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Built To Last

          For some reason building technology tends to get left out of the discussion when people look at science fiction. It’s always there-- it’s just never the hot topic. Maybe it’s not active enough. Maybe it doesn’t have the sexy appeal of rocket ships or green alien women. There are exceptions, but even those exceptions tend to be limited in how the place where all the action happens is handled. The part that interests me is just how large a part buildings play in science fiction and fantasy stories, how completely integral they are and how those descriptions seem fade to “mere” background.

          Having spent some time working in architecture, I’ve struggled with what most folks know about the field. Many of my friends have heard me rant when confronted with somebody going on and on about Frank Lloyd Wright – particularly if that’s the only name in architecture they know. I tend to counter them immediately by saying, “He was a short ego-maniac that made short buildings with leaky roofs…” That rarely goes over well. It is hyperbole to make a point. While the vision and the design are undeniable, the last thing designed by Mr. Wright was in the 1950s. There are decades of design that have come on since then.

          Getting to know what modern architects are designing and constructing should be an important part of conversations about the future. What technologies are going into the places where we live, work, eat and play every day? How will we interact with those places? Will they make us comfortable or will they be sterile and uninviting? How will those places look and feel to the people that use them every day? How will they look to the people that will see these structures 50, 100 or more years in the future? Will they last that long given the materials that are used?

          Once you’ve taken a few moments to consider the technology and other aspects of architecture, consider the deeply visual nature of those designs. I’m going to stay away from the written descriptions

 

and the worlds of fantasy and stick strictly with science fiction that has made it to the big screen.

          What would Blade Runner be if you didn’t get to see Los Angeles?

          Would The Fifth Element be the same if New York wasn’t so huge you needed to have flying cabs?

          Where would Luke be if Bespin wasn’t a city in the clouds?

          There are so many amazing structures out there and so much technology that can be added to them that architecture, the built environment, should be a topic of study for the science fiction community. Take some time, look around. Learn who some of the people are that give us the places where the future happens. Next time you’re out someplace try slowing down and looking up at the structures around you. You won’t be the only one, and you might see something that will spark your imagination.

          Bonus stuff – there have been some interesting articles lately by people that think something similar. Check these articles out.

By Eric Hardenbrook

 

Gizmodo: World’s worst architect? http://gizmodo.com/frank-gehry-is-still-the-worlds-worst-living-architect-1523113249

 

The Onion: http://www.theonion.com/articles/frank-gehry-no-longer-allowed-to-make-sandwiches-f,8716/?ref=auto

 

iO9: Organic Brooklyn? http://io9.com/will-brooklyn-look-like-this-in-a-century-1523174170

 

Structures that belong in a science fiction film: http://flavorwire.com/409062/20-works-of-architecture-that-belong-

THE PLAN

A few weeks ago I got a little down about things here in Watch The Skies. We're entering our 14th year and I think our core group is as strong as ever, but we don't seem to be gaining any traction. This applies in many directions including readers and contributors. I realize That I'm just a small part f the team, but I really do like the idea of this little fanzine become more widely known. There have been occasions when all I've really wanted was recognition from another fan or fan organization and couldn't get it. I got very frustrated and even vented that frustration. The editor was kind enough to humor me.

Thankfully I got better. Writing, creating cover art, tracking down authors to interview or invite as guests, peppering editors with questions or tempting wisdom from book cover artists are all the fun things we get to do each month. As part of Watch The Skies I've had the chance to listen to Robert J. Sawyer read to a small group of us, have e-mail correspondence with a couple of my all time favorite artists, view a collection of Cosmonaut medals from the space race and make some excellent friends in the fandom community. Sure there are days when the monthly deadline transforms into a looming specter. That happens with anything that is created on a regular basis. The up side is this archive of Really Cool Stuff! to go along with all the great memories. I've never managed to get a firm number figured out, but I've got to be nearing 100 covers at this point. No, they're not all winners but that's part of the process too. Learning is such a great side effect to having this kind of fun.

Now, after the mad rush of the holidays is done and things are supposed to settle back into a regular routine I figured would be my chance to get people energized! What better time to let others in on the fun than the weeks of bad weather through some of the coldest parts of the year? I'd get a couple of articles all lined up, grab an author interview, get the cool cover art all warmed up… and then my computer crapped out. Best Laid Plans and all that.

It's not entirely dead, just in need of a little work but my video card is sitting on the desk, not in the housing. There are 2 monitors on my desk, one dead one and one from a 10 year old Gateway system that's got a viewing area about the size of my iPad screen. So, here it is. "...here's what?" you're likely thinking. Here's your chance to jump in! Got art work you want to share? Send it over, we'd love to see it. Have a diatribe involving your favorite novel and how the movie didn't do it justice? Send it in! It's the perfect chance for you to see your work in print!

Watch The Skies would love to add your name to the credit and display your work. Drop a line and contribute! We want to hear from you (and I want to hear the quiet hum of a skillfully repaired computer with functioning screens again ;).

By Eric Hardenbrook

PHILCON 2013 REVIEW

Over a recent weekend I attended Philcon, "...the world's first and longest-running conference on science fiction, fantasy, and horror!" It was a good experience. I'm glad I went. I’d only ever attended one other time and that was a day pass. This time I was able to get the full emersion version.

From a location point of view I hated attempting to cross Philadelphia to get there. I dislike the area around the hotel in terms of driving as well. I don’t know how close (or not) the train or bus run. It’s not as easy to access as other conventions I’ve been to, but as someone pointed out to me, the parking is free and there is lots of it. Even when a boating competition was in the area there was still ample parking.

The hotel itself was nice. I needed to adjust to a more vertical layout than other conventions I’ve been to. The fire alarm that hit in the middle of the afternoon was quickly handled with minimal disruption to the convention. The stairs were strictly emergency exit things but elevators seemed to handle the needs of the crowd quite well.

