Arriving Late Ep 27: DS9 Pilot

Having finished season one of Farscape, we jump into the Star Trek universe with both feet as I finish up TNG on my own and we take on the Deep Space Nine pilot. Come listen to Mike and me talk about this and so much more (because I really do wander off subject all the time).

Deep Space Nine: Pilot

CAR

Every generation of car culture should have a basic, sturdy, dependable vehicle to free them from their family homes and open the road to adventure. Now, I’m completely aware that car culture is dying, but this post is not about the future. It’s about the past.

For the Boomers, the general-purpose automobile was the VW Bug. For my generation, the one formed by the tail end of Boom, that car was the Toyota Carolla. If there was ever an automobile analog to the white cans with BEER written in black letters on the side, it was the 1974 Toyota Carolla Sedan base model.

Standard four-on-the-floor transmission, power nothing, no air-conditioning against the Austin summer, black wall tires. It had seatbelts, but I didn’t use them back then. The four-cylinder engine had no acceleration but it also didn’t have much top end.

The Boomers were stuck with a wobbly, imprecise gear shifter in the VW, but the Carolla had one of the nicest, strongest transmissions I’ve ever seen. In the VW, pushing the shifter forward could land you in 3rd gear or Reverse, odds were about even. With the Toyota, it was almost point and click; a must for newbie drivers not used to a standard.

There was no fuel injection and there should have been a tune-up every six months, but the sturdy, well-machined motor could go a lot longer before the points collapsed and left you with two speeds: puttering along at idle and red zone 70mph. Again, very important for a forgetful seventeen-year-old.

Gas wasn’t cheap by the time I got my license so the stingy 1.6L four-cylinder engine was important to a starving college dropout’s budget.

With no power controls, it could be a real hassle rolling up all four windows once you were done driving in the heat, but that’s where the hardy and damn near indestructible vinyl upholstery came into play. Why roll the windows up by hand when rain would have no effect on the interior?

One of my great regrets was selling the Carolla for a treacherous Mustang II that never missed an opportunity to strand me on the side of the road or wipe out my savings account with a major repair. The only car I ever loved more was the Alfa Romeo GT I owned while living in Italy. Had to give that one up when we couldn’t fit a child carrier in the meager backseat.

Here is a rated list of all the cars I’ve owned:

  • 1969 Mustang – Unreliable but so beautiful
  • 1974 Carolla – As described above
  • 1976 Mustang II – Nightmare
  • 1980 Citation – First car with a working air-conditioner. Only had it for a year, but it was fine and just a joy to have A/C against the Texas summer.
  • 1972 Alfa Romeo GT – The one that got away
  • 1987 LeBaron – Nightmare, never bought another Chrysler
  • 1990 Hyundai Sonata – Another nightmare, never bought another Korean car
  • 1980 Accord Hatchback – Super reliable, very ugly, would do a complete 180 if you pumped the brakes too hard
  • After that, it’s just a bunch of Accord sedans. Always reliable, never fun to drive.

Arriving Late Podcast Ep 26: Family Ties

We did it! We made it through the entire first season of Farscape. It was a sometimes difficult journey, but more and more often a truly pleasurable one. Join us for the last podcast on the subject before we move on to Deep Space Nine in two weeks.

Farscape: Family Ties

Arriving Late Podcast EP 25: Bone To Be Wild

We have arrived at the second to the last episode of the first season of Farscape. The show has gotten immeasurably better as the team has found their sea legs and we are having a lot more fun with it.

Farscape Season 1: Bone To Be Wild

Bad Tactics

I served in the military, but I am not a military man. I’ve never read any books on military tactics and would say I only have the glancing acquaintance with the famous strategies of, say, Agincourt, Little Big Horn, Pearl Harbor, Midway, Normandy, etc.

So I feel like it’s an acceptable position for someone who’s not a military expert to ask that the people making movies that include combat spend a few pennies on an actual graduate of the War College to go over their scripts before they commit them to film?

