Monday, October 31, 2011

In Time Movie Review

Go see the new Justin Timberlake movie "In Time" - it's worth the money.  The first couple of minutes of the movie extend the explanation that we already know from the trailers.  Time is currency.  Everyone is born and allowed to live for 25 years.  You're then credited one more year past that time, at which point, you spend your time, have to go to work to earn more.  You hope to wake up the next morning with more hours than there are in the day, but everyone really just wakes up with enough to live through the night.  So, in the ghettos, they run just about everywhere, and do everything quickly.  That's a theme throughout the movie.

Important note: I love when the explanations are quick, simple, and handled in the first couple of minutes of the movie.  Much easier than wasting a lot of time (do you hear me Hulk?) when you could have legit plot lines.

To me, this justified that Justin Timberlake can hold the lead in a movie.  His acting was very good, and after seeing him in The Social Network, I'm not even using the word "surprisingly" in that description.  Good emotional range, good sense of the moment, delivers his lines well, perfect in his funny spots.  This may be where he makes his Leo DiCaprio leap from "pretty boy" to star actor.  To be honest, if The Past Repeated were to be made into a movie, I'd definitely look to find a way to cast him (I'm thinking as Kro).

Be prepared for some definitely corny, but well played, puns.  Remember, everything is based around "time" so you will see "Time Share" listed as a loan operation.  There is also a lot of social message involved, whether intentionally to pounce on real life social issues, or just to move the plot along.  It works well, but you can't help thinking that Hollywood was trying to say something here.

The cops are called "Time Keepers" and the lead keeper (as far as this plot line is concerned) is played by Cillian Murphy.  So often he seems to be cast as a villain (and he always does an amazing job), but here he feels like he truly would fit as an Olympus Union character.  Almost something of an anti-hero.  The man is simply out to do his duty, as passed down to him form above.  He understands the situation, he knows what people want, but he also knows what he needs to do.  No extra sympathy for Timberlake, no sympathy for the movie's antagonist, just doing what needs to be done.  He is so perfectly cast, and so well written, the man very well might be up for a supporting actor nomination.

The one slightly strange aspect of the movie is also featured in the trailers.  Your clock starts at 25 (and they have an interesting explanation of how that happens).  Whatever you look like that day, you stay for the rest of your life. So, as it shows, the villain's mother-in-law, wife, and daughter all look about the same age.  Olivia Wilde plays the role of Timberlake's mother, and starts the movie off as a 50 year old.  In no universe does she look 50, nor able to play that man's mother.  There are scenes that almost look like they should be romantic, but are not because... well... that would be awful.

Underrated extra performance by Johnny Galecki of "Big Bang Theory" fame.  Although, my man, you will always be David from Roseanne to me!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Physical Violence in Politics

Did you ever wonder what would have happened if Bill Clinton had suddenly just hauled off and decked Newt Gingrich during his Presidential tenure?  Maybe instead Kenneth Starr during the investigation?  Or what if George W. Bush had simply gotten fed up with the endless stream of criticism, and come to fisticuffs with any number of his detractors?  What a press conference that might have made for.  Imagine Barack Obama stepping into Congress and challenging all comers. Who wouldn't be glued to C-Span for that one?  Just an absurd notion for certain, on all counts, but an intriguing one none the less.  It's also something that I've actually decided to explore in the Olympus Union series.

The most recent chapter that I just finished putting together in Exodus (which, you'll recall from this blog post is the temporary project name of the sequel to The Past Repeated) crosses that very hard-held line.  In The Past Repeated, there was a little bit of violence, but mostly on the part of our favorite anti-hero Kro, who has no sides but his own.  In the current chapter eight of Exodus, however, Martell Andrews winds up as a part of physical confrontation with another member of the Olympus Union hierarchy.  Without spoiling too much, let's just say that there is a point in the scene where one man is laying on the ground, moaning in pain.  The Jovian System's attempt to break away from the Olympus Union is met with far less diplomatic resolve than, say, Quebec's talk about seceding from Canada.  In fact, I imagine that even the break away of the Thirteen Colonies from England might have even included less initial rage.  Of course, since the establishment of the Olympus Union on the whole generated an uproar across the planet, there is a lot of open hostility already in place.

