Monday, December 26, 2016

"Rogue One" Q&A Review

Q. Should I see Rogue One?
A. Yes. Yes, you should.

Q. Star Wars has burned me before. Like, three times AT LEAST. Is Rogue One really good, or is it just "good for Star Wars"?
A. It's good, period, full stop. It's the best Star Wars movie since The Empire Strikes Back. Certainly better than The Force Awakens.

Q. Okay, neat. So, how many Jedi does it have? Is it true there's a Busby-Berkeley style light saber duel on a rickety bridge over an infinite canyon while flying droids buzz overhead and zap things?
A. Umm, no. That's not

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Io, Saturnalia!

Before December 25 was Christmas, it was the end of the Roman festival of Saturnalia. The Romans celebrated from the 17th to the 23th, and later to the 25th, which was Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, "The Birthday of the Unconquered Sun God."

Saturnalia celebrated the Golden Age of Man under the rule of the god Saturn, who taught them the arts of agriculture and ushered in a golden age of peace and prosperity. On Saturnalia gambling was

Friday, December 23, 2016

We're Back!

We're Back Like Charles II
Hey, gang -

It's been a while since my last post. The election, writing assignments, and a nasty little back problem all did their bit to make blogging a low priority.

But that's in the past, and here we are. Some exciting news: I've past the midpoint of my newest novel, Conjure Man. A bargain has been struck. Mysterious happenings have raised eyebrows.  A black site has been escaped. A devastating secret has been revealed. And things are going to get even hairier from this point on.

What comes next?

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

So, This Sucks

How much, we won't know yet.
It is beyond sad that America's best hope for its next president is his incompetence and inability to focus. Aside from his personal vindictiveness, the worst things will probably come from the court of sycophants and second raters who surround him.
To my friends who are women, Moslem, immigrants, LGBTQ, Black, Latino, Jewish: Try not to assume that every straight White male in America voted for Trump. I know it's hard.
To my friends talking about leaving the country: Do you really think you can fly away from this?
And to my friends who didn't vote for Clinton: Your vote mattered. We will all have to live with the consequences, but the weight is something you'll carry by yourselves.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

What It's Like To Volunteer - Elections 2016

If you were considering volunteering or donating for the first time, here's what it's like:

Right now, the volunteer opportunities are mostly GOTV - Get Out The Vote - canvassing, phone banks, etc.

I participated in a phone bank. I was given four pages of registered voters in a swing state. I called them all on my cell. It took two hours. Most of the time I got voicemail. Sometimes I got an inactive number. Twice I got hang-ups, and twice I got strong supporters of Hillary Clinton who were glad to hear from me. And then I was done.

This isn't rocket science, and it isn't hard, but it is important.

So go for it.

This Is How You Influence a Democracy - Yes, Election 2016

I just volunteered for a phone shift tonight at the Hillary Clinton GOTV effort.
I've also donated to the campaign.
As some of you might know, I've never done either of those things before, and getting involved in this way isn't really comfortable for me.
If you're like me - you agree about this election but don't usually go beyond voting - maybe think about it this weekend.

And this is how you truly influence a democracy - a government of free men and women.
You don't hide in a bunker ready to shoot at the Feds.
You don't try to scare your fellow Americans, or intimidate them, or assault them. You try to convince them of your position.
Now I step off the soapbox.

Monday, September 19, 2016

About Last Weekend

Yes, there was an explosion.
No, I didn't see it. It was two miles away.
No one was killed. Thank God.
Yes, it was a bomb set by some inbred POS. His highest achievement in life was to use Internet instructions to build an IED out of a pressure cooker. That is all he ever contributed to this world, and all he ever will contribute - because he showed up on video cameras, and he will not be able to hide.
And tomorrow I will go out and take care of my business, because this is New York City. And unlike Kansas, Louisiana, and Tennessee, where they piss themselves about ISIS and shriek about Mexicans and pass laws about sharia *without having to face terror themselves* - I know that the appropriate response is to go out, deal with my fellow citizens, and let the cops find that one devolved shitstain who thought this was good idea.
Because that's what people do when they're adults, and not shrieking baboons.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Pizza Points


