Tentacle

A few weeks ago many of us fell in love as the story broke of a free-spirited little New Zealand octopus named Inky, who made his way out his aquarium, ambled across the floor of the research lab, and snaked into a small drain pipe that led to his ancestral home in the Pacific Ocean. Many of us, smitten by a cephalopod of such serious purpose, wonder about his whereabouts, his healthcare, his forwarding address.

Less than a week ago I was talking to an overbearing acquaintance about my latest novel, and mentioned that the book’s primary antagonist is a savage nightmare with tentacles like those of octopi. The acquaintance, concerned by my lack of fundamental biology and spelling, jabbed a finger in midair.

“You couldn’t be more wrong,” he said. “An octopus has arms, not tentacles. And the plural of octopus is octopuses, not octopi.”

He huffed, stomping off.

I puckered my lips, pondered this. Since he was probably correct, I decided that, like a good protagonist, I had to take action. Since Jack Parker and I are the gods of our mythical world of Newtonia, I have decided to create octopi in its oceans. And you know what our octopi possess? Tentacles.

That’s the beauty of being a guy who tells lies for entertainment: I can do whatever the hell I want. Just like Inky.

Peace,

Keith

Wanna read more about Newtonia? Read MADNESS RISING, available for Kindle.

Copyright (c) 2016 Keith Parker

Antagonist

Doctor_Who_The_Name_of_The_Doctor“Welcome to the final resting place of the cruel tyrant.”

As we usher out Matt Smith and usher in Peter Capaldi as the twelfth Doctor, it’s useful to reflect on just why “The Name of the Doctor” is such a brilliant piece of television science fiction.  In that finale Dr. Simeon makes the assertion (see quote above) about the Doctor’s “reputation.”   The Doctor, in all his incarnations, is the “slaughterer of the ten billion,” the one who wiped out (or will wipe out) the Sycorax, Soloman the Trader, the Cybermen, and the Daleks.

The reason I’m boring you with all this is simple: Most fans of science fiction, fantasy and horror aspire to be creative writers, whether short stories, novels, screenplays, or creative nonfiction.  And it’s worth offering a bit of writing advice to those who do.  Any story has to have an protagonist and an antagonist, or, as they say in Engligh, a hero and villain :)

If the antagonist is a “real person”, i.e., not a sharknado or disco music, then you need to make sure that you understand your villain.  He may be a son-of-a-bitch to everyone else, but to himself he’s God’s gift to mankind.  When we watch Doctor Who, we know the Cybermen and Daleks are evil, but to Dr. Simeon they’re victims.  It’s crucial for us writers to realize that from the point of view of the villain, the villain is the hero and the hero is the villain, or vice versa in reverse.

One exercise that I like to practice when writing a story is to write an outline from the villain’s perspective.  It gives me a sense of what he wants, how he views life.  This, I think, is crucial to three-dimensional characters and good, solid story, and the reason “The Name of the Doctor” is such a good episode.

That’s all for today.  I had a tooth extracted this week and I feel like warm-over dogshit.

So, until next time,

Peace,

Keith

Copyright (c) 2013 Keith Parker. All Rights Reserved. All trademarks and copyrights are the property of their respective owners and are used for entertainment purposes only and as provided for by the “Fair Use” copyright clause.

Cyborg

Cyborg.  Ha!  Gotta have a huge shout-out to my man, “MirkinFirkin”, and his hilarious blog, www.JustJiggleTheHandle.com. If you’re a fan of the satirical newspaper, The Onion, you will love his satire. He is a riot. The shout-out is specifically related to his mention of the Cybermen from Doctor Who. Until yesterday I honestly did not know the difference between a robot and a cyborg.  How weird is that?  I’ve read/watched SFFH my whole freakin’ life … didn’t have a clue.  I’d better learn really freakin’ fast, though, because we got us a new novel in the works; it’s set on an alien planet where robots with human brains (i.e., cyborgs) are preparing the way for human colonization when they discover (wait for it!) an ancient evil. Did you expect anything less from a Lovecraft fan?

