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Sunday, May 31, 2009

And the winner is...

Well. For a change, I have little more to add to everyone else's comments and votes on the entries submitted in response to the 5/22/09 Friday Challenge. I agree with the consensus. Henry wrote a great, touching, and heartfelt piece about his father, that reaches across the generations. Torainfor produced another superbly written and clever piece of fiction, although perhaps I didn't read it quite the same as the rest of you seem to have; I interpreted Margaret's "timeslips" not as literal evidence of her having become unstuck in time or anything like that, but as symptoms of Alzheimer's. In the end, though, I have to pick Passinthrough's entry, because—

Well, because it hits me in the place where I've always imagined that that's what it's like, to have grandparents, and an extended family, and a hometown. So maybe I do read it a bit differently than the rest of you do.

In anycase, Passinthrough, you're this week's winner, so come on down and claim your prize.

Curse of the Were-Weasel

 

Tonight! The exciting two-hour* season finale of Curse of the Were-Weasel begins at 7PM Central time, right here on...

(Hmm. Y'know, we never did name this network. The Goat? The Vole? The Rampant Loon? RLTV? Nah, that sounds like some kind of aircraft or off-road vehicle. Let me work on this and get back to you.)




* If you're one of those people who reads really, really, slowly.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Open Mic Saturday

G'morning all, and welcome to Open Mic Saturday. This is the place to share your news and perhaps do a little bragging. If you're writing a novel: how much progress did you make this week? If you're writing short stories: did you finish anything or submit anything this week? If you've sold or published anything recently: when is it coming out and where can we find it? In short, as a writer, what kind of progress did you make this week?

Or what else is on your mind, that you feel like discussing with the group here?

Writer's Block


by Kersley Fitzgerald





Friday, May 29, 2009

The Friday Challenge - 5/29/09

Light turnout this week. As of the deadline, we have three entries in contention for the 5/22/09 Friday Challenge. I apologize for the sameness of the titles; I didn't give you a lot of opportunity for variation in that department. The contestants are:

Henry, "Memorial Day"

Passinthrough, "Memorial Day"

Torainfor, "Memorial Day"

As always, even if you didn't submit an entry this week—even if you never submit entries in any week—you're invited to read, comment on, and vote for your favorite. Don't feel shy about leaving feedback on the authors' blogs, either. Writers thrive on knowing that someone out there is actually reading their words. The winner will be announced on Sunday.

And now, this week's Challenge:


Secret Agent of Grzelnorpia

You are an alien secret agent, sent to Earth by the Grzelnorpian Empire. Thanks to your BioSomatic Transmogrification Unit (BSTU) you can pass for human, provided no one gets a sample of your brain tissue or puts you through a CAT scan, but all the same, you're apprehensive. Your mission is to prepare the Earthlings for assimilation by the Empire, preferably as willing slaves but as compost if necessary, but while your pre-mission briefing was decently thorough, until you'd arrived here, you'd never really appreciated how truly primitive these Earthlings are. None of the usual Grzelnorpian telepathic mind-control techniques are working!

Now, your deadline is fast approaching. You have only a few twelvedays* left before you must transmit your recommendation to the invasion fleet: enslavement or extermination. The first option looks hopeless, and so, somewhat reluctantly—which emotional reaction is also to your own surprise—you're beginning to lean towards the second.

And then you discover these things called "Facebook" and "Twitter"...

You have about a month left in which to convince the Earthlings to embrace the joys of Imperial slavery. What do you do?



As always, we're playing by the ever-evolving but still not updated Official Rules of the Friday Challenge, and playing for whatever is behind the recently updated Door #3. The deadline for this challenge is midnight Central time, Thursday, 6/4/09.

* P.S. The Grzelnorpians use base 12. And while you appreciate how the BSTU makes your mission easier, you really do miss your lower thumbs and look forward to getting them back and returning to Grzelnorpia when the mission is over.

P.P.S. If you need an additional nudge, consider writing the story as a series of diary entries. Begin on 1B Fleenqorl, which in Grzelnorpian culture is considered a very lucky day on which to begin new ventures.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Deadline Reminder

Just a quick reminder here that the deadline for the 5/22/09 Friday Challenge is midnight tonight, Central time.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Ultimate Geek Fu

 
It's About Time.

We did better than usual with Terminator Salvation. This time we almost made it back out to the parking lot before The Kid said, "Dad? There's just one thing I don't get. If they killed off Miles Dyson and blew up Cyberdyne in Terminator 2, which changed history, and this is a completely different timeline with a completely different SkyNet, how come this version of SkyNet knows what the SkyNet in the first two movies did?" He frowned after he asked me this, but before I could attempt to answer, he added, "And one more thing—"

By the time we'd made it back to the car, he'd one-more-thinged his way all the way around to, "And if wiping the Connors out of existence is so blasted important, why does SkyNet bother with all these piddly little attempts in the first place? Why doesn't it send a bunch of Arnolds back to Germany in the 1930s to try to change who won World War II?"

Hmm. Maybe it did.

As sci-fi writers, this is one of the biggest cans of Instant Headache we can open: the causality paradox. Time-travel is one of the hoary old tropes of the form, so we can't resist the temptation to use it, but if we could travel through time we might change something, and if we changed something dramatically enough we might change ourselves right out of existence, so therefore we wouldn't exist to travel back in time to cause the change in the first place, so therefore—

Ow! Must make brain stop hurting!

When we start talking about this topic the story everyone thinks of is Ray Bradbury's classic, "A Sound of Thunder", which I love if only because it was the inspiration for a particularly brilliant Simpson's episode, but the truth is that the literature and filmography of sci-fi is just loaded with time-travelers casually playing hob with causality and playing silly buggers with history, from Dr. Who and Mr. Peabody and that bunch of dwarves with the stolen map to one of my sneaky little sentimental favorites, Time After Time— and of course, there's always Ahnold and his ilk.

So, how about it? What's your favorite time-travel story or movie? What's the coolest gimmick or cleverest plot device you've seen or read that pertains to time travel? And what is the one time-travel story, TV show, or movie that absolutely gives you a whanging headache every time you try to wrap your mind around it and force it to make some kind of sense?

Let the arguments begin.



ULTIMAGE GEEK FU runs every Wednesday. Have a question that's just bugging the heck out of you about Star Wars, Star Trek, Stargate, Battlestar Gallactica, Farscape, Firefly, Fringe, Heroes, The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Smallville, The X-Files, X-Men, The Man From Atlantis, or pretty much any other SF-flavored media property? Send it to slushpile@thefridaychallenge.com with the subject line, "Geek Fu," and we'll stuff it in the queue.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Ruminations of an Old Goat

by Henry Vogel
It's Monday morning, May 25, and I've been pondering what to call this column for several days; ever since Bruce gave me the green light to continue writing a Monday morning column. Yes, I know this column is appearing on Tuesday. It's a strictly temporary measure due to Memorial Day. Meanwhile, back to the column title.

I played around with all sorts of ideas, each one having it's own issues and problems. Most were too convoluted or too cute or too big of a rip-off of some other column or blog title. With fewer than 24 hours before this column was due to appear, I even considered just calling the column "Ponderings," as I have free reign to write whatever I feel like writing. In one of those brains-work-so-strangely moments, my brain rapidly took me from "pondering" to "ruminating" to "ruminants" to "goats" (and cows and sheep, too). Then my brain tossed out something else I was told long, long ago.

The summer after turning sixteen, I worked as crew on a racing sailboat (lake racing, not ocean racing). The skipper passed along his knowledge of sailing lore, including the little tidbit that any sailor over 50 was called an "old goat." I haven't sailed in 25 years, but know I can still handle a sailboat, and I turned 52 ten days ago. I've decided that makes me an "old goat." Thus was born the title of this column, complete with a minor play on words.

So, what am I going to write about? As I said, Bruce gave me free reign to write about whatever I wish. In general, most of the columns will be associated with writing and reading. I may discuss authors who are particular favorites. I may discuss actual history, usually military history, and point out science fiction and fantasy novels based on that history. I may touch on politics or economics, probably to moan and groan about how little the American public seems to understand either one. I'll definitely review graphic novels and online comics of note. I hope to gain access to online science fiction magazines and write reviews of those magazines.

In other words, I'm going to write about all sorts of stuff. As with "Writing for Comic Books," I'll continue to be interested in topic suggestions from my readers. Simply post them in the comments section.

Before I close out this first column, I'm going to provide a couple of links I think will be useful to all of us. Both links come courtesy of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA).

First is a link to the membership requirements for SFWA. What I found most interesting on this page was the list of qualifying short fiction venues. There are quite a few I'd never heard of, including many online magazines. Many of the listed venues have URLs, but they are not working links. You'll have to copy/paste the URL to your browser to visit the web page. I'd like to think a group for science fiction writers could get something as simple as working web links right -- and they do everywhere else on the site. Go figure.

The second link is to the Writer's Beware section of the SFWA site. A wide range of information is available here, all intended to save the new writer from making the same mistakes other writers have made. I know we'd all like to think we wouldn't fall prey to any of the publishing predators out there, but none of us can entirely keep up with the ever changing publishing landscape. Writer's Beware can help us all avoid the odd pitfall as we strive for publication.

That's all for this week. I'll be back next Monday with a new column, this time about a single subject.

Henry Vogel is a storyteller and former comic book writer. He is a prime mover for The Curse of the Were-Weasel. His column, "Ruminations of an Old Goat," appears weekly on Monday mornings.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day

"I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have the liberty to study Mathematicks and Philosophy. My sons ought to study Mathematicks and Philosophy, Geography, natural History, Naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce and Agriculture, in order to give their Children a right to study Painting, Poetry, Musick, Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry and Porcelaine."

