July 21, 2013: A 17 (actually, 21) Question Science Fiction Book Meme!

The gang at http://www.sfsignal.com/ have launched another one of those irresistible SF-themed memes, what they’re calling a ” 17-question science fiction book meme for a lazy Sunday”.  I wrestled over a few of my responses, struggling with the relative worthiness of some of the titles, and finally decided to solve the problem by adding four extra questions to the meme (17 to 20) to round it out to an even twenty.  Er, plus one.

What follows are my responses.  Answer as many of the following as you can, in the comments section of this blog and over here: http://www.sfsignal.com/archives/2013/07/a-17-question-science-fiction-book-meme/#more-79721.  They’d love to read your feeback!

1. My favorite alien invasion book or series is…?

1

The Ophiuchi Hotline by John Varley

It’s not an alien invasion story in the traditional sense of the term but an alien invasion does precipitate the events leading up to another (indirect) alien invasion in this thoroughly engaging novel about cloning, restored memories, and a mysterious radio signal from distant space.

2. My favorite alternate history book or series is…?

1

Watchmen by Alan Moore.

To be honest, I’ve never been a fan of Alt. History scifi and yet, Alan Moore’s non-linear, iconoclastic take on the superhero genre stands out as one of my favorite works crossing several genres.

3. My favorite cyberpunk book or series is…?

1

Glasshouse by Charles Stross

Okay, it includes enough cyberpunk elements for me to make it my selection in this category.  A twisty, turny, scifi thriller with plenty of humor and suspense.

4. My favorite Dystopian book or series is…?

1

Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower.

Unrelentingly grim yet possessed of a spirit and hope embodied by its determined protagonist.  I’d recommend it over the similar-themed, better-known The Road.

5. My favorite Golden-Age sf book or series is…?

1

Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke

When I was a kid, my mother encouraged me to read by buying me a bunch of classic SF – Asimov, Ellison, Niven – but my favorite was Arthur C. Clarke,  and Childhood’s End is my favorite Arthur C. Clarke book.  A race of mysterious extraterrestrials visit Earth.  They bring an end to war, poverty, disease, and help usher in a golden age of peace and prosperity.  But what future plans do these alien, dubbed The Overlords, have for humanity?

6. My favorite hard sf book or series is…?

1

House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds

I could have just as easily placed this novel in the space opera category and Iain M. Banks’s Culture series here as the works of both authors share common elements: breathtaking narratives spanning the universe peopled with colorful characters, fantastic alien races,  and mind-bending technologies. Big, brilliant ideas.

7. My favorite military sf book or series is…?

1

Old Man’s War by John Scalzi.

Not only my favorite military SF book or one of my favorite SF books in general but one of my very favorite books.  Period.  Every person I’ve recommended this novel to has become a John Scalzi fan.

8. My favorite near-future book or series is…?

1

The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon.

Maybe a bit of a cheat in that it may not have enough scifi elements to please the average SF enthusiast, but it’s got enough – the near future setting and medical breakthroughs – for me to include this poignant, inspiring, beautifully written novel here.

9. My favorite post-apocalyptic book or series is…?

1

The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe

A “far down the road” post-apocalyptic science fiction novel in the guise of a fantasy novel chock full of allegory, literary allusions, and elusive subtext.  A challenging read, but well worth the time and effort.

10. My favorite robot/android book or series is…?

1

In the Garden of Iden by Kage Baker.

Not robot or androids per se but immortal cyborgs, employees of The Company, charged with the task of traveling back in time in order to locate and safeguard (read: hide) artifacts and valuable items for sale in the 24th century (when/where they will be discovered). Complications arise when our heroine, Mendoza, falls in love with a 16th century Englishman.  And mortal no less!

11. My favorite space opera book or series is…

1

Iain M Banks’ Culture series.

Grand, brilliant, staggeringly inventive and, yes, operatic, the Culture Series stands out as a marvelous literary accomplishment.

12. My favorite steampunk book or series is…?

1The Somnambulist by Jonathan Barnes

A washed-up illusionist and his imposing assistant battle to save London from dark forces in Jonathan Barnes’ witty, macabre, and all-out-bizarre novel.  There are surprises a plenty in a book in which no one can be trusted, least of all our narrator.

13. My favorite superhero book or series is…?

1The Superior Foes of Spiderman by Nick Spencer

Hmmm.  Though.  This changes week to week but, right now, coming off a highly entertaining first issue, this is the series I’m most excited about.

14. My favorite time travel book or series is…?

1

The Forever War by Joe Haldeman.

An exceptional treatment of time dilation makes this one the runaway winner in this category.

15. My favorite young adult sf book or series is…?

1

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

A seminal work of science fiction whose appeal extends well beyond young adult readers, this coming-of-age tale is set at a Battle School where, amid the training, the games, and the youthful interrelations, not all is as it seems…

16. My favorite zombie book or series is…?

1

Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead.

Before The Walking Dead television series became a breakout hit, there was the comic book series – smarter, grimmer and far more character-driven than the show.

17. My favorite ship-based sf book or series is…?

1

The Dark Beyond the Stars by Frank M. Robinson

Having grown up on ship-based science fiction (and worked on a ship-based SF series for two years), I couldn’t help but include this category – and this delightfully engaging novel centered on a shocking shipboard mystery.

18. My favorite New Wave sf book or series is…?

1

Camp Concentration by Thomas M. Disch

If we’re going to have a Golden Age category, I only think it fair we include a New Wave category as well and, as much as I loved Flowers for Algernon, Camp Concentration gets the nod here.  His refusal to enlist in military service lands our protagonist, a poet and pacifist, in a prison whose inmates are subjected to bizarre, brain-altering experiments.

19. My favorite Future Tech sf book or series is…?

1

Heroes Die by Matthew Woodring Stover

Science fiction AND fantasy.  Heroes Die offers the best of both worlds in a rip-roaring adventure that explores the effects of developed entertainment technology on eager consumers – and, in turn, the media conglomerates calling the shots.

20. My favorite Otherworldly sf book or series is…?

1

Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny

By “otherworldly”, I mean a story that takes place on a planet other than Earth – like, for instance, the colony world setting of this novel that gets taken over by the power mad former crew of a spaceship who use technological and physical enhancements to transform themselves into gods.  Fans of Stargate, take note!

21. The 3 books at the top of my sf/f/h to-be-read pile are…?

Okay.  One of each…

1

The Lifecycle of Software Objects by Ted Chiang

One of my favorite SF writers.  He’s not all that prolific but his work is consistently great.

1Red Country by Joe Abercrombie

If you like your fantasy dark, darkly humorous, and action-packed, then look no further than the works of Joe Abercrombie.

1A Terror by Jeffrey Ford.

A new release by one of the most wildly imaginative authors writing today.

Okay, those were my answers.  Let’s see yours!

September 18, 2009: Author Matthew Woodring Stover Answers Your Questions!

Author Matthew Woodring Stover (left) and friend.
Author Matthew Woodring Stover (left) and friend.

Before I turn today’s blog over to author Matthew Woodring Stover, I need to thank two people.  First up, author and SGU creative consultant John Scalzi who recommended Heroes Die as a potential Book of the Month Club selection back in January.  I knew absolutely nothing about the novel going in, but trusted in John – and that trust was rewarded with an smart, engaging, wholly entertaining read.  So, of course, the second person I need to thank is the book’s author – Matthew Woodring Stover – for, yes, actually writing it in the first place (the life of a writer aint easy!), but also for taking the time to provide us with an informative and highly entertaining Q&A.