More on the novel in coming months, but for now I will say that the “robots” do not look anything like Doctor Who‘s Cybermen. Why? Because I think the Cybermen look like shit. Seriously. I hate them. They remind me of something I’d see in a bad episode of Lost in Space (but that’s redundant, isn’t it?). In fact, I’d rather kick back and watch reruns of the original Battlestar Galaxative rather assault my eyes with that garbage.

But, enough whining. People whine too much these days. Doctor Who is fun. That’s what TV is for.

Before I close, though, another shout-out is in order to my friend and fellow Birmingham-Southern physicist, James Archer (who is not a cyborg) for reminding me that everything in the universe has a starting point and an ending point.  Everything that can exist does exist, at least according to prevailing theories (theories in the sciences are the same as facts for you and me).  Now all I have to do to comfort myself (perhaps a nice glass of whiskey) is find a theory for emergent consciousness.  That should be simple like radar, as The Stooges once said.

  • A man walks into a bar and asks, “Where’s the Doctor?”
  • The bartender replies, “Doctor Who?”

Peace, from

Keith

Copyright (c) 2013, Keith Parker

Grave

Grave“The fate of all is always dust.”

~ So say The Whispermen when The Doctor encounters them on Trenzalore, the place of his death, the place he is buried.

In the seventh season finale, which may be the best Doctor Who episode I’ve ever seen, The Doctor faces his own mortality.   With a grave (as it were) face, The Doctor steps out of his time machine and sets foot upon the planet that serves as his own cemetery, and is able to look upon his own tomb.

Clara Oswald says, “Anybody’d be scared, looking at their own grave.”

This is the slimy, oozy underbelly of time travel, isn’t it?  The one with the bugs and wiggly worms.  If we had the ability to hop around time, we’d eventually — through accident or purpose — find out the time, place, and manner of our own demise.

What happens to us when we die?  I don’t mean that in religious terms, per se.  I mean it experientially.  When we die —  assuming we have some knowledge of it (i.e., not getting blindsided by oncoming Mack truck hauling a load of gravel to build a new overpass on the Parkway) — what goes through our mind?  One instant you have a thought, the next instant you do not have a thought.  Or, so it would seem.

In February 2003 my brother died of a heart attack.  I wasn’t there when it happened, but he apparently died instantly.  He was in his kitchen.  He fell to the floor.  Dead.  What was his last thought?  What was he talking about when it happened?  Or was he talking?  I have heard he was in a really good mood, and I certainly hope that that was the case, but honestly, I stay up at night and wonder: What did he think right before he passed out.  Maybe he knew pain.  Maybe he was scared out of his mind.  I certainly hope not.  I’d like to think he thought nothing.  Or, best case, he was  bewildered and confused.

But then what happened?  Did he have a near-death experience?  Did he slowly rise above his body and watch as his wife tried to administer CPR while she waited on the paramedics?  Did he see and hear all of this?  If so, how?  How did he see and hear without eyes and ears?  Or, was there simply nothing?  Was there just blackness?

As you might imagine, being the only survivor of my immediate family, I often wonder about fatality.  But I don’t have answers.  Some people do.  Some are convinced, through devout faith, and know with 100% certainty that there is an afterlife, with proof rooted in scripture.  Likewise, secular humanists know with 100% certainty that there is nothing beyond the wall of death.  And so those of us in the middle say that they can’t both be right.

Or can they?

I have a degree in physics.  And I attended one of the best liberal arts colleges in the country.  One of the things they taught me in my physics classes, and one of the things my alma mater emphasized, was the importance of coming to grips with cognitive dissonance, the ability (need) to hold onto two conflicting notions.  Like the famous wave/particle duality of light and matter, maybe our quest for an afterlife has two correct but different solutions.  And maybe Doctor Who answers the question as well as any: That the dimension of time itself is wibbly, wobbly, and that — like a greased pig — when we think we have it in our grasp it slithers away again.

You can’t believe in A and B they tell me.  And I ask myself, why not?

Until next time, don’t think about matters grave.  Let me take that burden from you.

Peace,

Keith

Copyright © 2013 Keith Parker

The image posted in this blog is the property of the BBC, and is their sole property.  It is used here under this author’s understanding of the fair use laws.

