Saturday, December 31, 2005

Good News, Bad News (But Not Totally Bad)

I was thinking of writing about Bob Denver today, but I think I'll put it off for later.

Eric Flint sent me a contract and said the check was being mailed out yesterday, so I will have official writing income next year. Good news, and a big burden of suspense lifted off my shoulders. I will probably turn around and immediately use a portion of the money to subscribe to Baen's Universe, just to show my support for the venue (and also, frankly, because I think I'll like the magazine - the stories I've seen them buying so far match my tastes pretty well).

In less good news, I just received notification that my entry in Writers of the Future made it as far as the quarter-finals, but did not advance higher. Positive: I made it a step further up the ladder than last time I tried. Negative: I didn't Win, Place or Show, and let's face it, unlike last time, I didn't enter this time just to be in the contest. I really thought I had something (although admittedly, something small - might it have placed higher if I'd developed the idea further, or if I'd written it in third person?). However, now that I know, I can turn around and shop that story out. It's still a good story, and it's a very saleable length.

Here's the tricky bit. Writers of the Future is the plum market - great money, great exposure, and a wonderful workshop. If I sell three short stories to major markets (and "Astromonkeys" counts as one), then I'm ineligible for the contest. But at the same time, should I be trying not to sell to major markets in order to maintain my eligibility for a contest I may never win. I think not. I've got another story in slush at Baen's, and I've got three more stories set to submit after New Year's Day. If two out of those four sell, I'm out of the running. I've lost some great opportunities, but I've got cash in hand.

Of course, another possibility is that none of them will sell, and I'll be eligible for the damn contest the rest of my life. *sigh*

Holidays always depress me.

Friday, December 30, 2005

This Weekend

This weekend, I'm going to be installing a media center PC with a wireless router to allow both computers to share the broadband connection. So I expect earplugs to be required wear around the house for a couple of days, because I can never get these things to work right on the first try. It always seems to require at least two days of sweating and swearing. Cosmic law or something.

I started to work on my old NaNoWriMo project again, which I hadn't touched in over a month. I decided to reread it, because I was having trouble remembering whether I had already written a certain scene (my plan to mark which scenes I had written on the big board never got properly followed - jeez, some people...). My opening chapter, which I feared was too static and talking headsy, now doesn't seem too bad. I don't know if I'll actually read the whole thing through before I try to write any more - seems like a waste of time and movitvation - but I'll probably skim to make sure what scenes have been written and what scenes I still need to write.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Fascinating Even If Untrue

Saw this link over at RealityCarnival.

What an amazing idea. I haven't read enough of it to judge whether it's at all possible, let alone plausible, but I just love the concept from a story standpoint. I read this and immediately think, "There's a story here. Those years really happened, but all the records have been falsified to cover up the true story." I see this idea as perhaps the germ of a fascinating anthology, either alternate explanations of what could have happened, or else a shared-world idea, where we all agree on the cause, and simply tell stories within that framework. I wish I were bold enough to step out and start something like this, but I'm still waiting on my first paycheck, and not confident enough to try to wrangle people together for a joint effort. How did Cat Sparks do it?

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Do Bad Sequels Diminish Good Originals?

I know that in one sense this is a silly question, but I seriously wonder. The original Godzilla was a sober, scary film, but by the mid-70's, the series had become so campy that Godzilla was considered strictly kiddie fodder. The first Smokey and the Bandit was a fun ride, but the sequels were so awful that I was seriously embarrassed to admit I'd ever liked the first one. I know that nobody seems to think that the original King Kong's reputation was damaged by Son of Kong, but the recent Star Wars prequels do seem to have pointed up and magnified the storytelling flaws in the original trilogy.

So I'm seriously asking. Do bad sequels diminish good originals? If Michael Bay or Joel Schumacher released a crappy sequel to Citizen Kane next year, could that affect people's opinions of the original?

Monday, December 26, 2005

Time Traveler

I worked late several nights last week. One night, I stopped for supper on the way home at Waffle House, one of the few places open that time of night.

