Robotic Minions

The German engineering company Festo has created some lovely robot minions that I’m sure every person with dreams of becoming an evil overlord will want to purchase and implement right away..

First, robotic jellyfish.  These guys can communicate with each other, seek out energy stations to recharge themselves when their energy supply is low, and more. Watch them in action:

There’s also this critter, which is sort of the aerial version of the robotic jellyfish. It’s surprisingly graceful to watch as it flies through the air:

Says Festa, "Using a peristaltic movement to drive a balloon was previously unknown in the history of aviation. The AirJelly is the first indoor flying object to use such a peristaltic propulsion system. The jellyfish glides gently through the air thanks to this new drive concept based on the reaction thrust principle." In other words, it really IS a flying jellyfish. A robotic flying jellyfish. A BIG robotic flying jellyfish. Coming to get you. And there’s something vaguely Matrix-ish, if not outright Lovecraftian, about these guys.

Every up and coming dark overlord needs to have these robot jellyfish, both aquatic and aerial, in their minion army.

Alan Moore reading Rorsach's Journal

Here’s a nifty video of Alan Moore reading an excerpt from Rorschach’s journal in The Watchmen. This is great timing for me, since I just started re-reading The Watchmen the other day, after not having read it for several years (it was my present to myself for having weighed in at less than 260 pounds at my last Weight Watchers meeting; when I hit 255, I get the Cloverfield DVD).  So listening to Moore read Rorscharch’s journal, with his gritty voice really brings alive this deeply troubled character.

Of course, Rorschach is an all-American hero and prides himself on that. I’m not entirely sure he’d speak with a British accent like Moore does. Still, it’s pretty awesome.

In other comic book news I highly recommend to you Fables, if you haven’t already started reading it. It’s my personal favorite treatment of the "fairy tale characters stuck in the modern world" trope, and it’s worth a read. The writing is quite good.

And I’ve also decided to try to write up "Night of the Frozen Elf" as a comic book script, and then pass it off to a friend of mine who’s expressed some interest in doing the artwork. Huzzah!

Apocalyptic Nostalgia

I guess our country hasn’t had a good panic for awhile, so it’s good to see the impeccable Wall Street Journal stepping up to the plate with "Load Up the Pantry", the ROI column from Brett Arrends.Dead Bees

These kinds of stories always make me feel nostalgic. It seems like only yesterday that we were all going to starve to death because all the bees in the world were vanishing, and the price of honey and everything else was going to skyrocket. And it wasn’t long before that, surely, that we were all going to die from HN51, the apocalyptic Chicken with Avian Flueavian flu which was going to mutate and become airborne ANY DAY NOW!

Of course, I grew up in the 80s, when the world trembled because the US and the Soviet Union were going to engage in nuclear Armageddon ANY DAY NOW. I remember books like War Day by Whitley Streiber and James Kunetka, one of a veritable river of post-nuclear holocaust stories. And the movies, of course, like Testament and Threads, and, of course, the immortal The Day AfterRed Dawn was also born from this ultimate fear as well. I missed the great Communist invasion scares of the fifties, though, which I truly regret. By the time I came of age, people weren’t building fallout shelters anymore; we all knew that a nuclear war would kill just about everyone and everything on the planet.

There was also the early part of the current millennium, of course. Just after the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001, I seem to recall everyone being afraid of more imminent terrorist strikes. And who can forget the trippy white powder scare? Heck, a flight I was taking from Seattle to Sacramento was delayed several hours because someone found a little white powder in the galleyOMG Nuclear War! (turned out to be non-dairy powdered Anthrax-infected letter, the source of 2001creamer, if I remember correctly). That was a pretty good one, I think, because it got the Post Office sending out notices to everyone on how to properly treat their mail, just in case it had anthrax residue in it, and spurred an explosion in the antibiotics market. Never mind that there were what, a dozen incidents of anthrax attacks? Less? More?

But the imminent apocalypse I really look back on with fond memories is the Y2K scare. That was back in the heady days of the mid- to late-90s, of course, when all the computers in the world were going to reset to 1/1/00 instead of 1/1/2000, thus triggering disasters at all levels: nuclear missiles would go flying out of their silos in the Midwest, cores from nuclear power plants were going to melt straight through to the middle of the earth, and electronic devices everywhere, from automobiles to your toaster oven, were going to fail and possibly explode. Every electronic device carried a "Y2K Compliant" sticker. Heck, I even bought an electric toothbrush that was "Y2K Compliant". Who knows what would have happened if I had bought one that wasn’t? It might have grabbed on to my teeth and yanked them out by the roots.

To be fair, there were thousands of computer programmers and experts who pored over millions of lines of archaic code fixing the Y2K error wherever they found them, and these women and men very likely prevented some might horrific errors from happening. But nuclear missile launches? Exploding toasters? Essential reading in 1999Airplanes falling out of the sky? Not to mention people stockpiling rations because the nation’s infrastructure was going to collapse (freeways and highways not being any more Y2K-compliant than the long-haul trucks that drove on them). I think Y2K just appealed to a lot of people simply because of its resemblance to a relatively common horror movie scenario, that of the old friend who turns out to be a madman. We depend on computers so much, wouldn’t it be exciting to see what would happen if they turned on us? In terms of apocalyptic potential, nothing could beat Y2K.

