When it comes to long-term data storage, modern man has yet to improve upon the clay tablets of Sumer. Tablets imprinted with cuneiform writing and baked in a kiln are as readable today as when first fired as far back as the Bronze Age and will be intact ten thousand years from now. However, clay tablets are neither portable nor convenient. The search for better writing mediums led to improvements fueling the growth of civilization. Each innovation brought with it a loss in permanence, a trade-off people made in exchange for convenience, lower price, and greater ease in transportation. Nowhere is the paradox more pertinent than with digital data. Digital data enjoys immense advantages in terms of storage, duplication, and transmission costs over any other media in history, yet may prove to be the most short-lived of all.
Even in the most terrible wars, there are moments reminding us that humanity, decency, and compassion still exist. For the crew of a wounded B-17, badly damaged during a bombing run over Bremen just five days before Christmas in 1943, such a moment came when a lone Messerschmitt Bf-109 fighter sidled up beside them, falling into position a few feet off their wingtip. Charlie Brown, the pilot of the bomber, was certain the Messerschmitt would shoot them down. The bomber was damaged, half the crew wounded or dead, and no guns worked. They were sitting ducks. Instead of pulling the trigger, the German pilot nodded at them, made some effort to signal them, gave up when they ignored him, and calmly escorted the bomber over German anti-aircraft, parting company over the North Sea. Decades later, Charlie Brown would find out the name of the pilot who spared his life and met him, the two becoming close friends.
A group of winter travelers making their way through the mountains of medieval northwest England find themselves stalked by a mysterious and brutal force. Led by the Irish healer Molly and told from the viewpoint of Hob, a young apprentice, the small troupe must protect against the unseen threat as it pursues them first to a monastery, then an inn, and ultimately a Norman castle called Blanchefontaine. At each place, the creature strikes, leaving death in its wake. The castle, rather than granting safety, proves a trap for the creature is within the walls and hungry for more blood. Hob must rely on his wits and his adopted family to survive, slowly coming to realize there is more to them than he thought as secrets and mysteries are revealed.
“Ender's Game” was controversial when first published in 1985 and remains controversial. A gifted child is shaped into an adolescent military genius through a rigorous, abusive, and manipulative training program that starts at the age of six. Looking deeper reveals a variety of possible interpretations still hotly debated. Issues of morality is a central part of the story. How Orson Scott Card approached those issues and resolved them is the subject of continuing arguments.
In the distant future, two invasions by an alien race called the Formics, more informally known as “buggers”, nearly destroy humanity. The leaders of earth, unwilling to wait for the next attack, decide to go on the offensive, but need a new generation of military leaders. Their solution is a Battle School to mold children into weapons. With its emphasis on military science, discipline, and constant war games, it is an environment intentionally designed to strip away childhood. Into this infernal machine steps child prodigy Andrew “Ender” Wiggin.
When a scientist at the South Pole's Amundsen Scott Research Station dies mysteriously, CDC microbiologist Hallie Leland is sent to complete the unfinished research. She finds herself in an isolated, alien world surrounded by violent weather and subzero temperatures, an environment that puts severe stress on the mind and body. Her job is to dive beneath the ice to recover an extremophile, a life-form living in extreme hostile conditions, which possesses unique traits. Before Hallie can begin work, three more woman die at the station. As weather closes in and the station shuts down for “winterover”, a period of eight months when the station is completely cut off from the outside world, Hallie finds herself on her own attempting to unravel the mystery of how and why her predecessor died – because she might be next. The only help she can expect sits thousands of miles away, in Washington D.C., as agency director Don Bernard and special operative Wil Bowman, who has a special relationship with Hallie, pick up on clues of something shadowy going on at the station.
“Frozen Solid” is actually the second novel in a series featuring Hallie Leland. The first book is “The Deep Zone”. Fortunately, knowledge of the first is not necessary to enjoy the second book. Hallie is a good, solid protagonist. She isn't a nerd or a shrinking violet. Intelligent, resourceful, and loaded with guts and stamina, she is the rare credible female action protagonist. Hallie isn't superhuman. She makes mistakes and pays for them. I only wish the story was a bit stronger to support Hallie.