Eating at Waffle House always makes me feel as if I've traveled back in time. That tiny, open grill diner atmosphere just feels like something out of the 30's or 40's to me. I feel like I ought to be wearing brown leather shoes, smoking Luckies and drinking black coffee while I call everybody "Mac" or "doll."

Is there any other place that can make you feel quite so temporally disoriented?

Thursday, December 22, 2005

A Very Special Holiday Treat: The Lost Fragment

A few days ago, I posted a bit about Christmas with OSFW. And two days ago, I posted the fragment I wrote for this year's contest. But there's more to this story that I didn't tell you.

You see, immediately after last year's contest, I was so inspired by hearing all the fragments that I wrote another one right away, just to have one in reserve for this year's contest. However, once the "Bad Science/Disaster" theme was announced, my fragment no longer fit the theme, so I decided to bag it.

Now I could hold onto it for next year's party, but what fun would that be? Do I seriously not think I'll be able to write another decently bad two-three pages in the next year? I can write badly in my sleep.

So as an extra-special treat from all of me here at Frazier's Brain, the home of great value at greater prices, I present the "Lost Fragment." You are the very first person to read it (other than the writer, of course) since it was written almost a year ago and then promptly hidden in the bowels of my old computer. Now unearthed for your reading pleasure, Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you...


Arthur Jackson sighed as the whistle sounded the end of his shift at the factory. He shut down his board, picked up his briefcase, and headed for his car. Another grueling day done, he thought. Four hours of backbreaking work, monitoring the blinking lights on his console to make sure his section of the line was running smoothly.

All he wanted to do, he thought as he stepped out onto the parking platform, was go home, sit in his den with his feet up, and drink a beer while he read his paper. He shivered in a sudden cool breeze and reached down to flick the switch on the personal heater attached to his belt. Big-shot scientists thought they knew everything, but they still couldn’t control the weather well enough to keep it warm in January.

He sighed again as he got into his car. He should be happy, he thought. He had what every man dreamed of: a steady job, a nice house with a two-car garage, a beautiful wife, 2.4 kids and a dog. Except that his wife, Astra, hardly ever talked to him, except to complain that he didn’t help enough around the house or that no, they couldn’t afford to upgrade that .4 into a third child just yet. Perhaps he should have them run a switch into his den for the trash conveyors; it wouldn’t hurt to take out the trash every now and then, would it?

He shook his head and fired up the jets. The right rear sputtered a few times before it caught. It was almost time to trade the old girl in, Arthur figured; he’d had her for over a year, after all. He lifted off and started to turn toward home, but a red glow to the east caught his attention, as it did more and more every day. He’d never gone that way before, but today, he gave in.
He circled the district a couple of times before finally settling on an isolated bar called “The Lonely Heart.” He couldn’t imagine who would name their business that; how could they attract customers? Then again, he was going in, so maybe it worked.

He settled to a landing on the platform, got out, and walked toward the front door. A space dachshund was sniffing hopefully at a couple of trash cubes off to the side of the building. It growled half-heartedly at him as he approached, then turned and spun up its tail, lifting off to look for better pickings on the next platform over.

Arthur went in, walked up to the bar and ordered a beer. He really should have a food pill first; he didn’t want to get too drunk to drive home. But no, he decided, live dangerously, seize the day. He sipped at his beer and made a face. There was probably a flavor molecule in there somewhere, but he hadn’t found it.

A telescreen behind the bar was showing a game of Astro-Ball, but Arthur couldn’t pay attention to it. His attention was distracted by the sound of crying off to his left.

A pretty young blonde was sobbing over her drink, a colorful concoction in bands of blue, purple and glowing green.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

“I just… Yes, I’m fine,” she said, gamely attempting a smile through her tears.

“Would you like to talk about it?” Arthur asked.

“Actually, I’d like to talk about anything but,” she said. “So what would you like to talk about, Mister…?”

“Arthur. Just Arthur,” he answered.

“I’m Vanessa,” she said, and this time, her smile was more genuine.

