the words it would undermine the whole commercial. That’s similar to how I feel about these new, first world, so called protests. The best description I’ve ever heard for this is “The burning of the library of Alexandria by way of the Hot Topic t-shirt printing press”. Grab the easy slogan and go with it. Make a t-shirt and ‘tag’ your friends.

I’m betting that within my first couple of lines here you’ve worked up a comment or two. You’ll soon discover a reason that I am wrong then the venomous words will slide out. By the time you reach the fourth paragraph someone will be trying to figure out what I look like so that I can be burned in effigy. Ready?

There must be both accountability and separation when discussing creators and the things they make. The creation can and should be judged separately from the creator. The creator should be accountable if they take their views public, but their creations can and must be considered apart from the creator. Long, important, creative and scientific endeavors can be brought crashing down in mere moments, potentially without hearing more than a slogan. Don’t believe me? Ask Tim Hunt. Think I’m totally wrong already? Point to Milo Yiannopoulos. Both really interesting examples to discuss.

What does this mean for me? I might go and pick up (or watch or listen to) things created by people who hold political or religious views I don’t agree with when and if I find them worthy of my entertainment dollar. I think Orson Scott Card works best as my personal example. I can’t totally back away from a man so totally intertwined with science fiction as I know it. Do I want to support him? No, I really don’t. For anyone that doesn’t know, Mr. Card is a very well known author. His writing, one of his stories in particular, is the basis for the relatively recent movie Ender’s Game. His list of accomplishments is many and varied. He’s famous. He’s also directly politically opposed to certain views I hold. Personal, important things to me are the opposite of what he wants. When the movie was announced a large and vocal group of people denounced his work based on his personal views. I couldn’t say they were wrong.

In all honesty I’m still trying to figure out where the line is that separates the creator and the work. I realize my personal example is old and out of date now when it comes to protests, but the principle remains. There are no easy answers when it comes to supporting what you believe in and laying out your hard earned money to buy something you enjoy. It absolutely matters, but everyone must consider these things in their own way. The current political climate makes this an even more dangerous place to tread. There have been lots of people smarter, is a very well known author. His writing, one of his stories in particular, is the basis for the relatively recent movie Ender’s Game. His list of accomplishments is many and varied. He’s famous. He’s also directly politically opposed to certain views I hold. Personal, important things to me are the opposite of what he wants. When the movie was announced a large and vocal group of people denounced his work based on his personal views. I couldn’t say they were wrong.

In all honesty I’m still trying to figure out where the line is that separates the creator and the work. I realize my personal example is old and out of date now when it comes to protests, but the principle remains. There are no easy answers when it comes to supporting what you believe in and laying out your hard earned money to buy something you enjoy. It absolutely matters, but everyone must consider these things in their own way. The current political climate makes this an even more dangerous place to tread. There have been lots of people smarter, more creative and far more famous than I am that have covered variations on this topic. Oscar Wilde went to jail. George Orwell tried to come to grips with it. I’d rather go with a much more personal example to me because that’s how I think each person should handle their choices.

Here goes –

            I am lucky to have a handful of my works published and by way of those publications get invited to attend science fiction conventions. That was actually one of my earliest stated goals as a writer. I wanted to publish enough that I would land on the guest list rather than paying my way in (thus saving me a not insignificant amount of money along the way). In achieving that goal I also learned a great deal about the nature of the industry behind the genre I love that I have taken small, faltering steps into.

            I was scheduled to be part of a panel at one of the first conventions I was ever invited to be a guest at. I had very little experience sitting on the presenter side of the table. I had done some research but I was anxious about the topic being presented. I was nervous about being an unknown person sitting before a room full of people interested enough to pick this panel over another. What reason did anyone in the audience have for caring what I had to say about anything, let alone the matter at hand? The panel got rolling and the moderator kept things on a steady path. He had bounced different questions around to the other panel members, then did something I totally didn’t expect. He asked me a direct question based on what he knew of me and what he’d read about me in the convention program. I was stunned. I almost dropped the ball on answering the question because I hadn’t expected anyone to know who I was or care why I was there. I managed to use words and form complete thoughts, but I can’t for the life of me remember what the topic was. I was just blown away.

It was a vital lesson in convention panel attendance. Know who you’re going to be working with when you’re up there in front of people. I had to go and ask somebody who he was when we were done because I’d been so wrapped up in the panel topic I hadn’t remembered I was there to share things with other fans. I had forgotten how many well known people started off as fans and convention attendees. I had no idea who I was sitting with.

Turns out that person was part of the editorial staff for Intergalactic Medicine Show. Somebody working in the industry and in a position to work with writers far better known than I am took the time to look me up and know something about me. He took the time and made the effort when others I’ve met have not. He was unfalteringly polite when we all got a chance to shake hands and chat at little at the end of the panel. It was moving to know he bothered. What I found out later was that he was working directly with OSC at the time. OSC is the publisher and executive editor of Intergalactic Medicine Show. Direct connection to somebody I didn’t want to like or like anything connected to him.

I don’t want to support views directly opposed to something important to me. If I lay out my hard earned money and the person directly benefiting from that uses the money to oppose me am I implicitly helping? My problem is multifaceted. I have never personally met the man. I have heard from many others that have met him and worked with him that he is generous   and helpful. I’ve enjoyed his work in the past and often refer to parts of it in discussion with my friends. My direct experience with somebody on his staff was more than positive. Going out of your way to work with somebody that doesn’t directly benefit you is a good thing – and I have since continued to encounter folks directly connected to his organization who have been- and I have since continued to encounter folks directly connected to his organization who have been unfailingly polite, helpful and welcoming. They have always been good to me. Where is the line? This is my dilemma, but it also points to the bigger picture.

I am not a scholar of history by any means but it seems to me an inverted symmetry to have OSC trashed so completely in the same manner as Oscar Wilde more than 100 years ago. Wilde was put on trial and jailed for being against the moral character of society at the time and OSC has been attacked (if not properly tried) for being the diametric opposite of Wilde. The issue remains the same – the artist is not separate from his art. The problem as I see it now is that many folks don’t look beyond that flashy image or the catchy phrase they believe states their position so clearly. Hit the like and share buttons and move on. Mission accomplished. Trial by public opinion – no facts needed.

Much like Lord Henry living vicariously through Dorian’s hedonism most people don’t really commit themselves. They rely on the voyeuristic nature of the internet to maintain a safe distance all the while denouncing everything they watch. They add a virtual voice without any personal stake.

It’s beyond time for people to take a step back and pause before launching the latest barrage of indignation at the world. Did it truly affect you? Do you have direct experience with the subject? The consequences have become much more significant these days for even the smallest missteps. The current atmosphere will kill creativity and expression and discourage others from reaching out and making a learning connection if we are not significantly more cautious. Get out from behind your screen and go talk to people. Meet some folks that aren’t your normal circle. Stretch and learn and try to see things from a new point of view.

Today the pen clearly kills more than the sword. As for me, I’m going to keep working, keep writing and continue trying to find that line separating the artist from the art. I’m going to hope I can convince people to learn to trust and see value in differences. I want people to connect and I particularly hope they do so through the filter of science fiction. I suggest everyone take a serious look at things before denouncing them. Seek out articles and opinions from many sources, not just those that agree with you. Take your time. Do your homework. Step back and consider your reaction before you launch your words out there.

Remember to read the small print; your protest may vary.

By Eric V. Hardenbrook

The Family Tree of Fairy Tales

How old is the fairy tale you just read? Researchers believe that some of them may be as old as 6,000 years. Much like tracing lineages through family trees, stories can be followed backwards to their original birth places. The problem is that not only can stories grow upwards, in a treelike analogy (which allows us to follow them downwards to their roots), they can also cross pollinate with other cultures and spread laterally like branches. Using a large compendium of Indo-European stories called the Aarne-Thompson-Uther Index, researchers began to pare down the similarities. Specifically, they focused on stories containing supernatural or magical elements, since these tended to be the most familiar. This limited the scope from over 2,000 stories to 275, which included tales from the Brothers Grimm and other popular stories. Finding similar stories in different languages allowed researchers to back track to the ancestor of both. The fairy tale of the Smith and the Devil (a Faustian type deal struck to be the best metal worker ever) can be traced all the way back to the Proto-Indo-European peoples, which could make it one of the oldest stories still in existence. Jamshid Tehrani led the research and commented that tales that survived the longest contained a mixture of the strange, but weren’t to strange– citing the Beauty and the Beast as an example. Magical transformation wrapped around the idea of not judging other’s by their appearances. The fairy tales in a sense are extended versions of memes. When we speak of memes here we don’t mean Grumpy Cat with a smarmy comment below the image, instead we are looking at the transmittable elements of ideas. Successful fairy tales, which endure over time, do so for the same reason that successful memes do. In fact, it might be simpler to say that fairy tales are the carriers of memes. A great many of the stories fall in to the category of “don’t do the following” and are therefore
considered cautionary tales. However, the ideas carried along with the story can also be important learning elements that need to be transmitted to the young. Since these stories in their early formats were primarily oral in tradition, the repetition, the rhyme, the
fantastic elements are all embedding medium that allow the successful transmission of the important idea. So whatever your
favorite story, there’s a history and a relevance you might have missed.

by Jeff Young

All You Can Make Up

Rogue One is the latest installment of the Star Wars saga. It was the number one movie for a several weeks. It will be remembered as a landmark film – particularly for visual effects. The effects are simply amazing. If you haven’t seen Rogue One yet, please consider yourself warned that I may spoil part of the film for you. I don’t think it’s particularly “spoilery” but some people might disagree.
Grand Moff Tarkin is in the movie.
How is that possible? I hear you ask, the actor that played his part in the original film died in 1994. It’s true. Peter Cushing, an actor with more than 130 film credits and star of many of the Hammer horror films did indeed pass away at the age of 81 back in 1994. Now, through the magic of visual effects he’s back on screen and acting again.
I’d like to tell you that was as much science fiction as the rest of the film franchise, but it’s not. We have landed firmly in a time when a person may be inserted into a picture, or a film and they don’t actually have to be there (or even alive) for that to happen. We can take footage of any person – however famous and change what their faces and voices do on screen.
Let that sink in for a moment.
If this were only about science fiction movies I don’t think it would be nearly the big deal that it is. Unfortunately the state of voice and image manipulation has reached a point where people can create an entire speech from a mere sampling of video that can be found on YouTube or from a digital creation of somebody that’s been dead for more than twenty years. There is no need for the person’s approval. There is no easy way to be certain what has been doctored and what has not been doctored. So far the people doing these things have been in the entertainment industry and have had the blessing of the actors or their estates. What if they didn’t?
I don’t want to seem alarmist about this technology. I actually like that Tarkin’s in the movie. It makes sense for the story. They had permission from the estate to do that (and presumably the estate got paid).
What if this tech was applied to a fake news story during an election cycle? What if it was applied to a public safety alert that wasn’t real? Think how people reacted to the broadcast of War of the Worlds. We have recently seen just how much money and how much influence supposed news sites can have on the average internet user. There are dozens upon dozens of stories that have no basis in fact that continue to swirl around the net. Now couple with that somebody being able to take the face swap technology and create fake news using old news conference footage and you have a recipe for a genuine disaster. Users – who might have a lower ethical standard than the folks at ILM, or who might have a specific agenda they want to push – can create anything they want and make it believable to the point of being
impossible to refute without professional assistance. Want to say that Tom Cruise has admitted to being the second gunman in the Kennedy assassination? That can totally happen and the film footage and voice are becoming more and more believable. It will look like him and sound like him.

