Flash Fiction: Under Ashes

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“Anything worth a damn is made on a coast and ships from a coast. By air or sea.”

That’s what the president said. At least, it’s what was reported on the shadow web that snakes through the makeshift network of “smart” stoves and washing machines and automobiles (if you can afford them!) and can openers and athletic shoes and disposable razors and anything else with WiFi and an app.

The authorized news, on the other hand, ran a piece on how the economy was so gloriously rampant and virile that airlines have formally discontinued coach and business class seating, leaving nothing but a spacious expanse of first class and super luxury class seating in their cavernous airliners.

The anchorbot’s perfect on-air voice floated like a cloud behind the image of an iron-haired general, her chest a solid plastron of stars and ribbons like a compacted galaxy. Her feet were up on an ottoman and a masseusebot worked the suspension bridge of corded tendons in her neck with eight-fingered silicone hands.

Then, as the anchorbot droned a lulling narrative bridge, a puffy gilded teen cherub sat with a megaplatinum record from Motherland Records on a hefty wood base with a tall glass cover occupying a seat of it own beside her. A stewbot cracked the claws of a four pound lobster with deft blurs of a little brass gavel and slid the laden tray before the starlet who tucked into the chow with a flood of melted butter.

Finally, the anchorbot burbling upbeat and drawing to a conclusion, the vid showed a man in an immaculate dark suit and bright tie. The men are always first or last, symbolic frames of the stream of words and images, carrying with them weight and importance, tangibility. The lights and vids of an array of three monitors suspended from the ceiling (the “overhead” on an airplane, is it called?) flickered gem-reflections off the heavy steel rims of harsh six-angled eyeglasses. His hair was a blond cap, waxed down like a helmet. Sideburns trimmed to stilettos stabbed the angles of his jaw in the new style I can’t get used to. A trackball in each hand, he Does Important Things for the cameras.

The images fade to the state news logo and the anchorbot climaxes and relaxes into a commercial.

We all have televisions so we can see how good things are. We may not have hot water, or even running water. We only have electricity part-time. I can’t afford the simplest drugs to treat my pre-diabetes or even aspirin for my arthritis half the time. I set snares for squirrels or I’d have nothing to go with the endless lumps of hard bread (gotta soak it in a bowl of water to eat it) and cheese the Army hands out to keep us from starving or rioting or both.

But the state provides televisions. A new one every Christmas, even if you forget to bring them the old one to trade in.

We’re doing great, dammit. We’re finally great again. The television tells us so. All the biggest world powers respect us they way they should, the announcerbots say.

Just outside the city line – I can see it from the kitchen table in this two room shack I’m blessed to share with just two other bachelors – a bot crew and one Christ of a huge fanged combine-thing, driverless and nameless, chews up the old interstate highway and loads the bits into an endless stream of self-driving dumptrucks that take the blacktop south to do God knows what with it. Thin dribs and drabs of snow float through the scene like in a snow globe, and icicles hang from the noses of the workbots. They don’t care, of course.

I hear blacktop is made from oil. Maybe they’re squeezing the oil back out of it to ship to India or China or Brazil. Those places are hungry for oil and any other resources they can get their hands on, the shadow web whispers from the WiFi toilet when I crap. Who knows if it’s true. The television doesn’t say a word about that.

But the stock market is up again, and the Air Force says Fallujah will fall again soon.

There’s going to be a celebration when it falls, next month in DC. The commercial for it is on again. It has been playing twice an hour since spring.

The commercial ends and my gaze falls on the faded cap hanging on its nail across from the window. The cap is gray now, like my hair before it fell out, but you can still see the crimson fire peek out of the deep folds of the seams like ember under ashes.

I wish I could be in DC for the celebration. To wear the cap again, pump my fist in the air and holler again. Full of power, strong like a bear. Those were the days.

But the highway has gone away, and I’m not much for walking anymore. Nobody I know is.

END

(This post first appeared on my Patreon page, 02 January 2017. My patrons get to see a lot of things early, and can get free ebooks and even paperbacks! Come help me get the hell out of this damned trailer park and into a place where I can have even a small writing office and maybe even write ALL THE TIME. Well, almost all the time. I do have kids and a wife and a cat to think of as well.)

