Latest Entries »

Check out my creepy Styrofoam head, easily the most exciting $7 purchase of the year as it will help me perfect my awesome Sally wig- all 40 inches of it!  I initially crafted it with directions for a small child’s yarn wig and failed to take into account just how much yarn I was using. Once it is de-tangled I think for stability I need to affix the three inches of felt which make up the part line to a larger piece of fabric. This is one of my favorite parts of the costume because without it there really is no “Sally” look.

My Nightmare Before Christmas Sally wig. I got a lot of hair to wrangle!

My Nightmare Before Christmas Sally wig. I got a lot of hair to wrangle!

It’s raining here in the Pacific Northwest, it’s raining a lot. I think this is the not-so subtle hint that fall is on its way.  The point is that this kind of weather puts me in the mood for cozying up with a book, and I am a bit of a book hoarder. As in I don’t need to have read most of the books on my shelves to justify going out and buying a new stack! That being said, I find myself looking at my shelves and wondering, ” Who bought that?” Well enough is enough and I intend to intimately know ALL of these hidden treasures immediately.

Essex County

To start, I will dive into the Essex County compendium by Jeff Lemire. I already voraciously follow his Sweet Tooth comic – and you should too. It is a post-apocalyptic world of plague and animal children rendered in Lemire’s haunting graphic style. A young boy with the features of a deer who falls in with a loner whose motives in the new world are suspect; you will promptly fall in love with the main character who’s nickname provides the series’ title. Read it, preferably binge-style because you won’t want to be left hanging at the end of each issue.

Under science fiction novels I am currently reading Vernor Vinge’s A Fire Upon the Deep. You know where I found is the best place to discover authors I haven’t read before, including Vinge? In registration lines for sci-fi and comic conventions. Those things can be long and a little conversation really passes the time.  Finally, I will be finishing a collection of apocalypse and post-apocalypse short stories titled Wastelands. I’ve been working on this one for awhile, picking up a story here and there. It’s high time to finish and give the end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it genre a deep talking about.

Hugo award-winning, sometimes described as "space opera"

Hugo award-winning, sometimes described as “space opera”

Look for reviews of all these titles coming soon and the introduction of my new cosplay series, tentatively titled “Will I Get It Done in Time for Comic Con?”

Hello horror fans!  Despite what seems to be a preoccupation with science fiction, These Other Realms is also keenly interested in the horror genre. While I enjoy reading it, nothing beats getting to watch it. My most recent experience with a horror movie was just the other night when I had the privilege of viewing The Conjuring (2013) directed by James Wan and staring Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson.

It is the tale of “real” ghost busters who run into their most terrifying case ever as they try and understand who or what is violently haunting a nice, normal family. The scares are good if fleeting but I rarely have a problem with the journey; it is almost always the conclusion that bugs and/or ruins the whole movie for me.  There aren’t any plot twists to give away but I will type *SPOILERS* for anyone who hasn’t seen a ghost movie in ten years. Here it is folks, it was the mom. Ok it was the mom like 400 years ago, but whatever, it’s the mom’s fault. In fact the plot brought me right back to another barely frightening movie, Mama (2013), where the entire box office pull I imagine was hinged on the punked-out stylings of Jessica Chastain and Game of Thrones’ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau.  It too presented the spirit of a crazed mother driven to murdering her child and looking to re-make these events in perpetuity.

At this point I could gesture towards classic mythology and Medea or frankly any devouring mother archetype but I just don’t think that is what these filmmakers are inspired by. The concept being espoused is old-fashioned sexism. The idea of women being hysterical (a word in itself derived from the Greek word hystera meaning uterus), fragile and ripe for possession – make what you will of that last thought!

Where is the horror? The suspense? The supernatural thrills and chills? The STORY? There are some. Despite the dull and insulting message it was certainly entertaining. The actors are what kept me interested.  Farmiga and Wilson as the husband and wife team of ghost hunters were both believable and touching in relating the strain placed on their lives by pursuing malevolent spirits. The actresses portraying the daughters were also fantastic. The weak link being the most recognizable actress currently known for being the precocious and creepy Renesmee of Twilight fame.

Rent it one night and turn out all the lights for a slightly thrilling couple of hours but don’t expect any nightmares!

