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.

Sci-Friday #19 – How *Did* They Make the Starlines in Star Wars?

Sci-Friday #19 - How *Did* They Make the Starlines in Star Wars?Happy Sci-Friday and Happy May the Fourth! This is a quick post about Star Wars, since it’s definitely part of my life as a movie / scifi geek. Since May the Fourth is tomorrow, I thought I’d answer a question that’s been bugging me for almost forty years. How *did* they make the starlines, that is, the jump into hyperspace?

On the surface, the question and the answer might not matter to most. For me, that special effect in Star Wars remains iconic and intrinsic to what made the franchise so important. Everything felt real. Everything looked real. That’s the kind of storytelling I want to practice with my scifi. So let’s find the answer: Took a bit of Google-fu to find the answer, turns out that nobody directly answers the question, a la Quora or /r/askreddit. But there is an answer when you follow this link I found on Stackexchange.

A Fantasy Film Journal interview with John Dykstra in 1978 goes into a blow-by-blow discussion of the special effects in Star Wars: A New Hope, which also turns out to be the inception of VFX itself. Here’s Dykstra’s answer (found in the PDF on page 20, if you’re curious) in a nutshell:

FFJ: What about the jump into “hyperspace”?
JD: That’s streak photography. Basically it was real simple. That was one of the few shots that was done by hand, basically. You open the shutter and you move the camera forward, thereby streaking the stars on the film. Alright, each time you advance* it a little bit further, so that on the succeeding frame, the streak is a little longer. Eventually the streak extends all the way to the edge of the film. That’s done simply by taking the camera, opening the shutter and moving it In, closing the shutter, then stopping. Then backing It up, going to the next frame, moving a little bit further this time, and then stopping, backing it up… it’s very tedious, very time consuming and very simple. It wasn’t particularly innovative, but everybody likes it for some reason.

Wow, far out. What seemed like a difficult problem turns out to be a simple camera trick. As Dykstra points out, it’s not particularly innovative, but what is important is that people love it. So, as with Star Wars and/or any other part of science fiction, sometimes the simplest tricks really are the best.

Happy May the Fourth, and for the record: I still hate Jar-Jar.

‘Suck’ Comes Before ‘Succeed’

So without further ado, here’s a digital painting that I’ve been working on for a couple of weeks. Working on this while finishing Mesh, it’s teaching me that universal truth: Unlike the dictionary, ‘Suck’ Comes Before ‘Succeed’ in the process of creativity. Enjoy the painting and see below for some notes.

Even though I’m not super happy with the final product, I need to move on. Watching Bob Ross (because, Bob Ross) I realized that I wanted to paint, too. So I started working on something that I was interested in and if you’re one of my Beta Readers, you know that this is a scene from ‘Mesh.’

It took me around twenty hours to do this. Learned a lot about how to paint digitally using Photoshop and my digital drawing tablet along the way. I wish the project came out better, but I also remember that quote from Jake the Dog in Adventure Time: “Suckin’ at something is the first step to being sorta good at something.”

So here’s me and the painting I made. Yes, I know it sucks, but that’s how I get better. You can see some of the progress pics below in this Imgur gallery:


Finished this digital painting today … 

Why SciFi Will Never Be Mainstream

I ran across this and thought it was an interesting counterpoint to a question I’ve been asking myself for the past twenty years: why isn’t scifi mainstream? Why do people think science fiction begins and ends with superheroes and Star Wars? The sad reality is that scifi, real science fiction, isn’t and will never be mainstream.

That’s a bummer, to be honest. Real scifi, IMO, has some actual science in it and another instance of ‘Marvel Magic Punching People’ just isn’t my cup of tea. Why don’t people get that there’s more to science fiction? This post arrived on Reddit, and explained the reason in cogent, and logical, detail:

So what’s wrong with even the best science fiction? My theory is that science fiction is too concept dense to be communicated in the lush, multi-dimensional form that is expected from literature. Too much of science fiction demands prose that needs to be parsed abstractly and is thus flat by comparison. 

So, I guess that to love science fiction is to be an institutional outlier. Tough pill to swallow on a Tuesday morning, but like Louis L’Amour said of a certain cowboy protagonist: ‘You won’t make as many friends, but the ones you make will stick by you.’

I can live with that.

