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

CTTO

KateThis week, The Parker Institute for Time Travel Studies (The PITTS) has asked our Chief Time Travel Officer (CTTO) to look back at his favorite science fiction shows over the years, to include more than just Doctor Who. He was given the choice of time travel devices for this effort, including a TARDIS, a Delorean, a stopwatch, and a hot tub.  Being a button-down preppie type, Parker asked for a BMZ Z4, as we expected. He was dismayed that we had not tailored the Z4 with a flux capacitor, and the weather hasn’t been stormy anyway, so he chose the stopwatch, thinking it looked good with his summer wool trousers (it doesn’t). So, without further ado, our CTTO’s list:

The Twilight Zone:

My favorite episodes are two of the show’s creepiest, “The Hitchhiker” and “Long Distance Call.” I don’t know why I keep one foot in the horror camp, considering how horrible it is there, but since it’s in my tagline (“science fiction, fantasy, horror, history, mystery, whiskey”) I figure I best get with the program, as it were.

Star Trek: The Original Series

This one’s easy. There are three episodes I could watch anytime, anywhere. The original pilot (“The Cage”) with its mysterious cast that wasn’t; Harlan Ellison’s incomparable “City on the Edge of Forever”, which is one of the best romances ever put on the broadcast TV; and the truly testosterone-driven guy episode (“The Doomsday Machine”). “They say there’s no devil, Jim …”

The Outer Limits

“Demon with a Glass Hand” because anything written by Harlan Ellison is superb, and “It Came Out of the Woodwork” because of that one foot in the horror camp thingie (yep, I said thingie … comfortable in my own skin).

Space: 1999

Keeping with the foot-in-horror one more time, this absurdly stupid TV series produced one of the scariest hours of programming ever with “Dragon’s Domain.” It’s the kind of thing that’d keep me up at night if it weren’t for the whole whiskey thing (see tagline, above).  Tentacles. Lots of slimy tentacles.

The X-Files

Gotta go with “Paper Clip” here for its incredible kitchen-sink mix of conspiracies and contemporary mythologies. I need to visit the grassy knoll one day.

The NEW Battlestar Galactica

Did you notice I said new? I’m referring, of course, to the re-imagined series that began in 2003, and not the commode-ringed insult to our intelligence and eyes that came out in the late 70s. Anyway, fave episode? The one titled “33”, hands-down. The whole concept could be made into a novel (note to self).  An attack coming every 33 minutes?  No time to sleep.  No way to even think.  Oh, hell, yes.  Great show!  The original Battlestar Galaxative?  Makes me wanna pour bleach in my eyes.

LOST

There are almost too many to list here, considering it’s one of my favorite shows EVER, but I think I’ll give the nod to “The Constant” when Desmond is jumping back-and-forth between his Army service and modern day, including finding Penny. Another gem is “Through the Looking Glass,” and it’s damn hard to discount the Pilot. There’s something about pilots (which means Jules Winfield and I are on the same page).  There’s a picture of Kate in her underwear above; the purpose of that is eye candy (#shameless #lech).

Firefly

All. Of. Them.  Every damn episode.  “Well, my time of not taking you seriously is coming to a middle.”

Classic Doctor Who

I haven’t seen as many as I’d like, but for now “City of Death”, penned by the best science fiction humorist ever, Douglas Adams, is never going to be far from the top in my book. Have I ever mentioned just how CUTE Romana is? Oh, yeah, I did. But it’s worth repeating. Also, since she’s not so terribly much older than I perhaps my crush on her is a good bit more acceptable than a crush might be on, say, Jenna-Louise Coleman, who’s probably young enough to be my daughter. I really need to look into using time travel to age backwards.

New Doctor Who

“The Name of the Doctor”.  Despite my sister-in-law’s (sister’s-in-law?) insistence that there’s only one Doctor (David Tennant) the seventh series finale of Doctor Who is a masterpiece of humor, horror, sentimentality, action, adventure and mystery. If the series had never hit a homerun before (it had) they certainly did with this.

And so, back to you …

The PITTS would like to tolerate thank Parker for his insight. His essay has been logged and filed in its proper location: the circular cabinet.

Peace.

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.

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.

