Monday, March 27, 2017

Amazon Prime's "Oasis" Pilot

Ok, not bad.

Let it be noted that I am not, myself, a real fan of dystopic fiction. Post-apocalypse? Nah. Zombie infestations? Nah. Nightmare attacks on the social order? Um...too much like real life for me right now. So this Amazon Prime pilot, made in the UK and based on Michael Faber's The Book of Strange New Things, had a lot of heavy lifting to do from the very start. It's set in a a world where the bad part of town is pretty much all of town, and the outlook is bleak. But!!!

But there is a new world--a brave new world--with brave heroes signing up to populate it. A future off earth. A new heaven in the heavens.

This is the premise surrounding Ecumenical Chaplain Peter Leigh's enlistment in the colony effort. What's Ecumenical? "It means I'm Christian." It's not clear if he's even that, or how important it may be beyond providing a clear basis for his recognition of scriptural references. In any case, Peter Leigh, upon receiving a passionate request from the colony co-founder, David Morgan, is shipped up on what may prove to be a one-way trip to the New World--which is no heaven. Bleak, dry, reminiscent of Dune/Arrakis, the planet itself is only the first unsettling surprise awaiting Leigh's arrival. He soon discovers the efforts to drill for water deep beneath the wind-blown sands have been stopped; that David Morgan has disappeared into the uncharted wastes, leaving only odd, scripture based messages as clues behind him; that the colony is haunted with visions and dreams, including dreams of the dead. A mystery is set in place, in an evocative, unhappy setting, as bleak it its way as the moors of Wuthering Heights and The Hound of the Baskervilles. 

I won't give away details--that would be to rob you of the elements that overcame my own apathy. The performances are reasonably strong. The filming offers clearly defined, strong atmosphere, unsettling world-building. The underlying mystery appeals, if only because those unfamiliar with the dystopic SF genre do not know where it could go--and those familiar with the genre can imagine multiple outcomes all based on reasonably clear story-telling. Round and round and round the plot goes--where it will end is anyone's guess. But, of course, I haven't read the novel...

As I have said, I'm not all that fond of dark, dystopic SF, but as that genre goes, this proved to be worth at least the time the pilot took. One hopes to see the entire story--though I will confess, it's not my favorite of Amazon Prime's offered pilots this year. That honor goes to the entirely non-SF "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel," a dramedy about the professional birth of a female stand-up comic in 1958 that rings all kinds of bells for me. But Oasis rates second place for me in spite of its dark genre--and that ought to be an endorsement of sorts. I want to see more episodes, and I am now tempted to read the novel. I certainly do not regret seeing the pilot episode, and can only say "Go thou and do likewise."

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Temptation of the New

Ok, I admit it. I am forever and all Jonesing for new gadgets I can't afford, and probably won't even use enough to justify the purchase. I yearn for a Wacom Cintiq--drool, long for it, make puppy-dog eyes at the screen. But I'm on a budget tight enough that I occasionally still have to accept help from friends and relations to make base budget. Cintiq is on the wish-list, but off the likely-purchase list. Similarly I hunger and thirst not for righteousness, but for an MS Surface and, even hotter, the new Surface Studio. With a starter price that undershoots $3,000 by one lying, hypocritical dollar, that's so not happening.

My current new dream-boat, though, is even less likely, if only because it's less practical for me. I mean, I am a writer, and an amateur artist, and I could in theory get real professional use out of the Surface, the Cintiq, and the Studio.

Really. I might.

Stop laughing at me.

What I know I won't get income out of is the nifty new PlayTable, a specialized device intended to allow you to download and play boardgame apps. The device, about the size of a school cafeteria lunch tray, includes a touch-screen top allowing play. It's not yet clear what limits there are on available apps, or the quality of the compatible downloads. The promotional material ( makes it look like a board-gamer's wet-dream. At least to me.

And that's catch number one. I am not a board gamer, even though this product makes me fantasize that I could be! My board games of choice are checkers, Chinese checkers, and backgammon, for the love of God. I have yet to play Settlers of Catan...and that's one of the few to tempt me. I like Battleship--for about half an hour, once every ten years. I enjoy watching other people play Risk, so long as I can leave the room regularly.

I do not need a PlayTable. My kid, who loves games, may need it. I do not.

And, yet, every so often new technology comes out that's so obviously appealing. A console with all your favorite board games loaded up and ready to go! One that provides pretty, zoomy graphics and animation, that lets you move pieces around, that is eye-candy. Of course I want it--just the way I knew from the moment I found I could load digital books on my first tiny PDA I knew that I wanted a digital library: that it had to happen because it was a lust just waiting to be satisfied. I look at the PlayTable and my gut says it's desire in a box, for an almost endurable starting price of one hypocritical dollar less than $600.00.

(Do I have a grudge against companies which use $599.00 to somehow convince you you're paying less than $600.00? Why, yes. Yes, I do...)

I never know how to stop these longings--for the shiny Surface Studio or for the nifty-keen PlayTable. They offer the combination of novelty, convenient access to desirable pastimes, and elegant presentation, and I am lost. My only hope is that the lack of funds that prevents me from buying will also prevent me from investing in tech that fails to satisfy--and that time will bring similar tech at lower prices, to someday satisfy my lust. After all--Kindle and Nook became real things, and now every tablet out there lets me read premium lit at wholesale prices. So--hope springs eternal. Almost as eternal as temptation.

Monday, March 20, 2017

New Publishing

Today I discovered, serendipitously, that one of my favorite authors has a line of fantasy novellas out which I had not even heard of, set in one of my favorite of her fantasy worlds. Lois McMaster Bujold has four novellas set in her Five-Gods world, which was first presented through three novels: The Curse of Chalion, Paladin of Souls, and The Hallowed Hunt. The new series, seeming to be a nice mystery-fantasy genre blend, features a mage-detective named Penric. I went on a minor spending spree, made affordable by the prices of digital material independently published. I am now looking forward like mad to burrowing into the set.

The first Bujold novella of a 4-book series.
The discovery was serendipitous as I am in the middle of attempting to assemble a Patreon account for my own works--a bold venture, though I increasingly wonder why I have not attempted it before. Many years ago, when the Kindle was mere promo from Amazon and people were swearing that there was no practical way to distribute digital reading material, I was out proselytizing what to me was the absolute certainty that digital was soon going to hit its stride and change the world. I got brushed off repeatedly by people who knew better, and have been laughing ever since, while making such living as I manage working in that realm.

My argument then, as now, is that digital publishing, by removing the physical constraints of book sales, offers all players a brilliant new playing field. A digital book takes up no real space, needs no real world storage, can be delivered in the blink of an eye anywhere the internet itself runs. The production costs approach near-zero if you start with the assumption that you were either going to write that book anyway, or that you already had done so. It's harder to protect your rights, but it theoretically should be easier to protect your payments, either by self-publishing or by demanding automatic bookkeeping reports, sale by sale and book by book. An author's midlist now need not ever go out of print in any practical sense. Combined with print-on-demand and backed with a wide range of crowdsourcing schema, an author is no longer at the mercy of an often rigid, predictable publishing industry.

