Category Archives: Writing

Three peas in the pod (new Story Seed Vault tale)

A new small bit of humor this time (literally), is up on Story Seed Vault today.

The challenge for this market is to tell a whole story in 140 characters or less; essentially no more than one Tweet’s worth. And the story has to be based on some new bit of science. They can explain it a bit more and how you can tackle entry into the Vault yourself.

The current tale is at:
https://storyseedvault.com/2017/10/24/70/

My previous tale is still on the site at:
https://storyseedvault.com/2017/10/06/1451/
https://storyseedvault.wordpress.com/2017/07/29/40/

New micro-story on Story Seed Vault

A new tale of mine, a bit of cyber espionage, is up on Story Seed Vault today.

The challenge for this market is to tell a whole story in 140 characters or less; essentially no more than one Tweet’s worth. And the story has to be based on some new bit of science. They can explain it a bit more and how you can tackle entry into the Vault yourself.

You can find the current tale at: https://storyseedvault.com/2017/10/06/1451/

I have at least once more appearing in this venue soon, so stay tuned!

My previous tale is still on the site at:
https://storyseedvault.wordpress.com/2017/07/29/40/

New Tale to Tell in 140 Characters

My latest sold story is up on Story Seed Vault today. They can better explain  their mission and raison d’être.

The challenge for this market was to tell a whole story in 140 characters or less; essentially no more than one Tweet’s worth. And the story has to be based on some new bit of science. I can’t resist a challenge…

You can find it at: https://storyseedvault.wordpress.com/2017/07/29/40/

I hope to be adding more to the vault over time as well. If I’m going to read science news all the time, I should also find more ways to make it pay!

The uncanny plot valley of the strange

There is a concept, “the uncanny valley,” that describes the human ability to unconsciously recognize things that are, well, just wrong. For example, how a CGI object moves, or even if a robot or computer is human, making it a bit of an overlap with the Turing test in concept.

These concepts have been around for a while and speak to the human level of comfort with the real over the artificial, and the consistent over the mixed. Recently, I recognized a reverse of that when it comes to plot construction thanks to the increased approach of using improv in the midst of scripts rather than fully scripted or fully improvised movies. A great example of this is Adult Beginners, where some nicely crafted script is interspersed with improvised scenes. Those moments, while well played and nicely edited into the film, sit oddly. In other words, the fully real interchanges appear unreal, while the crafted, more artificial bits, if you will, feel more natural. I don’t think this is just a matter of the quality of the improv, but more about the juxtaposition of the two which rub against each other in the wrong way. However, I do think there is a preferred leaning to the crafted script over improv for viewers.

Film has gone through many movements over the century-plus it has been around. We have been trained to expect fully crafted moments. This has been true for millennia with stage plays as well. This is a plus and a minus. We have expectations based on structure. Those structures are often unconsciously recognized by most of the audience, but are very obvious to those aware of the tropes and standards. Those expectations help us pick up clues and allow for great catharsis when love conquers, evil falls, or the little guy wins. But if you consciously know it is coming from the outset of the story, the result can sometimes be very unmoving. Scenes of improv have been used to help shake up those expectations, break the rhythms; make you sit up and take notice and think of the story as unpredictable as life really is. But it tends not to work as they stand out as, well, wrong.

This is why I tend to watch a lot of foreign fare; it riffs on the plots I grew up with rather than delivering them as expected. I typically recognize plots in seconds when watching something from the States. Both domestic and foreign approaches are similar, but I get moments of surprise by viewing the foreign because they are based on slightly different cultural templates. Templates, to be fair, which are highly familiar to their local audiences, just foreign (literally) to me.

There are uses of improv that do work, but they are, typically, used as the whole of the film and are then highly edited (aka crafted) into a cohesive whole. Robin Williams turn in Aladdin comes immediately to mind, but there are many out there. In these cases the improv was either an exploration to find opportunity in a story, or a way to provide a uniqueness and deep well of raw material from which the director could shape the story for audiences. Once crafted, it is no longer pure improv, it is scripted, just not in the traditional sense. And by being given shapes we recognize as part of the story-teller’s toolbox, we find it real and comfortable, though it is utterly artificial. Watch for these reactions in yourself as you view movies… what parts feel right and real versus artificial or out of place. This isn’t about bad directing or acting or script, it is about finding those pieces that don’t fit by their very nature, not because the craft was weak… it provides an interesting lens on the post-modernist films and experimentations with social media conventions that are starting to flood the market.

For further reading: A wonderful little retrospective of 2015 movies around the uncanny valley over at Fandor many of which are discussed on this site. There are also some nice examples of the idea over at Stranger Dimensions as well. (And for some truly silly, completely off-topic analytic fun, check out Wired’s Force Awakens vs. A New Hope statistical comparison if you haven’t found it yet.)

Wriggling Death makes top podcasts of 2014 list

Last August, The Wriggling Death was published in audio format on Pseudopod.org.

This afternoon, SF Signal listed it as part of The Best Podcast Short Fiction of 2014 list. Can  you hear my happy feet? In fact, it survived that honor as part of the cross-site rollup of Diabolical Plots survey of many podcast sites.

So listen and comment back there and here. This one is dark, twisted, and blackly humorous; at least that is the intent. I hope to have an epub version of the tale available soon as well.

Pseudopod.org is a free site, though donations are, of course, encouraged. Go. Listen. Repeat.

Bedazzled Cats and a Milestone: 1000

Just about 4 years ago (dang, really?) I opened this blog and started to post reviews nearly daily.

My frequency slowed down over the last year as life has changed, but today marks the 1000th post! Thank you to all who are still taking an interest in my thoughts and musings. Enough people have told me they’re reading this, mostly via syndication, so I plan to continue. Honestly, I have to or I really won’t remember all the films and TV I’ve seen or what I thought of them.

