And that got me thinking…

It may be safely assumed that writers approach their work by different paths. It seems likely that, having once been a scientist, my road is a bit more systematic than that of others. But I am also an artist with more than a passing interest in map making – the art that became a science (if I may borrow the subtitle of Lloyd A. Brown’s book).

While watching the news, I noticed a curious gap in a weather map. The clouds seemed to be consciously avoiding a very large region. When I say that I think visually, I really mean it. This prompted my imagination to follow some curious tracks – musing on fiction and on a dozen different kinds of maps.

Most of my thinking eventually takes the form of a map in one way or another. I could blame Tolkien if this hadn’t already been my habit long before I read any part of his legendarium. So – if the clouds were deliberately leaving at least three States off their itinerary – Why? What’s happening in there anyway? What are those clouds afraid of?

Two maps grew out of these questions:

Mantoacmantoac map

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Once I have three novels* off my To-Do List, the saga these maps describe will be the next one on. There are two dozen or so presently hidden layers in the Photoshop file that amount to a literal – visual – outline of the story in question.

My method of musing probably wouldn’t work for everyone. There are a few people I can think of that might find this an odd wending. Storytelling as an art reflects how we see the world and/or how we’d like to. Sharing a story is a very different process than crafting one.

Posts here don’t have maps in their origins. I’m going to save myself the time of wondering what those might look like.

* Working titles: All We Now Hold True, A Song Heard in the Future, and Air Raid Sirens
And, yes, each has at least one map associated with it.
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All fled – all done? No. Not yet begun…

1658478_10152339202313623_868086721_oAn announcement was recently made so a post here that I’d expected to make next month can be early. (That might make up for missing a post or two while away at Dragon Con and Space Coast Comic Con.)

An opportunity to contribute to an upcoming anthology of Cthulhu-related stories was shared with me by my business partner and coauthor – Leanna Renee Hieber. A gentleman with whom she’s worked in the past, one Mr. Simon Berman, was collecting work for the project.

There were several topics to choose from and I selected the one that most closely matched a long-standing interest of mine. If you’ve been reading Surfing the Zeitgeist, you may even be able to guess. Ms. Hieber chose a different but no less compelling subject.

Guessing, however, won’t have to last very long. There will soon be a kickstarter effort to bring the anthology to a shelf near you (hopefully one in your own home library). Once that’s a success, you can confirm your suppositions about the topics selected. Until then, enjoy taking the role of paranormal investigator.

This was a very enjoyable project and also exciting. I may not yet have arrived but I can see the road signs.

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“Let me sum up.”

An annoyingly catchy tune from 1992, Dizz Knee Land by Dada, has been on my mind for the past few days – but with “Dragon Con” substituted for “Disneyland”.

thom at dragon conNote: I apologize if that song is now playing on repeat in your head.

This will be my second year attending Dragon Con. I will be posting a schedule of the panels on which I’ll be presenting as the date grows a bit closer.

This event is, as you might suppose, always very exciting. It has been a busy year for me since my first time there. I’m in progress on two novels, which readers of this blog are aware. Together with my coauthor and business partner, Leanna Renee Hieber, we have introduced the adorable “feels assistants” – a.k.a. Pandora’s Pets to more than 100 customers and a growing number of stores. I was quite honored to develop the four separate covers for Ms. Hieber’s upcoming release of the Dark Next Chronicles.

DNCWe have both written separately for an illustrated anthology of Lovecraftsmanship that’s expected to launch in October – probably just in time for Halloween. Along with the other two members of PsychWing (i.e., The Nerdy Duo) we are developing a short science fiction film.

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It has been a year (plus) of dreams coming true.

Note: Until after Dragon Con there may be a slight disruption in my once-a-week posting to Surfing the Zeitgeist.

kau tipping…

For more than 100 years discussion of fiction has been improperly saddled with the term canon. When considering what’s thought canon is primarily a mechanism to preserve the suspension of disbelief, the use of the term becomes almost ironic.

We owe this word’s improper use to the original Sherlock Holmes drooling fanboy, Ronald Knox, who wanted to draw as thick a line as possible between the oeuvre of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle  and other authors who subsequently undertook the Detective’s chronicle.

