THE PARADIGM TRAP

the-paradigm-trap-cover1626961824.jpgRage Machine Books has published my Military SF novel The Paradigm Trap.

The book takes place in the same universe as Debt’s Pledge and Debt’s Honor, but during a very different time period. Where Debt’s Pledge and Debt’s Honor take place at the very beginning of the Kreoch War, The Paradigm Trap takes place at it’s very end.

Kent McLennan is a Commander in The Fleet, the powerful military defense force that has protected the human colony worlds for generations. But McLennan is an outspoken critic of the Fleet’s admiralty.

Still suffering the effects of a devastating accident, McLennan is on the verge of resigning his commission, but when he is suddenly offered a choice assignment, leading the mission to accept the Kreoch’s final surrender, his suspicions are aroused.

And with good reason. Fleet Admiral Burroughs is a man whom McLennan does not trust. The mission has too many odd features for McLennan’s liking, from two near legendary historical figures who seem to have an agenda of their own, to a brash diplomat whose past is as inscrutable as his motives.

The Paradigm Trap is a tense and exciting SF adventure that involves deadly enemies, treachery, and a plot to change history… literally.

The Paradigm Trap is available as an ebook and in a print version from Amazon.

Advertisements

An excerpt from DEBT’S HONOR

Debt's Honor CoverHere is an exclusive, available nowhere else excerpt from my new novel, DEBT’S HONOR:

Jefferson Odett would have been fine if he’d just kept going, but he had to stop when he heard the voice of a dead man.

The shuttle settled down on a featureless plain on a dirty ball of a planet that was their rallying point before the troops were sent again to engage the enemy. A light drizzle from the perpetually overhanging clouds turned the ground into a sloppy mud pit and Odett’s boots squelched in and out of it with every step. His mood was already grim and this weather improved nothing.

He spied a part of the field that looked a little more passable. The mud was broken up by large rocks. He was making towards it when his communicator chimed. Updates. Orders. He didn’t bother opening the message. There would be plenty of time for that once he was warm and dry.

The first of the temporary shelters came into view. They were pre-fab constructs that had the benefit of being a barrier against the elements and little else. There were groups of them arranged to some order by various commanders. Individually the arrangement must have made some sort of sense but to Odett’s eye it was just a jumble of small huts surrounded by miserable figures wearing rain gear and looking as grim as Odett felt.

His own men were some yards away yet. He could not tell where. There was a map on his communicator but Odett did not want to look at it right now. He wanted to concentrate on his footing. He trusted he would stumble upon his men sooner or later or they would stumble upon him. They were bound to be keeping an eye out for him.

As he leaped from one rocky outcrop to another, trying to avoid a muddy patch in between, Odett heard the voice that made him stop. It belonged to a man he thought had been dead for over two years.

“I saw the bladeships with my own eyes…” the voice was saying. “I saw it carve up the transport like it was nothing! I barely escaped with my life!”

Odett looked in the direction the voice had come from. A group of soldiers were gathered round to hear the tale the voice spouted. They were an Earthborn division. Odett could tell by their uniforms and their gear, which was new and up to date and hardly used. He pushed his way through the group of soldiers, garnering stern looks as he did so, but he didn’t care. He had to know.

There he was, surrounded by a group of admiring Earthborn soldiers, looking clean and scrubbed as if he hadn’t had to lift a finger for anything.

Winters.

Odett could see he was a captain now. Unlike Odett, he likely hadn’t earned the title. He’d probably purchased it with the prize money he’d been awarded for the capture of Albert Carlysle, a wanted prisoner that Odett had, in actuality, recognized and captured – a prisoner who had saved his life aboard the Emperor Malthius.

That was the last time Odett had seen Winters aboard that damned ship. Odett had assumed Winters died with all the other soldiers.

But here he was, telling his tale to a rapt audience.

“The thing… the Kreoch ship… just clamps on to the unsuspecting ship. The Kreoch warship is like a great knife that cuts into the ship, ripping it apart.”

