Yep, it pays to pay attention to road signs

While I looked out my window today, I saw, as I do on most days, a car just sort of slow down at the stop sign on the corner. It was more of a I’ll just remove my foot from the accelerator and let a slight downward slope of the road slow me type slowing. Most days, I just feel a bit of righteous anger at flaunting of road rules (I have a daughter after all and the corner lot), but today I was struck by a whimsical and oh my God how am I not dead memory.

Hot, dry and feeling like a convection oven toasting dried bread, the weather of Lake Havasu was so normal as to be prosaic. However, it was not the magnificent weather of desert “it’s a dry heat” U.S.A that had me and a few friends at a Spring Break paradise filled with twenty thousand tourists, a pleasing lack of hotel rooms, a positively sublime lack of parking, and a 2G cellular network more clogged than a toilet after dinner from Taco Bell. No, the decision that drove us to that breathtakingly nonsensical Spring Break party in the desert was the same decision that had me drive home at 2 in the morning. That decision?

Can one use nonsensical twice in a paper? Asking for a friend.

So. There we were. Four young adults with enough sense to fill a leaky thimble somewhere near the top. A white Ford Mustang with a Fix-A-Flat loving tire. A pair of headlights pointed too low. And a driver with a right foot getting heavier by the minute, driving through a rolling desert landscape, on a road he had never driven on before. A trifecta magnifie.

To this day, I’ll never know why I ignored the speed limit sign. The sign posted “Road Ends. Cliff ahead.”. But there we were, 109 miles per hour, 2 am, sober, cranky, and tired. The Mustang passed an unread road sign and then crested the apex of a rolling hill to find a semi-truck gasoline tanker pulling out from a gas station onto the road. Feet slammed the clutch and brake. Tires were squealing; while a certain grim farmer touched ice around my heart as the Mustang slid at a two foot tall stainless steel fender attached to one hundred thousand pounds of diesel powered machine—

Sand. It is an interesting thing. Just billions upon billions, trillions really, of eroded rock particulate. Did you know that entire deserts made up of this kind of stuff can migrate? Amazing stuff. Can save your life too.

A life cut short before it could really begin, I’m sure we all would’ve thought if you could think in a situation as incongruous. Meters. Mere meters before Pennsylvania steel won over Dearborn aluminum, the Mustang hit a patch of sand and spun. Around the semi-truck fender.

Calves bursting from pressure on the brake and clutch, and the surge of adrenaline, the white Ford Mustang spun like a top. There’s no “steer into it” when one gets caught in a hundred mile per hour spin. The best analogy would be we were caught in a flat spin of Top Gun epic-ness but without Goose’s ejection seat. When all of a sudden, in a manner as abrupt as the saying conveys, the darn car slams to a stop. It was all of five feet away from a sheer drop that went down a dizzying sixty or so feet.

Watching people run the stop sign at the corner of my corner lot makes me think of many things. I wonder if they are careless. Perhaps they simply don’t understand what the sign means. Perhaps they are new to driving and the sign goes over their head as it were. Or maybe they are like a certain 22 year old who flouted the rules of the road, and they count on an intervention of divine sorts that will stop grievous harm from their person and others. Really though, I suppose most people are just inconsiderate and don’t care enough to stop at a stop sign on a residential road.

How the sun came to be in the sky*

 

20161028_1728172

 

Once upon a time the sun ran along the ground on two legs. It could run very fast, but not as fast as the birds above it flew. Every day the sun would look up at the sky and wish to fly and be fast. After many years of running on the ground, the sun got an idea. It knew how it could fly! Near where it lived lay a great, big canyon as wide as it was deep. The chasm filled with birds that dove down out of the sky to soar in the sky in the ground.

So, one day, the sun put on a bright yellow shirt with long orange streamers on the arms, and a pair of red pants. Dressed in an outfit sure to compete with the beauty of the birds when it finally did fly; the sun ran fast – faster than it ever had – and at the edge of the canyon, it jumped. The sun flew into the air and kept going…and going…and going, never stopping.

That is why the sun is in the sky. It still has not landed.


*written for a make-believe school assignment when playing school with my 7 year old

Goodnight Sunlight

Hello there. Name’s Earl Magellan, owner of Goodnight Sunlight, facilitator of events, and deliverer of cargo. You made the right choice in seeking me out; a better facilitator you’ll never find. Let me introduce you to my team.
Madison Lindberg, small arms weapons expert. When I say ‘expert’, I don’t use the term loosely. She has some odd affinity towards weapons that can be held in one hand. No matter if she has used the weapon a thousand times or this is her first time seeing it, she can use it with lethal accuracy. She claims she can tell how it will aim by the weight of it.
Talking about affinities, Buddy Brawn, known colloquially as BB, can blend so well with Solars, degenerates, and low-life criminals I sometimes forget he’s actually never been arrested or part of a crime family. He can bleed information from scum faster than a butcher can bleed dry a hog.
I’ll go ahead and use that butcher analogy as a segue to Zoe Ferris. Do you study the methods of a butcher before buying your meat? Or do you not let yourself think of the gruesome work that went into getting you that juicy steak, instead opting to enjoy the fruits of their labor? Zoe falls into the latter category.
Goodnight Sunlight is maintained by a veritable army of maintenance bots we call ‘mots’, because who wants to says ‘maintenance bots’ more than one time? I spend a full half of gross income on keeping up with the latest mots, engine upgrades, defensive and offensive measures, and navigation equipment. Why? It’s said a team is only as strong as the weakest link. I go out of my way to ensure Goodnight Sunlight is the strongest link.
So, there’s my team. The best facilitators working the galaxy. We always get positive results. Not fulfilling every part of a contract is not part of our shared vernacular. We get the job done and we get it done right. The first time.
Thank you and we look forward to facilitating for you.

