Worlds: Stupid Sci-Fi Film Tricks, The Expanse Edition

SPOILER ALERT for Season 1 of The Expanse if it’s on your “to watch” list.

Are you effing kidding me, The Expanse? I mean, are you effing kidding me?

Here we have a show that most people I know in SF have been raving about, I mean, absolutely raving about for the last couple of years. So I finally decided to use my Amazon Free Prime trial and binge-watch a few episodes.

And it looks good. Man does it look good. Really, the only problem I have with it from a science perspective is I think that it VASTLY underestimates what happens to things and people when a hole is knocked into an Earth-pressure cabin in hard vacuum, but I’m pretty willing to let that slide, on the large scale of things. That’s like complaining about lasers being visible in space combat. Of course they wouldn’t be, but the Rule Of Cool, well, rules.

So, for the first six episodes, I just sat back and enjoyed the SFX, the dialogue, the action, and the whole ride. So, the Earth UN controls Ceres, capital of the Asteroid Belt, by rationing its air and water. Mars, an independent state, also hungers to control Ceres, and the Belters just want to breathe and drink and not die. There’s a Free the Belt movement, headed up by a freedom-fighter/terrorist organization called the OPA, and of course Earth Cops on Ceres try to keep these terrorists down.
As our story opens, one of our protagonists is an Earth Cop chasing an Earth heiress who sympathized with the OPA and who disappeared under mysterious circumstances. We find she has something to do with a freighter set up as bait to lure in an innocent rescue ship that is then attacked by parties unknown with evidence pointing to Mars, apparently with the goal of starting a war. Earth Cop finds more and more evidence tying missing heiress to a raid on a supersecret Martian research base.

And then, episode 7. Oh, gods….

So Earth Cop figures out that heiress was an agent of the OPA Maximum Leader, and assembles the evidence, bringing it straight to his boss… who promptly wipes his files, revokes his access codes and fires him. He figures out she’s in Maximum Leader’s pocket, and as he storms out, the camera focuses in on boss’s neck, where she is sporting an OPA tattoo.

Get that? The OPA’s paid agent, the chief of the Earth Cops in the Belt, is wearing a terrorist tattoo in plain sight, advertising her allegiance. Among detectives. And we’re supposed to believe that somehow, no one noticed this. I mean, this is like a U.S. Naval officer showing up for duty on his ballistic missile submarine in 1985 sporting a hammer-and-sickle tattoo on his wrist. You think someone might ask questions?

And the hell of it is, it’s completely unnecessary. I mean, I believed she could have been a mole. But no one in the solar system would be such a stupid mole and survive more than a month. It drives me nuts when filmmakers feel obligated to underline visually what’s happening for us as though we are too dumb to understand words and to imagine likely consequences of such actions. Stop it.

From Somewhere In Orbit

 

Movie Reviews Far Too Late: Why Pacific Rim Was Awful

I have friends who love the concept of giant, armored robots. I, personally, dislike the concept. For one thing, most of them are simply too big to be even halfway believable without incredibly advanced materials, but even with those, the truth is that for the money and maintenance you would expend on one giant humanoid mech, you could build a tank battalion with a fighter squadron for close air support that would a) take down a comparable mech and b) not be rendered useless by a single malfunctioning joint.

However, during the discussion, I realized that the reasons I hated Pacific Rim had nothing to do with its blatant mech fanboyism.

First, it violated what, to me, is a cardinal rule of good science-fiction storytelling. It’s a variant of something the Russian playwright Chekhov said: If a gun is on the stage in Act I, it has to be used by Act III. My variant on this for SF is this: If you’re going to tell us that some piece of machinery or battleship or whatever is incredibly super badass, you have to show it being badass. Not just tell us this, and then have it crumple like toilet paper. We were told that there was this super awesome Chinese mech, and this super awesome Australian mech, and they serve no purpose other than to be kaiju chew toys in the climactic battle. This was not necessary. Each mech could have been shown taking a kaiju down easily, and then being battered into scrap by more (or more dangerous) kaiju than had been previously encountered, exactly as we see the Death Star detonate Alderaan and then get taken down by the Rebels.