Yabe

Screen Shot 2013-09-04 at 7.40.13 PMWelcome to Yabe Auctions!

Ending times are nonnegotiable; condition assumes caveat emptor; quantity to be verified by purchaser, also caveat emptor; Just Buy The Damn Thing prices listed when available.  Current bid is given by the Yabe Auction username.

The following items, culled by the noisome scholars at The Parker Institute of Time Travel Studies (The PITTS), and submitted for distribution through the publishing arm known as Fish and #TARDIS Sauce, have been made available through Yabe Auctions, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Corporation of Redundancy Corporation.

Did we mention caveat emptor?

PSYCHIC PAPER

  • Ending: Anytime you want it to.
  • Condition: Vintage, as used by Second Doctor
  • Quantity: 15 in stock
  • Just Buy the Damn Thing: £ 42
  • Current Bid: Don’t you already know?

TRIBBLE

  • Ending: Aboard Klingon warship
  • Condition: Trilling
  • Quantity: Geometrically increasing
  • Just Buy the Damn Thing: For a Drink
  • Current Bid: <SOLD: Cyrano Jones>

STRANGE WINE

  • Ending: Auction is over
  • Condition: In the sewers
  • Quantity: Overstocked
  • Just Buy the Damn Thing: You already did
  • Current Bid: <SOLD: Hitler, Selling Roses>

1961 FERRARI 250 GT CALIFORNIA

  • Condition: Wiped with diaper
  • Ending: Never
  • Buy It Now: N/A
  • Quantity: <100
  • Current Bid: <Mr. Fry>

K-9, Mark II

  • Condition: Robotic
  • Ending: In e-space
  • Just Buy the Damn Thing: N/A
  • Quantity: One
  • Current Bid: <Romana>

CUSTARD

  • Condition: Spoiled
  • Ending: In the ER
  • Just Buy the Damn Thing: Payment due when services rendered.
  • Quantity: Too much of a good thing.
  • Current Bid: <No bidders>

ISHER WEAPON

  • Condition: A Fine Weapon
  • Ending: When you think you are free
  • Just Buy the Damn Thing: Negotiable, auction only
  • Quantity: Based on market forces, of course
  • Current Bid: <Robert Hedrock, but he has plenty of time to wait>

All sales final

Copyright © 2013 Keith Parker

Christmas

globeI love the Doctor Who Christmas specials.  In fact, those episodes tipped the scales when I was deciding whether to invest my time in a program that’s about to be 50-years-old.  But there was simply no way I could shun a program that devotes an hour every December at Christmastime.  I don’t review Doctor Who episodes on my blog; there are plenty of other resources for that on the Internet.  But, for whatever it is worth, my favorite Christmas Special is “The Next Doctor”, which aired in December 2008.  It’s not the most popular of the specials, but it resonates with me.  My favorite Doctor Who episodes are the ones where The Doctor and his Companion stay right here on little ol’ Earth, traveling back to some romantic era of our own past.  And while I’ve never been a fan of the Cybermen, the character of Miss Mercy Hartigan has to be one of the best villains the show has come up with.  She is such a … femme fatale.  You can’t help but to love her and hate her.

Ah, Christmas.  The snow, the icicles, the reindeer.  The gifts!

The Christmas holiday creates its own form of time travel for me.  It takes me back to my childhood days on “The Mountain” here in Huntsville.  If you’ve been there you know what I mean.  We lived in a Federal-style, red-brick house with huge, multi-paned picture windows adorning the front.  Mom and Dad and my brother would get a real tree with real sap, decorate it right after Thanksgiving with colored lights (I prefer white lights now, but I was only a preschooler then), and position it so the folks at the Methodist Church at the end of the block could enjoy it.  And enjoy it they did.  We’d have people dropping by at all hours, wrapped in coats and scarves, bringing us finger foods, homemade breads and (no kidding) fruit cakes.

