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The subtitle on Stamped From the Beginning is “The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America.” And Ibram X. Kendi is not fucking around on this one. This book took me an unusually long time to read—not because it was unpleasant, or even overly dense (as sometimes history books are), but because there’s a lot there, and the subject matter is extremely challenging.

I’m really glad I read it. Really, really glad. I encourage you to take the time to read and digest and mull it over as well. Buy the book, check it out from the library like I did, but go get it.

I’m going to think out loud on a couple of the points Kendi made that drew the most blood from me. But my mulling things over out loud should not be in any way a replacement for reading the book and getting Kendi’s thoughts first hand. Goodness knows I’m missing nuance and have my own major blind spots.

Read the rest of this entry »

Originally published at Alex Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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Hey, so I don’t know if you heard about this, but I kind of wrote this little book called Hunger Makes the Wolf and TODAY IT WAS RELEASED IN THE US AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA

I mean my goodness, isn’t that beautiful? ISN’T THAT BADASS? And it’s a dead tree book, too! I’ve held it in my hands! I’ve listened in mingled horror and awe as my housemate read a book it took me six years to write in four and a half hours! IT’S REAL.

In my extremely humble opinion, you should go out immediately and buy a copy, which you will give to your best friend. Then buy another copy. You know. To spread the love. You can get the book at ACTUAL FOR REAL BRICK AND MORTAR BOOK STORES as well asAmazon and Barnes and Noble. Also! If you want your ebook to be of the DRM-free variety, head to the Angry Robot site.

Oh, and did I mention? IT’S AN AUDIO BOOK TOO!

AAAAAAAAAAA this is the most exciting day ever.

Originally published at Alex Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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I sent this to the governor of Colorado, John Hickenlooper today, after seeing the AP story about a Trump administration draft memo regarding mobilization of the National Guard to be used to round up undocumented immigrants. Yes, I am aware that we’re talking a draft, but I find it seriously horrifying that this is even being talked about as an option, however off-handedly or unseriously. This is not a thing you fucking joke about.

Anyway, that prompted me to write and send the following message today. I’m sharing it in the hope that others will feel encouraged to send similar messages.

#

Dear Governor Hickenlooper:

Per the Associated Press today, a draft memo from the Trump Administration showed they’re thinking about using the National Guard to round up undocumented immigrants. Considering the absolutely tragic and shameful history of our own state when it comes to the National Guard being mobilized against our citizens and residents (i.e.: the Ludlow Massacre), this calls on us all to speak firmly against this notion before it can gather steam.

Beyond that, undocumented immigrants are a vital part of Colorado society. It would be far better if they could have a path to legal citizenship or permanent residency, but lack of national will does not change the enormous contributions they make to Colorado daily. We should be respecting and protecting all of our residents, whether they have papers or not.

I urge you to speak out in strong support of undocumented Coloradans, and do everything in your power to keep their families from being torn apart by these unfair and racist policies we keep seeing from Washington DC. Make us a sanctuary state; while I know we can’t stop ICE, we can refuse to aide and abet the destruction of families and the victimization of innocent people who are integral to the fabric of Colorado.

With a lack of national will, it falls to us to step up and show our strength of spirit and compassion. I know Colorado is better than what our national government is currently trying to become.

Thank you.

Originally published at Alex Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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All right, I’m flinging up my hands on this. I’ve poked at the 50 Shades Darker fundraiser repeatedly, and I think I’m basically shouting into the overwhelming roar of THE WORLD BEING ON FUCKING FIRE, so I don’t feel that bad, really. Also, the few responses I’ve gotten at all to trying to fundraise off the oncoming Valentine’s shitshow were, “No honey, I can’t do that to you.”

I love you too, guys, though I did volunteer for this gig. But I can’t say I’m sad that I’m not going to have to have yet more pop ballads ruined for me forever. (Seriously. Every time one of the songs that got used in 50 Shades of Gray comes on, I attempt to rip my radio out of my car to make it stop because I still remember that fucking awful movie.) I’m also imagining all of the disposable donation money is currently being flung at worthy causes like the ACLU and Standing Rock and the NAACP and CAIR because, again, THE WORLD IS ON FUCKING FIRE, so I can’t begrudge anyone that. We all have limited resources.

I guess my question is to you, people who enjoy listening to me rant about fucking awful movies I watched while drunk, is this moment over? Should I find a different way to humiliate myself in public to get people to fling money at charity? (And wait to do it until the world is no longer ON FUCKING FIRE?) Should I attempt this shindig one more time when the next Transformers movie comes out, because at least it will be less sexually disgusting okay well maybe, I mean we are talking about the franchise in which dudes metaphorically pissing on each other’s legs over the virginity of an underage girl was a major plot point?

What say you?

Originally published at Alex Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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Today I met another refugee from the oil industry. This happens so often it’s like work is one giant reunion. Probably because construction is an industry where there’s a lot of crossover in skill sets, and it’s booming, so there are actually jobs. If you were a geologist, you can find a second life as a dirt guy. If you were an engineer, you can translate that over pretty easily to pipeline projects and the like.

“Oh yeah,” he told me. “They got me two years ago when the price per barrel hit $50. Day after that happened, me and all the other old timers were gone.” Then he laughed bitterly.

Yeah, I know the feeling, I said. I made it through two rounds of cuts and then they canned me in March 2016 because nothing had improved.

I have conversations like this every. fucking. day.

And you want to know why so many of us lost our jobs? I’ll give you a hint: it has fucking nothing to do with regulations, environmental or otherwise, on the petroleum industry. What got us all was the global price-per-barrel of crude oil. Here, if you want to see how dependent we are on that price, just take a look at measures like rig-count versus oil price in recent days.

At the time I got made redundant, there were a lot of pet theories floating around about why the oil price tanked. I don’t know if it’s now been clearly established, because frankly, I stopped caring as soon as I put the rubber to the road and got the fuck out of Houston. I do know that the favored pet theory of everyone I talked to back then was that OPEC opened the spigots because they were trying to drive all the foreign oil companies out of the Middle East.

But I can tell you what exactly NO ONE blamed the drop in price on: industry regulation.

And this? THIS IS TOTAL BULLSHIT.

The problem with the oil industry, the reason so many of us lost our jobs, is entirely on the supply side. There’s too much fucking supply versus demand, so the price drops. This is macro economics 101. This is not complicated. Deregulating the industry to make it easier for people to drill and produce is not going to solve this problem, because it will add more supply. At the absolute most, maybe it’ll produce a few short-term field jobs while the super cheap leases are getting developed just enough to hold on to them. Maybe it’ll keep a few struggling companies afloat longer and save a few jobs that currently exist by making production a little more economical until there’s so much of a glut that the bottom falls out again.

But it’s not going to bring my job back. It’s not going to bring any of our jobs permanently back. And what it’ll cost in environmental damage, in the loss of our common treasure as Americans, is far too high a price for very little actual benefit.

But this was never about me, or about people like me, or even people like my lovely ex Mike, who is still clinging to his job in Houston by the skin of his teeth. It was never about us and our lost jobs and severely depressed wages as we fled to other industries and our pensions that we will never see.

It. Was. Never. About. Us.

