Friday, October 13, 2017

Guns are the new cigarettes

Smoking is cool. You only need to watch any five minutes of Humphrey Bogart on screen to know that’s true. Still, cigarette use in the US has been in decline for years. There are several reasons for this. Cigarettes are bad for you and everyone knows it. They have warnings right on the package telling you not to use what you just bought. Addiction therapies have improved.

More importantly, somewhere in there, smoking became less cool.

Since the 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement, tobacco companies have been forced to stop marketing to minors (Joe Camel retired to Key Largo) and restricted in their advertising and sponsorship activities. Cigarettes companies are pretty much forbidden from making smoking look cool. And it’s worked. In the year I was born, 42 percent of American adults smoked. Last year it was under 17 percent. Even fewer young people are lighting up.

This is a great example of a demand-side initiative. Supply-side stuff - like Prohibition – hasn’t had a lot of roaring success in America. We like having choices. (We don’t always like others having choices, but that’s a different article.) Supply constraints are not easy to start. An act of Congress takes an act of Congress, am I right? Senators and Representatives traverse the lobby and you know what lurks in the lobby.

Decreasing demand, though. That’s a different story. In fact, it’s all about the story.

Tobacco companies were major investors in Hollywood from the 1920s through the 50s. Cigarettes were featured everywhere, and not just on screen. The studio system that prevailed at the time meant major stars often shilled for tobacco companies off-screen too. When movies took a bow to television, tobacco sponsored America’s prime time.

Then they didn’t. In 1971, back when Congress had the ability to pass laws, they banned cigarettes from television. Smoking has continued its drop-off ever since. We don’t want to smoke as much because we don’t see our personal Humphrey Bogarts with a cigarette in hand.

In Bogie’s other hand was something else he made cool: the .38 special.

I like guns, as I like motorcycles, wood chippers, catapults and nearly anything mechanical. There is no explanation for this, as none is required. I understand how important firearms are to America. I can tell you how unimportant they are to fiction, in any form. They are as cool as cigarettes, and we need them in print or on screen about as much.

Batman – no guns. Wonder Woman – no guns. Most of the Marvel universe? For every gun in a scene, there’s somebody kicking it free or waiting for a reload, because arrows, repulsers or smashing with green fists is way more interesting than point-and-shoot. You want to watch Jackie Chan and Chuck Norris in a duel at 20 paces? Hell no.

There were plenty of guns in the top ten grossing movies of 2017 (so far) but none were the feature. Webs, a lasso, swords (light or metal), claws and cars were the big draws. I wonder if Hollywood can’t push the needle. Nudge it in the direction it’s already heading. Deglamorizing guns doesn’t take them away, but it may make them less a source of identity. Less important. Less ubiquitous. By the laws of mathematics, less likely to go off.

Guns are tools, after all. They were never supposed to be fashion accessories or objects of worship. They are not “The, uh, stuff that dreams are made of.”

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Monday, September 25, 2017

Star Trek: Disco

Disco was the revival of dance music. The rock and roll of that began to take hold in the late 60s was for listening, not engaging. But people like to dance so disco grew into the void.

The current Star Trek void has spawned something similar: Star Trek Discovery. And just like the dance music, it’s as easily maligned as it is catchy.

Star Trek Discovery is a prequel, set 10 years before the original series. So I hate it. It’s a closed box, antithetical to the whole theme of Star Trek. It’s also short-sighted, literary and figuratively. The writers need to bend and twist to keep from crossing into future timelines that are not only canon, but beloved. Yes, it’s great seeing a young Serek, but we’re never going see anything beyond Beyond.

There are no ‘ah ha’ moments worth the price of prequel. Even one as beautiful as Discovery.

The pilot looked great. Michelle Yeoh and Sonequa Martin were fresh and fantastic. The design language is a little neon for my tastes, but the details were enthralling.

“It would be unwise to confuse race with culture,” was my favorite line from episode 1, and raised the value of the enterprise (small ‘e’). It made the show worthy of the mantle.

