Resistance of the New

biter_w640

(*NOTE: This is a cross post with the AMAZING STORIES MAGAZINE website where it appears under the byline M. D. Jackson. I’m reproducing it here)

It’s the second day of the new year. Are you looking forward to seeing what wonders it will bring or are you dreading it? Are you embracing the new, or are you resisting it?

81711841_1336987555_1367217745_540x540As science fiction fans it is usually expected, even if we only expect it of ourselves, that we will embrace new things, new technologies, new ideas. That’s who we are, or, at least, that’s who we tell ourselves that we are. We explore strange new worlds, seeking out new life and new civilizations. That’s us – boldly going and all that.

But do we really?

I’m sure most of us do. I’m probably preaching to the choir here. But sometimes I run into resistance of new things, even things that seem like a fait accompli, and it baffles me.

LudditesSmashingLoomLarge-757004I started thinking about this recently when a couple of co-workers expressed their opinion that the internet and the whole world of online connectivity, was a bad thing. They were lamenting the loss of the days before the internet, before email and texting.

These weren’t cave dwelling Luddites. They weren’t cranky seniors. These were professionals who work in an office environment. They regularly use email, i-phones, Facebook, etc. So it surprised me that they considered the whole digital age to be, on the whole, a negative thing. I disagreed with them. I said that there is good and bad in everything but that, on the whole, the internet and the connectivity of our world is a positive thing.

They remained dubious.

We didn’t discuss it further but it still confused me. Why the resistance? Why focus on all the negative things about our connectivity and ignore all the benefits?

anti-technologyPartly, I think, it is the human tendency to do just that – to focus on the negative. We tend to seek out bad news and ignore good news when it doesn’t effect us personally. As someone who has worked in the newspaper industry I know this very well. An old circulation manager told me as much shortly after I began working for a particular paper. “I get less returns on papers when the front page story is bad news,” he said. “An accident, tragedy, disaster, whatever. Those papers sell out. A “feel-good’ story on the cover means I get lots of returns to deal with.”

Partly it could be fear. The present moment moves from the past into the future and we move along with it like being swept away by a current. We grab on to things… hold on in a desperate attempt to feel safe and grounded. When we encounter something new we don’t want to lose those things that make us feel safe so we hang on to them tighter even if they threaten to pull us under by their ponderous weight.

FredricWerthamE-books were once regarded with fear, distrust and disdain. I know. I was one of them for the longest time until, as an e-author, I saw first hand the advantages and benefits of e-publishing.

Before the advent of e-books there was the great resistance to another fledgling medium, the comic book. When comics hit the scene voices decried their evils and shrill warnings sounded about how they would corrupt the youth of North America. Well meaning (but ultimately self-serving) figures like Psychologist Dr. Frederic Wertham and writer Judith Crist decried the evils of this fledgling medium.

Today the majority of the highest grossing films are based on characters from the comic books. Far from turning a generation into raging delinquents, the comics fired up imaginations and led to new expressions of creativity. The medium has produced works, such as Art Spigel’s Maus, that has garnered some of the highest awards that the world of letters can bestow.

Maybe Douglas Adams put it best: “There’s a set of rules that anything that was in the world when you were born is normal and natural. Anything invented bet ween when you were 15 and 35 is new and revolutionary and exciting, and you’ll probably get a career in it. Anything invented after you’re 35 is against the natural order of things.”

worldtechnologyRight now our connected world and the mediums made possible by the internet are producing works of astounding quality. If we can resist the Luddite urge to tear it all down (or the business world’s urge to corporatize it) new mediums, mediums of which we have not even dreamt, will produce some of the greatest art that the world has ever known. As we move along with the stream of time we will let go of our fear of art that is not presented on canvas or literature that is not presented on paper, or films that are not shown only in movie houses (Yes, I am referring to Sony’s groundbreaking release strategy for The Interview, regardless of how accidental it was) and we will embrace the new.

The New Year is here. Yes, it can be frightening seen through eyes that are clouded by fear (or perhaps just a hangover) but it also holds endless possibilities. Go boldly. Find those possibilities and grab onto them. Tell stories in whatever new medium comes along.

