Good-bye to Mad Magazine

There is no joy in Mudville—mighty Casey has struck out. Multiple news agencies are reporting that Mad Magazine is ceasing publication after sixty-seven years. I know it’s not directly related to science fiction, but having to say good-bye to Mad Magazine still hurts. So, it’s worth talking about the satire magazine’s relationship with the science fiction genre.

Mad’s wiki article summarizes the magazine’s impact on American culture. In fact, reading Mad was an introduction for many American kids to satire, critical thinking, lampooning, and humor itself. Silly, without being subversive. Criticizing, without being critical. Mad never hesitated to take on important topics, find something funny to say about them, and challenge us to think on a deeper level.

Science fiction, of course, enjoyed Mad’s loving attention almost from the beginning. Throughout it’s publication history, every single important sci-fi film, book, TV show took their turn being roasted. For lonely, sheltered kids who had no exposure to the world of science fiction beyond whatever their parents brought home, Mad Magazine was a gateway drug to the vast universe of stories out there being told.

Star Wars, Star Trek, Marvel, Back to the Future, Predator and yes, Stranger Things … we cackled our way through the corny jokes, skewered the plot holes, and ultimately celebrated the victory of another successful science fiction story. We laughed, we kidded, but we loved. In fact, I remember working on a project with a rather talented actor. She said she ‘knew she had made it when she reached the cover of Mad Magazine.’ You can see a picture of Michael Biehn autographing the Mad Magazine that lampooned ‘Aliens’ on the wiki article. ’nuff said.

And look, I get it. I stopped reading Mad years ago. In fact, I think you’re supposed to. It’s sophomoric humor is designed to appeal to the male 12-18 demographic. Gross-out, libidinous humor that’s just this side of acceptable … I graduated from that and moved on, as many others did. In a world of dying print magazines, I guess this was inevitable. It just makes me sad all the same.

Many others are sharing their sadness.  Weird Al Yankovic said on Twitter: “I can’t begin to describe the impact it had on me as a young kid – it’s pretty much the reason I turned out weird. Goodbye to one of the all-time greatest American institutions.”

Weird Al echoes the experiences of several generations of creative, funny people. Mad Magazine’s departure will leave a hole in our collective souls for many years to come.

I originally posted this on Reddit.

The Schöner Machine of ‘Stranger Things’

A phrase in William Gibson’s ‘Hinterlands’ that keeps running through my head as I binge-watch Seasons 1 and 2 of ‘Stranger Things’ in preparation for Season 3. It’s ‘schöner machine,’ or ‘beautiful machine.’ Like William Gibson’s ill-fated astronaut, I can’t help but marvel at a beautiful machine, and that’s why I’m totally in love with this amazing Netflix show.

Stranger Things, above all, is a brilliant story. The Duffer Brothers’ ability to combine Eighties zeitgeist with classic science fiction mysteries and still create a completely authentic, autonomous universe is nothing short of remarkable.

The show drips with rich, elegant visuals that invite you to travel back through all the parts of the Eighties you don’t remember. Beautiful cinematography takes you through thick pile carpets, wooden console TVs, wood-paneled walls, and goofy retro bedrooms straight out of Better Homes and Gardens. You can’t help falling in love with the series for the design elements alone.

Verisimilitude is defined as ‘the appearance of being true or real.’ From the studied detail of the film scratches in the title sequence to ST’s epic soundtrack, all you feel is the reality of the universe. But the show doesn’t stop there. No, Stranger Things is a dense, thoughtful, and action-packed journey through one of the most interesting science fiction mysteries of the past decade.

Equal parts funny, scary, touching … you feel every square inch of Joyce’s torment at losing Will. You feel the boys’ love for their stricken friend. You feel Eleven’s conflicted feelings over her captors, her powers, and her new-found family. Even after you escape the primary story arc, there are other places to go. The show explores other parts of the characters’ lives with care and precision. These things are the hallmark of great storytelling, and Stranger Things has that market cornered.