Arthur gazed into her impossibly blue eyes as he sipped at his beer. It didn’t taste so bad this time; in fact, it tasted wonderful, the best he'd ever had.

That’s when he knew he was in trouble.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

King Freaking Kong

I finally got to see King Kong a couple of nights ago (I say "finally" both because it took me almost a week to get to the theater to see it, and also because I've been waiting for this movie to come out ever since they announced immediately after Return of the King a couple of years ago). My feelings were mixed, to say the least.

marccarlson, a member of my writing group said this about the movie: "I may actually like this one better. Yeah, there are some trivial little bits that I might have chosen to do some other way given my druthers, but there were some of those in the original movie too." I see what he's saying there, because I thought some of the choices weren't what I would have done. But the main source of my discomfort is not with any one particular change from the original. It's in the pattern common to all the changes.

It's hard to remake a classic. On the one hand, if you change too much, you run the risk of alienating your built-in fanbase (see the 1976 Kong). On the other hand, if you make essentially no changes at all, audiences will rightly ask, "Why was this movie made at all?" (see the remakes of Psycho or My Man Godfrey). There is a sweet spot, where you make a film that remains true to the spirit of the original while bringing just enough of a fresh approach to allow the film to stand on its own.

The '76 remake tried to do this by camping the entire thing up and playing Kong largely for laughs, not surprising when the screenwriter was Lorenzo Semple, Jr., creator of the Adam West Batman TV series and screenwriter of other campfests like the 1980 Flash Gordon.

Jackson and Co. take a more sober route. The original film is an excellent example of spare plotting - Denham and co. take a ship to a mysterious lost island. One of the passengers is Ann Darrow, a beautiful woman whom Denham has fast-talked into coming along to star in his film. When they arrive at the island, they meet natives who worship a mysterious monster known as Kong. The natives kidnap Ann to sacrifice to Kong. Kong turns out to be a giant gorilla, who carries Ann off, with Denham and his men in pursuit. They discover that the island is populated with creatures lost to the rest of the world, dinosaurs and giant insects. Denham and his men are pursued by a brontosaurus, then shaken off a log spanning a chasm by Kong himself. Most of Denham's men are killed, but Jack Driscoll survives to pursue Kong still. Meanwhile, Kong battles a tyrannosaur, a sea serpent and a pterodactyl in order to protect Ann. Driscoll rescues Ann, and Kong pursues the lovers back to the native village, where he is captured by Denham. Denham takes Kong to New York to exhibit on Broadway, but Kong escapes, kidnaps Ann, and carries her to the top of the Empire State Building, where he is shot by airplanes.

The Jackson film hits basically every note of this plot, but expands the film mainly by inflating the numbers. The ship's crew is expanded. The brontosaur becomes a herd. Kong battles multiple T-Rex's and a flock of huge bats. Kong's battles in New York are expanded as well; he even battles more airplanes than the first Kong did. Some of the changes work well, really raising the stakes of the story. Others just feel sort of overstuffed and desperate, like all the rigamarole with the ship battling waves and fog to make it to the island or the truly over-the-top bug scene in the chasm.

Having said all that, however, the central element of the film - Kong himself - is so well done that Jackson's other sins are forgiven. The original Kong was a fascinating creature, clearly artificial, yet so full of power and personality that you willingly gave yourself over to the fantasy. However, as good as the effects were for their time, they are clearly showing their age. What Jackson has done is to make Kong more animalistic, more like a real gorilla, but still maintaining a regal presence and intelligence that just commands your attention when he's on screen. The performance by Andy Serkis, augmented by the work of a ton of animators, brought me close to tears a few times, especially in the scenes in which Ann and Kong watch the sun set, and later rise. Jackson's Kong is majestic, yet with a playful sense of humor that's truly endearing.

I don't know that I'm dying for an Expanded Edition like I bought for the Lord of the Rings trilogy; the movie already feels too long, especially in the tragic moments which seem overmilked. But I will definitely buy it and study it when it comes out. I may even buy the '76 version, just to have a complete set.