You know who this bullshit will help? Companies big enough that they can hunker down through these bust cycles and snatch up land for pennies on the dollar. Companies so big they can produce just enough to keep their leases going and eat the fact that it’s not profitable. Well, those companies and their major stockholders, I suppose.

People like, I don’t know, Trump’s nominee for secretary of state. Just throwing that out there.

Every time this bullshit comes up, I get so angry I can’t see straight. Because it is literally me and people like my fellow geologists and former roughnecks who are barely scraping by on jobs that pay us less than half of what we used to make–while many of us are still struggling to pay back our student loans we took out under the promise that we were heading into good, lifelong careers–being used as a shield by rich motherfuckers. It’s me and the other oil industry refugees that I see on construction sites every goddamn day getting used as a shield behind which our public lands will get looted and our public waterways will get polluted and we’ll all be left holding the tab for the cleanup because we’ll have even fewer ways to hold these companies accountable. It’s us who they’re trying to shift the blame to when people see black tides rolling into their back yards get really angry–I mean, it was for us to get jobs, right?

This was never and has never and will never be about the regular assholes like me who worked outside boardrooms and collected paychecks instead of massive stock options. And I’m done with it. I’m fucking done with it.

Please feel free to link anyone who actually believes this disingenuous bullshit to this page. Please print out one hundred copies and then roll them up into a paper nightstick you can use to beat people who don’t get this point over the head.

STOP LYING.

WE ARE NOT YOUR SHIELD.

Originally published at Alex Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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I’m not that big of an animation person any more, but I’ve been excited to see this movie ever since I heard the Lin-Manuel Miranda was involved in the music. And I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would, though not without reservation.

In Moana, the titular character is the daughter of her village’s chieftain, so will follow in his place as chief. There’s a blight that’s spread to their island, thanks to the mischievous demigod Maui having stolen the heart of the goddess Te Fiti. Moana embarks on a journey to find Maui and make him fix his mistake, and in so doing, takes her people back out onto the open ocean.

In all honesty, the main bits of this movie I wasn’t utterly charmed by involved Maui. The character felt very off, going from egotistical trickster to suddenly having a sort of angsty backstory to… justify him being a jerk, I guess. I make no claims to know how accurate or inaccurate he is to his legends (though I get the impression after some googling that he is upsettingly inaccurate), but he came across as a very standard sort of bully boy character who eventually makes good more because the script says so than because his character development makes that much sense.

There were also things I was puzzled about, like the Kakamora–evil little animated coconuts, as far as I could tell–showing up in a rig that looked like a homage to Mad Max: Fury Road. My only guess is it was a sequence created to justify a line of toys, because it really didn’t to anything in the movie. Though I actually did find them less offensive than the random troll things in Frozen, perhaps because they still somehow made more sense.

But aside from Maui (and that’s a big aside considering he’s the main supporting character to Moana), there is so much about the movie that I loved. I loved that Moana’s story doesn’t pivot on romance, but rather a quest to discover who she is, who her people are, and to save their way of life. I loved that Moana is a gorgeous brown girl that my nieces (who are also gorgeous brown girls) got to watch saving the day. Moana is truly their princess. I loved that Moana’s grandmother is a independent and happily odd old lady, who is her granddaughter’s spiritual guide. Grandma was the MVP of the film and tied with Moana for being my favorite character.

And then there was this:


Not ashamed to admit it: this song made me cry. Not because I was sad, but because I was so awed by the sheer ingenuity and beauty of humanity. This song is about the Polynesians traveling vast distances between islands in their voyaging canoes, which is one of those historic wonders that doesn’t get talked about nearly enough. And reading more about this wonder lead me to find out about the Hōkūle’a Voyaging Canoe, which is a modern recreation of those ancient voyages.

I’m not too big into animated movies any more, but this was a good one and worth watching. If you want to read a bit further about the history of the Polynesian voyages (among other things), this was a good place to start: How does the story of Moana and Maui holds up against cultural truths?

Originally published at Alex Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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Assassin’s Creed is utterly, delightfully bonkers as a movie. It’s really damning the movie with faint praise to say it’s probably the best video game film I’ve ever seen, but that’s one statement that it feels very fair to make.

In Assassin’s Creed, Michael Fassbender plays a being of pure manpain named Cal, who after being executed for murder finds that it was all a massive fake-out. He’s now prisoner in a facility run by the Templars, an organization so secretive that they put their logo on everything, including the outside of the giant building they own in Spain. The Templars also really hate the fact that humans have free will. Templar scientist Sofia (Marion Cotillard) uses Cal to search for the free-will McGuffin “the Apple of Eden” by using his “genetic memory” to make him relive the life of his ancestor Aguilar from 500 years ago and sticking him on the end of a giant mechanical arm that shakes him around like a ragdoll.

The concept of the film is quite stupid. I think, honestly, it’s meant to be stupid. You either nope out of the film because your disbelief can’t handle this level of suspension after the first ten minutes, or get over the stupidness threshold of the plot. At which point you are free to enjoy the absolutely batshit ride that involves Michael Fassbender being flung around at the end of a mechanical arem while loudly singing, or very memorably, stripping off his shirt for a protracted sequence for no reason other than he presumably knew I would be watching the movie. (Thank you Mr. Fassbender, by the way.)

And it’s a very pretty batshit ride, by the way. There’s an excellent contrast in the cool pallet of colors used in the “modern” sequences versus the warm in the memories. All of the assassin parkour nonsense is a pleasure to watch. This is a film that’s easy to enjoy on purely aesthetic levels, particularly when those aesthetic levels keep you from screaming every time the nonsensical genetic memory thing gets brought up.

I haven’t played the Assassin’s Creed games myself, though now I’m a bit tempted to try. The friends I saw the movie with reported that they were very pleased that the movie used the mythos but had its own story rather than trying to directly rehash one of the games. They were also happy to report that the modern-time sequences that insisted on punctuating the lengthy sequences of Michael Fassbender and Ariane Labed free running through fake medieval Spain were at least less boring than the ones in the game. So good for that.

Looking back on the movie, I’m pretty sure that it passes the Bechdel-Wallace test handily, thanks to a couple of the villains having a chat about their plans for humanity. I was actually pretty surprised just how many women there were in the movie. The apparent head of the evil organization is an older woman; Sofia is in charge of the project that’s using Cal and the other descendants of assassins. Maria (Labed) is a joy to watch, and I’d like to know when we’re going to get her movie. Michelle H. Lin gets a pretty significant chunk of screen time in the modern-day bits of the movie. The cast also wasn’t entirely Wonderbread white, and I want to call on Michael K. Williams as Moussa as a particular favorite.

It’s not a good movie, but it’s definitely a fun movie, and in its own way felt less soulless than a lot of scifi action movies I’ve watched lately. It is beautifully and unabashedly what it is.

Originally published at Alex Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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This story was originally published in Lakeside Circus in 2016. As the Lakeside Circus website seems to be down long-term, I’m going to go ahead and repost is here on my blog so it’s still available to be read.

Note that this is the original as-submitted version of the story. I think there were a few edits made to it before it was published, but I seem to have lost that file.

