Teachers Novel Writing Month

I hereby declare July as TeaNoWriMo! Which, despite what you may think, doesn’t mean you have to drink 50,000 cups of tea in July. Instead it stands for Teachers Novel Writing Month.

You see, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) which has become hugely popular each year, has an inherent flaw- it’s biased against teachers! If you’re a teacher, especially at High School or Post-Secondary level, November is actually your hell month as you fall under waves of marking for exams, texts, projects, and all manner of assignments. As a result, it’s very difficult for we teachers to participate in NaNoWriMo, and each year I feel totally left out. 🙁

So, instead lets have a teacher-friendly alternative! Generally speaking, Teachers have July and August off. August tends to be spent prepping for September, so that’s out, but July is a solid month where teachers have nothing but free time! So let’s make good use of that time and get out that novel you were always dreaming of writing!

Who’s with me?

My goal this July is to write 50,000 words of my next novel. I’m not sure what it will be yet (got a couple to choose from), but I’m going to dedicate myself to writing those words this July come hell or high water! (Zombie Apocalypse might slow things down, though…)

I will post my novel word count each week here on my blog, so people can see how far I’ve gotten. I also encourage my fellow teachers to also take up the challenge and give it a go! When you have this much free time, 1612 words a day should be easy. So be like Nike, and Just Do It!

Non-teachers are also welcome! TeaNoWriMo doesn’t discriminate!

If people want to post their totals in the comments sections as we go, go ahead! Misery loves company! Let’s make this a productive summer that we can all remember, because it looks like the movies are gonna suck! So what else are you gonna do?

Rob

The Warbots by G. Harry Stine


In the high-tech laboratories of tomorrow a new breed of super-soldier is born! The brutal face of warfare has been dramatically altered. Armored giants now roam the explosive fields of battle-massive instruments of devastation with computer minds inseparably linked with the brainwaves of their human masters. They are the Warbots, men and machines combined to create the most lethal warriors in the history of armed conflict. But a monstrous challenge emerges for the mechanical gladiators emanating from a country technology forgot. As Captain Curt Carson leads his robot infantry in a daring attempt to rescue 105 hostage Americans from the sadistic clutches of a bloodthirsty terrorist army, the soldiers of tomorrow face the butchers of yesterday in a battle for the future of the free world! -Warbots Back Cover

As I read more and more about the US becoming a country focussed on Drone Warfare, the Warbots series by G. Harry Stine begins to look more and more prophetic.

I originally picked the books up back in the 80’s at City Lights used bookshop because I was a huge mecha fan, and saw their covers:

Of course, I don’t think the guy who did those covers ever actually read the books, or maybe the publisher was looking for something more metaphorical, because that’s not what the Warbots in the story look like at all. They actually look more like this:

That’s a P.A.C./R.A.T. from the 80’s G.I. Joe toy line, and the set of them actually represent the Warbots in the book so well that I’ve often wondered if they aren’t a tribute of sorts to the books. Like the R.A.T.S. the Warbots aren’t very big, being about the size of a golf cart, and each one is equipped with a specialized weapon for a particular function. In the book, each type has a nickname, usually based on their weapon characteristics. The one I remember is the “Saucy Cans”, which is the nickname for the Soixante-quinze (75) Millimetre guns they were using.

TALON units being tested in Iraq right now.

So basically the Warbots books are military Sci-Fi books about squad-level combat in a future where the US Army has heavily integrated drone units into their forces. If I recall right (it’s been a while since I read them) a squad now consists of a human commander, and a team of AI Warbots under his or her command. The AI’s in the story aren’t very smart, and basically just follow orders (they operate on the level of a Starcraft unit), but they are incredibly deadly and dangerous, especially when properly arrayed.

The humans in the unit are all using neural interfaces that let them communicate with each other instantly using surface thoughts, and they can control and communicate with the bots using this system. It makes them quite a terrifying force in the field, actually, because the Warbots are acting as extensions of the human soldiers, albeit slightly dumb extensions that often require the humans to be on-site to supervise. (The human side of the stories don’t take place in an air conditioned military base in Nevada like real drone war combat might.)

As I recall, the stories usually tend to be about the unit in the story trying to accomplish missions in the third world. A lot of it is about them trying to deploy their Warbots to deal with overwhelming enemy forces that the bots can only hold off for so long. The Warbots aren’t very nimble (no ninja-stealth-robots here) since they’re mostly small tracked vehicles, and as a result in urban and jungle terrains can really be quite limited by the environment.

