Best Fantasy Books of 2018!

I read 24 fantasy books in 2018.  These were my favorites…

Ahab’s Return by Jeffrey Ford

At the end of a long journey, Captain Ahab returns to the mainland to confront the true author of the novel Moby-Dick, his former shipmate, Ishmael. For Ahab was not pulled into the ocean’s depths by a harpoon line, and the greatly exaggerated rumors of his untimely death have caused him grievous harm—after hearing about Ahab’s demise, his wife and child left Nantucket for New York, and now Ahab is on a desperate quest to find them.

Ahab’s pursuit leads him to The Gorgon’s Mirror, the sensationalist tabloid newspaper that employed Ishmael as a copy editor while he wrote the harrowing story of the ill-fated Pequod. In the penny press’s office, Ahab meets George Harrow, who makes a deal with the captain: the newspaperman will help Ahab navigate the city in exchange for the exclusive story of his salvation from the mouth of the great white whale. But their investigation—like Ahab’s own story—will take unexpected, dangerous, and ultimately tragic turns.

***

Circe by Madeline Miller

In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child—not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power—the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.

Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.

But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.

***

The Armored Saint/Queen of Crows by Myke Cole

In a world where any act of magic could open a portal to hell, the Order insures that no wizard will live to summon devils, and will kill as many innocent people as they must to prevent that greater horror. After witnessing a horrendous slaughter, the village girl Heloise opposes the Order, and risks bringing their wrath down on herself, her family, and her village.

***

The Grey Bastards by Jonathan French

LIVE IN THE SADDLE. DIE ON THE HOG.

Jackal is proud to be a Grey Bastard, member of a sworn brotherhood of half-orcs. Unloved and unwanted in civilized society, the Bastards eke out a hard life in the desolate no-man’s-land called the Lots, protecting frail and noble human civilization from invading bands of vicious full-blooded orcs.

But as Jackal is soon to learn, his pride may be misplaced. Because a dark secret lies at the heart of the Bastards’ existence–one that reveals a horrifying truth behind humanity’s tenuous peace with the orcs, and exposes a grave danger on the horizon. On the heels of the ultimate betrayal, Jackal must scramble to stop a devastating invasion–even as he wonders where his true loyalties lie.

***

The Possible World by Liese O’Halloran Schwarz

It seems like just another night shift for Lucy, an overworked ER physician in Providence, Rhode Island, until six-year-old Ben is brought in as the sole survivor from a horrifying crime scene. He’s traumatized and wordless; everything he knows has been taken from him in an afternoon. It’s not clear what he saw, or what he remembers.

Lucy, who’s grappling with a personal upheaval of her own, feels a profound, unexpected connection to the little boy. She wants to help him…but will recovering his memory heal him, or damage him further?

Across town, Clare will soon be turning one hundred years old. She has long believed that the lifetime of secrets she’s been keeping don’t matter to anyone anymore, but a surprising encounter makes her realize that the time has come to tell her story.

As Ben, Lucy, and Clare struggle to confront the events that shattered their lives, something stronger than fate is working to bring them together.

Merry Christmas!

April 24, 2017: My Favorite Genre Short Stories of 2016

Yesterday, I offered up a list of My Favorite Genre Novelettes of 2016.

Today I’d like to offer up a list of My Favorite Genre Short Stories of 2016.

Of the roughly 200 stories I read last year, these were, in my humble opinion, the Top 30.

I’ve included a short synopsis and links to an online reading copy. You may also want to consider purchasing the issues outright (or, better yet, subscribing!). And, if you’re interested in further reading, I would heartily recommend RockStackRank, a site that offers up monthly aggregate ratings for works in the categories of short stories, novelettes, and novellas.

“Salvage Opportunity” by Jack Skillingstead (Clarkesworld #114) – SF

Badar has a 4-year contract sits all alone at a salvage site on Kepler-186f.  – RocketStackRank

“The Governess with a Mechanical Womb” by Leena Likitalo (Clarkesworld #114) – Post Apocalyptic

Agneta and her little sister, Saga, are among the last human survivors. The invading aliens have assigned a modified human “governess” to watch over them. RockStackRank

“Into the Wreck” by June Oldfather (Strange Horizons – February 22nd, 2016) – SF

A human science team studies the colossal wreck of an alien spacecraft. RocketStackRank

“The Artificial Bees” by Simon Guerrier (Uncanny #9) – SF

Randall, a robot, investigates an unfamiliar place: a home garden. RocketStackRank

“Not a Wardrobe, Tornado, or Looking Glass” by Jeremiah Tolbert (Lightspeed Magazine #69) – Fantasy

Ellie used to travel freely to the other world, but lately her door doesn’t work. In fact, all the portals are broken for some reason.RocketStackRank

“Blessed are Those Who Have Seen and Do Not Believe” by D.K. Thompson (Beneath Ceaseless Skies #91) – Magical Steampunk

Elijah is dying of tuberculosis in a London where Darwin discovered spirits, not evolution. He and a vampire friend descend into the underground to look for a cure. – RocketStackRank

“In Skander, For a Boy” by Chaz Brenchley (Beneath Ceaseless Skies #91) – High Fantasy

Having no heir, King Rulf sends Harlan, his most trusted adviser, to find the son of the king he overthrew 20 years ago.RocketStackRank

“We Have A Cultural Difference, Can I Taste You?” by Rebecca Ann Jordan (Strange Horizons – April 18th, 2016) – SF

Filo/Gee, an intelligent giant amoeba, isn’t the ideal college roommate, particularly since he experiences the world through touching and tasting, which is hard on books, electronics, and relationships.RocketStackRank

“1957” by Stephen Cox (Apex Magazine #84) – SF Horror

Daniel is 17, attends a British boys school, and is very happy except in those moments when he remembers a very different life.RocketStackRank

“Blameless” by Jeffrey Ford (A Natural History of Hell – Stories)

A couple are invited over to a neighbor’s daughter’s exorcism. (Small Beer Press) – New Weird Horror

“Life in Stone, Glass, and Plastic” by Jose Pablo Iriarte (Strange Horizons – June 13th, 2016) – Contemporary Fantasy

Sergio is called to remove an offensive mural, but when he touches it, it makes him “remember” things from other people’s lives. – RocketStackRank

“A Good Home” by Karin Lowachee (Lightspeed Magazine #73) – SF

A disabled human veteran takes in a disabled AI veteran. The AI doesn’t talk anymore due to trauma, but Tawn tries to get through to it, even though his mother thinks it’s dangerous.RocketStackRank

“Binaries” by S.B. Divya (Lightspeed #73) – SF

The narrator describes his life in exponential steps.RocketStackRank

“Cuckoo Girls” by Douglas F. Warrick (Apex Magazine #85) – Horror

Nikki and Samantha are on the run from luminous monsters that are trying to kill them–and anyone they care about who’s near them.  – RocketStackRank

“Lullaby For A Lost World” by Aliette De Bodard (Tor.com) – Horror

Charlotte’s sacrifice kept the forces of chaos at bay, but only for a while, and in her grave, she grows resentful.RocketStackRank

“Against the Stream” by A Que (Clarkesworld #118) – Time Travel

An “illness” causes a man to wake each morning in the previous day, and as he lives his life backwards, he sees the mistakes he made.RocketStackRank

“The One Who Isn’t” by Ted Kosmatka (Lightspeed Magazine #74) – SF

A woman appears to be helping a child recover from some form of brain damage. His perceptions and memory are off, but something is off about her too.RocketStackRank

“The Assassin’s Secret” by Adam Troy-Castro (Lightspeed #75) – Fantasy

The world’s greatest assassin sits in his lair, waiting for people to come to him to beg his assistance.RocketStackRank

“The Gentleman of Chaos” by A. Merc Rustad (Apex Magazine #87) – High Fantasy

An immortal assassin threatens the new king, so he has his sister trained as the ultimate bodyguard.RocketStackRank

“The Engines Imperial” by Sean Bensinger (Clarkesworld #119) – Fantasy SF

The starship Rook returns to the system to mourn her sister starship, who died there 10,000 years ago.RocketStackRank

“Rooms Formed of Neurons and Sex” by Ferrett Steinmetz (Uncanny Magazine #12) – Near-Future SF

Lydia’s boyfriend, Ross, was just a brain in a jar. So how, exactly, did she injure him during sex?RocketStackRank

“Of Sight, Of Mind, Of Heart” by Samantha Murray (Clarkesworld #122) – SF

You adopt an android baby. You name him Ben. He grows amazingly fast.RocketStackRank

“Afrofuturist 419” by Nnedi Okorafor (Clarkesworld #122) – SF

Nigerian astronaut Abacha Tunde has been abandoned in space since 1990 and he would appreciate some help getting home.RocketStackRank

“Every Day Is The Full Moon” by Carlie St. George (Lightspeed Magazine #79) – Slipstream

B’s werewolf dad beats her, but what really gets her down is she hasn’t become supernatural like her friends have.RocketStackRank

“A Salvaging of Ghosts” by Aliette De Bodard (Beneath Ceaseless Skies #195) – Space Opera

Thuy seeks her daughter’s remains in the twisted parts of unreal space where salvagers pick over the remains of wrecked starships.RocketStackRank

“Terminal” by Lavie Tidhar (Tor.com) – SF

A vast fleet of “jalopies” carry individuals on a one-way trip from Earth to Mars. People do it for different reasons, some of which we learn about in this story.RocketStackRank

“The Savannah Liar’s Tour” by Will McIntosh (Lightspeed Magazine #68) – Urban Fantasy

In the near future, Ben uses cryosleep for a side-effect: while he’s under, he can meet his dead wife. Trouble is, he has a new wife.RocketStackRank

“Secondhand Bodies” by JY Yang (Lightspeed #68) – SF

Agatha wants a svelte replacement for her plump body, but since she can’t get one grown in a reasonable time, she looks into an illegal swap.RocketStackRank

“Two’s Company” by Joe Abercrombie (Tor.com) – High Fantasy

A warrior woman and a thief fleeing from the south meet a male warrior fleeing from the north in the middle of a bridge. Then it gets complicated.RocketStackRank

“Blood Grains Speak Through Memories” by Jason Sanford (Beneath Ceaseless Skies #195)- SF

Frere-Jones controls the nanobot “grains” that help protect the ecology in the bit of land she “anchors.” She’s come to view the grains as a tyranny, but there doesn’t seem to be much she can do about it.RocketStackRank

August 22, 2013: Recent Recommended Reads!

