Tag Archives: Science fiction

Strange Reports from Sector M: A Self Interview

My anthology of short, speculative fiction came out recently. I call it Strange Reports From Sector M. Customarily when a bestselling author releases a book, there’s a press tour, complete with personal interviews. Now this may come as a surprise to many of you, but I am not a bestselling author. Shocked face, right?

Since there aren’t a myriad of people busting my door down for an interview, I decided to do one on my own. The purpose of any one-on-one with the author is really just to let people know about the book, what’s it about, and why people should check it. I’m going to do that for you here, right now. So, look at it as glimpse into my pet project, or a strange sort of FAQ. Either one is fine.

Alright, let’s get this show on the road!

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Thanks for joining us here on Sector M, Matt.

Um, thanks? This is weird. I’m not the only who thinks so, right?

No idea what you mean. So, about your book. What is Sector M, exactly, and why are we getting strange reports from it, hmm?

Right, so Sector M has been my creative umbrella for a few years now. It covers all my social media, my books, even my wacky fanboy videos on Youtube. The name “Sector M” is a reference to my office, which at various times in the past has been called “The Museum of Matt” or “Sector Matt.” It’s my sanctum sanctorum. You know, just like Doctor Strange.

Okay, so Sector M is really just a proxy for saying “Matt Carson.”

In a way, yeah. I also set one of my earliest military sci-fi stories in a sector on the fringes of civilized space. The first surveyors had named all the star systems with words that began with the letter “M.” Thus, Sector M.

And is that story included in this anthology?

It is. It’s called “The Foeman’s Chain” and it’s the last one in the book.

What about the reports? Why are they strange? Do tell.

The stories in this book are pretty varied. Overall, it’s sci-fi, but there’s a bit of urban fantasy and horror mixed in as well. They all have some sort of anthropological or sociological theme to them. Humans are strange beings when you think about it. I’m perhaps a little stranger than most, so these resulting stories (or reports, if you will) are bound to be a bit ‘out there.’

Fascinating. Well now we need to take a quick break to learn an important fact about llamas!

Wait, what?

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And we’re back!

What was that all about?

Just trying to break up the text with some graphics. Now, how is the book structured? Or is it all just sorta willy-nilly?

The stories get progressively longer from beginning to end. The first few stories are really short. The middle of the book has a few stories of a more “traditional” short-story length. At the end, I have two novellas or novelettes, depending on which definition you use. So, if you’re in the mood for something quick, look in the front. If you want something more substantial, go to the middle or back. You can read them in any order.

And how many stories are included, total?

There are 13 stories, all told. That seemed like a decent variety of different types of stories, lengths, and genres. Some are standalone stories, while a few others take place in a shared universe.

Do you have a favorite? I bet you do.

They all have a special place in my heart. No, I’m serious! I certainly don’t have an overall favorite among them, but I would say I’m particularly partial to “The Gossamer Thread” and “The Mundanity of Miracles.”

What are they about?

If you buy the book, you’ll find out. *wink*

Real subtle, Matt.

Just kidding. “Gossamer Thread” is about aliens who view us, the humans, as the ineffable ones. It also deals with society as a fragile construct, and trying to do what’s right when everything is falling down. “The Mundanity of Miracles” is about how the lines between reality and fiction are blurred in the future, and the problems that may come about as a result.

You mentioned societal themes before. Is there an overall theme for the book?

Interesting question. I wrote these stories without ever dreaming I’d assemble them together, so there’s no intentional theme to the book as a whole.

Wait, so you’re saying there’s an unintentional theme?

As I put it together, certain themes began to appear to me, like a Venn diagram overlapping at various points. But, much like when I see a cloud that looks like a duck, I may be seeing a pattern that isn’t really there.

See a lot of clouds shaped like ducks, do you?

Uh, sometimes, yeah.

Like this one?

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Yeah. Just like that one. *mutters to himself.*

Well, what is this unintentional theme of which you speak?

No spoilers, for real this time. I’m going to leave that up to the reader to decide. I don’t want to bias opinions ahead of time. Come on, I have to leave at least a little mystery.