I really enjoyed Rogue One. The special effects were amazing. This will be a film that is noted in history for what it has done. My hope is that notability stays in the entertainment industry and is not the harbinger of something far more dangerous.

Go and see face swap and hear about voice additions/corrections:

Face Swap Technology is Getting Creepy

https://www.engadget.com/2016/11/06/adobe-experiment-adds-words-to-recordings/

Article from Yahoo!

https://www.yahoo.com/movies/rogue-one-the-digital-grand-moff-tarkin-is-terrifying-for-all-the-wrong-reasons-203157451.html

Watch some background on making the effects happen:

http://io9.gizmodo.com/watch-how-ilm-brought-back-tarkin-and-leia-for-rogue-on-1790812003

 

 

By Eric Hardenbrook

 

 

The Last Men on the Moon

An era is passing and certain of us remain unaware. It’s not that the media is ignoring the deaths of the last men who walked on the moon, but rather that it has been so long since en endeavor such as this which galvanized a nation behind its success has been repeated. If the Space Shuttle did anything for public opinion about space travel, it made the process mundane. Now spaceflight occurs far away in Russia and we look at it from a distance. We are a generation away from the heady times when “expeditions” went to the Moon. There are young adults now who never experienced the wonder of waiting on the success of a mission. Now they watch the success or failure of an unmanned rocket trying to land on a floating barge with fleeting interest via social media. We understand the promise of going to the Moon again but with a world of media at our fingertips, the news is buried. So too sadly are many of the men who made it happen the first time. It’s not truly surprising since these men were adults when they went and forty or more years later are now at the end of their lives. Neil Armstrong, whose famous first steps began the historic parade of footprints passed away in 2012. On January 16th, 2017 Eugene Cernan, the last man to step on the Moon passed away. Cenan had a career in space before he voyaged to our satellite on the Apollo 7 mission. He flew in the Gemini 9 mission and was the second person to space walk, spending two hours outside of the capsule. Cernan also flew on the Apollo 10 mission which brought their lander within 9 1/2 miles of the Moon’s surface. Cernan was said to have joked that his mission drew the line for Armstrong’s mission to follow. In 1972 Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt became the last men to set foot on the Moon. Cernan is quoted as saying, “I wanted to stay.” His last action before leaving was to trace his daughter’s initials in the Moon dust before returning to the lander. Cernan didn’t stop there after returning, he became involved in the Apollo Soyuz mission. After retiring from NASA, he went to work with the Coral Petroleum Company for a period before starting his own aerospace consulting firm. Eventually he became the chairman of an engineering company that worked with NASA on a number of other projects. In 2011, Cernan stated before Congress, “When I leave this planet, I want to know where we are headed as a nation. That’s my big goal.” Cernan passed away in a Houston hospital due to ongoing health issues, perhaps sadly realizing that no one else followed his steps in his life time.

GHOST IN THE SHELL

Recently, the first trailer for the movie was released and it contains a number of images and scenes that answer some questions and also poses additional one. I’m not going to spend a lot of time on the casting since those images have been around for awhile and Dear Crabby has certainly looked at some of the issues caused by the choices. Not long before the release of the trailer, information about the nature of the story of the movie was brought forward. Anyone familiar with the Ghost in the Shell or GITS, franchise will know that there are several movies, three TV shows, even movies based off of the TV show versus the movie and finally the original manga by Masamune Shirow. The live action Ghost in the Shell will be partially based on the second season or The Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex : Second Gig, specifically on the story of Kuze. That’s an interesting choice because its not as cerebral as the Laughing Man story arc, The Solid State Movie or even the plot of the original movie. Instead it’s a look at how the main character, the Major Motoko Kusanagi, is made to question her own
humanity by the character, Kuze. While they are on opposite ideological sides both are cybernetically enhanced to the point that the only
human aspect remaining is the recording of their minds and the enigmatic ghost or spirit. It’s an unusual story to tell when there are so many options, but it also contains lots of opportunities.

In the video there are portions that support the use of the Kuze story line, but fascinatingly enough, there are other images and video that match up very closely with the original movie. The beginning part with the robotic geisha’s is directly from Stand Alone Complex : Second Gig. There’s a brief break and we see the Major a top a building. This is an iconic shot and is used through several movies. She’s wearing very familiar VR goggles, so nice touch there costume department and that skin tight light grey suit matches very well with the GITS original movie. The first action sequence follows the first part of the 2nd Gig show fairly well. The Major’s initial building dive (another classic) leads up to her following through an infiltration scene.

There’s a brief image of the build sequence that will continue later on and is definitely inspired by the beginning sequence of the original movie. The exchange of “You’re not invulnerable” / “Maybe next time you can design me better.” definitely fits the character of the Major and it begins to establish her in her role as a cyborg. The building and street shots are very nice homages to the GITS movie. The Major’s interaction with the other woman is very in keeping with the original Manga and it establishes her as some one who is complex in her relationships. We go back to the build sequence and there is a voice over that says “We saved you and now you save others.” That’s an interesting point because one of things established in the Arise TV series was that the Major didn’t own her own body and would find it difficult to provide it proper upkeep. Is this a hint that she still has this kind of obligation?

The next part was one of my personal favorites in the original GITS movie and I was very pleasantly surprised to find it included in the live action film. The fight in the canal with the chameleonware looks like its going to be amazing—add one of my favorite Depeche Mode songs to the mix—yeah, I want this movie now. This is followed by a city skyline and Batou driving a car with his usual abandon. I’ve got to tell you, the artificial eyes they’ve designed for the character are the only thing that gives me pause so far. They’re just close enough to what they should be but not quite there and that makes them look odd. The next bit, well let’s just say I am not certain, because it honestly looks like some bad guys shoot up Batou’s car and then maybe Aramaki shoots them. That’s pretty unusual because Aramaki is the official face of Section 9, he’s not typically the one who gets his hands dirty. He’s got plenty of people to do that for him.

Next we have some images of the Major and Batou correctly establishing that these two have a relationship and the dialog “I don’t know who to trust” / “You trust me right?” This two sentence exchange only lacks the quiet afterwards when the Major doesn’t respond, to sum up their relationship. A couple of quick action shots and then the Major’s voice over “You know I have a past. I will find out who I was.” That’s an interesting line to pursue and not necessarily one that’s been over explored anywhere except in some small portions of Arise. The scenes on the Buddhist temple and the person on fire ask more questions than they answer, although one would assume that they have something to do with the Major’s past given the placement.

Next we’re treated to a barrage of images from the attacking geisha’s to the Major crawling out of a sea of bodies. That’s a lead in to Kuze’s entrance, “Everything they told you was a lie.” The Major is seated in a chair with her head clamped in as Kuze walks up to her. There is a brief flash of him that gives on the impression that around his neck and upper chest there’s some sort of metallic chitin and the little you can see of his face and hair show that the film’s designers are definitely following the same image from Stand Alone Complex : Second Gig. He continues, “They didn’t save your life. They stole it.”

The very last image, which is up as Kuze speaks the final line, is actually the Major walking up to a large group of sitting
Buddhist monks who are connected together with some sort of black cabling. We’ve seen that kind of cabling before on the cover of the original manga. There’s a brief glitch and the Ghost in the Shell emblem appears.

All in all I am very excited to see where they go with this and will obviously be waiting for more information and trailers as they come out.

GHOST IN THE SHELL

Manga—Ghost in the Shell—Masamune Shirow
Ghost in the Shell 2.0—Man-Machine Interface
Ghost in the Shell 1.5—Human Error Processor

Movies—The original Ghost in the Shell movie
-Ghost in the Shell 2—Innocence
-Ghost in the Shell—Solid State Society
-Ghost in the Shell—the Movie

TV Series—Ghost in the Shell—Stand Alone Complex
-Ghost in the Shell—Stand Alone Complex—2nd Gig
-Ghost in the Shell—Arise – Alternative Architecture

Video Games– Ghost in the Shell
-Stand Alone Complex
-Domain of the Hunters
-First Assault

Fan Projects We’d Love to See Completed

 

-The live action Futurama—if you haven’t seen this one yet track it down. There’s several short videos and a longer trailer. Someone went to a lot of work here and showed their love for the series. There’s a great blend of CGI, make up and good set design. They also didn’t miss a trick even adding Nibbler and the Hypno Toad. Maybe, just maybe there might be might be a future for live action Futurama? One can only hope.

https://youtu.be/cfNRPKKF4qU

 

-Animated Firefly fan trailer– this one is currently making the rounds and causing a little bit of furor (there are still plenty of unhappy browncoats out there). Stephen Byrne is responsible for the artwork, and he’s done a beautiful job. Apparently, he’s been teasing this for awhile with stills before releasing the trailer. Is an animated Firefly possible? Could one of the new Online Networks like Netflix, Hulu or Amazon do it justice? And of course what would Mr. Whedon have to say about this? Lots of questions, lots of possibilities.

https://youtu.be/amse6MX0_Ck

 

Akira was partially re-imagined by Dean Fowler and Brad Kremer in a two and a half minute trailer. They’re both long time fans and took the opportunity to put their own spins on iconic scenes using CGI. There is still a live action film lurching its slow way to completion but this is something to enjoy while we wait.

http://www.avclub.com/article/fans-reimagine-and-pay-tribute-akira-using-cg-anim-240969

WORLD OF WARCRAFT REVIEWS:

H’okay. My personal “Warcraft” movie review. I’ve been stalking the development of this film for 10 years and the ups and downs of my expectations have been quite the roller-coaster ride, so I feel like I can say that I went into it deciding neither that “no matter what this will rule” NOR “if it doesn’t match the existing storylines I’m gonna hate it.” It was EXCELLENT. Not perfect, but excellent. I think you should see it because you’ll likely enjoy it. A lot of effort was made to respect the Warcraft games fans AND to provide a standalone movie for folks who are curious about this crazy fantasy world they’ve never played in. Did they accomplish both? Mostly. Go see it this weekend — the stories that sequels could provide are some of the best stories I know, but we’re only gonna get them with domestic box office success. Of course there have been plenty of the “I want to sound like the smartest/hippest person in the room so I’m going to slam it because I think that’s probably the cool opinion” types out there recently who have decided it sucks before they even see it, but nothing in pop culture seriously needs their bitchy-ass dollars anyway. BTW no spoilers below; if you wanna discuss details just p.m. me. OK in no particular order . . .