Starting Late And Dying Young

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So, General Organa — Carrie Fisher — is dead. At sixty. She left behind a hell of a body of work and a trail of lives and souls touched through the characters she portrayed, the stories she worked on, and in person eye to eye.

She’s hardly the only one to die relatively young. It happens all the time. But when someone whose work is widely known goes youngish, you notice.

And it set me to thinking, because that’s what I do. I don’t just write about the near future. I live in it, too, through imagination and worry.

I think, I’m forty-six. Carrie Fisher died at sixty.

My dad died at fifty.

Oh, Christ.

I’m going to croak in four years or maybe fourteen (or fifteen minutes or fifty years, but never mind that). And I wonder, in that self-doubting way I have in my own head, if that means that if I’m lucky I’ll live to see a book of mine sell a whole thousand copies.

If. If I’m lucky, the little voice says. It’s a pessimist. My future vision, no matter howmuch science fiction I read and write, specializes in horror when I’m the only audience.

And it is honed and practiced by my earlier life. The Wasted Years, I sometimes think of them as, despite their worth now in experience and tenacity and other mostly bitter lessons learned at the feet of pain.

People like Carrie — scratch that. I’m talking about her. Carrie worked and built her career through substance abuse and mental illness and her own internal little voices, whatever fear and doubt she had and she alone truly knew.

I didn’t build a damn thing, and that lack hurts me. Like, physically when I think about it seriously. For this reason and that circumstance and whoknowswhat, some of which I’m aware of, it took me thirty years or so from age five to my mid/late thirties to begin to suspect that I might have value as a human and as a creative person. While Carrie worked I hid and devoted myself, monklike, to substance abuse and cowardice and surrender to all the things I didn’t think I could face alone.

Maybe that’s why, in this latest cycle of Star Wars movies, I feel contempt for Luke Skywalker.

And let me be clear: the character, not the actor. While I admire both Carrie Fisher and Leia Organa, I’m not sure I can admire Luke even if Mark Hamill is, I hear, a great guy.

I’m not closing the door on Luke. For all my pessimism, it is born of constantly disillusioned optimism and idealism. I cannot help hoping, even as I cannot help pessimism-ing. They’re in my blood.

But, seriously, fuck Luke Skywalker.

General Organa, from her Princess Leia days, was out fighting the good fight, facing the cold hard world with teeth bared and steel in her spine, standing in the face of disadvantage and danger and fear and worry and her own personal feelings and pains. Like the woman who portrayed her.

And you, Skywalker, you self-involved coward, ran away to hide.

It is easy for me to hate his character because I see a part of me portrayed in him that I despise and regret.

“But live your life without regrets!” you crow.

Oh, stuff it. That’s as dumb as that stupid “No Fear” slogan that was so big a few years back. You can’t learn a damn thing if you pretend the lessons and clues to them don’t exist.

And, to pick up the earlier thread again, I wonder how much time I have. Four years? Fourteen? Fifty?

I wonder where I’d be now if I hadn’t spent so many years being a dedicated half-hermit drunk paralyzed by the fear, the near-certainty, that I had nothing to offer the world, nothing to offer even myself.

And I know it doesn’t matter.

The past is gone, the future is unrevealed, and what matters is what I do now.

Now is all I have. And all you have. And all Carrie and General Organa and Princess Leia had.

Some days it’s hard. Living with one foot in the maybe-future, as I must doing what I do, makes me a worrier.

I worry I already blew my chance. That maybe only an S.A. Barton who kept writing in high school and through his twenties and thirties had a chance to make a living and a name writing. That maybe the S.A. Barton I am, the one who blew those years in self-dissipation, cannot no matter how hard he tries. (Oh, gawd. I’m speaking in third person. Shoot me.)

But maybe that me would have been too shallow to be worth much without all these crappy experiences I have survived. And the better experiences that eventually grew from them.

Who knows? Nobody.

Playing the what-if game outside of fiction leads to madness.

I still worry, wonder, regret, rage, fear. And wonder if I’ll have time to make my voice heard widely, to grow into a respected creative voice the way Carrie Fisher did. To make that kind of impact, one that will last many, many years after her untimely departure. I don’t know. It took her a lifetime, didn’t it?