Recommended reads:

TerrorA Terror by Jeffrey Ford

The latest release by author Jeffrey Ford is a nightmarish novelette that offers a supernaturally speculative take on the inspiration for one of Emily Dickinson’s most famous poems, “Because I could not stop for Death”.  Emily Dickinson, awakens to an empty house, her parents and sister inexplicably gone.  She ventures outside to investigate and accepts a  carriage ride from a seemingly noble stranger.  But there’s more to the mysterious Mr. Quill than meets the eye and soon, a dark bargain is struck.  It’s a deal of a lifetime – in this case, 25 years – but in order to collect, she must do some collecting of her own.  It’s macabre tale involving necromancy, a mother’s love, and most obstinate child. Craftily creepy.

Ford is a breathtakingly inventive storyteller, comfortable and captivating in a variety of genres: science fiction, fantasy, steampunk, and horror.    Check out his other work here: http://www.well-builtcity.com or read A Terror by following this link: A Terror

Hall of FameScience Fiction Hall of Fame (Volume One 1929-1964) edited by Robert Silverberg

Ah, natsukashii, as the Japanese would say.  This collection of SF classics, assembled and edited by the great Robert Silverberg (Lord Valentine’s CastleDying Inside), is comprised of 26 of the greatest Golden Age SF tales ever written as selected by the Science Fiction Writers of America.  Among the memorable entries: Ray Bradbury’s Mars is Heaven (which I believe, uh, inspired an episode of Space 1999), Arthur C. Clarke’s The Nine Billion Names of God, and Tom Godwin’s much discussed and still debated The Cold Equations.

I’m presently trying to track down volume II (parts A and B).

Difficult MenDifficult Men by Brett Martin

Weird, insecure, ego-maniacal, and vindictive.  No, I’m not talking about the colorful characters in those award-winning cable shows.  I’m referring to the creators of those colorful characters in those award-winning cable shows.  This book offers us insight into the creative heavy-weights who ran game-changing productions like The Sopranos, Deadwood, Mad Men, and The Wire.   Clearly, there’s a very fine line between genius and, well, if not insanity then surely eccentricity and arrogance.

Wise GuyWise Guy by Nicholas Pileggi

The quintessential mobster biography and the inspiration for the movie Goodfellas,  Wise Guy is a riveting read that chronicles the life of wiseguy Henry Hill, from his modest working-class beginnings through his career in organized crime to, perhaps most challenging of all, his entry into the witness protection program.  Impossible to put down.

Ice ManThe Ice Man: Confessions of a Mafia Contract Killer by Philip Carlo

Keeping with the organized crime theme, The Ice Man is the deeply disturbing, unflinching account of the violent life of Richard “The Ice Man” Kulinski, a mob enforcer and hit man.  Not quite as engaging as Wiseguy for the simply reason that, unlike Hill, Kulinski elicits very little in the way of sympathy or compassion.  Shocking stuff.

SuperiorThe Superior Foes of Spiderman by Nick Spencer

My favorite ongoing title focuses on the flip side of superheroes – their occasionally evil, often devious, usually frustrated adversaries: the supervillians.  A well-written, character-driven series.  And a hell of a lot of fun.

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!

October 9, 2012: In which the author recommends stuff!

You know what’s even better than discovering a terrific new book? Discovering a terrific new author.  All too often, I’ve come across books I’ve enjoyed only to be disappointed by subsequent works by the same author.  Not so with Jeffrey Ford, one of the most imaginative and consistently entertaining writers out there.  Several years ago, I was so impressed by The Empire of Ice Cream, a collection of some of his short fiction, that I decided to check out his other titles.  Nine books later and I’m still in awe.  His recent collection, Crackpot Palace, is another winner, taking readers on a wild, breathtaking, occasionally surreal, altogether marvelous narrative ride.

I don’t watch a lot of movies.  Ever since I got the basement home theater, I’ve avoided movie theaters.  And, ever since Blu-ray came out, I’ve avoided buying DVD’s.  So where does that leave me? Filmically bereft.  Still, I do manage to watch the occasional movie if I happen to catch it on satellite.  Such was the case with Drive, a movie I honestly expected to underwhelm but which, surprisingly, impressed. Mightily.  No, it’s not an action movie (in the Hollywood sense of the term) but the script is breathtaking in its conciseness, the direction gorgeous, and the performances outstanding.  What more do you want?

It’s DC Comics’ version of Hill Street Blues, a series that focuses on the lives of the dedicated officers who are tasked with cleaning up after the likes of Catwoman, the Joker, and, yes, even Batman.  Writers Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka deliver a gritty procedural that simultaneously grounds Gotham City and makes it come alive in a way I’ve never seen (or, quite frankly, believed) before.  With the exception of one questionable beat in which someone just happens to overhear a secret – uttered by a character who just happens to be talking to herself (!), it’s a tight, noir masterpiece.  The art, by Michael Lark and the others, is perfect.

So I picked up about a dozen titles on The Top 100 Mystery Novels of All Time list compiled by the Mystery Writers of America and have, thus far, read six.  All fine reads but I suspect that much of the praise heaped on these books are the result of contextual consideration, an evaluation based on the books as a product of their time, their strengths and weaknesses weighed relative to their historical significance rather than standalone works judged by more contemporary standards.  In five out of six reads, I found myself making excuses for some of the clunkier narrative elements.  The Talented Mr. Ripley was the exception.  Patricia Highsmith crafts a novel so engaging, so unnervingly suspenseful, that I skipped my bedtime and stayed up until 3:00 a.m. to finish it.  And, unlike most of today’s books, movies, and t.v. shows – it kept me guessing at every turn.

August 19, 2012: Book Haul! Days of Stargate Atlantis Past! The Ark!

I know, I know.  What, you are no doubt wondering, am I doing STILL buying books – or, to quote an editor friend of mine, dabbling in “dead tree media”?  Well, truth be told, I do own a kindle which I find very convenient…whenever I travel.  But, the rest of the time, nothing beats the looks and feel of a good old-fashioned real book.  And nothing beats perusing a bookstore and picking up a title that just happens to catch my eye, something far less likely to happen when shopping online. In fact, four out of the five titles pictured above were impulse buys. The fifth was the reason I’d made the trip to Chapters in the first place, a book whose release I’d been anxiously looking forward to for months.

Crackpot Palace is the latest collection of short fiction by one of my favorite authors, Jeffrey Ford, whose work ranges from delightfully curious to mind-blowingly inventive.  I plan to ration these stories out, two a night, because this is a book I fully intend to savor.

If you’d like to check out Jeffrey Ford’s amazing work, might I suggest you start with The Empire of Ice Cream or The Girl in the Glass : A Novel or The Shadow Year: A Novel.

Hey, speaking of upcoming releases, look at what’s scheduled to hit the shelves just in time for my birthday month celebrations:

October 23rd!  Circle the date.  No one writes epic fantasy like Joe Abercrombie, delivering dark humor, colorful characters, and visceral action in novels that upend the staid genre in enormously entertaining fashion.  If you’re interested in checking out Joe’s work, might I suggest starting with The Blade Itself (The First Law: Book One).

Resuming our trip down Stargate Atlantis memory lane…

THE ARK (316)

As much as I find great satisfaction in arc-driven episodes, I love these truly SF stand-alone stories simply because they’re so hard to do. Shep and co. discover a deserted space station hidden within a moon.  Their subsequent investigation leads to a surprising discovery, a shocking double-cross, and a seat-of-your pants ride down from a rapidly deteriorating planetary orbit.  Great performances all around.

An inadvertent bit of product placement occurs in one scene, the result of  someone leaving a water bottle and Snickers bar in the shot. Nobody noticed – until AFTER the episode aired.  It has since been fixed by the VFX department.  I think.

The notes session on this script gave rise to one of the most memorable executive utterances.  Just as the conference call got underway, Brad was asked to clarify something: “So, just to be clear…is this Earth’s moon?”.  Earth’s moon?  This series takes place in the Pegasus Galaxy.  Welcome to Stargate: Atlantis, season 3.

September 21, 2010: A plethora of pics!

Well fine.

Apologies.  The trailer won’t be coming out until first thing tomorrow morning.  9:00 a.m. to be exact.  So set your watches.

Hopefully these pics will tide you over.

Addendum: Nope, sorry.  9:00 a.m. PDT.  Again, apologies.  The gang at post, led by the lovely Kerry McDowall, did an excellent job getting the trailer finished and ready to go by early afternoon – but we’ve been delayed by circumstances beyond our control.  Hopefully, it’ll be worth the wait.  There were ooh’s and aaah’s aplenty late this afternoon as it was being screened by various cast and crew.

I’ll be out on location tomorrow shooting Day #2 of The Hunt, so blogging time will be minimal.  I’m uploading the trailer vid tonight with the intention of bringing my wordpress blog up on my iphone and hitting “publish” tomorrow at 9:00 a.m.  The trailer will be up here, over on Gateworld, and various other sites including Show Patrol, SFSignal, TVOvermind, Pop Culture Zoo, and John Scalzi’s insanely entertaining Whatever blog.  Check it out at any or all of the aforementioned sites, then head back here an drop me a comment.  I’ll be checking them throughout the day and tomorrow night, time permitting, I’ll hop on and add a little write-up to accompany the trailer.

Today, Ivon informed me that he had bought me a book after listening to a radio interview with its author, John Vailliant.  Titled The Tiger: A True Story of Survival and Vengeance, it’s the true account of one poacher’s bad luck in messing with the wrong gigantic Amur tiger.  From a review by Christopher McDougall: “In 1997, deep in the remote Russian backcountry, a gigantic Amur tiger begins acting like the only thing more savage than a wild animal–us. It doesn’t just attack villagers; it hunts them, picking its targets like a hitman with a contract, at one point even dragging a mattress out of a shack so it can lie comfortably in wait until the woodsman returns home. A few days later, the woodsman’s horrified friends discover remains “so small and so few they could have fit in a shirt pocket.”  That’s what my second grade teacher, Mrs. Vowels, would’ve referred to as “an ouchie”.  Anyway, looking forward to reading this one.

As soon as I finish the one I’m reading now, Fool: A Novel by Christopher Moore, a hilarious retelling of the bard’s King Lear told from the point of the view of Pocket, the king’s fool.  I’m about a hundred pages in and enjoying immensely.  Other recent reads very much worth mentioning: Jeffrey Ford’s The Beyond (the third and final installment of his wildly inventive Well-Built City Trilogy), Jeff VanderMeer’s The Third Bear (a weird and wonderful collection of his short fiction), Daryl Gregory’s first novel Pandemonium (inscrutable, outlandish, and incredibly engaging), the Lou Anders and Jonathan Strahan-edited Swords and Dark Magic (one helluva a fun collection showcasing the likes of such fantasy heavy hitters as Steven Erikson, Glen Cook, Gene Wolfe, James Enge, Michael Moorcock, and Baron Destructo’s good buddy Joe Abercrombie), Stephen King’s Misery (a re-re-re-read of my favorite King novel – Stargate has its fair share of Annie Wilkes’s),  and a mind-bending double-shot of Alastair Reynolds – Zima Blue and Diamond Dog, Turquoise Days.