Cast: Outstanding. Everyone gave a good performance; the main cast delivered extremely emotive and multi-dimensional
portrayals.

Score: Ramin Djawadi (the GoT composer) NAILED the score. It makes you want to lift a sword or an axe, shout a battle cry, and charge into broad-shouldered, marching, lumbering glory. The percussion and horns are just the right tone. In poignant moments, the score will challenge you not to mess up your green makeup.

Visuals: Well what can I say, they created new motion capture technology for this, and 98% of the time you are convincingly
immersed in their world. From the vistas to the dozens of emotions that play across the faces of the orcs . . . they really nailed it. I saw it in 3D IMAX and while I don’t think you HAVE to see it in that format, I usually don’t go for 3D and this was actually satisfying. Also the spell animations were spot-on. Arcane Missiles, Fireball, Arcane Blast, Teleport, Ice Block, Supernova, etc.

Timing/pace: I don’t agree with some complaints that you don’t get the idea that months or even years pass during this story — they pretty much declare it in the first 2 minutes. There are little things that imply it but I was looking for them. That said, I think the movie did suffer for the 40 mins Duncan Jones had to slice out of the final version (you’ll notice that some of the clips in the trailers and BtS videos are not in the movie). If you can make it past the first half hour of machine-gun character introduction, you’re in for a great ride. Lots of action, lots of illustration of the theme of family, survival, tradition, and
morality. It’s disappointing that we couldn’t have spent more time getting emotionally invested in some of the characters but there’s no way they could have accomplished that in 2 hrs without slashing huge pieces of the story out of it entirely. If I could have done the screenplay and final edits, I would have done a few things differently (e.g. hosed Glenn Close’s random uncredited appearance or nixed the sidestory with Lothar’s family) to make room for more lore but of course it’s not up to me. I look forward to watching the Extended Edition.

Alignment with the original lore: Here’s where you gotta be flexible. They do take a lot of liberties (I can outline them in a p.m. if you want spoilers) but the important thing to take away from it is that **in the end the impact of their story choices is the same**. Certain people have to die in order for the next round of characters to fulfill their destiny — it may not happen exactly the way it did in the game or the novels but we get to the end result. Some character’s backstories are way more complex than what they give you in this movie, but if they’re trying not to confuse non-players who are new to this by keeping it simple, giving them the complete story will defeat that purpose. I’m not entirely pleased with some of the changes — a couple of them easily could have been left intact with a very brief scene for context and it would have been just fine. But doing so would have been less emotionally satisfying for non-player viewers and they might lose sympathy for some characters.

Story: Rushed at first, but I think it’s way more coherent than some of the early critics declared it (I honestly don’t know if they saw the same movie I did — maybe they look down on anything WoW-related and this was their chance to blow their “fuck nerds!” horn, idk, but audiences are obviously making their positive opinions heard now that it’s on screens worldwide). There are a lot of character development scenes that were cut (e.g. Frostwolf clan laughing around the campfire) that I believe would have made the movie better, but they tend to be slower-paced and I know studios look at that as chaff in adventure movies (remember that all of the emotional scenes between Mal and Inara in “Serenity” were cut for pacing). That said, the illustration of the conflict is balanced — Orcs want to survive, Humans are not ok with some of the Orcs wiping out their villages — and there is good and evil on both sides. Heroes are compelled to act when their faction’s moral compass is spinning. The inner conflict (duty, love, etc.) of some of the characters is compelling. Most of the characters are likable. “Strength and Honor” is real. What I really missed though is the Great Why. Why did these Orcs show up here and why did someone help them do it? Why are the evil ones corrupted? How did this all happen in the first place? Sargeras as the source of all this was never part of the movie, and to me that is a huge missing piece because his influence touches ALL of the stories and the substories. It’s like LOTR without Sauron. It’s like “Interview With the Vampire” without the existential-spiritual struggle of the main character’s immortal soul. It’s the whole point! I think they easily could have given a Sargeras nutshell in a voiceover intro like they did in David Lynch’s “Dune” director’s cut. Would have taken 30 seconds. Or they could have revealed it through the storyline. Instead we get this nebulous “Fel energy” green stuff as the movie’s villain, like it’s a message about pollution or something. I’m disappointed about that. In the game it’s a tool, not a causality. But again, I’m sure the choice was because they didn’t want to overload new viewers with too much stuff. Hehe they should make 2 versions of all movie adaptations — one for the fans, one for curious newcomers.

Cool stuff WoW players will enjoy: As far as I could tell, just about ALL of the Horde chieftains had cameos — Ner’zhul, Kargath, and a couple others I gotta look up. Should they have been there in that timeline? Well Durotan shouldn’t have so that’s a slippery slope of continuity complaints we could fall down. Also it’s very cool how they switch back and forth between whether we’re the listener of Orcish or the listener of Common — very “13th Warrior.” There’s a lot of appearances of major game characters. Lots of humorous easter eggs for players. And of course seeing the zones and cities we know and love is breathtaking; both the practical sets and the CG.

AND HOLY CRAP AT THE END OF THE CREDITS THEY ACTUALLY CREDIT US FOR THE “FOR THE HORDE”/”FOR AZEROTH”/”FOR THE ALLIANCE” CROWD SHOUTS!! “Thanks to the attendees of Blizzcon 2014 for participating in the recordings” yadda yadda yadda. SHOOOOO KEEEEWWLLL!

Funny trivia moments (these really aren’t spoilers): 1) PVP flag in the opening desert scene! 2) Haha Lothar literally gets a quest at Ironforge! 3) Murloc! 4) I think the King’s strategy table looked like a Settlers of Catan board. 5)http://www.wowhead.com/item=…/precisely-calibrated-boomstick har har 6) the arduous climbing of the stairs in Karazhan (it literally takes 30 mins in-game at max level). 7) somebody dinged — look for it! I missed it. 8)http://www.wowhead.com/npc=9526/enraged-gryphon haha — they even used the sounds! 9) the moment I went “BAZINGA, introducing Deadwind Pass.”

TL;DR: 9/10. It really didn’t suck. Moar pls!

By Stefanie Hackenberg

Warcraft – The Outsider’s Point of View

I thought the previews for the new Warcraft movie looked quite good. It was visually striking and that appeals to me. There was certainly a lot of hype. I took the opportunity on opening day and headed to the theater. I was in luck that morning. I normally head to the theater at off times in order to minimize the crowd. This was what one might term very minimal crowd. I was the only person to attend that showing. I loved it, but it did take away the crowd reaction part of the movie going experience. This didn’t really bother me much until I realized there was nobody to share thoughts and opinions with or to hear how they reacted when certain things happened.

I had no idea what to expect. I have never played the Warcraft video game and I haven’t paid any attention to the world(s) of that game. I didn’t know any of the characters nor did I have any idea about what they would do or not do. I can say that knowing this movie sprouted from a previously made computer game world gave me very high hopes for the setting and the visual aspects of the film.

I watched the movie in 3D. I am probably not the best judge of the 3D effects as my astigmatism makes certain aspects of the format simply not work for me. Beyond that basic level I’m not sure the 3D added much to the film. There were a couple of scenes that it really seemed to work for. There were one or two times when I saw the traditional “look this is just for the 3D folks” sword coming out of the screen. All in all, I suspect a 2D viewing would be fine.

The setting and the scenery was really enjoyable. There were some wonderfully rendered buildings. It was somewhere between difficult and impossible to figure out where the seams were and I really like that. The visual aspects of the sets, the costumes and the computer generated landscapes all worked together really well. There were scenes I suspect were directly aimed at the gamers, but they didn’t distract from the rest of the film.

The rest of the film. About that…

This whole movie was a great big sequel set up. The story was deeper than I thought it would be, with darker moments than I would have given it credit for before seeing it but it just didn’t feel like it all came together. Maybe I needed to commit more? Tried playing the game first? I’m not sure it would have helped. I loved that the world building showed through. There were some that complained about how much stuff cascaded across the screen. That showed me there was a huge world behind all this and I could go along for the ride and learn about these places. I didn’t learn much about any of them, but I could appreciate that it was all there and things hung together based on that. I don’t remember the names of any of the characters now except Durutan. I would recognize the others visually and relate their story to them that way, but there wasn’t the level of investment I think the creators were hoping for. I saw a lot of potential that just didn’t seem to come through.