Digital publishing and digital distribution of hobby writing have changed the very nature of writing, creating opportunities and at the same time presenting crippling challenges. If publication is near-free for everyone, quality control is almost destroyed. Brilliant hobby writers flourish, offering free material for the honest joy of being read. Dreadful, incompetent "professionals" charge unpredictable and often overblown prices for badly written, badly edited nightmare material. A range of professional digital publishers, from reliable houses to horror-story versions of the old vanity press abound, and sorting them out remains a problem. As for the difficulty of promotion in this environment? Consider that an author I love and follow was able to get four books I definitely want to read into digital print, and I only found out about it as the result of a side search that showed me related of which rang alarms for me.

To me this is a time of great excitement. When a novelist--even a noobie, unfledged novelist--can fund and promote a book through Kickstarter, or develop their own brand using a Patreon page, or find a digital publisher online, without the difficulty of going through the old pro publishing gatekeepers, then all bets are off. In time, creativity will win out. Genres will mutate, forms will alter, literary assumptions will be challenged...and that's the stuff of fantasy and science fiction itself.

One of the hardest things facing science fiction and fantasy writers in this era is trying to keep even remotely up with the wonders unfolding around us. We are facing changes so profound that our minds can't predict what comes next, or what it will mean to "the human condition." What does it mean when we all have voices? When every one of us has the hope of being heard--and millions of competitors shouting to compete against?

The changes generated in the late 1800s and early 1900s have only come to full flower now, when we register what industry, travel, and modern medicine made possible. Much of our society's current turmoil is rooted in the results generated by the changes modern science and technology made not only possible, but inevitable. We struggle with impermanent communities, fragile families no longer bound by bitter necessity, biological freedom from what were once eternal norms--illness, unwanted pregnancy, high infant mortality. A look at today's newspapers shows the long-term effect of shifts that began between two and three hundred years ago. The culture shock is profound.

Then I ask myself what shock is still to come, as our genes are unlocked, our ability to communicate with the world made very close to being both free and easy, our medicine so advanced we can imagine almost anything without being too extreme: chimeral bodies, ageless bodies, selective health.

As in the world of new publishing, all bets are off, and anyone's guess may prove good. We live in interesting times.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Norse Mythology--Neil Gaiman

Woot! Squee!  See the fangirl dance--dance, fangirl, dance!

Yes. I am rejoicing. I have bought Neil Gaiman's latest, Norse Mythology. I picked up both the digital ebook and the audiobook, and I am very happy I splurged some of my precious ebook credits to get the audio. Some things really do qualify as added value in my word, and to hear Gaiman's expressive, focused reading of his own work is right up there. He not only knows what he wrote, and what he meant it to convey--he's enough of a performer to then get that meaning across in his reading. It's not always so: I've heard readings by authors who may have known the mood, tone, and meaning they were aiming for, but who could no more perform that in a reading than they could whup Fred Astaire on the dance floor.

Gaiman's nimble and fleet. If he were a dancer he'd be bubbly and clever as Astaire, cool as Michael Jackson was in his time, and solid and intense and amused as Gene Kelly.

So--what's Norse Mythology like?

Wonderful, not least because it brings back a lost art--the more or less straight retelling of ancient stories in a modern voice. For the past twenty and more years, the fashion has been for a sort of "Fractured Fairytale" aesthetic in any kind of myth or fantasy-related context. Much, if not all of modern fantasy writing is about showing how you can break the mold. Think of my comments a few weeks back regarding the modern retelling of the Oz stories in Emerald City, where the creators are turning themselves and their source material into pretzels to make everything old new again. And, yes--I liked it. I continue to like it. There's nothing wrong with it....except that for ages its seemed like no one attempted to retell the old material with a straight face. And, yet...

Gaiman, in his introduction, comments on when he himself first encountered the Norse myths: first through comic books and then through a popular retelling aimed at a common audience of children and adults. That's the sort of encounter many of us had with myths of all cultures. It's a good choice: it allows people of all ages and levels of interest to get a first solid, sensible synopsis, without in any way standing in the way of expanding and deepening that information if you choose.

Perhaps it's the current cultural polarization thing: mythology for the common person is sure to set alarms ringing for many Right Thoughts gatekeepers, and to set off just as many in the sacred halls of American Christian orthodoxy. Between the people concerned about incipient signs of imperialism in retellings and those fearing demonic possession of their children by the devils of ancient heathen myths, there's only a narrow window left. And, yet...

Gaiman's doing a spot-on job. His patient, intelligent voice lays out great swaths of exposition with energy but not hyper edge, knowing perfectly well what's best explained and what's best dramatized. His characters, the Norse Gods, are plausible, but powerful. He's done his homework--indeed, he assures us he spent his time with good translations of the various source materials, rather than with re-reading of previous re-tellers of the old stories. Like those older storytellers, he has gone back to the original material, and his interpretation is his own: no more than a second-hand reinventing, rather than a muddle of fourth- and fifth- and sixth-hand reports.

He's given me a stronger appreciation for Odin--a God whose primacy never made much sense to me. (But, nu, most Heads of Pantheon make limited sense to me, so...sue me.) His handling of Loki is careful and neither too sympathetic nor too accusatory. I want to re-listen to think about how he handles his female characters, but so far I'm quite happy.

Odin, by Georg von Rosen, public domain, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

I may come back to this, perhaps after I read the text as well as listen to the audio. In the meantime, though, I would heartily recommend this book for your own shelves, or for any kid, male or female, whose reading skills are good enough to manage Harry Potter--at least, Harry Potter from, say, Azkaban on

Saturday, February 25, 2017


The protagonist as a thinking woman.

When I read the reviews of the recent remake of Ghostbusters, with a female cast, I paused, considering the number of women shaken and delighted by the rare experience of seeing a slapstick adventure world through female eyes. It's one of those things I argue with myself over: how much does it mean, to receive art that reflects your life, your gender, your ethnicity, your gaze. When my daughter and I watched Ghostbusters together, I had to admit: it matters. I have lived much of my life transposing fiction. Or, perhaps more accurately, I have lived my life transposing my mind to match the POV of the fiction I have enjoyed. I am old enough that most of my life, and almost all of my early life, offered me few, if any, female protagonists, and those I experienced were seldom presented as having the kind of significance that male protagonists had, even in comedy. Even in the lightest of light literature.

So, yes. It was way cool to watch a show with my daughter and see the world through our eyes: through eyes that can't really help but see our female selves as having importance and meaning.

I found this even more true watching Arrival, though other than being a movie in the imaginative genres, with a female protagonist, it's not much alike at all. Louise Banks, played by Amy Adams, is sober--almost to the shattering point. The movie itself is haunted and haunting, wrapped in atmosphere and doom as much as any Gothic novel could be: no slapstick comedy here, though there are rare and shining moments of laughter.