Odett sighed inwardly. Everyone knew that now. When he’d told the admiralty about it after he’d made it back to Earth they had a hard time believing his incredible story. Since then there had been documented proof of the existence of the Kreoch bladeships, and the unimaginable damage they cause to hapless vessels unfortunate enough to encounter them.

“How many Kreoch did you kill?” a voice asked.

Winters shrugged and smiled. “I don’t know. It was all a blur and I didn’t keep count.

“Hard to kill Kreoch when you’re cowering in a lifepod,” a voice countered.

Odett was somewhat surprised to realize that the voice was his own. He’d thought it and said it aloud without meaning to.

DEBT’S HONOR is available at Amazon in e-book and in paperback.

DEBT’S HONOR

From my publisher, Rage Machine Books:

The long awaited sequel to our best selling title DEBT’S PLEDGE has finally been released!

Jefferson Odett returns in Jack Mackenzie’s DEBT’S HONOR, an action-packed military science fiction adventure that will have you hooked!

PIRATES, ALIENS, BUREAUCRATS – WHO CAN YOU TRUST?

Korax is a colony world beset by problems. Pirates have targeted the world for plunder, a race of wandering alien nomads have made themselves at home and the colony’s new governor seems intent on making enemies of just about everyone.

Jefferson Odett would rather be out on the rim, fighting the war for humanity, but a misadventure has landed him here. Now he has to try to secure a planet that does not want its new governor, the aliens who have moved in, or the platoon of undisciplined soldiers under Odett’s command. The only thing the colony seems to want is the pirate that Odett has been ordered to kill.

Action-filled military science fiction by the author of DEBT’S PLEDGE.

DEBT’S HONOR is available at Amazon in e-book and in paperback.

The ‘Barely-There’ Costumes of Logan’s Run

e3ce63377975da4e18837445c1c941bb

by Jack Mackenzie

In the year before Star Wars, a Science Fiction film made a scene with its costumes – or lack thereof!

Science Fiction films of the 1970’s weren’t exactly subtle. Beginning with the Planet of the Apes movies, a sub genre of SF cinema began to emerge which has been dubbed “Shattered Earth”. This type of film included some classics as well as some forgettable efforts.

Films like The Omega Man, THX 1138, Z.P.G., The Final Programme, Soylent Green, Phase IV, A Boy and His Dog, and The Ultimate Warrior explored dystopic visions of the future either after some sort of holocaust level disaster or in a repressive society that was designed in response to, or in order to prevent, said disaster.

In 1976 Logan’s Run was one of the last notable films of this school and it was arguably the most successful and most memorable (after the Planet of the Apes films).

The special effects, the model work and the production design all push Logan’s Run to the top of the heap of a less than reputable sub-genre of film. The story, as unsubtle as it was, caught the imagination of audiences enough to warrant a television series spin-off, if not an actual sequel. It was as successful a Science Fiction film as there could be before Star Wars came and changed the game.

But it was the costume design (or lack thereof) that really caught some people’s attention at the time.

Up until Logan’s Run costumes in Science Fiction films were generally relegated to either bulky spacesuits, formless white prison garb or elaborate outfits that featured over sized jewelry and odd helmets or other head dresses.

Logan’s Run, chose to go with a “less is more” approach. And in the case of some costumes there was a lot of emphasis on the “less”.

Bill Thomas was the costume designer for Logan’s Run. He was an Academy Award-winning designer who had over 180 credits. He designed for films like Babes in Toyland, Spartacus and The Happiest Millionaire. His approach to the costumes of Logan’s Run was to stick to fabrics and aesthetics of the time, which is why the film today seems hopelessly outdated. The film has a distinctive 1970’s feel to it.

The costumes worn by the Sandmen, the police force of the futuristic city, the ones who catch the runners, made quite an impact, despite their simplicity. A black form fitting outfit with a grey band across the chest is as minimalist as it gets for a distinctive uniform, but the outfits are striking especially when compared with the costumes worn by the rest of the cast.

Which was not much.

