Clayton J. Callahan- Author

I am Clayton Callahan. I write novels I design games. I hang out. I do nerdy things at science fiction conventions, and I’ve worked in a lot of jobs that required me to wear uniforms and carry guns.

As I am a college educated suburbanite, of course, I have a blog. This is a place to share what I find intriguing, stimulating and cool in the world of science fiction, gaming and things related to that stuff.

I hope you find what thrills you here.

 

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Where Does Art Happen?

The image above depicts synapses firing. As all human thought is electrical in nature, tiny sparks between nerve clusters carry our brain’s orders to the rest of our body and communicate within our minds. I know this is simple high school level biology and the textbooks go into a lot more detail, but what does that mean for art?

Have you ever looked at a noted painting, or read a famous book and thought to yourself, “Whoever thought this crap was any good?” Well, folks, so have I. The great film masterpiece Citizen Cain bored the hell out of me, the art of Hieronymous Bosh never impressed me, and don’t get me started on The Good Earth by Peral S. Buck. However, I absolutely love the movie Hale Ceasar, Think Bill Watterson’s Calvin & Hobbs to be a work of genius, and can go on and on about Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles. SO what’s going on here?

My theory is that art does not happen in the studio. Whatever the medium, be it writing, painting, or whatever, the studio is simply not where the action is. True, the artist creates in the studio (or at the writer’s desk), but art doesn’t actually happen there. No, it happens when the art meats the audience and that electric connection happens.

Art, therefore, can not exist in a sterile box. The great unpublished novel that the frustrated writer shoves into a box and shows no one will never become art. Only when the spark jumps from the page to the reader is art created. Perhaps there is an audience for every artist, and I certainly would like to think so. But if that is the case, some audiences are definitely smaller than others. Tastes vary widely and that is as it should be. As an audience member, I’ve often struggled to find art that thrilled me. And as an artist, I’ve struggled to find a large audience to appreciate my work.

But I’ve also been told by many that they felt joy at reading my work, even when writing it was a toil to me. If that’s the case, I can smile and rest assured, confident that I have accomplished my mission. I have created art.

By Clayton J. Callahan

RIP Stan Lee

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Stan Lee was once quoted as saying, “the greatest superpower is luck” and he went on to say he considered himself very lucky. I must agree. He was lucky to do what he loved for a living and to go on living for so long. At 95 one can hardly say his life was tragically cut short, however, there’s a lot more to living than a number. Living is friends. Living is family. Living is love. And Stan Lee certainly did a lot of living.

Rest in peace you beautiful nerd.

Another Year Another Orycon

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of attending the 40th annual Orycon convention in Jenson Beach, Oregon.

I got to play some wargames with some great folks, dress up in my steampunk best with my favorite gal, and even met “Captain Kangaroo.” On the whole, a great weekend, as usual.

I’ve lived in Oregon for over ten years now, having come straight from Iraq at the end of my longest deployment. Since then, I’ve only skipped one of these conventions, and that was because the Uncle Sam sent my butt back to “the sandbox” for another fun-filled trip. In all that time, Orecon has changed hotels twice but never failed to keep its charm. It’s a smaller, writer based convention. Not as loud or attention-getting as a Comicon event. This is where you can just hang out in the con-suite and shoot the bull with other writers and fans about science fiction, fantasy, and all that nerdy jazz.

I’m pleased to say, the con is doing quite well for an event of forty years old attendance wise. We had to get a room at the hotel across the street due to lack of room availability and we were certainly not alone. If you’re a fan of any kind of geekery, I suggest you look for one of these smaller, more intimate conventions in your area. Always a good time and thus, always worth it.

By Clayton J. Callahan

Three Little Books: Traveller The Breakthrough RPG

When I was but a lad of thirteen, there was this new game that everyone was talking about…and then there was this other game that fired my imagination.

The year was 1980, and the game everyone was talking about was Dungeons & Dragons. And according to who you asked, it was a harmless and fun imaginative past-time or the first gear shift on the highway to Hell (spoiler, it wasn’t Satanic in the slightest). However, the game that I discovered in D&D‘s shadow was a little gem called Traveller.

Always a greater fan of things science fiction over the sword and sorcery stuff, I picked up my first set of “three little books” Traveller at the Black Forest Hobby Shop in Kettering, Ohio and was off to other stars in light seconds.

