C (in a Roman sense)…

This is the 100th post here on Surfing the Zeitgeist. Since I began this project the subjects have ranged from legend to futurism. From creative process to both profession writing and sculpture. From who I have been to who I aspire to be.

Maintaining a nearly weekly schedule on a blog has helped focus my thinking, which as you’ve seen can range across a wide range of topics. That’s fine for amusement but when there’s a task at hand it helps to have a structure and/or outline. There have been a few personal landmarks along the way – not the least of which being the loss of Leonard Nimoy.

I’ve also been able to celebrate my collaborations with Leanna Renee Hieber, the Nerdy Duo, and Simon Berman. There have been links to my other blog-work at Criminal Element. Through all the past 99 posts I have enjoyed tracking the nations from which Visits and Likes have come. The number of countries on that tally coincidentally sits at 99. It’s fun to have a bet with myself on the next addition to the list but I’m nearly always surprised, though I am fairly certain № 100 will not be North Korea.

99

Apart from providing insight to how I go about my projects I’ve given a few glimpses at my philosophy – hopefully without being controversial. My heroes and notions of civics don’t have to be yours; if we all agreed on every point what would be the purpose of a blog anyway?

A hero’s journey and a personal one may both fall under the rubric of per aspera ad astra (through hardships to the stars). High hopes lead to higher aim. My motto for the past 25 years has been, “The only raw material required to manufacture hope is time.”


and back again…

Visualization can get sometimes get in the way of manifestation. I had started to develop a map of a hypothetical planet in orbit around the larger star in the Alpha Fornacis binary system, a location in Astral. What does the story need from such a map?

While I was in high school Ralph Bakshi’s animated version of The Lord of the Rings was released. Some educators including my English teacher seized the opportunity to introduce a classic of modern literature. There is, of course, the famous map of Middle-Earth of which there are now countless variations. Pauline Baynes, trained as a cartographer during World War II while a volunteer with the Ministry of Defence, did the original work.

J. R. R. Tolkien was very impressed by Miss Baynes’ talent though some of his friends suggested that her work reduced his “to a commentary on the drawings”. He viewed her mapmaking as presenting a “collateral theme” and introduced her to C. S. Lewis. Some of how we view Narnia is still influenced by her imagination.

Maps tell stories just as novels do. If used in conjunction they must help tell the same story. Does it help show how long and/or arduous a physical journey is? Are there warnings about potential dangers along the way? Is the map equivalent to a trail of breadcrumbs away from Rosina Leckermaul or a length of thread leading back to Ariadne? Proper use of a map helps shape the narrative and defines the characters.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m very pro-map. One of the things I’ll catch myself wondering when I pick up a science fiction or fantasy novel, “I hope there’s a map.” As a fan of fiction I think I rather expect a nice, fancy map. But why map α For Aa?

Building an illustration of the network of Earth’s five dozen future colony worlds helped establish the sociopolitical environment of Astral. The concerns and attitudes of the major characters grew out of my understanding of how humans had spread into interstellar space. Part of the motive of the murderer stems from the star map.

In a setting where terraforming is somewhat commonplace – and the character of any given planet can therefore be changed to suit settlers – there’s less need to map the planet’s surface. Moving from future city’s public transit station to another seems far less important to map out when some of the characters have already traveled more than 20 light-years before the story begins.

I’ve done animations of rotating fictional worlds before but I’d forgotten how time-consuming that can be. From time to time now I will have to ask myself, “What does this contribute to the story?”, which is a polite way of asking, “Are you wasting your time on this detail?”

Dalim-planet-anim

This afternoon I remembered something I’d made eight years ago. In Astral, the locations that matter are those along the way in pursuit of the murderer and where justice may be meted out. Less spinning globe and more floor plan, then. And I won’t need to sketch out any rooms; real buildings are everywhere as a menu of locations.

Hotel scene

From preschool on, we’re told that imagination is a virtue. It is, in fact, the first tool of any artist whether with images or words – unless you happen to be one of those lucky people for whom a blank page or canvas is a Muse in itself. In order to invite and guide a reader to explore any new world, the author must be a diligent scout first. A writer of any sort owes those who may follow his or her lead not to be distracted along the first trail blazed.

From the end of May 1985 to the day before Halloween of 1992 (first on HBO and then shown by USA Network), each episode of The Ray Bradbury Theatre began with the author’s description of himself as a pack rat of things that helped him dream stories into being. The introduction concluded with Mr. Bradbury saying, “And the trip? Exactly one half exhilaration, exactly one half terror.”

