Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Elves versus Dwarves - Oh the Cliché

One of the most common tropes I seem to keep finding in fantasy novels is the oft-times hostile relationship between elves and dwarves.  This something I’ve always found intriguing and wondered where the genesis of this feud began.  At first blush, it appears that the tall, slender woodland race versus the short, squat mountain dwellers would be natural choices for enmity, right?  I keep coming back to the question of why?  The only genesis I can think of Tolkein and the Lord of the Rings.  This of course was likely drawn from various sources and combined into his epic vision.  The only other source I can think of is the various editions of Dungeons & Dragons, which largely codified this racial feud.  For better or for worse, there are a great number of current tropes and influences to epic fantasy that are drawn from the classic role-playing game.  They even have their own TV Trope reference (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ElvesVersusDwarves)

The Ochra series certainly has some of the classic elements – elves, dwarves, dragons, orcs, mages and clerics, the gamut of what you would expect to find.  I also have a map, which reinforces another trope, whereby the writer feels compelled to visit each location illustrated.  In any case, one of the most natural inclinations I’ve noticed in fantasy (particularly epic fantasy) is to have the elves and dwarves at odds, if not out rightly at war with each other.  The problem I keep seeing glossed over is the reasoning for this enmity – you just start off with the two hating each other.  When I started plotting out the Ochra Cycle, this issue came up fairly early on.  I just couldn’t find a justifiable reason for a feud, certainly not for a war. 

What I did find was a reason for some form of annoyance. 

Elf picture by Yuka Han

 The Elves (note capitalization) of Ihr’Vessen are the super-power of the realms.  They have the standing military that could take on any of the races; they have the super-mages that have refined their craft over millennia; they have the strategic acumen developed from countless conflicts.  This links back to their role within the creation myth of the Pantheonic Tragedy several thousand years passed.  Leaders of the Feye supporting the eventual winning side, they are actually cousins to all the magical creatures, such as Dryads and Treants.  The Elves formed the backbone of these forces, which included dwarves among others.  Exceptionally long-lived, powerful and magically inclined, they are the current caretakers of Ihr, nature and the cycle of life and death.  As a race they have several standing tasks the go all the way back to the Tragedy; there are even a number of Elves still alive from that era.  The Druid Council is the managing force for this responsibility, Druids the leading agents of this oversight.  This of course led to the Elves developing a sense of superiority; compared to the majority of non-Feye races, they actually have a valid point.  This superiority complex derives from most of the Elves witnessing the other ‘lesser races’ develop from scavenging clans of hunter gatherers to what they currently are.  In most respects they are very, very far behind what the Elves can accomplish.  Art and culture, advantage Elves.  Individual skill in battle, advantage Elves.  Magical abilities, advantage Elves.
Dwarf by Kim Dong Hyuk 

In the case of the dwarves, there is little contact with the Elves anymore, despite their ancient alliance.  The dwarves think the Elves haughty and condescending.  The Elves consider the dwarves as a ‘lesser race,’ yet to define themselves.  The dwarven people (none of this clan or thane business, thank you very much) withdrew up into the highlands and mountain ranges of Naro.  They maintain large settlements above ground, but are increasingly delving into the depths of Naro for resources, though not for the stereotypical reasons normally associated.

The Elves have been given a task – watch over Ihr.  Several prophecies indicate the Elves will hand over this mantle of responsibility, to a race that has advanced itself culturally and militarily to the point where they can maintain vigilance in a manner the Elves have done.  Which race and when is unclear.  For many years, the dwarves were the likeliest candidates, until they immigrated to the Naro region.  The Elves consider the dwarves too self-centered and unwilling to commit to the welfare of the other races.  So the Elves wait, looking elsewhere.