The crowd… didn’t seem like much of a crowd. From time to time through the course of the weekend I wondered where everyone was. I’ve seen others more familiar with the convention report that attendance was far lower than previous years. I only recall a handful of hall costumes. No disrespect those that were there – they were well done. The storm trooper was excellent. I loved that two people teamed up and came as Bill and Ted and I had to do a double take when somebody I know showed up in a wig and an outfit that made her look totally different than the way I recognized her. That’s a short list though – and I only recall seeing four or five others at all. For a convention with costuming as part of the panel selection it seemed very, very thin in that department. That was symptomatic of the rest of the convention as well. Panels with a dozen people were considered well attended and it wasn’t uncommon for me to hear of panels where the panelists outnumbered those attending. I realize this happens from time to time at a convention. The number of times I heard the complaint was more than it should have been.

The lasting impression from this convention was from a panel called “This Is Everyone’s Lawn”. Ostensibly this panel was to look at defeating ageism in fandom. What this panel became was ‘What’s wrong with Philcon’ or ‘why won’t those old bastards change’. This was a genuinely interesting panel and it highlighted a few things despite not actually focusing on the intended topic.

Fandom in general is running into a problem similar to that in many other walks of life. There has been no movement of leadership at the top for decades. In the intervening years those who didn’t want to wait another 20 years for change have moved on and started doing something else. The ‘something else’ could be another career or running a convention of their own. Whatever the choice, the result is the same. Convention attendance is down at “traditional” places, but up on all the fronts that have been rejected (at some level) by those traditional cons. One of the most telling statements from somebody there involved a story that’s a favorite to be down on. I can’t quote the exact phrasing, but the intent was: We all bashed the fans of that [crazy, stupid, popular,bad] series and ended up driving them all away. What we should have done was approached it as ‘we’re glad you like that, let us show you what else is out there – something similar to what you like’. There was a lot of lamentation about what was wrong, but only one or two folks that really seemed interested in trying to fix things.

I hope the folks of action proceed and are successful. I had a decent time at Philcon. I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to work my way onto the list of convention guests. I’m also hopeful that the convention gets the issues that were showing through fixed up so the event continues and I can attend every year.

By Eric Hardenbrook

DOCTOR WHO RECOVERED FROM TIME

It may have taken a journey almost as twisty as most of his adventures but two of the lost Doctor Who stories have come to light in of all places Nigeria. In its early days, Doctor Who was distributed in physical form by transporting video tape to other countries. So even if the BBC were to rewrite over top of their masters, there were still other versions at large. In this case they were sitting on a shelf in the African nation of Nigeria at the local television station merely waiting to be discovered. The recovery of the tapes brings back one complete and one almost complete story. “The Enemy of the World” is the complete episode and features Patrick Troughton playing two roles when the Doctor discovers he’s a dead ringer for a madman called Salamander who has plans for world domination by causing natural disasters. “The Web of Fear” is missing the first and third episodes. This story features the return of the robotic Yeti and the second appearance of the Great Intelligence (which made another appearance in last year’s Christmas special…). “Web” is a fan favorite because it features the introduction pre-Unit Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. The BBC currently released these episodes as exclusives on iTunes. There are still more stories that are missing from both the Hartnell and Troughton years.

READY PLAYER ONE

This book grabbed me by the nostalgia and would not let me go. I tore through this book at a manic pace and that hasn’t happened for me in a long time. I really did have a great time with it. I’m really interested to see what happens with the movie version. I will definitely go to see it in the theater.

Should you go and read this book? That’s a fine question. That is also where I would offer caution.

Why did I love this book? Because it was aimed directly at me, that’s why. If you’re outside of my demographic I don’t know if you’d enjoy it nearly as much as I did. There are about a zillion (scientifically counted) references to things I grew up with through the late 70s and 80s. They hit home with me. Would that hit home with you? That’s the part that worries me about telling folks to read it. If you don’t remember the Tomb of Horrors you’ll understand how the story moves forward but you won’t have the depth of background to really get it. I was there, I lived that sort of get it. There might be some of a younger generation that will appreciate the history of certain parts of it. I hope they do.

Beyond the knowledge / nostalgia aspects, this story is a straight up hero’s quest. It reminded me very much of the myriad stories I read as a teen. It ended the way it was supposed to, and that matters to me. I actually found myself trying to fit a more modern story telling bent to certain aspects of the story and those things didn’t pop up. I was looking for the anti-hero, the dark betrayal, or the jaded character that really doesn’t want to participate. I didn’t get them, but it was distracting from time to time. There were parts of how this dread future society worked that confused me when I gave it a little deeper thought. There were parts that I just didn’t think would work from a world building point of view. These bits of “looking deeper” are really the parts that keep me from giving this book a full on five stars. I will however give it a strong four and a half. I hope you go out and pick this one up. I will be reading it again I’m certain.

By Eric V. Hardenbrook

SOFT SPOT

 

Suffering is required to achieve something great. No pain, no gain. It's a simple thing to understand, right?

 

Not so simple really. That suffering can have long term, lasting impact. Many people wouldn't call it suffering. They'll tell you that suffering is strictly a physical thing. It is not. Some people will tell you that suffering is simply learning in disguise. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. Some people will tell you to ignore those around you and carry forth with your passion. Easier said than done in many cases. I have come to the realization recently that I am stuck on a lot of things from my childhood. Suffering for something is one of the things I'm stuck on.

 

Reading the novel “Ready Player One” recently brought a lot of these issues to the surface again, but the issues have been lurking for quite a while now – if not my whole life. I have constantly felt like I needed to prove that the things I did, the things I loved were important. The things I loved had deeper meaning and real value. Sometimes I get a typical male urge to compete; to show off the fact that I have achieved a certain status and survived. There are many days when I feel a bit like Smaug. I am fully armored. You can not hurt me. The problem of course is that I am not Smaug, but much like him I have a soft spot that is easy to exploit. That soft spot is also my main hang up.