Just make sure they are amazing.

DEBT’S PLEDGE and the Bechdel Test

134BechdelTest

So, my daughter came home for Christmas, which is enough of a Christmas present for her mother and I. While on the Greyhound she passed the time reading a trade paperback edition of my book, Debt’s Pledge. When she pulled the book out of her backpack she told me she was only three quarters of the way through. I asked her what she thought about it.

“Well, first thing; your book would not pass the Bechdel Test”, she said.

For those of you who don’t know, the Bechdel Test (sometimes called the Mo Movie Measure or Bechdel Rule) is a simple test which names the following three criteria: (1) it has to have at least two women in it, who (2) who talk to each other, about (3) something besides a man. The test was popularized by Alison Bechdel’s comic Dykes to Watch Out For, in a 1985 strip called The Rule.

I thought about it for a moment and realized that what she had told me was very true. There are several women characters in the book, and most of them are strong characters. Some are more feminine than others but none are shrinking violets. However, the book’s main character is Jefferson Odett and the entire book is told from his point of view. It’s not told in the first person, but the third person narrative is deliberately limited to Odett’s point of view. That makes it kind of difficult to pass the Bechdel Rule.

I admitted as much to my daughter.

“Also,” she continued. “Why do all the women characters all have to have some sort of relationship with Odett? It’s like they’re all there just as sex objects for him”

“Wait,” I said, trying to think. I’m writing the sequel but the details of the first book aren’t as fresh in my head as they are in hers. “What about Amy Brown, the guildswoman?” I asked.

My daughter nodded. “Yeah, I was hoping that she would be different, but then you ruined it by having them kiss!”

Oh, yeah. I’d forgotten about that. “Well… okay… but…”

“And where are the feels, Dad? The book has no feels!”

Feels? The book’s got feels!” I protest.

“No it doesn’t” said my wife, which caught me off guard.

“I thought you loved my book.”

“I do. But you’re daughter’s right. It’s got no feels.”

At this point I felt a bit out of my depth. “Well… I set out to write a vary manly book…” I heard myself saying. “It’s a manly book… for manly men!”

They both looked at me like I was some sort of special mental case. I felt a bit like one.

“Well…” I sputtered. “The sequel will be better.”

“Dad,” my daughter said. “You know you wouldn’t get this kind of honest criticism from someone who didn’t love you, right?”

It was true. I had received a negative review… honestly, the worst review the book has garnered so far, from the two people whose opinions I value the most… and yet, I never felt so loved.

Family is funny that way.

Whatever your faith, however you choose to celebrate (or even if you don’t), I hope you all have a good holiday season and that it is filled with warmth and love.

The Lure of Summer, Self Phones, Casting Call and Hercules Reviewed

Salmon-Arm

Well, I have to admit that the lure of the Summertime has kept me away from the computer. Honestly, who can think about writing blog posts when the sun is shining, the birds are singing and there is ice cream on offer just up the street? I know I can’t.

Unfortunately writing of any kind has slowed to a crawl, which, as I have blogged about before, is not good news for a writer. I’m still plotting the sequel to DEBT’S PLEDGE although I have not formally written anything down yet. It’s all up here, though (taps forehead) It’s all up here.

 

“O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space…”

Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2

It’s not a Cell Phone, it’s a “SelfPhone”.

Texting_closeup

I had a very interesting conversation with my wife a couple of weeks back about cell phone use. I thought that a better name for the cell phone should be the “SelfPhone” because experientially one is really only interacting with oneself on most devices. Unless you are actually talking to someone, if you are just texting or playing Angry Birds, then experientially you are not interacting with anyone at all, just the device. As the software is programmed the cell phone becomes a reflection of the user. Thus, when you are interacting with your cell phone what you are really doing is carrying on a conversation with yourself. Even if you are texting with someone who is sending replies, experientially the entire interaction happens inside one’s own head.

