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The Rise of the Robot Employee

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014 - by Bonnie Ramthun

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President Obama’s new initiative is a higher minimum wage, and if he is successful the result will not be higher-paid employees heading off to work every day. Instead their jobs will be filled by an entirely new sort of worker: Robots.

Robots, unlike humans, don’t require pay or sick time or vacations. If they break they’re thrown out and recycled. Robots are expensive, but the threat of a higher minimum wage is now making a robotic worker more cost-effective than hiring a real person.

Across Japan the noodle-making chefs are now made of metal, and when you order a Big Mac at a MacDonald’s in Europe you do it by touch screen. A company called Momentum Machines in southern California has developed a robot that cranks out 400 perfectly-prepared burgers every hour. (Note: Robots do not sneeze. Ever. Think about that for a bit.)

Where is this going? Are we heading for a future where slinky femme fatale robots plot the destruction of mankind while wearing the perfect red dress?

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Give Me Back My Spaceships and Dinosaurs

Monday, March 31st, 2014 - by Sarah Hoyt

kansas

Lately I’ve been going through books I’ve been lugging around for 30 years and putting some of them up for sale. Part of this is because we plan to move as soon as possible to a place that’s easier for me to manage and clean while running a fully-time job in writing (and indie publishing.)

Part of it is that I’m allergic to household dust, and paper books are paper magnets.

Notwithstanding which, you couldn’t have pried my books out of my hands save for the Kindle paperwhite, which makes it easy and fun to read books in a format other than paper.

Anyway, I’m digging through a 30 year accumulation of books, some of which I’ve read multiple times, and some I might have read once, twenty three years ago, while on bed-rest with my first pregnancy – a time when I got so desperate for entertainment I sent my husband to the local library/remaindered sales with the largest suitcases we owned and told him ”Just fill it to the top.”

Then there are books I don’t remember having bought at any time and no one in the house admits to having bought. No, not that kind of book. Though one of the sets is a complete series of engineering manuals, and it had a similar effect on my younger son as those other books you were thinking of. He has absconded with them into his bedroom and I expect we’ll see him again when he’s digested the contents and not a minute before.

And then there are other books which, presumably, I bought, but have completely forgotten.

One of these: The Shores of Kansas by Robert Chilson made me stop. The cover shows a man battling two dinosaurs and it says “the mind-boggling epic adventure of a time-traveler torn between two nightmare worlds.”

I have no memory of having read – or bought – this book. And perhaps it is really bad. Don’t care. It’s going to be my bedtime read tonight.

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20 Things You Might Not Know About Robert A. Heinlein

Saturday, March 22nd, 2014 - by Sarah Hoyt

Editor’s Note: This articles was first serialized in four parts here, here, here, and here. What other authors and subjects would you like to see explored in list format in future articles? Let us know in the comments.

Part 1: His Maculate Origin

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1. When Robert A. Heinlein was a child, his family was so poor that “[H]e slept on a pallet on the floor for years, in a constant state of amiable warfare with baby sister Louise, ‘A notorious pillow swiper.’”

Most of the writers who, in later years, would apostrophize Heinlein as “too optimistic” and turn their stories into “poverty porn” could probably have benefited from having some idea what true poverty was. Even those of us who were poor as children for some time were never so poor as to have rationed pillows.

Heinlein wrote rags to riches stories, of which those who believe the individual is powerless before his fate disapprove. But Heinlein’s own life is a refutation of their theories, so they can go suck an egg, as far as I’m concerned.

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20 Things You Might Not Know About Robert A. Heinlein, Part 4: His Happy Destiny

Saturday, March 15th, 2014 - by Sarah Hoyt

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Click Here for Part I: “His Maculate Origin”

Click Here for Part 2: “His Preposterous Heritage”

Click Here for Part 3: “His Eccentric Education”

16. A lot of people nurtured on Heinlein juveniles went on to make a difference in the fields of aeronautics and space exploration.

This effect is still going on with my sons’ generation. (Or at least Have Space Suit Will Travel was a great part of second son’s decision to study Aerospace Engineering.)

Some of the others of us just went on to dye our hair a shade of red and keep too many cats. In my defense, however, the only juvenile I read before my thirties was Have Space Suit Will Travel. I became a fan with The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, and never looked back. (Interestingly, by the way, I discovered Heinlein among a welter of seventies New Wave books. I still liked Heinlein better. Now that I’m older and know the history of print runs in my field, I know that this is true for most people. New Wave, on the other hand, is much preferred by the intelligentsia.)