The opening bombing run in The Last Jedi is just as abysmal as every human attack from Starship Troopers and for the same reason: dumb tactics that cost the lives of soldiers. Sending bombers out without adequate fighter support hasn’t been attempted since the Allies finally developed long-range fighter escorts in WWII. And dropping bombs when there’s no gravity? Or even using bombs at all when you have technology that wouldn’t put human pilots at risk.

For Starship Troopers, I sat there in that theater and watched them send in wave after wave of infantry without support from air or artillery so they could get slaughtered. Again, this is something that hasn’t been done since WWI doughboys charged into the teeth of oil-cooled machinegun fire with bayonets fixed.

We’ve seen them do well. For instance, the opening battle in Gladiator may not be historically accurate, but it makes sense militarily given the technology of the time. The landing at the opening of Saving Private Ryan could have been assembled from documentary footage and showed how a decentralized army with forward commanders who could think for themselves beat an entrenched army that had to call home before they did anything.

In a time of forever wars, surely we’ve got enough military advisers out there to prevent other such catastrophes from ruining otherwise good films.

Arriving Late Podcast Ep 24: Hidden Memory

Join us as we talk about the excellent conclusion to the two-parter that started with Nerve. We’ll also wonder out loud why this wasn’t the season-ender, but it was a different time back then.

Farscape “The Hidden Memory”

Arriving Late Podcast Ep 23: Nerve

Episode 22 suffered complications from a technical glitch and had to go live on a farm upstate where it can spend all of its times admiring rainbows. Ep 23, however, is here and covers a far more important episode: Nerve, the first of a two-parter that finally brings this show and its characters into sharp focus.

Join us for some breathless fanbois discussion and the arrival of… Scorpius.

Arriving Late Podcast Ep 21: Through The Looking Glass

The Farscape writers found an old TNG script in a dumpster and decided to put their spin on it. It was not bad, but it wasn’t great either. We had fun watching and talking about it, though. Join us for “Through The Looking Glass”

Farscape “Through The Looking Glass”

Horror vs Fantasy Redux

I’ve written before about the key differences between horror and adventure (a term I use to include all the flavors of fantasy that are not horror), specifically here: horror-vs-adventure

Now I have a reason to talk about this subject again as what was previously an intellectual exercise now has real-life implications. I am taking the dark fantasy YA novel I had been submitting and rewriting it into an adult horror novel.

Why even do this? Honestly, the attempt to make the material YA friendly was a mistake. I had to buff and shine the truly horrific nature of the narrative to the point where it didn’t seem like anything at all was really happening. Secondly, I feel like the YA fantasy market is just absolutely awash in mediocre manuscripts. Thirdly, I prefer adult horror and have only read a smattering of YA.

Let’s call it what it was: I manipulated a manuscript to target a specific audience rather than write my book. That’s a violation of rule #1 for writers. Write your book.

So how hard can it be to change a dark fantasy to a horror novel? You add a little sex, throw in some gore, kill off a character or two and boom there it is. Right?

That’s what I thought. As it turns out, though, it’s a lot more complicated than that.

Let’s start with the protagonists. In my case, four teenagers and three adults. There are successful adult horror novels that have teenagers as the protagonists (It and The Talisman come to mind), but it’s rare. Teenagers tend to lead YA novels, for obvious reasons.

So step one was to rewrite every teenager in the novel with a much older voice. I left them as teenagers, that’s critical to the plot, but I put them through much more difficult trials, the kind of stuff you normally see adults go through.

Next comes scope. Even a gothic horror novel like Ghost Story has to limit its scope because horror is much more intimate than fantasy. We need to spend time with the characters if we’re going to care when the plot pushes them into extremis. Too many characters and locations can spread out the dread too thin and far between.

An excellent example of this is The Stand. Technically, it’s a horror novel, but it feels like a science fiction novel and the sheer breadth of the story and wide-ranging scope of the characters diffuses the horror of the plague and it quickly becomes a science fiction adventure story even though it has one of the most powerful villains of all time.