Silver Fish

Josh wiggled his fingers in the moonlight, pale and graceful, and imagined them as fingerlings in the river, sliding through the currents. Under his bed, something buzzed like an angry bee.

Silvery fish flowed in through the open window, large as dobermans, blue moonlight glittering from flat eyes and scaled, underslung jaws.

Josh pulled his quilt up over his nose, afraid to breathe, heart thumping in his chest. Fish had no ears, right? They had teeth; he saw them, glittering triangles. Their fins waved slowly like the air had become water, too thick for lungs to hold.

The buzz sounded again from under his bed, like a cell phone vibrating over carpet but much lower, an angry growl.

It had to be the box.

The night before he had woken from a dream of running, running down a mountainside like Indiana Jones, a carved wooden box tucked under one arm, stolen from a temple where sylphs danced and men with long beards and longer knives scattered sand in great handfuls.

The box stayed in his arms when he woke, a creaky puzzle of mahogany that read like a story under his fingertips. He smashed it open with a hammer when he couldn’t decipher its knots and whorls, overeager to find within it the content of his dreams. The inside was lined with midnight blue velvet, cradling the silver shard of a mirror that twisted rather than reflected his face, showing his nose eating his cheeks one second and shrunk to a pinpoint the next.

Josh had shoved the mirror back into the gaping hole of the box’s lid, then rolled the mess up in a tattered green army surplus blanket normally reserved for picnics and hidden it under his bed like a shameful secret. He’d hidden other secrets there before, the results of pranks: stolen pencil cases and Lana Douglas’s pigtail, cut off with a pen knife.

From under the bed, the box snarled, insistent and angry.

Startled, the fish whipped in the air, flicking their fins and streaming back out into the night.

snap and crash and slam, doors up an down the block opened. “What the hell are those?” a man shouted. More people screamed in a wordless cacophony, high and discordant and then crunch. One less scream.

He knew that crunch. He’d hit Jeffery’s little sister’s bunny with his go cart, and accident, and it had made that sound. It had made him sick. He never wanted to hear that sound again, but it still echoed in his ears.

The cool night air gnawed his bare legs as he twisted free of his quilt. Josh’s shaking fingers found the rough blanket and he pulled the box from under his bed. Shards of wood scattered across the floor, too complex a puzzle to be solved with the roll of duct tape his father kept next to the hammer.

Josh reached for the warped mirror, and saw the way it twisted his fingers into lithe silver fish in the moonlight. That had to be the answer, then; the mirror turned what it saw into a monster. He grabbed the Louisville slugger next to his bed and drove it into the glass again and again, crack and crash and smash, until the mirror was little more than powder.

The silvery dust smeared across the floor made him a distorted, fuzzy shadow. The back of his throat tasted metallic with fear, like he’d licked up some of that shattered mirror. Dreams can’t be destroyed; they can only be contained. The words of his third grade teacher echoed up from his memory. When she’d said that, it had been a hopeful message. No one can hurt your dreams, they can only try to cage them up. You want to be a baseball player, a race car driver, a brain surgeon? No one can stop you. Smash the locks, open the cages, ignore the doubts, let your dreams be free.

But nightmares, Josh felt with the clarity of a bone needle dragging down his spine, like the teeth of the silver fish, were dreams as well. Nightmares were just a different direction for reality to twist, down into the dark.

At his window something growled, the low rumble of distant thunder, of some ancient beast freed from the shards of a broken prison. Josh’s hands tightened on his slugger as he turned. It was his dream, his nightmare, and he should be able to beat it, right? Dreams – nightmares – couldn’t be bigger, stronger, than the people who dreamed them, right?

Only he’s learned in school about I have a dream, and about I am become Death.

Hot, dank breath rolled through the room as Josh howled into the face of a reflection shattered past all recognition.

crunch

Originally published at Alex Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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The excellent John D asked on a previous writing nuts and bolts post:

On a related note, how soon is too soon to submit another story to a magazine after a rejection. One of them just rejected a story of mine (but included a nice note, which I do appreciate) and I have another story that I think might fit their guidelines. I don’t want to seem overly pushy or idiotic, so how long should I wait before submitting the new story to them?

And I figure that’s an important enough question that it deserves its own post. For more of the nitty-gritty stuff, see the writing advice category/tag.

The first thing here is everyone’s old favorite, read the submission guidelines. Quite a few markets specify in the guidelines if there’s a cooling-off period before you can submit again. For example, F&SF has a 15-day waiting period, which is only in effect if they answer your submission in less than 15 days. Lightspeed wants you to wait 7 days. So does Clarkesworld. And I’m sure there are more, those are just the ones I remember off the top of my head. But you don’t have to remember which ones off the top of your head, because the submission guidelines will tell you.

If there isn’t a specified waiting period between submissions, then that’s it. You can submit something again the second after you receive your rejection for the previous story. And I’d encourage you to do so, if you have something you think fits the market.

I know it does feel a bit pushy to be like, “Hey I know you just rejected my last story, but how do you like me now?” But this isn’t personal. You’re trying to sell a story to an editor, not date them. Especially if an editor takes the time to tell you that they liked what you sent and want to see more, send them more. Don’t wait.

Personal anecdote time: when I was querying my agent, the inimitable DongWon Song, he sent me an extremely nice “no thanks” on the first novel I sent him. I took about thirty seconds to run in circles and think oh god I’m going to sound like a pushy, desperate jerk and then I screwed my courage to the sticking point and asked him: “okay, but would you maybe be interested in this other novel I have stashed in my back pocket?” And I’m glad every day that past me had the guts to do that, because now that’s the thrilling conclusion to my “how I got an agent” story.

Editors, while I think they try as a matter of course to not destroy anyone’s soul, are not there to blow sunshine up your ass. If they say they want to see more, they’re not just saying that to make you feel better. Every personal note I sent with a rejection to tell someone that I wanted to see more from them if I did another anthology was from the heart.

And honestly? Even if you didn’t get a personal note or a “please send more” rejection, send more if what you have is polished and appropriate. The story that got rejected didn’t work out, but the next one might. You don’t know until you send it, and each story is a new chance. There’s no need to wait, and it’s definitely not being pushy.

 

Originally published at Alex Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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Another transatlantic flight, another round of movies watched because I can’t sleep and find it utterly impossible to work on my laptop in the extremely limited space available in economy.

The Girl With All the Gifts: This movie shows the British still reign supreme in zombie cinema. And this one with a twist, where the main character isn’t a survivor, but a second generation infected girl who may be the key to the development of a vaccine for the infection—if the involved survivors can be reconciled to treating her as an object rather than a person. Weird, gorgeous, creepy, and utterly heartbreaking. Do yourself a favor and see this movie. It’s already out in the UK, and should be released in the US in February. If there’s any justice in the world, this film will get nominated for a Hugo, but I fear the confusion over release dates (2016 in the UK, 2017 in the US) and the fact that it’s not a major franchise will probably scuttle its chances.

The Secret Life of Pets: I mostly liked this for how all of the cats acted, not going to lie–particularly Max’s friend with that immortal and fundamentally cat like, “As your friend you should know I don’t care about you or your problems.” The plot, such as it was, didn’t make a hell of a lot of sense and just had the characters careening around between random bits. Glad I didn’t bother seeing it in the theater, but I’d still take this one over Frozen any day of the week. Plus, thank you for a dog movie that doesn’t involve a protracted fart joke scene.