I wanted to have something pithy, exciting, or at least engaging to celebrate this moment. I really did.

Alas, all I have for you today is a picture of my sadly, bedazzled feline, who is recovering from ear surgery to correct a hematoma that had her looking like a balloon had been affixed to her head. The buttons are there to help the ear heal properly. She is recovering quite well.

Cali-bedazzled

More reviews and thoughts to come but, with the holidays, we shall see how many more I can rack up in before 2015 begins. Certainly there will be a few from the theaters as well as disc, I can’t just stop… it has become a bit of an addiction… I hope and trust you all are finding it worth your time!

The Wriggling Death arrives on Pseudopod

After many years, one of my favorite stories has arrived in audio format on Pseudopod.org.

The Wriggling Death has had a long career of private readings at cons and a brief stint in print, for which I was never paid. That brief bit in print also cost me my first print rights, so I’d been looking for someone who would reprint it for ages. Pseudopod was recommended by several colleagues and, lo and behold, they picked it several months back… and released the production today.  And, yes, they did provide remuneration, so good on them on several counts!

I haven’t listened to the full cast yet (combination of time and the oddness of listening to my words in someone else’s voice<g>), but I trust the group based on other podcasts of theirs, and the story was made for live reading. Thanks to Veronica Giguere, for her vocal efforts. And thanks to Pseudopod also for the post-story comments (particularly the Tripods reference–one of my favorite pieces still; made my day!).

So listen and comment back there and here. This one is dark, twisted, and blackly humorous; at least that is the intent. I hope to have an epub version of the tale available soon as well.

Pseudopod.org is a free site, though donations are, of course, encouraged. Go. Listen. Repeat.

The Song Giveth… reaches its coda

You may have guessed but… the fourth and final part of “The Song Giveth…” released this week in issue #12 of  Aethernet Magazine, a UK property dedicated to the serialized form.

New material is now in progress, so stay tuned for other announcements sometime soon. If nothing else, an audio version of one of my stories (The Wriggling Death) will be available on Pseudopod.org in late summer.

For those interested, Aethernet is available in multiple electronic formats from Amazon UK or Amazon US, also from the main magazine site. Below is the information and links if you want to visit and please share as appropriate. I’ve added folks that have expressed interest in knowing of such events, but have likely missed many.

Let me know what you think if you pick it up!

Aethernet #12 Contents

  • Cosmopolitan Predators! by Tony Ballantyne
  • Gela’s Ring by Chris Beckett
  • The Discworld: a Working Planet by Michael Czajkowski
  • The Song Giveth… by Harold Gross
  • The Sugar Pill by Libby McGugan
  • Spiderlight, A Retrospective by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Buy from Amazon UK  | Buy from Amazon US
Buy a 12 Month Subscription:  You will receive all previous issues in this volume 

The Song Giveth… (Part 3) now available

The third part of my novelette, The Song Giveth…, came out this week in Aethernet Magazine, a UK property that is dedicated to the serialized form. The enterprise is run by author (and PKD nomineeTony Ballantyne and editor extraordinaire, Barbara Ballantyne (who is pleasure to work with).

As I’ve mentioned with the previous releases, a number of choices (and, honestly, missed edits) have had huge downstream effects on the story. The biggest changes have occurred in this and the final chunk, due out in a few weeks. I am happy to say the entire story has been completed now, and is better for the efforts of my editor and my critique group (The Fairwood Writers). You really can’t underestimate the value of other people’s eyes, no matter how long you’ve been writing.

Only one more installment to come after this! In the meantime, I hope to start up some more stories in a different universe kicked up in earnest. I shelved everything to work on what turned into over 20K words for The Song Giveth… (about 5K more than it started as when Aethernet picked it up). 

For those interested, it is available in multiple electronic formats from Amazon UK or  Amazon US, also from the main magazine site.

Let me know what you think if you pick it up!

Aethernet #11 Contents

  • Cosmopolitan Predators! by Tony Ballantyne
  • Gela’s Ring by Chris Beckett
  • Memento by Keith Brooke
  • The Song Giveth… by Harold Gross
  • The Sugar Pill by Libby McGugan
  • Spiderlight by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Buy from Amazon UK  | Buy from Amazon US
Buy a 12 Month Subscription:  You will receive all previous issues in this volume 

The Song Giveth… (Part 2) out today

Warning: shameless self-promotion.

Today, the second part of my novelette, The Song Giveth…, came out in Aethernet Magazine, a UK property that is dedicated to the serialized form. The enterprise is run by author (and PKD nomineeTony Ballantyne and editor extraordinaire, Barbara Ballantyne (who is pleasure to work with).

This chunk, as well, was worked on under time pressure (finished New Year’s Eve and put to press/compile New Year’s Day). Of course the ongoing challenge is that I have to work with whatever went into print (or pixel) in the published sections. And, yep, it has caused some downstream changes, all the way to the end.

Only two parts left to deliver! So, my adventure in serialization continues, but you can get the next part now… or just do the happy dance with me for a bit!

For those interested, it is available in multiple electronic formats from Amazon UK or Amazon US, also from the main magazine site.

Let me know what you think if you pick it up!

Aethernet #10 Contents

  • Cosmopolitan Predators! by Tony Ballantyne
  • Gela’s Ring by Chris Beckett
  • Memento by Keith Brooke
  • The Song Giveth… by Harold Gross
  • The Sugar Pill by Libby McGugan
  • Spiderlight by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Buy from Amazon UK   Buy from Amazon US
Buy a 12 Month Subscription:  You will receive Issues 1 to 9