Imagine if The Stand took place on a farm outside a small town. And that was it. You hear about the plague spreading on television until you actually see the effects in town. People begin drifting in to join the farm. The evil surrounds the farm, cuts it off from the world. Now you’ve got a proper horror story.

Isolation. A limited number of characters. Existential dread looming at the edges.

Step two was to cut a lot of characters so I could narrow the scope of the story. The ones who were the cogs and wheels of the very busy story structure of the fantasy all had to go. That allowed me to focus on my seven protagonists as they assemble in the isolated location hoping to survive the coming apocalypse.

In the YA dark fantasy version of the story, the evil elements were dealt with in the way of adventures: as hurdles to overcome so the protagonists could arrive at the ultimate showdown. In a horror novel, the evil has to be existential and mounting.

Think about Shirley Jackson’s awesome The Haunting of Hill House (the book, not the “This Is Us With Ghosts” remake or the ridiculous 90s remake) and how the house starts small and works its way up until it has everyone’s sanity coming loose from its moorings. The protagonists don’t overcome the writing on the wall or the banging on the door, they just get more and more scared. Soon, they turn on each other and, by the end, it’s just pure chaos.

Step three was to remove all the intermediate obstacles the protagonists overcame. In their place, a single night of hell that arrives in waves and ends with the crescendo of the final conflict from which only two of the seven will emerge unscathed.

That’s a lot of work. It’s basically a rewrite requiring the characters be recreated and moved around, their backstories retold, their adventures heightened and many, many cuts to the narrative.

But that’s what it means to write my book instead of one tailored to mass-market appeal.

Finding Your Voice

Everyone starts the same way, I think, by imitating their favorite authors. I was a Heinlein clone, then a knockoff Hemingway, for a while I was a poor Vonnegut. No matter who you are impressed with or how hard you try to fashion your work after theirs, your own style will inevitably work its way to the surface.

Take Mr. Stephen King and one of his stylistic elements that appears repeatedly in his books: The sacrificial character we get to know way too well.

Suppose we get to a point in the story where the bad guy is going to kill some random person, the mailman, for instance. King will open the chapter with a quick introduction to the character – “Barry Converse had been on this route for twenty years, ever since they put the bypass in off of Route 28 out near Sheffield. Being former Army and a man who always prided himself in staying in shape, he parked at the top of the hill and made his deliveries on foot…”

This will go on for pages, long enough that we will temporarily forget the larger story we were reading, and then the last four paragraphs will cover his grueling murder at the hands of whichever death bringer haunts this book.

Here are two true things about these King diversions:

  1. They are unnecessary, verbose, diverting and I wouldn’t accept them any other author dead or alive.
  2. I relish them in King’s books.

I don’t know why. I can’t explain it. If someone else were to pull that kind of performative character sacrifice on me, I would put the book down and happily move on. But I read and enjoy every one of these damn things in a King novel.

When it’s my turn to write the scene, no one who isn’t a character in the larger plot or the lesser arcs even gets a name. “The postman was the first to go, three red dots stitched across the front of his blue USPS jacket and emerged as three fist-sized holes in his back. He went down. The mail skittered into the street. The wind kicked up as if trying to finish the deliveries…”

How did I discover this was my style? By trying to copy King and just hating every minute of it. By going through the editing process and noticing I’m always removing these superfluous characters. By doing what feels natural and noting how it differs from my (unwilling) mentors.

The author who most shaped my style would have to be Raymond Chandler. I started as a detective novelist and I studied him so hard my first book was a 1940s noir detective story. But even then, when I was listening to Glenn Miller and reading old newspapers online to get the voice right in my head, I still felt like some of the similes (“She had a shape I could feel in my wallet”) were performative so I dropped most of them.

An artist friend of mine once likened the process to copying someone else’s picture. “Whatever comes out, that’s your version because it’s in your style.”