Category Archives: Sci-fi Stuff

The Mountain and the Sector of M

As I was doing research on Neil Gaiman for my last blog post, I came across a clip of him giving a commencement speech in 2012. Clad in an academic cap and robes, Mr. Gaiman gave an interesting thought model for how he steered his way forward, creatively.

I’ll be paraphrasing from that speech in just a moment. You can find it here in its entirety, and it’s well worth a listen. It’s the part about the mountain, that caught my attention. It’s a simple way of looking at things for a writer, or indeed any artist who wants to pursue art. As we explore the idea, I’ll tell you my own thoughts and goals.

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Only the road will not be as flat or straight.

So, imagine a mountain in the distance. That mountain is your goal, whether it’s to become an artist, write a novel, a screenplay, learn to play the trombone, or what have you. Whatever it is you’re dreaming of, it’s there in the distance, waiting for you. In my case, it’s to become a professional author, and be able to devote myself to writing fiction full-time.

Now, think about the best route to get to the mountain. It’s deceptively easy, and often easier said than done. What would it take for you to follow that route to the mountain? What it means in my case is to make enough of an income from being an author that I can pay the bills. I never write my stories with dollar signs spinning in my eyes like Looney Toons. And yet, if I am going to pay the electricity bill by way of my stories, money has to enter the picture at some point. (Unless the electric company starts accepting speculative fiction as currency, so yeah.)

Let’s say that you’ve clearly identified what life goal your mountain represents AND you have mapped out the best way to get there. If you’re at that point, you still have to actually get to the mountain, right? You still have to walk that path. This part is perhaps the hardest because no plan survives contact with the enemy. There will always be setbacks and obstacles, no matter your course, and along the way you will need to make choices.

And it’s here that Mr. Gaiman really nails it. Whenever you’re faced with a decision, ask yourself this: Does this move me towards the mountain, or away from it? He mentions that there are lucrative jobs he passed up because he felt they wouldn’t bring him closer to the mountain, jobs that he might have taken earlier on his journey, since those opportunities were closer to the mountain than he was at that time.

It’s a pretty beautiful way of looking at it all. Envision the goal, plan your way forward, and make choices with the goal in mind. And if you ever do reach the mountain, look for the next one.

Truth time, folks.

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He’s going to tell! He’s going to tell!

I’m on the third leg of that journey, the making choices part. I see the goal in front of me, I see what it’s going to take to get there, and I’m making far-reaching life choices to bring it about. What I realize, however, is that I will need help along the way. After all, a writer without a reader is almost nothing at all.

If you read this blog on a regular basis, or you are familiar with my work, I ask that you support what I do at Sector M, in whatever form you’re able. I’ll have plenty of links at the end of this post for your consideration.

The best way to support me as an author is to buy one of my books. Obvious, right? My novel, The Backwards Mask, has just been re-released in e-book format, and we’re working on a print-on-demand version. If you haven’t read it, now is an ideal time to check it out.

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Find it here.

Additionally, I have an anthology of short fiction coming out next month called Strange Reports from Sector M. It’s primarily science fiction with a little bit of urban fantasy and horror thrown into the mix. This release will include both an e-book and a paperback version. I’ll post the link here, among many places, when the book debuts next month.

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Coming soon.

If you pick up any of any of my books, I ask only that you leave a review. Aside from buying the book itself, leaving a review on Amazon or Goodreads (or both) is the single best thing you can do for an independent author. I cannot overstate this.

Outside of books, you can buy a Sector M shirt, mug, or the like, or support me directly on Patreon. Or PayPal for that matter, if you prefer one-time contributions.

Beyond that, there are many ways to support me on my journey that are free. For one, if you’re reading this blog, subscribe to it. The same goes for following me on various social media, whether it’s on Facebook, Twitter, or any of them.

And if your mouse finger just can’t quite find the motivation, helping me out can be as simple as telling a friend about my work, or pointing them in the direction of my books and/or this blog. Know anyone who likes science fiction or fantasy? Tell. Them. Word-of-mouth should never, ever be underestimated.

Okay, I’m promised some links. One last time for those in back, please consider supporting my ongoing efforts by any of the following means.

The Backwards Mask — the re-release of my science fiction novel.

Strange Reports from Sector M — Link coming as soon as it goes live.

Sector M Store — T-shirts, mugs, phone covers and more.

Patreon—Support me directly, and get some cool perks.

PayPal— For one-time amounts, use: thesectorm@gmail.

Subscribe to this blog — If you haven’t already.

Like me on Facebook — A good place to start.

Follow me on Twitter and Instagram: @TheSectorM

Join me on Goodreads — See what I’m reading, ask me a question, read my reviews, etc.

Subscribe to my YouTube Channel — More content to come as time allows.

Check out my other works— I have a few stories out that you can read for free on my website, with more of them to come.

And there you have it, folks. My mountain is there in the distance, and its name is Sector M. With your help, I have no doubts that I will reach it.

See you around the Sector!

 

Si vales, valeo.

