Wartime vs Peacetime Scifi

These are some comments about science fiction as a community and culture. If that isn’t your thing, feel free to ignore this post.

I caught a plane down to LA this week to see some friends from the old life. On my way back up, trying to ignore the incredibly loud lady behind me in 3E, I saw the guy next to me reading from Ben Horowitz’ book, The Hard Thing About Hard Things. He has some incredible insight about the world business and CEOs. I’ve read it before, but this time, I focused on his discussion about a ‘wartime CEO’ vs a ‘peacetime CEO.’

Applying his logic, one can see a few underlying causes of the tension within the sci-fi community from the past few years. We largely operate under philosophies of a peacetime-type culture: we have protocol, we talk about consensus-building and we think about the big picture. No one is ‘leading’ the community because the community is both self-organized and self-regulated, but the similarities in culture are obvious.

This culture has made our community successful for over a hundred years. However, as Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel said, “success contains the seeds of its own destruction.” The lessons learned from other enterprises absolutely apply to the science fiction community, since both groups include the carbon-based life forms of our wacky little planet.

We experienced what it felt like to have those seeds exploited when we read Laura Mixon’s report on Benjanun Sriduangkaew. We experienced those seeds poking out the ground when we saw the likes of Vox Day and the Sad Puppies attempting to ‘burn the Hugos down.’ Cynicism and disdain for science fiction as both an art form and community became a toxic distraction to the past couple years of sci-fi. Life has moved on, thankfully, but I can’t help but wonder where the next outbreak of toxicity will come from. Why did these toxic actors (TA) succeed, though, if they were so bad for us? Let’s go back to the ‘Wartime CEO’ example, because the answer is there: Continue reading

Dear Netflix: Here’s How You Do ‘Reverse Iron Fist.’

Was all set to say something about how to save Netflix’s beleagured show, Iron Fist, but then theMarySue.com beat me to it. All I have to say now is ‘that’s what she said.’ But then I thought about how you would do it. That’s where my juices got flowing.

First off, I can totally imagine this show as a period piece produced by Quentin Tarantino, starring some underknown Asian martial arts actress. The premise is super easy: Plane goes down in Texas in the 20s and she comes back to China in the thirties as this gunslinging martial arts warrior princess. It’d be an awesome way to talk about history that’s a blank space to Western high school history classes:

The more I thought about it, the more obvious it becomes. Sam Elliot already works on Netflix projects, so you cast him as ‘the cowboy as samurai master.’ Then you cast Michelle Yoh as her elder sister and either Donnie Yen or Jet Li as ‘The Bad Guy.’ First eight episodes write themselves: all about her training to be a gunfighter while maintaining her stance as a martial artist. Last four episodes are about her returning home and kicking butt.

Imagine how cool this would be. Take all of these worn-out story tropes and give them a completely fresh take by flipping them, it’s easy! Not only would the show have an instant market overseas, it would overcome all ‘whitewashing’ complaints in one swift move and reinforce Netflix as the driving force behind entertainment innovation for the next three or four years. I’d be happy to jump on board as a screenwriter, too. I’m an unknown talent so I’ll work cheap.

C’mon, Netflix, what do you say?

New Short Story: The Superhero Shrink

I’ve been amused to see how sick people are getting of superhero stories:

It reminds me of the call that went out last year for short stories featuring superheroes. I sent in a submission but it didn’t make the cut. Rather than complain, I decided to release it as a free short for new readers and am happy to announce that The Superhero Shrink is now available to the Inkican Crew. Here’s a quick description:

Dr. Christopher has a very difficult, unique job. He’s a psychiatrist who works with superheroes. Some legendary warriors come with baggage and his job is to help ‘keep ’em flying.’ Half-serious, half-dark comedy, ‘The Superhero Shrink’ is “‘The Avengers’ Meets ‘Ordinary People,'” an honest look at the people behind the masks.

