Monday, July 27, 2015
Armadillocon has come and gone for another year. The 2015 edition was a very good one, indeed. Attendance seemed significantly up from last year, panels were well-attended and an energy permeated the con that had been absent in recent years. Most everyone I talked with seemed to feel the same. The guest lineup--GoH Ken Liu, Special GoH James Morrow, Editor GoH L. Timmel Duchamp, Fan GoH John DeNardo, Toastmaster Stina Leicht and Artist GoH Rocky Kelley--was very active and accessible, interacting with attendees and panelists all weekend. There was an impressive number of new panelists as well, the concom going out of their way to seek out and invite regional pros who haven't attended before. That injected a good amount of new blood to the regular panelists, and the panels themselves were stimulating and thought-provoking. Again, it was clear the concom didn't just recycle the programming items from past conventions, coming up with new topics, or clever variations on older topics, instead. My panels were well-attended and boasted some very intelligent people who all had insightful commentary. For "Researching Your Book," I brought along a huge stack of Venus science books I'm using as reference for Sailing Venus just to scare people a little bit. J. Kathleen Cheney, Jaime Lee Moyer, Cary Osborne, Lee Thomas and Ernie Wood kept things lively and as you might suspect, each writer had different approaches to the question of how much research is necessary. I was then drafted to sit in on the "New Twists in Urban Fantasy" panel, as some of the panelists hadn't made it to the con that Friday. I kind of prattled on about the overlap between urban fantasy and contemporary fantasy, and how they're not necessarily the same. As I hadn't written any urban fantasy in quite a few years, I didn't have much to offer, but thankfully John Moore, Carrie Clevenger and Mari Mancusi knew their stuff. A lot of discussion was devoted to how publishers are declaring certain sub-genres like urban fantasy, dystopia, etc. "dead" and refuse to consider new work in these areas, but such work is still being published under different branding by an array of publishers, and quality work will always make it into print regardless of publishing trends. On Saturday, my fellow panelists for "The Hobbit Movies" were Lillian Stewart Carl, Aaron de Orive, Paige Ewing, Shanna Swendson and Troyce Wilson, and while everyone agreed Peter Jackson had gone off the deep end with silly video game computer effects that went on far, far, far too long in the films, we disagreed a surprising amount on what the worst transgressions were and which additions actually improved the story. That doesn't change the fact that Jackson would've been better off sticking to his original plan for two films rather than three. "Writing a Strong Teen Protagonist" was the first of two panels I moderated, and Peni Griffin, P. J. Hoover, Jake Kerr, Mari Mancusi and Trakena Prevost all had far more experience writing YA than I, which made my moderating job so much easier. And interesting discussion of the differences between YA and Middle Readers ensued, along with some thoughts on the emerging "New Adult" category. Writing teens is hard, simply because teenagers are still figuring out who they are at that age, and their moods are inherently volatile. Writing teens as small adults is a no-go, and writing parents as incompetent boobs is just as bad a cliche. The absent parent--either through death, divorce or indifference--is another recurring trope that's difficult to stomach, but sometimes unavoidable as so many YA books are coming of age stories where the teens acquire their own agency, so to speak. My other panel to moderate, "Speculative Fiction as a Mirror to Religion," went by fast. I mean fast. We started out and the next time I checked my watch, we'd run five minutes long and could've continued another two hours at least. James Morrow was the 800 pound gorilla on the panel, for obvious reasons, and he was wonderfully challenging in the best way possible. But he didn't hog the panel. On the contrary, Matt Cardin, Katharine Kimbriel, Ari Marmell and Shanna Swendson all jumped in with enthusiastic, thoughtful comments, having particular fun with the influence that the superstitious King James had on the translation of his eponymous version of the Bible. I used my story, "The Makeover Men," as an example of a exploration of misogyny that could not exist without both science fiction and religious fanaticism, but the story is currently not available online, unfortunately. This panel was probably the highlight of the con for me. So many ideas were flying back and forth that I cannot even begin to remember them all. Other highlights include the Space Squid 10th anniversary shindig/flash fiction contest, Stina Leicht hitting no. 6 on the BookPeople best seller list, engrossing conversations with Don Webb, Sean Patrick Kelly, Joe Lansdale, Rhonda Eudaly, Bill Crider, Lawrence Person, Scott Cupp, Lillian and Paul Carl, lunch with Lou Antonelli, moving tables with John Picacio and drinking some of the magnificent Fin du Monde (a Belgian triple) at the Montreal Worldcon bid party. Oh, and I discussed with Chris Brown the possibility of reviving a misbegotten collaboration we threatened to write way back when, so feel free to be afraid. Good stuff all around, and I can't wait until next year. Feel free to share the photos below, just be sure to include appropriate credit.
Friday, March 13, 2015
Tuesday, October 21, 2014
"The Gathering". Dr. Kyle and telepath Lyta Alexander--the only two humans to ever see a Vorlon outside of its encounter suit--had both been transferred off Babylon 5 shortly after that incident. But if Vorlons always wore encounter suits, then how could the Minbari assassin from that incident have applied poison directly onto Kosh's hand? Curious indeed. The bread crumbs and back story are starting to build up, but thus far for the viewer they look like so much window dressing, clever little throw-away bits with no greater long-term significance. Amazing how much you pick up on the second run-through.