The costumes worn by the citizens of the City, the futuristic home of the last of humanity, all under thirty, all white, are very revealing. The “California” sensibility is redolent throughout the population (this despite the fact that much of the City scenes were filmed in Dallas, Texas). The clothing is sparse. The skirts are short. The sleeves are practically non-existant and the materials are synthetic fibers like lycra and spandex. These materials were considered “fashion forward” at the time. Satin was also used along with cotton and sheer materials.

Very sheer. And, as is usual in these kinds of films, there are no bras in the future.

Most of the costumes for the movie were modified from pieces bought in retail stores like tunic shirts and wrap dresses. Once the base outfit was chosen, costumers would sew on patches of brightly colored fabric cut into geometric shapes to make them look futuristic.

In order to make the costumes “pop” all that was needed was a light spray of adhesive and a dusting of glitter or sequins. Accessories also played a huge part in the finished product. Jewelry and belts were the perfect “finishing off” of the costumes. The bigger and more elaborate the better.

The costumes from the movie resemble a lot of the “wild” clothing that was worn in the disco clubs of the day and later became the fashion of the early 80’s, like off the shoulder tops and wide belts.
As revealing as the costumes from Logan’s Run are they were originally designed to be much more revealing. But that would have meant spending much more on makeup for exposed skin.

One outfit in particular stands out from the pack. This was worn by Jennifer Agutter who played Jessica, the female lead. It consisted of a piece of fabric which barely covers the actor’s front and back and leaves her sides exposed. All that holds the front and back pieces together is a small length of chain.

Again, there is clearly no underwear in the future.

Jenny Agutter, not surprisingly, wasn’t wild about that outfit. “Logan’s Run was fairly embarrassing,” she stated in an interview. “But I’m thrilled that I’ve been a part of it all.”


There is more to this article. Read the rest of Jack Mackenzie’s essay (and see some slightly NSFW photos) in the latest issue of Dark Worlds Quarterly. It’s available as a FREE download and it is packed with so much amazing stuff.

DOWNLOAD THE LATEST ISSUE HERE

Science Fiction as Social Commentary

Despite its far flung settings and futuristic subjects, the best SF still has ties to the here and now

The very best science fiction, whether it be literature or in the movies or on television, the kinds of science fiction that resonates most strongly with the readers and viewers, is not the science fiction that merely shows us the wonders of the world of tomorrow, but the science fiction that comments on the world of today.

Despite a recent loud and disruptive movement within science fiction fan circles that proclaimed that science fiction should only focus on rocketships and rayguns, robots and whiz-bang action and decried any other type as propaganda from rabid leftist social justice warriors, science fiction and social commentary go hand in hand. It has done from the very beginning.

From the fantastic adventures of Lemuel Gulliver in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels in 1735 to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to today’s fiction in print and on movie screens and television, science fiction that reflects and comments on current events usually has a more profound impact. Indeed, some will argue that is the very purpose of science fiction, to illuminate aspects of our world and our lives today. Science fiction holds it up to a funhouse mirror, distorts it, stretches it, and then examines it in ways that cannot be done without current cultural biases interfering. By couching a subject in the language of the rockets, rayguns and whiz-bang action, greater insights can be wrung from certain subjects and issues that are too “hot button” to talk about directly.

But how much of this is deliberate? As the aforementioned loud and noisy movement has accused the establishment of science fiction of doing so, how much of this “message” is deliberately inserted into modern science fiction as a form of “propaganda” and how much of it occurs naturally, an unavoidable by-product of writers who are keenly aware of our contemporary society’s ills and wish to provide commentary on such, if not prescribing their so-called SJW remedies?

This, it turns out, is not a new discussion. Nor is science fiction’s penchant for presenting social commentary disguised as fantastical adventures.

SOCIAL COMMENTARY

I mentioned Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels earlier. Anyone who has taken a literature course in high school or college knows that Swift’s fanciful adventure was not merely a rousing tale of a hapless traveler in far flung lands. Swift constructed his fantasy world of Lilliputians, Brobdingnagans and Houyhnhnms not as a mere distraction, but to make pointed observations about contemporary European society. He did this deliberately. Indeed, Swift himself is quoted as saying that he wrote Gulliver’s Travels “to vex the world rather than divert it”.

