John Taloni's Blog

March 10, 2019

We've...got...kitties! Asgardian kitties!

One of my stories got picked up by the Furry themed zine Zooscape, featuring stories with anthropomorphic animals, including mine: Cat of Thunder.

Mirru just wanted to feed her kits. She faces a deciding moment when the people who fed her one hungry evening are knocked out in battle. In the distance a mystic hammer twinkles...

About 3K words of Asgardian-themed fun! Thor, Heimdallr and the Aesir face fire giants in what was supposed to be a routine battle. And where Asgardian cats go, could Freya be far behind?

Find it on the Zooscape Zine:
https://zooscape-zine.com/issue-2/
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Published on March 10, 2019 22:41 Tags: aesir, asgard, cats, freya, furry, heimdall, heimdallr, mjolnir, odin, thor

June 10, 2018

Star Wars: Solo: A Muddled Mess With A Bright, Shining Moment

(Expect full movie spoilers below)

There’s plenty to say about the new Star Wars movie, Solo. It’s been out now for three weeks and is acknowledged to be a bust at the box office. Some love it, but a lot more people either hate it or just didn’t care enough to see it. Why is that? Well, several reasons.

The movie is a muddled mess. Murky beginnings, endless callbacks to other movies. The reason given for Han’s last name to be “Solo” comes off lame. And that’s before the film doubles down on the “Kessel Run” being done in “twelve parsecs” when a parsec is a measure of distance. Lucas made a jargon error in his first film and Star Wars has spent 40 years trying to justify it.

The Lando Calrissian of Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi is a smart, organized smuggler turned almost-legit businessman. In Solo he is inexplicably a barely-capable con man, grifting to convince others he’s more than he is, cheating at cards and lying about how free the Millennium Falcon is, since it is clearly impounded.

Han and Chewbacca are similarly given origins that don’t quite jibe with their later (earlier?) selves in the original Star Wars trilogy. The whole thing is wrapped around a caper that leaps from one implausible moment to the next. The supporting characters were two dimensional at best, including the not-quite-heart-of-gold former girlfriend who lets Han go at the end. She’s power hungry, self-interested and not interested in redemption? Yeah, we got that early on.
There’s good points as well, though.

Han and Chewbacca’s meeting is a callback to Luke fighting the Rancor monster in Return of the Jedi, but done with much more humor. Han’s ability to (barely) speak Chewbacca’s language made for amusing moments. The “con within a con” at the end made for interesting reveals.

The best “character” of the movie, though, had to be the Millennium Falcon itself. Plenty of callbacks here as well, including the hiding location Luke and the gang used in A New Hope, and the chess-type Dejarik game that led to the famous line “Let the Wookiee Win.” Watching the Falcon handle multiple tough situations added to the excitement of the movie. Even the tiresome justification of the “Kessel Run.”

There is one bright, shining moment to the film, and it’s a callback as well. In the original Star Wars Greedo confronts Han, and it is clear that Greedo can’t be trusted. Han understands the danger and nonchalantly pulls out his blaster and shoots Greedo. In the remixes, Han is a “good guy” so he doesn’t shoot first. Fans went crazy over this retcon, understandably so.

In Solo, Han’s mentor and partner in crime Beckett (Woody Harrelson) prepares to attack Han at the end. Beckett undoes his blaster strap with the clear intention of shooting while attempting to distract Han and Chewie. So what does Han do? He shoots. He shoots first, because there was a clear danger. Yes. Yes! Han’s heart may be good, but he’s a realist as well.

Han is the only character in the movie with an actual arc. It’s a bit weak and a little too subtle, but we do see where Han went from naïve street kid trying to help his own, to jaded smuggler still trying to help his own, but with a less inclusive definition of who his “own” actually are.

As for the financial side, Solo is not quite the failure it’s made out to be. By its third week of release Solo has pulled in $175 million in domestic box office. International trails, but not by much at $135 million. With the long tail of summer rewatches, the movie should limp to a domestic box office of $250 million, about equal to its production budget.

