It’s Not Binge-Watching, It’s Research!

I’ve mentioned before I don’t do cable, I stream.  The problem with streaming is that you can just head off on random tangents.  Oh, I don’t mean stuff like binge-watching every single episode of Game of Thrones in a single weekend.  No, I would never do something like that.  Not me!  Nothing to see here, just move along…

No, lately I’ve been going, err…”research”.  Doing the old “compare and contrast” shtick from my school essay days.  Things like comparing both versions of Battlestar Galactica, or the old campy 60s Batman* versus the more current movie iterations, that kind of thing…

*How the hell did Bruce Wayne escape a life sentence, anyway?  He kept a young boy in a cave!

Anyway, part of my little experiment has been rewatching the various Star Trek series.  Now, I need to set the stage by admitting my complete addiction to the original series.  An addiction, I should add, that dates back to when I was like five years old.

The original series will always, always, always have a special place in my heart.  Kirk – and Jack Aubrey, for fellow historical fiction fans – is still the ultimate prototype for what a sci-fi/adventure captain should be.  Shit, I still want to grow up to be Kirk…

But the best of the lot?  Deep Space 9.  Odd, I know.  That one is pretty much the red-headed stepchild of the Star Trek world.  It’s the part of the universe that’s not really part of the universe.  That’s one reason why I like it so much.

Leaving the different captains and characters aside, each of the series had its own personality and focus.  And those differences are why I prefer DS9 above even the original:

The original Star Trek series was a commentary on the politics, culture and social problems of its day.  While that is what sci-fi can do very, very well (hey, I chose it as a genre for a reason!), it made that series more about plot than anything else.  The situations into which Kirk and the others were placed were in total control.  Everything else (characters, tech, etc…) was there to serve that plot.

Next Generation, on the other hand, was really all about the tech.  Oh, there was still some commentary, but it was less important than the gee-whiz tech (and the consequent special effects).  This was also the most…unrealistic of all five series.  Jesus, this thing drove me nuts with its saccharine cheerfulness.  To me, it’s still the worst of the lot.

VoyagerVoyager followed closely in TNG’s footsteps.  In spite of some good performances – and some real improvement in writing and directing in the later years – it’s still a show about a ship.  With some people on it.  And aliens.  And reversing the polarity of something…on every single goddamned episode.  Find a new throwaway line, for fuck’s sake!

Enterprise tried to get into characters, but it took until like season three for you to give two shits about any of them.  Two-thirds of the characters on that show needed to be punched.  Repeatedly.  It tried to escape the mold of the other series (being the last one made), but never lived up to its premise, nor escaped the shadows.

And then there’s DS9.  In spite of the criticisms above, I actually liked all the shows, but DS9 is my favorite for one simple reason: it’s a show about the characters.  The station is just a backdrop, it means nothing.  The setting and tech are there just to support the damned characters.  That’s the way it should be.  Oh, and I suppose I should mention that it’s also the darkest of all five.  It succeeds with themes and problems the others could not do well.  It also brings a certain bit of jaded cynicism the other shows, far more optimistic and happy, could never even consider.

Dammit…my little 400-word post (wishful thinking, I know) has blown up on me, and I’ve barely scratched the surface.  Shit, I could do a twenty-thousand word paper on this and still leave crap out.

I think I’ll just cut my losses and go nerd out on some anime now…The Eccentric Family at the moment, if you’re wondering.  Absolutely gorgeous animation that is also pretty unique in terms of style, and a story that is simultaneously funny and dark as hell.

P.S.

There is a (kinda old) joke that the two best Star Trek movies ever made are “Galaxy Quest” and “Master & Commander”.  It’s funny because it’s pretty much true…

Grumpy Old Bastard

Yeehaw…it’s “Hot Burrito Challenge” day at the brewery.

I like hot food. I really do. BUT! Why the hell would you want to try to power down a ghost-chile-burrito – and a pint of chile-beer that is, if anything, even hotter – for fun?

Just how is puking everything back up five minutes later FUN?

Fine, call me a wuss. Call me weak. Call me whatever you want; I’m still gonna sit over here in my little corner and drink my…well, at the moment it’s a Vienna lager. I might switch to the Irish dry stout next, but that’s as “extreme” as I plan to get today.

I am also not going to be physically damaged and miserable for the next 36 hours…

Hangovers I can handle – shit, I’ve had some doozies in my time – but physical damage because you ate stupid shit? No thank you.

Why am I writing about this? Because I got kicked out of my regular seat at the bar!

Goddamit!

I am very much a creature of habit. Err, a creature of kinda scary, borderline OCD, habits actually. When I want to work – shit, when I need to work – I hate like hell to have anything screwed up.

But here I sit, pushed off to the side in another room because…well…if I stayed in my “usual” seat I’d be stuck eating one of the damned death-tubes these lunatics are calling “burritos”.

Harrumph!

And, yes, I am currently channeling my inner bitter-old man…now get off my lawn!

IMG_0043Oh, for the love of Christ and all that’s holy!

I gave in to the pressure. I had a chip – one single goddamned CHIP – with a few drops of the ghost-pepper hot sauce on it. I’m crying like a 4-year-old who lost his teddy bear, my nose is running like I started doing entire freaking shots of cottonwood
“fluff”, and I’m not sure I’m ever going to taste again…

I’m fairly certain THIS is why Anakin Skywalker turned into Darth Vader! It had nothing to do with being a neurotic, co-dependent, needy piece of shit – he just did a “Hot Burrito Challenge” at the wrong time. I’m ready to turn to the darskide as well…

Now, of course, the writer in me has to wonder: just how the hell do I turn this into a scene in the next story?

Sorry about that, Connor. It really is gonna suck for you…

 

P.S.

My mouth is STILL fucking numb!!

What Are You FOR?

I’ve mentioned before my love of Russian writers.  Folks like Dostoevsky and Tolstoy just knew what was up.  Not only with Russians, but with humanity in general.  If you want to research and study the “human condition” there is going to be a pretty significant Russian presence in there somewhere.

A conversation (argument…fight…call it what you will) with someone a couple of days ago got me to thinking about this topic.  About one Russian writer in particular, really:

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

Now, I’ve mentioned before my admiration and respect for both the writer and his works.  He is one of those guys I think everyone should read.  What he has to teach transcends, well, just about any and all divisions I can think of.

The first thing to know about Solzhenitsyn is that he loved his country.  In spite of everything that happened to him, Russia was everything to him.  You get the same sense reading Tolstoy, but (much as I love Tolstoy) Solzhenitsyn just pulls it off better.

Keep in mind, this was a man sent by Stalin to the Siberian gulags.  A man who, even after he was “released”, was forced to live in internal exile thousands of miles from home.  A man who spent his entire life, until he finally fled to the US, under the eye of the KGB.

But he still wrote.  Not just wrote, but wrote honestly.  Most of his works came out first via the uniquely Russian samizdat*.

*Underground press for a lack of a better term (there’s a lot more to it than that, but I’ll save the history/sociology lesson).

When Khrushchev began to relax things – a bit – Solzhenitsyn was finally able to openly publish A Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovitch.  And it was still honest, still powerful.  He didn’t pull back, in spite of the very real danger…because he loved his homeland.

The Cancer Ward is perhaps the most memorable, gently presented and effective indictment of totalitarianism and evil that I’ve ever read.  The Gulag Archipelago?  Yes, it’s huge.  Yes, it’s powerful.  And, yes, you will be rewarded if you read it.

Every single thing the man wrote was for Russia.  Yes, he was an ardent anti-communist.  Yes, he was against the tyranny and insanity of Stalin and the leaders who followed him.  But Solzhenitsyn was never really defined by being against, he was forFor, most of all, his homeland, the nation he loved.

Why do I bring this up now?

Because we, as a society…we, as writers and artists…we, as a people…are very, very much falling into the trap of being defined solely as being against.  There is danger in that.

To be against is inherently negative and destructive.  To be against is also meaningless as it does not, and can not, lead to anything better.  What it leads to is, instead, the bullshit tit-for-tat idiocy we see so much of in politics and society today.

I don’t care what you are against, tell me what you are for.  And, no, semantic word-play does not count.  To be for is to build, and to strive for more.

That, as much as the search for faith and meaning, has come into focus as I write the current story.  My protagonist is bitter and angry.  He resents…everyone.  And, even more, he is against: against the corruption, against the pain, against pretty much everything for which his society stands.

It’s not enough.  Not for Connor, and not for me.

That is what I’m exploring: this kid, who has lived such misery in just eighteen years, has to find…something…he can be for.

Crowe T. Robot For President!

In a world that’s given us the Pyramids, and the Great Wall, and the Colosseum…

In a world with sonnets and haiku, painting and sculpture…

In a world with the Kardashians and shows about house flipping…

Err, scratch those last two. Please, God, just take them away…now!!

IMG_0039But in the world I hint at above, just what is the apex of human creativity and endeavor?

That’s right: Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Sadly, MST3K ended almost two decades ago. There is, however, a successor* that makes me very nearly as happy: RiffTrax.

*There is a second, different successor in the works from NetFlix…great, now I have to subscribe to NetFlix!

Now, if you are so culturally-deficient as to know nothing about these shows, let me proselytize for a moment. Take a bad movie* and have three very funny people make fun of it while it runs. It doesn’t sound like much, but you haven’t lived until you’ve watched “Manos: Hands of Fate” from MST3K. If you want to go for your pop-culture PhD, you need to step up to “Birdemic” from RiffTrax.

*Not always bad, actually – RiffTrax has commentary tracks available even for legitimately good works!

I have been, for the last couple of weeks, binge-watching the shit out of RiffTrax now that they have a bunch of stuff available on Amazon Prime. You have to understand the depth of my love for these guys: their stuff is FUNNY. I have almost pissed myself laughing more times than I can count just in the last three or four evenings.

Now, what does this have to do with writing?

Believe it or not, there IS a point to this post!

One of the things the guys do is mock – mercilessly – all the shitty scenes that (inevitably) make up bad movies: “So, we’re just driving I guess…” “No, don’t stop the scene! I need to see at least five MORE minutes of some nameless guy making coffee!” “I don’t know, an hour of tensionless exposition seems appropriate for a ninety minute action movie…”

You get the point. And, yes, I’m just throwing together context-less memories of their comments…watch their damned show(s)!

When I was sitting there planning the scene list for Silence – and even as I began writing and revising the actual story – those voices were bouncing around inside my head.

“Err…what would Bill, Kevin and Mike say about THIS scene? Dammit, now I have to change the whole stinking thing…”

I wonder if anyone else hears several snarky, cynical comedians inside their heads when they consider their own stuff? Or is it just me?

Never mind, even I know the answer to that one…

The bottom line is this: if you want to figure out what’s wrong with your story, watch MST3K/RiffTrax. Enjoy the shows, laugh your ass off, but pay attention to those things they are mocking. The same sins that ruin so many movies can very easily ruin just as many (if not more) novels.