Recalling how the construction of The Past Repeated actually went, I know that this chapter will expand and become a bit more detailed.  This is the initial structure, the first draft, after all. The basics will remain, however, and I could easily see myself adding a broader altercation.  Granted, considering that the current chapter plan (eleven) is even less likely to remain in place (The Past Repeated finished at eleven, but started with far less), I couldn't even guess where I'll end up.  At the moment, no one has died, and I think that I intend to keep it that way.  After all, it would change the point of the chapter, and drastically alter who and what Martell Andrews is and stands for.  Suppose I'll have to see... and you'll need to hope that I manage to get the book out on the digital shelves by December at the latest, as I'm hoping!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Real Steel Review

I've been wanting to see the movie Real Steel from the moment that I caught the first trailer.  For those who were referring to it as the "Rock em Sock em Robots" science fiction movie, you can stop; not even close. I, too, have heard that they are making a movie out of Battleship, but Real Steel is based on a short story named "Steel" by Richard Matheson who wrote "What Dreams May Come". He's done this before.  Incidentally, the link for Steel was to the Kindle version.  Here is the paperback version of Steel: And Other Stories.

Might as well start off by admitting that I liked the movie.  Full disclosure: I am a science fiction fan.  Sure, it probably makes sense.  I wrote The Past Repeated.  I created Olympus Union.  I read, and talk about, science fiction books. Well, Real Steel was actually made with a solid plot line, a few dependable gimmicks, and great acting.  Thing is, it's still a science fiction movie.  If that's not your bag, then you might want to skip it.  What it proved to be, however, is my favorite *type* of science fiction movie. You know, it's the type where the plot line and story matters, and you couldn't have the movie if you took out the main line... but the science fiction element really matters too.

For the drama fans, know that this is one of your classic redemption stories.  Instead of the failed boxer he becoming a boxing champ at the end, he turns to what the world apparently now loves - robot boxing.  Right, sure, it sounds a little hokey... until you see the first bot come walking out.  And then the first time you see two of those hulking machines pounding on each other.  While I never really got into boxing in real life, this was cool.  The action was exciting, the effects were cool, but it never really seemed overly fake.

Real Steel uses one of my favorite science fiction concepts.  It's something that I like to call "art of the possible" where, considering the progression of technology and the point that they set the movie, it's still doable.  They still drive in regular cars and trucks.  They wear normal clothes.  They live in normal cities.  It's just that the fighting machines are these robots which are controlled by humans.  Think it's far fetched?  Ever heard of Battle Bots? Maybe watched it on TV?  Check out this clip.  You'll notice that it happened in the past, not a decade or so from now.  So, yeah, it's possible.  And they bring in the full on boxing theme, so the events are huge, the money is a real aspect of the game (and the movie's plot line), and it gave Real Steel another interesting point: sponsorship.  They fight in the Bing Arena at one point, a Virgin sponsored arena at another... the scoreboard was sponsored by Spring and ESPN even makes their appearance.

So, straight drama?  Not a chance.  Hugh Jackman always finds a way to be funny in movies, even when in a dramatic role.  Be it the writing, or just his facial expressions, the way he acts... he always injects a comedic moment here and there. Wolverine does it, and so does his character in Real Steel.  Dakota Goyo straddles the line between angry and snotty kid, and Spike from the original Transformers Cartoon.  Evangeline Lilly rolls out some quality emotion, depth to Jackman's character, and does a great supporting role.  I'll skip getting too in depth on all of the characters, except to say that I know for certain that, if James Rebhorn is playing a character, you know at this point that you aren't supposed to like him.

