MOVIES: War for the Planet of the Apes

War for ApesI saw War for the Planet of the Apes today. I was disappointed.

After the hype the trailers – and some of the reviews – raised, I found the movie lacking in the sense of awe I experienced in its two successors. The first – Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – had a moving poignancy. I thought the second – Rise of the Planet of the Apes – was raw and powerful.

I had hopes, in the third one, to see Andy Serkis once again show us why capture motion acting needs to be treated seriously. All I saw was a man — to be sure a talented actor — in an ape suit; this one painted on him by a computer.

I found the writing strained and the story pedestrian. The actors tried; there were strong performances by Serkis and Steve Zahn (who stole the show), but there was nothing there to support them. Through it all, there were pitiful attempts to bring the story full circle, to make connections to the very first Planet of the Apes in 1968.

Like the 1968 movie, most of the apes walked fully upright (and looked like people in ape suits), Caesar, Serkis’ character had a young son name Cornelius (the name of the chimp in the 1968 version) and a young, blonde mute girl was given the name Nova (a name used for a human woman in the 1968 movie) in a very clumsy fashion.

All in all, a sad experience. I cannot recommend it.

MOVIES: The Girl with All the Gifts

The GirlI got around today to watch The Girl with All the Gifts, the zombie movie that came out this past February, and its a pip.

It’s easily as good as 28 Days Later and runs circles around every episode of The Walking Dead I’ve seen.

Fantastic world-building, tight directing, smart performances, and a twist that makes it so much more than just another zombie flick.

Glad I watched it, intend to watch it again, and sorry it took so long for me to get around to it. I’ll give it 3.5 stars just because I’ve never seen a movie I consider a 4.0.

This and That

Not much news, good or bad, in the past two months, at least not about my writing. Rachael and I have both fought off the nasty colds that are going around; worrying about the world, too, but I prefer to keep that sort of stuff on Facebook, not here on the blog.

I’ve got four stories out, looking for a home. One has been at Asimov’s since January, but that doesn’t mean a thing. I’ve talked to lots of people recently who have complained how slow that market has become. We’ll see.

I’ve finally had a nibble on my novel, Seventh-Hour Man. In mid-May, an agent asked for the whole manuscript. Not a yes, I’ll represent you, but more action than I’ve seen since last October. Again; we’ll see.

The good news is that I’ve started another novel, Come a Dawn Like Thunder, in collaboration with a friend who lives in our building. The book is a diesel-punk fantasy set in 1941 in Asia. We’re trying to capture the ethos of the old comic strip, Terry and the Pirates. It mixes tech and magic in more or less equal measures and will feature air combat between prop-driven aeroplanes and Asian dragons, with gremlins, ogres, demons and other monsters thrown into the mix. We’ve got about 10,000 words written and we are both excited. I’ll keep you posted.


Artemis-Rising-3-1-683x1024Podcastle guest host Kelly Robson, the Toronto SF writer, admitted – as a former Pacific Northwest resident – she was “especially excited” to introduce Stay. She called it, “gentle and sweet-natured, with webs of love and care connecting everyone.”

Thank you, Kelly, that’s exactly what I intended. I’m excited you believe I hit the mark.

And thanks to Tina Connolly, who writes ripping-good SF in Portland, for such a fantastic reading. Tina, you sound exactly as I imagined Cait Stihl.

Stay is urban fantasy set in Seattle, and features Emma Stone and Caitlin Stihl, a lesbian couple who work as private detectives.

Stihl and Stone Security often turn up the more personal details of a case, but this time the investigation digs a little too close to home. The story considered how love binds people together, and can push them apart, and examines all the permutations of that simple four-letter-word – stay.

It is the final entry of Podcast’s month-long Artemis Rising 3, which spans all five of the Escape Artists sites. It has been a month of fantastic stories, whether you enjoy science fiction, fantasy or horror.

I hope you enjoy this story, Faithful Reader. It’s one of my personal favorites.

Running Tangent

There is a new story up at Perihelion – Running Tangent – a 10,000-word collaboration with my writing partner, Dale Ivan Smith. We’re both very pleased with the results and with the swell job Sam Bellotto Jr.. the editor, did on presentation.

Running Tangent is – Sam’s words here – “a fast-moving, absorbing adventure tale involving AIs gone awry, human/ape hybrids that can’t be trusted, and a strong female protagonist who makes most male space heroes look like sissies.”

Here’s a little taste:

The ape was waiting for me. So were his friends; a second ape and a digger, one of the wiry human-terrier mixes who mined the moons and rings of Saturn. Both apes were almost naked. The digger had tricked himself up all in black leather.

“Hey there, Kex,” the ape said.

“What have you got for me?” I asked.

The ape curled his lip, showing off big, yellowed fangs. “A swell surprise,” he said. “One you ain’t gonna like.”

The second ape laughed; deep and guttural and nasty. The digger drew his own lips back and growled. Four years in the Belter Marines taught me you didn’t wait. I threw myself at the digger, drawing weapons as I moved. The mutt was fast, I’ll give him that, but not faster than my backhand.