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20 Things You Might Not Know About Robert A. Heinlein, Part 3: His Eccentric Education

Saturday, March 8th, 2014 - by Sarah Hoyt

Robert A. Heinlein_1973_Time Enough For Love

Click Here for Part I: “His Maculate Origin”

Click Here for Part 2: “His Preposterous Heritage”

11. Heinlein was married three times.

His first wife was named Elinor Curry. Not much is known about her, and their marriage lasted only about a year. Before leaving the Navy, Heinlein married Leslyn MacDonald. She was intelligent, well read and very liberal. Their marriage was ultimately unsuccessful, but it lasted for well over a decade. He was married to his third wife, Virginia, (nee Gerstenfeld), until he died in 1988.

It is believed many of his early heroines resemble Leslyn. Perhaps so, but perhaps Heinlein just liked multi-competent females. Having been privileged to speak to the third Mrs. Heinlein, I can attest she was intimidatingly intelligent and well read, and that I found her echo in many of his female characters. So much for everyone who claims that his women are men with breasts. (Whether he had a male’s naïve view of female sexuality is a wholly different matter. To a certain extent, try as we might, we are all prisoners of that space behind our eyes, and no matter how much talented individuals try to escape it, they’re prone to believing what others wish them to believe.)

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20 Things You Might Not Know About Robert A. Heinlein, Part 2: His Preposterous Heritage

Saturday, March 1st, 2014 - by Sarah Hoyt

heinleinorphans

Click Here for Part I: “His Maculate Origin”

6. According to Patterson at least, Heinlein wasn’t particularly popular at Annapolis.

This was an habit he kept up for the rest of his life, choosing to be individual rather than to fit in with the crowd. Also, he was considered a rustic from out West, which would have made fitting in harder. It is tempting to assume that this gave him his pattern for his heroes who don’t always fit in, but always try hard and in the end exceed those with the advantages. If so, these circumstances made him the quintessential American writer and served him well in the end.

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20 Things You Might Not Know About Robert A. Heinlein, Part 1: His Maculate Origin

Saturday, February 22nd, 2014 - by Sarah Hoyt

s9oLeWU

1. When Robert A. Heinlein was a child, his family was so poor that “[H]e slept on a pallet on the floor for years, in a constant state of amiable warfare with baby sister Louise, ‘A notorious pillow swiper.’”

Most of the writers who, in later years, would apostrophize Heinlein as “too optimistic” and turn their stories into “poverty porn” could probably have benefited from having some idea what true poverty was. Even those of us who were poor as children for some time were never so poor as to have rationed pillows.

Heinlein wrote rags to riches stories, of which those who believe the individual is powerless before his fate disapprove. But Heinlein’s own life is a refutation of their theories, so they can go suck an egg, as far as I’m concerned.

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Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror: A British Twilight Zone for the Digital Age

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014 - by Andrew Klavan

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Here’s an entertainment find for lovers of Sci-Fi and the supernatural: Black Mirror, a British TV anthology series that is billed as a cross between Twilight Zone and Tales of the Unexpected. That’s actually not a bad description. What it shares with TZ, at least, that so many imitators do not, are big ideas that are genuinely creative and original. Most of these ideas tend to center around current technology amped to the level of madness. The stories are often set in a world in which computers, cameras and screens increasingly stand between us and real life. Oddly but compellingly, the look of the stories is often retro, the jazziest tech offset by oldish cars and clothes.

The show is created, and often written, by Charlie Brooker.  I never heard of him either, but apparently he’s some British guy and clearly a very talented one. I’ve now watched all of the six available episodes and most of them were very entertaining, spooky and thought-provoking.

Unfortunately, the first episode — The National Anthem — is the weakest of the bunch.  It tries a little too hard to get our attention. It’s about the Prime Minister being blackmailed into screwing a pig on TV. I know — yawn, right? But it’s done well and the resolution is smart and insightful. Anyway, don’t let it put you off. After that, Brooker and his gang settle down and the stories are much less self-conscious, much more exciting. The second episode of the second three-show season, White Bearis a small masterpiece: a piece of terrifying science fiction and a piece of slashing social satire at one and the same time. The episode before that, Be Right Back, is chilling and fine. The final episode of the available bunch, The Waldo Moment, isn’t as viscerally chilling as the others, but it’s as thoughtful a piece of political satire as you’re going to find on TV. Excellent stuff.

I got this for no extra charge through DirecTV’s Video on Demand. You can also buy the DVD set from Amazon. I’m sure it’ll be streamed elsewhere soon. If you’re a Twilight Zone fan, look for it. It’s really good.

