Total Immersion

First things first – I apologize for any typos and other random words that may find their way into this post.  I’m in Nebraska for work, and I didn’t have my magic ball fully functional to know that I would probably want/need my personal lap top. So, yea! Blog post typed out on an iPhone.  Just a sign of the times, right???

I know it’s been awhile since I’ve posted, but yeah does not mean my life has been Sci-Fi-less. A few weeks (ok maybe months?) I watched Galaxy Quest and Robodog… And I think Hunger Games was in there somewhere as well.  But ok, so maybe with the new job and everything else going on I’ve resorted to Disney animation, RomComs and NCIS marathons.

BUT in BIG NEWS…

I attended a SciFi conference.

Ok, so maybe that’s not news. Most of you probably already knew that I was going. But still – I actually did it! While I was mainly there to support my award-winning friend Suzanne Palmer (2016 Asimov’s Reader’s Choice for Short Story with her story “Tuesday” – CONGRATULATiONS SUZANNE!), I purchased a day pass for Saturday’s Science Fiction Writers of America Nebula Conference sessions.

And I had a great time.  No matter what conference it’s been, it has always floored me at how supportive, enthusiastic and personable writers are when you get them in a group. I remember a while back Goodreads was exploring not allowing writers to review books because of the “competition” – events like this just emphasize how the good folk at Goodreads just really don’t  get what it means to be part of the writing community. We love a good story – irregardless of whether or not we wrote it.

Anyway, tangent!

I attended four sessions.  Two were reminders that this is an organization that has had some very public battle over inclusivity and social justice-related issues in recent years. One was on the moral responsibility of the story teller and the other was about being diverse in the Anglo-American tradition (or really, what I think I’m trying to say is the challenge in writing a non-Anglo-American story in a culture that values that tradition).  Very interesting and thought provoking panels.

A third session was how to keep your day job while pursuing a writing career.  It’s actually because of this session that I’m tipping this out on my phone rather than sitting down and doing it on the work laptop I have with me (I had really hoped I wouldn’t have to start carrying two computers with me…)

But the session that really made something click with me as it relates to this blog wasn’t about writing at all – it was on Citizen Science.

Everytime someone finds out I’m not a SciFi fan they seem baffled by it. I am, after all, a type of scientist.  I get excited over things like measuring headstones to determine how acid rain is impacting the preservation of our cultural resources or joining the Audoban Society in conducting bird inventories.  The new job is going to be great as I’ll be helping to advise citizen action groups on watershed protection issues. So why wouldn’t I like Science Fiction?

The speaker for the presentation was an astronomer from Adler Planetarium (have I mentioned I drove the 500 miles to Chicago for this?). She talked about how “citizens” have assisted in some really fantastic astronomical discoveries through collaborative portals that allows them to analyze images and post interpretations (Zooniverse is one of the portals sponsored by Adler, go check it out.) I could tell that everyone else in the room was really into what she was saying.

I was having a hard time staying awake. And while I could blame it on not getting checked into my hostel until 11:30 the night before and being so hopped on caffeine that then I had a hard time falling asleep, that would defeat the purpose.  But as I was nodding off I found myself thinking, “geez, I really wish they had someone from Shedd Aquarium here instead.”

And that’s when it hit me.  At the core of it, I’m really just not that interested in Space, and in my perception of the scifi genre, it’s so dominated by space operas and space technology that I’ve not been drawn into a lot of it. Even looking at the major awards that were presented this weekend, space was a theme – The Nebulas.

So, on my 500 mile trek to Omaha, I started mentally reviewing a list of scifi novels I’ve read in the past that aren’t space based –

Heinlen’s Stranger in a Strange Land

Bradbury’s Fehrenheit 451

Crichton’s Jurassic Park (ok, didn’t read the book but I enjoyed the movie)

and my mind is now currently drawing a blank on some of the others I came up with. But I’ve read both Fehrenheit and Stranger more than once, voluntarily because I genuinely enjoyed them.