So what’re YOU reading?

August 16, 2009: My Belated July Picks

Lately, I’ve been so busy on the Stargate front that I’ve had little time for reading, much less commeningt on what I’ve been reading. So, today, with the first drafts of my last scripts behind me, I’d like to make mention of a few of the books I read and enjoyed back in July.

Girl in the Glass

The Girl in the Glass, by Jeffrey Ford

Any time I read a book by Ford, it’s pretty much a guarantee that it will be making an appearance in these monthly round-ups. And The Girl in the Glass is no exception. It makes one wish the author would tackle the long form more often. I know, I know. There are so many hours in a day and I love Ford’s short fiction, but one of the things that makes this novel so engrossing and altogether delightful is the characters. And it’s because Ford has the time to develop them, allowing us to really get to know them over the course of the story, that he succeeds so admirably on this count.

Like another of his forays into the long form, The Shadow Year, the story is less fantastical than his short stories, more grounded though possessed of just a hint of the supernatural. In The Shadow Year, the story is told from the point of view of a young boy growing up in a small town, touching on home life, friendships, and memories of summer as he strives to uncover a mystery that has gripped his tiny community. In The Girl in the Glass, it’s another young boy, Diego, who is our guide through a totally different sort of mystery near the end of The Great Depression. In contrast to the innocence of our young protagonist in The Shadow Year, Diego is surprisingly worldly for his age. And with good reason. He is part of a trio of grifters who stage phony séances, scamming high society rubes looking to commune with the beyond. Their little con is mighty sweet and they have a good thing going, until one of their sham spiritual connections becomes all too real. Suddenly, Diego and co. find themselves having to hustle their way through a winding plot involving kidnapping, murder, intrigue, and a deep, dark, ugly secret.

Ford people’s his novel with some truly wonderful characters and the story itself is tight, clever, and compulsively readable. Honestly. Once you start this book, you’ll be hard-pressed to put it down.

Audrey's Door

Audrey’s Door, by Sarah Langan

Former guest author to this blog Sarah Langan was kind enough to send me an advanced copy of her latest book, Audrey’s Door, a chilling tale of a young female architect who gets more than she bargained for when she moves into The Breviary, a turn-of-the-century New York apartment building.

A loner distanced from her ailing mother, battling with OCD, struggling with the demands of a high-stress job, her recent relationship a shambles, Audrey thinks her luck has finally turned when she finds a listing for an apartment in Manhattan . The rent is a steal. Her elderly neighbors are quiet and keep to themselves. It all seems too good to be true. And, as it turns out, it is because Audrey learns her apartment has a bit of a history, a history involving its last tenants, a mother and her children who perished in a horrific murder-suicide. Despite this, Audrey elects to move in. But she soon discovers that the grisly goings-on at 14B are the least of her problems, that there are darker forces at work in the building, ancient entities who have designs on this world and require her particular skills to bring their plans to fruition.

At times reminiscent of The Shining and Rosemary’s Baby, Audrey’s Door is a good old-fashioned haunted house story set in an urban setting. Tense, at times deeply unsettling, it’s the perfect read for those horror aficionados looking for something new. And scary.

Ascent

Ascent: A Novel, by Jed Mercurio

Author Jed Mercurio’s Royal Air Force background serves him well in this fascinating account of fictitious Russian cosmonaut Yefgenii Yeremin, charting his hard knock upbringing as an orphan in post-WWII Stalingrad, through his service as a MiG pilot secretly flying under the North Korean flag during the Korean War, to his eventual selection for the Russian space program.

The novel grabs you from the get-go as we are introduced to the young Yefgenni, struggling for survival following the deaths of his parents, enduring almost constant physical abuse at the hands of a group of bullies he shares residence with at a local orphanage. Faced with a bleak future, the brilliant Yefgenni acts. In a move bred of desperation, he deals with his greatest oppressor and, in so doing, secures himself a scholarship to Russia’s air academy. From there, well, not even the sky’s the limit.

Mercurio’s writing style is precise, offering a stripped down narrative that breezes along but doesn’t skimp on the necessary details. In fact, the descriptions of aerial combat are thorough, and thoroughly credible, specific yet never overly complex. It all proves as fascinating as it is spirited, especially given the stakes. Since their presence must not be revealed, the Russian pilots are under orders strict not to be captured, meaning they either down the enemy, retreat, or go down in a fiery crash. Some do. One doesn’t and pays the price.

In the end, Yefgenni sacrifices all to reach the stars and this ultimate achievement of his lifelong dream proves both stirring, sad, and, strangely enough, poignant and inspiring in the heart of tragedy.

A terrific book.

August 3, 2009: The Speed of Dark, by Elizabeth Moon

 

Speed of Dark

 

In the interest of full disclosure: This isn‘t my first time reading The Speed of Dark. It’s one of my favorite books and I have nothing but good things to say about it.

Okay. Onto my review:

Thirty-five year old Lou Arrendale is a bioinformatics specialist working for a pharmaceutical company in the not too distant future. His astounding pattern analysis abilities sets him apart from the average man. But that isn’t the only thing that sets him apart. Lou is wholly sincere, honest to a fault, and highly sensitive to the attitudes, feelings and intentions of others. And he also happens to be autistic. As are his fellow co-workers.

Lou has a great job, a pleasant home life, and good friends from among the members of a local fencing club he frequents. Life is good. Until his new boss, Mr. Crenshaw, sets his sights on Lou’s division. The company is developing a new experimental treatment that purportedly cures autism through a procedure that rewires portions of the affected brain. The initial trials on apes proved very promising and now they’re looking for human subjects. Seeing an opportunity, Crenshaw strong-arms the division, threatening them with dismissal if they do not “volunteer” for the human trials.

Suddenly, Lou’s organized existence is upended as he faces a difficult choice, one that could well undo his sense of self and transform him into someone totally different. But would that necessarily be a bad thing?

Lou is our narrator and, as such, our POV throughout this funny, touching, fascinating, and altogether engaging tale. We grow to know him, to like him, and, most important of all, to understand him. By novel’s end, our emotional investment in the character is enormous. We’ve shared in his frustration and bewilderment at the hands of the cruel, sometimes vindictive individuals who target those they deem different or weak.  We’ve experienced the affections and friendship of the people in his life, autistic and non-autistic alike.  And, ultimately, we join him in wrestling with a decision that could alter him either for better or worse and, quite possibly, both.

On the surface, Lou’s dilemma seems fairly straightforward. Given the opportunity, why wouldn’t someone with autism take the chance to live life as a regular person? But this question becomes incredibly complex when applied on a personal level. The author opens our eyes by making us realize that it isn’t as simple as it appears on first blush, especially if someone we care about is at the heart of the issue. On the one hand, Lou does have trouble socializing and approaches the world with an almost childlike innocence, and yet, on the on the other hand, he succeeds where so many other “normals” fail, building a solid life for himself, establishing friendships, even falling in love. The author does such a wonderful job of allowing us to see the world through Lou’s eyes that, when the time comes for him to choose, we feel for him as we would a friend. In fact, my sentiments echoed those of his fencing instructor, Tom, who ends up torn between wanting to see his Lou achieve all the things he ever wanted but heartsick at the prospect of losing him to that new life.

This book asks some tough questions.  What is normal?  How does one weigh the value of identity in the face of progress?  And what is the speed of dark?  In the end, these questions are left unanswered. Or, rather, the author leaves it to the reader to draw their own conclusions.

I can honestly say that few books have affected me as deeply as The Speed of Dark. It’s smart and compelling and leaves a lasting impression. Not only a great SF novel, but a great novel across all genres.

So, those are my initial thoughts. Yes, I loved this book – even more so on second reading. And you? Let’s hear your take and let’s see those questions for author Elizabeth Moon who has kindly agreed to join us for a little Q&A.

Well, it’s official. Sometime in early 2010, my very first professional short story will hit store shelves as part of With Great Power, an anthology of superhero-themed tales in the tradition of Watchmen, Kingdom Come, and The Dark Knight. When editor Lou Anders first approached me about submitting a story for this collection, I was honored. And somewhat terrified. Scripts, I know I can do. But short stories? I accepted Lou’s offer with the understanding that if my submission didn’t meet his high standards, I would happily serialize my efforts on this blog and we’d have no hard feelings either way. And soon after, I got to work. Lou wanted the stories to be “non-ironic takes on the superhero genre”. As he put it: “…stories that contemporary readers of DC/Vertigo, Marvel, Dark Horse would comprehend and enjoy. Not “outside looking in” stuff.” As it turned out, I had a story – actually two stories – that fit the criteria, notions I’d been considering as potential comic book series. After much thought, I combined the two and set out to write my story. I had an opening scene. I had my protagonist. I had the mystery. And I had my ending. Now, all I needed to do was come up with the rest. And, over the course of some ten months, I did – writing a scene here, a paragraph there, going dry for days on end before returning to my labor of love and always, always agonizing. Writing, re-writing, and re-rewriting until I couldn’t stand it any longer and decided to send it off before I drove myself mad. The next day, Lou dropped me an email. The initial review was positive – and I was finally able to breathe a huge sigh of relief.

Yesterday, Lou published the table of contents for the upcoming anthology and I must say that I’m in some mighty impressive company. The many distinguished authors contributing to the collection include Dr. Who’s Paul Cornell, SF great Stephen Baxter, comic book heavy-hitters Gail Simone and Bill Willingham, and many more. Check out the complete line-up here: http://louanders.blogspot.com/2009/08/look-up-in-sky-is-it-bird-is-it-plane.html

Continued progress on the script front. I finished Act III today and got a little ahead of myself, writing a couple of scenes form Act IV before being stymied by a communications issue. Hopefully, it’ll be resolved before tomorrow and I can remain on track. Today, to celebrate, I give you the countdown clock:

Tick tick tick
Tick tick tick

Among the author home pages I check out on a semi-regular basis is that of Jeffrey Ford (http://14theditch.livejournal.com/). Most of you know I’m a huge fan of Jeff’s work and recently finished (and, incidentally, adored) his 2005 novel The Girl in the Glass (which definitely makes my July Top Picks, an entry I’ll be jumping on as soon as I finish this final script). Anyway, Jeff’s livejournal page is incredibly eclectic, running the gamut from the philosophical to the downright ridiculous. And hilarious. Take a past entry (http://14theditch.livejournal.com/287714.html) titled “Jimmy Olsen in “Gnor Trouble”“ that offers up some pretty funny excerpts from the comic book icon’s least memorable appearances. The entry inspired one Thom Davidson to send in one of his favorite comic book moments that I post for you below. All I can say is – I had my suspicions.

 justice_league

Finally, those of you who opt to let fate decide with the flip of a coin might do well to check and see what side is facing up before you call it. Recent findings suggest the old coin toss may not be 50/50 after all. According to this (http://www.thebigmoney.com/articles/hey-wait-minute/2009/07/28/flipping-out?g=1) artcle coin flips are governed by laws of mechanics meaning “their flight is determined by their initial conditions.”  As The Simpsons’ resident pigskin prognosticator would say: “Hey, when you’re right 51 percent of the time, you’re wrong 49 percent of the time.”