*****

Cross-posted from Klavan on the Culture

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Godzilla Reboot Emerges to Leave Theaters in Ruins in 2014

Monday, December 16th, 2013 - by Bryan Preston

Godzilla returns.

But will the reboot turn out better than the awful, un-Godzilla-like 1998 treatment that starred Matthew Broderick?

The first teaser-trailer for 2014′s Godzilla is out. Take a look. You should take it full screen. Chromecast it if you’ve got it.

The teaser opens with a group of soldiers HALO leaping into a city that is already being ravaged by the beast. We get to fall along with the troops, then see fleeting glimpses of the wreckage on the ground, reactions from the puny humans in the city, and then the monster, shrouded in a massive cloud of dust and debris.

The teaser doesn’t show much of the legendary monster, whose name is an amalgamation of the Japanese words for “gorilla” and “whale,” but what is shown already looks far better than the villain from the 1998 version. That Godzilla was more of a leaned-forward speed-walking dinosaur-like creature than the upright plodding disaster of the Toho films. It neither moved nor felt very much like Godzilla.

The 2014 version appears to be standing upright in the sequence that leads up to the frame below. The sequence begins with a shot of Godzilla’s feet at ground level, tracks upward showing the spikes on his back, and around his neck to his head. And then we hear a bona fide Godzilla roar. This is no man in a rubber suit, and the cinematography that brings him to life is spectacular.

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Godzilla’s cast looks decent. Hollywood notoriously lacks any original ideas these days, and returning to a giant monster that first leveled Tokyo in 1954 certainly doesn’t speak to the film industry’s originality now.

But still…it’s Godzilla. In 3D. And IMAX 3D. Movies just don’t get much bigger than that.

Godzilla destroys us all starting May 16, 2014.
******

cross-posted from the PJ Tatler

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Why Disney Brings New Hope to Star Wars

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013 - by Walter Hudson

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Star Wars holds a sacrosanct place in my heart, as it does with so many among my generation. As we’ve grown up, its mythology has served as a ready reference, shaping our perception of the world. Good and evil, light and dark, rebel and tyrant – while its moral dichotomy may prove simplistic, the struggles in Star Wars nonetheless resonate with conflicts we face in real life.

Anything which has such influence over a child, sparking imagination, shaping morality, and stimulating aspiration, ascends to an object of reverence. It becomes something we carry around with us (some more literally than others) and cling to like a sacred idol. A kind of theology develops around it, with conflicting doctrines advanced by competing denominations of fandom. So it is with Star Wars. For that reason, any tinkering with the the saga’s mythology inevitably draws cries of heresy.

Betsy Woodruff of National Review went so far as to declare Star Wars dead, due in large part to the brand’s acquisition by mega-corporation Disney. Citing George Lucas’ own introspection regarding his Vader-like transformation from ragtag rebel of the film industry to head of his own corporate empire, and detailing her experience trying out for a role in director J.J. Abrams’ forthcoming Episode VII, Woodruff concludes:

Here’s why Star Wars is dead: First, because they made a huge mistake in not casting me. Second, because it’s no longer in the hands of a bunch of nerds in California and because it’s been entrusted instead to the kind of people who think eight-hour meet-and-greets are a good idea either as A) publicity stunts (or, giving them the presumption of good faith) B) a good way to determine who’s going to be the next Luke Skywalker. It’s because Star Wars — a story that’s profoundly anti-centralization, anti-bureaucracy, anti-depersonalization — is being micromanaged and scrutinized by nameless bureaucrats who think that people who’ve stood in line for five hours will be satisfied with being directed to a website. And it’s because a film enterprise that was initially about risk is now about bet-hedging. No one should need to be told that the seventh film in a franchise probably isn’t going to be super great. But, you know, just in case, consider yourself warned.

Consider me a fan of another denomination. While the next film in the franchise may indeed bomb, it won’t do so for the reasons Woodruff cites.

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Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse in a Hardware Store

Thursday, October 31st, 2013 - by Builder Bob

*Disclaimer: This article is intended for entertainment and exercising-your-inner-MacGyver purposes only.  The weapons in this article are potentially dangerous and should only be used on the living dead or surplus pumpkins.*

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I have an obsession with everything Zombie-related. I love The Walking Dead, 28 Days Later, Dawn of the Dead – hell, I think I’m the only one who liked World War Z (I’ve always wanted a Macro zombie movie that focuses on the global ramifications of a worldwide outbreak instead of focusing on a small group of survivors). Now I know that there is no likelihood of the dead reanimating, but I think it’s a great mental exercise to prepare yourself for a disaster situation. On slow days at work I often wonder what I would do if a zombie outbreak occurred at work and I was stuck with only my bug-out bag and pistol that I leave secured in my car, while the heavy artillery is locked in a safe at home 35 miles away.