  • There is no such thing as healthy pizza. All pizza is loaded with grease, fat, salt, and carbohydrates. To eat pizza that isn't also delicious is a terrible waste.
  • The kind of oven doesn't matter.
  • California Pizza Kitchen isn't the only reason New Yorkers hate Los Angeles; but it is the best reason.
  • If you're going to have a test pizza, it should be a plain cheese slice. If they can't get that right, no amount of toppings will fix things.
  • Salt! There should be a little in the cheese and in the crust.
  • Calzone is paranoid pizza - you can't actually tell what's inside that dough until you bite...and then it's too late.
  • Plastic utensils were invented specifically to prevent meatheads from trying to eat pizza with a knife and fork.
  • Good Brooklyn pizza tends to have a crust that's a little sweeter than Manhattan pizza. Alas, Manhattan pizza tends to be less flavorful.
  • The age of the establishment has little to do with the quality of the pizza. Just ask them at [name redacted].
  • The best slice I've had since I came back to New York cost five bucks; it came with a second slice and a can of soda.
  • A man's measure can be taken from his pizza habits. http://thedailyshow.cc.com/…/me-lover-s-pizza-with-crazy-br…
  • As of three years ago, La Lanterna had a pretty good Pizza Margherita; also Pino's in Brooklyn (although the crust is too thin there). I know people who swear by John's pizza...but they are still my friends.


Mangiare!

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Another Teleplay - "Northern Exposure"

Yep, time to put up another spec teleplay from the '90s. This one was for Northern Exposure, and I was actually pretty proud of it; I thought I caught the tone of the show.
Click here to read.
Hope you all enjoy it.

NASA Just Released All Its Research Online for FREE, And-

Eclipse photos and more!
-I had to learn about it through BRITISH media, not United States sources.
Here's the link to the NASA site.
British media, not American. SMH. We are truly a no-good, ignorant-ass nation. Why do we cooperate in making ourselves more and more stupid?
It is a mystery.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Conjure Man Status Report

I am now at 60,000 words of the first draft of Conjure Man, my contemporary fantasy.
For some perspective, the word count for traditional paperback novels hovers at around 80,000 words. The Wrong Sword is 95,000; Murder on the Orient Express is 66,000; The Hobbit is 95,000 (although it feels like less); and Fahrenheit 451 is only 46,118. More contemporary novels (especially bestsellers) tend toward length.
Anyway, I'm basically halfway through.
My protagonist has discovered that there's a terrible secret, but he doesn't quite know what it is, yet.
He's about to meet someone who might clear it up, if he weren't lost to booze and madness, adrift on a mega-yacht in the Mediterranean.
There's also a question game involving demons and forfeits.
And maybe magical party drugs.
So...
You know...
Fun.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Jeremiah 5:21

Creationists have always flummoxed me. Back when I was a story analyst in Hollywood, I had a boss at a big talent agency who was a serious evangelical Christian. The Boss Who Shall Remain Nameless actually told me that science and technology didn't matter. She said this while sitting in an office with the latest computer on her desk, with soft dichroic lights shining down and the fierce Los Angeles summer heat kept at bay by clever manipulation of the laws of thermodynamics. Her entire life, from a career in an industry that wouldn't exist without technology, to the birth of her children,  to the car that got her to the office, to the vaccines that protected her from polio and tetanus, relied on science. But science didn't matter.

What did matter? The "pleasant poetry of Genesis."

Now, I'm a Jew. And from a strictly parochial standpoint, I'd like to point out that
1. Jews wrote the Book of Genesis;
2. The original is in Hebrew, our language; and
3. Even WE don't take it literally.