-MC

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(New)Battlestar Galactica and My Roller-Coaster Fandom

Richard Hatch passed away last week, and it got me to thinking. Most folks probably remember him as Captain Apollo, starring beside Dirk Benedict and Lorne Greene in the original Battlestar Galactica. My favorite role of his was in Galactica, but not in that one. I’m talking about his role in the 2004 reboot as the calculating political operator, Tom Zarek.

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Previously, on Battlestar Galactica…

While lamenting Mr. Hatch’s passing, I found myself revisiting the music of both the original and reimagined series. Of course, I still feel the thrill and majesty of the original main theme. As a connoisseur of space operas, that one is pretty boss. Inevitably, I began listening through the score of the ‘new’ series, which is tonally much darker and angst-ridden (pretty much like the show itself).

For the most part, I don’t look back on New Galactica very fondly, mainly due to the nonsensical third and fourth seasons, and the X-files/LOST kind of ending that was disappointing in the extreme. But then I rediscovered the track “Reuniting the Fleet.” Go ahead, give it a listen. I’ll wait.

The same mix of drums and the uilleann pipes are a direct callback to an earlier piece of music, “A Good Lighter.” Both instantly transported me back to my favorite moments in New Galactica. One is where Adama, played by Edward James Olmos, shared a moment with his son, Apollo, (Jaime Bamber) on the flight deck before an all-important mission. While I take issue with the direction of the show, the peformances remain incredible, and this scene between them – just thinking about it as I write this – gives me a big ol’ lump in my throat.

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I’m not crying. You’re crying!

The same is true for the “Reuniting the Fleet.” Faced with leaving the colonists behind on New Caprica in search of Earth, Adama makes the decision to reunite his people, who were sharply divided down ideological and political lines. I remember watching that scene on TV and being moved by it. Now, it’s downright profound.

With this level of emotion, atmosphere, and acting, how could my immediate impression of the show be negative, now after nearly eight years since it went off the air?

There are so few shows that leave me with such mixed emotions. The aforementioned X-files and LOST are two of them, certainly. These are shows that I absolutely loved at the beginning, but by the end watching an episode was uncomfortable, and largely consumed out of ‘fan duty’ if that makes any sense. And also the hope that it would get better.

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*holding in the existential dread* It’s going to get better…right?

When I first discovered New Galactica, I feel in love. Unlike many old-school Galactica fans I know, I really loved the darker more helpless tone of the new show. It really felt like a great tragedy had befallen the survivors of the Fall of the Twelve Colonies, and this had scarred them all to a lesser or greater extent. Here was military science fiction I could really sink my proverbial teeth into.

The first and second seasons of New Galactica, as well as the first few episodes of season three were not only some of the best sci-fi I’d ever seen on TV, but also one of the best dramas. Full stop. Again, I cannot say enough good things about the performances turned in by Olmos, Callis, Sackhoff and so many others. Bear McCreary’s score put it over the top. The discovery of Kobol and the hint that old gods where not who they seemed, the return of the Pegasus, and the interplay between Adama and Cain…wow. Intense. Like Samuel L. Jackson in the diner with Tim Roth in Pulp Fiction.

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Yeah, pretty much like that.

But once our intrepid heroes blasted their way off of New Caprica, season three took an immediate nosedive. They had gotten the show back on the road, back on the quest for Earth, but it seemed like the writers and showrunners had less of an idea of what to do next. The intro to the show boasted of the Cylons that ‘they have a plan,’ but it became apparent that the showrunners didn’t.

Season three felt like this strange mix of individual character studies that didn’t seem to support what had gone before. Previous to this, each episode had stacked on top of the last, adding layers to the story while adding new developments, new wrinkles. These new episodes, however, felt like you could pull them out of the pile and they wouldn’t be missed. In fact, ‘Hero’ was an episode that I think weakened the series as a whole.

The continuity began to unravel and characters began acting, well, inconsistent to say the least. Adama is willing to stand Cally up against a bulkhead and execute her if Chief Tyrol doesn’t comply to his demands because ‘he can’t have people deciding when to obey orders,’ but does nothing to Helo for disobeying orders when they could have shown Hugh the insidious diagram and destroyed the Borg Collective…er—I mean the Cylons, and saved the human race. And then Helo is promoted to CAG, even after this incident…and he’s not even a pilot.

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Baltar isn’t so sure about that. Baltar is not alone.

There were some bright spots along the way, to be sure. I’m a huge fan of Jan Espenson, and so the middle of the season got a bump with “The Passage” and “The Eye of Jupiter.” But then the ‘All Along The Watchtower’ moment happens at the end of season three that really looked like the show had gone off the rails, and I wasn’t sure it was coming back.

It took more than a year, but come back it did. There was a little improvement, but that’s when the ‘Final Five’ story arc came into play, and for me…the worst thing about the show, not counting the ending. I was this close to just calling it and watching something else. It takes a lot for this fanboy to want to pack up and go home, but I was done.