I draw the line at King Kong Lives, however. Not buying it. No way, no how. I'd sooner buy King Kong Escapes.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

My Christmas Fragment: A Bad-Science Disaster Story


Frank Dyson had long dreamed of commanding the first mission to fly faster than light, but he had never dreamed that it would start out like this: running for the launch pad with his crew of three - Abel, Dave, and Kentaro - pursued by armed NASA guards. And then there was the fact that he was being led by his own duplicate self.

"Don't worry," the other Frank said, shouting to be heard over the alarm klaxons as he ran alongside a duplicate Dave. They both wore stolen NASA Security uniforms. "Abel and Kentaro have secured the doors.You'll be on your way in no time."

Frank and his crew had been in final preparations for the launch of Starstrider, the first ship to be built with the new XCD Drive, which was theoretically capable of exceeding the speed of light. However, with less than a week to go till launch, another Starstrider had appeared in orbit and requested permission to land. It turned out that the time dilation effect had a limit equal to the speed of light. Once you exceeded that speed, time reversed itself, like turning a shirt inside out. The duplicate Starstrider had landed, bearing a duplicate crew and a wealth of data on the voyage. Scientists had been swarming over the ship and combing through the data for days.

Then only a couple of hours ago, word had come that Frank's launch had been scrubbed. NASA administrators cited dangerously high winds as the nominal cause. The launch was too risky, especially since they already had the data they needed. Frank and his crew had been locked down, as well as the duplicate Frank and crew. But with just a few minutes before launch time, the duplicate Frank and Dave had appeared and freed Frank and his men. Now they were racing against time to complete the launch.

They rounded a corner to see the duplicate Abel and Kentaro struggling to hold the door against several guards. Frank Two pulled his stunner and zapped a couple of the guards. The others were easily overcome with the arrival of the reinforcements.

"You guys got here just in time," Abel Two said.

"Right," Frank Two said. "Now we just have to get these guys to their ship."

"Wait a second," Frank said. "I thought you were being held under armed guard, just like us. How did you get away?"

"We didn't," Kentaro Two said.


Frank Two smiled and put a hand on Frank's shoulder. "Let me explain. We didn't really arrive four days ago. We actually arrived more like a month ago. And since we knew this was going to happen, we knew we needed back-up. So we decided to go out and come back a few more times. On our last trip, we'll come in and contact NASA. Those guys being held under armed guard are our future selves."

"Yeah, okay," Frank said. "But do you really think we can make it all the way to the ship without being stopped? It's a long way, and the entire base has been alerted."

"Don't worry," Frank Two said. "Our existence is proof that we'll make it. Besides, I told you, we have back-up."

He opened the door, and both crews stepped out into total pandemonium. Frank had to squint in the strong wind that ripped tears from his eyes, but everywhere he looked, he saw duplicate Franks and Abels and Daves and Kentaros battling with guards. Pockets of the battle spread across the entire mile of tarmac between the headquarters building and the ship.

"Oh my God," Frank said. "Just how many of us are there?"

"One thousand twenty-four of each...ish," Frank Two said. "Turns out, there was a doubling effect every time we came back. But four of us are still being held prisoner, and I seem to remember missing the bus one time. Let's go."

The eight of them began to run across the tarmac, weaving between struggling groups of men, dodging stunner blasts. Suddenly, Frank heard a shout from behind him.


The eight men turned to see Abramov, the NASA chief, accompanied by a large contingent of elite NASA guards. Abramov held a pistol, a real pistol, in his hand. "Stop right there, Dyson," Abramov said, blinking as his combover was whipped into his eyes by the howling wind. "You're not going anywhere."

"But Abramov, don't you see?" Frank Two said. "This is what must be. This is fate."

"There is no such thing as fate!" Abramov shouted. "And I'll prove it!"

He shot Kentaro straight through the heart. Kentaro gasped and slumped to the tarmac. All fighting stopped at the sound of the shot.