I can only start this review with one sentence that is the film in a nutshell: Oblivion (2013), Tom Cruise’s latest foray in to science fiction, is Top Gun (1986) in space. For anyone who has seen Top Gun you will know exactly what moments I am referring to! The movie is a *mostly* fun ride to take. It has some great gun battles and flying machinery. The vistas of a destroyed Earth are sadly breathtaking but there is little else to this movie. It’s simply richly illustrated storyboards pinned together into a moving picture show, plot and dialogue be damned. What plot there was confused me out of caring, and I am a big fan of epic science fiction plots so I tend to have an inordinate amount of patience for working them out. I came away feeling like I had been at a Powerpoint presentation for cutting edge technology narrated by Tom Cruise. I won’t bother filling this review with spoilers. By the time you get to the major plot twist you will be bored. At only two hours I came away feeling as if I had been put through some Lord of the Rings-style epic-ness.

What is the good news in this movie? Andrea Riseborough as Victoria, Tom Cruise’s colleague/lover. Not only is she gorgeous but appeared to be the only person who was bothering to act. She did the absolute best with a silly movie, I almost had hope that she would steer it completely into the good, no such luck.

A drastically changed Earth through apocalyptic conditions, be it alien warfare, terraforming or disease ( see Defiance and Falling Skies, SyFy and TNT respectively)  seem to be all the current rage. Next after Oblivion is the release of Will Smith’s changed-Earth movie, After Earth (2013). I am not looking forward to the nepotism involved in his casting of his son-as his own son! But it will make an interesting discussion on why these movies are considered the ones to make right now. Is science fiction as a movie genre gaining more momentum and a little more cred when endorsed by big stars such as Tom Cruise and Will Smith? We shall see…

Fun design concepts, and that's all.

Fun design concepts, and that’s all.

Science & Fiction

There is nothing like reality to get the juices for fictional worlds flowing. I have been reading more non-fiction and in particular The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2012. This delightful collection does all the work for me by collecting articles of the wham! bam! pow! theories currently alive in science. I hope it is obvious to you intelligent reader that this is stuff for wonderful fictions. What tickles me most about reading the articles is just how wildly and (oftentimes) successfully the vast field of science is reaching the once entirely fictional future.  My absolute favorite was an an article entitled, “The Scent of Your Thoughts” by Deborah Bloom.  The subject of pheromones and the possibility that the use of pheromones is not relegated to insects and some members of the animal kingdom is incredibly fascinating. Humans make use of a number of pheromones but to what extent is the hot debate amongst scientists.

Another resource for science news is a site called, I F*%king Love Science. I was introduced to it via Facebook and now it fills my feed with some excellent science information. Just today I saw a story about a fungus that infects insects and takes over their nervous systems to get them to do the fungi’s bidding. Insert zombie references here! I find current science to be pretty inspiring when I go to do my own writing. The history of science is just as inspirational because you can observe the timeline of understanding from fire to the supercollider.

Bombus pascuorum (bumblee bee) one of the insects known for pheromone use. OliBac {{PD- Attribution 2.0 Generic}}

Bombus pascuorum (bumblee bee) one of the insects known for pheromone use.
OliBac {{PD- Attribution 2.0 Generic}}

One of the myriad of really interesting topics related to creating science fiction and fantasy worlds is conlanging. A panel at Norwescon dealt very successfully with this topic. The panel’s full title was Conlanging for Fun and Profit and it included a splash of celebrity. David J. Peterson is the Dothraki language creator for HBO’s Game of Thrones series and a language consultant on the ScyFy series Defiance. The moderator, Gregory Gadow, is a enthusiastic practicer of conlanging and has spent much of his life working on various constructed languages. The final panelist was Kurt Cagle, a technologist and author known for his work with computer languages who also conlangs as as hobby.

All the panelists had interesting things to say about the genesis of a constructed language. The most thought-provoking and yet so obvious fact being the need to create a proto-version of the language and then evolve it forward to your “present” version. A fast-forward of what happens naturally in cultures over time. Here is where I have an issue; the natural evolution of a language occurs as a group of people utilize a language over time. A language becomes both fuel and product to its evolutionary process. However, I understand the need for fictional languages as they can be windows to fictional cultures and really add depth to a writer’s work. One question I had (that I was too nervous to ask) was how important is incorporating slang and “improper” usage in your created language. No one speaks absolutely perfect English or Spanish or Hindi. Someone could speak perfect Dothraki because no one learns it from a culture or a group but a handbook. In the end, conlanging offers the chance to be the creative god for your own universe. You make the perfect and the imperfect (did I just make a linguistics joke?!)