So you’ve survived the initial outbreak and are looking for a secure location to hole up for awhile and ride out the worst of it.  You find a hardware store that is defensible, probably close to a grocery and drug store, and chock-full of goodies to aid in your survival. The only problem is that uncreative looters have taken the most apparent weapons: machetes, hatchets, crowbars, and hammers. But you haven’t survived this long without some ingenuity. It’s time to build up an arsenal for you and your small band of post-apocalyptic warriors.

Steel Bar Stock Machete

A machete is a great tool for dismembering the undead hordes. While this homemade version may not be as graceful as Michonne’s katana, it will definitely get the job done

Supplies: 24″ x 2″ x 1/8″ piece of steel bar stock, Angle grinder or metal file,  Dremel with metal grinding cone, jigsaw or hacksaw with a metal cutting blade, honing stone,  5gal paint stir stick, duct tape, black spray paint

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4 Rules to Make Star Wars Great Again

Friday, September 27th, 2013 - by Charlie Martin

Star Wars Episodes IV, V, VI were brilliant, especially before Lucas decided to pretty things up. Here’s some guidance for Disney:

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7 Directions No Trek Has Gone Before

Thursday, September 19th, 2013 - by Walter Hudson

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Worf wants back into your living room. Michael Dorn, the veteran actor who portrayed Star Trek’s most beloved klingon in two series and five films, has been telling fans of his desire to bring the character back to television. Hollywood.com shares Dorn’s belief that Worf has more to give to the galaxy.

Once I started thinking about it, it became obvious to me that I wanted to at least put it out there, which I have, and the response has been pretty amazing. We’ve been contacted by different individuals… about wanting to come on board and be part of this.

I was on a movie not too long ago, where one of the producers was basically lobbying to be part of it. He was like, “Michael, I’d love to write it, if you haven’t.” So, at this point, my agents and my manager are looking at all the avenues and trying to figure out which is the best one.

The itch to bring Trek back to the small screen has Rolling Stone clawing as well. A recent article calls for the re-launch of Star Trek: The Next Generation, arguably the most popular and successful series in the franchise. Author Andy Greene explains why the time is right:

With Star Trek Into Darkness hitting DVD this month and a third film in the rebooted series roughly slated for 2016, it’s pretty safe to say the Star Trek movie franchise is in the best shape it’s been in years, possibly all the way back to the days of The Wrath of Khan and The Voyage Home. Prior to these recent J.J. Abrams movies, there were never even two great Star Trek movies released back-to-back, and Paramount is obviously thrilled by the box office results.

Unfortunately, no Abrams-like figure came around to save the Star Trek TV franchise. It’s been off the air ever since Star Trek: Enterprise got yanked in May of 2005 after just four seasons. Audiences never warmed to Scott Bakula’s Captain Archer, and the idea of a show taking place 100 years before the original Star Trek was better in theory than actual practice.

In the last eight years there hasn’t even been any serious attempts to put Star Trek back on the air, and everyone seems entirely focused on the movies. This is a horrible mistake. At its core, Star Trek is a television series…

Indeed, Trek thrives in its native format. However, Green’s call to revive The Next Generation sinks with the same nostalgic weight that Enterprise did. The fourth and final season of that last Trek series was actually quite good, but hit its pace too late to save the show. Viewers tend not to suffer through three seasons of meh waiting for a cast and crew to get their act together. A new show would have to make it so from the start.

Trek should return to television. The time is right. However, it needs to arrive with a new perspective. It needs to progress. The Next Generation did not succeed by its emulation of the original series. It made its own mark, building on the original’s legacy and advancing in creative new directions.

A new series would signal a new era of Trek – a next, next generation. And would need to set a new tone for a new time. To do that, it would have to go where no Trek has gone before. Here are 7 possible directions.

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Winding Down And Knowing When You’re Sick

Saturday, September 14th, 2013 - by Sarah Hoyt
Haven't I been here before?  Didn't I hate it every time?

Haven’t I been here before? Didn’t I hate it every time?

Organizing Your Creative Life In 13 weeks, week 11

Prolific science fiction novelist Sarah Hoyt follows up her “Your Novel in 13 Weeks” PJ Lifestyle series with a new weekly experiment each Saturday to figure out the best way for all creative types working from home to better organize their efforts.