The mystery at the heart of Arrival is not that difficult or obscure, if you've grown up on speculative fiction. I worked out the right possible resolution fairly early...and, as a result, experienced the movie in the odd mode of being as fore-sighted and complexly aware as the heroine, and as adrift in the time frame. The thing is, only the young and the unsophisticated will fail to work out the hook at some point--that's not a concern with most movies in any case. The hook works, the mystery is valid, the resolutions interesting--and the role of a woman in the lead is powerful, at least to me, as a woman and a mother.

If you could know how everything in your whole life would work out, from now to the end--would you do it anyway? Even the bits that will hurt? Even the losses that seem unendurable?

Does that change if your sense of time itself changes? If present and past stop meaning the same thing? If both the joy and the pain are palindromes? If the child of your womb is both born and unborn forever for you?

I have seen similar thematic material handled using male protagonists. Never in the same story, never with quite the same emotional licks and chops...and yet, I could easily go through Arrival and point out familiar tropes, well-used cliches, haunting children clinging to their fathers' souls. I find that, for me, it mattered to see this entire story--all the story--with a woman in the lead for a change. A mother in the lead.

That does not and should not mean that all stories should be given to women from now on. It means that it mattered to me, as a woman, to see Louise Banks as a linguist, as a professional, as a hero, struggle through the story in female form, being brilliant and remarkable and womanly--and because she was a woman, I found her own choices resonant and uniquely powerful.

The solitude of the thinking protagonist...human, and alone.
Maybe it's because for once I did not have to transpose--to throw my mind into the model of a "male identity" that I have used all my life to tag along with the Hardy Boys and Harry Potter. It is enough to make me wonder what all the male protagonist stories feel like to the men who watch them, never having to transpose--to set their sex aside to share the hero's path. It must be interesting. It must be haunting. It must be magic.

So--for me, Arrival was magic. I admired the leading character, and I reveled in the strange, brooding story, and I came away feeling that the story had proved its worth. I don't know if you will--regardless of your sex, or age, or prior experience. I know the story is well-built, the film standards reasonably high, and the themes work out over the expanse of the story, but I can't really say if you will find it "good." All I can say is I liked it, and I loved the heroine--perhaps the very first of the classic SF breed of pure thinkers solving the universe one insight at a time, without a single zap-gun ever drawn.

Saturday, February 18, 2017


First, another apology: plumbing adventures occupied much of yesterday and today, along with sleep and sore muscles. New knowledge: automatic power plumbing snakes are freepin' heavy, and VERY hard for two out-of-shape women to try to hoist into and out of the basement. The Child and I are now very achy. I am managing my once-per-week article, but seeming to have trouble being reliable about Fridays.

Meanwhile, the column...

You know a genre has reached near maximum load when the spoofs begin. In this case, NBC's new sit-com, Powerless, set in the DC 'verse, stands as proof--a mainstream company hopes to get a step up in the ever-uncertain realm of the sit-com by allying with the surging genre of comic-based video. It makes sense: the spoof, goof-ball, and dark-satire titles within both the comic world and the movies have at least held their own, providing audience support for visions as different as The Watchmen to Deadpool to The Lego Movie and Megamind movies. Popular culture "gets" the core assumptions of superhero universes--and also knows the ironic potential involved in those assumptions. A sit-com based on the superhero universe could fly faster than a speeding bullet.

Unfortunately at three episodes in, I would argue that Powerless lives up to its name. You can shout "Up, up, and away" all day, but if there's no lift, there's no laughs. For me that was the key problem with Powerless. That's a shame. Comedy is the red-haired step-child of the arts--far too often honored with back-handed compliments and high-brow scorn. Limp, lifeless comedy only confirms existing bias against the form--and limp and lifeless covers the problems with the new show.

My first concern is the material itself. Spoof material demands precision and awareness. You not only have to build your jokes around the core assumptions of the genre you're spoofing, you have to prove you understand that genre--what makes it work in the parent genre, and what makes it fail anywhere else. What makes it funny when you move even a little from home ground. The popular comic-based movies have, in fact, made great use of comedy to lampshade the more ridiculous elements of traditional comic reality, using smart-talking, quipping superheroes to invite the audience to laugh with them at silly costumes, arcane technobabble, and alliterative mumbo-jumbo, rather than laughing at them. When the characters say for you what the audience is already half-way to thinking, you've got laughs--and affection. It works.

But you have to know that material cold to pull it off. Generic humor tricked out in a silly cape won't do the trick. Powerless primarily a spoof of bad office drama, rather than a spoof of superhero drama. The key relationships, the key conflicts, the key humor, all hang on to the office setting more than the superhero elements. Those elements, when they do appear, come in the form of fairly lame gags--as, for example, the rubble-proof umbrella the team develops in the second episode. It's funny-once, at best, worthy of one quick passing joke. Instead the writers tried to squeeze more like five jokes out of one umbrella, and failed.

Further, they are building jokes based on "knowledge" of the superhero world that's bogus. There's no good reason for natives of Atlantis to favor Brendan Fraser movies the way the French love Jerry Lewis. There's no reason they would not--but--what part of traditional DC mythos suggests that natives of Atlantis even watch movies in the first place? Far too many of the jokes have that sort of tenuous feel of gluing the ridiculous to the traditional and hoping it will be funny. It isn't particularly.

The timing only exaggerates the problem. By my own guess, they need three to five more minutes of material in each show, so the actors and the film editor can't build in those horrifying laugh-line pauses that slow the beat and leave room for you to realize you're not laughing. The stories plod along, with those horrible lags and lulls, seldom getting much value out of either the superhero venue or out of the office venue.

The actors are trying--hard. You can see the effort in their eyes...poor bubehs.

What's sad is that this could be a much better show with clever writers who love the genre. An engineering firm devising safety devices for living in a superhero world could be such a superb venue for over-the-top technology, accidental hero and villain generation, employees who waver between minion and mad scientist status, and more. Instead it feels like a faded, wrung-out version of a million bad-boss comedies over the decades.

I wish I could comment on the ability of the actors, but there's a point at which I absolve all performers of leaden work. The team they've cast, including Vanessa Hudgens in the lead as engineering manager Emily Locke, and Alan Tudyk as Van Wayne, cousin of Bruce Wayne, gives it a good, professional shot, but they are carrying the burden of terribly weak writing and terribly slow editing.

This show could improve. It's a shame it's as weak an offering as it is--better thought out, with stronger writers who honestly love both the superhero genre and the sit-com, it could be a treasure. Right now, I have to say it's not.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Trimming the Tropiary

First, let me apologize--the storm has somehow thrown me off kilter in terms of schedule. I got stuck in Wednesday and failed to notice Friday had come--and gone. So here, belatedly, is an essay on genre tropes.