Hey, if you haven’t gotten around to reading Heroes Die – seriously, what’s taking you so long?!  Or, if you have, might I suggest picking up the second book in the series: The Blade of Tyshalle.  And, finally, if you’re intrigued by what Matt has to say about “the artist’s release” or the collaborative relationship between author and reader, why not head on over to his blog for some follow-up discussion:  http://www.mattstover.blogspot.com.

Sylvia writes: “Question for Matthew Woodring Stover: Thanks for joining us for the Questions and Answers. By the way, the interview at the end of the book was rather entertaining as well.

1. I hope I did not miss a crucial detail in the book, but I wondered about the change in Hari/Caine to become such a brilliant strategist when he was returned to the Overworld to complete his mission to rescue Shanna and kill Ma’elKoth. He played, very well and nicely, a risky and wicked chess game with the bad guys. What happened to make the change – besides meeting his father?”

MWS: Wellll . . . this is a complicated question. To really answer it we’re gonna have to take the long way ‘round.

A running theme through much of my work (arguably all of it) is the phenomenon known in the performaning arts as “the artist’s release.” Sports people call it “being in the zone.” It’s that moment when you get out of your own way, and let your art speak through you without the intervention of your self-awareness. It’s kind of difficult to describe to people who haven’t experienced it. In the Tao de Ching, Lao-tse calls it wei wu-wei: “Doing not-doing.” Stephen Mitchell, my favorite translator of that particular work, describes it in these terms: “The game plays the game; the poem writes the poem; we can’t tell the dancer from the dance . . . the doer has wholeheartedly vanished into the deed; the fuel has been completely transformed by the flame.”

I have had the misfortune of having experienced exactly that wei wu-wei several times in my life: in the ring, on stage, and while writing one particular novel. I call it a misfortune because, having experienced a few moments like those, you basically spend your life trying to get it back . . . and the trying itself gets in your way.

So, here’s the thing: in that state, you know the punch will land, the three-pointer will drop, the home run will clear the scoreboard. In my experience, you reach that state when your art expresses itself through you, rather than you expressing yourself through your art. It happens, if you’ll excuse a somewhat grandiose metaphor, when you’re doing exactly what the history of the universe has prepared you for.

So: Caine. In the very first scene:

“. . . my knives are useless against them, but hey, that’s all right – I’m deep in it, now.
“The waiting is over. I’m happy again.”

Caine gives himself to violence the way an artist surrenders himself to his art.  His transformative moment comes not when he speaks with his father, but in the Palace with Ma’elKoth . . . when he realizes that persuasion (well, okay, ruthless manipulation) can be framed as another form of combat. Call it “fighting without fighting”; that was Bruce Lee’s name for it, and it’s good enough for me.

There is also an element of real acting here – that is, acting as performance, instead of Acting-as-Bloodsport. In the Prologue of Heroes Die, Hari talks about the experience of being Caine: “Caine can do things I can’t . . . he’s faster, stronger, more ruthless, maybe not as bright . . .”

Some of Caine’s limitations are a product of Hari’s image of him – a limitation of the character, instead of the Actor. Hari spends some of the novel discovering that Caine can be more than Hari (or, for that matter, Caine) had ever thought he could.

Artdogspot writes: “For Matthew Woodring Stover: I thought Heroes Die was a great read. It is a pretty remarkable piece of work because it intertwines so many different elements and pulls it off in an entertaining way. It is also incredibly morally ambiguous which makes it very thought provoking. ”

MWS: Well, thanks. I wish I could get you a job at Publisher’s Weekly.

“1. For me, this story was a great vehicle for describing slavery and manipulation (personal and social) on so many different levels. Hari/Caine’s obvious slavery as a “gladiator” to the Studio System with the rest of his world’s population essentially slaves inside a very structured caste system imposed by corporate interests. While at the same time these very corporate entities provide the main means of escapism – “ultra-violent” entertainment which seems like an opiate for members at every caste level. Fairly obvious social commentary on our own world, I think. Since you wrote this book over ten years ago, do you think our society has come closer to that of Hari’s in certain ways?”

MWS: I actually framed the story – developed Hari’s future Earth – while Ronald Reagan was our President, and the country was going through a frenzy of corporate deregulation. The Studio was not (believe it or not) conceived as a reality TV thing; when I wrote the original version, there was no such thing as reality TV. The premise was an attempt to SFnalize the experience of playing a fantasy RPG.

So, in the meantime, we’ve had Survivor. And The Colony. And The Ultimate Fighter. (And I’ll leave off commentary on American politics and corporate culture, because that’ll just start a fight. Anybody who wants to argue with me is welcome to do so over at my blog).

I wasn’t really commenting on American society so much as I was on . . . well, human nature.  What I thought was human nature.  In view of the intervening years, I may have been too optimistic.

“2. I kept feeling hints and references in both worlds to Greek and Roman mythology – with Eastern philosophies thrown in as well. The concept of social castes and the Flow (Eastern); the use of aktirs who were more or less “gladiators” (Roman) and the Leisure families, who reminded me more of the Olympian Gods than anything else. (Hari’s visit to Leisure family Dole’s home seemed like Hercules making a trip to Olympus.) Were these references something you were intentionally tapping into or was it just your own personal knowledge base just unconsciously kicking in?”

MWS: I don’t do allegory; it gets in the way of storytelling. I have a pretty good grounding in what college kids these days call Dead White Guy Lit, which means my head is crowded with an assload of allusions from Homer to John D. MacDonald. I try to frame each scene in terms of how the POV character would see it. If Hari’s view of Kauai put you in mind of Olympus . . . well, that’s not far off, from his point of view.

“Flow” was not intended to have an Eastern tinge, despite its echoes of the Tao (and, for that matter, of the Force). When I was working on the original version, I got interested in Joseph Campbell’s theory of the monomyth. While I don’t buy everything the guy wrote (there’s a section in Creative Mythology about pig-symbolism in the Odyssey that must be read to be believed), he was particularly persuasive when writing about early Hinduism and Buddhism, and his way of re-contextualizing certain broad mythic tropes really caught my fancy (people who move on to Heroes Die’s sequel, Blade of Tyshalle, will see this fancy played out in a more explicit way). I was also reading Castaneda and Jung, as well as some Rosicrucian texts about “cosmic consciousness.” And when I got involved with the Fabulous Robyn (who is now my beloved wife), she introduced me to the study of both Friedrich Nietzsche and Aleister Crowley (by “study” I mean: to read all their work before trying to decide which of it makes sense).

Although Crowley defeated me (I defy anyone to figure out, for example, which parts of 777 he actually meant, and which were just jokes on idiots who would believe anything they read), I got a lot out of it – Crowley was, for example, my introduction to the Tao te Ching. The way magick works in Heroes Die is kind of an extended riff on Crowley’s concept of magick (which is why, in fact, it’s spelled with a ‘k’; this was Crowley’s formulation – pronounced MAY-jik – to separate his ritual practice from stage magic).  I mention him together with Nietzsche because despite being polar opposites in world-view, they share some philosophical echoes of each other, including the idea of lying in order to tell the truth . . . which is, after all, what fiction is.

Anyway, there was a whole mess o’ mystic traditions colliding in my head in those days, which is why some folks might get a sort of Cuisinart-ed feeling from the allusions.

“3. I liked the fact that most of the characters were always working within a “grey” moral area which seems more human and realistic than traditional heroes within a Good vs Evil context. Is this a trend in SF Fantasy these days?”