—John Adams

I got my traditional beginning-of-summer haircut yesterday: a short buzz cut, high and tight, almost a flattop. It's hard to find a barber who knows how to do a good flattop these days. Later, after I'd showered to wash off all the itchy stubble, I looked in the bathroom mirror and was shocked to see a face I hadn't seen in almost fifteen years.

Dad.

It was all there: the jawline, the cheekbones, the forehead, the slightly crooked nose from an old break, poorly healed; the thick and once-dark hair, now speckled with gray and turning silver at the temples. True, he wasn't as tall as I remembered him. My dad was a big bear of a man; a prep school and college sports hero, once famous for his way with a football and his exploits in track and field. I vaguely remember shelves full of trophies and a wall full of framed newspaper clippings from when I was very young, but at some point in my childhood all that went away, and the scrapbooks went into the attic and have long since vanished. I'm given to understand he was considered a top prospect in track and field for the '36 Olympics, but there was some problem with his college having not paid its NCAA sanctioning fees that year, or something like that.

The truth is, I don't know. He never talked about himself. All these are things I learned third-hand after he died, when strangers started coming up to me and telling me about my dad and what a difference Coach Bethke had made in their lives.

I didn't know that man. To the extent that I knew Coach Bethke, I knew him as the loud and scary doppelgänger who sometimes replaced my real dad, a quiet, bookish, and professorial man who was more likely to be found sitting at the kitchen table, pouring over Lord Macaulay's History of England or some book about the Plantagenets and looking up every now and then to read aloud some bit he'd found particularly amusing.

My dad was larger than life. He married an (I'm told) adorable little pixie with literary ambitions. (It's hard to think of your mother as sexy, even if she was once propositioned by JFK.) From him I got my face, my intellect, my love of books and history, and my peculiar sense of humor. From her I got my gift for words, my chronic back problems, my mercenary instincts, and the acerbic wit I've struggled all my life to keep under control. It's a tricky combination to own and operate.

World War II was my father's war, not that he served in it. Teaching jobs were hard to come by in the Great Depression, and by the time the war came along he was a married man working as a machinist in what would become a defense plant and still clinging to the hope of getting into graduate school. In time he landed a full-ride graduate fellowship in physics at a university in North Dakota—probably the University of North Dakota, as I doubt North Dakota could have afforded two universities in those days—but then his draft board informed him that if he quit his job to accept the fellowship, he'd be drafted immediately, as good machinists were hard to find but the nation already had all the physicists it needed, thank you very much.

Ah. Irony.

In time my oldest brother came along, and then my sister. In time they even began drafting 27-year-old defense plant machinists with two kids, so dad enlisted in the Navy and went straight into Officer Candidate School, to become a 90-Day Wonder. About halfway through, though, they discovered another ironic thing; that this big, healthy, bear of a man had a previously undiscovered medical condition that would have disqualified him, had it been found before he enlisted. By the time he'd recovered from the surgery needed to repair it, the Navy had decided it already had all the lieutenant (j.g.)'s it needed to finish out the war, and cut him loose.



I admire John Adams' words, even as I realize they're sentiment, not fact. By the same token I love that old Stephen Foster song, even as I recognize it as a pipe-dream. Gonna lay down my sword and shield, down by the riverside. I'll study war no more...

My grandfather was a stonemason, who refused to speak or allow his children to speak German; who in 1917 named my father in honor of Woodrow Wilson; and who despite living in rural Wisconsin refused to hunt or even own a gun. "The neighbors get nervous when Germans own guns," is what he taught my father, before he died of cancer when my father was still a child.

My father was probably meant to be a history professor, had not history conspired otherwise. I think he would have been very content to spend his life reading and teaching, and in his retirement he did become an accomplished watercolor painter.

I studied "Musick," having no skill for poetry and no interest in porcelain. My generation's war was Vietnam, and at the time I believed myself to be a committed pacifist. Thankfully, my principles were never tested in the fire.

My children's war is going on now. Today. In Afghanistan, and Iraq, and perhaps in Iran. And perhaps tomorrow, in Lower Manhattan.

Adams' sentiment is admirable, but ultimately, wrong. Each generation pays the price for the mistakes made and the lessons mis-learned by its forebears. Each generation must study war, so that their children might study mathematics and philosophy and their grandparents might putter peacefully in the garden and dabble with watercolors. Si vis pacem, para bellum is as true today as it was two thousand years ago.

As Winston Churchill makes clear in The Gathering Storm, the first volume in his massive six-volume history of World War II, it was the failure of Woodrow Wilson and the League of Nations, and moreover the willful blindness of "the international peace community," that made the second World War inevitable. It was clear to anyone with eyes to see that the Germans were cheating on the Treaty of Versailles from almost the moment it was signed, and there was a time when all the horrors of 1939-1945 could have been prevented by sending in a single French division to enforce the treaty terms at bayonet-point.

Churchill lays the blame for World War II on Wilson. We could as well lay the blame for all the troubles in the Middle East today on Churchill and T. E. Lawrence, for the way they carved up the remains of the Ottoman Empire and then were unwilling to support the terms of the Treaty of Sèvres. Likewise, a strong case can be made that Jimmy Carter and Zbigniew Brzezinski share joint-responsibility for the today's war in Afghanistan, and perhaps tomorrow's war with Iran, because they so badly mis-learned the lessons of Vietnam.

But the truth is, pretty much my entire generation shares Carter's blame. We were the ones who misunderstood what happened in Vietnam; we were the ones who earnestly, naively, believed that wars didn't need to happen. We were the ones who thought it was possible for enlightened people everywhere to join hands, talk it over, pass an international law abolishing war forever—and then maybe pass around a joint and sing a couple of verses of Kumbaya, too. All we were saying was, "Give peace a chance."

We were, in a word, fools.



The verdicts of history are harsh, remorseless, and sometimes terrifyingly swift. Those who beat their swords into plowshares too often end up as slaves plowing the fields of those who didn't. Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety all too often end up with neither. Those who lay down their swords and shields, down by the riverside, put their children and grandchildren at the mercy of thugs, thieves, and madmen. Those societies that cease to honor those brave few in every generation who take up the sword and shield, and make the whole of society their family and their responsibility, in time cease to be.

And thus we have Memorial Day: a day not for furniture sales, or keggers, or going up to the cabin to make sure the septic tank lift-pump still works, but a day to honor the memory of those who have fallen in the service of our country.

So go ahead; light the charcoal, ice down the beer, cook the brats, and have fun with your friends, neighbors, and family. But as you do this, remember that there were those before you who studied War, so that you might have the right and liberty to do what you will today, and some of them never came home. A moment, a few words, a silent thought of gratitude for their sacrifice would not be out of order.

Wherever they are now, I believe they'll appreciate it.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

And the winner is...

Late night. On the spur of the moment, we decided to go see Terminator Salvation after dinner, and just got back in a little while ago. This movie isn't in the same class as the new Star Trek movie, but it's an entertaining continuation of the series. A lot of stuff blows up, they got fairly imaginative as they expanded the population of the SkyNet mechabestiary, and there are a few pretty good laugh lines scattered amongst the pyrotechnics and CGI-laden stunt shots. There were also some moments when I thought I'd wandered into Transformers 2 by mistake, and a few really startling continuity lapses, but on whole, I'd rate it a good solid 7 out of a possible 10.

Without Dr. Silberman, though, a Terminator movie just isn't the same.

As for the results of the 5/15/09 Friday Challenge: after reading and discussing the entries, and reading your comments, and ruminating on it over dinner and through the movie, we've decided to go with Menace Day, as proposed by Snowdog.

Vidad pegs the Surreal-O-Meter, as usual—and yes, we agree with all the commentors who said you could sell a ton of these as t-shirts. Ben-El's Veto Day strikes us as a very good illustration of the truism that an armed society is a polite society, and Henry gets the coveted "Sucking Up Won't Get You Anywhere" award. We waffled for a while between Arisia's "Job's Birthday" and Torainfor's "PAI Day," both of which are quite clever and entertainingly presented, but in the end we had to pick Menace Day, simply because the vision of this card got lodged in our heads and would not leave:

Front cover: "We heard you were a Brett Favre fan."



Inside: "We are so truly, deeply, sorry."

Curse of the Were-Weasel

Catch The Curse of the Were-Weasel at 7pm Central time, tonight! Only one more episode to go before the exciting season finale!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Open Mic Saturday

G'morning all, and welcome to Open Mic Saturday. This is the place to share your news and perhaps do a little bragging. If you're writing a novel: how much progress did you make this week? If you're writing short stories: did you finish anything or submit anything this week? If you've sold or published anything recently: when is it coming out and where can we find it? In short, as a writer, what kind of progress did you make this week?

Or what else is on your mind, that you feel like discussing with the group here?

Writer's Block


by Kersley Fitzgerald





Friday, May 22, 2009

The Friday Challenge - 5/22/09

As of the deadline, the contestants vying for the 5/15/09 Friday Challenge are:

Snowdog
Arisia
Torainfor
Henry
Ben-El
Vidad

And Al didn't submit an entry, but instead posted a link to this article, which you might find amusing.

As always, even if you haven't submitted an entry you're invited to read, comment on, and vote for your favorite, with the winner to be announced on Sunday. And now, moving right along...



