Sci-Friday #102: Billy West – Futurama Voice Actor Bloopers

If you love scifi, you love Futurama – it’s that simple. Matt Groenig’s love letter to pop culture and science fiction included some of the top voice actors in Hollywood including a guy named Billy West. Billy, if you didn’t already know, had already built a successful voice career doing Ren and Stimpy. He went full ‘Mel Blanc’ in Futurama, providing many of the beloved, bizarre characters you came to know and love. It’s always fun to watch a gag reel, so sit back and enjoy these Futurama voice actor bloopers:

Don’t stop here, though. Billy West has a channel on Youtube talking about some of his experiences as a pro voice actor. Definitely worth checking out if you’re interested in that side of the business.

Part of the benefit of watching Billy West and the Futurama voice actor bloopers is that it de-mystifies the entire process of making scifi. At the end of the day, it comes down to regular people coming together to make something awesome. Always has, always will. If you like Sci-Friday, you can go down the rabbit hole of every other Sci-Friday I’ve published in the past couple years. Happy Friday and enjoy your weekend!

Ten Things I Wish I’d Known as a Teen Author

Spotted this yesterday and am passing it along for the people who come to Inkican for free author advice. I’m happy to share with you because people shared with me, that’s how it works! This 30-minute video is a GREAT resource for young or aspiring authors: Ten Things I Wish I’d Known as a Teen Author. Give it a watch and take notes, this guy gets it and you’ll get it too after you watch this.

One of my takeaways was: Yes, you can be a pro writer. It’s not a one-in-a-million shot, there are a ton of writing jobs out there beyond being a professional novelist. He’s not afraid of telling you what you need to hear. No one is going to force you to be a writer, and if you’re getting into writing because you want to be rich and famous then you’ll be in for a bad shock.

I still love this, Brandon Sanderson makes a ton of great points – watch this video to get a roadmap for a professional writing career.

How Things Work: Soft Power and Scifi

How Things Work: Soft Power and ScifiSome brief thoughts on life, the universe, and everything before I get started on my daily wordcount for Project Arecibo. One of the things I had to admit to myself when I began this journey is that I don’t understand how things work. Like, seriously. How is my life supposed to go, and what do I have to make that happen? Cracking that unspoken, unwritten code is part of my recovery journey. Hopefully before I die, I’ll figure out how I’m supposed to live.

One insight I’ve gained so far is how our culture and civilization use soft power. Soft power defined, is ‘is the ability to attract and co-opt, rather than coerce (contrast hard power). In other words, soft power involves shaping the preferences of others through appeal and attraction.’ When you start looking at soft power, you start to understand how much it shapes our world. No one is putting a gun to people’s head and saying ‘make this happen.’ They’re making things happen by attracting and shaping their preferences. That’s soft power at work.

Soft Power and Scifi

You can see the difference between hard and soft power in Star Wars, for example. The Dark Side / Empire / First Order leads through the use of hard power (military power, coercion, fear, dominance) whereas the Light Side / Rebellion / Resistance leads through soft power (diplomacy, influence, inspiration, and leadership). There are examples on both sides using hard and soft power, of course. But step back and look at the whole picture: it’s clear that they fall on different ends of the power spectrum.

Another example: In Jurassic Park, scientists used hard power (technology, money, corporations) to coerce a new form of prehistoric life into a modern existence. However as Ian Malcolm is famous for pointing out, ‘life finds a way.’ He’s absolutely right: life does break free, it does expands to new territories, and crash through barriers painfully, maybe even dangerously. Most of Michael Chricton’s storytelling can be summed up in the same truism we’ve discussed since Frankenstein: science doesn’t have all the solutions, and sometimes it just makes more problems. In fact, most of Chricton’s stories are just a re-hashed version of the Frankenstein plot structure, but that’s a different blog post.

And So …

Wrapping this up, I want to re-iterate: I don’t understand how things work. This discussion of soft power and scifi is just me saying “oh, now I can see things in a new way.” Does it mean I’m seeing some place I want to go? No idea. Does it mean I have all the answers? Absolutely not. I think it’s important to show humility and modesty as I continue down my path. If anything, I hope I inspire you to do the same.