MWS: I dunno. I do know that some younger writers (and some older ones, like GRRM) have been going that way.  I honestly don’t pay attention to trends – if I did, I would have waited six or seven years to bring out Heroes Die, because at the time, it was a very, very lonely book. My publisher had no idea how to market it; they were thinking I was trying to be the next David Eddings or the next Terry Brooks . . . which they shortly realized was not going to be the case. It’s also probably how Heroes Die got that pulp-looking cover, because the most direct antecedents of that book are what’s now called Sword & Sorcery stories, from the old pulps (mostly Weird Tales) by people like Robert E. Howard and Fritz Leiber. Both of those guys were notable for producing very (sometimes extremely) violent fantasy adventure stories in which their heroes were not trying to be Good Guys, and if they ended up battling evil, it was more-or-less by accident . . . they’re just trying to get what they want (usually treasure and babes).

I got started in this business trying to prove that you can write good fiction that is also good fantasy, and that you can write good fantasy that is not about the Final Battle Against the Dark Lord. There are a number of novelists out there these days who are proving exactly that, bless ‘em.  I hope they keep doing it. Our genre needs them.

One more thing, though: I don’t see my characters as operating in a grey moral area; each of them has their own inner sense of right and wrong, and for the most part they stay true to them – it’s just that these inner senses don’t happen to agree with each other. You might say each of them carries around in the back of their heads an imaginary model of what sort of person they want to be; really the only character in Heroes Die who violates his own inner vision of himself is Caine. Faced with the choice between his principles (such as they are) and the life of the woman he loves, his principles don’t have a chance.

“4. Bad guys – there were some nasty players in this story. Berne and Kollberg seemed like two sides of the same coin. Kollberg was sort of a clean, non-violent, metaphorically stab-you-in-the-back kind of sociopath and Berne – he was an all out blood-thirsty sociopath. Because of the moral ambiguities in Hari’s/Caine’s character, did you feel you had to make the bad guys that much more heinous to draw distinctions?”

MWS: Nope. Berne is Berne for the same reason Caine is Caine . . . and Kollberg is Kollberg, for that matter. Because it seemed like the story needed them to be that way.

I don’t see Kollberg as a sociopath, by the way; he is a nasty piece of business to be sure, but he does what he does in a morally righteous (to him) attempt to support the social order. And if we’re going to throw around current psychiatric buzzwords, I think Berne would be most properly described as a malignant narcissist.  His moral compass is straightforward: I Get My Way and People Admire and Fear Me = Good; Anything Else = Evil.

It’s worth pointing out, though, that I don’t think in these terms when I’m writing a character. There is no note somewhere that says, “Okay, let’s make Berne a malignant narcissist.” To me, Berne is just Berne.

I also don’t see Caine as being morally ambiguous; to him, morality is irrelevant. He’s described by a character in Blade of Tyshalle as a “. . . nuts and guts man. No conversation could hold his attention that wasn’t about something he could bite, or that could bite him.” He is capable of playing on other people’s morality (and, for that matter, other people’s moral judgments of him) to accomplish his goals, but that’s not the same thing.

Duncan quotes Nietzsche: “Whatever is done out of love takes place beyond good and evil.”

“It was harder for me to place Ma’elKoth within a spectrum of good/bad. But a guy that uses a “human juicer” to gain power, well, that sort of sends up red flags for me. What was your intent with his character? Lamorak was easily a “rat” for me – with or without Studio directives.”

MWS: When I originally delivered the manuscript, my agent read it; his only criticism (outside of “too relentlessly violent”) was, “Even at the end, I wasn’t sure what I should think of Ma’elKoth.” I said, “That means I got it right.”

Lamorak I don’t have a lot of sympathy for; his frustrations are familiar to me, not only due to my former career as an actor, but also as a mid-list novelist hanging onto my career with toenails and teeth. But my characters are not (at least, I hope they are not) defined by the bad things that happen to them; I believe, in fiction and in life, that people are defined by what they do when bad things happen to them – and, for that matter, to others.

“5. Pallas’ ability to tap into the power of old gods did seem a little like a deus ex-machina or a get-out-of-jail-free-card, why was it that Ma’elKoth couldn’t tap into this power nor other magical types in Overworld while she could?”

MWS: Some of that is due to the metaphysics of Overworld, which is a bit more central to the sequels. As far as Pallas Ril’s apotheosis being a deus ex machina, all I can say is “Well, no shit.”

For those of you who aren’t into literary and theater history, “deus ex machina” is Greek for “god from the machine,” which, during the ancient Festival of Dionysios performances of the plays of the Greek poets, was often a precisely literal term. The theater had an actual machine – a type of crane, basically – which would lower an actor playing one of their gods to the stage at the ends of certain plays. Usually, the god shows up because the humans have their situation so screwed up that only a divine intervention can restore order. My favorite Greek dramatist, Euripides, was notorious for mocking the deus ex machina by making even an appearance by the gods insufficient to actually resolve the protagonists’ problems.

Which might remind you, I hope, of a particular event in Heroes Die.

“6. Given the title, Heroes Die, I was always trying to guess who would survive in the end. There were so few classic heroes in this story. I knew that Talann, most like a hero, was probably not gonna make it. But I also thought Pallas was a hero – Caine even describes her that way. Yet she survived – why?”

MWS: I think you may be missing the point a little – you seem to be attaching a a moral judgment to the word “hero.” ThoughI may be wrong, here – I often am – you seem to be suggesting that the defining feature of a Hero is his or her moral character. I’m less interested in “classic heroes” than I am in Classical Heroes; that is, heroes in the vein of Achilles and Odysseus, Diomedes and Hektor. Homer, who knew a bit about heroes, lived and died before there really was a popular concept of the “Good vs. Evil” duality. Berne, for example – despite being a malignant narcissist and a sexual predator, and by any definition a profoundly evil bastard and a blight upon humanity – is in fact a hero by the original conception: he is brave, and fierce, loyal to his friends and a terror to his enemies, and he lays down his life (at least arguably) in the service of what he sees as a greater cause: the triumph of Ma’elKoth and the survival of the Ankhanan Empire.

To say more than this would involve spoilers for Blade of Tyshalle, and spoilers give me a rash.

“7. Hari evolves into a superb duplicitous puppeteer towards the end of this book. He starts thinking differently from Caine which seems to be the goal on his personal journey. He learns to do all these things in order to save Shanna’s life. Are we supposed to feel good about this accomplishment or is your point to make us squirm a little with his success?”

MWS: You’re supposed to feel about it however you feel about it.

I know that sounds like I’m evading the question, but this an important concept. I believe (yes, I really, really do) that the real story in a book is the one you see in your head as you read it. A novel, after all, is just a bunch of black marks on white paper (or, these days, a string of binary numbers in machine language). In other words, my intention is functionally irrelevant to your experience, unless I’ve screwed up somehow, because what I’m trying to do, as an author, is tease your imagination into collaborating with me on a story I think you’ll enjoy. My main intention is to stay the hell out of your way, so that I’m not blocking your view; my fondest hope as a novelist is that you’ll entirely forget you’re reading a novel, and you’ll just experience the story without too much authorial intervention.

One critic’s description of one of the Acts of Caine contained something along the lines of “a steadfast refusal to hold the reader’s hand.” I’m happy to show you how things look to me – but what you think of what you see is up to you.

“And at the very end, the puppet becomes the puppetteer. I’m hoping he does a better job than Kollberg. Can’t imagine how- but I suppose Ma’elKoth would make a great Aktir in another alternate reality.”

MWS: Like I said, spoilers give me a rash. It’s worth noting, though, that Blade of Tyshalle is a completely different animal from Heroes Die. People who read Blade expecting it to be “Heroes Die Bigger, Faster & Louder” are in for a bit of a shock.

KellyK writes: “Questions for the author: 1. In addition to writing science fiction and fantasy, are you a reader of either genre?  And if so, do you have any particular favorites, perhaps any that influenced  your own writing?”