Week Zero, Introduction: Organizing Your Creative Life In 13 Weeks

Week 1/2, Preparation: The Case For Making Lots of Lists

Week One: How to Make Your Mind Like Water

Week Two: What Are the Best Apps For Artists and Writers Desperate To Get Work Done? 

Week Three: The Lone Writer Against The Time Masters

Week Four: How to Tame Your Subconscious

Week Five: How Separating When and Where You Do Tasks Improves Both Productivity and Quality of Work!

Week Six: Organizing your Life is Like Learning to Juggle Eggs and Chainsaws

Week Seven: 4 Tips So You Don’t Organize Yourself to Death

Week Eight: Organizing your Writing Life When Words Fail You

Week Nine: After an Upset in Your Routine Catching Up Is Hard to Do 

Week Ten: If You’re Trying to Do Two Things at Once, Pick One

****

Sometimes I think I suffer from very specialized kinds of memory issues that relate only to symptoms and to how my body works.

At least I hope they’re very specialized memory issues, because if this starts affecting all my memory I’m in serious trouble.

As I’m working on organizing my creative life, which in my case is also my professional life by using Getting Things Done, a penguin timer and a bunch of note cards, I hit a mid-size snag.  It’s a snag I’ve hit before, when working on other projects, and yet somehow it took me a few days to figure out what it was.

The week started very well on Monday, with me feeling energized and full of concentration.  I figured out what I’d been doing wrong with Through Fire and edited the first chapter. Then I got some stuff edited to go up and listed to the lecture on publicity by Dean Wesley Smith.

It looked like the week was going to go very well.

Maybe.

And then I woke up on Tuesday feeling exhausted.  One of those mornings when you go “can I sleep another day or ten?”

I attributed it to the approach of nine eleven and our truly bizarrely tangled national politics.  I tried to slug through the day, but all I got done was the piece for PJ Media.

Wednesday was bad, but again I thought “oh, this is just the result of its being 9/11.  I’m allowed some grief and depression.”

But on Thursday it felt pretty much the same, only with a curious new symptom.  I had the ideas in my head, I knew exactly what I should be doing, but I couldn’t somehow muster enough strength to take the words in my head and put them on paper.  I was also having trouble concentrating on such demanding tasks as emptying the dishwasher or folding clothes.

At which point from the dim depths of my memory I got the feeling “I’ve been in this place before.”

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If You’re Trying to Do Two Things at Once, Pick One

Saturday, September 7th, 2013 - by Sarah Hoyt
It makes for a very exciting way to start a book, but I could use a little less excitement in real life.

It makes for a very exciting way to start a book, but I could use a little less excitement in real life.

Organizing your Creative Life in Thirteen Weeks, Week 10

Prolific science fiction novelist Sarah Hoyt follows up her “Your Novel in 13 Weeks” PJ Lifestyle series with a new weekly experiment each Saturday to figure out the best way for all creative types working from home to better organize their efforts.

Week Zero, Introduction: Organizing Your Creative Life In 13 Weeks

Week 1/2, Preparation: The Case For Making Lots of Lists

Week One: How to Make Your Mind Like Water

Week Two: What Are the Best Apps For Artists and Writers Desperate To Get Work Done? 

Week Three: The Lone Writer Against The Time Masters

Week Four: How to Tame Your Subconscious

Week Five: How Separating When and Where You Do Tasks Improves Both Productivity and Quality of Work!

Week Six: Organizing your Life is Like Learning to Juggle Eggs and Chainsaws

Week Seven: 4 Tips So You Don’t Organize Yourself to Death

Week Eight: Organizing your Writing Life When Words Fail You

Week Nine: After an Upset in Your Routine Catching Up Is Hard to Do 

********

Run!

Patricia Wentworth has a novel by that title.  Exclamation mark and all.  I don’t remember if this was her first book that I bought – I do remember that that book grabbed me right from the title, and since that was also the very first word on the book, it caught me and made me read it right to the end.

Putting your character in a situation where they must do or die right off the bat will grab the reader and not let go.  At least if you have the ability to keep the pace going the rest of the book.  (Okay, Wentworth slacks off a little.  She’s more romantic suspense than suspense.)

So, does this mean that I’ve given up on organizing my creative life and taken to dispensing writing advice again?

Not exactly.  I’m here to tell you that finding myself in the position of that character in that book is a lot less fun than it is reading about it.

No, I wasn’t lost in fog outside a creepy old house.  I didn’t hear steps behind me, and someone didn’t pass me, running, while yelling “run.”  Well, not literally.  In a metaphorical sense, it came pretty close.