Then we got to the mutiny arc and, by Grapthar’s Hammer, we were back, baby! The excitement, the drama, the everything…I wanted to shout at the producers: “This is what I’m talking about! Every episode should be like this!

But after that, the show went back to floundering. They found ‘Earth’ only it wasn’t Earth, and we got a pretty weak explanation of how the Twelve Models came to be, even though it didn’t make much sense AND seemed to contradict what we knew about them already. Again, I must stress, Final Five = Worst Part of the Show. Somebody should have really gamed this out ahead of time. I understand writing yourself into a corner, but come on.

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Submitted for your approval…

By this time we all knew that Season Four would be New Galactica’s last. You couldn’t tell it by the way the story plodded on, however. The episode “Someone to Watch Over Me” did not feel like a series with only a few episodes left, but rather a series that still had three or four seasons still to come.

And the ending? Well, let’s just say that it would take the god-awful ending of LOST to eclipse New Galactica on my ‘Worst Ever’ list. It still remains in a solid #2 spot, however. From eschewing technology for no good reason, to Kara’s unexplained departure, and even Adama deciding to live alone for the rest of his life rather than with his son, there are so many horrid things here that a recounting of them all would be a blog post unto itself. It had some interesting action sequences, and *something* of a resolution to the ‘All Along the Watchtower’ craziness of before, but…well, yuck. Not with a bang, but a whimper.

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Yeah, Brah, I don’t what to make of that either.

So why do I bring this up? Is it just to bash a long-time fanboy disappointment? A bit, yeah. But really it’s to show the extreme ends of the pendulum here, and the lasting impression it made on me both coming and going.

Understand that I still use Bear McCreary’s music when I write. (If you ever need to write an epic combat scene, put “Prelude to War” on your playlist, trust me.) I follow the projects of cast members of this show as much as I do for Firefly, or Babylon 5, or Star Trek. I love to see cosplay of these characters, and enjoy fan theories on the connections between the original series and the new.

That’s still with me.

This show meant something to me. It still does to some degree. I only wish that more care and energy had been put into the latter half of the series to match the first. To me, New Galactica serves as both a shining example and a cautionary tale of what to do/not do in modern science fiction.

Like with people, you have to take the good with the bad here. And in that sense, boy howdy is New Galactica like the contradictory nature of the deeply flawed people it portrayed in the show.

Can I get a “So Say We All”?

 

 


Fanboy Review #6 – Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Before I get into the particulars of the movie, I wanted to say a few words about Carrie Fisher. Like so many, I was shocked to hear of her passing. First there was the news of her heart attack, then her death, AND THEN her mother’s death. I can only imagine what the family is going through right now, and my heart goes out to them.

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To me, she’s royalty.

Of course, growing up with Star Wars I had a huge crush on Princess Leia. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking, and it actually wasn’t her slave-girl outfit that did it for me. The moment that I think I truly fell in love with Princess Leia is when she removed her helmet after thawing Han out of the carbonite. “Someone who loves you,” she said, and there were anime-style hearts in my eyes. And if that didn’t really drive it home, the moment when she turns the tables on Han on Endor, stealing his own line of “I know” just before she zaps a Stormtrooper cemented in my mind that she was no wilting daisy. True, she was the damsel in distress in Episode IV, but her sass and overall attitude showed us that she was anything but the standard-issue screen heroine of the day. Bear in mind that is was 1977, a time when the changing role of women in fiction, particularly science fiction, wasn’t even a conversation we were having as a society.

But fan worship aside, I respected Carrie Fisher for her abilities as a writer, and for her outspoken stances on mental health and substance abuse. Unfortunately (for me, at least), in all the sci-fi conventions and events that I’ve attended over the years, I never had the privilege of meeting her. From what I hear, she was quite a lady. And though Leia Organa may be the role she is remembered for the most, I appreciate the real person who brought her to life, and the lasting impact her work has had on the world. Rest in peace, Carrie Fisher.

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Now, to the review. Roll the standard spoiler warning:

[Note: I do not consider myself a movie critic. What follows is just one fanboy’s opinion based off of a single viewing of the film. Oh, and there are SPOILERS ahead, so take heed.]

The first of what could be an endless series of standalone Star Wars movies, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story hit theatres a couple of weeks ago. In that time, it’s made over $650 million worldwide. With the original extended universe cannon gone, Rogue One steps up to fill the gap of how the Rebel Alliance got its hands on the Death Star plans. With a new cast of characters, we embark upon the first of the non-episodic Star War stories.

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The ‘One’ and only. Trust me.

First Impressions:  Despite my damaged-but-still-intact love of the franchise, I wasn’t looking forward to this movie. It felt unnecessary, like an obvious attempt by Disney to milk their purchase of its revenue potential. The trailers didn’t do much to change that idea. Still, it is a return to the era of Star Wars that I love the best, so it’s not like I wasn’t going to see it. (Let’s be real here.) I liked but didn’t love The Force Awakens, so let’s see how it goes.

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LIKE. A. BOSS!