Memorial Day. When I was a kid, it was still observed—not celebrated, observed—on May 30, and it was a solemn day. Then in 1968 Congress passed a law changing it to be the last Monday in May, so that government employees could get a consistent three-day weekend, and the meaning began to drift. Instead of being a day set aside to remember those who had fallen in military service, it became the start of summer vacation season: the weekend to open up the cabin and put in the dock: or as JC Penney reminds me this morning, the kickoff for the traditional annual 4-DAY FURNITURE MEGA DEALS!

Oddly, while the meaning has drifted for the rest of the world, as I age, this weekend has become steadily more melancholy for me. World War II was my parent's war; Vietnam was my generation's war, although thanks to the grace of God and a high draft lottery number I did not serve. But this is the context I grew up in, and what I think about now, and perhaps why I read so much military history: because I'm still struggling to find meaning in their sacrifice.

Vietnam was strange. No mustering; no parades; no politicians emitting fatuous gas about glory; no brass bands playing as the soldiers marched down in company to ship out. Friends disappeared in ones and twos, as the letters came in ordering them to report for their induction physicals, and two years or so later some of them came back—quietly, furtively, as if they'd just been released from prison.

Some came back okay. Some came back damaged, either in body or mind. Some came back in bags and boxes. And some simply vanished, and are still MIA today.

My best friend when I was a teenager; his dad was a WWII veteran. Navy, machinist's mate: only years after he committed suicide by whiskey and unfiltered Camels did his widow get a copy of his service record, and a list of all the medals he was supposed to be proud to display. Turns out he'd been a landing craft crewman, attached to a Marine division, and his service record was a tour guide of the hellholes of the Pacific. He'd been in on all the big ones, and was temporarily a Marine rifleman for a few days when his landing craft was sunk and he and the Marines he'd just landed were pinned down on the beach, under murderous fire, while the bodies of his friends bloated up in the tropical sun and drifted in and out on the tide.

No wonder he never wanted to talk about it.

We had an incident two or three years ago, at a club I belong to. I wasn't there at the time but a young guy came in, just back from the sandbox and all full of piss and vinegar. He apparently didn't get the obsequious attention he felt he deserved the moment he walked in, and wrote a scathing piece about it for his blog, which was widely read in certain circles and how I got dragged into this story. "You know about this Internet stuff, Bruce. You try to explain it to him."

But how do you explain it to a cocky 20-something-year-old? That old guy with the broom that you insulted so freely? He landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day. That other old guy behind the counter that you heaped all your best vicious scorn on? He landed at Inchon. If he moves a little too slowly to suit your tastes, perhaps it's because of how he got his third Purple Heart. But you'd have to know him a whole lot better than you bothered to take the time to, before he'd say anything more than, "Yeah, I was in the Corps. I seen some shit."


I'm sorry. I wander, and blather on too long. Anyway, that's the subject of this week's Friday Challenge. Memorial Day: what's it mean to you?

As always, we're playing by the ever-evolving but still not updated Official Rules of the Friday Challenge, and playing for whatever is behind the recently updated Door #3. The deadline for this challenge is midnight Central time, Thursday, 5/28/09.

As for what Memorial Day means for me: yard and garden work, mostly. But I expect that come sunset, when the work is done, I just might sit out on the deck and have a cold beer, and I might even lift a toast. To Tom, who came back, but then committed slow suicide by booze and cigarette. To Dean, who survived two tours as a door gunner on a Huey, only to die slowly and painfully from cancer. And to Dick, and Gary, and Lance, and Leo, and all the other ones who never came back...

Salute.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Deadline Reminder

Just a quick reminder here that the deadline for the 5/15/09 Friday Challenge is midnight tonight, Central time.

Purging Cache

What do you write about? What isn't there to write about? For me the problem is never coming up with something to write about, but rather prying free the time to do the writing, and so the ideas accumulate in cache until finally my choice is either to toss them all away to make room for new ideas or else give them very short shrift.

Opting for short shrift then, here are some of the things I haven't written about lately.



The hot, hot, HOT category right now is paranormal romance. Personally I have some problems with that, for the same reason I'm unable to write pseudo-Medieval high fantasy or put spaceships into geostationary orbits over Seattle. I keep trying to write, say, a vampire novel, but pretty soon my characters start wondering how it's possible for my sensitive single female protagonist to have hot sex with the muy macho undead man of her dreams, given that having functional erectile tissue requires having blood pressure. Don't answer that; I'd rather not know.

The more important question is, "How do I as a writer go from feeling lucky to get a $5,000 advance to getting multi-million-dollar advances and my own series on HBO?" For some hints at the answer to that question, read Vampire-Loving Barmaid Hits Jackpot for Charlaine Harris.

One note: this is a NY Times article and may require registration to read. If you don't feel like giving the NY Slimes a real email address, go check out bugmenot.com.



While we're on the NY Times, there's interesting grist for thought in this article: Steal This Book (for $9.99). If you're looking for some insight into the economics of the literary marketplatz and the growing impact of e-books, this is a worthwhile read. A depressing read, but nonetheless, worthwhile. If ever you needed confirmation that the real money is in being the middleman who feeds parasitically on the labor of others, you'll find it here.



Elsewhere on the electronic frontier, Scribd.com has gone commercial, and now lets you upload your own e-book content, set a price for it, and—this is the interesting part—keep 80% of any sales. (As compared to, say, the form of brutal anal rape that constitutes Amazon's e-book sales, pricing, and royalty policy.) For a capsule description I'll again refer you to a NY Times article, Site Lets Writers Sell Digital Copies, as it seems to be clearer than anything I've yet found on the Scribd site itself.

I'll probably test out this one, but I'm not optimistic, as it seems painfully reminiscent of the late FatBrain.com site, which has long since been devoured, digested, and reduced to its component amino acids by Barnes & Nobles.



Finally, if you've been wondering what's going to happen with the International Space Station now that those deadly flying bricks we call space shuttles are going into well-deserved retirement, I'd like to direct your attention to this article on FlightGlobal.com. It seems Roscosmos and the European Space Agency are not sitting by the phone, waiting for NASA to call and invite them to the big dance.



Does this clear everything in the cache? Not by a long shot. But at least it reduces the clog and back-pressure somewhat.

More to follow. There's always more to follow.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Ultimate Geek Fu

 
I'll Be Back... Again. And Maybe Again.

This is it: the movie The Kid has been waiting for ever since he learned it was coming out. The next installment in the Terminator franchise opens tomorrow, so of course, in preparation for this, The Kid has been running a Terminator marathon in the family room all this week.

Gah. Talk about something guaranteed to turn your brain into feta cheese...

Actually, I'd forgotten what a lean and efficient little horror film the original Terminator was. Terminator 2 remains the far better film, in terms of story, but my favorite moment is still in Terminator 3.

Actually (again), the moment I'm thinking of isn't even in the movie; it's in the deleted scenes on the second disk of the 2-disk DVD set. It takes place fairly early on in the film, at the whoop-de-doo we-could-never-really-get-funding-for-this secret lab where the babe's Air Force general father works. A bunch of suits, uniforms, and lab coats are sitting in a conference room, waiting for someone else to show up so the meeting can start, and while they're waiting, they're watching a corporate video presentation on the Cyberdyne Systems "Soldier of the Future" project. In the midst of all the inspirational corporate happy talk, the camera suddenly trucks in on a very human Arnold Schwarzenegger, sweating, panting, and running on a treadmill whilst plastered with electrodes and surrounded by scientists taking notes. The treadmill stops, and Schwarzenegger turns to the camera, grins, and in a voice just dripping with grits and cornpone says, "Howdy! Ah'm Chief Master Sergeant William Candy, and ah was honored to be selected to partic'pate in the Soldier of the Future project!"

Back in the conference room, one of the suits watching the video says, "I just don't know about that voice." To which the nerdy guy with the big glasses answers, in Ahnold's voice:

"Ve can fix that."

Suddenly, a vision of an entire alternate future history appears before me: a future filled with redneck terminators, who just wanna hoot, holler, drink beer, kick ass, and git 'er done with this whole exterminatin' humanity business, so's they can get back to watchin' NASCAR. Drivers are overrated anyway. It's the cars that do all the work.

Anyway, that's my favorite moment. What's your favorite bit—either to think of or to laugh at—in the whole Terminator/Sarah Connor product line?

Let the arguments begin.



ULTIMAGE GEEK FU runs every Wednesday. Have a question that's just bugging the heck out of you about Star Wars, Star Trek, Stargate, Battlestar Gallactica, Farscape, Firefly, Fringe, Heroes, The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Smallville, The X-Files, X-Men, The Man From Atlantis, or pretty much any other SF-flavored media property? Send it to slushpile@thefridaychallenge.com with the subject line, "Geek Fu," and we'll stuff it in the queue.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Angels & Demons & DaVinci, Oh My

So Angels and Demons opened big this past weekend, zooming to the top of the charts, and already one critic has embarrassed himself by slagging the movie for a scene in which Tom Hanks escapes from a sealed glass room containing no oxygen by pulling out a gun and shooting the glass.

Just for reference: gunpowder is a solid propellant complete with oxidizer. It does not require an external air supply. Gunpowder-powered firearms will function in hard vacuum, underwater, in rooms filled with Halon gas, etc., etc. So the movie is right, and the critic is an ignorant nitwit.

But never mind that now. Today's topic is Dan Brown, and my question is a simple one: what is it that he's doing that he does so well?