Passing of a Grandmaster
On September 2, 2013, the science fiction author Frederik Pohl passed away after a respiratory illness claimed his life at the age of 93. Frederik Pohl was one of the last living legends from the golden age of science fiction. His books combined impressive scientific detail with equally impressive examinations of the human condition. Man and civilization was always at the center of his works. His finest books tried to look at people and the way scientific advances could lead to both great bounty and greater horrors. Frederik Pohl left behind a legacy of superb novels and short stories that netted him four Hugo and three Nebula awards as well as his many contributions as editor on various publications and agent. He is probably best known for his novel "Gateway", which won both the Hugo and the Nebula in 1977.
When a writer sits down to pen anything, whether it is a short story or a magnum opus, they have a plan. Well, most of the time they should but not everyone does. That can cause headaches because those who didn't think about how to manage the material may often write themselves into corners or become hopelessly jumbled. The good news is the variety of available techniques to shape and massage a story. None are better than the other because each writer and writing project is unique and what works for one story or author may not work for another. The writer has to take his own style and the demands of the story into consideration when choosing how to approach the daunting task of plotting a short story, novella, or novel. Below is a list of 28 different ways a writer can approach the problem.
1. The Basic Outline
Yep, this is the method almost everyone learns in high school when they do a thesis or research paper. A simple ordered list divided by numbers, Roman numerals, letters, and/or bullets. You can make 1.) into Act I, for example, and so forth. Use Word, OpenOffice, LibreOffice, or Mac Pages. Write the list. Have the software automagically divide it. The chief advantage is the easy and instantly recognizable structure that organizes events into a comprehensible format.
Michael Beard had one moment of glory that netted him a Nobel Prize, a success he trades upon for the next few decades, parlaying it into a reputation and a career. Unfortunately for Beard, his personal life is a shambles. The book picks up with his middle-aged self watching his fifth marriage self-destruct and the trajectory of his career swing down like a missile past apogee. By chance, almost like a kleptomaniac shoplifting, he steals the plans of another scientist for a new type of solar cell, becomes a global warming guru, and attempts to create a commercial enterprise from the theft. Greedy, self-absorbed, self-righteous, cynical, intellectually dishonest, heedless of the future, and utterly blind to everyone and everything around him, Beard sails full tilt into his own version of Icarus flying too close to the sun.
The chief reason posting has slowed down on this site has been because I've devoted time and effort on readying a story for publication on Smashwords. That effort payed off last night. The first of what I hope to be many stories is now available for download from Smashwords. The story is a novella called "The Moon Temple". You can download it for free at Smashwords.com here.
The Moon Temple
On another world, in another time, at the Great Festival of Ascension, the young chieftain Elsu woos a beautiful maiden named Kai. She accepts, but a misunderstanding causes Elsu to swear a rash vow to win her hand. Now Elsu, together with Bane, his best friend, sail to the forbidden sunken city of Angor Drava, lost beneath the waves a thousand years before, to steal the diamond eyes from a statue. But Bane harbors secrets and Elsu refuses to believe the warnings of a terrible evil dwelling in the temple.
Disaster epics have been around since man first started putting words to paper or clay. The fascination with destruction and the image of a world gone mad, nature upended, and the natural order undone remains as strong as ever. Today, there are numerous books and movies where the world ends or the world as we know it lies shattered. “When Worlds Collide” by Philip Wylie and Edwin Balmer stands as the grandfather for the current generation of disaster movies and novels. Both book and the George Pal movie that sprang from it influenced and inspired several generations of writers and filmmakers. It became the yardstick and template for many successors and imitators. The plot concerns scientists discovering a large rogue planet swinging into our solar system, putting the earth in the cross-hairs of a celestial shooting gallery with the rogue planet as the hammer that will smash the earth. Traveling to the smaller, earth-like planet orbiting the larger one using a spaceship is the lone hope for a select few.
Listed as the twenty-second Dirk Pitt adventure, “Poseidon's Arrow” is notable for featuring both Clive Cussler and his son, Dirk, as authors. This is the fifth book the two co-wrote. All the usual suspects pop up in this thriller: Dirk Pitt, his twin children, and Dirk's trusty sidekick Al Giordino. The book opens with a WWII Italian submarine in the last days of the war transporting supplies. The submarine is damaged by a depth charge and the crew abandon ship, leaving the sub to drift on the open ocean. The next thread in the story is the theft of a new top secret highly advanced experimental submarine called the Sea Arrow, which is capable of astonishing speeds underwater. At the same time, the inventor of the sub is murdered and all his research stolen. The third strand is an effort by an Austrian industrialist, Edward Bolcke, to corner the market in rare earths, intent on cutting off all supplies to the United States because of an old grudge.
