Sunday, April 30, 2006

Review: Through Violet Eyes

Through Violet Eyes
By Stephen Woodworth

I picked this novel up in the Mystery/Suspense section of my local Borders. Normally I stick to the SciFi/Fantasy aisles, but found myself lacking for anything new in that familiar territory. So I ventured forth and found this little gem. I admit, I would have expected to find it shelved with SF/F, considering the little contemporary alternate reality thing the author has going on, but the novel is also a satisfying suspense story.

FBI Agent Dan Atwater is on the trail of a killer who targets Violets, a special subset of humans who are born with violet eyes and the ability to channel dead spirits. Violets work for a mysterious CIA-like group, who use them to let dead victims testify in court, to study dead serial killers and their victims, or to allow Beethoven to continue to compose music.

Someone is murdering Violets, and seemingly at random. Atwater is assisted Natalie Lindstrom, a well-known Violet, who is there to help him solve the case. They aren't quite Mulder and Scully (or for the newer generation, Booth and Bones), but they click and clash in amusing ways, as they attempt to find out who is killing Violets and why.

It's not a difficult read, and the storyline won't strain your brain. There are plenty of red herrings tossed into the story, and those who don't think about it too hard may be surprised by the crooked ending (I hesitate to call it a twist). But Woodworth knows how to tell a tale, and he built up this America where Violets are common, and made me believe it.

I look forward to trying out the follow-up to this one, In Golden Blood. I hope that Agent Atwater manages an appearance or two. I like this Violet world, but didn't glom onto Natalie as strongly as the author likely intended.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Galactica: The Early Years

Well, according to the website, Ron Moore is following in the fateful footsteps of Berman and Braga, and developing a prequel to his phenomenally successful update of Battlestar Galactica. Why? What on earth is possessing him? Oh right, the all powerful dollar bill.

Star Trek: Enterprise failed, not because it was a terrible show, but because no one knew what to do with it. Prequels tend to suck about as often as sequels (just ask Star Wars fans), especially as TV shows.

The concept for this BG spin-off is set on Caprica, 50 years before the Cylon attack. We may get the giggle-worthy sight of Adama as a toddler, but who wants to watch a series about a planet that, in 50 years, will be a Cylon-infested nuclear wasteland? Most of these people are going to end up dead.

Then again, people flocked to Titanic, even though they knew the boat would sink and thousands of people would drown. So what do I know?

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Administrative Professionals Day

I found this article via the MSN Homepage. It amused me to realize that not even bosses are sure just who should be included in Administrative Professionals Day recognition.

Instead of Secretaries Day, why not just chip in for a big cake on the Friday before Labor Day and toast everyone in the office—wouldn't that be kinder, not to mention easier? I'd much prefer that to a holiday that's a catch-all for "attagirl," "I'm sorry for being an insufferable employer," and "we should talk about that raise."

Sounds like a plan to me. Now how to we go about getting a national holiday for Underpaid Overworked Retail Employees?

Friday, April 14, 2006

How To Avoid Doing The Work That Needs Done

Last night marked the third Official AbsoluteWrite Science Fiction/Fantasy Forum Chat. DamaNegra had the privilege of creating discussion topics (that dubious honor belonged to me last month, during a Semi-Official chat). She came up with some wonderful ideas.

However the chat delved into silliness rather early on, and the official topic never got its time in the limelight (although the entire chat was a good example of procrastination at work).

I truly liked the discussion topics, and thought that I thought I would post my responses here.

Things to discuss:


- Why do we procrastinate?

I procrastinate because it is easier than writing. Surfing the Internet, browsing chat rooms, doing researching, watching TV, even reading a novel, are all ways that I procrastinate from my writing. It is ten times easier to sit down in front of the television and space out for an hour than it is to plant my butt in my desk chair and write a thousand words.

I also procrastinate out of fear. Fear of finishing a project, of having to submit it and find out that it's no good. It is a common fear, I believe, among writers. Fear of failure. But not finishing a piece is the greatest form of failure, isn't it? Quite the predicament…

- What are the most common forms of procrastination?

Personally, message boards are my most common form. I will post, browse, read old threads, anything to keep that .doc file minimized on my screen. Anything I can do on the Internet, including games, keep me distracted more often than they should.

- How do you avoid distraction?