Because I found The Da Vinci Code to be an unreadable slog. Never could muster the will to crack the cover of Angels and Demons. And then there's Digital Fortress:
When the NSA's invincible code-breaking machine encounters a mysterious code it cannot break, the agency calls its head cryptographer, Susan Fletcher, a brilliant and beautiful mathematician. What she uncovers sends shock waves through the corridors of power. The NSA is being held hostage...not by guns or bombs, but by a code so ingeniously complex that if released it would cripple U.S. intelligence. Caught in an accelerating tempest of secrecy and lies, Susan Fletcher battles to save the agency she believes in. Betrayed on all sides, she finds herself fighting not only for her country but also for her life, and in the end, for the life of the man she loves.
In one sense I can't help feeling a certain paternalistic pride, in that the memes of cyberpunk have grown up and gone from being the stuff of bleeding-edge sci-fi to being the stuff of formulaic by-the-numbers potboilers in less than thirty years. In another sense I fear I am emitting the strong and unmistakable scent of sour grapes, for even the worst of Mr. Brown's failures sell better than even the best of my best-selling books could ever hope to sell.

But on the gripping hand, I remain unable to finish reading Digital Fortress, because every time I try—and I have tried many times—I end up having to stop because I'm laughing so hard. And it's not intentionally a comedy.

Ergo, today's question. Dan Brown: good, bad, ugly, or indifferent? And how does he do it?

Your thoughts, s'il vous plait?

Monday, May 18, 2009

And the winner is...

Growing season is short, here in Minnesota. The "safe" date after which frost and snow are only unlikely but not impossible is May 15, meaning we put in an intensive weekend on the yard and garden, which in turn means that by the time I got around to judging the results of the 5/8/09 Friday Challenge last night I was too tired to think clearly.

Normally that wouldn't stop me from writing or shooting off my mouth, of course, but this time I decided it would be a closer simulation of "fair" if I put off picking a winner until this morning. The delay didn't change a thing, though. This morning, while I'm considerably more wide-awake, my hands still feel like claws, my back still hurts in places I'd forgotten I had, and the results are still the same.

Torainfor, you've written another sparkling and clever bit of brilliance that disappointed me only because it was over too soon. Passinthrough, I really enjoy these peeks into your world, because it's so very different—in an appealing way—from mine. My high school reunion experience was more like Jamsco's. I graduated from a high school that was bigger than the state college I went to for my freshman year, and at the front-end alphabetically of a class of nearly a thousand. So yes, while our class did produce a goodly number of doctors, lawyers, politicians, and professors, as well as two authentic rocket scientists, we also produced a lot of folks who fit that old punchline: "No, not Penn State. State pen."

Henry—I'll get back to you on this. Al, you got really close. How did you ever find out that I always considered Woz the real wizard, not Jobs? To wring all that performance out of an 8-bit 6502 with a measly 64KB of addressable memory—

I'm sorry; I'm drifting off into geek-speak. The final upshot is that The Bandit is this week's winner, with an absolutely delightful little tale-with-a-twist about the J. Moriarty High School 10-year class reunion. Very clever, you diabolical fiend!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Curse of the Were-Weasel

Catch The Curse of the Were-Weasel at 7pm Central time, tonight! Only three more episodes to go until the exciting season finale!

Hey, it works for Fox...

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Open Mic Saturday

G'morning all, and welcome to Open Mic Saturday. This is the place to share your news and perhaps do a little bragging. If you're writing a novel: how much progress did you make this week? If you're writing short stories: did you finish anything or submit anything this week? If you've sold or published anything recently: when is it coming out and where can we find it? In short, as a writer, what kind of progress did you make this week?

Or what else is on your mind, that you feel like discussing with the group here?

Writer's Block


by Kersley Fitzgerald





Friday, May 15, 2009

The Friday Challenge - 5/15/09

Before we get to the Challenge, I just want to start by wishing everyone a Happy Re-Org Day!

I'm explain more later.

Okay, as of this morning we have a good array of entries in the 5/8/09 Friday Challenge. At the moment I'm a little pressed for time, though, so rather than the usual form, I'm just going to present them in a simple list. In no particular order, the contestants are:

Jamsco
the bandit
passinthrough
Al
torainfor

And by popular acclaim, here is Henry's remarkably succinct entry, which is in contention even though he claims it is not to be taken seriously:
Here's my entry:

"Look, dear, it's an invitation to your high school reunion," said Henry's wife, Audrey. "Do you want to go?"

"No," replied Henry.

The End

As always, even if you haven't submitted an entry this week you're invited to read, comment on, and vote for your favorite, with the winner to be announced on Sunday.



Now, as for this week's challenge: I woke up this morning to the sound of kvetching. It was the guest host and co-host of my usual morning radio program, talking about the reshuffle in the station's line-up and the co-host's move to a different program on a sister station, which the co-host was trying to put a good face on but clearly none too happy about. At first I wondered what idiot of a program manager put this pair on the air today, but then I realized: it's May 15th—or as I've come to call it, National Re-Org Day.

That's right. Today is the middle day of the middle month of the second quarter, and for many of us the end of a pay period—and by pure luck of the calendar, it's a Friday, too! So a modern tradition has developed that if a corporation is going to make a major organizational change in hopes of improving the P&L and getting the dust settled by the start of Q3, the day it will hit the fan is today.

Hence my proposed new national holiday: National Re-Org Day. What the heck. It's happening all over the country today anyway, so why not make a festival of it? And some cards: I'm sure, given time, Hallmark could come up with really wonderfully insipid cards to suit the occasion.
Sorry to hear you're getting downsized...

Can I have your chair?

Hence this week's Challenge: to come up with a new national holiday; one that isn't on the calendars now, but should be. Make the case for your holiday. Tell us about the traditional rites and celebrations. Those of you with artistic talent; design a card. (No extra credit for that, but it'd be fun to see.)

As always, we're playing by the loosely enforced rules of the Friday Challenge and playing for whatever is behind Door #3. The deadline for this challenge is midnight Central time, Thursday, May 21.

And until then: may you all have a happy and safe Re-Org Day, and may the end of this day see you either still employed or else on your way to much better things.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Ultimate Geek Fu

 
Rebooting Star Trek

I had a topic planned for this week—actually, I had several competing possible topics and hadn't quite decided between them—but then I saw the new Star Trek movie, and pushed them all back on the stack.

If you haven't seen this one yet, it's good. It's really good. It's Casino Royale or Batman Begins good. This movie takes a concept that, frankly, was so used up, played out, and decayed into self-parody that I could have gotten a year's worth of Ultimate Geek Fu topics out of it, and wipes the chalkboard clean and starts over. And yet, this being Star Trek, they don't even have to do the usual "retcon" business (Henry can probably explain it) of destroying their own continuity, revising the canon, and simply pretending that that which went before never happened and you were mistaken if you thought it had.

Instead, take one Vulcan experimental ship, one vengeful Romulan, one planetary disaster, and one accidentally created time-warp, and voila! As Leonard Nimoy conveniently appears to explain, "The fabric of space-time is irrevocably altered." And The Next Generation, Voyager, Deep Space Nine, and all those previous movies are wiped right off the books, and we get to start it all over again, right down to junking all those clunky Jerry Goldsmith orchestral pomposities and reverting to Alexander Courage's lean and jazzy themes.

Whoa. Gave me goosebumps. I half-expected to see the movie end with the Desilu credit.

There are so many things I like about this movie that I don't have time this morning to catalog them all. At the same time, there are a few things that really bother me; for example, in this new Enterprise, is the engineering section supposed to be a brewery or a sewage treatment plant? What are all those pipes and vats doing inside all that cavernous empty interior space inside a ship? (Aside from giving Kirk and Scotty the opportunity to deliver a chase scene and some patented Trek pratfall humor?) There were moments when I feared this movie was about to turn into Galaxy Quest, and someone was going to have to run through the chompers.

But those moment were few and far between, and all the way around, I give this one two thumbs way up, six stars out of a possible five, etc., etc.

Let the arguments begin.



ULTIMAGE GEEK FU runs every Wednesday. Have a question that's just bugging the heck out of you about Star Wars, Star Trek, Stargate, Battlestar Gallactica, Farscape, Firefly, Fringe, Heroes, The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Smallville, The X-Files, X-Men, The Man From Atlantis, or pretty much any other SF-flavored media property? Send it to slushpile@thefridaychallenge.com with the subject line, "Geek Fu," and we'll stuff it in the queue.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Alan Dean Foster: More Than Just A Novelizer

 
by Arisia

There is an entire universe out there, best known by the name The Humanx Commonwealth, created by the imagination of Alan Dean Foster. It contains many interesting planets and peoples, in some of my favorite books.

Humanx is a term made by merging two species in this universe, the humans and the thranx. Humans we know. Thranx are insectoid, kind of like a big cockroach, only much nicer. Humans and Thranx more or less get along and work together. The species which is the “enemy” is the A-Ann. I picture them as tall upright ants. They are very cold-hearted, but intelligent.

There are dozens of books written in the setting of the Humanx Commonwealth, several stand-alones, and a few series. The most popular is the Pip and Flinx series, which contains fourteen books as of next month.

My favorite Foster novel is Midworld, one of the stand-alone stories in the Humanx Commonwealth universe, although there is a second novel, Mid-Flinx, which takes place on the planet of Midworld when Pip and Flinx visit it. You would think that a book that combines two of my favorites would be wonderful, but it was disappointing. I guess Foster has his bad days like the rest of us.