Isn’t that a bit of a cop out?

Maybe, but here we are.

Tool.

Oh yeah, and what does that say about you, then?

Good point. So shall we talk about the elephant in the room?

Sure…

Why is this book $12.99, huh? Who do you think you are, Dan Brown?

Not at all. This is a print-on-demand situation, which means the individual print costs for each book are  higher than if it were a large print run. I realize I’m not an established “brand” when it comes to authors, but when all was said and done the minimum cost to print each book was over $12. For now, I like to think of it as 13 stories for 13 bucks.

Cute. Did you practice that little catchphrase?

Maybe a little, yeah.

What if that price point is just too much for people?

The Kindle version is also out. Since it’s just electrons, those minimum print costs are no longer an issue. With Kindle, readers can get the book for $5.99.  That’s about one trip to Starbucks, and my book will last you a lot longer. *wink*

You’re winking again.

Oh, sorry…

If you’re gonna wink, at least take a lesson from the best.

And who’s that, pray tell?

So glad you asked…

Oh, here we go.

giphy

 

And, back. If we’re going with the “5 Ws and H” approach, what haven’t we answered yet?

Hmmm, let’s run them down:

Who: Me, Matt Carson.

What: A trade paperback book of short stories, all speculative fiction. Also on Kindle.

When: It’s out now! 🙂

Why:  See below.

Where: Amazon and CreateSpace. Links below!

How: CreateSpace Author Services.

Ah, so it’s the Why that we need to talk about. So why did you decide to put this book together?

These stories are a part of me, and I wanted to share them. While I’m glad to have The Backwards Mask out there for folks to enjoy, I realize its length means that it’s quite an investment of time. So, for those who don’t have time for a 309,000-word novel, here are multiple stories you can read in a single sitting. There’s also something about holding a physical book in your hands that cannot be overstated. It’s the first time my fiction has appeared in print, so that’s exciting.

But why should the readers care about it?

I see what you did there. *approving nod*. This book really has a little something for everyone in the geekosphere. There’s plenty of action, but also introspection about our strange existence. I talk about war, cruelty, courage, and humanity’s unconquerable, if wildly contradictory, spirit. If you like any of the speculative fiction genres, there’s something here to scratch that particular itch. And if you like all of them, so much the better.

Anything you’d like to say to all the folks out there, then?

Yes, please support my work and consider picking up a copy. AND please leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads. Those are the two most important things you can do for any indie author—buy the book and leave a review.

In that case, where can we procure said anthology?

Right now, there are two places: Amazon and CreateSpace, directly. The text on this blog can sometimes obfuscate links (they don’t always stand out in blue), so please click on the word “here” in all three cases.

For Amazon, click here.

For CreateSpace, click here.

For the Kindle, click here.

Well, Matt, thanks for stopping by Sector M. We should do this again sometime.

What are you talking about? I’m here all the time on Sector M. I’m you.

But are you? Are you really?

Yes…?

Sorry, rhetorical question. So, that’s all the time we have. Check out Strange Reports From Sector M on Amazon and CreateSpace!

Until next time, see you around the Sector!

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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.


Galaxy Quest – Why I Love It Like Wrath of Khan

In honor of the late, great Alan Rickman, I watched Galaxy Quest again the other night. In my mind, I know that it’s a fantastic movie, but seeing it again always surprises me at just how good it is. Not only is it infinitely quotable on the order of Big Trouble in Little China or The Princess Bride, but I think it’s one of the greatest Star Trek movies ever made.

Galaxy-Quest

Ooooooooh Yeeeeeaaaaaa! *said in a Kool-Aid Man voice.

No really, I love it in some ways even more than Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and for those who may not know me, let me tell you that’s saying something. The bagpipes at Spock’s funeral and Kirk’s voice catching when he said “His was the most…human” still bring tears to my eyes. True story.

So why do I love Galaxy Quest so much? Good question, I’m glad you asked.  Here’s the rundown of my top 3 reasons:

#3 It Understood Star Trek Better Than Star Trek Did:

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Nope.

