New Free Wallpaper

In celebration my new short story ‘Body Issues,’ I’m releasing the book cover as a free wallpaper. Made this from Unsplash and a few hours on Photoshop. I love sci-fi and so I make photoreal pictures in addition to writing stories. I made this as a cover but expanded the work to show everything outside the cover’s vision. Hope you enjoy ‘The Future of Beauty.’

Benefits of a Creative Sci-Fi Life

Sorry, not sorry – I like Taylor Swift. For the most part, I find her music fun to listen to and her lyrics can be jaw-droppingly insightful.

Benefits of a Creative Life

When I heard the buzz about “Look at What You Made Me Do,” I scooted over to Youtube and checked it out. No offense to Ms. Swift or the millions of her fans, I turned it off after about a minute. Stunning visuals, but the music didn’t light my fire. Then I started working on another short story.

That, in a nutshell, is one of the key benefits of living a creative life. You get to turn off the torrent of ‘buymebuymebuyme’ coming out of your television or phone. Your attention is focused on a key human experience, one that is guaranteed to give you some type of satisfaction. I’ll be honest: consuming only seems to make me happy until the next upgrade comes out.

This is nothing new. Political news shows keep their audience in a lather for the next election cycle, too. What I want to talk about is the how science fiction is now on the same hedonic treadmill. Since 2002, we’ve chased an endless Superhero Movie / Star Wars release cycle now. A new Star Wars movie coming out every year? A new Marvel movie coming out every year? When do we get a chance to step back from the rollercoaster ride of anticipation followed by release followed by discussion followed by anticipation for the next movie?

Our role as consumer/commentator has taken on a life of its own and it’s getting weird. For example, after watching ‘The People Vs. George Lucas,’ I’m firmly convinced that the makers of that film – and many of the sci-fi/geek community – missed the point of the exercise. Simply put: if you don’t like what the kids in the sandbox are doing, then go find your own sandbox! Is it too obvious to say that if you’re disappointed in an artists’ work you can simply go to another art gallery or, God forbid, paint your own pictures?

This should be a reflex action in humanity but it isn’t, and here’s why: modern culture conflates the act of consumer commentary to be an act of creativity itself. Chris Hardwick is a great guy, but he started out as a radio DJ and stand-up comic, only to create the Nerdist media empire, whose business model is based entirely on people talking about movies or shows they like.

Benefits of a Creative Sci-Fi Life

Does anyone else feel this way? Seems odd to be experiencing a Thoreau-esque epiphany like this in my Oregon apartment, but I’m finding that simple living has become ‘The Road Not Taken.’

I don’t simply live for its own sake, I’m doing it so I can focus my attention on telling stories. A surprising ancillary benefit to creativity is how free I feel to let go of the acidic newspop cycle that blares forth from every outlet. And don’t kid yourself: this isn’t a call to arms for anyone. If Edward R. Murrow could not stem the tide, I hold out no hopes for myself. This is being written for me, you, and anyone else looking for an anodyne to the deafening roar of Pop Culture, Inc.

Creativity is a curative act. Forget the health aspects of creativity, and focus on this: Creativity keeps you grounded. Present. Humble. When you make it and you step back, there’s a sense of satisfaction that nothing else on this planet can give you. The little voice that says: I did it. I made this. Nobody can take that away from me. 

Additionally, creativity gives you license to focus on what matters to you. Do Brad and Angelina matter to you? Does the ‘Monkey Selfie’ matter to you? Does the Chargers v. Broncos game matter to you?* Of course not! None of those things really matter, but Pop Culture Inc. thinks they should matter. They pump it out and you we get sucked into paying attention, every single time. Rather than spewing another Jerimiad entitled: ‘why are we paying attention to this nonsense,’ I can simply say: “I’m working on my next project, I don’t have time for that.”

  • That means I don’t have to care about who directs Star Wars: Episode IX.
  • That means I don’t think about the next installment of Marvel Magic Punching People.
  • That means I don’t get sucked into the drama of the current season of Game of Thrones or the HBO hack.