Midworld would make a perfect game. It’s mostly an obstacle course. The planet is covered with a very dense rain forest, so dense that no light gets down to the surface, so only things like yeasts or phosphorescent water critters live there. The inhabitants live in the middle level, where they build houses in the branches and tunnel out the trees. When a couple of humans crash-land into the trees, they have to try to get back to their base, but they keep running into the oddest creatures and plants, and without the help of the locals, they would have been dead many times. The local inhabitants are always in pairs. The human has a partner, which is a green furry animal like a small elephant. The partnership is reminiscent of the Pern human-dragon partnership, but the green animals are much less intelligent than a Pern dragon. This world has a secret, which is every bit as fascinating as Dune’s secret. I highly recommend Midworld.

The Pip and Flinx series begins with For Love of Mother-Not, which by a strange coincidence is sitting in a dark corner behind Door #3, here in the Friday Challenge. Not only that, but it is apparently a prequel, written fourth in the series. Maybe this is the exception that proves the rule, but I consider it the best of the series.

Flinx comes on the scene as a small boy being sold in the slave market on a planet called Moth. His name is Phillip Lynx. The Lynx name denotes him to be the child of a particular kind of prostitute. He knows very little about his background, like who his parents are, and this provides him with a goal throughout the series. He searches for his mother and father and finds bits of information as the series progresses. He learns that he has an intermittent and uncontrollable power to read the emotions of other people, and to change their emotions and intentions. He is bought by Mother Mastiff, an old woman who operates a shop in a slum area and runs various scams on her customers. Flinx learns her trade and provides protection.

Pip is an Alaspinian miniature dragon – minidrag – found in an alley by Flinx, who brings her home as a pet. (Oops, we don’t find out Pip is a she until several books later.) She looks like a snake with wings, and she rides on Flinx’s shoulder, coiled around his neck inside his shirt. She pokes her head out if she becomes alarmed, which makes people back off quickly, because threatened Alaspinian minidrags spit a highly corrosive, violently neurotoxic venom, which will kill a human in less than a minute if it enters the blood stream, and they normally aim at the eyes. She and Flinx have an empathic relationship, which is comical at times and very efficient against enemies.

Flinx is being hunted by various groups, and he doesn’t know who any of them are or what they want. In For Love of Mother-Not, some of them find him and attempt to kidnap him, but they end up with Mother Mastiff. Flinx follows them all over the planet and rescues her, and in the process finds some hints about his origin and the people that are looking for him. He decides to pursue these bits of information. That takes him to other planets and puts him in the middle of many strange adventures. In the other books, of course.

Foster has a prolific imagination, which makes his books very enjoyable. There are four-dimensional beings that look like bears, don’t talk, communicate entirely by telepathy, and are very intelligent and advanced in science. Then there’s a very odd-looking creature Flinx finds in a circus; he is sort of pear-shaped, and although he talks, nobody knows what he is talking about. He just spews out strings of syllables that make up words, but they don’t go together. He turns out to be something very unexpected.

In my opinion, you would be missing many good books if you ignore Foster’s works that are not movie novelizations. I hope I have stirred your interest without giving away too much of the stories.



Arisia blogs at four-way mind meld. Little else is known about her.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Writing for Comic Books, part 12: Setting & Milieu

by Henry Vogel
Cackling his insane laugh, the Hobgoblin flew east over downtown Raleigh, lobbing pumpkin bombs at the web-slinging hero who was hot on his tail! Gripping his amazing webbing, Spider-Man swung around the Hanover Square building, never taking his eyes from the Hobgoblin. Another few swings and Spider-Man knew he'd have the Hobgoblin!

Now past Hanover Square, Spidey released the web attached to that building, ready to fire a web at the next building in line. Suddenly, his Spider Sense was buzzing like it had never buzzed before. Turning his gaze away from the Hobgoblin, Spider-Man immediately realized his mistake. The next building in line was no where near Hanover Square's forty stories! It was six stories tall at best! Worse, some city planner had put a park between Hanover Square and the next building! Frantically looking for place to anchor a web, Spider-Man plummeted toward the ground.

In his final seconds, Spider-Man just had to time to think, "I should have turned down the scholarship to NC State and enrolled at Empire State back in New York!"

Setting
Consider the scene above featuring Spider-Man in my home city of Raleigh, NC. With a few seconds of online research, I discovered that Raleigh has a grand total of 13 buildings that are at least 100 feet tall. None of them top 400 feet. Among those 13 buildings is NC State's football stadium, which is miles from downtown Raleigh.

If Marvel Comics' offices had been in Raleigh back in the early '60s, it's a safe bet Stan Lee would not have selected his home town as the setting for Spider-Man! The web-slinger just doesn't work without large numbers of very tall buildings. Conversely, there is no reason the Fantastic Four couldn't have been set in the Raleigh area. As "high tech" heroes, they'd have fit right in within the fast growing Research Triangle Park. The nature of the FF's adventures are usually such that they regularly travel outside of New York City, their actual base city.

In all honesty, there aren't that many superheroes who would suffer Spider-Man's mobility problems if they lived outside of a large city. Daredevil, who uses a grapnel-hook-firing billy club to get around New York, requires lots of tall buildings, too. Most superheroes could operate just fine out of a small city such as Raleigh.

If most superheroes could operate out of places other than huge cities, why don't they?

Large cities, such as New York, have familiar landmarks every reader will recognize. Toss the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty into a comic book panel and you cement New York as the setting. Every other scene and building could be entirely made up and it wouldn't matter because everyone knows the Statue of Liberty is in New York's harbor.

It's also easier to populate large cities with a wide range of "targets" to attract the criminal element. Do you need a super secret research laboratory? Just invent a corporation, put it's headquarters in your city and bury the laboratory deep under ground, beneath the headquarters. Or invent a small college, Peter Parker's Empire State University is an example, and have a faculty member performing secret research late at night. Now, you can do both of these things in a city the size of Raleigh, but you'd really be stretching credulity if you had more than a two or three such targets. With a population of over eight million -- more than 30 times the size of Raleigh -- it's much easier to accept the existence of all sorts of interesting, enticing targets for super villains.

But there is another, even better, reason to select a large city as your setting.

Milieu
Aren't setting and milieu the same thing? Not entirely. I think of "setting" as referring to the physical surroundings for a story. That's why movies are filmed on a set. Milieu primarily refers to cultural and social surroundings. It's because of milieu that many comic books are set in large cities. Because of their size, the milieu of a large city provides more fodder for stories.

Here's an easy example. Most comic fans know Batman's home, Gotham City, right? The setting is dark and brooding. The milieu is corrupt and rife with crime. What better setting for the Dark Knight? Now, try to imagine Batman operating in Honolulu. It doesn't matter how hard you try, you just can't wrap your mind around something like that. Sure, Batman might be able to have one adventure in Honolulu, but he could never operate there full time. Without other psychopaths to battle, Batman would probably go from heroically insane to criminally insane and start giving the Joker some serious competition as the most disturbed villain in the U.S.

The good news about milieu is that, within reason, you can make it up. Way back when I was creating the Southern Knights, I knew I was going to set the book in Atlanta. It was the largest city I was actually familiar with. Audrey and I made several trips to Atlanta each year; attending conventions, baseball games or just to get away for a weekend. Atlanta has a fair-sized crime problem, but even if it didn't, I could easily make enough of a problem to justify having a team of superheroes in the city. Remember, superheroes don't battle "regular" criminals that often, so you really just need a city large enough to support a reasonable number of petty criminals. Just don't a pick a city that regularly appears on the annual "Cities With the Best Quality of Life" lists!

The surefire way to get the milieu you want is to make up your own city, as is done with DC Comics. The thing is, everyone knows Metropolis is New York and Gotham is Chicago. The real city's characteristics have been exaggerated, particularly with Gotham, but the only made up part of the city is the name. Unfortunately, by making up the city name, DC can't use the familiar landmarks I mentioned earlier. Putting the Statue of Liberty in Metropolis' harbor would just be wrong because we all know it's in New York's harbor. That's why I recommend against inventing a city just to get the exact milieu you want. By doing that, you'll lose the familiarity of the setting.

Wrap Up
Selecting the proper setting for your hero isn't all that hard. Selecting the proper milieu is a bit trickier and something you should consider as part of the process of creating your hero. And, unless you actually live in New York City, I'd avoid it as a setting for your hero. There are so many superheroes roaming around that city that only the most desperate of super villains should go anywhere near it!

As usual, please post any questions in the comments section.

Once again, I have run out of ideas for future columns. Please feel free to pass along topics you'd like me to write about. If it turns out no ideas are forthcoming, I appreciate all the support everyone has given to these columns. Rest assured I'll find something else to write about on this site. After all, I can't leave all the work piled on Bruce!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Writer's Block


by Kersley Fitzgerald





Friday, May 8, 2009

The Friday Challenge - 5/8/09

Well, there's good news and bad news this morning. The good news is that Robert Rodriguez's $80M remake of Barbarella isn't going to happen after all, so we can all thank our respective personal deities for small favors received.

The bad news is that we have precisely one entry in the 5/1/09 Friday Challenge, and that entry would be:

Henry, John Carter and the Bronze Men in Mars

While this would seem to make the rendering of judgment and awarding of prizes a foregone conclusion, I will instead adhere slavishly to form and remind you once again that, even if you have not entered this week, you are invited to read, comment on, and vote for your favorite among the entry, with the winner to be announced on Sunday.