MWS: In the genre? Robert E. Howard. Fritz Leiber. Roger Zelazny. Philip K. Dick. Robert A. Heinlein. Algis Budrys. John W Campbell. Fred Pohl. Poul Anderson. Stephen R. Donaldson. Jack Vance. Keith Laumer. JRR Tolkien. CS Lewis. Harlan Ellison. Ray Bradbury. Homer. Ovid. Euripides, Sophocles and Aeschylus. Christopher Marlowe. William Shakespeare. Lots of others – these are the ones that popped up in the first 30 seconds of thinking about it. If I spend any longer, that list will start looking like a phone book.

“2. How does your approach to a Star Wars novel differ to that of a completely original work?  Or does it at all?”

MWS: They’re really very similar, since my original projects are always centered around characters that I hope to show to advantage (that is, so that my readers are interested enough in what will happen to these people that they’ll keep turning the pages). There are lots of restrictions on the content of a Star Wars novel, but they don’t really get in my way.  If anything, having established ground rules is an advantage, when it comes to developing a story; sometimes the hardest part of writing a novel is deciding what to not do.

“3. You’re casting the Heroes Die movie!  Who are you casting as Caine?  Berne?”

MWS: In a perfect world, with an unlimited budget and some way to mind-control the actors into taking part . . .? At that point, I might have an answer for you. Until then, my opinion doesn’t count for much.

Tell you what: if you find a producer who wants to put this book on film, have them ask me. Privately. Because I don’t want to dis anybody who might be interested. If it were to happen, whoever ends up taking the part will be officially my pick, you follow?

Guy writes: “I have questions for Matt Stover: Character creation is fascinating for me. Focusing on Kierendal, where did she come from? Where did her environment come from? Was she meant to fill a particular theme you wanted to explore?”

MWS: Kierendal is an interesting case. For me, anyway. She was initially conceived to serve two fairly straightfoward purposes:

1.) to be a viewpoint character for Caine on Overworld (that is, to give the reader a perspective on what people on Overworld think of him, and how they feel when forced to interact with him on unfriendly terms), and
2.) to show that My Elves Are Different.

I wanted Heroes Die to have all the traditional elements of popcorn fantasy – a Magic Sword, Dark Mystic Peril, a Damsel in Distress, a Legendary Swordsman, a Crafty Courtier, a Canny Street-Wise Sidekick, a World-Beater Dark Lord type for the antagonist . . . you know the drill. If I could have found a way to include a fluffy unicorn and a sarcastic dragon, please believe I would have.

Of course, my fluffy unicorn would have turned out to be a drug addict who robs drunks at horn-point, and my sarcastic dragon would have gotten his head blown off in the first action sequence . . . but it’s the thought that counts.

Since there’s a clear undercurrent of human-centric racism in Ankhanan culture, I felt like there should be a least one non-human character. I also, in the interest of avoiding the standard accusation of gender bias, wanted to have at least one strong female character who neither
1.) needs to be rescued, nor
2.) dies.

How, exactly, I got from “one non-human character” to “lesbian elf mistress of a cross-species whorehouse, opium den and crooked gambling hall, whose lover is Tinkerbell with a switchblade, and who runs the Tolkien-critter Mafia in Ankhana” well . . .

I dunno.

Seriously. She just turned out that way. The more interested I got in her, the more interesting she became, as though increase of desire had gained by what it fed on (as Hamlet might say). I like her. I think she’s fun, and a little bit scary, and somehow she’s become a pretty damned significant side-player. If I were the OSC eats-his-own-young kind of writer, Kierendal could star in her own book, paralleling the Acts of Caine.

Sparrow_hawk writes: “As for questions, I would just echo artdogspot’s question: Hari learns to use (relatively) non-violent manipulation of people instead of overt violence to “inch toward success” as his father advised him, in order to rescue Shanna. Hari/Caine goes through a transition from honest but violent thug to a man who lies to and manipulates friend and enemy alike with no (apparent) qualms or regrets to achieve his ends. Did you intend for us to feel good about this change in his character or to feel regret for or at least ambivalence about it? (I guess from the way I phrased the question my own feelings are painfully obvious but I really am interested in knowing the author’s intentions in taking the character in this direction.)”

MWS: Sorry. You’re asking basically the same question, and you’re getting basically the same answer. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain . . .

Is ruthless violence less objectionable than ruthless manipulation? If so, why? If not, why not? And if you don’t really care, that’s okay too – I don’t really care either. I don’t see the world, or my fiction, in terms of where things fall on a good/evil axis..

Michelle writes: “Questions for Matthew Woodring Stover: 1.Would you put on a helmet and “feel” Hari go on a mission if you had the chance?”

MWS: In a heartbeat.

I don’t suffer from the same moral queasiness that many people feel about violence. It would be disingenuous to pretend that I’m above enjoying such things; I am, after all, an unabashed purveyor of (extremely) violent entertainment – the ironic self-reference at the core of Heroes Die is not anything remotely resembling mitigation. I like violent entertainment for very much the same reasons that most people do. I’m also not in the least uncomfortable with the moral implications of my predilections.

Neitzsche (there he is again!) hypothesized that love of cruelty is the foundation of theater; if you read The Birth of Tragedy, you might decide that’s an idea worth considering – but, y’know, this isn’t a seminar. Your comments (with apologies to John Scalzi) will not be graded.

In fact, one authorial intention that I will share with you: I hope readers who like this kind of stuff will think a little bit about why they like it – what that says about them, their values, and the society we live in. Please believe, however, that I am neither wagging a finger nor tipping a hat. I hope my readers will think. That’s all. What they think is their business.

Some people (My Favorite Fans!) even discover that my books strike them differently after some time has passed. Sometimes they don’t like them as well. Sometimes they like them better. Sometimes they like them for different reasons. All of which are cool with me; as far as I’m concerned, the only thing better than being widely read is being widely re-read.

“2. Do you watch any reality TV? Is it harmless fun, or a sign of the final downfall of our civilization?”

MWS: I generally don’t care for reality TV. The Fabulous Robyn, however, is an aficionado of the Incredible Creativity Under Unbelievable Pressure shows, like Top Chef and Project Runway. Those shows, and shows like them, are (in my never-humble opinion) absolutely brilliant entertainment – they showcase a level of ingenuity and just flat-out Nerves of Steel that we ordinary folk can only hope to emulate.

The rest of the RTV stuff is basically, I suspect, what the Hitchhikers’ Guide said about Earth. Simply because it’s been a major revenue source on TV about ten years now, and our civilization seems to be mostly intact (pace any Tea-Baggers in the audience . . .).

“3. In your mind, how did the Earth of the book end up with the rigid caste system, the corporate domination, the loss of individual rights, etc? Did you extrapolate it from our current state, or was it simply a leap to a possible future?”

MWS: For that story, you’ll have to read Blade of Tyshalle.

Thepi writes: “How did you come up with the sick freak Berne? Based off of anyone you know (dear god I hope not)? And not really question, but….I wish we had a more detailed account of Berne and Caine’s previous encounter, rather than just the broad outlines of what happened.“

MWS: Berne is based on me.

I know that might sound a little pretentious (or decidedly creepy), but you need to understand: I was an actor. My particular training (and my rehearsal and performance style) was not to create a separate character that I sought to impersonate, it was instead to behave as though I have lived the life my character has lived, that I have the goals my character has, and that I am predisposed to use the tactics that my character uses to get what I/he want(s).

That’s how I write, too – I write my major characters how I would be if I were them, if you see what I’m saying. To paraphrase Bill Clinton, I feel their pain. I look at the world through their eyes; once you see the world the way the character does, it’s usually pretty clear what they’re going to do or say next.

That’s the idea, anyway.

