Saturday, November 20, 2010


I just sent a pitch on my novel to a publisher. I've been ready to do this since August, but afraid. It's done, now. No taking it back.

I think I'll stay sitting down for a little bit.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Global Warming and Stories

I had this idea about a post-global-warming story in which New York City has turned into a apocalyptic Venice...

But you know, watching those videos and doing the math on sea level rises, it won't be that much of the city underwater. Sure, it will be terrible in human cost, but in the land of stories it won't look like a radical change.

Then it occurred to me: sea levels won't rise like the water-level in the sink with the faucet dripping. They'll rise along with catastrophic increase in storms, which will destroy barrier islands which will increase storm damage... the rising sea itself may not cover New York, but in the process, New York might get undercut and sink below the waves...

I'm thinking a kind of East-Coast Vash The Stampede.

Saturday, September 04, 2010


I've wanted for a long time to do a story set in a circus. Like, since reading the first few pages of Tim Robbin's another roadside attraction in 1982. Now I'm onto something:

A set of triplets known as "The Three Ems," since they're named Emma, Emily, and Emiliana. I think I stole that from a set of Isabelle's friends, three sisters named Olivia, Cordelia, and Amelia, whom we call "The Ilias." The ringmaster refuses the Ems, until Emiliana suggests they can be target girls (for a knife-thrower). The ringmaster likes this idea: "Children in danger is always good."

Am I too twisted for my own good?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

7 Myths of Time Travel #4

MYTH: Time travel is like teleportation: you pop from now to then.

Look, the second word in "time travel" is "travel." You got to get there. It takes awhile, and it takes work, which is why I haven't been banging around all of history, snitching priceless Egyptian artifacts and selling them on the black market. Well, that, and of course, because you have to travel to get anywhere, you can't time-travel your way through prison bars.

But here's the weird thing: it looks like you disappear and reappear. It took me awhile to figure out why this is true, and honestly, I'm still not sure I'm right. When I go to the future, I'm standing in my room while like six weeks go by. You're definitely there: if you're going any speed through time, you don't want to let anyone walk into you. It hurts. A lot.

Other people do catch glimpses of me from time to time. They always look confused, and they never remember seeing me. When I'm going forward in time, I think it works like this: although I'm there every second, I never was there the second before. I was there in me-time, but I wasn't there in zax-time. So I'm constantly suddenly appearing in front of them. That's why they always look confused.The moment they look away, I was never there.

When I'm going backwards, people will remember seeing me, but in every moment, they're seeing me for the first time. Seeing as I go by is the past for me, but it's the future for them. Once I get where I'm going, I turn around and we're going back over the same time I just traveled through, but I'm not there. I mean, yeah, I passed through 2:31pm, but by the time I get back to 2:31pm coming the other way, I'm long gone. I'm at a different place in me-time. Being there at 2:31 is in my past. Everyone around me is at the same place in me-time, so they don't see me either.

I suppose I should explain that me-time isn't really about me. I probably should call it "meta-time," but I didn't know words like "metacognition" when I was eight, and now, well, I've been calling it me-time for eight years, it's kind of stuck.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

7 Myths of Time Travel #3

MYTH: You can become your own mother (or father)

Okay, so, in all honesty, I can't be 100% sure about this one. I mean, I'm sixteen years old, motherhood is not something I'm seriously thinking about. I do know that my mother isn't me. She doesn't have freckles, for one, and she's a horrible actor, so I know she's not pretending when she gets confused about time travel.

But I don't think it could happen, and this is why: I've never seen myself arrive out of past or future. I only meet myself if I go to the past or future. I think it's because the future that I could come back from hasn't yet happened--in me-time, as well as zax-time. And the past that I could come from is over and gone. I experimented with this when I was eight. I go back a week and say hello to myself, but I have no memory of that happening last week. I go forward a week and say hello to myself, and a week later it doesn't happen.