His criticisms of contemporary society did not impinge upon the book’s sales, fortunately. Indeed, the book became popular as soon as it was published. John Gay wrote in a 1726 letter to Swift that “It is universally read, from the cabinet council to the nursery.”

Mary Shelley’s debut novel, Frankenstein, is considered to be one of the first science fiction stories. The English science fiction writer Brian Aldiss has argued that it should be considered the first true science fiction story because, in contrast to previous stories with fantastical elements resembling those of later science fiction, the central character “makes a deliberate decision” and “turns to modern experiments in the laboratory” to achieve fantastic results.

But what does Frankenstein say about society? Shelley says that the world is cruel and monsters will not be tolerated but shhe also asks how will technology change us? The character of Victor Frankenstein is modern man, poised on the cusp of great discoveries that will challenge God, but also poised at the point at which we become the monsters. Victor rejects his creation, goes back to a world that does not embrace change. But change, in the form of Adam, has other ideas.

This battle with change will define the next two giants of Science Fiction: Jules Verne and H. G. Wells. Verne portrays scientific change as a wondrous process that will bring adventure. He often does not show how this will affect human lives. (Captain Nemo is perhaps the closest he comes to it.) Wells rejects Verne’s naiveté and returns to Shelley’s grim view. Change will be painful. Traveling in time, becoming invisible, alien invasion, giant monsters, all will be terrible. Wells is not afraid to make social commentary, in fact, did nothing else at the same time that he predicted tank warfare, aerial bombing and other future realities. His novel, The Island of Doctor Moreau, for instance, was written as a fundraiser to stop animal vivisection. Wells moved away from narrative as he progressed, abandoning the Science Fiction adventure for proselytizing novels and non-fiction.

In the wake of World War I, society as a whole began to change in earnest. Mechanical inventions had been seen on the battlefields of Europe and now, in peacetime, they were making their way into people’s homes. Certainly the early twentieth century was not devoid of social criticism, but in the aftermath of the Great War, it was mostly in the purview of art and culture movements. The surrealists, the Dada-ists, the Bauhous movement. These were, for the most part, intellectuals talking to other intellectuals, and not making many inroads into popular culture. Indeed, that these movements set themselves aside from and opposed to popular culture was a point of pride.

But in 1920 a unique stage production in Russia was about to change all that.

ROSSUM’S UNIVERSAL ROBOTS

R.U.R. is a 1920 science fiction play by the Czech writer, Karel Čapek. R.U.R. stands for Rossumovi Univerzální Roboti (Rossum’s Universal Robots). It premiered on January 25, 1921 and introduced the word “robot” to the language and to science fiction as a whole.

The word “robot”, which displaced older words such as “automaton” or “android” in languages around the world would itself become a trope that would offer science fiction writers copious opportunities to play, poke fun at, or otherwise satirize a host of society’s foibles, not the least of which, mankind’s desire for institutionalized slavery. Indeed, in Czech, robota means forced labour of the kind that serfs had to perform on their masters’ lands and is derived from the word rab, meaning “slave”.

The name Rossum is an allusion to the Czech word rozum, meaning “reason”, “wisdom”, “intellect” or “common-sense”. It has been suggested that the allusion might be preserved by translating “Rossum” as “Reason” but only the Majer/Porter version translates the word as “Reason”. R.U.R becomes one of the first examples of science fiction using a new technology and a fantastical future world to say something profound about the contemporary society from which it sprang.

The play begins in a factory that makes artificial people, called roboti (robots), from synthetic organic matter. They are not exactly robots by the current definition of the term: they are living flesh and blood creatures rather than machinery and are closer to the modern idea of clones. They may be mistaken for humans and can think for themselves. They seem happy to work for humans at first, but a robot rebellion leads to the extinction of the human race.