It wasn’t a bad movie. I liked it. I was entertained and I walked away not feeling bad. In the end this was a couple of hours that I won’t think of as wasted but I don’t know that I would spend that way again. We’ll have to see if that sequel ever does get made.

by Eric V. Hardenbrook

2016 NEBULA AWARDS

Novel Winner—Uprooted-Naomi Novik

Novella Winner—Bindi –Nnedi Okorafor

Novelette Winner—Our Lady of the Open Road—Sarah Pinsker

Short Story Winner-Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers—Alyssa Wong

Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation—Mad Max Fury Road

Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy—Updraft—Fran Wilde

2016 BRAM STOKER AWARDS

Superior Achievement Novel—Head Full of Ghosts—Paul Tremblay

Superior Achievement First Novel—Mister Suicide—Nicole Cushing

Superior Achievement Young Adult Novel—Devil’s Pocket—John Dixon

Superior Achievement Graphic Novel—Shadow Show—IDW Publishing

Superior Achievement Long Fiction—Little Dead Red—Mercedes M.Yardley

Superior Achievement Short Fiction—Happy Joe’s Rest Stop—John Palisano

Superior Achievement Screen Play-It Follows—David Robert Mitchell

Superior Achievement Anthology –Library of the Dead—Michael Bailey

Superior Achievement Fiction Collection– While the Black Stars Burn—Lucy A. Snyder

Superior Achievement Nonfiction– The Art of Horror-Stephen Jones

Superior Achievement Poetry Collection-Eden Underground– Allesandro Manizetti

 

 

April 2016

INDIRECTLY RELATED

I genuinely don’t recall who it was that pointed me in the direction of a new coffee shop / game place that opened recently but I need to thank them. This is not directly related to fantasy or science fiction but it is a topic I believe most fans have some familiarity with tabletop games. These games have made a resurgence in recent years. I haven’t been to a fan convention yet that doesn’t have a game room. I was super excited to hear about this new local shop. I even went down and had a really nice chat with the owner.
Sharing a game, competitive or cooperative, is a wonderful way to spend time with the people you know. It is so much more than Monopoly or Sorry. Those are wonderful games in their own right, but there has been a boom in the game industry that has created hundreds of options beyond “Do not pass go…” and those options just waiting to be explored. Try working with your fellow scientists to wipe out deadly viruses across the globe before it’s too late in Pandemic. Create a cross country train route before your opponents do and see who will have the longest train in Ticket to Ride. Be just a little bit twisted and see who’s best at getting ‘a head’ with the French revolution card game Guillotine.
Tabletop games tie together with just about any subject or any interest. Anything you could name really – firefighting, mystery solving, car racing, painting, story telling, horror movie making and ghost hunting. Those are a mere handful of the myriad options out there. They offer a chance to be social, share some fun and maybe (just maybe) if you’re lucky you’ll learn a little something along the way.
There are some really great ways to connect with your fellow fans out there. As I mentioned before, any convention I’ve been to has had a game room. There are local game shops, local game groups and tons of information out there on the internet. Here are just a few ways to connect.
There is a fun video series out there hosted by Wil Wheaton (all around creative guy you might recognize from TV) that goes through all kinds of excellent games with some folks you may recognize. It’s difficult to believe, but the first episode of TableTop was 4 years ago! Pop on over to YouTube and check them out if you haven’t already:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X9QtdiRJYro
Did you know there is an International Tabletop day? It happens in April (this month!). Geek and Sundry is listing sites for International Tabletop day so you can get there and check things out (hurry you might need to make a reservation):
http://geekandsundry.com/table-top-day/
IF you happen to be local to our ‘home base’ here in Harrisburg Pennsylvania you can pop down the Carlisle Pike and check out a new local venue for playing and having a good time – The Game Table Cafe! Check them out here:

http://www.gametablecafe.com/sample-page/ or when they made the news here:
http://www.pennlive.com/entertainment/index.ssf/2016/03/what_is_game_table_cafe.html
Go ahead, grab that board game down off the shelf. Rally a few friends and have a great time!
By Eric V. Hardenbrook
Cosplay Tip of the Month: Cosplanner
Outstanding cosplay app! It’s free, available to multiple
mobile platforms, and has evolved into an incredibly useful tool. You can create projects that you’re planning or have already begun, name each by character and source material, and upload reference photos — very handy when shopping for components or materials. You can enter a start date, a target completion date, list elements you need to
purchase or make, track costs and effort, post process photos, enter events where you plan to wear it, add shots from photo shoots, list achievements (not just awards!), and jot down notes about anything. All info is shareable.
Enjoy!
http://cosplanner.catokusanagi.com/
By Stefanie Hackenberg

DAREDEVIL SEASON 2

I loved season one of Marvel’s Daredevil so much, that I was a little nervous about how season 2 could possibly live up to the high expectations set by the previous season. Fortunately, it seems the cast and crew behind the show were more than ready for the task.

With it’s second season, Daredevil has once again proven how well the Netflix this format can work for Marvel. I love the tightness of the storytelling and the way the episodes flow into each other. My viewing of Daredevil is near compulsive – at the end of every episode I had to hit play on the next one, because I couldn’t just stop it there (and I was really disappointed when I got to episode 13 and could not hit play on a new episode). Like the first season, this felt like watching a 13-hour movie, though there were several mini-arcs throughout the season that brought a little bit of closure periodically during the season so it didn’t feel like there were too many strings left dangling until the very end (although it did still feel like there were quite a few balls in the air going into the season finale).
After Vincent D’onofrio’s performance as Wilson Fisk last year I really didn’t know how Daredevil was going to top Kingpin in the villain department. D’onofrio was absolutely brilliant and brought so much depth to his performance – he actually made you feel sympathy for Kingpin. Fortunately, the writers and producers of Daredevil didn’t even try to top Kingpin, instead going for a completely different kind of story. Instead of one Master Villain, the Punisher and Elektra storylines were separate but weaved together throughout the season. I think this worked well and the change in pace in that way prevented too much comparison to the previous season as to cause disappointment at the lack of Fisk this season.

The entire principal cast is excellent. Charlie Cox, Elden Henson, and Deborah Ann Woll really impressed me last year, and they continued to impress in season 2. They are just so good in these roles. Henson in particular steals the screen as Foggy Nelson in nearly every scene he is in; he is just fantastic. The addition of Jon Bernthal and Elodie Yung this year only increased the excellence of the cast. Both put in stellar performances, and I was particularly impressed with Bernthal’s Punisher. While I can’t say I’ve seen a lot of Bernthal’s work, from what I have seen this may be his best performance. I would love to see each of these characters show up again elsewhere, either in another season of Daredevil or one of the future series coming to Netflix. They are both very interesting characters, and very well-written.

I am a huge fan of all things Marvel, particularly the MCU. However, I think what Marvel is doing on Netflix may be some of the best storytelling they’ve done. First Daredevil and then Jessica Jones; each show has really nailed the characters and has been extremely well-written and compelling. Everything about each of these shows has been fantastic and I can’t wait to see what they do with the rest of the Defenders
universe.

It’s hard to review an entire season of a TV show in just one post, but I can say that if you were a fan of season one, you will not be disappointed. I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s better than season one – simply because Fisk made the first season so epic, and each season is different enough to make an equal comparison unfair – but it’s at least as good. And if you’re a fan of the Daredevil comics, but haven’t yet watched any of the series on Netflix, I definitely recommend you making the time to binge the show as soon as possible. They’ve really done justice to the characters and the comics.

So if you’re looking for a dark and gritty superhero drama done well, spend some quality time this week with the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen.
BY Charissa Jelliff

February 2016

One Outstanding Episode

I’ve seen a number of television show reviews recently that express sadness about the direction a show has taken or
wonder what the writers of the show were thinking. It always seems easier to come up with these character choices or grand plot line decisions after the fact. It’s very easy to get angry when the Hollywood money monster rears its ugly head in an obvious and distracting way. Most folks these days refer to this as “jumping the shark”. Now there’s another phenomenon out there, the reboot. Also easy to tear these down.
One recent reboot actually gave rise to a question and it wasn’t simple to answer. What television show has a distinctive stand alone installment? Something that people not immersed in the mythology or the arc or having the full background would still watch and enjoy. What show has taken one episode and transcended to magnificent entertainment?
I have come up with two that I believe fit the bill nicely.
First, from the recent reboot that kicked off this question, is an episode of the X-files. It’s from the fourth season and has the dubious honor of being aired precisely once and never again. I recall watching it. It is that good – and it was only aired once
because it is that horrifying. The title is “Home”. If you’ve never seen this particular show it is worth looking up and watching. I went back and watched it again just to see if it withstood the test of time. There were little parts that were easy to point a finger at (call for back-up? what officer would do that?) but in general it did hold up and was just as unsettling on the second viewing. There is a preview available on Youtube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AiFxW8DQ-6k). I don’t want to spoil anything for you – just go ahead and check it out.
The second one is from Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Also in the fourth season, this particular episode was called “Hush”. When I went back and rewatched this I realized there were parts of the show that didn’t really meet the “enjoy without the background” requirement. For about the first 10 minutes of the show there is a lot of relationship set up involving the long term arc of the characters. People not involved in the show might struggle with this – not because of the writing or acting, simply because there are 3 or 4 couples that all have their own connections to work out. It’s right around the 13 minute mark where I think this show really begins to shine. That’s when something happens to everyone that causes them to lose the ability to speak. For the next 27 minutes there is NO spoken dialog on the show. That’s amazing for a television show to pull that off. Add to the mix a couple of really funny lines (delivered both with speaking and without) and a few very creepy bits this show really nails it. There is also a preview available for this show (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1WvR9eCLnNE )

These two instances are worth the effort. Take the time, dig them up and check them out. At the time of this writing each of these shows were available on Netflix to subscribers. After you’ve checked these two shows out, what other single episode of a TV show stood out like that for you?