Birth of the Meme: The 20th Anniversary of ‘All Your Base’

Next week is the 20th Anniversary of the birth of the meme ‘All Your Base,’ one of the most well-known viral memes of the pre-social media era. The original link is here, but you can also watch it on Youtube. Feel free to catch up first, and then let’s talk about what ‘All Your Base’ taught us about Internet culture, social objects, and nerdcool. Watch, and then let’s discuss:

When All Your Base Are Belong To Us (shortened to AYBABTU because I don’t want to keep typing that) dropped in 2001, the entire world took notice. As Wired pointed out, AYBABTU exposed “the Dada ‘reality’ of a medium that refuses to be tamed into predictability.” While that’s true, it’s not the whole story. AYBABTU was a meme, one of the first really popular ones. Like other memes, ‘When All Your Base Are Belong To Us ‘ ‘represents something timeless that continually rings true for people, such as parenthood. Other memes are specific to a specific event or idea.’

So what was the truth of AYBABTU? Before 2001, gamers and gamer-related culture were still on the down-low. Thousands of kids grew up thinking they were the only one who understood how video games could be both endearing and cringe-worthy. Then, like AYBABTU hits like a ton of bricks and they realize: “Hey, we aren’t alone. Like yesteryear nerds playing D&D or quoting Monty Python, we have a ‘thing’ of our own!”

Was it meaningful? Of course not. Was it stupid? Absolutely. But ‘All Your Base Are Belong To Us’ was something all these kids could relate to, what @GapingVoid calls ‘a social object,’ a tangible reason for why we socialize.

Our cultural understanding of memes and Internet culture has leapfrogged itself over and over again in the past twenty years. All Your Base Are Belong To Us dropped in the last few months before 9/11, now that I think about it. It’s a meme that represents the optimistic, irreverent future we were trying to build. I wish we could somehow be that innocent and hopeful again. I’m going to talk more about this, after I think about how it applies to Mesh.

 

Sci-Friday #100 – We Did It! – Scifi and Blender

Drum roll, please … Hooray, we did it! We made it to Sci-Friday’s hundredth post – huzzah! I’ve been doing this for one hundred blog posts now, and it’s been a fun, fascinating challenge to find something every week to highlight the fun side of science fiction.

In this week’s Sci-Friday, we have a breakdown of the VFX going into an upcoming game. Thanks to Blender, all we need to make a rich, beautiful scifi universe is a great artist, actors, and green-screens. Watch!

Sci-Friday #99 – Jawa Van Halen – Fun Scifi Stuff

Did you know the Jawa’s like Van Halen? Neither did I. And yet, this stop-motion animation provides undeniable proof of the galactic popularity of EVH. The beauty of scifi, as I’ve said, is how it lets us leverage our weaknesses into strengths. The creator himself candidly pointed out: “A Jawa Plays Eruption: A Tribute to Edward Van Halen is exactly that! This was an extremely FUN way to pay respects to a musical Legend and to also challenge myself to recreate Eddie’s amazing solo, frame by frame via stop motion animation. Is it perfect? Of course not, that’s impossible and nothing ever is :-)”

Now, kick back and watch a Jawa shred on Eddie Van Halen’s eponymous work, ‘Eruption.’

Hope you enjoyed ‘Jawa Van Halen, ‘ and if you like Sci-Friday, you can go down the rabbit hole of every other Sci-Friday I’ve published in the past couple years. Happy Friday and enjoy your weekend!

 

New SF Short Story – The Conquered – Old-school Scifi

I’m so excited to share this with you. The Conquered, is now available online at Amazon and your other favorite bookstores. This new SF Short story  is a celebration of old-school scifi. I’ve been working on The Conquered for a while; this is the moment where it gets fired off into the universe!

As I mentioned earlier, my love of thoughtful, old-school scifi comes from places like The Twilight Zone. The Conquered is a story like that, where we talk about some fundamental concepts like ‘what if aliens conquered Earth?’ and ‘what if quantum mechanics impact other universes like an oil spill on sea life?’ I play around with those ideas, and more – here’s a brief description of the short:

New SF Short Story - The Conquered - Old-school ScifiThe Conquered

Three space explorers arrive on a new planet to find the hungry, desperate faces of a conquered civilization. These people are human, intelligent and aware of space travel. Why are they dressed in rags? Why isn’t anyone allowed to own a tool, or medicine? What happened to their cities and culture? The chilling answer comes from the six-meter alien with smoke-colored armor and polished fangs, and he does not come in peace.
Get a copy from your favorite bookstore
Free Sci-Fi EBook - The Rocket - Amazon Barnes & Noble Kobo Scribd Thalia Bol.de Angus & Robertson Vivlio

If you like The Conquered, I invite you to check out my other shorts. I’ll be submitting another new SF short story, in that same old-school scifi style, very soon. I’m getting more stuff out the door in 2021 so I look forward to sharing some other news in the near future!