I kick out the cat and close the door.

No, seriously…it's difficult to avoid. If I turn off the TV, put on some instrumental music (popular music with lyrics is a distraction), and make up my mind to write, then I will. It is impossible to completely avoid distractions, but I can take steps to minimize them.

- Weird things that get you distracted:

I don't know if it's weird, but it's funny. My desk is next to my bedroom window. Now that it's spring, my cats spend lots of time in the window watching birds perching in the trees outside. I love to watch them chatter at the birds, so close and yet unable to pounce like the little hunters they are.

RESEARCH AND KNOWLEDGE in Science Fiction/FantasyThings to discuss:

- Which areas of knowledge would help one write a SF/F novel? (Ex. Biology, Mechanics, etc. etc.)

The areas of knowledge vary depending on whether the genre is Science Fiction or Fantasy. Traditionally, SF utilized science or technology as a catalyst in the story. Computers, space ships, weaponry, nano-tech, engineering, things like that, are elements of SF.

Fortunately, you don't have to have a degree in Engineering or Computer Science in order to write a successful SF novel. All you need is a library. Some elements require more research than others in order to make your story believable.

Fantasy encompasses so many sub-genres that you only really need to be versed in the rules of your sub-genre. If you write supernatural thrillers, know your subject's history (be in vampires, werewolves, or witches). If you write sword-and-sorcery epics, know your Renaissance history, Medieval weaponry, what elves and orcs are, and make sure you are aware of your contemporaries.

- How important is it to re-study and research these subjects in order to successfully create a world/technology?

It depends on how in-depth you use the knowledge within the story. If the story is a SF novel about computer viruses, you have to know your subject. You have to know computer science, because experts will be able to tell. If the story is a supernatural romance between a vampire and a telepath, a little research into both areas will help you create the rules for your world.

Your success depends on your audience. I think that SF fans are more likely to rip apart flaws in your science.

- Which will be more affected by the credibility supported by these subjects, SF or F?

Science Fiction, without a doubt. However, you still have to know your Fantasy history. If you don't know that Hobbits are Tolkien's sole creation, and try to write a novel about them, you're going to get into trouble. Elves, trolls, goblins, and dwarves are free game, just make sure you aren't copying their habits and traits from other sources. Be creative. Experiment.

Know your genre.

- In fantasy, is it really necessary to have knowledge of biology, anatomy and such studies to successfully create a race?

I think it is important to be familiar with biology. With reproduction (sexual, asexual, three sexes, or more), with growth cycles, with the familiar physical features of established races. You have to know that a creature with a five pound body and a twenty-foot long neck will not be able to hold its head upright (unless it is magical, or there is odd gravity on this world).

Knowledge? Yes. Intimate study? Not necessarily. It all comes back to what purpose the subject serves in the story.

- In SF, is it really necessary to have knowledge of mechanics, engineering, physics, chemistry and such studies to successfully create technology?

Same as above. Yes, knowledge is necessary. But the level of knowledge depends entirely upon the use of such technology in the story. Hard SF tends to keep tech front and center in the story. Soft SF is sociological in nature, more about the human experience than their gadgets.

Judge what you need, learn it, and then use it to the best of your ability. There is no harm researching a subject exhaustively. Learning is a great thing. We should learn something new every day. It's only when in-depth research becomes an excuse to procrastinate against the actual writing of the story that it becomes a hindrance.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Don't Mess With Us, Gentlemen

A friend forwarded this. It made me laugh out loud on an otherwise humdrum day.

The FBI had an opening for an assassin. After all the background checks, interviews, and testing were done there were 3 finalists: two men and a woman. For the final test, the FBI agents took one of the men to a large metal door and handed him a gun.

"We must know that you will follow your instructions no matter what the circumstances. Inside the room you will find your wife sitting in a chair. Kill Her!"

The man said, "You can't be serious, I could never shoot my wife." The agent said, "Then you're not the right man for this job. Take your wife and go home."

The second man was given the same instructions. He took the gun and went into the room. All was quiet for about 5 minutes. The man came out with tears in his eyes, "I tried, but I can't kill my wife." The agent said, "You don't have what it takes. Take your wife and go home."

Finally, it was the woman's turn. She was given the same instructions, to kill her husband. She took the gun and went into the room. Shots were heard, one after another. They heard screaming, crashing, banging on the walls. After a few minutes, all was quiet.