Now, I realize I still owe y’all a blog or two or three on what constitutes science fiction because I could see on any of these titles how an argument could be made that they’re not really science fiction.  But as I move forward and decide what to watch/read next, I’m going to be looking for stuff that isn’t necessarily space-based science.

Though if anyone has any suggestions on two very similar stories – a space opera and a non-space opera, it would be interesting to compare the two different approaches.

 

 

 

“This is so much fun, it’s freaky!”

I had just finished watching a Rom Com on Netflix when on my “Recommended for You List” Armageddon pops up.  I got very excited because, come on, it’s a great movie.  A lot of action, drama, a tad of romance, people going nuts on an asteroid and getting duct taped to a chair after nearly shooting everyone up (which, if you’ve not seen it, is the scene in the movie my title is from).  And then I realized – hey! It’s science fiction! It totally fits in with my blog topic!

So, I basically decided that I was going to cheat and instead of exploring new-to-me science fiction, I was going to explore some stuff that I already knew I liked and try to pinpoint the difference.  I warned you at the beginning that I’m not against all scifi, just most of it.

I was also, just coincidently because-I-needed-something-to-read-and-I-couldn’t-find-my-nook-so-I-grabbed-the-nearest-paperback- was rereading the Weather Warden book Gale Force by Rachel Caine. Once again, it occurred to me a few pages in that, hey! This is SciFi! And I was rereading it because I LIKED it.

So from this point, reader beware, there be spoilers ahead! (Yeah, imagine that I just said that in a pirate’s voice)

So, for those of you not familiar with the 1998 film Armageddon, the general premise is that there is an asteroid heading towards earth, and NASA scientists are trying to develop a plan to break it up before it hits.  They enlist the aid of oilman Harry Stamper to try to figure out what’s wrong with the drill they’ve tried building based off his design. Only, instead of helping them rebuild the drill he insists that if he’s going to help, he’s going up to operate the thing and he’s using his own crew. So, he pulls in his most trusted employees, including the employee he just recently discovered had been dating his daughter for the past five months, to go through NASA training to land a ship on the asteroid and plant a nuclear bomb along a fault line in the asteroid. The (predictable) catch is, while they may be the best at drilling oil, they’re not necessarily astronaut material.  They’re mental, criminal, and out-of-shape.

What makes this story interesting for me is that the characterization is such that you can’t help but root for the lot.  They all have backstories that the producers bring to the forefront at varying times (like the one oilman whose ex-wife won’t even let his kid know he’s his dad) that makes each character feel like their worth knowing.  One of the big subplots is Harry’s relationship with his daughter and how life on oil rigs being raised by “roughbacks” has affected her outlook on life and her development. She’s such a daddy’s girl that the can’t help but argue all the time and her boyfriend-come-fiancé we know is just like him.  And we want to see them both come back from the asteroid.

But every step of the way they keep the question open as to whether they’ll be coming home. They face communication malfunctions, crazy crew mates, crashes, and ultimately what to do when the remote detonator breaks.  I was so invested in them getting home that the action kept me interested and I didn’t even care about the scientific impossibilities.

The Weather Warden series is the same way.  In these books, the Weather Wardens is a secret government agency  whose employees have natural gifts that allow them to control the weather, earth and fire. As told in these books, they’re the reason Hurricane Andrew wasn’t more destructive than it was. While I suppose this is technically fantasy, they talk a lot about breaking apart molecules and having to balance energy, so that makes it sciency enough for me.  In Gale Force, the main character JoAnn is set to marry her Djinn (Djinns provide the wardens with that little bit of extra oomph to tackle the particularly fierce storms).  However, do to a recent war between factions of Djinn and the Wardens, there’s a deep mistrust between all groups leading to radicalized subgroups who are set against seeing this marriage go through.  Imagine if terrorists had the ability to cause forest fires, earthquakes and tornadoes and that’s what you get.