January 2016

I don’t know much, but I do know this: bad news travels fast

I saw a posting on one of my news feeds about a book blogger being catfished by somebody pretending to work for a major publishing house. Being on the fringes of the publishing industry this caught my attention. I know people connected to this business and somebody pretending to work for/with them didn’t sound like a good idea. I wasn’t familiar with the term ‘catfished’ as it applied to all things internet. For anyone in the same boat, the gist is you’re being fooled by somebody using a fake identity on the internet. Thank you Urban dictionary.
First and most importantly integrity matters. It matters as a person first, but as anyone in a business it should be top of the list. Being an author is a fun, cool, interesting, daunting, humbling, wonderful thing. Lie to me about it and we’re done. Do NOT lie to me. I’m not good at getting past things like that. I know there is a forgive and forget kind of mentality for some people out there but I haven’t mastered it.
I know people can be fooled. It’s relatively easy to fake things on the internet. It’s even easier to get some people to believe those fake things. It’s a challenge to peel down all the layers of information we’re bombarded with each and every day. I’m not saying don’t be polite or circumspect in how you deal with things like this. Professional is good. Lying, faking it, or otherwise presenting this false thing and then publicizing it will come back to haunt you. Word will travel quickly.
I know, I know…
“The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.” Oscar Wilde
Circle back to my first point. We can argue the merit of no such thing as bad publicity but I think that ties directly to your desired reputation and your desired profession. There are some entertainers out there that aren’t worried at all if they’re called out for being sloppy and rude in public or making up wild stories because it keeps their name in everyone’s mind. I’m pretty sure there are some executives at Volkswagen or Chipotle that believe there IS such a thing as bad publicity.
I would argue the idea of bad publicity is more than that in the publishing industry. It’s not a huge industry. People in publishing speak to each other on a regular basis. There aren’t that many big publishing houses out there. I can’t say with certainty but if they’re anything like my industry, particularly if they’re like the ones in the area where I live and work, we all know each other. People that I’ve worked with in the past now work at just about every other firm in the area. Even if I haven’t personally worked with people in a firm I’ve connected with them at various professional events. I’ll see them at the chapter meeting next week or they’ll send me an e-mail about a user group I’ve been part of. There’s a local trade show coming up in just a few weeks and we’ll all be getting together and talking over what’s going on in the industry. If something’s up, everyone will know soon.
There was a time when the owner of a firm asked me for my opinion on hiring somebody because I had worked at the same firm as the prospective employee at one point. I knew he wasn’t a good choice. I hesitated. Who was I to deny this guy a chance at getting a paycheck? I gave a fair assessment and ended it with, “He wouldn’t be my choice, but it’s ultimately your call.” I shouldn’t have hesitated. All the things I’d discovered about his previous work came to the front within weeks of being hired at the office we shared. Incorrect invoicing, misuse of
company equipment and a host of other problems. He didn’t make it past the six month mark. Next time I’ll be a lot more definite about my recommendation.
I suspect the catfisher wanted very desperately to be a famous success story. There seemed to be a significant amount of effort put forward into false paperwork, faked reviews and seemingly legitimate
e-mail addresses. There are folks out there that have gone from writing their book out on their blog to a publishing contract to a movie contract all in very short order. That is extremely rare. You can’t fake your way into that. The only thing this person has succeeded in doing is making a world of trouble for any possible future career. People noticed the little details. They started asking questions. Now there are a lot of people who know and in the age of the internet the details aren’t going to just go away. Publisher’s Weekly picked up the news, so it’s gotten publicity, but I also scrolled down through the comments list for the blog post pointing this all out. Guess what? I saw people in the publishing industry in that list.
People I know. People that are not shy about the importance of integrity nor shy about spreading the word.
Here’s something else I know: your fiction would have been a lot more successful if you’d put as much time, effort and cleverness to use in your craft rather than crafting a story about who you are. There’s no real overnight success. Writing and getting that writing out for others to read takes time. It takes effort. IF you’re doing it right it takes integrity, energy, thoughtfulness and a host of other things. When you do succeed it will be because of your fiction, not the story of how you tried to cheat your way in.
Check out the original blog post here:
Catfishing http://bookishantics.com/2016/01/04/beware-catfished-fake-penguin-employee/

By Eric V. Hardenbrook

October 2015

WATCH THE SKIES PRESENTS

HORROR PICKS

          Tis the season to scare yourself and maybe others. Watch the Skies took a moment and polled some its contributors looking for their favorite horror film and the one they felt was the most frightening.

Dear Crabby: Does Jaws count as a horror film? Because not only did this film scar me for life but, no matter how many times I watch it now as an adult I still find myself tense even though I know what will happen. If not then Carrie…the original with Sissy Spacek because she was just the best and high school is a terror beyond making up.

I do like horror comedy (House, Shawn of the Dead, Dead Heads, Evil Dead 2, etc.) and too often find slasher/gore films funny when they aren’t meant to be. The ones that scare me though are ones where your disbelief does you no good (The Grudge, Candyman, Nightmare on Elm Street) and ones with a religious bent (The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby, The Seventh Sign).

Jay Smith: My FAVORITE has to be Evil Dead 2 – (1987) which is basically a remake of the first, full of absurd stunts and a bloody Three Stooges homage that I adore.   Bruce Campbell is the man.

Sleepaway Camp – (1983) The first horror movie I ever watched on cable. I was 13.   It was a profoundly disturbing experience for me. When I think I have a son only a year younger than I was when I watched it, I wonder how I didn’t grow up in therapy.

Eric Hardenbrook: I’m generally not a fan of the horror film genre so picking a favorite proved to be difficult. After thinking about it I realized the first movie to pop into my head was House from 1986. It starred William Katt (Greatest American Hero anyone?) and had the tag line “Ding Dong You’re Dead”. How can you beat that?

Stefanie Hackenberg: House! I love that flick! Even better than Murder She Wrote episodes featuring William Katt. 😉 The sequel to House was not worth it.

My difficulty with choosing a favorite is based on the opposite problem that Eric has — it’s my favorite genre love so many of them! Just a few I can’t NOT mention:

Hellraiser (1987), Tales From the Darkside: The Movie (1990), Creepshow (1982) and Creepshow 2 (1987) and Prince of Darkness (1987)

Scariest: The Exorcist III (1990), written, adapted, and directed by William Peter Blatty. When an author who has created something horrible has the reigns on the movie version it will usually deliver.   This is one of the few movies in my life that gave me nightmares for years and scared me 10x more than The Exorcist. Brad Dourif. The leap out of the shadows with the lopping shears. The subliminal images. The hero figure a literal puppet for the villain. The old woman crawling on the ceiling. What more could you ask for? Also a few cast members from The Ninth Configuration (also William Peter Blatty) joining George C. Scott bring the acting quality to something beyond horror.

Also anything by Hiroshi Takahashi and Takashi Shimizu. These are the Japanese writers and directors best known for The Ring and The Grudge respectively. Their choices in cinematography, imagery, storytelling, score, and suspense are unparalleled in my opinion. Their most common device is the “BOO!’ factor but these guys. Are.   Relentless. With it. You will not be allowed to exhale for the entire 90 mins.

Jeff Young: I’d originally said The Frighteners which is a favorite, but will go with The Birds by Hitchcock. For scariest, to me, nothing beats watching The Descent in a dark room at night—awesome claustrophobic atmosphere and jump scares galore.

August 2015

ARE SCIFI AND FANTASY CLASSICS A GOOD INVESTMENT?
-SyFy has stepped forward again to tackle another well known science fiction property– Frederic Pohl’s—Gateway. This is an interesting choice and perhaps a smart one as there are plenty of Heechee books to continue the series. Gateway is a common choice for many “must read” SciFi lists. So far we haven’t seen the results of this turn towards the adaptation of classic SciFi. However with the announcement that Childhood’s End will air on December 14th, SyFy drew a line for our expectations and we can only see if they can exceed them. The five part miniseries will feature SF&F veterans like Colm Meaney and Charles Dance. In this case, like Gateway there will be no direct interaction with the author so the result will definitely be an interpretation of the book. On the other hand SyFy also will be launching their adaptation of James S.A. Correy’s Expanse series on the same day. Good news here is that both of the authors who make up the pseudonym Correy are listed as writers for the show. Comicon goers were treated the first episode. A number of positive reviews promptly hit the web. So the question is how good a job will they do? In the past SyFy has tried to adapt such things as Riverworld and the Lotus Caves with limited success. Other networks have done adaptations as well like the Andromeda Strain with mixed results. So here’s a question to consider, are the classics a “safe bet”? A lot of what Hollywood is producing is reboots and remakes because they are safe. So perhaps a Hugo or Nebula award winning property could be a good alternative to taking chances on something new. What’s interesting is that SyFy also seems to be balancing this Classics option with new shows like Killjoys and Dark Matter which have no direct ties to previously written material It’s almost frightening to say this after such a long period of truly questionable programming, but is the SyFy channel actually starting to make sense? One can only hope and wait– after all December isn’t too far away and with Gateway, we have something to keep our fingers crossed for next year.

July 2015

Why I’m Offended by the Attack on Joss Whedon

When you offer yourself creatively to the world you open yourself up for both praise and criticism.  This is fair and expected- death threats and implications of violence to your person not so much.  I feel very strongly that we seem to think that anyone in the public eye is our property.  They lose privacy, the ability to make anything we feel is a mistake, and definitely the right to change their minds among other freedoms the rest of us anonymous folks enjoy.   This offends me.  It is unfair, unreasonable, and honestly unconscionable.

When Age of Ultron came out this is exactly what happened to Joss Whedon.  Threats, character assassination, and accusations of misogyny…wait, what?  Joss who brought us Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Dollhouse, Firefly, and Agents of Shield.  Some how the man who has not only brought many strong female characters to us but has also stood up and spoken about equality for women is not a misogynist because some people don’t like how one character was handled in one movie?  I call bull.  Was she suddenly a weak and simpering female waiting to be either saved or told what to do by a man?  No?  Was her only value based on what the males in the movie being pleased with her?  No?  What was the big sin then you ask?  She showed a desire for a romantic relationship with a man.  Oh, the horror!

Black Widow is and can be seen during the movies as a multifaceted character.  She is not a paper cut out, but instead has depth.  She is a survivor, a fighter, independent, determined, smart, brave, beautiful, and a caring and loyal friend.  Pretty good, right?  So, it doesn’t make sense to me that adding another aspect to her character by her pursuing a romantic relationship with Bruce Banner would ruffle feathers.  Strong, brilliant, independent women are not less for wanting a loving relationship.  If anything putting yourself out there emotionally means you’re really brave.  Banner essentially shut her down and she didn’t fall apart, she didn’t get nasty, she didn’t swear off men forever.  What she did do is go back to doing her job and supporting her friends.

I know a lot of people were very upset by the scene between Widow and Banner where she reveals that the Red Room sterilized her and she could never have children.  Many took it as Black Widow deciding what made her a monster was her inability to bear children.  That is not what I saw.  What I did see, was not nearly as well done as Joss usually does things; but, to me, it wasn’t about not being able to have children.  It was Natasha trying to explain to Bruce just how far the red room went to try and strip her of her humanity.  How far they went to try and make her a monster.  What I saw was Widow reaching out and saying, “We’ve both had pieces of us ripped away from us.  We both see ourselves as monsters.  We both know what it means to be a monster. I think together we can be more human than we are apart. We deserve to try to have that.” and I think that reaching out is pretty fantastic for a character with a background like hers.  Some people have to fight to learn to stand on their own.  She’s had to fight to learn to let anyone in.  Here she is trying to do just that.  It also shows she’s moving on.