That usually means the film is a financial success, but with international trailing, the figures become a little more difficult. Then there’s consumer products, where Star Wars usually excels. With a downer of a movie the ancillary sales will be less. Every piece of the pie becomes smaller. Still, Solo should eventually earn a profit. Just a lot smaller profit than expected.

Ron Howard was brought in as director on a film that had significant early problems. His goal, so the scuttlebutt went, was to keep Solo from being so bad that it took down the rest of the Star Wars franchise with it. In that Howard has succeeded. Solo isn’t great, but it isn’t all that bad either. It’s not really worth a rewatch, but doesn’t leave a deep bad taste. Solo is, rather, just a modest disappointment. Its high points made it worth the price of (one) admission.
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Published on June 10, 2018 15:09 Tags: chewbacca, han-solo, lando-calrissian, millennium-falcon, solo, star-wars

October 31, 2017

Star Trek: Discovery or Derivative?

The new Star Trek show is fairly well done. The graphics are great. So far, the storytelling is at least decent. It looks like they’ve thrown canon out the window, especially with the Klingons, but I’ll take it as an alternate universe like what DC does with Earth 1/Earth 2 etc. or Marvel does with its various numbered universes.

And yet, while watching it, I can’t shake the feeling that I've seen it before. There seem to be many lifts from science fiction both recent and classic.

First, the look of the Klingons. The Klingon Captain, L'Rell, has a head that seems straight out of an H.R. Giger picture. Perhaps the Alien got away from Ripley, landed on Kronos and shared DNA with the locals?

And then the transport system. The idea of a galactic web allowing hyperspeed transport has been seen recently in John Scalzi’s The Collapsing Empire. Both are unreliable methods that don’t always work as desired. But, Scalzi can’t really complain as that system is derivative of the one used in the “Merlin” shorts by Alastair Reynolds.

As for beings living in hyperspace, that was mentioned in the last Ringworld related book, Niven and Lerner’s Fate of Worlds, based on an earlier story by Niven, Borderland of Sol.
As for “mycelial,” and “mycelium,” the terms used to describe the hyperspatial web, those are unusual enough to be noteworthy. Where have I seen them before? Oh yes, it’s all over Neal Asher’s “Polity” books.

If CBS is going to mine the works of science fiction authors, why not give them a slice? I’m sure these authors would enjoy some of the scriptwriting cash for an episode or two, or to consult as Scalzi did on Stargate. There’s plenty of precedent, with the original series hiring SF writers regularly. Come on CBS, since you’re using their ideas already, give the book writers a piece!
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October 22, 2017

Two sentence horror story

Goodreads has been asking for a two sentence horror story. Here's mine.

"I'm low on oxygen, let me in the airlock," radioed Dmitry from the outside of the spaceship. I looked to my side and saw Dmitry in the co-pilot's seat.
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Published on October 22, 2017 06:21

September 16, 2017

Love your library!

Have you been to your library recently? Me, not so much as I used to. And that’s fine. Libraries have grown and changed to fit the Internet era. I tend to “visit” my local libraries through their web pages to get ebooks at least once a week.

We’re long past the days of the library as primary repository of information. Yes, there are still specialist journals most easily found there. But, the days of Ray Bradbury writing in a library as the only place where he could look up information and then rent a typewriter to (literally) bang out a story on a manual typewriter are well in the past.

Large amounts of casual knowledge are easily found with the search engine of your choice. Wikipedia’s accuracy rivals the Encyclopedia Britannica, a testament to the powers of crowdsourcing. In a sense, libraries are much less needed.

And yet, they endure. One service they offer amounts to free ebooks. With a library card you can borrow books from Overdrive or one of its competitors. It’s as easy as buying from Amazon, for the best price around: Zero. You might have to wait a few weeks for a popular book, but largely libraries will stock multiple copies of best sellers.