Then you have the kids. God, I hope they turn out okay. I mentioned two years ago that I admire Gaten Matarazzo for how he’s handled his cleidocranial dysplasia. I said it before, and I’ll say it again: In science fiction, there are no weaknesses … there are only strengths you haven’t discovered.

Every actor inhabits a three-dimensional character that feels like someone you know from high school, your neighborhood, or your job. I’m particularly happy about seeing Winona Ryder and Matt Modine on screen again. The growing cast of child actors are incredibly talented. I hope they have long, safe and successful careers ahead of them.

So in short, I’m a fan of Stranger Things in several ways and for several different reasons. I love sci-fi and it doesn’t get much better than this. Not only that, the production of Stranger Things is a classic underdog tale.

We’ve been on a journey since the Duffer Brothers leap-frogged from short-film producers to pro filmmakers to rubbing elbows with M. Night Shyamalan on Wayward Pines to successfully pitching Stranger Things to Netflix via 21 Laps Entertainment. Stranger Things is the answer to every person who says ‘there’s no room for the little guys anymore.’

As Season Three comes out tomorrow morning and I settle in to binge-watch , I want to take a moment and say ‘Yes!’ Stranger Things is a beautiful machine, and until I started watching I had no idea how much I needed one in my life. I’m betting you do, too.

New Short Story Submitted – ‘They Did the Math’

New Short Story Submitted - 'They Did the Math'Pleased to say a new short story popped out of me. I submitted ‘They Did the Math’ to Terraform on Saturday, a short story about the discovery of time travel.

Although most people will think ‘Back to the Future,’ let me assure you that I went a different direction. Like the discovery of fire, or atomic weapons, a working time travel technology would have broad implications for humanity and I wanted to explore those ideas.

Now we wait to see if Terraform likes ‘They Did the Math’ enough to buy it. If they don’t, I’ll be submitting it elsewhere. I’ve got a good feeling about this one.

That’s What Scares Me the Most

I’m about five or six thousand words away from being done with Mesh. As the clock winds down, as my beta readers come in with happy words or notes, my anxiety is going up. I want to talk about something that’s been hanging in the back of my head since I started this crazy project. What scares me the most is the attention I might get.

Don’t get me wrong. I want to write, I want to share my work, but I’m terrified of attention. The world is full of freaky social media horror stories, doxxes, hoaxes and pranks. You can be the nicest person in the world, and creeps will still accuse you of horrible behavior just for the attention.

My story is more complex than Tom Hanks’ of course, but that’s my point. It took me years to understand that I attract the attention of damaged people. Broken people. Birds of a feather flock together, right? 😉 Doesn’t matter that we don’t want to be broken. Doesn’t matter that we’re tired of the drama, irrationality, and stress. We’re citizens of London Below, and there’s no going back.

I don’t perceive an answer to any of this right now. My hope is that by correctly articulating the problem that the solution will be easier to find. Dear readers, please understand that if we lose cabin pressure, this blog post can be used as a flotation device. Remain calm, stay seated with your seat buckle fastened until told to evacuate by a uniformed crew member.

 

Proof That Science Fiction Is Growing and Changing

Proof That Science Fiction Is Growing and Changing

Taking a moment out of the writing schedule to discuss something interesting that happened this week. Two things, actually. Both of them together bear out my prediction that science fiction itself is growing and changing into something more suitable for the universe in 2019.

Step one was this tweet courtesy John Scalzi:

Before you can say ‘Yeah, but Scalzi’s gonna Scalzi,’ look at the next piece of data – the ‘Not All Men’ episode of ‘The Twilight Zone.’ Jordan Peele picks up where Rod Serling left off by producing thoughtful, one-hour meditations on the darker side of human culture. In his case, he skewers toxic masculinity with a laser-sharp focus, reminding all of us that what we do is what defines us.

More clearly than ever, science fiction is no longer in the hands of fanboys and toxic tribalism. History will not be kind to the broken, hateful dweebs that use gatekeeping and bad-faith arguments to chase people away from science fiction. They don’t own sci-fi, they never did, and it was only a matter of time until we figured that out.