The Problem with Military Science Fiction: Part 1

I might be in the minority here (am I?), but I’ve been looking for articles on military sci-fi for years. Thomas Evans presents one of the better articles I’ve found on the sub-genre. Very interesting and true.

The points that Thomas hits on, are the exact reasons why I rarely finish a military sci-fi book, yet the ones I do finish are the books I love the best.

I wish there were more books that didn’t have good guys be a lawful good Paladin and bad guys be chaotic-evil barbarians. Through them both in the gray zone, that makes for fun reading.

The Archaeologist's Guide to the Galaxy.. by Thomas Evans

This week, I am starting an open ended series of blogs is intended to consider why Military Science Fiction has such a bad reputation, and what (if anything) can be done about it.

Now, I should start by saying that I like MilFic.  I read MilFic, I write MilFic.  Some MilFic is truly tremendous stuff.  Heinlein’s Starship Troopers(1959) Haldeman’s The Forever War(1974) create bookends for some of the best MilFic out there: one gung-ho, the other anti-war.  Orson Scott Card‘s Ender’s Game (1977) is one of my favorite books regardless of genre (or subgenre).  Yet, Military Science Fiction is really considered a literary ghetto by many  people, even many Science Fiction fans. Considering that Sci-Fi in general is often considered a literary ghetto, that puts MilFic Smack-Dab in the middle of one of Literature’s worst neighborhoods.  This is unfortunate for many reasons, not least of which is that many of…

View original post 2,191 more words

4 WRITING TAKEAWAYS FROM DAREDEVIL (TV)

Daredevil-TV-Logo (Small)

 

Daredevil, a Netflix Original Series, is one show in the growing stable of Marvel television shows. Serious at its core, it’s sprinkled with humor like a master chef adding salt to a dish; not too little so it has no affect, but not too much so the humor ruins the vibe. The writing stands head and shoulders above competition even outpacing other Marvel enterprises, with production values on par with big budget movies. Combined, the recipe makes for the best Marvel show and one of the best television shows ever produced.

Now, yes, Daredevil is a television show and thus naturally inferior to curling up with a good book, yet through the phenomenal writing of scripts and show pacing, a writer can takeaway quite a few great tips.

 

SLOW REVEALS

Daredevil excels here. The first episode origin story that tells the audience why the hero is filled with angst and why the villain is evil and hates the hero, is skipped in favor of the natural lifestory reveal. The writers of Daredevil decided the story should follow the person; Daredevil, Matthew Murdoc, is someone who works in the shadows and by night, and his story reveal follows that work ethic.

In the first episode we are introduced to Matthew Murdoc at the end of the crash that gives him his abilities, then thrust directly into his nightlife routine of beating the snot out of criminals. It’s here the viewer is given a taste for how the show will play out: the past will be revealed, not all in one huge chunk—an infodump if you will—but over time in small bite sized pieces. It’s like when you meet a new person. That person, or you, don’t make introductions and then launch into a backstory covering from age 5 up to three minutes ago. It’s weird and unnatural. Writing should take a cue from real life on explaining backstory like the writers of Daredevil follow.

 

RELATIONSHIPS NEED CONFLICT

No surprise here. Romance is the largest book genre by sales volume because relationships are full of tension. Women, and men, don’t purchase romance books because they are all huge, sentimental, love struck, romantics. Some may read romance for that reason, but in general, people yearn to see or read about relationships that are full of so much conflict that interested parties would have split long ago in real life, but they continue on at least speaking terms in the story. It’s a storytelling device that the romance genre excels in, and here Daredevil follows with greatness.

The writers in our show create tension between every single character, even Foggy and Murdoc who are best friends, and the drama is built slow like a pot of water coming to a boil. Conflicted relationships that develop over time, not in three sentences, are fascinating—in real life, in movies, television, and especially novels.

 

SURPRISE

It’s difficult to give an example from Daredevil about the surprises the writers use. To do so would ruin some of the most amazing scenes ever created for a television program.

The writers of Daredevil are able to produce these shocking scenes, not because they reach a point and think, “Let’s throw a twist in!”. Rather, they set a character down a path, with a morality you think you know they follow, and then force the character onto a road that could make them possibly go against their moral code.

It is difficult to envision without proper examples, so watch at least through Episode 11 of Season 1. When you do, keep in mind that twists like that cannot happen to every character in a novel or show. The more characters you toss moral twists at, the cheaper each subsequent one becomes. Going back to the salt analogy; too much can ruin a dish while too little will have no effect.