You Should Geek Out About the ‘Black Hole Picture’

The Internet blew up yesterday over a picture of what looks like a fuzzy donut. Yes, science has taken it’s first picture of a black hole and yes, it’s a really big deal. In fact, there are a number of good reasons to geek out about this. You can Google around, or you can read below for some of those nerdy details. Here’s what went into the production of this picture, according to the European Southern Observatory (ESO):

Although the telescopes making up the EHT are not physically connected, they are able to synchronize their recorded data with atomic clocks — hydrogen masers — which precisely time their observations. These observations were collected at a wavelength of 1.3 mm during a 2017 global campaign. Each telescope of the EHT produced enormous amounts of data – roughly 350 terabytes per day – which was stored on high-performance helium-filled hard drives. These data were flown to highly specialised supercomputers — known as correlators — at the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy and MIT Haystack Observatory to be combined. They were then painstakingly converted into an image using novel computational tools developed by the collaboration.

To put that in perspective, each of the eight telescopes in the EHT produced the data equivalent of 3,500 full-length movies in 4K every single day. That data was then analyzed and converted back into a viewable image. A Redditor explains how that happened and what that means: Continue reading

The Future Shouldn’t Suck

The Future Shouldn't Suck

No, no … I said future *suck*

I found this article on Techcrunch to be interesting. The suggestion that technology has become a ‘dark forest’ is nothing new. We’ve been discussing the potential dangers of technology since we first met a guy named Doctor Frankenstein. The problem is that the article, like most everyone else, keeps ignoring the elephant in the room. If you don’t want technology to be a ‘dark forest,’ then start flashing some light in there. Remember that the future shouldn’t suck. Remember that the future is whatever you make of it, and then make it a good one.

Don’t ask me why futurology discussions continue to discuss life, the universe, and everything like they’re academic. We live here, people. We used to be the kids who said “wait until I grow up. I’ll show you!”

Well, folks. We’re here now. It’s up to us.The main thrust of the article is, that human society mistrusts new technology and disruptive business models. As well they should. I mean, duh. After fifty years of predatory capitalism, show me one major disruption where a tiny group people got rich at the cost of a lot of others. As we move on in the timestream, those disruptions get more and more sociopathic. Even Elon Musk gets some shrapnel, since he’s building this Brave New World while horror stories leak out from his current and former workers.

The point is that we’re the ones in charge … perhaps not as a whole, but at least of ourselves. Our priorities – and people prioritize what they want to – show what kind of future we want to have.

As for me, I’m want to build a future that I can be proud of. I hope you are, too.

Laws of Stupid

Following on from my thoughts on a non-stupid year, I’d like to remind you that human stupidity is by no means a new concept. In fact,  Carlo M. Cipolla codified human stupidity into a series of practical laws back in 1976, almost like Newton’s Laws of Motion. When you get a moment, I think you’ll find his Laws of Stupid to be quite useful in navigating daily life. Wikipedia has a breakdown of the Basic Laws of Human Stupidity, too.

Being aware of stupidity – how it works and why it works – can help us push back on stupidity in science fiction when we see it. What we see as ‘toxic behavior’ in the community can often be described as stupidity. After all, how smart is it to complain about Rose in Star Wars? What, are they going to un-make the movie, re-cut it, and re-release it just to make you happy? Of course not, that’s stupid.

That’s just one example of sci-fi stupidity. It might be helpful for all of us to be aware that it exists, so that we can say to each other from time to time: “Hey … that’s kind of dumb.”

These laws are provided as a caution: being aware of of the laws of stupidity doesn’t mean you’ll never break them. We’re all weird, naked apes when it comes to it. All we can do is try to be aware of our stupidity and mitigate the risk whenever possible.

Write on! 🙂

Three Scifi Wishes for 2019


We did it! Despite some of the darker predictions that took place this year, we managed to last through the demonic wasteland that was 2018 in America. Please take a moment to congratulate yourself. In the last few hours of the year, I was thinking about what I hoped for in 2019. It came down to three wishes for scifi, or you might call them fervent prayers. Pour yourself a glass of whatever you’re drinking, and let’s dream together:

Adults Being Adults

In 2019, we come to the end of adults acting like poop-flinging gibbons. Maybe not for the whole world, but just for us. More stories, fewer hot buttons. Fewer ‘wedge issues’ that mean absolutely nothing in the grand scheme of things. We’re here to take a chunk out of the universe. We can’t get to the stars until we climb out of the gutter. No more toxicity, no more trolling. Let’s be the adults we’re capable of being.