Twelve years ago, in 2004, TV Tropes was first launched into the world of the internet, and since then it's been altering and educating audiences around the world, encouraging analytical thinking and ironic commentary in all areas of public media. TV Tropes was to fiction what Aarne-Thompson fairy tale classification was for the folk and fairy-tale genres: a way of classifying and discussing the taxonomy of fiction, calling out recurring patterns and recognizable motifs. For a time it seemed to honestly set the online fan discussion world on fire, and it continues to have a steady effect on how fans understand and evaluate fiction.

A Dragon Topiary

Fans have become familiar with entire ranges of patterns, drawn from all sources and with roots as old as written records of story-telling or as recent as reality shows. Fans have become more and more familiar with the building blocks of fiction, calling out patterns such as the deus ex machina to the modern Mary Sue and Marty Stu. 

The upside is a refreshing new common recognition that literature is made of recurring patterns, and that these patterns are shared across the broad range of story telling. Fans seem far more aware these days that stories depend on structure and on structural elements: that an orphaned child almost cries out for a wicked step-family, a supernatural challenge, and a happy ending, and an old soldier on the road cries out for a wealthy heiress in need of a clever trickster of a husband. On the other hand, TV Tropes seems to have also brought about a certain level of both misunderstood tropes, and just as bad, a generation of people who have mistakenly understood the message to be that writers who use tropes are not creative or original. Both problems have bearing on how fans parse fiction and what they expect--and sometimes the news is bad.

Take, for example, the previously mentioned deus ex machina. The term comes from Greek theater, and refers to the portion of a play in which the Gods descend from above, hoisted on giant pulleys and levers, to resolve the story, make the moral pronouncements, and basically serve as the "fat woman" without whom the opera can't end. Over time the term came to mean a way of resolving a story that's not specifically accounted for in the set-up and construction of a narrative. It means an out-of-the-blue resolution, unachored and ungrounded, imposed without preparation in terms of logic or emotional arc. It's the opposite of the oft-cited Chekhov's Gun, used to describe something used at a critical point in a story which is established far earlier in the narrative. The playwright Chekhov argued that prominent features of a story should also be necessary--if they were not necessary they should not be featured. If you featured a gun in act one, it should be shot at some point--and that shooting should matter. Otherwise there should be no gun.

In ancient times a deus ex machina was not seen as unsupported--a gun appearing out of nowhere to be fired without preparation. Greek theater was originally religious ritual, the Gods seen as not only present everywhere, but the presumed context of the play. Their appearance did not need preparation within the internal structure of the script because they were already established in the external structure of the culture. In time, however, the Gods were no longer presumed--and the establishment of major resolving elements with a script did come to be presumed and expected. Gods of the Machine came to look a bit silly--and Chekhov's Guns became the gold standard of efficiently set-up narrative. It's a wonderful thing to have modern fans aware of the paired ideas. 

Nice, clear Figment topiary, Epcot Center

It's less wonderful, though, when fans, reading quickly, lightly, and often with very little actual literary training prior to finding TV Tropes, are mistaken in the nature and meaning and context of what they have learned. TV Tropes, wonderful as it is, is like all of the internet--read and cherished by everyone at large, including the usual selection of idjits, boobs, and inexperienced Trope mavens who exhibit more enthusiasm than comprehension. So it comes to pass that one finds quite a lot of fans talking about deus ex machina as though anything they failed to spot--any resolution that surprised them--qualified for the term. Or go looking for Chekhov's guns as though there were never an excuse for a true structural case of something utterly unexpected and untelegraphed. 

Both mistakes are wrong. A deus ex machina is always a resolution created by what is essentially imposed force. Like a studio borrowing the US cavalry horses and riders from one film to wrap up the conclusion of a cheap rom-com. So long as the resolution is drawn from existing elements presumed in the story, and legitimately deployed, you are not dealing with deus ex machina. Gandalf showing up at the Battle of Hornburg backed up by the remaining Rohirrim is not deus ex machina because, while you may have missed the various cues that allow the last-hour rescue to surprise and delight you, they are there--you can track back and determine enough to accept that the forces were there, Gandalf had gone to fetch them. One of the real frustrations of my fan-reading life over the past decade or so has become the false claim of deus ex machina by someone who simply failed to catch the clues, and who is disgruntled at having been surprised--and who chose to blaspheme the author by trying to suggest that surprising the viewer meant the author didn't play fair or do it right. Here's the thing--often the best author is the one who shows only enough to justify an outcome, while still permitting it to be a surprise. If you come away having been fooled, that's often to the writer's credit, not to his shame.

Similarly readers go on Chekhov's gun searches so intense you'd think every trivial element of a narrative had to lead to some great and meaningful reprise. It's an easy inference to draw from Chekhov's own comment:

"One must never place a loaded rifle on the stage if it isn't going to go off. It's wrong to make promises you don't mean to keep." Chekhov, letter to Aleksandr Semenovich Lazarev (pseudonym of A. S. Gruzinsky), 1 November 1889.

Taken too literally, the mention of shoes should inherently lead to an important shoe-denouement, and the discussion of a blonde woman's hair should lead to some vital conclusion in a hair salon. The truth is more difficult: even repeatedly recurring elements need not be used in a vital manner. Blonde women may be more important for their role in setting tone and style than they are for bringing about clearly derived blonde events. Some recurring patterns are like good wall paper--merely there to fill blank walls and add texture and visual appeal to an otherwise drab stage set. A single freestanding movie or novel can seldom carry more than two or three Chekhov's guns...nor would the author wish it to, unless the author were playing a sort of literary joke, offering a punch line to an audience prepared to giggle at the absurdity of waiting for Godot over and over again. 

That's the contradictory nature of having the wonderful TV Tropes site out there--it's done more to educate fans in ways of analyzing narrative than any other popular source I can think of in my lifetime...but it's also brought in a lot of people who are losing track of the precision of the terms and tropes they use. In a garden of tropes with crisp, sharp meanings, they've gotten a bit lax in their pruning style, and the tropiary is a big shaggy and hard to understand as the precision is lost. 

Friday, February 3, 2017

Fabulous Beasts

This is a light-weight, somewhat spoiler-y review of "Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them"
I watched this earlier this January, with my daughter, and had hoped to see it a second time before attempting to review it, but came up short on time--so this is the light, bubble-gum review, with something fussier and more analytical lurking in the wings for a possible later appearance.

The Kiddo and I have a long mutual history of sharing our Harry Potter-related joys, though right now, in her twenties, she's a bit off on the entire thing. By the end of the first saga, she found the vast canon a bit burdensome, and I do not blame her. She enjoyed Fantastic Beasts, though. We both did. Where the original HP books were designed to track through the maturation of the readers, growing more adult at roughly the rate it's original child-readers did, Fantastic Beasts is a story that, from the very start, aims at adults, if comparatively young adults. The difference is a blessing, if only because the first series succeeded in carrying not only its characters but its world out of the realm of child fantasy, and into something more challenging and mature. What started with an eleven-year-old's idea of bliss, with magic and all the best foods you like and chocolate frogs and best chums, landed in the end exactly where J.K. Rowling intended it, with questions of race and war and loyalty and strength in the face of evil, carried out at a level that addressed adult fears...not perfectly, but sufficiently well to deserve its laurels. To go back to the chipper, sweet, and twee elements of early HP would have been a let-down.