If you feel bad borrowing books for free, don’t. Library sales make up about ten percent of net books sales.

More information on that here:
http://www.rachellegardner.com/are-li...
And lots of stats on the subject here:
http://www.ala.org/tools/libfactsheet...

Ask an author if they’d want to keep that ten percent of their sales and you’ll get a solid “yes” from every one! And if it bothers you to get books for nothing, there are plenty of ways to thank the author. Rate their book on Amazon or Goodreads, or take five minutes to write a short review. Both help further sales.

Of course, you can always go in. I do from time to time. My local library (Fullerton CA) has an impressive collection of comic book trades. Their selection of science fiction books is fair to middling. But while I’m there, I notice that they handle passports. So, when my family went on a trip outside the US recently, we renewed our passports there. It took a while, so we ate at the surprisingly good café. I’ve been back there a few times, reading a physical book and having a snack.

When electricity went out in my house a while back while I was working from home, I went to the library and used their location and electricity. They have specialist databases that I haven’t needed, but are there for the asking if I want. The reference librarian has helped with some arcane questions.

I tend to think of the library partly because of the ebooks. I read all of Discworld and the Dresden Files from their Overdrive collection. As a resident of California I can get a card to the City of Los Angeles library and its impressive SF collection. If a library initiative comes up I know I’ll support it.

Libraries use fiction books as the leading edge of the wedge to bring in customers. They have many other services that are there whenever you need them. So borrow a book with a clear conscience, and thank a librarian. They've got some great stuff for you.
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Published on September 16, 2017 21:59 Tags: ebooks, libraries, library, ray-bradbury

August 13, 2017

Ruptures in the Tea-Space Continuum!

I had fun mocking the Tea service on a cruise. Originally posted to a Gail Carriger Steampunk group so there are Parasol Protectorate references along with Dr. Who. Judge for yourself...

#

I am afraid I must report a Tea disaster of, well, Tea-tanic proportions! I just returned from a week long cruise. On the second day they offered a Tea at 3PM. "How wonderful!" I thought. The dining area was decorated elegantly and I had high hopes.

Well, the Scones were okay. In their defense the clotted cream was pretty good. I can understand that a cruise ship might be limited in its selection and did not particularly mind that the rest of the pastry / dessert selection was straight off the dinner menu, nor that the "savory" portion was represented by smoked salmon masquerading as Lox, from the breakfast selection.

No, the horrific part was the tea itself. First, a steward came by asking us to select our bag. The choices were Lipton or a green tea. But, for an extra $1.95, we could have a better tea bag! Well, I went ahead and chose a decent black tea, expecting that at least I would get a personal pot of tea brewed at the correct temperature. But no! The waiter then poured tepid water into our cups. We were expected to dunk our bags. I would say "as if we were in a diner" but even Denny's would do better!

Anyone who knows the least bit about tea is aware that black tea must be brewed at the boiling point of water. Green teas are a little more forgiving on the temperature. None of them are brewed correctly by dunking into a cup. So there we were, making weak tea-flavored warm water, at our supposedly elegant Tea.

The event made me flash back on a Tea held by a Doctor Who group (in Orange County, CA, near Los Angeles) a year or two back. They got everything right, down to the mini sandwiches, and provided multiple kinds of tea, all brewed at the correct temperature.

I am tempted to ask for the Doctor to show up in his (her?) TARDIS and whisk me away to a Tea with Lord Akeldama. Preferably with Alexia in attendance as well. Yes, I know the Doctor is out saving the Universe somewhere, or defending the timeline from extra-temporal incursions, but this is *tea* we are talking about.