Traveller is/was a role-playing game designed by the now-defunct Game Designer’s Workshop back in 1977. Originally designed as a generic set of rules for space-opera type play, it has evolved into an incredibly detailed universe with sophisticated politics and history. But in 1980 much of that complexity had yet to be written, and my friends and I (yes, I had friends) only needed the three little books that came in the original box set to contend with.

My guess is that the folks at GDW didn’t have a lot of money to invest in printing, as the game was laid out in these three staple-bound books with little interior art and not even a cover image–just a black book with a red stripe. The books were 1) Characters and Combat;  which told you how to create a character through a series of tables that somewhat randomly assigned you skills and attributes, 2) Starships; which listed fifteen ready to fly ships and a ton of rules on how you could design your own from scratch, and 3) Worlds and Adventures; which explained how you could create your own universe from worlds to governments.

To be frank, some of the rules were a bit weird or awkward so my friends and I just chose to ignore what was cumbersome and play it for the fun. And it was glorious fun indeed. We traversed lightyears in a week’s time and landed on frontier worlds. We engaged in starport shootouts and outer space dogfights. And we were free to invent and contrive whatever possibilities suited our fancy as movies like Dune, Alien, Empire Strikes Back, and Wrath of Kahn, dazzled our eyes and books like The Stainless Steel Rat, Dorsai, and Foundation filled out heads.

I had never before found a template that so suited my imagination and am still a fan of the game to this day. Traveller has proven the inspiration for much of what I write as a science fiction author today, and I make no apologies for that. But beyond my personal interaction, the game deserves credit for many innovative concepts that dominate gaming today. Ever heard of society described as having Teck Levels? Thank Traveller because that idea was found on page seven, Book 3) Worlds and Adventures.  How about characters having skills? If you didn’t know, in the original D&D characters had no skills, but chose a “class” whereby certain abilities were allowed and others forbidden. However, in Traveller, your character learned and could improve on skills without boundaries.

The game has earned numerous awards over the decades and been re-written dozens of times even before GDW went under. You can now play Mega-Traveller, Traveller New Era, GRUPS Traveller, Mark Miller’s Traveller, Mongoose Publishing Traveller, Far Future Enterprises Traveller, and on, and on. But as for me, I’m a down to basics kind of guy and three little books is enough.

So roll some dice over a table with like-minded friends and keep it flowing simple and free. Let your imaginations go wherever the heck you want them to and if you get the chance to play a good old fashioned game of Traveller, as we said int he 80s, go for it!

I am Don Quixote…No Kidding

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Today, I finally found out who I am. This is who I have always been and will always be until I die. This is not who I wish to be. It’s deeper than wishing. It’s solid fact, unchangeable as the sun at its zenith. I am Don Quixote.
Don’t believe me? You don’t have to.
Now, in my youth, I was part of the Society for Creative Anachronism, a medieval re-enactment club that celebrated chivalry and honor above all else. I was part of that world for a long time and even met my wife in it. In that society, we would say to one another that we were “in service to the dream,” and we meant it. It was to be an apprenticeship of sorts and although I haven’t been to a tournament in over a decade, the lessons I learned back then still can be read deep within my constitution.
Like me, the fictional Spanish Lord was steeped in the ancient lore of heroes whose courage and tenacity in the face of adversity was charged with pure intent and noble purpose. And like me, Don Quixote was never a proper knight. No king or queen of any kingdom ever touched his shoulders with a sword save the principality that was mapped within his own heart.
Once Don Quixote discovered who he truly was, he embarked on a great quest to right the wrongs of the world and do all the good he could for the very sake of doing good by itself. And in this quest, Don Quixote failed. He encountered no real dragons or giants, but famously attacked windmills in his delusions. He was laughed at and misunderstood by many along his journey, and he did not accomplish much in the way of the world.
And I also have also failed in many of my lifelong quests.
However, Don Quixote succeeded beyond the limits of even his shining vision. He changed not the outer material world but the inner soul of the world itself. The light of his sincere folly has thus shined since 1602 as an example and inspiration to us all. He showed us that people can be more than the limits of their worldly power and aspire to a greatness that no one can truly achieve. Not bad for a fictional character, eh?
I am the correctional officer who dreams of being a successful novelist. I am the local political activist with a laptop who toils to shake the foundations of unchecked privilege in a corrupt and jaded nation. I am the father who wades into the sea and orders to waves to stop splashing upon his children. I am the cancer patient who tells the disease it will not have me without a fight. And I am the husband who never has nor ever will give up on his wife.
And still, I have failed many times in this material realm and expect to fail again.
Will I be remembered as Don Q has been? No. Once those who know me are gone I expect no legacy. Which makes my struggles all the nobler and all the less notable simultaneously. Should I care for such enduring recognition from posterity? Not one whit. For I am the man from La Mancha, and I am not the first nor the last of my kind.
The fight is noble as long as the purpose is noble and the warrior never gives up. Failure is often inevitable, but failure is also completely irrelevant to a Quixote! Success is measured not in the winning but in the striving. And the striving serves as a beacon to others to seek what is worthy and good within the human soul.
I am Don Quixote, but I am not the only one. And I salute all my fellow knights who brandish their broadswords, scimitars, katanas, and pocket knives in the cause of right all around this wicked world.
Clayton J. Callahan