In terms of writing, the stories are okay. They’re really pulp adventure novels in a lot of ways, but with a very cool concept behind them that was way ahead of its time. Our hero Captain Curt Carson (square jawed, heroic military commander) leads his team of tough but lovable troopers on a series of missions that has him fighting villainous dictators and romancing princesses across the globe. (Not kidding, the love interest that shows up later in the series is the daughter of the Sultan of Brunei.)

Despite this, I actually recommend giving them a look if you’re into military sci-fi or the future of combat in general. While dated in some ways, I do think that Stine had the right ideas, and that in twenty years the future of warfare will look a lot more like his novels than it will how we fight today.

Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, Season 2 Thoughts

Thanks to Australia airing Season 2 of Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes at a rate of 4/week instead of 1/week like North American TV, I’ve just finished watching the second (and sadly last) season of Avengers a bit early. (Like 3 months, earth.)

I really enjoyed this series overall, and taken as a whole considered it a solidly good little show. I’ve been a longtime casual Avengers fan, so it was neat to finally see the characters animated and some of the Avengers storylines brought to life. I was especially impressed how they weaved forty years of superheroing into a single coherent form, and actually managed to improve upon it.

There are characters like Kang and Baron Zemo who I neither really liked or understood as villains, but this show really made me finally appreciate them and actually come to like them. (At least, in this version.) I also liked what they did with Captain Marvel, Ms. Marvel, the Black Panther, and loved how they handled The Vision overall. (I say overall, because it depends on who’s writing the episode on how effective he is.) The show did a great job with the characters, and stayed true to the comic versions of them nicely.

This is not to say the show didn’t have issues, as the animation quality could vary widely, and so could the writing. There were more than a few episodes where things happened because the plot called for it, and a number of stories were rushed, especially during second season.

I would say that First Season of the show was the better of the two, as it was well paced and planned. It did have a bit of a sharp learning curve at the start, since it plunged us right into a story about a whole prison worth of supervillains escaping and didn’t give us much of an explanation of who these villains were. Of course, they went back and introduced most of them later (which they also did with the heroes) and in the end it all worked out pretty nicely. The season all led up to a big showdown in Asgard that took several episodes and was a great epic ending to the show.

Season Two, on the other hand, was a real rollercoaster. It started out well enough, but then as it went on it become more and more uneven. The steady pacing of the first season seemed gone, replaced by a frantic rush to introduce new characters and hit us with as much adventure as possible. The episode introducing Beta Ray Bill is a perfect example, where they took 6 issues worth of comic story, and told it all in 22 minutes at lightning speed. It wasn’t bad, just…rushed.

I blame much of Season 2’s uneveness on outside interference. Between Season One and Season Two a new head of Marvel Animation came in named Jeph Leob, who publically stated right from the start his opinions about how these animated series should be done. At the heart of his opinions was the idea that it was wrong to do multi-part episodes (something season one relied on heavily) and that all episodes of the shows should be self contained. (Holy 80’s Flashback, Batman!)

This is really evident in the second half of Season Two (the portion Leob had control over, because the first part was largely done before he came in) which is packed with stories that should have been 2-3 episodes long being crammed into single episodes. The feel of the show really changes at that point, and while there’s still some good episodes I feel it lost some of the grandeur that it built up in first season.

That isn’t to say it’s a total loss. I especially loved the episode Emperor Stark, which is The Vision’s first episode as a member of the Avengers, and which worked well in the condensed form. Also the last three episodes of the show (written by showrunner Chris Yost) were fairly well done, with the finale truly being a finale worthy of the series.

I know some people are angry that there won’t be a season three of the show, and I admit that I’m also a bit disappointed. That said, we got 52 episodes of pretty good Avengers stories and I’m pretty cool with that.

Who knows, the new Avengers Assemble show replacing it in the fall might be alright, especially since it has a lot of the same production people working on it. But somehow, I still think I won’t enjoy it as much as Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.

Who wants to live forever?

What if people could live to 200 instead of just 80 years?

Dr. Stuart Kim has already done the equivalent in his studies on how to reverse the aging process in worms, and has learned incredible things about aging. Traditionally, we’ve always thought that aging was the result of wear and tear on our cells, but it turns out that isn’t quite true.

ideacity on livestream.com. Broadcast Live Free

I heard this lecture last night on CBC radio and was blown away by it, and the implications it offers about aging in the future. It’s almost one of those things which makes me think I was born a touch too early, because I might just miss the benefits of this kind of research. On the other hand, it kinda terrifies me, because it also offers a real prospect of a future where the options are a) the rich (who can afford the treatments) live for hundreds of years while the poor continue to die as normal. Or, b) a world where people age at 1/2 to 1/3 the rate they do now, and which will see terrifying overpopulation like we can’t even imagine.