In a round-about way I’ve justified why there would be a lack of civility between the two, the annoyances that I mentioned earlier.  From the Elven perspective, it comes down to disappointment and a perceived failed opportunity, whereas the dwarves feel they are always (pardon the pun) being looked down upon by the Elves.  Is it enough?  That remains to be seen; I’ve yet to reach the part of the story in Book 2 that brings up the detailed history Elves and dwarves share.  Is it more than what I’ve seen or read in certain books?  Absolutely.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Music as Atmosphere & Inspiration

Music can be a great source of inspiration.  Setting the mood, certain turns of music, verses from a song or even a music video can sometimes launch a story or help a writer overcome a block.  I’ve already spoken to the types and forms of music and how they drive my writing.  Personally, any time I find myself stuck or looking for an idea, music is often at the forefront of solutions.  A few cases in point:
(Song) Chasing the Dragon by Epica:  This beauty runs for over 8 minutes in length and was instrumental in assisting me launch through about 8 or 9 whole chapters in a couple of weeks.  The beginning half is a mellow guitar and female vocal mix, which has an airy and epic feel to it; great for sweeping scenes and determining mood.  It quickly rumbles into a heavier, thrash-metal section that I always enjoyed hitting when writing battle scenes or conflict.  As far as lyrical content, the song itself is very far removed from fantasy.  It’s hard to reconcile a song about drug usage and dependency to fantasy.  All I can say is the ‘feel’ of the song is poignant and sweeping, which is the mood I was looking for the Ochra series.
(Music Videos) Quiet Love by Hoorah for Earth:  I found this video on a gaming website.  Someone else linked to it and I was instantly amazed at with story-telling.  The song itself (and the group’s style) is a bit of a throw-back to the heavily synthesized and drum-reliant music from the 80’s; I loved the 80’s music scene.  The mood generated by the song and the video are exceptionally well intertwined.  Subtle elements provide the details required to understand what they wished to communicate, all the while maintaining a great science-fiction quality to the video.  It’s a really well-made 4 minute sci-fi short; so well done that my four-year old daughter constantly asked to see the ‘woman chasing after the man’ video that I finally bought the CD.

(Music Video) Breathe of Life by Florence + the Machine:  The song plays during the credits sequence for Snow White and the Huntsman, which is how I learned about Florence + the Machine.  Absolutely stunning vocals backed by some epic orchestral accompaniment.  Throw this track on repeat and just imagine a sweeping battle scene a-la Lord of the Rings or some massive melee.  Go on, I dare you not to imagine yourself as your character fighting his way through some horde of gobos, orks or other meanies.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

So That’s My Voice?

Well, the last several months have been flooded with activity; new boss with new directives and way of doing things, followed by a busy season that sees increased activity across the board.  In all that, I somehow find time to review and edit the first book of the Ochra series, with a view to significantly reducing the word count, as well as cleaning up the syntax.  This chore isn't made any easier by the bloated manuscript as it began - 181k words, down to over 120k.  I'm now into the deep editting, cutting unecessary portions and cleaning things up in general to get under 100k.
Well, somewhere in there, I think I went and found my "voice."

This elusive term, every so often evident as a slap upside head in published authors’ works, seems to be really drawing out the worthy parts of my text.  I'm dropping whole sections of superfluous and silly writing.   Works like classic Lord of the Rings trilogy, the George R.R. Martin A Song of Fire and Ice series, Guy Gavriel Kay’s Fionovar Tapestry, Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games all have a readily identifiable voice, the style that catches the reader and hooks them in.
Four chapters into it and things started flying!   I am finally writing what I want to say, how I wish to say it.  It is finally showing instead of telling.  What was once bloated and ponderous, now moves and engages <insert snappy fingers>.  Sixteen chapters down, another 16 or so to go.....

Monday, August 13, 2012

Vampires versus Werewolves

The mythos for these two species, as well as the rivalries between them, have been hashed over and redone in any number of mentionable books, films or television series.  Personally I am a fan of the vampire over the werewolf, but that’s just me.  Be it the books of Anne Rice, Laura K. Hamilton, Stephanie Meyer; television shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, True Blood, Lost Girl; or, the movies like Blade trilogy or Underworld trilogy: it struck me that most vampires are typically portrayed as the upper caste, the aristocracy, while werewolves are portrayed more so as ‘working class,’ in some cases the slaves of the vampires (Underworld in particular).  I’m not particularly against this, as it seems to reinforce the stereotypes and the people that prefer one to the other appear to support the current trends.  I suppose there is some element of the ‘humanity’ in appearance of the vampire versus the werewolf.

The always elegant and aristocratic vampires
I cannot recalle any cases where the vampires and werewolves are on equal footing, either physically or intellectually, in particular with regard to social status.  Underworld gives us the caste system right up front, which eventually becomes part of the catalyst for the majority of the ensuing carnage.  I like this because they give enough reasoning behind the way things work; vampires are the aristocracy, werewolves their slave work force and protectors who try to control their riley subjects for fear of exposing them in the process of some ill-advised and uncontrolled rampage.