Galaxy Quest arrived right between the rather ‘meh’ offering of Star Trek: Insurrection and the soul-numbing death knell of the TNG movies, Nemesis.  The Next Gen movies were often a bitter pill for Trek fans back then. Yeah, First Contact was quite good, and certainly the best of the bunch, but I never cared for the idea of a Borg Queen, or at-will time travel (again), or their portrayal of Zefram Cochrane. But I digress…ahem.

In truth, Galaxy Quest seemed to have a better understanding of Star Trek and its fans FAR and away better than the people who were in charge of the actual franchise at the time. From the fans who seem painfully familiar on the convention floor, to the tropes of the Original Series (and straight through the chompers…), all of these things told me that it was a parody made with utmost love for the source material. The elevator scene where the actors see the NCES Protector in space dock, glowing like an angel, could have been the Enterprise clearing its moorings to the sweep of a James Horner score.

Dean Parisot, David Howard, and Robert Gordon knew what we wanted to see in a Star Trek movie, and in so doing, gave us a parody that was better than the thing it was imitating. You know, like a cinematic Weird Al Yankovic.

#2 Brandon & Quellek:

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Yeah, I was totally this guy.

There are two characters that deeply capture what it means to be a Trek fan (no, I’m not using ‘Trekkie’ or ‘Trekker’ here. Debate the usage elsewhere, please). The first is Brandon, the nerdy teenager played by Justin Long. He totally echoes my 15-year-old self who dreamed that my incredible Trek nerdiness and knowledge of the official tech manuals might one day come in useful when William Shatner or Patrick Stewart showed up and needed my help.  When Brandon exclaims, “I knew it!” it speaks to the hope that somewhere, out in the vastness of space, the Enterprise is a real ship, a real place you can go, and not just a TV set made of wood and Christmas lights.

The other is Quellek, the Thermian who idolizes Dr. Lazarus. Ask yourself this: how many real-life scientists were inspired by Leonard Nimoy’s Spock? A great deal, I’m sure. The characters that actors portray can mean something to us deep down, really mean something.  They can inspire us in ways the actor may have never imagined.  Quellek says, “Even though we had never before met, I always considered you as a father to me.” That really sums up the actor-fan relationship, especially for that one character that really speaks to you. Galaxy Quest understood that, embraced it, and made it part of the story.

#1 Alan Rickman:

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😥

The cast of this movie (including the Queen of Sci-fi herself, Sigourney Weaver) really shines, no doubt about it. Alan Rickman, however, is off the chain as Sir Alexander Dane/Dr. Lazarus. For an actor so celebrated for his villainous roles, it’s refreshing to see his comedic side as an actor who feels trapped by the role of Dr. Lazarus, and constantly upstaged by his rival, Jason Nesbitt.

But as funny as he is, it’s during those serious moments in the film that Rickman really brings it all home. Going back to Quellek’s death, we see that Alexander, who has never liked his character’s oft-repeated tagline, says “By Grapthar’s Hammer, by the Sons of Warvan, you shall be avenged.” And we know that he means it thanks to Rickman’s masterful dramatic delivery.  I think this is the most powerful scene in the movie. It gives the movie, which is mostly parody, a dose of real gravity. It would be like getting a full-on “Live Long and Prosper” from Leonard Nimoy if we thought he was, in fact, Spock. Oh, the feels. THE. FEELS.

Conclusion:

This movie has a special place in my heart, not only because of the reasons I listed above, but because as a whole, it just works. To me, it’s about hard reality intruding on fantasy, which makes watching it bittersweet since Alan Rickman is now gone, along with his character’s real-life analogue, Leonard Nimoy.

You know, writing that last sentence, putting it into words, really hurt.

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“…”

Being a Star Trek fan is in my blood. I was blessed to grow up with two parents who both liked the Original Series, and embraced Next Gen immediately when it came around. I went to Star Trek conventions when it was actively uncool to do so, but I met a lot of my fellow fans.  For a kid who was incredibly shy and introverted, it was such a relief to strike up a conversation with a total stranger on the convention floor just because we both loved something.