Maybe I can. Maybe I won’t.

But when the worry and regret perch ravenlike in the dark corners behind me, I remind myself that it doesn’t matter.

I have no time for cowards anymore, whether they are Luke Skywalker or the Ghost of S.A. Barton Past. But I do, in that undying spark of stubborn optimism that hides under my pessimism, believe there’s a chance to be better today, and every today until the todays stop coming, and to find success.

SciFi News Network 2074: The Explosion of Bot-Based Home Entrepreneurship

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(First appearance on my Patreon page, 22 December 2016)

AllBot News and Entertainment

Week 35, 2074

L. Flora Wong

Jayla Johnson is the face of a rising new cottage industry that, some think, poses a threat to the old corporate order.

Economists estimate there are a million just like her in the United States now. Across the world, from our neighbors in Canada and Mexico to even the heavily state-managed economies of the Greater Russia Federation and China, there may be as many as ten million more. Using bots to rapidly create and sell handcrafted products worldwide is small potatoes by corporate standards. Last year, they sold perhaps $N5,000,000 ($100,000,000 pre-revaluation) in goods. But five years ago it was half that. Twenty years ago, a tenth.

Some corporations seem to think that trend could continue, and undermine their profitability. Currenty, lobbyists and sympathetic members of the rump Trump Party (now rapidly weakening through defections to the new, revived right-progressive Bull Moose Party) are attempting to push a bill through the House levying draconian fees and taxes on home entrepreneurs.

Thankfully for people like Jayla, the measure has little chance of becoming law.

As the chaos of the Great Contraction of 2027-55 came to an end, the proliferation of basic income programs combined with plunging costs and soaring capabilities of bots for the home market brought opportunities earlier generations couldn’t have imagined.

But Jayla could imagine. “I was one of the first to see what we could really do with these bots. I was selling furniture I made from salvage. Real art pieces; I started out as a sculptor. Back in the day I finished a couple of pieces a month and sold them around the neighborhood, long before I had any bots. It was a way to keep food on the table, because, you know, with all the automation there was hardly any work for anyone. But I was feeding my soul, too. Doing what I loved even though the world was going to hell all around us.”

By 2055 her business grew beyond mere subsistence. She took advantage of the first wave of Rebirth Loans then. The low-cost, flexible and long-term repayment funds allowed her to buy two bots. She went from finishing two pieces for sale per month to, in 2056 and to the present, finishing two per day. While the bots were and are marketed as automation for the home, mechanical servants for taking care of mundane tasks like cooking, cleaning, and budgeting, she saw that their learning algorithms allowed them to become able helpers.

“I still have the original bots, and now they actually do the dishwashing and whatnot they were made to do. (Laughs.) The new bots are so much better at learning tasks than the old ones. I have one to assemble pieces, one that scrounges for good salvage out of the landfill, the beach, and around the hood, one that cleans and sterilizes my materials (that took so many hours before bots!), and one that takes orders and ships them out.”

With the help of her bots, Jayla is among the upper 1% of earners in the bot-assisted home crafts industry. She estimates she sells about $N30,000 worth of furniture and art objects yearly, about $600,000 pre-revaluation.

“My basic income stipend, well, I give that to local food banks. $100 per month goes a long way for them. I’ll never forget that I was hungry, once upon a time. But thanks to these bots, I’ll never be hungry again. I hear Trump Party types go on about how people need old-style jobs. Spending all your hours doing junk that bots can do better, junk you don’t really care about. No wonder things went to hell! Who wouldn’t rather find something they love and make themselves some money doing it, whether it’s a little bit of extra spending money or, if they want to work their butts off like I do, a lot?”

SciFi News Network 2098: Eight Simultaneous Prison Riots Put Down In Hours

(Originally appeared on Patreon, December 16)

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US AP (Federal Approved)

Monday 17 November 2098

Staff

Riots at eight Indianapolis, Indiana-area penetentaries were put down yesterday by automated Lockup Consolidated guards aided by automated SWAT teams from the cities of Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, and Cincinnati, Ohio.

All eight riots began between 8 and 8:30 Sunday morning. An Indianapolis PD SpoxBot, in a text release marked “reviewed and approved” by Deputy Police Chief W.A. Stoltzy, stated the riots are believed to have been deliberately plotted and coordinated. “So many riots simultaneously occurring in a single district and in such a constrained timeframe are highly unlikely in normal circumstances,” the statement read in part.