Far From the Madding Crowd (2015): I wanted to like this, because I’m honestly a bit trash for romance stories of this sort. The problem was, I didn’t really get an impression of chemistry between any of the characters. (And I really, really didn’t get why everyone was so about Bathsheba, other than Frank wanting her money.) So it was a decent enough movie, but I just felt disappointed because I wanted more.

Edge of Winter: A thriller that could be subtitled “the dangers of toxic masculinity.” A divorced, emotionally volatile dad takes his kids out to teach them how to be men (eg: shooting a gun, making fun of each other for crying) and then escalates to outright kidnapping when he finds out that their mom and stepdad are planning to move. There’s some good acting, it’s got a deliberate and creepy buildup, and the realism of the situation really adds to it. But goddamn the score was aggravating. For example, we hear the dad tell his son, “listen to that, you can hear every little sound” in the woods as the soundtrack goes BWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA. Stop trying to help.

Originally published at Alex Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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Writing This Year

Novels: 0 completed, though I did several full edits on both Hunger Makes the Wolf and The Novel Formerly Known as King’s Hand. Oh, and I sold Hunger Makes the Wolf to Angry Robot (holy shit!!!!) which is why it’s got that as a title now rather than Fire in the Belly. Wrote 12K words on a novel project for someone else that has unfortunately been put on hold now. Also wrote a 10.8K-word outline for the sequel to Hunger Makes the Wolf because no I don’t have a problem you have a problem. I’m about 20K words into that novel now.

Novellas: 1

Novellettes:  1

Short Stories: 3

Flash: 1

Feature Length Scripts: 2

Paid Reviews/Nonfiction: 5 (plus 10 Book Riot posts)

Treatments: 4

Editing: I edited a short story anthology, No Shit There I Was and we’re in the final stages of getting it ready to go. I also briefly did some very low-paying freelance editing (of romance stories, of all things) while I was unemployed, during which I learned quite a bit.

Consigned to the trunk of awfulness, never to return: None this year, surprisingly. Maybe I’ve winnowed it down enough.

Best/Favorite story of the year: I think I’m obligated to say it’s Hunger Makes the Wolf, which will be my first published novel as of next year. And I’m very pleased with it! Sons of Anarchy meets Dune and all, thank you Mike Underwood for coming up with that awesome description. Second place goes to the short story I wrote recently that involves a Latina retiree in a punk band. I hope I’ll get to share that one with you at some point.

Magic Spreadsheet wordcount: I have been tracking on the spreadsheet since June 24, 2013.

  • Total words written: 465,741
  • Average words per day: 1,276 (better than last year’s 1,110/day)
  • Days in a row written: 1, 286 (3 years without stopping, still going strong)

Publishing

Queries sent: 36
Rejections received: 27
Pending: 4
Most rejections received: This year, it’s Excerpts from the Personal Journal of Dr. V. Frankenstein, MD, Department of Pathology, Our Lady of Mercy Hospital, with seven rejections, but I love that story and am going to keep trying.
Total earned: $7,791.47 which is the most I’ve earned from writing in any year, by a lot. I even turned a profit, technically, which is very exciting. I did my best to hustle freelance work while I was unemployed in the hopes that I could make a go at supporting myself, but basically many people seem to think that writers/editors don’t deserve to make even minimum wage for the amount of time they spend on things. (For example, paying $20 for a novellette that it took me five hours to edit well because it was such a hot mess.)

Published this year:

  1. Spirit Tasting List for Ridley House, April 2016 from Shimmer
  2. The Long Game from Kaleidotrope
  3. .subroutine:all///end in Shimmer #31
  4. Silver Fish from Lakeside Circus
  5. Fire in the Belly from Mothership Zeta 
  6. Game Review: Have You Met My New Birdie? He’s a Lawyer
  7. There Is No “I” in Lazer Team
  8. I Wish I’d Read Xenogenesis Twenty Years Ago
  9. A New Hope
  10. Lavie Tidhar’s novel Central Station is a mosaic of posthuman problems (Ars Technica)
  11. I Want the Longest Audiobook You have (Book Riot)
  12. Seven First Contact Novels (Book Riot)
  13. Buy, Borrow, Bypass: “Great Literature” I Hated in High School (Book Riot)
  14. Talking to Writers at Parties (Book Riot)
  15. What’s Being Done to Fix the Hugos (Book Riot)
  16. No Judgment Zone: Tie-in Edition (Book Riot)
  17. Unicorns and Swords: Nostalgia Reading (Book Riot)
  18. Books to Read at the Poké Stop (Book Riot)
  19. An Open Letter to a Novel I Was Certain I’d Love (and Didn’t) (Book Riot)
  20. Why Field Geologist Should Always Carry a Paperback (Book Riot)

Slated for 2017:

  1. Hunger Makes the Wolf from Angry Robot Books (available for pre-order!)
  2. Comfort Food in Haunted Futures
  3. Past the Black Where Call the Horns in Kzine
  4. Vaca Muerta and the Hounds of Heck in GigaNotoSaurus
  5. [REDACTED]

Goals for 2017

  1. Shut up and write.
  2. Get Angry Robot the next book, well-written and on time.
  3. Get Wrath written.
  4. Write at least one more feature-length screenplay, if not two.
  5. Keep submitting to festivals.
  6. Six short stories, including the birthday short. After five years, I think I’m going to keep on with that as a tradition, mostly because it feels nice to write a story with the aim of giving the money to charity. I have no idea what I’m going to do for this year, but we’ll see.
  7. Another anthology? Get it in development at least.
  8. Finally convince Bungie to let me write that Twilight Gap novel in the style of Killer Angels. I’ve got to have an impossible dream on this list every year, right?

Other Stuff

  1. This was the year I finally got an agent, the inimitable DongWon Song. Holy shit.
  2. This was the year I sold a novel. Holy shit.
  3. I submitted one of my screenplays to a film festival and was a finalist. That was… unexpected, and confidence-boosting.
  4. Officially received my Feature Film Screenwriting Certificate from UCLA. For what that’s worth.
  5. Lost my job. Moved back to Colorado. Got a new job in a completely different industry. That was… a major change.
  6. I spent more days than I care to remember ripping cat pee soaked carpet out of my house and even more days in the bowels of home improvement hell as the flooring was replaced. Not the most fun I’ve had in my life.
  7. This is the year I came out. I’m still finding places where I need to change my name and I suspect I will be for a while.
  8. Still a Sunbreaker for life, yo.

Originally published at Alex Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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Recently, my buddy Paul mentioned the science fiction short story I love to hate, The Cold Equations.


To be honest, if you want a description of why I find the story morally reprehensible, just go read what Cory Doctorow wrote about it over two years ago and imagine me pointing to every word and screaming, “YES, THIS.” But one thing I do want to talk about is that I think it’s also, frankly, shitty writing craft.

Let me take a moment to raise the drawbridge, I can sense the mob lighting its torches. There we go.