Really. There is an ancient principle in Judaism that states that "the Scriptures speak in the tongue of Man" - in other words, the Bible uses metaphors and parables to describe sacred realities that human beings aren't prepared to completely understand. So we are nowhere near dumb enough to believe that one must take the Garden of Eden as the literal truth in order to be a faithful, believing Jew - or Christian, for that matter.

Now, considering how science has enriched all of our lives, and how megachurches and Christian broadcasting networks would not even exist without it, I'm continuously astounded by Creationists. They sit surrounded by the proof that science works, basing their entire lives on technology, the daughter of science, and then simply abandon it when it points to a conclusion they find distasteful.

O foolish people, and without understanding! Who have eyes, and see not; who have ears, and hear not! - Jeremiah 5:21

Thursday, August 18, 2016

More Nerd Politics

Wired has endorsed Hillary Clinton.
And Scientific American has condemned Donald Trump.
Neither one has endorsed a presidential candidate before. Not ever.

So if you support science, technology, and, well, facts...you know who to vote for.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Apophenia in Political Journalism!

It's no secret that I, like most folks, am not a fan of Candidate 345, aka Donald Trump. (BTW, "345" stands for three marriages, four bankruptcies, five draft deferments - not exactly the markers for a responsible life.) However, this is a NerdBlog, and for the most part I've tried to keep politirants out of it.

Something occurred to me recently, though, that deals with a pretty nerdy topic: apophenia, the tendency to perceive meaningful patterns in random data. It's what gives us faces on Mars, conspiracy theories, and the "Hot Hand" fallacy. And I think that political journalists, whether they are for, against, or detached from Trump, have been epic apophenists.

It occurred to me while I was reading this Politico.com article about Trump speaking at a rally in Connecticut. The author, Katie Glueck, seemed

Monday, August 8, 2016

Who's Up For Some Rhino? Yum!

A team of archeologists at a dig in Azraq, Jordan, have been conducting science with teeth. They uncovered a cache of ancient stone weapons and tools used by proto-humans about 250,000 years ago...and these tools still had "residue" from the animals that were killed. This allowed the team to figure out what the protos were munching.

It seems back in the day our early Jordanian cousins (these folks weren't Homo sapiens - maybe H. neanderthalensis? Erectus? Rhodesiensis?) liked them some meats. We're talking horses, cows, ducks...and rhinos.

Dr. April Nowell, who leads the team, can't yet explain how the protos brought down a rhino using only weapons like this:


Neither can I.
Much respect, my prehistoric brothers.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Rarely, Rarely Do I Shill

"Where there's a subspace quantum flux,
there's a Nakamura-Sordak isolinear chip!"
But this is so goofy, you might want them.
Especially if your home is already decorated in '70s retro-future.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Mars Wants You!

NASA has another series of posters, this time for its Mars missions!

Stuck in Realtime With Peter Falk

Historical novels (even one as tongue-in-cheek as The Wrong Sword) rely on telling details to convey a sense of time and place. The best source of these details are primary sources - documents and other items from then and there. For my friends obsessed with mid-20th century America, here is my favorite visual primary source for the 1970s (besides having lived through it): Columbo.

Columbo was a long-running detective TV series in which the wonderful character actor Peter Falk played a disheveled schlemiel of a police lieutenant who put (usually) wealthy and arrogant malefactors behind bars, after passive-aggressively nudzhing them for 45 minutes. It may also be the most 70's-looking show ever.

So if you're looking for visual cues between 1970 and 1980...

Dig it.

Dig that high tech office!


Classy


Murder, 70s style

Los Angeles

What Shatners looked like in 1973

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Notes From the Undergound

Now that New York has the High Line, folks have been proposing a Low Line - an underground park in an abandoned trolley tunnel, with piped-in sunlight and solar energy.
Before

After

More power to them, say I!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

It's Buffy!