So where are all the me's that I have gone to see? My theory is that they're somewhere else in me-time. If I could travel in me-time, then I could come out of the past or future and see me. But I can't, and I don't want to. Traveling in zax-time messes with my brain more than enough.

At any rate, if an older me can't come out of the future, how can I be my own mother?

Creative Process

Just a weird little insight into my brain. So I had this time travel idea. I've been messing with it for awhile before I started posting it. I was getting to know the protagonist. So then I started writing a scene. I just had this idea. Suppose her time traveling isn't a big secret. Suppose some of her friends know. Then suppose she gets involved in fixing things for them. You know, like, "Oh my God, don't let me go to that party. I don't care, give my tire a flat, anything, just stop me from going. No, I can't tell you why. Let's just say it involves beer, Jeff from homeroom, and a really stupid mistake."

So in this scene I was writing, she had a test she was supposed to be studying for. What kind of test? Trigonometry? ("I've got a Trig mid-term tomorrow and I'm being chased by Guido the killer pimp") Nah, not Trig. Well one of the things I'm enjoying at school right now is teaching a class in Government. Yeah, that's it, Government. And I can pattern the teacher off a Government teacher I know. Yeah.

And then the teacher says, "What do you think would have happened to the Bush presidency if 9-11 hadn't happened?" ...what indeed? She's the fixit girl. Let's find out.

Not a cautionary, don't-mess-with-history-story, not a meddling-in-things-to-big-for-you story. No. What kind of responsibility would that put on you? If you could do prevent tragedies?

And what if someone eventually figured out that this same person was turning up through history and warning of disasters?

Saturday, April 10, 2010

7 Myths of Time Travel #2

See the first post in this sequence for an explanation of where this story snippet is coming from.

MYTH: When you travel in time, you can't take anything with you.

All I can say is, "Thank God this isn't true." Being sixteen is awkward enough without your clothes falling off all the time.

I'll say it again: time is just a dimension, just like space. This is how you take something back in time with you: you pick it up and carry it. Why is that such a hard thing to imagine?

Then there's the folks who say, wow, could you like, go back and get a dinosaur and bring it to the present? Right. Problem one: why the hell would I want to? Problem two: the dinosaurs are a like a million centuries ago. For a rough estimate, going a year is about like a mile. So going to see dinosaurs is as easy as, say, walking to the sun. Problem three: I can't pick up a dinosaur. Hello? Five-foot two. Arms like toothpicks. Twelve-ton dinosaur. See the issue?

Friday, April 09, 2010

7 Myths of Time Travel.

I've started playing with a story idea. I already have the title. The problem is, I have no idea what the story is about. I think the protagonist is a high school junior, but I don't know if it's about "how do I graduate and get a boyfriend while time-traveling," or if the fate of the multiverse is at stake. We'll have to see. But here's a bit of her talking:

MYTH: You can't change the past

Listen. It's been like a century since Einstein proved that time was another dimension, just exactly like space. Simply because most people have a hard time seeing and moving around in it doesn't mean it's some mystical immutable force. I can see from my porch to Mrs. McGruder's house, where her annoying little dog is barking at me. I can also walk over there with a bucket of water and drop the dog into it. I changed something in space. I can also go back to this morning, and lock the little dog in the garage, which will mean I can't dump it in the bucket this afternoon--at least not without getting it out of the garage.

Now, when I come back to my porch after dunking the mutt in the bucket, the dog is still wet. When I come back to this afternoon, the dog is still locked in the garage.

But here's the weird part. I remember along a different path than regular people. I remember my past: I remember traveling through time. Everyone else remembers their own past, which is when I lock the dog in the garage, and they have no idea that anything different had ever happened.

I think there's two kinds of time. Like, time is the fourth dimension, right? So maybe there's a fifth dimension, and maybe I go through that the way people go through regular time: can't stop or back-up, can't see where you're going. When I was a kid, I called it "me-time," because it's the time that I remember. Regular time, the fourth dimension, I called "zax-time." You know, after the Dr. Seuss characters that can only walk one direction? Except that Zax walk forward, seeing where they're going, and people in zax-time walk backward, they can only see where they've been.