An investigation is ongoing.

The riots interrupted production on orders of clothing and furniture kits for markets in the European Union and India, where strong basic income programs have preserved and expanded a mass market for frivolous consumer goods.

Although the riots were ended within 6 hours and with minimal casualties relative to the inmate population (14 dead and 171 injured of 38,500 total inmates), equipment damage pushed back anticipated delivery dates.

“This is going to invoke contractual penalties. Significant monetary penalties that will severely impact revenues,” said Stanley Wallers, the Executive Vice-President of Lockup Consolidated’s Textile Division. “In order to compensate, we anticipate 30 to 60 layoffs of human production and shipping bot supervisors. If there are no more setbacks we may consider opening hiring again in a year or so.”

Lockup Consolidated is among the top 10 employers in the Indianapolis greater metro area, employing over 400 human workers.

Afraid Of The Future

(Originally appeared on Patreon on the 6th of December, 10 days ago)

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The election of Trump — literally a caricature of stereotypical US flaws of arrogance, greed, vanity, and privileged brattiness — to the presidency has added notes of fear and worry to my vision of the future.

Well, I’ve long been a bit of a cynic. Maybe I should say more and louder notes of fear and worry.

Maybe you have similar feelings.

But also maybe I have a little extra insight into what that fear can mean, what damage it can inflict on us. If we allow it. And assuming the damage isn’t involuntary and external like a trade war wrecking the economy or World War 3 doing more literal wrecking.

I have the insight of having been paralyzed by fear of the future.

In my boyhood, my family moved frequently. Some people deal with that well.

I, an emotionally sensitive boy with an unstable home life — poverty, parents who argued frequently and loudly and worryingly — did not deal with it well. At all.

I cycled through ten schools (that I can remember — I won’t swear that there wasn’t an 11th) from kindergarten through ninth grade.

I stopped remembering peoples’ names, even their faces. Because they were transient. Because the world was unstable. Because I felt I couldn’t count on anything. Not anything at all, especially people.

To this day I have great difficulty remembering names and faces. Or what people do for a living, what their hobbies are, what they like and dislike.

I had become afraid of the future, and so I began to behave as if the future did not exist. As if I did not have a future at all.

The future only existed for me when I read science fiction. The future of science fiction was an abstraction. It was conjectural, imaginary, of the mind. And if it was in my mind, it was something I could count on.

It was safe in a way the future of my own life was not. Science fiction was my refuge, along with fantasy and history.

Maybe some of you feel the same.

As I progressed through high school — a relatively stable time, perhaps ironically; I stayed in the same school all four years but avoided engaging, waiting for it, too, to change — my fear stayed by my side. My grades declined. My teachers were a faceless blur, along with most of my peers. When it was time to consider college or a trade I avoided taking control. I avoided making any decisions.

I’d already decided, down deep in my marrow, that choosing was for suckers. That the fearful future was a negative thing that inflicted itself upon me. Beyond my control, a force of nature, like a tornado.

The only thing I could control, in my mind, was science fiction. There, I could wish for a future and see it happen. There I could hope.

I wrote a bit back then. Poetry and the occasional short story.

I had no ambitions for those stories. Imagining the futures that other people wrote was safe. But if I wrote them, let others read them, sent them out into the world to be considered for publication, tried to actually be a writer — that would be entering the real future and having real hope and I wasn’t ready for that at all.

That would require setting aside that fear of the future. I couldn’t bring myself to do it, think about it, even dream a little about it.

I wasn’t ready, then, to face a hope outside of fiction, a hope that would carry with it the responsibility of work and the responsibility of change and the responsibility of failing and having to try again and again and maybe look foolish in a way others might see.

Fear is like that. It grows. It expands its roots and extends its grasp from one part of your life to another. Like pernicious weeds engulfing field after field if left unplucked.

It took time and pain and effort and support and even lucky circumstance to overcome those deep-rooted and broad-branched fears of the future in my own life.

And overcoming does not mean they are gone, does not mean that I no longer have to fight them. I do. Nothing rooted so deep is uprooted without leaving scars. The fear left many buried seeds. I will always be weeding, every day I live.

