Wednesday, July 18, 2007

On-lin Sci Fi Bonanza

Damn you Wheaton! I'd just finished my post for today and realized you wrote almost exactly the same one yesterday. DAMMMMNNN YOOOOOOUU!

I cede primacy, and simply reprint:

"Today is a hell of a day to be a science fiction fan. There's a new issue of the Subterranean out, including stories from Mike Resnick, Charles Stross, and Gene Wolf. If that wasn't enough to make you proclaim today Official Do Nothing Else But Read Subterranean Day, there's even Elizabeth Bear audio, an interview with her, and original fiction. Seriously ...


Warren Ellis says that the first chapter from Crooked Little Vein is available as a pdf.

John Scalzi is offering a free .rtf of his awesome novel The Android's Dream to all active military personnel serving overseas.

With permission from Tor, I am making an electronic version of The Android's Dream available to US servicefolks serving in Iraq and Afghanistan and other points overseas. This e-book version is an .rtf version of the text (about 900kb) I turned into Tor (i.e., a few copyedit flubs here and there) which is easily modifiable for whatever thing folks in the field have to look at text through. This e-book version is free to them, and given with thanks for their service.

I think it's insanely cool that he's doing this, and hope to follow in his footsteps with some of my own work one day."

Between Wheaton kicking my behind on the sci fi stuff and Bill Cunningham covering 4GM, I may need to shift to reviewing RPG rules and even more obscure political rants if I'm going to keep any justification for this blog.

Oh, and Warren's first chapter is a delight. It's very ... Warren-y. Take that as you will.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Futurism vs. Futuruisn't

Charles Stross has got a lovely post on how difficult it would be explaining some mundane bit of our present technological lifestyle to someone from just thirty years ago -- how do you explain gold farming to someone who's never seen the Internet? Although I found myself explaining gold farming to non-gamers last week, and it's hardly easier now ...

Couple that with Cory's essay on futurism here, and the theme of sci-fi really being about the present comes home. That is, it's almost impossible to write about the future in any effective/meaningful way.

I faced that challenge, and had it beat me like a red-headed step-child, when I took a swing at adapting Foundation a few years ago.

(You hear those two sounds? The first was about half the science fiction fans on the planet fainting at the prospect of one of the writers of Transformers adapting Isaac Asimovs' Holy Trilogy. The other was the sound of the remaining science fiction fans lighting torches)

I was partnered with Shekhar Kapur -- who has a blog now, of all things. Huh. This seemed like a pretty spiffy idea. He was just off Elizabeth, and the canny executive's thinking was that the future, to a great degree, is a costume drama in the opposite direction. That is, there'd be lots of things that need explaining, totally different political and social situations the audience must understand instantly, and quite a lot different wardrobes and thingamabobs the audience should find fascinating rather than ridiculous.

The line between Blackadder II and Elizabeth is finer than you think.

Shekhar was a very fine person to work with. Obsessively introspective, dedicated to exploring the inner lives of his characters in a way that frankly befuddled most Western film humans we encountered. Foundation is a big, deep bastard, and while Asimov's work has the patina of the 50's on it (atomic priests! space houswives!) at its core it's about free will. If someone could predict the future with mathematical certainty, is that a blessing or a curse? Is belief in a mathematically predetermined future effectively faith? I was fascinated by that concept, and wound up creating a fairly complex thematic web between:

-- the Foundation, representing order, but decaying
-- the Mule. Pure chaos, the virtue of free will but nominally evil
-- and Bayta. No longer the space housewife, but torn between these two competing ideologies.

Ironically, the big emotions and ideas laid themselves out easily. Benefits of adapting within the genre, I guess. But one of my big problems was that I actually knew something about science. That kept screwing up my script.

I didn't know about the Singularity at that point, of course. But I damn well knew that a couple thousand years in the future, we'd be doing things differently. I kept putting little things into the script I thought would be normal bits of future tech that we as an audience would find interesting. Gesture-linked atmospheric nanites that would then resolve into the object you'd just shorthanded with the twitch of a finger. Translucent, reconfigurable energy force weapons (I've used those a bit in Blue Beetle's constantly reconfiguring armor). Galactic maps hidden in the genetic code of Foundation Agents. Not to mention the Visi-Sonar.

The problem was, as I layered on the things I found sci-fi cool, the script became denser and denser for non-sci fi readers who were expecting big goddam spaceships. Not that I didn't have big goddam spaceships, and a chase through multiple hyperjumps right after she shot her way THROUGH YES I SAID THROUGH A MASSIVE BATTLE CRUISER --


At the same time, Shekhar and I went down the rabbit hole a bit with the themes of the movie. The nature of good and evil, action and inaction, predestination and free will -- the speeches we crafted were occasionally achingly lovely (He's a bit of a poet, that Shekhar). But where one would accept such speechifying from an Elizabethan character because we have, as a culture been conditioned to accept such things from Shakespeare-y folk, coming from techno-priests it seemed to grate.

We just couldn't seem to break away from the script-writing process. For the execs, they needed cleaner, simpler -- no, never dumber, I liked these folk. The lead exec was one of the smartest I've ever worked for in Hollywood. But the studio needed a mainstream movie. It had to be the future, but this bizarre, borderline incomprehensible future was ... not it.

For Shekhar, it was his natural tendency for perfection.

For me, it was Foundation. This is Asimov. We have to get this right.

All in all, everybody loved every draft, it was the beginning of a new trilogy ... and it went away into the vaults as inertia took over and we all drifted off to other projects.

When I recently moved, I reread some of the drafts. There's one in there, an early one, that's I'm pretty proud of. The themes are dramatically presented and resonant. I finally got my female action-scientist hero. And our Mule was, to be blunt, fucking brilliant.

The rest of the drafts, written over the next two years, are incrementally more ... laden. With notes, with ideas, with speeches, with ambition. We juggled the presentation of the timeline with maybe six odd versions ... the scripts eventually descend into foggy symbolism. We fell into the honey trap of Asimov's genius.

Turns out when you pit a living will and against a dead hand, the dead hand does indeed win.

Monday, July 16, 2007

My Exciting Spy Life

Well, not really, but I do have essentially two "identity kits" now -- my old Palm Treo 700 under Sprint in LA, with US petty cash, LA office keys, etc. and an identical Palm Treo under Bell here in Canada, Canadian cash, Canadian house keys blah blah. Oh, and a composite-materials Walther PPK. But that's just for arbitration. And the filthy Czech murderers trying to get my microdisk.

But mostly for arbitration.

This elicits a question for the hive mind. I use Palm Desktop to synch my years-to-accumulate phone list with my LA Treo. I want to use the same contacts in my Ottawa Treo, but my forum searches for maintaining the same database on two separate palm devices is coming up skint. I know we have some serious tech fetishists out there, so I'm hoping someone can answer this before I come up with some awful typing-intensive workaround.