I must be crazy, because I’m a college student again

Last October, I wrote about my layoff from Grays Harbor Historical Seaport. Nearly three months later, my professional life has taken an unexpected turn: I’m a college student again.

My career path is much like the zig-zag of a UFO across the sky. I started out as a journalist, mostly because I wanted to write and earn a steady paycheck. The fact that I loved reading newspapers and later fell in love with radio was icing on the cake. It was relatively easy, however, for me to drop into the software industry when RealNetworks wanted me to write articles showcasing its audio software.

It was around that moment that the seeds for my decision were planted. Continue reading

Five Questions: Elizabeth Guizzetti, author of The Grove

Elizabeth Guizzetti author photo

Elizabeth Guizzetti is author of three sci-fi and fantasy novels, including Other Systems and The Grove.

I’m starting a new occasional feature on my blog called Five Questions. I’ll ask an author five interesting questions and post their answers. Check out the answer for the bonus question! My inaugural guest is Elizabeth Guizzetti, a personal friend whom I met through a sci-fi and fantasy writers group in Seattle. Elizabeth loves to write science fiction, horror and fantasy with a bit of social commentary mixed in, not always intentionally. Her 2012 debut novel, Other Systems, was a finalist for the 2016 Canopus Award. Her most recent novel, The Grove, is on sale now.

Do you remember the first character you created? Tell me about him/her/it.

This wasn’t my first character, but the first character I remember was a ten or eleven-year-old girl trying to survive a werewolf apocalypse. I tried to write her tough, my mother said she was kind of rude to the two young men who she was with. (I think they were high schoolers, because at that age, high schoolers are super cool.)

How did you feel when you saw your work in print / electronic form for the first time?

My first published work was Faminelands: The Carp’s Eye which is a self-published graphic novel. It came out in print first and then we started the webcomic. It was (and always is) a roller coaster. It felt wonderful the first time I flipped through it, as well as terrifying. We were making changes up until it had been printing and I had a table at Emerald City Comicon 2008. It was crazy. Those feelings have been just as intense for every book that has gone through the publication process.

I made a video about I feel when holding my book for the first time if anyone wants to check it out on my YouTube Channel. Continue reading

Star Wars: Rogue One has a peculiar relationship with death

Grand Moff Tarkin - Peter Cushing

Star Wars: Rogue One created a digital Peter Cushing to reprise his role at Grand Moff Tarkin.

Warning: Lots of spoilers.

The movie Star Wars: Rogue One is a fun way to pass a couple of hours on a Saturday afternoon, especially if you’re a kid without much exposure to the Star Wars franchise. For anyone who has a bit more experience with the series, or who thinks much about storytelling, the movie can leave you scratching your head.

For one thing, viewers who know the characters and the plots starting with the original Star Wars (now called A New Hope) release in 1977 will spend much of their time puzzling out the way in which the plot line of Rogue One fits with the series arc. The screenplay by a multitude of writers does a good job of meshing with the rest of the Star Wars’ canon.

You can also spend a lot of cycles looking for the two dozen or so nuggets from other Star Wars films. In the process, you might lose a line of pithy dialog or miss a well-photographed shot. These “Where’s Waldo?” moments can be fun, or they can take you out of the total immersion that makes good storytelling an almost out-of-body experience. Continue reading

Despite Trump’s denialism, 2017 could be a bright spot in the fight for planet Earth

global warming illustration

2017 may be a bad year for climate change policy. Or maybe not. Image courtesy Earth.com.

I’ve taken inspiration from climate change. As a writer who loves speculative fiction, everything from Star Trek’s optimism to Margaret Atwood’s dark literary visions, I see global warming as fertile ground for storytelling. You might even say I’m taking advantage of the worst crisis to hit planet Earth in three million years.

That only counts in fiction.

When it comes to real life, it’s hard to be optimistic about the fight to fix the crisis, especially after the election of Donald Trump to the presidency. He is a denialist of the first order, calling climate change a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. The claim is ludicrous, resembling a post-truth, fake news story.

Virtually all his major picks for high-level posts in his administration reflect a similar view. Scott Pruitt, tapped to head the EPA, uses the three percent of scientists who question climate science as a reason to ignore the 97 percent who know it’s human-caused. Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State designate, while acknowledging increasing CO2 in the atmosphere, says its impact is “very hard for anyone to predict,” despite the solid record of predictions going back decades. Of all Trump’s selections, Rick Perry is the worst. “I think there are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects,” he said. That’s simply a lie.

As president, Trump will have a powerful voice. Thankfully, because of America’s diffused political structure, he’s not the only voice.

As president, Trump will have a powerful voice. Thankfully, because of America’s diffused political structure, he’s not the only voice. When you look at what states and localities are doing, I come away with hope that all is not lost. Continue reading

I’ll remember this Black Mirror episode until I’m dead and buried.

Black Mirror still

Alex Lawther as Kenny in Black Mirror’s “Shut Up and Dance.”

Warning: Black Mirror: Season 3 spoilers ahead.

How do you measure greatness in science fiction television? Quantitative measures such as the number of positive critical reviews or the “star” ratings by viewers can set a series or individual episodes apart, but a fan can also measure quality with his or her memory. What image or scene sticks in your mind long after you’ve switched to another show? Is it the broken eyeglasses in the Twilight Zone’s “Time Enough to Last?” Is it the god-like voice of the time machine in Star Trek’s “The City on the Edge of Forever?”

Does Black Mirror have such an image or scene? The Charlie Brooker-produced series has already achieved acclaim on par with Outer Limits, Battlestar Gallactica, and others, but for a series to have historical legs, something has to stick in the collective memory. It’s a shot, a bit of dialog, a premise, or a twist ending that’s talked about twenty years later, or that writers borrow or imitate for another generation of viewers, or that makes you wake up in a cold sweat.