At the time, I was also interested in conspiracy theories (as in, reading them for entertainment value, not believe in them), and I found a number that involved Y2K and the government planning on establishing martial law. According to one theory that made the rounds, Wal*Mart had been coopted by the US government to deliver signs that read "This area under Martial Law". My favorite of these theories involved George Bush (Sr., not Jr.) using his "New World Order" speech of the early 90s as justification to having the UN disarm every citizen of the US in preparation for an invasion either by the UN or the aliens.

That’s why I think that Y2K was the best apocalypse we’ve ever seen, and while I salute the Wall Street Journal for their efforts to revive that same sense of widespread panic, I don’t think they’re going to come close. And while I pray for the resolution of the food related violence in impoverished nations and I hope that the ethanol industry comes to a screeching halt sooner rather than later, I will take any stories about ordinary Americans starving to death in the streets with a grain of salt.

While there’s still grains of salt available for us, of course.

Personally, I’ve still got my money on a zombie apocalypse. If you were smart, you would too.

Don't taunt the fear demon.

Fear DemonSo the other night I was in bed, trying desperately to let go of the day and fall asleep, and I was almost there when a little tiny voice broke in and said, "Maybe… maybe I’m just a boring writer."

There’s nothing better for waking you as you’re drifting off to sleep than a good shot of self doubt and insecurity. And at that moment I had no other thought than to get up, contact the editors at all the markets where I currently have submissions and withdraw them (I’ve done this before), then call up everyone in my critique group and beg them all not to read the novel portion I’d submitted at our last meeting. "My God, don’t read Solitude of the Tentacled Space Monster!" I wanted to warn them. "It’s dreck, BORING dreck, and the hours you spend reading it you will NEVER GET BACK!"

A couple of hours later, I did drift off to sleep, no emails sent, no calls made. The fear still haunted me, though, and I had nightmares about boring people to death with my novels (oh, I also had a nightmare about a yurei-style ghost which was scary but also kind of cool; and for your edification, a yurei-style ghost is that Japanese ghost girl with all the long black hair in front of her face. See the pic below).Yurei

Like most of the nightmares I have, this one — the one about boring people to death with my novels, not the one about the ghost — stuck with me all day yesterday and bugs me still today. Now, I recognize this as an irrational feeling, especially a week after two of my short stories were published in print venues. But I’m no good at handling these things; when I get an idea like this stuck in my head, no matter how much evidence there is to the contrary, it rattles around inside my brain and sticks to the rest of my thought processes like Donald Trump’s hair piece sticks to his head. Concentrating on my writing gets difficult. My creativity goes like this:

ME: Oh, I’ve got this fantastic idea for how this conflict can be resolved, and how some of these characters can interact with each other, making the story more effective and funnier at the same time.

ME^2: No you don’t. You’re a boring writer. Boring, boring, boring! Take up something that more people will be interested in, like starting an online gallery of dryer lint and categorizing it by manufacturer, retailer, date of acquisition, fabric, and types of cat hair. No, really, It’s gotta have a wider market than your boring boring boring stories.

Yeah, like that. And surely no writer ever before in the history of mankind has ever, ever felt this way, right?

I thought not.

See, I told you I was special.

The party line for dealing with these thoughts, according to various folks I’ve spoken to, is to talk back to them, using reason and logic. David Burns in his seminal work Feeling Good, the essential popular work on "cognitive behavioral therapy", would recommend an approach which involves identifying the negative thought, identifying the fallacious thinking underlying it, and then developing a rational response based on realistic thinking. For example:

NEGATIVE THOUGHT: I am a boring, boring writer.

FALLACIOUS THINKING: Overgeneralizing, magnifying the negative, denying the positive, etc.

RATIONAL RESPONSE: Actually, I am quite an exciting writer who has published several stories, and any day now people will be lining up for my autograph.

I’m not sure how realistic this response is, but the point is to talk back to these negative thoughts with rational, positive thoughts.

I’m wondering if it might actually be more helpful to visualize these thoughts as things that can be squished. In the Buffy: The Vampire Slayer episode called "Fear, Itself", the characters are trapped in a house by Gachnar, a horrific fear demon which makes all of their most awful fears seem to come true. Like all classic fear demons, Gachnar feeds on the fear that it creates. As the episode progresses, Buffy and the Scoobies make their way through the house until they finally reach the attic where the portal to Gachnar’s home dimension has been opened. Bright lights swirl around the room, smoke billows forth, there’s a roaring sound, and the demon emerges.

Said demon is about six inches tall. All that fuss and bother for a demon who’s only six inches tall. My favorite bit of dialogue ensues at this point:

XANDER: Who’s the little fear demon? Come on, who’s the little fear demon?

GILES: Don’t taunt the fear demon!

XANDER (jumping back): Why? Can it hurt me?

GILES: No… It’s just tacky.