The fans are, and shall always be, one of the greatest things about Star Trek, and that is what Galaxy Quest included that other, actual Star Trek films just can’t. This is why a parody like this rates right up there with Wrath of Khan. It taught me that if you truly love something you should…

…say it with me…

Never give up! Never surrender!


Fanboy Movie Review #4 – Star Wars: The Force Awakens

[Note: I do not consider myself a movie critic. What follows is just one fanboy’s opinion. Most of the time with these reviews I watch the movie only once, but let’s be real here…it’s Star Wars. I’ve seen it twice at the time of this writing. And as always, there are MAJOR SPOILERS ahead, so take heed.]

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Great! What does that mean, exactly?

Just as we thought, Star Wars: The Force Awakens has indeed shattered all sorts of box office records. Considering the dark, yawning abyss of the prequel trilogy (easily the greatest cinematic disappointment of folks my age), I went into this movie with neutral to low expectations. Fortunately, I had avoided spoilers with ninja-like online reflexes. J.J. Abrams is normally very good at what he does, but Star Trek: Into Darkness didn’t work for me on many levels, so it was with a fortified and guarded heart that I entered the move theatre.

First Impressions: I took the movie trailers with a grain of salt.  Phantom Menace’s trailer is still one of the best of all time, and we saw how that movie turned out. But, Disney is distancing itself from the prequels as well as tapping into the vast well of nostalgia that folks of my generation have for the original trilogy.

Rey-and-Finn

Real guys don’t look at explosions…

What I Liked:

  • THE ACTING! Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Oscar Isaac. I really can’t say enough good things about the new folks. Absolutely amazing. Harrison Ford is one of my favorite actors of all time, and his return to Han Solo is some of the best acting I’ve seen from him in years.
  • The fan service. I won’t lie, I enjoyed seeing throwbacks from the original. Seeing Han walk into the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon. Seeing him with Leia again. All those things really struck my nostalgia vein, even if I felt like they took it a bit far at times (see below).
  • The cinematography is gorgeous. They really used a good mix of practical and digital effects to push the story forward without it feeling like just a CGI beauty contest with no substance underneath.
  • BB-8. I didn’t think I would like him because he was an obvious stand-in for R2-D2. I was wrong. BB-8 is awesome and had a similar-but-different-enough personality from R2. *flashes a lighter in a thumbs up*
  • The moment when Rey calls the lightsaber to her to face Kylo Ren. When she ignites it for the first time…this is perhaps the most powerful scene in the movie, and that’s saying something. Wow. Again, Daisy Ridley. Totally sold.
  • Chewy’s rage. When a Wookie sees his best friend go down, fear for your freakin’ life. I just wish there had been more of it. Also, Leia feeling Han’s death through the Force. It was as though a billion fanboy voices cried out at the death of a fan favorite.
  • The emotion. After suffering through Manikin Skywalker, it is SO refreshing to see fear, happiness, pain, and sadness on the faces of our heroes. It brings it all home.

 

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Fine, just don’t take off the mask.

What I Didn’t Like:

  • The similarities to Episode IV. It’s been said before, so I’ll keep this one brief. If the movie has a major flaw, it’s that it takes perhaps too many cues from the original trilogy, right down to bringing in the Death Star by another name. My hope is that Episode VIII can do something else that doesn’t feel like a remake of what has gone before.
  • Lightsaber usage. They are one of the coolest weapons ever, but they are super impractical if you don’t have training. You are more likely to lop off your own leg than do anything to an enemy. Both Finn and Rey use lightsabers without any sort of training and actually do pretty well for themselves. Rey even bests Kylo Ren (who himself was trained by Luke). That was a bit hard to swallow. Luke didn’t have a lightsaber duel with anyone until the end of Empire, and that was at least after his training with Yoda.
  • The score. When I think of incredible movie scores, John Williams springs immediately to mind. Even through the wasteland of Phantom Menace, we at least got Duel of the Fates, one of the coolest pieces of movie music ever. Here, the score was just sort of ‘there’ and the moments where it really shines are really just rehashes of previous leitmotifs. It’s serviceable enough, but not really memorable. That’s disappointing.
  • Captain Phasma. She was billed as kind of a new kind of Boba Fett, and it’s Gwendoline Christie for crying out loud! She’s barely in it, and gets coerced into dropping the shields pretty easily. Why was she not the one that Finn fought with the lightsaber instead of random Stormtrooper #34, I’ll never know. Let’s hope she’s still alive because she had better play a bigger role in the next installment.
  • Kylo Ren. I appreciate that he’s not a mustache twirling villain, but I think Adam Driver was a complete miscast for this part. He is an able actor, but when he took his mask off for the first time, I thought “Wait, did they get Marilyn Manson to play this guy?” He’s whiny, he’s petulant, emo, and ignores the call of the light side of the Force for reasons we haven’t found out yet. Aside from looking completely badass with his mask on (which he certainly does), he doesn’t seem like he’s very good at being a bad guy. The only reason he gets Han is because he sucker punches him. Functionally, as the villain of the story, he’s pretty weak. With the heroes being miraculously good at what they do, he’s really out of his league.
  • General Hux. This guy is the most experienced commander the First Order has at its disposal? Despite being young and unimpressive, he is the direct analogue to Grand Moff Tarkin, played by the legendary Peter Cushing. He falls far short of anything approaching Tarkin’s screen presence or gravitas. Again, a complete miscast.
  • Han’s Death. It was a powerful moment to be sure, but one that was painfully telegraphed ahead of time. And THEN there is no real moment of mourning or ceremony to mark the passing of a legend. I understand the emotion surrounding it all, but that seemed like a lackluster end for a fan favorite. In a movie that doesn’t seem to take a whole lot of risks, and one that is all about fan service, killing off Han Solo seems like it is necessary only because Obi-Wan died in Episode IV.

Unresolved Questions (At Least in My Mind):

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More than I can count, I have.

Where to start? The movie leaves so many things unexplained. If I numbered them out, this blog post could wallpaper the Starkiller Base, so here’s just the highlight reel. Who left Rey on Jakku, and why? Is Rey Luke Skywalker’s daughter? If so, who is her mother? Or is she the twin to Ben Solo? Why did Ben turn to the dark side? Did no one (Luke, I’m looking at you) ever tell Ben that Anakin turned from the dark side before he died? Who is Supreme Leader Snoke? (The horrible Star Wars name generator strikes again!) How does Finn fit into all of this? Why did Han go to see Maz when BB-8 knew where the Resistance base was? Why was the Hosnian system so important that destroying it could ‘destroy the Republic,’ a polity which presumably consists of thousands of systems? How could the First Order, a shadow of the old Empire, build something as massive as Starkiller Base without anyone noticing? Why had they not used the super weapon before this time if it was already loaded? Why don’t they just drain a system’s sun and leave the planets to die in the cold? The list goes on and on. Let’s hope that Mr. Abrams doesn’t repeat the mistake with Lost and actually explains to us what’s going on.

Let’s Talk About Rey:

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There…is…annoootherr…Sky…walllkeerrr…

The character of Rey is pretty divisive, it seems. Is she a Mary Sue? Is she OP? Is the whole debate over her inherently gender-biased? Would we even have this discussion if the character were male?

Here are my thoughts: Yes, she does seem to be good at everything. She’s a good pilot, hand-to-hand fighter, mechanic, climber, pistol shot, etc. She picks up Force powers with no training, and she bests Kylo Ren when she has never wielded a lightsaber before. It does seem a bit unbelievable, but it is a movie called ‘The Force Awakens,’ and Rey is obviously more steeped in the Force than anyone else around her. Isn’t that enough for us to suspend our disbelief?

But there’s something else going on here that I think is important. Star Wars isn’t really science fiction. Sure, it has starships and lasers and Wookies, but at its core, Star Wars is really a fantasy tale. A straight-up Joseph Campbell Monomyth. So, I think the character should be judged by fantasy standards. If we take Rey and plop her down into Middle-Earth or Krynn, do any of the arguments against her have validity?