Season 3 of Black Mirror, available on Netflix, has several of these moments. As someone who pays attention to sound effects, the dribbling pitch of the protagonist’s falling rating in “Nosedive” is comic and heartbreaking. The benign, and ultimately murderous robot bees in “Hated in the Nation” bring to mind the moral and practical costs of environmental loss. Continue reading

Aliens, linguistics, and disruptive storytelling make Arrival must-see sci-fi

Arrival movie poster

Arrival uses disruptive storytelling techniques effectively.

We rarely think about our relationship with time. Life is just one damned thing after another. One word follows another. Cause and effect follow the arrow of history. What if you had a different relationship with time, one in which you perceived past, present and future happening at once, so that you know the future in the same instant you know the present and the past?

Science fiction writer Ted Chiang explores the idea in a 1999 short story, “Story of Your Life.” In 2016, Canadian Director Denis Villeneuve adapted the story for the motion picture Arrival, which arrived in theaters November 11. Both stories are told through the eyes of Dr. Louise Banks, a linguist brought in by the military to translate the language of aliens visiting the earth. The film builds on the short story, adding some Hollywood pizzazz and a different ending. Fortunately, the additions don’t obscure the main point; our daily experience of time is only one of many possibilities.

In both narratives, a new kind of language “rewires” Banks’ brain, and the writer and director use non-linear storytelling as a way to demonstrate Banks’ transformative encounter. Non-linear stories don’t follow most people’s experience of events in time, that is, one thing following another as you walk a path through life. Sometimes called “disruptive narratives,” these stories jump around in time, as in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five or Joseph Heller’s Catch-22. If handled poorly, non-linear stories leave readers confused and disoriented. Handled well, they seem more like paintings, best encountered as a whole. Continue reading

Poll: Will you see Arrival or Rogue One over Christmas weekend?

Rogue One and Arrival image

Left: Felicity Jones stars at Jyn Erso in Star Wars: Rogue One. Right: Amy Adams plays Louise Banks in Arrival.

Do you like to take family and friends to a movie over Christmas? Science fiction fans have two great choices: Star Wars: Rogue One and Arrival. Rogue One, the latest installment in the Star Wars franchise, stars Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso. Arrival, a first contact story, stars Amy Adams as Louise Banks.

You can’t always get what you want, even on Christmas, and what if you had to choose? So I’ve got a poll for you. Nope, you can’t see both movies, you have to pick one.

For all you non-sci-fi fans, I’ve got an “other” choice. Be sure to say what you plan to see. Have fun!

Ted Chiang’s sci-fi genius arrives with laser-like precision

cover art for Stories of Your Life and Others

Stories of Your Life and Others, by Ted Chiang

Possible spoilers ahead if you haven’t seen Arrival.

The release of the movie Arrival last month prompted my interest in Seattle science fiction writer Ted Chiang. He has published only 15 short stories, novelettes, and novellas in print, including “Story of Your Life,” the inspiration for Arrival. He’s won Nebulas, Hugos, and host of other awards, far out of proportion to his published output, judging by most other writers I know. As a writer who’s only published one short story (not counting self-publishing), I had to read more by this man.

Penguin Random House has collected eight of his stories in Stories of Your Life And Others, including “Story,” most of them the award winners. It’s a remarkable collection that may become part of the core canon of science fiction and speculative fiction in general. None of the the stories hits a weak note, though I have favorites among them.

If there’s a single word that describes them all, it’s “precise,” demonstrating Chiang’s penchant for picking only the right words and phrases, and crafting every sentence as if his writing life depended on it. Chiang’s style may reflect his training in computer science; every line of “code,” if you will, is elegant and purposeful, and the result is often mesmerizing. Continue reading

You can remember John Glenn by watching this 2005 British TV series

Still from Space Race

Vitalie Ursu plays cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin in the 2005 BBC docu-drama Space Race.

The death of Sen. John Glenn on December 8 brought to my mind the extraordinary achievement of his three orbits around the earth on February 20, 1962. He was the last survivor of the Mercury astronauts, the seven American test pilots who risked their lives to prove that humans could travel and work in space.

They were more than explorers, in a sense. They were soldiers in a propaganda war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, which one-upped each other for more than a decade to prove the superiority of their respective political systems. It was started in 1957 by Russia with the launch of Sputnik, the first artificial satellite, and climaxed with the US moon landing in 1969. The “space race,” as people called it, was the most visible, non-military manifestation of the Cold War between America and the USSR. Continue reading

Help! I need to update my author tagline. Please take this survey.

Not another survey

Only take a minute. Promise.

In today’s publishing market, every author needs a tagline, three to five words that give readers a sense of what he or she offers. This is especially true of unknown authors (like me), and it’s time that I update my tagline to reflect what I hope to offer readers in 2017.

I have a few ideas, but I need some help settling on a choice. I’d like to offer a survey with my favorite ideas, and solicit yours if you have a better idea. To help you, here’s the log lines from each of my as yet unpublished manuscripts in the Carbon Run series:

Carbon Run: In the 22nd century, an ex-sailor accidentally destroys an endangered species, forcing him to run from a fanatical inspector in the feared Bureau of Environmental Security.

City of Ice and Dreams: An ex-cop who’s lost her identity joins desperate climate refugees searching for a mythical city in Antarctica.

Restoration: In a future darkened by climate change, an urbane young woman faces adjustment to life in a divided small town as her father demolishes the last great dam on the Columbia River.

Here’s the survey. Please tell me what you think!