 

When I was a kid I fell in love with all things fantastic. The first novel I recall having a direct impact on me and changing me forever was “The Hobbit”. It was something I was 'forced' to read as a way to get me out of the way when the adults were helping my aunt move. I was hooked immediately. I loved it. I wanted more. There wasn't much more that was readily accessible at the time, but then I found these pamphlet looking things with amazing art work on them. Dungeons and Dragons entered my life. It was the only thing I was deeply interested in all the time. I constantly wanted more and looked for any kind of things related to this game. I read, I painted lead miniatures, I drew on graph paper and rolled dice all the time.

 

This is the soft spot.

 

It's a soft spot because it's very easy to make me defensive about it. The game became very popular. Adults got wind of this and it became the focus of a lot of damaging views. My father never seemed to like it much and would from time to time tell me (and the others that may or may not have been with me at the time) to get outside and do something other than “dungeons and dummies”. Chris from the next street over wasn't allowed to play. It was the devil's own tool, just look what it did to that poor boy in that Mazes and Monsters film. Calvin at the end of the street was allowed to play, but only because his mom understood that the game was mostly about imagination and they couldn't stop that. They wouldn't encourage him buy buying anything to support it though, and discouraged it at every opportunity. Older ladies I had long thought to be nice were suddenly “anonymously” dropping off pamphlets and complaining about the hobby shop that carried the game modules I loved so much. We got lumped in with rock music and blamed for a lot of things that “wouldn't have happed” if it wasn't for that terrible influence. Serious things like suicide and damaging mental health issues. I learned very quickly to hide my favorite things. To this day I rarely admit how much I have always loved the game in conversation with others. There were many, many days I simply wanted to shout “Bree-yark” (I'm still not sure if that rumor is true). There is a stigma attached to D&D still.

 

This soft spot has been irritated a lot lately. Geek is the new chic. I hadn't been able to put my finger on exactly why it bothered me, but it did. I still keep most of my geek to myself. It's a rare few that have seen my collection of D&D things. It's an even more elite group that I am willing to actually play a game with. That soft spot gets touchy easily. Then I heard about this film called “Zero Charisma”. I'm still not certain I want to see it. I think I have to, but I don't know if I'll like it. In a review for the film I finally found a summary of what exactly I was feeling:

 

“But deep down he is a member of a different tribe. It is clear he has never really suffered for his hobbies the way the others have... For him, geekdom isn’t a refuge from the sufferings of life: It is merely an aesthetic.”

 

Tim Wu talking about a relative newcomer to the game in his review of “Zero Charisma”

 

Article Link: http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2013/03/12/zero_charisma_review_dungeons_dragons_movie_is_instant_classic_of_geeksploitation.html

 

That is it exactly. This nuveau geek didn't suffer for what he loves. It's not like it was back in my day...

 

Holy crap did I just turn old? What happened right there?

 

Since that revelation, I have been noticing more and more that I am not alone. There are tons of articles out there that point to this wave of creative, amazing people that all share this source. Each of them has approaced it in their own way and done their own thing with it, but that was always what appealed to me about the game itself. It wasn't about winners and losers, it was about creating, imagination and surviving! Gain enough experience and you gain another level. Believe in something and it will stay, but disvelieve and the illusion will vanish (depending on your saving throw). Maybe, just maybe, I'm coming up on my next level and I'll be able to set aside the breast plate of defensiveness (+5) without hurting my armor class. I'm pretty certain there are people out there still calculating their THACO and angling to get a shot at me, but as I level up I should be harder to hit – even in the soft spot.

 

Some other intersting links to those struck with the same creative influecnes I've come across recently:

 

Fiction from the New Yorker: http://www.newyorker.com/fiction/features/2010/10/04/101004fi_fiction_lipsyte?currentPage=all

 

An interview with that author: http://www.vol1brooklyn.com/2013/03/06/sam-lipsyte-geeks-out-about-role-playing-games-with-vol-1/

 

Shire Wisdom: http://www.shirewisdom.com/2013/08/31/open-your-dork-hoard/

 

Of Dice And Men: http://www.ofdiceandmen.com/

 

Do you have any favorites?

by Eric V. Hardenbrook

The Glasses Only Make Him

SEEM Smarter or, Why the New

Star Trek Doesn’t Work

 

I saw Star Trek: The Motion Picture the week it came out in the winter of 1979. I used to spend every weekend of the summer at the movie theater.  Tickets were a buck and my allowance was five.  The summer of Wrath of Khan I rode my bike to the theater the morning of its release.  Since then I had this weird tradition to see the latest Trek movie on opening day (or week as I got older) even through the ovine excremental Next Generation films.  Now, sadly, the reboot has ended that tradition. 

To be honest, I don’t go to the movies very often anymore. I’m a grown up with grown up things to do.  Yet Trek somehow remains a solitary pilgrimage for me.  I’m the sad guy sitting by himself in the back under the projector window.  No one else wants to see these films with me.  My wife and kids are not fans.  My friends have all decided to “wait for Blu-Ray”, which is fine because I use that time in the cool darkness to meditate and escape.  As a grown up I know the value of such an opportunity even if I have to sit through something horrible like Nemesis for the privilege. 

Let me get this out of the way because I’m burying the lead inside my little old man story:  The Trek reboots suck.  They are worse than if you cobbled the worst bits of the last four films together and called it Star Trek Into Shiteness.  JJ Abrams’ hyperkinetic assault is so repellant that each lens flare feels like the writers are poking me with a pointy part of their brainy-specs and taunting, “See what we did to it?  We made the warp things into hair dryers.  We blew up Vulcan.  We made Spock kiss a girl for no good reason.  We turned Khan into a pasty white guy and gave Klingons nose rings and invented the idea that time travel can screw up continuity BACKWARDS as well as forwards!  WE did that, punk.  Why?  Because SCREW YOU, that’s why.  It’s raining residuals up in here.  Wrath of Khan did $79 million in business.  We ripped that off and did a piss poor job of it, too for – what’s that? – a QUARTER BILLION LARGE, SON!  Worldwide?  HALF A BILLION DOLLARS, DAWG!  Snap!  You better hope we never get a hold of your precious ‘Star Wars’.”* 

Yes, I know. It’s easy to pick on the lens flares. 