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

Wholistic

doctor_roseThere are three things I love about Doctor Who: The characters, the one-liners, and the cultural phenomenon it’s created.  As I’ve mentioned I’m a new Whovian, a guy who’s kept a foot in the science fiction arena (but not Fredric Brown’s arena) while otherwise living a clean life …

I first noticed that Doctor Who had gotten into our consciousness back in 2008 when I saw an endcap at Barnes & Noble chock full of Whovian goodies: a David Tennant doll, a couple of novel tie-ins, two stuffed TARDIS’s (TARDII?), and a sonic screwdriver (not, unfortunately, the cocktail).  After watching a re-run of the new series’ first episode (“Rose”, 2005) I was not impressed, unfortunately.  It had a campiness I’d come to associate with Lost in Space or, God help us all, the original Battlestar Galaxative.  I thought Eccleston’s performance was wooden, found the episode plastic (pun intended), and winced at the tiresome earth-is-in-jeapordy-again theme.  However, something stuck with me.  And it wasn’t a character, a one-liner, or even a cultural reference per se.  What struck me was that vat of bubbling Nestene consciousness.  There was something so Lovecraftian about it that the image remained fixed in my mind even though I decided the show wasn’t for me.  That would, of course, change, and change rapidly, as would my opinion of Eccleston’s role as the ninth Doctor.

Still curious, though, I talked to friends and came to realize Doctor Who is greater than the sum of its parts.  It is interconnected entertainment. It is holistic.  It creeped into our cultural consciousness by tapping into our collective subconscious, some how, some way, mixing science fiction, fantasy, and horror in ways that the experts say never work, and yet the show does work.  Why?  Why Who?

That sent me off onto another one of my infamous tangents of over-thinking: Are all major cultural phenomena rooted in fantasy?

Think about the blockbusters over the years: Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, Star Trek, Star Wars, Stephen King’s novels, etc.  They’re all speculative.  Hell, even The Da Vinci Code, with its cardboard characters, possesses an element of the supernatural.  Are there other cultural phenomena that are not “fantastic”?  Sure.  Angst among politicos, American football, and the wave of pasta cravings in the 1980s come to mind.  But more often than not, cultural phenomena tap into that side of us that yearns for escape, safe adventure, and wish fulfillment.  Maybe the vagaries of real life are too real.

This is just my opinion, but I do think there is something to this hypothesis.  After all, my sister-in-law, who does not care for science fiction or horror, has started to watch Doctor Who.  Her opinion is like so many others’: The show is bad, except when it’s good; it’s dumb, except when it’s smart; it’s ridiculous, except when it’s sublime.  Luckily, we see many examples of the good, the smart, and the sublime.   More than we should, but there they are.  Doctor Who, the character and the show, is emergent.

Years truly.

Keith

Copyright (c) 2013, Fish and #TARDIS Sauce, a wholly owned publication of the The Parker Institute of Time Travel Studies (The PITTS)

Bootstrap

Sally SparrowThis week, The Parker Institute of Time Travel Studies (The PITTS) — in conjunction with State and Local Officials — has devised this warning for all time travelers and others involved in temporal excursions: Do not employ bootstrap time travel.

  • Bootstrap Time Travel (Encyclopedia Galactica*) — The bootstrap paradox is a paradox of time travel in which information or objects can exist without having been created. After information or an object is sent back in time, it is recovered in the present and becomes the very object/information that was initially brought back in time in the first place.