What I Liked:

DARTH FRIGGIN’ VADER! I thought he really was going to be a minor cameo in the movie, but Great Scott…that end corridor scene. Why do people fear Darth Vader? This is why. Plus, it also seems to give us an answer to why Vader is so angry when he first boards the Tantive IV. He’s calm and collected the rest of the time, but I now see why he wants to ‘tear the ship apart’ when he finally catches up to it.

– The Battle of Scarif. If you’ve read my sci-fi, you know I’m a sucker for a ground battle going on while a gigantic space battle rages overhead. We got that in Return of the Jedi, and the climactic battle sequence here is pretty much everything I could have hoped for, and more.  This definitely puts the ‘wars’ back in ‘Star Wars.’

– Perhaps a better name for the movie should be ‘Suicide Squad.’  The movie pulls no punches. I had thought that perhaps our band of misfits might be return for a sequel, but that will not be the case. One of the problems with an epic story like Star Wars is that the death of a major character will be rare. For a one-time cast, each of our intrepid heroes steps up, does their job, and goes down like a boss. When the bill came due for Imwe and Malbus, I genuinely teared up. I am one with the force, and the force is with me. I am one with the force, and the force is with me.

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– Seeing Biggs and the Red and Yellow squadron leaders back in action through unused footage from Star Wars. Now we know why there was a vacancy for Luke in the form of Red-5, and why there was no Blue Squadron attacking the Death Star around Yavin. Plus, seeing some minor characters like General Jan Dodonna  and Mon Mothma recast so that they can still be a part of story was cool as well. And that leads me to my next point…

– CGI Characters. This is perhaps my most divisive opinion on the film. Bringing characters back to life was handled pretty well and with respect, I thought. When I first saw Governor Tarkin, I thought he would be a brief cameo. Nope. He plays more of a part in the story than I would have thought. While we’re not quite there yet with the technology, we’re still better than we were with Jeff Bridges in Tron: Legacy. I do wish the voice actor for some of Tarkin’s lines had stayed more with Cushing’s sharp British delivery, but that we got as much as we did was great. CGI Leia was a bit less impressive, but hearing Carrie Fisher say “Hope” was moving, especially now.

– The Score. John Williams didn’t do the soundtrack for this movie, but Michael Giacchino does a pretty good job at capturing Williams’ trademark Star Wars style. I do wish the main theme had been used a bit more, though. It’s not just for Luke!

– Expansion of the New Lore. From the Guardians of the Whills, to reaffirming Kyber crystals while establishing that this is what powered the Death Star’s planet killer, this story does a lot to fill in the gaps of the continuity, particularly since the old lore is dead, dead, dead.

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Cool shot. Too bad it’s ‘Sir-Not-Appearing-In-This-Film.’

What I Didn’t Like:

– The TRAILER. Part of the reason I wasn’t excited about the movie was because of the trailers leading up to it. It felt like one big warning that Jyn might somehow betray the Rebellion and join the Empire, that she should remain true to herself no matter what came her way. Well, almost none of the footage or lines from the movie trailer made it into the final movie. Jyn’s dramatic turn in an Imperial uniform while the lights in the corridor go up? Nope. Any hint of her joining the Empire? Nope. Cassian and Jyn on the beach fighting AT-ATs? Nope. Vader talking with Krennic on the Death Star? Nope. Jyn’s whimsical line of “It’s a rebellion. I rebelled”? Nowhere to be found. I understand that footage can be cut different ways to dramatically change its meaning, but the footage they used is not even in the movie. Not just a scene here or there, but a sizeable chunks of what was shown just isn’t there. It’s too bad, because I enjoyed the movie that I got a whole lot more than the movie the trailer previewed.

– No Title Crawl. Yeah, I know that it’s not part of the trilogies, but I still missed it. The slow scroll of words while the Star Wars theme blasts is an essential part of getting me hyped for what’s to come. It wasn’t there at all, and its absence was ringing.

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Yaaaaas!

– The Names. Aside from Krennic, Jyn and Galen, I had a hard time remembering the names of the characters. Maybe it’s just how long the Star Wars universe has been around, and the memes that go with it, but the names sort of went in one ear and out the other. They also didn’t seem to use them in dialogue very much, so that part made it even harder to catch them. If you don’t know a character’s name, I think it’s a little harder to sink your teeth into them, figuratively speaking.

– The Beginning of the Film. It felt slow and overly complicated. To be fair, there were a bunch of characters to introduce, but it seemed like a lot of explaining on a theme that we likely already know going in. We get to Jedha and things pick up, and then sort of fades again at Eadu. Scarif is pure joy and awesome, however.

– This is kind of a weird one, but important to me nonetheless: I know that having the Rebellion do shady and horrible stuff is a way to make it more realistic, but I like the clear dichotomy between the good guys and bad guys in this franchise. I generally prefer more morally ambiguous stories…just not in Star Wars. It’s for all the same reasons why the ‘Section 31’ episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space 9 don’t work for me. Yeah, that’s great for another sci-fi property, but keep it out of this one.