I’m not a purist.  I am well aware of the problems in every Trek film (even the good even-numbered ones) and I’ve factored in the opinion of the kid who first saw those movies and appreciated them as a child.  Yes, there is a degree of nostalgia in my view, but most of the movies hold up well despite the years.   Abrams’ movies are just crap summer popcorn action in space using a familiar brand name.

I will go so far as to say that Star Trek is at its worst on film.  I think this is true about a lot of speculative fiction adapted to the medium.   But Trek was born of television, which suited its mission to go boldly where no one has gone before.  Every week was a new test and a new challenge.  We met new species and new worlds.  To me, when that original crew (and later the Next Gen) went to film, we only overlooked the problems because we were just happy to see the ship flying again with people we love on the bridge.   As fans, we recognize that a lot of the series episodes contained the same Braga-ex-machina and treknobabble nonsense that plague the films.  That’s fine because, at their best, they are characters we actually like and heroes that have been with us for almost half a century.  

The new Trek is even worse because it fails to realize its potential.   It had a chance to be reborn in a new and exciting way.  It’s been done many times since the original series.  A new crew and new stories could be told in the same way Abrams managed Mission: Impossible.  But the creative team could not live up to the hype.  It could have given us a new ship and a new crew.  It could have weaved a story involving everyone working together the way we saw in The Voyage Home or The Undiscovered Country.

What Abrams promised from the beginning was something better.  He and his team are marketed as “smart” artists and storytellers.   Despite writing themselves into a corner with “Lost” this team was able to hold the attention of a large audience for several years.  Abrams has made good films in the genre and studied at the feet of Spielberg.   His lack of Trek experience was not a bad thing.  Harve Bennett gave us TWOK after all and set the tone for the next five films and an entire era of Trek.   So there was a grand opportunity for Abrams to embrace the philosophy of Trek and give us a movie with heart, character and action. 

What we got was the kind of vehicle Shatner would have written for himself for back in the 1980s; it’s Kirk’s action buddy movie with Spock as his straight man.  It didn’t matter why or how something showed up in the story so long as there was a chance to blow it up or make speeches about it.  The only thing missing was a chance for Kirk to hang on to the hood of a flying shuttlecraft. 

In place of people we care about we have imposters, some who are better than others painting interesting roles that ape the originals or combine them with something younger and more hip.   At times it feels like a parody of Trek, but not as good as Galaxy Quest.   

Finally, the film gives up on any sense that space is big or follows any rules at all.  You can beam one’s self across the stars instantly to a point where the plot needs you to go but that would make no logical sense to go there.  You can suck a planet into a portable black hole, which conveniently vanishes when its work is done.  You can make someone a ship Captain out of the academy, demote them for breaking the Cardinal rule of Starfleet, re-promote them hours later through some unexplored Starfleet “your mentor gets killed by a terrorist and we want you to seek revenge” rule, and you can be dumber than a tool bag made of glass so long as the result is flashy and exciting or Alice Eve gets to take her clothes off. (Note: Even Shatner’s attempt to get Uhura naked in The Final Frontier served a plot point!)

For rights issues, we couldn’t have a new series without CBS getting involved.  I understand that rights and ownership issues make it hard to please everyone, but creatively – Trek belongs on television where characters can be developed and stories explored in greater detail.  It was as true in 1982 as it is today.  At least then we knew three seasons (four with the cartoon) of our heroes and their adventures, which made their new voyages special.  Right now, we’ve got nothing but skits and impersonations.

Into Darkness gave me hope.  I was so excited to see the Enterprise blown into scrap.  I was captivated by the idea that the Enterprise and everyone on her would plunge into Earth’s atmosphere and disintegrate.  By the time we got to the point Kirk had to get the mains back on line, I was already tired of what amounted to a rich boy’s fan film but the final cut-paste from TWOK just felt like everyone in the production just stopped trying, like they knew they’d overcome the inertia and the money would come regardless of how stupid and loud the movie ended up being.  As the crippled Enterprise fell through the clouds like Wile E Coyote off a cliff, I smiled.  I waited for the earth-shattering Kaboom.   But it did not come.  Instead this space-faring hulk the size of an aircraft carrier rose gracefully back into the sky in defiance of all that is good and just in storytelling.   My hope had faded.  But in that moment, Abrams succeeded for one fleeting moment in four hours and change to make me FEEL something.  

by Jay Smith

 

*Yes, I am well aware that box office reflects the ticket prices of the time.  Adjusted for inflation, TWOK made $213 million to Into Darkness’ $224 million.  TMP is the second largest grosser with $260 million.  But in this TMZ-addled short attention span society, do you think that matters to people who write crap like Into Darkness?

Fake Geek Girls

Ladies, you can skip this month’s column, because I need to talk to the guys.

Every now and then, I’m amazed when something becomes a “thing” that gets talked about. For a quite some time now, geek culture has been buzzing about the phenomenon of

so-called “fake geek girls.”    This hit home recently when IO9 published an article entitled “Slut Shaming and Concern Trolling in Geek Culture (http://io9.com/slut-shaming-and-concern-trolling-in-geek-culture-511721655)” about an incident that occurred at Balticon this. To sum up: Cosplaying Emily Finke went to Balticon wearing a screen ready science officer uniform from Star Trek, as in the original series miniskirts.

That was when the problems began. Almost immediately, she got comments about how her outfit was “too short.” Then came the guys grilling her with trivia and asking her if she’s ever watched the show.

Really?

A guy can show up at a con in full Klingon regalia including a homemade Bat’leth and no will bat an eye. But a woman shows up in costume and suddenly it turn into the

He-Man Woman Haters Club. A girl! Ick! Cooties! Pull up the rope ladder before she gets into the club house!

Cosplaying isn’t my thing, but it takes a lot of research to make an authentic looking costume. I’m fairly certain it can’t be done without watching the show at least once. Girls can be geeks. It’s true. And you don’t need to act like they’re about to release a chest-burster alien or infect you with the Rage Virus.

Seriously, guys. Knock it off.

