Wednesday, April 3, 2019

To post a comment on my blog ...

I have to click the "I'm not a robot button."

I have to pick the stairs in an image.

I have to find the traffic lights in an image.

I have to do that with a new image.

I have to do that with a new image.

I have to find the fire hydrants in a set of images. When I click them they vanish and are replaced by more fire hydrants. I have to keep doing this until there are none left. The last square fills with a fire hydrant five times.

Google suggests I log in. I give it my account name and password.

It requests 2 form verification.

I go into the bedroom and get my phone, come back to my office and type in the number that's been sent.

Google posts my comment.

Thanks, Google! Keeping my blog secure and shit!

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

The World's Greatest Living Science Fiction Writer

Are all writers arrogant? I think it's possible there are some who aren't, but I'm not sure I've ever met any. The idea that I sit down and type a story up, something at least 50% of the human race has tried to do at some point; and then you give me money for it? That's me saying, "Yes, I do think I'm the fraction of a percent of storytellers who should be paid for it."

There's a story Asimov told when he was writing "The Gods Themselves." He was getting older, hadn't written fiction in a long time -- told his editor he feared the field had passed him by.

"Isaac," she said, "when you write, you are the field."

It wasn't true, not even for Asimov. But it's a good attitude.

"World's Greatest Living Science Fiction Writer" -- I've had that compliment twice in recent years. (Once from Fred Lang, another time from a guy on G+.) It's not true, though I'm willing to fight to the death over the observation that it might have been true for them.

But you should act as if it's true. If you have any literary ambition at all, you should be working to write the very best of the sort of thing you do. I mean, I write space opera. Right now, the gold standard in this field is probably still Hyperion. Am I going to outwrite that? Probably not -- but I'm certainly going to try.

The intentional fallacy is real. Just because you intend to do something, doesn't mean you did it, and particularly when you get into the upper reaches of any subject, the intentional fallacy gets stronger and stronger. But without intention? No one ever stumbled into excellence by accident.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Broke 100 pages on "Emerald Throne." I haven't written like this since before the kids were born. :-)
Topaz AI Gigapixel, version 4.0. I've been watching this tech for a while -- it's finally reached the point where it's going to make some noise. There may never be a genuinely clean version of Bab5, from source -- but just looking at this, there's no real reason this won't at some point be able to produce upsized copies that are quite watchable. Ditto for Doctor Who.

You may have to click through to compare quality on the images. For some reason the Bab 5 images came through split, but in each case the source is the first image, the upsized the second.



