Inhuman Swill : Science Fiction : Page 5

A graphic novel performed live

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The Astronaut's Birthday

On Sunday night Laura and I, together with our friends Maribeth and Larry, saw an immense theatrical spectacle of narrative, music, puppeteering, and images projected on a huge subdivided vertical surface. And no, it wasn't Roger Waters performing The Wall (though I did see that last night with my brother-in-law at the United Center).

What we did see was experimental theater group Redmoon's latest production, The Astronaut's Birthday, which is being presented in conjunction with Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art.

In fact, the production is being presented on the Museum of Contemporary Art. The Astronaut's Birthday is a motion comic performed live, with all the art projected onto the windows of the museum's facade from inside. In fact, each of the eighteen windows has two puppeteers behind it, slapping hand-drawn, hand-colored gels onto an overhead projector and manipulating overlays to make some of the visual elements move. In fact, sometimes the images extend across multiple windows, and when you add in the music, sound effects, live narration and voice acting, not to mention the occasional human silhouettes that dance through the images, and you've got an immensely complicated operation going on behind the scenes.

With all the beautiful visuals and impressive technical craft going on, the story falls a bit on the thin and sappy side. But with a show like this, you're not really there for the story. You're there for the spectacle. I took over a hundred grainy pictures of that spectacle during the show, which Redmoon in fact encouraged. In a pre-show announcement, they told us to take all the non-flash pictures we liked, and to disseminate them far and wide. (Which only goes to show that Redmoon gets this internet thing.)

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Moonflowers, fact and fiction

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Moonflower with human hand for scale
Our downstairs neighbor is an extraordinary gardener, and we never know what plants or flowers are going to show up in the back yard next. Yesterday morning as we were heading to the garage, Laura said, "Hey, look! Moonflowers!"

The moonflower (Ipomoea alba) is a pretty cool plant. It grows fairly tall and the blossoms are huge, at least by back yard garden standards. It blooms at night, but only in late summer and autumn this far north because the days are otherwise too long. Instead of folding outward when it opens, like a lot of blossoms, the flower untwists, which is really something to see. If the morning is cool and overcast, the flower will stay open into the day, which is why a couple of the ones in the garden yesterday were out on full display.

   

After I dropped Laura off at the train and returned home, I spent a lot of time studying the plants, and also blowing the ants off the petals so I could get some decent pictures of them. I'd never spent any time looking at an actual moonflower before—the petals are surprisingly delicate, and feel almost like satin—which is perhaps strange because moonflowers figure prominently in my story "Observations from the City of Angels." (It was published in Salon under the title "Love in the Age of Spyware," and is still available there. It can also be heard in podcast form as episode 63 of Escape Pod.)

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Hacking reality

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Wine Loft Panel Discussion, June 24, 2010
Back in June, during the week I attended the Starry Heaven workshop in Flagstaff, organizer extraordinaire Sarah K. Castle put together a little panel discussion on the interactions between science fiction and actual science. Titled "Science + Fantasy = Science Fiction," the panel brought seven scientists and writers together to talk about how science inspires science fiction and vice versa.

Besides Sarah, who is both geologist and SF writer, the participants included writer Bradley P. Beaulieu ([info]brad_beaulieu), writer and futurist Brenda Cooper ([info]bjcooper), biologist and computer scientist Dan Greenspan (blog), biologist and physiologist Stan "Bud" Lindstedt, and science historian David S.F. Portree ("Beyond Apollo").

Everyone's five- to seven-minute presentations were fascinating, and I wish I had time and memory sufficient to recap them all. Instead, though, I've been meaning for a couple of months now to post the loose notes I wrote up for my little presentation. Here they are:



My view of science is pretty well summed up in a conversation between two characters in the novel I'm working on now, Endgame. This is the story of two teenage friends named Hasta and Ivan who develop seemingly magical powers—except that they don't automatically accept magic as the explanation for what has happened to them. Instead they set about using the scientific methods of theorizing and repeated testing to get to the bottom of things.

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Novelophobia

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I don't know why I've spent so much of my life being afraid to write a novel. All these years I've figured I was afraid of failing at it, that the short story was my natural form as a writer.

That was all ridiculous, and easily disproved had I stopped to think about it. Back in 1994, I wrote a 170,000-word novel in about eight weeks while I was between jobs. I holed up in my apartment and wrote eight to twelve hours a day. On my most productive day of that period, I wrote 8,500 words. The Revivalist was a huge, sprawling, shambolic, undisciplined thug of a novel, but it wasn't entirely bad. I never sold that book, but I also never did the subsequent work that was necessary to turn it into something saleable.

