Sorry, John

But the Imperial White House has responded:

  • “The construction of the Death Star has been estimated to cost more than $850,000,000,000,000,000. We’re working hard to reduce the deficit, not expand it.
  • The Administration does not support blowing up planets.
  • Why would we spend countless taxpayer dollars on a Death Star with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship?”

… More at the site.

(& this is re: this, obv.)

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The Big Other Interview #253: Mark Brand

Mark Brand is a Chicagoland polymath: editor, writer, videopodcaster, former medical assistant. We met not long before I was a guest on the Breakfast with the Author podcast (ep. 3), with fellow Chicago writer Lawrence Santoro. Other guests: Ben Tanzer and Jason Fisk (ep. 1), Kathleen Rooney and Gina Frangello (ep. 2), and Russell Lutz, Len Nicholas, and Paul Hughes (ep. 4). His new novel(la), Life After Sleep, provided the occasion for his submission to the complex mental challenges you have come to know as The Big Other interview.

Life After Sleep summary:

It is the day after tomorrow, and a device has been invented that immediately induces REM sleep, otherwise known as “Sleep” with a capital S. Society has been transformed. The average person now only needs two hours of rest a night. The work day is officially sixteen hours long. Americans party at clubs until daybreak, then log into virtual worlds and party in a reunified Korea all morning, too. And within this busier, noisier, more global society, we watch the intertwining fates of four people as they struggle with issues regarding Sleep: new parents who for postnatal reasons aren’t allowed to use their special Beds; an Iraq vet and PTSD victim who is haunted by the non-ending nightmares that Sleep produces; a harried, arrogant doctor whose Bed has stopped working, driving him to the brink of madness; and a band promoter with an illegal Bed that lets her Sleep for hours on end, then stay up for four straight days and nights.

Chicago science-fiction veteran and former medical assistant Mark R. Brand presents here a stunning and nuanced look at the world that might just await us around the corner–a place where GPS, Facebook and cellphones mesh perfectly to tell us where even in a nightclub to stand, yet traditional enough for couples to still have fights over groceries, and for office politics to still have enormous repercussions; and since it’s being released by the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography, it means you pay only what you want for an electronic copy, even if you want to pay nothing, making this mini-novel (available in EPUB, PDF and MOBI/Kindle editions) easily worth taking a chance on. Rich in its prose and deep in its metaphor, you do not have to be a fan of sci-fi, Michael Crichton or Malcolm Gladwell to love “Life After Sleep”…although it certainly wouldn’t hurt either.

***

Davis Schneiderman: Describe where the idea for Sleep emerged from, if you can…

Mark Brand: I first started piecing together Life After Sleep in 2007, shortly after the birth of my son.  I was working 50+ hours a week in a medical office and was sleeping only 3-4 hours per night.  As all new fathers do, I eventually came to accept that this is typical life with a new baby at home, but at the time it felt to me like I was the lone astronaut on a rocket to Planet Insanity.  I had also always wanted to write something that pulled in some of my knowledge of medicine and the hospital/clinical environment, but I hadn’t really come across an idea I liked enough to make that happen.

By chance, I stumbled across an article in Discover magazine called “How to sleep 4 hours per night.”  The article made mention vaguely of TMS technology and the potential side effect it has of putting people straight into REM sleep.  My first thought was THAT’s what I want for Father’s Day, and my second thought was this would make an awesome short story.  So I sat down over the course of a few weeks and wrote a short story that eventually became the “Dr. Frost” section of Life After Sleep.  His section initially was a standalone short that I really liked and got some good reactions to from readers, but I just felt like I hadn’t done enough with the premise, and that there was so much more to say there about sleep and work, and it seemed to grow more and more relevant and alive in my head with each passing year.  So I floated the idea to Jason Pettus, my editor at CCLaP Publishing and he liked the idea and told me to run with it.  I went back and added Max and Lila and eventually Jeremy to make it more one large work.

Aside from just pure plot cleverness and a giant pile of subtext and not-quite-pointed statements about what I think people would do with a technology that allows someone to have 6 or 8 more hours in a day, (and not a few medical inside-jokes), I wanted to capture some of that experience of just being absolutely flat-out exhausted for an extended period of time.  Things start to get wonky, you start waking up not knowing what day of the week it is and you realize you’re at work and you have no memory of having breakfast or driving there, that sort of thing.  And in the middle of it, especially if you’ve got a new baby at home and you’re so mentally tied to two different and equally demanding facets of your life, you start to feel really bitter and fatalistic about it sometimes.  I tried to grab onto that emotion and show the characters just full-on in the path of that oncoming wrecking ball.