Second, and most ridiculous, they use a nuclear weapon to close the rift the kaiju are coming through, and yet no one ever thinks to use nuclear weapons on the kaiju themselves, despite the fact that the kaiju mostly materialize in the Pacific and then start heading toward cities? Someone should at least have tried this. And before anyone says that this would have been dangerous to the planet, just stop before you embarrass yourselves. Where do you think the vast majority of US nuclear weapons tests happened during the Cold War? Literally thousands of nuclear weapons have been detonated in the Pacific, with few to zero ill effects on the planet.

Pacific Rim is a blatant attempt to use a terrible, but cool-looking solution to a problem. It’s like having mounted knights go fight ISIS in 2018. I grant you that the actual solution, having satellites warning uniformed men in bunkers that it was time to launch nuclear air or sea strikes against kaiju, would not have been anything like as cool to watch. But it would have been far less stupid.

From Somewhere in Orbit

The Awesome Bad Idea

I think the most awesome bad idea to come out of The Last Jedi had to be Admiral Holdo’s lightspeed ram of Supreme Leader Snoke’s corpse’s flagship. It was absolutely beautiful onscreen, and something I have always, always wanted to see.

So why was it a terrible idea?

For two reasons: firstly, she comes up with it completely off-the-cuff, which suggests that she (and presumably a whole lot of people) knew exactly what that would do.

Therefore, and secondly, a weapon that devastating, whereby a comparatively small ship devastates a superduperdreadnaught, would have to be put into practice. And if a kamikaze is that effective, it will be used. (Think I’m wrong? I’ll remind you that guided missiles became a reality less than a decade after Japan flew kamikazes into US ships, and were in the planning stages even then). So hyperspace transition missiles would definitely be a thing, especially since we know that hyperdrives can be made small enough to effectively propel fighter craft.

What awesome bad ideas have you seen, and why were they bad? More importantly, could anything have been done to make them good?

What, Writer, Is Your Plan To Fail?

Continuing a discussion vaguely related to The Last Jedi, a military friend of mine pointed out that one of the two real problems with Admiral Holdo’s escape plan (which was not a bad plan in concept, just in execution) was that she had absolutey no back-up plan in case it failed. Real military leaders need back-up plans, contingencies in case the enemy does something unexpected (like, say, suddenly being able to track you through hyperspace). However, I’d point out that Holdo is hardly alone in the Star Wars universe for failing at this. A few examples of how people in the Star Wars universe utterly fail at contingency planning include:

The complete failure of both the Old and New Republics to have a military, or means of raising one rapidly. The whole reason unwarlike people have militaries is for the contingency of suddenly being attacked, or facing a quickly rising threat.

The Rebels in New Hope were apparently content to simply wait for the Death Star to come blow them up, even though they must have had some transport ships to have gotten them to Yavin in the first place. In fact, one would have thought that evacuation plans would have been on their mind most heavily, since they didn’t know they were getting Death Star plans until the last minute.

The Empire is not a lot better in the planning department: They had no plan to catch the Millennium Falcon if its hyperdrive could be fixed. And why in the world did they sabotage it so it would be that easy to fix? They couldn’t have had a platoon of stormtroopers use its hyperdrive motivator for target practice? That’s the laziest job of sabotage ever.

The Rebels didn’t really have a plan for what to do if their commando strike team didn’t bust the shield bunker, which is indeed really stupid. Given the fleet they had mustered, they desperately needed a brute-force, we’ll-take-it-down-when-we-get-there-if-it-costs-us-a-few-cruiser-divisions plan to blow that thing, given the risk to their entire navy. And they also really needed a plan for what to do if half the Imperial Fleet showed up, because it did.