Tuesday, September 16, 2014
"The Gathering, gave rise to that long-running and (in my opinion) misguided claim that Babylon 5 is rife with bad acting. Ultimately, "Mind War" isn't among the series' best episodes, but is notable for what it sets up for the future.
Thursday, August 7, 2014
"NASA Space Sounds" video below when it was being shared around the interwebz recently. Instruments aboard Voyagers I and II, as well as several other space probes, recorded an array of electromagnetic signals that, when converted to sound (think of it as running it through a space age amplifier) the result is a strange and eerie ambient sound that is utterly engrossing. To my ear, at least, the pieces are evocative of the non-classical music soundtrack from 201: A Space Odyssey. So that's bonus points right there. The sequences sampled below are taken from a series of 5 CD put out by Laserlight in 1990 titled "Symphonies of the Planets" as well as an additional volume a few years later titled "Celestial Love Songs." Long out of print, they're quite pricey to purchase second hand. Fortunately, they're readily available as MP3 (as well as other format) downloads online, the only drawback being the file labeling isn't consistent and therefore it's challenging to keep track of individual tracks. And since all data, audio and video released by NASA is public domain, fans of these fascinating ambient sounds may download with a clear conscience that no copyright is being violated.
Alas, in my obsessive research, I've learned that things aren't so cut-and-dried. Yes, NASA does take collected electromagnetic data and convert it into audible sound, but the raw, unvarnished audio doesn't sound all that much like what we hear on the CDs. That's because Laserlight (or Brain/Mind Research, which handled the production) didn't just take the NASA audio and burn it to disc. They ran it through an intergalactic version of the nefarious Auto-Tune, processing it heavily and looping, over-dubbing and sweetening with synthesizers to the point where many of the actual "space sounds" are tenuous at best. In fact, some pieces, such as the samples of "Song of Earth" and "Voices of Earth" in the video above simply do away with the source material entirely and re-orchestrate it. I guess that make it an artistic interpretation of the data rather than an objective representation (which opens up the whole objective/subjective reality can of worms, but I digress...).
What's more, it brings copyright into question. It is clearly established law that what is public domain cannot be subsequently copyrighted (publishers may copyright specific presentations of public domain materials, but not the content itself, which is why you can find free 1920s jazz downloads online, as well as the complete works of Charles Dickens, even though publishers put out new editions every few years). However, derivative works of both copyright and public domain can be copyrighted, but only that which is new and derivative is thus protected, ie the original which is incorporated into the derivation remains in the public domain. In this particular case, I would expect the Brain/Mind Research productions to be fully covered by copyright protection. Being out of print is irrelevant. However (and I'm full of caveats today, aren't I?) their persistent and insistent claims (indeed, the entirety of their marketing and mass appeal) that the audio is direct from NASA, with no claims of alteration on their part would, at least superficially, serve to undermine any copyright protection as, has been pointed out previously, all NASA materials are automatically released to public domain. For Brain/Mind Research to assert their copyright on these works, they would effectively have to admit false advertising, which would significantly diminish the value of said works. It's an interesting academic question, albeit one I doubt anybody is going to bother exploring any time soon.
Authentic or not, I find the interpretations of space sounds interesting and appealing. I'll be keeping an eye on Ebay and the like in case a CD shows up for a bargain price...
Monday, July 28, 2014
Armadillocon 36 this past weekend. I don't know what was up with that, but despite turning in way early on Friday and Saturday, I operated in zombie mode most of the weekend. Hopefully I was able to cover it up and not infect too many folks I came into contact with. One might think that with such depressed energy levels, Armadillocon would've been a complete bust for me, but surprisingly the exact opposite is true. I had a blast. Despite an asinine, patronizing set of conduct rules distributed to all the programming participants that was relentlessly mocked throughout the duration of the convention (and rightfully so), most folks there seemed in great spirits. The guests-of-honor list turned out to be a great lineup: GoH Ted Chiang, Special GoH Ian McDonald, Editor GoH Jacob Weisman, Artist GoH Stephanie Pui-Mun Law, Science GoH Sigrid Close, Fan GoH Michael Walsh and Toastmaster Mario Acevedo. Unlike most years, I managed to spend time with, or attend panels featuring every one of the major guests. They proved to be a witty, insightful bunch that brought their A game. Seriously, they all seemed to be running full steam ahead all weekend. I was fortunate enough to sit next to McDonald during the writers workshop panels on Friday, and learned he's that kid from high school who has a funny retort for practically anything anyone says, ever. It was a struggle to not double over laughing and have everyone in the room turn and stare at me. The workshop portion went well, and one participant, Shlomi Harif, brought a short story that I am utterly convinced can be expanded into a complex relationship novel steeped in strangeness. In a good way. That evening's Pirate Panel lurched along like a drunken schooner--mainly because I was moderator and hadn't prepared nearly enough--but my arch-enemy Stina Leicht, Cassandra Clarke, Dave Hardy and Rob Rogers gamely filled in the gaps. Hardy, in particular, proved to have an encyclopedic knowledge of every pirate who ever lived and could've run a two-hour discussion solo without breaking a sweat.