And while this was during the turbulent late 60s there was an Eisenhower-esque 1950s’ feel to our culture up there then.  I know we were sheltered and naÏve, but isn’t that what home is for?  Life is a complex and painful dance set to music that is often off-key.  Sometimes your feet ache simply from dancing too much.  I look back on those days in wonder: Is there anything wrong with having a comfort zone?  I don’t think there is.

Did the child that I was then — sitting under the tree, chin propped on his hands, eyes bright and glistening from the glow of the Christmas globe hanging from the lowest branch of that stately pine — know there was a TV program in the UK about a time-traveling lunatic who’d still be entertaining us half-a-century later?  Of course not.  That little boy didn’t think he’d even make it till Christmas Eve without bursting.  It was perfect.  It was ideal.  But did it last?  Actually, it did.  Christmastime at the Parkers’ was idyllic, restful and fun, just as a holiday should be.  Christmas has never lost an ounce of its charm, even now, as my beard goes a little gray and I look at life through a jaded prism, because the light through that prism, no matter how attenuated, still glows red and green.  At least it does for me.

Until next time,

Peace, from Keith

Copyright © 2013, Keith Parker

Bummed

PRESS RELEASE, Trenzalore (14th August) — The Parker Institute for Time Travel Studies (The PITTS) has annouced that it will delay publication of the next issue of its popular Fish and TARDIS Sauce (FATS) newsletter until the staff’s mass lethargy has worn off.  The sadness, first reported in the month following Matt Smith’s retirement from the BBC’s Doctor Who, seems to have become a deep-seated melancholy that has caused FATS employees to seek solace by playing music of Karen Carpenter while sharing Grumpy Cat photos on Facebook.  The PITTS seeks to reassure all employees of its sister organization, and let them know the company’s health care plan will provide counseling, doctor recommendations, and whiskey as needed for self-medication.

Placid Savage, spokeswoman for The PITTS, said the current sadness is not unlike the anguish, grief, and heartache that can be seen on any sensible synonym search for words like sadness.  Savage, in a moment of unusual candor, rebuffed a reporter’s suggestion that running her operation from a graveyard at the end of time might be contributing to low employee morale.  She shrugged. “I don’t know.  Who give a shit?”

This prompted Herb Wells, Chief Technology Officer for Steampunk Technology, to later tweet:

  • The fucking 70s were happier than this! #disco #MoralEquivalentofWar

Wells has been suspended without pay pending a formal review of his communication skills.  He was last seen in College Station, Texas.

Meanwhile, The PITTS cancelled its 2014 plans to test the grandfather paradox and Shrödinger’s Cat experiment until the Institute has had time to consult with Peter Capaldi and Stephen Moffat.

At the time they went to press The PITTS’ calls to Kurt Cobain had gone unanswered.  The PITTS also reached out to Joplain and Morrison, but results have been a real letdown.

Until next time … if there is a next time … peace from Eeyore Keith

Copyright © 2013 Keith Parker.

Humour

cartoon-ghost-clip-art-vector-online-royalty-free-public-funny.jpg

EDIT: The BBC announced today that Peter Capaldi will play the twelfth Doctor.  We, of course, knew this beforehand and after-hand and simultaneous-hand.  It’s really hard to surprise time travelers.  Now, on with the post …

This week’s Fish and TARDIS Sauce newsletter will look at the use of humor in Doctor Who, and ways that you might be able to apply this technique in your everyday life.

In “The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe” (s06e24), Doctor Who travels back to 1940s London, where he meets Madge Ardwell, her son Cyril, and daughter Lily.   Madge comes home to tell the kids that she is going to help The Doctor return to his time machine, as if this happened every day (who knows, maybe it does).  While there at home, Madge asks Cyril what he’s is doing up so late looking through his telescope.  When Lily makes a snide comment it begins this brief but quite funny exchange among the characters.

  • Cyril — It’s astronomy.
  • Lily — Don’t make up words.  He’s always making up things … and breathing.
  • Madge — Where’s your father?
  • Cyril — In the garden.
  • Madge — What’s he doing in the garden?
  • Cyril — Agriculture.
  • Lily [off-camera] — You’re not fooling anyone.