If pressed by Lord Akeldama or Lady Alexia, I would say that in the future they seem to still be serving the Queen, albeit undercover. Certain signs are allowed, as for instance Ivy's hats can be seen at every horse racing event and Polo match. And as for the ceremony of Tea, I would propose to simply enjoy it with them, never letting on that the American maritime tradition has now descended to dunking teabags in warm water.
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Published on August 13, 2017 19:35 Tags: doctor-who, dr-who, gail-carriger, parasol-protectorate, steampunk, tea, teapunk

May 7, 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy: Endless Character Retcons

This weekend I saw Guardians of the Galaxy. Pretty good movie, nice use of Ego the Living Planet. I can understand changing Ego’s backstory to accommodate the film.

What I can’t understand is the many pointless retcons done here and in the previous movie. Unlike most of the moviegoing populace, I’ve been a fan of Marvel comics for decades, and the retcons are jarring. Warlock is one of my favorites. He was created by scientists on Earth, freed by the Fantastic Four, and eventually went on an adventure spanning galaxies with Thanos, first as friend and then as foe. Warlock is colored golden, his alter ego Magus silver. Part of my fun for Guardians of the Galaxy 2 was seeing how they would work Warlock in to the end-credits, a scene announced months ago.

Looking at the film’s villains, I slowly realized that the creators of this film had decided to make an entirely new race, just so Warlock could be gold. They couldn’t just say he preferred the look? Was colored gold in the vat that he was grown in? An after effect of his first cocoon, even? Nope, Warlock’s origin has been completely retconned, for no particular reason.

Warlock may be the first, but certainly not the only one. Drax was originally created with the sole purpose of killing Thanos. His life force was taken from a man whose family had been killed by Thanos, so his motivation is clear. And hey, we’ve GOT Thanos in Guardians of the Galaxy, why change? For no good reason Drax is now an alien, from some kind of warrior race.

Likewise Mantis seems to be alien, although the original character was human. Nebula? No longer a granddaughter but a daughter. Perhaps adopted as there is no family resemblance. That’s more likely since Gamora is supposed to be her sister. And as for Gamora, well, we are far from the storyline where she is from an alternate timeline brought forward to slay the Magus.

Why all these retcons? The original storylines worked just fine. There’s no need to change for change’s sake. Helloooooo, Hollywood? We don’t mind change when it’s for the good of the story, but maybe don’t change something that’s working.
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Published on May 07, 2017 22:53 Tags: comics, guardians-of-the-galaxy, marvel, warlock

January 8, 2017

Carrie Fisher, feminist role model

From an ensemble cast part in what was expected to be a modestly successful science fiction movie, the first Star Wars, Leia Organa has become a role model. Her take-charge ways were an inspiration.

How much of this is from the writing, by Lucas and others, and how much Carrie Fisher herself? For the first movie, arguably a large portion of it is from the role as envisioned by Lucas. Yet even from the beginning Fisher’s influence was felt.

As a member of Hollywood royalty, the daughter of Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, Carrie was no stranger to Hollywood politics. She chose to act in a way that endeared her to her fellow actors. Early on in the filming of Star Wars all three were booked on a flight to London, coach class. Her mother pitched a fit and was chewing out Lucas, saying Carrie had to fly first class. Carrie took the phone and promptly told her mother to stop it. The message was clear: We are all in this together. No one is better than anyone else. A message spread by Leia as well as Carrie Fisher.

Carrie’s take-charge attitude certainly showed in her portrayal of Leia in the first Star Wars movie, as she bust the team out of the prison block. Later, she kept to the terms of a deal by paying off Han Solo, even though the Rebellion had many other uses for that money.

In Empire, Leia risks immediate death to warn Luke, and is instrumental in turning around the Millennium Falcon to rescue him.

And beyond that? Leia risks her life to rescue her love. She goes into Jabba’s lair expecting to be captured, part of the greater plan to free Han. She deals with the ignominies heaped upon her by Jabba with dignity, eventually strangling him with the very chains he used to imprison her. Leia is captured, not defeated. Her head is high even in captivity.