Tuesday, March 12, 2019

I think we reached a tipping point a few years ago. For most of Hollywood history, the movies that attracted first rate talent, the very best that was available, had white people, almost always men, for heroes. There were exceptions -- there were always exceptions -- but as a pretty good marker, look at the AFI Top 100 movies of all time, which was put together in 1998: 
1. CITIZEN KANE (1941) 
2. CASABLANCA (1942) 
3. THE GODFATHER (1972) 
6. THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939) 
7. THE GRADUATE (1967) 
10. SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (1952) 
Eight movies about with unambiguous white male leads, two about white women. Only two, even had black characters in any noticeable role, unless my memory fails me: Hattie McDaniel and Dooley Wilson. Hattie McDaniel, of course, won an Academy Award -- first African American to win one, first black person to attend the Academy Awards except as a servant. Dooley didn’t win any awards -- Casablanca was a B movie, in conception, and while it was immensely popular, and won Best Picture, Director, and Screenplay, only Bogie and Claude Raines were nominated, and neither won. But black people really liked Dooley’s character; like Uhura, twenty-five years later, any representation was better than none.
But what passed for representation then, before and during WWII, was a little embarrassing to a lot of black people years later. (Uhura, too -- I’ve seen black Trek fans say quietly that they wished she hadn’t been in Star Trek at all, rather than being portrayed as she was. Contrast that with MLK’s plea to Uhura to stay on Star Trek ... because any representation was better than none. (“Do you understand that this is the only show that my wife Coretta and I will allow our little children to stay up and watch?”)
So things change. Progress is sometimes embarrassing. As great as Black Panther was -- and it’s the best of the movies I’m going to list in a bit -- feminists had some legitimate complaints about it. Captain Marvel, this weekend, annoyed or angered a number of male POC in my feed, because Nick Fury was treated as comic relief. (“Minstrel,” one fellow sneered.)
Supergirl bombed. You probably don’t even remember Red Sonja, and anyway Schwarzenegger got top billing. Catwoman bombed. Elektra bombed. Those movies were so bad and performed so badly that Hollywood, quite sensibly, didn’t make any more of them for decades ...
What? You object to that read? Why, just because over the same time period the list of amazingly bad male-led superhero movies was (at least) five times as long?
Hollywood is risk averse. The rare occasions someone brave comes along, and actually advances the state of the art -- I’ll limit myself to geek movies here -- you get Star Wars, Superman, X-Men, the Matrix -- all of them at least somewhat surprised the studios making them. (Someone should have noticed Blade’s performance -- but they didn’t.) Probably the first big cape movie that the studios were wholly behind, that they were confident in, was the 2002 Spider-Man. And since then the floodgates have been opened ... for male heroes of a particular skin tone.
So the last few years have been instructive, no? This is a list of movies the Usual Suspects predicted, and surely wanted, to do badly, in the last 3-1/2 years:
The Force Awakens 12/18/2015 
Rogue One 12/16/2016 
Wonder Woman 6/2/2017 
The Last Jedi 12/15/2017 
Black Panther 2/6/2018 
Crazy Rich Asians 8/15/2018 
Captain Marvel 3/8/2019 
These made, respectively:
$2.06 billion (FA) 
$1.06 billion (R1) 
$821 million (WW) 
$1.3 billion (LJ) 
$1.35 billion (BP) 
$238 million (CRA) 
$490 million (CM) 
Captain Marvel was the 7th best opening of all time -- not of just superhero movies: of all movies. It’s going to break a billion dollars without a doubt. Crazy Rich Asians is notably the only real “breakout” hit in this crowd. Everything else was damn well expected to make money, and was budgeted like it. But they spent only $30 million on CRA.
But they point is Hollywood did spend money on these movies. Did acquire the absolute top flight talent to produce them. And the audiences were there for it. Hungry for it. Collectively they made over seven billion dollars. 
I won’t talk about the MRAs much. They are what they are. They’re choking today: good. Moving on.
But there were POC men who didn’t like Captain Marvel, and feminists who didn’t like Black Panther. And outraged feminists who were pissed at the POC men, and outraged POC men who were pissed at the feminists. And the truth is, none of that’s going away any time soon; everyone has their own perspectives and their own interests in how to tell a particular story. And you can’t have representation in a single movie; the problem with Black Widow’s “can’t have children” storyline wasn’t that it focused on her as a woman in ways that some women didn’t like: the problem was that there were so few roles for female superheroes that the weight of any one of them -- remember Uhura -- exceeded what a given individual role was normally capable of carrying.
But here’s what is going away. The people who make these movies are smart, in the aggregate, and over time, they do adjust to the marketplace. Somewhere out there people in a quiet room ran the numbers for Black Panther, and said, “We could have done better with feminists.” And those people did the same for Captain Marvel, and said, “Well, we pissed off black men.” (And I guarantee you they understand how they screwed up with black people on Infinity War.) Thirty years from now, it’s going to be popularly understood that Black Panther and Captain Marvel, though very well made movies, are “problematic” upon certain axes. That they were the best we could do, at the time, well, those old folks didn’t understand things the way we do today. By then there’ll have been individual movies with women, Asians, black people, white people, Hispanics, LGTBQ people, disabled people, all tied to urgent, driving narratives, without preachiness, just there, in the flow of the work. And people will look back at Black Panther, at Captain Marvel, and wish that they didn’t have quite so many obvious flaws.
And movies like Casablanca, and Gone With the Wind, and shows like the first Star Trek, will be looked upon as the primitive artifacts of a people nearly as uncivilized as the ancient Romans, and their games in the Coliseum. We’re getting better, and it’s not always fun to remember how it happened. But how we got better is important to remember, or women like Nichelle Nichols, who sacrificed an opportunity to go to Broadway to remain on Star Trek, get forgotten. And nobody wants to forget Nichelle.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

I'm a fifth or sixth of the way through "Emerald Throne," depending on whether the book ends up 100K or 125K words -- it'll be somewhere in that range, best I can guess.

It's an odd feeling. I haven't written like this in so long it's hard to remember.

Monday, February 4, 2019

First audio piece for Patreon. It's the only completely surviving file from my NPR days, around 2000. Accessible to everyone.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

The brain is surprisingly plastic. I've written more between November 1 and today than in any comparable period since "Last Dancer" was published, and that was 26 years ago.

Every time I've sat down in front of the computer, it's come more easily. Skills and ways of thinking I haven't used in decades are abruptly peeking around the corner and wanting to know if they can come back out.

I'm not the writer I was, as a purely machine-level skillset, back then. I know more than I did, I'm a different person to a remarkable degree, but the little story engine in my head isn't back to what it was. Maybe it never will be. But I no longer doubt it's possible to get most of the way there.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

A couple new pieces up at the Patreon, both free to the general public.

A post on toxic masculinity.

The first chapter of Time Wars: The Emerald Throne, which is about Camber Tremodian.