And you see?  Like that.  Or three scenes later, which is also three years later, the family is standing in front of an ancient house somewhere in the English countryside, and the kids say —

  • Cyril — Is it haunted?
  • Lily — Is it drafty?

Another sharp, understated exchange.

But if you’ve seen this episode you know this episode is not all fun and games. The kids’ father is killed when his bomber goes down over the English Channel (although that’s not quite the whole story), leading to nightmarish grief and stress for Madge.   This leads to a poignant scene where Madge admits this to The Doctor and reflects on her short temper around her children.

  • Madge — I don’t know why I keep shouting at them.
  • The Doctor — Because every time you see them happy you remember how sad they’re going to be.  And it breaks your heart.

What we see here is a dramatic turn, where the dry wit of British comedy gives way to the realities of life during World War II (or anytime for that matter).  And once again, Doctor Who, the show, and Doctor Who, the character, offer us a glimpse into the human condition.  After all, why do we love a rose?  Because it’s blooming but will not do so forever.  Why does it smell so divine?  Because its thorns are so sharp.

It’s always been my opinion that humor for the sake of humor gets stale after a while.  Even the best comedians — the Steve Martins and  Richard Pryors and George Carlins — cannot sustain me for long unless I have a break.  It doesn’t have to be something morbid or maudlin, but it does have to be balanced.   And I love humor.   In fact, I was once asked why I don’t watch Comedy Central all the time.  The answer is simple, really.  I don’t watch Comedy Central, or any other 24/7 source of laughter, because I don’t usually turn to comedians for jokes.  The best humor grows out of drama, to relieve the tension, or out of horror, to dispel the terror.  That’s why, in that famous line from Steel Magnolias, the characters reflect on the wonder of laughter through tears.

Which brings us back to “The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe.”  Doctor Who, the character, looks at Madge thoughtfully in this episode, and finally offers his advice.  And this is one of the many reasons I love this show.  The characters get to the heart of the matter so damn well.  In the scene I’ve described above, Madge is momentarily distracted by the distant sounds of the children’s glee, leading Doctor Who to say this:

  • The Doctor — What’s the point of them being happy now if they’re going to be sad later?  The answer is, of course, because they are going to be sad later.

Pretty good stuff for science fiction, eh?

Until next time, remember: Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can procrastinate about today.

Years truly,

Keith Parker, CEO, COO, CTO, CCO, CAC, COCOA of The PITTS*

Please visit my hometown bloggers at our Rocket City Bloggers website!

* The Parker Institute for Time Travel Studies.

Copyright © 2013 Keith Parker

Doctor Who is copyright © 2013 BBC

Discovery

20130728-181202.jpgI just got back from the beach, where I listened to the audio version of Stephen King’s The Shining. And while I was listening I realized that I had never seen Stanley Kubrick’s interpretation of King’s classic horror novel, at least not from start to finish. The movie is rather embedded in our collective conscious, and many of its scenes (“Here’s Johnny!”) are so ubiquitous as to be fodder for satire. But the movie was new to me so I downloaded it from iTunes and watched it over a two-day period last week. The movie immediately struck me as quintessential Kubrick and a very thought-provoking horror movie.

During my self-imposed intermission I decided to look it up to see if it was considered as complex as it seemed. I was awed by the extensive analysis that’s been done over the years.

So, what does this have to do with Doctor Who? Well, when I asked my friend Jennifer Garlen about it, she gave me some great insight. Jennifer is a subject matter expert on classic movies and has a phenomenal blog at Virtual Virago. During our exchange of Facebook messages about the The Shining she mentioned she loved Doctor Who‘s allusion to the film. And at first I couldn’t think of which episode she was referring to. I finally had to ask my son — who has every episode of New Who memorized — to realize that the episode was “The God Complex.” I’m sure you’ve seen it if you’re a DW fan. But this set my mind off on a tangent. What exactly am I doing, writing about Doctor Who? I don’t review episodes. I don’t pan the show. I haven’t built a wiki or deconstructed “The Name of the Doctor” (yet). But what I have done is use DW as a basis for self-discovery. While there are as many ways to do this as there are people on planet Earth, this approach seems to work for me.

