Starblazers, hokey, but good.

 

Back in the 1970s my brother and I used to get up early every weekday morning (in the summer time!) to catch a cartoon show called Starblazers. This was long before the term “anime” was a thing. To be honest, we didn’t even know the show was from Japan and probably wouldn’t have cared if we did. To us, it was just a great space adventure with lots of action and an exciting story line.

Years go by…

It seems I’m not the only one who remembers that old show. Like all the campy classics of sci-fi (I’m talking to you Lost In Space) it has a dedicated fan following that has kept it alive over the years. Alive and thriving perhaps, because it now has a live action movie in it’s name.

In this story, the Earth is being bombarded into an uninhabitable ball of rock by the evil alien Gamilons. But there is hope! A strange message arrives from the distant planet of Iscandar promising a gift called “cosmic DNA” that will restore Earth to life, all humanity has to do is go and get it. With resources stretched to their limits, the people of Earth use an ancient battle ship’s hulk to construct a starship capable of reaching Iscandar before it’s too late.  The ship to be resurrected? The Yamato!It dosen’t take a great historian to see where the originators of this space opera got their ideas.

Made in Japan, at a time when survivors of the American bombardment were still around, the inspiration is obvious. The Yamato was perhaps the greatest battleship ever built. The Imperial Japanese Ship boated the largest ship cannon in history (19″ muzzle width compared to the American battleship’s 16″…size does matter). In the American version of the show the ship is called “the Argo” which, perhaps,  compares cosmic DNA to the Golden Flees.

Recently I’ve discovered there is now a live action movie of Starblazers. It’s unapologeticly Japanese. Witch is fine by me as America saves the world in every other film, I figure it’s about time some other country got a turn. Themes of courage and self sacrifice run through both the cartoon, and the live action film, as our heroes take a very samurai attitude to serving in a space navy.

To be frank, they over do it at many points and the show can get a bit hokey. That being said, Starblazers is still a great space opera with a lot of well done characters and daring do. Proudly, I will admit that the show is part of the science fiction pantheon that I refer to as “my influences.” If you have an hour or so to kill and a bowl of popcorn, I recommend you click on the link above and enjoy.

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Fed Up With Bigotry

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When I grew up in the 70s and 80s, race slurs were no longer said in polite company. Although not particularly diverse, my home town of Kettering, Ohio had a mix of folks from a wide variety of backgrounds. I found out early on that I was as likely to get along with a kid of a different race as I was to be bullied by another kid of that same race; thus bigotry proved itself a total failure in predicting human behavior.

I then went on to serve in the military with folks of an even wider variety of backgrounds. Once again, I discovered that a man’s religion, or cultural heritage had absolutely no bearing on whether I could get along with him or not. To put it bluntly, there are good people everywhere and jerks come in all colors and faiths.

I don’t consider myself a genius so I just took it for granted that most other folks could figure this out as well. After all, tolerance is not that complicated, right? Turns out that assumption was wrong, and ether I’m a genius or there are just a lot of dumb people in the world. I’m now I’m hearing slurs all over the place.

Since the Paris attack last week, it’s been mostly anti-Muslim slurs. However, anti-transgender slurs are coming in a close second and I’m sick of it all. People are people, regardless of background, faith, sexual orientation, race, or taste in music. Some people’s behavior makes them a disgrace to the entire human race. But most people are decent folks that I find easy to get along with, and some behave in a way that is a credit to us all.

In regard to Muslims, I’ll put it this way. I served in Iraq and while I was there some Muslims tried to kill me. Should I now hate all Muslims? NO! Because if all Muslims had tried to kill me I’d be dead.

Right now, I’m trying very hard to promote my books and entice readers to my work. However, if you are an un-repentant bigot…I’m not interested in your business. Sorry, but the truth is I’ve had all I can take.

What is Science Fiction Anyway?

Aspiring SF writer

I get asked this a lot. One person even asked me if it was a kind of religion (I think he once heard the term Jedi and figured that was all he had to know) .  At first, I was puzzled by the question. I mean, really…isn’t it obvious? Then I realized how little I know about football, and it made sense from there. For instance, I know there is such a thing as the NFL, but why are the rules different in college football, and why do the women in the Legends Football League wear bikinis?

So, for those who want to give a good answer to your football friends or to those new to the game; here’s what science fiction is all about:

A dictionary definition may read- Science Fiction (noun) -A form of fiction that draws imaginatively on scientific knowledge and speculation in its plot, setting, theme, etc. That definition is kinda’ flat so I’ll give you better.

The first science fiction novel is considered to be Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, published in 1818. True, it’s considered horror by most folks, but because the monster was brought to life through science (not magic) it’s considered science fiction as well. Shelley was inspired to write her story-in part- because she heard that scientists in her day were running electric current through dead animals and watching the dead muscles twitch. Today, we now know why this happens and that simply running a current through a corpse will not re-animate it. But to the science fiction writer, what science can do is not as important as what it might do.