If a map helps along the way it is a valuable tool. If not it’s another item of clutter.


3, 2, 1, impact…

I found that I’d grown fond of asking the question, “Are there any films that take place entirely within one room?” It wasn’t entirely clear why. In preparing for this  post I found a list of over 100 movies the compiler claims satisfy this query. Of these, I’ve seen barely 10% but none of them precisely tell me the answer is “Yes.”

Most of the movies on the list fall into the jump-scare horror and/or torture-porn buckets. However, the best example of almost one-room stories among those films I have scene would be Rear Window (Paramount Pictures, 1954). Even in this some of the action does take place elsewhere.

Why ask the question?

The central reason is one of motion – as it turns out. Movement is essential to drama. If nothing moves, we have a painting. They can, in a sense, tell a story. They can certain move us – emotionally. But that’s not really the same thing.

Movies can be art in and of themselves. A few spring to mind pointing that out. Segment 5 – Crows – in Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams (Warner Bros., 1990) and Episode 10 of Season 5 – Vincent and the Doctor – in new NuWho (BBC, 2010). Oddly enough both of these examples involve van Gogh.

The quintessential presentation of it, in my opinion, is Cameron at the Art Institute of Chicago.

moved


“This I thought was very relevant to Cameron—the tenderness of a mother and a child which he didn’t have.”

“I used it in this context to see – he’s looking at that little girl – which again is, a mother and a child. The closer he looks at the child, the less he sees, of course, with this style of painting. But the more he looks at it, there’s nothing there. He fears that the more you look at him (Cameron), the less you see. There isn’t anything there. That’s him.”

John Hughes


Seurat’s work was begun in 1884 but took two years to complete – placing it a century before the release of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

Migration-Tree-plan

The chart here is part of various “visual outlines” for Astral. This doesn’t only show each of the 62 interstellar colonies of Earth but the factions

As an outline, to me it shows the despair and paranoia of one of the villains. The chart demonstrates some of the incredible obstacles faced by a large portion of the society Astral examines. In making this image more than one scene coalesced for me that I hope will illustrate – in the writing – the suffering of one particular faction stemming from the policies of the powers that be.

Every journey will have obstacles; sometimes it starts with misplaced keys. Any trip might begin in a mix of fear and hope.

Toward the end of May I wrote about woe and joy in travel and quoted Dr. Henri Poincaré with regard to hope having somewhat more weight. He also once said, “The mind uses its faculty for creativity only when experience forces it to do so.”

This is true both of writers and their characters.


the needs of the many…

There are probably no authors setting out to have a star or planet named in their honor. That said, very few would decline such homage. Asteroid 4659 and a crater on Mars bear the name Roddenberry. The creator of Star Trek likely didn’t include earning this sort of acknowledgement while developing the series.

Gene Roddenberry did, however, attempt to get the science right. He consulted scientists and engineers on a somewhat regular basis. He was also a student of his times and wanted to present entertaining adventures about the future blended with relevant social commentary. Nichelle Nichols, the original Uhura, famously tells a story that each episode was meant to be a modern morality play.

Countless people recount that original Trek inspired their choice of careers while not necessarily having achieving Roddenberry’s dream of humanity at peace with itself and unafraid of its future in mind. This phenomenon is not limited to math and technology either; I know of at least one lawyer who found the trial of Spock in the episode “Menagerie” fascinating enough to prompt study of jurisprudence. The humanism and idealism of Star Trek are very important facets of my long-standing desire to write and make art.

arrowhead

Many fans consider the reboot of the franchise to be less than worthy of the title and have branded it – somewhat pejoratively – as the “Abramsverse” or “NuTrek”. Paramount and CBS have recently attempted to get ahead of these descriptions. They’d like us to call it “The Kelvin Timeline”.

Chris Pine is the second actor to portray Captain Kirk. He has been quoted as giving the following response regarding the franchise shifting away from speculative futurism in favor of presenting an action thriller.

You can’t make a cerebral Star Trek in 2016. It just wouldn’t work in today’s marketplace. You can hide things in there – Star Trek Into Darkness has crazy, really demanding questions and themes, but you have to hide it under the guise of wham-bam explosions and planets blowing up. It’s very, very tricky. The question that our movie poses in ‘Does the Federation mean anything? And in a world where everybody’s trying to kill one another all of the time, that’s an important thing. Is working together important? Should we all go our separate ways? Does being united against something mean anything?