– A Nerdy Nitpick: I realize that Diego Luna was using his normal speaking voice in his portrayal of Cassian Andor. While he is from Mexico, his accent came off as French (which struck me as on-the-nose considering he’s in the resistance against a jack-booted fascist regime). We’ve never had much variance of accents in Star Wars, just the occasional British accent, so that was a little distracting from his performance.

– A REALLY Nerdy Nitpick: Galen’s farm at the beginning bears a striking resemblance to Uncle Owen’s farm on Tattooine. The equipment, the interiors, even the layout all have a similar look. The thing is, Uncle Owen wasn’t into growing crops — he was a moisture farmer. Tatooine has so little moisture that a whole industry had to spring up around coaxing moisture from the air and turning it into usable drinking water. The planet Lah’mu, however, is wet. Really wet. So wet that Krennic walks through a puddle to get to it and it’s sprinkling while they are talking. So what kind of farming was Galen doing?

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Questions you have. Resolution to them we have not.

Unresolved Questions:

If anything, Rogue One does a pretty good job of tying up loose ends, especially with its rather Shakespearean ending. If Galen thought that the Empire would never find the hidden weakness he installed, why was it found so easily in A New Hope, leading to Tarkin’s “moment of triumph” speech? Also, why would Leia even pretend to be on an ambassadorial mission when it was clear that she had just been at Scarif? Vader would be like, “Dude, I saw you take off from that Mon Calamari ship like 30 minutes ago.” Deny it to the end, I guess. And would Leia be surprised that Darth Vader was on her tail when she says, “Only you would be so bold.” Or was that, again, for some sort of deniability?

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So what’s your point, Matt?

Conclusions:  I realize that it might be hard to know whether or not I liked this film based on what I stated above. I like this movie, I really, really do. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was far better than any one-off film had any right to be. Believe it or not, it reignited my love for the franchise far more than did last year’s The Force Awakens. While I still worry that the anthology stories may overstay their welcome in the future, this was a welcome addition to the Star Wars universe, and a pleasant surprise to this very jaded and cautious fan.

And that’s the way this fanboy sees it.


Will We Ever Outgrow Violence?

This is a departure for me on this blog. Normally, I’m content to write about pop-culture, video games, nostalgia stuff, and generally get my geek/fanboy on.

I’m writing this the day after five police officers lost their lives in downtown Dallas, not 20 miles from where I sit right now. So, when I say this hits close to home, I mean it.

There’s so much that can be said, and will be said, about the events of last night. For my part, I don’t believe that being on the side of Black Lives Matter means that you are anti-police, or vice versa. It’s easy to become cynical an inured to these things when they happen, which is all too often.

But this got me thinking.

Will we, as a species, ever outgrow violence?

There is much about humanity that is admirable. We have the ability to adapt, to innovate, to guard those who cannot protect themselves, to learn and imagine, to create and to teach. We went to the MOON for crying out loud! We put rovers on Mars and satellites around Jupiter and as far away as Pluto. That is why the space program captures my imagination so much; it is the perfect summation of Humanity’s determination, perseverance, and triumphant spirit. We’ve bootstrapped ourselves up from using stone tools and wearing crude skins to being able to play Pokemon Go on our smartphones.

But, even in the midst of all of the great things we’ve accomplished, we still don’t mind killing each other, even when we KNOW the pain and suffering it causes. We keep on doing it, anyway. Whole industries are devoted to finding better and more efficient ways to kill our fellow man.

Maybe it’s hypocritical for a guy who writes military science fiction to wax philosophic about the futility of violence, but I am already a study in contractions anyway. So be it. But, back to my original question – will there come a day when Humanity decides violent solutions are not the way?

I doubt I’ll live to see that day, but for my part, I think the answer is yes. Some science fiction gives us glimpses of future generations of humans who learned from the mistakes of their primitive, misguided forebears (which means us, BTW). Those hypothetical humans of tomorrow choose a different way. They grow out of their infancy, embracing our best traits and discarding our worst. While those may just be stories, or wishful thinking on the part of the authors, I firmly believe that if we can imagine it, we can eventually make it a reality.

Here’s my ‘Captain Obvious’ moment, but just go with me for a minute: Every life lost to intentional violence diminishes us all.

Let me explain: Each of us has the capacity to influence and inspire those around us. Heck, in a digital age, we have the ability to influence people from afar that we’ve never met. Take a moment and think of the people who have helped you in the past, or challenged you to reach higher than you ever thought you could, the people who made you who you are today. How would your life be different if they hadn’t been there for you, if they had been at the wrong place at the wrong time?

Oftentimes we see the names of victims in plain text and it may not sink in what we’ve lost. What if one of those names was destined to be the next Mozart, or Newton, or Shakespeare? What might they have inspired in those around them, and what does the absence in the lives of those closest to them ultimately cost us?

We’ll never know, of course, just as we won’t know how much more advanced we might have been if the Library of Alexandria had not been destroyed. But, we can safely guess that it would be to our benefit.