"Oh my God, Ken!" Frank shouted, kneeling beside his fallen crewmate.

Kentaro smiled up at his commander. "Sorry, Frank-san," he said. "Doesn't look like I'll be making the trip with you after all." He closed his eyes and died.

At that instant, the one thousand twenty-four-ish Kentaros simultaneously disappeared, leaving man-sized holes of vacuum in the air, air which immediately rushed in to fill the one thousand twenty-four-ish voids, making the already frantic winds blow even faster and more chaotically.

And that was how the hurricane started.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

City of Heroes Pics

As promised (or threatened), here are some pics that will ilustrate some of what I spoke of in my comments about City of Heroes. I hope this turns out looking ok. It looks good on my computer, but I don't know how it will look on others.

First, here's a view of one of the beginning zones, the visually breathtaking Atlas Park.

Here's a view of the cool architecture and another giant statue, this one in Steel Canyon. I love flying, although I wish I could fly just a bit faster.

In my previous post, I mentioned visiting a very special place. Here's a keepsake photo.

And finally, some shots of my character, Metatronic, both in his beginning costume above...

And in his more advanced armor with cape. I generally go with the Kid Meta costume when he's flying around outside, and go with the armor when he's on missions. It doesn't make any difference to the game, but it's fun. For his next costume, I think I'll go with a powered-up Super Saiyan look, and then for his last costume slot at lvl 40, I'm thinking of dressing him in secret identity civvies.

So I'm still having fun playing, but on the other hand, the mssions are increasingly becoming too much to handle solo, and I'm not a huge fan of team play, so I don't know if I'll make it to lvl 40 or not.

Writer's Group Christmas

Oklahoma Science Fiction Writers had their annual Christmas do last night, and as usual, it was a lot of fun. Besides the usual mingling and joking and grazing-around-the-snack-table you find at any party, ours features two organized components: the gift exchange and the reading of story fragments.

I scored The Superhero Handbook in the gift exchange, which is a less cutthroat version of the Dirty Santa everyone seems to be playing nowadays. We put a limit on how many times a particular gift can be stolen, both to avoid hard feelings and (with over twenty people playing) to keep it down to a reasonable length of time. Funny thing: I've done this three times, and the same person has ended up taking my gift twice. I also love this person's writing, so apparently we have very similar tastes.

Of course, given that it's ostensibly a group of writers, the highlight of the evening is the reading of story fragments. The contest as described to me the first time was "the first three pages of a longer work." The idea was that they would read the fragment without a name, and people would try to guess who wrote it.

I was new to the group my first time through. I didn't really have much written that I wanted anyone to hear that first year, so I printed off the first three pages of a screenplay that I'd written years before and submitted that. The fragments ranged from good to dreadful, but nobody else was dumb enough to submit a screenplay fragment, so almost everybody identified me as the author. One thing I learned was that, while some people grabbed the beginnings of old stories out of their inventory, many people just wrote the fragments from scratch specifically for the contest. For some people, it's the only writing they present at meetings all year.

Last year, I thought I might pull a fragment from some dreadful short stories I wrote in college (one common element of many of the fragments was that they were intentionally bad), but they were just too painful to look at. So I wrote sword and sorcery action sequence, but with an Asian martial arts flair (I've since tried to expand it into a full-length story, but my intended ending sucks, so I found myself slowing down and never quite reaching the end).

Something very strange happened that year, though. Several of the entries were spookily similar in theme. Turns out that a bunch of people had decided behind the scenes to write on the same subject in order to needle one of the other members. It was funny, but as usual, I was out of the loop on that joke. The other really notable part of the fragment contest that year was that there were a ton of fragments submitted; IIRC, there were eighteen, which took a long time to read aloud at three pages apiece. So there were noises made about restricting the length the following year.

This year, the president of the group tried to have lightning strike twice by announcing a theme for the fragments. However, apparently some people felt too restricted by having the theme chosen for them, or maybe people were just busier this year (I know I was), so this year, instead of eighteen fragments, we only had six. And instead of trying to guess who wrote what, we just voted on which one we liked best. Mine didn't win, but it did get a few votes, so I felt pretty good about that.

