Friday, November 30, 2012

Cruising Along....

On Sunday I leave for Miami to join Sail For Success.  This is an "SF teaching cruise" sponsored by the coming-up-fast small press Arc Manor.  The cruise ship is the Norwegian Sky, and the faculty also includes Mike Resnick, Kevin J. Anderson, Jack Skillingstead, Paul Cook, Rebecca Moesta, agent Eleanor Wood, and Baen publisher Toni Weisskopf.  There will be classes, panels, shore excursions, and shipboard conferences.  

I have never taken a cruise before.  I'm not sure what to expect from this one, but I'm looking forward to it a lot.  I've spent the last several days reading, line editing, and critiquing student manuscripts.  I just hope everybody isn't too distracted by the tropical amenities and excursions to come to class.  Things I intend to do: shop in Nassau, have drinks that come in coconut shells with little umbrellas in them, visit a white-sand beach.  Things I do not intend to do: write, diet, use the ship's wi-fi, which costs seventy-five cents a minute.  Well, maybe a little.  But no blogging about the trip until I get home.

Also cruising along is the publicity for FLASH POINT, my YA novel that debuted November 8.  Here is a piece about it on Mary Robinette Kowal's blog feature MY FAVORITE BIT, in which writers unbutton and talk about personal aspects of their writing.  And yes--I DID clear this piece first with my sister!

Monday, November 19, 2012

9/10 Happy At the Movies

FLIGHT, the new movie from Robert Zemeckis and starring Denzel Washington, is a good movie that could have been a great one.
 Within the first fifteen minutes comes the most terrifying plane crash I've ever seen on film.  The pilot, "Whip" Whitaker (Washington), lands the plane, barely, through a combination of bravura flying and nerves of titanium.  Of the 102 passengers aboard, only six die, and the general consensus is that no one else could have brought the plane, crippled by a malfunction in the tail, down at all without a fireball. 

The titanium nerves are especially notable because Whitaker is flying after consuming both vodka and cocaine.  This fact comes out in toxicology reports, and worshipful accolades turn into criminal charges.  From this point on, the film is not really a movie about airplanes, it's a movie about alcoholism.  As such, it covers the usual ground of denial, good resolutions, bad slips, and exasperated attempts by others to help a man who doesn't really want help, or anything else except the next drink.  All this is familiar, but Zemeckis gives it to mostly seen from the outside, through the eyes of all the other characters, than from Whitaker's point of view.  As such, his "flight" from the reality that everyone else recognizes has a stronger context than in other "alcoholic" movies like Jeff Bridges's "Crazy Heart."  Whitaker, as an airline pilot, is not just destroying his own life: he is entrusted with the lives of hundreds of others and the fate of an airline.

All this really interested me.  Where, in my opinion, the movie failed is the last one-tenth.  Instead of the unflinching ending that such a movie demands, we get a sentimental change of heart, a too-quick redemption, and reconciliations with estranged girlfriend and estranged son that apparently heal all scars.  I just didn't believe it.  I wish that Zemeckis had let Whitaker crash and burn, or at least end up having a harder time crawling out of the wreckage.  Instead, the film takes a "flight" from its first 9/10, and all the clouds at the end are rosy pink.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A French Science Fiction Convention

I am just back (and still badly jet-lagged) from the Utopiales Science Fiction Convention in Nantes, France.  It was a fascinating experience.  American SF cons tend to be light-hearted, party-oriented, even irreverent, with panels on things like "The Furry Culture in Fandom" and "Ten Worst SF Movies of All Time" sprinkled in with more substantial topics.  Utopiales, in contrast, was all serious, with most panels a mixture of writers and scientists.  Participants and audience wore headphones giving simultaneous translation, as in the UN.  Audiences were respectfully attentive.  Other English-speaking writer guests included Robert Charles Wilson, Neil Gaiman, Norman Spinrad, and Michael Moorcock.

The convention did have a lighter side.  Here are the NOA robots, amazingly flexible robots about three feet high with bright, humanoid faces.  They can walk, talk, and -- as below -- dance.  (Actually, they dance better than I do, although that's not hard.)  Everyone I talked to wanted to take one home.