I don’t know if I’ve ever made my disdain of Chosen One/Prophecy/Do X Or The World Blows Up stories clear on this blog, but there it is. I really don’t like stories that are predicated upon removing one of the major choices of its protagonist. Particularly the last – no one short of a sociopath would realistically, upon being told that the world will literally end if they don’t carry the Magic Arglebargle to the Forbidden Closet of Trumblebutt, would say nah, I think I’m good. The understandable period of denial on that one is really just playing coy with the inevitable.

Stories like The Cold Equations are that kind of agency removal on steroids, except at the end you feel like no matter how many showers you take, you will never be clean again. The entire point of the story is the removing all character agency so they are left with one shitty, reprehensible choice. They make the choice, story ends, everyone feels so bad for the poor character and the way they were railroaded by fate in the form of very particular authorial (or in the case of TCE, editorial) choices. Stories that spend a significant amount of words building baroque and frankly unbelievable systems just to force a perfectly good character into a corner aren’t so much stories as torture devices.

They’re also damn boring in my opinion, but that’s because I’m a big fan of character-driven stories. I don’t really want to see someone get moved to and fro by the winds of fate while they feel bad about the situation and do absolutely nothing.

That these stories are often hailed as being somehow realistic is even more problematic. In real life, the number of times someone is backed into a corner where they literally have only one possible choice are vanishingly small. Often times, all of the choices are varying shades of bad, but they are still there. You may feel like you have no choice, but that is not the same as objectively having no choices like occurs in The Cold Equations.

This is not to be confused with a character making a reprehensible choice and then justifying it to themselves with the mantra of “I had no other choice.” That is an intensely realistic reaction. People build their own internal narratives so that they are the hero, or they go mad.

Rather, stories like The Cold Equations are an intrusion of the author into the moral universe of the audience, an attempt to force the character’s internal narrative of “I had no other choice” onto us. They quite literally had no choice, don’t you see? You must remain on their side, dear reader. It’s a cheap way to allow a character to do something utterly terrible and still keep the audience on board. To sympathize with them. Because really, if we were put in the same ridiculous, artificial situation, we’d have to do the same, right?

Recently at a writing workshop, a friend of mine was taking critique on a chapter of his novel. (This story is being told with his permission, by the way.) He had a situation where his main character needed to pretend to have done something terrible to an innocent woman. All right. But then he asked if we, as readers, would still like the character if he roughed the woman up a little to give his charade verisimilitude. Okay, but what if he really, really felt bad about it? What if he had no other choice?

That was the point where I interjected with this question: “Why are you trying to make it okay for your character to beat up a woman?”

Later when we talked a bit more about it, he mentioned that he wanted to be unflinching in his writing. Which strikes me as something a lot of people strive toward. I have opinions about “gritty” fiction that don’t need to be expounded upon here. But my question is why, if you want to be unflinching about the badness of the situation your character is in, do you then flinch away from the negative reaction your audience may have to their choice?

When I was a baby writer, I found writing plots that forced the characters into corners so they had to make the choices I wanted, often in the pursuit of being “gritty” and “edgy.” I have since course corrected, and all of those stories have been mercifully exiled into the Trunk of Awfulness, never to see the light of day. But as I look over those early efforts, I can’t help but feel more than a little creeped out. Because in real life, I can tell you who most often uses the “I had no choice,” narrative to justify the unjustifiable.

I didn’t want to, but you made me hit you. Why would I want to build worlds in which there is no choice but the most immoral? Why would I want to convince readers that it’s a something to sympathize with? It’s something that just couldn’t be helped, because that’s the way the world is?

These are not absolutes, of course. Nothing in art is. Nothing in life is. But the next time you find yourself engineering a situation where your character has no choice, ask yourself why. Ask yourself what you are trying to accomplish. And be unflinching in your answer.

Originally published at Alex Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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I started watching this movie because it was late, I had two hours of tutoring to go, access to Netflix, and it looked like I wouldn’t have to think about it too hard. Basically, I was right. If something that’s basically an hour and a half long episode of Law & Order: SVU but with a slight (if predictable) twist sounds appealing, it’s not a bad way to go. If you’ve had enough of police procedurals that involve serial murder and/or rape, then skip it. Simple enough. (Also, there will be more mentions of rape and some discussion later in this review, so also feel free to skip.)

The plot is pretty basic. Detective Nick Hopewell (Aaron Ashmore) is a new transfer to Homicide and on everyone’s shit list because he helped Internal Affairs takes down some crooked cops in his last department. He meets crime scene cleaner Morgan Sher (Devin Kelly) when she shows up early to the scene of a murder. Morgan shows an uncanny understanding of the crime scene and finds a useful clue that Nick’s dickish partner wants to ignore. As more murders occur, Nick teams up with Morgan to try to find the killer, and they dive deeper into the increasingly creepy relationship between the victims, who were once accused of being involved in some kind of rape cult.

I’m not going to spoil the little twist, but I’m sure you can figure it out for yourself based on the above summary. It’s decently acted and shot; nothing really jumped out at me for good or ill. And I will say that it contained one very SVU-esque exchange that I was glad for:

Nick: I don’t think Adam really likes women.

Morgan: Well, I don’t think anyone who rapes women likes them.

Nick: Good point.

Nice reminder to the audience that rape isn’t about desire. Swept Under has that same problematic internal conflict that I see in SVU, where there’s an uncomfortable tug of war between media once again telling stories on the bodies of women—with bonus harmful stereotype perpetuation—while still having startling, marked moments of clearly stating that rape is not the fault of the victim and the importance of consent. (I recently read a piece that argued the worst part of SVU is that it lives in a universe where rape culture doesn’t exist and the police actually take rape seriously while pretending to be reality-based.) SVU has had its better and much worse moments at this (eg the false rape accusation episodes) and it’s weirdly one of my comfort watch shows even though I know it’s deeply problematic. Swept Under probably falls on the middling to better end of that SVU spectrum, for what it’s worth.

Though notably, this movie fails to pass the Bechdel-Wallace test, which many SVU episodes do by grace of having more than one female cast member. Morgan was awash in a sea of white dudes. (The one tech-savvy African-American police officer was a welcome island of color in a limitless field of Miracle Whip for the twenty seconds he was on screen.)

Really, the problem that I had with Swept Under was that it goes from Nick wanting to work with Morgan because of her insight to him also wanting to date her. I really could have done without that subplot, and it was entirely unnecessary in my opinion—even to the end of the movie. If nothing else, it perpetuates the bullshit idea that men and women can’t manage to work together without it being some kind of sexual thing, and that relationships built on mutual trust and caring aren’t strong enough unless they’re romantic. It also really bothered me how Nick pivoted from respecting Morgan’s insight to being insistent about dating her—it started feeling like that was his real reason for wanting to work with her.

Ugh.

Other than that, Morgan and Nick were likeable enough characters, and I don’t regret crocheting a significant portion of a scarf while watching it. Plus it has a title that’s reaching me levels of badness, so I’ve got to love that. Solid Meh+.

Originally published at Alex Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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My nemesis “wants me back.”

You’ll recall that last year, I tangled with Fifty Shades of Grey for the bargain price of $843 and somehow managed to crawl my way out with only a mild hangover.