The people yelling about Black Widow being a damsel in distress due to her capture by Ultron are hardly worth addressing.  Hmmm…vaguely injured, way out powered (nobody expects her to be able to take Iron Man on in his suit), and in the middle of a hostile country.  Does she sit and cry or bemoan her fate?  No, she uses spare parts to tell the others where she and the bad guy are.  Then she jumps back into the fight dragging Banner with her as she forces him to transform.  Yeah, not really damsel protocol.  Sorry, folks.

In a nutshell, I think the whole point of feminism is that who you are is more than gender; but at the same time includes it.  The idea is that there is no limitation to what you can do, what you deserve to have, what you’re allowed to want and earn, and no limit to your value just because of your sex.  That includes both traditional and non-traditional roles and responsibilities.  I think, however despite the limited venue Marvel offers to show off Black Widow (and despite of some clumsy handling) that Joss has done a wonderful job of allowing us to see Black Widow as the complex character she is.  I do feel there is a real need for Marvel to step up their game and stop treating the comic book movie genre as a male-centric realm.  The money you’re making isn’t just from men’s wallets kids and the ladies don’t just go to ogle the admittedly impressive selection of the male of the species.  We are invested in the stories and the characters, and we know you have the resources to offer us better female representation than you have been.  I want more than just Black Widow. I want merchandise aimed towards Black Widow and the other female superheros you need to bring out to play.  Give the little girls the same possibility to be a hero that you give the little boys.  After all, everyone wants to be a hero deep down.  Just don’t punish Joss for all the words inadequacies.  I think he’s still working to make a difference, and I don’t think he’s doing a bad job.  Think about all this before you call for his head.  We are stronger together than we are apart, after all.

By Rebecca Hardenbrook

June 2015

SUPERGIRL

When I heard the Supergirl pilot had been leaked I was
immediately intrigued. This is one of the new series I’m most excited about next fall, and I can’t wait to see what the show is like. I tried to be patient and respect the cast and crew by waiting (as I’ve done before for similar leaks of Game of Thrones, Teen Wolf and Doctor Who) but ultimately I couldn’t resist – I needed to know if the show was going to live up to my hopes. I justified my curiosity by promising to still watch the episode live when it premieres in November (that’s 6 months away! I’ll definitely need to refresh my memory by then) and encourage as many people as I can to give it a chance when it finally premieres.

A few weeks ago when the first trailer for Supergirl was released, there was a lot of positive feedback, but also a lot of criticism. I personally was very excited after the first trailer – I cannot wait to finally have a superhero show starring a female superhero, and I honestly don’t understand why people think a female superhero can’t be the least bit girly. I love Black Widow; I love that she’s strong and independent and not girly – but that doesn’t mean that strong independent women should never be girly. I appreciate that Supergirl is a girl and occasionally acts like one. She freaks out about what to wear on dates and she gets a little tongue-tied when meeting her good-looking new co-worker for the first time. We all do that at some point, it doesn’t lessen who we are or diminish our strength. I’m hoping maybe Supergirl will be able to show us that you can be a girl and awesome at the same time.

I am going to make this as spoiler-free as possible for those who are waiting to watch in the fall. I really enjoyed this episode, and it made me even more excited about the series. It’s definitely a pilot in that there’s a lot to introduce and set up, but I think they did a fairly good job of balancing things out (and I’ve definitely seen far worse pilots that have gone on to become great shows). Also, for those who hated the trailer (though I still don’t understand why) you may be relieved to know that most of the chick-flick-type of scenes were what you saw in the trailer. The rest of the episode has a little more substance to it.

I enjoyed Melissa Benoist as Kara. She may be a little dorky and awkward, but so am I. The fact that Kara is a bit of a dork, but is also a superhero made me love her even more because I can identify with her more human qualities. I also loved that while she’s beautiful, she looks and dresses like a normal girl, not an anorexic supermodel, the way so many female superheroes are depicted in comics. This is definitely someone younger girls can look up to and with whom older girls can empathize.

The supporting cast and characters were enjoyable as well. Kara’s best friend Winn seemed a little bit of a cliche (the one time when I can see arguments about the series being rom-com-esque being valid) so I’m hoping to see more character development there. Calista Flockhart was terrific. She may have been one of my favorite aspects of the pilot. I also really liked James Olsen. I was worried they would immediately try to set up a romance between Kara and James, but it wasn’t left that way at the end of the pilot and I appreciated that.

I was also really excited about the final scene. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but if they’ve done what I think they have, it could potentially be awesome (though I’m sure countless fanboys everywhere will immediately and vehemently disagree). If I had one complaint about the episode it would be the extraordinary lengths they went to in dialogue not to say the word “Superman.” He is very much a presence throughout the episode, with glimpses of him in the beginning and frequent references made to Metropolis’ hero, but only once, very early in the episode did we actually hear the word “Superman.” He was referred to as the Man of Steel, but never Superman. I don’t know if this was a decision, or if they just cannot say his name more than once, but I would think if it was because of the films there would have been a lot more restrictions, such as the use of “Kal El” and “Man of Steel” and other direct references. But no, just Superman appears to be embargoed.

The frequent use of the emphasized “HIM” (which was .literally emphasized every time, to make sure everyone knew to whom they were referring) or “my/your cousin” when it wasn’t really natural in conversation became a little distracting (to the point where I considered counting how many times it happened). The mphasis also makes it sound like they’re emphasizing his gender or putting him on a pedestal above Kara or that she was constantly being compared to her more famous cousin – as though she couldn’t exist independently from him. Hopefully this isn’t a trend that continues – I expect her journey will include breaking out from her cousin’s shadow.

Overall I think this was a solid start for the series and I can’t wait for fall to see where it goes from here. It’s not perfect – there a few things to smooth out (namely that rom-com feel that so many are concerned about and for crying out loud, if you’re not going to say Superman, then at least find more natural ways around it!) but keep in mind, Greg Berlanti‘s other DC creations, The Flash and Arrow, each had their own bumps in the first season, so I’m going to remain optimistic.

By Charissa Jelliff

May 2015

Hugo Awards

From the official web site:

“The Hugo Awards, to give them their full title, are awards for excellence in the field of science fiction and fantasy. They were first awarded in 1953, and have been awarded every year since 1955. The awards are run by and voted on by fans. “

I must address, at least obliquely, the mess that has become the Hugo ballot this year. I debated whether I should write this or not. I am in fact still wondering as I type if this will move off my desktop and on to the editor’s desk. I am putting words on paper because I want to try to pull these thoughts out of my head and move on. For anyone that has missed it, some folks have attempted to ‘game the system’ for awards voting and push an agenda by talking folks into teaming up, paying the fee and pushing their choices onto the ballot for the award this year. They have succeeded (or not) to varying degrees and this has brought a number of folks howling in to complain. There has been gnashing of teeth and flying rage spittle galore as people throw sharp and nasty words at each other by the hundreds. This has also made for stompy name calling, petulant claims of ‘taking my ball and going home’ and has reached the attention of mainstream media. I could attempt to link to all the sites and blogs and reports, but I know I would fail to get them all. I could name drop and try to garner more attention, but I don’t think I want that kind of attention. If you’d like to know more jump on the internet – a quick Google search on 2015 Hugo awards controversy will garner you around four hundred thousand entries, starting with places like NPR, Wired, Slate, The Telegraph and The Guardian. It has blown up.
Why must I address this issue? I must for two main reasons.
The most important reason is that this publication is Hugo eligible. That’s right, with enough love shown for our work and some nominations from world con attendees we could be on the ballot in the Fanzine, Fan Writer and Fan Artist categories. Not a guaranteed win or anything like that, just eligible for folks to vote on. As it turns out the love for our work and the nominations from convention attendees are not easy commodities to come by. There have been some fantastic works that have won the award in the past and to have enough folks appreciate what we do to get into that category really would be an honor. I’m sticking to that. An honor. The caveat here being IF we make it to the ballot on merit. The question of merit is a large part of the quarrels between folks competing for the award this year.
It’s very easy to feel like the merit of your work doesn’t matter. It is even easier in the fan categories than it is in the professional categories. Why would it be easier? How about just four fanzines gathering in 15 nominations? Or how about one writer getting 18 nominations for the fan writer category? Try to join the conversation, land an article or piece of art in somebody else’s fanzine and get flat out ignored? It would be easy to say, “There is a conspiracy here, how can just one person…” I could go on, but I think you get the picture. Get ignored or marginalized and your feelings can be hurt. Here’s the thing though – a conspiracy implies that there is somebody or some group of somebodies that cares enough to do that. I don’t believe there’s enough organization among fans out there for a conspiracy to work like that. I suspect there just haven’t been enough folks with the wherewithal to get others to pay attention to them. Well, now some folks that have felt there were secret cabals working against them have gotten it together and pushed their choices through the nomination process. They’ve “bought” the memberships and gathered support and gotten their stuff nominated. Nobody has won anything yet, but they’ve certainly gotten the attention they wanted and some they didn’t.
This is not the first time this sort of thing has happened. This particular angry man has fought this battle before, and said it in his own special way back in 1995:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gFR9TYxAVZQ
Twenty years ago and it sounds very familiar. This time I fear the ‘slate’ has a greater chance for success.
The second reason I am compelled to deal with this ties in with the short essay I published in Watch The Skies earlier this year titled “Did we win?” In that piece I attempted to refute the assumption that because there are so many things of ‘geek culture’ out there in the public eye now that all things science fiction, comic book or otherwise related to fandom were common and accepted by mainstream folks. That we had somehow ‘won’ and we wouldn’t be marginalized and would be taken seriously. I do not believe anything has changed beyond how things are marketed and how closely demographics are monitored, but some progress has certainly been made. We haven’t ‘won’ anything. The only thing we’ve done is garnered some attention – and this controversy has jumped right into the spotlight. In among the coverage of those aforementioned media outlets there has been some less than stellar coverage of these issues. All the infighting, name-calling and mudslinging is now on display more than ever before. We’ve just shown the world all our dirty laundry – and it doesn’t look good.
Depending on the results of this mess after the voting later this year we as a group may crush any positive steps that have been made toward acceptance of those oft neglected things we love. People could look and say to themselves, “Well, there were some rabble rousers but things seem to have sorted themselves out well…” or they could say, “You see?” with one arched eyebrow and a shamefaced look suggesting they had known all along that those science fiction people were ‘just like that’. We’d land right back outside. That would really be a shame because some of the most thought provoking, moving and wonderful things I have ever read, watched or listened to have been Hugo award winners. The award deserves better. We deserve better. There needs to be some respect and decorum. To borrow from sports terminology, we should act like we’ve been there before. Please note that I haven’t declared for either side here. I have had personal communication with a number of named individuals in this whole thing. They have always been easy to work with and even beyond professional. They’ve been friendly. They didn’t have to be any of those things. We’re a fanzine and we do this because we love it. They helped us out because in their hearts, they love it too.
I still respect the award. I hope this year’s controversy blows over and next year we can move forward in the true spirit of a worthy list of nominees. I hope that fandom avoids damaging our fragile steps away from the literary ghetto we have always lived in. I hope someday to be part of the team that lands this publication on that list. Maybe next year we’ll get enough love and enough votes….

