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Alive in 2013

Being alive in 2013 has meant embracing the worst case scenario. To be honest, on the grand scale, this year didn't have a lot to recommend it. Politically this country seems to have slipped a gear. Yeah, I know that this isn't the first time the government's been shut down or certainly the first time when our two ridiculous political parties couldn't agree on anything. But for a year beginning with such minimal hopes, seeing them crushed again and again and again was dispiriting. In the process of writing these few year-end posts I looked back over my posts this year, especially the ones post-Newtown. Boy did I get that wrong. I figured worst-case scenario there would be some token expansion of the back-ground checks and a renewal of the assault weapon ban. And then it was just the background checks and then it was the NRA dancing in the streets. What an absolute failure.
I get a weird twinge of jealousy whenever I see reports of the Chinese space program sending a p…

What I read in 2013

I had a kind of mission this year to read at least five books written in 2013. I nearly made it. I'm embarrassed to say I haven't had a chance to pick up the wonderful conclusion of Chris Holm's Collector series, "The Big Reap," which is why is not included below in my five favorites of this year. But, seriously, don't wait on my opinion, pick up the book if you haven't already and read it. Chris is a great story-teller with one hell of an awesome concept in the Big Reap.
Science fiction and fantasy. That's what occupied most of my reading time. And when I say science fiction what I really mean is Kim Stanley Robinson. Green and Blue Mars, 2312, and this year's Shaman, and I've barely scratched the surface on this guy's writing. I can't praise him enough for his ideas and character development and simple inspiring spirit. In a year I rewatched most of Star Trek, this was the fitting literary counter-part. Robinson portrays imperfect, …

What I saw in 2013

Few of the movies I saw this year, except for Gravity and Captain Philips are going to make the Oscar Best Film list. Most of what I saw were science fiction, horror, or comic book movies. I enjoyed them, but they were not what I'd even call 'great cinema.' They were pop artifacts from a year filled with explosions, fist fights, and space ship battles. Still, any year where I got to watch a rocket powered fist slam into an unsuspecting Cthulhu beast probably has something going for it.
In any normal year I would be able to get to just about all of the science fiction movies except for one or two. In recent years this has not been even remotely possible. We are definitely living through a kind of bubble economy for science fiction and comic books. When it crashes I'll be sad, but for the moment it seems like every hair-brain scheme gets some kind of financial backing: Ender's Game? Sure, here's some cash. Giant robots fight kaiju? Absolutely, here's your mo…

What I heard in 2013

This will be the first in a series of year-end posts about what I'll remember this year for. I'll start today with music, and work my way through books, movies (and television shows), and overall experiences. As far as music goes, I have to say this was an unusual year for me. For the past few years I've mainly just bought the latest album from my favorites, picked up whatever the new critical favorite was and left it at that. I still remember when I could count the number of albums I had on my fingers, and how I would listen to each of those CDs obsessively, pouring over the lyrics. I've more music now than I'll ever be able to listen to fully, every really appreciate. So the music that makes a year for me is the stuff that won't be denied, that cuts above the clutter and leaves a mark.

What I wanted this year was to hear a particular sound. I'm not sure where this sound came from. But early in the year I realized I didn't have any music that really ex…

Glitch War

A curious thing happened to me the other day while playing a race on Grand Theft Auto: Online. I experienced a true vision of hell.

I took up the game a few weeks ago and once the online component of the game opened up, I plunked down my $60 for the chance to race improbable vehicles around a fictional Los Angeles. For the most part the game is fun, although I have experienced many of the same problems reported by others: the lagging, the strange system crashes, and the legions of griefers. Basically the underlying problem of GTA: Online is one of demographics. The same people for the most part online are the people I encountered during my year-long stint in Call of Duty. Aggressive, humorless, and eager to kill anything that moves. The point of a FPS is to kill as many people as possible in the shortest period of time. The point of GTA: Online is somewhat more diffuse. You can certainly play it as a shooter, joining a deathmatch or one of the more violent missions, but there's al…

The Release of Dark Hall Press' Ghost Anthology

Well, it's here!

My story "Again and Again," included in the recent Dark Hall Press Ghost Anthology along with many other more talented writers, is available now through Amazon in both e-book and paperback. I feel very lucky to have my work find a market and I hope everyone enjoys reading it. I have not had a chance to read any of the other stories included, so this will be a chance for discovery for me as well.