I don’t have a problem with that. After all, as a writer much of my own activity happens within my own head. It is a not uncommon state of being for a writer to spend the majority of his or her time inside one’s own brain. There’s nothing wrong with that. I just think we should acknowledge that much of the experience of the cell phone happens inside the user’s head and not inside the device. Despite movies like Spike Jones’ HER and the SIRI commercials, the device is a cold, emotionless chunk of metal and plastic.

It does not drive the experience. You do.
CASTING CALL

Here’s an idea that I have shamelessly swiped my friend and fellow writer Derrick Ferguson. Ferguson id the author of the Dillon novels and this is a feature that he does for the characters in his books.(Visit his blog here and while you’re at it do yourself a favour and buy one or all of his fabulous Dillon adventures)

If I were casting a movie of my novel DEBT’S PLEDGE who would I cast?

The Sharpe-era Sean Bean could be Shane Watson's double

Well, while I was writing the book the main character, Jefferson Odett was played by a young Sean Bean in my head. Bean is a great actor but he’s too old to play Odett now who in the first book is in his 30’s.

If I had to choose an actor to play him in a movie today I have a few candidates and one of them is Sean Bean’s costar from GAME OF THRONES, Nicolas Coster-Waldau. He would look kind of like how I pictured the character, particularly as he appeared in the fourth season of the show, with his close cropped hair.

Jaime_Lannister_in_The_Laws_of_Gods_and_Men

Alternatively I could see Charlie Hunnam from PACIFIC RIM and SONS OF ANARCHY playing the part.

charlie-hunnam-pacific

Mind you I could also see Anson Mount from HELL ON WHEELS playing the part even though he’s a little older than the character is (in the first book anyway)

HERCULES

Another important character from the book is Carlysle and I saw an actor who looked vey much like I imagined him to look; Rufus Sewell as Autolycus in the recent HERCULES movie. Of course he would have to completely shave is head, his beard and his eyebrows, but that’s basically the character. Sewell could also successfully portray Carlysle’s ambiguous nature.
Speaking of Brett Rattner’s 3D HERCULES movie starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson…

…don’t. Just… don’t.

Actually that’s a bit unfair. It’s not a bad movie it’s just… go see GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY. That’s all I’m saying’.

Summertime Blues

Beach Read 1

Well, sales of DEBT’S PLEDGE have dropped considerably since the beginning of July and I suppose that is because it is the summertime.

Summertime used to be a good time for book sales. There are a very large number of books that have been described as good “beach reads”. The traditional image is of someone, usually a woman, perhaps the mother of a family on vacation, lounging on a deck chair, sunblock covering her nose, and engaging with a book. While the kids frolic in the waves and Dad guzzles beer, Mom takes time to lose herself in a good read.

Well, that’s a cliche, of course, and my little scenario is outdated and more than a little sexist. People read books in the summer in many different ways. Men, women and children find time for books in between BBQ’s and the beach in many different ways.

But since my book is primarily available on Kindle (and for Nook and Kobo too) how do people engage with books using their e-readers?

I am an e-book author but I am shockingly ignorant when  it comes to engaging with a reading device. Do people take their Kindles to the beach? How do people feel about their e-readers? Do they have the same passion for it as I have for a beloved paperback or hardcover?

For me the whole experience of the book at the beach is, I imagine, different from the experience of the e-reader at the beach. Can you read the screen in the bright sunshine? Battery life is obviously a concern, as is the ever present dangers of sand and seawater.

Sand is of little consequence to a paper book and seawater, although terribly inconvenient, does not render a paper book unreadable. Either one of these hazards in the wrong place could render an e-reader and , consequently, its entire contents, in some cases a whole library’s worth of books, completely inaccessible.

So this is my question: What place does your e-reader have at the 4th of July picnic, or at your summer vacation at the cottage or the lake or on the beach at Cancun?

I’m genuinely interested to hear from e-reader owners. What are your feelings about your e-reader on vacation and what are your concerns, if any, for its safety?

Leave a comment or email me. (You can find my email at the right of the screen underneath my picture). Let me know.

And enjoy the summer!

DEBT’S PLEDGE GETS A REVIEW!

debtspledgedisplay

It’s short, but it’s positive!