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A D & Jeremy Talk about Movies: Mel Gibson’s Hamlet, all films Kenneth Branagh, Sleuth, Joseph Mankiewicz, Thor, and superhero movies (every one)

[You want to read the earlier installments, and we want to help you: Part 1, Part 2]

[Drumming our fingers on the tabletop, humming along to Debbie Gibson, we contemplated just walking out on our waitress, when Jeremy remembered a Payday he had in his pocket. Passing it back and forth, we resumed our conversation.]

Jeremy: All this work, and still no appetizers. So we might as well talk about Kenneth Branagh, as this feeling of weary emptiness reminds me so much of his films …

A D: I remember adoring his Dead Again. I saw it on VHS, not too long after it came out. I had to pause it halfway through, I got so excited. I was, I think, all of sixteen.

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A D & Jeremy Talk about Movies: Source Code, Moon, and Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives

[You click this link, you go back to the first installment, which found me and Jeremy unable to get service at an Applebee’s, following a screening of Duncan Jones’s Source Code. Increasingly hungry, increasingly desperate, we debated the nutritional value of our napkins and tablecloths, before Jeremy remembered that Applebee’s coats all such textiles in an indigestible plastic (to prevent sullen teenagers from rending or defiling them). Our gazes fell upon the Awesome Blossoms sizzling on our various neighbors’ tables.]

A D: Let’s keep talking about movies; it’ll distract us.

Jeremy: Capital! I liked Source Code better than Thor, I’d say (though not so much as Ang Lee or Bill Bixby’s Hulks). Because Source Code is a nice little movie. Though not as nice or little as Moon, Duncan Jones’s debut.

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“Is Your Villain Appropriate?”—Examining Character Construction in Different Media

"Phyrexian Ironfoot" (2006). Artwork by Stephan Martiniere. Copyright Wizards of the Coast.

Every Monday, I read Mark Rosewater’s weekly column “Making Magic,” partly because I have a casual interest in the collectible card game Magic: The Gathering (I once played it, and some of my friends still play it), but mainly because Rosewater routinely offers great insights into aesthetics and game design. (He’s also a strong writer who regularly experiments with his column’s form.)

In an article published a few weeks back, Rosewater outlines why he thinks one of Magic’s villains, the Phyrexians, are that game’s best. As is typical with Rosewater, it boils down to a design principle—in this case, how the game operates narratively:

As a story-telling venue, Magic is best when it is telling what I call environmental stories. That is, the best thing Magic can show off creatively is an environment. The genre of a trading card game requires that you show lots of creatures and places and objects. This does a good job of showing off a diverse environment.

The Weatherlight Saga [a series of much older sets] was an attempt for us to tell a plot driven story through card sets. What we learned from that is that it’s very hard when we can’t control the order that players see the cards to convey traditional plotting. […] What Magic is good at is telling stories about changes that happen on an environmental level. This way the changes aren’t seen on a single card but a wide swath of cards. When we tell a story in another medium, we will tell a story that plays to that medium’s strength. Card sets, though, have to tell stories that can be told through card sets.

One of the reasons that I believe the Phyrexians make a perfect villain is that they attack on an environmental level. Take Scars of Mirrodin [one of the game’s most recent sets] as an example. The attack of the Phyrexians isn’t something seen on a single card but on many, many cards […]. My contention is that Magic’s best villain is one that works in the kind of stories that Magic (the card sets) can tell.

In a basic sense, Rosewater is advocating that an author tell a story appropriate to his or her medium—age-old advice. But let’s look beyond that simple rule of thumb: What does it mean for a story to be appropriate? And what are the consequences for characters?

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DIY Geek Cinema

“Blade Runner replicants” (2007). Photo by comiquero (Flickr). Reposted in accordance with Creative Commons Licensing.

For a long time I’ve held an ambiguous attitude toward geek culture, and ultra-fandom. On the one hand, it’s painfully disturbing how much time some people lavish over recreating their favorite fantasy franchises, whether they while away the hours writing fan-fiction, painting fan-art, sewing cosplay costumes, compiling guides to their favorite shows and films and comics, or attending cons (or all of the above). On the other—color me naive, but these selfsame individuals often display genuine creativity, acquiring and utilizing practical skills (writing, painting, sewing, editing, socializing) in order to express their fanaticism. They admirably distinguish themselves from other, more passive consumers—and sometimes they make truly wonderful things.

Fan-fiction, and fan-art, and cosplay, and conventions, are understood to be deceptively complex, and worthwhile subjects of scholarship. Now we’ve finally reached a point, I’d like to argue, where fan-made cinema has become genuinely interesting, and deserving of critical attention.

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