Social Justice Warriors Are Not Ruining Science Fiction!

So hear’s the thing… I am frequently running into fans of science fiction who are half my age and proport to be more knowledgeable about the genre than I, and what’s more, they can explain to me exactly why it’s all going straight to hell.

To cut to the chase of their rather lengthy arguments, they claim that social justice warriors (SJWs) are destroying all that’s good in science fiction. Now, I’ve never met someone who calls themselves an SJW and have only heard it used as an insulting term. But whoever these SJW may, or may not, be the complaint is that science fiction will never recover from their vandalism of the genre. Which leaves me with just one question, WHAT ARE THEY SMOKING?

From my old-fart fan point of view, science fiction has never been better. Don’t believe me? Just try to sit through the movie Zardoz or any episode of Space 1999, I dare you. Have you ever read any James Blish? Well, I sure don’t recommend him. I suffered through his novel All The Stars a Stage thirty-five years ago; and still, have scars on my eyelids from having to prop ’em up with toothpicks to get to the end. Often authors who were good at high concept were bad at storytelling and some of the better storytellers didn’t seem to have much to say (I’m talking to YOU Poul Anderson with your Flanery series).

Was there any good stuff back in the 1970s and 80s? Well of course, if you knew where to look. Star Wars naturally wasn’t hard to find, but Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon might be. Anything by Ray Bradbury could be depended on to sooth the geeky soul, and I highly recommend Phill Foglio’s Buck Godot comics. But finding that good stuff among piles of mediocrity could be a tedious task and one could grow weary. Why sometimes we’d just watch an episode of V so that we could pretend to be interested in a new SF TV show.

To Quote Billy Jole, “The good old days weren’t always good and tomorrow’s not as bad as it seems.”

Now, thanks to the internet we have access to all the good stuff from the past and can take our pick of some really good stuff being made today. The Marvel movies are generally very good, and DC gets it right every now and again. Some really good novels are available at the click of an icon (I recommend Redshirts by John Scalzi). And the writing, acting, and production values of today’s Dr. Who beat the tar out of much of the earlier stuff (although Tom Baker still rocked the part). So what are these fanboys complaining about when they moan about SJWs ruining science fiction?

In a word: diversity.

Star Trek Discovery featured–gasp–a black woman captain and the new Dr. Who has boobs. Star Wars is no longer comprised of a cast of a half dozen white guys and one solitary gal but instead has a black stormtrooper, women in leadership positions, a Hispanic pilot dude and an Asian female mechanic–oh the horror of it all.

Now, what I’ve got to say might sound weird, but I expect it’s fairly simple. Good science fiction depends on a good concept coupled with, a plot to carry it to completion, and good characters to lead you through the story. That’s it! If your concept allows you to explore strange new frontiers and entertain ideas imaginatively, you’ve got a good start. If your plot keeps the audience engaged and eager to see how it all ends, you’ve got a story to tell. And finally, if the characters are interesting, three-dimensional people who behave logically in accordance with their unique personalities, it doesn’t matter a tinker’s damn what gender of color they are!

I turned away from Star Trek Discovery because it had a bad concept, plot, and the character’s acted stupidly. It had nothing to do with the fact that Captian Yeoh was Asian because frankly, who cares?

True, once upon a time science fiction was a pasty white sausage festival, and why anybody considers that a good thing I have no idea. Today, we have more diverse characters and I think that’s good. But diversity alone doesn’t make it better or worse form a storytelling point of view. So why take pains to inclued the previously unincluded?