Interior of Newt's Tardis-y Suitcase of Holding

Fantastic Beasts starts at roughly one stage beyond the maturity point that Deathly Hallows left off--with young adult characters of the right age to be facing their first truly, completely adult challenges. They've found their first jobs. They've become independent of school and family. They are getting by in the grownup world. They at the age to become warriors by choice. Harry Potter and his friends were drafted into the great saga of their era almost from birth. Newt Scamander, Porpentina and Queenie Goldstein, and their no-maj (muggle/non-magical) associate Jacob Kowalski, are all people who appear to have faced challenges already, and who look likely to face more.

That impression is only strengthened by the details of time and place. A story set in 1926 in New York City suggests major catastrophes to come, in both the non-wizarding world and the magical realms. Knowing what's to come, feeling the advancing elements that will lead to the Depression and WWII on the non-magical side of the story, and to the war with Grindelwald on the otherside, blends well with the cold, grey, murky feel of the New York City setting and the strong awareness of New York as a teaming center for immigration...and for social pressures.

The translation of that tension to the Wizarding World assumptions did not work perfectly, coming into its own only when Jacob's memories must be wiped at the end. Until then, in spite of repeated reminders of the barriers put up between the Magical Congress of the United States of America and the non-magical world, it's easy to get wrapped up in the joy of Newt's escaped beasts, the Christmas-y sparkle of the New York of a prior age, and the Dickensian hints of darker elements in the New Salem Philanthropic Society's leader and starveling children. And, yes--all of that ties to an embedded bigotry on both sides of the magical divide. But it remains true--somehow it's easy to take all that lightly until our mages steal Jacob's memories from him.

Jacob Kowalski, the Wizarding World's first muggle leading character.
That edge, though, is part of what made Fantastic Beasts a joy to watch. It had the familiar elements we know, and it's clearly part of a continuity we've had laid out previously. It's canon, for sure. But it's canon from a fresh, new, and decidedly more adult position from the very beginning.

That could have been a wretched bore: Harry Potter by Kafka. However, the world still sparkles, the beasts truly were fantastic and lovable, and the new characters were easy to love without so much as a backward glance at Harry, Ron, and Hermione, or Dumbledore and Hagrid. Daughter-mine and I liked Newt, and the Goldstein sisters, and most of all we loved non-maj Jacob, the first non-maj to have a real central-character role in any of the HP books. There are times when a nice, heavy dose of foreshadowing is a comfort, and the near-certainty of Jacob's eventual return from amnesia and exile is one of those times: Jacob is a pip, to use the words of my grandfather. A pip and a peach, and a real mensch.

The plot itself was a bit simple and frail--but so what? For a change it's a story about laying the foundation for other stories. It was just big enough and heavy enough to take care of that start-up business in one move. Given Rowling's inclination to expanding mass, it was good to see she had learned from seeing her own novels pared down to screenplays, and understood the burden a feature film can realistically carry. She kept it short, comparatively simple, and she didn't break her heart over the kind of fuss one can admire--but that the story does not need. She got the job done, with fun and grace, and presented a great stage to introduce a new saga and a new cast.

New Heroes

So. The kid and I were happy. We will watch the next one, praying for Jacob to show up soon to look at Queenie with lingering sighs, and that Newt will remain charming and dedicated to his beasts, and that Tina and Queenie will shine as brightly with intelligence and sororal love, sisters to the end, different though they are.

Will it be as popular and successful as the original Harry Potter stories and movies? Hard to say. Those were a unique phenomenon. But even if she hold it together on a slightly smaller level of fannish enthusiasm, she's got a nice new entry that will let her tell very new stories in her previously developed world. That's good business for everyone, and good fun for a lot of us who just like going back to her Wizarding World again.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Girl Genius

David having offered a link to Schlock Mercenary, I am countering with a link to the ever-glorious, massive work of Girl Genius, where "any sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology."

The New Golden Age

We live in the new Golden Age of the imaginative arts. That's not a minor thing. Someday, assuming civilization stands and scholarship is able to maintain the records of our culture, some Humanities professor is going to be explaining that the most notable key characteristic of the arts of the 19th and early 20th centuries was the increasing use and expansion of imagined, fantastic, futuristic, and supernatural elements, in everything from the practical forms of advertising and publicity to mainstream to the fine arts. Year by year it has become more and more difficult to imagine any description of trends in culture that fail to mention the move from the realistic and observational to the surreal and imagined.

A flood of imaginative arts, from Fantastic Beasts...

Someday I intend to write about that expansion--the slow domination of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and similar tropes throughout much of the so-called "modern" world. Right now, though, I just want to talk about what that amounts to on a daily, practical level.

Among the other things David and I hope I will be doing is reviewing--books, TV shows, movies, you name it. I knew I was a bit out of touch--you get busy and the genre material races past you like two-year-olds at the Kentucky Derby--but I figured I would spend a few days reviewing what was new out there, or what had been out there awhile but not yet caught my full attention. Then I'd pick a few likely choices.

Ha-ha. I'm forced to admit I will never catch up--never fully take in the floods of material showing up. Even with Hulu and Netflix and a range of other streaming services, I am dubious I am going to catch up with the primary fantasy fiction in movies, much less the stuff on TV. A look at the science fiction, fantasy, and horror fields suggests I am again out of my depths--and I am not a slow reader. I can watch shows about devils (Lucifer, Sleepy Hollow, Supernatural), zombies (The Walking Dead and more), artificially intelligent android life (Westworld, Humans), several different versions of "fairy tales are real," (Grimm, Once Upon a Time...) science fiction, and beyond...

The truth is, it's going to take me a little while to decide how I want to structure this. I want this Friday column to be about the imaginative arts--about the images, the narratives, the music, the animation, the entire vast field of creative dreaming. As a writer, a not-all-that-capable artist, and a lover of the genres, I want to talk about what we have done, what we can do, about how we judge art and how we share it. It's going to take a while, though, to decide where I want to start, and the fact that I'm living in such a wealth of material only makes it more challenging. I don't know whether to start with Pokemon or Pan's Labyrinth; with Fantastic Beasts or web comic funnies. The range and the richness overwhelms me.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

True Love and Literature

I remember it well--that first glorious rush of certainty that at last--at last--I had found the perfect book, a book I could only adore. I was about ten, and the book was Andre Norton's Ordeal in Otherwhere, which you can currently find in the multi-book collection Warlock. Ordeal in Otherwhere had everything: a female heroine who was not a toxic little wuss. A meerkat familiar. Glorious witchy dragon-lady sorceresses. Challenges bigger than the usual girl-lit ick of makeup and clothes and who you were going to date. Dreams. Sensa Wonda. Heady stuff for a girl who wanted to be an astronaut when she grew up, and whose early reading material included Greek myths. Of course, I promptly forgot both the name of the author and the name of the book, and spent the next ten years reading through every book that seemed like it--and came to love the whole genre in the process.