The powerful, pack led and brutish werewolf
I would find it interesting to see what a series would look like where the vampires are on equal footing or even under the duress of the werewolves.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Book Review: Starship Troopers

A conversation on the Writers of the Future boards got me to looking at this book.  Comments were largely centered on how the movie was a terribly poor interpretation of Robert A. Heinlein’s epic military sci-fi novel, some going so far as to completely disavow the movie’s existence.  This got me intrigued.  Could it really be that bad?  The movie was, at best, a popcorn sci-fi action flick; check your expectations at the concession stand.  Bringing along my trusty Kobo during my vacation, I downloaded it and gave it a whirl.  To say that my initial expectations were more than adequately met would be to insult this book for the absolute brilliance of it.  The review tag on the cover states “Nothing in science fiction has even come close.”  I am here to say, unequivocally, that this particular review got it spot on.

The depth of the cultural analysis was surprising and refreshing, particularly in the context of the book’s publishing date.  That the ideas represented herein would have been considered radical, even controversial, is perhaps less so an issue nowadays compared to fifty years ago.  As a member of the military, I found Heinlein’s chapter discussing the difference between citizens’ and non-citizens’ approach to serving to protect their society to be rather poignant, given the current efforts in the Middle East.  Heinlein’s approach to humanizing and accurately demonstrating ‘Basic’ training and officer candidate training put a smile on my face; I can’t state anything to contrast Heinlein’s account and the emotions and trials I went through during my officer candidate and trade-specific courses.  This is a man who either went through exactly this same kind of process, or did some damned fine research.  I remember hitting my own ‘hump’ back in Phase 1 training, thinking at week 13 of 16 that things just weren’t worth, not working out; I got over myself, overcame the ‘hump.’  I found the action sequences and the military jargon particularly engrossing, making a terribly interesting read.

To the movie.  As a likely exercise in masochism, I’m going to have to rent it to see just how bad it was in comparison.  I don’t think I can subject my wife to this one.  I remember not particularly enjoying it back in the day, mostly action and bad acting with some decent graphics to represent the bugs.  How they made two sequels I will not quite understand; I have no intention of finding out ether.  To say they took liberties with the book is an insulting understatement.  No power armour, just a concentration on the Bugs as bad guys and the ensuing combat frivolities you can only get from Hollywood; oh yeah, don’t forget the gratuitous nudity.

I’d like to say that Starship Troopers is right up there with other greats like Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. What I cannot reconcile is how the movie rendition of Heinlein’s work is so utterly unlike Ridley Scott’s interpretation of Androids; Bladerunner took liberties as well, but became a great movie that stood up on its own for the quality of it; acting, plot, complexity, computer graphics, production design, et cetera. The movie rendition of Starship Troopers did none of those things. 

I may have to reserve the right to exclude this movie from existence.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Summer Vacation – So This is What Living Feels Like…

What apparently was supposed to be about 4-6 weeks of a nutty workload (think 60+ work hours per week) ended up being closer to four months.  Finally ended are the two annual evaluation campaigns (military and civilian), the strategic intake plan for civilian hiring, the annual learning budgetary allocations, several HR-related studies, work force adjustment (euphemism for the job cuts to the federal public service), and finally, a change of command.  So now that this is all over, I literally have less than a week before summer vacation. 

Until then, I find myself still dealing with the increased stress levels, in some cases, wondering what the heck to do.  Procrastination and mindless activities are relatively novel concepts at the moment!  No doubt my wife and eldest daughter will have some thoughts on this; my youngest isn’t yet old enough to try and determine my daily routine and is content enough that you pay attention to her every once in a while as she plays in the same room.  No doubt, diving back into writing is certainly high on my priority list! 

I have the re-write of Days of Reckoning to accomplish, a project I intend to tackle during the two weeks at the in-laws’ family cabin.  Hopefully copious amounts of alcohol won’t set me too wonky.

