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

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

Wanted: Monster

monster 2The Parker Institute for Time Travel Studies (The PITTS), renowned throughout time and space as the penultimate college dedicated to finding those who are not lost or even confused or misplaced, is seeking a monster for an upcoming experiment in a basement laboratory.  The ideal candidate will be required to participate in a variety of scientific investigations including, but not limited to, the following:

  • Mind Transfer
  • Transmogrification into a Rat, Sewer
  • Transmogrification into a Bat, Vampire
  • Mopping Floors
  • Time Travel to 17th Century Transylvania
  • Getting Coffee for Mad Scientists
  • ESP
  • ESPN (for score reports, football season only)
  • Temporary Duty (TDY) to the Roswell Army Air Field, New Mexico, 1947
  • Crop Circle Creation
  • TDY to certain regions between Bermuda and Florida

Experience in medicine is a plus, especially familiarity with snake oil, leeches, eyes of newt, garlic, crucifixes, ice baths, opium, extortium, and powdered unicorn horns.

The term monster used in this advertisement may apply to any horrific carnivorous being, including extraterrestrials, mythological creatures, dinosaurs, giant insects, vermin, lycanthropes, golems, oozes, dire wolves, cockroaches and other aberrations of nature.

Salary remitted in stock options.

The PITTS is an equal opportunity employer.

Copyright © 2013

She’s Just So Darn Cute

Inspector Duggan: What’s Scarlioni’s angle?

The Doctor: Scarlioni’s angle? I’ve never heard –.  [To Romana] Have you ever heard of Scarlioni’s angle?

Romana: No, I was never any good at geometry.

The Doctor: [to Duggan] Who’s Scarlinoi?

RomanaShe’s just so darned cute.  Lalla Ward is an English actress, writer and artist who played the Companion Romana [sic] in a classic series of Doctor Who episodes with Tom Baker.  And she has got to be one of the primary reasons the episode “City of Death” has rocketed to the all-time best list of a show that’s been on the air since 1963.  I fell in love with the episode when I first saw that hat pinned to her blond hair.  I’m a guy; it happens.

But I have to say, I’m really glad I started watching the 2005 reboot of Doctor Who before I saw this classic.   If I’d started with “City of Death” (its 1979 airdate tells you a lot), the teaser would’ve had me saying, “Ewwww” – and not in a good way.   The show starts with an alien who looks like a bowl of split-pea soup garnished with a dollop of eyeball.  The alien is sitting inside a spaceship that’s about to explode.  That’d have been enough right there to send me groping for a football game.  The scene is so damn cheesy the writers of Lost in Space would’ve been embarrassed.  Well, maybe that’s going a little far for a group of people who invented Carrot People, but you get my drift.

But after the title sequence we shift gears to Paris, where the Doctor and Romana (who’s just so darn cute … have I mentioned that?) are sitting around discussing what they’re going to do on their vacation in the city of lights.  And their one-liners are classic.  The one above, including the Investigator Duggan, is a good example.  Here’s another:

Romana: Where’re we going?

The Doctor: Are you talking philosophically or geographically?

Romana: Philosophically.

The Doctor: Then we’re going to lunch. I know a little place that does wonderful bouillabaisse.

 Romana: Mmm, bouillabaisse.

Priceless.

In fact, I could devote an entire blog to the dialog alone, in large part because it was co-written by the famous Douglas Adams.  As usual, Adams’ humor crackles, and it reminded me – as strange as it may sound – of the classic American comedy His Girl Friday, with Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell.  Grant and RussellLike the movie, this episode resonates with the audience because of its nonstop one-liners and because of the sizzling chemistry between two charismatic actors.

Mona_LisaBeing Doctor Who, of course, means time travel, and there’s plenty of that to move the plot along.  The alien – the one who looks like split-pea soup – has been “broken apart” due to an accident.  He’s been scattered through time … a little bit of him here, a little bit there.  That alone is crazy enough to keep me interested.  But in order to “reunite himself” he has to use 20th century time travel technology, which inconveniently hasn’t been invented yet.  So, he’s funding a mad scientist using cash made from sales on the antiquities black market.  Specifically, he’s selling several original versions of the Mona Lisa that the 16th-Century version of himself got Leonardo to paint.  With cash in hand – or claw – he’s bankrolling a time travel gizmo that’ll propel him back to a point before the accident occurred.  This, by the way, will have a side effect of wiping out humanity; so it goes.  The whole concept is preposterous and hilarious.  It kept me watching.

And it’s that outrageousness – coupled with “believable” plot points – that makes Doctor Who gripping.  Well, that and really cute companions like Romana.

The Doctor: Are you suggesting those men were in my employ?

Inspector Duggan: Yes.

The Doctor: I don’t know if you noticed but he was pointing a gun at me. Anyone in my employ who behaved like that, I’d sack him on the spot.

As you look at science fiction, fantasy, horror, mystery and romance, keep an eye open for this kind of chemistry among characters.  You’ll see it in the best novels, film and TV.  The plot is going to evolve out of characters’ drama and actions.  Sure, the fingerprints of Douglas Adams’ humor are all over this script, much like the fingerprints of Cary Grant are all over Rosiland Russell, but Adams had to have characters to write dialog for.  That makes all the difference.

In closing here’s one last exchange between the Doctor and Romana, the kind of woman you really want to hold hands and run through Paris with.

Romana: That bouquet.

The Doctor: What Paris has, it has an ethos. A life.  It has –.

Romana: A bouquet?

The Doctor: A spirit all its own. Like a wine, it has –.

Romana: A bouquet.

The Doctor: It has a bouquet. Like a good wine, you have to choose one of the vintage years, of course.

 Romana: What year’s this?