And what of the romance? Though a princess, Leia has no compunction loving a smuggler and self-admitted scoundrel. No one tells Leia who to love, she makes her choices for herself.

Carrie Fisher filled the role of Leia Organa and made it larger than life. Her influence will be felt for a long time to come.
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Published on January 08, 2017 20:26 Tags: carrie-fisher, leia, leia-organa, princess-leia, star-wars

September 17, 2016

Ray Bradbury's Eternal Optimism

Ray Bradbury’s enormous optimism defined his interaction with his fans and colleagues. No matter the situation, he found something positive to say.

In 1999 I was privileged to hear him give a speech at a fundraiser held at the Anaheim library. He sold his latest works and some classics beforehand, and chatted amiably with fans. Then he spoke for over an hour. The speech included a phrase I have never been able to forget: “The immortal history of mankind is written in space.”

Not just “the history,” because we have had plenty of that. But rather, “the immortal history.” Anything of our race that survives in the very long term will of necessity occur off Earth. In 800 million years a variation in the sun’s output will boil the Earth’s oceans, unless we take action. In 5 billion years the sun will become a red giant, engulfing Earth and humanity, unless we find a way to move the planet or ourselves.

And how to express this optimism? Simply put, Bradbury assisted wherever he could. This most literary of SF authors cheerfully wrote a foreword for a Perry Rhodan novel when Forrest J Ackerman asked. The author most associated with beautiful prose created piece for the pulpiest of pulp SF, just for the cause of promoting space travel.

Nor was this the first time. Bradbury spoke glowingly of discussions with Ray Harryhausen on his dinosaur movies. Harryhausen was hardly a literary sort, but his movies kept the dream alive, as Bradbury recounted. Same for Disney and the animatronic Lincoln, which Bradbury loved.
The SF community is rife with artificial divisions. Hugo traditionalists versus sad or rabid puppies, yet all sides love SF. Nerd shaming occurs among comics and media fans, as if it matters how long you’ve been a fan or how much you know about a character. If you say you’re a fan, you’re a fan.

Heinlein, a former military man, was a supporter of free thinker Philip K. Dick and also the author most identified with the hippy movement, Spider Robinson. Harlan Ellison denigrated Forrest J Ackerman and others, for reason which still escape me. Unlike Harlan, I don’t care if it’s literary style “SF” or bug-movie “Sci-Fi.” So long as it keeps the dream alive, I’m all for it.

Bradbury supported it all. From the beautiful prose of The Martian Chronicles, through his many Horror shorts, to the coming of age novel Dandelion Wine, and the heavily literary Fahrenheit 451, Bradbury wrote in many styles. He supported others who wrote differently and thought differently.

During the Apollo program Bradbury visited the Houston Space Center, and attended a press conference introducing the astronauts. He sat in back while about 60 astronauts were introduced. During the conference someone mentioned Bradbury was there. A large percentage of the astronauts found Bradbury after the conference, to express how his work had affected them. They were the doers and Bradbury the inspiration.

The immortal history of mankind is written in space. Let’s go.
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Published on September 17, 2016 18:20 Tags: apollo, bradbury, heinlein, ray-bradbury, space, space-travel

July 3, 2016

New book!

Got a new book out, The Compleat Martian Invasion: Earth's Defense Awakens. It's a steampunk mashup of classic SF.

With Earth left in shambles by the Martian invasion, Queen Victoria's daughter Louise must lead the world through a dire emergency: The Martians are coming back.First she must rescue Cavor from his prison on the Moon in order to build a defense fleet. Even with Cavor their efforts would be for nothing without the genius of Nikola Tesla leading the way. And on Mars, unexpected allies fight a rearguard action to help Earth. Meanwhile the Time Traveler repeatedly appears, but is he friend or foe?
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Published on July 03, 2016 18:13 Tags: first-men-in-the-moon, h-g-wells, steampunk, victoriana, war-of-the-worlds