The third volume in the Acts of Caine, Caine Black Knife, features recordings from the Adventure that made Caine a star: Retreat from the Boedecken. If continuing to write Caine stories ever starts actually paying for itself, I have an outline for a story that will similarly include some of Race for the Crown of Dal’Kannith, this being the Adventure that began Caine’s blood-feud with Berne.

So I hope you’re patient. Really patient. Because I write slowly.

For any of you who have discovered you love my work so much you’ll read anything with my name on it, I should mention I have two new tie-in projects coming out next year – the novelization of the Sony game God of War, and a player to be named later (I don’t release project news before the publisher does – I guess I’m just superstitious that way).

And the fourth, presumably final, volume of the Acts of Caine is due out in 2011.

September 8, 2009: Back in the office but not for long! Tech Troubles II! And some Heroes Die discussion!

Protecting Icarus Base (photo courtesy and copyright MGM Television)
Protecting Icarus Base (photo courtesy and copyright MGM Television)

Back in the office today after the Labor Day long weekend. Another three full days of production on Pain and prep on Lost before we head off for yet another long weekend. That’s right. No sooner do I return to the friendly confines of my workplace than I am pulled away, like a child caught in a custody dispute, fraught with anxiety at the very thought of being separated from his loving co-workers and comfy office chair. I consoled myself with a lengthy morning-long conversation that touched on all the key issues: Vegas, casting for upcoming episodes, that hilarious article from FARKxcom, recent DVD viewings, and the sudden consensus realization that our buddy Marty G. has truly horrendous taste in movies. We also watched the Day 1 Mix of Light. Once all is said and done, it’s going to be a gorgeous episode. We capped off the day’s festivities with the Vosges chocolates Rob Cooper brought back from Vegas, along with the box of Peanut Butter Bon Bons he gave Carl as a belated birthday gift.

Director Peter DeLuise works his magic (photo courtesy and copyright MGM Televison)
Director Peter DeLuise works his magic (photo courtesy and copyright MGM Televison)

So last year I purchased a Garmin portable GPS navigator that I intended to use in Tokyo – which I never did get around to using because it turned out to be thoroughly useless. Apparently, you can purchase all sorts of maps at the Garmin website. Maps of the Middle East, Southeast Asia, Singapore, Malaysia, China, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Spain, Portugal, U.K, Ireland, France, Greece, Italy, the Alps, Russia… What am I missing? Oh, yeah. Japan. And so is Garmin. I contacted them last year about the omission and they assured me they were working on it. One year later, and they still haven’t gotten around to making a Japan map available. What gives? Is the region really that complex that it defies proper cartography? Or is it altogether too much trouble? Well, as my buddy Bruce is fond of saying: “F ’em.”. I’ll rely on Google Maps instead.

I’ve penciled Garmin onto my shit list, just below Internet Explorer and shampoo that smells like oatmeal and cookies in the bottle but not in your hair after you‘ve washed it. Precariously close to making said list as well is my home theater projector that has taken to powering down at random, playing without audio, and displaying images upside-down or in garish purple and green hues. Like the last time something like this happened, I suspect mischievous gremlins or, more logically, the ghost of mischievous gremlins.

Stargate: Atlantis, Season 5, The Seed (photo courtesy and copyright MGM Television)
Stargate: Atlantis, Season 5, The Seed (photo courtesy and copyright MGM Television)

Well, people warned me that blogging would get me in trouble. I refused to believe it and now I have paid the price. After posting pics of my dinner with Ivon and Brian, I received not one but two miffed responses from co-workers who shall remain nameless (let’s call them Carl Folder and David Green), complaining about the fact that they hadn’t been invited – despite the fact that they weren’t even in town last weekend. I’ve extended fresh dinner invitations but have yet to hear back from either.

Stargate: Atlantis, Season 5, The Seed (photo courtesy and copyright MGM Television)
Stargate: Atlantis, Season 5, The Seed (photo courtesy and copyright MGM Television)

Reminder #1: Get those questions in for actor Brian J. Smith (SGU’s Lieutenant Matthew Scott). I’ll be sending the bunch his way at week’s end.

Brian J. Smith (Lt. Matthew Scott) patiently awaits your questions.
Brian J. Smith (Lt. Matthew Scott) patiently awaits your questions.

Reminder #2: Also, get those questions in for author Matthew Woodring Stover who’ll be by later in the week in support of his novel – and September’s Book of the Month Club selection – Heroes Die.

Reminder #3: My birthday is October 16th. You should start planning now.

Speaking of which, let’s turn things over to some book club discussion –

Thornyrose writes: “There’s nothing like full immersion to pull the reader into the story.”

Answer: Agreed. This one hits the ground running and never lets up. It’s the kind of opening I often identify with short fiction in which the author has a limited amount of time to hook the reader. In the case of Heroes Die, however, the author wastes no time, throwing us headlong into the action, allowing us to catch a breather (and an explanation of exactly what the heck is going on) before plunging us right back into the action. It’s done repeatedly throughout the narrative, jumping back between the two worlds, and to great effect.

Thornyrose also writes: “Even though Hari comes from one of the lowest castes, I was a bit suprised we didn’t see a bit more of that part of this world.”

Answer: True. I thought what was essential to the story came out in Hari’s relationship with his father. Also, since the prime focus was on Otherland, it didn’t bother me as much. Perhaps something that warrants further exploration in the sequels?

Thornyrose also writes: “Kollberg in particular is a villian we love to hate.”

Answer: How interesting that the book’s biggest villain wasn’t the megalomaniacal tyrant or his ruthless guard, but a studio executive. Loved it.

Thornyrose also writes: “I find it interesting that such a society would allow a dissident as Hari’s father to live, even in a maximum level security prison.”

Answer: True, but I wonder if this had something to do with the fact that he was Hari’s father. After all, they want to ensure he stays happy.

Thornyrose also writes: “I also found it a stretch that a person subjected to that level of confinement would manage to hold on to any sanity at all.”

Answer: Yes, it’s also interesting to note that this guy who has been kept locked up for so long is possibly the sanest of the lot. Perhaps another commentary on our out-of-control society?

Thornyrose also writes: “Ma’elKoth is an enigma for much of the book, though I have to admit to being slightly disappointed to his origins/identity.”

Answer: I found his rags to riches backstory quite interesting, his rise from relative obscurity to despotic rule. Sort of a dark side American Dream come true. Good for him!

Thornyrose also writes: “In the parts involving demonstrations of his and Pallas’ powers, I got the feeling I had picked up the fifth or sixth book of the lensman series after glancing at the chapters of the first one. The sheer jump in magnitude of powers by Pallas smelled somewhat of a deux ex machina.”

Answer: I liked the surprising manifestation of her powers but I too felt their development felt a little too quick and convenient.

Thornyrose also writes: “The biggest letdown of the whole book is in how many loose threads were still hanging. On the other hand, those loose threads open the way to the sequels you mentioned, so the author followed the classical advice of always leave your audience wanting more. And I am definitely looking forward to reading those sequels.”

Answer: I thought Stover did a pretty good job of tying up the story specific loose ends while leaving the door open for future adventures. I curious as to what facets of the dual worlds introduced in this novel are explored in subsequent books.

Sylvia writes: “One thing that was a little off balance was what appeared to be Hari/Caine’s sudden “change” where prior to the first emergency transfer back he was much like a soldier of fortune who did not plot, plan, strategize in minute detail. He was someone who appeared to be an accomplished fighter, but very basic otherwise. In fact, one statement was that “…he’d always been a better tactician than he was a strategist.” When he was returned to the Overworld, he was a brilliant strategist – a very accomplished chess player in positioning people and situations to achieve a desired outcome.”

Answer: I saw him as more a injure/kill first, ask questions later type. However, when presented with a scenario that couldn’t be dealt with by mere brute force, he opted for an alternate approach – and succeeded, much to Kollenberg’s surprise.