Maybe this sounds familiar to you in some way.

You know, it’s good to have a refuge like reading science fiction. It is also good to realize that you cannot live in a refuge.

I cannot live in a refuge. Whether it’s from my own writing or the uncertainties of the rest of the world or from the damage that Donald Trump, President can do to our society and the rest of the world.

Having rediscovered hope, I must hope. And real hope means doing what you can to make the future a little better.

For me, that means writing about the future and trying to get paid for doing so. It means making myself plan and strive for a future of my own even when the fears and the doom that comes with them are upon me yet again.

It means advocating for a better future for us all. Taking up what tiny corner of that enormous task I might be able to grasp, even if it’s as puny as raising my voice in a blog or on social media.

It means trying to remember names and faces even though I have come to realize that I will never really be good at it, not after spending so much time hopeless and disconnected.

It means writing things like this even though it is painful and I worry that I will look like a fool (of course I will, to someone — someone always sneers).

Because maybe this will seem familiar to you, and maybe reading things like this readied me to have hope again, many years ago.

Got Chai?

 

If you don’t “got chai”, I have been playing with recipes and variations for a few months and have settled on a recipe that I really enjoy. Maybe you’ll enjoy it too — you might want to start with half quantities if you’re not used to highly spiced food and drink. This version makes my tongue tingle.

A couple of notes: “copious milk” means about half milk for my wife, and about 1/4 milk to 3/4 chai for me. Your mileage may vary.

I’m told my version is a “masala chai” – a lot of people like to add ginger, so you might want to grate or crush a bit of ginger, maybe a half inch or inch of root, or add dried ginger from powder or cut some off the dried root if you have it. Don’t roast fresh ginger, just put it in the tea ball with everything else. I’d add powdered ginger straight into the boiling water, or chunks of hard dried (not candied!) ginger in with the 2nd group of spices for roasting. If you haven’t roasted spices before, you just toss them in a dry pan over medium-high heat and give them a shake every fifteen or thirty seconds until they’re giving off a yummy aroma.

I usually love ginger, but it just wasn’t agreeing with me in chai.

If you haven’t made something like this before, it is normal for it to be a bit cloudy, if you refrigerate any it will get cloudier and clarify again when you heat it, and it is normal to have a sediment of spices and tea dust in the bottom of your cup so if you’re bothered by that let it sit for a minute after pouring and stirring, and sip rather than gulp.

Enjoy!

I Published A New Collection And I Liked It

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Fine, okay, there were some bits that are never fun. Like building an ebook table of contents or going through a bunch of stories written in standard manuscript format and deleting all the tabs so they won’t screw up the ebook.

But yeah, I liked it. There are 21 science fiction stories in there, arranged roughly from the nearest future to the most distant. From the most plausible to the most conjectural. From the least to the most alien-to-us-today vision of humanity.

There are self-driving cars and artificial intelligences in love and undersea civilizations and killer climate change and all sorts of other good stuff.

You can preorder it from Amazon right now. Or from Barnes & Noble, or Kobo, or Smashwords. Or Google Play Books. Or the iTunes bookstore. Or… there are others. How many others I cannot guess. The internet is big. 🙂

The release date is December 24th. Who doesn’t need something to read on Christmas Eve? I do. Ugh, the stress!

I, Robot Is Old-School Apolitical And Socially Neutral Science Fiction — Um, Right?

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I and some fellow writers (and reviewers, some may pick nits, but isn’t reviewing also creative writing? Yes, it is.) are getting together at The Scary Reviews comment section on Wednesday the 16th at 7 pm to discuss I, Robot. The idea is we’re to review the book on our own sites to kick things off. If you’d like to read a proper review, Lilyn G. over at SciFi and Scary wrote one.

I, however, rarely review anything in the traditional sense. In fact, I have avoided reviewing anything by a living author for years after seeing some of the one-star brigading of indie and self-published authors over personal conflicts and butthurt over receiving critical reviews (I’m going to avoid linking to any accounts of these incidents, as I don’t want to wake up any ill-tempered sleeping dogs).