I'll be back in 17 days or so.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Book Cover Rant

As an unpublished author, I can’t honestly say this could qualify as anything more than a rant.  I’ve never had the opportunity to wonder how a publisher would approach the cover art for a book written by yours truly; I can imagine a certain amount of trepidation.  Just how important can cover art be?  Well, depending on the genre, I imagine near make-or-break.  Genre fiction would likely be one of the more influenced.  The story is definitely the key ingredient to the sale of a book, but for science fiction, fantasy and horror, I can only assume it would have a certain impact.

I understand series that have been in print for years like to refresh their look with new covers.  I remember reading the David Eddings Belgariad and Mallorean series and years later realizing that they had somehow gone through a total revamp; the same could be said for Terry Goodkind’s Sword of the Truth series or any other that has seen prolonged popularity.  Both publishers updated the covers with something that remained true to the feel of the stories.  You can’t look at them and wonder what genre you’re holding.

Downloading books to my Kobo, I decided to revisit an old Christopher Golden series.  I have the first three in physical form, the latest two in e-book format.  When I bought them, I seriously wondered what the heck I was getting into.
By case in point, I raise the following changes:

Take away reference to the Bram Stoker award (which a non-genre reader may or may not even get), why do I get the impression I’m about to read a Harlequin novel?  Here’s the latest cover, a continuation of the ‘new and current’ cover art.  I understand it is the publisher’s responsibility to make the book as sellable as possible, yet I have to wonder what possible paradigm brought this and the remainder of the current artwork as the cover art for a horror novel.  Sometimes I really wonder WTF is going through their minds….. 

Really, the scariest thing about this whole scenario is that they (the publishing house) somehow sought and received approval to place these on the cover of a vampire novel.
The most recent book I’ve completed reading is Throne of the Crescent Moon.  Very good read, highly recommend it; great pacing, fantastic dynamic between characters and a refreshing and new spin on the genre.  One look at the cover I knew what was what: main characters are there, action is defined and bad guys are suitably hinted at.  I view this cover as a 10/10 for content and presentation.  Hopefully the author had some play in its concept.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Golden Movie Review

While debating the veritable ‘merits’ of the Phantom Menace (I couldn’t put enough quotations around merits), I was shown this link to what I believe to be the most accurate and in-your-face review of its kind.  If only George (Lucas) had made any attempt to heed the salient points of this 70-minute movie review, we might have had something other than a best-forgotten trilogy.

That said, I segue into the relevant point of this post.  From a movie critique perspective, this guy made a top-notch (remember, I said 70 minutes!) effort; funny in spots, coherent on the whole.  The points he made critiquing, however, make a great lesson for prospective writers and demonstrate how things could get off the rails.  It is directed at movies, but can easily be applicable to writing, especially in our relevant genres.

(Language warning)

Part 1 – Characters:  Relatable and help the audience through the story, faced with an obstacle and the drama it creates.  I love the test comparing characters between Star Wars: A New Hope and Phantom Menace without mentioning appearance, costume or their role in the movie to a person who has never seen Star Wars.  How applicable is that writing, especially a first novel!

The following parts just increase the goodness.

Part 2 – The Story:  Compared to the simplicity and awesomeness of the Star Wars opening scene, how can you argue with the guy?  Homage to the classic adventure serials compared to, well, whatever the heck the new stuff was about.  Keep the story simple enough from getting too complicated and losing the audience.

Part 3 – The Story (continued):  Still trying to get to the plot.... Who’s doing what, where and why?  The dizzying issues with connecting characters and what goes on in this movie is examined.  How does this apply to writing?  Pretty straight forward.

Part 4 – The Story (continued):  Picking apart the whole invasion of Naboo and escape from planet boring.  Writers should take into account the leaps of logic and how this applies to the plot and effect on their writing.

Part 5 – The Story (continued):  Breaks down the Qui-Gon Jin and Anakin characters and how his actions apply to the plot.

Part 6 – The Story (continued):  So we go back to Naboo, which is a war zone, and yeah, we brought the kid with us.  Oh yeah, no plan either, but the blockade is gone – yeah!  Compares the Luke v. Vader arc to the Jedi v. Darth Maul and the depth involved in the first, the lack of it in the latter.

Part 7 – The Ending “Multiplification” Effect: How the plots get too complicated and confusing = distracting.  Focus the plot and keep the story focused or you end up with (in the case of the Phantom Menace) what the reviewer calls “The worst case of cinematic blue balls in history.” The case is made for external reviews, which could be paralleled with Beta readers.