Of course, the supreme failures in the back-up planning department were the Jedi themselves. Wouldn’t you have loved to have heard THAT Academy In-service Planning Day?
“So, it’s been determined that it’s best to start Jedi training at about age 2. 3, tops.”
“Great. What do we do if we find a Force-sensitive who’s older?”
“I guess we… don’t train them!”
Okay! And just let that person wander around the galaxy with an unspeakable power they won’t know how to use. No danger of turning to the horrible Dark Side there! Hell, even killing potential-but-too-old-Jedi would have been a more ethical plan!

My guess is that this oversight exists because of the Rule of Cool, because desperate, do-or-die plans are romantic. Of course, they do happen, but only in extremis, and are usually far less romantic in real life. General Heinrici’s desperate defense of Berlin in 1945 comes to mind, for example.

The point is, that when you write, you may indeed wish to portray an against-the-odds victory, or a doomed last stand. But such things should happen because everything else was tried and failed. Let your heroes die on Plan Q, not because they couldn’t be bothered to come up with a Plan B.

 

From Somewhere in Orbit

The Once And Future Blog Post

So, the blog has been on unannounced, extended hiatus for about a month. I am sorry about that: it wasn’t planned, just a lot of things… happened.

This year has been a major period of adjustment for me: I gave up my job, we moved across the country, my wife started working full-time, and I stopped, but am working part-time and what with all that plus the holidays, the little hobdemons of depression jumped on my skull and thwacked. So for the past month, I have not been too busy and wiped out to write… but I have been too busy and wiped out to write HERE. However, I have not given up on the blog, and hope you won’t give up reading it. It is my hope, in fact, to blog more often throughout the coming year.

And this means that William Shakespeare’s Dune is NOT dead, and the next installment appears tomorrow!

So, how did the writing go in 2017? Not that great. But, because while I actually believe that people learn a lot (and are sometimes encouraged by hearing about) the failures and difficulties of others, I submit the following:

This is the first year since 2014 that my writing sales have not surpassed the previous year. In fact, it marked my lowest publication output since 2014

Partly, this is because I submitted fewer manuscripts, in the aforementioned craziness, as we uprooted our lives from Kansas and settled back in Wisconsin. Also, for much of the year I was working on finishing up two novel manuscripts instead of short stories. I submitted 57 original manuscripts this year, as opposed to 80 in 2016 and 65 in 2015. On top of this, I was trying tougher markets, with higher rejection rates.

There were some bright spots in 2017: My first (very short) standalone book came out (and is still available on Amazon for just $0.99 on Kindle!) and I made some very valuable contacts and set plans in motion that will hopefully see fruition on 2018. There are still some things I can’t talk about yet.

Nevertheless, the count this year is as follows:

A DOCTOR TO DRAGONS (novelette) from Superversive Press. You can buy it by linking to the sidebar!

“Phoenix For The Amateur Chef” (reprint) became a podcast on FarFetchedFables.

“The Blind Queen’s Daughter” (reprint) became a podcast on FarFetchedFables.

“Abandoned Responsibility” (reprint) was sold to HIC SUNT DRACONES, an anthology from Digital Fiction Publishing League. This makes the first time I’ve sold a reprint twice.

“A Song For The Barren” (reprint) was sold to SCI PHI JOURNAL, and appeared yesterday. I once imagined writing a lot of military SF, but age and experience have taught me that, not having been in the military myself, that such stories would be harder to write well than I imagined. This, therefore, is one of my few pieces of such fiction, and I hope it has succeeded.

This is a bittersweet announcement, because this is also SCI PHI’s last issue. I have been writing the theology column A MOTE IN GOD’S “I” for them for over a year now, and am sorry to see it go. It was my first regular writing gig, and while it paid little, it was fun, and I am very sorry it’s over. However, I will be posting those columns here. Additionally, this story marks the first time that a publication sought one of my stories out, rather than me simply submitting it.

Finally, I have also sold the original short story “Day Of Atonement” to D Avraham’s Holy C.O.W. Anthology – SF Stories from the Center Of the World, a collection of stories set in the Middle East. I really love this story, because it comes from a faith that is central to my life.