JoAnn herself is likeable enough. The descriptions of David (the supernatural fiancé) are delicious. The chemistry between the two is evident enough that I can almost pass this off as a romance.  He even makes the heartwrenching decision to leave her when supernaturalness makes newly wed bliss an impossibility.   Like in Armageddon, every step of the way JoAnn and David are having to dodge people who want to see her dead (he’s some super important Djinn, so mostly people either want to protect him or take him back into servitude).  Ms. Cain keeps the action moving and doesn’t get caught up in trying to make the reader believe that what she’s writing about is something that could actually, some day, be plausible.  And as a pseudo-weather nut, the little bit of info she does provide about how they go about altering storms is actually a little intriguing.

For comparison, I watched what my scifi friends would probably call a classic – The (original) X-Files Pilot.  Just in case you’re like me and live under a force field protecting you from science fiction classics, in the pilot episode Scully gets assigned to watch Mulder and debunk his work.  The case he works in this episode is where teens are being found in the woods murdered, but they all have very similar marks on their backs. That, along with a bit of static on the radio, makes Mulder believe that there’s something supernatural going on. As the viewer follows the mystery, there’s a lot of standing around talking.  Explaining what the thing in the body’s nose is, talking about the dirt on one corpse’s foot. Talking about how oh shucks, all their notes and x-rays just burned up in a fire at their hotel while they just happen to be safe and sound (well, if you count having a sheriff point his rifle at you safe) somewhere else.  There was no “edge of my seat” moments – every opportunity for danger the script writers took a different path (those marks on Scully’s back? Nope, not aliens marking her for future abduction, just mosquito bites.)  I also found the characterization of Scully and Mulder to be very flat – there wasn’t ever anything that made me want to root for either Scully to find perfectly normal reasons for what was going on out there or for Mulder to prove that there is “something out there.” I couldn’t even really bring myself to care why the kids were behaving the way they were behaving.

So, all that being said, if you have any suggestions for scifi with a strong action/danger/romantic element, feel free to let me know!

Blink – Dr. Who, Season 3 Episode 11

Because of the nature of this blog, there WILL be spoilers.   As a favor to those readers who maybe have not seen or read the particular episode(s) that I will be talking about, I’ll try to identify them if not in the title of my posts, then at least in the first paragraph.

“Wibbly Wobbley Timey Stuff”

Given that Netflix is set to pull Dr. Who from it’s lineup February 1st, I thought I would start a day early and at least watch Blink, the first episode on the list that Diana and Lisa made up.

I would just like to reiterate that I’ve already said that I love horror.  My last year of college, my roommates and I would make a weekend out of B (and sometimes C) rated horror and disaster movies.  This episode started off just like that and I was a little excited.  I mean, comeon, a girl nearly has her head knocked off her shoulders (and the nearly only because of a random message warning her) and she goes back with her friend the next day without asking ANY questions? The hallmark of a B-rated horror flick! Especially when her friend disappears and writes a letter from 1920 and arranges to have it delivered and the girl STILL doesn’t hardly bat an eye!

But from there it starts to lose me with the wibbly wobbley timey stuff.  Yes, time travel and the idea of holes in time is intriguing (what if every time we make a measure life decision – a la “core memories” in Disney-world, a new branch of time was spun?) but in this case I feel like it was more used to facilitate massive info dumps.  She meets a guy, then meets him again the next day where he’s much older for the sole purpose of delivering information.

Before you all start your outraged and indignant objections – the show wasn’t all bad. The angels I thought provided a nice element of conflict and suspense in an otherwise suspense-less show. The scene where they’re afraid to do anything for fear of being attacked by the angel statues and indeed are being chased by angels heralds tropes of horror that’s quite effective.  Even if the visual effects inside the Tardis are reminiscent of The Original Star Trek series (yes, I have seen a few episodes thanks to my Trekkie brother!)

If it were not for this blog would I watch another episode?  Probably, if only because my FireStick autoplays and half the time I’m too lazy to stop it from autoplaying.  However, I wouldn’t necessarily seek out other episodes either.  So far my original thoughts is that this episode actually confirms my original thesis that a lot of the storyline is wordbuilding as opposed to plot. We’ll see what the other episodes hold!

