Archive for the ‘science fiction’ Category

The theater of the mind

In a hotel near Newark airport, set between railroad tracks and spaghetti-piles of New Jersey highway, the Friends of Old-Time Radio will sit in meeting rooms for the last time this weekend, asking and answering the question, “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?” The friends will no longer meet after their 36th convention, reports David Hinckley in the Daily News. They will go as silent as the medium they love.

Old radio fans celebrate the days when radio was television, and fllled the airwaves with crime shows, dramas, comedies, variety and news of a great war and the massive changes that followed. If you’ve ever heard of “The Shadow” or “Dragnet” or Jack Benny or Edward R. Murrow or a dummy named Charlie McCarthy, you’ve heard of the programs and the stars of the Golden Age of Radio. The radio you listen to now, the tunes and talk, is what we were left with once television took over the world.

read the rest of my column at Ink By The Barrel: Who Knows What Evil Lurks in the Hearts of Men? – Pelham, NY Patch.

Harlan Ellison, time troll

Harlan Ellison is the patent troll of sci-fi stories about time. I mean that in a good way. I respect Ellison’s tough-minded approach to idea theft, particularly towards Hollywood, where ten people in a room can come up short when looking for one original idea.

I previously wrote about episodes of Outer Limits that Ellison successfully claimed were the idea for the movie Terminator. (Successful in that he has a credit on the movie now and a sealed court settlement.) The Hollywood Reporter reports on his newest effort to protect his intellectual property, this time against “In Time,” a film set to release on Oct. 28:

Science fiction legend Harlan Ellison is attempting to kill a high-profile movie that is scheduled to come out in theaters next month. The Hugo award-winning writer has filed a lawsuit against New Regency and director Andrew Niccol over the 20th Century Fox-distributed film, In Time, starring Justin Timberlake, Amanda Seyfried and Cillian Murphy.

via Harlan Ellison Sues Claiming Fox’s ‘In Time’ Rips Off Sci-Fi Story (Exclusive) – Hollywood Reporter.

The story he alleges was infringed features one of his all-time great titles: “Repent, Harlequin! Said The Ticktockman.”

The art of fiction

With a manuscript done and in the midst of deciding what to write next, I determined to spend the summer rereading all the best books on writing I’d ever read, and reading the ones I hadn’t. Summers being summer—or maybe me being me—I got through one and a half by the time school started. No matter. It was a worthy exercise  just for picking up again John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers. In chapter 3, I found a passage that reminded me why this became the writing book for me (really it and Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird). Gardner deals with interest and appeal in stories, and in particular, the snobbery that favors the serious over the entertaining:

The result of such prejudice or ignorance is that literature courses regularly feature writers less appealing—at least on the immediate, sensual level, but sometimes on deeper levels as well—than Isaac Asimov, Samuel R. Delaney, Walter M. Miller, Jr., Roger Zelazny, or the Strugatsky brothers, science-fiction writers; or even thriller writers like John le Carre and Frederick Forsyth; the creators of the early Spider-Man comics or Howard the Duck. In theory, it may be proper that teachers ignore thrillers, science fiction, and comic books. No one wants Coleridge pushed from the curriculum by a duck “trapped in a world he never made!” But when we begin to list the contemporary “serious” writers who fill highschool and literature courses, Howard the Duck can look not all that bad.

He does caution readers will be disappointed by the boring sameness of fiction that is merely commercial and shoddy imitation. But in allowing Zelazny and Howard the Duck—I read the original limited comic book series, still own 10 of them—into the conversation, he allowed me to think I could practice the art of fiction (though a “young” writer I was not then and am not now).


Riding bikes

My front yard: Six bikes, six kids. They stopped for a snack. This all happened without recourse to phones, email, iCal or that linguistic abomination, “playdate.” I’m time traveling.

Refrigerator boxes

I’m not a believer in signs and portents, that is, signs and portents in this, the real world. Nothing has ever happened to me that told me what was to come, or even gave me a hint I was heading in anywhere like the right direction. Mine is a plain old world. It’s probably why I love signs, magical vision, foretelling and such in the stories I read. So my experience Wednesday was a new one.

I was helping my neighbor, Manu, put some new furniture on his porch. I pointed out that the kids—my son and neighboring boys—would love to play in the huge boxes the two wicker chairs and couch came out of. My neighbor was surprised at this, perhaps because he has an infant and a three-year-old girl. Or maybe he had a sheltered childhood. We put the three boxes in the front yard, and they instantly became forts, pill boxes, meeting rooms and drawing boards. All the adults who passed by that evening smiled as soon as they saw our box village, all with the same look that said getting to play in huge boxes was the best thing to do in the world when they were kids.

It made me smile too, but for more than kid memories. I started my next novel, a YA time-travel story, just last month. I’ve had the idea for ten years, maybe longer, and the opening scene in my head for the past two. Here’s how it starts:

Jamie is crap-housing around inside the empty Frigidare box. The box shakes and shudders. He giggles like a six year old, which is easy enough for him, since he is one. This is our big reward every time we move. We get to play in a damn leftover box. I knew I was done with going to a new town, a new house, a new school every four months when I didn’t want to roll around in a box anymore. I can’t stand the smell of cardboard. It’s the smell of leaving things behind.

I’ve only got a thousand words, and a bunch of research still to do, and the project may turn out terrible. But when I saw those smiles on Wednesday, it gave me a lift, a burst of confidence. The world was telling me that my refrigerator box would get an emotional response from readers. I believe that confidence begets good work, in the writing game as in any other, and the reaction to those boxes gave me that.

Harlan Ellison’s soldiers of the future

Wired magazine’s write-up of two 1964 episodes of The Outer Limits was so intriguing, I had to watch them. At least one is worth the $1.99 to Amazon or whichever is your by-the-episode video purveyor of choice.

Both were written by science fiction great Harlan Ellison. That’s almost always enough for me.

And both installments feature soldiers from the future landing in the present, that is, the present of 1964, and continuing to battle.

In “The Soldier,” one time traveller saves humans from another future warrior. The other episode, “Demon With a Glass Hand,” tells the story of a protagonist from the future who learns, at the end of the episode, he’s a robot in human skin. I Spy’s Robert Culp stars.

Does all this future warrior/robot-looks-human stuff sound anything at all like The Terminator? Ellison, always a fighter for his rights as an author, thought so and went after the The Terminator production team in court. According to Wired, he reached a sealed settlement. But the movie’s credits now offer an “acknowledgement to the works of Harlan Ellison.”

Both episodes are hokie and histrionic and as low tech as any James Cameron feature is high tech. The costumes in “The Soldier” must have been made from cardboard and aluminum foil. But Ellison’s writing, his dark warnings and expansive vision, are there. “Glass Hand” is the better of the two if you’re only spending two bucks.

A nerd’s postscript: Ellison wrote the best episode of the original “Star Trek” TV series, “City on the Edge of Forever,” also a tale of time travel and changing the future.