Thanks to all who have beta-read and encouraged me this year, and to all of you who have taken the chance and spent your time and/or money on my stories. I deeply appreciate you all.

sciphijournal.org/a-song-for-the-barren/

A Memory of Jerry

The worlds of Science Fiction today are mourning the loss of one of the best of us. Dr. Jerry Pournelle has passed. For those of my readers who do not know, Dr. Pournelle was one of the great pioneers of both science and science-fiction. He was consulted by NASA and the Reagan Administration on matters of space exploration and defense. He wrote several novels I loved, especially High Justice. But my favorites were his collaborations with his partner, Larry Niven. Together they wrote two of my favorite SF novels ever, and one of my favorite fantasy works: Footfall and The Mote In God’s Eye, which to me deserve a place in the eternal canon of SF for being, respectively, the greatest alien invasion and first contact novels of the latter 20th century, and Inferno, a rewrite of Dante, in which a science-fiction writer travels through hell.

I was reminded of how privileged I am to have spent even one evening in Jerry’s company when I saw so many of my Facebook friends, most of whom are more accomplished authors than I am myself, saying that they had only met Jerry last week at DragonCon for the first time, or never.

I met Jerry eighteen years ago, at Writers’ Of The Future. I’d won 2nd place in the 1999 contest, and I still remember it as one of the proudest moments of my life that he and Mr. Niven handed me — ME! — my first ever science-fiction writing award. That I promptly made an ass of myself with my thank-you speech, which I had not rehearsed, is a somewhat less-proud moment, but that’s life.

But I will always treasure the memory of the after-party, when I got to speak with Jerry and many other writers.  I’ll always remember that he came up with the best explanation I’ve ever heard of for the infamous Roswell  Incident, which I will recall here. I’m going to emphasize that this was Jerry speculating, NOT releasing actual knowledge. Obviously, what follows is not an exact transcript, but I’m going to reproduce it as best I can recall from eighteen years ago:

“You got to remember that this was the old Air Force, with all the pilots still veterans of World War II. And those pilots were pretty much drunk as their ground state of being. On top of that, this was 1947, when the entire nuclear arsenal of the world was approximately eight weapons, all of them bombs, and all of them owned by the United States of America.

“Well, what it seems to me is that at some point, the Air Force wanted to move a bomb. Naturally, you’d keep that as secret as you can; why would you tell even the pilots? And so, two pilots, enjoying the long and boring flight over the New Mexico desert as best they could, climbed into the night sky, and never arrived at their destination.

“Now a nuclear weapon, of course, has safeties to prevent a mushroom going off in case the plane carrying it crashes, but crashed planes tend to burn, and the chemical explosive wrapped around the plutonium can certainly catch fire. So you have the Air Force looking for a missing plane, carrying an atomic bomb, and suddenly reports from Roswell of a a burning wreck in the middle of the desert. It doesn’t take the Air Force long to put those two facts together, but by the time they arrive, several VERY unauthorized persons have seen the wreck and the burned bodies (Author’s Note: Ever seen a photo of a very badly burned body? They do tend to shrink and attenuate. So they look very thin, with disproportionately-sized heads. Funny, that.) and strange fragments of highly-classified equipment.

What the Air Force very much wants to do is to make all this go away, so they whisk away all that they can, but they can’t disappear U.S. citizens, and they very definitely do not want it getting out that a couple of idiots managed to destroy by incompetence an eighth of the world’s nuclear arsenal. So they make up the story of a crashed weather balloon, which is an obvious fabrication, and pray. Sure enough, people disbelieve this and their theory about what the Air Force is covering up is… aliens. Alien spacecraft, crashed in the desert, whisked away by the Air Force.

The Air Force, of course, with its competent people on the job, send up praises to heaven and immediately refuse all comment on such things, pointing with increased energy to the “weather balloon,” and looking as stupid as they can. Because the more they do, the more people think “Ah-HAH! So it IS aliens,” and the less they think, “I wonder whether the Air Force might have lost a nuclear bomb.”

I remember thinking. My gods, of course. That makes absolutely perfect sense, and no matter how high up the chain of command you go, all the way up to President Truman, absolutely NO ONE in the government is going to have an interest in coming clean on that story, and neither would anyone in Eisenhower’s administration after that. How simple and brilliant.