Look, what I’m saying is that our time on this planet is limited; all of us are on a countdown timer, whether we like it or not. There are many things that could end our lives that we have no control over. Earthquakes, disease, accidents, asteroid impacts – we can’t do much about those except try to mitigate the effects.

The violence we do to each other, however, is something we absolutely can control. It is a choice, and each time we choose to do it, the sum potential of what the human race can accomplish is lessened. Some part of us is lost.

Let us hope that this realization dawns on us, as a species, sooner rather than later.


Continuity in Sci-Fi

In this author’s opinion, continuity is the glue that holds a sci-fi universe or series together. When I speak of ‘continuity’ in this sense, I’m not talking about whether an actor looks the same from one shot to another, or that the level of someone’s drink doesn’t fluctuate between scenes. No, I’m talking about a storyline that keeps itself internally consistent.  I’m a super stickler for that kind of thing. Why?

Science fiction already requires some help to suspend the reader or viewer’s disbelief. We’ve got aliens, flying cars, faster-than-light travel and all that good stuff we don’t have running around in real life. When the boundaries of that continuity are smooth and seamless, it makes it a heck of a lot easier to swallow the concept of Klingons, lightsabers and giant robots.

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This is one of the largest cranes in the world.
Sometimes even this isn’t enough to suspend my disbelief.

But when the continuity is sloppy or inconsistent, when the established rules of that universe are lazily ignored, the cracks show through in a hurry. It reminds us that we’re not peering off into some other distant time and place, but rather that we’re looking at a bunch of actors standing around on a set made of plastic and wood. Sci-fi movies, novels, TV shows, and comic books all desperately need a solid continuity just as a given. It’s the foundation on which the story is built. Build a house on a faulty foundation, and well, you get the idea.

So, here are three examples from sci-fi where the continuity frayed with varying degrees of consequences. Here we go…

Terminator 2: Judgment Day

First off, I love this movie. James Cameron is my favorite action director, hands down, and I think this movie is some of his finest work. His stories tend to be pretty well thought out, which is why this continuity slip irks me. In the first Terminator movie, Kyle Reese tells Sarah Connor that time travel is only possible due to ‘a field generated by a living organism.’ This explains why Kyle arrives in 1984 wearing only his birthday suit and with no futuristic equipment like plasma pulse-rifles, etc.  The Terminator itself is a machine, but its endoskeleton is covered with actual living tissue, so that explains that, right?

In T2, however, the T-1000 comes through just fine. Even though it appears to be a man (and still arrives naked), its entire body is actually made of a liquid metal (a mimetic polyalloy if you want to get technical). There’s nothing organic about it, at least nothing that’s ever revealed to the audience. So, how exactly did it travel through time?

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If I can shapechange into anything, why was I naked when I arrived?

Granted, we get all of our information about time travel from Kyle, who admits he doesn’t ‘know tech stuff,’ but it still causes a wrinkle.  Even if it doesn’t destroy the movie for me (and it doesn’t), it still reminds me that someone wasn’t paying attention to their own canon. Sad, really.

Battlestar Galactica “Hero”

This episode of the reimagined Galactica series is from the notoriously wobbly Season 3. I’m not sure what happened to this show. It went from being some of the best sci-fi I have ever seen on television to a show that was almost painful to watch near the end. Season 3 was really where the continuity of the show wore thin, and this episode pretty much sums it up for me.

If you haven’t seen it, let me explain: So, Admiral Adama (Edward James Olmos) is being awarded a medal for his years of meritorious military service. Adama, however, harbors a secret that’s been tearing him up inside. We get a flashback to when he commanded the Battlestar Valkyrie a year before the 13 Colonies of Cobol were destroyed.  It turns out that he may have been the one who inadvertently touched off the war with the Cylons (or so he suspects), which resulted in billions of deaths. So, being awarded a medal for heroism cuts him like a knife. It is full of angst and regret, moving background music, and it’s exquisitely acted by a veteran cast.

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Wait, where was I again?

So what’s the problem? Well, it had been established previously that Adama had been in command of the Galactica for several years leading up to the outbreak of war. So how could he have been on the mission with the Valkyrie, when he was already firmly stationed on Galactica? Whoops! Someone needed to keep track of their timeline a little better, huh?  It undermined the entire episode, and quite frankly, the show would have been better off as a whole if it had been left out.

Star Trek: Enterprise

My first example was pretty minor.  My second was pretty bad…but the last is one of the worst offenders I can think of – Star Trek: Enterprise.  Not just one episode, nor even one season, but the entire series from start to finish.  It’s one of the most glaring continuity errors in science fiction history.  Why is that?

The series takes place in the timeline well before Kirk and Spock, serving as a prequel to the other Star Treks. The Enterprise in this Star Trek series is touted as the first human-manned ship to leave our solar system. In fact, that’s a major part of the show’s pilot episode.  For its time, she’s supposed to be the most advanced starship ever built by human hands, and is supposed to have started the legend that later starships named Enterprise would build upon.  James T. Kirk, John Harriman, Rachel Garrett and Jean-Luc Picard all stand upon its shoulders, right?

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Nope, not there.