Being creative means I no longer have to search for the answer to the question: “This isn’t worth our time, why are we focused on this?” I can say “if that’s your thing, you do you. I’m focused on this.” And let me tell you, it feels great. Focus on big ideas. Invent new universes to play in. Mess around with concepts and put them together in fresh and unique ways. Take a chunk out of the universe. After all, that’s really what we’re to do.

I’m posting this as an option for those of you that are burned out on the perpetual commentary/outrage machine that we’re plugged into. If you feel the same way, then welcome home. You’ve found a place here.

* These were the stories I plucked off my Facebook ‘News Feed’ this morning in preparation for this post. I’m keeping them here so that in six or twelve months, we can all have a laugh at how dumb they really are. Maybe that will help us understand how dumb the current scandals-du-jour are.

All Hail Solarpunk

As I’ve said before, science fiction is brilliant about imagining a future where the future just *is*. Thirty-plus years ago, William Gibson kicked off a new genre of science fiction called cyberpunk, imagining the end-state of our brilliance and our cynicism. Now, in a world where our hopelessness is all but assured, science fiction is pushing us the other way with solarpunk.

    

“Solarpunk is a genre that says both here’s what our future needs to look like and here’s how we can get there,” according to author Claudie Arseneault. “Solarpunk proposes that humans can learn to live in harmony with the planet once again,” according to Hopes and Fears.

 

It sounds tremendously cool to me, and here’s why: We need this. We need more ideas that live within the summit of our knowledge and beyond the pit of our fears. We need affirmations of human aspiration, instead of alienation. We’re desperate for anything that looks like a light at the end of the tunnel of horrors we’re traveling through. Solarpunk might be the answer, and it’s right on time.

 

My good wishes are tempered with a bit of caution, though. I’m innately circumspect toward any movement or concept that tells, rather than shows, what it is. Solarpunk isn’t saving the world yet, even if a couple of blog posts think it might. Public relations does not always result in reality.

But it might, and that’s awesome. I’ll be watching the development of solarpunk closely, and I hope you will, too.

More Proof that Ron Howard is Awesome

We didn’t need to be told, but it’s nice to know anyway.

Long before we discussed the horror of Jar-Jar Binks, long before the world was aware of the impact of TPM on Jake Lloyd’s life, Ron Howard sent this blistering response to Newsweek’s review of Episode One. Jake Lloyd was one of the first major victims of a viral Internet story, and Howard tried to warn Newsweek, and all of us, about what was sure to follow. You can read more in the original article:

Ron Howard Defended ‘Star Wars: The Phantom Menace’ and Jake Lloyd in 1999

Just like Robin Williams, Henry Winkler and other Hollywood titans, Ron Howard proves he’s more than an artist; he’s a mensch. Mad respect to the master.

The Future Doesn’t Always Have to Suck

Oofa … wow.

There are studies out there that suggest a steady diet of bad news is bad for your mental health. Once you understand that, you can understand why I’m not in love with Neill Blomkamp’s visually stunning new short, ‘Rakka.’ If you haven’t seen it yet, you can watch it here

Don’t get me wrong, I love dystopian and post-apocalyptic sci-fi. However, five minutes of this horror show and I’m skipping over to puppy and kitten land to mellow out. At some point, I stop being a storyteller and start being  a human. I feel obligated to ask a very simple question: Where is this taking us?

It’s a legitimate question and one that the sci-fi community must seriously consider. We are what we eat, as it were, and we style ourselves as the arbiters of ‘what comes next.’ So if this is the vast majority of our cultural diet, what is the end game? Are we hoping people will wake up or are we simply wallowing in the horror that’s going to come? Is this supposed to motivate us to prevent night from falling?

To me, it’s a form of ‘set-up-to-fail syndrome.’ We’re only examining the worst aspects of humanity, instead of talking about what might happen if people actually start being the creatures they’re capable of being. I saw a ray of light in Wonder Woman a few weeks ago. We need more of that, and less of this.

At least, in this author’s humble opinion.

 

Ron Howard Comes Home for Han Solo

Like you, I was happy to read about Ron Howard directing the Star Wars Han Solo project.