July 4, 2009: Touching Down in Montreal

The guy sitting beside me was a talker, keen on engaging me as we sat there, waiting for the ground crew to sort out whatever issue had delayed us. A comment here, a question there. I was polite, but kept the discourse brief at the risk of initiating a five and a half hour back and forth complete with supporting pics of his kids and the recent family trip to the Grand Canyon. “Might be a while,”he said. I nodded thoughtfully and offered a non-committal “Hmmm” that could have been interpreted as agreement, distant rumination, or the onset of a stroke. According to the air hostess, we were delayed by “a minor mechanical problem”, something to do with the plane’s right engine. Minor? Engine? I remember reading somewhere that in the event of a catastrophic failure of an engine in flight – caused by, say, an errant flock of unfortunate geese – the other engine was more than capable of compensating for the loss. A plane only needed one engine. The other, it would seem, is just for show. Nevertheless, when the air hostess announced that the issue had been dealt with and we would be taking off soon, I couldn’t help but feel a tad uneasy. A feeling shared by a couple of my fellow passengers who stepped up to the front to voice their concerns. The pilot was on hand to reassure them however. “Believe me,”he said. “If there was something wrong with this plane and I thought it was dangerous to fly, I’d be the first one off.”

So we finally took off, an hour late. My chatty neighbor refocused his attention to the in-flight entertainment, spending the greater part of the trip coughing/chortling his way through Transformers. I read, finishing two books – Jed Mercurio’s incredibly engaging Ascent (described as “A Russian version of the Right Stuff”, it’s the type of book Stargate Exec. Producer Brad Wright would love), and Edmund Cooper’s The Overman Culture (an intriguing plot and an economy of language I enjoyed, but it suffers from acute blandis characteritis).

We, of course, got in late. Fortunately, I was able to skip the long wait at the baggage claim (last time I was in Montreal, I stood around for close to an hour), and head straight to Thrifty car rental where I was informed the car I’d reserved was unavailable but they could offer me either a hybrid (which would necessitate a twenty minute wait) or a Yaris (was this one of those cars that everyone in the old Soviet Union used to drive?) that was available immediately. I took the Yaris and motored off, winding my way through the perenially construction-plagued highway, the rain beating down on my economy glasnost sub-compact. I left sunny Vancouver for this? I rolled up my mother’s driveway some ten minutes later, parked, hopped out bags in tow, and was greeted by mom who warmly welcomed me back, then informed me: “You gained weight” before steering me into the kitchen for dinner: spare ribs, crab mousse, rapini, fried hot peppers, and two types of cheese. She made sure I had snapped a photo of everything before I could start eating.

 

 

Mom
Mom

 

Sis
Sis
Lili
Lili
Felix
Felix
Fried peppers
Fried peppers
Crab mousse
Crab mousse

 After dinner, I walked around the house until I was able to pick up the faintest of wireless connections – my laptop has to be about chest-height and pressed up against a westward-facing window, which makes approving blog comments tricky and the prospect of uploading pictures a most daunting prospect. Still – Success!

Girl in the Glass

We turned in for the night at about 11:00 p.m. – my usual bedtime. Except that I was still on West Coast time, which made it 8:00 p.m. So I spent a few hours reading Jeffrey Ford’s The Girl in the Glass. The novel, set in Depression era New York, focuses on a trio of con men who make a living running séance scams – until a seemingly supernatural development thrusts them headlong into a mystery involving a missing young girl, a fellow swindler, and an affluent community‘s dark past. Beautifully written, it’s peopled with joyously colorful characters negotiating their way through a veritable labyrinth of a plot filled with twists, turns, and, a fair sprinkling of Ford’s trademark humor. Regulars to this blog know that I’m a HUGE fan of Jeffrey Ford. Starting on one of his books is always a bittersweet experience for me. On the one hand, I look forward to the experience as he is one of very few authors who has never let me down. On the other hand, I’m somewhat saddened at the thought that one more book read means one less book to discover. I’ve yet to finish The Girl in the Glass, so I’ll hold off on a final review – but suffice it to say: So far, so excellent.

A quiet day today.  Mom made polpettini –

IMG_3155x

Hey, when’re we hitting Au Pied de Cochon?

Happy 4th of July!

May 15, 2009: Wandering Eccentrics, Ponzi Schemes, and Some Recommended Reading

I was crossing the parking lot, my arms laden with almond milk (Capers was having a sale!) when an elderly woman approached and asked: “Did you vote for me?”. I stopped and eyed her uncertainly. Now whenever I’m approached by strangers, my first instinct is to either a) ignore them or b) feign some pressing commitment that prevents me from engaging them in conversation (“Gotta get this liver to the transplant bank pronto!”) – unless, of course, she’s cute in which case I have all the time in the world for idle chit-chat. Well, while the elderly woman in this instant wasn’t exactly cute (okay, maybe in that adorable old granny way), I did break with protocol to respond with a: “Pardon me?”

“Did you vote for me?”she repeated.

She certainly didn’t look familiar. I tried to place the face – and came up empty. “Uh, what party were you running for?”

“I wasn’t running,”she informed me. “I was walking!” She guffawed, slapped my arm, then ambled off, chuckling to herself.

What the hell -? I kept an eye on her, half-expecting her to start up a conversation with some passersby or begin rooting through the contents of a nearby garbage can. Nope. She simply grabbed a seat on a nearby bench and quietly waited for the bus.

Hunh. Maybe she wasn’t crazy after all, just some incredibly affable local/eccentric who elected to approach me because…I seemed friendly and/or approachable, a caring and kind-looking individual who instantly put her at ease with my palpable sincerity and obvious warmth?

Me?

Nah. If she wasn’t trying to distract me while her partner lifted my wallet, then I’m going with crazy.

Tonight, I watched a Frontline report on the Bernie Madoff affair. Fascinating- and, frankly, more than a little scary for anyone who invests (which is pretty much everyone but Carl who keeps his cash in the shoebox buried in his backyard). Madoff is accused of running one of the biggest Ponzi Schemes in history. To those of you who don’t know what a Ponzi Scheme is, it’s essentially a scam that pay out investors with monies from subsequent investors. So long as new investors are brought in to replenish the cash pool, the system works and all those who came before keep getting paid and are non the wiser – but eventually, the system grows too top heavy and collapses. Coincidentally, we were talking about this very subject at work the other day and my writing partner Paul was quick to point out that, even though the Madoff is reputed to have cost investors upwards of 65 billion dollars, it cannot be considered the biggest Ponzi scheme in history. According to Paul, that honor belongs to Social Security.

Hate to say it but he may be proven right.

Some recommended reading –

The Drowned Life, by Jeffrey Ford

Drowned Life

Blog regulars know that I’ve been a big fan of author Jeffrey Ford since discovering him, alongside many of you, through a former Book of the Month Club selection: The Empire of Ice Cream. I have yet to read a Ford book I haven’t liked – and that’s saying a lot. His latest collection of short stories, The Drowned Life, is no exception. Some beautifully told tales headlined by the surrealistic opener concerning a regular Joe who can barely keep his head above water and ends up going under – both figuratively and literally. Interestingly, this one struck me as Ford’s most personal collection to date.

The Unwritten #1, by Mike Carey and Peter Gross

Unwritten

Tom Taylor, son of the late author Wilson Taylor whose wildly popular children series (that, amusingly enough, bears more than a passing resemblance to the tales of a certain bespectacled boy wizard), has it good. The inspiration for his father’s literary hero (Tommy Taylor), the adult Tom enjoys a sort of cult status among the books’ many fans. Until, that is, evidence surfaces suggesting he may not be the son of the late author after all. As his one-time fans turn against him, a flustered Tom scrambles to make sense of the baffling turn of events – only to have things go from worse to weird when elements of his father’s book series begin to take on a life of their own. A whole mess of fun.

January 6, 2009: Back in the Office, My Top December Reads, and The Most Shocking Rose Ceremony Yet!

The Staff Recommendation
The Staff Recommendation

Almost didn’t make it into the office today. Hell, I almost didn’t make it out of the alleyway behind my house. I backed out of the garage and then spent a good fifteen minutes spinning my wheels in frustration before finally managing to work my way free. In retrospect, good thing I was delayed because, just as I was about to roll away, I received a call from Fondy informing me that I had forgotten my laptop and (more importantly) my lunch inside.

The laptop turned out to be of less importantance as we spent most of the day watching casting streams. So far, we have our Rush, Young, and Eli (official announcements on the latter two to come later this week). And, after today’s session, it looks like we may have our Tamara. We have two terrific candidates for both Scott and Stasiak, and a very likely Chloe. Otherwise, a fairly quiet day. Given recent developments, the writing staff now numbers five, but there is talk of adding at least one more newbie to the mix in addition to freelancers.

With the month of December behind us, I’d like to make quick mention of my two favorite reads of the past month. Just the other week, I was discussing the frustrations inherent in the writing process and yet, today, I’m singling out two authors whose stories are so imaginative, prose is so engaging, and books are so full of wondrous detail that I have a hard time imagining they ever hit the wall. I refer to Terry Pratchett and Jeffrey Ford.

Pratchett’s Guards! Guards! is one of the funniest books I’ve read in recent memory and, thus far, my favorite entry in his Discworld series. Our protagonists are the motley members of the City Watch, a lovably colorful crew who end dealing with a little more than your typical civil unrest when a dragon (the stuff of legend!) begins stalking the not-so-fair city of Ank-Morpork. Palace intrigue, errant magic, unlikely heroes, an inscrutable baboon librarian – this is Pratchett at his very best, delivering a narrative replete with comical misadventure, hilarious turns of phrase, and fantasy tropes skewed and skewered. If you like Pratchett, go get this book. And if you don’t like Pratchett – what’s your freakin’ problem?