So why is there no mention of it before this series?  Wouldn’t a ship occupying that singular place in human history be mentioned before that somewhere? Well, in the conference room aboard Picard’s Enterprise-D, you can see the outlines of past ships bearing that name. There’s an unbroken string of ships from the aircraft carrier, to Kirk’s original ship, then the A, the B, and up through D.

So where is the Enterprise-NX in all of that? It’s suspiciously absent from the lineup. That’s because the showrunners made her up on the spot without much consideration for what history had already been established for the show. They could have chosen any other name for the ship and been okay. The Valiant, the Constellation, the Good Ship Lollipop, S.S. Minnow – anything, and it would have worked out just fine. But no, they just had to go and name her Enterprise, didn’t they?

And this show ran for 5 seasons.

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Braaaaaaaaggggaaaaaa!

Yeah, that was pretty much what I thought, too.

So, is all of this needless nitpicking by a fan who should really find something else to do with his time? Probably.  I’ll admit that I speculate and ponder things like this quite a bit, and when there’s a mistake, I generally find it.

It’s not for the purpose of harping on it, to point fingers at the creators/authors and say, “Ha Ha!” like Nelson from the Simpsons.  No, it’s because when I want to immerse myself in sci-fi, I want to believe on some level that what I’m reading or seeing could exist out there somewhere in the past, present or future, and share in that discovery or adventure. A consistent continuity allows me to do that; a faulty one reminds me that I’m just some poor schlub with a Netflix account.


Scalability

One of the hardest things about writing sci-fi (IMHO) is handling the technology. All too often the real world will catch up to science fiction levels in just years rather than centuries.  I may write about such things as invisibility fields or nanotechnology when all the while they may be just around the corner. Just do a google search for either of those, and the tech in the pages of a sci-fi novel may not seem so far off.

Even though we don’t have flying cars (yet), I am continually surprised at the things that modern scientific research discovers every day.  I mean, in the next few years, we might actually have found the Higgs-Boson particle or developed hand-held energy weapons, personally cloned organs, powered exoskeletons and life-extending treatments and/or drugs – all things that previously existed only in theory and imagination.

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Okay, Star Trek, we’re looking in your direction.

So what’s a lowly sci-fi writer to do to make sure that actual technology doesn’t exceed the set pieces that he creates? It might be a peek behind the curtain, but I’ll share with you one of the techniques I use on a pretty regular basis.

Scalability.

Let me give you an example of when this was not used. In the novelization of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, we get a few scenes that do not appear in the movie. Consequently, we get to know some of the scientists aboard space station Regula 1. As it turns out two of the scientists are game designers, and they have just completed work on their latest video game, Boojum Hunt. It was supposedly the largest video game ever (by 23rd century standards) in terms of how much computer memory it occupied. It was so large that the computer mainframe of the space station only barely contained it.

Any guesses how at much space it took up? 60 Megabytes.  Megabytes with an ‘M.’ Yeah, it’s safe to say that modern technology blew that one completely out of the water. At the time of the novel’s release, 60MB might have seemed unthinkably enormous, but nowadays not so much.

Flash Drive

This flash drive holds 32 gigabytes.

Consider this, though − what if the novel had just said that the game was the “largest video game ever created,” and left it at that? Chances are someone reading it today would scale their expectations up to whatever the norm is currently. The same goes for someone reading it twenty years from now.

That’s scalability. It’s presenting a concept without the parameters that will eventually invalidate it. That way, it scales up to whatever the reader expects it to be. Certainly  Boojum Hunt’s claim would have held up without that troublesome measurement to sink it.  So, this idea can be applied to practically any claim we put on sci-fi set-piece technology. Saying, “A warship of the highest magnitude,” tells you everything you need to know in only a few words in the same way that saying, “She was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen,” can describe a character.  It’s a bit of ‘smoke and mirrors’ to handle it that way, and you do wind up speaking in superlatives quite a bit, but it works.

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Hey, no peeking behind the curtain…ah, okay, just this once.

So what happens when you need to put some sort of real-world perspectives on your tech? Well, you can do that. Hard science fiction does it all the time, but they run the risk of being shown up by the onward march of human ingenuity and understanding.  For the sake of argument, let’s say that you have to put something down for one of your gadgets.

Here’s what I would do: I would figure out the modern measurement equivalent and then either quintuple or sextuple the order of magnitude.  I ran into a situation like this in The Backwards Mask when I had to give an indication of how large a particular hard drive was aboard the Hornet.  I didn’t want to make the same mistakes as Boojum Hunt, so I first thought of how large the ‘Canary Drive’ was in 21st century terms. I’m used to thinking of gigabytes (109 bits) in the here and now, so I then kicked it up to yottabytes (1024 bits). BTW, a single yottabyte equals a quadrillion (1,000,000,000,000,000) gigabytes.

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That’s a big Twinkie.

As astronomical as that number may seem, there may come a day when devices store hundreds of yottabytes of information, and it’s no big deal anymore. They might look at my description of the Canary Drive and laugh to themselves at my short-sightedness.  Well, I think I’ve bought myself a few decades before that happens. If folks are still reading my book in 30 to 40 years, I still call that a win.