I can't change me-time. But zax-time? No problem.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Avatar Rewrite

I've seen it again, and I think my love affair with the movie is mostly over. Something about it must still catch me, cause I still want to think about it, but mostly in reminds me of the Phantom Menace, a show with much potential that could have been really good. Here's my sketch on how it could have had a decent plot:

  • Unobtanium exists in small deposits here and there. It must be searched for, found, then quickly extracted before Na'vi or wildlife find them. There is continual low-level (though very dangerous) conflict. But there is a mother load under the mother tree: the miners could establish a continuing mine, with a defensive perimeter, save lives and equipment while getting the goods cheaply in large quantity.
  • A corporate rep wants peace. Peace is cheaper than war, after all. Military is not so gung-ho as it is cynical ("realistic"). Peace isn't going to happen, so it will be more expensive and deadly in the long run. (Since peace won't work, if you try it, you have all the expense and loss of life in that effort, and then you have the war as well.)
  • Grace and her cohorts were kicked out (as in movie). They were too excited about the sacred nature of the forest, did not come with humility, like the miners they came to take (even if only knowledge) rather than become a part of.
  • Jake is pulled between these three estates: war, peace, and investigation.
  • There is a similar conflict within the Na'vi: some aggressively hunt the humans, others hope for a less violent solution.
  • When Jake joins the Na'vi, those who don't like him try to embarrass him and trick him into doing stuff, many of which he falls for.
  • A few youthful girls, in this manner, decide to play at romance with the exotic stranger. They are caught with him, one holding his bonding thing, which causes great uproar, with Jake nearly getting expelled from the clan. Neytiri explains later: the Na'vi are like the dragons. They make a bond with but one other their whole lives.
  • Meanwhile, the conflict grows hotter. The Na'vi score an impressive victory, capturing a mining ship and slaughtering its escort.
  • Neytiri expresses her love for Jake. She wants to bond with him, but he refuses. Ultimately he cannot live there, he is dependent on the technology. He tells her to choose another.
  • Jake hears that the military has won out. Following the massacre they persuade the corporation it will be more profitable for the massive attack.
  • Jake decides to warn the Na'vi, to plead with them to leave and save themselves. The chief refuses. Jake gives details of the assault plan, trying to show how impossible it would be to resist. Chief says thank you, this will help them fight their war.
  • The Home tree is destroyed in the terrible battle, because of the greatly superior speed and firepower of their aircraft.
  • The Na'vi plan a retaliatory assault on the base, before the army goes after tree of souls. Jake, forseeing a massacre, again begs them to stop. Chief tells him, if you would help us, shut down the perimeter barrier.
  • Army reminds Jake: if they lose, he'll get to live with the Na'vi for 45 minutes until his air gives out.
  • Jake begs the tree of souls for help. Neytiri comes to him, tells him the tree doesn't take sides, then say she does. She asks to bond with him again. She does not expect either of them to live more than a day. They do.
  • Jake betrays the humans, shuts down the barrier, and fights from the inside, as human, in his wheelchair. Neytiri, who knows he can't walk from bonding with him, recognizes him and prevents his being slaughtered. The forest rises and overwhelms the humans. There is a dramatic climactic battle between Colonel, Jake, and Neytiri.
  • The peaceful faction of the Na'vi stop the assault from becoming a massacre.
  • Neytiri takes up the human Jake, and carries him into the forest. Her mother then tells them he can become one of them for real. He does.
Maybe needs a little tweaking and embellishing. I've left out details on Grace and the scientists. Trudy is worth keeping (especially if played by Michelle Rodriguez. Yow!) but will need her role reworked. But the conflict is much more gray, with bad guys on both sides, Jake is more conflicted, there's an interior barrier to the romance. The conflict is continuous and unavoidable. This is a story, worthy of the overwhelming setting.