 

D.C. Wilson

Surviving a Sci-Fi Con

 

                If you’ve ever gone to an SF/Fantasy con, you’ve probably heard of the 3-2-1 rule for con survival: Get at least 3 hours of sleep, eat at least 2 meals, and take at least 1 one shower each day. Those are good, sensible rules for not compromising your health or offending the people seated next to you, but they don’t really help you survive (Well, the showering rule might). So, in time for this month’s Balticon, I present some handy tips on How to Avoid Being Murdered at a Con:

1.       Every con has at least one guy I call Mr. Participant. He’s the guy who never sits on discussion panel, yet nonetheless thinks he’s part of one. He monopolizes conversations, doesn’t raise his hand to be acknowledged, talks more than the actual panelists, and generally, doesn’t let any of the other attendees ask questions of the panelists. Don’t be that guy.

2.       Do not be Harlan Ellison(tm). Especially if you in fact are not Harlan Ellison(tm). Even if you are, though, it’s probably not a good idea.

3.       No, the guest authors do not want to read your manuscript. No really. Don’t even ask.

4.       For that matter, don’t mention your fan-fic to them either.

5.       You know, the shower thing is a really good idea, especially if you’re going to sit next to me.

6.       This one is mainly for the guys: At the con, you may encounter strangely dressed people with long hair and two large protuberances in the front. Do not be alarmed. Those are called “females.” Just maintain eye contact when speaking to them and avoid any uninvited touching and you’ll be fine.

7.       Finally, if you’re a writer and you encounter a fan who overly identifies with one of your characters, run. Run fast and far away. You don’t want to star in an re-enactment of Misery.

The Bravery of the New

A recent opening night featured a remake and a revamp and both films did well. Evil Dead is taking a bit of a beating from the pundits concerning its merits and Jurassic Park is making theaters goers remember the first time they saw the dinosaurs on screen. But in a way these are safe films for the studios to make. Evil Dead is a cult classic and since Raimi and Campbell have laid their blessing on the film people have gone in droves. The thrill of seeing 3D applied to another popular movie in an instance where the special effects were ground breaking at the time once again is a safe bet. Even the Marvel and other comic based films have two things in their favor: the familiarity factor and being based on some arc or portion of the published comic. People know their superheroes and some even obsess about them generating a ready made audience merely waiting for a large screen version of some exploit or adventure. Even if the movie does not follow a particular arc of the comic simply adding in even a portion of the action is tapping in to the audience who reading the book has imagined the result in their head. Now having said all of this and calling it safe, there is the reality check that if the film maker takes too many liberties or does not attempt follow the storyline of the source material the audience will vote with their feet.

Now it’s not to say that there aren’t new ideas being filmed . In fact there seems to be more opportunities for new material than there were before. But the new ideas still are competing in a market that tends to skew for the safe buck. Here are four movies that have no prior background that will be released Spring and Summer : Oblivion, After Earth, Pacific Rim and Elysium. So what do these movies have to make you the viewer go see them instead of Iron Man 3, Thor 2, Kick-Ass 2, Chasing Fire, Ender’s Game, the Lone Ranger and Wolverine? Could it be that there actually is something enjoyable about going into a theater and seeing something truly unexpected? Now there are certain positives that would skew one towards these movies such as the popularity of the director, Del Toro or Blomkamp, or a familiar actor’s name like Will Smith or Tom Cruise. But with the rising cost of movie tickets and concessions, brought about in part by the continually declining length of engagement times, it is a bit brave to make something original when the safe pays out, even if it isn’t a blockbuster. The thing that everyone seems to forget is that this is where all of the properties and franchises began—as an unknown. So without the innovation, the result is stagnation revolving about safe, over indulged ideas. The brave film makers success or failure is still the progress we need.

Two Views On Safety and Your Child in the World of Today

It is a sick and tragic world that we live in where this is a discussion, but here we are. Body armor and bullet proof back packs for children going to school.

http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/lookout/sales-soar-kid-themed-body-armor-backpacks-171359967.html

Sometimes it makes me worry that science fiction authors predict things well. I know there was some small amount of research (or at least a great deal of thinking and questioning) that went into the story “Peter Power Armor” in

Defending The Future I: Breach The Hull (published by Dark Quest Books). If you haven’t read that, you should. I know there are folks on both sides of the fence when it comes to military stories and fiction; some like it, some don’t. Many people believe it is a glorification of something very ugly in human nature.

Some of it can be important, and this story really struck me that way. In the future of war, who will the targets be? What is war these days and what will it become? War today is certainly not the same thing we see in the movies about World War II or Vietnam.

It’s even progressing past what was seen in Desert Storm. There aren’t tanks rolling across the fields (or dunes) with waves of troops in support as much as there are patrols of vulnerable troops walking through cities where you can’t necessarily tell who the enemy is – just waiting to discover the next improvised bomb. Who do you shoot at then?

Are the acts of domestic terrorists (and yes, that is how I classify the shooter at Sandy Hook Elementary and the jack-ass in the movie theater and

Columbine and every other incident you care to bring up) the same as those carried out by troops assigned to cities in other countries? Should these terrorists be treated as common criminals or as enemies during war time?

Is a life for a child that has to be paranoid to that level really worth it?

As the father of an elementary school age girl, I can tell you that I don’t want her to have to live that way. Yes, she needs to know a certain level of preparedness and be aware that bad things can happen. Do I think an armored backpack is the answer? Definitely not. Beyond my own desires to avoid having my child live with that level of paranoia, there are simple, practical matters that intrude on that thought process. Does your child remember their backpack every day? Do they sit with it on their back at lunch time, or at recess? Should recess be held inside only, just to be safe? I’d answer all of those questions with a no.

I understand that this is a complex issue and that there will be people that don’t agree with my point of view. No, I didn’t talk about mental health or things related to mental health. Yes, that’s also part of the debate. I have tried to work some of these things into my thinking and fiction as well. I hope the dire predictions of the future don’t come to pass and that we can still have happy kids free from the paralyzing idea that somebody’s going to crash into (and possibly end) the world as they know it. I hope they can run and yell and laugh and smile in the sunlight without razor wire fences and armed guards. I think we should all aim for that world.