As I mentioned last week, back in my Hollywood days I wrote a bunch o' spec scripts for TV shows. Somebody suggested recently that it might be fun to post these bits of juvenilia, so I'm doing it. Last week it was Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. this week it's Buffy the Vampire Slayer. See if you can guess which spec-script rule I broke with this one...

Thursday, July 14, 2016

A Little Sumthin' Sumthin' - Star Trek:Deep Space Nine

As some of you all know, I used to write for the TV box. That involved a lot of "spec" scripts for shows that interested me at the time.

One of my more rabid fans (hi, Mom!) asked to see some of the specs I wrote. I figured, why not put them up here? So I will...starting with the one I wrote for Star Trek:Deep Space Nine. It's in the "Pages" section of the blog, right here. Enjoy!

Monday, May 9, 2016

When You Hate That Book That Everyone Loves

So, there's this book. A plucky band of travelers - some of them aliens! - have adventures in space. I'm not going to get more specific than that because I'm going to say Mean Things about it, I'm a writer not a reviewer, and there is such a thing as Writer's Karma. Sorry about that. However, judging by the rapturous reviews it's getting, The Book will probably appeal to you even if it doesn't appeal to me.

Anyhow...

This book - a newish book, 2014 or thereabouts - was recommended on io9.com, which is where I've recently been getting my recommendations. It's also on the shortlist for the UK's biggest SF book award. So I bought it. And I read it. And it was bad.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

In Which the Washington Post Proves That "Futurist" Is a Title Without Meaning

A friend on Facebook asked me what I thought of this article in the Washington Post. The thesis of the article was that Disney's commitment to Star Wars franchising, after building its empire on fantasy properties like Sleeping Beauty and The Little Mermaid, showed how science fiction was "eating the world."

I'm afraid my response was...a tad negative:

I think the author, despite his title as "futurist," doesn't know what science fiction is, doesn't know what fantasy is, doesn't understand the distinction between science fiction and space opera, and doesn't understand the dynamics driving the increase in female participation in fan culture.

So, not much wiggle room there. But let me expand a little. 

Thursday, March 17, 2016

What You Didn't Know About St. Patrick

1. Pat was a Fifth Century Romano-Brit. Kidnapped by Irish pirates, he was a slave in Ireland for six years before he got his revenge by converting the Irish to Christianity.

2. When they say Pat drove the "snakes" out of Ireland, that could be code for "druids." I don't know why.

Here's a Snake


Here's a Druid
Not getting it.

3. In New York City, most people who celebrate SPD are not actually Irish; they are from New Jersey.

4. St. Patrick's Breastplate is a Gaelic prayer that was supposed to have concealed St. Patrick and his monks from their enemies.

5. Dude named Palladius might be the real St. Patrick. Or maybe not. The deeds of the two might have been conflated. Happened a long, long time ago, y'all.

6. Although St. Patrick's Day is celebrated with parades throughout North America, there is no historical evidence that St. Patrick himself ever participated in one.

Monday, March 14, 2016

FREE! Great Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories!

Yep, you heard that right.
Until March 31, you can download an entire book filled with the best stories from 2014 and 2015 of new F/SF writers who are just breaking in. Want to know which books to buy in 2018? Start your research now.

For FREE!

So don't say I never give you nothin'. Just don't.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Medieval Recipe Day: Bread!

Bread was a big, big deal in the medieval European diet. The Europeans weren't alone in history, of course - Jesus was fond of it too ("Give us this day our daily bread") and for Jews, bread occupies a place just below wine as a ritual food - both are considered necessities for a Sabbath/holiday meal.

Nobility preferred tasty white breads made of highly sifted wheat; commoners made do with darker breads. Ironically, the peasants' breads were probably more nutritious, with a wider variety of grains and even legumes and other veggies baked in. (Imagine you're a poor housewife, and you have a double handful of last year's dried peas to get rid of. Add them to the grain that you hand the miller to be ground into flour and bake it into your bread...)