The slug-thrower I’d drawn smashed into his skull, just where his neck met his jaw. I heard the plastic casing of the pistol crack, but watched the digger drop like an empty suit of clothes.

The apes weren’t any faster. The first one, my informant, went over backward into the wall, his face blown to smithereens by the three slugs I got off before the pistol jammed. His buddy turned to run. I brought up the sliver gun in my other hand and stitched half a clip of one-inch steel needles along his spine—from ass-crack to shoulder blades.

The whole thing hadn’t taken much more than thirty seconds. I drew a cleansing breath, stepped toward the apes to bar-code the bodies with the reader in my badge—and heard the little crunch of sound behind me.

Love the illustration, Sam!

Missing Mike

Clarion West 2014 will begin soon. It’s at times like this that I think about Mike the most.

Early morning. first Saturday. Clarion West 2010. I was among the first to arrive and drew door duty, helping arrivals deal with the house’s combination lock.

The weather was glorious, the sort of June Seattle day that makes you glad to live in the Pacific Northwest. I had the door propped open and sat just inside. Beyond the back fence I heard car doors slamming, heard voices, male and female. The gate opened. Two young women and an older man came through, all dragging luggage. I took the older man for a father, come to help his daughter settle in. And I figured it was time for a bit of fun.

“What is your name?” I demanded, in my best English accent.

The two women stared at me, wondering, I suppose, who this crazy woman was. But the older man drew his shoulders back and snapped to attention.

“Sir Lancelot,” he said.

I was expecting the women to be fellow Monty Python fans, not the older man. Even so, I plowed on. “What is your quest?”

He grinned. “I seek the Holy Grail.”

Okay. I threw out another line. “What is the average air-speed of a swallow?”

“African or European?” he demanded.

That began my thirty-month friendship with Mike Alexander, my fellow geezer of the 2010 class. Actually, friendship doesn’t come close to describing the bond Mike and I formed. We discovered we had had the same sort of adventures, growing up. Both of us were old school, addicted to the same authors. Not only had we read the same books, but we had had the same dreams of someday writing science fiction.

Life had gotten in the way for both of us. Jobs. Marriages. Family. Even so, neither of us had ever given up the dream. Now, in our mid-sixties, the time had come. Afternoons, after the critique sessions, we sat and talked about our philosophies of story. We dissected plots, discussed character development; even began to talk about a collaboration. It was a manna that sustained us through a grueling six weeks.

Mike liked to tell people he was my younger brother (six months) from another mother. I’d smile and nod. I liked the notion of a brother who shared my passion for reading and writing science fiction and fantasy.

Life is full of complications, though. Mike had cancer, and although it was managed, it hadn’t gone away. Even so, life went on. We finished Clarion West and went back to the real world. I live in Seattle. He lived in Oregon, two hundred miles away, and neither of us survived travel the way we used to. Even so, we found ways to stay in touch. Telephone. E-mail. Skype. We told each other awful jokes, critiqued each other’s work – and began to make plans for that collaboration.

Over the months, then years, I met Mike’s wife, Sheila; Mike and Sheila met my wife, Rachael. We hung together at conventions – Rustycon, Norwescon, and Orycon. Went to dinner now and then. And the collaboration grew.

It would be set on the Moon in the late 1970s. An alternate world where the United States hadn’t given up on space. The notion grew, turned into a trilogy of novellas that we planned to pull together into a novel, after all three had been published. The first story became a murder mystery, set in work colony that supported the construction of a Mars-bound vehicle being built in lunar orbit.

We weathered setbacks. He fought the thing growing inside him and I dealt with coronary problems. But paragraph by paragraph, the story grew, and then, at eighteen thousand plus words, The Moon Belongs to Everyone was finished. I told Mike it was a winner, that Stan Schmidt at Analog was sure to buy it, that it would be a cover story.

Mike humored me. “You can’t know that,” he said.

In mid-March 2012, we sent it off to Stan. He replied a day later. “I just saw The Moon Belongs to Everyone in my in-basket and look forward to reading it.” Two months later, this arrived. “I’m buying The Moon Belongs to Everyone. Expect the December 2012 issue.”

We received our author copies of the magazine in late September 2012. Our names were on the cover, top billing, and The Moon Belongs to Everyone was lead-off story with gorgeous two-page art.

“How did you know that?” Mike asked me, via telephone.

“I just had a feeling,” I replied.

We celebrated together in early November 2012 at Orycon 34 in Portland. Mike and I jabbered all weekend about the second novella, Pie in the Sky, which we had started. Rachael had to work that weekend, but Sheila looked on, smiling and knitting the whole time.

Less than a month later, December third, Sheila called. “Mike’s not doing well,” she said.

I had another of those feelings. “I’ll be there soon as I can,” I said.

Six hours later, I arrived in Oregon. Mike grinned when I walked in. We talked for a couple hours, Me, Mike and Sheila, and some friends of theirs. Then Mike grew tired, and the friends left.

I sat up with Mike most of the night, while Sheila grabbed much-needed sleep. And I was there, with the two of them, next morning when he died.

Mike Alexander was the kindest, gentlest man I ever knew. He was generous and funny and saw the best in everyone. And he fought one hell of a battle against that bastard, cancer. It’s been almost eighteen months, but. I still miss my friend so very much. I miss our chats. I miss the jokes, and I miss the stories we’ll never write.

Most of all, I miss my little brother by another mom.

Snapshots from A Black Hole & Other Oddities

This has been a week of firsts for me.  Completion of my first novel deal, for Lifting Up Veronica, and now I’m pleased to announce that my first collection of short stories, Snapshots from A Black Hole & Other Oddities, will be published in November by Tod McCoy’s Hydra House Books.

The book features twenty four stories, eighteen previously published and six brand new tales.

The inimitable Cat Rambo is editor, and the book features a kick-ass cover by Seattle artist Christopher Sumption. Plans are for a launch at Orycon November 11, 2011, in Portland. Hope to see you there.

At Wily Writers

Uh huh, that’s a pig.

My short story, Stuff of the Elder Gods, is up at Wily Writers Podcast. It involves a plucky waitress, a West Virginia highway diner, two escaped convicts and a drift of pigs.

It sounds like screw-ball comedy, but it most decidedly is not.

Wily Writers has an interesting set-up.  Each month they present two new stories — as both a podcast and a text download —  that focus on a common theme. The February theme was Vigilantes.  A vigilante, of course, is a person who takes the law into his or her own hands, as by avenging a crime.  Listen to the story and I think you’ll see how that fits.

The story was selected for publication by guest editor Martel Sardina, Contributing Editor for Dark Scribe Magazine, and Submissions Editor for Apex Magazine. Thank you, Martel.

Angel Leigh McCoy, Wily Writers’ Editor, recorded the podcast and did a masterful job with the character accents. Thank you, Angel.  You made the read sound easy and I know it’s not.

I’m doubly pleased with this publication because Stuff of the Elder Gods is my first piece to be podcast.  It’s both exciting and humbling to listen to someone else read your words.

Stop by and listen, if you get a chance.

Clarion West — Day 18

Sorry I missed yesterday’s post.  The workshop is galloping, but I’ve been to the emergency room twice, in as many days, for treatment of some damned food allergy.

I’m okay but very tired, as in both cases the visits were after midnight and lasted well into the morning.  So I’m going to skip a detailed mid-week post.

More on Sunday.


I’ve changed my name to Anxious

I swore I wouldn’t talk about this until I had something more definitive, honest to God, I took an oath. But the waiting and not saying is just more than I can stand.

I’m not sleeping much, obsessing about this. I’m eating too much, what I always do when I’m faced with something important that I can’t control.

I’ve been writing, but I’m not finishing anything. I have five stories started right now, but I get to 1,000 or 1,500 words and it feels as if I’m dragging heavy weights.

And I’ve been haunting my mailbox, too; so much so that the mail carrier flinches when she sees me.

Here’s the situation.

Last July, I attended Jim Gunn’s SF Writers Workshop in Kansas and workshopped a story that wound up being titled Flotsam. It’s hard science fiction, a near-future story about a work team in low earth orbit. I don’t write much hard SF and I sweated .44 caliber bullets doing the research for it.

In mid-July, after the workshop and at Professor Gunn’s suggestion, I sent the story off to Analog. Editor Stan Schmidt requires hard paper submissions, so I knew there would be a wait before I knew anything. Maybe a long wait.

So, here’s what I’ve been holding in.

The third week in September, I got a letter from Dr. Schmidt saying that he liked the story and that he wanted to use it in his magazine, if I was willing to do a minor rewrite.

Would I be willing to do a rewrite to have one of my stories appear in Analog? Might as well ask if I would be willing to go on breathing.

It really was minor, though. In fact, all I had to do was insert five paragraphs that I had taken out in my final edit. I put the revised piece in the mail a couple days later and sat down to wait.

I haven’t heard anything yet. It’s been six weeks, but in this business, that’s nothing. I’ve talked to other writers who have had work published in Analog and they’ve all told me I just have to be patient.

But this is one of only a few times I’ve submitted a story via snail mail — there aren’t many magazines that require that anymore — and it’s the first time I’ve gotten a conditional acceptance from a major SF market.

I know it’s stupid to fixate upon this to the point that it interferes with my writing. With my life, to be honest. But I’m new enough to this profession to be anxious about the outcome. It’s possible this sort of thing may become commonplace at some point in my future, but right now this is a big deal for me.

It will be my third professional sale, which means I can apply for membership in the Science Fiction Writers of America. It’s validation that my Writers of the Future win wasn’t just a fluke. And, most important, it’s frakkin’ Analog. I’ve only been reading the magazine for fifty years.

But I’ll be good. I swear I will. I’ll wait patiently. I’ll focus on my writing; get it back on track. I won’t pounce upon the mail carrier the moment she steps down from her truck. I just hope word arrives soon, though.

Before I’m forced to resort to slicing open live chickens and reading entrails. 😉