Pure gold as a movie review and critique.  Absolutely brilliant advice for genre writers to help keep things from spinning and spiraling out of control.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Betas, Background and Blood Bowl

Beta:  I went back to the drawing board with the “final draft” of my first completed novel.  After some in-depth research for future books, things weren’t quite complete, a few secondary plot points and arcs required to drive the story in further books and reinforce the plot of Days of Reckoning.  A few additional characters and their influence on both the main characters, Soki and Tagaretsu, were in dire need of inclusion.  To keep the word count under control, I went back and started trimming things even tighter; some of the cuts were relatively painless, others downright gutt-wrenching.  The overall effect is one that I am very happy with, which is all in preparations to get this out to some Beta readers, which in and of itself is both motivating and scaring the crap out of me….

Background:  One of the side-projects I’ve been working on is a series of short stories.  The first I’ve completed is actually the background story that explains what happened to Tagaretsu.  I always thought it an important story, one of epic impact on him as a character.  Much of the motivations that drive him in Days of Reckoning can be traced back to the specific events detailed herein.  I’ll be submitting this short-story to a number of competitions in the hope this will help launch the Ochra series.

Blood Bowl:  Huh?  Yeah, this is nothing relative to the writing genre, at least not directly.  Blood Bowl is a Games Workshop product, where models are used to represent players on teams that play something akin to UFC-meets-rugby.  Set in the Warhammer Fantasy setting, there are 21 different teams with individual strengths and weaknesses.  Not content to just collect and paint models, I’ve actually plot-pointed a series of short stories that could be extended into a novel.  It’s a fun diversion from the slogging of Beta-prep and editing the final version of my short stories for submission.  With the release of the video game and the recent Super Bowl, it’s a timely outlet.  It is a total piece of procrastination, yet something that keeps me from going absolutely insane and bug-eyed from staring at the screen too long.

Friday, February 17, 2012

deviantART Spotlight

The artwork below is copyrighted to Viktor Fetsch.  I make no claim to this work as my own.

One of the many things I do to stem writer’s block and keep the creative juices flowing is surfing (insert link) deviantART.  Just by checking out the most popular submissions over the last eight hours every couple of days is more than enough to give some flash of insight into a story arc that may be waiting to burst, or un-stall one waiting to carry on.  It may not be a full-fledged story, but a component on one I’m currently working on – scenery scenes are spectacular for this.  In my own way, I’d like to recognize these artists for truly amazing artwork, be it photography, ink on canvas, or manipulated photons in digital form.  Each week I will endeavour to spotlight a certain artist, as well as the particular piece that caught my attention.

Tyrant Dragon really catches a piece of action, conveying layers of detail in a snapshot that I can only hope my writing is able to emulate.  The obvious draw is the dragon, which deviates nicely from the standard form we seem compelled to repeat; this great horned beast is akin to the wild boar of its species, and it is angry!  The interplay between the dragon’s breath weapon and the shield thrown up by the magic user is superb; the weapon effects coalesce to a point where they are rebounded and directed by the shield.  The secondary effects used for rendering rocks flying and the mists coming from the snow through lessening the definition make it an all around masterpiece of action.

The scene itself also renders a clear example of a scene I envisioned within the Ochra Cycle.  Although the dragon’s physical appearance differs, the power and overall feeling this piece generates inspires the scene I intend to write.

This is by far one of the more potent and impressive pieces I’ve seen under the Painting and Airbrushing sub-category in some time.  I hope others find it and the other works by Viktor Fetsch to be equally inspiring.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

deviantART Spotlight

One of the many things I do to stem writer’s block and keep the creative juices flowing is surfing deviantART.  Just by checking out the most popular submissions over the last eight hours every couple of days is more than enough to give some flash of insight into a story arc that may be waiting to burst, or un-stall one waiting to carry on.  It may not be a full-fledged story, but a component on one I’m currently working on – scenery scenes are spectacular for this.  In my own way, I’d like to recognize these artists for truly amazing artwork, be it photography, ink on canvas, or manipulated photons in digital form.  Each week I will endeavour to spotlight a certain artist, as well as the particular piece that caught my attention.