Cover, Warlock, by Andre Norton Source: Amazon Books Some stories take you that way. You are barely a paragraph in and you already know you're in good hands, carried along by writers and, in film, with performers and production teams you dare trust. Your standards and expectations may change as you get older, but you still know that rush of excitement when you begin to read and realize that you're in the presence of competence and charisma. Your favorite may not be my favorite, and mine may not be my sister's--but we still know it when we encounter it. The sting, the sizzle, the sense of falling into the zone, where the story is real and your heart and mind are committed for as long as it takes.

Of course, we all know what it's like to fall out of the zone, too. Fast or slow, logical or puzzling, sometimes a writer loses us. We may know just why. (Zippers on Regency dresses! Hot chocolate in medieval Europe! Men who have nothing better to do the night before battle but comfort their sobbing lovers!) We may never know. (I am still trying to make it through several books recommended by trusted friends, and failing to bond. They are well-written books--I just don't give a damn.)
Here's the thing--loving a work of fiction is collaborative. It's what the work itself brings to you, and what you bring to it. When it works it's true love. When it works, it becomes a landmark in your heart, for days, for years, for decades. You can read the map of your own life and growth in your favorite fiction. There's the stuff you grow out of--sometimes with a gasp of relief. I am so very glad I only loved Jonathan Livingston Seagull for a matter of a few months in my mid-teens. There are books that become permanent features of how you think and understand fiction itself: I will never get over the point at which I realized the complexity of Dorothy Sayers' Gaudy Night, spending much of a week taking it apart and putting it back together, realizing how scene after scene satisfied multiple purposes within both the logic of the plot, the logic of the theme--and the rigorous logic of the thesis. I had been taught that level of reading before--but never accomplished such a complicated analysis solo, without prompting or teacher support. It changed my idea of "skilled writing" forever more. We become fluent in fiction over time, finding out what our own personal zone is like--what we ourselves respond to.

We all have favorites, too. I love R.A. Lafferty--I could write a love song to his short stories, and entire rhapsodies to The Reefs of Earth. I love Connie Willis--almost any Connie Willis. But I also love David Weber's Honor Harrington, pretty much all of Bujold's characters and stories, Sharon Shinn's fascinating different fantasy realms, each distinct, each with a magic unlike anything else I recall seeing. I love Tanith Lee's Night's Master, and still love Asimov's Foundation--and his Daneel Olivaw novels. I love Ready Player One. We live in what I honestly think is the true Golden Age of the imaginative arts. They have become the fictional language of our culture. Whether we are talking space opera or horror novel, comic superhero or dashing vampire leading man, hot modern urban witch or futuristic starship captain or a major in the space marines, we tell our stories in the language of "what if," because for many of us the language of gritty realism wasn't big enough to say what needed saying.

Cover, Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline Source: Amazon What have you recently fallen in love with? Are there any new writers or film-makers who have stolen your heart away? Or old classics you either never read before, or only just fell in love with, that rattled you to the core? Let us know what has caught your mind and heart, so we can help you share and promote the good stuff. Because, in the immortal words of Princess Bride: Sonny, true love is the greatest thing, in the world -- except for a nice MLT – mutton, lettuce and tomato sandwich, where the mutton is nice and lean and the tomato is ripe.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

William C. Dietz NY Times Best Selling Author of "American Rising."

William C. Dietz is among the few writers who wrote in the Military SF genre during a time when many weren't willing to tackle its particular challenges. As a former combat arms member of the US Army, I have scoured through most of the popular fiction looking for decent Military SF stories to read. Dietz's work has always provided hours of entertainment. Recently I was fortunate to spend an afternoon exchanging emails with Mr. Dietz and he was gracious enough to spare time from his busy schedule to give the following interview...

Q: Why is science fiction important?

WCD: Because science fiction is untethered from our understanding of the past and present, it's the literature of possibilities. How will bio-science change society? What if aliens exist? Do we live parallel lives in other dimensions? No other genre tackle such questions.

That's the serious side of it. But science fiction is, and in my opinion should be, entertainment. And we need that in our lives. A friend once told me that my books are perfect for a flight from Seattle to New York. He made no mention of my plots, of the characterizations in my novels, or the ideas that I put forth. So I could have been offended. But I wasn't. I see entertainment as a noble calling, and the primary purpose of each book I write. 

Q: Why do you write in the particular genres you do? Specifically Military SF?

WCD: I was born at the end of WWII, and like little boys of that time, was raised on a diet of black and white war movies featuring the likes of John Wayne, Gary Cooper, Robert Mitchum and so forth. The characters they played were sometimes troubled, but essentially good, and extremely brave. Even then I noticed that by their very nature war stories are about danger, difficult choices, and sacrifice. And real war stories are no different. That makes war worth writing about. Add the freedom to speculate about the future, and voila! My decision was made.

Q: Many of your novels have advanced applications of technology. (Science Fiction right.) But has your writing been informed by the technology available or do you think you have had an impact by writing about it?

WCD: We live in an age where everything, reality and fiction alike, is sloshing about in a sea of data. So it's hard to say what sort of contribution (if any) I've made. Especially since many of the things I've written about (military cyborgs for example) are extrapolations from, and elaborations on ideas put forward by others. All of us are indebted to those who came before us. But I'd like to think that my fiction sparked something for somebody. Or, made their flight to New York more enjoyable.

Q: Which leads me to the next question, are you a gadget geek? Do you have twenty seven different USB cords, data sticks, half a dozen worn out laptops cluttering the closets of the house. Or are you the person who's secret family nickname is "Killer of Cellphones?"

WCD: I'm not a hobbyist, no... But I love my tower style PC, my iphone, my gigantic (Internet connected) TV, my Kindle, and my aging ipad. So I'm a serious user, and wouldn't want to give any of them up. And, because I'm a neat freak, all of my cords are under control:)

Q: What prompted you to write your current work?

WCD: Like most professional authors I'm constantly looking for story ideas. And, when I read an article about U.S. petroleum reserves I noticed something interesting. All of our country's emergency oil supplies are located in the south along the gulf coast. As far as I know this decision was made for purely pragmatic reasons. A lot of oil comes in and goes out through southern seaports, there are underground caverns suitable for storing ore located in that area, and so forth.

But since our country is split into the so-called red and blue states, with all of the oil petroleum reserves being located in red states, I wondered what would happen to them if some sort of cataclysm was to occur? I'm talking about a disruption so serious that the federal government was impaired, there was widespread chaos, and a breakdown in law and order. Some southern states, Texas comes to mind, threaten to secede on a regular basis. Would they? And if they did, who would lead such a movement? And how would the oil in those reserves be used? 