The good news is that I’ve finally finished revising Witchfinder and sending it off to editors, including the real one (though it will come out from a small indie press, Goldport – mostly because even though I love Baen books, I want to keep a foot on the indie thing.  It’s a new avenue, and I like exploring.)

The bad news is that I’ve still not finished Through Fire, mostly through having tried to back up and do it from a different perspective.  Don’t go there.  Just don’t.

Part of the issue with the two books was something that I’ve heard of other writers running into: you’re working on a piece, which blocks the other piece you’d like to work on.  This happens.

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Where’s My Flying Car?

Friday, August 16th, 2013 - by Sarah Hoyt

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Those who, like me, grew up on the dreams of golden age science fiction writers like Robert A. Heinlein, might find some solace in these news from The Telegraph.

Ever dreamed of owning your own jetpack? It could soon become reality after developers of a personalised jetpack said aviation regulators had issued a flying permit for the device, which could be on sale in just two years.

And if they rage against the automobile now, imagine how much those who wish to control others will hate a personal transportation device with the range of a jetpack.

Of course, as far as I’m concerned it’s too little too late. I want a flying car, as in The Puppet Masters or even a flying whole house as in Clifford Simak’s works. It’s the ideal vacation for a writer — fly your house over there, and look vaguely out of the office window at your family enjoying themselves in new surroundings!

See also Charlie Martin today: “Where’s My Jetpack”

*****

image courtesy shutterstock / Mike Heywood

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Where’s My Jetpack?

Friday, August 16th, 2013 - by Charlie Martin

James Bond flew one in Thunderball; Professor John Robinson flew one in Lost in Space, with some great Bernard Herrmann background music:

Nerdy kids like me looked at that and dreamed of having our own rocket pack, flying over the neighborhood, escaping from the bad guys. The real Bell Rocket Belt would have been a bit of a disappointment — total flight time less than 30 seconds, and you really don’t want to run out of gas. Still, I’d have gone for it, and I’m disappointed to discover that while a few of them still exist, pilots are limited to 175 pounds.

Maybe things are (heh, heh) looking up. A New Zealander named Glenn Martin — no relation to me, and as far as I know, no relation to the other aviation pioneer named Glenn Martin — has been working for years on his own version of the jet pack. His version solves some of the problems.

First of all, instead of using real rockets, this uses two ducted fans driven by a gasoline engine. This is not as inherently cool as a rocket, but it means that you can get pretty reasonable flight time.

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Matt Damon Brings Elysium Nonsense to Letterman

Friday, August 2nd, 2013 - by Walter Hudson

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Try as I may to give the upcoming Neill Blomkamp sci-fi actioner Elysium the benefit of the doubt, the more I hear from star Matt Damon, the more I stand convinced the film could have just as easily been titled Occupy Space Station. Promoting the project on the Late Show with David Letterman this week, Damon joked about his 2012 flop Promised Land, a film produced on the presumption that American audiences love a good yarn railing against oil fracking. “You and I are the only ones who saw it,” he told Letterman after the host claimed to have liked the environmental tale.

Naturally, when one movie preaching against the evils of capitalism and development fails, Hollywood tries and tries again. Damon describes the forthcoming Elysium as an attempt to cloak the social commentary of Promised Land in sci-fi garb. Truth be told, the tactic may work. The science fiction and fantasy genres boast a long history of controversial social and political themes going back to 1951′s The Day the Earth Stood Still. Stick forehead ridges or antennae on a painted head and you can recast real-life tensions with alien stakeholders, lowering audience resistance to embedded ideas through making the players unreal.

Letterman turned serious on the topic of fracking, making the ridiculous claim that “water is disappearing from the planet [because of fracking], we’ve poisoned and drained the great aquifers underneath the great plains.” Damon took the opportunity to tout his non-profit, which seeks “safe water and the dignity of a toilet for all, in our lifetime.” The hand-wringing commenced.

Every 21 seconds, a child under the age of 5 dies because they lack access to clean water and sanitation.

The irony of Damon’s concern takes shape when we consider his opposition to capitalism, development, and the free-market process. All of these things enable the world’s poor to rise and enjoy the benefits of modern civilization.

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New Robocop to Resume Original’s Satire

Friday, July 26th, 2013 - by Walter Hudson

hi res robocop reboot 656

Hey, kids! Here comes another franchise reboot no one wanted. Robocop returns in 2014 taking new form played by The Killing’s Joel Kinnaman.