No real criticisms here.  To be honest, you know what's happening.  The dead beat dad is going to learn to love the kid.  The loser is going to find redemption in multiple ways.  The people who thought that he was worthless learn that they were wrong.  Someone is getting a come uppance.  You know it's all coming through, and yet, it turns out to be a great ride.  Fun movie, and one that I could even watch again.  The robots are so well added (I'm still not certain what methods they used, and I don't need to find out).  Very glad that they didn't waste my time with 3D.  The computer controls are very, very cool.  I definitely feel like I know a few guys today, who could have been those robot fighter controllers in the future.

So, here is how I have learned to look at movies in the past five years of economic trouble.  I rate movies by what it feels like they're worth.  Full price night time?  Day time matinee?  Catch it On Demand?  Wait for HBO/Showtime to get it?  Catch the USA/TNT version with editing and commercials?  By way of comparison, Iron Man was a Saturday Night worthy movie, while the sequel was a matinee value.  Star Trek Nemesis, however, would be TNT worthy.  So Real Steel?  While I saw it as a matinee, I'd be quite happy had it been a night time movie, and it was worth paying the ticket of someone else seeing it with me.  In these times, that's the praise that matters. Hollywood seemed to have a dearth of quality for a while, but this one was worth my bucks.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Naming Conventions and Book Titles

So, I just finished writing chapter six of book two of the Olympus Union series.  The concept of number six of eleven doesn't mean too much, considering that "The Past Repeated" started out with less chapters... and my editing sessions added a few (and a lot of pages).  Still, since I'm hoping to get part, if not all, of chapter seven written today, it's left me thinking about names.  Whenever I tweet or write about it on Facebook, or even discuss it in the blog, I talk about "book two" and not any specific name.

What strikes me as funny is twofold.  First, that TPR started out as "Olympus Union: Ascension" and also had possible names like "Revelation" and other one-word titles.  I knew that it needed to be "Olympus Union:Whatever" because it had to establish series.  Much like "Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back" or  "Dragonlance: Time of the Twins" I felt that it was important to establish the series aspect from the beginning.  What the actual first book would be, however, was a tough call.  I passed names around and asked people what they thought.  Then I came up with a new title, mere days before it went out to the world.

The other thing that gets me is how tough it was.  I'm the same guy who had *zero* trouble naming my first album Lighting the Dark.  Hell, there are demos for a second album on that I already know I'm calling Lantern.  I've even got the next two albums after that named!  Seriously, this should be incredibly easy, and yet its not.  So I need to get on this one.

So, I'm thinking, for the short term, I'm going to do a code name for book two.  Well, maybe a project name, since code names are supposed to be secret, and I just committed this out to the universe.  So let's get simple, shall we?  The first book was all about a time in the future where past mistakes of history were repeated.  So I called it "The Past Repeated" (see, and you didn't think that I was a genius!) but I also almost called it Genesis. We talked about the start of a new government, and a new movement later on.  Genesis is often given as a title, or code, when it's something new... it's a biblical allusion to beginnings.  Well, book two is a lot more about separation, about leaving, about a revolution and an escape.  Perhaps the project name should be a little biblical for this one (ironic because I've been careful to stay far away from religion in the series so far).  How about I start referring to book two as "Exodus" until further notice.

Oh, sure, I'll have a better name later on.  I might even hold a contest.  For now, though, Exodus it is.  Ugh... certainly hope I get better at naming conventions before I'm on to Leviticus.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Heinlein's Space Cadets

Today I started reading "Space Cadet" by Robert A. Heinlein.  Now, I absolutely love Heinlein.  His book "Stranger in a Strange Land" is one of the greatest science fiction novels of all time.  To be perfectly honest, in my list of favorite science fiction novels, it comes after only one.  As far as writers go, Heinlein again barely follows one or two other authors in my ranking of favorites.  He has this interesting sense of an almost comical look at the way he has written things.  Sometimes, I'll read a paragraph or a sentence and just think, "alright Robert, you're goofing on me, right?" You can imagine him smiling while you read his works. While sometimes handling deeper concepts, and always intelligently written, his works are always fun.  And yet, one more time, I was reminded about how much some of his decisions just drive me crazy.