I’ve been training. I’ve been drinking a lot of beer. But I see that the sequel has stepped up its game as well, and gone the full this could totally be an episode of Law & Order: SVU. And I have no doubt it heard what I was saying last year, about it still not being as bad as Transformers 4. It’s out for revenge.

So here’s the deal. If you want to see the grudge match between my liver and Jamie Dornan’s bulging right eye, you better pony up the money for charity.

The goal is $1000. I think that’s a not unreasonable price to put on my sanity. $1000 by February 14, 2017, and I will see this steaming yech of weirdly shot abuse apologia and attempt to kill myself with alcohol poisoning before the credits roll. And I will take notes for you. And I will write a review. And just to sweeten the pot, I will video myself attempting to explain the plot while still drunk, and post it on Youtube.

Because this is such a special, special kind of movie, the rules are a little different for your charity donations. It’s still honor system – donate money, then contact me via whatever method you prefer and tell me how much. (Also, if you want to remain anonymous, do let me know.) But like last time, I want all donations to go to domestic violence charities. And as you donate, I’ll compile the list of your favored charities so more people will see who’s doing good work out there. I’ve also copied the charities from last year over, so you have a starting point if you don’t know any local groups.

We’re a little more than two months out. My fate is in your hands.

CURRENTLY: $0/$1000

Fuck you I ain’t goin’.

Charities:

Originally published at Alex Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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For 2016, I have had five short stories (<7500 words) published:

And all of them are freely available online!

In the realm of potentially other useful things:

Though if you have a favorite blog thing I’ve written this year (and I admit, they’ve gotten pathetically sparse since June) let me know!

Originally published at Alex Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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(This was originally intended to be a Facebook reply, but it’s so long that it actually broke Facebook when I tried to post it. Or maybe the multiple links did it. Either way, go me?)

I know I don’t normally even go here, but I saw your airy dismissal that LGBTQ rights will be “fine” under the Trump presidency and can’t really remain silent. Please don’t read this as me lecturing you, but rather trying to explain why I and so many of my LGBTQ siblings are terrified what’s going to happen to us.

There are a lot of reasons I’m extremely concerned about the Trump presidency, but I’m going to set everything else (such a mountain of everything else) aside just to focus on my perspective only as a queer individual. From that stance, the problem isn’t even necessarily Donald Trump himself. While he’s said a lot of incredibly hateful things that I’ve been horrified by, I don’t recall any being directed toward LGBTQ people specifically, other than the bitterly laughable “ask the gays” comment, which is right up there with “some of my best friends are gay” when it comes to eye-rolling. Hell, he even said he’d “protect LGBTQ citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology” after the Pulse nightclub shooting, which is… nice, I guess, though I could have done with a lot less being used to justify anti-Islamic sentiment and more addressing hateful domestic ideologies. But I honestly do buy the argument that Donald Trump probably does not give two shits if someone is gay or straight, and who knows, maybe he’s one of those lovely people who is equally misogynistic to both cis and trans women. (How refreshing.)

Rather, as a genderqueer and non-heterosexual person, the problem I have is with Mike Pence, and the Republican party as a whole. I saw you reel off the Republican agenda as you see it, and homophobia wasn’t part of that. I think it’s great that in your mind, it’s not. But we need to talk about the agenda the party has stated. Because I love you, but your personal take on the agenda is obviously not what the party as a whole believes, in their own words.

From the full, long-form Republican party platform:

From Defending Marriage Against an Activist Judiciary:

Traditional marriage and family, based on marriage between one man and one woman, is the foundation for a free society and has for millennia been entrusted with rearing children and instilling cultural values.

I don’t care how nice it sounds, this is a homophobic call to destroy gay marriage. If you read further into it, there’s direct criticism of United States vs Windsor and Obergfell vs Hodges, which are both landmark court victories for gay rights. And this isn’t just about gay people being able to get dressed up and have a nice wedding. This is about all of the countless attendant rights that come with a legally recognized marriage, including guardianship of children, inheritance, and the right of spouses to make medical decisions and even visit their ill or injured partner in the hospital. The reason this is important is so people like Mike Pence (yes, that Mike Pence) can no longer, say, try to keep a woman from being able to visit her dying wife in the hospital.

From The First Amendment: Religious Liberty:

We pledge to defend the religious beliefs and rights of conscience of all Americans and to safeguard religious institutions against government control. We endorse the First Amendment Defense Act, Republican legislation in the House and Senate which will bar government discrimination against individuals and businesses for acting on the belief that marriage is the union of one man and one woman.

FADA is something that scares the hell out of most LGBTQ people, because it’s basically Mike Pence’s RFRA on steroids. Setting aside for now the implications this will have on women, this bill would allow publicly funded programs/government employees to deny service to LGBTQ individuals based on their personal religious beliefs. This goes beyond protecting asshole clerks who want to deny marriage licenses and organizations who want to fire their gay employees, to very real danger to transgender individuals who can get denied medical care or protection when a provider decides they don’t like the mismatch between gender identity and genitalia. I suppose you can argue that this is not the intention of the law (which I would disagree with) but the point is that these actions would be protected and codified into law, and then be used to justify bigoted behavior that could seriously hurt someone. It might get fought out in the “activist” courts later, but that’s not going to save the people hurt in the meantime.

From The Tenth Amendment: Federalism as the Foundation of Personal Liberty:

In obedience to that principle, we condemn the current Administration’s unconstitutional expansion into areas beyond those specifically enumerated, including bullying of state and local governments in matters ranging from voter identification (ID) laws to immigration, from healthcare programs to land use decisions, and from forced education curricula to school restroom policies.

Emphasis mine. This is a direct attack on the Obama administration’s directive that students should be able to use the bathroom of the gender they identify themselves as. Anti-trans bathroom bills have been the new anti-LGBT line for a lot of local Republicans after getting so much pushback on the gay marriage issue. I personally received a lot of political advertisements on this issue when I was registered as unaffiliated, which is actually why I switched my registration to Democrat, because I wanted bigoted local Republicans to leave me the fuck alone. This anti-trans obsession often paints innocent trans women as sexual predators and puts them in constant danger for the crime of existing in public – and is also the reason I and many of my trans male friends still continue to use women’s restrooms, because you literally have to make a calculation of which bathroom is less likely to get me murdered. Trans people get murdered for their gender identity. I cannot emphasize this point enough.

And then we look at Mike Pence himself. People like to joke that the VP is a largely ceremonial position, but Dick Cheney showed us that didn’t have to be the case. And considering that Mike Pence is now in charge of the transition team, I think that indicates that he’s going to be taking a very active policy role. Which if you were an LGBTQ person, would scare the shit out of you.

I’ve already mentioned him a couple of times in relation to the platform, particularly his anti-gay marriage stance and the RFRA.