End of Summer

August has never been my favorite month. While I don't expect many tears to be shed for me as a poor teacher trudging back to school after two months of vacation, resuming my professional duties does represent an adjustment. Suddenly I don't have the time I had to exhaustively research and write my stories, I've got squeeze in an hour or two in the evening. I have resumed my double existence as a literary fugitive. While I wasn't able to finish all of my projects, two months of basically uninterrupted writing bore a lot of fruit. To shift my writing into a lower gear (even by a step or two) hurts.
I was able to get drafts done for five stories and get two to a state fit for submission. One thing I tried this time around was not bogging myself down on one story. I wrote a draft for one story and then put it aside in favor of another. Eventually I got back to the previous versions and slowly worked up each, improving it each time. 
I tend to obsess over my stories, a fau…

First Story Acceptance

I got big news earlier this week when the winner's for the Dark Hall Press Ghost Story Contest were announced. My story "Again and Again" is going to be published as part of the anthology. The story is about the struggles of an agent in a covert occult organization trying to balance of demands of work and family when family is the one thing members of this organization aren't allowed to have. I'm honestly still trying to wrap my head around the notion of one of my stories being published. I don't have all the details yet, but as things develop I'll put up more details.

What I do know is that I feel very lucky. Dark Hall Press has been turning out quality novels and short stories for a few years and it makes me very proud that the editorial staff would want to take a chance on a new, very green author.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to find something to drink in celebration!


LOST Con

LOST is a show for, by, and about cons. I don't think I'm the first person to point this out, but the series really operates on a very simple premise, how long are you willing to watch something on the basis of faith alone? It might say a lot about you depending on how long you watched the show when it was first on. A skeptical person watched the first couple of teasers way back in 2004 decided the show was a bunch of hokum and left it at that. At the other end of the scale, you have the completely credulous person, addicted to the show from the first episode, watching every episode religiously, pouring over the theories and web discussions, never losing faith that the show was finally going to be about something.

Characters in the show are generally either perpetrators of cons or victims of cons. John Locke is taken in by his parents' insistence that he is special, eventually losing his kidney to his grifter dad. James Ford (Sawyer) becomes a con-man after that same guy c…

Beautiful Monsters

Call it the anti-Cloverfield.

Monsters was released in 2010, on a frayed shoe-string of a budget with two unknown actors (Whitney Able and Scoot McNairy) and an intriguing premise. Six years earlier a NASA probe returned from space with some sort of fungus sample. These fungoid life-forms grow to prodigious size and wreak so much havoc in Northern Mexico that the entire border is eventually sealed, half of the country turned over to the 'monsters.' Andrew Kaulder, a photojournalist, is ordered by his boss to escort Samantha Wynden (boss's daughter) from Mexico before the "migration season" starts. Andrew, a selfish, self-involved bohemian takes a fancy to Samantha during a bender on the night before they leave. This leads to some poor decision making and the eventual loss of his and the daughter's passport. The rest of the movie follows this pair as they travel north, hoping to cross over into America through the enormous wall built to keep the monsters out.


Three stories

This summer I set myself the goal of finishing five new short stories and as the end of July approaches I'm halfway there. I haven't updated Ancient Logic in a little while so I thought this was a good time to record some progress on the writing front.

The first story is called "Drop-ins" and it's my attempt at a 'realistic' time-travel story. Realistic because it doesn't involve paradoxes and crazy flux-capacitors but rather a bunch of people using a neurological hack to fast-forward through their lives. Okay, semi-realistic. I don't think this story is the last word on this concept but I think the central metaphor, of sleepwalking your way to the future, is a strong one. I submitted that story this week, I'll see how it works out.

The second story more less showed up, fully formed sometimes in May.  Seeing as how I was still elbow deep in the process of bringing "Drop-ins" to life, I couldn't really stop and figure out what thi…

Reading List

One result of going to a convention devoted to the love of speculative literature is you wind up collecting a few titles to read. Let's say more than a few.

Most of these were mentioned in panels that I attended, and where appropriate I'll mention what interested me about the book. Others are just titles recommended by people I met or book descriptions I found interesting. If you've read any of these, feel free to endorse or warn me away!



I'll start of by a list of books I wrote down from the multiple panels on Utopian fiction. First I have two classics of the genre: "Modern Utopia" by H.G. Wells and "Looking Backward" by Edward Bellamy which sounded surprisingly readable from John Crowley's description of a class he taught to undergrads. In that same class, students read "Pacific Edge" by one of my favorite authors, Kim Stanley Robinson and in looking for that book on Amazon I discovered it was part of a trilogy on Southern California…

These are the Ends

Certain types of movies are really hard to review or even offer opinions about. Gross-out comedies, for example, are meant to shock you into laughing. If you find them funny then you didn't waste your $11, if you don't laugh at that kind of thing, don't see them. Action spectacles, for another example, are an excuse for cheering and saying, 'hell, yeah!' These are not complicated ambitions for movies to have, not too difficult to appreciate, and I mostly watch them and forget them. However, because I just watched two excellent examples of these kinds of movies, I'm going to lump them together in a single review.