Do we really question that Eowyn is able to take down the Witch-King of Morgul? What about Tauriel? We buy that she is excellent at everything (except perhaps picking a significant other) and practically indestructible just because she’s an elf. Why is Rey any different? Here we have a cool female protagonist that’s interesting, heroic, brave, athletic, and one that is not portrayed in a exploitative or sexualized manner.

We have been waiting for a character like Rey to come along. And if there’s going to be someone like her in popular fandom, Star Wars is the natural place for her to live.

 

Conclusions: 

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Oh, so THAT’s why Luke isn’t on the movie poster.

It always does my heart good to see good work rewarded. The last few years have made me a bit cynical on this point, particularly due to Michael Bay’s hatchet job on the Transformers franchise. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a good movie, and I wish it well.

It is far from a perfect movie, however, and its flaws led me to merely like it a whole bunch rather than love it like the first Avengers. Still, it is wholly worth the price of admission. I plan to see to see it at least one more time before it leaves the theatres.

But walking out of the movie theatre twice, with all the feels I’ve carried with me, has made me wish that the name “A New Hope” hadn’t already been taken.

Onward to Episode VIII!

And that’s how this fanboy sees it.


Why I Love The Doctor

I’ve heard it said that being a geek means never having to say you’re sorry for loving something. Good thing, because this blog post is all about why I love the Doctor in Doctor Who.  If you’re a Whovian already, this post is likely just shooting fish in a barrel, but I will tell you why I love the show and the character of the Doctor in particular.

For those of you who are not necessarily fans of the show, here is a peek into that particular fandom.  It’s true that Whovians occupy a strange niche of the overall sci-fi genre. You can see them at conventions with their scarves, long coats or bow-ties, often waving around sonic screwdrivers with every photo-op.  Or maybe it’s just a T-shirt with a blue box on it or the words “Don’t Blink.”

Regardless of what they look like, these folks are linked together by a single television series that first debuted in 1963. The central character of that show is the Doctor (BTW, his last name is NOT ‘Who’), and is one of the most compelling and enduring characters in all of science fiction. Here’s why I love him:

50 Years Creates a Legend

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Yeah, baby, yeah!

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the show.  With more than 200 episodes in its continuity, not to mention novels, video games, comics and radio plays, the Doctor has been on a lot of adventures. This gives him a body of past accomplishments that practically dwarfs any other sci-fi character. Doctor Who is, after all, the longest running sci-fi TV show of all time.

Even in the current series, there are references and throwbacks to things which happened at the very beginning of the series.  By this point in the storyline, the Doctor has achieved a nearly unrivalled heroic status. I mean, if you can boast that you’ve saved the Universe or the Earth more times than Kirk or Picard, and possibly as many times as Superman, I’d say you have some bragging rights.

His Heart (Both of Them)

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With all my heart.

The Doctor has lived over 900 years.  He’s fought evil forces and saved quadrillions of innocent lives. While some of his travels can be lighthearted, there are times when the Doctor is deadly serious, and must champion existence itself.  It is the force of his convictions and his almost unimaginable capacity for compassion and mercy that drive him. There are so many times in the series where he could have chosen the easy path and just walked away.  But he doesn’t.

The Doctor stands and fights, most of the time without weapons, and with only the help of his trusty sonic screwdriver and the companions at his side.  Yet, when the smoke clears, the Doctor is triumphant even against the most impossible odds. While he can’t always save everyone around him (the body count in Doctor Who can get pretty high), the Doctor finds a way − always.  He never runs out of hope. His hearts, much like his beloved TARDIS, have to be bigger on the inside, like a super-reversed Grinch.

His Mind Is His Greatest Weapon

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What he said.

Perhaps the thing I love about this character the most is that his mind is the most awesome weapon in his arsenal.  The Doctor is almost always able to outthink and outmaneuver his enemies, even if they initially get the drop on him. He has that uncanny knack for using the opposition’s strength against them.  So, the greater the force arrayed against him, the more dangerous he becomes.