A recent examination by investigators — hired by the autonomous Fish and #TARDIS Sauce Group — indicate that there is an alarming rise of bootstrapped articles appearing throughout the timeline. The genesis of this “fad” seems to have been the airing of the Doctor Who episode, “Blink.” The PITTS, therefore, has been forced to implement emergency and draconian measures to staunch the flow of now-uncreated objects and information. Recent examples of bootstrap incursions include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • A man from Nantucket took a freeze-dried lizard back to his childhood, gave the lizard to himself, which he (the younger) then kept until he was a grown man with a chance to travel back in time … the situation was frustrated by teaching his younger self a limirick.
  • A husky Russian émigré, intent on playing football for Vince Lombardi, recently overshot his mark and took his time vehicle to 1947 New Mexico instead of 1967 Wisconsin, ruining our research and playoff hopes in one selfish move.
  • An English woman, home from the laundry mat and feeling adventuresome, took the family Wellsian for a spin to Victorian England with a basket full of extra footwear, creating an impossible temporal vortex of missing socks that will confound 20th– and 21st-century men for eternity.
  • An Alabama man took an egg (cage-free, organic, with Omega-3s) to China, circa 6000 BC, to the very day that the first chicken became domesticated and, as a result of self-indulgent selfish motives, removed the chicken-egg paradox from modern thought.
  • A Jaffa woman recently returned The Holy Grail to its shelf at The Cenacle, thereby eliminating any possibility we could determine the origin of said graal.
  • And in 2007/1969 Doctor Who told Sally Sparrow, “Blink and you’re dead. They are fast. Faster than you can believe. Don’t turn your back. Don’t look away. And don’t blink. Good luck.” The Doctor has been unavailable for comment.

These are but a few examples of what has become a worldwide epidemic. At this rate, all material objects, articles, matter, data, information, and salmon will not have a place of origin. The effects of this activity on the eco-military-industrial-climatic-god complex cannot not be overstated without embellishment. Please stay tuned to this channel for further updates.

The past is prologue; so is the future.

Years truly,

Keith

* All entries from Encyclopedia Galactica are, in fact, plagiarized liberated from Wikipedia.org (English version).

Copyright © 2013 Keith Parker

Lost

clara“I know what I said.  I was the one who said it.” ~ Clara Oswald, Companion of the 11th Doctor

This week on Fish and TARDIS Sauce The Parker Institute of Time Travel Studies (The PITTS) brings you yet another blog post peppered with slightly (read: highly) unorthodox quotes from another brilliant episode of Doctor Who.

Keep in mind that in order to watch this show — or read my blog — you don’t have to know jack-shit about either one.  You don’t even have to know — like I didn’t — that the plural of deus ex machina is dei ex machina or that — like Bug Bunny knows — Carson City is the capital of Nevada.  None of that is a required reading.  But Doctor Who should be required viewing.  And the episode in question, “Journey to the Center of the TARDIS” (s07e10), gives us enough one-liners, head-scratchers, and zingers to make us hungry for more.

  • Clara: “It’s an appliance.  It does a job.”
  • The Doctor: “It’s a pretty cool appliance.  We’re not talking cheese grater here.”
  • Clara: “You’re not getting me to talk to your ship.  That’s properly bonkers.”

When Clara gets lost inside the TARDIS following an accident, she quickly discovers one of the best story lines in all of science fiction: Finding your way out of one big-ass maze that has decided that it (the intelligent big-ass maze) isn’t terribly fond of you.

  • The Doctor: “Ever see a ship get ugly?”

So, like the sprawling metropolis of London or the freeway system of Atlanta at rush hour, Clara finds herself in the seemingly impossible situation of getting out of a seemingly endless situation inside a seemingly endless setting, all within the span of one hour of telly (seemingly to include commercials).

  • Note to aspiring writers: Don’t use adverbs too much.
  • Or, as The Doctor put it: “Don’t get into a ship with a madman.  Didn’t anyone teach you that?”

The episode drips with teases, like Clara looking in the OED-sized History of the Time War, flipping to a random  page, and murmuring, “So that’s who,” when she learns The Doctor’s real name.  Or the tease about the relationship (past, present, and future) between The Doctor and Clara, and why she is who she is.

“It’s spinning a labyrinth?” the Doctor says to the under-developed junk-dealing characters.  That’s what this episode does.  It spins a labyrinth, and dares us to follow the string back out again, especially given the creepy, distorted hallways and ghoul-like monstrosities wandering the “lower decks” of our favorite time machine.

  • Clara: “Why have you got zombie-creatures?  Good guys do not have zombie-creatures.  Rule one, basic storytelling!”
  • The Doctor: “Not in front of the guests.”

And yet, the Doctor knows he has to keep secrets.  Without secrets, he can’t keep his loved-ones safe.

  • Clara: “What aren’t you telling me?”
  • The Doctor: “Trust me.  There are some things you don’t want to know.”