RebeccaH writes: “In fact, the story was intriguing because I found myself wondering if real-life actors would view it as an allegory for their own careers in the entertainment industry. Certainly actors feel exploited sometimes, not only by the people above them in the hierarchy of entertainment (the money men, the Big Wigs and Cheeses, and their minions), but possibly by the voracious appetites of the audience (fandom). Shanks/Lamorak’s conclusion that his second-rate status is due to lack of marketing in particular, could be the lament of any struggling real-life actor. It was also intriguing to think what any Big Wigs and Cheeses, or minions would think of this book.”

Answer: I’m sure it was no accident, especially given that author Matt Stover is no newbie to the entertainment field. And as pathetic as he was, I counted Lamorak among my favorite of characters.

RebeccaH writes: “The undying, apparently unrequited, love of Hari/Caine for Shanna/Pallas seemed excessive to the point of unhealthy obsession, but maybe I’ve just become cynical in my old age.”

Answer: You coldhearted thing you. I found the romantic through line (Hari’s love for Shanna) worked quite well, going a long way toward humanizing Hari/Caine while adding significant depth to an otherwise quite violent, action-driven story.

Silver_Comet writes: “For me, the pace of the storytelling was too slow. 100 pages and we still weren’t in the main story, just at the beginning.”

Answer: Wow. Just the opposite for me. I was caught up in the action from page one.

Silver_Comet also writes: “I never cared for the main character(s) Hari/Caine. Somehow, I couldn’t believe that he is really able to have true feelings. I couldn’t picture him as someone who starts that adventure because he loves his wife. Not as the main reason anyway.”

Answer: As the novel progresses, we learn more about Hari and his relationship with Shanna so initial surface impressions inevitably give way to a deeper understanding of both his motivation and his character.

Silver_Comet also writes: “I didn’t like the detailed storytelling in certain scenes. For example, it’s enough for me to read that person A cuts off the head from person B. I don’t need further details apart from that.”

Answer: I suspected that some readers would take issue with the visceral bloodletting and, while I’m not a fan of violence for violence’s sake, I thought Stover’s detailed description of the various battle sequences made them seem all the more real. In fact, I’d dare these passages were among the best-written in the book, and this is in no way intended to disparage the quality of the rest of the narrative. He is simply that good at writing “combat prose“.

Sparrow_hawk writes: “And I never really liked any of the main characters: Hari/Caine was too much of a thug and Shanna just never seemed “real” enough for me to care about.”

Answer: Hari felt quite real to me, but it was Shanna who never quite came alive for me.

Sparrow_hawk also writes: “The second tier characters: Toa-Sytell, Kierendal, Ta-lann and even the King of Cant, were more sympathetic. But for the most part, I just felt sorry for most of the characters and that is not something that makes me want to read more about them.”

Answer: Some wonderful supporting character. Toa-Sytell, in particular, was nicely drawn – a dangerous man but honorable, unlike his rival Berne.

Guy writes: “There’s this rule somewhere, it goes show don’t tell. Well, that’s a load of crap; show it if it would be interesting to see, tell it if it isn’t. This is something Matthew Stover seems to understand very well.”

Answer: Yes, Stover maintains a nice balance throughout, showing for the most part but telling when necessary. And, yes, I agree. Showing everything and telling nothing can often be just as boring as telling everything.

September 7, 2009: Heroes Die, by Matthew Woodring Stover

Heroes Die

Earlier this year, I was having dinner with Stargate: Universe Consultant (and, oh, by the way, bestselling author) John Scalzi when the topic of conversation turned to my online book club. I asked John if he could recommend an underappreciated gem for an upcoming discussion. “Heroes Die,”said John before I’d even finished my request. Then, off my look: “Matthew Woodring Stover.” I filed away the recommendation and we moved on to the crispy duck main course. Months later, I was considering selections for September’s Book of the Month Club when I recalled that memorable title: “Heroes Die”. I did a little research on Matthew Woodring Stover and discovered that, in addition to his original works in the SF and Fantasy field, he’s also written four novels set in the Star Wars universe which have won him a fair amount of praise from both fans and critics alike. I was intrigued.

I’ll admit to being surprised when I picked up the book. The cover depicts a warrior armed with twin blades standing before some medieval ruins. Given that the recommendation had come from John Scalzi, I’d assumed I’d be reading a scifi novel, yet the cover art suggested something in the Fantasy realm. Which was fine – simply unexpected. But as I sat down to read Heroes Die, I quickly realized that while, yes, it was Fantasy, it was also Science Fiction. And provocative. And darkly humorous. Incredibly violent. Action-packed. Surprisingly topical. And enormously entertaining.

In a future (alternate?) Earth under the yoke of a rigid caste system, the populace finds escapist entertainment in the form of broadcast/recorded adventures. Beyond mere television, beyond even Virtual Reality, it’s a high-tech diversion in which audience members join actors in their travels to and exploits through Otherworld, a medieval realm of magic and mayhem located in an alternate reality. The fact that what the actors experience is real and potentially deadly makes for a highly popular form of recreation. And the most popular of actors in this most popular of pastimes is Hari Michaelson, better known by his screen name of Caine, the Blade of Tyshalle, storied warrior, mercenary, and assassin.

But following years of success in the field, Hari has wearied of the role of Caine, grown tired of the killing. He believes he has left it behind – until his estranged wife, a fellow actor, goes missing in Otherland. Driven by his desire to rescue her, under orders from the studio to kill the tyrant Ma’elKoth, Caine returns to his former (quite literal) stomping grounds. The home audience rejoices, the Studio cashes in, and Hari begins to uncover deadly dissimulations and machinations in both realities.

This is a book that explores the notion of duality. We have two worlds – one firmly rooted in science fiction with its high-tech gadgetry and AU concepts, the other rooted in fantasy with its medieval mettle and mythical mysticism. And yet, while they may seem fundamentally contradictory, Stover manages to marry them quite effectively, drawing out parallels yet playing up their contrasting facets to great effect. On the surface, the appear to be very different but scratch that surface and similarities are revealed, similarities that the ruling caste on Hari’s homeworld would just as soon no one noticed. Like, say, the authoritarian rule that holds sway in both.

Stover does a wonderful job of world building, creating detailed and well thought-out histories and social structures for both realms. Again, despite the apparent contradictions in their very nature, Hari’s SF homeworld and Caine’s Fantasy kingdom are equally believable – which makes the twin track mysteries/adventures doubly rewarding.

Then there are the characters, some of who play double roles, that of their true selves and that of their Otherland counterparts. Again, we can compare and contrast, most notably Hari and Caine, very different on the surface and yet, at heart and perhaps not at all surprisingly, very similar.  He is a man fraught with contradictions – averse to battle and a return to Otherland yet an accomplished warrior prepared to use force with little prompting, motivated by love yet ruled by anger and brutality. It’s these contradictions that make him a memorable character. And it’s his encounters and relationships with the various supporting players, all nicely fleshed-out and colorful in their own right, that help build him into the sort of memorable character you’d happily follow into another adventure (or, say, the sequels Blade of Tyshalle, Caine Black Knife, His Father’s Fist).

Fans of swashbuckling swordplay and furious combat will love Heroes Die, with its breakneck pace and neck-breaking panache, its visceral violence conveyed in a narrative so richly detailed one suspects the author has majored in some big league beatdowns of his own. And yet, for all its battle and bloodshed, the novel has something interesting to say about our society as well – specifically the role of the media, entertainment, and, most importantly, own contradictory roles as consumers, quick to judge the likes of reality television and the diminishing quality of big screen products and yet just as quick to tune in or contribute to the box office take.

