Thursday, November 15, 2018

Philcon

Yes, I'll be there. During dealer room hours I'm helping (wo)man the Rantings of a Wandering Mind booth with Joab Stieglitz.

I'll also be taking part in the Broad Universe Rapid Fire Reading on Saturday at 4pm. (THIS time I have set my phone to yell at me when the time comes). There may be giveaways.

Sadly, I don't quite have book four out. I have cover art, but it's not quite ready to reveal yet.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Germs in the...uh...brain

Apparently, we have bacteria living in our brains. If that creeps you out, then just remember knowing doesn't change anything.

In fact, the bacteria, which are concentrated in the hippocampus (memory), pre-frontal cortex (planning and personality) and striatum (voluntary movement) are probably part of who we are and why we are. Experiments with germ-free mice show alterations in social behavior and cognition, although those alterations aren't consistent, possibly related to husbandry and genetics. Some germ free mice show increases in anxiety, impairment in working memory, increased self-grooming time and possibly an inability to recognize familiar mice.

The very fact that the "germs" are hanging out in the parts of the brain associated with memory and personality is enough to make one wonder a couple of things:

1. Is there a link between brain microbiome and certain learning disabilities, especially autism spectrum disorders and dyspraxia?
2. Are we actually bacterial colonies puppeting around ape bodies? I know that's disturbing, but...

And can we introduce bacteria to the brain to help treat psychological disorders or even, yes, improve memory.

Sooo many story ideas.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The History We Learn

We tell kids to listen to their teachers in school.

In school, I remember being taught that the partition of India (into India and Pakistan) was done to stop everyone from fighting each other. That a "few people chose to move to the right side of the line." But that we British knew best and fixed it.

Anyone who watched this week's Doctor Who saw a different version of that history.

I remember as a kid seeing right through it. I knew, after all, that Hindus and Muslims don't tend to like each other that much. That you took steps not to mistake one for the other if you, well, wanted to avoid being yelled at at best.

The "few people" who "chose" to move were 14 million displaced people. The estimate the Doctor gives for casualties of 1.4 million may be either too high or too low - some figures go as high as 2 million.

And while it's true that there were people on both side who were very much in favor of partition. They didn't get on, and often still don't.

The worst violence did, indeed, occur in the Punjab.

Right now, we have kids in America being taught that the Native Americans chose to leave the east. That Japanese Americans in World War II had the "job of staying out of the way."

Just as I was taught that partition resulted in only "a few people moving," and my teachers never mentioned the thousands of deaths.

Maybe kids don't need to always listen to their teachers about history.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Excelsior!

Many years ago, a man was about to give up on comics. He worked for Atlas Comics, and he was disillusioned with the way the industry was going. His career wasn't where he wanted it to be and, perhaps, he was less than happy with the censorship of the industry.

Then his boss asked him to design a superhero team to respond to the Justice League of America. On the verge of quitting, he decided to write whatever the heck he wanted. He didn't care if he got fired.

Whatever the heck he wanted was superheroes who bickered, who had problems. Who struggled with their relationships.

It was superheroes who were at their heart more human than the rest of us.

The team was the Fantastic Four and the man, of course, was Stanley Martin Leiber, better known as Stan Lee.

Stan Lee was the John W. Campbell, Jr. of comics. Yes, he was personally responsible for Spider-Man, the Hulk, Doctor Strange, Daredevil, Black Panther, the original X-Men, Ant-Man, Iron Man and Thor.

But it was as an editor that he guided an industry for so many decades that his very name is synonymous with superhero comics.

It was as an editor that he demanded colorists and letterers get proper credit for their work.

It was as an editor that he created the "Marvel method" in which artists and writers would work together as equal terms, rather than the artist drawing what the script said.

He stopped writing in 1972 to concentrate on editing, publishing, and entertaining people at conventions all around the country. Everyone knows his face - if not from a convention appearance, than from his cameos in most Marvel movies (the "meta" explanation is that he works for The Watchers, recording events in the universe). Oh, and he also cameo's in Teen Titans Go!, in which he follows the grand tradition of breaking the fourth wall.

But it was his work as a mentor, as a guiding hand, as the "Watcher," of the Marvel universe (although he did also do work for DC on occasion) that makes Stan Lee perhaps the most important figure in both the comics industry and the superhero genre.

Excelsior! Stan.

You will never be forgotten while this civilization lasts.

Friday, November 9, 2018

This is how we get...

...a bad movie.

Mushrooms.

That generate electricity.

I mean, it's a great concept, but it also leads to sooo much mad scientist crap.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Authors and Titles

There's a bit of buzz about how HBO is apparently refusing to let Martin name the Game of Thrones prequel series.

Here's the thing.

Unless you are publishing under your own imprint or, say, with a friend's company - authors often get overruled on titles. I've even had a short story forcibly retitled myself.

Even if you publish under your own imprint, there can be complications. I wasn't able to use the title I really wanted for Fallen Dark because it was close enough to another urban fantasy book that people were getting confused.

Titles are vital, but they're as vital from a marketing perspective as a creative one. You can't let your book (or TV show, or movie) be confused with something else. It has to tell readers and viewers what genre it is. It might be that HBO doesn't think fans will recognize "The Long Night" as a Game of Thrones spinoff.

It might be that they're all still wrangling about it. Martin's certainly not the only person with a say.

People saying he's being treated horribly miss the point though: This is all quite normal in the industry.

And titles are very, very hard.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Aliens and Gender

If you saw last week's Doctor Who, there was mpreg. Which was highly amusing, but a little bit lazy.

If both of your genders can get pregnant, then you aren't really dealing with males or females in the typical sense.

Playing with alien gender is something relatively few science fiction writers do. My own Transpecial features aliens who have three sexes, one of which plays no direct role in reproduction (this was inspired by maned lionesses - look them up).

But aliens that have interesting gender and sex variations are relatively rare. Much playing with gender is done with humans - Leckie envisions a world in which sex is considered completely unimportant in her Ancillary series. Or with beings that might as well be human - JY Yang creates a world where gender is a free choice in The Black Tides of Heaven, with men, women and those who never actually choose.

And, of course, The Left Hand of Darkness - but the people in it are explicitly descended from humans.

Doctor Who's Gifftan may or may not be human variants. But they could have done a better job of playing with gender here (although the concept is not played as ridiculous as it might be - my first assumption was that the character was a pregnant human trans man not an alien, and it was handled in a way that I don't think would have offended anyone. In fact, it was a love letter to fatherhood, cross referenced with Ryan's poor relationship with his own dad).

It left a lot unexplained. Do Gifftan men get pregnant by women? By other men? And I still think it could have gone a step further without confusing the younger viewers.

If you're actually looking for good alien gender stuff:

C.J. Cherryh's Chanur series (old but good) has a species with three sexes and with individuals changing sex under stress.

Asimov's The Soft Ones from The Gods Themselves reproduce in trios. Interestingly, they breed in their larval form not their adult form.

And if you saw the Venom movie, although Venom is referred to with male pronouns, perhaps because he's taking a concept of gender from Eddie Brock, if you go through the comics - symbiotes are in fact asexual and reproduce by budding.

Meaning?

There's lots of ways to play with alien gender. You can take inspiration from Earth (snails have only one sex, bees have three...)

Think about it. Not even humans truly only have two sexes and many things on this planet don't.