Canon both designates the authoritative elements and helps in establishing continuity. For writers it can serve as a tool (sometimes called a bible; also not exactly appropriate). For fans it is the timeline and the answer book for geek-cred quizzes. Keeping track of who’s who and what’s what is important for both but “continuity” should be a completely effective term for both author and audience.

The need to have the story straight is likely as old as storytelling. We may imagine arguments at pub between Knox and other followers of Holmes’ adventures but such conflicts are probably as old as storytelling.

If Pylaimenes was killed by Menelaos, how could he be there to see his son Harpalion die?”

As I research the novel concerning the life and times of the famous seer Teiresias (A Song Heard in the Future) – I discover quite a few problems with the body of Greek mythology. There are many chronologies and each is based on different assumptions and starting dates. The dramatis personæ don’t always align or include the all of the same people.

When it comes to the Star Trek book I’ve more recently begun writing (All We Now Hold True), the complications are actually greater. The number of voices in the oral tradition of Greek myth can never be known but the record comes from only a few. A listing of writers of Star Trek episodes, films, and novels now includes hundreds.

An Uncertain Enterprise
Even before the first episode of Enterprise the cry about the continuity minefield Rick Berman and Brannon Braga seemed to be rushing into went up from many fans, myself included. In the premiere of that series, we were shown they were going to play a bit fast and loose with “canon” as we knew it.

In the second season they began contradicting what I feel most fans of the Vulcans held true. For example, it had been presumed for nearly 40 years that each member of that (yes, fictional) race had the ability to mind meld. Forty episodes into Enterprise we were asked to accept not only that it was a rare talent but also those who engaged in it were subject to social stigma. There is no word for scoff in Vuhlkansu (the Vulcan language).

And Deeper into Darkness
But since 2009, who cares — right? The new director of Star Trek, J. J. Abrams, made no secret of the fact that he couldn’t get into the original shows. I think he meant they bored him. So nevermind Spock’s efforts at unification of Vulcans and Romulans. In fact, forget the planet Vulcan entirely when all is said and done. If those in charge reject canon, aren’t we free to?

kau-lirpaThe above image is my take on a lirpa, an ancient and traditional Vulcan weapon. It does not precisely replicate those seen in the original series (TOS) or in Enterprise (ENT). That’s by design. The calligraphy built into the blade is the Vuhlkansu word kau – or wisdom. Since continuity is the issue and as “All We Now Hold True” is my effort to splice back the fractured Vulcan narrative let it be a symbolic scalpel rather than an axe.

I do intend to have True published in a capacity where it can stand its best chance of being considered “canon”. Will it be fanfic? All Star Trek should be written by fans of Star Trek.

Note: Due to working to place Pandora’s Pets in more brick-and-mortar locations, this week’s post was delayed. Thank you for your patience.

Seriously?…

seriously

Whether called reboot, reimagining, or remake – there is, at least, one almost guaranteed reaction when Hollywood makes the announcement: There is nearly always complaint by loyal fans of the quintessential (older) version.
And when the film is released, it never plays to a completely empty theater.
Nearly 125 remakes were released between 2003 to 2012. That would be one a month, on average. Said remakes brought in a combined box office gross of $12 billion.
The explanation for the remake frenzy is “the foreign market”. I’m not sure I buy that. Surely folks in The People’s Republic of China (中华人民共和国) get just as bored by/tired of an endless chain or rehash as anyone else.
I think… I hope — that the people of the Republic of Nauru (Naoero) are desirous of new and original ideas and content.
Hollywood’s emphasis on the reliably bankable is a polite way of saying they are risk-averse. Similarly, when they want it accessible, that means they don’t want to challenge or offend.
But personally, I enjoy having my assumptions challenged and my knowledge expanded. A film can be both confusing (at first) and offensive (if for effect) – so long as the end result is teaching a valuable, needed lesson. And, yes, I do expect a message from entertainment. If there isn’t to be a message – fireworks displays are free and generally ubiquitous during blockbuster season.
Nearly all work by the motion picture industry is based on brand & franchise now. There were times – and not so very long ago – when filmmakers were just as interested in story and moral as I still am.
The above Hollywood preferences may have contributed to the opinion – voiced by many – that Hollywood is out of ideas. That’s absurd. There are new novels being published every month.
The solution is clear! Reward storytellers.
Don’t go a see a film unless the trailer, pre-release press, and/or critical reviews illustrate that said film presents a new idea.
Buy a book instead.
You probably know an author. You may be one. We craft stories that we feel make important observations about life and may offer the equivalent of life-hacks within our work. Sometimes telling these stories means a sacrifice or two in the life of the author. There are tales behind the tales a reader may never know. When you hold a new book, and before you start reading, try to imagine the heroic journey the author (along with her or his allies) have already been on to see it safely into your hands.
The novel is a kind of gift-with-purchase. What you pay for is that unknown adventure the author has been through to tell you something potentially important.
If enough people do this – buying a book Instead of seeing a movie – some studio is bound to option a story you’ve read. We won’t have wasted money on a disappointing two hour retread. We also actually own a book as an added bonus.
Everybody wins! You, the book store, the publisher, the editor, and the author all get to smile. The film executives will wonder why – until the buy and read it too.
Coming soon…

