Sunday, April 21, 2013

Last Week of School, and some Reviews

The gradepocalypse is about to begin again. We have six class periods left before finals start, but, unfortunately, I have a lot of seniors in my classes. Why does this matter one might ask?  Well, because Xavier does something in the spring semesters that is very tough on faculty members who have a lot of seniors. That is, classes end on April 29, Monday, and Senior grades are due by noon on April 30, Tuesday.   This is so that grades can be cleared before our graduation ceremonies.

This means that during the final week I’m not only teaching classes but administering finals to all seniors. It means all papers are due during the last week. It also means I’m administering makeups because lord forbid everyone take the test when it is scheduled, and lord forbid that they wouldn’t be seniors so that they, too, have to have grades in on the 30th.  It means that I get a very few days to complete all my grading and turn in grades. And since grades are turned in early, and students get to see them, it means numerous emails and phone calls from students begging for a few more points. Spring is not a good time to be a teacher.

On the upside, though, after April 30th I will be more than ¾ s done with my grading. I only have one actual exam during finals week. I guess we’ll see if I live long enough to enjoy it. In the meantime, let it be known that I will be making only sporadic appearances on the blogs until after May 1st.

I should be completed with ‘everything’ by May 12th and then summer writing begins. I can’t wait.

Let me leave you with a few reviews of various kinds:

The Walking Dead: Graphic Novel series:  I’m getting ready to start volume 8 of The Walking Dead graphic novel series. I’ve been a big fan of the TV series since it first aired. Here are my thoughts on volumes 1-7 of the graphic novels.  The novels aren’t as good as the TV series to me, although had I read them first I might feel differently.  In particular, the absence of key characters in the TV series, Darrell and Merle, takes away some of the enjoyment for me. The Governor is also far less nuanced in the novels and I prefer the TV version.  On the other hand, Michone is a more complete character in the novels than in the TV show, although she has been developing more in the last season. The novels are also quite a bit more graphic, which is saying something considering that the show is pretty graphic as well.  After the first 4 of the novel series I almost abandoned them, but Lana is reading them and bringing them home from the library, and after reading 5-7 I think I’m finally hooked and will follow the novel series to the end as well.

The Dark Knight Rises: Lana and I finally got around to watching this movie and neither of us cared much for it. The Dark Knight was long enough, but it had an amazing Joker, played by Heath Ledger, and everything made sense to me within the context of the film. The Dark Knight Rises had “Bane,” with a great name and a completely lame characterization. It was also very long, and it won’t leave me with a lot of great memories. The two main problems I had with the movie, though.  First, the timing seemed subtly off on everything. It’s hard to explain but things seemed to always happen too late or too early for the plotline. Second, the Bane character just wasn’t used right.  At least this is my opinion.

Doc Savage: Skull Island: How could I resist getting a book in which Doc Savage faces King Kong? This is, of course, a modern continuation of the Doc Savage series, written by Will Murray rather than Lester Dent. That was actually an attraction for me, because while I enjoy the original Doc Savage series, I’m not very enamored of Dent’s writing.  I also have very much enjoyed Murray’s work on the Destroyer series. However, whether by intent or not, Murray’s prose seemed to echo Dent’s pretty closely so I didn’t find myself getting lost in the prose of this tale. The story started out wonderfully by beginning just at the point where the movie, King Kong, left off. A dead Kong’s body must be hauled off and Doc Savage and his crew get the job. After that, we flash back to Doc’s first meeting with Kong, which took place before he’d even reached the age of 21. I didn’t particularly like the flashback aspect but once we flashed back we stayed there so it wasn’t much of a problem. I did enjoy getting to know more about Doc’s history, particularly with his father and his grandfather, although I thought it took a bit longer than necessary to get to Kong’s island. I’d rather have spent some time exploring and detailing the characteristics of the island itself. I won’t give away the ending but will say that I enjoyed it. It’s good fun, just not as much fun as I was hoping it would be. Maybe I was just expecting too much.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Terraforming, or Transforming

I’ve read a lot in the past few years about terraforming Mars, terraforming Venus. I’ve even been reading about how we might one day have to terraform Earth back to where it was before we started messing with it too much. The ideas are out there; the strategies are in place, although we still lack the technical skills and the tools at the moment. Judging from the past couple of hundred years of human scientific progress, those skills and those tools will be here soon.

I’m glad the human imagination is capable of such concepts. I’m glad we can dream of newer worlds, maybe even better worlds. I’m glad that, at every age of our existence as a species, we have had the intelligence and daring to reach for those things just outside our grasp.

But--you knew there had to be a but--as events of yesterday, April 15th, have reminded us, our biggest challenge as a species does not come from without. It comes from within. The Boston Marathon bombing is only the latest in a series of horrors we have faced recently. I won’t list others because I know you can list them as well as I.

Let’s be clear, except for the technology used for the April 15th bombings, the callousness and brutality of the act are nothing new to “humanity.”  That’s exactly the problem. While we have gone on for centuries uncovering greater knowledge of the universe and inventing new wonders of technology, we seem not to have changed our minds one bit. Far too many of us are still nasty, brutish, vicious creatures full of hate, jealousy and violence. Far too many want only to hurt, not to heal—want only to see the tears and blood of the innocent rather than the smiles of the joyful.

Don’t believe for a moment that I’m above the basest of feelings myself. Yesterday, my mind seethed with rage. I imagined a hundred scenarios in which the perpetrators of this atrocity were identified and caught…and turned over to me. I imagined the horrors I would inflict upon them. And I felt no guilt whatsoever. Any possible consideration that these murderers might claim justification for what they did could not sway me. They attacked the innocent! They attacked those who have done nothing to them whatsoever. There is no clearer description of evil.