Gorgon Medusa, Mirror of Memory is one of those pieces that really sparks the imagination.  Aside from the obvious quality of the work, it speaks to an idea that I keep trying to incorporate into my writing.  Fantasy, in particular epic and sword & sorcery fantasy, can easily dive into the tropes and stereotypes that set the groundwork for the genre decades ago.  A magic object needed to slay the Big Bad Guy or some such is pretty obvious and generally over-done.  Treasure is sought, often found at the far end of a quest, under a mountain or protected by some monstrous creature.  What could a Mirror of Memory be worth?  What kind of creature and/or person would make us of it?  How could it be used?

This piece really set me thinking about quests and the like.  What if this Gorgon was someone the protagonist had to appease by presenting this mirror as a gift?  What secrets could a Gorgon possess?  Who would you have to retrieve it from in order to gift it to the Gorgon?  What enemies would be made?

Aside from that, it also lends itself to something ‘outside of the box’ for normal treasure and quest items.  The magic sword of all-slaying, the orb of super-magic, what have you, it all seems to be pretty straight forward.  What if the item provided a secondary effect, such as providing the Gorgon the chance to see itself before changing into a monstrosity?  Even there, it implies the Gorgon was a woman changed, subject to a curse or magical effect.  What benefits could be rendered by changing the stereotype, by escaping the trope?

As far as photo manipulations go, this is also one of the more seamless I’ve seen in some time.  I hope others find it and the other works by liliaosipova to be equally inspirational.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

TV Shows That Were Too Good to Cancel

For anyone familiar with the history of science fiction television programming, the cancellation and subsequent re-launch of Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek (Shattner, Nimoy, et al) is something of an outlier.  Television programmes are in the business of selling advertising to subsidize network expenses; the higher the rating, the more people watch and the more you can charge for ads (akin to the Superbowl, to a much lesser degree).  When it comes down to the wire, networks may cannibalize their own shows to allow more successful show to flourish, or throw out a sacrificial lamb to compete against another network’s super-show. Those that fail to make the grade of some arcane advertising revenues less expenses and any number of other factors get cancelled, sometimes rescheduled to another time slot (sometimes akin to cancellation). Then there are the half-season shows, thrown into the mix in January; concept programmes that perhaps didn’t make the September line-up but stand a chance, if small, later in the season.

Now, I understand the business model of the networks (several case studies during my MBA certainly help).  Science fiction programmes are a tricky breed to sell to the masses.  Star Trek has its fan base, an extremely dedicated one, making that show a relatively easy sell.  Shows that start from scratch make for a dicey start for executives to swallow.  Outside of specialty channels (SciFi, Space, ShowCase), getting a science fiction programme in Prime Time is up against stiff competition; fantasy is in an even worse jam.  The masses typically go for standard fare programmes: reality TV (personal hatred for this type), legal/police drama (which I like, yet how many Law & Order, NCIS and CSI clones do we really need?) or comedies of one type or another.  Science fiction and fantasy programming doesn’t take well to network television - we'll see if Grimm and Once Upon a Time  have the legs to prove me wrong... I hope so.

In some cases this problem transcends from network TV over to the specialty channels as well.  Lack of adequate viewers fails to justify the advertising space charges to companies buying commercial time.  Two particular shows that suffered this fate were Firefly and Stargate: Universe. 

Firefly lasted a half-season before getting cancelled, something that sat very poorly with the show’s fans.  I actually didn’t get to watch this show until it came out on DVD, and only after the movie-conclusion Serenity.  Firefly was something quirky and completely different than what was on TV at the time; a western-style show set in outer space that didn’t sell well with the executives.  I can honestly say this was a travesty to television.  The pacing was great, the characters wonderful, the acting and graphics superb.  The follow-up Serenity made due by wrapping things up in a way that makes Firefly one of the more endearing shows cancelled before its time, in my humble opinion.

Stargate: Universe was another breed of show that didn’t quite make the cut either.  The third outing from the Stargate franchise, it departed from its campy predecessors in both setting and style.  Sure, there were enough similarities to ensure it fit the mould, yet far enough that it didn’t keep enough people tuned in to be renewed.  I’m just finishing the second, final season and I can’t say enough about how well this show could have gotten.  After getting away from the Lucian Alliance threat, they inserted two threatening enemy races that could have easily pushed into a third season.  Like Firefly, they rushed several of the final episodes to close the arcs out before the show ended.  A gritty and edgy programme, the loss of Universe is untimely and ultimately a loss for the franchise as a whole.