Unfortunately, because bread was *so* common and such a staple, and (maybe) because so much of it was baked by guild bakers, instead of in the home (heat sources big and hot enough to bake fine loaves weren't as common as they are today) there are relatively few bread recipes from that period.
In fact, one of the few types of bread made in the average commoner's home, instead of by a baker, involved putting the dough in an overturned pot in the embers of the fire lit on the flat rock that was the single source of heat for the entire hut. Unleavened oatcakes were another staple. We do know that there were a lot of varieties of bread. Honey was often used as a sweetener, and ale (perhaps as a fermenting agent?). A cross was often cut into the top of the loaf.

Here's a recipe for barley bread that was probably a big hit among the monks of the day.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Rules for Favors

Last week I met someone who is making a documentary. Let's call her...Pina. Pina is smart, talented, and as soon as she heard about my Old Life in Film, she said "Oh, I have to get you onto my project." And I smiled a noncommittal smile...

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Ah, The Sandman Adaptation

So, it seems that Joseph Gordon-Levitt is departing from the Sandman project. The Churn continues...par for the course for a literary property with an enormous, and well-deserved, reputation. Ask Hollywood folks how long the Dune and Stars My Destination adaptations went on...

Medieval Recipe Day: Let's Make a Cretone of New Peas!

What's a cretone, you ask? This is.

Take some new peas. (Baby peas, perhaps? I think the point is that they're sweet, small, and not yet too starchy.) 

Fritters. Not fried pea fritters, but still-
Cook them into mush. Drain the mush. And then - I love this part - fry it in lard.  I think we're talking the medieval equivalent of refried beans...or, it's a fritter!

Next, boil some milk for just a moment, and soak the bread in the milk. The original recipe specifies cow's milk, which tells us that things like goat milk and almond milk were a lot more popular then. I suspect that the "bread" that's mentioned is the fried-pea mush, which isn't mentioned by name again.

Now that that's done, here's the sizzle: Crush up ginger and saffron, steep them in the milk, and boil. Cook chickens in water, quarter them, fry them, and add them to the milk to boil. Then put it all to "the back of the fire" and thread in egg yolks.

Now, the most important bit:
If you actually try this at home, let me know how it turns out.

BTW - As is usually the case, this medieval recipe is brought to you by "Le Viandier" of Taillevent.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Here's What Happens When You Have Story Problems

I've written before about The Expanse, and now I've stopped watching. I didn't make it to the season finale.

Story problems kill shows, but they're subtle. If everything else is okay - the visuals, the science, and most especially the performances - then questions of theme and character, tiny fundamental miscues, take a while to sink the show. They're like cracks in the foundation: less then a millimeter wide, but more than enough.

And that's the problem here. Syfy got all the flashbang-geewhiz right (well, except for the Belter physique thing) but they messed with Corey's characters in small but important ways. In the books, these characters are no-nonsense professionals up against something that's utterly beyond their competence. On TV, they're too often pouting juveniles. And somehow the TV writers found ways to suck all the juice out of some of the most serious backstory (such as Amos' childhood) and turn it into flat talking-head exposition. When I heard that an upcoming episode was a flashback to the life of a character who dies in the first episode, I gave up.

I bear the series no ill-will. I'll probably give it another try. It didn't insult my intelligence (unlike some Syfy offerings). And I'm vividly aware that I am not a TV writer, so I don't know if I would do any better. But still, I had such high hopes.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

More Rainy Day Recommendations!


 Creatures of Light and Darkness - I frequently recommend Roger Zelazny's books Lord of Light and Jack of Shadows. But if you're looking for something trippy and experimental, as well as being a deeply entertaining riff on Egyptian mythology, COLAD is worth more than a look. Zelazny originally wrote it as a narrative experiment. Then Sam Delany saw it, took it to a publisher, and the rest is mythology.