 

How Twilight Zone Shaped My Scifi

How Twilight Zone Shaped My Scifi

I have a couple of books on my shelf, collections of short stories that eventually became episodes of the Twilight Zone. Always interesting to see how closely the episodes mirrored original stories, but in a larger sense it makes me aware of my debt to the series. Because of that, I think it’s time to discuss how the Twilight Zone shaped my scifi, and what that means when you see my short stories.

As with Gene Roddenberry, Rod Serling used his television show ‘as a vehicle for social comment, as networks and sponsors who censored controversial material from live dramas were less concerned with seemingly innocuous fantasy and sci-fi stories.’ In his own quietly subversive way, Serling shaped our culture; today we live in the future he helped create.

I think the old school scifi hands were onto something, when their stories poked holes in our emotional bubbles. But there’s something more that they did; it wasn’t until recently that I understood what it was.

The Twilight Zone and other scifi stories made me feel understood. They communicated with me on my level. No low-brow laugh tracks, no prosaic pratfalls, and no stale storytelling. When you watched a TZ episode, you know they were going to talk about something real, make you think, and talk to you like an intelligent human being. Try getting that out of The Big Bang Theory.

Look, I get it. I know that when people are watching television they’re trying to distract themselves from the stresses of life. But don’t forget: the world was a scary place when the Twilight Zone started. The Cold War, the Kennedy Assassination, and Vietnam all happened in the same time frame. Some tried to anaesthetize themselves with The Beverly Hillbillies and Gilligan’s Island, but those shows have aged like milk.

By contrast, the Twlight Zone just gets better with time and here’s why: Serling used those half-hour scifi universe to communicate hope, to appeal to the angels of his viewer’s better natures. Rod Serling, like all great men, was hard at work planting mental trees for the next generations, knowing he would not sit in their shade. Love or hate the show, you can’t deny the faint nobility in those kinds of gestures. Now more than ever, we need people like Rod Serling. We need the people who understand what he was talking about, too.

So that, in a nutshell is how the Twilight Zone shaped my scifi. I really appreciated how those stories made me think, made me feel understood and respected. I carry that tradition forward when I write and I think you see that when you read my stories.

For example, I know the pain of living in a body you feel ashamed of, and I wanted to explore that topic by thinking of how kids in the 2100s would solve that problem. That’s why I wrote ‘Body Issues.’ I’ve had to say good-bye to parents and parent-figures, family and adopted family, many times over the years. The Rocket is how I’ve processed that awful moment, having to say good-bye to someone I love in order to save my life. There are other backstories surround my shorts, but I’ll save those stories for another time.

So if you’re a TZ fan yourself, please know that Serling’s tradition lives on. I see you, I hear you. You aren’t alone. There are many people listening, when you tune into the right frequency.

 

 

No, Seriously: Stop With the Dystopian Science Fiction – Part II

Continuing from Monday, I believe very strongly that we need to stop with dystopian science fiction. Like, yesterday. I don’t have the data to prove a direct causal link between dystopian SF and what happened last week. Yet, the parallels between Hitler’s fascination with Old Shatterhands and last week’s rioters dressed as post-apoc NPCs is impossible to ignore. In fact, some have suggested that participants are unwittingly part of an ‘alternate reality game’ – creating a self-sustaining narrative as part of gameplay.

So again – this isn’t about politics – this is about my responsibility as a storyteller. The last twenty years of dystopian fiction may have some responsibility to bear in terms of how people perceive mass insurrections, popular uprisings. Would you, would I, want to be responsible for helping people think it’s okay to put themselves in harm’s way? You already know the answer to that question. Let’s now conclude with some reality checks for what life will be like in a true dystopian scenario:

Everyone You Care About Will be Gone

No, Seriously: Stop With the Dystopian Science FictionStop for a minute and look at this picture on the right. It’s the photo of a German prisoner of war returning to his home town of Frankfurt to discover his house bombed and his family gone. Not evacuated, not homeless, gone. They died in the bombings of Frankfurt. Likely, he thought of his family time and time again as he drove himself to get home safe.