Separated at birth…

Questions raised by science fiction – good or bad – include “Where do we come from?” and “Where might we be going?” Sci-fi may also ask for a definition of humanity, particularly when at its best. And much of the genre is a depiction of the Cosmos, its possible meaning, and our role within it – if any.

When ΨΦ (psi phi) interprets humanity as a specific code of behavior or paints the Cosmos as demanding such adherence, all of this together begins to resemble religion. I have been developing a science fiction story that treats on some of this territory. During this musing I find myself wondering why science fiction usually tends to wheel away from religion.

There are exceptions, of course. For most of the ‘90’s both Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Babylon 5 dealt with religious beliefs while telling sci-fi stories. In the following decade-plus, the reimagined Battlestar Galactica did so also. But that’s not quite the point aimed at here.

A religious story set within a sci-fi universe or a sci-fi plot with the trappings of belief goes only half way. I’m newly fascinated by the concept of a novel that is truly about both – or at least sparks a debate about which kind of tale it may be.

All We Now Hold True” is the working title for my offering to Star Trek readers – both old and new. In addition to an attempt to build the bridge alluded to above I seek to build a bridge between original and relaunch.

The Vulcan Language Dictionary (VLD) lists nearly a dozen deities from the pre-Surak period. In pre-Reform Ancient Vulcan a pantheistic society is shown in several existing novels. The planet giving rise to that culture is generally painted as a global desert. Measured by their gods, the Vulcans are obsessed with the dichotomies of war and peace and of fertility and death.

The presumptive answers they might give to the foregoing questions are: “We come from conflict. We may never truly escape it. At our best, we can survive as long as possible. What else can be done?”

In short, an environment of severity will raise severe people.

But what if that’s all not the whole truth? Some personal experience denies this being a reality. My premise and hope within fiction says otherwise, too.

kau

Please Note: This entry is a day late in terms of my normal posting schedule. I’ve spent most of the day easing the transition of the pet cat I’ve had since 1999. The premise of this entry was planned before I knew today would be Lily‘s final day with me. I find it strangely fitting that her passing raises a few questions related to those I’ve mentioned here. But the corollary of this post’s title is an intentional reference to how much I’ll miss her.

ek ik pakashogau etek u’yeht’es…

There is nothing new or shocking (to those who know me at all if not well) that I have been a Star Trek fan for as long as I can remember. And while I will not claim to have been to Hell and back, it is probably fair to say that I experienced some trauma during my “formative years”.

I delayed my initial post regarding Leonard Nimoy’s passing by a few days, partly out of respect and partly because I needed time to process. I am still processing. It was his portrayal of Mr. Spock that ironically provided a much younger me with a sense of emotional stability.

The Vulcan way is part of a body of fiction, of course; I do not embrace it as a way of life. It merely informs some of my “navigation”. In all honesty, though I have a lasting affection for Star Trek, it never presented any alien species as a whole and complete culture.

Klingons, it could be argued, are more richly detailed than any others but a ritual-of-the-week and appropriation of Shakespeare makes them just the boldest cypher of the lot. Vulcans run a close second oddly enough. All of the alien cultures started as metaphor and have become stereotypes in their own right.

Within the past few days my ‘processing’ has led to adjusting the schedule of my novels-in-progress. For a very long time I have wanted and needed to write for Vulcans as more than computers on legs from a volcanic desert world.