The door opened slowly and there stood the woman. She wiped the sweat from her brow. "This gun is loaded with blanks" she said. "I had to beat him to death with the chair."

MORAL: Women are evil. Don't mess with them.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

When Good Shows Go...Really Weird

So the one thing that saved this episode of 24 for me was the barn scene, and that little verbal exchange between Jack and Wayne Palmer. Wayne insisted on being allowed to help Jack, so he could find the men who murdered his brother. Who died in his arms. He asked Jack what he would do in his place. The look on Jack's face said it all. Jack had also watched a "brother" die in his arms two hours ago (no, I'm still not over Tony!).

I melted into a puddle.

Then I gawked at the TV for about five minutes after we discovered the mastermind behind Henderson.

Are you freakin' kidding me???

There's a shark in them there waters, matey. And the 24 writers, on motorcyles with leather jackets, are getting very, very close...

Sunday, April 02, 2006

"The Young Riders" Drinking Game

The Young Riders Drinking Game

So what happens when you mix two dedicated fans, a DVD boxed set, two bottles of rum, and a pad of paper? A drinking game emerges.

My sister brought me into the wonderful world of "The Young Riders" around 1992 or 93. She watched reruns on the Family Channel (way back when it still showed family-friendly fare like TYR and "Snowy River: The McGregor Saga," rather than edited adult films like Cruel Intentions. It aired weeknights at 7pm. She and my parents watched it. One night I gave in and sat down. It was season three, episode ten. "A Tiger's Tale." I thought it was brilliant.

I was hooked, and watched it every night. When the series started back at the beginning, we videotaped it. I had great fun discovering this series, and new (to me) characters like Ike, Emma and Sam. I was ecstatic when I heard they were releasing this series on DVD. I've watched all but 4 episodes. They aren't remastered, and you can see where the film has degraded over the years (the show ran from 1989-1992). But it's just like I remembered. I can sit down and make fun of some aspects of the series, all in the name of love.

Isn't that what drinking games are all about?

Well, that and getting totally smashed. On with it…

The Rules.
Take one drink for:

The opening credits.
Someone blames the Indians for something.
Someone tries to set up the Indians in order to bring in the Army/start a war/wipe them out.
Emma gets emotional (and that wide-eyed, psychotic stare).
Lou is referred to a third party as "he."
Lou wears a dress.
Foreshadowing of Hickok's future.
An old friend or long-lost relative shows up.
Said friend or relative dies.

Hickok is referred to as "James."
Cody is referred to as "William."
Someone calls Lou "Louise."
Someone calls Ike "dummy."
Sam warns someone to stay out of trouble, because it's his town (or some variation thereof).
Someone in the credited cast gets shot. Two drinks if they are stabbed, horse kicked, bonked in the head, hung, dragged, shot with an arrow, or thrown from a horse.
The boys get into a group fistfight. Two drinks if it's in Thompkin's store.
Kid rides a horse that isn't Katie.
Hickok rides a horse than isn't his tan Palomino.

References are made to the coming Civil War.
Teaspoon gives sage advice.
Kid and Lou give each other meaningful glances.
One of the Riders is kidnapped by Outlaws. Two drinks if it's by Indians.
Someone is called out.
Hickok is accused of having a hot temper or quick trigger.
Future inventions, technology or pastimes make an appearance (baseball, the dentist drill).

A dog randomly enters the scene.
The weigh station gets shot up.
Teaspoon says they all did "a hard day's work."
Teaspoon mentions his past as a Texas Ranger.
Someone guest stars who is well-known now. Two drinks if that guest star dies.
One of the Riders gets involved with the "wrong kind of girl" (or guy).
The Riders are deputized.
One of the Riders is arrested.
Anyone orders a Sasparilla.
Someone gets drunk.

A traumatic childhood incident is revealed.
An establishing shot of Sweetwater shows the "Sentinel" sign.
One of Sam's deputies is shot.
Slow motion horseback riding that is not part of the opening credits.
There is a continuity error.
An incident or character from a previous episode is brought up again (good continuity).
Hickok is called "Wild Bill."
One of the Riders repeats what Ike has signed for the benefit of the viewing audience.
There's a dream sequence or flashback.