Neither seems all that pleasant. But hopefully we’ll find a happy middle.

Legend of Korra: Season One Ending Thoughts (Spoiler Lite)

I just watched the finale for the first season of Legend of Korra, and I have to say I truly have mixed feelings about it.

As I mentioned in my previous review, Korra is a heck of an impressive show. It’s been a great series in so many ways, and I think this is what makes the finale such a let-down for me. Over the course of the season the creators have taken such care in developing the characters and nuturing the story along. The pacing of the show, and the themes they’ve been weaving have been a beautiful display of animation artistry.

Then it’s like they suddenly noticed they just had 2 episodes left and panicked.

“Oh crap! We’re out of time! We have to end this!”

And suddenly all that artistry went out the window in the name of just getting the darn thing finished and the major plotlines resolved.

Now, there is a possible reason for this. When Korra was originally planned, it was supposed to just be a single season, or at least that was the official announcement. I have a slightly different theory based on what I just watched.

I think the producers wrote this show to be the first of several seasons, and the pacing and presentation clearly represent that. But, somewhere during late production on the show, Nickelodeon (the company paying for it) suddenly decided that it was only going to be a single season show. (This was very likely around the time that the Avatar live-action movie bombed horribly in the box office.) I think they decided that the whole Avatar franchise was done, and basically decided to cut their losses.

So they told the producers to wrap it up, and suddenly there was a mad rush to get everything done story-wise before the last episode. This would explain a great deal of the way the show is paced and presented, and that there seems to be a lot of unfollowed threads in the show as presented. (For example, what happened to Mokko and Bolin’s coach? The guy they clearly intended to be a major character and likely alternate mentor to Korra? He just vanished after an episode or so.)

So the producers scrambled, crammed the whole thing into a single season, and then presented it to the suits at Nickelodeon. It was only then that the suits actually realized that they had a huge potential hit on their hands, and their reaction was –

“Make more!”

“But, you just forced us to finish it!”

“I don’t care! Make more! Here’s money!”

So, they’re making more. Although lord knows why, because they tied things up at the end of the first season so well and tightly there really isn’t a whole lot of room left. Maybe they’ll do a time jump, I don’t know.

All I know is, that last episode was a mess, and I’m sorely disappointed in the sheer amount of wasted potential. For example, the Equalists actually did have a point, and they clearly also had a large social following among non-benders who were tired of bender rule. (However beneficient they are.) They could have at least given us a look into what life was like for non-benders, or even better, worked toward an end where Korra helped bring benders and non-benders into a more equal relationship. (She is supposed to bring balance to the world, after all. Wouldn’t that apply to non-benders too?) Amon’s real goals were selfish, but his stated goals were noble in their own way.

At the end of this story, Korra and Amon may as well never have come to Republic City, and if they hadn’t both come the world would have been almost exactly the same as it is. Think about it. Nothing has really changed in this setting, not a single thing. They both came, did their thing, and left. But had no effect on the setting at all, except for their few friends. Ang literally reshaped his world, what has Korra done?

Maybe they’ll fix that when they get to second season. Who knows?

Rob

Entertainment Industry Joke

I heard the following joke on the Dead Robots’ Society podcast today, and though I’d share. This joke will only make sense if you understand the entertainment industry.

 

A writer and a producer are stranded in the desert together, crawling their way across the sand.

Then suddenly, the writer looks ahead and sees an oasis shimmering before him!

Using what strength he has, the writer gets to his feet, runs to the oasis and finds it’s real!

Kneeling down next to the oasis, he desperately begins gulping down handfuls of water. But, as he’s doing so, he hears a splashing sound, and looks over to see the producer has unzipped and is now peeing in the oasis!

“What are you doing?!?” Cries the writer in horror.

The producer smiles at him and says confidently “Making it better.”

Psychologists Discover How People Subconsciously Become Their Favorite Fictional Characters – Medical Daily

Behold! The power of reading!

Psychologists have discovered that while reading a book or story, people are prone to subconsciously adopt their behavior, thoughts, beliefs and internal responses to that of fictional characters as if they were their own.