I will say, though, that the theme as I originally heard it stated was disaster movies like "The Core," based on bad science. Mine was the only fragment that specifically referred to a large-scale disaster, so in my heart, I think I won. I may put it up here in a day or two, just because. And I may also have a special surprise a day or two after that.

Other than the few votes I got last night, I've been feeling pretty unloved as a writer. I supposedly sold "AstroMonkeys" to Baen's Universe, but have received neither contract nor check yet. I keep worrying that they're going to change their minds and reject the story. Maybe it's irrational, but I think I'll feel that way until I have the check in hand. Meanwhile, I still haven't heard anything from Writers of the Future. They were supposed to inform people 8-10 weeks after the close of the quarter, and it's now been eleven weeks. I was talking to one of the members, who said the longer you don't hear anything, the better, as it means that you've made it through to the later stages of judging.

Then Matt, who was a winner last year, jumped in to say, "No, they've changed that. Now they inform the finalists first, then everybody else." So now I'm back to "Oh crap, I have no idea." I just wish they would tell me something. I keep checking the mailboxes (e- and paper) and not finding anything. It's so pitiful.

Monday, December 12, 2005

City of Heroes

Had our company Christmas party last week, and I won a camera, so I may have to start posting pics here like a normal person. Funny thing: I've always thought I had a pretty good visual sense, a composer's eye. and yet I rarely take pictures. The Wife has always thought it curious that I wanted to be a filmmaker and yet I never wanted to run the video camera during holidays or family events.

When I was talking to mtreiten last weekend, the subject of City of Heroes came up, and he asked how I liked the game. I attempted to take a shot at the answer, but I'm not sure I made much sense, so I'll try again here. Please note that I've never played a multiplayer game online before, so some of what I'm saying may be freaking obvious to people experienced in the genre.

My reaction is mixed, but mostly positive. They handle hero creation really well. I was an avid Champions player years ago (Champions is a pen-and-paper RPG about superheroes). Champions enabled you to create exactly the hero you wanted by giving you a wide variety of powers and allowing you to combine them any way you pleased. However, they also identified several iconic types of heroes (the Brick, the Energy Projector, the Mentalist, the Martial Artist) and gave you helpful tips on constructing the type you wanted to play. The problem with Champions was that it was very time-consuming to construct a character out of raw materials like that, and in a group, you would invariably have one or two people who were much better at finding loopholes that allowed them to create much more powerful characters than the others.

City of Heroes balances things by using an Archetype system that limits your power flexibility, but makes it easier to construct a character and keep it in balance. You choose an Archetype (Blaster, Tank, Scrapper, Controller, Defender), and within that Archetype, you choose power subtypes (Blasters can use Energy, Fire, Ice, or others, for example). Once you've chosen your powers, you create a costume, and that's one of the best features of the game. The costume creation system is very flexible and allows you to get a wide variety of looks.

Once your character is created, you can play that character in two ways. You can be sent on missions by contacts you meet within the game, or you can simply patrol the streets. There is always criminal activity on the streets, but just patrolling randomly gets boring pretty quickly. The missions are more fun and more versatile. You can play solo (as I usually do) or in teams, but there are some missions that you can only take on as part of a team. Some missions link together to form a story arc; once youve completed the story arc, you receive rewards in the form of a power enhancement and a souvenir. Other accomplishments in the game yield badges, which you can use to give yourself a title. If you want to ignore Edna Mole's advice and wear a cape, you can do so, but only as a reward after attaining level 20. Gameplay is almost exclusively combat or traveling between combats.

The world you travel through is gorgeous. This is another thing the game's makers got just right. Paragon City is full of towering skyscrapers and looming statues and monuments, and it's especially fun to fly around in. One of my more juvenile pleasures in the game during a badge-hunting run was to fly up to the top of a particularly large statue honoring some female hero and literally stand on the shelf of her breasts. It was childish, but cool.

