Sunday, 27 July 2014

Log 2014 27th Jul: Cold Outside Critique

I must be a sucker for punishment, that or an eternal optimist, as I submitted another short story for critiquing with the writers group I joined.  This is the third time I've put myself through the grist mill.

My story, called Cold Outside, was inspire by reading Ruthanna Emrys The Litany of Earth, which I mentioned here.  When I started writing my story I discovered to my chagrin that Peter Watts had beaten me to the idea of writing a prequel to John Carpenter's The Thing with his prequel The Thing.

Fortunately, my idea was not to rewrite the whole movie from the alien POV, but rather cast the monster as a tragic victim of circumstances beyond its control.

In fact my story really only deals with stuff that is described in passing in Carpenter's movie, because what I wanted to do was tell was the story of the alien being dug up out of the ice by the Norwegians. This is told in more detail in the prequel to The Thing, called unimaginatively the Thing.  A title that might be a tad confusing when referring to both.  They could have gone with Don A. Stuart's, a pseudonym of John W. Campbell, original story title of Who Goes There? of course, but they didn't.

So overall I got a lot of very useful feedback, mostly about how opaque my story was to those not immersed in the Cthulhu mythos, which was good.  Still it left me feeling as per the picture.

On my writing progress this week, Scrivener fails to really keep track of the number of words written when re-writing a piece.  I can get widely varying totals, depending on the time I take a snapshot of the ongoing running total.  At the end of the day I actually judge what I've done by comparing the running total of the novel.  This is usually in negative numbers.  Currently the novel is running at 87,133 words.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

LonCon Panel 4: Military SF: Continuity and Change

My fourth panel at LonCon is called Military SF: Continuity and Change, and it is on Saturday, starting at 12:00 and ending at 13:30, and is being held in the London Suite 2 (ExCeL)  .

The blurb for the panel is as follows:

Many of the classics of military SF, Heinlein's Starship Troopers and Haldeman's Forever War, sprung from the Korean and Vietnam Wars; the Cold War, with its looming threat of nuclear annihilation, spawned fresh responses.

How has military SF changed for modern audiences?  Have its themes kept pace with changing perceptions and forms of war?  What are some of the things military SF needs to be concerned with?


Myke Cole (Moderator), Joe Haldeman, Jean Johnson, Rohan Shah, and little old me.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Log 2014 20th Jul: Countdowns

The first countdown is LonCon 3, with less than four weeks to go.  I'm on another panel too, details to follow during the week.  The other countdown is the rewrite of my novel Bad Dog, which I hope to have done by the time LonCon 3 comes around.  If only to say I have a novel out doing the rounds, but more importantly, just to get what feels like an anvil off of me.

So this week Hulk smash puny chapters that make up act three.  Word count hard to estimate, because I'm in negative numbers, with the running total now standing at 86,701 words.  When I started the rewrite the novel came in at a hefty 93,075 words; so Hulk smash!

We finished re-watching Stargate Atlantis this week.  Season five had the feeling of watching a cat take a pratfall, regain its composure and pretend what happened was what it meant to do all along.  By that I mean the ending was rushed to tie up all the loose threads of the plot before the show was cancelled.  As a season some of the stories, while nice enough, were quite frankly not necessary to the overall plot; namely the Wraith problem is left hanging.

We've started re-watching Person of Interest, and wow it's better than I remember it, and that is saying something.  Why this wasn't on the short form Hugo list is beyond me (perhaps people think of it as a contemporary police procedural conspiracy thriller, which given the Wikipedia entry is not that surprising).  Still, to me, it's quite clear by episode twelve that Person of Interest is so much more.  The Kurzweil shout out in the previous episode being the first giveaway, and the ending scene from the machine's point of view being the other.

I shall be keeping out an eye in case they drop in references to Hugo de Garis and Marvin Minsky next, because both of these men have made predictions about the future of AIs, which is a topic I find fascinating as someone who trained as a cognitive behavioural therapist.  It's also a central theme in Ghost Dog, my third novel.  So that's it for another week.  I hope you all had a great weekend, and catch you on the bounce.