The TARDIS can be both magnificent and malevolent, sublime and ridiculous, jovial and jealous.  With its Star Trek-like corridors and horror movie memes and under-developed side story, there’s plenty of room to criticize the episode, but a couple of lines of dialog really make us sit up and think about why we’re watching and why the BBC is writing and producing this masterpiece.

  • The Doctor to Tricky, the man who was tricked into believing he was artificial: “They changed your identify to provide some inflight entertainment.”

The essence of this episode, the essence of Doctor Who — and if you’ll forgive the conceit — the essence of all speculative fiction is summed up in The Doctor’s fierce reprimand of the brother who tricked Tricky, as it were:

  • Doctor [to Tricky]: “Listen to me.  Ask yourself why he couldn’t cut you up.  He had just one tiny scrap of decency left in him, and you helped him find that.”
  • Doctor to Gregor: “Now, you.  Don’t ever forget this.”

Yep.  For me, that is why we have genre; it reminds us that we have tiny bits of decency within us.  That’s why we have science fiction, fantasy, humor, horror, romance, mystery, and their red-headed stepchild known as time travel.  Or maybe I’m just full of it.  Could be.  Like Clara said when looking at the vast cathedral the TARDIS whipped up out of midair: “Now that’s just showing off.”

Maybe I’m showing off.  Or maybe I’m just lost in a maze, too.  In a way I hope that’s true.

Years truly,

Keith

P.S. To all my new blog followers, I cannot thank you enough for taking the time to read and comment.  I hope you’re enjoying this little sliver of cyberspace as much as I’m enjoying weaving it.  Your support is appreciated more than you know!

Copyright © 2013 by Alan Keith Parker

Doctor Who and the quotes reproduced here are copyright © 2013 by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC); no infringement upon their intellectual property is intended.

Bad Does Not Spoil The Good

scotch“The way I see it, life is a pile of good things and bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad things, but vice versa the bad things don’t always spoil the good things and make them unimportant.” ~ Doctor Who

As an unapologetic, unsuccessful fiction writer I’m proud to say that I often rub shoulders with the people who rub shoulders with the people who rub shoulders with the writers who write in the tradition of  Edgar Allan Poe and Ambrose Bierce.  Down through the years I’ve been drawn to the hauntingly compelling fiction of H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard, Ray Bradbury and Shirley Jackson, Joyce Carol Oates and Stephen King.  So when my family sat down to watch the award-winning episode “The Doctor’s Wife” — and the opening credits popped up on our barn-size television set — I yelled out like the damn food I am: “Neil Gaiman!  Neil Gaiman!  It was written by Neil Gaiman!”

My wife and kids stared at me like I was speaking Serbo-Croatian.

But then I remembered the good Doctor’s quote, that bad things don’t spoil the good.  So instead of simply leaving it at that, and enjoying a stunning piece of drama — wherein Doctor Who melds science fiction, fantasy and horror with the aplomb of a good bartender mixing a mojito — I paused TiVo to explain that Neil is one of the über-talented writers who’ve inherited the mantle of Lovecraft and Poe, who’ve become the newest generation of fantasists.  And their blank stares reminded me of Christmas dinner twenty-years-ago, when a friend of the family asked what kind of fiction I wrote.  When I allowed that I was a fantasy writer, he said he loved — just loved — a book with good, steamy sex.  So do I, for what it’s worth, but that’s not the point.

When I say fantasy, I don’t mean Fifty Shades of Gray or late-night Cinemax.  I’m not a prude; it’s just not my genre.  In fact, I am not even referring to The Lord of the Rings or A Game of Thrones.  Again, not my thing.  You see, my foot is firmly planted in that land of shadow and substance, of things and ideas, and so when people ask what I write, I simply smile and say that I write Twilight Zone stories.  At which point some teen or tween will say, “Ooh, I just love Stephenie Meyers.”

And that’s when I go to the bar and order another scotch.

Years truly,

Keith

Copyright © 2013

The Time Traveler’s Life (Part I)

Still-of-Lea-Thompson-in-Back-to-the-Future-24BJGVYFS3-moviereviewfeeds-comIt seemed apropos that, on Groundhog Day, I’d post a picture of the first actress I had a crush on  … oh, wait!  What I mean to say is that I’d be asked to post an article on G+ about the challenges of writing time travel fiction.  If you want to delve into this weird but amazingly fun genre (where you may indeed have a protagonist who looks like Lea Thompson) you need to know what you’re up against.  What I’ve tried to do below is compile a list of issues the time travel writer needs to be aware of.