 So ends my obituary/rant of sorts for two fine programmes and the loss of soul Prime Time seems headlong rushing to embrace.  Someone hand me another scotch and give me the one-liner response to who won Survivor and Dancing with the Stars, which CSI or Law & Order cast should be axed and “who did it” in the most recent cop/legal drama .  It appears this is the only programming safe for water cooler discussions.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Classic Scfi-Fi Film Review: Blade Runner

Director:  Ridley Scott
Cast of Note:  Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Edward James Olmos,

Release Date: 25 June 1982
Gross Revenue (year): US$27,580,111 (1982)
Adjusted Gross Revenue:  n/a
Genre:  Drama, Sci-Fi, thriller

IMDb Reference (8.3/10): http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0083658/
Rotten Tomatoes Review (92%): http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/blade_runner/

What the Jacket Says:  Deckard, a blade runner, has to track down and terminate 4 replicants who hijacked a ship in space and have returned to earth seeking their maker.

What the Critics Said:

"Blade Runner" is as intricately detailed as anything a science-fiction film has yet envisioned. Janet Maslin, NYT Movie Critic, 1982

A great movie to look at but a hard movie to care about ... predictable, clichéd (Roger Ebert, 1982) Roger Ebert's Review of Blade Runner

The original 1982 review (skip to 2:00 for review)

Analysis:  Amazingly, this movie got middling reviews (polarized on either end of the spectrum) from the critics, earning an equally middling amount at the box office; adjusted, the movie would only have grossed about US$85 million, which is paltry compared to current blockbuster revenues of 200+ million.  The issue seemed to be a negative reaction to the relatively predictable plot and character developments, which isn’t to say they were necessarily wrong, compared to a stunning series of visuals.  Pitting the film against other sci-fi movies, like E.T. and Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, certainly did little to help.  When released for rental, it seemed to take on a life of its own as a cult classic.  Earning a retrospective upgrade on critic’s lists, it is one of the movies that solidified my love for science fiction.

This movie was a great influence on me for two reasons.  I saw the movie first, that is to say all versions of Blade Runner.  The visuals were stunning, all the more so when you see the featurette explaining how they made the cityscapes and special effects.  In the day of computer-generated effects, this movie’s ability to transport the viewer into a gritty futuristic world truly is a remarkable achievement.  Pacing of the movie is relatively measured; there are no dramatic action sequences until the end.

Things are mostly dialogue driven as Deckard (Harrison Ford) is ostensibly brought out of retirement to handle a band of replicants returned to Earth.  Blade Runners are detectives specifically tasked to destroying replicants (termed as retirement), slave androids used in colonization that look and act like humans but are banned from Earth.  The story follows his detective work to track them down and destroy them, as well as the relationship between Deckard and one of the film’s replicants.  Harrison Ford plays the cynical detective, Sean Young the replicant love interest, Rutger Hauer leading the rogue band of replicants with a mission. 

The film examines the question of humanity.  Oddly, Deckard is relatively detached from everyone, yet uses an empathy test to spot replicants.  His emotions seem solely drawn out by the replicant Rachael, juxtaposed to the rogue band of replicants shows a surprising amount of compassion for the others, but total disregard for other humans.  This seems to reinforce the whole argument that Deckard is himself, a replicant.  The ambiguity to this just lends weight to the intellectual aspects of the screenplay, which also examine some environmentalism, corporate and police big brother issues.

The other issue to discuss is the soundtrack, scored by Vangelis.  There are few other movies I can think of that marry so beautifully the music to the visuals.  The jazzy, ambient qualities to the music add a scope to the film that just blows me away each time I watch it.  It just exudes character into the movie.

Years later, it intrigued me that this movie was based off a book: ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep’ by Philip K Dick.  I warily purchased the e-book, hoping my love for the film would not be altered; the success between film adaptation and literary sources is not a grand success story.  I was more than surprisingly impressed at how misplaced my trepidation was.  The book and film are very loosely related, with certain scenes from the book obviously used in the film but otherwise they are almost two different stories sharing a few commonalities.  The book was an absolute joy to read, examining the differences between machines and people in a different way to the film.  It too read at a different pace than most current sci-fi books, but kept pulling me along with a smile on my face.