Well, we all laughed, and whether it’s true or not, it’s a good story. And then Jerry talked to me. He asked about my story, and said he remembered it, and that it was a good story. And that’s something I will always remember when I feel that I can’t hack it as a writer. More than anything else, I remember that Jerry made me feel included, and truly part of this wonderful thing that I had always imagined fandom to be. And you know what? I think he did that with everyone. While I have talked to people who hated Jerry’s politics (and hated his fiction) and said he could be an ass when he was arguing, I never heard anyone who said that Jerry snubbed them or made them feel unwelcome.

There’s been a lot of — shall we say, discord — in fandom lately. A lot of exclusivity. I’ve seen friends made to feel unwelcome and friends threatened and excoriated and called liars and slanderers and worse. I’ve experienced some of it myself, as people made it clear that for one reason or another, I was not good enough or important enough to be worth their respect or time. For the purposes of this piece, though, I am not interested in the rights or the wrongs of any of it. All I would like to say is, that I would like all of us to remember Jerry, and how he took the time to befriend and welcome a newbie author. I never had the privilege of truly working with him, but I will always be grateful that for that evening, and that the man I met was as gracious and entertaining as the worlds he had brought to life for me. Thank you Jerry. And I hope to meet you again, in the worlds beyond the sky.

Starting With Shakespeare: Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow…

One of the hardest things about writing — and also, life itself — is trying again after you have failed. Writers are champion failers. Even the brilliant ones. Frank Herbert, whose work I am parodizing on this site, is one of the greatest failers ever. After selling Dune to Analog magazine as a serial, he failed thirteen times to find a publisher for one of the most iconic novels in science-fiction, mostly because a lot of them thought that a novel that needed a glossary was simply unreadable. And yet, aren’t we glad that he kept on with it. Trying the same thing over and over again even though it doesn’t work is a kind of madness, perhaps, but it is the kind of madness that is sometimes vitally necessary to realize a dream.

And so, once again, I am going to try to blog regularly. (It has to work this time: the website has pretty pictures on it!) I can’t promise I’ll really be any more consistent this time, but I’ve been making some changes in the way I do things, and my writing practices have dramatically improved over the last three years, so hope is high.

First, I’d like to thank all my friends who have been following and commenting on this blog since it was a blog and nothing else. You’ve been here for the long haul, and I do appreciate that.

Second, I’ve put up a lot of new content here, and more is coming. I’d like to encourage everyone to check out the Sample Snippets page, which will only be getting bigger. I think I can promise that whole stories will be coming soon, and they will be announced here.

Finally, I’d like to link you to my ongoing free project, William Shakespeare’s Dune, which I am doing just for fun. Today’s addition is Act I, Scene ii, which is the real point of this post. Enjoy!

Welcome To The Website Launch!!

Ladies and Gentlemen, it is with no little pride that I unveil my new domain and website, gscotthuggins.com. I know that it’s hardly the greatest website in the, well, Web, but I’m just getting started, and it was a stretch for my feeble skills. Please allow me to give you this short-lived guide to the site:

Bio: The Orbiter: That’s for anyone who’s really interested in learning more about me.

Bibliography: A history with links to my score of published stories, most with links, and many of them absolutely free to read and/or listen to.

Sample Snippets: Divided into Fantasy, Science-Fiction and Horror, I have snippets from some of the stories you cannot get for free, hoping they intrigue you.

William Shakespeare’s Dune: An ongoing “For the Love” project, my reimagining of how the classic saga of Paul Muad’Dib Atreides would have sounded if the Bard had written it. Yes, it’s all kinds of hubris. It will be updated regularly. I hope you like it.

Along the side the first thing you will see is an invitation to follow this blog (please!) Then some of my featured works with fun covers, as well as some of the blogs, podcasts and webcomics I enjoy.  I hope you’ll like them, too. Let me know if there’s anything I can improve. Hope to see you here often, friends!