And as Gachnar continues to threaten Buffy and her friends, his little fist shaking and his little horns sparking, Buffy squishes him with her foot. See, all that fuss and deadly bother over a little tiny demon critter than Buffy can squish with a patent leather pump.

So I’m going to attempt to visualize these fears as Gachnar, the six-inch-tall fear demon. That way I can mock it and taunt it, tacky though it may be to do so. Since I spend too much time thinking, I’m told, maybe just resorting to mockery and taunting will be a better approach.

GACHNAR: You’re a boring boring writer who should never be allowed anywhere near a word processor and who’ll never be published again!

ME: Aww, who’s the little insecurity? Come on, who’s the little insecurity?

Then Sarah Michelle Gellar shows up dressed in black leather and squishes the demon under her stiletto heel. Or maybe not. I guess I should be learning how to deal with these things on my own, after all.

Of course, these little fear demons — insecurities, self doubts, and so on — will keep surfacing. I think it’s just part of being a writer. The best I can do, I think, is to keep mocking them by continuing to write and submit. Persistence in the face of self doubt is not tacky by any stretch of the imagination.

Graphic Novels

In addition to my other writing projects, which I can barely keep track of as it is, I also have an itch to write a graphic novel. I enjoy graphic novels and comic books, even though my library of such isn’t all that large. I have the entire Sandman series, of course, every trade paperback of Fables which has been published to date, and a few others. I’m not a huge fan of superhero comics. I have exactly one Superman comic, the Dark Knight series from the 80s, and a few others. I do like supernatural stuff, and mythical stuff, so if I ever created a graphic novel, it would be more along those lines.

The idea of creating a graphic novel sounds neat. I think the format restrictions would be an interesting challenge to work with. On the other hand, two difficulties present themselves:

  1. I have no idea what to write about; and,
  2. I can’t draw worth a damn.

Neither challenge is insurmountable, of course. Artwork-wise, I’d have to find someone who’d be willing to draw and whose art could fit with my own vision. I mean, I can draw, to the point where the people I draw are noticeably people and not just stick figures,

As for what to write… Well, nothing suggests itself immediately, so I’ll just throw a bunch of ideas at my brain and see what sticks, if anything. My zombie elf story might be an interesting little project to translate for a first project. Hm.

We’ll see what happens. It’s not like I’m going to have time to work on something anytime soon.

Not a Mystery To Me

National Geographic News is reporting that a mysterious "swarm" of earthquakes has struck the Oregon border. According to the news story, more than six hundred of these little quakes have struck a region about 30 miles across, about 190 miles off the coast of Oregon. Theories abound about the cause these quakes; there could be a volcano in the area, geologists say, or some unusual tectonic activity in the middle of the Juan de Fuco plate. A group of scientists are headed out on a three day cruise this weekend to examine the area and see if they can figure out what’s going on.

For someone as well-versed in Lovecraftian lore as I am, there’s no mystery here at all. This is obviously R’yleh getting ready to rise up from the depths, so that Cthulhu and the rest of the Ancient Old Ones can reclaim their dominion over Earth from humanity.

Or possibly Godzilla.  Maybe Cloverfield.

It just seems unlikely to me that a tectonic plate, which is by definition rigid in the interior, could be experiencing tectonic or volcanic activity. The only possible explanation is that some horrific event involving giant monsters is about to be unleashed upon the world. The scientists and the government probably already know this; the "scientific expedition" is more likely a sacrificial one.

Hey, you got your conspiracy theories, I got mine.

A question for the women

This is a research question for a new story that I’m working on. So please indulge me, if I’m not being too offensive.

When you notice another woman, particularly a woman who might be a romantic rival or someone who might somehow threaten your steady relationship with your partner of choice, what physical traits about her do you notice? What about her would make you say, “What on earth does he see in her?”

Recently arrived in the mail


(Click for a larger image)

On the left, Don’t Turn the Lights On: A Fictional Take on Urban Legends(available at Amazon.com, or directly from the publisher, Stone Garden Press. And my short story, “Who Remembers Molly”, is on page 41. Proceeds from the sale of this book benefit the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Utah. You should feel guilty if you don’t buy it, because then all the animals in the sanctuary will go homeless.

And on the right, Issue #33 of Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine. It doesn’t look like this particular issue is available for purchase yet. However, I can tell with with utter confidence that my short story, “A Most Heinous Man”, is on page 26. Complete with an illustration by Lewis Morley, who also happens to have been the art director for the Matrix trilogy and the upcoming JLA movie.

I just like to look at them.

UPDATE: I just came across a review of the book. Each story got a paragraph. Of mine, the reviewer said, “This story is excellent.”

You should read this book

Cover of 'Nobody Gets the Girl' by James Maxey

 

I’m just taking a brief break from work to recommend to you all, in the strongest possible terms, that you read Nobody Gets the Girl by James Maxey. It’s a fine little example of the superhero genre in novel form, with some brilliantly funny writing and some nicely poignant moments. While not the most "important" work of fiction out there, it’s definitely enjoyable, and well worth your time and attention.

Okay, now back to work for me.