Now, let’s talk about you. Let’s remember that heroes become victims in the blink of an eye. War kills innocent victims far more than enemy combatants. Consider what will probably be waiting for you on the day you, by some miracle of chance, survive this coming dystopia. You’ll probably be injured, suffering from PTSD. Watch those old videos of war victims. Imagine realizing that those bodies aren’t strangers, they’re friends and family.

Imagine coming home to the smoking crater of your home.  Your parents, kids, siblings? They’re all gone, now. If you’re very lucky, you won’t have to see their dead bodies or dig their graves.

But again, let’s say that’s not enough. Maybe you think surviving the end of the world is a good thing, or you plan on prospering in a dystopia. You might be looking forward to being Mad Max or Maxine in the upcoming nitro-fueled wasteland. Well before you get there, sport, let’s keep going. Here’s why all that cool stuff isn’t going to happen to you:

You Will Not Survive the End of the World

Yes, dystopian fiction is ‘escapist fantasy.’ But not because the end of the world is a fantasy. The actual fantasy is that you will escape; that you will survive. You probably won’t, and here’s why.

Think about this: the Soviet Union lost 14% of its population during WWII. Europe lost 22% of its population during the Black Death. COVID has taught us that, even with modern technology, human infrastructure can fall apart fast under the wrong circumstances.

So, reality check: in a real dystopia, you will likely die. Pick a reason: War, from violence, disease, starvation, easily-treatable injuries that become lethal because hospitals don’t exist anymore. Remember that moment in the Postman where the protagonist takes care of his teeth because he remembers people dying of dental infections. It still happens, even in the 21st Century. Let that sink in the next time you decide to skip flossing.

Why I’m Telling You This

Make no mistake, I take no joy in writing any of this. This piece is designed to help explain my thoughts as a writer and human being. I think it’s important to use art to light the way to better places for mankind.

I also decided to say ‘please, stop and think’ to my fellow authors. We can write the most exciting stories, ever. If we’re not using our creative energy to make life better than others, then this may serve as an important inflection point. If we can imagine the end of the world, we can also imagine the start of a better one.

 

 

No, Seriously: Stop With the Dystopian Science Fiction

No, Seriously: Stop With the Dystopian Science FictionLike many of you, I’m shocked and horrified by what I saw last week on television. Don’t worry, this isn’t yet-another political treatise – I’m politically neutral. Taking a page from Jon Stewart, I don’t want to present another ‘overwrought speech.’ My job is to make you forget reality for a little while, and that’s what I will continue to do. But considering my storytelling responsibility, last week’s events reiterate what I’ve been saying for a few years now: Stop with the Dystopian Fiction.

Now you can read what I said for yourself, but for the sake of simplicity let’s cover some important reasons why we need to hit the Universal Pause button on Dystopian Fiction:

Dystopia Will Not Be Fun

Let’s be clear: I don’t hang complete or even direct responsibility for last week’s events on dystopian scifi. I love trashy old dystopian movies (Looking at you, Logan’s Run) like anyone else. What I noticed several years ago was a shift in how dystopian SF was being viewed. It stopped being about a future we wanted to avoid, and started treating the end of the world like a sexy Tough Mudder competition.

After watching the news last week, it occurred to me that many of those storming the Capitol were trapped in a roleplay with lethal stakes. They saw themselves as the heroes, here to liberate the oppressed. ‘Starting the revolution’ was exciting: you get to dress up in costumes, shout slogans and take selfies!

In a way, the events last week reminded me how Hitler was inspired by the insanity of Karl May novels. May was a nutcase, but he made a lot of money in the late 1800s by writing ‘Aryanized’ cowboy novels for German readers. Captivated by how May could whitewash the genocidal horrors of the American West, Hitler adopted those concepts and integrated them into his war plans. I’m not kidding, either. He sent 300K copies of May novels to officers near the Eastern front to inspire them, too. I’m sure you know the rest of the story.

Real dystopia isn’t that fun. That’s why dystopian and post-apoc SF can be called ‘escapist fantasy.’ Not because the end of the world is itself a fantasy but because another fantasy is involved. I’ll explain what I mean in a minute. For now, let’s consider what dystopia feels like:

At this point, viewing dystopia as a fun, entertaining experience says more about you than anything else. The only way you can be entertained by it is by having zero empathy for others’ suffering. But, say that’s not enough for you. Let’s raise the stakes a little …

Part II Publishes on Wednesday …