Mike Pence: “Congress should oppose any effort to recognize homosexuals as a ‘discrete and insular minority’ entitled to the protection of anti-discrimination laws similar to those extended to women and ethnic minorities.” (source)

Considering the discrimination LGB-and-particularly-T people face in many places, this is unacceptable. And while Pence said that in 2000, his position has obviously not changed considering that in 2007 he voted against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

Mike Pence from his campaign website in 2000: “Congress should support the reauthorization of the Ryan White Care Act only after completion of an audit to ensure that federal dollars were no longer being given to organizations that celebrate and encourage the types of behaviors that facilitate the spreading of the HIV virus. Resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.” (source)

Mike Pence’s policies caused an HIV epidemic in Indiana. Part of this was due to his attack on Planned Parenthood (which provides screening) and things like needle exchange programs. (source) But he links HIV to sexual behavior himself in the above quote, and “institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior” is a common political euphemism for conversion therapy programs that try to “cure” people of homosexuality or being transgender by incredibly shady and damaging means.

Mike Pence was against repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. He’s against gay and transgender people being able to serve in the military. (one source of many) Needless to say, he’s long been against gay marriage.

And here’s my favorite Mike Pence, from 2006, citing one of his reasons for being against gay marriage: “Harvard sociologist Pitrim Sorokin found that throughout history, societal collapse was always brought about following an advent of the deterioration of marriage and family.”  (source)

Beyond the fears that we are going to have what legal rights we’ve gained ripped away, that right there is the summary of our fear and despair. Pence himself preceded that statement by saying that (paraphrasing here, obviously) that this totally isn’t about prejudice, but then blithely continued on that the homosexuals are going to ruin marriage and family and be terrible for children. It’s not that he doesn’t like us, it’s just that we’re going to destroy the fabric of society by getting our queer all over it.

Suicide is an epidemic in the LGBT community, and hits transgender individuals particularly hard. And it’s no fucking wonder, when we spend all of our lives being told that we are unnatural and apparently the reason for societal collapse because we want to be just like everyone else–you know, work, pay taxes, have families, have our loved ones with us when we’re sick and dying, and not get murdered or abused because someone can’t handle their own puerile imaginings about what we do in our relationships or what we have stashed in our shorts. Trans people get murdered with horrifying frequency considering what percent of the population we are. At least 26 have died so far this year. Here are their faces.

And things like bathroom bills? Contribute directly to harming our community. Having an entire political party that makes it part of its platform that our families are lesser – if not directly harmful to children – and we deserve to get fired or denied service for something we literally cannot control is a constant source of harm for LGBTQ adults and to the youth who can see damn well what’s on the horizon.

So I get that you’re not anti-LGBTQ, and many Republicans aren’t. I am hoping that people will stand with us when it comes to the constant attack on our very existence in society. I know that individual Republicans do and will; I have a very dear Republican friend in Denver whom I know always has my back (and I know he didn’t vote for this mess). But when you look at things like, say, the position on gay marriage of national legislators and see only three senators and two(?) representatives who are Republican, it’s difficult to have any kind of confidence that a significant number of Republicans would take a stand for our rights, let alone our personal safety.  So you’ll forgive me if I’m not holding my breath because for so long, the Republican party as a whole was silent about us dying when it wasn’t outright applauding.

There was silence about the AIDS epidemic. There is silence about the plague of suicide that haunts us because so many kids are trapped in circumstances where they see now other way out and no help on the horizon from a society hostile to their very existence. There is silence about us being murdered, or worse, Republican politicians stoke the flames of gay and trans panic with bathroom bills and campaign advertisements that claim trans women are sexual predators. Remember, I used to be a Republican, once upon a time. I’m a pinko liberal now, but I was still fiscally conservative when I left the party. What drove me away was the ever-increasing, virulently homophobic rhetoric coming from within the party, and from conservative media like Fox News. For me, there wasn’t enough tax policy to justify the harm it was doing to me, my friends, and my community.

And maybe your Republican agenda isn’t the same as the party’s, and I think that’s great. But if you voted for Trump/Pence, you still voted for a VP whose entire political career has been defined by his hatred of gay and transgender individuals. (And now, voted for an administration that wants to fill its cabinet with anti-LGBTQ politicians and professionals, most notably Jeff Sessions and Tom Price.) If you voted for any Republican who has endorsed the platform, you have to own that, just like I have to own that by voting for Barack Obama, I voted for his shameful drone warfare program that’s killed a lot of innocent civilians. I have written letters and made phone calls and protested against it, but that doesn’t mean I get to disown my part in putting him in office and what he’s done with that power.

And if you didn’t vote for Trump/Pence, that’s awesome! I really appreciate it. But please don’t dismiss my concerns, or my fear, for myself and my LGBTQ siblings. I’d like to believe we are going to be fine, that nothing is going to backslide, but I’d be a fool to count on it when the national government is being run by a cadre of people who say our existence is a threat to society.

Originally published at Alex Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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Jason Bourne is in a foreign country doing things that guys do when they have manpain. He just wants to be left alone. Then a shadowy part of the US government, headed by [old white guy] decides to do something sketchy that sets up the overly convoluted B-plot and also decides that this time he is going to get Jason Bourne. [competent female character] who assisted Bourne in the previous movie, has something important to tell him. Just then a government hit squad shows up and chases Bourne and [competent female character] through [country that has been in the news recently enough that American audiences might recognize it]. Bourne is about to get away before the government spooks kill [competent female character] in front of him.

Now Jason Bourne is really peeved. Bourne embarks on a path of revenge and self-discovery in which he cleverly avoids the shadowy government agents while the familiar score by John Powell and David Buckley plays. [new competent female character], a government agent introduced slightly earlier in the movie as helping out [old white guy], gets put in charge of running the op to capture Bourne. Because gosh darnit, this time they are going to get Bourne to come in. For really reals.

Some stuff happens with the B-plot, which involves [current buzzwords such as “social media” and “privacy” or maybe “kale”]. No one really cares, because the B-plot is overly complex and poorly explained, and really just exists to get [old white guy] into a position where Bourne can foil his plot, confront him, and then shoot him.

Afterwards, Bourne finds out a little bit more about his past and gets in a fight with [agent from yet another secret government program that no one has heard of before now], who wants to murder Bourne because he has been ordered to do so and also maybe because murdering Jason Bourne sounds like a great way to spend an evening. There is an extended car chase, things blow up, and Jason Bourne limps away with his newly acquired [information about his past that is still not quite enough] while his opponent does not.

[new competent female character] attempts to contact him, and Bourne lets her know that he has been stalking her, only it’s cool instead of creepy because he’s an ex-spook rather than a sexual predator, and that he would really please like to be left alone this time. Or else. He means it.

A new remix of Moby’s Extreme Ways starts to play. Roll credits.

Read the rest of this entry »

Originally published at Alex Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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I’m still trying to figure out how to tell you about Arrival. What I can say other than it’s a movie that made me laugh with sheer delight as the plot came together, and then cry because at the end of a really awful week (election week) it made me feel hope for humanity. You really ought to see it.

But it’s hard for me to tell you in more detail what I liked about Arrival without seriously spoiling the plot, and it’s one where I want you to go into it unspoiled. I want you to have that same moment I did, when you realize where things are going, and it just makes you happy.

So what can I tell you?

The movie is absolutely gorgeous, for one. The shot where you first get a real look at the alien ship as it floats over the clouds in Montana is majestic and eerie. It’s not an effects/action extravaganza – a rare thing for scifi films these days, it feels like – but what they have is so well done. The moment where the characters go from Earth gravity to the strange, tilted gravity of the ship is eerie as well, an unexpected shift of perception.