Dothraki

While conlanging is most often associated with the creation of languages for fictional use in books, games and movies there are also practicers of the craft who look to fulfill other goals. The conlanging community is relativelty small and David Peterson is also friends with John Quijada. Quijada is known for his creation of the language Ithkuil the purpose of which was to create a language that would remove all of the variation and polysemy of “natural” languages. Check out the article featured in a December 2012 issue of the The New Yorker. The article provides a great overview of linguistics and conlanging as well as a profile of Quijada and his creative process.

Check out related links below and look for more conlanging posts in the future, there is definitely more to be discussed about this fascinating subject!

David Peterson blog

Gregory Gadow site

The New Yorker Quijada/Ithkuil article

Learn Dothraki!

Buying original art is one of the many joys of attending comic, science fiction and fantasy conventions. I like to call myself a patron of the arts and since I lack any artistic talents of my own my walls have become a wonderful gallery.  When I find art that I love I feel it is my duty to purchase immediately and proceed to shout the artist’s name from the proverbial rooftops!

This week’s artist is Mark Roland from my hometown of Eugene, Oregon. I picked up a piece titled, Helios, at this years Norwescon. Here is a blurb from the artist on the back of the mat about the piece: “4 color etching with additional hand coloring, edition print 14 of 100. Each print in this edition is a unique variation. Printed and colored by the artist. Plate still in use.” It is a beautiful landscape; mountains, trees, heavenly creatures surrounding a blazing sun. One of my favorite details is where you can see the edges of the picture blur and fuzz a little where the plate was pressed onto the paper.  That is what tells you it is a real etching!

Etching by Mark Roland

“Helios”
Etching by Mark Roland

I had to stop myself, (for the sake of my finances!) from bidding on more of Mr. Roland’s work. However I am going to keep an eye out for his art and possibly make a gift of it for some friends and family. Check out his and Norwescon’s websites listed below. If you are an artist they have a great Gallery every year where artwork is auctioned for charity. Look for a new artist each week to be discussed because I bought A LOT of stuff!

Mark Roland-artist

Norwescon

March 28th-31st, 2013 I had the pleasure of attending Norwescon 36 in the Sea-Tac area of Washington state, a spare 30 minute drive from my home.  It was great to discover such a rich and varied convention for fans of science fiction and fantasy right under my nose! I being the ultra-amateur science fiction writer myself gobbled up most of the writing panels.  How could I not enjoy titles such as “Surviving the Slush Pile,” “All Our Cats Are Green,” and “Your Anti-Procrastination First Aid Kit.” Many times I came away from the panel not necessarily with new information but rather a more positive outlook on what I already knew- the importance of thorough research and detail in design, persistence in submitting work to publishers and that when it comes to creating (almost) anything goes!

This was also the first convention I attended where one of the primary purposes of attendance was not meeting a media celebrity or buying comic books.  Although similar to most comic conventions there was a lot of cosplay. Not fifteen versions of Spiderman or Deadpool cosplay but epic hand-made displays of imagination, time and money.  There were pirates, fairy queens (alright I will spell it the way I saw it at the con- faerie!), elves, steam punk representatives and my personal favorite- a women wearing a skirt that was the control panel of the TARDIS. It was cosplay that was epic, awesome and clearly made with a lot of love. In addition there was a fantastic masquerade ball that put most movie costumes to complete shame. My personal shame is the fact that I completely forgot to bring a camera and so I can only ask that you imagine the wonderfulness of the show!!!

{{PD-Walter Crane, artist}}

{{PD-Walter Crane, artist}}

Furthermore I had the chance to attend the presentation of the Philip K. Dick award.  As anyone who has passed their eyes over this blog, I am a huge fan of Philip K. Dick.  However, I had no idea what they award was really given for.  The assumption being exemplary writing that embodied ideas and themes representative of PKD and his work.  Nope, the reason is much simpler and even touching. The award may go to any science fiction book receiving it’s first publication as a paperback original. Why do I find this touching? For most of his career PKD’s work was published in this format which with a little research I discovered is not especially distinguished. The award is a way to recognize excellent science fiction that has not gotten a splashy hardcover release from a big publisher. Sounds good to me! The ceremony included readings from all of the nominated books and some delicious dessert.