"Finder" is a science fiction webcomic series by Carla Speed McNeil. She started self-publishing the comic in 1996. The webcomic version dates from 2005. Over the years, "Finder" won several awards. The series focuses on several characters in a far-future distant earth where very little of our time survived. People live in vast domed cities, crowded and decaying, sharing it with a variety of strange creatures, including talking dinosaurs. The world of "Finder" is bizarre, surrealistic, bawdy, and sometimes downright loopy as "Alice in Wonderland" on acid. Interspersed amid all the craziness is a strong dose of social commentary directed at modern media culture and social conventions. The series also examines issues such as fame, celebrity, and class differences. The satire can be sly, if barbed, and other times like a punch to the face. Carla isn't afraid to write things that get a reaction and make you think. Just when you believe you've figured it all out, something happens to make you question your assumptions. "Finder" exists as both a webcomic, which can be found here, and a number of bound volumes. Well worth checking out, I recommend it for those with an open mind to strong material.
Shane Black directing and co-writing a Doc Savage movie? Color me surprised. George Pal directed the only Doc Savage movie in 1975. While the cast was excellent -- the actors chosen to play the fabulous five nailed their roles -- the script was, quite frankly, terrible. I always thought they tried to make a Doc Savage movie too early. "Raiders of the Lost Ark" showed what they could have done, but it did not occur to anyone then to make a more straightforward action film. They chose to go the campy route in the flavor of the old "Batman" TV show and the result was a miserable failure. The same thing happened twenty years later with the Shadow movie. Tongue-in-cheek corn took the place of genuine suspense or action, which was a shame because I can think of several Shadow novels that could have translated well to the big screen. That urge to go campy is the bane of all efforts to make movies of pulp novels and one reason Hollywood has been leery of them. Of all the pulp novels, Doc Savage sits squarely in the tradition that inspired "Raiders of the Lost Ark". Handled right, with a script that respects the source material and stays smart, more along the lines of "The Avengers" and "Iron Man" meets "The Untouchables" and "McGuyver", it could be a winner. Another possible Doc Savage movie has kicked around the back lots of Hollywood for decades. Arnold Schwarzenegger once expressed interest in playing Doc. (I am so thankful that didn't happen.) I thought it would end up another one of those movie projects everyone talked about but no moved on, so I was pleased to learn that Shane Black, the director behind the recent "iron Man 3", signed on with Sony Pictures to develop a Doc Savage movie. He had expressed interest in the project before, way back in 2009, but continually got stalled. Now fresh off his stellar opening weekend for "Iron Man 3", he has stated "Doc Savage" will be his next film.
Until one summer afternoon by the sea in 1976, the McKotch family seems on top of the world, despite the growing fractures and fault lines running invisibly beneath of the surface of a quietly dysfunctional New England family. Watching his daughter swim next to her cousin, it becomes apparent to Frank that something is seriously wrong with her. Twelve year old Gwen is far too small for age. She has Turner syndrome, a genetic disorder that would keep her in a child's body all her life. The discovery of her condition triggers the gradual unraveling and self-destruction of the family, setting in motion the plot of the novel "The Condition" by Jennifer Haig.
I first wrote about "Sakurasou no Pet na Kanojo" in one of my monthly spotlights. You can read my initial review here. I won't rehash the plot but instead jump straight to my overall impressions of the series.
Yesterday I got around to watching on Crunchyroll the final episodes of "Sakurasou no Pet na Kanojo" (The Pet Girl of Sakura Hall). I came away highly impressed. The series stands now as one of my favorites. Throughout the series, the show kept its emphasis on the characters and that choice paid off handsomely toward the end. Each character seemed like a real person, with real needs, worries, and desires. Nearly all the characters had their time in the sun and a chance for development. Even Maid-chan, Ryunosuke's computer AI, got some development. I'm thinking of a touching scene where Maid-chan pretends to suffer from a bug in order to give Rita vital background information about Ryunosuke. Yes, the series veered wildly toward the sentimental and the melodramatic in the final episodes. It bordered on the cheesy and the hammy without going over the line, but that is what made it so striking. It's actually uncommon to see so many raw emotions on display so vividly in a Japanese film or anime. The fact that the viewer had become invested in the characters by that point gave the melodrama some weight and when the characters make mistakes, most of the time they seemed like the sort of real mistakes people make and not the ones invented by writers for the sake of drama.