Summary:  An unabashed lover of film, Blade Runner hit all the right marks for me.  The visuals, the acting, the soundtrack, it all drew me in and didn’t let go until the credits.  A major influence on me, both in how I rate/grade movies overall, it also keeps me trying to capture the film’s ability to transport my potential readers into another realm.  Ridley Scott did a fantastic job interpreting Hampton Fancher and David Webb Peoples’ screenplay.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Signals Explained

To clarify, Signals from the Arc is an ambiguous reference to one of the story lines I started developing.  It refers to the ‘magical’ construct within a futuristic urban fantasy setting I’m researching and fleshing out.  The ‘Arc’ philosophy and relative abilities is how magic is explained and defined by those that have access to it.  What I started seeing was a potential link with all the other settings I had ‘conjured’ and put to paper (or keyboard, as it were).  With this in mind, it became a suitable metaphor to encapsulate all my writing endeavours, without singling one out.

What is an arc?  There are several answers: It supports great amounts of weight; it bridges gaps; it fulfills both a style and a function; it connects one element to another.  In this latter statement we find the crux of my intent.

The Arc is that place where the unknown finds its power, the source code of all things mystical, magical and unexplained.  I could just as easily state my story ideas are the result of some mystical connection, where my imagination comes to life and provides the bases for my plot lines.  This is certainly not a new concept in and of itself, but certainly one I am happy to embrace as I start gathering my thoughts and telling the stories I see, those fleeting images in my mind.

Embrace the Arc…. Listen for the signals, for they will set you free.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Signals Interrupted... Computer Woes

One of the first lessons I learned when starting to use computers for school projects and the like, was to back-up whatever you couldn’t stand to lose.  Well, start of a new year and already, my computer is aspiring to turn things negative for me.  Trying to get to the Internet to do some research, I found a Vista Anti-Virus (Un-Registered) telling me I have 30 malicious threats, and the only way to get anywhere seemed to register for the program.  From my previous computer science days, some of the threats listed are worms and other codes I know can draw info from the computer, including credit card information typed into an online software purchase.

Yeah….. I guess the research is on hold until I can scan the hard drive and determine what exactly I’m dealing with.  Add to this a trip to the local Big Box electronics shop for a newer, more up-to-date protection suite.

Update:  Yeah, malware with over 50 hooks into my computer’s registry.  Fun times, now that the bastard-thing is cleansed.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

New Year, New Direction

The end of 2011 left a lot of things up in the air for me, not the least of which was my blog. Since my last post, things have gotten borderline idiotic; new baby arrived, dealing with a blown disc in my back, having surgery for the blown disc in my back, recovering from surgery (over Christmas break no less), Christmas, and now an infant who refuses to sleep her nights.

One of the odd benefits to the sleep deprivation (oh, there’s a lot of it too), is a seemingly teeming imagination coming to fruition; I’ve got story ideas flying onto the pages in outline form. One of the other benefits my convalescence provides is a six-week period of respite from work. This essentially forced me to go out and buy a number of books (physical and e-book format). The result is about five books read, including two spectacular anthologies that have really kick-started the drive to write, the drive to create.

With the first book under final editing before being sent out for agent review and the second well-outlined and partly written, I thought it apropos to start flexing my writing in other directions as well. Looking through the net at short story anthologies led me to really see the interest in this previously overlooked format. I never really sought to write short stories, mostly because the ideas for Ihr’Vessen and the Ochra Cycle were too epic, too complex to fit into 2,500 to 13,000 words. OF course when I looked back at my writing, it has mostly been short stories, whether completely original or RPG-based fan fiction – this was particularly true with the RIFTS RPG setting. Short stories were suddenly a place I wanted to revisit, the concept like a welcome reunion with an old friend.

Then the ideas started flowing, many of which were geared towards short stories that could either lead into longer, novel-potential projects, or support the plot lines already planned for the Ochra Cycle. I am now well and truly hooked, which is a joy unlike anything I can think of within the scope of my writing. This of course leads to an interesting quandary. I now have to switch the blog away from a strictly Ihr’Vessen focus to include my other projects. As such I’m re-launching the blog with an expanded scope, resolved on writing in general to allow me to cover all my projects.