Eric Hardenbrook

Coming soon – Best Laid Plans—Defending the Future V.5

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So, what about taking this from the other side of things? What about the fiction writers entertaining ideas of an idyllic future? Do acts like the recent ones in Sandy Hook and Aurora necessitate that we swath are kids in armored school effects or do they force us to recognize the need to educate our children not only

in the dangers of this life, but the need to make the world a better place where violence is a rarity instead of a norm? Do we look forward to the type of world described by H.G. Wells in In The Days Of The Comet and hope that

instead of taking a heavenly body crashing into the earth to bring about such change that, in fact, our children may just rise up out of the dust of such current travesties and insist “No more!”?

In most instances I would call myself a pragmatist. In this case I find myself cautiously optimistic despite such horrifying and cruel acts. Do I fear for my child’s safety?

Absolutely. I fear for it from all manner of danger in the forms of disease, bad luck, bad judgment, and most assuredly from malice. I cannot imagine not fearing for my child’s continued health and safety no matter if the world we lived in were perfect or not as she is the very best part of me where so much of my love and hope have been invested.

Still, I’m inclined to try and remember as I read and watch reports on the horrors that surround us (today it was an article about a father in India who’s daughter died days after a brutal assault by six men) that though the world is, has always been, and likely will always hold an element of being a brutal dangerous place that it is also getting better despite the barrage of bad news in the media.

How can I say this after a tragedy like the one that cost us the lives of twenty beautiful children? With a lump in my throat and an ache in my heart. No matter if the world was instantly rid of violence this very minute the pain of something like that will never just go away. The statistics, cold comfort that they are, are there though and they say that violence is actually down. A hundred years ago how much less impact would the available media have had on a story like the one at that elementary school? The world isn’t any more brutal it’s just a lot smaller thanks to technology. Add to the statistics the other side of that technology that makes the world a smaller, closer, more involved space.

Today online I also listened to children discuss a topic on equality and why it should or should not be shared by all. Those kids had a very enlightening discussion amongst their peers and let me tell you they made as many insightful points and were as well, if not better, thought out than many adults I’ve heard try to wrap their brains around such big topics. I don’t find it so very far fetched to believe they just may take care of this world and each other better than we have managed thus far. Maybe we’re working up to a happy ending in this book and right now we’re living the description of the barbarous past?

So, for my two cents invest the time you would have spent finding a bulletproof backpack, earning the money to purchase it, and buying it in hugging your kids while you tell them you love them. Spend that time showing them how to love and respect themselves and others. Teach them that offering help when it’s needed is how it should be done. Maybe sit down and read a good book about how wonderful the future of the world can be?

Rebecca Hardenbrook

The Hobbit Vs.

Anyone that knows me has heard me talk about the influence reading The Hobbit had on me when I was young. It was the start, the story that kicked everything off for me. I just finished reading it aloud for my daughter, and she really seemed to be into it. Reading the entire story out loud is truly the way The Hobbit should be experienced. I hope she feels as fondly about it as I do later in life.

Given that background, I was nervous when The Lord of The Rings movies were brought out a decade ago. I had this fear the story was going to end up being turning into something really crazy. I have very little faith in Hollywood. I was ultimately happy with Peter Jackson (and his team's) view of the series and the visuals those films created. Not long after the end of that trilogy I started to hear the rumors about this movie being made. It was almost like I was seeing The Hobbit in an adversarial role starting back then.

PETA

I actually dislike the idea of even giving this organization the tiny bit of press this review will deliver. While the concept of avoiding cruelty is a good one, this group of folks routinely carry things beyond a point I consider reasonable. According to reports there were issues with some of the farms where some of the animals used in the film were being boarded. PETA immediately called for a boycott of the entire film. These are the same folks that compared the feelings and actions of a turkey to a person around Thanksgiving. From every report I was able to find the film company investigated and rectified the issues at the farm in question. Given the size and scope of this film's operation I'm not totally shocked that something like this could happen. While I'm not totally on PETA's side in this, I'm going to call The Hobbit vs. PETA a draw.

Unions

These days the business behind the movies makes the news just as routinely as the films themselves. I was interested and a little disappointed when an article showed the ugly side of business behind the movie (http://news.yahoo.com/hobbits-superheroes-put-magic-nz-film-industry-054242009.html). I won't pretend to know anything about the implications of this for the future of unions in general or New Zealand in particular, but it doesn't help me to know these things from behind the scenes when I've got such a personal attachment to. I can't fault a company for taking the option to make more money, but this starts to feel a little like an unsavory maneuver that I'm uncomfortable with. I'll call this one a draw, but it feels a little like a loss for the film.

Awards

The advantage of creating this review with this much time since the release of the film is that I've had the chance to see what the Oscar nominations were. This doesn't matter too much to me, but in terms of films and film makers it is a very big deal. The academy gave nominations to the technical aspects of this film, but nothing else. I'd call any nominations a win, but given the number of Oscars the previous series of films won the best to be said for this is a draw.

Expectations

This is where the rubber meets the road. Peter Jackson and his team set themselves up for failure. This might sound extreme, but it's true. The craft work, the scenery, the visual story telling were amazing in the Lord of the Rings series. People were blown away. Nothing like those films was out there to compare with. How can anyone else work in this universe to create The Hobbit as a film? How can Peter Jackson make The Hobbit better in terms of crafts and scenery than what he had already done? He was constrained by what he had done before. He couldn't have a break-out success like he had before. Simply wasn't possible. The best result he could hope for was more of the same. Even with the use of different film techniques and faster film speed, it wasn't enough to make something so much greater as to be different.

That's where my opinion of the film lands. Peter Jackson and his team came out at the same level they were at with LOTR as I see it. The movie had some portions added in or elaborated on based on other writings by Tolkien. This bothered some folks (purists) but didn't bother me. There were some portions of Thorin and the other dwarves personalities that didn't sit right with me, but I'll wait and see how the rest of the story plays out. In general, this was a beautiful film, lovingly crafted that told a portion of one of my favorite stories. It was nice, but I'm not overwhelmed or blown away, I'm just waiting for the rest.

