Dear Sci-Fi: We Need to Talk – Part One

As promised, a special comment about the direction of sci-fi and how it might avoid some of the community-killing habits experienced by other groups of people in 2016. No one argues that science fiction is a genre, a medium of art, that is built upon imagination. However, it has become apparent to me, and perhaps to you as well, that our genre has been overrun by bad habits that will ultimately lead to its own demise.

No community is too big to fail. I’m sure you can think of some recent examples where grass-roots organizations have suffered crises of identity as core beliefs were challenged and then obliterated. Science fiction is also a community, and while it has repelled bad actors in the past, there is no doubt about their intent. Some men, as Alfred reminded us in Dark Knight, just want to watch the world burn.

Each of us have the capacity to become the white blood cells of our ecosystem. We can work together to identify threats, neutralize them, and keep the body healthy. It’s hoped that this Open Letter – a document that I frequently find distasteful – will foster some conversation and perhaps some self-awareness within the sci-fi community. If I am wrong, then count me the first to say that I am happy to be wrong, for this is a community that I both love and want to be a part of for the rest of my life.  Continue reading

Rogue One: Now *That* Was a Star Wars Movie

So briefly, before I get into this topic, let me say this: If you think Rogue One was bad, then you are wrong.

I’m no Lucas apologist, but that movie was awesome. It had everything going for it that Episode One *should* have had. No references to THX 1138, no Wilhelm scream’s, no throwbacks to old lines, just focused on making it a well-told, autonomous story. They broke with the conventions of the other Star Wars stories to create a movie that took its place by the side of the original trilogy. Bravo.

If you need more validation on why Rogue One was amazing, you can check out this Reddit thread. Inevitably, some will find fault with different aspects of the movie but that’s to be expected. In fact, that’s why I’m writing this blog post – it’s time to draw a line in the sand between the people who love science fiction and the creeps who use science fiction as a purity ritual.

I won’t get into all of it now, but it’s something to think about. Sci-fi has this weird orthodoxy attached to it, where a sci-fi movie isn’t a SCI-FI MOVIE unless it conforms to some byzantine equation that only exists in the mind of the angriest geeks. It’s killing sci-fi, it’s why Hollywood yawns, smiles tolerantly at us and ignores us until it’s time for us to open our wallets.

 

 

 

Short Story Submitted: Planet Ugh

Joy, pain, sadness, hope – the stories still get told. Submitted ‘Planet Ugh’ to Clarkesworld today. This is a >2000-word short, in the style of ‘They’re Made Out of Meat’ by Terry Bisson. I started writing it after reading one-too-many racist comments on an online news article. One wonders what a sentient alien race would think of us after half an hour on the Internet.

Anyway – hope Clarkesworld likes it. I look forward to sharing it with you when it gets published.

The JK Rowling School of ‘How to be Famous.’

The JK Rowling School of 'How to be Famous.'I’m going to make you a promise right now: If I become a successful author, it’s because I’m a successful author. Nothing else. There are so many other things in life that are important, far beyond what they’re saying we should care about.

If nothing else good comes for 2016, maybe it’ll go down as the year when we finally learned to stop paying attention to what does not matter. Each of us has experienced a personal loss, whether it’s some famous person we cared about, or someone we knew personally. Maybe it made us pull back for a moment and ask ourselves: do we really need to hear what Susan ‘Cindy Brady’ Olsen thinks about politics?  Do we really care what Barbara Walters thinks about ‘the legacy of The View?’ The last thing I want to become is another semi-famous person who thinks you’re entitled to my opinion.

The landscape of famous people has become so toxic that even Steve Martin can’t try to say something nice about Carrie Fisher without drawing a backlash. It’s a twisted world that defies even A-listers to navigate … what hope could I have?

Then there’s JK Rowling.

Now, I’m not a fan of the Harry Potter books, but I am refreshed to see one thing: JK Rowling keeps her opinions out of the press. Quick google searches show that she has some personal opinions, but no one is inviting her onto CNN or MSNBC to discuss the topic du jour. I can respect that. In fact, I’m reminded of Cary Grant’s famous line: “I’m opposed to actors taking sides in public and spouting spontaneously about love, religion or politics. We aren’t experts on these subjects.”

Gant and Rowling have the right idea: we’re in the business of bleeding onto the screen or page. Fame doesn’t mean that we know any more than anyone else. Navigating these waters still fills me with dread. I’m glad to see others share my opinion of focusing on what matters.

All I Ever Needed to Know I Learned in The Sprawl

All I Ever Needed to Know I Learned in The Sprawl

All I really need to know about how to live and what to do and how to be I learned by reading the Sprawl Series by William Gibson. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in Matrix, where knowledge hits you like a video game.

These are the things I learned:

  • Share everything – unless it’s from the Wig. It usually brings a good price
  • You don’t have to play fair if you have Hideo
  • Don’t hit people unless it’s with a recoilless rifle and a box of incendiary shells
  • Put things back where you found them – unless you’re the kind of jockey who tangles their gear
  • If your name isn’t Lady 3Jane, clean up your own mess  Continue reading

In Memoriam – Carrie Fisher – 1956-2016

I know I’m the last person you want to hear from on this, but like you I’m affected deeply by the loss of this talented and classy lady. I posted this tribute on Imgur and am passing along to you:

More than a princess

She was a survivor, a mensch, a powerful actor as well as writer. She moved mountains, plumbed the depths of hell and lived to tell the tale. Rest in peace, Carrie. It won’t be the same universe without you.