Maybe that will continue. I’m not sure I’ll know. It’s all in the delivery. As in, whether I feel like adding CBS All Access to my list of streaming services. Which makes little sense. It’s not like CBS doesn’t already broadcast into my house. Through an antenna of all things, the savior of all cord-cutters everywhere. The device that is old, with new life. Like . . . I don’t know . . . help me out here . . .

If I were in Europe, I’d watch Disco on Netflix. As it is, I probably watch Saturday Night Fever again.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Going Deep, South

In the months before my birth, my father worked for the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division. A skinny kid just out of college with a strange, ethnic name. A Yankee. He went down to the deep South to help make sure everyone eligible could register to vote.

He was not supplied a sidearm or Kevlar vest. Just a paper card stating his name and authority given him by the federal government. That’s how he went to rural Alabama to suggest to some that their lifelong convictions about blacks and Jews and anyone else they might not like weren’t squaring with the rest of America. We were, as it states in our Declaration of Independence, all created equal.

Not everyone who took on such a mission lived to tell their story. In fact, my father never really told his. I’d ask, and he’d deflect. I came to learn that he felt sharing his stories carried a tone of self-aggrandizement. He did not go on some grand adventure. He did not go seeking glory. He thought African Americans should be allowed to vote. He was a Conservative and that, once upon a time, was a Conservative value.

I wish he was around to ask all kinds of things, but mostly, lately, I’d love to ask him what he thought about Confederate and Nazi flags, the new KKK and the threat to 52 years of progress. He’s not, so I guess it’s my turn. All our turns to reach down, grab onto the ideals at our cores and decide what we are, as individuals and citizens.

We all need to go deep.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Helsinki and Me

Yep, I'm going to Helsinki to bask in the wonders of science fiction and fresh seafood. I will be working while I'm there, as exhibited by my schedule. I'm just a little bit excited that anyone wants to know my opinion on anything.

My WorldCon schedule.

Thursday, Aug 10, 7:00 PM
Impact of Awards
7:00 PM - 8:00 PM | Messukeskus, 209 Moderator Caroline Mullan | Teresa Nielsen Hayden | Daryl Gregory | Ran Zhang | Michael J. Martineck

Friday, Aug 11, 3:00 PM
New Publishing
3:00 PM - 4:00 PM | Messukeskus, 206 Orjan Westin | H-P Lehkonen | Michelle Lovi | Gillian Polack | Michael J. Martineck

5:00 PM
So You’ve Decided to Self-Publish. Now what?
5:00 PM - 6:00 PM | Messukeskus, 215 Moderator Deborah J. Dean | Francesca T Barbini | Jonathan Brazee | Annie Bellet | Michael J. Martineck

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The writing on the wall

Found this on the wall at The River City Cafe in Myrtle Beach. I'm going to embark on a whole new marketing campaign for my book.  I'm going to write on walls.  At first, I thought maybe just the title, but now I'm thinking the full book. Line by line. If you follow me around long enough you can read the damn thing for free.

Which seems counterproductive, but nobody can follow me forever. Not even me.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Cupid as Link Boy

This painting was the inspiration for my lastest novel, The Link Boy. How, exactly, does a 19th century oil promote 21st century science fiction? I have only guesses. If I knew how my mind worked, I’d fix it to work better. Here's what I think about the link --

Cupid as Link Boy (1771) was painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-92), hangs at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, it’s one of those works that lingers in you, despite the hundreds of other works your pass to view it, and long after you’ve left the space.

The painting is a dialectic. It suspends contradictions in one time and place. Link boys were there poorest of the poor, making a few coins a night by holding torches – or links, as they were called – for people leaving clubs or playhouses. They would provide light so the rich could navigate home. They would also lead people into dark alleys and waiting thieves.

Link boys were the playthings of gentlemen pedophiles. Which makes an association with Cupid – God of Love – obscene. The batwings, the phallic torch, the tattered clothes and the pensive look on the innocent little face, redirect the whimsy of the painting’s base. Something wonderful like Cupid, debased by class and industry and birth of our modern society.