I’m still thinking the above over — should I say “screw it” and jump in anyhow? Am I being a wimp? Lilyn isn’t afraid to throw a one-star review along with a reasoned explanation of why it wasn’t more. Feel free to chime in with a comment on my possible cowardice. But, onward:

When I do review these days, it’s a dead author.

Well, Asimov is dead, you say. So what’s the problem?

There’s no problem. I enjoyed reading I, Robot in high school 25+ years ago oh crap I’m getting old who could have predicted this indignity and I enjoyed reading it short story by short story over the course of the end of last month and the beginning of this. Good stuff, if you’ve ever only seen the movie you should read the stories because the movie, as usual, missed and skewed A TON. In fact, more than usual. The stories were really just inspiration for the movie, not much more.

But reviews, as I suggested just a bit earlier, aren’t really my thing.

So I’m going to talk about old-school science fiction, what it isn’t, and what it is, using I, Robot as context.

Asimov wrote this collection in the spirit of Gernsback, a bedrock figure in the US science fiction scene. A scene that some of the right-wing Sad Rabid Puppies movement in current US science fiction hold up as a halcyon age where the genre was all about fun adventure reading that maintained neutrality in contemporary political and social movements.

But as I wrote in an earlier post about Gernsback and his work, that’s bullshit. Gernsback wrote about technocracy and world government — which, if you think about it, continue to be political and social movements across both political wings and anywhere between or beyond the wings today.

Gernsback was a pretty clumsy writer. He wrote the kind of stories that are rejected from slush piles today, because they were all about worldbuilding — describing potential technological advances and their potential ramifications — and had very little actual story in the story.

Asimov writes in much the same way, except he does it much better. He gives you a bit more humanity, and his writing, while equally lean and unflourished, is just plain better at drawing you into what is going on. He’s not very descriptive, but the little he describes sticks in your mind. His characters are sort of cardboard, but the drawing on the cardboard, at least, is interesting. The human story isn’t deep, but the technological story he tells is deep and engaging. The technology-driven story doesn’t hook on to the characters’ humanity — it hooks on to the reader’s humanity by speaking to elemental philosophical and social questions.

Asimov, in I, Robot and elsewhere, writes the epitome of old-school science fiction: technological, revolving around puzzles to solve and difficulties to overcome, basically hopeful of humanity, and inescapably linked to the social and political questions of the day.

A few examples from the collection:

Robbie speaks to the 1940s fear that advertising and television — technology — will warp and subvert the minds of our children as they are raised immersed in it. But Robbie the robot shows the reader that such needn’t be the case. Robbie risks his robotic life to save his young charge’s life and inspires the little girl to value love and loyalty — humanistic values encouraged  by using technology in constructive and mindful fashion.

Reason grasps the irrationality and logic-rejection of religion and the easy handle it presents for manipulating the faithful through the presentation of a robot prophet who organizes a robots-only cult (the profession of robot faith, uncomfortably, mirrors the Islamic profession of faith, giving the Christian reader an out to avoid applying the story personally — but the principles apply equally to any zealous subset within any religion who reject sound science and observation on the theory it must automatically be incompatible with faith). The story’s resolution leaves faith unconquered — but unquestionably wrong, wrong, WRONG.

The Evitable Conflict is utterly, totally politically charged. Place it in its proper context, the United States at the close of the 1940s, and the global political situation. The story revolves around the tendency for technology to rule humanity, in the familiar trope of artificial intelligence attempting to control human events — or dare I say, take over the world? But the story itself is critical of nationalism and Western powers dominating and controlling world affairs, suggesting what is practically political heresy now and was definitely heresy then, that the wheel of history may yet turn and political dominance may pass into hands that are not Western at all. The story suggests that the reader consider that deliberately managed peaceful globalism may be the solution to humanity’s most destructive problem, war, and that humans have never been so in control of affiars as politicians like to imagine, but instead at the mercy of economic and sociological forces.

How’s that for “good old fashioned apolitical science fiction”?

 

Why SciFi Movies Disappoint SciFi Readers Who Read The Book

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Why SciFi Movies Disappoint SciFi Readers Who Read The Book

(Same Goes For Fantasy And Comic Books)

Same goes for pretty much any movie that was a book first, really. Ask a Stephen King fan. But this phenomenon of disappointment is so much more pronounced for fans of SciFi and Fantasy and Comic Books. Why?