In an age of brute-force action heroes, who are more concerned with kicking down doors and mowing down anything that moves, the Doctor presents us with a daring and compelling alternative.  He uses violence as a last resort, rather than leading with it. I think that this peace-loving mindset makes the storylines in Doctor Who that much more interesting and rich. (And this is coming from a guy who writes military science fiction!)

An Unbroken String of Great Performances

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One man, eleven faces.

At the time of this writing, there have been 11 men who have played the Doctor in the main story (sorry, Peter Cushing and John Hurt!). If you ask a proper Whovian who the worst Doctor of the lot was, they might have a hard time answering. We all have our favorites, which can naturally eclipse some of the other incarnations of that most famous of Time Lords.

Here’s the cool part…even the weakest versions of the Doctor are still incredibly well played on screen. Each actor brought something to the role that stood out from his peers.  From William Hartnell’s First Doctor to Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor, the performances have been outstanding from start to finish. Even when the sets and special effects were not all that stellar, each Doctor was still uniquely brilliant. No pressure, Peter Capaldi. Your Twelfth Doctor has some pretty big shoes to fill.

He’s Universally Applicable to…Everything

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Anyone surprised? Anyone?

With a ship that can travel to any point in time and space, the Doctor could quite literally show up anywhere.  There have been some limited crossovers with other series (mostly in comics and novels), but it would not be out of character for a blue box to just materialize in just about any other sci-fi universe or continuity. Believe it or not, there is a comic book storyline where the Eleventh Doctor teams up with Jean-luc Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-D to fight a bunch of Borg/Cybermen hybrids. Yeah, my geek is showing.

But even within the confines of the show, we see the Doctor meet historical figures from Shakespeare to Madame de Pompadour. Whether he lands in Victorian England (which he does quite a bit), Renaissance Italy or Pompeii, there really is no storyline − past or present − that the Doctor couldn’t participate in. He just sort of goes with everything, and it’s glorious. The adventure possibilities are truly limitless.

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So there you have it, folks. In broad strokes, those are the reasons why this author loves the Doctor. If you are a science-fiction fan of any stripe, and haven’t watched this show, I can’t recommend Doctor Who enough to you.  In my opinion, the Doctor is one of the cornerstones of sci-fi, and is well worth discovering for yourself if you haven’t already. Who knows, you might just find yourself cruising ThinkGeek for a TARDIS mug or Dalek ice cube tray.

Allons-y!


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.


Lightning Strikes Twice

I normally don’t devote blog space to current news about me. That always seems more at home on the feed of my author page on Facebook. I think you’ll see why this is an exception, however.

As of 9:45 p.m. CST on September 1st, 2013, I completed the manuscript of my second novel, titled “In Defensio Koronae.”  You can’t see it, because you’re reading these words, but I’m doing my happy dance right now. It looks a lot like Snoopy in A Charlie Brown Christmas.

When I finished The Backwards Mask I couldn’t help but wonder if I would ever again know what it was like to write the final words of a novel. You hear a lot of people say that they ‘have a novel in them,’ but it’s always a novel, singular. I had to wonder whether or not I would ever get a chance to write another one.

Well, now I can definitely say that I’m not a one-timer.  In fact, of the three times I’ve started a novel, I’ve carried through on two of them to the end. (The first attempt was in college. It sorta of fizzled out once I graduated.) So, I’m two for three.

The manuscript, rough and unedited as it stands, weighs in at 263,000 words, or a touch over 500 single-spaced pages.  That number is likely to go down as I trim the fat of the story. Like my first book, it is a military sci-fi adventure story, though it is set in a completely different universe/continuity. I’m still working on my ‘elevator speech’ for it or I would give you a rundown. More on that later.

Now comes the part where I transform what is surely page after page of unreadable dreck into a proper novel.  Then we are on to the query letters, more editing, the obligatory rejection letters and all the rest that comes with being an author.

Just thought I would share the good news!