“I would like to read more in this series. I love the main character. If you like military hero writing, this is it.”

Thank you Gloria R. Thomas. I am in your debt! 

 

DEBT’S PLEDGE

ImageMy latest science fiction novel, Debt’s Pledge has been a long time coming.

I started this book many years ago. I wanted to write a military science fiction novel about a soldier who is down and out.

At the time I had been doing research on Ancient Rome and the conditions faced by soldiers in the years before Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon with his army. There was opportunity for reward and glory for Roman soldiers, but there was also much deprivation and hardship. I wanted to translate this situation to a traditional military science fiction milieu.

I also wanted to examine the idea of debt. Not just monetary debt, or the debt that a society exacts upon its citizens, I wanted to try to separate what individuals owe to society separate from what is mandated by taxation.

What I discovered, as I wrote, is that we, as individuals owed the existence we have in the present to those who came before us. This seems obvious, though sometimes we forget how much of what we have today we owe to those who came before us. Not just fathers and mothers, but “founding” fathers are owed a debt by all of us in the present. A simple experience like going out for a meal represents an immense societal effort over many years to create the situations where today restaurants and fast food outlets are commonplace and affordable.

Even the simple act of flushing a toilet is the result of decades, even centuries of hard work and building of complicated infrastructure. For that hard work and ingenuity, we owe a debt.

What I also discovered was that the debt goes both ways.

It’s fashionable now to talk about leaving a better world for our children (as if our ancestors didn’t want the same things for us) but do we really appreciate what that means. Parents will sacrifice and work hard for their own children and I am no exception, but what about the many children who are unborn today and who may never be born. What debt do we owe to them?

The concept of debt becomes more nebulous and contention at this point but while I was writing I wanted to explore a situation where that concept suddenly became clear. I think that I was successful in doing that in Debt’s Pledge.

I wrote the first draft of this novel and most of the second well before the global economic crisis happened. World events have borne out much of what I had been thinking at the time and, I hope, have made this story even more relevant and timely now than when I started.

Certainly you can read the book and enjoy it as an exciting, military, space opera adventure. The book contains spaceships, space travellers, future soldiers, aliens (and some really badass aliens) enough to content the lovers of science fiction, military SF and Space Opera.

But there is also a human story mixed into all that, and some thoughts on the relationship between individuals and society and what each owes the other. That is what Harlan Ellison refers to as the “fibre” hidden within the story. I’m quite pleased at the way it made it into the narrative.

I am also happy with the characters that developed and grew along the way. Some were created consciously and others just kind of showed up during the writing. This is their story and I am pleased with the way that it has been told. I believe I was able to stay out of their way sufficiently to allow them to tell the tale as it needed to be. That, for a writer, is the best feeling. It’s like some sort of magic has been invoked and it has infused itself into the text.

Debt’s Pledge is available now at Amazon.com for the kindle. It will soon be available in other e-formats as well as a print edition soon afterwards. Personally I think you owe it to yourself to check it out, maybe even buy a copy. If you have already purchased a copy, then sincerely, thank you.

I am in your debt.

The Man in the Torn Shirt

Here is a reprint of my most recent post for the AMAZING STORIES website. This post was inspired by my good buddy Cal over at the Cave of Cool who tends to knock one of my great childhood heroes because of his choice of shirts.

MDJackson_tornshirt_header
This post is about icons.

It’s about powerful images and the way that they can become stuck in the public consciousness.

But it’s also about old pulp heroes. One in particular.

I suppose I should start at the beginning. Not back in the 1930’s when Street and Smith released a new hero pulp magazine featuring a super-scientific crime fighter named Doc Savage. Not even in the 1960’s when the adventures were reprinted in paperback format with covers painted by artist James Bama.

For me the beginning was the summer of 1976. I was eleven years old and it was the start of our family summer vacation. Summer vacation for me meant long drives in a hot car with my brothers and I in the back seat. We had made a stop somewhere and my mother sent us in to a used bookstore with a little bit of pocket money to buy comic books to try to keep us interested in something else other than fighting amongst ourselves.