Heroes Die combines the best of both worlds in a novel that challenges our preset notions of not only the fantasy and scifi genres, but contemporary entertainment and our contribution in its continued evolution/devolution. It’s a novel with remarkable depth, multi-layered and thought-provoking. I could go on – and fully intend to. But, for now, I’ll leave it at that and turn the floor over to those of you who read the book. Thoughts? Praise? Critiques? Let’s hear ’em and start the discussion.

Well how annoying. I use Internet Explorer (don’t ask me why) to surf the net and have been sailing along no problem UNTIL this afternoon when I tried to access my blog. An “operation aborted” message flashed up and then the dreaded “Internet Explorer cannot display the webpage” page. I tried rebooting my computer, clearing out my temporary files folder – no go – then switched over to Firefox which is all well and good but gives me all sorts of problems when I attempt to upload photos. After spending about an hour searching online forums for answers, I finally found the solution to my problem: I switched over to Safari.  Anyone else experiencing IE-related problems?  Seriously.  Does Microsoft want me to buy a Mac that badly?

Allow me to dedicate the remainder of this blog entry to testing out Safari’s pic-posting potential…

Check out the Destiny crew checking out something truly amazing (photo courtesy and copyright MGM Television)
Check out the Destiny crew checking out something truly amazing (photo courtesy and copyright MGM Television)

Desert Planet Gate (photo courtesy and copyright MGM Television)
Desert Planet Gate (photo courtesy and copyright MGM Television)

Destiny Gate (photo courtesy and copyright MGM Television)
Destiny Gate (photo courtesy and copyright MGM Television)

Dr. Carson Beckett - Stargate: Atlantis, Season 5, The Seed (photo courtesy and copyright MGM Television)
Dr. Carson Beckett - Stargate: Atlantis, Season 5, The Seed (photo courtesy and copyright MGM Television)

Teyla Emaggan - Stargate: Atlantis, Season 5, The Seed (photo courtesy and copyright MGM Television)
Teyla Emmagan - Stargate: Atlantis, Season 5, The Seed (photo courtesy and copyright MGM Television)

Oh, hey, spoke too soon.  I just discovered something Safari won’t let me do.  Publish my blog entry.  After numerous attempts to click the Publish button, I’m going to save the entry and try to publish it using Firefox.  I foresee a very long and complicated future for this blog.

August 31, 2009: Stargate: Universe Pics! Stargate: Atlantis Pics! Brought To You By’s And Thank You’s!

Setting up the gate for the New Mexico shoot (Air III)
Setting up the gate for the New Mexico shoot (Air III) Photo compliments and copyright MGM Television.

To those of you who missed yesterday’s blog entry (Seriously, just click on the link below if it’s not too much trouble), I have officially kicked off our No Fan Left Behind campaign aimed at getting Stargate fans and first-timers on board for the launch of Stargate: Universe. If you’re in the U.S,. circle October 2nd on your calendars because that’s the night the series premieres on SyFy with a special double episode: Air I and II. To those Canadian fans who’ve been asking, I’ve been informed that SGU will be premiering around the same time in Canada on SPACE. As for our U.K. contingent, the show premieres four days later, October 6th, in your neck of the woods on Sky 1. I’m well aware that there are many of you out there in other parts of the world looking forward to this latest Stargate incarnation and will do my best to get details on where and when the show will be premiering in your area.

Sgt. Ronald Greer (Jamil Walker Smith) and Dr. Franklin (Mark Burgess) explore Destiny (photo compliments and copyright MGM Television).
Sgt. Ronald Greer (Jamil Walker Smith) and Dr. Franklin (Mark Burgess) explore Destiny (photo compliments and copyright MGM Television).

In the meantime, ask around and if you find out the details for your respective regions, let me know. I’ll keep an updated schedule of Stargate: Universe’s premiere dates around the world. And if your local broadcasters haven’t picked up the show yet – ask them what’s up?!

Ancient telescope on the ship's observation deck.
Ancient telescope on the ship’s observation deck.

We’re counting on your support, so get out there and let everyone know about the show: friends, relatives, co-workers, and those complete strangers sharing the bus ride with you. Get online and spread the word. Get the word out, Stargate Troopers!

Early concept art of Destiny's observation deck.
Early concept art of Destiny’s observation deck.

As promised, I’m going to start treating readers to sneak peeks at the brand new Stargate: Universe series as well as offering up a few of the many behind the scenes never-before-seen snaps from Stargate: Atlantis. In the interest of saving myself time and space, the photos I’ll be posting will be down-rezzed versions of the originals. However, what I’d like to do is post a poll mid-month and have you all vote on your top 3 favorite pics. At month’s end, I’ll repost the top 3 vote getters in their gloriously unwieldy hi-rez versions – perfect for wallpapering your child‘s bedroom or the inside of your car.

Director Andy Mikita and co. (Grizz, Mark, Ryan, and Shannon).  Photo compliments and copyright MGM Television.
Director Andy Mikita and co. (Grizz, Mark, Ryan, and Shannon). Photo compliments and copyright MGM Television.

Before I proceed, a few thank you’s are in order. First and foremost, a huge thank you to a guy I’ve mentioned countless times of late – MGM’s Grey Munford, a marketing machine, whose tireless drive and big picture promotion of Stargate: Universe has impressed not only fans, established and prospective, but some of the most un-impressible individuals in the business. Namely, me and my fellow producers. And thanks to Grey for offering up these terrific photos for the blog. Also on the MGM side, I’d like to thank Kelly Richards (Digital Media, Marketing, Promotions & Publicity), the keeper of the keys to the vast Stargate photo archive. Her continued support has been invaluable in bringing these pictures to you. On the SyFy side, a big thanks to Erika Kennair, the network’s SGU point-person, for her creative contributions to the many brainstorming sessions we’ve had in our search for ways to reach out to you all in advance of the premiere. Erika has some wonderful surprises in the works… And finally, of course, many, many thanks to the photographers whose work is on display: Carole Segal for the Stargate: Universe episodic photos, Gregory E. Peters for the photos from the New Mexico shoot, Art Streiber for the SGU gallery shots, and Eike Shroeter for the Stargate: Atlantis season 5 episodic stills.

DSC04183x

 

In the script's original draft, Sheppard is alone in the cockpit.  SyFy Exec Chris Sanagustin suggested that, rather than stowing the baby away with the others, our hero should have the infant with him instead.  It was a great idea and offered up one of the episode's more touching moments.  Search and Rescue, Stargate: Atlantis, Season 5 (photo courtesy and copyright MGM Television).
In the script’s original draft, Sheppard is alone in the cockpit. SyFy Exec Chris Sanagustin suggested that, rather than stowing the baby away with the others, our hero should have the infant with him instead. It was a great idea and offered up one of the episode’s more touching moments. Search and Rescue, Stargate: Atlantis, Season 5 (photo courtesy and copyright MGM Television).

A reminder to all. David Blue (aka SGU’s Eli Wallace) is eager to field some fan questions so if you‘d like to ask him something, post away. We’re off to a torrid start, with an impressive six pages full of fan queries in Day 1 alone!

Familiar grounds.  Das, am I making you homesick?  Search and Rescue, Stargate: Atlantis, Season 5.  (Photo courtesy and copyright MGM Television).
Familiar grounds. Das, am I making you homesick? Search and Rescue, Stargate: Atlantis, Season 5. (Photo courtesy and copyright MGM Television).

While I’m in reminder mode, allow me to remind interested parties to finish up September’s Book of the Month Club selection: Heroes Die. Discussion on the novel begins next week when we’ll be joined by author Matthew Woodring Stover.