Make Room, Make Room!

This year, we widen out instead of closing in. There’s room for everyone in the metaverse of science fiction. If you check out my Instagram, I’ve been highlighting some artists that make truly evocative and unique science fiction. I’ve been making some, myself! Make room for everyone. Give everyone their fie seconds in the spotlight. You never know where the next J.R.R. Tolkien or Ralph McQuarrie is coming from.


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Less Machinery, More Humanity

This comes from one of my favorite movies, The Great Dictator. Charlie Chaplin makes an impassioned speech at the end that’s still relevant eighty years later. More than machinery, Chaplin pleaded, we need humanity. He’s absolutely right.

Corporate entertainment has a stranglehold on science fiction, but it doesn’t have to be that way. I still love Star Wars, and I still love Marvel, but they have enough of our attention. Escape the Disney-Marvel-Lucasfilm Industrial Complex and get back to the real science fiction. The ideas, the stories, the characters that shaped us. We’ll get there when we champion the makers instead of the takers.

So there you have it, my three scifi wishes for 2019. May you live long and prosper, may your dreams be bigger on the inside, and may your journey toward success happen in less than twelve parsecs. I’m working on some new scifi art and I can’t wait to see what the new year brings.

Six Ways to Defeat Scifi’s Toxic Tribalism

I took a while to process this article, and I would encourage you to do the same. The news arrived that yes, the sci-fi community’s hatred of The Last Jedi was stoked by online trolls and bots. Just as in other communities, scifi is vulnerable to manipulation and deceit. If we care about ourselves and each other, we must defeat toxic tribalism within the scifi community.

In the past, I’ve had conversations about this but the community at large seems torn. Does toxicity exist? If it exists, is it possible to remove? If it’s possible to remove, is it my responsibility to do so? There are many different arguments for doing nothing. In the end, though, is that the world we want to live in?

Assuming we want to live in a culture that champions creativity, fosters connection, and embraces individuals, toxicity has to be managed. How do you go about it?

I found a really great article about defeating toxic tribalism on Medium, and am passing it along for consideration by the sci-fi community. If this is something you feel is worth changing, then these suggestions can serve as a template for individual action and change.  Continue reading

Mesh Update #11: New Free Wallpaper

Just in time for the end of the year, a new free wallpaper for Mesh.  I do concept art digital paintings of my stories – helps me inform my writing. For this piece, I wanted to try something different and focus on the characters of Mesh themselves.

Mesh Update #11: New Free WallpaperSo let’s do that. Tina is one of the ‘Snow Foxes,’ an elite group of techno-geeks that dominate the school and virtual reality. Let’s be clear: She isn’t a ‘damsel in distress,’ or ‘born sexy yesterday.’ I hate tropes that perpetuate mean-spirited stereotypes, so Mesh leaves them by the side of the road where they belong.

Tina isn’t perfect. She on the austistic spectrum. She’s also brilliant, athletic, witty, and brave. She’s a teenage girl who codes, plays basketball and practices jujitsu. She isn’t there to talk about the boys, or be talked about them. She’s there to be herself, like every person should be free to be.

Inside the Station, the massive VR system that contains our fearless geeky kids, you’re allowed to create your own sprites. Tina decided to transform herself into an anime princess as you’ll learn in Mesh:

“She looked up at two sprites that had just come through abusy communicating arch. “Watch it. Incoming nerds.”
“Kids from the other team,” Tina said, morphing into a taller version of herself, now with red hair instead of blonde, and green eyes instead of blue. Her t-shirt melted into modular white plates, forming armor that belonged in some anime show. In the blink of an eye, she transformed herself into a warrior princess, ready for battle. “For these kids, you want to have your war face on.”

“I think I just fell in love with you,” Zeke mumbled.

“You’re cool, my sweet summer child.” Tina’s smile was somewhere between amused and flattered. Then she turned back to the approaching sprites. “Just remember that we’re friends. That’s all we’re ever going to be.”

Zeke nodded, swallowing so hard that his Adam’s apple bobbed like a yo-yo.

Mesh – Chapter 2.6

With that scene in mind, I started working with Photoshop. I started with a free open-source picture from Unsplash and with the help of some visual references and my trusty digital tablet, put the wallpaper above together to give away for free.

Love it, hate it, it’s still worth it to me. Making one thing in one way helps me make something else in another way. I hope you enjoy ‘Armorgirl,’ and the other free wallpapers I have to share.