Jules Vern and HG Wells took up Shelley’s banner in the late 1800s and marched on. Trips to the moon, voyages under the sea, and powered flights through the air were all penned in books long before they were ever accomplished in fact. Does this make science fiction a predictive tool for seeing the future? No. But it can point like an arrow in the direction mankind is already headed. And, perhaps, it can even warn us to get off a path before it’s too late (as Gorge Orwell’s 1984 did for us back in 1948).

True, not all science fiction is created equal. Much of it is simply written for fun and entertainment. I posit that there is absolutely nothing wrong with that; because science fiction is also an ascetic. Do you like stories with sailing ships or starships? Do you enjoy a scene where the hero rushes in with a broadsword or a blaster?

At some point it’s just a matter of taste. I never cared much for football. Not because there’s anything wrong with football. It just doesn’t appeal to me personally. I enjoy science fiction because it forces you to exercise your imagination into the possible and see the world through the eyes of tomorrow. I also like starships and blasters…a lot.

L. Ron Hubbard, Evil, Evil Science Fiction Genius…of Marketing

Evil Genious of Marketing

When the great authors of science fiction are discussed by hard core SF fans, certain names are almost always mentioned. Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, CJ Cheryth, Andre Norton, Philip K. Dick and Arthur C. Clark rise to the top like bubbles in a glass of fine Champaign. They are the bright luminaries of the art, who’s work is never out of print because they contributed something truly fresh and insightful into the world. Many of them started in “the pulps.” Cheaply produced, short story magazines that were popular from the mid 1920s to about the early 1950s. In these little gems, one can see the beginnings of  a writer’s greatness to come. These early stories were often more about  intriguing situation than characters,  but they still managed to build our understanding of what science fiction can do. For instance, All You Zombies by Heinlein was a break through in time travel fiction as great as HG Wells’ book, The Time Machine.

Alas, for today’s writer, the pulps are gone. Now we live in an age of digital fiction where everyone can become an author…and so everyone does. Now, some pulp authors were clearly better than others, but at least they all had to pass through the hands of a professional editor. These “gatekeepers” could insist that the science fiction they paid for met some kind of minimal standard. But the gatekeepers are now mostly gone, and it’s pure chaos out there. Self published authors are a dime a dozen, and many produce books that use a great cover to hid the terrible prose within. The challenge for the reader then is to find an author who’s work stands out from all the crap  in the market today.

Since the reader can’t go to the pulps anymore to sample their choice of authors, writers are encouraged to “build a platform” to reach the reader. By this, it is meant that the writer should start a blog, a facebook page, a twitter account, anything that will spread the word and create a fan base. This kind of marketing would have boggled the minds of the early masters, who  needed only to concentrate on writing good fiction and let nature take its course. But one man was a pioneer in this field. True, he was a poor writer, condemned to forever toil over pulp stories that were barely acceptable to the editors of the time. But as the pulp age grew to a close in the late 1950s (and his livelihood dried up) his true genius bloomed. There was no facebook or twitter in his day, but that didn’t stop him from successfully creating a platform that would create a large and fanatically devoted fan base; he started a religion. Or, as he sometimes called it, “an alternative to psychiatry.”

Through Scientology, he created a flock of mentally vulnerable people (who probably would have sought psychiatric help if not for his luring) and convinced them to spread the word for him. Only after the creation of his religion did L. Ron Hubbard become a best selling author, not of mere short sorties mind you but of books! As the 1950s became the 60s, he finally had a platform sufficient to push his lack-luster talent into the wide world of slick publication.

What are the results of his evil little marketing ploy?

Well, years after his death his books are still in print, but only his religious zealots speak well of them. I’ve been going to SF conventions since 1985, and not once have I ever heard his name mentioned. By this I mean not at all, even when bad writers are discussed–his name has never come up in my presence. Critics ether deride or ignore his work, and classes in SF literature forget his existence completely…unless the class is being taught by a Scientologist.

My name is small in the world of science fiction authors, and it may never be big (who can tell?). If my work spreads far and wide, I want it to be because it actually makes people happy when they read it. I do blog and facebook, as well as buy the occasional magazine ad, but I will never stoop so low as to abuse and manipulate vulnerable people into thinking I’m some kind of messiah just to sell my books.

Perhaps I’m no genius…but nether am I evil.

Science Fiction Writer, Game Designer & Renaissance Man

Of course, there is only one guy I could be talking about; H.G. Wells.

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Born in 1866, just a year after the American Civil War ended, he was doing his thing until he passed away in 1946, just after World War II ended. Many consider him the father of science fiction, and in many ways they are right. Of course, Mary Shelley wrote what is considered the first science fiction novel, Frankenstein. But unfortunately Ms. Shelley only had the one bestseller  in her. Jules Verne and old H.G took a good look at her science fiction football and ran farther and faster with it than anyone had before.

H.G. wrote the first book about interplanetary war, time travel, air warfare, genetic manipulation and the power of invisibility. And get this, he also wrote the first miniatures wargame.

While playing with his children and their toy soldiers he devised a set of rules for “floor games.” He called them that because that’s where the games were played, on the floor.