Again, the social commentary does not hurt R.U.R.‘s public reception. The play was successful in its day in both Europe and North America. R.U.R. quickly became famous and was influential early in the history of its publication. By 1923, it had been translated into thirty languages.

Perhaps by today’s standards using a play about mechanical creations to send the message that slavery is bad may not seem like a very controversial move. It’s pretty well de rigueur today. If you have robots or artificial people in your story, at some point you’re going to have to talk about slavery and how it is bad and how all sentient beings should be free to make their own choices, etc., etc. That message can be found in at least one episode of any of the various Star Trek iterations.

But, of course, the using of science fiction to comment on society would not end with R.U.R.

THOUGHT PROVOKING

There is a phrase that always seems to accompany science fiction of this type. “Thought provoking”. That was always kind of a code phrase that the science fiction you are about to read or see, which may have all the cool, whiz-bang trappings of science fiction that fans love, will also have a “message”

Science fiction that was described as “though provoking” could also be synonymous with “heavy handed” or worse, “boring”.

As L. W. Michaelson observed in his article for The Antioch Review in 1954, “Social Criticism in Science Fiction”: “What better way to reach the adolescent mind than with a glorious action story filled with blasters and super-rockets and energizers and what not and then carefully sandwiched in between the action, some little gems of information that will impart a perspective on our society as a whole?”

There are obvious works that can be described as “message” fiction. Orwell’s 1984 is an obvious warning against totalitarianism. Huxley’s Brave New World is a warning about the dangers of utopia.

This is in contrast to the science fiction published in popular magazines. From Hugo Gernsback’s Amazing Stories magazine and to the many others that popped up in its wake, science fiction was a venue for telling fantastic stories of brave industrialists who overcame society’s indifference or disbelief, and built powerful rocket ships to travel into the far reaches of space. Early science fiction tales were rightfully disregarded as little more than chewing gum for juvenile imaginations.

THE POST WAR ERA

But that began to change. In the post war era of the 1950’s, science fiction writers had transformed from happy-go-lucky champions of technology to gloomy prophets of doom. Indeed, in the nuclear era the “Frankenstein’s Monster” of the day was the atom bomb. It was a powerful and terrible weapon with devastating consequences that raised moral concerns among even the most hawkish of writers.

In this post-war era many science fiction writers felt compelled to include a healthy serving of social commentary along with the aliens, robots and ray-guns. Indeed, it was argued that science fiction was one of the few genres that could do this without too much fear of public censure.

L. W. Michaelson in his essay for “Social Criticism in Science Fiction”, makes plain that the use of science fiction as a cloak or a disguise in order to more freely speak about subjects which were not generally brought up in polite society is a deliberate and an inherent feature of the genre:

“The channeling of man’s critical sense, via science fiction, from the currently inhospitable field of the present to a more secure area of the distant future or past, is due in part to the increasing sensitivity of Americans to criticism of any kind. Al Capp, the cartoonist, noted this in his article in Life (March 31, 1952) and concluded that his comic strip, Lil’ Abner, would have to eliminate social satire entirely and concentrate upon “trivialities” and/or the matrimonial difficulties of his hero.

In regard to this sensitivity, perhaps we feel our way of life is engaged in some ceaseless competition, or is continually on trial before the eyes of an indifferent or hostile world. Thus, if the science-fiction Gulliver mentions the year 2186, or better still 3547, this sensitivity is correspondingly dulled. In other words, there is an inverse ratio to our dislike of criticism; the farther away in time and space the criticism seems to lodge, the less the irritation or concern.”

In the 1950’s science fiction had become so caught up in moralizing and philosophizing about society, that in 1951, editor Raymond J. Healy felt compelled to publish a collection of science fiction tales, New Tales of Time and Space, that were deliberately more positive and light-hearted than the majority of what had become the “message” fiction of the day. In the introduction to the book, magazine editor Anthony Boucher noted about the stories in the collection: “For all their positiveness you’ll find many of these stories markedly critical of the present state of man’s world – many of the authors markedly unconvinced that contemporary American culture is the ultimate and unchangeable Way of Life.”