Partly because of the nature of movies bundled with the nature of the average moviegoer. In the dawn of the moving picture era, the movie itself was a novelty and a spectacle, just by being itself. A few elementary stunts, a visual gag here and there, and a good story were all a director needed to sell a movie.

But the novelty has long since worn out; movies are now a venerable art form. Seen at the theater, they’re still a spectacle and an experience in and of themselves – but that’s less about the movie and more about going out to the theater.

Today, nobody wants to pay to see a book translated directly into film. Film was never suited to that, because an hour and a half, or even three hours, just isn’t enough room to tell a story it takes 100,000 words to tell. Or even 50,000. If you made a movie going point by point through a story as written, you’d be lucky to relate 10,000 words in a standard 90 minute film.

And a lot of that film would annoy the crap out of the audience. Internal dialog doesn’t play very well in a movie. At least, not at any length. Nor do narrator commentary or flashbacks and flashforwards and radical scene shifts, or background and world building.

SciFi and Fantasy and Comics are REALLY BIG on all of those things. Because to one degree or another they hinge on things that don’t exist in real life and have to be explained or at least established as to how they fit into the world and how people deal with it. Often, that’s the whole point.

(Graphic novels, by the way, are the bisexuals of the movie-literature divide, usually able to work just fine on either side of the divide – they translate well into film because they’re already organized around a visual presentation, and novels are not.)

The whole point of a movie, though, especially recently and especially in SciFi and Fantasy and Comics, is WOW.

WOW is the visual pop that people want out of movies in general and want ten times more out of genre movies. What sells those tickets is what I think of as “special effects pornography.”

Just enough story and character development to string the special effects spectacles together. Like a porn is just enough to string the sex scenes together. Explosions and falling buildings and super cool aliens and robots are the money shots the average moviegoer wants in exchange for the ticket price.

As much as fans of the books and comics want the background and the worldbuilding and the multiple plot threads to be faithfully represented, they simply aren’t numerous enough to drive the market. Without the SFX porn the movie doesn’t make a profit and the DVD doesn’t sell and the action figures and Halloween costumes and t-shirts don’t move off the shelf.

So the producers and the studios and the writers follow the money. That’s what they’re there for. Oh, they love pleasing fans and making people happy – or at least, the best ones do. But the bottom line is the bottom line: folding green. If it doesn’t make money, in the end its dead to the theater.

But it’s also possible to go too far chasing the money, too deep into the SFX pornography scene. Look at the DC films lately. A Batman who is also a rifleman. A Superman who casually snaps necks and doesn’t give a shit about knocking down the heart of a city. The lovers of spectacle may love it, but the fans of those character in comic books are the ones who are most likely to buy the DVD and the Blu-ray and the Special Director’s Cut too.

Even casual fans of the characters, even the people who read the comics as kids and put them away when they ‘grew up,’ know that Batman isn’t a gun kinda guy and that not killing people or wrecking cities is Superman’s thing.

It may be all about creating the spectacle and setting up the special effects, but if you rip the cores out of familiar characters in the process, what you end up with is empty schlock. And while really awesome schlock may draw a crowd of one-time ticket buyers, it won’t inspire fans to love the franchise, buy the merch, see it multiple times or buy the DVD.

Even the unperceptive can feel when something is empty, even if all they really know is that it was “cool, but I’m not looking for the next one.”

As for the book-readers, they generally loathe the empty schlock movie versions. But even the really well done ones, once stripped down to fit them into a movie format and bent around the cool special effects scenes, are missing the cores that novels spend tens of thousands of words building.

No matter how great the movie version, a movie will never be a book. And that leaves the book fans unfulfilled – unless they go in eyes open, expecting what they see to reflect the strengths and weaknesses of a completely different medium.

END

Humans Now, Basically

2016 NOV Norfolk - old gum tree and electrical station - Victor and Cuinn.jpg

Children (my 2 youngest, 3 and 5) in the shadow of a gnarled ancient of a gum tree, with an electrical substation lurking behind.

Kind of a metaphor for our world, isn’t it?

As a bonus, the yellow vest is a Batman vest and the brown jacket is a print of Chewbacca’s torso. Geek life FTW.