As with everything else in fiction, of course, the way to attract readers is through character.  But this article doesn’t address character development; there are ample resources for that.  Right now, we’ll stick to time-travel obstacles.

• Paradox Lost – You’ve got to come to grips with the notion of paradox.  That means wrapping your mind around two conflicting ideas.  My favorite time travel paradox, for example, is the one where the time traveler goes back in time and gives the blueprints for the time machine to his younger self.  Thinking about cause and effect here requires some serious mental gymnastics, not to mention a tall glass of scotch.  However, you really should avoid using this particular paradox in your story; it’s an overused cliche.

• Who’s Out to Get Your Hero? – You need to realize the villain of your story may well turn out to be the hero’s younger or older self.

• Timeline – Stephen King wrote a phenomenal time travel novel in 11/22/63.  In order to do that yourself, you’re going to have to map out the timeline chronologically (ahem).  So if you had a present-day time traveler going back to witness the events in Dealey Plaza, you’d need a timeline from 1963 till now.  Otherwise things are going to be a tangled mess.  Index cards work well for storyboarding such a plot, with each card representing a major aspect of the plot.11-22-63

• Travel Agent Required – How does the hero travel?  Via H.G. Wells steampunk machine?  A spaceship?  Gateway?  Phone booth?  Sports car?  Magic? You need to decide.  And once you decide you need to stick with it.  Time travel is part of your setting.  You wouldn’t have a creek flow uphill, so why would you have a time machine that worked inconsistently?

• The Left Behind – When your hero travels he’ll abandon friends and loved-ones.  How does he feel about that?  That’s nontrivial and potentially traumatic.

• Culture Shock – When Doctor Who’s Martha Jones (a woman of African descent) arrives in Shakespearean London she’s worried about getting sold into slavery.  Think about that.  Takes some of the romance out of the “good ol’ days,” doesn’t it?

• Cause and Effect – If the hero buys a ton of Apple Computer stock in 1999 will he really get rich?  Or does his stock purchase affect Apple’s success?

• Think Out of the Box – Suppose the time machine is a simple door.  What happens if the hero steps through using his cell phone?  Does he still have coverage?  That’s not as weird as it sounds.  If he can see through the door (visible light) then cell phone signals (radio waves) can travel through it, too.

• Grandfather Paradox – Is the hero going to do something that keeps himself from being born?  Suppose it involves murder.  How does the hero cope with that?  Murder is murder, in 2013 BC and 2013 CE.

• History Mystery – The hero wants to witness the Kennedy assassination.  Great subject, but you better damn well know your subject.  As the writer, can you tell us who the Babushka Lady was?  Or what was on Dallas TV right before the news broke?  Which motorcycle cop had his two-way radio on?   What was the weather like?  What’s the distance from the Book Depository to Kennedy’s car?  What did the “Treason” leaflets say?  What did the Manhattan businessman say about JFK’s killer? Zapruder-Film-Frame-366

• Action or Reaction –  How does the hero react to witnessing a really brutal murder?  The President, after all, had his brains blown out, literally.  If you’ve ever seen the Zapruder film you know it was a grisly, ugly, and sickening sight.  Now imagine being there, with the sights, the screams, the smells …

Time travel is not for the feint of heart.

In the next installment of “The Time Traveler’s Life” I’ll explore some of the pitfalls you need to avoid.  And in a later chapter, I’ll recommend some books and movies.  Stay tuned, same Chiroptera time, same Chiroptera channel!

Pax vobiscum,

Keith

Copyright © 2013

Smith and Jones and AHHHHHH!

Smith and JonesCross-genre fiction … ever heard of it?  That’s when a writer mixes a couple of different types of story into a single piece of fiction: a novel, short story, screenplay, etc.  A good example is the science fantasy of the Star Wars movies or the science-fiction-romance of  The Time Traveler’s Wife.