Turning now to this week's challenge: once again, it's becoming mid-May, and hereabouts that can mean only one thing—

That any moment now, some person you haven't heard from in years and didn't much like when you did know them will suddenly contact you out of the blue, all gushing and excited about your upcoming high school reunion!*

So that's what we're looking for this week. Tell us your best, or worst, or funniest, or most dreadful story about your high school reunion. (Or if you aren't that old yet, your most entertaining nonviolent PG13-rated fantasy about what you would like to do at your reunion.) For example, my best reunion story remains the following lines of dialog, which are mostly true. Names have been changed to protect the guilty.

ME: "Wow! Who is that babe?"

Old Almost-Girlfriend: "Where?"

ME: "Over there, that gorgeous redhead in the slinky dress who's hanging all over Tony Vermicelli. I know I didn't go to school with her."

OAG: (squints and stares) "Uh, Bruce? I've got bad news for you."

ME: "I did and I missed her? Who is she?"

OAG: "David Schwartz."

ME: (pause) "You mean David Schwartz, who all the girls adored because he could joke and sing and dance like Fred Astaire? David, the star of the play and the musical and the talent contest? David, who was going to Hollywood to become an actor?"

OAG: "Yup."

ME: (longer pause) "You think we should warn Tony?"

OAG: (longest pause yet, as she apparently remembers something that I probably would rather not know and then downs her drink in one gulp) "Nope."


As always, we're playing by the ever-changing but rarely updated Official Rules of the Friday Challenge, and playing for whatever is behind Door #3. The deadline for entries is midnight Central time, Thursday, 5/14/09.

Now haul out those old yearbooks and get shuddering!


* As I look over this post before hitting the Publish button, I can't help but wonder if Disney isn't already working on some pre-packaged synthetic and scripted entertainment experience a la "High School Musical" that will obviate the need for actual reunions with actual people you knew. Call it, "High School Musical: The 10-Year Reunion?" Anyway, there's another option for you: if you don't have or aren't willing to tell any stories from your actual reunion, you can script a scene from your version of the stage show.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Deadline Reminder

Just a quick reminder here that the deadline for the 5/01/09 Friday Challenge is midnight tonight, Central time.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Ultimate Geek Fu

 
To boldly go where we've been going for the past 43 years...

Allrighty, then. If there is something beyond an ultimate test of your geek fu, this is it. Let's have a show of hands: who here is counting down the hours until you can go see the new Star Trek?

I'm not sure what more I can add to this. Friends, this is the sine qua non of geekdom; the ultimate index of nerdiness. This is a thing that has made such an enormous dent in the zeitgeist that even its parodies have become cultural touchstones: Galaxy Quest or the "Spooky Fish" episode of South Park, anyone?


This is the thing that tells me that every other depiction of the near-future in contemporary science fiction is flawed, because in all of these other futures, there is no Star Trek.

Heh. I can remember meeting Gene Roddenberry back in '75 or so, when he was stumping around the country on the college lecture circuit, trying to raise interest in a possible Star Trek movie. I remember how indignant he got when he talked about how the studios were tentatively interested in the project, but only if he recast it. The very thought of anyone other than Shatner playing Kirk or Nimoy playing Spock...

I suppose that's why they cremated Roddenberry. (After he died, of course.) So that they wouldn't have to listen to him whirring like a lathe in his grave.

Heh, again. Roddenberry was a decorated B-17 combat pilot in the Pacific Theatre. After the war he was a Pan Am commercial pilot for a couple of years, and then he quit that to become an LAPD cop for seven years while he chased his dream of becoming a screenwriter. Hard to reconcile any of that with Star Trek, innit?

But never mind that. Star Trek was, is, and will be again, and here we are, 43 years, six TV series, ten movies, and uncounted heaps of spinoff products later, eagerly awaiting the next installment. So while we're killing time in the ticket line, let's play Bests & Worsts.

Best series? Worst series? Well, in my book Deep Yawn Nine has a permanent lock on that title, but you're welcome to argue it. Best episode? Worst episode? Funniest moment of unintentional comedy in a series? I nominate the episode of ST:TNG in which Picard orders the Enterprise into a geosynchronous orbit over the south pole of a planet, but that's just me.

Best enemy? Most pathetically worthless recurring enemy? (There were a lot of lame-ass one-shot foes, but let's not dwell on the Space Hippies.)

Best movie? Worst movie? Best line from a movie? It's hard to see how anything could top—
"There is an old Vulcan proverb: only Nixon could go to China."
—but you're welcome to try.

Let the arguments begin.



ULTIMAGE GEEK FU runs every Wednesday. Have a question that's just bugging the heck out of you about Star Wars, Star Trek, Stargate, Battlestar Gallactica, Farscape, Firefly, Fringe, Heroes, The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Smallville, The X-Files, X-Men, The Man From Atlantis, or pretty much any other SF-flavored media property? Send it to slushpile@thefridaychallenge.com with the subject line, "Geek Fu," and we'll stuff it in the queue.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

J. G. Ballard: Not a Retrospective or a Eulogy

 
by Guy Stewart

“…a post-modern provocateur…” (Jason Heller)

“…I didn’t process a Ballardian piece of fiction; instead it processed me.” (Jeff VanderMeer)

“…dystopian modernity, bleak man-made landscapes…” (COLLINS English Dictionary)

“…seems to address a different - and disused - part of the reader’s brain.” (Martin Adams)

“His late novels never flinch from addressing the ‘elective psychopathy’ that increasingly riddles the anaesthetised world we are now beginning to inhabit. It is a fate Ballard had been predicting for half a century. His fiction was perhaps too invariant for him to rank as the greatest literary figure of his generation but of all the writers of significance in the last decades of the 20th century, he was maybe the widest awake.” (John Clute at Boing Boing)

“…celebrates the neglected virtues of the glossy, lurid and bizarre.” (the author himself)

Clearly James Graham Ballard was a base-stone of the pyramid of speculative fiction. He held space beside the others whose work set the foundation for the field today: Arthur C. Clarke, Robert A. Heinlein, H. Beam Piper, Frank Herbert, John Brunner, Harlan Ellison, H. G. Wells, Jules Verne, Andre Norton, Octavia Butler, Samuel R. Delany, Vonda N. McIntyre, Kate Wilhelm, James Tiptree, Jr. and others both visible and invisible, on the pyramid’s face and in its depths.

Others have written eloquently of him. He has written eloquently of himself.

I have nothing to add except to relate the experience of reading him as a young teenager. I discovered SF in sixth grade with the book, Spaceship Under The Apple Tree, by Louis Slobodkin. I proceeded from there to Rocketship Galileo, The Zero Stone, A Wrinkle in Time, The White Mountains, and anything else I could find in my junior high library. From the public library, I tried Stranger in a Strange Land, and put it down after about four pages. Dune was daunting and way over my fourteen-year-old head. Star Trek, which I started watching with my dad in 1968, wasn’t in print yet. I saw 2001 in the theater in 1970, and didn’t have a clue, except that the spaceships were cool.

Finally, in 1972, I was allowed to go to the Mall bookstore alone — it was a B. Dalton at the time — and after searching the shelves, I found this:




Intrigued by the cover and the titles of the stories, I bought it and read it.

J. G. Ballard was my first exposure to “adult” science fiction. I don’t remember being shocked (I’d grown up in a blue-collar, culturally Christian, construction worker mentality and vocabulary, sports-mad family. At the time, I wasn’t particularly church-minded and I was beginning to fall in love with science.) I don’t remember being overwhelmed or blown away. Dystopian for me was Gorge Orwell’s 1984, which for my young mind was a scary, definite future only a few years away. Ballard’s visions in Vermillion Sands didn’t shock or startle me.

Reading the book didn’t make me or break me or blow me away or shake my world. What Vermillion Sands did do was usher me into an entirely different part of the pyramid. It was the world of adult SF, a world I inhabit to this day. I suppose you could say that I was never the same again. After Ballard’s book, I began to range into Ira Levin’s This Perfect Day (now there was novel to keep away from adolescent boys!) which I read at fifteen; Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, which I read when I was twenty-something; Towing Jehovah, by James Morrow (which alternately irritated me and made me laugh) in my early thirties; and Ellison’s Dangerous Visions (1967) and Again, Dangerous Visions (1972) which I read once when I was 18 and again when I was in my late thirties.

While I prefer space opera, adventure and biological SF (like Julie Czerneda’s and C.J. Cherryh’s work), I still step into the literary now and then. Butler’s The Parable of the Sower was full of wonder, Sheri S. Tepper’s Six Moon Dance was entrancing, and Bruce Bethke’s Headcrash was shockingly hysterical.

Without Ballard to usher me into the dark underground tombs of the pyramid, I might have never found my way out of the bright, rough-and-tumble star systems of Drake’s Honor Harrington (whom I enjoy), Bujold’s Miles Vorkosigan (whom I adore!) and Brin’s Uplift Universe (the writer I most wish to emulate). While reading them exclusively is neither a bad thing nor something anyone should be ashamed of, the books laid on the part of the pyramid’s foundation that rose above Ballard’s foundation stone are books with vision. Sometimes bizarre vision, sometimes startling vision, and sometimes senseless vision — but they all attempt to look at the world in way no one ever had before.

Therein lies Ballard’s legacy in my small life: he played the part of the lowly usher. He was kin to every other usher in every church in North America on every Sunday morning, who plays a tiny, seemingly insignificant role. Certainly an invisible role and subservient to that played by an organist, pastor or audiovisual director. Yet without the ushers, who would smile in sincere greeting? Who would pass out the directions for worship? Who would escort late arrivers to their seats so that they won’t feel alone? Who would collect the money? Without ushers, people wouldn’t be able to smoothly transition from the material world to the spiritual world.