I plan on even more enthusiastically attending Norwescon 37 next year, hopefully with a story or two of my own to submit to the Writers’ Workshop.  Finally, a note about the blog- I plan on including any links pertinent to the post at the end of the text and eventually including these links in a more comprehensive and organized page dedicated entirely to links of interest (blogroll will exist separately). Look for more posts about this year’s Norwescon, there was a lot to do and now even more to write about!

Norwescon website

Philip K. Dick award home

A corpse crawls from his fresh grave to attempt and visit his loved ones.  Angry, another man long deceased rises into a world without remembrance of the dead.  The authors and characters who inhabit the darker recesses of our minds have taken flight to Mars to escape their inevitable destruction at the hands of cultural sterilizers.  These are the subject of some of the stories within Ray Bradbury’s A Pleasure to Burn: Fahrenheit 451 Stories.  I am a late bloomer to Ray Bradbury.  Maybe this is a shock because I so explicitly state my love of all things science fiction and he is rightly considered a king of this genre.  This book is a collection of stories set within Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 universe.  I am ashamed to admit that I have not read the famous novel, only seen the classic 1966 movie starring Julie Christie and Oskar Werner.

Bradbury’s stories hit you immediately with some sad and disturbing themes.  The first to catch me was “Pillar of Fire.”  It is the story of William Lantry an angry corpse brought back to life as his body is disinterred so his body may be sent to one of many Incinerators that now litter the landscape in place of graveyards.  His furious hope is to kill and create for himself an army of undead companions, to teach a lesson to this society which tosses aside its dead as a chore to clean up from and nothing more.  What Lantry eventually realizes is that people of this new era do not rise from the dead after symbols are drawn and spells recited for they have not believed this possible for centuries.  The darkness and emotions that surround death have been eliminated by the simple concept that if no one believes in something the possibility of its existence disappears.

The title of this post honors the festival we celebrate at the end of this month, Halloween.  It is supposed to be a time when the veil between living and dead is at its thinnest and darkness begins to last longer than the light.  Typing this I realize that for all the complaining about the commercialization of Halloween or the modern social/cultural misunderstanding of the original festival, including those ill-conceived “Harvest Festivals” with parking lot trick or treating-we still recognize and celebrate the yearly change in our world.  Bradbury writes of a world that does not recognize this change.  In fact this world does not recognize death, darkness or disquiet in the human psyche.  It wants nothing to do with the flip-side of life or the needed interaction between living and dead.  Halloween dies in Bradbury’s world and no one can bring it back for no one remembers and no one believes.

In “The Mad Wizards of Mars” cultural sterilizers find themselves battling holiday and literary figures as they journey to Mars to destroy the last vestiges of the human imagination and forever conquer the great unknown of space.  We meet Edgar Allen Poe, Santa Clause and the three Witches of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” to name a few.  The story itself reads a little silly as the authors and their beloved creations scream curses at the descending rocket contemplating who on Earth may be keeping their memory alive reading the last dusty copy of their work.  As a symbol of humanity’s ability to roll-over and erase itself in the name of logic and progress the moral of the story is staggeringly recognizable.  It made me want to go out and read every author and book he mentioned just to have that knowledge and memory of such work within me.   * On a side note, every author and work Bradbury mentions is a product of Anglo-Western male thought-something to chew on .*

A Halloween tradition

A Pleasure to Burn is truly a pleasure to read for Bradbury has created a frightening and fully imagined world that casts an eerily believable pall on our current lives.  So many of our imagined futures are physically desolate but Bradbury’s is still lush with modern convenience and comfort.  In fact it is this abundance of ease and absence of desire for anything more than constant gratification that reminds me so much of our current world.  “The Pedestrian” is a story slipped quietly in the first third of the book which perfectly illustrates how our world may be veering towards Bradbury’s own imaginings.  A man takes nightly walks in his neighborhood, the glow of boxed entertainment emanating from every house he passes.  No one walks the streets at night anymore and he fears this behavior will eventually bring him unwanted attention.  The story is only a few pages but it ends sadly as he is eventually discovered by the authorities, themselves not even making an appearance to do the job and is shipped off in the night.  You can imagine he is going to be “re-educated” and told what it means to be a good citizen, what he should desire and what he should do with his time.
Let’s not allow our world to turn to this.  I believe that is what science and speculative fiction are for, to give us a taste of our own possibilities.  On that note, have a great Halloween!