By Eric Hardenbrook

BlueMilkSpecial1.jpg

Blue Milk Special

I saw a comic that made me laugh. Most days I let it go at that. It's easy to fall down that rabbit hole – see something you like, go track that down, find a link to something else that looks interesting and suddenly you've spent the last four hours reading about goats as lawn care and how to use paper doilies as art. This particular comic showed up more than once. I had one of my friends e-mail me to point it out specifically. I had to know more.That's when I found Blue Milk Special. The particular comic I saw had great crossover appeal (and landed on our back cover – in color! - this month). This comic is “A webcomic that parodies the Original Trilogy one scene at a time, starting with A New Hope, including The Holiday Special (yes, you read right) and Splinter of the Mind’s Eye (the first ever Star Wars novel, published before The Empire Strikes Back).”
If you're a fan of Star Wars you will enjoy this comic. The first time I saw Wrong Platform I thought it was a one and done kind of deal, but there's more. Head to their web site and check them out. You will laugh, and that's tough to come by some days! Find them here:

http://www.bluemilkspecial.com/

and check out some of the comic creator's other work here:

http://www.onceuponasuperhero.com/.

Roccon PA 2012 Convention Report

Back at the end of October there was a convention right here in central PA. Believe it or not, in New Cumberland. I was more than a little skeptical of Roccon PA when I first saw the web site. I was also a bit confused by the advertising I did – or didn't – see.

Roccon PA was a one day event and this was the first year for the con. It styles itself after Comic Con. I've never been to a Comic Con, but I have been to a lot of science fiction and gaming conventions. I mention my lack of experience with comic cons because there might be a distinct difference in how they are run compared to the conventions I've seen in action. This one looked like they had an extremely small staff that didn't have a lot of experience. There were a number of issues that I suspect any first time convention might have. The most disappointing thing I found was the large number of dealers that packed up and left many hours before the con was scheduled to be done. To be fair, this was also the weekend right before super storm Sandy hit town. It was still far too many for my taste that bailed out early.

On the positive side, despite first year issues and dealers heading out early, the con seemed to be quite successful. The number of dealers (at least initially) present along with a lot more attendance than I expected made me quite happy to be among them. The folks I got to chat with all had a really positive attitude toward the whole thing. I was able to contact some folks connected to science fiction and fandom that I hadn't met before. I picked up a couple of games, met some authors and artists and ran into some friends that I hadn't realized would be attending. It was fun!

One of my new favorites was kind enough to allow us to put one of his comics here as well. You should go and check out http://www.closeencountersstudios.com/cartoons for some really neat stuff.

I hope to see Roccon PA come around again next year. There was some talk of making it a 2 day event next year – I'll be interested to see how it all turns out – and I'll be sure to report in on it!

By Eric Hardenbrook

Intervention 2012 – A review

This convention has been around for just three years now. I've been to each one. I plan on going back. That is the strongest review any fan can give a convention- to plan on going back. Bring your dollars and your friends and go there. Support the convention.

I think the founders of Intervention are doing the right thing for the right reasons. I love the idea, the dedication and the energy. This con is lively and always has something going on that the folks at the con should pay attention to. The vibe from such a bunch of creators is inspiring.

I do have some small things that bothered me about the event this year. I was sad to see that Super Art Fight didn't make the schedule. I don't know the logistics of making it happen or the timing for landing that creative team on that weekend. I'm sad it didn't happen. Super Art Fight is one of my favorite events. It was also odd that the Cosplay Burlesque was scheduled for Friday night. Saturday night seems the logical choice to me – more participants, more energy, and better party night. Didn't happen. Again, I don't know the intricacies of the schedule, so I can't say why it came about. I also don't know what the hotel / fire marshal rules are, but I thought that dimming the lights a little over the audience would be a really great idea. Not sure why that didn't happen – but the program suffers under the fluorescent lights.

I see improvements that go along with the little things that bothered me. There are new items for the attendees each year. This year there was an electronic scavenger hunt being tested out. Innovation like that will keep this convention growing and gaining in popularity for a lot of years. That's the clear goal of the staff as they actually had volunteers monitor the turnout to their panels. Something I'd never seen nor heard of before. Actual metrics... numbers... data! To be used as part of the planning for next year. The con-runners are on the right track here.

Next year there is apparently some conflict with maintaining the same date. The convention will be moving to another weekend, a bit earlier in the year. Sometimes a change of schedule like this can be detrimental. I hope this move allows the con to gain membership rather than hurt it. Intervention deserves the attention and accolades. You should get there next year!

by Eric Hardenbrook

Balticon Review

 

            Balticon is the first convention I ever attended. It holds a special place in my history and has been a  favorite for a long time. Memorial Day weekend is my annual trip (now that it's not Easter weekend anymore) that gives me the chance to share in Fandom with a bunch of like minded folks. It's fun for me, even when the convention itself is imperfect.

            I've heard the convention referred to in the past as “dusty”. Well it looks to me like the convention is in a time of transition, and I think this is a good thing. The list of folks on the guest list didn't include many star attractions or “big” names. It did include a lot of mid-list folks, but more importantly there was an inclusiveness shown for small press and new media. This has been

happening for a few years now, little by little, and this year it really showed me that even when the “big” names aren't necessarily there, that inclusion allowed for a strong selection of folks to meet and talk with. Sure there were still folks you'd recognize by name, but it's getting out there and meeting the folks you don't recognize that's the really interesting part. There are lots of folks working hard, creating and making things happen that are going to really go big. When that happens, you'll be able to say, “Ah yes, and we knew them when...” It's

part of what I love about the convention scene.