Now, let's take a step back just a moment.  I consider the advice of a close friend (and part time Wikipedia editor) who said that you should make up your history, when writing, and spend most of the time assuming the reader already knows it.  No one needed to explain what the Empire was in Star Wars, and you caught on to the concept of the Federation in Star Trek.  Some of the best science fiction just explained to you what was going on as it was going on.  Except, Heinlein doesn't always.  He has written fantastic novels that could easily use a sequel, or in some cases, an entire series!  Moving through and explaining the "universe" around you as it goes along is great when you take the time to do it.  Throughout the books of Timothy Zahn's science fiction train mystery series (the one that starts with "Night Train to Rigel" for those who aren't catching what I'm saying) you learn more about the train system, the different empires, the different races, and everything else as you read through the books.  He does the same in some of his other storylines. And when it's a stand-alone novel?  You generally get a good sense of what's happening by the end of the novel.

So, here I am, and the boys have just taken their oath to join the Solar Patrol.  Most definitely not teasing about the name, because it's hard to come up with names for these things.  Hell, I'm the guy who coined Olympus Union as not just the name of a book series, but the entire government, too.  That, though, is the rub - it's a book series.  "The Past Repeated" is just book one. I'm working on two, and already loosely outlined three.  In each book, you learn a little more about what's happening.  Short stories are drafted up to help bridge the gap, and explain a little more.  I'm twenty-five percent done with this book, and the best that I know is that the year is 2075, man has gotten out into the solar system, and there is a military unit named the Solar Patrol.  No clue who the enemy is.  No clue about a lot, besides what happens in the first week of Solar Patrol testing.  It's a short book... and it's leaving me spinning already!

Now, don't get me wrong - I'm actually enjoying it so far.  Interesting characters, a definite jerk to hate, some incredibly imagery.  Just a whole lot of questions.  I went searching for a sequel... no such luck.  By the end of tonight, I'll be half finished... and I'm already spinning on what else I'd do. What I'd tell people.  What I'd follow up on.  Who I would...

Alright, so maybe that's actually one of the reasons that I like Heinlein.  Not just that the man is a science fiction master, but the fact that he forces me to think.  I've asked a lot of "what else?" questions with Robert's books.  More than Zahn, Azimov, Bradbury or the masterful Orson Scott Card, I search for "more" with Heinlein.  That's probably what got me jumped up into writing the Olympus Union series in the first place.  So, I suppose that I'm actually thankful, now that I think about it a little more.  When I finish Space Cadet, I'll likely have some new ideas that will either dribble into book two, or a short, or somewhere else along the line. Heinlein still drives me crazy, of course... but that's nothing that I wasn't before anyway.

Monday, October 17, 2011

NyQuil hindering, not helping creativity

Full disclosure here: I have never smoked pot or done any drugs.  As I am neither a parent, or someone involved in the law, at the moment I see no place for my judgement against those who do.  It just isn't my thing.  I'm also not known for getting drunk... because it isn't something that I really do.  We can have that discussion some other day over a beer or a glass of wine, but appropriately, not five or six of them.  With that disclaimer up front, I need to honestly say that I just don't get the concept of using cold medicine for any purpose other than clearing up cold symptoms.  I especially can't understand it when used for creativity purposes.

Obviously I'm a writer.  I'm also a guitarist.  When I wrote the songs on Lighting the Dark they were all, for better or worse, my own musings and brain paths.  When I'm sick, and I'm miserable enough to down one of the Quils (Ny or Day), I tend to get a bit detached.  Working while having them in my system is mostly doable (well, with DayQuil anyway) because it stops me from coughing so hard that I drop the phone.  Picking up my guitar when I get home, however, that's just bloody awful.  I'm definitely not even feeling musical, let alone able to come up with new music.  At work, I've drilled myself to know my craft at all costs, so the training comes through the cold... music, not so much.