The Physiognomy is an equally remarkable novel, a astonishingly imaginative tale compliments of Jeffrey Ford, one of the most inventive writers in any genre. For years, Physiognomist First Class Cley has served the Well-Built City and its enigmatic ruler, The Master, rooting out conspiracy and deception via the science of physiognomy, the assessment of character through the interpretation of an individual’s general appearance. But when he is dispatched to investigate the disappearance of a mysterious white fruit rumored to have originated from the Earthly Paradise, Cley quickly discovers that appearances can be most deceiving and his hitherto comfortable existence surreptitiously surreal. Original, enthralling, and wonderfully weird!

So, last night, I walk into the kitchen and find Fondy sprawled out on the couch, watching the season premiere of The Bachelor. Lame. I was about to move on when she called out to me: “Come watch with me and check out the women!” Well, in the interest of spending some quality time with the wife, I went and got my laptop, then settled in and joined her. Onscreen, the first delivery of desperate women arrived. I worked and watched, revising the opening scene to my script while, onscreen, the soon-to-be-laid lothario subconsciously signaled his interest (“Wow, you look beautiful.”) and lack thereof (“She’s a very special woman.”). Just as my interest began to wane, it was immediately restored by the promise of “The greatest twist in Bachelor history!” coming up after the break! As it turned out, it really wasn’t much of a twist at all and I was left disappointed and, frankly, a little misled. I was about to give up on the show when the voice-over announced “The most shocking rose ceremony yet!” coming up after the commercial break! Intrigued, I stuck it out. Again, I don’t watch the show so it may well have been “the most shocking rose ceremony yet”, but this only leads me to assume that all the previous rose ceremonies must have been pretty fucking boring. Still, I have to admit I was shocked by the fact that the doofus sent my favorite gal packing. “I can’t believe he didn’t pick Shelby!”I expressed my outrage at the early exit of my favorite hottie, expecting my wife to chime in in agreement. Receiving no response, I turned to discover the other couch was empty. Apparently, Fondy had left about ten minutes into the show and gone upstairs to work. Well, being the completist I am, I stayed for the tearful goodbyes (“Boohoohoo. It’s back to speed-dating and church potluck lunches for me. Boohoohoo.”) but DID NOT watch scenes from next week’s episode.

Though I hear it promises “The most shocking rose ceremony yet!”. So maybe I’ll just tune in for that part.

October 4, 2008: September’s Top Reads, Following Through on Your Recommendations, and The Return of the Mailbag

My September Picks
My September Picks
And some of your recommendations
And some of your recommendations

With the month of September behind us, it’s time for me to look back over my recent reads and pick my favorite titles of the past month. It was a pretty good crop but, of the bunch I did read (and not including the book of the month club selections) the, following were my favorites:

Fast Forward 2, edited by Lou Anders

Long-time visitors to this blog are no doubt familiar with editor Lou Anders through his (all-too) infrequent visits here, and his previous SF collection, Fast Forward: Future Fiction From the Cutting Edge, which was a past book of the month club selection. Well, in Fast Forward 2, Lou has assembled a nice group of stories form the likes of Jack McDevitt, Nancy Kress, and Dr. Who’s Paul Cornell. As is the case with most anthologies, I didn’t like everything. But most of what I did like, I liked a lot. Stand-outs for me included Paolo Bacigalupi’s powerfully dead-on commentary on the challenges of maintaining journalistic integrity in a market increasingly driven by hits and eyeballs (“The Gambler”), Ian McDonald’s delightful tale of a young man in future India who relies on an Hindu A.I. to give him game (“An Eligible Boy“), Mike Resnick and Pat Cadigan’s trippy account of a world in which the borders between dream and reality blur (“Not Quite Alone in the Dream Quarter“), and Jack McDevitt’s amusing and ultimately heartfelt tale of a reluctant A.I. named George.  Special mention should also be made of the book’s cover compliments of our pal John Picacio.

The Shadow Year, by Jeffrey Ford

Jeffrey Ford is another familiar name to blog regulars, particularly those of you who read his superlative collection The Empire of Ice Cream back when it was a fantasy book of the month club selection. Since then, I’ve read a number of his other works and I can honestly say I’ve yet to be disappointed. The Shadow Year follows a young boy, growing up in 1960’s Long Island, through a particularly memorable summer marked by adolescent intrigue, hilarious familial interactions, and the mysterious disappearance of a fellow classmate. Ford is particularly effective in in his ability to spin a tale that perfectly captures the reminiscences of childhood – the sights, smells, and sounds of a bygone time when even the most innocent-looking details seemed to belie dark tidings: a missing neighbor, the new school janitor, Mr. Softee the neighborhood ice cream man. This novel was based on an earlier novella by the same name and, I have to admit that, at the end of the day, as much as I enjoyed this more substantive version, I preferred the original and its ability to walk that fine line between juvenile imaginings and the supernatural without committing to either. A great book nevertheless.

Inversions, by Iain. M. Banks

Hey, speaking of authors who have yet to disappointment, I’m sure most of you are familiar with Iain M. Banks. He is, without a doubt, one of the most imaginative and engaging SF writers out there and his Culture novels rank as some of the very best of the genre. His Consider Phlebas and The Player of Games make my SciFi Top 10. Make it a Top 25 and you can include Use of Weapons as well. Despite appearances, Inversions is another Culture novel that alternates between two seemingly unrelated stories. The first focuses on Vosil, a female physician from a distant land, whose appointment as personal physician to the king of Haspide, is met with suspicion and derision from the rest of the royal court. The story is told from the point of view of Oelph, Vosill’s assistant, who is under secret orders to spy on his mistress. As the novel progresses, despite his increasing suspicions, Oelph falls in love with the good doctor who may well be much more than she appears. The second story focuses on DeWar, bodyguard to General UrLeyn, the Prime Protector of the Tassasen Protectorate, and his endeavor to safeguard the life of an increasingly unpopular ruler. Is there a connection between the two stories? You bet, but you’ll have to pay close attention in order to piece together the clues. What at first seems a departure for Banks turns into a delightfully subtle addition to the Culture canon.

Rendezvous with Rama, by Arthur C. Clarke

There’s not finer example of the Golden Age of SF than this novel by the great Arthur C. Clarke. No raging space battles, predatory aliens, or genetically engineered space marines. This is a story of science and discovery. When a thirty mile long space ship enters our solar system, Earth dispatches a team of explorers to investigate. They gain entrance to the enormous cylindrical vessel and, over the course of their scientific survey, encounter surprises from both within and without their object of study. A masterpiece of Hard SF.

Hey, look at what I picked up the other days. More books! And not just more books. More books that you guys have recommended. I’ve taken your names down and, in the coming months, I’ll either be thanking you or requesting you reimburse me for the cost of my various purchases.

Hey, whatever happened to the mailbag?

Ykickamoocow writes: “Your idea for the season 6 episode “Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow” sounds brilliant to me. Is there any chance of that idea being turned into a Atlantis movie?”

Answer: Highly unlikely. Truth be told, the story was originally pitched as an SG-1 episode. If you’re interested (and nice) I might even post the original color-coded outline for you.

Narelle from Aus writes: “It was strange seeing Christopher Heyerdahl in his original non-Wraithy role. How tall is he?!! “

Answer: Very.

Narelle from Aus also writes: “He has such a great screen presence, especially when he is Todd. And where do they get all of their leather for those coats? Space cows?”

Answer: Let’s just say that no part of the human is wasted.

Jenny R. writes: “I’ve been wondering this for awhile now… do you have a stage 1?”

Answer: We used to, but gave it up once we scaled back to only one production.

Jean writes: “Out of curiosity, I’ve checked out the previews AFTER I’ve watched the episodes, and I have to say that in general the ones from MGM are not terrible, but the ones from SciFi are either downright misleading (Tracker – “One will live, one will die”??!!?)…”

Answer: Yeah, Carl came into my office and showed me the SciFi promo for Tracker. “One will live, one will die!”. Carl threw me a puzzled look: “Who dies?” “Maybe they’re referring to the wraith,”I suggested. Probably, that’s it.

Paul William Tenny writes: “In Beachhead, objects forming the Ori supergate come out of a normal sized stargate making them roughly the size of Puddle Jumpers. A few shots later you see they are perhaps 1.5 times as long as Vala’s cargo ship and definitely wider meaning they’d have never fit through the gate unless those elements were actually made up of even smaller parts, but that was never shown and isn’t consistent visually with what came later.”

Answer: Great question. File it away for now because Brad Wright (coincidentally the writer/producer of Beachhead) has promised to do a guest Q&A on this blog in the very near future…

Jenny Robin writes: “I just posted Part I of my Texas State Fair Food Foray to my blog. Anyone who wishes to view fried fair food in all its glory, feel free to forage there.”

Answer: I share your disappointment in the chicken fried bacon.

Pl writes: “How is the Physics of Superheroes so far? I’ve considered buying it before, but it costs money.”

Answer: Informative and entertaining. And the author is an admitted comic book fan which makes the book all that more enjoyable. Recommended!

Delynn writes: “So are you writing pilots for new shows you are pitching now that SGA’s run is done???”

Answer: I’m banking pilots so that when the time comes, I can go out and pitch some new shows. As things stands, however, we’re in the midst of SGU discussions, so it’s too early to tell how things will play out next year.

Shirt ‘n Tie writes: “I’m curious, I remember this time last year you said that you had a few ideas for pilots if there hadn’t been a SGA Season 5 pick-up, I am assuming they are the 4 pilots you have written…Are they Sci Fi based or drama or what?”

Answer: One scifi, one horror, one drama, and one blue comedy.

AussieSGFan writes: “And another question (though I’n not sure if you’re the right person to ask), about the Wraith. They have a sould right? So if they weren’t so aggressive by nature and all, would it be possible for them to ascend too?”

Answer: Like dogs and other adorable family pets, wraith do have souls. Whether they can ascend is debatable however.

Terry writes: “How did you get the four dogs to sit for that picture?”

Answer: I didn’t. They naturally congregate in the sunny spots.

September 4, 2008: The Lemons Roll In, August’s Top 3 Reads, and The Weird Food Purchase of the Day

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.  But what if life's lemons are plastic?
When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Unless the lemons are made out of plastic.
Venom and Alex, the happy couple
Venom and Alex, the happy couple
Child's play - Whispers
Child's play - Whispers
Me, incognito, on the set of Whispers
Me, incognito, on the set of Whispers
Whispers - monitor shot
Whispers - monitor shot
Whispers - monitor shot
Whispers - monitor shot
Darren Dolinski as Mirellus
Darren Dolinski as Mirellus

Paul walked into my office and held up the lemon so that I could read the message marked on its plastic surface: “SGA!! not SGU!!”. And so it begins.

“It’s part of the fan campaign protesting the cancellation of the show,”I enlightened him.