I’m also releasing it to Amazon on March 27th if you’ve got a Kindle. If you’re sick of the typical ‘superhero’ story, this might be your jam.

Fame and Money Velocity

Fame and Money VelocityWas reading an interesting tidbit on the Internet yesterday about the misbehavior of the CEO of Chipotle. I’ve never cared for or about Chipotle, personally. You don’t need them after you to go the El Paso Taqueria on Blair Street, anyway. The negative notoriety reinforces something I’ve known for a long time about fame and why it’s not something I’ll personally chase, regardless of what happens with the writing.

To help understand this, I drew from something in my high school economics class, the velocity of money, or VoM for short. VoM measures the speed at which money changes hands, and is an indicator of the health of any economy. You can actually make money off of the VoM, if you time it correctly. If you understand that, you can also understand that fame also has a velocity, and that people make money off of this, too. The speed at which the public becomes aware of something, positively or negatively, is about 99% of the infotainment industry.

Fame and Money VelocityTMZ, Radar Online, Perez Hilton … they all make their money off of turning scandals and lurid stories into news. The teen pop superstars of 2016 are the teen diva meltdowns of 2017. ‘Cause Marketing’ turns cancer victims into a profit center. Now, as the unfortunate CEO of Chipotle demonstrates, companies and corporate execs fall into the same bucket. Yesterday’s Wall Street darling is next week’s Bernie Madoff. Yesterday’s Jared from Subway is today’s Jared from Subway. Media outlets time their activity so they profit either way. The news cycle is designed to make money when your star rises. They’ll be back when your star is ready to fall.

I could easily fall into this mess and I don’t want to. So yeah, even though I want to get my name out there, and for people to read my work, I need to hold onto my skepticism and cynicism of media. I want to be precise about how I engage with people. Viral media is a bell you can’t unring. Precision takes time.

Precision Takes Time

Some brief thoughts after finishing the first draft of ‘Victoria Crater.’ It took me MUCH longer than I expected to write this short story. I took breaks to re-focus my brain on telling the right story and use the right style. It’s harder than it looks. I asked myself over and over again, am I losing my mojo? Am I losing steam on writing? I think the answer is no, and here’s why.

I’m not sure if it’s a personal thing or not, but the words aren’t flowing like they used to. That might not be a bad thing. In the past words when flowed out like water from a broken faucet, I didn’t like what they said. I took Bruce Lee’s mantra about ‘being like water,’ to heart but I wasn’t cutting stone so much as I was making a mess on the kitchen floor.

Starting over again has renewed my appreciation for doing things the right way. So I’m focusing on the fundamentals. There’s no point in writing a hundred-thousand words no one will read. Writing Tweets helps me remember that much can be conveyed in a small space. Now I’m trying that discipline on the page.

Weight lifters have to focus on getting their form correct before adding weight. Writers do, too. There’s a certain level of precision involved, and it takes time and effort to master. I’d love to say that all of this comes as naturally as golf does to Tiger Woods, but the fact is that this is actual work. Calories are burned. So while I don’t want to be that guy who hangs out at Starbucks with his Mac Air in a turtleneck and calls himself a ‘writer,’ I want the work that I do to mean something.

So to sum up, this is a process. I’m not there yet, but I’m learning to love the ride.

 

DONE – The Battle of Victoria Crater Out for Comments

DONE.

DONE, DONE AND DONE.

It’s taken four months of grinding, but I’m happy to say that the first draft of ‘Victoria Crater’ is complete. Under normal circumstances, it shouldn’t take four months to write thirteen-thousand words, but VC was an experiment for me. I had to develop a whole new writing style to bring together new elements of storytelling. The process is kind of like reverse-engineering a Jackson Pollack to understand how you should mix paint.

For my part, I’m happy but exhausted – this was a lot more work than I thought it’d be! The fact is, I’m glad I did it. It was hard, it was a challenge, and I did it. Being able to say that makes me feel good.

Would you like to test-drive Victoria Crater? Go visit the thread on Reddit to learn how you can get a beta copy.