I think I'm done.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Jake Sulley

And I just figured out where I'd heard the name "Jake Sulley/Sculley." Here's the quotation that etched it into my memory:

JAKE: What would you like?
HOLLY: Jake Sculley on the rocks.

--Body Double, 1984

More on YAvatar

Apart from being annoying as sci-fi, a more serious flaw is the deification of the Great White Man. What, you say? It's a celebration of native, tribal, nature worshipers. Yes it is. But they need Jake Sculley, the White Man, to come in and save them, which he does by assuming the most sacred role that we know any individual Navi has held. And I didn't get any feeling he did this by great spiritual enlightenment, but rather by a logical calculation that this was what he would need to do to be able to lead his new people to victory. Yuck.

I don't say this all the time. I'd heard (white) people saying this about Dances With Wolves, and I didn't buy the argument. He doesn't save the Lakota, or even his village. And, in what I found a particularly compelling angle, the Lakota did not view the Americans as their Great Enemy. They had older issues with the Pawnee, and the Americans were simply a bizarre force, that people were only starting to realize was as a threat. I'm a white man, admittedly, but this carried authenticity to me.

Jake Sculley did not need to become a demigod to tell this story. He could have simply brought critical, decisive insights about the humans, given it to the Navi leaders, and joined them as one of their warriors. Little would have to change. In some ways, the giving of critical intelligence might have underscored the betrayal more than the assumption of a leadership role in the opposition. Because such a betrayal can be done with humility, it can be done to empower the Navi to defend themselves. It carries with it the possibility that Jake would unleash a power and destruction he could not control. A better, more dramatic, more plausible, and less offensive story.


So I just became one of the last SF fans in America to see James Cameron's Avatar.

Against my will, I love it. I think it is the sheer beauty of it. The story is common and predictable. The characters are fine but nothing noteworthy. The dialog is better than Star Wars, for what that's worth. Nothing happens in the plot except to set up for the climax (that is, if you meet an animal, or if one is even mentioned, it'll be in the climax, and whatever was said about it when you first met it will be the critical feature). And the world-creation is simply sloppy.

It's this last that boggles my brain the most, because in some ways it is the world that is so attractive. But time and again, I was jarred out of the story by biologically implausible features. I'm not talking about the planetary neural network, that's plausible. I'm talking about contradictions in evolutionary biology. The Na'avi don't appear to come from the same evolutionary tree as the rest of Pandoran life. They have a completely different respiratory system. They have a redesigned skeleton, with four limbs instead of six. They have one "bonding antenna" instead of two. They are the only life form on Pandora with hair.

Of course, James Cameron has never been terribly good at science fiction. In Alien the larva dissolves a vacuum suit with acid, without, somehow, venting the suit. Terminator resolves the time-travel paradox with the destiny solution, and then Terminator 2 invalidates the temporal laws that made the original work, by using parallel futures. (Which is to say, in T1, the efforts of the people of the future to change the future are the events that create the future. If you try to kill your grandmother, she survives, and meets your grandfather at the hospital). In T2, one can do something so that the future event that allowed you to be there never occurs. You can kill your own grandmother.))

Okay, these are geek issues. But there are a lot of geeks in the world. And it only takes a little thought to avoid these events that interrupt his story. I'll admit that the time travel paradox was a systemic problem that could not be resolved in the story he wanted to tell. He would have had to tell a completely different T2 to fix the problem, and I'll grant him some slack in not wanting to do that. A little. But in Avatar the problems are easily fixed without any plot impact. He could have left out the 3/4 second focus on the breathing holes of the animals, or tucked subtle breathing hole on the Na'avi (say, under the armpit). He could have had a mix of limb count among the creatures. The Na'avi could have had two braids instead of one. Simple, easy solutions. Most would add to the world. But he just didn't bother.

He made the Na'avi SO different than Pandoran fauna that I wondered a couple times during the movie if, in fact, they were a transplant from some other world. I mean, Cameron left so many clues that they didn't belong... but it turned out that their belonging was the essential theme of the story. Gee, James, that didn't work the way you wanted it to, did it?