— Chris Pine, à la SFX Magazine

Star Trek was fond of Shakespeare references and there’s one that perfectly sums up the problem with the Abramsverse and the attitude expressed by Mr. Pine: “…it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

The last log entry by Kirk was wonderful fan service at the end of The Undiscovered Country and should now be interpreted by CBS and Paramount as exactly how fans would like to see Star Trek handled – rather than catering to a formula while implicitly demeaning the audience.

This is the final cruise of the Starship Enterprise under my command. This ship and her history will shortly become the care of a new generation. To them and their posterity will we commit our future. They will continue the voyages we have begun and journey to all the undiscovered countries, boldly going where no man… where no one has gone before.

As part of a recent presentation by Claire Legrand, Megan McCafferty, and Leanna Renee Hieber all three authors recommended that any authors in the audience write what they loved reading as children. Write what they wanted to read.

Best Faction map

In broad strokes I plan to cover some of the same ground as Star Trek did: the destiny of humanity in space and to what extent human nature might be baggage carried along the way. It seems fair to say that a writer must be the first fan of his or her own work. So I’ve charted my world(s)-building – applying a different rotation to the same field of real stars used for the Arrowhead interpretation. Astral’s interstellar factions overlapped each other in a previously posted map. That’s not the case in this new one.

At a convention I once attended both Gene and Majel Barrett Roddenberry recommended that whatever I might wish to see in Star Trek I should write and tell Paramount. I never did follow their advice but I may hide it under the guise of thoughtful speculation and all the things the Federation still means to me.


Citius, Altius, and away…

When I was very young my great grandmother told me, “If you want to be something – first admire it.”

In some way, shape, or form that statement of simple truth has stuck with me ever since. It informs who I hope to be as a person and is part of how I construct characters. To a certain extent, it is part of my reaction to other people and to the work of other authors. All of these situations raise the question: “What is being held up to be admired here?” It is rarely far from top-of-mind.

This may also be why I have never quite been able to count athletes and rock stars as true heroes. Their accomplishments can certainly be admired but it seems likely that any record can be surpassed with diligence, proper training, and a bit of luck.

If being admirable is at least part of the definition of a hero, doesn’t that begin with their code of behavior or conduct? A set of binding principles that contribute positively to the quality of the individual in question seems a better yardstick than the applause of a stadium of fans. Being admirable on the basis of such faculties is an essential part of true heroism. They don’t have to be perfect. In real life that’s impossible and in a novel it damages the story.

The heroism of Superman is characterized by his “never ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way.” Officer Alex Murphy, better known as RoboCop, initially operates with three explicit directives: 1) Serve the public trust, 2) Protect the innocent, and 3) Uphold the law. The number of traits need not be limited to three. A short list does, however, make any potential hero more comprehensible and accessible.

In addition to The Code, a would-be hero must choose to do good. Many heroes make this choice regardless of whether anyone will ever know. They are not motivated by a reward. The achievements of a hero must also be above and beyond the simple good society encourages from all of us. The average good is not heroic; it’s expected after all. A hero must exceed the achievement of good that the average person might accomplish regardless of determination, acquired expertise, or good fortune.

Heroes – in life and fiction both – should inspire us whether we can replicate their feats or not. We should honor them when they help us toward being the best human we can possibly be and then reset the scale to try for more. Heroism is an ideal. It should perpetually be out of reach and eternally pursued.

Our heroes are the embodiment of our aspirations and hopes, our desire to believe that we are capable of facing anything and against all odds. We dream of ourselves as willing to act in defense of our ideals no matter the cost.

In the film Iron Giant (1999), a young boy by the name of Hogarth Hughes tells the robot, “You are who you choose to be.”

superman

I think that strongly echoes my great grandmother’s advice.

In Elizabeth (1998), Sir Francis Walsingham tells his Queen, “All men need something greater than themselves to look up to and worship. They must be able to touch the divine here on earth.”

This is, in essence, the point but not necessarily from above or outside – but from what is worthy of our admiration and awe.

Doing good is not enough.

STADR

 


“Your mission, should you choose to accept it…”

Hello,

Criminal Element has run my third post. Fans of Mission: Impossible, including the original series, should visit.

Note: This week’s regular blog entry may be delayed by preparations for the forecast storm. Your other mission – if within the region – is to stay safe and warm and well-provisioned. This post will not self-destruct.