 

UPPING THE ANTE

Daredevil starts small and then increases the pot like an overconfident drunk playing poker.

Many TV shows and novels believe that if they lay out this massive, convoluted plot from the get go, they can coast to the end and keep the attention of the reader/viewer. The writer(s) could not be more mistaken.

Again, this is one of those that examples from the show would ruin what the writers have created. Suffice to say, every single episode throws another pepperoni on the pie, just one piece, enough for added flavor but not overpowering. By the end of the season, those single pieces create a mountain ready to topple over and create a surprise ending.

How do you do that in a novel though when most novels are not serials? You can up the plot ante with each chapter, subtly building until the penultimate chapter is a pressure cooker with the lid about to explode off.

 

 

Finally. A fantasy book worth reading. – THE EMPEROR’S BLADES

emperorsbladespsd

I actually stopped reading fantasy a while back, maybe a year and half ago. It could be longer.  I got sick of the same old tired tropes that didn’t try anything new. Oh look. There’s a young child walking on a goat trail. Oh look. There’s a teenager tending to a flock of sheep. Hey. A wizened old mage and some dwarfs and an elf.

The Wheel of Time, Dragonlance Chronicles, and Drizzt paved a path so large that for decades just about every fantasy author followed upon the smooth path. Even Martin’s ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ follows in their footsteps to a degree. It wasn’t until recently, about the last five years, that fantasy authors and editors looked at the carefully planted and manicured garden of books that had been growing for decades. They looked and saw how boring it all was.

I don’t know what author/editor combo it was, but there’s a duo out there who looked into that fantasy garden and decided to throw a barrel of dynamite into it. What was left after the smoke cleared was a rubble strewn crater-like path full of fissures, jagged rocks, and smoldering terrain that you learn how to traverse by jumping in feet first.

Which brings me to the greatness that is The Emperor’s Blades.

There’s no 800 pages of a little boy/girl who gets chosen by a wise old one. No raising the boy/girl in a lean-to in the woods that has a kitchen and a bathroom. No ridiculous apprenticeship. There are no chapters that are good for nothing but being an elaborate infodump to teach us what this new religion/government/culture is like all without furthering the story.

The Emperor’s Blades eschews those tired tropes that Jordan popularized and Martin has beaten to death. Instead, Brian Staveley deftly turns those tropes on their ears and spins a yarn as good as any I have read. The start of a tale that makes me want to run to the nearest bookstore (not library, because I need to see this on my bookshelf) and buy the next chapter in the saga.

I want to run (maybe drive really fast) to the bookstore, because–and I might be close to killing this poor horse–the Emperor’s Blades is not your run of the mill fantasy book. Let’s put it another way.

You think just because The Emperor’s Blades is the start of another fantasy epic that it places floaties on your arms, a lifesaver ring around your waist, a lifesaver around your chest, and then holds you under the armpits while you’re lowered inch by inch into the water?

Think again.

Stavely throws you off a bridge into chum infested, heavy shark traffic waters, then tells you to swim to shore while regaling you of stories about shark attacks.

The Emperor’s Blades harkens back to Glen Cook’s: The Black Company. Shit hits the fan from the opening chapter and just gets thicker in the air as the story progresses. The first book ends masterfully, though not without some quirks.

The quirks in the last few chapters don’t tarnish the great story though, and most will not even notice them. I may have picked up on it simply because I am an author and have done the same thing. What I’m saying is that there are times in a story that you just have to say, “hell with the buildup,” and let the tinderbox explode. Make the transition abrupt enough, say in the middle of an action/fight sequence, and the reader will likely not even know it happened. I think that’s one of the reasons why I like the story and Staveley’s writing style. I noticed the transition and appreciate the abrupt subtlety (yes, that’s a thing) of it.

Should you go out and buy/checkout from the library The Emperor’s Blades? If I didn’t make that clear enough, I’ll spell it out: YES. This is a wonderful story, and I am so happy I threw caution to the wind and bought it on Google Play Books. Now go. Buy or checkout The Emperor’s Blades. You’ll thank me.

Shadow of the Scorpion – Another Amazing Neal Asher Novel

shadow

Neal Asher is, without a doubt, my favorite science fiction author and quickly on his way to supplant Neil Gaiman as my all-time favorite author. The level of story telling Asher is at, very few attain.

In his Polity universe of novels, he has created something that puts so-called ‘epic fantasy’ series to shame. The level of nuance is staggering and can’t be properly appreciated with just one or two books read. There are two series and a bunch of standalone books that all work off each other, in a way I’ve never seen done. And the absolutely baffling part about the books, is that you don’t have to read both series and every standalone to enjoy the story he is telling. You can start either series or any of the standalones and be entertained.

He’s an inspiration to me and my writing.

Shadow of the Scorpion is actually what sealed Neal as my favorite sci-fi author. It tells the story of Agent Cormac, filling in a lot of backstory that isn’t explained in detail elsewhere. Superb writing. Great action. Believable characters. Just a damn great book.

Should you read it? The answer to that is a resounding YES; and why haven’t you started reading Neal Asher’s books yet?