Among the many riffs writer-producer Martin Gero used to do was one involving Kanaan's first introduction to his son.  "Kanaan, this is your baby."  Kanaan: "For Kanaan?  Kanaan eat baby?"  "No!  No, Kanaan!  Kanaan NO eat baby!"  Search and Rescue, Stargate: Atlantis, Season 5 (Photo courtesy and copyright MGM Television).
Among the many riffs writer-producer Martin Gero used to do was one involving Kanaan’s first introduction to his son. “Kanaan, this is your baby.” Kanaan: “For Kanaan? Kanaan eat?” “No! No, Kanaan! Bad!  Kanaan NO eat baby!” Search and Rescue, Stargate: Atlantis, Season 5 (Photo courtesy and copyright MGM Television).

Hey, great news! For me anyway. I finished the rewrite on both my scripts. Well, with episodes #19 and #20 behind me, I can finally set my sights on thinking ahead to some possible second season (fingers crossed) stories, watching the various cuts and mixes, and, most importantly, whiling away the afternoons in Carl’s office talking about my upcoming Tokyo trip while he does his best to pretend he’s fallen asleep in the hopes I’ll leave.

Our intrepid trio.  Search and Rescue, Stargate: Atlantis, Season 5 (photo courtesy and copyright MGM Television).
Our intrepid trio. Search and Rescue, Stargate: Atlantis, Season 5 (photo courtesy and copyright MGM Television).
Good times.  Search and Rescue, Stargate: Atlantis, Season 5 (photo courtesy and copyright MGM Television).
Good times. Search and Rescue, Stargate: Atlantis, Season 5 (photo courtesy and copyright MGM Television).

August 26, 2009: Hey, who wants to rewrite the season finale for me? October’s Book of the Month Club Pick! What’s your space pirate name? And other important questions from the gang at SFSignal.

Random set pic
Random set pic

Hey, remember when I said I was actually looking forward to this rewrite?  Well, I honestly don’t know what the hell I was thinking.  I guess I figured that, given the notes, it wouldn’t be all that big a pass.  But it turns out I was wrong.  Yep, it never fails.  Those tiny little changes you assume will be sleight and may take all of an afternoon to complete actually turn out to be fairly significant changes that trigger repercussions running throughout the rest of the script.  Anyway, I was actually making progress this morning, coasting along rather nicely, until I hit a snag and became bogged down in the new and improved wunder-science.  I started my research, got bogged down in that as well, and ultimately decided to call it a day.  On my way out, I conveyed my frustrations to my writing partner Paul who, working on his own rewrite, had to deal with frustrations of his own today in the form of the incessant BEEP-BEEP-BEEP of the construction equipment across the street.  He sympathized and expressed surprise at the requested change.  For his part, he preferred the old (in his opinion, much cooler and wondrous) science and strongly urged me to pitch Rob on keeping the original.  Something I’ll definitely do.  Tomorrow.

Tonight, I’d like to announce October’s Book of the Month Club Selection…

Open Your Eyes, by Paul Jessup

Open Your Eyes

From Publisher’s Weekly: “…pregnant space voyager Ekhi is rescued from her ailing vessel by the crew of a scavenger ship. Their captain, mysterious, doll-like cyborg Itsasu, mourns her husband’s death, and has been yearning to bring him back to life with the Ortzadar engine her ship is secretly carrying. She reluctantly allows Ekhi to join her crew, but keeps her under strict supervision. The other crew members struggle with various personal issues brought sharply into perspective by a sudden alien invasion and the discovery that the ship’s AI is playing a deadly game of its own.”

Intriguing.  And clocking in at a svelte 152 pages, this novella should appeal to all those insisting they don’t have time to read.  Discussion begins the week of October 12th.  You have a little less than two months.  Go!

A gentle reminder to those with a little more time on their hands that we begin discussion on September’s Book of the Month Club Pick, Heroes Die, the week of September 7th when we’ll be joined by author Matthew Woodring Stover.  A very interesting book that promises an equally interesting discussion.

Every once in a while, the gang over at SFSignal.com do one of their “Mind Melds”  where they go out to luminaries in the creative field (and sometimes me) and ask them a scifi or genre-specific question like “Given the choice, which body part would you make bionic and why?” or “What’s your space pirate name?” (Captain Nebula Jack Silverbells, duh.).  Recently, they asked: “Which films do you think are good examples of Intelligent SciFi?”.  Head on over and check out my atypical list: http://www.sfsignal.com/archives/2009/08/mind-meld-the-most-intelligent-films-of-science-fiction/.  Then stick around and see what everyone else has to say.

July 22, 2009: September’s Book of the Month Club Pick = Heroes Die, by Matthew Woodring Stover! A Sharon Taylor Update! And the SGU Practical Puddle!

Back in January when Stargate: Universe consultant and best-selling SF author John Scalzi was in town, I took him to – where else? – Fuel where, over the course of our dinner conversation, the subject of my humble little book club came up.  I asked John if he could recommend a possible future selection. He responded without hesitation: “Heroes Die by Matthew Woodring Stover.”

Fast-forward six months and I’m sitting in my home office, thinking about a selection for September’s book of the month club discussion, when my eyes fall on a copy of…Heroes Die, by Matthew Woodring Stover. Loved the title and the premise intrigued, so I hopped online, tracked the author down, and sent him a message telling him about the blog, John’s recommendation, and asking whether he might be interested in participating in a fan/reader Q&A. The next day, I received his response in an email titled, appropriately enough “John Scalzi is clearly a superior human being.” As it turns out, he’d be thrilled to take part. So…

September’s Book of the Month selection is:

Heroes Die, by Matthew Woodring Stover.

Heroes Die

“Renowned throughout the land of Ankhana as the Blade of Tyshalle, Caine has killed his share of monarchs and commoners, villains and heroes. He is relentless, unstoppable, simply the best there is at what he does.

At home on Earth, Caine is Hari Michaelson, a superstar whose adventures in Ankhana command an audience of billions. Yet he is shackled by a rigid caste society, bound to ignore the grim fact that he kills men on a far-off world for the entertainment of his own planet–and bound to keep his rage in check.

But now Michaelson has crossed the line. His estranged wife, Pallas Rill, has mysteriously disappeared in the slums of Ankhana. To save her, he must confront the greatest challenge of his life: a lethal game of cat and mouse with the most treacherous rulers of two worlds . . . “

Discussion begins the week of September 7th when we’ll be joined by author Matthew Woodring Stover.

I heard from actress Sharon Taylor today (Stargate: Atlantis’s Amelia Banks) who has been keeping busy since Enemy at the Gate, having recently landed a recurring guest star role on Smallville. Sharon also tells me that has been cast the evil Empress Amara in an SF web series called Riese. She’ll be in good company, working alongside a bunch of Stargate alumni including Ben “Kavanagh” Cotton and SGU’s very own Patrick Gilmore (aka Dale Volker). Production on the series kicks off in August and, if you’re interested in learning more, you can check it out here http://www.riesetheseries.com/ and here http://www.thesectishere.com/.

Well, some progress on the script for the season finale today. On the positive side, I hit the 22 page mark and I do like what I have. On the negative side, Act I is 17 ½ pages long. I’ll look to trim where I can but, in all honesty, it’s action-filled and should move pretty damn quickly. Paul is apparently into the second act on his script. No idea how Carl and Martin are faring on theirs but, knowing them, they’re probably already finished and coming up with story ideas for season two. The show-offs. Rob, meanwhile, put out his pass on Lucid (he’s renamed it Human and the change is a point of some debate) and it’s a terrific script – engaging, poignant, and, yes, mighty surprising.  Rob will be assuming directing duties on the episode. 

Today, I leave you with another couple of SGU gate videos, these taken on the day we got our first look at new and improved practical puddle.