I will make a little note on the timing of me watching Blink and the appropriateness of the final dialogue in relationship to this blog –

          “Don’t blink. Blink and you’re dead. They are fast. Faster than you can believe. Don’t turn your back. Don’t look away. And don’t blink. Good Luck.”

It’s as if he were speaking directly to me.

 

Charging the Super Blasters

“Dr. who?”

“Oh yeah! Isn’t he great?”

“Is who?”

“Dr. Who!”

“That’s what I’m trying to figure out!”

It’s like the old Abbott and Costello skit, “Who’s on First,” only instead of two baseball managers trying to sort out their team, it’s me eating dinner with friends trying to keep up with the conversation.

“Oh my god! The latest doctor is so hot!”

“No way!  The 5th doctor will always be my favorite!”

“There’s more than one Dr. Who?”

“I love the Tardis. I’d definitely put one outside my house.”

“What is that? Something to make sure you’re never late?”

Fortunately, since a conversation maybe not-so-dissimilar to this one take place, I’ve checked in enough to learn that yes, there is in fact different Dr. Who’s and the Tardis is… a phone booth. Or at least that’s what it looks like.

I’ve never been a big fan of Science Fiction, or, for that matter, fantasy.  I wouldn’t go as far as to say I’ve always had my feet too firmly planted to the ground – I enjoy a good horror story as much as the next gal – but I’ve just always found these stories too far reaching and, especially in written form, to caught up in the world-building aspect that it takes FOREVER to actually figure out what the central conflict of the story is.

That’s not to say I’ve avoided it all together. I have at least seen all…erm… 7 (?) Star Wars movies and I can Harry Potter with the best of them.  But when it comes to trying to remember that the fluxy dowhopper is what allows McCloud to travel through time and it runs off a substance that is very difficult to find in 1983… let’s just say that the all important foreshadowing that occurs in these little details tends to escape me. Especially these days where the likelihood that I’m actually paying attention to the people moving on the TV screen is just this side of none.

But yet, Science Fiction is ubiquitous. It has an insane fan based that I personally find a tad intimidating (D23 2015, anyone? The line for the “Marvel” panel [which was actually supposed to have been called the “Disney Live Action Panel”] started at noon the day before) and nearly every circle I find myself in eventual migrates to the latest rocket boosters and Delorians.

Which leads me to my Reading for Writers group (shout out, Lisa, Corey, Diana, Ashley, Craig, Donna, Marian, Elaine). Introduced to them during the most recent iteration of the literary insanity we like to call National Novel Writing Month, I got drawn into the idea of reading books and then dissecting them for elements to think about for our own writing. Plus they’re just a cool group of people. Other than they’re 90% Dr. Who nuts.

“You should totally get into Dr. Who, Julie” Corey encouraged me during a conversation in which I really have no idea what was being said.

And here is my open-mouth-insert-foot moment: “Hey, I could do my blog on getting into Science Fiction!”

Or something like that.  That was the end result at any rate.

We had just finished “reading” Julie and Julia and someone in the group came up with the challenge of starting our own blogs for a year. As I really didn’t relish the idea of eating 52 bacon cheeseburgers a la Lisa, and the idea of a Parks and Rec blog and being reminded of how Ron my current supervisor (who is a great guy) is to my Leslie long after I start a new job in March (think the equivalent of Leslie leaving to go to the SPOILER AVOIDANCE TOOL) was just a little tough for me to swallow, this seemed like a good way to get me out of my comfort level and get me in with the Cool Kids.

And so, here I am.  Two days from February 1st, the official start date of my Journey into Science Fiction, a best-of-Dr. Who list from Lisa and Diana on my phone, wondering what in the name of the Milky Way Galaxy I’ve gotten myself into.  Two days to do my RomCom marathon before I go Intergallactic.

 

 

A Journy into Science Fiction