The new take looks to resume the original’s political satire by leveraging concern over domestic spying and the use of drone technology by law enforcement. In retrospect, the original film deserves a lot of credit for anticipating the modern convergence of military technology and domestic law enforcement. The Verge reports:

“We are more and more in a country where Robocop is relevant. You will see robots in wars,” said Jose Padilha, the film’s director. “The first film saw it way back then. Now we have more knowledge and we know it’s coming true. First we are going to use machines abroad, then we are going to use machines at home.”

Despite retaining many of the themes established in the 1987 film, the reboot will depart from the original on many key plot points. IGN shares the details:

In this RoboCop, police officer Alex Murphy (Kinnaman) isn’t killed by a ruthless outlaw and his henchmen, In fact, he’s not killed at all. He’s gravely injured by a car bomb that leaves him massively burned all over his body. In order to “save ” him — and give OmniCorp their cyborg lawman they’ve been desiring — Omni scientist Dr. Norton (Gary Oldman) essentially amputates Alex’s body from the neck down and rebuilds him as, yes, RoboCop. (They keep Alex’s right hand as a humanizing element for when RoboCop shakes hands with people.)

There were several scenes with OmniCorp CEO Raymond Sellars (Keaton), a believer in his products and what they can do for the world who makes his decisions not so much out of being a villain as because he’s decided it’s simply the best option available for his business and what he thinks it can provide. Keaton described Sellars as an antagonist rather than as a villain.

Readers may recall that Omni Consumer Products senior president Dick Jones, played with relish by the irrepressible Ronnie Cox, was the ultimate villain in the original. As he and director Paul Verhoeven also did in Total Recall, Cox created one of the greatest caricatures of corporate villainy put to film.

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The Earth From a Great Height

Thursday, July 25th, 2013 - by Charlie Martin

Seeing the Earth from above. It has fascinated people for thousands of years. We would look at the mountains…

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The Lone Writer Against The Time Masters

Saturday, July 20th, 2013 - by Sarah Hoyt
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One should don appropriate goggles and helmet before doing battle with primeval forces like Time.

Organizing Your Creative Life in 13 Weeks: Week 3

Prolific science fiction novelist Sarah Hoyt follows up her “Your Novel in 13 Weeks” PJ Lifestyle series with a new weekly experiment each Saturday to figure out the best way for all creative types working from home to better organize their efforts.  

Week Zero, Introduction: Organizing Your Creative Life In 13 Weeks
Week 1/2, Preparation: The Case For Making Lots of Lists
Week One: How to Make Your Mind Like Water
Week Two: What Are the Best Apps For Artists and Writers Desperate To Get Work Done?

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As the title indicates, this has been an exciting week. Okay, not that exciting, but constructive and – ah – a learning experience.

This is my third week of trying to organize my creative life using Getting Things Done by David Allen.

First the good:

This week I experienced far less stress than normal. This is good since I had to meet a lot of crisscrossing, quite a few of them unexpected. I made less progress than I expected on the long-term writing and editing projects, but that is probably due to the fact that I’m still recovering from serious respiratory issues. I tend to overestimate my strength at this point of recovery, and don’t count on all the sudden naps demanded by my body.

I am hoping that getting my life organized and stress under control will mean fewer illnesses. This year has been exceptionally bad on the illness front, and that puts a dent in anyone’s creativity and time.

So far the less stress thing is working.

The bad:

I’ve now tried something like a dozen applications to organize my lists of chores and the sub-lists of tasks, and I’ve been less than impressed with all of them. They seem to presuppose those using them are already hyper techy or hyper organized, which defeats the purpose. It would be like going to a sports store to buy two tiny barbells to start weight training and being shown the most complex weight bench, with intricacies only dedicated weight lifters will understand.

So, as far as that goes, I’m thinking of going back to basics. I have my lists in a notebook. That’s not going to work because it’s really hard to work through. However it occurs to me that a bunch of colored note cards would work, with a color per long-term project and white for the single task projects. I can then tack these up on the cork board over my secondary desk. I plan to integrate these with the other innovation this week.

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Dude, Where’s My Flying Car?

Friday, July 19th, 2013 - by Walter Hudson
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Hell, I’ll even settle for a hoverboard.

Here’s my elevator pitch for a modern follow-up to Back to the Future. Since this is likely the only place it will ever be expressed, I am willing to waive any shot at a story consultant credit.

The year is 2015, our 2015, the one we tick toward now, unremarkable and mundane. We don’t watch holographic movies. We don’t eat rehydrated food. And we certainly don’t commute in flying cars. Of course, most of us wouldn’t expect to be doing any of that. But one among us does, one who years ago glimpsed a future very different from our present. For that man, Martin Seamus McFly, the world is wrong. Ever since a tragedy which first triggered his suspicion that the future was not unfolding as it should, McFly has become increasingly compelled to find out where and when history went off the rails.