“Yeah, I figured.” He set the lemon down on my desk. “But why are they sending ME lemons? Why would I cancel a series I was showrunning?”

I shrugged. Thankfully, no lemons for me. Instead, I received an awesome stuffed Venom compliments of Shawna (Thanks, Shawna). And more books!

Speaking of which – with August behind us, it’s again time for me to list my favorite reads of the month. I realized that doing a monthly Top 5 was a little ambitious now that I’m no longer on hiatus, so I’ve scaled back to a monthly Top 3:

The Fantasy Writer’s Assistant and Other Stories, Jeffrey Ford

Much like The Empire of Ice Cream, the former book of the month club selection that introduced me to author Jeffrey Ford, The Fantasy Writer’s Assistant and Other Stories offers up a collection of tales both far-ranging and delightfully inventive. Ford juggles fantasy, science fiction, horror, and variations thereof with skillful aplomb. In “Floating in Lindrethool“, a door-to-door salesman falls in love with one of the jar-bound brains he is selling. “Exo-Skeleton Town” focuses on an alien world obsessed with classic movies, a planet frequented by humans who sport exo-suits in the form of silver screen greats. “Creation” spins elements of Frankenstein and Creationism in a poignant exploration of a young boy’s relationship with his father. A highly imaginative, often humorous collection with a lot of heart.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, Susanna Clarke

This book came highly recommended by the person who gave it to me two years ago and yet it has sat on my bookshelf since, partly because at 1000+ pages (despite the fact that it is broken up into three volumes) it’s an incredibly foreboding read, and partly because of the few people I know who have attempted to read it ultimately gave up on the book. Two volumes and I‘m honestly surprised. This a terrific novel that, while occasionally meandering in its plotting, delivers an endlessly entertaining tale of the awkward Mr. Norrell, England’s first practical magician in recent memory, and his upstart apprentice Jonathan Strange. It reads like a 19th century account complete with faux footnotes in its depiction of 1808 London, the Napoleonic Wars, and its engaging discussion of the history of magic. Endearing in its subtlety and balls-out hilarious.

Sideways in Crime, edited by Lou Anders

Editor Lou Anders assembles a little over a dozen contributions on the theme of alternative history and crime in this interesting mix of stories. As is the case with most anthologies, some of the selections resonate more than others. Stand-outs for me were Mary Rosenblum’s “Sacrifice”, Paul Di Filippo’s “Murder in Geektopia”, and John Counrtenay Grimwood’s “Chicago”. Although I preferred the more wide-open possibilities found in Ander’s Fast Forward anthologies (I was struck by how many of the stories in this collection touched on contemporized Aztec culture, Sherlock Holmes, and French-controlled Louisiana), Sideways in Crime proved an entertaining read in its own right.

With Whispers set to air this Friday night, I thought I’d say a few words about of one of the actors I’ve yet to mention with regard to the episode. Darren Dolinski plays the role of Mirellus, the mysterious local with a secret or two about a certain abandoned village. Darren won the role on the strength of a great audition, but what we didn’t know when we hired him was that this was to be his first time in front of the camera. Needless to say, his transition from stage to screen was flawless as he delivered a terrific performance.

Hey, great news! I’ve successfully shamed director Will Waring into agreeing to come by and do a guest blog for us! I’ll start gathering questions for Will on Saturday as I’m sure you’ll have plenty of Whispers-related-what-the-heck-were-you-thinking questions for him.

Today’s video: The Weird Food Purchase of the Day = Duc Tung! Duc Tung!

July 26, 2008: The Broken Ties Breakdown

Uh, I think somebody dropped something...
Uh, I think somebody dropped something...
Mark Dacascos ready for action!
Mark Dacascos ready for action!
Prepping the wraith
Prepping the wraith
Tyre's sword that Jason absolutely fell in love with and has since been incorporated into Ronon's ass-kicking ensemble.
Tyre's sword that Jason absolutely fell in love with and has since been incorporated into Ronon's ass-kicking ensemble.
Broken Ties - concept art
Broken Ties - concept art

I’d like to thank John Picacio for an entertaining and very informative guest entry. As someone who possesses the drawing and design skills of a six year old, I am in awe of John’s talent. I’ll be ordering myself a copy of Cover Story: The Art of John Picacio (containing over 180 images of John’s award-winning work) and, while I’m at it, I’ll also be ordering up copies for NarellefromAus and Terry who were the winners of the last BOTMC contest. Every month, I select two random winners from the list of those taking part in our book of the month club discussions, so if you’d like a shot at winning books, magazine subscriptions, or signed Stargate scripts and swag, start reading. We have some terrific literary guests lined up on the BOTMC front:

Cordelia’s Honor, Lois McMaster Bujold
Discussion the week of August 11th, with author Lois McMaster Bujold.

The Orphan’s Tales: In the Night Garden, Catherynne M. Valente
Discussion the week of August 18th, with author Catherynne M. Valente.

The Church of Dead Girls, Stephen Dobyns
Discussion the week of August 25th, with author Stephen Dobyns.

It was also great to see former guest-blogger and author Jeffrey Ford drop by the comments section to say hello. While I initially started the Book of the Month Club as a way of introducing fans of scifi television to writers in the fields of SF, fantasy, and horror, it’s actually been a pleasantly enlightening experience for me as well. If not for our little club, I may have never checked out the works of Jeffrey Ford – which would have been a huge loss since I now consider it him one of my top 5 authors writing today. For those of you who missed out on Jeffrey’s visit(s), go here: http://josephmallozzi.com/2008/04/21/april-21-2008-author-jeffrey-ford-drops-by-to-say-hello-and-get-your-opinion-on-a-work-in-progress/ 

Also, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of his superb The Empire of Ice Cream. And for those of you who’ve already read the collection and are looking for your next Ford fix, circle November 4th on your calendars because that’s when his third collection, The Drowned Life, hits bookstores. For an early review, go here: http://www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA6573428.html?industryid=47159

For any of you interested in submitting a question for actor Mark Dacascos (aka Tyre from season four’s Reunion and season 5’s Broken Ties), you have until midnight tomorrow to get them in.

Tanja in the production office asked me to tells fans about a very special auction. Tanja writes: “I have just posted the last of the two North Face Duffle Bags we had autographed during the filming of ‘Continuum’ on ebay. We auctioned the first of the bags in September ’07 and raised almost $1000 for Ryan’s (camera) son’s charity. Ryan’s son, Trey, has a disease called Hunter’s Syndrome. This disease is part of the Mucopolysaccharide (MPS) family and causes damage to the cellular functions of the body resulting in damage to organs and mental development. It also affects the bones, skin, tendons and cartilage resulting in deformation.

I would like to ask you to help me promote this auction and to help me raise money for this charity.

The bag also includes Don Davis’ signature which makes it even more special.

The link to the ebay posting is: http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&ssPageName=STRK:MESELX:IT&item=220261015138 

Well, I guess that’s it for today’s entry. Thanks for stopping by…

No, wait! There was something else I was supposed to mention…What was it…?

Oh, yeah. Broken Ties aired last night and you’re all no doubt wondering “What the hell was he thinking?” Well…

I knew I was going to write this story as far back as last season. From the moment I made the decision to have Tyre escape at the end of Reunion, I knew there had to be re-match. And what better slot than episode #3, one that has played host to Ronon stories in four of the last five seasons. I pitched out the bare bones idea to the room (Tyre captured Ronon and offers him up to the wraith who attempt to turn him) and we spent a morning spinning it. It was Paul who suggested we needed to see Ronon turn which dovetailed nicely with actor Jason Momoa’s off-season request for his character to go darkside. So I sat down and beat out an outline, working with main goals: 1) Ronon had to go darkside and 2) I wanted these former Satedans to have a re-match but this time their role would be reversed and Tyre would be on our side. As I was working on the outline, I mentioned the script to our stunt coordinator Bam Bam and he expressed an interest in choreographing a sword fight, something we had yet to do on the show…

There were a number of elements I wanted to balance in the script. Of course, there was the A story charting Ronon’s capture, torturous treatment at the hands of the wraith, his turn, his rescue, and his equally torturous detox, but I felt it was important to juxtapose the big man’s descent and restoration with Tyre’s ascent and redemption. There was also the matter of Teyla and the difficult decision she faced as a new mother, essentially having to choose between being a stay at home mom or continuing her dangerous job as an off-world explorer. And then there was Woolsey whose by-the-book priggishness belies a warmth, compassion, and vulnerability that I wanted to hint at if not glimpse. In addition to the aforementioned, I wanted to service the other characters by demonstrating their affection for Ronon (John’s resolve in the jail cell, Rodney’s inability to sleep) as well as their determination to get their friend back. In the end, I think it came together pretty well. This was certainly the most character-driven episode I wrote this season and I’m pleased that the character moments were what most of the fans took away from the viewing.

On to specifics:

THE TEASE

EXT. FOREST – DAY: The Ronon/Teyla walk and talk. Ronon is captured.

A slightly different opening in the script:

Ronon and Teyla are carrying baskets laden with fruit and vegetables back to the gate.
TEYLA: …at three weeks, the infant is officially welcomed into the community in a ceremony attended by all Athosians. Then, two months later, we observe the Rite of Parkii in which the child receives the blessings of our ancestors and is gifted with a stone of fortune that will remain with him until he comes of age and is finally ready to forge his own destiny.
Off Ronon’s look –
TEYLA: At six months, a feast is held in the child’s honor commemorating the Athosian spirit as embodied in the warriors of tomorrow. Then, we have another feast three months after that.
RONON: And what’s the occasion there?
TEYLA: The fact that it will be three long months before the next celebration.
Ronon nods. Makes perfect sense.

RONON: Well, sounds like you’re going to have your hands full…

 
The chitchat was cut for time, making this one of our shortest teases. One of the moments that stands out for me is Jason’s delivery of the line “Ah, you’re no fun.” Something about the way he says it tells us so much about the friendship between these two characters.

ACT I

INT. CONFERENCE ROOM – ATLANTIS — DAY: Ronon is missing. The team decide to check in with a former Satedan.

I really liked the character of Solen Sincha when he was introduced way back in the episode Trinity, but I couldn’t think of a way to bring him back – until this episode. I contacted our casting director who made the call to Sean Campbell’s rep, checking on the actor’s availability. The response from Sean’s agent was almost immediate: Sean would love to come back and do the show.

For those of you complaining about Woolsey’s lack of tact in giving Carter her bad news in the middle of the SGC gate room, how about him unwittingly putting Teyla on the spot here by asking her about her decision vis-à-vis her standing with Sheppard’s team. Poor optimistic Shep gets the rugged pulled out from underneath him by Teyla’s uncertain response – which feeds into the confrontation later in the script.