My very good friend, Leanna Renee Hieber hurried to tell me of Mr. Nimoy’s passing while already rushing between her programming commitments during AnachroCon. She knew what it would mean and took special care to break the news in a kind and gentle way – rather than it coming by way of a stranger’s shouted announcement amid convention chaos. As she made her way to the next panel, I drew a portrait of the actor who played one of my heroes:

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His final words/Tweet compel: “A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP”

Spock’s people are known for their respect for Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations (k’lalatar prkori k’lalatar prnak’lirli) and the IDIC symbol. Gene Roddenberry stated the symbol “has great meaning to all Vulcans”. He indicated that it was somewhat comparable to a religious symbol. Outside of fiction, the symbol itself is 47 years old.

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Comprehension and embrace of diversity still eludes us. Some efforts at celebration of diversity can cost us opportunities for unity. We still need the IDIC.

If nearly every Vulcan we have ever seen is just like Spock why would they venerate diversity? How could it mean so much to them if they were not natively host to quite a range?

All this to say: a novel concerning Vulcan memory, truth, and culture has moved to top priority – at the urging of Ms. Hieber, who will be coauthor of the work. The working title is “All We Now Hold True“. (In the Vulcan language, that is the title of this blog post. Thanks to Britton Watkins for the translation.)

Please do feel invited to Follow, Like, and/or comment.

Paradox need not apply…

Ordinarily, this blog updates once a weekon Monday. I didn’t think it was fair to stretch The Three Laws of Magic over most of April. Next week’s post may be delayed by a day or two.

The supposition that the Earth might be spherical was being examined at least 2,500 years ago. It took 80% of that time for circumnavigation of the planet to become possible. It is now commonplace. If satellites in orbit are included, it’s a constant. Nevertheless, there are still people who believe the Earth is flat.

Despite some progress, some of which includes true high points in thought, our oblate spheroid planet still harbors a discouraging spectrum of prejudice. In 1941, some American leaders believed that the Japanese were too inferior to Caucasians to have successfully attacked Pearl Harbor. Clearly, they’d have required the help of the Germans. That was nearly 75 years ago – but embarrassingly recent.

Religious and gender-based prejudice is not new. Laws that attempt to control the behavior of “The Other” have existed since there have been laws. The timeline for one side being brutal to another side – of any stance or argument – is incredibly long. Do we have to share a world with luddites and bigots? Probably. And I will probably (and ironically) continue to look down on them. There is, however, no excuse for We as the Whole to give up trying. The weakest link in our enlightenment chain might always be our education system. Good enough is not good enough.

All this to introduce the Third Law of Magic. If you’ve recently been following this blog you know the First Law is that “Magic is a personal force”. At the most basic level, that means that magic begins with a single person’s energy. The Second Law is that “All magic is permanent.” Multiple layers of permanent magics may have a range of results.

Magic becomes a force unto itself.

Laws of MagicNone of this is supposed to be science and this musing of mine is background material for most of my fiction. That said, we do have it within our power – with care and consideration – to improve our thinking. It may be true that ill-conceived notions are cars that never leave the racetrack. Accepting it as a truth makes it a foregone conclusion.

There have been a few novels I’ve read and slowed my reading pace when there were just a few pages remaining. When a good story is about to present a hopefully good ending, I like to savor right up to “The End”.

I’d like that to be more readily possible in the non-fiction section of the Corpus Humanum. As I mentioned in this blog on Feb. 2, “…centuries without proof of a hypothesis is not proof of the antithesis.” The word “impossible” should be reserved for violations of the Laws of Physics.

Please consider yourself invited to Comment, Like, and/or Share.

The Second Law…

Six years ago, almost to the day, I was asked to create a 3-page comic for a magazine. The assignment was to make something challenging – even provocative. I chose to make the story an answer to the age-old question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”.

The premise was that the Shaarei Tefillah (the Gates of Prayer) are closed. In essence, I used those Gates as a symbol of the Age of Miracles having come to an end. We’re told by several religions that our culture exists between an epic past and an epic future. Are we bored and eager?

Fiction has us in the doldrums between epics, too. J.R.R. Tolkien’s saga is set on this world – just 6,000 years in the past. Magic and epic was leaving Middle-earth. I recently read someone’s opinion that magic was alive and kicking even after the events of The Lord of the Rings. Although I’m not Tolkienist enough to argue, I will say it’s been a long while since I’ve seen a spider that wasn’t dwarfed by pocket change.