Jack and I also made some side excursions to see Nantes.  We toured the castle that was once the home of the Dukes of Brittany.  We also visited Machines de l'Ile, a museum of mechanical creatures.  The largest of them, which roams outside the museum, is this incredible steampunk elephant, three stories high and actually powered by steam.  It flaps its ears, blows steam out of its trunk, and (an odd cross-species trait) wags its tail.  Fifty people can ride on it at once; we were among them, in the company of Ellen Herzfeld and her husband Dominique Martel.

A wonderful trip.  

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Pub Date

Today is the pub date (which always sounds to me like a romantic tryst in a British bar) for my new novel, FLASH POINT.
FLASH POINT is YA science fiction about a near-future TV reality show in a United States on the verge of revolution.  Amy, at sixteen considered an adult, takes a job to support her sick grandmother and wild younger sister.  She becomes a contestant on the reality show -- but has no idea what she's getting into, how desperate the producers are, or what the consequences will be.  She acquires friends, allies, and enemies, all as the political situation becomes more volatile and her sister harder to control. 

Publisher's Weekly said of the book:  "It’s Fear Factor meets The Running Man by way of the 99% in this tense drama...Sadly, the concept of this exploitative reality show is entirely believable, as is the financially ruinous setting. Strong characterization rounds out this unsettling thriller."  

From the review in Kirkus"Most striking, though, is the complex characterization, with its emphatic insistence that no one—hero or villain—is anything less than a complicated mixture of good and bad, strength and weakness, compassion and selfishness.While the adrenaline rush will draw readers in, it’s the unsettling question posed by the program title that will linger." 

I am currently in France for an international science fiction convention (and suffering strongly from jet lag), so I will miss my own pub date.  On the other hand, there are great bars here, too. 

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Reincarnated at the Movies

Last night I saw CLOUD ATLAS, the new SF movie from Lana and Andy Wachowski (THE MATRIX) and Tom Tykwer, from the much acclaimed novel by David Mitchell.  This one had a lot of advance attention, plus a budget of 102 million dollars.  The results are absorbing but mixed.
The film interweaves six different narratives, set in the mid-1800's high seas, 1936 Cambridge, 1973 San Francisco, 2012 England, 22nd century Neo-Seoul, and an unidentified future location "106 years after the Fall," when Earth has reverted to barbarism.  The same people, reincarnated (but unaware of this) turn up in different story lines, which are also connected by artifacts, minor characters, and theme.  Jumps in space and time are frequent, unheralded, and occasionally disorienting.

The pluses:  First, and probably most important, I was never bored.  I wanted to find out what happened to everybody.  This is a long movie, but unlike during some shorter ones, I was not fidgety, distracted, or aware of how long I had been sitting in an uncomfortable theater seat.

Second, it is great fun to identify the actors in their various incarnations, including those heavily disguised by the artistry of Hollywood make-up men.  Who would have ever expected to see Hugh Grant, of all people, as a cannibalistic barbarian in war paint?

Third, the movie is visually gorgeous.  Each setting is detailed and individually colored (the totalitarian Neo-Seoul is mostly deep blues, reds, and purples).  The matching-action cuts -- a door closing in one narrative followed by a different door flung open in a different narrative -- form interesting connective devices.

Also connective is the overall theme: the fight for freedom against oppression.  Each narrative does this, whether the oppressor is the state, an established artistic colleague with power, a warring tribe, a corrupt corporation, the institution of slavery, or (in the only humorous scenario) a despotic nursing home.  

The negatives: The theme becomes preachy by the end.  Especially at the end, where at least three characters give "freedom" speeches worthy of Willam Shatner as James T. Kirk.  Enough, enough--we got it, already. 

There are also some annoying plot devices, such as the fact (so common in Hollywood) that the bad guys cannot shoot straight.  Even when the odds are twenty to one, they miss hitting the hero.  Any of the heroes.

Third, and most damning for me, is that these six narratives are so packed in that they don't allow for anything like character development.  I asked myself: If each of these six plots were to be used in separate movies, would they be original or interesting?  Probably not.  Certainly not original: much if not all of the Neo-Seoul narrative looks like a combination of BRAVE NEW WORLD and 1984.  On the other hand, they're not in separate movies, and character development is not the point here, so you will have to decide for yourself if that matters.

Bottom line: a good movie, but not a great one.