The criticism of society as a whole from science fiction writers was so obvious that in 1953 conservative editor, Thomas. P. McDonnel, wrote an article for Catholic World Magazine on “The Cult of Science Fiction”. In that essay, he complains that “liberals in general are now using science fiction as a kind of intellectual underground communication system or as a semi-secret club lecture platform.”

And you thought that loud and disruptive movement was a new thing.


This is actually only about half of the article that I wrote. You can read the entire thing and more in the latest issue of DARK WORLDS QUARTERLY. Download issue # 2 for FREE right here, or click on the image below!

Current Issue button 2

The Orville or Star Trek: Discovery?

STD_Orville

Star Trek: Discovery vs the “New” space adventure series The Orville

So, which is it to be? Seth MacFarlane’s sci-fi parody, The Orville, or CBS All Access’s new flagship series, the latest iteration of the 50 year old franchise, Star Trek: Discovery?

Well, honestly, there’s no comparison. The clear winner here is Star Trek: Discovery which pulled well ahead with it’s third episode, taking the series in a completely unexpected direction and confounding critic’s predictions. It is traveling the inroads that have been made for televised science fiction by series like Ronald D. Moore’s Battlestar Galactica reboot and currently with The Expanse.

Star Trek is reinterpreting itself to fit in with the modern television landscape. It’s a series that has been designed with the binge-watching audience in mind. It also doesn’t feel the need to slow down and explain everything.

The Orville, on the other hands is firmly planted in the same territory that was mined by Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation decades ago. The stories are heavy handed and moralistic, but with a lighter than ice cream tone. It is meant to be a parody but it only seems to remember that occasionally when it tries to inject some lame joke in the middle of the drama. And the jokes are lame. Seriously.

The funniest moment of a recent episode was probably one of the subtlest bits of comedy the show has ever attempted. Bortus, an alien crew member, stops and stares at his partner who is eating Rocky Road ice cream and watching The Sound of Music because he is depressed and has chosen a human cure for depression. That one silent moment was the high point of humor for a series that has relied on crude jokes and cultural and racial stereotypes for much of its comedy.

Discovery, on the other hand, seems to have its feet firmly in the stirrups. Once the viewer realizes that the entire season is one whole story arc (and in this day and age of Netflix and other streaming services, that realization shouldn’t be difficult) then the first two episodes, what would, in iterations past be presented as the “pilot” episode, was, in fact, merely the cold open of a much larger story. To judge the series, as many have done, based on the first two would have been akin to giving up on one of the other series episodes based solely upon the pre-credit teaser.

The other aspect of The Orville that has been remarked on by others, most notably by Steve Barnes, author of Twelve Days, and co-author of Dream Park and The Legacy of Heorot, is it’s tendency to cast actors of color as aliens, while the human cast remains mostly white. Of the main cast only Penny Johnson (Cassidy Yates from Deep Space Nine) as the ship’s doctor is not portrayed in a culturally stereotypical way. I have commented elsewhere that The Orville is Star Trek for white viewers who are uncomfortable with too much cultural diversity.

Discovery, on the other hand, embraces diversity right out of the gate with the main character being Michael Burnham, a woman of color (played by Sonequa Martin Green) as first officer to Captain Georgiou, an Asian woman (played by Michelle Yeoh)

Though that relationship does not continue throughout the series, the diversity in cast members is laudable in comparison with the half-hearted attempt at it by The Orville.

The Orville has further added to its unoriginal provenance in its fourth episode which posits a generation ship that situation that mirrors Harlan Ellison’s The Starlost so closely that I wouldn’t be surprised if Harlan were to launch a lawsuit against Fox in the coming days. That episode more closely resembled The Starlost than James Cameron’s The Terminator resembled Ellison’s Outer Limits episode “Soldier”, but we all know how that turned out.

I’m not going to draw this out any longer. For my money, Star Trek: Discovery is the superior show. It is traveling down new roads and, I am confident, it will blaze some roads of its own before the current story arc has finished unspooling.

The Orville, meanwhile, seems destined to boldly go where much better shows have gone before.