Clearly I didn't have a problem writing. What I had a problem with in the years that followed was getting off my ass and committing to doing the work.

Don't get me wrong. I did a lot of work in those years. I wrote a 250,000-word memoir, which through subsequent drafts I revised down to nearly half that size. I wrote and sold a bunch of short stories and a couple of novellas, but my one or two longer projects ran out of gas. I kept psyching myself out with the idea that I didn't know how to write a novel, and for the most part I kept that fear to myself.

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Friday Wiscon reading

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If you'll be at Wiscon tomorrow afternoon, I'll be part of a terrific group reading at 4:00 pm in Conference 2. The participants include Carrie L. Ferguson, Nicole Lorenz, Chibi-Evil and me. Here's the program description:

Disappearing Acts Reading | Conference 2 | Friday, 4:00-5:15 pm Come on in, sit down and get comfortable—we're only going to erase certain important things from the world. You don't need those stars, do you? Oh—you'll miss the words, surely, but we'll read that one last. Trust us. We're only ending the world here.
I was originally planning to read from Cast a Cold Eye, but given the theme it might be more appropriate to read a bit from my in-progress-but-nearly-done novel Endgame.

This will be the first group reading of the whole convention, so please come over to Conference 2 and help us make it a success. Looking forward to seeing you there!

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On Tuesday I plan to sit down and watch The Oprah Winfrey Show for the first time, ever. I've seen bits and pieces before, but this will be the first time I watch the whole thing in a premeditated fashion. Hey, I want to hear Roger Ebert's new/old voice.

Ebert's new voice has been synthesized (and is being further refined) from DVD commentary tracks he recorded for a handful of movies. The Scottish company behind the voice is CereProc, which specializes in text-to-speech synthesizers that speak in a variety of accents. It's fun to play around with their live demo and make voices from all around the British Isles say vulgar and juvenile things.

As more and more of us litter the intertubes with extensive examples of our speaking voices, the easier it will be for convincing artificial versions of our voices to be cobbled together. I suppose the technology will have matured when it can pass a sort of text-to-speech Turing test—when someone can call your close friends or relatives by telephone or Skype or whatever and fool them into thinking they're talking to you.

Damn, I just got an idea for a story.

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R.I.P. Ryan Maguire's Ale House

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Fans of the monthly New York Review of Science Fiction Reading Series in Manhattan are used to gathering for good food, good whiskey, and good beer at Ryan Maguire's Ale House, on Cliff Street near the South Street Seaport. Unfortunately, Ryan Maguire's was destroyed by a fire early this morning:

It's great that no one was hurt, but this is a real loss. It was a warm, welcoming place, and I always looked forward to heading there with Jim Freund and a big, interesting, varied crowd after readings while Laura and I still lived in New York. I'm glad I had a chance to go there one last time, in January, when Paul Witcover and I read together at NYRSF. RIP.

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Book launch party tonight!

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Flowers for the grave (um, the one in the book)
Just a quick reminder of my book launch party for Cast a Cold Eye, this evening in Chicago. All the event details are here:

http://tinyurl.com/coldeyeparty

Hope to see you there. The nice checkout women at Trader Joe's gave me free flowers for it this morning (I was there buying lots of wine), and it would be a shame for the bouquet to go unappreciated!

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Hi, NYC friends! Yes, it's a last-minute surprise to me too, but I'll be reading with the excellent Paul Witcover THIS COMING TUESDAY EVENING, January 5th, as part of the New York Review of Science Fiction Reading Series at the South Street Seaport Museum. Doors open 6:30 pm, readings begin 7:00 pm. Suggested donation is $5. See below for all the details, and we hope to see you there.

Please note, if you haven't been to a NYRSF reading at the Seaport lately, that the location is slightly different than it used to be....

--> The New York Review of Science Fiction Readings
and the
South Street Seaport Museum present <--

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The problem isn't that Luke sees dead people. The problem is that dead people see Luke.

CAST A COLD EYE BOOK RELEASE PARTY
w/William Shunn
Friday, January 8, 2010
7:00 to 9:00 pm

Time and Again
1239 W. Cortland St.
Chicago, IL 60614
site | map

Come out to Time and Again in Chicago to celebrate the hardcover release of Derryl Murphy & William Shunn's new novella Cast a Cold Eye! Mingle with fellow book lovers, browse unique treasures from the era of the story in an elegant setting, and sit back with a glass of wine while William Shunn reads chilling selections from the book. (Readings begin at 7:30 pm.)

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The Accidental Terrorist 30th Anniversary Sale

Signed editions
that even a
missionary
could afford.

Order yours now!

William Shunn

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