Finally, the conference room doors. How do they open and close? I imagine that they have built in motion detectors and will pretty much open for anyone but, like certain mechanisms, may require a “pause period” before they can activate again. Poor Woolsey. In my producer’s cut, I actually had him wave, then attempt to peek through the slats and offer a plaintive: “Hellooo?” but Carl and Martin thought it was too much. In retrospect, I regret not going with it in the final version.

INT. ABANDONED HOUSE — NIGHT: Ronon and Tyre discuss. 
In the original script, the importance of Sarif Sur, Tyre’s hideout and the place where Ronon once saved his life, is bolstered by flashbacks to that ill-fated Satedan op. Like Reunion, the scripted flashbacks never made it to camera. This scene offered the first opportunity for a flashback after Tyre’s: “I‘m…not well. But I’ve been in worse. You remember Sarif Sur, don’t you?”

Off Ronon –

FLASHBACK TO:
QUICK FLASHES OF:
A) EXT. FOREST — DAY
A wraith dart screams overhead.
B) EXT. FOREST — DAY
Ronon and Tyre on the run.

C) EXT. FOREST — DAY

Wraith warriors charge through the thicket.

 

 

FLASHFORWARD TO:
INT. ABANDONED HOUSE — NIGHT
Back to Ronon.
RONON: We nearly died on that run. 
Also, in the script, the symbolic import of Tyre’s necklace is hit a lot harder. In this scene, Tyre removes the necklace and places it around Ronon’s neck. Later, when the two face off in the wraith facility, Ronon tears it off and tosses it away. In the first draft of the script, it is the necklace, not Tyre’s sword, that Sheppard returns as a remembrance of Ronon’s old friend.
INT. TAVERN — NIGHT: The team pay a visit to Solen Sincha.
A little business off the top that didn’t make the cut:
The tavern-keeper points Sheppard, McKay, and Teyla in the direction of -Solen Sincha, rough-and-tumble Satedan, sits alone at a table, eyes closed, seemingly asleep. A low-life at the next table quietly reaches out and grabs the bottle sitting in front of Solen.
Suddenly, Solen’s blaster is out and aimed at the low-life who freezes – and carefully sets the bottle back down on the table before slinking away. Solen holsters his blaster and shuts his eyes.
Sheppard, McKay and Teyla approach.
Besides laying the groundwork for the tip-off Lorne receives later in the script, the purpose of this scene is to set up the Satedan hatred of wraith worshipers, a hatred that echoes Ronon’s feelings upon learning the truth about his former friends in Reunion. Solen spells it out: Tyre had a choice. He chose to be weak. And that’s what Ronon assumes. But the twist, he soon learns, is that the weak-willed are less likely to become wraith worshipers. Instead, it is the strong who succumb because they are, physically and mentally, in a better position to survive the process.
INT. ABANDONED HOUSE — NIGHT: Tyre sells Ronon out.
 
Mark Dacascos does a terrific job in this episode but this scene stood out for me in particular. What Tyre has done (and is about to do) is reprehensible and yet one can’t help but feel some sympathy for the guy. He’s no longer thinking straight, a junkie in need of a fix and willing to do anything to get it. Despite his predicament, Ronon clearly feels for his old friend and offers him help – but Tyre has already made other plans…

Note: In this scene, eagle-eyed observers will not that Ronon now sports Tyre’s pendant.

ACT II

INT. ABANDONED HOUSE — NIGHT: The wraith arrive.

In an effort to vary our wraith looks, we hired a few new actors to portray the Pegasus baddies. Tyler McClendon, who plays the wraith in this episode, offers a distinct interpretation of the wraith commander. One of the things we like about Chris Heyerdahl who plays Todd is his ability to infuse the character with a unique personality – and Tyler does a nice job of it here.

INT. WOOLSEY’S OFFICE — NIGHT: Teyla pays Woolsey a visit.

Given that Woolsey kicked off his command of Atlantis by potentially alienating Teyla through his brusque attitude toward Kanaan in The Seed, I felt it was important to see a little understanding between these two characters. Woolsey is, of course, socially awkward and yet despite this he is both sympathetic to and understanding of Teyla’s situation. I love Teyla’s reaction to Woolsey’s “I never got a chance to say goodbye.”, a line that was improvised by Bob on the day that I thought was just brilliant. Can you get any sadder than that?

INT. ABANDONED HOUSE — NIGHT: The process begins.

Ronon defies the wraith. Like Marik and Hemi before him, he will die before he submits. But the wraith is aware of Ronon’s strength and informs him “No. You won’t.” What seems like a throwaway line is actually a hint to what lies in store for our hero.

INT. CAFETERIA — DAY: Sheppard and McKay are tipped off.

I’ve often found that I come up with my best ideas when I’m not forcing the issue. I’ll hit a roadblock in a script and spend days trying to solve it and then, suddenly, the answer will come to me when I’m shaving or out to dinner or driving to work. So I thought it would be fun to have McKay adopt this strategy, modeled after the success of Archimedes’ bathtub revelation. In the first draft, at Rodney’s mention of the ancient Greek mathematician, Sheppard says: “You mean that Greek geologist who used to have a crush on Teyla?” But the other writers bumped on geologist for some reason, so I changed the line to “You mean that Greek microbiologist who used to have a crush on Teyla?” Yes, infinitely funnier. For some reason, on the day, Joe changed the line to “You mean the Greek dude who used to have a crush on Teyla?”.

Also, this little exchange didn’t survive the first draft either:

SHEPPARD: Okay, but I’m not getting in a bath with you.
MCKAY: I’m both relieved and slightly disappointed. Now, let’s review.      

Too bad. I thought it was kind of funny and played to McKay’s ego. Sorry, McSheppers.

Finally, their going over the information actually paid off in the first draft:

SHEPPARD: Narrow it down to the uninhabited planets Tyre would be familiar with.
MCKAY: How would I know what uninhabited planets he could be familiar with?
SHEPPARD: I can think of one. A planet with a connection to both him and Ronon.
McKay realizes –
MCKAY: They’re on Sateda! 
And that’s where they find an unconscious Tyre. But Paul objected to this bit of detective work, arguing Sateda would have probably been the first place they’d checked. So, instead, we pay off the visit to Solen by having him tip us off that they’re on Sarif Sur.

INT. ABANDONED HOUSE — DAY: The wraith take Ronon.

In the first draft, a flashback segued into this scene…

EXT. FOREST — DAYFOLLOWING a battered and bloodied Ronon as he stumbles through the brush then, at the sound of an O.S. wraith dart, seeks cover. The O.S. dart passes and Ronon continues, breaking through the foliage and hunkering down beside –
A badly injured Tyre.
RONON: Okay. I’ve cleared us a path. We’re going to make a run for the gate.
He goes to grab Tyre who winces in pain.
TYRE: No. I can barely move. You’ll have a better chance without me.
RONON: I’m not abandoning you.
TYRE: Listen to me. Get to the gate. Go back to Sateda and get reinforcements. You can come back for me.

Ronon pulls Tyre up to this feet.

 

 

RONON: No. We’re getting out of here together.
TYRE: We’ll never make it. Leave me. Go! (beat) Ronon. Go.
FLASHFORWARD TO:
INT. ABANDONED HOUSE — DAY
Ronon, barely conscious, bound to the chair. We hear –
TYRE: Ronon. Let go.
REVEAL Tyre hunkered down beside him, appealing –
TYRE: Let go! 

 
I think that Jason gives his strongest performance to date in this episode, a performance comprised of both big and small choices. A moment that always amazes me whenever I watch it is tremulous “You’re not the guy I risked my life for back then. You’re a traitor to the memory of our people. You have no honor.” It’s fraught with emotion and demonstrates incredible maturity on Jason’s part, allowing his tough guy character to show vulnerability in the face of a shattering betrayal.

 

INT. GATE ROOM — DAY: Sheppard and co. head through the gate.
 
I love this exchange:
SHEPPARD: We’ll get him back.
WOOLSEY: See that you do, Colonel.    

It’s the first time I really feel that Woolsey is onside and one with the team rather than apart from Sheppard and co. He is just as determined to get Ronon back as his fellow teammates.

EXT. VILLAGE — NIGHT: Sheppard and co. discover Tyre.

This scene was initially scripted to be shot all interiors, but director Ken Girotti felt the wormhole transition wasn’t enough. He wanted to start with an exterior shot. So James Robbins and co. did a brilliant job of redressing a section of the village set for the scene and it worked beautifully.

ACT III

INT. INFIRMARY — DAY: Tyre starts to go through withdrawal.

Fairly straightforward. Mark does a terrific job showing just how far Tyre has fallen – and foreshadowing Ronon’s equally difficult return.

INT. CORRIDOR – ATLANTIS — DAY: John and Teyla have it out. 

Whew! In the first draft, Sheppard was not quite so restrained:

Sheppard: You’re the one having second thoughts about rejoining the team. What the hell am I supposed to do? Give you the option every time we’re going off-world? I can’t do that. If I’m heading into action, I need to know that every member of my team is committed to being on the team – today, tomorrow, a year from now.Beat. Teyla nods, reprimanded – which causes Sheppard to feel bad.

SHEPPARD: (sighs) Look, I’m sorry –      

Robert felt that Sheppard was coming off as little too insensitive, so I softened him a bit in the next draft. Still, the conversation remained more or less as initially scripted and there were a few takes in which Sheppard did come across a lot harsher.

INT. ND WRAITH CHAMBER — DAY: Ronon in the clutches of the wraith.
 
In the first draft of the script, I described Ronon bound to a chair. But our production designer James Robbins pointed out that beside the occasional wraith bench, we had yet to see any chairs in a wraith facility. We tossed around the idea of Ronon being tied to a bench (which didn’t really work), then considered having his wrists bound behind his back by wraith tendrils in a more painful-looking scenario but, in the end, decided to go with what you saw – Ronon up against the wall, bound by wraith tendrils.

INT. OBSERVATION DECK — DAY/MONTAGE: Tyre recovers/Ronon is turned.

This episode has a record three montage sequences and this is the first, juxtaposing the pain and terror both men face as they go in different directions. Pretty much as scripted, but kudos to editor Brad Rhines for building such a memorably visual sequence with the various cross-dissolves, ending with Tyre staring up at the ghostly wraith image that fades as the montage ends.

INT. TEYLA’S QUARTERS — NIGHT: Teyla confides in Kanaan. 
  
Contrary to the expectations of certain fans, we killed off neither Kanaan nor Teyla’s baby. We made a conscious decision to give Teyla a happy ending of sorts, allowing her to be a mother and head off-world, safe in the knowledge that her son is in good hands.

INT. CORRIDOR – ATLANTIS — NIGHT: A recovered Tyre offers to help.