Experts have dubbed this subconscious phenomenon ‘experience-taking,’ where people actually change their own behaviors and thoughts to match those of a fictional character that they can identify with.

Researcher from the Ohio State University conducted a series of six different experiments on about 500 participants, reporting in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, found that in the right situations, ‘experience-taking,’ may lead to temporary real world changes in the lives of readers.

via Psychologists Discover How People Subconsciously Become Their Favorite Fictional Characters – Medical Daily.

Free eBook: Suffer the Poisoner

 

“There’s poison in your soup.”

With these words, Little Gou is thrust into another adventure as he finds himself struggling to get the woman who poisoned him past an army of soldiers hunting her. Even if they can get past the army, their greatest challenge lies ahead- facing an ancient secret society who will stop at nothing to keep their existence hidden.

 

I’ve just released my newest Little Gou adventure, and I’m offering it for free for the next two weeks! Until July 2nd, if you go to Smashwords and enter the coupon code EG77P you can get it in the format of your choice absolutely free! All I ask is that if you enjoy it you leave a rating on Amazon, Smashwords or Goodreads to help me promote the story.

CLANG! A Realistic Swordfighting Game Kickstarter Project

Author Neal Stevenson has put his name behind a new kickstarter project to produce Clang, a realistic swordfighting game for the PC. I’ll let him explain the details below.

Interesting. I’m not quite as excited about it as I was the space combat game, but it’s a neat idea and I hope he makes it happen. I do think a more realistic swordfighting game is needed, but I wonder how much detail you can pack into it before it becomes either a simulation or just a movie where you occasionally push buttons. Do they really expect gamers to pull off combos that take professionals years to master? I don’t think so. But, if you don’t, then it just turns into a movie of you initiating combos and letting the character/computer actually do them according to pre-scripted motion-captured patterns.

How Old is Sci-Fi? – Atomic Rockets

There are sites on the internet that one can easily spent a whole day lost in, for some it’s Pinterest or Wikipedia, and for me it’s Project Rho (aka Atomic Rockets). A whole site dedicated to helping writers get their science fiction spaceships right according to physics, and doing it in the most entertaining of ways. I find reading the comments, clips from books, and “laws” endlessly fascinating when I’m thinking about sci-fi stories.

Today, what caught my attention was this little gem, which I thought I’d share here:

“And all you young whipper-snappers who think that science fiction was invented in 1977 with the first Star Wars movie, I have to inform you that you are sadly mistaken. SF was old when your great-grandfather was born.

  • “Blaster” dates back to 1925 in Nictzin Dyalhis’ When the Green Star Waned.
  • “Disintegrator ray” dates back to 1898 in Garrett Serviss’ Edison’s Conquest of Mars.
  • Needler” dates back to 1934 in E.E.”Doc” Smith’s The Skylark of Valeron.
  • Stunner” dates back to 1944 in C. M. Kornbluth’s Fire-Power.
  • Isaac Asimov invented “force-field blades” in his 1952 novel David Starr, Space Ranger, which was the father of the light-saber.
  • There was a form of “virtual reality” in Sir Arthur C. Clarke’s 1956 novel The City and the Stars, and a more limited form in E.E.”Doc” Smith’s 1930 story Skylark Three.
  • Zero population growth is discussed in Walter Kately’s 1930 story “The World of a Hundred Men.”
  • Power from nuclear fusion appears in Gawain Edwards’ 1930 story “A Rescue from Jupiter.”
  • Atomic bombs are found in Sewell Wright’s 1931 story “The Dark Side of Antri.”
  • A “tiny computing machine about as large as the palm of a man’s hand” (Palm PDA?) is featured in R. F. Starzl’s 1931 story “If the Sun Died.”
  • And an unprotected man exposed to the vacuum of space but did not explode appeared in Nathan Schachner and Arthur Zagat’s 1932 story “Exiles of the Moon.”
  • “Attractor” and “Pressor” beams appear in E. E. “Doc” Smith’s The Skylark of Space (1929). The term tractor beam appears to originate in E. E. “Doc” Smith’s Spacehounds of IPC (1931)

via Preliminary Notes – Atomic Rockets.

The point here being that science fiction stories and ideas are part of a continum that extends back a long time, and are not a recent invention. It’s likely that the grandfathers of the people reading this read more sci-fi than most people will today, although admittedly most of it was pulp adventure. (Then again, isn’t most of it today as well?)

Rob