Startide Rising - The best in David Brin's Uplift Wars novels, SR follows the adventures of a dolphin/human starship crew stranded on a deadly world as an interstellar war rages over their heads. Great extrapolation of how technologically advanced cetaceans might act and think; brilliantly realized extraterrestrials; and a believable planetary environment, thanks in part to Brin's background as an astrophysicist. Also a lot of rip-roarin' action.



On Stranger Tides - Pay no attention to Disney's use of the title for the POTC franchise. On Stranger Tides is vintage Tim Powers: a deeply weird, deeply logical, deeply occult and well researched take on pirates, voodoo, and the fountain of youth. It also moves faster than a gunboat under full sail.


Protector - Larry Niven's SF explanation of the nature of old age and human evolution. Overtaken by current discoveries in the human genome and the fossil record, but still a lot of fun, with a great space battle between two STL starships orbiting a dwarf star.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

You know you've neglected your blogging when-

-your ancient post about mermaids has risen to the top of your eyeball stats once more.

But in the spirit of the Still-New Year and of feeding y'all some red-meat content you can use, here are some book recommendations if you're feeling cold, wet, and dreary this February.

SPQR - A murder mystery set in Ancient Rome in the years before Julius Caesar rises to power. Fast-moving, historically accurate and a lot of fun.

Robots Have No Tails - a collection of old-school shaggy-dog science fiction stories written by Henry Kuttner, one of the forgotten geniuses of the genre. The stories center around Gallagher, an alcoholic engineer who can never remember, sober, the purpose of the inventions he created while drunk. Written in the '40s and '50s, and utterly un-PC in its treatment of addiction. Nevertheless...

Earth Is Room Enough - Seventeen short stories by the master, Isaac Asimov. They all take place on Earth, and only a few of them have robots. Enough hits to make the misses worthwhile.

The Age of Unreason - A series beginning with Newton's Cannon and continuing with A Calculus of Angels, Empire of Unreason, and The Shadows of God. An alternate history in which Newton is more successful as an alchemist than as a physicist. Brilliantly researched, full of fascinatingly flawed historical characters, from Ben Franklin to Peter the Great.

And now, a couple of disses.

I've read two of the most-discussed SF books of the last couple of years: Ancillary Justice and The Three-Body Problem. And I say..."meh." [SPOILERS AHEAD]

Both books are ambitious in ways that my above recommends are not. And both have some really interesting ideas. Ancillary's treatment of the question of individuality and the group mind is handled in a way that was both original and chilled my spine a bit. TBP's use of China's Cultural Revolution, the seven untouched dimensions of particle physics, and what it might take for someone to sell out the whole human race were all new...and if you can't have new in SF, where can you have it?

But there were long stretches in both books that made my eyes glaze over a little bit. In TBP it was the narrative time spent inside a VR game that's a recruiting device for the aliens. (Not only is any literary "holodeck" experience mostly meaningless, in these sequences the protagonist completely passive - it's not clear how he "wins" to the next level.) In Ancillary it's the time that...frankly, I can't even remember. (I read Ancillary Justice a year and a half ago, and it didn't stick.)

So...there you have it. More to come.

Friday, January 15, 2016

"The Saturday Dance"

A few years ago, my Voudoun short story The Saturday Dance appeared in Lore magazine.

Now, thanks to the brilliant folks at the Brooklyn Speculative Fiction Writers Group, it's been turned into an audio performance on their podcast, Kaleidocast. Take a listen!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Thunderbirdland

When I was a kid, the closest thing to science-fiction TV for kids was a show called Thunderbirds. It was a puppet show, and if you've seen Matt Parker and Trey Stone's Team America, you've seen their parody of it.

It was a fundamentally goofy show, but for me, it was always a sketch of what the Andersons wanted to do, but couldn't in live action. And I thought the architecture was the coolest thing I had ever seen in my young life - what the '60s thought the future would be.

Well, living in New York these days - particularly on the Far West Side - is like living in Thunderbirdland. 







Thunderbirds are go!