So, what’s the upshot of all this? I consider scalability an important tool in my writer’s toolbox. You can use it to bring technology up to the reader’s level of understanding (truly state-of-the-art) so it doesn’t get overrun by actual science quite as easily.  Of course no science fiction is bulletproof, but scalability at least allows it wear to Kevlar.


Sci-fi’s Strongest Heroine?

Female characters in science fiction have come a long way since the pulp-era days. No longer are they always the cliché ‘maiden in distress’ or merely a means to have a love interest in the story.  Oh, there’s still quite a lot of that goes on, but it’s not quite so omnipresent throughout the genre anymore.

Speaking as an author, I love strong female characters (both reading and writing them). I feel privileged to live in a generation of great sci-fi heroines. We’re talking names such as Nyota Uhura (past and present), Ellen Ripley, Katie Sackoff’s Starbuck, Katniss Everdeen, Honor Harrington, Buffy Anne Summers (or practically any female character from Joss Whedon’s brain), Dr. Dana Scully, Sarah Connor, Susan Ivanova…the list goes on and on.

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OOOH YEEEAH…
*said in the Kool-Aid Man voice.*

These are the ladies who don’t need anyone to make them powerful, because they are already.  Helen Reddy songs would not be out of place blasting in the background as they go about saving civilization, humankind or the universe.

In this author’s humble opinion, there is one leading lady who takes the crown of strongest sci-fi heroine, and, wow, talk about a tough choice! But if I had to pick just one it would be…(drum roll)…Trinity from The Matrix.

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Hear me roar…and soar, apparently.

Note that this is the Trinity from the first Matrix movie, not the ones that followed. Sure, she was cool in those too…in the same way that Connor McLeod was also cool in Highlander 2: The Quickening. Cool, but just not the same. For the sake of this post, forget that the Reloaded and Revolutions movies ever existed. I do.

Here are the top three reasons I think this, along with the stereotype that Trinity shatters with a ‘bullet time’ slow-motion jump kick.

1.) She Looks Like She Can (And Will) Kick Your Butt

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Dodge this.

The first scene in The Matrix shows her taking out several SWAT team guys with martial arts moves that border on anime. I remember the first time I saw this in theatre. I was completely sold on the character’s capacity to kick butt.  Carrie-Anne Moss was in incredible physical shape in that role, and she completely owned the physical stunts necessary to convince us of Trinity’s formidable hand-to-hand skills.

Have you noticed in the movies how many times we see a rather diminutive female character going toe-to-toe in a fistfight with goons more than twice her size and weight? Yet she wades through tons of them as though they were nothing. Does that really seem believable to you? Most of the time it looks pretty forced, leaving many of us thinking um, what? With Trinity, her combat abilities don’t seem out of place at all. Once you know that she can bend the Matrix, it makes even more sense that she can go through even highly trained special ops-types without breaking a sweat.

2.) Not Just Another Pretty Face

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Whoah…

Carrie-Anne Moss (and thus Trinity) is beautiful, no doubt about it. At no time in the film, however, was she so glammed out that she no longer fit the role. Trinity comes from a dark and hard world, one where she risks her life on a daily basis to fight a system that has enslaved humanity without its knowledge.  If she couldn’t pull her own weight on missions, she wouldn’t have survived for so long. In that sense, she doesn’t suffer from “Bond Girl” syndrome, where her usefulness and contribution to the story are just skin deep.  Quite the opposite, in fact − she’s integral to the story.

Also, Trinity is uber competent at what she does. Even after Ted “Theodore” Logan came along to become the Kwisatz Haderach, she remains one of Zion’s elite operators.  When Neo goes in to rescue Morpheus, who’s the other half of the assault team, in what was surely a suicide mission, the one he could not have done it without? Sorry, rhetorical question.

3.) Her Femininity Doesn’t Clash

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Trinity à la Nagle.

Okay, ladies, here’s a question for all of you. Does it feel like some female characters are stripped of their femininity when they are put in what would be traditionally considered a ‘man’s’ role? It’s almost as if the idea of a woman who knows how to mix it up in a brawl or a firefight can’t be considered womanly.

I disagree with that idea, of course. More than that, I disagree with the underlying assumption that puissance at arms is something uniquely masculine, or (more to the point) not feminine. While The Rules would not approve of ladies who know how to field strip an M-16, set explosives or do anything else a Navy SEAL might be trained in…I do. For me, femininity and masculinity are not about what you do, but who you are.

In the case of Trinity, she is very much a woman. At no time does she come off as mannish or butch, and she doesn’t need to adopt the caricature of male persona to be brave in the face of nearly impossible odds, or to fight for her cause or for those she loves. She doesn’t have to give up one to have the other, and I love her for that.

So that’s how I see it. Of course, I’m a guy, so me going on about all this might be comical to some of the ladies out there. Let’s just remember that this is an opinion piece, after all.

What do you think?