By Eric V. Hardenbrook

Did we win?

 There’s been a lot of talk over the past few years about how geek chic and other indicators show how “we’ve won” from the “nerd” point of view. “There’s all those comic book movies and that TV show with those funny nerds and just look how important computers are!”

Bullshit.

What we have is the opposite of winning in the worst ways. It’s loss of identity combined with the strip mining of things once proudly known, only to feed the masses entertainment that makes them all believe they’re one of the “neglected” or “unpopular” side of society. I hate that I feel that way, but this feeling is deep inside me and it won’t let go.

A few weeks back I read a story about a convention that was attacked. There’s no other way to put it. If the same thing happened at a hotel where a political event were happening the entire place would have been crawling with very serious looking talking heads wondering if it was another example of domestic terrorism and likely trying to tie it to the middle east somehow. If it was your local high school football game it would probably have been handled better. Instead, what we got was a supposed news person that fails to maintain professional composure and what amounts to a “human interest” story mentioned only in passing. I’m not going to revisit all the details as it really is old news. You can read some really good takes on the story here and here (sorry print version folks, the PDF gets the hyperlinks). This is just the latest on a long list of things that concern me about the fan community. It might seem a little crazy or perhaps over-reactive.

At one of our recent meetings I was talking about that attack among other things and the starting point, the basis, of why I feel this way. I realized a huge segment of the population doesn’t understand because they weren’t there. I mentioned something about “The Satanic Panic” and got a questioning look. No idea what I was talking about. No idea why I was upset or what in the world I was blathering on about. It stopped me short.

That moment made me think about my reaction. Is it really just me? After a great deal of introspection I thought, maybe, but it will take me a long, long time before I’m willing to speak with abandon. I keep my passion close to me and let very few others in. Deep down inside I’m still worried about reactions the way I was when I was 12. How many people will turn and walk away because I’m associated with that “devil game”? Maybe they’ll hand me a pamphlet on how to save myself. How many people who might have still been my friends were denied that because their parents bought into the hysteria of the day? How many people won’t take me seriously because my art or my writing “look like that nerdy stuff”? How many times was “that dummies game where nobody wins” talked down or belittled even though it would become a life long attachment for me? Perhaps there will be a couple more books or movies that claim a position of “factual relevance” while disparaging music and games. Forgive me if I’m hesitant to put myself out there.

Clearly it’s not that I won’t talk about my hobbies. It’s not that I will deny loving science fiction or fantasy. I spend a great deal of time reading, writing, gaming and all other manner of fan based things. I help run conventions now. I write in fanzines.

But I know my audience when I’m doing those things. I’m still in the relatively sheltered alcove where others like me hang out. It’s mostly safe. I still don’t trust people outside of fields related directly to these pursuits. The news person from the convention attack is just the highest profile, most recent version of that.

I hope that I can use this small essay as a starting point. I want to avoid my knee jerk reaction. I’d like to be positive and sharing of the things I’m most passionate about. I want to avoid becoming the stereotypical anti-social curmudgeon warding off people with random expressions of anger. I’ve tried to look for the bright side. There are positive articles out there. Stories that talk about “lifestyle” or show the “benefits” of playing like I always have. There is so much good and fun it needs to be shared.

Have we won? No, we haven’t but our hobbies and passions have never really been about winning, have they?

by Eric V. Hardenbrook

SYFY is Back?

 

If I insult you, it’s probably because you deserved it.” Harlan Ellison

 

Disclaimer: I don’t have cable any more. More than two and a half years ago I got fed up with another rate increase. I had just taken my second pay cut in an attempt to survive a floundering economy and things looked bleak. I was forced to take a long, hard look at what cable television programming had to offer me and that programming came up wanting. Choice made, cable cut. While the separation was difficult, I believe much like dropping a dangerous addiction, I don’t miss it.

I have stated many times that I am a fan first and foremost when it comes to all things science fiction and fantasy. One of the things I enjoyed when I had cable was the channel where those things I loved could call home. Then came a number of very poor choices from that channel, not the least of those being professional wrestling. While professional wrestling is fiction of a sort it fails to meet the criteria for science fiction on every front. I spent a great deal of time bashing and disparaging the network that once gave me a weekly dose of curmudgeon (and I still miss those rants). I was not alone.

          While the channel carrying the name of my beloved genre was busy trying to shed the loyal fan base the entertainment, the core, the very shows that should have lived there dashed off to other channels where they met with wild success. There are now far more popular genre television shows on other channels as there are on the network that claims them, if only in title. There were a number of failed experiments in genre programs that I would have thought should have been on a channel dedicated to science fiction. It should have all been on a channel dedicated to science fiction. Reaching out and trying to attain something is vital. Own the subject, good, bad or indifferent. The channel didn’t, it ran and hid. It was, and is frustrating. The experiments, the thought provoking stories wrapped around circumstances not of this world were popping up anyplace other than “home”.

          Giving credit where credit is due, the channel I have often compared to a sexually transmitted disease now seems to be owning the error of their ways. A recent article published by EW gives some insight into how things will work going forward and gets the new head of original programming Bill McGoldrick to answer some of these criticisms. The article is full of hope and positive, forward thinking statements.

“I think now it’s about giving our audience some fresh stuff.” Mr. McGoldrick said. He gave out some thoughts on where the channel has been and where he sees things going. I’m intrigued by what he has to say. I like the idea that the channel dedicated to science fiction will be heading back to outer space. The mini series Ascension looks like it could be absolutely fascinating. The other thing it is? Most importantly it’s not like other things that are on right now. The things that do the best, the ones that get the highest ratings or score the biggest returns are the things that give a story that’s different than what’s out there. I don’t want another procedural. I want compelling story telling.

They talk a good talk, but can they walk that good walk or are they just walking dead? I look forward to finding out.

 

 

http://insidetv.ew.com/2014/10/28/syfy/

 

The EW article is worth the read.

Why Your Bookstore Needs to be a Tardis

             There are two things that a bookstore can never have enough of and I’m going to shock you by telling you that one of them is not books. The two vital elements are time and space. Let’s start with space. Just as space and time are related according to Einstein, time will certainly pop up as we move along. Some quick math, let’s design a model bookstore of say 20k square foot of selling space (a real bookstore needs more space to have room to receive and store books, spots for employees and the coffee shop for that latte you’ve been dreaming of since I mentioned the word “bookstore”). At an off-hand guess, let’s bet that one way or another we can fit 350 displays of 4 foot units, with six shelves each in unit and still leave room to maneuver about. So that’s about 8400 feet to shelve books and with a book on average being about 1 inch thick, we can stick 100,800 books in our store – if we only have one copy of each title. That’s pretty good, but there are a few problems.

Every Monday night in the bookstore is like Christmas Eve. The new books are unpacked with care and brought out to be discovered by the bibliophiles the following morning when the doors are thrown open. On average there are any where from 20-30 new titles or new formats of books that arrive. Books have a life cycle typically starting with hardcovers, leading to large paperback or trade papers to the final version mass markets, the small paperbacks with each kind generally taking 9-12 months to arrive. So we’re not just shelving one title anymore, but up to two versions of the same title. Let’s add to the fun that you just don’t get one copy of a new book, instead its more like 3 to 30 or more depending on whether or not it’s the new Stephen King or James Patterson. Those take space to display and to make matters more interesting that old saw about judging a book by its cover suddenly comes into play. Covers intrigue customers, and it makes it easier for them to identify the author’s name by the larger print. Bookstores are also paid advertising dollars by publishers to ensure you get a good long look at the artwork. Suddenly, we have a shelving problem, if we want to show the customers the covers we can usually only fit around 7 books across on a shelf. Our 288 books per shelving unit becomes 42 just like that. So if 50 of our units show off new books (let’s face it most of the sales are new books), now our title number drops to lower than 84,600 that the math gives us since we have multiple formats as well. Greater than 16% of our space just disappeared.

But here comes the real sticking point, everyone wants new books. People come in looking for the classics for gifts, summer reading and more, however what sells more than any other are the new books. So with an average of 25-30 new books every week, each year a bookstore acquires 1300 or more new titles every year. It really is a never-ending cycle based around the demand for new material. Realistically, that estimate of 25 titles is probably low. So, something must go in order to make room for the new books. So we sacrifice our depth of titles and the breadth of subjects we can sell in order to satisfy the need for new titles. It’s a business game to decide what to keep, what to bring in and what to send back. It’s the reason your favorite book isn’t always on the shelf. But you wanted that book right now and that brings us to time.

We used to communicate via mail, then by phone and now by the Internet, skype and texts in an immediate fashion. Our social media connections are instantaneous and we can connect around the globe in real time. Therefore people assume that they should be able to have their needs gratified instantaneously including having whatever book they want right now. Not only have we increased the speed at which we can discover the title we’re looking for via search engines and recommendation lists, but also the depths of titles as well. Google shows you everything from what is easily available to that original Guttenberg Bible and it removes the sense of scarcity or difficulty of acquisition since you found the item with a single click. Bookstores strive to narrow down the time of transit constantly, even offering same day delivery in some large cities. But until there is a machine in the store to print the books as the customer demands them, the nature of travel across the country extends the amount of time if the title desired is on the opposite coast. All of which is why the concept of the ebook is so appealing. Instantaneous books whenever you want them. But then you don’t need a bookstore anymore and that’s sidestepping our discussion. On the whole it becomes – we want our books yesterday and whatever book we can imagine.