            One of the parts I love the most is the artistic endeavors. This year the art show felt a little flat to me. There were empty spaces, a few folks that were very familiar and not much going on. I was disappointed. I can say there were

a couple of panels on the art track that were excellent. I got a great deal out of one or two of the longer (90 minute) “how to” panels. Excellent work. I wish the enthusiasm carried to the show. I'm hoping that next year will have some new, fresh things as part of the art track.

            While I didn't attend, I heard that the childrens programming this year was excellent. There was a strong showing for the science track and there were bunches of panels for any sort of geek topic you'd care to find. I particularly

enjoyed Baen News and the Fortress Publishing readings among others. The best part of each panel was that even when the room was packed to capacity, there was still the atmosphere of participation.

            The best events are the book launches. A party within a party. These events are always well attended and dramatically showcase the new works. These launches are tied directly to that sense of inclusiveness. The smaller presses shine here. They get new authors and new works out there for everyone to see. You never know who you'll encounter in the crowd either – I met some very entertaining folks this year.

            As always, the convention weekend was too short by half. I could have stayed for a week if only for the chance to sit with, meet, talk to, or have dinner with all the friends that were there, both old and new. As with any year, there were weak spots, but I'm already looking forward to next year. If you haven't gone, I highly recommend you take the opportunity and attend the next

Balticon.                                                        

By Eric Hardenbrook

 

Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse:

 

So, the mutant virus has been released and the walking dead are pounding on your door. What do you do? Well, there are two basic strategies for surviving the zombie apocalypse: The Bunker Method and the Stay Mobile Method. Both techniques have their pros and cons. Since the key to surviving the end of the world is preparation, you should thoroughly review both before committed to one or the other.

 

The Bunker Method

Popular in the classic Romero movies, the bunker method involves a handful of survivors barricading themselves inside a large building in the hopes of either waiting out the zombies or some kind of rescue to arrive.

Side note: As far as waiting for rescue goes, forget it. Assume you are part of the last remaining humans who haven’t been either converted or eaten. Odds are, even if there are other humans out there, they are too busy to even think about rescuing you.

The single most important decision you can make in the bunker method is the old real estate maxim: Location, Location, Location. A rookie mistake is thinking that the local shopping mall is a good place to hole up. Avoid this. Malls have too many entrances to adequately secure and at least a few easily broken glass windows. Plus, available supplies will be limited. You have no idea how long you’re going to trapped in there. Starving to death is just as dead as being eaten. Not to mention that an empty mall is creepy as a hell in its own right. The last thing you need is one of your crew wasting ammo shooting up manikins because he got cabin fever.

The best choice for a bunker is the local Walmart, preferably a Super Walmart with a well-stocked grocery section. First of all, they have fewer entrances and windows than a shopping mall. Second, they’re conveniently located. In anticipation of a potential zombie apocalypse, the federal government now requires that every American live within four miles of a Walmart. So, at the first sign that the dead

are crawling out of the grave, get to the nearest Wally World. Just be sure to be one of the first. You don’t want to risk getting shot trying to convince the early birds that you’re still uninfected.

Why Walmart? Because those stores have damn near everything you’d need to survive, but especially, guns. Every Walmart sells them, plus tons of ammo. A Wally World is an armory waiting for the taking. Plus, there’s plenty of food. Once the power goes out (and it will), the produce will quickly go to funky town, so eat that first. Save the seeds! Depending on how long you’re going to be there, you may want to take up roof top gardening. Don’t worry, there’s plenty gardening supplies right there! Even without the produce, though, there’s enough canned goods to feed a small group of survivors for several months.

 

 

 

 

Walmart also has plenty of clothing racks, TVs, and tons of cheaply made furniture and appliances that can be used to barricade the entrances. Then there’s the clothing, which is made according to highest flame retardant standards of the People’s Republic of Vietnam. In other words, they’ll make excellent fuel to keep warm. It’s not like you’re going to want to wear that crap. Just because it’s the end of the world doesn’t mean you have to abandon all sense of style.

 

The Stay Mobile Method

If the idea of spending months if not years trapped inside the Temple of Sam Walton doesn’t appeal to you, you can always try to stay mobile and live off the land. If you choose the Stay Mobile Method, you will need a good mode of transportation, especially if you’re facing the fast zombies for 28 Days Later.

A horse might seem like a good choice, but a lot will depend on whether the virus affects other mammals. The last you want is to be bitten in your sleep by Zombie Trigger. Plus, while a horse can graze, it also tires out. This can be fatal even against the slow Romero type zombies. Remember, their entire strategy is to wait you out and then overwhelm you with their numbers.

Stay away from hybrids like the Chevy Volt or Toyota Prius. I cannot stress this enough. They take several precious hours to recharge and that’s assuming there are any power plants putting out juice. It takes a lot of manpower to keep a commercial power plant going and once the majority have been converted, they’ll shut themselves down really quick.

Just get something with good mileage and stick to the main routes. You’ll find plenty of unattended gas stations along the way. So long as you have a good lookout and don’t linger, you’ll be fine. Forget about your carbon footprint. Trust me, once all the coal burning plants run down, the amount of CO 2 your one car puts out will be insignificant.

Team selection is also key to the Stay Mobile Method. If you’re not a gearhead, make sure you have at least one person who knows more than just how to change the oil. Preventative maintenance could save your life.

Think about meat shields. Try to keep an optimal balance on your team of people who have useful skills and those who are dimwitted enough to volunteer to check out the rest rooms first. Keep up on your cardio exercises and have a good pair of running shoes. Even if you’re facing fast zombies, the key to survival is not to out run the zombies, but to be faster than your companions. Never be the furthest

person from a working vehicle. Keep the windows rolled up and never take the car remote out of your pocket.

Finally, when it comes to repopulating the human race, men are more expendable than women. One guy can impregnate dozens of women. So, if faced with the choice, always save the womb over the balls, unless it’s your own balls.

One final note: Thanks to the popularity of zombie movies and books, Hollywood has done a lot of the research for you. Take notes and don’t repeat the mistakes of others, and you could very well survive the zombie apocalypse. Who knows? Maybe some future polygamous society will revere you as their founder.

 

by D.C. Wilson                        

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