That was my initial line of thought. And, after noodling on it, the America Rising trilogy was born. The first book is called Into The Guns. It's available now. Seek And Destroy will be along in June, with Battle Hymn to follow that. From a publishing perspective these would be classified as near future, post apocalyptic, alternate history stories. 

Here's how Penguin's cover copy reads: 
On May Day, 2018, sixty meteors enter Earth’s atmosphere and each explodes with a force greater than a nuclear blast. Earthquakes and tsunamis follow. Then China attacks Europe, Asia, and the United States in the mistaken belief that the disaster is an act of war. 

The United States government is decimated when a meteor strikes Washington D.C. That leaves surviving elements of the armed forces to try and restore order, but they’re badly outnumbered, and some military personnel go rogue. 

Now, as civilians battle the military for scarce resources, a group of wealthy individuals attempts to create a self-serving government based on Libertarian principles. They call it The New Confederacy--and that’s when the second Civil War begins.

Q: Adventure stories, be they military sf, or straight up science fiction evolve and they change. I often see the choice of protagonists by authors as an outlier of things to come. Why is your current protagonist, female?

WCD: There are a number of reasons why my last nine books have female protagonists. First, from a purely pragmatic point of view, there are more female readers than male readers! And it makes sense to write for the largest audience possible. 

Second, I'm happy to say that most male readers (the ones I have contact with anyway) are no longer resistant to female protagonists as long as they are well written and do interesting things.

Third, I am married to a wonderful woman and have two extremely capable daughters. And they inspire me. 

Q: Globally the world is currently undergoing an identity crisis. Our own country is fighting for some sort of new identity or a reestablishment of values which promote a form nationalism. Does your new work explore these topical aspects?

WCD: The America Rising books are primarily intended to be action/adventure style entertainment. But yes, as you can see from the cover copy, I do have a political perspective. And there are conservatives who regularly troll "Into The Guns" in an attempt to suppress it. That surprises me. Apparently they feel their political philosophy is so weak, so fragile, that an action adventure novel might destroy it. And, it appears that the liberty they speak of so frequently, is only meant for them. 

On a fundamental level the series suggests that unrestrained self-interest (the fundamental precept of right wing politics) is a threat to democracy which, in my judgement it is. Now that conservative oligarchs are in control of the United States, we'll see how things go. Maybe the Trump administration will surprise me. I hope so. 

Q: As an entertainer, how much do you see it is your responsibility if any, to interject your own viewpoints and not necessarily those of a fictional character in a story? Or if you would prefer: How do you separate yourself the writer, from the characters, their motivations and drives?

WCD: I guess the simple answer is that my protagonists generally share my values regarding what's right and wrong. My villains don't.

Q: Is it a big issue for you to have a fan realize what you believe privately as opposed to what a character like Joseph Rodney Spaceman might offer up in a story could be diametrically different?

WCD: My books are entertainment for the most part. Most of them don't have any sort of political bent. And, when there is a secondary political theme as in the America Rising books, I imagine that those who disagree with my perspective look elsewhere for their entertainment. Fortunately, that still leaves more than 150-million people who might buy my books. 

Q: On a different slant- How does the process of writing one of your novels work. (Stand alone work, not franchise.) Meaning how long does it normally take you from outline to rough to novel to something your agent can sell. The reason for this question: As soon as I finished reading your last novel I immediately wanted the next iteration of the story. And I know it is rare to have a short turn around time, even for a popular novel.

WCD: As you know there are, generally speaking, two types of writers: Those who write from outlines, and those who are sometimes referred to as "organic" writers. Meaning they make things up as they go along. I am an outline writer. So the process goes like this: Idea, primary research (with just in time research throughout), outline, first draft (with ongoing changes to the outline), edit, second draft, and another edit. Then the manuscript goes to my wife for yet another review.

I would like to thank William C. Dietz for the generous giving of his time.-Thank you sir!

DS Baker editor.

Amazon Link:

Link to William C. Dietz's website:

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Friday, January 13, 2017

Editor Peg Robinson

Strange Suns will be a shared blog from this point forward. As our editors can, they will post. It is our intention to set aside specific days of the week for their use. Peg Robinson has graciously set aside Friday for her comments. I hope you will come to like our staff's thoughts and ideas as much as I have.-DS Baker.

First things first. Hi! I’m Peg Robinson, the co-editor of the Strange Suns page. Right now I can take no credit. The page is David’s idea, and so am I. But y’all have some right to know who I am.

I’m 58, single, with a daughter who’s in college and in that furry, fuzzy space in which the world increasingly sees her as adult and her parents struggle to accept that notion, and the collateral idea that they themselves are getting old. I’m a professional writer and editor, using the definition that allows you to go broke as a pro. I’m an active member of SFWA, with a lifetime membership I paid while I had the cash—a wise move, IMO. I mainly write science fiction and fantasy, though I’m pretty genre friendly. It’s been awhile since I made an SF/F sale—I’ve been writing other things, including portions of text-books and commercial material lately. 

I am almost certainly the softer, fuzzier side of SF/F on this page. In that sense I think of myself as “color.” I mix it up a bit. 

I am very happy to be here. I welcome you to David’s shiny new page—and hope you will welcome me in time, too. Thank you.


I grew up in a time of conflict. One of my first concrete memories is of the death of John F. Kennedy, and of the nation-wide reaction afterward. I grew up in the glory days of the civil rights movement. I grew up with friends in a regular state of protest—Vietnam, nuclear proliferation, nuclear power plants, apartheid, dirty movies, clean movies, movies about Jesus, movies failing to mention Jesus, school dress codes, you name it, someone was in a lather over it.

I grew up in the time of the great wars over genre and genre naming. It started, for me, with Harlan Ellison and his cadre, whose fast reflexive reaction fight over whether Our Great Genre was science fiction or speculative fiction, and whether it belonged on the lonely little genre shelves in bookstores or properly among the respectable literary fiction at the front of the store. My favourite, beloved fiction (all flavors) was said to be delegated to a genre ghetto from which no author could launch a respectable career…or a properly profitable one. On grounds both literary and financial, there was great brouhaha and brawling, and to this day you can date those of us of a particular era fast, reflexive reaction to the term “science fiction” is to cut back with “spec fic.

After came a round I most associate with Isaac Asimov, and his then brand new magazine, titled “Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine.” Soon enough after startup a whinge began and grew—the magazine was (shock, horror) given to publishing stories that could only tentatively be regarded as “science fiction,” rather than fantasy, or horror, or other properly tech-oriented material. The pages occasionally swarmed with outbreaks of imps, devils, dragons, unicorns, or, horror of horrors, material that applied an unnecessary SF gloss to war stories, westerns, or worse. For some time a true battle raged over what, properly, could appear in an SF magazine, and what should be assigned to other, less factually particular genres. 