Somewhere in there, I found a book about the direction of our modern society, and how the pressures of industry and class can turn a sweet, sweet cherub into a devil.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Star Trek Discovery: Or lack there of

Star Trek Discovery is 10 years before Kirk and Spock? Ten years? Really? Did no one learn the lesson of Enterprise?

It’s actually a pretty simple lesson: The end boxes you in. Sure, there are individual story arcs with fresh characters, but the viewers have already seen the future. They know where this show is headed. I find this take particularly egregious when it comes to the Star Trek franchise, which is all about wide, open ends. Exploration. Going boldly. No box. No ends.

A prequel structure also sets up contradictions. “That’s not how they met the Romulans.” “They don’t meet the whatevers for another 15 years.” Etc. The blips counteract whatever ah ha moments the writers hope to generate by showing an early iteration of what’s to come. The fun of seeing a piece of pipe laid for the future that happened 50 years ago is, well, not that much fun.

I hate to base my ire on a trailer. Still, this looks like a black and blue show. Gray industrial tunnels. Cobalt lighting. Stuff that looked cool when Alien was released in ’79. None of the brilliant, primary color, optimism intrinsic to the design language that launched the series of seven shows, novels, comic books and live entertain experiences.

Maybe the show will be great. Or maybe this new streaming service’s view of the future is painfully short-sighted.

We’ll discover soon.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Pre-order Now - The Link Boy



The pre-order page is now up on Amazon and looking pretty official. I'm even closer to being actually excited.

The Link Boy

Thursday, May 4, 2017



Pre-Order: 6/12
Exclusive: 6/19
Everywhere: 9/18

Vist EDGE

I might allow myself to get a little excited about this book. I love this cover.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Marriage Belts

So my sister-in-law and her new husband have completed a year of marriage. And sure, they get to go on a little trip and smile, but it really doesn’t highlight the achievement.

I think you should get different colored belts. Like in Judo.

You go through a whole year, all four seasons, four major holidays, two birthdays, living in each other’s breath – it can be a tough transition. You deserve recognition. The bride starts out in white, so I guess it’s only natural that you move on to yellow if you get through the first twelve months.

It’s easier once you find the rhythm. I’m thinking orange after five years. Green if you have a child. Purple if you stay married once the kids are gone. Brown if you have you make it to 25 years, because holy shit? Right?

If you can stay married for 50 years you get your black belt in marriage. And which point, you should really teach. I, personally, would love to pick up a few pointers at the marriage dojo from a couple that made it work for that long.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

If I hear "going nuclear" one more time . . .

. . . I’m going to explode. In a huge mushroom cloud. The media freakin’ loves this phrase, the drama of it, the imagery. “The Senate is going nuclear” or, in other words, making an adjustment to their rules of procedure. It allows for a vote to carry on a simple majority, rather than a super majority. Such things do not, normally, turn buildings to dust.

The override option has been used before, in 1975 to make other rule changes, in 2013 for judicial appointments and just a few moments ago to add other nominations to the list. None of this is what we’d call a bombshell.

My problem is not with the rule change. It’s the language. First, nothing goes nuclear. One might go to Nuclear, where it a city in Nevada. One might become nuclear, I guess. If one were a protein that decides to become the center of a cell. Otherwise, it’s a stupid construction.

But even that doesn’t bother me as much as the belittling of the adjective. For those who were sitting at school one day when it looked like the sun set down in their hometown and they heard a boom louder than their ears could stand, watched their world burn and their friends and family die where they stood, the word has a different meaning.

I’d like every news reader to read Tomiko Morimoto's
brief account of the day bomb fell on Hiroshima, and then decide if they may what to call a rule change what it is.  She allowed for an interview this back in 2009 --

In 1945, Tomiko Morimoto was a 13-year-old schoolgirl. She recalls feeling no particular fear when she and her classmates heard the lone American B-29 bomber droning through the cloudless skies above Hiroshima. Her city had never been bombed, and she assumed the plane was simply on a reconnaissance mission, like the others she had seen.