Without J. G. Ballard, there would have been no one to usher me from the world of juvenile science fiction into the powerful, diverse pyramid of adult science fiction. Without J. G. Ballard, I suppose you could say I would not be the man I am today, so I imagine that after all that work avoiding it, I’ve somehow managed to write a eulogy anyway.



Guy Stewart has sold fiction to Analog, as well as to Christian and youth-oriented magazines. He blogs about Christianity, Faith, Science Fiction, and Writing at faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Writing for Comic Books, part 11: Villains

by Henry Vogel
I'm back with another column despite my claim that I was wrapping up after the tenth one. You can all blame Bruce for that. Last week, he suggested a column on villains and one on milieu. You get villains this week.

In earlier columns I discussed all sorts of issues for comic book writers to consider. As useful as I hope all that information is, it won't help much if you don't have villains to oppose your heroes. A story without conflict is boring; some might even say it's not a story. Villains create conflict by their very existence.

Creating villains is easy. Say you're writing a story for Superman and you need a villain. All you need is a guy with a machine gun who robs a bank during peak business hours. He threatens to shoot the innocent bank patrons and employees if they don't do what he tells them to do. Is this a good villain? He might be if you're writing a story about a beat cop or a hostage negotiator — but you're writing about Superman. Once Supes hears about the robbery, the entire conflict is going to be over in about three seconds. Superman enters the bank at super speed, grabs the machine gun from the villain then hands him over the police. Not what you'd call a very memorable villain.

Creating villains is easy. Creating memorable villains takes some work. While this column is specifically directed towards comic book villains, the general ideas apply to any kind of writing.

Motivation
Here are the most important questions you must ask about your villain. What motivates your villain to act as he does? How does this motivation tie to your hero?

Let's take a look at a couple of famous villains and see if we can answer these two questions.

How about the Joker, Batman's greatest nemesis? What's his motivation? He's a psychopath, criminally insane. When he looks at the world around him, he does not identify with the people inhabiting that world. From the Joker's point of view, people are just pawns to be used to achieve his goal. The Joker's world view is entirely black and white. There's the Joker, and then there's everyone else. The Joker is a villain because the only way he can generate emotions is by causing mayhem and murder. How does this tie him to Batman? Batman is also a psychopath, what you might call "heroically" insane. Batman also has a black and white view of the world. In his view there are predators — criminals — and prey — innocent people. Batman is a dark hero because he is a predator who preys on other predators. He uses their means and their methods in an attempt to keep innocent people safe. The Joker is a great villain for Batman because he is essentially the same as Batman. The difference between the two is how they reacted to the traumatic event that sent them spiraling into psychopathy.

Next, let's look at Superman and Lex Luthor. Luthor's driving motivation is pretty simple. He wants to gather power and rule the world. He's a megalomaniac. There's some ancient drivel in the Superman continuity about Lex being Superboy's best buddy until an accident caused high-school-aged Lex to lose all his hair. Lex blamed Superboy for the accident and turned evil. We don't need that pathetic story to explain Lex's megalomania. The world is full of megalomaniacs, very few of whom ever amount to anything. But look at how Lex's megalomania meshes with Superman. Lex wants power. Superman is power personified. Lex wants to rule the world. Superman, who could do nothing to protect his birth world, uses his powers to protect his adopted world. Lex wants what Superman could easily take. Lex and Superman are the antithesis of each other.

Understanding your villain's motivation is necessary for your villain to act in a consistent manner. The Joker, for instance, will always involve himself personally and directly in his crimes. To do otherwise would deny him the emotions that are the actual reward he seeks. Lex Luthor, on the other hand, will distance himself from the actual commission of his crimes. To involve himself directly would be to risk prison and the loss of his power.

The possible motivations for your villain are numerous but they will always include risk and reward factors. The risks your villain takes must always provide enough of a reward to make the crime worthwhile to your villain.

Humanizing Your Villains
Have you ever wondered what villains do on their days off? Obviously, this question doesn't apply to certifiably insane villains such as the Joker, but it will apply to most villains. As one of the villains from my Southern Knights comic put it, even megalomaniacs have hobbies.

In one issue of the Knights, a pair of professional assassins followed two members of the Knights into a shopping mall. As part of a fairly convoluted plan, they were supposed to stage an assassination attempt on one of the Knights without actually killing him. Not a typical day at the mall for most people. To humanize them, I had one of them stop off at a toy store after the assassination attempt to buy a birthday present for a nephew. In a later story, we actually saw the assassins at the birthday party playing with the children and having a lot of fun. They left, performed a contract assassination and then went back to the party. Even though none of my readers could sympathize with the assassins' profession, they could sympathize with their life away from work.

The lesson here is that all but truly deranged villains have concerns and cares most people will understand. Villains still have to pay the bills, deal with their family and find ways to wind down after a tough day at work. Taking a few minutes to show your villain dealing with these issues will humanize the villain for your readers, making him far more memorable. As an example, the professional assassins I created for the Southern Knights were supposed to be toss-away characters. They were going to appear in a couple of issues as part of the convoluted plot and then never be seen again. Instead, they proved to be very popular with the readers, many of whom wrote us asking for more stories featuring them. In the end, we actually put out a "one shot" issue with four short stories featuring the assassins.

Wrap Up
Essentially, creating memorable villains comes down to two questions. How is your villain different from the average person? How is your villain the same as the average person? If you cannot make your villains have anything in common with the average person, I would recommend having something that makes your villain the same as your hero. If you can pull off all three of those, you'll have yourself a truly memorable villain who can make many an appearance in your stories.

As usual, please use the comments section for any questions or comments you may have.



Henry Vogel is a former million-selling comic book writer who currently makes his living as a storyteller. He posts his writing, entirely fictional, at Tales and Telling. He's also one of the prime movers behind The Curse of the Were-Weasel. He lives in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

And the winner is...

Al, by a landslide. That is one great little kick-ass hard sci-fi story. Sorry Tom, but much as I love stories involving the Large Hadron Collider and extradimensional physics, and give you bonus points for working in the Trafalmadorian reference, Al's story is the one that grabbed me and wouldn't let me stop reading until I'd finished it.

Ergo, Al is our prizewinner this week. So Al, come on down and claim your prize.

And while I'm at it: Hey, all you other recent prizewinners! Make sure you've claimed your prizes! Henry is still waiting for names and addresses to send comic books to, and I still owe somebody a copy of Will Keizer's CD. Help us out, wouldja? The email address is slushpile@thefridaychallenge.com.

Thanks.


Now, as for the current challenge
Okay, so I got carried away and overdid it. Accordingly, I'm slightly modifying the terms of the 5/1/09 Friday Challenge. If you like the story I started and want to try continuing or completing it, please do. But if you don't, we're open to any story either inspired by or reacting to Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom tales. (Which, conveniently, are now all in the public domain and can be found on Project Gutenberg. If you've never read any of them, start with A Princess of Mars — or at least do what any professional writer would do, and read the Wikipedia entry and fake the rest.)

What are the untold stories here? Has John Carter finally returned to Earth for the last time, and become that boring old windbag on the far right end of the line at Muzzy's Tap, The Warlord of Barstool? Or is he still alive and romping around on Barsoom, and does he have something to do with the real reason why the Mars Polar Lander failed? Can you explain why Tal Hajus, Jeddak of Thark, had such a fierce lust for Dejah Thoris? (I mean, considered from the viewpoint of a six-limbed 12-foot-tall olive-green monstrosity, lusting for a humanoid woman must constitute a remarkable perversion.) Or speaking of Dejah: well, it is a century later, and Time must catch up with even Barsoomians, eventually. Does John still call her "my incomparable Dejah" to her face, but lately he's been calling her "Dejah Thunderthighs" behind her back? And continuing in the same vein: just why do egg-laying Martian women have breasts, anyway?

Or Henry, here's one for you. J'onn J'onzz, The Martian Manhunter: just how far do his shapeshifting and telepathic image-projection abilities go? Is it possible he's perhaps just a little Tharkish, on his father's side? And if so, who is his mother?

Anyway, you get the idea. Something Burroughsian, something Barsoomian, and above all, have fun.

Catch you Thursday,
~brb

Recommended Reading

A little snack for thought on a Sunday morning: NY Times columnist David Brooks offers some interesting insights on the question of nature vs. nurture, specifically as it applies to writing.
The latest research suggests a more prosaic, democratic, even puritanical view of the world. The key factor separating geniuses from the merely accomplished is not a divine spark. It’s not I.Q., a generally bad predictor of success, even in realms like chess. Instead, it’s deliberate practice. Top performers spend more hours (many more hours) rigorously practicing their craft.

If you wanted to picture how a typical genius might develop, you’d take a girl who possessed a slightly above average verbal ability. It wouldn’t have to be a big talent, just enough so that she might gain some sense of distinction. Then you would want her to—

...read the rest of the column...
Since the original inception of The Friday Challenge's predecessor site four years ago, we've debated the twin questions of whether writing is an art or a craft and whether it's better to have talent or skill. The conclusion we keep coming back to is that artistic talent is nice to have, but absent good craft skills and a single-minded determination to park your butt and write, no one will ever know or care how much talent you may have had.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Open Mic Saturday

G'morning all, and welcome to Open Mic Saturday. This is the place to share your news and perhaps do a little bragging. If you're writing a novel: how much progress did you make this week? If you're writing short stories: did you finish anything or submit anything this week? If you've sold or published anything recently: when is it coming out and where can we find it? In short, as a writer, what kind of progress did you make this week?

Or what else is on your mind, that you feel like discussing with the group here?