So I’m hoping that Mesh can be a happy part of that bright future. It’s never easy, taking the first step. I just think it’s important, and I hope one day we’ll all meet there together.

How To Own Science Fiction For Free

I admit it, I’m broke. It’s tough sometimes finding ways to entertain yourself when your income is fixed but your medical expenses are not. Happily, the Internet is a big place and thanks to the generosity of a number of kind souls, I was able to put together a simple page on ‘How to Own Science Fiction for Free.’

If you’re like me and you need a quick scifi fix but you’re short on cash, you can dive into the following resources for free stories and videos to watch. Enjoy!

Free Scifi Books and Stories

Chicago Review of Books – List of Free Scifi

Project Gutenberg List of Public Domain Scifi Stories

Scifi Stories from Freebooksy

Fonerbooks’ List of Free Scifi

Scifi Stories for Free by Inkitt

Free Scifi Movies

Scifi Movies on Youtube – Ranked by Inverse.com

Blast Off On The Rocket – New Scifi Short Story

Blast Off On The Rocket - New Scifi Short Story

Got something new for you to read! ‘The Rocket’ has been published to Amazon and all your other favorite e-reading websites. Click below for a link to each store and then Blast Off!

What’s The Rocket about? Read below for a quick description:

In the last few hours before life on earth ends, a young dad has a chance meeting with his estranged father. Will this be a moment of reconciliation, or recrimination? How can you communicate with someone who refuses to listen? Mike Crane takes one last shot to save his father’s life before he boards THE ROCKET.

My inspiration for writing comes from scifi giants like Asimov, Heinlein, and Bradbury. When I tell a story, I want to take some ideas out of the box, and play with them for a while. Don’t make it difficult, just enjoy the tingles of emotion and curiosity they bring up.

The genesis of the story comes from, you guessed it, the Internet. As people become increasingly fractured and polarized, how do we reconcile with each other. Along with that idea came another – what if a comet was heading toward Earth? Would we accept the danger and save ourselves or would people call it ‘Fake news?’ Bingo – new story idea!

I wrote The Rocket and sent it out to the usual suspects. Now it’s out on Amazon and everywhere else! Along with writing the story, I decided to continue practicing digital painting and I made the cover as well. I took a couple of days to play around with different visual concepts. Eventually, I realized that I couldn’t improve on an Unsplash photo, and used it as a template for the cover. My digital painting version is now a wall-paper for you to enjoy:

Blast Off On The Rocket - New Scifi Short Story

Creativity is a discipline, and The Rocket is something I’m proud of. I hope you enjoy reading it, and I look forward to your feedback. Thanks for checking it out! 🙂

Board The Rocket Now

Apple Barnes & Noble Kobo Blast Off On The Rocket - New Scifi Short Story Blast Off On The Rocket - New Scifi Short Story Blast Off On The Rocket - New Scifi Short Story

Formative Scifi is the Only Scifi

Re-reading a thread on Reddit about Iron Giant makes me realize how many lives that story touched. I’ll write a love letter to Brad Bird and The Iron Giant someday, but that isn’t what I want to talk about. Rather, I want to talk about formative scifi, because it’s the only scifi that matters. Therefore, Mesh must be formative scifi and that’s where my calories will really be burned.

Let me explain. “Formative experience is the everyday life we lived growing up and the know-how we develop as a result,” by this definition. “More often than not, the know-how develops beyond our awareness. We simply react or do the things we do, based on a familiarity, having seen or experienced something like it before.” As children, those formative moments become the pillars we stand on, or the rocks that crush us, for the rest of our lives. Further, for most of us, we’re trying to turn those rocks into pillars because, self-actualization and stuff.