DocSavageTheOtherWorldCoverProofI started rifling through the second-hand paperbacks. I can’t remember exactly what I was looking for, but when I came across the Doc Savage paperback I was stopped cold. The cover showed a muscled man with a torn shirt and a strange haircut, fending off a trio of weasel-like creatures. The name DOC SAVAGE was blazoned across the top but above it was the name of the adventure: The Other World.

The description on the back of the book got me even more excited. “To the world at large, Doc Savage is a strange, mysterious, figure of glistening bronze skin and golden eyes…”

How could an eleven year old resist that? I read the paperback and wanted more.

Fortunately there were lots around at the time. George Pal had just made Doc Savage, the movie. There were comic books and magazines and plenty more paperbacks all featuring the iconic image of Doc Savage sporting a torn shirt.

The iconic torn shirt.

An icon is a religious work of art from Eastern Christianity. Depictions of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, saints, what have you, these images were very powerful representations of a people’s faith.

The icon has become co-opted by our society for anything but religious purposes. An icon is a visual representation of an idea or a feeling. It can be a symbols that encapsulates a feeling or an idea. Icons are very powerful, though we tend not to think too consciously about them. But that’s how they work.

Take Sherlock Holmes. Holmes was never… NEVER… described as wearing a deerstalker cap. The illustrator of the stories, Sidney Paget depicted Holmes wearing a traveling cloak and a deerstalker hat for one adventure. For whatever reason, the deerstalker became permanently associated with Holmes. The deerstalker was a country cap, favored by hunters. To wear it year round, in the city was an absurd thing back in the late 1880’s, yet it quickly became Holmes’ costume.

Put on a deerstalker cap and you are Sherlock Holmes. Even the recent BBC TV series Sherlock, which has updated Holmes to the Twenty-First century, could not entirely get away from at least giving a nod to the existence of the famous cap.

Doc Savage wearing a torn shirt ALL the time is ridiculous. Yes, he’s an adventurer and very busy. If, in the course of an adventure his shirt gets torn he doesn’t have time to get a new one.

Some bloggers, including Calvin from Calvin’s Canadian Cave of Cool, take to complaining about it, asking why he doesn’t make his shirts out of the same, seemingly durable material out of which his pants are made.

But these questions are immaterial. Doc Savage’s ripped shirt is iconic. It’s as iconic as Sherlock Holmes’ deerstalker, or Tarzan’s loin cloth.

It was not always like that. Just as with Holmes’s deerstalker, the torn shirt is a product of the illustrator. Doc Savage’s original pulp magazine run featured lots of action-filled covers and on some Doc appears wearing a ripped shirt. In the very first issue Doc’s shirt is torn. Nowhere near as torn as it would be in later covers, but it was there from the beginning. But other covers do not feature the torn shirt. In some cover illustrations Doc is wearing a suit and tie with not a single rip in sight.

When the adventures were released in paperback the job of painting the covers went to artist James Bama. Bama was the one who settled on the image of the torn shirt (the publishers insisted on the weird, widow’s peak hairstyle, but that’s another story) and the torn shirt appeared on every single cover that Bama or any other artist painted, right up until today.

 
So now, poor Doc Savage has to wear a torn shirt all the time, just like Sherlock Holmes was saddled with his ridiculous deerstalker. Perhaps Doc will move beyond the torn shirt. There is supposed to be a new movie in the works. Perhaps that will give us a new iconic image for Doc Savage. Maybe something cleaner, sophisticated and less… torn.

Perhaps that is a vain hope. I imagine that the poster for the movie, should it ever materialize, will feature a picture of whatever broadly muscled actor they cast sporting a shirt hanging raggedly about him to better highlight his pectorals and six-pack abs. That image will still overshadow the essence of a character who is so much more than a torn shirt.

Such is the power of the icon.



DAVINCI’S DEMONS

So last night I started watching DaVinci’s Demons, a British-American series which presents a highly fantastical representation of Leonardo Davinci’s early adult life as an artist, inventor, idealist and intellect and Florence under the Medici’s. The series is conceived and written by David S. Goyer.