"This is the End" and "Pacific Rim" have some weird similarities and some glaring differences. This is the End is a comedy about the end of the world where famous comedians play versions of themselves behaving very, very badly in front of impressive CGI. Pacific Rim is a sci fi spectacle about the end of the world where not so famous…

Where'd All the Aliens Go?

The first night of Readercon was a special, abbreviated (and free) program. After getting a few reading suggestions from the "The Bit I Remember" panel, I made my way to the "Endangered Alien" panel.

The premise of the discussion centered on the notion that contemporary SF has avoided the theme of aliens in recent years. Whether following the near-future ethos of William Gibson and Neil Stephenson, or embracing the near-earth space opera mode favored by Kim Stanley Robinson and Alastair Reynolds, science fiction hasn't had a lot of alien races in the past few years.



I couldn't dismiss this idea out of hand. After a few moments of consideration, I could only remember a handful of novels in the past decade that described truly alien aliens. There have been plenty of virtual aliens (Charles Stross), transhuman aliens (Ian Banks), and human aliens (many examples but 'Shh! It's a Secret which I reviewed earlier this year, sticks out), but precious few tr…

Readercon 24

Today and for the next few days, I will be attending the Readercon Science Fiction and Fantasy convention in Burlington, MA. This convention was started 24 years ago and brings together authors of various speculative fiction genres to discuss topics in panels, sign autographs, and just generally advance the understanding of the medium by bringing together the great minds of the field.

Last year, I caught up with an old friend and saw a number of literary heroes of mine (Peter Straub, Caitlin R. Kiernan, John Langan, among many others). This year contains fewer authors whose work I've read, but it does have John Shirley, who is incredibly great, profoundly influential.

Other than a previously mentioned excursion tomorrow to see the opening of Pacific Rim, I intend to be there until Sunday attending panels, collecting autographs, and buying stacks of books. Hope to see you there!

To Buy a Ticket

In two days I'm going to see Pacific Rim, a movie I've talked up a little bit here at Ancient Logic. I'd see it anyway, but ever since the first trailer depicting epic robotic/kaiju mayhem showed up a few months ago, it's been an article of faith that I'd see the thing with as many of my friends together as possible. Call it a pre-planned field trip.

Now a few days ago, one of my friends, currently trapped in the internet bereft wilderness of Maine, asked me to get a ticket for him. No problem. This friend has gone to bat for me numerous times and, in any case, it's a movie ticket - not a big deal.

Or so I thought. What follows is the saga of buying a ticket for a movie that hasn't opened yet at the Jordan's IMAX theater over the phone.



First off, I myself was on a trip this weekend, having gone back home to Upstate NY for a few days to see my brother. Not a big deal, except my grandparents' ranch (and yes, that's what we call it) is sheltered s…

Upstream Color

Hypnotic, beautifully filmed, disturbing, and incredibly frustrating, Upstream Color by Shane Carruth is also my favorite movie this year. A number of reviews compared it to Tree of Life by Terrence Malick but I'd say you'd have to throw in Videodrome by David Cronenberg and Scanner Darkly by Richard Linklater as obvious influences as well. This is a movie with less of a plot than an order of events that make a kind of stark, emotional sense when viewed together.



Shane Carruth was the director of 2004's Primer which remains one of my absolute time-travel movies. Part of the problem of describing a movie like Upstream Color is that the film is intent to dissolve such boundaries. Upstream Color is no where coherent enough to describe in terms of a genre but it is the superior film simply by being the more personal artistic statement.

So while I can't really tell you what the film is about, there are certain things I can describe. A woman named Kris (played by Amy Seimet…

Variations on a Theme: Review of 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson

More difficult than portraying technologies of the future, or alien worlds, or even of believable alien species, is that of creating human societies and customs of the future. The uncanny valley is in full force once a writer sets as his or her task creating the beliefs, motivations, and prejudices of human beings. One of the biggest complaints I hear about science fiction in general, and far-future hard SF in particular, is that the characters are not fully developed, not convincing.

Perhaps the reason is that most writers, when looking at the future, fall into one of two traps. The first trap is of changing human life too little. The future, these writers suggest, will be exactly like today only with more/less technology. Examples of this are not hard to recall, think of Vonnegut's many social commentaries, or 1984, or even SF greats like Clarke and Asimov. People in the stories basically behave as though they were contemporaries of the author, not children of future societies.