Like the psychological horror of Stephen King and Stanley Kubrick, the intellectual fantasy and science fiction of DW allow me to become introspective, learning a little bit about myself as I watch. And I think this is good for us. In “The God Complex” characters are subjected to hotel rooms that reveal your deepest fear. Could you handle that? Could you handle a room full of spiders, snakes, clowns or dentists? I’m not sure I could, but we all have an amazing ability to face our fears when we need to.

For a family-oriented program Doctor Who has an amazing capacity to scare the living hell out of us (“Are you my mummy?”). And I think this is a component of the show’s strength; but there’s more to it. Doctor Who is spectacularly good at optimistic endings, and this makes the frights bearable, knowing that everything will be okay. This is why I love genre and classic fiction. Too often these days we’re saddled with pseudo-intellectual stories that are ambiguous or inconclusive. If I wanted that I’d simply sit back and watch real life unfold. But for entertainment give me SFFH any day of the week!

After all, any connection between your reality and mine is purely coincidental. :)

Until next time,
Years truly,
Keith

Copyright (c) 2013 Keith Parker

Lust

Clara_imageI’ve noticed I frequently post a picture of Doctor Who’s companions on my blog. Lest you think I’m a total lech, the main reason for doing this is to draw attention to my blog. After all, photos of Romana, Rose, Clara (pictured), or Susan have a lot more sex appeal than tintypes of septic tanks. That’s just good ol’ common sense. But there’s something deeper

something Freudian

about my consistent choice of hot babes pretty women to punctuate my web logging these days. And that “something” has to do with romance. In New Who — as well as many classic Who episodes with Tom Baker — there is a romantic tension that exists between the Doctor and his Companions. And the Doctor is usually unaware of it. And while he does show considerable affection for his mates on ye olde TARDIS the Doctor doesn’t seem to take a hint very well. You could justify this because he’s not human, or because the stakes are so high that he doesn’t have time for love, or because he’s immortal and will outlive whoever he does fall for. But really, the dude is just clueless. Women notice him, but he doesn’t reciprocate. And this characteristic, rather than being rude or chauvinistic, adds to his charm … or so it would seem.

(I will add parenthetically, which is why this paragraph is in parentheses, that the Doctor does notice his Companions from time-to-time. Clearly he is in deep anguish about Rose. And on a lighter note he chews his wrist off at the sight of Clara’s tight skirt. But these are exceptions, not the rule.)

So why am I so curious? I think it’s because at heart I’m a romantic. I’ve probably always known this, but I really had to admit it after a college friend reviewed my novel (here) and told me that my “adventure” was actually a “romance.” She was right. It turns out — through no fault of my own — that I am fascinated by the intercourse interplay between guys and girls. And Doctor Who (the man) is in many ways my own opposite. The beautiful girl is right under his nose and he completely misses her flirting, suggestiveness, or explicit passes.

How am I the opposite? Well, I was the one who noticed the girls back in the day. Another obsession we writers share is people watching. If I were attracted to a girl, no detail was too small to notice: her clothes, her eyeglasses, her legs, her jokes, her snorts, or that (unbelievably) cute way she’d have of tucking her hair under a baseball cap with the pony tail sticking out. And yet, ironically, romance was often elusive as hell.

“It’s not that you’re unattractive, Keith. I just don’t want a relationship right now,” she’d said, right before she started dating the other guy (we’ll call him David).

But this has a happy ending. After crossing that Rubicon from my teens to my twenties, I met the girl of my dreams; I even married her. But I spent many years wanting to be that Doctor Who archetype, that absent-minded, bumbling, good-looking free spirit. Maybe I am some of these things, some of the time. But I am not all of these things all of the time. He is not I, and vice versa in reverse. And we have to live with truths. So, whether you’re a plumber, artist, attorney, Time Lord, burglar, or engineer, it’s important to remember what that succinct bastard William Shakespeare said: “To thine own self be true.” You actually have no choice, no matter how many time machines you have.

Years truly,
Keith
(Bane of David)

Text copyright © 2013 by Keith Parker

The photo and Doctor Who are copyright © 2013 by the BBC