So just like Borges infamous library, a bookstore in that fabulous traveling contraption belonging to a certain Timelord is the complete answer. In the Tardis there is the ability to generate whatever space is necessary since the machine’s interior measurements are dimensionally transcendent. So when the new releases roll in, there’s always another shelf for them. In fact you can have a room just for every coming Tuesday, so as long as you know when the book was published you can find it easily. No need to ever send those books back. However, the Tardis is a little like ordering a book from a website. I did leave the website off the discussion until now because this is the closest that bookstores can come to having a Tardis. Our 86k title catalog suddenly blossoms to millions and can include connections to other sellers as well making available used and hard to find items. Books come from far and near to your hands – however, it takes time. Even in the Tardis going from one room to the next takes time. In fact there is no magic doorway that will open and take you directly to where you need to be. Often the Doctor and companions are running down that same style of staircase several times and even passing the pool at least once before arriving at their destination. Similarly, unless it’s ebook, it takes time to get your book.

We’re finding new ways to transport books, new ways to read books and even new ways to write books every day. Also the amount of literature available to the consumer continues to grow. Self-publishing; small and micropresses and epubing all challenge the status quo of the traditional houses while the demand for the product ebbs and flows. Social media phenomena drive super-sellers like Harry Potter, the Hunger Games and 50 Shades of Grey. Bookstore consolidation and competition have allowed for the reintroduction of independents in many markets. But the ultimate truth is there are no absolute answers to bookselling, which is why we’d have to resort to a fictional device to make it work perfectly.

 

by Jeff Young

jy.watchtheskies.org

Roll to Save or Who Really Gets
to Make the Next D&D Movie

Apparently, the fight over who gets make the next D&D movie is not only ridiculously complicated but could also redefine certain aspects of copyright law. Let’s stat with Warner Bros. who decided they wanted to make a D&D film. They then hired a scriptwriter who created a script, called Chainmail and after that proceeded to try to acquire the rights to the property. Part of the problem starts here. There is some dispute over who actually holds the rights to the property either Hasbro, whom Warner Bros. initially approached, or Sweatpea Entertainment who purchased the rights awhile ago from Hasbro. Sweatpea had the rights and made movies with them, but did not make as many as they originally said they would. The final movie actually became a television movie. So did they actually fulfill their part of the bargain and therefore continue to have access to the rights or would they revert to the original owner? Good question. That’s why it was believed that the rights belonged to Hasbro. Just to make life really interesting, while Warner was pursuing a deal with Hasbro, Hasbro turned around and sold the rights to Universal, who also apparently felt like getting into the D&D film business. So the whole kerfluffle is now about who actually owns the rights and can sell them, as well as who’s going to actually get the right to make the movie. But we’re not quite done yet, another issue that arises from all of this deals with infringement and at what point infringement starts. All of the companies involved are meeting in court starting the 16th of September. Warner Bros, has sunk five million dollars into the whole deal, four for the rights and one to deal with the legal aspects, so they are unlikely to give up without a fight. One of the issues that will be examined, which may have far reaching implications is whether or not Warner was at fault for developing a script for a property without actually have the rights. To bad we can’t settle this thing with broadswords and let the winner be the last one standing.

Dying, death and deep feelings of doubt

I’m not good at sharing feelings. I’m not good at it in person; I’m particularly bad at it when writing it down. I don’t jump on Facebrick and load up an episode for the public to see. I don’t Tweet it or Instagram it or even post it to the Pretend Blog. I do spend a lot of time wondering if that means I’m not meant to be an author. Authors are meant to be expressive; to have words and share words showing others part of the human condition. I haven’t been able to do that. I’m private about the most sensitive parts of my life. I still have the old fashioned belief that some things are not for public consumption. I have also found that my train of thought is frequently on such a distant track that I fear others won’t relate to what I’m thinking at all.

A clear and recent example of an author sharing his emotions and the whole process of a difficult struggle is Jay Lake (http://www.jlake.com/). I didn’t know Jay, but I know a number of people that did know him. I was actually invited to go to a dinner and meet him some time ago. I missed that opportunity and now there won’t be any more dinners with him. I am moved by the writing he shared on his battle with cancer and more so by the response of others to what he wrote. His honesty about the ugly parts of the battle draws people out. He could share all this with his words.

More recently another larger than life member of fandom and also an excellent author also passed away. CJ Henderson (http://cjhenderson.com/) was a man I had met. I can’t say that I really knew him. I own a number of his works. I had the occasional chance to chat with him, but being a full time raconteur he spent most of the time I was around him chatting with my wife and her girlfriend, convincing them the stories he wove were worthy of parting with their hard won cash. He was always entertaining. His death hit my circle of friends quite hard. As I write, less than a week after his passing, the ripples are still flowing outward from him. The words of others flow.
Something I suspect only a few folks know was that in between these two events death strode into my personal life. My mother’s brother Sid died, unexpectedly, right before Father’s day weekend. I left very early that Saturday morning and drove to Georgetown (north of Boston) to be with my family. Unlike the men listed above, this was an immediate connection. I’d known my uncle all of my life. He’d always been, and I had never given thought to when the time would come when he simply wouldn’t be. I can’t say I knew him as well as some, but we’d recently spent time chatting over things by e-mail. We talked a little of publishing and submissions and what made comics funny. Our communication was a work in progress but now it’s done. It’s over and there’s not going to be any more. It’s a struggle to deal with that thought. I’ve been amazingly fortunate in my family to avoid more than one or two folks passing away in the past twenty years. I’m leaving that statement, despite the gnawing in my gut that’s telling the superstitious portion of my brain I shouldn’t tempt death or fate or whatever. It’s sad when a creative spark goes out and it’s difficult to deal with that feeling.

That Father’s Day weekend with my family highlighted just how much people live in their own little set of connections and don’t look to the world or even to other people beyond their immediate circle. That is in no way meant to be a disparaging remark toward anyone, merely an observation. My schedule was completely dumped, work shifted, childcare rearranged and travel plans fixed. I put more than one thousand miles on my car in a three-day span. Emotions were raw. Work needed to be done. Cleaning up, cleaning out and summarizing a life. It was an intense span. At the end of it? The world kept spinning. Other people’s summer vacation plans went on ahead, fireworks displays and cookouts still happened. At the end of it? It was my job to jump back into the stream and keep swimming along.

Now, after a great deal of stress has washed along I find myself wondering if I should have been writing this all down as I went. Should I have been making notes or posting updates or writing anything while this was going on? I wanted to mention Jay Lake’s cancer blog months ago. I appreciate that he wrote what he did. I meant to say something about the excellent celebration that happened at Balticon for CJ and his wife. It was good to see a storyteller still getting words out there for others… and yet I didn’t. I kept my words, my stories, my pictures inside and didn’t get anything on a page. I didn’t share my fun or my frustrations, the anger or the deep sadness. I neglected the ability to push the disgust and weariness out into words that might help or move or amuse others. I neglected that creativity.

I don’t know an author or artist that doesn’t have that little part of them wondering if what they do is really good enough. My doubts linger and float nearby. They gather and join each other. Doubt has become a pair of ankle weights as I swim along in life. A function of getting older? Perhaps. More likely it relates to the passing of the talented men I’ve talked about here. The flow of things putting those sparks out. My uncle wasn’t known in the science fiction community, nor was he a published author. He was a talented photographer, sculptor and cartoonist. He was genuinely creative and finished some amazing work. In the end, it didn’t go anywhere. That hit some kind of nerve inside me. Doubt soaked up all the depression, frustration and heartbreak adding more and more weight.

So here I am, writing it all down. It’s important for me, but I hope that others will be able to read this and know shared experiences are out there. Getting words onto a page helps. It’s expression, and it’s creativity. It’s catharsis. This is the first thing I’ve really written in weeks. It’s not a passing post on social media; it’s a line to help others that might be out there feeling like they’re going to get washed away and their creativity drowned. I’m so glad I got the chance to see, to feel the creative works of those recently passed. Those works will remain when their creators have gone. There are more words, more works of art, more creative expressions coming from me. I hope others will find a way to express themselves too. Don’t wait, don’t doubt– create.

by Eric Hardenbrook

Balticon  48

May 23-26

          Balticon is—hundreds of authors, publishers, artists, scientists, musicians and over a thousand fans at the area’s largest & longest running Science Fiction/Fantasy convention. Author panel discussions, readings, podcasting/new media, live SF theater, children’s programming, BSFS Books for Kids charity auction, Steampunk, Medieval and other dances, science briefings, concerts, Masquerade, writers’ workshop, poetry contest and workshop, Film Festival, Art show, dealers’ room, anime, RPG and board gaming, LARP, skill demonstrations and other special events.

Dark Quest books will be launching Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Day Al-Mohamed’s Ali Babi and the Clockwork Djinn: a Steampunk Faerie Tale. Jay Smith will be recording a live episode of the radio play Hidden Harbor Mysteries. Finally, on a lighter note, Fortress Publishing will be launching their anthology TV Gods, which will feature humorous and satirical fiction by some of the Watch the Skies regulars. Take your favorite TV show and your favorite pantheon and mash them together—what could go wrong?

6 Comments

  1. Write more, thats all I have to say. Literally, it seems as though you relied on the video to make your point. You clearly know what youre talking about, why throw away your intelligence on just posting videos to your weblog when you could be giving us something enlightening to read? edaaeaebbagakded

  2. It truly is the simple truth is a great along with valuable item of facts. Now i’m joyful which you distributed this convenient data here. You should stop us advised similar to this. Appreciation for spreading.

  3. Appreciation to my father who informed me regarding this weblog,
    this weblog is in fact amazing.

  4. Hello, friends and bannermen. Game of Thrones’ dangled the Stark family reunion before us and brought lusty Lysa to our screens.

  5. I am genuinely thankful to the owner of this site who has
    shared this fantastic paragraph at here.

  6. Howdy this is somewhat of off topic but I was wanting to know
    if blogs use WYSIWYG editors or if you have to manually code with HTML.
    I’m starting a blog soon but have no coding expertise so
    I wanted to get guidance from someone with experience. Any
    help would be greatly appreciated!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *