Friday, December 31, 2010

Missing You

Image courtesy of Mirek Drozd ( Just a few pointers to the words of others, acknowledging some of those pioneers and fallen champions of the science fiction realm who have boldly gone into the great beyond this past year.

This humble listing is by no means authoritative or complete.

Thanks, folks. We'll miss you.

In no particular order ...

- D. E. Helbling

"Millenium" image courtesy of Mirek Drozd (Parallel Worlds)

Monday, December 27, 2010

Greatshell writes Mad Skills with, well, mad skills

I raced through Mad Skills like a madwoman. What a fun ride through the looking glass. Young Madeleine Grant goes from average teenager struggling to fit in, to vegetable to government experiment with "mad skills" in a very short period of time. Who can be more vulnerable than someone who is trapped in a body with a damaged brain, who is unable to process her surroundings and voice her needs? Scientists use experimental technology to literally hardwire Maddy's brain. But now that she's part tech and the creators are monitoring their tech, what's next? What's real? How can you tell with someone feeding ideas into your head?

Maddy has her faculties back and then some. The speed at which she analyzes a situation and uses raw materials at hand to build a solution makes MacGyver look like an idiot.

Maddy goes back to school after her operation. News crews show up to see the spectacle. After having her Dad drop her around the corner, she gets to work.

As soon as he was out of sight, she walked to a nearby convenience store and browsed the automotive shelves. Making chemical connections in her head, she bought various items and took them behind the store, where she fashioned a peculiar device out of plastic bottles and volatile compounds. It looked like a toy spaceship. The warhead was a can of degreaser with a steel penetrator made from a lug bolt. It took a few minutes to assemble everything, then she had to hurry with it down the street -- she didn't want to be late for school.

A few blocks over, she found what she was looking for: a clear view of the local TV news affiliate. Estimating trajectory, she angled the device just right and lit it off. It went shoosh! and streaked upward, arcing high over the town common. A second later, there was a crash and a puff of flame -- the station's big satellite dish was on fire. People came out, yelling and screaming, and in minutes the news trucks started showing up.

Maddy passed them going the other way. The front of the school was clear of media people. She slipped onto campus unnoticed, grateful that she hadn't missed the bell.

But her functioning brain has come with a price. Not least of which is her freedom. Still in the balance is her sanity. What's with that talking raccoon, anyway? The more she learns of the project and it's goals, the more the carpet is pulled out from under her. She has no one left to trust.

Greatshell's pacing is excellent. And he manages to introduce boy to girl without things getting all mushy and complicated. Maddy has complications in abundance. And what do you do when you find out you're a lab rat and there are lots of other lab rats like you? What do you do when people you've trusted aren't who you thought they were? Read Mad Skills to find out what Maddy does. You won't be disappointed.

It was a real treat to chat with Walter about Mad Skills, his Xombie books and writing.

AW: You wrote a very convincing female protagonist. And I'm sure those in your Xombie novels are equally well-rendered. Maybe I should ask your wife this next question. Do you seek female input or are you really that good?

WG: My wife says, "He's strongly in touch with his feminine side." Which is funny, since I look like a Mack truck. But any little boy who loves books more than sports can't help but feel a certain kinship with girls, who tend to be the most ferocious early readers and writers. And I was raised by a single woman, so that probably helped.

AW: Okay, what's a Xombie?

WG: A Xombie is a person who has been infected by Maenad Cytosis, the disease called Agent X, which attacks the X chromosome and turns women into unstoppable killing (or rather, infecting) machines.

AW: How do they spread it?

WG: By suffocating their victims--either by strangling, or by literally sucking the breath from their lungs. Agent X doesn't work in the presence of oxygen molecules. The O2 has to first be evacuated from the victim's body.

It's a real "kiss of death". My idea was to create a situation where women were the aggressors, and no man was safe. They call it Sadie Hawkins' Massacre.

AW: Who do you credit with nurturing your unique sense of humor?

WG: My sense of humor probably comes from being a bit of a class clown all through school. I liked being a ham, and also loved reading my stories in class.

AW: Have you ever had your sense of humor get you in trouble?

WG: A few times, yeah. I remember once I was being disciplined in front of my 2nd grade class, and I made goofy faces behind the teacher's back--the class cracked up. But then I got caught, and got slapped with a ruler. The good old days...

AW: Mad Skills is a far cry from your usual satirical horror. You seem to be diversifying. What else can we look forward to?

WG: I have a bunch of different books in various stages of development. A Godzilla-like satire about a man who grows to giant size, called Enormity [original title still listed on website is The Leaf Blower]. A steampunk type story about girl flyers at the dawn of aviation. Also a horror novel about a voodoo-type cult on an island (Catalina Island, actually), called Terminal Island.

AW: What genres do you read?

WG: Everything! Lately, a lot of nonfiction. I just read a bio of William Golding, which made me buy his sea trilogy To the Ends of the Earth. But I grew up on all the science fiction greats, as well as Stephen King.

AW: Where did the idea for Mad Skills come from?

WG: Mad Skills was my attempt to do a psycho-thriller in the vein of The Stepford Wives or Coma. That kind of paranoia thriller that was so popular in the '70s. I also am a fan of Dickey's book Deliverance, and always wanted to do that kind of suspense. My agent suggested I work on something in the urban fantasy genre, and Mad Skills was what I came up with. Actually, once I had the rough idea for the novel, it sort of wrote itself. That doesn't happen often, so it was nice.

AW: In Mad Skills, did you ever get tangled up in your layers? How did you keep track of it all?

WG: I just took a lot of notes on scraps of paper--I have a very cluttered type of organization...but it seems to work.

AW: Will there be a sequel?

WG: I'm in the middle of writing a sequel right now, which I think is going to be great. I'm incredibly excited about it, but I can't give anything away because it's too early in the process...but it'll be good.

AW: Woo Hoo! Make sure I get an ARC. :)

WG: Actually I had an earlier idea for the sequel, which would have been kind of an international spy thriller type thing. But this new idea is much better. And of course you'll get the first ARC!

AW: Do you do conventions?

WG: I've just started. I went to Thrillerfest last year, and I've been to Comic Con a few times, and intend to go again. It's fun, but I'm still too obscure a writer to really be able to greet the fans. Hopefully that will change.

I love meeting people and talking about my work--it's a rare treat for me.

AW: Did you have one big break that got you going? Many authors have a dumb luck story about how they found an agent.

WG: I sold my first novel, Xombies, back in 2004. That was an incredible experience: I had been working the night shift at a submarine plant, and the idea occurred to me that people could escape a zombie-type epidemic aboard a nuclear sub.

So I talked to my wife about it, and she agreed that I should take the time to write it. I quit my job, and a year later I had a book called Dead Sea.

I sent it to several agents, and one of them agreed to rep me. He sent it to an editor at Berkley, and they immediately bought it.

AW: That's awesome!

WG: Then I sold nothing for the next five years! But I wrote the whole time, and suddenly out of nowhere, Berkley contacted me again about doing a Xombies series--three books plus Mad Skills.

Friday, December 24, 2010

A Merry Little Science Fiction Christmas Eve

OK, so it might stretch the definition of science fiction just a bit, but I contend that Episode Six of Season Six of The X-Files, "How The Ghosts Stole Christmas", is festive, fun, and certainly speculative. It is now a Christmas Eve tradition at my house to watch this episode every year, right up there with It's a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street. I am talking about the 1994 version, with Richard Attenborough, Dylan McDermott, and the adorable Mara Wilson.

But before I start down the path of making yet another list, one not appropriate for this forum, let's back up a bit. Free advice: watch that X-Files episode. Do it today, with someone you love. If Ed Asner and Lily Tomlin are not enough to get you to watch it, then maybe the "X-Files Christmas Carol", Episode Five of Season Five, is for you. I won't offer any "why" you should watch these as that would involve spoilers.

If you don't have all nine seasons at your fingertips on your own Media Center (I love my MythTV), you can go out and rent it at your well-stocked video store, borrow it from the library (yes, my library does have X-Files available!), or go to your local Best Buy or Fry's or Borders or Barnes and Noble and buy all of the DVD's. You'll be helping the economy and preserving a fabulous bit of science fiction television history. If you choose to try to watch this from one of the Free On-Line sites, be a bit cautious, as many of these sites are internet landmines loaded with adware downloads and intrustive invasionware.

What does the picture have to do with science fiction? Our family tree this year was a lovely gift from Susan Watkins, another science fiction writer friend, from her tree farm in Oregon.

Whatever you do, whatever you watch or eat or unwrap, however you choose to worship or ponder or otherwise acknowledge the season, get with someone you love and have yourself a Merry Little Christmas.

- D. E. Helbling

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Tron: Legacy reviewed by the reviewed...

I LOVE the science fiction community! Here's a full circle for you. I found Leonardo Ramirez on facebook, Lyda reviewed his graphic novel, now he's reviewing TRON for me. Awesome! Thanks, Lenny!

Tron: Legacy
Review by Leonardo Ramirez

Here’s a movie I’ve been waiting to see for 20 years. But before I dive into what I thought about the movie I will say that even though I had hoped for as long for a sequel to the original, I’m glad it was not made before now for a slew of reasons. The first one being the special effects. This flick yanks the viewer into cyberspace with major “wow factor”. There’s no time wasted on the digitization of Sam Flynn. Which was great because when our reluctant hero finds himself in the world of Tron, the viewer is sucked into a world that is so grandiose and intimidating that you quickly forget that you’re inside the grid. Not only is there more detail to the vehicles, but the 3D gives a sense that you could really be squashed, slammed or “de-rezzed”.

And that’s just the beginning. This movie is not just eye candy. Although the plot seems a little more convoluted than it needed to be, there is still much angst that is shared with the audience in the life of Sam Flynn. I must admit that it’s possible I may be biased in identifying with a guy that grew up with no dad, but here you really feel Kevin Flynn’s absence from Sam’s life, and the effect it can have when you’re raised in those circumstances. Some may see the situation as cliché but I do not. Sam loved his dad and you share in the pain, loss and the gut-wrenching reunion of father and son. That only could have happened after a life-time of separation and, yes, this could have been simulated in a movie made earlier, but I think the larger gap between movies helped in the setup.

The world of Tron has evolved with a vengeance. For us fanboys there are the new light cycles, aerial assault vehicles and the strap-on-your-back jetpack that for comic fans is reminiscent of the new Blue Beetle costume. The settings are elaborate and well-developed given the time that has elapsed since we were last in the world of Tron.

I was very excited and pleased to see that not only did they do their magic on turning back the clock on Jeff Bridges but Bruce Boxleitner as well, which makes sense since he played Tron in the original. I’m chomping at the bit to say something about Tron himself, but I don’t want to give too much away. Let's just say Tron himself has evolved magnificently.

The soundtrack was an amazing fit with a tinge of retro. The original soundtrack was heavy on the synth, giving it that feeling that you were inside a computer. It's the same instance here, except in updated form. The pounding beats made a great companion to the powerful thrust of the transport vessels while the catchy rhythms and fast paced synth made the light cycle race fast and furious.

Jeff Bridges’ performance was fantastic as always. Despite the fact that Kevin Flynn has been gone for 20 years, you get the sense that he always cared for his son despite his absence, and that he truly would have preferred to be with his son had things been different.

As I alluded to before the plot was a little more dicey than it needed to be, and I was left with a few questions during and after the movie, but these seemed minor to me compared to the grand scheme of things.

Tron: Legacy was clearly worth the wait. And yet there is still one question that I can’t get out of my mind ….

Where did the green beans come from?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Echo review from Clare

by Jack McDevitt
Penguin Group (Ace)
Reviewed by Clare Deming

In Jack McDevitt's Echo, readers are introduced while fans are re-introduced to the characters of Alex Benedict and Chase Kolpath in their fifth adventure together. As a dealer in antiquities, Alex Benedict often comes across mysterious objects, peculiar clients, and dangerous foes. His business, Rainbow Enterprises, hooks sellers and buyers up to a mutual advantage, taking a cut of the profits.

When Alex discovers an online listing for a stone tablet engraved with runes in an unfamiliar, possibly extraterrestrial, language, he decides to investigate. The former owner, Alex learns, was Somerset "Sunset" Tuttle, an eccentric archaeologist and anthropologist, whose life's goal was to search out intelligent extraterrestrial life. When humans had initially colonized star systems across our arm of the galaxy eight thousand years ago, many colonies lost contact with the rest of civilization, suffered disease or catastrophe, and are now the subject of all modern day archaeological studies.

Only one intelligent life form, the telepathic Ashiyyur (Mutes), had been discovered. Tuttle had risked his professional reputation on his obsessive search for other intelligent aliens, and was remembered by most in his field as a single-minded kook. His ultimate failure brought him ridicule as he continued to lecture on the importance of his search up until his premature death. If this mysterious tablet had been evidence of an alien civilization, why would Somerset Tuttle have kept this knowledge a secret?

When Alex's assistant, Chase Kolpath, arrives at Tuttle's former residence to retrieve the tablet someone else has beaten them to it. Through further sleuth-work, they track down the culprit -- Doug Bannister, a young man with no apparent connection to Tuttle. After Alex and Chase corner Doug, Doug's wife reveals that he took it as a favor for his aunt, Rachel Bannister.

Oddly, Doug claims Rachel subsequently decided she no longer desired the artifact and had him drop it in the river. The river search is as fruitless as all their previous leads seem to be. Then Chase learns Rachel Bannister and Tuttle were romantically involved. The more they learn about Rachel and World's End Tours, where Rachel quit her interstellar piloting job, the more the mysteries deepen. And Rachel refuses to assist them.

Did the tablet hold an alien secret so terrible that even Tuttle would not reveal it? Before Chase and Alex can continue their investigation, an attempt is made on their lives, convincing Alex that the tablet's secrets are too important to ignore. He and Chase retrace the path of Tuttle's explorations and Rachel's last tour, which puts their business, their friendship, their lives, and even humanity's role in the cosmos in jeopardy.

I had no trouble jumping into this story, even never having read any Alex Benedict novels. Each book in the series encompasses a single mystery and problem to solve, so reading the previous volumes is not critical to the understanding of each subsequent one. The third book, Seeker (2005), won a Nebula award. McDevitt reveals most of the important aspects of this future world without interrupting his brisk pacing.

Echo is told from the point-of-view of Chase Kolpath, which follows the traditional structure of a detective novel, so that when Alex solves Tuttle and Rachel's terrible secret, the reader is kept guessing until Chase catches up with him. The personality differences between Alex and Chase in terms of their goals and ambitions also added to the tension in the novel.

The only subject I felt needed more attention was the Mutes, though I gather their discovery is the subject of the first Alex Benedict novel.

As the stakes continuously escalated, I found myself reading until I had finished the final one hundred pages in one late-night sitting. That rush of story-reading glee makes me thirst for more, and I plan on looking for the earlier volumes sometime soon.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

To Remake or Not to Remake

Scene from 'Metropolis' (1927)That is the question. A friend on a totally unrelated channel (some whimsical fad site called Facebook) complained recently that "they" were doing a remake of True Grit, the classic John Wayne western. Said friend and his armada of cohorts suggested that only The Duke is The Duke, and that this movie (and by implication ALL John Wayne movies) should definitely not be remade. Since I abhor controversy, I quietly stepped away from the thread. (lie lie lie)

The whole "discussion" did get me thinking, though, about what is and is not a good remake, and just what is it that makes a science fiction movie a good candidate for a remake? I had to ask myself: are the rules any different? Are there any of my favorites that I would cringe to see redone? Would someone want to or dare to remake Fritz Lang's 1927 classic Metropolis (pictured here)?

These questions required raw data for further analysis. Yes, I am afraid that it just begged for yet another list, the D. E. Helbling Top Ten Favorite Science Fiction Movies List, of course! That list is, in order from Mostest Loved:
  • Deep Impact (1998) (IMDb)
  • Independance Day (1996) (IMDb)
  • When Worlds Collide (1951) (IMDb)
  • Star Trek IV - The Voyage Home (1986) (SEQUEL) (IMDb)
  • Star Trek: First Contact (1996) (SEQUEL) (IMDb)
  • The Matrix (1999) (IMDb)
  • Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956) (IMDb)
  • Soylent Green (1973) (IMDb)
  • War of the Worlds (2005) (REMAKE) (IMDb)
  • Minority Report (2002) (IMDb)
"What!?" You ask: "Where is Star Wars?" Oh, now what? Now you are demanding more DATA to support my guidelines? The list is not long enough to impart great wisdom on the proper science behind making science fiction remakes? Dang you all to purgatory ... you are forcing me to cough up more information just to prove my point. OK, OK, here is the rest of what now constitutes The D. E. Helbling Top Twenty Five Favorite Science Fiction Movies List:
  • Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977) (IMDb)
  • The X-Files (the movie) (1998) (IMDb)
  • The Omega Man (REMAKE) (1971) (IMDb) (Original: 1964's "Last Man on Earth" starring Vincent Price)
  • Outland (1981) (IMDb)
  • Johny Mnemonic (1995) (IMDB)
  • Dr. Strangelove (1964) (IMDb)
  • Men in Black (1997) (IMDb)
  • Jurarassic Park (1993) (IMDb)
  • The Postman (1997) (IMDb)
  • The Man in the White Suit (1951) (IMDB)
  • 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954) (REMAKE) (IMDb) (Original : apparently 1905's version, with several other remakes before and after)
  • War of the Worlds (2005) (REMAKE) (IMDb) (Original: 1953's version, all of them of course derivative of the radio play version)
  • Altered States (1980) (IMDb)
  • This Island Earth (1955) (IMDb)
  • 2010 (1984) (SEQUEL) (IMDb)

Now before you flame me on the content of the list, remember I did not say these were The Best. They are my Favorites. This is indisputable, and subject to change on a sometimes hourly basis. How does this play into the whole to "To Remake or Not to Remake?" question? Thanks, straight man on the sidelines, for asking. Let's assume for the moment that the reason a movie studio would do a remake is to make money. This will be the Business Motivation. But what about the the actual moviegoer, the science fiction fan? Do the producers and studios care? Surely some do. There are many such film projects where the love shines through. Assuming all the business and marketing concerns were already assessed, here are some reasons why I imagine Hollywood movie producers might go for a remake and presume the fans will come along for the ride:

  1. The original movie has a really good story, but is largely unknown to current (under 30 years old) audiences, barring uber-nerd science fiction movie historian types, so it would seem new to these current ticket buyers. And we would not have to come up with a new idea!

  2. The original movie was quite popular, even successful. With a cast of recognizable faces, backed by more current special effects technology, this cow could be milked again. And we would not have to come up with a new idea!

  3. The original movie sucked quite badly, but it made a few bucks. With a cast of recognizable faces, backed by more current special effects technology, this cow could be milked again. And we would not have to come up with a new idea!

  4. Few people heard of and no one cared about the original movie, but with a cast of cheap actors and a few cheesy effects, this cow might be milked more successfully this time around, even if it goes straight to video and cable TV. And we would not have to come up with a new idea!

  5. The original movie was great over in Finland/Serbia/UK/Australia/Russia (insert favorite film-producing non-US country name here), and with some recognizable faces and some quantity of effects, we can make it seem like we did it first. And we would not have to come up with a new idea!
Sensing a theme? Let's hope you are not lactose intolerant, cuz yes, it sure tastes like there is a whole lotta milkin' goin' on. Sorry, no seriously harsh intent here. I sincerely love most of the new movies that are coming out. From my list of faves above, you can see there are number of remakes and sequels in the lot. So I am not by any means Remake Hostile. I am particularly interested in seeing certain movies remade, with fresh cast, with updated PC-ness or lack of PC-ness, with better effects. In a few cases, I have found previous remakes to be vastly superior to the originals, but never because of the effects ... usually because the script updates and the actors made the story more relevant or more real to me than the originals. So, what are my go-nogo rules for remakes?

  1. If the original movie was done in the last twenty five years, or any direct sequels were done in the last twenty five years, wait another five years and ask the the questions again ... OR ... make another sequel .... OR ... make a prequel.

  2. If the original movie sucked, but the story was good, do the remake!

  3. If the original movie was good, but the story sucked, do the remake!

  4. If the original movie sucked and the story sucked, do NOT do the remake unless you need a financial loss project for tax purposes.(How else can you explain The Langoliers ?)

  5. If the original movie was good or bad or indifferent and the story was or was not good, but the project keeps my favorite actors, writers, and producers employed (sorry, that's another list for another day), do the remake!

Given these criteria, which of the above list are actually eligible for remakes? Only these:

  • When Worlds Collide *
  • Earth vs. the Flying Saucers
  • Soylent Green *
  • Outland *
  • Dr. Strangelove
  • This Island Earth
  • The Man in the White Suit
  • Altered States

A perhaps interesting coincidence ... IMDb suggests that at least a few of them (see *) actually have a remake "in development". Even Metropolis appears to have one such movie bun in the studio oven. Since I have no IMDb Pro account, I cannot see the details on these movies of the future, but I can certainly look forward to them, with anticipation, anxiety, and perhaps a bit of outright terror. Or not.

This whole dissection process had me scratching my head, trying to see patterns where there were none, to sort out the chaos where there were too many patterns. Then I went back and read the original thread on that Facebook fad website page thingee ... and I finally got it. They didn't care about the movie True Grit per se ... they objected to the idea of someone else playing a character that they so firmly pictured in their minds, a character they had come to love, as he was portrayed by The Duke.

Now it all made sense.

I tried to picture Dr. Strangelove without Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, Slim Pickens, James Earl Jones. Even if I did substitute a Jeff Bridges, a Matt Damon, a Josh Brolin, all of whom I thoroughly enjoy as actors (and all of whom are in the new True Grit), I could not imagine them replacing Peter Sellers' Captain Mandrake, or his President Muffley, or his Dr. Strangelove. Same for George C. Scott's General 'Buck' Turgidson, Slim Pickens' Major Kong, or James Earl Jones' Lieutenant Zogg. And who other than Stirling Hayden could so aptly convey General Jack Ripper's keen obsession with "vital fluids"?

I will have to face this same struggle with any remakes of When Worlds Collide, as I cannot easily picture a more suave, yet sincere David Randall than the one delivered by Richard Derr. And Barbara Rush as Joyce Hendron ... no, there cannot be another! Someday, when I am older and greyer and more round, I will be bemoaning the replacement of Will Smith, Tom Cruise, and Keanu Reeves, because it is actors who bring our wonderful science fiction characters to life. It is actors who make the just OK stories interesting and the great stories unforgettable. But that doesn't make the remakes bad. Every generation can and should lay claim to their own list of Favorites.

Someday my children and my grandchildren will, if all is right with the world, form their own lasting, unerasable memories of outstanding acting portrayals in future remakes of remakes of truly awesome science fiction movies, including Blade Runner, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and yes, even Star Wars.

May we all live long enough to see 'em ...

- D. E. Helbling

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Fantastical coastal scenes, fantastical shows coming

We've just returned from a lovely vacation in Pt. Arena. It rained off and on the whole time we were there, but it's so much more dramatic and scenic at the ocean when it storms: the crashing waves, the waving cedars, the circling gulls. Some of the things we witness were a bit fantastic. Don't these things look alien? They reminded us of Kolob & Sylvia from Star Trek's "Cat's Paw" episode.

Photo by Patrick Wilkes

Watch this video and see what you think.

On the way home I wasn't able to get my camera out fast enough for the bird cloud. They actually made three different shapes while we watched. One looked like shmoo. And then shmoo lost his head, then it went back into an ovoid. It was the biggest, most fantastically orchestrated one I've seen. I just wish I could have shared it with you all. But fear not, I found an even more impressive one to share with you.

Don't know what I mean by Shmoo? Here you go:

I'm excited about the new U.S. Being Human. I love the UK one and don't think this one will be better, but at least I can double my pleasure.

TNT is getting into the whole spec fic scene with a new Steven Spielberg series premiering in June of 2011. From the description of the show, Falling Skies sounds like fans of Jericho and Invasion got together and collaborated. I miss them both. The only problem here is the commercials. My nickname for TNT is Too Nany Tommercials. But for Stephen Spielberg, I can make an exception, especially since I can record it on the DVR and zap through them. For now they're building a web comic and have a journal written by one of the characters.

FALLING SKIES opens in the chaotic aftermath of an alien attack that has left most of the world completely incapacitated. In the six months since the initial invasion, the few survivors have banded together outside major cities to begin the difficult task of fighting back. Each day is a test of survival as citizen soldiers work to protect the people in their care while also engaging in an insurgency campaign called 2nd Mass against the occupying alien force.

Written by Paul Tobin and illustrated by Juan Ferreyra, the Falling Skies Web Comic will bridge the gap between the 12-page Falling Skies comic released at New York Comic Con. Be sure to check back every two weeks for a new chapter.

Paul Tobin is a writer from Portland, Oregon, who works on Marvel Comics titles such as Spider-Girl and Marvel Adventures: Spider-Man, among many others. In addition, Paul works for Dark Horse (Predators movie adaptation, Conan) and DC Comics, and has an upcoming graphic novel (Gingerbread Girl) from Top Shelf, created in collaboration with his wife, artist Colleen Coover. Paul is also very bald and works on novels.

Juan Ferreyra began drawing comics with Small Gods for Image, and then Emissary and Lazarus for Image's imprint Shadowline. He worked on Dark Horse's Rex Mundi while at the same time coloring Conan and the Midnight God and Solomon Kane: Death's Black Riders. Now he's working on a creator-owned book called La 6ème heure for French publisher Soleil. He lives in Argentina.

Andrew Dalhouse made his first appearance coloring comics with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre for Avatar Press. Andrew followed this macabre masterpiece with such books as Marvel Zombies: Evil Evolution, Lady Death, and Hack/Slash, to name but a few. Mr. Dalhouse's work currently can also be found in Disney's Darkwing Duck, Boom's The Incredibles, and Dark Horse Comics' The Occultist.

Nate Piekos, AKA Blambot, graduated with a BA in design from Rhode Island College. Since founding, he has lettered comic books for Marvel, DC, Oni Press, and Dark Horse. Nate's designs have also been featured worldwide in print, on television, and in feature films.

For more information visit
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Thursday, December 9, 2010

Clausploitation - A Holiday Film Tradition Comes of Age

The idea is not new. Santa Claus in the midst of a violent cinematic adventure is a time honored tradition.

This 'Clausploitation' was forshadowed brilliantly in Richard Donner's 1988 classic Scrooged. In this movie, crazed (a.k.a. highly successful) TV exec Frank Cross, brought to vibrant life by Bill Murray, envisions the ultimate Santa Destruction flick, complete with a bullet riddled rescue by Lee Majors.

Since then we have had a number of films involving Santa in a less than peaceful setting, sometimes as the actual perpetrator of evil. A great example: the 2005 "Santa is really a demon who lost a bet" movie, Santa's Slay, a film just big enough to book Robert Culp, Fran Drescher, and Chris Kattan.

Then there is the victim twist ... the story where someone does something bad to Santa, trying to pull him out of the Christmas picture. Who did this better than Jack, the Pumpkin King, in The Nightmare Before Christmas? Timothy Burton's wonderfully stylistic movie had Santa all ready for destruction at the bug-formed hands of the monstrous Oogie Boogie, a character so sinister that he was apparently cloned later in the supernatural horror film (and personal favorite) Constantine.

So what does all this have to do with science fiction? Well, it seems we have a new entry on the Sad Santa roster this year, a movie with definite science fiction elements called Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale.

Warning ... mild SPOILERS, so stop reading now if you want to avoid them.


Still with us? OK!

This Finnish export starts out with the discovery of a huge burial mound. With the usual arrogance and corporate greed, they go ahead and do the unthinkable: they dig it open.

Is this Raiders of the Lost Ark meets Preditor vs. Alien? Not quite. Here's the official STORY, from the English version of the movie's official website:
A film for those who think
they don't believe in Santa Claus anymore
In the depths of the Korvatunturi mountains, 486 metres deep, lies the closest ever guarded secret of Christmas. The time has come to dig it up!

This Christmas everyone will believe in Santa Claus.

Based on award winning shorts of director Jalmari Helander that have already acquired a cult reputation in the internet.
Later in the story, a trio of characters arrive who's appearance in the trailers and posters remind me alternately of Larry, Darryl, and Darryl from the old Newhart show or of Jacob and Hank, the hapless Billy Bob Thornton and Bill Paxton brother characters from A Simple Plan. A hostage situation ensues. (end of spoilermania)

I have not actually seen this movie yet, but I love the premise and the trailers ... and the short films. And I am liking bigtime that the film is not a Hollywood project or even a US project, but rather a product of a whole 'nuther creative fountain, fed by the wellspring of funny, offbeat Internet-hosted short films. No offense to the US film industry intended ... it's just nice to see that our American fondness for creating twisted new spins on old tales is indeed a worldwide tradition.

I have just found out what the showtimes are for my city (click HERE, PDXers!). That, and I have a free "sorry our theater is broken" movie ticket left over from when the recent Harry Potter movie had 'projector issues' at the Regal Cinema up the street.

Now if I can just find someone to go with me ...

- D. E. Helbling

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Evolutionary Void, speculative writing and reading, and ET

Busy, busy, busy! So busy that my two emails had more than 3K emails in the inboxes alone. And that doesn't even include the work email. Obviously, it's time to get off some mailing lists. I've had press releases and news tips piling up for Science Fiction and Other ODDysseys as well. I have preserved the best for you.


If you're a writer, you know how important it is to find the right market for your blood, sweat and tears manuscript. That's where Duotrope comes in. It's an incredibly searchable database. You can set all your search parameters from pay scale to genre to word limits and more. Please slide on over and visit this impressive resource site and see what you can do to help. Without donations, some features may have to be subscription only. Read more on their donations page. Thanks goes to Julie Andrews (writer, not singer) for this heads-up.


Also from Julie:

Applications are being accepted for the 2011 Clarion workshop in San Diego.

Clarion is an intensive writing boot camp for writers of fantasy and science fiction stories. Last year's writers in residence included John Scalzi, Elizabeth Bear and Kij Johnson. Eighteen promising students are selected each year. The workshop lasts six weeks, June 26 - August 6, 2011, and students and teachers stay on the UCSD campus.

Application period: December 1 - March 1.
Applicants must submit two short stories with their application.


My review of Evolutionary Void by Peter F. Hamilton just posted over on Mostly Fiction. This is THE BEST series I've read for years. I love the Commonwealth universe and still miss it several months later. I interviewed him here after reviewing the second book in the series, The Temporal Void.

Here is an interview he did with MacMillan Books a couple of months ago.

And part two of the same interview:


Kay Holt of Crossed Genres magazine shares the following:
#1 – Crossed Genres just released "A Festival of Skeletons" by Rachel Astruc. It's a darkly fantastic comedy that still makes me chuckle, even though I've read it several times now. Sure, I'm the editor, but if you like sass and suspense, I think you'll enjoy reading "A Festival of Skeletons".

#2 – Speaking of Crossed Genres, the magazine is currently accepting submissions for the sci-fi and fantasy TRAGEDY issue. The two new editors, Natania Barron and Jaym Gates, are excellent ladies and very Broad-friendly.

#3 – The Science in My Fiction blog is also seeking short story submissions. All stories must be inspired by actual science (please include links to relevant articles).

#4 – if you haven't discovered the Geek Mom blog yet, mosey on over. It's a cool place to be a geek and a gal.


Latest UFO Sightings is one-stop reading for all that's new on the ET front.


I have lots more reviews coming soon to SFOO, thanks to my great review team. I still review a few myself. Some books are just to yummy to pass up.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Raggedy Chan explores immigrant struggles through fable

Camille Picott/Joey Manfre
Pixiu Press (56 pages)

Review by Lyda Morehouse

Standing above them was a Jung-wu. Yao-chi had heard of these strange humans, but this was the first she had ever seen. The man had longish hair of white yarn. More white yarn sprouted from the tip of his chin. His flesh was woven cotton, his eyes stitched of black threat. He wore a red bow tie, blue jacket and red-and-white-striped pants.

‘I’m Raggedy Sam,’ said the Jung-wu. ‘Welcome to America…’”

The story of Raggedy Chan follows the adventures of a Chinese princess as she journeys to America to find the rain dragon which was stolen from her homeland. The events of Raggedy Chan’s tale are actually told to a preschool-aged girl, Emma, by her auntie.

Fifth generation Chinese-American author Camille Picot has written an incredibly charming coming-to-America story in the style of a Chinese fable. The illustrations by Joey Manfre are beautiful, particularly those of dragons, and add an extra dimension to the story.

I admit that I resisted reading this book for a long time because it had too many words. I was expecting a graphic novel, but this is, in point of fact, an illustrated novella. Once I adjusted my expectations, however, I found myself swept up in this tale.

As I mention above, the fable is told as a frame story. Often I find myself less compelled by one or the other parts of a story like this, but I was impressed by how tightly interwoven these two stories are -- particularly at the end. This is a lovely book, and, though the audience is likely young adults/middle grade students, it works just as well for any adult interested in fairy tales that are Chinese, American, and a unique combination of both.

To learn more and purchase the book with or without matching Raggedy Chan doll or teacher study guides, visit the Pixiu Press website.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Trekkie giveaway and NaNo kudos

First of all, my heartfelt congrats to all those who participated in NaNoWriMo, whether you stayed the course or not. I didn't, but I did learn something. I'm a short story writer. At least for now. I love writing them, especially flash. Maybe I should rejoin Other Worlds Writers' Workshop, so I can do their semiannual SSIAWs (Short Story in a Week challenges). I wrote some really good stories with those. Well I think they were. And most of them were published.

And the winner of the copy of Night of the Living Trekkies by Kevin David Anderson and Sam Stall is... Shauna Roberts. Congrats!

Alas, no one guessed the bonus question. I guess I get to keep another Quirk poster. Darn! ;) What was the question, you say? Who was the talkative, blue crew member on Star Trek Next Gen? That's the Bolian barber, Mr. Mott. Captain Picard even posed as him - in name, not color - on the "Starship Mine" episode.

Here he is, a little more than 3 min. into this clip from "Schisms".

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Gift of SF – It’s Not Just for Birthdays, Arbor Day, and Easter Anymore

Yes, son, it is cool to buy SF stuff for the holidays! Today is, of course, the day we in the US celebrate Thanksgiving. The Canadians, ahead of us in so many more things than we willingly admit, already did theirs, Jour de l'Action de grâce, last month. But it's never too late for a party. After we finish the turkey (or ham), the fixin’s, the pie (or pies), the football game (or marathon Risk game), and the perfunctory family chats about holidays of yesteryear, eventually our minds turn toward the other part of this weekend’s traditions: Black Friday. Tomorrow, some of us will be up at pre-dawn, joining the rest of the “Open Open Open!” crowd for that great bargain price on the latest electro-high-def-wonder-spiffy-amazing gizmo. Still others of us will be at home, cowering in fear for what our significant others are doing to our cumulative credit card debt.

Yet there are other ways to gather your holiday gifts, ways that say “Enjoy!”, “Live life!”, and “Celebrate!” without busting the bank or forcing you to merge with the larger herd of shopping frenzied humanity. Yes, my dearest daughter / son / wife / husband / girlfriend / mom / dad / Barely Acquainted Facebook Friend (BAFF), you can learn the ways of the shopping force and become an SF shopping master like your “person of interest” before you. Just buy me something from the Science Fiction gift tree.

Other than making me happy, which of course is a virtue with its own rewards, there is all the good it does to support our beloved authors, artists, and creators of all these wonderful, inspiring, imaginative worlds and characters. No facetiousness here: they feel the tough times just like we do. So throw them a bone and spare me the usual trip to Goodwill to donate all those "imaginative" sweaters.

Don’t know what to buy me? Hmmm, lemme think. Oh, yeah! Here’s a short list:
  • Cool stuff from Bradley W. Schenck’s Retropolis line of inspired SF art wares. These include T-shirts, coffee mugs, and the usual Café Press fare, but with some outstanding illustrations. And yes, there are Bradley’s books, too. My favorite item has got to be the Space Piracy poster, though it would make a great coffee mug, too. And the clocks, boxes, and blank books are also pretty cool. Other favorites of mine include Don’t Trifle with the Big Brain and Ask Me about My Death Ray. It would not be fair to skip over Bradley's gorgeous Celtic art works, either. The style, design, and color choices are just very wow indeed.

  • A copy of Digital Domains, edited by Ellen Datlow. I heard good things about this anthology and it speaks to my love of the fine stories that appeared in OMNI under her watch back in the day. (See Ann Wilkes’ intereview of Ellen here: )

  • A copy of New Model Army, by Adam Roberts, mostly because I want to see what the fuss is about and see if I can detect ‘literary scifi’ within.

  • A copy of the Inception DVD. Yeah, I know I saw it in the theater, but my DVD player really wants to play it!

  • A copy of the DVD set for the original Invaders TV series, seasons 1 and 2.

  • Tickets to Tron Legacy! But at the theater with the good seats and the popcorn made the same day we see the movie. ( Catch Ann Wilkes’ “TRON Legacy – First Glimpse” article here: )

  • A decent copy of the entire Star Trek TOS on DVD. It’s not too late for me to step into the 90’s. Buy me something slightly newer, even if you get it used off of eBay. My old, crusty VHS-conversion copies are frail and pale compared to the DVD versions.

  • A subscription to Analog, Asimov's, Locus, or Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine.

That’s all I can think of for now. But hey, you know what I like. There are literally hundreds of very awesome sites out there with amazing fiction content, art content, even SF-inspired music. If you are having trouble figuring out the whole on-line purchase thing, I know at least a couple of close friends/relatives who can help you. And yes, Holiday SF shopping can also be green, or at least greener. You can always drop by my favorite bookstore if you want to think globally but shop locally.

This year, I promise not to peek.

- D. E. Helbling

Image courtesy of Bradley W. Schenck. Any plugs for Bradley's wares and those of other authors, artists, and enterprises are unencumbered, "for the love" recommendations.

Lincoln Note: Last week I mentioned the Time Lincoln comic from Antarctic Press, which I inadvertantly ordered in hardcopy, thinking I had ordered access to on-line copy. Well, the magazine arrived in just 3 mail days and I really enjoyed the issue. I don't really need more reasons to buy stuff, given that half or more of my volitional spending is already on books, but this could lead me to a new comic buying habit. Hey, fun is fun!

Happy Thanksgiving! Shopping or no, a sincere wish to you all for a safe and enjoyable holiday weekend, no matter how much snow, ice, wind, bad stuffing, and airport probing you have to endure.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Peering behind the curtain with Juliette Wade

I asked Juliette to guest blog about constructing alien languages, because I find it fascinating and thought you would, too.

Sneak Peek at Khachee

Thanks for inviting me, Ann! 

Khachee is the language featured in my latest Analog Science Fiction and Fact story, "At Cross Purposes" (out in bookstores right now!). Let me start by saying that I never design an alien language to require a lesson before reading - so if you don't read this, you should be just fine enjoying the story! However, you can expect a bit of insider knowledge to come from this introduction. I promise not to divulge any spoilers!

Because the aliens in "At Cross Purposes" have a playful side and are easily excited, I designed them on the basis of river otters. This meant I could use all kinds of river-otter-like similes and metaphors in the story, having them compare things to water, to fish, to boats, etc. I also looked for inspiration about river otters' social structure and the sounds they made. These provided major influences for the aliens' language and behavior.

First were the sounds of their language. 

I found recordings of river otter sounds - this one among others - and tried to see if I could imagine extracting consonant-vowel patterns out of it. What I got from all the whistling and clucking was that vowels would be long, that consonants would have a striking quality, and that there would be a tendency to duplicate things. Based on this, the first word I created was the name of the species: Cochee-coco. It has a meaning, which I'll discuss further below.

To make the consonants of Khachee stand out, I decided the language would have a more extensive system of voiceless affricates than English does. Affricates are sounds like "ch." These sounds begin as stops (p/t/k), and then release into fricatives (f/s) at the same location:

  • t->sh = ch

  • t->s= ts

Thus, in addition to "ch," I decided that Khachee would use "ts," "pf," and "kh." To make the contrast with English clear, I decided Khachee wouldn't use plain fricatives at all. A Khachee mispronunciation of the name "Doris" would therefore be "Dorits."

The other thing I picked out from otter life is that they have a small number of young in a litter - usually one to three.

I had independently come up with the idea of a society where people were always born as twins, and therefore this fit well with what I had in mind to do. Cochee-coco are always born in pairs, and while each has a name, they go by the name of the pair. The main characters of "At Cross Purposes" are a brother Chkaa, and a sister Tsee, who go by "ChkaaTsee."

This brings me to the two organizing principles of Cochee-coco social life: Purpose, and Apfaa. I'll have to be a bit vague about Purpose, but I can say that every individual has one - it even becomes part of their name - and it's one of their reasons for being. For this reason, when I named the species, I decided not to have them call themselves "the people" (a common strategy I have used before). The direct translation of Cochee-coco is "Pursue Purpose, pursue-pursue." The name of their language, Khachee, translates as "speak Purpose." Morphologically, it breaks down as follows:

  • chee=purpose
  • co=pursue
  • kha=speak

Obviously, Purpose is something they get very excited about! However, it is a chaotic force in their society because it tends to drive individuals apart. A society based on Purpose wouldn't work without something else to temper it. I therefore set up the opposing force, "apfaa," to rein Purpose in. I actually spent a long time trying to find just the right English word for this, but finally gave up and decided to create one. It's the expression of the twin relationship, established at birth and continued throughout life, and it includes both attraction and repulsion between pair members: "the duality that holds agreement in one hand and conflict in the other."

The presence of these two forces is really important to the language, because Tsee, the alien point-of-view character, constantly judges situations and events around her in terms of either Purpose or apfaa. Apfaa is in fact the basis of the most distinctive feature of Khachee: turn-taking rules. 

English is spoken by individuals. When we speak in conversation, we say what we want to say; then, as we listen to what the other person is saying, we keep our ears alert for natural breaking points. These breaking points are opportunities for us to seize our own turn again. If you've ever felt someone has interrupted you, usually it's because a person began speaking in a place that you didn't recognize as a natural turn-taking break. There's wide variation in what counts as a proper breaking point for turn-taking, even within the usage of English.

Khachee is not spoken by individuals; it's spoken by pairs. Any member of a pair can initiate a statement, question, etc., but the turn is not complete until it has been "chimed" by the other member of the pair. The person "chiming" is responsible for commenting on the quality of the information provided by the initiator. The chimer will indicate whether what has been said is true, or an opinion, or something they overheard, something they want, something they think is horrible, etc. Starting to speak before the second member of the pair has had a chance to chime counts as an interruption. When a Khachee speaker listens to a human speaking, she will tend to assume that the speaker is not finished. This can - and does - lead to awkwardness!

The effect of the Khachee turn-taking strategy for the story's purposes - when it's rendered in English - is a distinctive intonational pattern. This pattern resembles call-and-response, something like what you might have heard in church contexts. I deliberately had to stop myself from including the phrase, "Testify, sister!" because it would have evoked the church context too directly. The turn-taking strategy also influences the way that Khachee speakers organize their own thoughts. They'll tend to express judgments of their own thoughts, acting internally as a pair-member for themselves.

Here are some examples.

A pair turn

Tsee: We won't leave you to speak alone, but will return you to your people.

Chkaa: Truth!

An individual's thought

Pointed at us are weapons, deduced - these aliens are as wary as the Rodhrrrdkhi, suspected.

The last thing I'll mention here is the question of pronouns. When I first imagined the Cochee-coco and their focus on pairs, I toyed with the idea of not using the pronoun "I" at all, but having members of the pair think of themselves as "this half" and "that half." When I tried it, I discovered it was disastrous from a story perspective: it became difficult to track who the alien protagonist was. Pronouns are extremely resistant to change, so watch out for them! In the end, I decided to use a different, more subtle strategy - a strategy of avoidance. Tsee will typically talk about "we," the pair, and won't refer to herself as "I" unless she has to draw a deliberate comparison between her own actions and those of her brother.

I hope you've found this intriguing, possibly useful to your own thoughts on language design, and that you'll take an opportunity to pick up the story to see Khachee in action! Thanks again to Ann for inviting me.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Lincoln: Still Busy Changing the Future

This Friday, November 19, marks the anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's famous Gettysburg Address, one of the most well known and celebrated speeches in American history. does a fine job of concisely reporting on this moment in time. Regardless of our individual left/right/middle political leanings, few Americans will disagree with the notion that he was indeed a great president and an inspiring leader, one who served the nation with tremendous courage during some truly troubled times. The key message of his 272 word speech is one of dedication toward making a just future for all. Who can argue against such a message?

What can I say? I am a Lincoln Lover.

What makes Lincoln so inspiring in real life also makes him a great character in many works of fantasy and science fiction, in comic, film, and written form. My first exposure to Abe as an SF character came in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, where he reminded us to "Be excellent to each other" and to "Party on, dudes!" Robert V. Barron aptly played Abe in what was one of four different Lincoln portrayals he did over the years.

Not all Lincoln appearances in Speculative Entertainment Land are quite so inspiring. Take Time Lincoln, for example, as seen in this YouTube clip: Aqua Teen Hunger Force - Time Lincoln . But then inspiration takes on different forms for different people. Even this little segment acknowledges Abe's likely impact on the future with its people-and-buggy ending. And I am guessing that the comic book version (Antactric Press Time Lincoln Issue 1) is a little more in depth. ( I might actually know, but when I bought the issue, I thought I was purchasing read-me-right-now e-copy, and ended up ordering a hardcopy instead. As of this writing, the issue is still in transit, so I can't tell you the real story just yet. )

Of course we have a bloodsucker tie-in because lately there simply must be a vampire-themed version of, well, everything. Here we get Seth Grahame-Smith's Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (YouTube clip). I heard from several personally trusted sources that Seth's Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was a lot of fun. I cannot say anything very specific about Seth's Abe book because I have not read it. But esteemed SFOO site owner and writing friend Ann Wilkes highly recommends it in her review of the book on the Mostly Fiction Book Review site.

This is no exhaustive list of all things fictionally Lincolnesque. But it would be boldly beyond incomplete without mention of a Star Trek tie in. Trekkies know of what I speak: "The Savage Curtain" episode of the original series, from March of 1969, where Abe again gets to battle evil doers and fight for justice.

Past, present, or future, I just can't imagine him doing anything else.

- D. E. Helbling

Special Note: Kudos to Jeff Wilkin, who wrote another article on fictionalized Abe I found after writing this entry.

Because bandwidth is cheap, but ideas are not, below are those 272 words, just in case you didn't memorize them back in middle school.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

- Abraham Lincoln, November 19, 1863