Not only is Howard a talented director / producer (We won’t talk about the Dan Brown projects), he’s got history with Lucasfilm that I think will work to his advantage. Here’s how:

People know and love ‘American Graffiti’ but did you also know that it was Lucasfilm’s first project as a production company? The film is a classic for several reasons, but Ron Howard’s contribution gave the story an emotional weight it otherwise wouldn’t have had. Here was the kid who finally broke the ‘child actors can’t get work as adults’ curse. ‘Ronny’ Howard took his first steps toward ‘Ron’ Howard with Lucasfilm. Now, forty-four years later, Ron Howard is working on a Lucasfilm project. To me, it’s like the student coming back as the master, as a healer rather than an executioner. The circle is complete, and in a good way.

Personally, I’m happy for him. This move feels like good juju and I wish Howard, Lucasfilm and the project success.

Why Wonder Woman Isn’t Just a Superhero Movie

Here’s the moment when I knew superhero movies have changed forever.

Before we get to that, let me just say this. Every time I announce my work, I feel like I split a fine line between spitting in the ocean and coming across as self-promoting. I got some suggestions on Reddit, and if you have something to add I’d love to hear it.

As I was saying, superhero movies have changed, and changed for the better. A few years from now, people are going to still be talking about this movie, and here is my take on why that will be. Mild spoiler alert – there’s a scene in Wonder Woman where Gal Gadot runs across No Man’s Land as part of her journey through the horror of World War One.

As she’s climbing a ladder to enter the battle, the camera gives us the standard detail shot. The lens lingers over her armored wrists, her tiara, and her boots. I sat there, watching, and instantly my cinematography/male brain goes “Here’s the booty shot, here’s the booty shot.” Then it happened; no booty shot. You know what I’m talking about: the booty shot. Wonder Woman has no booty shot.

Up ’til now, it was accepted that every major female character’s screen time would include some moment where the camera remains focused on their bum. That has to be annoying, not only to the actress but to every girl who sees this and the sloppy grins of every boy in the theater. It’s become a thing that every girl has grown to accept, to the point of parody. Objectification and unnecessary sexualization have been sore points in the sci-fi and superhero fan communities. Now here comes Wonder Woman (WW).

At the moment of battle, Gal Gadot climbs the ladder, the camera shows everything about her that tells us visually that she’s a strong, fierce warrior, and then poof, she’s off into the war zone. Not only is she fighting the bad guys on their terms, she’s defeating them. Everything we’ve come to expect from a Captain America or Iron Man, in Amazonian form. Booty shots are off the table, and the gloves are off for us.

I applaud Patty Jenkins for this decision. With two seconds of film, she turned Wonder Woman from another superhero movie into a culturally significant film. Movies have the power to motivate thought, action and change. At the crossroads between art and commerce, many compromises are made in the name of pragmatism. Toxic ideas fester in the gray areas between liberty and license. In one fell swoop, Wonder Woman resets the dials to zero. This film shows us that a movie with a female protagonist, helmed by an underknown actress, can succeed in Hollywood. This story shows that girls can be powerful, gentle, brave and resilient. But then, Wonder Woman gets even better.

Any other ‘girl-centric’ movie seems to sell us short. Case in point: the Ghostbusters reboot from last year, but there are other examples, too. Fight scenes that pull punches. Sexy misunderstandings. Tired speeches that try to marginalize the male characters instead of just being themselves. Wonder Woman pours gasoline on all of these cliches and drops the match.

We’re so invested in the story, the characters and the action that all of these issues fall away. As a former member of the IDF, Gadot puts a startling amount of realism into her fight scenes. WW exits the first act having navigated the treacherous worlds of sexuality, mother-daughter relationship dynamics, Mean Girls, and child bearing with equal amounts of strength and sincerity. Throughout the rest of the movie, WW is equally comfortable whether she’s throwing punches or pitching woo. When she isn’t throwing shade, she’s throwing tanks. You come out of the theater cheering for her as a person, and I think that is why Wonder Woman isn’t just a superhero movie.