The opinion, however, stands to show that people Want their magic and will defend it. Tolkien’s suggestion that Arda (Earth) would face Dagor Dagorath (the End of the World) means that defense may be Pyrrhic-Cadmean and ultimately Sisyphean.

If the majority of arrows point in the same direction or aim at the same target, what is the point of other arrows? I am not writing (this blog or the stories it may mention) to be defeatist, pessimistic, or nihilistic. Quite the opposite. Therefore, the Second Law of Magic is: All magic is permanent – at least in my fiction. Any subsequent magic gets stacked on top to either counteract or augment the initial intent. But that first magic will always be there. (Yes, I can hear the arguments about entropy already. The answer to that is: Remember, this is magic.)

ThomaturgySo… what is a good person to do when a bad thing happens? I would begin with Shaarei Tikvah (the Gates of Hope). Sola Spes (By Hope Alone).

Hope + Compassion has been my definition for Minimally Human for at least the last 15 years. For about the same amount of time my motto has been, “The only raw material required to manufacture hope is time.”

And “minimally” may not be fair. Achieving that combination is often a high enough hurdle.

Couching a Tale…

The characters in any story may be compared with the id. The related ego is the author and any collaborators. The superego could be a combination of critique partners and editors. If this theory of mine is accurate, it may explain why writers will tell you they have arguments with their characters about what they would or would not do within the story. And while it is the author-ego who determines the “reality” of the story, the character-id makes it Go. A wise author will let the characters be the engine and do his or her job of driving.

There is an immensely strong id in Leanna Renee Hieber’s newest novel – The Eterna Files (released by Tor and available at fine booksellers like Barnes & Noble and here). The character in question is known as The Visitor (and by another name I’ll not reveal here (spoilers)). Within the context of Eterna’s first installment, The Visitor may be an actual zeitgeist – attempting to inspire the other characters as they face supernatural and potentially calamitous new realities.

Excerpt, The Eterna Files, p. 14 —
“What is it this time?” Clara gasped.
“Hello, Clara,” the visitor said quietly. One didn’t mistake an ordinary person for the visitor, for it brought with it the weight of time itself. “It’s been awhile.” The visitor smoothed the skirts of its long, plain, black, uniform-like dress, something a boarding school girl might wear. “Have you been waiting?” the visitor asked.
“I’m not a girl who waits,” Clara replied.
“That’s why I trust you,” the visitor said, pleasure in its voice.

The broader arc of The Visitor began before I was invited to be Ms. Hieber’s collaborator on some projects. The author of the above had written about her before in vignette and cameo fashion a few times before we’d actually even met. In what was unrelated brainstorming for possible inclusion in a well-known franchise, Ms. Hieber and I started to develop a strong, female character in command of her own starship. There were some difficult directorial reactions to our plans. And to the Captain’s plans. She – The Captain – almost immediately took command, as she’d been designed to do, of her own destiny.

Before long both Leanna and I had the epiphany that The Captain was The Visitor. That development and The Mission of Captain-Visitor character-id is only part of why I’m fascinated by The Eterna Files. I repeat my recommendation of buying the book and curling up on the couch with your copy.

Video credit: PsychWing and The Nerdy Duo

Excerpt, The Eterna Files, p. 16 —
“Why can’t you stop terrible things if you’re aware of them?” Clara demanded. “Why can’t I?”
“Not in our skill set,” the visitor replied. “You’ve taken too much ownership of something that is not your responsibility, Templeton. What is your responsibility, is to—”

“‘Wake up?’ Yes, I hear it, on the wind. In my bones. What does it mean?”
The woman gestured before her, to Clara’s iterations. “You see the lives, don’t you?”
“Yes.” Clara swallowed hard. “Do you?”

Georg Hegel is given credit for coining the word – zeitgeist. But he did not use the term. He believed that the spirit of the time is our own spirit and that “both” may evolve. The Visitor’s mission is the most heroic I can imagine and may be related to Hegel’s assertion that “World history is thus the unfolding of Spirit in time, as nature is the unfolding of the Idea in space.” I am genuinely excited to help write The Visitor’s future and past. She may prove to have an important role in A Song Heard in the Future and in at least one other story that sometimes makes it difficult to sleep.

“You see the lives, don’t you?”

Yes. Won’t you?