In the first draft, Tyre informs Sheppard that he knows where Ronon is being held. End scene. The other writers felt that the scene would play better if Sheppard actually considered Tyre’s offer. And so, rather than simply offer the information, Tyre makes a desperate pitch to join the rescue mission, demonstrating his desire to make amends.

INT. ND WRAITH CHAMBER — DAY: Ronon has turned.

At the end of last season, Jason asked us permission to lose the dreads. Weighing in at approximately six pounds, they were becoming incredibly uncomfortable for him. Jason’s health trumped any creative issues and we agreed he could cut his hair provided we could maintain continuity at the start of season 5. So, Jason lost the dreads and had them reattached for Search and Rescue. But they proved just as uncomfortable and so, after S&R, I wrote a dark scene in which Ronon shaves his head in a symbolic change of allegiance. In the end, the network wanted to keep the dreads so we compromised. Jason lost the dreads but his character kept them in the form of a wig. And Ronon didn’t end up shaving his head after all. Because the episode was timing long, we ended up having to cut deeply into this scene. But this was the way it was originally scripted:

INT. ND WRAITH CHAMBER — DAYCLOSE ON the wraith and FOLLOWING him as he paces, hands behind his back.

WRAITH: Many have resisted our advancement, sought to curb our progress. All have failed. Whole civilizations destroyed.
The wraith stops and glances down. PAN DOWN to reveal he is standing amidst some fallen dreadlocks. He steps on them and continues his pacing –
WRAITH: Like those you refer to as the Ancients – formidable opponents possessed of superior technology and yet, no match for my kind. They too succumbed – to superior numbers, relentless pursuit –
He stops beside a focused Ronon who is in the process of shaving off what remains of his hair with a knife.
WRAITH: And a willingness to take whatever means necessary to ensure victory.(beat)No retreat in the face of battle. No sympathy for the fallen.
Ronon is finished cutting his hair. He examines himself in the mirror.

WRAITH: No mercy to our enemies.

 

 

Ronon turns to face the wraith, then drops to one knee and bows his head, raising the knife as an offering.
RONON: No retreat in the face of battle. No sympathy for the fallen. No mercy to your enemies.
The wraith takes the knife in one hand and examines it.
WRAITH: OUR enemies. Atlantis.
The wraith lowers the knife with one hand, then brings his other hand out from behind his back. It is holding Ronon’s sword. He lays the sword back in Ronon’s hands and
Ronon rises.
The wraith turns from him and gives a little smile.
WRAITH: No mercy.
And leaves him.

OFF a fiercely determined Ronon… 

 

INT. ATLANTIS CORRIDOR — DAY: John pitches Tyre’s involvement to Woolsey.

To be honest, this was one of the most frustrating scenes in the episode simply because it seemed so surreal to have the two of them talking in a deserted corridor. Where the hell is everybody? We tried to fix the problem in post by adding a bit of crowd noise in the background but it still felt a little weird.

A glimpse into Sheppard’s psyche here as he makes subtle allusion to his past, specifically his willingness to put all on the line to save a friend in combat.

Rachel bumped on the idea of Teyla handing her baby off to Woolsey so that she can head off-world, so I added Teyla‘s “I was about to meet Kanaan in the cafeteria. If you could explain the situation to him…” Loved Bob’s panicked reaction to the crying baby. Again, it’s the little moments…

INT. WRAITH FACILITY — DAY: The team is captured.

Jason was very involved with this episode at the script stage which I thought was great. He came up to my office and asked me if Ronon could punch Sheppard. Hell, yeah! Given Jason’s penchant for improvisation (ie. The slap he delivers to Rakai in Reunion was unscripted and came as a total surprise to actor Aleks Paunovic), I thought this would have been a perfect opportunity to surprise Joe Flanigan. But ultimately decided against it.

INT. WRAITH CELL — DAY: The team members cool their heels.
Some McKay dialogue lost after the first draft:
MCKAY: Sure. All we have to do is escape from this cell, get past all of the armed wraith guarding this facility, make it back to the jumper which is probably being disassembled as we speak and, oh yeah, rescue Ronon who, I’m not sure if you happened to notice, is playing for the bad guys now and, by the way, when I say bad guys I’m not referring to the Oakland Raiders.  
 
Yeah, I’m a Raiders fan.

INT. ND WRAITH CHAMBER — DAY: Ronon and Tyre make a pitch to keep the team alive.

A bit of Tyre’s dialogue trimmed in editing room –

TYRE: Teyla is well-respected on many worlds. McKay’s knowledge of Ancient technology is unmatched. And Sheppard’s military background makes him the ideal candidate to lead a future attack on Atlantis – if that’s what you’re planning. (beat) They’re much more useful to you alive – and cooperative.

INT. WRAITH CELL — DAY: McKay plots.

In the first draft, his plan was a little more detailed…

MCKAY: Alright. I’ve got it. What we do is we tell them we have some vital information we’d be willing to give up, but we’ll only share it with Ronon. So they send Ronon and when he shows up, we appeal to him – you know, that part of him that’s still him.SHEPPARD: Okay, so far I can think of three things wrong with that plan. But go on.

MCKAY: He hasn’t been brainwashed as long as Tyre so it makes sense that he might be more susceptible to our influence. We convince him to let us out and lead us out of here or, let’s say worst case scenario, he’s not entirely convinced –
SHEPPARD: That’s your worst case scenario?
MCKAY: So you take advantage of his moment of uncertainty and take him out.
SHEPPARD: Take him out. 

MCKAY: Knock him unconscious. You know, give him one of these to the back of the head -Mimes a karate chop –
 
 

 

MCKAY: Mannix used to do it all the time. You knock him out and then we fight our way out. No, that’s not going to work. We need our weapons. We convince him to let us out, bring us our weapons, and THEN you knock him out –
SHEPPARD: Should I be writing any of this down?
Suddenly, all eyes on the door as –
Tyre walks in, backed by two wraith drones.
TYRE: Sheppard, you’ve been summoned.
MCKAY: Do you want to go over the plan one more time?

SHEPPARD: I think I’m good, thanks. 

Strangely, the other writers objected to the use of Mannix, arguing no one would know who the hell I was referring to. So I replaced a 60’s detective with a one from the early 80’s and changed the dialogue accordingly:
 
SHEPPARD: Take him out?MCKAY: Knock him unconscious. You know, give him one of these to the back of the head –

 

Mimes a karate chop –
MCKAY: Barnaby Jones used to do it all the time.
SHEPPARD: Barnaby Jones was like ninety years old. He could barely lift his arms –
MCKAY: (carrying on -)You knock him out and then we fight our way out. No, that’s not going to work. We need our weapons. We convince him to let us out, bring us our weapons, and THEN you knock him out –

Alas, it was all for naught as Barnaby failed to make the final cut.
 
 

 

INT. CORRIDOR – WRAITH FACILITY — DAY: Tyre suggests a quick detour.

This scene was in case any fan (or network exec) wondered when the hell Sheppard could have picked up his guns.

INT. ND WRAITH CHAMBER — DAY: The wraith about to feed on Sheppard.

Sheppard: “Hey, you know what’d be creepy and unexpected? If you knelt instead.” Truer words were never spoken.

Sheppard: “Okay, I’ll try and make it work.” Entertainment industry in-joke alert. Ask an actor.

ACT V
INT. ND WRAITH CHAMBER — DAY: All hell breaks loose!    

Yes, it’s Tyre that cuts off the wraith’s feeding hand. It was even more confusing in the director’s cut because we go from Ronon straight to the hand being cut off. Normally, I would just call for a pick-up – get the actor (in this case Mark) in to get a simple shot of him drawing his sword so that we could tie it into the sequence. Unfortunately, Mark was on a tight schedule and unavailable – and, unfortunately, we didn’t get the shot. So we ended up doing a pick-up with a double drawing the sword. Still confusing I see.

My description of Sheppard in this sequence:

Sheppard draws the two guns hidden behind his back and comes up shooting, catching the startled wraith in the mid-section and dropping him, then smoothly turning and expertly dispatching the wraith guards in the room.Then, he advances to the first entrance and fires at the startled wraith hurrying down the corridor toward them, dispatching them John Woo-style.
 
Love the shoot-out.

INT. ANOTHER WRAITH CELL — DAY: McKay and Teyla rescue Lorne’s team.

This quick scene was scripted as follows:

McKay and Teyla rush into the room.LORNE: Teyla! McKay! Where’s Colonel Sheppard?

They are freed, their weapons returned.
MCKAY: Waiting for us. Let’s go.
They follow McKay out.
 

But in order to clarify what happened, I ended up writing alternate dialogue that was ADR’d later. Something along the lines of – 
 
 

 

LORNE: How’d you get out?

MCKAY: Tyre freed us. Let’s go.

INT. ND WRAITH CHAMBER — DAY: The team is surrounded/Tyre’s sacrifice.
Tyre makes the ultimate sacrifice and redeems himself in the end. When he hands off his sword to Sheppard, he’s as good as telling him that he won’t be joining them.

I ended up ADR’ing Sheppard’s “We’re clear!” to indicate the team is well on their way.

Someone (won’t say who) suggested we ADR the wraith screaming “NOOOOOOO!“ over Tyre hitting the remote and the subsequent explosion. Shades of Jim Rome.

INT. OBSERVATION DECK — DAY: Ronon recovers.
Love the scene were Sheppard goes down to isolation room to confront his friend.

Love Jason’s “You kill me or set me free! Sheppard!”

Love Teyla and McKay’s pained expressions from the observation deck as they watch their friend’s struggle.

Jason is incredible in the ensuing shots as he fights the effects of the enzyme.

The second montage sequence of the episode.

INT. ISOLATION ROOM — DAY: Ronon is back.

A little call-back to early, early Rodney McKay. Remember back in SG-1’s Redemption II when he admits to Carter that he always wanted to be pianist…?

INT. CONFERENCE ROOM — NIGHT: The wrap-up.

Fairly straightforward. Another nice little touch added by Bob Picardo is his uncertain look at the conference room doors.

INT. WOOLSEY’S QUARTERS — NIGHT

This gag in which we find Woolsey back in his quarters, having slipped into something “more comfortable” was one of the first ideas Bob pitched out after signing on. I thought it was hilarious and worked it into the script. Every time we watched this particular scene in the room, Paul would matter-of-factly inform us: “Our base commander is insane.”

THE FINAL MONTAGE: Teyla’s family/Bathtub McKay/Sheppard and Ronon.
The third and final montage sequence of the episode. I gave Joel Goldsmith the choice of either finding an appropriate classical piece for this sequence or scoring it himself. To no one’s surprise, he composed a beautiful piece to compliment the montage.