So what don't I like about the game? For one thing, although the heroes have a very comic-bookish feel, the enemies don't. I understand why you're not fighting individual super-villains for most of the game, but it gets pretty boring sometimes flying around and fighting the same generic street gangs all the time. Some of the villain groups are colorful and interesting (like the Tsoo or the Freakshow or the Sky Raiders), but most are bland and dull (the Outcasts, the Warriors, the Trolls). My least favorite group is the Family, a generic Mafia clone. I burned out on the whole Mafia thing years ago (odd since I wrote a sort of Mafia story a few months back), so the charm of thugs in suits with names like "Johnny One-Eye" is lost on me. The heroes feel like comic book heroes and the world looks like a comic book world, but the villains you fight just don't feel like comic book villains.

Still, I enjoy playing. I like completing story arcs. I like collecting badges and souvenirs. I like gaining ever more spectacular powers. I love just flying free and exploring the city. I'll be doing this for a while longer, at least. I may post some screenshots soon.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Pick-ups and Pyramids

Back in the 70's, a decade of so many odd fads that went nowhere fast, Pyramid Power was briefly in vogue. Someone had noted that grain stored in ancient Egyptian tombs for thousands of years was still able to germinate in the modern day, while grain stored in modern silos went bad after a few years. Therefore, the reasoning went that there was something special about the pyramidal shape, some unique quality to its dimensions and angles, that made it able to focus cosmic energies in a beneficial way.

People were told that animals were happier and healthier under pyramids. Food tasted better and kept fresh longer when stored under pyramids. Razor blades stayed sharper. Even people would have better health, sharper minds, and greater overall prosperity and happiness if they would only take advantage of the positive energies focused by the pyramid. Somebody even marketed a pyramid hat, designed to focus beneficial pyramid energy directly into your brain.

I don't believe in pyramid power, but if something like that does exist, then it must have an opposite. There must be a shape which focuses negative energies in the same way that the pyramid focuses positive ones, a shape under the influence of which people become less healthy, less happy, less prosperous. A shape which causes venality and bitterness and just plain stupidity to thrive. A shape which is a blight on mankind and all his works.

I believe I know this shape.

It is the shape of the pick-up truck and its softer curved cousin, the baseball cap.

Beware this shape in all its forms. Don't drive pick-ups if you can possibly help it. Give them a wide berth on the streets. If you see a pick-up driven by someone wearing a ball cap, you are in mortal danger. This is a person whose mind is receiving a doubly concentrated dose of stupidity rays, and there's no telling what he may do. If you see someone wearing a ball cap indoors, beware. This is a person addicted to the stupidity rays, who can't bear even a moment out of their influence; he is doomed, like Gollum, to waste away into a mere idiot shell of a man. I am not name-calling, merely stating (pseudo-)scientific fact. We must fight this blight with all our strength until the pick-up as passenger vehicle is no more. Stand with me, brothers. Now is the time.

FULL DISCLOSURE: When my car breaks down, I usually drive the Mom-In-Law's pick-up as a temporary vehicle. I am not myself during these times. Run. Shun. Do not approach.

Monday, December 05, 2005

"Roller Ball Murder"

So I worked an early shift a couple of Tuesdays ago, and I was struck by how heavy traffic seemed to be compared to the Wednesday through Sunday shifts I used to work at the same time of day. Not only was traffic heavy, but there seemed to be an inordinate amount of lousy drivers piloting pick-up trucks, an even higher percentage than normal in Oklahoma. Today (Tuesday again) I once again worked an early shift, and once again, the 5:30 a.m. roads were just crammed with rude, crappy drivers in pick-up trucks (about which I may rant at length tomorrow). What is it with Tuesdays?

Where was I? Oh, yes, "Roller Ball Murder." As I said yesterday, I picked up a book with the short story in it at Gardener's Used Books on Saturday.