Friday, 18 July 2014

LonCon Panel 3: The Knowable Other Update

The Knowable Other is now the fourth panel* I'll be on at LonCon.  It's on Saturday, starting at 19:00, and ending at 20:00 in the London Suite 2 (ExCeL).

The updated blurb for this panel is as follows:
SF has a long history of alien Other characters that function as representations of identities that depart from the dominant paradigm of white, male heterosexuality. Many of these have been problematic: such Others were kept distant and "unknowable", allowing them to be quarantined within a conventionally heroic narrative framework. In recent films and TV shows, however, we see more characters who fulfil the role of Other while being rooted in humanity in some way, such as the rebooted Cylons of Battlestar Galactica, the androids of Almost Human, or the undead of The Returned. Such characters can be seen as more "knowable", lacking the distance of conventional aliens.

What does this shift mean for the exploration of marginalised identities on screen, at a time when we're also seeing more (if still not enough) actual representations of such identities in heroic roles? What are the advantages and disadvantages of human-seeming characters, and what is the impact of presenting them -- all too often -- as antagonists? Is there still a space for new visually alien characters, or are they inevitably tainted by the history that precedes them?


Viktoriya H (Moderator), Michael Morelli, Justina Robson, JY Yang, and me.


I have updated the LonCon Panel 1: The Retrofuturism of JJ Abrams post with location, and a change of panelists too.

Also I've added the location for LonCon Panel 2: 2014 Hugos: Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form panel too.

* Yes, this means I'm on another panel, which I'm totally stoked to have been asked to do.  More details in a  separate post.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Log 2014 13th Jul: Whither the Day

I'm sitting here typing this wondering where the day has gone?  I woke up this morning, had breakfast and went back to bed to read, but fell asleep instead.  I didn't sleep well last night due to being set upon by a gang of mosquitoes that wanted to drink my blood.  When I was on methotrexate they didn't use to bite me, but since I've stopped taking a regular weekly dose of cytotoxic medication mosquitoes find me ultra delicious.

Unfortunately, I'm allergic to mosquitoes bites, and I now have eleven rather large welts on my arms and legs.  I did all the things one has to do to cope when this happens.  So the day has been one of washing, rubbing cream in, and then rubbing in some more, and then applying camomile lotion etc, repeat ad nauseam.

Still mustn't grumble, it could be worse.

This week I've re-written three chapters of my novel, and finished another short story called Cold Outside for submission to my writers group.  My Alpha reader gives me a fifty-fifty chance of them getting it.  In the process of doing this I've started working on three other short story ideas.  I find working on short stories while editing my novel helps me to overcome the feeling of despair I have when I'm trying to polish the deathless prose of my earlier drafts.  Well whatever works, works, right?

Thursday, 10 July 2014

LonCon Panel 3: The Knowable Other

My third panel at LonCon is called The Knowable Other, and  is on Saturday, starting at 19:00, and ending at 20:00.

The blurb for the panel is as follows:

"SF has a long history of (mis)representing identities that depart from the dominant paradigm (e.g. queer and/or non-white characters) as distant and unknowable non-humans. In some recent TV shows, however, we see characters positioned as other yet in some way still rooted in human-ness; the AIs of Almost Human or the undead of The Returned, for instance. How do the stories told about such "knowable others" differ from the use of "conventional" aliens? Do they offer advantages or opportunities for exploring marginalized identities, or is it an inherently conservative gesture that forecloses the possibility of genuine alterity* -- or even an avoidance of writing about actual human diversity?"

I have to admit that when I read the above blurb I was stumped by at least one word that I had to go look up to see what it means.  I've suggested that perhaps a blurb written in plain English would be less opaque, though I'm told this is supposed to be an academic stream panel, so who knows.  "Not I," she said. 

Unfortunately, I can't list the other people who are doing this with me at the moment, because the original moderator and one of the other panelists pulled out, and I've not heard from the other person who I sent an email too.  I understand that this problem is being resolved, and as soon as I know who I'm on this panel with, I shall let you all know the details.

Still, I can see why I was chosen to be on this panel, and look forward to talking about the representation of alien minds in both fiction and film.

NB: alterity is a philosophical term meaning "otherness", strictly being in the sense of the other of two (Latin alter).  I would have just said otherness, and not limited myself by implying a binary, but heh that's the way I roll.