In my last post I announced a series of articles where I would compare a Philip K Dick story/novel to that of its filmed translation.  I learned quickly with this project that translation was not the right word to use.  As most film credits state “based on” it turned out that really was the phrase I was looking for.   I will admit that I am one of those fans who look for my favorite stories to be treated as simply stage or storyboard for a film.  I want a minimum of new dialogue, characters or for that matter any changes at all.  It is most preferable that the film maker is able to pull images directly from my imagination and thus satisfy my desire for moving images to accompany a yarn I already considering to be fantastic.

The work of Philip K Dick (PKD for ease of typing) is a unique source to draw inspiration not only for the obviously interesting stories but the fact that much of his work is quite short.  All but two titles which were drawn on for films are from novels, the rest are short stories  That said, his novels are also known for their brevity usually lasting just over 100 pages.  It is clearly the larger themes that brings writers and directors to his work, so why do so many adaptations go awry?  It is all in the details.  From a different setting, character flaw (or lack thereof) to a new or different back story.  These changes in details eventually add up into an avalanche of change which often obscures or deletes the primary themes.  Let’s take a look at my first story to film comparison.  *SPOILER ALERT*  if you have not read these stories or seen these movies I will get into a lot of detail including plot points, so beware!

Screamers (1995) and “Second Variety” first published in 1953

The most significant difference between these versions is setting. In the story “Second Variety”  PKD puts the reader in an atomic holocaust caused by the once cold war between Russia and the United States becoming hot again. This is not unfamiliar territory fictional or otherwise so the story being set in this time brings a lot of additional background and emotion from the reader without need for more description.  Devastating war has brought about the development of self-guided weapons known as “claws” and these weapons have now gained self-awareness after years of being tasked with producing themselves.

The film, entitled Screamers- the new name for the weapons known as “claws” in the story, was given an entirely different background and setting.  A war between the miners of a new and desired element and the corporation that employs these miners.  The setting is on a distant planet where the rebellious miners have waged war on their corporate slavers for many years.  The same self-guided weapons are present on this planet but they are known as “screamers” for the distinctive sound they make before striking.  The rebels soon discover they have been abandoned by their own commanders to make room for more progressive war tactics on yet another planet.

At this point the story and film join up and the journey of the protagonist, Hendricks, is similar in both versions as he journeys to contact the enemy.  The slow and horrifying discovery that these weapons, left to produce themselves in an isolated factory have taken their command to kill any living thing to its next phase.  Mimic the beings marked for destruction.  Infiltrate them with their own faces.  This evolutionary jump made by the “claws”/”screamers” is not explained in neither story nor film.  Why bother?  What is of interest is how to tell the difference once these weapons have decided to appear and act human.  In science fiction it is a heavily written upon theme and one that PKD returns to in many of his stories and novels; the best example being Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?.

Characters between story and film don’t vary too wildly.  One (I find) humorous change is that of the woman Hendrick’s meets.  In the story she is a prostitute working behind enemy lines.  In the film she is a black marketeer and a love affair ensues between her and the protagonist Hendricks.  This love affair is meant to illustrate the primary theme, what makes people “human” and just how improbable their love should be.  It was certainly a friendlier way of describing their interaction than the story version where Hendrick’s relationship with the woman is dry and tense until her intentions are exposed in a final betrayal.  Turning the only female character from prostitute to businesswoman probably sounded like a more palatable way to introduce the character in the film but I would file it with the change in setting as another unnecessary modification.

A small but interesting concept is the featured poisoning of oneself to protect from an even more life-threatening issue.  In Screamers, soldiers smoke specially designed cigarettes to battle the effects of radiation poisoning while “Second Variety” describes the personal harnessing of environmental radiation by each soldier to repel the “claws.”  I enjoy little ironies like this and killing ourselves to help stay alive is a good one.

To be fair, from story to film the larger themes were retained; the difference between human and machine, the evolution of a subject beyond the control of its creator, the futility of war, the inevitability of adaptation and destruction of those unable to adapt.  I did not want to like the film, it looked cheesy and dated but, I was pleasantly surprised and very entertained.  PKD’s story was published more than forty years before the film was made-with the film now more than a decade old but the concept of machines working to become more human and the human ability to identify the difference will never leave our thoughts, especially as we forge into this new century and develop more and more advanced technology.

Next up in the PKD story to storyboard series is Minority Report, thanks for reading!