Hull Zero Three by Greg Bear

Teacher wakes up after a beautiful dream of arriving at a new world, the destination of an immense generation ship finally reached, a beautiful blue world hanging below, ready for colonization. The dream ends abruptly, leaving him to confront a very different reality. As a small girl insistently tugs him away from his hibernation (?) pod, they begin to run, chasing receding light, the air already lethally cold.


That is the promising beginning of Greg Bear's 2010 novel Hull Zero Three, a thrilling, if somewhat opaque hard SF thriller. The protagonist of the story, Teacher, has no memory of his identity or knowledge of his purpose, only slowly learning that he has been reborn on an immense ship, a ship that appears to be doing its level best to kill him and all other humans.
"It's a ship," one of the characters he meets pronounces, "A sick ship."
Bear's best work combines a naturalistic touch for characters with speculation on truly epic scales. His early…

With the title World War Z

Early on in the mostly disappointing zombie epidemic thriller World War Z, UN Investigator Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) hides out in a Newark apartment, trying to convince a family living there to flee with him from the hordes of sprinting, chomping maniacs infesting the city. The phrase he uses, drawing from years of experience in the world's troubled war-zones is "movement is life." Ultimately he's unsuccessful, the family barricades their door behind him and they join the ever-swelling ranks of the undead.


As far as a guiding philosophy goes for a pop-action thriller like World War Z, 'movement is life,' isn't bad. And for the first half of the movie or so, it follows its own advice. Similar to other recent zombie movies (Dawn of the Dead, Shaun of the Dead) the warning signs of what the rest of the movie will bring are subtle and buried until all hell is ready to break through. The television mentions 'martial law,' Philadelphia traffic snarls, and …

Monsters University

I'm a big fan of Pixar films generally and Monsters, Inc. really left an impression with me. I loved the way the pastel hues and big googly eyes somehow found a way to make sly statements about the oil economy. Perhaps even more importantly, the movie respected its audience enough to go on wild, unpredictable tangents, trusting viewers to keep up.



It's hard not think back to how great Monsters, Inc was while watching its prequel Monsters University. For the most part this movie keeps the spirit of the original, kept afloat by superior voice acting, intermittent wit, and a superior art direction. As +Peter Maranci pointed out, even a mediocre Pixar movie is better than 90% of the movies out there.

The plot is basically what you'd expect if I told you this movie was the prequel for Monsters, Inc. You have the obligatory awkward first meeting of the main characters, a mismatched rivalry evolving into a grudging respect mixed with scattered 'oh-so-that's-why-he's-a…

Fallout Boston?

I've been hearing rumors that during the E3 convention last week, during a press-only preview, Fallout 4 was announced. The game, which is 55% done, would center around Boston and the surrounding communities.

If this is true it would be a mixed blessing. On one hand, it would obviously be completely awesome but on the other hand, at least for me, I could envision the part of my brain deriving enjoyment from video games being utterly burnt out forever. This game would prevent me from ever needing to buy another video game again.

It's a risk I'm willing to take.

Considering just how great both Fallout three and New Vegas were at translating locales and atmosphere to a post-apocalyptic universe, I could imagine some amazing places in Fallout Boston: MIT, the T, Boston Harbor, Fenway, the Big Dig, the list goes on.

Retirement Party

Of all of the various rituals and ceremonies the end of the year brings to someone involved with public education, perhaps none is more bitter sweet than the retirement party. In schools, retirement parties always happen in June and represent one of the few occasions when the old and the young stand elbow to elbow, obliged to consider the same ancient fact: people grow old, change, and leave behind legacies in the memories of their friends.

This year was an unusually big retirement party, four veteran teachers leaving us, and so the party was larger, longer, and more diverse.
As I was standing in the company of teachers that I could barely recognize hailing from decades before I came to my school, I struck by two conversations.
The first, quickly paraphrased, erupted when four teachers roughly my age realized that we all enjoy Game of Thrones, having read the books, and actively followed the HBO series. So for the next twenty minutes everyone shared their favorite characters, our favo…

Arrested Development Season 4

I've been on a bit of a television watching binge lately and after burning my way across 14 seasons of Star Trek, the 15 episodes of Arrested Development's newest season (available through Netflix) offered the grand luxury of a succinct story fully told.



For those with exposure to this show, the adjective 'succinct' might seem a bit of stretch. Afterall, the interweaving, interposed, constantly self-referential hyper-linked narrative following 10 main characters is, in a word, exhausting. But it also carries with it the sense of a the shortest possible route between two points. Each of the episodes follows one of the main characters as they trace the bleak wreckage of their lives from the moments immediately after the Bluth matriarch Lucille (hilariously venomous Jessica Walters) hijacked a cruise ship in order to escape arrest. What makes the season interesting (and hard to review without spoilers) is that each of these narratives flows in and out of the others. You m…