The Doctor: Ah, well… well, it’s 1979, actually. More of a table wine, shall we say?

Until next time,

Peace, from Keith

The commentary of this blog post are Copyright © 2013 Alan Keith Parker.  Quotes from Dcotor Who are Copyright © 1979 British Broadcasting Corporation.  Embedded pictures of the Mona Lisa, His Girl Friday, and Lalla Ward, were taken from Wikipedia.org.  If the latter violate any copyrights I will remove the images.

Do Writers Need a Blog?

The Christmas holidays gave me some time to reflect on writing and the flu, which are an oddly similar afflictions.  One of thing that I kept circling back to was this question: Do we writers need to have blogs?

Nessie

I started this blog back in 2011 to give out free writing advice, for what it’s worth.  I then rebooted it last year to focus on writing science fiction or — as I call it at cocktail parties — sex scenes.

But seriously, even under the huge umbrella of science fiction, fantasy and horror, I don’t really have a focus.  Just think about all the things I’m interested in:

  • Science fiction
  • College football
  • Fantasy
  • Television
  • Home improvement projects (I even do windows)
  • Time travel
  • The Civil War
  • Creative writing
  • Computer modeling
  • Graphics
  • JFK
  • Encyclopedias
  • Maps
  • Atlases
  • Classic rock
  • Cuba
  • Gnosticism
  • Humor
  • Horror
  • World War II
  • Beer
  • Collecting books
  • The Cold War
  • Old school D&D
  • Pencil-sketching
  • Restaurants

This is pretty typical of writers, being interested in lot of stuff.  We’re sponges.  We’d probably make good Jeapordy contestants.

My dilemma is that I have the attention span of a puppy running through a pet store.  If I start writing a time travel story today, by Friday I’ll shelve it and start working on a nonfiction piece about beer.  I’ve written three novels, hundreds of short stories, and enough blog entries for a decent book.

Sure, I’ve been pimping my one published novel and my thin collection of published shorts (not boxers), but my writing has not exactly zoomed into the stratosphere.  And I’ve been doing this for 20 years.

So, why continue with this blog?  This isn’t a pity-party.  I’m not slumped-shouldered (except when grave-robbing).  I’m asking a real question: Do writers need a blog?  I’d be curious to hear your thoughts.

Until next time,

Peace, from Keith

Copyright © 2013 Alan Keith Parker

Job Opening: Mad Scientist

Job Opening: Mad Scientist

Need Date: Immediate

Salary: Back-adjusted to late 1940s deflation

Alignment: Chaotic Neutral

Location: Roswell, NM

mad scientist 3The Parker Inverted Time Travel  Syndicate (The PITTS) has an immediate and insatiable need for a senior-level scientist with advanced attention deficit disorder and limited team building skills (hereafter: “Mad Scientist”) to serve as the Chief Chronology Officer (CCO) for development of new time travel technology.  The ideal candidate will have disheveled white hair, a doctorate from a Prussian university, familiarity with the Roswell Army Air Field (frequent travel to 1947 required), and the inability to read key social cues.  He or she must be proficient with the following devices:

  • Rotary telephones
  • Teletype machines
  • Telegraph transmitters
  • Vacuum-tube radios and television sets
  • Slide rules
  • French Curves
  • Jacob’s ladders
  • Test tubes
  • 78 rpm record players
  • Typewriters
  • Reel-to-reel tape recorders
  • Manual homemade ice cream makers (it’s hot in Roswell)
  • Pocket protectors
  • Wellsian time machines

The Mad Scientist’s bona fides must include contributions to one (or more) of the following patented inventions, copyrighted material, or commercial products:

  • Stone-hewn labyrinths
  • Telepathic hair dryers
  • Anti-tornado sprays
  • Cures for nasopharyngitis, rhinopharyngitis, and/or acute coryza
  • Viagra
  • Self-loading dishwashers
  • Toxic boxing gloves
  • Eloi stew
  • Remote control golf balls
  • Corn cob flatteners
  • Butter softeners
  • Stool softeners
  • Cat constipation pills
  • Tin can telephone switchboards
  • Telescoping taco shells
  • Icicle daggers
  • The Time Machine

Mad Scientists will be expected to keep thorough journals (written in mirror-image English), possess numerous housecats, have had one life-threatening experience with explosives, and understand how to pronounce “giga.”  Candidates will supply their own decoder ring, lab coat, FBI case file, ray gun, violin, pipe, tobacco, tin foil hat, and cadaver.  The ideal candidate will also have a granddaughter who’s recently won a statewide or nationally-competitive beauty pageant (Note: Granddaughter may not be the cadaver).

Large, bulging eyes caused by a thyroid disorder are desirable but not required due to 2012 American HiPPA regulations.  The PITTS will work with the candidate to improve eye-bulging techniques as a means to maintain certain levels of morale.  A shaggy dog is desired but not required.

Note: The Mad Scientist should not be able to understand any post-1950s’ technology, meaning that all electronic applications will be rejected forthwith and nevermore.

The PITTS is an equal opportunity employer registered with the American Scientific Society for Hazardous Advanced Time Travel (ASS-HATT).

If interested, please apply via United States Postal Service at this address: _________.

Please note our other current openings.  Full descriptions are available for persons sending a self-addressed stamped envelop, six Kellogg’s Corn Flakes’ box tops and a fifth of whiskey to the address shown above.

  • Laundry Sock Investigator
  • Eyeglasses Windshield Wiper Technician
  • Invisible Man
  • Icicle Dagger Quality Control

Thank you for your interest in The PITTS.

Text copyright © 2012 Alan Keith Parker, All Rights Reserved

Clipart used royalty free Copyright © 2012 Vecto.rs, All Rights Reserved