So, what I honestly can't get, is how people can actually *write* while on the stuff.  I've heard stories of people using various cold remedies for other reasons to such a strong extent that I need to sign a waiver when I buy it.  Seriously?  This is exciting?  There is no way, at all, that I could possibly see to take cold medicine and then write down ideas that are fit for human consumption.  Never mind the spelling and grammar - the ideas are just flat out idiotic!  At this moment, I'm debating how long I can ignore the coughing to be able to do some writing tonight after work before I need to take something.  And then I'm wondering how long I can stave off the effects before needing to go curl up into a ball of miserable medicine head.

So, please, if you are considering taking cold medicine in order to "inspire" yourself to write... just don't.  It has nothing to do with the health effects, to be honest.  The world just doesn't need more crappy music and writing.  People like me produce enough crappy music and writing while sober!
(You see how cold medicine degrades my marketing skills?)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Alec Baldwin for Prime Minister?

Something that folks need to understand is how much longer I have been working with the Olympus Union characters than they might have read them.  We did the book launch party in Manhattan in April, 2011, at Blaggard's Pub across from my old office.  I'll even give a big thank you to the editor of the Chronicle for the write up.  The book actually made it to Amazon and Barnes and Noble earlier in the month... and was finished back in mid-March.  I created the overall concept about two years ago, though, and so I had some very specific thoughts running in my head about my characters... my people, if you will.

And then stuff hits me out of the blue.  Hey, I subscribe to the Daily Beast and get interesting news.  I sit in an office and hear people talk.  I watch the Daily Show when I remember.  I walk through the streets of New York City a lot.  Things happen.  Thoughts happen.  This is not what I originally intended. I'll even share my original thoughts later.  Here's the thing... I could absolutely see Alec Baldwin in the role of Prime Minister Jones Oden.

So, for those who have not yet read "Olympus Union: The Past Repeated" (and, seriously, why not?), Jones has a unique perspective.  The first Prime Minister of the Olympus Union, he is charismatic, can whip people into a frenzy, has a definite vision for how his government and his citizens should act, and has a bit of a strange personality.  For some reason, today, I thought "Alex Baldwin" for a moment.  A long moment.  So, it was more like 15 minutes.  Not cool, young, Backdraft Alec, but Pitchman Alec (and this link isn't asking "What's in your wallet?")

Come on... gray out the hair a bit... give him the beard... and put him in charge of everyone. Everyone. Couldn't you see it?  Just for a moment.  Alright... I suppose not.  But he used to be a dramatic actor.  Now he's goofy.  Perhaps the man is talented enough to find a strong medium and play Jones.  Or, I need to start sleeping a little bit more again.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Ares Elite

So who are the Ares Elite?  I've got a logo sitting on a Facebook page and some general explanation, but what was really the point?  What did I actually intend when I made Justin Brand and his fellow super soldiers?

For one thing, I was always bothered by how easy to dispose of the general soldiers of the futuristic books were to dispose of.  Watch a Star Wars movie (by which, I mean, the originals) and notice how quickly storm troopers fall to a smuggler, a princess, a farm boy and a walking carpet.  Go watch the movie Equilibrium and watch how easily Christian Bail disassembles the soldiers (about 2:30 into the video).  So, the pattern had been set, there soldiers and there are super soldiers.

The other issue was, however, that the super soldiers so often tend to be hellbent and mindless.  Universal Soldier and the Dolph Lundgren effect... no, can't be.  Solo, where Mario Van Peebles is robotic... that couldn't happen either.  I wanted to heighten the abilities without turning them into Robocop.

Finally, I didn't want limitations on their ability to function in actual society.  In Timothy Zahn's Cobra series he has a fantastic sub-plot where the "regular" people are afraid of his super soldiers, despite their general good hearts and sacrifice.  He even takes it into another angle, later, where the Cobras try to take over a town (and a settlement) because of their military superiority.  It's a fantastic series, and a great device to build around, but the AEs aren't the central figures here, and I don't want them sticking out. There is a chapter that I recently wrote in the second book where Justin Brand actually sits down with Olympus Union officials.  They have no fear of him, and merely find themselves pleasantly surprised at his motivation to get things done.  He is, after all, just a man.