Then she saw the flash. "You know how you see the bright sun that's going down on a very hot day? Bright red -- orange red. That's what it was like," she recalls. "After we heard a big noise like a 'BOONG!' 'BOONG!' Like that. That was the sound."

After the sound, she recalls, "everything started falling down; all the buildings started flying around all over the place. Then something wet started coming down, like rain. I guess that's what they call black rain. In my child's mind, I thought it was oil. I thought the Americans were going to burn us to death. And we kept running. And fire was coming out right behind us, you know."

Adults at the school led Tomiko and her classmates across the Motoyasu River to a plateau on the outskirts of Hiroshima, and told them to wait for family members to come get them. All night long, they watched their city burning below. The next morning, no parents had come, and the children were released to find their way home on their own. For Ms. Morimoto, that meant trying to find a bridge into the city that had not been destroyed.

She remembers seeing "dead people all over. All over! Particularly, I can remember… I saw a Japanese soldier that was still mounted right on his horse -- just dead! Also that a streetcar had stopped just at that moment [of the bomb] and the people still standing, dead."

Finally, Ms. Morimoto says she found a bridge she and her classmates could cross safely - a railroad bridge. She recalls looking down through the spaces between the railroad ties. Normally, one would see the river flowing there underneath. But she says, instead she saw "a sea of dead people. There was not one space for the water, just people lying there and dead."

Survivors she encountered begged for water. "Mainly, I just wanted to find my people. Finally -- finally! -- I reached home and of course my home was gone and I couldn't find anybody."

The only person who recognized Ms. Morimoto was a family hired man, who told her her grandparents had taken refuge with some neighbors in a certain nearby cave.

"And I found my grandmother and grandfather among them. Of course my grandfather was terribly hurt," she says. "He had glass lodged all over his back, bleeding. My grandmother, she wasn't hurt but she couldn't stand up from shock. My mother, I didn't find her for a week or so, and she was burned underneath a building. I hoped she died instantly."

Friday, March 17, 2017

Back cover copy crap

I would rather pass a quivering kidney stone than write back copy cover for my book. Boiling a 75,000 word masterpiece of accessible complexity down to 50 words? It’s like making a reduction from a 1945 Rothschild. Making a cozy fire with your stash of African Blackwood. Turning your ’36 Knucklehead into a sump pump. It’s awful and shouldn’t be done. People should read my whole book and then decide if they want to read it. That is the only sound way to establish a full appreciation of the work.

I think my next novel’s back cover will read:

Read. I didn’t spend 600 hours on this thing because it’s crap.

There is an art to back cover copy, but – like ice sculpture – it’s better if someone else does it. I helped with the guest list when I got married, deciding who was cool and who not cool enough, and it’s not something I ever want to do again. It is one of the five reasons I stay married. Simmering my novel down to back cover copy is the same thing. Which of my preciously little notions is fun enough to make the cut?

I’ve arrived at this –

An assassin, a priest, and a schoolteacher walk into a secret nuclear power plant – to Edwin McCallum, detective by trade and artist by desire – there’s something wrong with this picture. He’s going to figure out what it is if it kills him. The Link Boy is the second novel set in the Freeworld, a post-government future, where there are no laws. Just bottom lines.

Let me know what you think.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Music of Your Life

Max and I are sitting in the car, waiting for his sister. I scroll through the radio and stop at 102.9 WECK. Their slogan used to be: The music of your life. They’re playing an old Gloria Estefan song, though I was really hoping for England Dan and John Ford Coley or Bread.

“This is a felony,” Max says.

“What?” I reply.

“A station that plays nothing but ads? Who listens to this?”

“This is a song.”

“How can I tell the difference. This is abuse. You could go to jail for this.”

I found Red Hot Chili Peppers on 107.7 Alt Buffalo. I wanted to show him there are ways to compromise. The rifts that divide us are not so deep.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

1984 ain’t the book

Hey, I love George Orwell’s 1984. It inspired me to write The Milkman, which is actually the book I wish was surging right now on Amazon. Not because it’s mine – not entirely, anyway – but because I think it gives America a glimpse of what waits down the road. The corporatization of the US, and the rest of the world, has been fomenting for centuries. Now, like a 300-year old toddler, it’s hit a growth spurt and I wish people would use my book as a What to Expect when You’re Expecting a Post-Government Society.