But those are the exceptions.  Believe me.  The last time I tried to publish a short story that overlapped the boundaries of science fiction, fantasy, horror, mystery and humor, the publisher took one look at the manuscript and said, “Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh!”

But evidently the producers at the BBC were a tad more open-minded to this kind of story.

A great example is the Doctor Who episode “Smith and Jones” (s03e02), with David Tennant as the Doctor.

This is the episode where we’re introduced to a delightful new Companion, the staggeringly smart medical school resident Martha Jones.  And we get to meet her in a hospital.   Oh, and on the moon.  And being threatened by an extraterrestrial plasma vampire.  And among a race of humanoid-rhinos.  And … oh, that hospital?  It was on the moon.

No, this episode wasn’t a reject from Space:1999 or a 50s’ schlepp flick. This was the critically-acclaimed 3rd-season opener for a British TV drama that’s been on the air for 9713 years and 5 months.

Since a gazillion words have zigzagged over the globe describing the characters’ chemistry, which is undeniable, I wanted to give my thoughts from a different angle.  I stared with wide-eyed incredulity while a plot unfolded not unlike the story I’d written that caused the publisher to go, “Ahhhhhhhh!”

Every damn rule of fiction was broken in his one, single episode. Every last one of them. The writer, Russell T. Davies, threw the kitchen sink into this flick and … it worked.  I threw the kitchen sink into my own story and it was rejected.
Ahhhhhhh!

Here’s a brief list of things that happen in this show.  I’m going to play devil’s advocate for a second and provide snarky remarks as if I were someone who hated SF and wanted to throw rotten tomatoes at the screen.  But these snarks are not how I really feel, as you shall see.

  • Doctor Who removes his necktie, shows it to Martha, and says, “… like so!”
    • Chekov’s gun disguised as menswear.
  • Doctor Who refers to himself as John Smith, an homage to the very first Doctor Who episode (1963) and his granddaughter.
    • Quiz: Was she a Time Lord also?
  •  The first Doctor’s granddaughter was listening to a rock-n-roll group called “John Smith and the Common Men.”
    • No worse than The Quarrymen, I suppose.
  • Martha is a resident at a London hospital and witnesses rain falling up.
    • At least I didn’t expect that.
  • There’s an alien vampire in the hospital who has body guards dressed in motorcycle gear.  Their helmets make them look like Roswell aliens
    • Shouldn’t people be changing channels about now?  But they’re not.  And neither did I.
  • The Judoon are chasing the  vampire creature because she killed one of their princesses.
    • BLANK STARE
  • Laser beams
    • Ditto
  • To their credit, the characters in the hospital, which is now on the moon, ask how and why they have air.
    • Well, this is science fiction, after all.
  • The Doctor is asked if he has a brother and he says, “Not anymore.”
    • sniff, sniff
  • The hospital is inside a domed force-field
    • No.  No cliches here.
  • The vampire’s victim is a Mr. Stoker
    • BRAVO!
  • The Vampire modifies an MRI machine to destroy all life on the moon.
    • Kinda makes you pine for reverse-tachyon beams, doesn’t it?
  • The Judoon leave, but transport the hospital back to earth before the atmosphere gets too low.
    • Waste not, want not.
  • After a bad fight with her maniacally-dysfunctional family Martha spots the Doctor and the TARDIS.
    • Wonder where this is going?
  • To convince her he is indeed a time traveler the Doctor travels back in time, reappears, and tells Martha that he can’t make a time travel trip into existing timeline …
    • wait for it …
  • “Except for cheap tricks, … like so!”

So how’d they do it?   How does really good drama emerge out of that much campiness?  We all know the answer: Character.  But damn, does it really take 49-frakking-years to establish a set of characters so you can write any kind of plot you want?  Maybe so.

What I do know is that I love this episode.  On a scale of 1-to-10, I’d give it a 9.1.  For comparison sake, I’d give Doctor Who’s “Blink” a 9.8, and Star Trek’s “The City on the Edge of Forever” a 10.0.

Once again, I find myself mystified as to exactly why I like it, but if I had to guess it’d be because … oh, yeah!  It’s because Martha Jones is hot!  And I reckon the Doctor is okay, too.

:)

Pax,

Keith

Copyright © 2013