You’ve Been Waiting for This Kind of Sci-Fi: Passengers

You've Been Waiting for This Kind of Sci-Fi: PassengersHere’s the highest praise I can give Passengers: I started the movie in a really bad mood, I finished the movie in a really great mood. The best films take you to another place for a while. Passengers does this neatly, with elegance and charm. Make no mistake, this is a love-letter to authentic science fiction masquerading as a big-budget star vehicle.

So as promised, here’s my review of the movie. I’m fascinating by the craft of both storytelling and science fiction. I don’t mind celebrating when somebody does it well. Passengers has enough going for it that both mainstream audiences and hardcore scifi nerds will find things to love. The scifi orthodoxy may find fault with the lightly-handled technology questions, everyone else will settle in to enjoy the ride. Jon Spaihts, straight off his success as the writer of Prometheus and Doctor Strange, knocks it out of the park by taking an otherwise tired ‘what if you were the only human alive’ trope and using the natural charm of Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence to breathe fresh new life into the concept.

You've Been Waiting for This Kind of Sci-Fi: PassengersThat’s one thing that Passengers does well: blending concept with character, ideas with action. Chris Pratt pulls a great turn in the first act, playing the outer space version of Tom Hanks in Castaway. Then, with the help of amiable android bartender, Michael Sheen, he dives headlong into several’what-if’ survival scenarios you pray never happen to you. Jennifer Lawrence enters the picture, and then we’re hooked until the very last frame.

The chemistry between Pratt and Lawrence approaches Bogey / Bacall levels of critical mass. Even as they muster the courage to save the day, both characters wrestle with the baggage of impossible choices and unforgivable sins. Morten Tyldum uses the talent he displayed in ‘The Imitation Game‘ to pull tremendous amounts of gravitas from Pratt and Lawrence. Everyone is completely invested in their roles and comfortable in the skin of the story.

You've Been Waiting for This Kind of Sci-Fi: PassengersPassengers is chock-full of stunning galaxy-sweeping visuals that line up neatly with quirky, human moments. I loved Laurence Fishburne‘s character. He arrives later in the film to provide necessary plot development and conflict resolution as we go into the third act. He deftly judges and forgives character’s mistakes as neatly as a surgeon performing open-heart surgery. We’re so invested that we forget that it’s really our heart being played with. Passengers is reaching in to remind us that we matter. Science fiction has been treating its audience like a walking cash register for too long. Passengers is telling us that we matter, both as the audience and as human beings.

Fishburne and Sheen supply the emotional core of the movie, driving the ‘To err is human, to forgive, divine’ message home with everything except a jackhammer. The quiet genius of Passengers comes through how it takes otherwise disposable roles and makes them indispensable. Those characters give Lawrence and Pratt – and us – a chance to view the universe we’re trapped in through wiser eyes. By the time the credits roll, we’re thoroughly pleased and entertained.

You've Been Waiting for This Kind of Sci-Fi: PassengersPassengers is a rare treat in the modern landscape of science fiction. It’s a one-off, a non-franchise, a movie that takes interesting concepts out to play for a few hours and then puts then back in the box in better condition than they were found in. We haven’t seen movies like this in a while, but in a world where the outside world is looking more and more like a sci-fi dystopia, it’s a welcome tonic. People need the ability to escape from the bad scaries creeping across our TV screens, and Passengers does this for us. In closing, go see it; it does not disappoint. Passengers may not be the best sci-fi film you’ve ever seen, but it’s a perfect movie.

Score! Got a Screener for Passengers – Review on Tuesday

Score! Got a Screener for Passengers - Review on TuesdayWell that was cool! Called an industry friend the other day to catch up. He knows I love scifi but that going out in public is positively excruciating for someone with a crippling social anxiety. Therefore, he was kind enough to lend me a screener for Passengers. He wasn’t going to watch it, so he said I might as well tell him what I thought. “I don’t want to see this up on Youtube, dude,” was all he said. Screeners are difficult to send around so he’s doing me a huge favor by doing this. Classy guy.

Anyway – that’s my big news for the week. I’ll post my thoughts on Passengers on Tuesday so you know what you’re walking into.

Choice

Something very sad happened to me today. One of my professional colleagues surprised me by telling me of a decision. Because of my recent pivot to this new role as Jackson Allen the Author, he didn’t feel he and I could be friends anymore. I’m shocked and saddened, but of course I respect his decision.

Since then, I’ve been thinking about what happened. I decided that I wanted to blog some thoughts out and share this with you. Blogging gives me a platform for ideas that wouldn’t fit anywhere else. Maybe this is something you’ve already experienced and you have an answer for what I haven’t figured out yet.

As I said in the beginning, this is … like … the third act of my career. My real name isn’t Jackson, I’ve got some baggage and I’m just moving forward with my life now that the previously-planned ‘happily ever after’ became ‘not a hope in Hades.’ There’s some stigma attached to that decision and it sucks. As I travel that path, and circumstances change, all I can really hope to do is roll with the punches while remaining true to the goal.

I want to tell stories that people enjoy and hopefully get paid for it. It’s that simple, but circumstances dictate that I find my own way. Because I’m innovating, I have to be okay with being misunderstood. That’s the thing nobody tells you about the creative life: there are moments of genuine heartbreak. It’s bad enough that the public at large doesn’t understand what you’re doing. But when a fellow creative who is also traveling your path rejects you well, part of you dies. After that conversation, I had to take a few circuits around the block and try to clear my head. Continue reading