Really, the inverted gravity of the alien ship rolls in with the plot, the shifting narrative to show the necessity of changing how we look at and understand the events of the film. The main character of the film, Louise (Amy Adams) is a linguist, so she’s very concerned with what is said versus what is understood, bridging perceptions. The explanations of what she does and why (such as why building a mutual vocabulary using written language is better than with spoken) are all fascinating – particularly to someone who isn’t very familiar with linguistics.

I also genuinely liked the character Donnelly, played by Jeremy Renner in a rare role where wears glasses to let us all know he’s an intellectual. Donnelly starts out as very cocky and sure of himself, but once Louise convinces him that communication is key and the best approach isn’t mathematical, he throws himself behind her efforts one hundred percent. It’s a character dynamic that’s particularly rare considering the gender split, and very enjoyable for that reason.

One of the main questions of the film is how humanity will deal with the arrival of aliens, a generally peaceful first contact. Will we come together, or will it tear us apart around already existent fault lines? The only fault that I can really find with the film is that after building up an intense and complicated international situation, the third act solution is a little too simple, a little too pat. The time travel bit of the story has the same sort of problems that many time travel plots have, which is that in the moment, it’s delightful, and then later as you think about it, the problems of a deterministic universe become apparent.

Of course, it’s a film that asks a lot more questions, about relationships, about what sort of journey makes the consequences worth it – about if you had a chance to do everything differently, would you still live the same life, even knowing how it all ends? These are all big, crunchy, human questions, and it explores them beautifully.

Full disclosure, I haven’t read the Ted Chiang story that the move is adapted from, Story of Your Life. After what I’ve heard from my fellow podcast hosts on Skiffy and Fanty, it’s definitely on my list.

If you need a beautiful, hopeful film, one that reminds you scifi film can be something other than explodey or tinged with existential horror, see Arrival. It’s probably the most thoughtful film scifi I’ve seen since Her.

Originally published at Alex Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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I kept meaning to talk about this earlier, but thanks to the ongoing dumpster fire that is everything to do with America right now, I haven’t been able to get the necessary enthusiasm levels going. (And yes, it’s petty in the face of all other things, but thanks a fucking bunch, Trump voters, for ruining both my BFF Mike’s birthday and my book announcement day.)

So. DO OVER. The dumpster fire still burns, but I am carving out a place to be happy and excited about the fact that I have written a novel, and a publisher liked it so much that they bought said novel from me, with actual money, and will subsequently be printing it on thin sheets made from the corpses of trees and sending it out into the world.

And the cover? IS AWESOME.

hunger makes the wolf cover

(And yes, Alex Wells is me. Written under a pen name for reasons I shall explain some other time.)

It’s a book about underdogs fighting corporate greed in the place of a weak and absent government. It’s about a fledgling labor union. There’s also gunfights and space witches, so I’d like to think there’s something for everyone who wants to take down the man. And I wrote the rough draft of it many years ago.

If you regularly read my short stories, you’ve already met the woman on the cover. That’s Hob Ravani, and her origin story made an appearance in Mothership Zeta.

I’m so excited about this, and I can’t wait til you guys get a chance to read it!

Originally published at Alex Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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Let me start with a geology story. I promise, there’s a point to this.

When I was a geologist at the research company, I had a core come in. There was a ten foot section of it that I didn’t know how to describe. It was fine-grained, filled with burrows. So far so good. But the mineralogy was… puzzling. Not enough dolomite to be described as a dolostone, not enough clay to be described as a mudrock, not enough quartz sand and silt to be described as some kind of sandstone or siltstone. It sat basically at the nexus of all possible rock types for that environment and was definitively none of them. In absolute frustration, I dubbed it “shit rock” and wrote all my reports and captions accordingly.

Of course, this is a business. I couldn’t actually turn in reports to the client with the term “shit rock” used. So I had a long talk with my boss. The problem with geology, he explained, is that everything we work on is a continuum. So there will always be something that falls in that liminal state where you’re not quite sure what it is, and even if you wanted to do battle with the rest of the community to coin a new term, you’d just be replacing one borderland with two. You can write definitions all day that will define 99.999% of all the rocks out there, but then some son of a bitch is going to come in with the 0.001% case because there are a lot of rocks on Earth, and one in a million things happen more often then any of us can grasp.

There will always be rocks that defy easy classification. You eventually just have to dip your toe into the art rather than science and describe it how you feel fits best – and then be ready to defend your decision.

Which comes to me. A little while ago on Twitter, I said:

And then while I was taking a shower, because all my most important thinking happens in the shower or when I’m supposed to be trying to fall asleep, I realized that it was an empty thing to say without the rest of this post.

I’ve been nibbling at the edges of this for a while, trying to figure things out. But maybe it’s the scientist in me, I don’t like committing to anything unless I’m absolutely certain – and the thing about life is that absolute certainty is in shorter supply than most people would like to believe. Because what if I’m wrong? How do I defend something that I’m still figuring out? But I don’t feel like I have the luxury of wibbling quietly into the night any more.

Because you see, in this way, gender’s got something in common with geology. Everything works on a continuum. You will always find cases that defy classification, and no matter how frustrating that is, they don’t go away. And that is part of the beauty of the world, trust me.

So how do I define myself? Queer, for certain. Sometimes it’s easier to tell people what a rock – or yourself – isn’t than what it is. I’m not female. I don’t quite think I’m male either, but I’d have to give it a good few years try out before I could say for certain. Fuck knows, it’s taken me something like 34 years to figure out the “not female” bit, but GOD it has been a relief since I reached that conclusion. So my big request here is to please use a gender-neutral pronoun (they) if possible. Or if you just can’t make that work in your brain, because I know the verb conjugation gives people mental cramp at times, masculine (he).

And please, call me Alex. It started out as… not a joke, precisely, when I came up with my pen name. But it’s grown on me, like a much more comfortable skin.

But there’s a point to this, and it’s not just me sitting at my keyboard and crying. I’ve been doing that too often in the last forty-eight hours.

When I was a baby queer growing up surrounded by kids and adults who thought “smear the queer” was a perfectly acceptable name for a game that involved throwing balls at other people so hard it gave them bruises (and I was one of those kids, because at the time I didn’t know better), it was invaluable to me when I started seeing LGBT people openly be themselves. It told me that there were more options that I knew, that maybe I didn’t have to keep trying to jam myself into a mold I didn’t fit, and I could be happy.

Since the election yesterday, there’s already been countless stories of racism, sexism, and homophobia being flung at people with renewed abandon. I live in a place where it’s relatively safe – swing state turned pretty reliably blue state Colorado, in the Denver-Boulder area – to be out. So I think that I need to be as out as possible even if I’m not entirely happy with my R-squared values, because now more than ever it’s important to make it known that we exist. That we will not go away. That people who are like me, who live in environments where they are not safe, are not alone even if they can only hold that truth silently in their heart.

Sometimes, merely living, existing, is an act of defiance, denying the narrative that we are fictional, or merely confused, or unhappy, or intrinsically broken.

Let this be my act of defiance. Let this be the first of many.

– Alex

Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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Tetsugawa Katsuhiro

March 2017

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