Described as a historical fantasy, the series explores the untold story of DaVinci “inventing” the future at the age of 25, at a time in history when “thought and faith are controlled…as one man fights to set knowledge free.” The young DaVinci struggles with his inner darkness “tortured by a gift of superhuman genius. He is a heretic intent on exposing the lies of religion. An insurgent seeking to subvert an elitist society. A bastard son who yearns for legitimacy with his father.”

I was not expecting much with this show so I was pleasantly surprised at how good it is. It strikes the right balance of history and fantasy. DaVinci is presented as a sort of Florentine Sherlock, his unique vision and insights highlighted by moments of slow-motion and animated DaVinci drawings.

In fact, if you’re waiting impatiently for the new season of SHERLOCK in October (and, let’s face it, who isn’t?) then this just might be the series to tide you over. Visually it is very lush with beautiful scenery and costumes and, as this is Starz, there are enough expletives, boobs, bums and dicks on display to satisfy the GAME OF THRONES/SPARTACUS crowd. There is also enough action, sword fights, spurting blood, clever chases and explosions to satisfy attention deficit viewers.

Tom Riley does his best Benedict Cumberbatch/Johnny Lee Miller as Leonardo. He is difficult, a womanizer, a drunkard as well as a man of frenetic action and tortured genius. The rest of the cast is good and mostly British. DEEP SPACE NINE fans will recognize Julian Bashir — Alexander Siddig as Al-Rahim and SHERLOCK aficionados will recognize Irene Adler — Lara Pulver as Clarice Orsini.

I’m only two episodes in but I’m enjoying it enormously and I would recommend it based on the opening two. There are only eight episodes in the first season but it has been renewed for a second. It’s certainly worth a look.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vgg9nnALFGA

 

Why are we Crowdfunding Novels?

internet begging

Okay, I’m just gonna put it out there; Why are we crowdfunding novels?

If you don’t know, crowdfunding is a method of finding financial backers for a project that requires startup funds. Instead of finding a few wealthy investors, the projects hits the internet in search of a whole lot of backers who are willing to kick in a smaller amount. Kickstarter  is a website that specializes in these campaigns. Another is Indiegogo.

I have no problem with finding investors for a project that needs startup cash if there is a chance the investors will get a return on their investments. But what exactly are we funding when we crowdfund an author writing a novel? Are we kicking in to support the author while he dedicates all his time to writing?

I’m sorry, but the idea just sits wrong with me. I wrote four novels in my spare time while I was working to support a family. If something is important to you, you find the time. Writing these novels was important so I found the time. I woke up an hour earlier than my usual time and spent that first hour of the day working solidly, every morning, until I finished. It’s a habit I still have to this day.

Look, I sympathize with any writer who is struggling — trying to make ends meet is tough if you are a writer only. But sometimes you have to do what you have to do. Jobs are tough to find in this economy, I know, but to resort to what amounts to electronic panhandling… something about that just gets in my craw.

Maybe I’m wrong about this. Maybe I’m sounding like a member of the Tea Party, but honestly I’m not against welfare. I wrote part of a novel while I was on EI here in Canada (I didn’t get on to EI just to write the novel, but since I was on it I took advantage of the time). J. K. Rowling wrote her first Harry Potter novel while she was on the dole in Great Britain. Lots of novels get written that way. I don’t have a problem with that.

But this crowdfunding, I have a problem with it.

Maybe I’ve got the wrong end of the stick and, honestly, I would welcome discussion about this. I’m open minded enough to listen to counter arguments and I probably can be persuaded by a strong enough argument. If I’m missing something, please let me know.

Until then, I’ll be up at the crack of dawn each morning to get in as many words as I can before heading off to my day job.

Atomic Interview 12: Talking ONE FOOT IN MY GRAVE with Joel Jenkins

Atomic Interview 12: Talking ONE FOOT IN MY GRAVE with Joel Jenkins.

If you haven’t read any Joel Jenkins… what’s wrong with you?

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.