 

Okay, You Can Stop Writing Dystopian SciFi Now

I’ve been a fan of Edward R. Murrow, ever since I saw ‘Good Night and Good Luck’ twelve years ago. Amazing movie, great cast, gripping tension. What’s always made it stand out as a historical drama is the fact that its director (George Clooney) more or less told the story as it actually happened.

I mention this, because Murrow is famous for saying “television in the main insulates us from the realities of the world in which we live … surely we shall pay for using this most powerful instrument of communication to insulate the citizenry from the hard and demanding realities which must be faced if we are to survive. I mean the word survive literally.”

Murrow was more right than he ever knew. The world of 2017 is beginning to wake up to the reality he warned against. Humanity’s decadence, escapism and insulation from reality are starting to result in very real consequences we cannot escape. I just finished watching ‘White Helmets’ on Netflix yesterday. If you haven’t watched it yet, go watch it. Then you’ll understand why I say that the Western world has no business writing dystopian or post-apocalyptic science fiction anymore.

You might wonder why a guy with a diagnosed anxiety disorder chooses to watch such things but it’s really quite simple. The answer comes in yet-another Murrow quote: ‘in learning how others have faced their problems — this has given me fresh ideas about how to tackle mine.’ I learn something from every documentary I watch and yesterday, I learned something else.

Here’s the deal: we don’t have the market cornered on what the end of the world looks like anymore. Maybe we never did. The fact is, there are people who are living that nightmare every single day and none of them are as photogenic as Jennifer Lawrence. What a sick joke it must be for them to realize that we spend time watching actors pretending to survive while they struggle to survive every hour of every day.

Where dystopian stories fail is quite simple. They put protagonists in the center of the horror of their human society that all change rests upon. Plucky hero overcomes all odds to change the system. Maybe she even meets a cute boy or two! The stories have become stale cliches; Twitter lampoons them mercilessly and they deserve it.

Meanwhile, kids in Aleppo know better. The horror of human society that is visited upon them has nothing to do with them. They’re just the unlucky souls that bear the burden of being caught in the crossfire. The battle is being fought hundreds of miles away, by other men in other countries. The bombs that kill them come from men they will never see. They have no power to escape, or change the system. They can’t defeat the bombs with a compound bow. Those kids are made to suffer, and they do.

Maybe it’s just me, but I just don’t think I have a right to ignore that. I don’t think it’s appropriate to write post-apocalyptic stories when other people are living it. Where dystopian fiction originally warned people of what could happen if certain authoritarian measures grew out of control, now it distracts us from the apocalyptic scenes happening all around the world.

It would be a disservice to those people, those suffers, if we continue to ignore them. It would also be a disservice to the the better men we descend from, and to ourselves not to recognize who we are, what we are and what we can be. Just as Robert Zemeckis was self-aware enough to realize that nobody wanted to see Forrest Gump 2 after 9/11, we ought to be introspective enough to realize that dystopian sci-fi ‘just isn’t relevant anymore … the world has changed.’

I’m not advocating that we stop writing stories. In fact, we should write more stories and we should write them for those people. If anyone deserves a story that can be escaped into, it’s them. We can be the persons who make those worlds they can escape into. We can make worlds that welcome them. We can make worlds that let them know that someone from the other side of the void hears them, knows them and cares about them.

I can’t solve the problem, but I can imagine a day when it’s behind us. Hopefully I can help you imagine it, too.

Torture You Can Live With

Two rejection notices for short stories. Submitting them elsewhere and refusing to give up!

Short Stories Roadmap is Updated

Rejection never feels good, but if you’re a creative person, you have to learn to live with it. I remember an interview with Jerry Seinfeld in which he described the process of writing comedy every day. Someone asked if it was easy for him and he said, no … sometimes it was torture. But, Seinfeld continues, in life you have to find the torture you can live with.

That’s where I am. It’s torture, but I can live with it.