When I put together my Ares Elite, I heightened some of their abilities, but I did not make them bullet proof.  I made them faster, but not invulnerable.  To illustrate the point, truthfully, I might need to write a short story that illustrates just that - a member of the Ares Elite dying.  In the future, after books one through three (and possibly four) take us through the conflict between the Olympus Union and the Jovian System, I'm already mapping out a book to describe the training and development of Ares Elite.  While they are tremendously loyal to the cause, fiercely combative against the enemies of the Olympus Union and protective of its citizens, they also think for themselves.  The overall ingrained sense is duty and honor, and all things stem from that. Choices can be made... and in the future, will be made.

Don't think of my Elite as supermen.  Liken them to the Navy Seals or the Green Berets, or perhaps more appropriately the US Marines.  Just imagine what the government would do with those men if they had the technology to change them, physically, and no moral objections.  Just... not Captain America.  Because Captain America was built through drugs.  And drugs are bad, kids.  Even if you're a super hero.  Even in the future. Mmkay?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Wil Wheaton as Dondo Kriz?

Since the inception of my Olympus Union universe, thoughts always swirl about "who am I patterning this character after?" or "who would play this person in the movie?"  Certainly, it's always easy to reach for more obvious candidates... select someone who has played a specific character type before, or has the requisite hair color, pigmentation or facial hair.  Sometimes, it's also fun to reach a bit outside the proverbial box and put Matt LeBlanc in a more dramatic role, or make Antonio Banderas a goofball without a shred of confidence.  Neither of these two men have figured into my characterization at this point... although, you never know.

When I characterize, I definitely look at where someone starts, and where I want them to go.  Some characters even take on aspects of people in my real life.  Justin Brand, for instance, bears the unwavering belief in honor that one of my closest friends has shown; Kro has the unwavering outward confidence of my best friend.  Even that little sense of charisma, and the sense of inspiration that you can't help but catch from Oden Jones, comes from - of all places - one of my grandmothers.  Of course, Grams didn't have a drinking problem or an over-inflated sense of self importance, and the aforementioned friend (who does appear in the thank-yous) is far more flexible than Brand.  My best friend will be the first to tell you that, like Kro, he can be a little intentionally difficult when you make him mad... but he doesn't have those pure onyx fake eyes.  So, yeah, differences all around.

Then there's Dondo Kriz.  Dondo is...a  prick.  There are some parts of his personality that I based off of another buddy of mine, just with the volume turned way up, and a little distortion and reverb for good measure.  Dondo is more than an "I know what I want, and I'm going after it" kind of guy. He's a little selfish, a little demeaning when you don't fit perfectly into his plans, and is far less concerned with consequences than rewarding outcome.  Today, while going over some of the work that I'm doing on book two, and planning out a few short stories to help bridge the books, I was reading through "The Past Repeated" again, and came across Dondo.  He was actually fairly fun to write, and I thought to myself, "Would any actor actually enjoy playing Dondo?"  The answer immediately: Wil Wheaton!

Having read Mr. Wheaton's blog for a few years, following him on Twitter, and reading general interviews and articles, I've gotten a sense that he likes to stretch a bit.  He seems like a genuinely good guy, but someone who enjoys the acting craft, and turning into something he isn't. And then, as a Big Bang Theory watcher (I know, few gasps of surprise), I got to see him as Evil Wil Wheaton.  It was perfect.  The tool mentality, the "ha ha!" zingers, the swagger... it was perfect. He was Dondo!  I had never pictured it before, but now I can't get the image of him in a Hydra's uniform out of my head.  So... should it ever come to pass that they make a movie out of The Past Repeated, I will ask that the first call go to casting the perfect actor for Dondo Kriz. And, if he says no, maybe we can get Matt LeBlanc.

Side note: anyone else have a hard time not hearing Stewie saying "Whil Wheaton" while reading this?  Just me? Probably.