Scifi always played a formative role in my life, and for many others. Iron Giant was clearly a formative experience for many, and it’s one of the reasons Brad Bird is such a talented storyteller. Contrast Iron Giant with a movie like Titan A.E.: one is a timeless story about love, loss, and acceptance … the other is, well, Titan A.E. You can enjoy both for what they are, but only one of them really worked to resonate on a human level. If I want readers to love Mesh as much as I do, I have to make sure the human connection is there.

But beyond Mesh, the only science fiction worth having in 2019 is formative scifi. Just as Tor points out, scifi books help us fight for a better world. That’s what we need right now. Regardless of where we come from, where we’re going is a dark and desperate place unless humanity can step back from the brink.

So, I want Mesh to be a part of that solution. I want my stories to be formative for someone, and therefore, Mesh has to resonate. If you believe in stories that matter, I want to know you. I want to tell a story that matters to you.

 

Thriller Novels and Spaghetti

Writing a thriller is like cooking spaghetti. Your reader doesn’t really care which noodle goes where, they just want the noodles to taste good together. The sheer level of effort required to make this last chunk of Mesh, to make the rest of the story come together in a neat, elegant order, is much higher than I first expected. I’m discovering new respect for authors like Frederick Forsyth, John Le Carré, and Tom Clancy. As your story builds to a climax, you can’t have a voice in the back of your head going “Yeah, that doesn’t fit together.”

At first, I thought at first I could write through the voice. Keep grinding, the answers will come. Some plots can afford that level of flexibility, but not a thriller. No, a thriller plot – which is what Mesh is, a YA scifi thriller – has to come together in that last act with no loose ends. Not only that, the loose end you tie up in Act Three can’t unravel four loose ends in Act Two. It’s somewhere between creativity and craftiness, productivity and puzzleology. In short, yeah it’s a lot of work.

I thought diagramming the story would prevent this from happening. Turns out, it works for the major chunks but not for the nitty-gritty details. Those are the details, IMHO, that separate stories like ‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’ from ‘The DaVinci Code.’ Fixing this, making Mesh the best story I can tell, is where I’m at right now.

Does this mean I should quit? Of course not. These are simply the problems I need to solve if I plan on being a good writer. Craft must be honed, you have to love the process of practice. I recall a Reddit post by a professional pianist that I think applies directly to my growth as a writer. “I think you have to have a growth mindset,” he says. “You have to enjoy the grind itself.”

So this is me, enjoying the grind. I’m not complaining. Yeah, I want to do this. Yeah, it’s going to take a lot of work. However, if it means a reader goes ‘Wow!’ at the end of Mesh, then it’ll all be worth it.

Back to the book!

 

How Sci-Fi’s First Drop-In Should Work

Writing more Mesh this week, and thinking about this whole Sci-Fi’s First Drop-In thing. I feel like I should explain more of what I have in mind, and how it should work.

As I said before, there’s a weird dynamic in scifi where people – and I include myself in this group – are a little, shall I say, rambunctious to the new creators of science fiction. There are all kinds of reasons why this happens, some of them have to do with group dynamics and others have to do with basic negativity. But rather than complain about that, we should find a way to solve this problem.

First, let’s talk about what celebrating your first drop-in should and shouldn’t be. Some of these may seem obvious, but let’s write them down, anyway:

  1. Your scifi first drop-in (SFFDI) isn’t about self-promotion, it’s about putting yourself out there for the first time and building trust
  2. Your SFFDI isn’t about negativity, is about what happens when you break out of your comfort zone
  3. Your SFFDI isn’t about hating on someone or something, it’s about making something you can enjoy

I might add some more ideas as I think of them, but this seems to be a good start. We (the scifi community) should be able to celebrate, and be celebrated without turning it into a ‘look at me’ thing. We should be able to try, and try new things without it turning negative. We should be able to create without the mad rush to monetize, build brands, go viral. Scifi began as a community of creators that just loved to dream and create. We should be able to build a mechanism to continue that proud tradition.

I even thought of a hashtag we could use: #SFFDI – nobody seems to be using it.

Feel free to contribute your feedback. This is 100% a community effort.