You can imagine where the tale might go from there. Suffice it to say the disparity between how 2015 was imagined in Back to the Future Part II and how it has manifest in real life would be the catalyst for brining the band back together.

The nearly thirty year interval between the release of Back to the Future and today has unfolded very differently from how writers Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale imagined it. As it turns out, the world does not yet run on garbage-fueled fusion and fashion still refuses to accept the wearing of two ties or the turning of pockets inside-out. Perhaps we can live without those innovations. But I want my flying car.

Why do our projections of the future prove so grossly inaccurate? Some imagined developments manifest more quickly than expected. Star Trek’s communicator portended the cell phone, as its pads and touchscreens portended tablets. Yet, it also imagined we’d still be using “computer tapes” in the 23rd century. Other imagined developments remained imagined. We’re still some time away from anything approximating warp drive or transporter technology. What enables us to achieve some but not all of our imagined progress?

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Why M. Night Shyamalan Sucks (and How He Can Be Great Again)

Friday, July 12th, 2013 - by Walter Hudson

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Filmmaking is a feat of administration as much as a technical or artistic craft. A good idea goes nowhere without the wherewithal to bring all the logistical pieces together. The difference between a good film and a mediocre one often comes down to how its production is managed, regardless of the talent involved. Hence, so many great writers, directors, actors, and other craftsmen find themselves attached to bombs. All the pieces have to mesh at once and in sync.

It has been some time since things have meshed for M. Night Shyamalan. The director who made his name with the 1999 breakout hit The Sixth Sense has in the years following suffered a steady and cringe-inducing decline reflected in both critical and commercial disappointment.

Recall that the teaser trailer for Shyamalan’s 2006 Lady in the Water rested heavily upon his involvement as a selling point. His name was offered as a credential, as assurance that the project would be worth seeing.

Up to that point, his name still carried weight. Following The Sixth Sense, he met with lesser success – but success nonetheless – with the comic book thriller Unbreakable, the esoteric alien-invasion tale Signs, and the brain-bending historical horror The Village.

Despite featuring the lovely and supremely talented Bryce Dallas Howard, Lady in the Water stood out as a turning point for the worse, leaving moviegoers confused at best and otherwise bored. It opened third in the box office and was widely derided as self-indulgent nonsense.

Seven years hence, Shyamalan’s name went wholly unmentioned in promotional material for his recent After Earth, starring Will Smith and son Jaden. Alas, hiding Shyamalan’s involvement could not ward off his curse. Sharing Lady in the Water’s distinction of a third-place box office open, After Earth earned less during its first weekend than the magician caper Now You See Me.

This fall, Shyamalan comes to the small screen, producing and directing a miniseries for FOX staring Matt Dillon and Melissa Leo. Wayward Pines is based upon a book series by the same name, described as a “weird mystery story” evoking comparisons to the cult classic Twin Peaks. Such material may be, as Shyamalan confesses in an interview with IGN, right up his alley. The question emerges: will the final product be up ours?

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RIP I Am Legend Author Richard Matheson

Tuesday, June 25th, 2013 - by Ed Driscoll

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Variety reports that Matheson was 87:

Richard Matheson, the sci-fi and fantasy novelist and screenwriter who influenced modern genre writers and directors and wrote numerous stories and books that were adapted as films including “I Am Legend,” died on Sunday at his home in Calabasas, Calif,  according to his publisher. He was 87 and had been ill for some time.

As well as creating source material for films including “What Dreams May Come,” “A Stir of Echoes” and “The Shrinking Man,” Matheson was a prolific film and TV scribe and responsible for some of the most popular “Twilight Zone” episodes as well as writing for nearly every other anthology series of the 1960s and 70s with credits including “Lawman,” “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour,” “Rod Serling’s Night Gallery,” “The Martian Chronicles,” “Amazing Stories” and “Star Trek” episode “The Enemy Within.”

For “Twilight Zone,” Matheson wrote the classic William Shatner episode “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.” The Hugh Jackman film “Real Steel” was adapted from his “Twilight Zone” episode “Steel.”

Between novels and screenplays, the IMDB lists Matheson as contributing to an astonishing 80 film and TV titles — a number which will keep growing, as spin-offs and reboots of his earlier work, such the 1971 Charlton Heston vehicle The Omega Man being reworked into Will Smith’s I Am Legend, will likely continue for years to come.

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Cross-posted from EdDriscoll.Com

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