Writer's Block


by Kersley Fitz






Friday, May 1, 2009

The Friday Challenge - 5/1/09

Light turnout this week. As of the deadline, we have but two entries in the 4/24/09 Friday Challenge, and they are:

Al, "Emissary"

Tom, "The Day The Earth Stomped Back"

As always, even if you haven't submitted an entry you're invited to read, comment on, and vote for your favorite, with the winner to be announced on Sunday.

Now, as for this week's Friday Challenge—

Well, okay, perhaps I got a little carried away. All I meant to do was write the beginning page or two of a story, but this is what I ended up with:



What impressed me most was the clutter. Incredible clutter, and the stale scent of dust and mildew, as if a thousand musty attics and estate sales were concentrated in that one room. I carefully edged between a peeling Victorian bureau and an ugly Moderne vanity, amazed that any place in Chicago could so well convey both the look and smell of a newly opened Egyptian tomb.

The antique dealer—a surprisingly young man, considering the state of his shop—slipped past me, rubbing his hands. "Well? Whadaya think? Cool, innit?"

In truth, the rolltop desk was exactly what I'd been looking for: a massive oak behemoth with a century of cigarette scars and character built-in. Still...

"I don't know," I said at last. "It seems a bit pricey."

"Hey, we're talking a quality piece here," he said, laying knobby hands on the dark, cracked, varnish. "No Masonite or particle board in this baby. Here's a piece you can pass on to your grandchildren!"

"But eleven hundred dollars?" I protested.

He shrugged, then turned. "Okay, so you're looking for cheap. I got this Queen Anne secretary over here—"

"Sorry," I said. "It's got to be an oak rolltop."

He stopped, fixed me with a stare—he knew he had me, the bastard—and then asked, "Why?"

"I need a good, solid, working desk," I said, mustering my courage for The Big Lie. "I'm a writer."

"Really?" The antique dealer smiled as if he actually believed it. "Whadaya write?"

"Oh, this and that," I said, trying to sound offhand and jaded. "Magazine pieces, short stories." Actually, my greatest success to date was the comment, Try reading something written after 1940! hand-scrawled across the bottom of a form rejection slip. "Science fiction," I added softly.

"Really?" He broke into a wide grin. "Hey, I used to read lots of that sci-fi stuff when I was a kid! Especially Edgar Rice Burroughs: Carson of Venus, Pelucidar, all those John Carter books. In fact, I even had this idea for a story I was gonna write once—" He stopped, and frowned. "Nah, you'd just think it was stupid."

Before I could mumble the usual encouraging words, a new thought occurred to him, and I could tell by the look in his eyes that he was going to ask The Dreaded Question. "Say, there's a Barnes and Nobles just up the street. What titles should I be looking for?"

"The reason I'm seeking an old desk," I said loudly, hoping to torpedo the question with a stunning non sequitur, "is that I've found my writing style reflects the tools I use. I have a PC, but I find it makes my prose blunt and choppy, so I'd like to trying working in pen and ink for a while. I'm trying to develop more of a Golden Age style. Yes, like Burroughs."

The antique dealer's mouth fell open and his eyes went wide. "No kidding? Well, then that settles it. You have got to have this desk. C'mere." He gestured for me to come closer, and tapped a corner of the desk. "Burroughs lived in Chicago before he got rich and famous and moved to California. You knew that, right?" I nodded.

"Well, the old lady I bought this desk from claimed Burroughs was one of her grandma's renters. Now, it's not like I can really prove anything, but—look here. Tell me what you see." I looked at the scratches and gashes in the desktop.

"Something is carved there?" I hazarded.

"Look closer," he said. I took off my glasses, cleaned them, put them back on, and looked again. "Don't those look like initials?"

"You're right," I said. "That's an E."

"And I'm pretty sure that one's an R," he said. Yes, once he'd pointed it out, I could clearly see it. "But that last letter, I'm not so sure. What's it look like to you?"

"B?" I whispered, feeling an unnatural presence creep up my spine. "E. R. B.? Edgar Rice Burroughs?"

The antique dealer shrugged. "Don't prove a thing, of course. But just think..."

My voice was a hoarse whisper. "This could be the desk on which he wrote A Princess of Mars." I looked again. By God, it did say E R B, as plain as day!

The dealer scratched his head, and smiled in an awkward way. "Look, I know this isn't good business, but—well, what the hell. I've already made my nut for the month. I could sit on this piece a few more weeks and get my asking price, but I can see it would mean a lot to you. And to tell the truth, it'd mean a lot to me, too, to see it go to a writer again.

"So tell you what. If you promise to keep it between you, me, and the ghost of Edgar Rice, I can let you have it for eight-fifty. Hell, I'll even deliver it this afternoon."

I wanted to shout, Eight-fifty? A mere eight hundred and fifty dollars for Edgar Rice Burroughs' writing desk?

Instead, I whipped out my checkbook. "Who do I make this payable to?" There are significant advantages in being a part-time writer and a full-time certified network analyst.

#

"You paid eight hundred and fifty dollars for a desk that might have belonged to Edgar Rice Burroughs?!" my wife said in something other than her usual dulcet tones. "You nitwit! I did a paper on him. Burroughs was a financial failure! He screwed off on the job and wrote at his office, or wrote on the kitchen table. He had to sell the furniture to pay the bills!"

I have learned not to quibble biographical points with my wife, as she took an MFA in American Lit before embarking on a career in advanced diaper management. Instead, I said, "Honey, it was a bargain. Remember Mike Hoffman? He paid two grand for Jack Kerouac's typewriter."

"Ha!" And I knew I'd lost that point.

"Don't worry," I said, trying another tactic. "In two stories it will have paid for itself."

"That's what you said about the leather office chair," she noted. "And the Clarion workshop. And the—"

"Aruba," I said, striking a low blow. "Cancun. Windjammer Cruises. A Volvo XC70." Faced with this gentle reminder that I was not the only one in the family with a taste for expensive toys, she quieted down. Boy, there are a lot of advantages in being a part-time writer and full-time certified network analyst!

#

Later that evening, after my wife and children were in bed, I retreated to my study, to try out the new desk. Gently, I opened the rolltop, savoring the feel of real wood under my fingers and caressing the dark, romantic, varnish. The desk was a wonderful, mysterious thing, simply throbbing with possibilities. What wonders I would create upon it!

I turned on the brass accountant's lamp, fiddled with the green glass shade until I was satisfied, laid fingers upon the blotter and adjusted it until it was just so, and then opened the side drawer and counted out exactly ten sheets of vellum paper, which I arranged in a neat stack in the precise center of the blotter. At last, when I was absolutely and completely ready, I opened the center drawer, pulled out the Parker Duofold Deluxe fountain pen (a gift from a great-aunt), dipped it into the bottle of blue-black Skrip, set pen-point to paper...

And stared.

And stared. And stared some more. And stared at that blank sheet of paper, until beads of sweat broke out on my forehead. Still, the words would not come. Pushing my chair away from the desk, I got up and stalked around my den, hoping perhaps to have better luck by sneaking up on the paper and taking it unaware.

I came back to the desk, picked up the pen, and scratched out three words: Call me Ishmael.

No, that didn't look right. I changed the subject and the verb tense and tried again. They called me Ishmael. Nope, still not right. Maybe it needed a comma. Ishmael, that's what they called me.

I crumpled up the paper, threw it at the wastebasket, and missed. As I stooped to pick it up, I wonder if that nice woven brass wastebasket I saw at Nelson's the other day would help with my writing.

The door creaked open behind me, and small feet padded into the room. "Daddy?" three-year-old Cynthia asked in a tiny voice, as if disturbing a sleeping dragon. "I need something to drink. Right now."

"Okay, sweetheart." Maybe a little distance would help. Taking Cynny's hand, I walked her back upstairs, got her a Dixie cup of water, and tucked her back into bed. Then I took a quick tour of the other bedrooms: six-year-old Lisa had her doll in a hammerlock and was snoring like a crosscut saw, baby Scott had kicked off all the covers but was sleeping like an angel, and my wife had nodded off over the latest Maeve Binchy again. Gently taking the book from her hand, I put it on the nightstand and turned out her reading light. I was certain she was asleep.

Which made it all the more puzzling when I got back to my study, and found the large red envelope tucked into the rightmost cubbyhole in the desk.

I picked it up. It was large, about five by eleven inches, and made of an odd sort of paper with a distinctly metallic sheen. There was no name or address on the front. Turning it over, I found a queer, embossed seal, featuring a neo-Grecian building surrounded by words in—Arabic? Hebrew? I couldn't tell.

The flap wasn't gummed. I split the back of the envelope with my hand-carved Kenyan ebony letterknife, and a dozen or more sheets of extremely thin paper fluttered out. Picking them up, I found them to be covered with small but neatly hand-written English, and this is what they said.

#

"My dearest nephew Edgar,

"My apologies for not answering your last letter sooner. When one has the thousand-year lifespan of a Barsoomian, one tends to forget the urgency you Jasoomians feel about answering mail. Dejah is doing well, thank you for asking, and—"




Well? What happens next? It seems that after nearly a century of silence, the space/time portal between Barsoom and Jasoom has been reopened. What have John Carter and Dejah Thoris been up to lately? You don't have to finish an entire novel in one week, but at least give us the next chapter.

As always, we're playing by the loosely enforced official rules of the Friday Challenge and playing for whatever is behind Door #3. The deadline is midnight Jasoom time, Thursday, 5/7/09. Now saddle up your thoat and ride!

Kaor,
~brb
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