Here is the trouble with all the battling of my youth. Regardless of what you call it, or how rigorous the tech, or how you place it on the shelves of the bookstores remaining—I read it all, loved it all, and was mainly grateful as hell that people made it easy to find by putting it in magazines and on bookshelves under a coherent set of genre terms. These days, in which everyone and her cousin has written something in the range of the imaginative literatures, and in which the whole muddled, magical, messy field has come to play a major role in best-seller lists and so-called “literary fiction” shelving, it can actually be harder, not easier to find the authors I want to find, or learn of new talent. These days almost everyone reads some sort of SF/F genre. It is a time of victory—and a time in which the old genre arguments are falling apart.

Here's the truth: I’m a generalist. I love some of all of it, and all of some of it. I even read horror, though that’s not my own niche. I love cross-over lit that blends the fantastic neighborhoods. I adore alternate history fantasy, or magical military fiction, or science fiction that focuses on social and cultural elements of distant past and future galactic empires. One thing that delighted me talking to David is that this is not an exclusive, walled community page. This is us—all of us. It makes me very happy. You see, while I was born into a time of conflict, I came away with the sense that some things are worth waging war over, and some are not, and the classification of literature we all love is less fun than just reading, or viewing, or listening to, or painting, or digitally illustrating the good stuff when it comes.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Strange Suns and Author Brian Daley.

This blog will evolve and morph in the coming months, but sooner or later you have to take what you have, hold your breath and make a leap. Pardon the humble beginnings, as I am sure we will improve with age.

Everything has a beginning. Even the universe started off as something. I sometimes like to think a giant amorphous being cleared its nasal cavity and thus with a mighty wind, and not so much a big bang, we came flipping and flopping into existence, like a Great Dane puppy, all legs and no coordination.

The love of science fiction can bite a person rather hard on the fundament. With its terrible fangs embedded into our hindquarters many of us discover a life long love. For me it was forming an informal book club in 4th grade with my fellow Conan the Barbarian enthusiasts. I think Conan has served as the gateway drug for many young people. I know he did for me. 

I thought I would start this blog off with a review of sorts. I found a writer years ago, who in one form or another my personal life kept bumping into at weird interstices with. Especially after I met his spouse on-line in a strange set of occurrences to this day I can't really explain.

Brian Daley

I flipped and flopped from one author to the next for several years after my Conan days, until Star Wars happened as a young teenager. Yeah if you haven't figured it out, I belong to the first generation of Star Wars fandom. Then in roughly around eighth grade, I discovered the "Han Solo Adventures" written by Brian Daley. This was way before fan fiction or even much in the way of franchise writing I might have been aware of. My head exploded. Here was a complete set of adventures! I later found out in the 90's Daley wrote the radio play adaptation for the BBC's broadcast of (Star Wars, Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.) 

Several years later 1981 something, in my sophomore year, I meandered into a book store in Olympia Washington, and discovered a book called "The Doomfarers of Cormande." An exciting romp, where a Cavalry Sergeant and his crew of his Armored Personnel Carrier while conducting a patrol, are magically transported to another universe in order to deal with a decidedly deadly magical creature.-Major hook. The magic made sense. More importantly the military men seemed like the real deal.(Resembling my neighbors who had served in Vietnam.) Incidentally Brian Daley wrote the skeleton of this story, while serving in the 11th Armoured Cavalry Division (Black Horse.) in the Republic of South Vietnam.

In the final year or so of my high school I discovered another book also by Daley called "A Requiem for a Ruler of Worlds." The galactic adventures of Hobart Floyt (Earth Functionary) and Alacrity Fitzhugh (Spacer .) Alacrity is pressured into escorting Citizen Floyt of Terra to receive a bequeathment from an off world ruler of nine worlds. It was the first science fiction book, I personally read where I discovered a story could be funny as hell, while still being high adventure. There are plenty of running gags which repeat all throughout the series. The concepts of transportation although vague were sound. (I blame Star Wars.) I am referring to a Faster Than Light FTL engine called a Hawking Drive. (Yes Stephen... it's named after you.)

The first book in the Alacrity Fitzhugh/Hobart Floyt
The world building Daley created, to this day some thirty two years after the first book in the series was released stand up to anything that is currently being published. Oh the tech mentioned nowadays might be a bit more splashy. But his world was a work-a-day world. You could see the grime industrial strength Galactic Fabuloso couldn't wipe away. It felt real. You could smell the lubricant and ozone in work spaces, with trash littering back alleys old evacuation tubes. Along with varied cultures, each having a logical reason for being where and who they were. It was immediately immersive and consuming.

One of the other tidbits or Easter Eggs he put in the Alacrity/Floyt stories, was a minor paragraph about the "Disaster News Network." Where future consumers of entertainment would become obsessed with watching a natural disaster which would destroy a home or community.

Which I find eerily prescient for popular culture's obsession with just exactly that. YouTube is absolutely filled with "Fail" videos or horribly enough top ten "Airplane Disasters." Most viewers not realizing every plane crash usually meant the death of many people. I believe Alacrity Fitzhugh described it as the "Ghoul Network." 

The other blurb was the character Salome Price of the Uncensored News Network, all celebrity news, all day, all night, from all over the galaxy. 

Brian Daley was arguably one of the major writers of Science Fiction in the latter half of the 20th century. I have carried in one dilapidated form or another a majority of his books with me for the past 30 years. 

One of the weird parallels or nexus points I found with his personal life, was my time as a reservist. I found out years later we both had served with certain NCO's and in the last six months of my enlistment, in a reserve component of the 11th ACR based out of Ft Irwin California.

Luckily his spouse of fourteen years celebrated historical fiction writer Lucia St. Clair Robson manages Daley's literary estate, and has recently authorized the reprinting of many of his major works. 

I am even hearing with the success of "Rogue One," the Adventures of Han Solo might be in consideration for an expansion of the Star Wars franchise of movies... But to be completely honest I have neither been able to confirm or deny these rumours at this time.

One of the things I loved about his Del Rey original issue, was the use of noted illustrator Darrell K. Sweet. Who for horse enthusiasts out there, was one of the few illustrators to "get it right." Daley's best cover art IMO was created by Mr. Sweet. Sadly Darrell K. Sweet passed away in 2011. 

Art by Darrell K Sweet.

Brian Daley lost his fight with pancreatic cancer in 1996, he died the following morning after the wrap party for the Return of the Jedi radio play.

Luckily enough for us, Brian Daley's worlds live on. You can find his work, at his official website along with more of his biographical information. Through the link on his page to his published books, there are hypertext links to his Amazon author's page. Each novel currently available is found there.

I believe the old regimental motto is applicable "Alons! or Let's go!" Someday I expect Brian will be found after crossing yet one more river, sitting under a tree penning a new story about broken down cavalry troopers lamenting their plasma swords just aren't up to snuff. You are doing yourself a serious disservice by not discovering his fiction.

DS Baker.

Special Thanks to Lucia St. Clair Robson for permissions granted.

Brian Daley's Official Website:

Brian's available books: