Sunday, 25 August 2013

Stargate SG1


Well it's the end of week two on my project and I managed to type a useful 8,803 words this week, which brings the running total up to 15,150 words in total.  So not a bad place to be at the end of two weeks of writing, especially considering that Friday was a bad day where I wrote nothing because I was too tired to stay awake.  One of those days when my rheumatoid arthritis got the better of me.

Yesterday I stated reading Charlie Stross's Atrocity Archive and a rollicking good read it is too.  I, being typical me, read the second book in the series first, but even though the novels have a cast of characters that carry over from one to the other; I think I can safely say you can read them out of order, on the basis that I did and nothing untoweird came out of Planck space and turned me into goo.

I'm also reading Roger Penrose's The Emperor's New Mind, which is less than easy going due to the amount of mathematics strewn about the pages, and a tendency to literalism to illustrate a point e.g.: three pages full of zeros and ones to illustrate a u Turing machine code in binary.  I think it may take some considerable time for me to finish this book as it makes for slow reading.

We are still watching Stargate SG1 and are now well into the second season of this long standing show.  Some episode are a little bland, or the tropes have become too familiar, but there again this show started in 1997, which is sixteen years as the crow flies.  So I'm pretty disposed to liking this show as it has lots of good memories attached to it, and reminded me why I spent ten years playing in live action role playing game inspired by it.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Writing Log 130818: Ghost Dog

Last week I started work on my third novel, working title Ghost Dog.  Due to fighting off the lurg after attending GeekFest for three days last weekend I didn't manage to write everyday, so this weeks total is is only 6,079 words.  This is not as much a I would have liked to have written, but all things considered is pretty good.  What is interesting is that the second chapter has taken me in a new direction for character development that I'm told by my Alpha reader will have serious consequences for me; as in the character will now get truly pissed off at me if I do bad things to those around her.

This is the first time I've really encountered the reader owning the character that I'm writing, which I heard about on the panel where writers were talking about their experiences with their editors at GeekFest.  It is an interesting response that generates quite strong feelings of possessiveness within me.  Still, better now than later.

Wolf in Shadow


We've been re-watching Stargate SG1, which surprisingly stands up rather well all things considered.  The pilot episode in particular being very engaging, and I feel that new shows could well take a leaf from old ones about what makes a successful pilot that engages the viewer.  This being Stargate SG1, we shall be watching episodes for some considerable time, given that there are ten seasons to get through.  I shall probably call for breaks between seasons to watch new stuff that has caught my attention; like Arrow for instance.

Reading wise I've just finished reading John Lambshead's Wolf in Shadow that was a real page turner.  Liked all the characters and I'm looking forward to a sequel in due course.  I was reminded when reading a particular passage that my friend Alex Stewart had mentioned this book to me sometime ago, and that I had forgotten all about it.  It's a gritty urban fantasy story set in London and it has made me start pondering about my own London Occult novel that I have waiting for when the stars are right and I can finish writing it.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Nine Worlds Convention 2013

Left to right: John Medaney, Paul Cornell and myself.  I'm already looking like death warmed up and this was my first panel of the convention.
I had presupported the Kick Starter for Nine Worlds GeekFest when I first heard about their intent to run a multi-media SF&F convention In London, and was looking forward to attending this new event.  The crew who ran the convention did a very good job, and have already announced that they are running a second one next year.  The date for one's diary being the 8th to the 10th of August 2014.

About the only down side is that the 2014 London based SF&F Worldcon is running the week after, GeekFest and I'm not sure I'm up for two weekends on the trot, just because of how exhausting a full on weekend can be.  Anyway, I went as a punter, but found myself on three panels after my friend John Medany asked for volunteers on his FB page. 

The first panel I went to see on Friday was Cake or Death?  Plot, Pacing & Character Death, with Cake.  This had Paul Cornell, Zen Cho, Charlie Stross, Liz de Jager and Marcus Gipps who were all very entertaining.  Can't remember who was moderator though, and it's not in the programme book. This was a light paced discussion on giving the readers what they want and then taking it away from them, before giving some back i.e. start a story in a happy place, throw bad stuff at the protagonist and make things go horribly wrong, before resolving the story with a reward, which may include dying to save the world (cake & death).

Straight after this I was on my first panel with the the rather more famous Paul Cornell, Roz Kaveney and Adam Christopher talking about Comic Book Heroes on the Small Screen with John Medany as moderator.  I thought that this panel rollicked along and had a reasonable crowd considering it was held in the Radisson overflow hotel.  My only real contribution here was to suggest that small screen was now outmoded as a descriptor, and perhaps serial story format might be a better term.  I also made an observation that super heroes tend to more popular during depressions.  We discussed en passant a lot of shows and it does seem like we are in for some treats in the near future.  I'm so going to be buying the Arrow when it comes out on disc at the end of September.

After that it was time to eat and then chill with friends.

Saturday we were up bright and early, and I really don't do mornings.  Mind you none of my friends do either, and certainly some panelists were also commenting on the whole mornings are overrated thing.  I think we can all see the theme here.  So the first item we went to see was The Future of Technology and Society with Charlie Stross, Cory Doctorow, Dr. Lilian Edwards and Helen Keene moderating.  This was a very thought provoking panel and Lilian Edwards' contribution about law was especially so.

After that we went to The Publishing Panel Q&A with Editors and Agents with Marcus Gipps, Ian Drury, Anna Gregson,  Juliet Mushens and Jared Shurin; I remember Ian Drury being on the panel, but he's not listed in the programme book.  I assume this was a last minute change with Stefan Fergus, but I may have remembered this wrong.  My partner found the comments quite depressing; as in the general pessimism in the industry about having the resources to bring new talent to the market.

After that we went to a debate on Is our Future Utopian or Dystopian? SF Authors Decide.  Tricia Sullivan, Jaine Fenn, Cory Doctorow, Charlie Stross were the stalwart panelists, and I believe Tom Hunter was the moderator.  Cory was about the only person on the panel who saw any light for the future and possible routes to a better society, while the rest of the panel were largely pessimistic with the caveat that they are authors and dystopia sell better, because there is more conflict.  As Jaine said, "I blow things up."  As an observer I would comment that the future is probably not going to be either, unless as Charlie said, "We get a collapse of civilisation and humanity can't rebuild because we've used all the easily accessible resources."

I then went off and did a bit of MIB stuff for Steve Jackson Games until it was time for me to go to the next panel I was on.

This was on Reunification: Star Trek versus Star Wars, which was about the effect of the Star Trek franchise now that J.J. Abrams is signed to direct the next Star Wars film.  I was definitely the left field panelist on this item, which had John Medany as the moderator, James Swallow, David McIntee and Jenny, whose name like mine isn't in the programme book, but she was awesome.  Everyone else had written for the franchise except me; my only qualification for being there was my background in game design, and being a player, which meant most of my comments were offside.

After that it was time to eat.  Then we went to see Helen Keene do a stand up routine about the space race that illuminated the history from a whacky you can't make this stuff up perspective.  She was a hoot.

On Sunday we dragged our weary corpses in for the ten o'clock panel that I had so foolishly volunteered to be on.  This was called Howdy Partner: SF Westerns, which I thought I held my own on.  Helped by my interest in Firefly and having seen Defiance recently.  Ostensibly the panel was about do we want more SF Westerns, or more shiny starships, or gritty starships fleeing the oncoming apocalypse?  I was on this with John Medany, who was again the moderator, while David & Lesley McIntee brought gravitas to the discussion as I cracked jokes at John's expense for my entourage consisting of Susan, Julie and Clive whom I had dragged along with me.

After this we went to Racefail 101, which was a talk about racial stereotypes in fiction.  Zen Cho, Tade Thompson, Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, Stephanie Saulter with Anne Perry as the moderator (However I don't remember Stephanie Saulter being on the panel, but another woman who had just had her first novel published whose name I forget).  After this I ended up dropping in on several other panels with Jilie until we settled on Kinda Gay: LGBT Representation in Genre TV, which just caught my interest from how the topic of gay characters are treated on TV.  This had Roz Kaveney, Gary Russell. Alex Fitch and Cleo (only name given in the programme book) talking and answering questions from the audience.  This had an interesting and lively discussion on stereotypes and lazy story telling.

After that we both decided that we were all conventioned out and went home.  I'm still recovering; I've been fighting off con crud and now I'm coming down with a sore throat, which as I said makes me think that attending two convention in one week next year will be too much like hard work.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

You Are Not So Smart

I said I was going to write something back here on my CBT blog about You Are Not So Smart by David McRaney, but after writing about Into the Woods I thought it apropos to do it here instead.  You Are Not So Smart is a collection of essays on why we as humans make so many mistakes when it comes to the way we think about things, and it has made me reflect on the way I will portray characters in future.

I've already commented on John Yorke's Into the Woods use of Freudian and Jungian theory for developing characters here.  One thing I will add is that the transition of psychology from being a branch of philosophy to becoming an area of study in its own right was driven by Freud, but he did not do good science.  By that I mean he was not skeptical of his theories, and did not seek to prove the null hypothesis through well documented experiments that could be replicated by others, which is the hallmark of good science.  So, for me, basing character development on Freud, or Jung's theory of character, which has no basis in science just seems wrong, but there again I would call myself a science fiction author.

So, if you are interested in understanding the current level of knowledge about how humans behave then I can thoroughly recommend You Are Not So Smart.  The descriptions of the various ways that people end up deluding themselves into thinking that they are doing the right thing, and the experimental research that supports the behaviours are all nicely encapsulated, which makes for easy reading.  This book is perfect fodder for when you want to write real villains; showing how they got to their position of deluding themselves into believing that they are doing the right thing.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Into the Woods


This is going to be me pontificating about John Yorke's Into the Woods book that has the subtitle of A Five Act Journey into Story.  As I said before I found this book a very involving read that presented a compelling argument about the nature of stories, namely that they must have a beginning, middle and an end, which seems kind of obvious.  However, what is discussed is that what makes the middle of the story so important to the reader is the structure of the story; namely the acts that a story is broken down into.

What John Yorke discusses is that the modern three act structure is rooted in the older Socratic five act form, and that to understand that the drama comes from understanding the psychological necessity for the mid-point.  At least if I've understood him properly that is?  I'm sorry if that sounds a little quizzical, but given the academic nature of some of the arguments being discussed, more summary and less footnotes to support the thesis, antithesis and synthesis of the necessity of acts as part of the structure of story would have been a good thing.

I have one final quibble with the authors use of Freud and Jung to underpin his arguments for the development of characters in stories.  Namely that psychology has come on a long way since the days of Freud and Jung, and that their work doesn't meet the criteria of being evidence based and open to scientific testing.

However, I learnt a lot of things about story structure, the necessity of acts and their purpose that I wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone who wants to be a writer.  It is that good.