I'm amazed at how close to the original story the movie was, although perhaps I shouldn't be, considering the screenplay is credited to William Harrison, the same man who wrote the story. The story is very short, but almost all the elements of the film are there: the aging hero who thinks there should be more to life, the corporations ruling the world, the shifting rules to create more carnage, even very specific scenes in the movie -- one in which Jonathan E gives a training demonstration to some rookies, and the very memorable scene in which Jonathan's best friend Moonpie is killed.

Of course, Harrison had to flesh it out, which means there's lots of material in the movie which is not in the story. Not only did the movie require a linear plot (which the story really doesn't have) but it also had to add numerous details and bits of business (my favorite being the way Caan pounds his fist against his thigh while they play the corporate anthem before a game). In the story, Jonathan E is targeted by other teams as a dangerous opponent, but is never singled out by the corporations as a man who poses a danger to the social order, nor does he triumph at the end. The story ends with him about to enter the climactic match and feeling sure that he won't survive. The movie, on the other hand, presents Jonathan not as a tired old campaigner about to meet his final fate, but as a hero who rises above his circumstances by inspiring the masses.

The last time I saw it, the movie hadn't aged well. The low budget shows more and more with the passage of time, and the "futuristic" look of the film is horribly dated. But it still has enough good moments to make it worth watching, especially compared with what little I've seen of the almost universally despised remake (which I've only seen bits of).


So, the post-mortem:

Maybe a thousand words progress between my last post and the end of the month. Final score: 28,850-ish. So on the one hand, I'm disappointed. On the other, as I think I mentioned before, this is a story I've been wanting to write, unsuccessfully, for years, so the fact that I wrote more than a page is in itself a victory.

That said, my problem now is that it's far too short. I'm right on the cusp of the big climax of Act II at 30,000 words. That big action scene won't be more than 3,000 or 4,000 words, I figure, and then it's all barrelling down toward the end. To have any chance of selling, I need it to be at least twice as long. I've got some ideas for scenes I intended to write and cut out because I thought I needed the momentum, but they won't fill out the book. I'm thinking of expanding the role of one of the characters and making him a POV character earlier in the book, make it almost as much his book as Digger's, I don't know if it'll work, because he really doesn't have anything to do until Act II, but I've got to do something.

Went to a signing by M.T. Reiten, naamah_darling, and her husband Sargon the Terrible. All three have been winners in the Writers/Illustrators of the Future competitions (naamah won as an illustrator, but continues to enter as a writer also). It was at a used bookstore that was literally giving the signed copies of the anthologies away. I scored a couple of free anthologies and also picked a textbook about science fiction which included the short story "Roller Ball Murder" by William Harrison. I've seen "Rollerball" (the original with James Caan) about, I don't know, five or ten times, and was curious to see what the original was like. More about that tomorrow.

And because somebody just won't let it go, I must comment on the Geico caveman commercial. It's been around forever, so I'm sure you've seen it. Spokesguy sez something about switching your insurance to Geico, and ends with, "It's so easy a caveman could do it." Cut to spokesguy in a restaurant saying, "Honestly, we didn't mean to be offensive. We didn't know you guys were still around."

Reverse angle to show him speaking to two cavemen, dressed in yuppie outfits. A waiter asks if they're ready to order. The one with his sunglasses perched on top of his head orders roast duck with mango salsa; the other one says he has no appetite, then fixes spokesguy with a stare that manages to be both piercing and withering.

It's one of the best spots Geico has done recently, because it works on a lot of levels. There's the cheap joke aspect of the modern caveman, with the added fun of seeing cavemen depicted as yuppie metrosexuals (or perhaps they're supposed to be a Gay Cohabitating Caveman Couple; there's certainly an odd undercurrent in the way they play off each other). But the strangest thing of all is that last shot of the caveman. Something in his eyes, the tilt of his head, the set of his mouth reminded me instantly of Val Kilmer. And with the white shirt, it very specifically reminds me of Kilmer's role as a hotshot Navy pilot in "Top Gun."

And what was Kilmer's call-sign in that film?

That's right. Iceman.

Is this a subliminal message? Could it really be Kilmer underneath that makeup? Does he need the money that badly?