Well, for one reason it makes science fiction more appealing to a wider audience. And what’s wrong with that? Any art form that isn’t reaching out to new audiences is a dying art form and likely will go unmourned to the grave. Besides, new actors, writers, and directors of non-traditional genders and skin tones often bring new insights with them that enrich the genre as a whole. Thus new directions open up for every fan to explore, and I call that a good thing.

So no, I do not see SJWs ruining anything in science fiction. Good SF will always shine over bad, and I am happy that the good stuff is a lot easier to find these days. It’s best to judge the work on concept, plot, and characters, my friends. And don’t get wrapped around the axil about what ethnicity or gender the protagonist is. After all, do you know of any SF story where having a white male for a protagonist made up for crappy writing or bad acting?

I didn’t think so.

By Clayton J. Callahan

 

The Camp David / Battlestar Accords

So, it has just been brought to my attention that FORTY YEARS AGO this week Battlestar Galactica was first seen by television audiences. That’s right, it was on September 17, 1978, that the full 148-minute pilot premiered on the ABC network. It’s an event I remember well.

Because I was stoked!

If you’re wondering why forty years ago is in all caps above, the reason is simple. I was ten years old when the dang thing aired, and I have a hard time believing that so much time has gone by so fast. That’s right, I’m fifty…and that’s not old, right?

Anyway, I do recall that day in unusual clarity. Star Wars had blown my mind that previous summer of 1977, and ever since I saw it, I was eating up all the Flash Gordon and Star Trek on TV I could watch. But here in this “Battlestar” thing was something new. Not an old serial from the 1930s or a show that had been in re-runs since the 1960s. But a new space show with all the bells and whistles my ten-year-old heart craved; robots, fighter ships, and blasters–oh my. The show had been hyped in Starlog Magazine and commercials for its premiere were all over the airwaves. I couldn’t wait to see it. What was the show even about? I had no fraggin idea, it was space and that was good enough for me.

On the night Battlestar Galactica went on the air, I had secured a big bowl of popcorn and my parent’s promise that I’d get to watch the whole thing. As it was scheduled, the two-hour-plus show was going to keep me up an hour past bedtime but that didn’t seem like a big deal. The epic show opened with some brief character introduction and then BOOM, the Twelve Colonies were completely destroyed in a cataclysmic Cylon on Human battle.

And then, ABC News broke in with; “We now interrupt this program…”

On that same night, September 17, 1978, after twelve days of secret negotiations, the leaders of Israel and Egypt had reached an agreement and signed the Camp David Peace Accords in the presence of American President Jimmy Carter. And they picked the middle of the most hyped show in my elementary school world as the perfect time to announce their treaty. In agony, I watched for an hour as Anwar El Sadat and Menachem Begin slowly signed a piece of paper and shook hands. Didn’t these people know the fate of the galaxy was at stake?

In my most mature ten-year-old whine, I complained to my parents but to no avail. For some reason, they seemed to think that peace between two actual countries was more important than a Cylon attack on a fictitious bunch of colonies. Nevertheless, mom and dad (and mostly dad) kept their promise, and when Battlestar Galactica returned to our TV screen, I was able to watch the show to its late-night end.

Of course, I wasn’t worth a fig in school the next day. My teacher found me sleeping at my desk, and when I honestly reported the reason I couldn’t stay awake a phone call was placed to my father. To this day I’m glad they called Dad…because Mom would have really lit into me. My father, however, merely took full responsibility for allowing his boy to stay up late; and swallowed the shame in the certain knowledge his son wasn’t destined for any sports hall of fame but would probably waste his life going to goofy conventions and publishing science fiction novels (now available on Amazon!).

So now, I’m fifty, and to be honest I’m quite happy that Israel and Egypt haven’t spilled each other’s blood in over forty years. In fact, I’d give the leaders of the Middle East the chance to interrupt The Orvil, the new lady Dr. Who, and one of my book signings if they would write a few more of those peace accords. But unfortunately, peacemaking presidents seem in very short supply these days.

Still, it’s worth reflecting on. Childhood fancy and grown-up priorities always race neck and neck in our lives. Now, I do not pretend to know which will come in first at the end of my race. But I intend to keep writing science fiction and working for peace in this world as long as I can.

By Clayton J. Callahan

PS: Jimmy, if you ever decide to run again, I’ll vote for you 🙂