The set ups were huge by our gaming standards. Using 3” tall figures, the game consisted of infantry moving one foot per turn and cavalry two feet. In his game, casualties were determined by shooting wood pegs out of spring-loaded cannons or simply by rolling a ball into your opponent’s troops.

 

The game was quite popular at the time. In fact, if you watch the old movie Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang by Walt Disney, you can see the game being played. The movie takes place in H.G. Well’s era, and at the end you see the character Grandfather playing it on the floor with one of his old army buddies.

The rules became refined over time and wargaming societies and clubs sprung up the world over. In America a young enthusiast of miniatures wargaming started reading J.R.R Token’s books. This American kid was named Gary Gygax, and he used miniatures rules as the starting point for what eventually became Dungeons and Dragons.

With steam punk fiction currently in ascendance, I think it proper to remember the man who gave geekdom so much. As long as nerds gather over gaming tables, we will never forget you Mr. Wells.

Amazon’s New Offering

Cover Screaming Eagle

GREAT NEWS!!! My first book, Tales of The Screaming Eagle is now available on Amazon as a paperback for $16.99. Previously it was only available as a paperback through Lulu.com and the Amazon offering is about four bucks cheaper. This took a mountain of effort as Amazon couldn’t figure out that my publisher had the rights to do this until I sent them a copy of my contract. Enjoy the book, everybody.

Free Writing Lesson, and It’s All About Star Wars

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Star Wars is the perfect three-act play.

So, what is this three-act play stuff? Easy, it’s a formula that writers of all types use to guide their plots so a story doesn’t just ramble on. Face it, we’ve all read fiction that lacked direction, the characters, and the reader just wander in the woods until the author runs out of ink in his pen…boring.

The three-act play gives your story a concrete beginning, middle and end. What’s more, this format is so widely used in western fiction that most readers expect to see it, even if they couldn’t describe it (I know, people are weird).

Is the three act play a law authors must obey? No! But beginning writers would do well to know what the mold looks like before they try to break it. So, here goes; free writing advice from me (struggling, yet published author) to you.

Now, do you remember the first Star Wars movie?

Good, most folks have seen the original Star Wars, whether they consider themselves fans or not. But, most people who’ve seen it don’t know how perfectly, how EXACTLY, it uses the three act play boilerplate. Don’t believe me? Well, let’s take a look…

ACT ONE: In this act, the author opens with a threat to hook the audience’s attention, and then introduces all the principal characters.

Forget the boring text crawl. What people remember most about the beginning of this movie is the gigantic space battle it opens with. A big, threatening ship swallows a teeny-tiny ship, and soon storm-troopers are bursting through an exploding door, shooting it out with rebel crewmen. Bang! The audience is hooked.

We meet Darth Vader, Princess Leia, and the droids before we’ve finished our popcorn. Soon, the action draws us down to Tatooine where we meet Luke (our protagonist on a hero’s journey), Obi-wan, Han and Chewie. Now that the characters have all been introduced we send them on a quest to deliver the plans to Alderaan. Once that little chore is done, the characters think everything will be okay…but the audience hopes it won’t be so easy.

Face it, nobody sitting in the theater wants the show to end now. Escaping from Moss Isley Spaceport in the Millennium Falcon is only the end of act one, not of the movie.

ACT TWO: The middle of the play begins with the “first catastrophe”  and ends with the “second catastrophe.” In between those two events we see the characters come together as a team and the hero moving forward on his journey.

The first catastrophe is the destruction of planet Alderaan. So much for our nice, simple quest to deliver the plans. Now our heroes must deactivate the tractor beam, rescue the princess and escape the frigging garbage monster.  During this time of struggle, we see Luke taking initiative, leading the assault on the detention center, and becoming less farm boy and more Jedi (as his journey progresses).

The second act ends when they face the second catastrophe. True, they escaped the Death Star. Unfortunately, the darn thing is following them back to the rebel base and will soon destroy the only resistance to the evil empire’s control of the entire galaxy. Thanks Obama!

ACT THREE: Climax and resolution for the hero and his friends.

Act three begins on the fourth moon of Yavin, where Luke receives his briefing with the other fighter pilots. The climax is, of course, the biggest space battle yet. The dogfight over the Death Star is so intense that we almost completely forget about the space battle that opened the movie. The audience is treated to several near misses as rebel, after rebel, fails to hit the target. Final victory is achieved when Luke uses the force for the first time, thus giving him kinship with Obi-wan as a force wielding warrior (if not a Jedi yet).

The resolution comes with medals for everybody (except Chewie and the droids…what’s up with that?). Our plot is concluded, and the audience feels satisfied that they’ve had a full meal with all the meat and potatoes proceeding the desert. And there you have it; the three act play.

Watch any movie, read any book and I’m willing to bet you’ll see 80% of them follow this formula. Why? Because it works, and it’s what readers have come to expect. Yes, you can monkey with it. Yes, you can scrap it all together. But if you do, you will need to give your audience something else in return to satisfy their hunger. In other words, don’t try jumping your motorcycle over the house until you learn to ride the darn thing around the block.

Thus endeth the lesson.