Sitting in my chair, I was thinking about how readers and viewers *must* be invested in the story. This is an important point for me, especially if I want to be a successful storyteller myself. WW reminded me that if I’ve connected with the reader or viewer’s emotions, nothing else matters after that. Think about this: old blockbusters are famous for having plot holes and film goofs, but Star Wars is a classic *because* it connected with our emotions. Jaws is a classic *because* it connected with our emotions. WW connects with the audience’s emotions using grace, and style. One day, we’ll look back at this moment and realize that we were witnessing history.

In a world where we’re fighting to be ourselves, to be appreciated for who we are, WW steps out and does just that. It’s got heart, it’s got action, it’s got fun. A lesser film-maker or actress would allow themselves to be sucked into the pointless battle of gender issues. WW relegates those issues to the dustbin where they belong, saying: “watch the movie and have fun. That’s all you should have to worry about.”

Darn right.

 

 

Enemy at the Gatekeepers

Reddit teaches you so much; I discovered the /r/gatekeeping/ forum and instantly fell in love. Gatekeeping is when someone takes it upon themselves to decide who does or does not have access or rights to a community or identity. Science fiction, as I’m sure you’re aware, is full of people just like this.

Don’t get me wrong: I welcome healthy boundaries. The Sci-fi genre definitely needs them. However, gatekeeping rarely seems to be about maintaining healthy boundaries as it is about pointless displays of dominance. Open discussion and spirited debate routinely get sabotaged by edgelords who think every exchange is an opportunity to practice their ‘alpha male’ behaviors.

All of this conflict does not make our community more healthy. Our behavior comes across as immature, rather than urgent. Obnoxious, rather than upstanding. Participants sabotage cooperation by going out of their way to find things to disagree about, presumably for moral posturing and virtue-signalling reasons.1  

Look, I get it. I know we’re not the most socially-developed tribe on the planet. God knows I’m dealing with my own baggage and telling stories about the future helps me deal with all the things I can’t solve today. But we should be aware of what makes our tribe work. We’ve become what we are because Elder Geeks created a community based on togetherness, inclusion, curiosity, and openness. This gatekeeping? It’s messing with that. We’re literally chipping away at the cornerstones of our community, and that will have grave consequences.

To be clear: I’m not advocating a ‘right’ way of thinking or being for the sci-fi community. Rather, I’m hoping we can be ‘less wrong.‘ Like other communities, we’re in the ‘discovery business.’ As this letter says, “[E]veryone is an active and responsible participant in the overall process, that every individual becoming “progressively less wrong” is an invaluable part of the global doing so.”

So with that in mind, let’s establish that gatekeeping isn’t working for us. Gatekeeping is turning people away from droves. Like sunflowers who can turn in any direction they need to face the sun, new sci-fi participants are turning away from traditional sci-fi. They’re seeking out mainstream movies branding themselves as ‘science fiction.’ It’s easier, it’s less drama, and it’s more fun. This is going to kill us. Science fiction is going to disappear into the maw of the Marvel/Disney Industrial Complex. Yes, sci-fi stories will still be told, but fewer readers will find them. Is that the future we imagined for ourselves?

Ours is not the only tribe who suffers from internal squabbling. I found myself making direct connection between the frustrations experienced in the LGBT community and what I face with my fellow geeks and nerds. Like that person, I just quite frankly don’t entirely feel like I belong in that community. Don’t get me wrong I’ve tried joining the tribe but I never felt totally accepted. I don’t identify with this tribe, but I need this tribe in order to survive. I’m not sure what the answer to this problem is.

The longer we wait to take control of our tribe, enforce healthy cultural norms, and eliminate the cliquish bullying, the more likely it is that our tribe will remain lost on the prairie. Our community is only as strong as we require it to be. Like other tribes that cannot survive contact with the outside world, we can and will be lost to time if attackers with advanced knowledge of toxic behaviors slip past our undeveloped social immune system.

It’s hoped that this post will foster some conversation and perhaps some self-awareness within the sci-fi community. Let’s work to be less wrong together. Let’s be active and responsible participants in the overall process. I’m willing to do my part to foster a healthy and self-aware sci-fi community, and I hope you will be, too.