Today, my rage is banked, but it is still there. Today I am just barely starting to think again rather than just feel. I still scream inside for justice for the dead and the maimed. But now another thought intrudes. Somehow, some way, some when, we must find a way to terraform ourselves. Before it is too late.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Is It Always About Character Development?

I hear it fairly often: unless there is character development in a story or book then the writer hasn't done his or her job. I don't believe this is true. I like character development. I would say that it happens in most of my books. Under the Ember Star is an example, I think. Some of my favorite books and series certainly show character development. The Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling.  To Tame a Land by Louis L'Amour. The Conan series by Robert E. Howard.

However, I also enjoy books in which the character, at the beginning of the work, already has an interesting and well developed personality. Doc Savage, The Spider, Sherlock Holmes. In stories and books told about these characters, there is not much character development. Instead, there is character "reveal."  We ferret out elements of the character's personality during the course of the book but we don't actually see any development of that personality. At most, we might, through flashbacks, get some hint as to past events that led to the character's current state. However, many of these kinds of characters are series characters and it's usually not until later in the series that we see this kind of thing.

The mistaken idea--in my opinion--that we must always have character "development" is partially responsible for how almost every superhero movie in the last twenty years has had to tell an "origin" story for the character. I think there are characters who don't need an "origin" story on our first exposure to them. Instead, I'd prefer some character "reveal," and then, if the series is a hit or takes off, go back and later tell some kind of origin story.

Anyway, there's my two cents. I could say plenty more on this subject but I've got essays being turned in today and better get to grading those. Let me know what you think, though.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Reviews for "Ember Star"

I've been very pleased to see that Under the Ember Star has been getting some really good reviews. The latest comes from Chris La Tray over on his blog with a post called Keeping it Pulpy: Thanks, Chris.

Two things I'm particularly pleased with hearing about the book is that the setting, a planet called Kelmer, is rich, and that the main character, Ginn Hollis, is believable and sympathetic. The name of the planet Kelmer comes from an amalgamation of Kenneth Bulmer, who wrote some really great sword and planet fiction under the pseudonym Alan Burt Akers. Ken also wrote a lot of SF and fantasy as well. The planet of Kelmer, though, owes more to the works of Leigh Brackett, especially her Martian stories, than to Ken's worlds. I put a lot of effort into developing the Kelmerian landscape and societies and I'm glad it seems to have paid off. 

Under the Ember Star also marks the first time I've tried a female protagonist for a long work. I knew I wanted to try it and was happy when Ginn Hollis leaped into my mind. She seemed just right for the setting and background, and I definitely want to tell more stories about her. I'm glad she seems to be resonating with readers.

Here's a (hopefully) funny ad I cooked up for Under the Ember Star

FIRST CONTACT!  I’m sure you’ve heard of SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.  Well, NASA has a new project out now called SETG, the Search for Extraterrestrial Gramlich. Even though they have been working on a shoestring budget of Cheetos and Beer, they got a hit in their first week of operation.  Less than a light year away, they discovered a novella by a “Charles Allen Gramlich” entitled Under the Ember Star.  Both a print version and an electronic version of the work have been detected using sophisticated infrared scanners and a fine toothed comb .  On the Beat for NASA, it’s Graham Charleston reporting for the Deerhaven Excalibur.  Remember, NASA owns space!

If you're interested in reading Under the Ember Star, it is in print (as a double with a military SF novel by Mark Burgess) and in ebook. Both are available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. 

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Blogging and Days of Beer

I used to post every day, then every other day, then about every third day. Now it seems lucky if I get a post in a week. It's not that I don't enjoy blogging, but so many things consume my interest these days and I've also been working quite a lot on fiction. When I'm writing nonfiction, it lends itself well to blogging, but fiction tends to take me away from it. Not sure why that is. Below is a little piece of nonfiction for you, a small snippet from Days of Beer, my memoir if you will. (It's edited slightly to fit with this post.)

One day, when my son, Joshua, was about seven or eight years old, I opened a bottle of St. Pauli Girl in his presence. St. Pauli Girl is a German beer of exquisite bitterness. Josh, who always wanted to drink whatever I was drinking, naturally asked for a sip. Where before I had always refused to let him drink any beer, I now encouraged him to take a swig, figuring one swig would be enough forever. Holding the bottle in both small hands, he lifted it to his mouth and took a swallow.

The minute that bitterness hit his tongue, Josh’s eyes squinched shut and his face screwed up with a look of shock and dismay. He immediately tried to “chew” the taste back out of his mouth, but St. Pauli Girl is not a lady to be forgotten so easily. I soon took pity on him and gave him a drink of milk to cleanse his palate. He never asked to taste my beer again.

Several months later, Josh and I were at a quick stop store and I saw they had Mountain Dew in the original green bottles, the one with the hillbilly on it holding a jug of moonshine, for which Mountain Dew is named. I bought a bottle for nostalgia sake and offered Josh a sip. At first, he refused. I encouraged him. I could see him looking at me with a speculative light in his eyes; no doubt he was remembering the last time he’d trusted his father’s offer of a drink. But he finally agreed to a tentative sip, and immediately his eyes lit up.
“I like that beer,” he said with a smile.

(BTW, Ty Johnston has a review of Micro Weird up on his blog (, and Randy Johnson mentions it on his (, as well as having reviewed it on Amazon.  Thanks, guys!)