It started with the British East India Company in 1600, one of the first enterprises owned by shareholders and the very first multinational corporation to take over a foreign country and hold it for a quarter of a millennium. Although the company dissolved in 1874 it was more a victim of its success rather than a lack there of. England and India dismantled it before it became “too big to fail.”

Corporations having been following its model ever since. Improving on it. Stretching into multiple countries, so no two can keep up for a take down. Diversifying, so has not to be a hostage to the price of tea. Or oil. Ingratiating themselves into everyday lives – healthcare is about as intimate as it gets. And chipping away, day after day, at their counterweights: press, organized religion, government.

In the US House of Representatives, there are 30 lobbyists per legislator. In the Senate the ratio is 131 to 1. The majority of lobbyists have ties to business interests. Corporations have more representation in Washington than the people. Thanks to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. FEC decision, corporations have a right to free speech. Money is speech and they can spend as much as they want and, well, they’ve always got more than you do. I don’t care who you are reading this, there’s company with more money than you.

They have used that power of speech to put more corporate-friendly people in public office, eroding the power and purpose of government. You know, an Exxon CEO in the State Department. Five Goldman Sachs alumni in Cabinet or advisory posts. Pro-business Supreme Court Justices and an Attorney General. That kind of thing.

I'm not saying business is bad. My novel-length thought experiment does suggest checks and balances might not be terrible. In The Milkman no one is “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” All rights are granted by corporations as conditions of employment. Not exactly freedom as we know it.

That’s it. That’s where we’re headed. I’m thinking by 2084. Perhaps my book will be a best seller by then.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Milkman comes to the Supreme Court

It was fun writing the Milkman. It has not been all that much fun watching the real world amble towards my fictitious one. Most recently . . .

The nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court seems like a victory to large segments of the US population. None of whom are the real, true beneficiaries. Nope. It’s corporations that get a new seat in the third branch of government.

Gorsuch looks like a conservative Christian, and maybe he is. I’m not the Shadow. I can’t peer into men’s souls. I can see what people do, though. This guy transfers power to corporations. From you. 

As a Tenth Circuit judge rendering a decision in the Hobby Lobby case, Gorsuch said Hobby Lobby, in denying contraception from its health insurance plans, was “exercising religion.” The corporation had a religious belief.

This was not, as many believe, a win for religious freedom. We all had that going in. Any individual working for Hobby Lobby could choose to act on that freedom and not use contraception. This was a transfer of power from those people, to the company.

Corporations will continue to grab more power in the years to come. With Gorsuch’s confirmation, they’ll have more help.

Friday, January 6, 2017

The Otherness Factor, by Arlene Marks. A wonderful view of an even bigger picture

Very Large Telescopes use sets of smaller telescopes to give you a bigger picture of the universe than any of the components could on their own. Arlene Marks’ Sic Terra Transit books work the same way. Lots of points-of-view from a variety of characters let you glimpse through little personal portals, into an intriguing and fully realized world. They let you piece together something you couldn’t otherwise experience. Something big.

Book 2, The Otherness Factor, is deliciously different from The Genius Asylum (Book 1). There are overlaps, family connections and, of course, a shared setting (in the broadest of terms – the galaxy is a big place) but Otherness takes on new characters and new concerns. The complexity is built simply, which makes for a very satisfying read.

As Otherness sits in the Sic Transit series, there are several stories sitting within Otherness. A crystal within a crystal. The first part features Lania, and reads like Little House on an Alien Planet, with a post-modern edge. The second part feels like a traditional Bildungsroman, if they traditionally featured more alien cat-like empaths. Part three brings these two together, and result is exciting, swashbuckling and ultimately quite moving.

Marks brings a sense of realness to this unreal world. It resolves the images into something you could not see any other way. Exactly what I want from a novel.