This weekend I saw "In Time" starring Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried. I'd been wanting to see this movie since I first heard about it. The concept is intriguing: some time in the next century people are genetically engineered to stop aging at 25. After that they get a year to live. They can earn more time by working (since time is the new currency), but they never physically age past 25. If your clock runs out, you drop dead. The sociopolitical hierarchy that evolves out of this system is fascinating from both a science fictional as well as metaphorical perspective. People live in time zones based on their income. Poverty-stricken ghettos surround the ultra-rich city of immortals called New Greenwich. The police have been replaced by Timekeepers, whose job isn't to ensure justice, but ensure the balance between time zones. As one of the rich upper class tells Timberlake's character, Salas, at the beginning of the film "for a few to be immortal, many must die." The concepts proposed by this movie are just too good to be wrapped up in a mediocre thriller staring a pop celebrity. Unfortunately, while the film is entertaining and at times far too smart for its target audience, it doesn't probe its ideas to their greatest depth. If this had been a novel and the author had taken the time to fully flesh out the world and its inhabitants, it would be a bestseller. I normally don't write critical reviews of movies or books. If I don't like something, I just leave it alone. Everyone has their own subjective view, and who am I to say something is bad? However, "In Time" has a lot going for it and it's definitely worth seeing despite its drawbacks. It just irks me that it could have been so much more had its writers taken the time to explore the world in greater detail and perhaps given it a better cast. Timberlake is not a terrible actor, there are certainly worse out there, but all I could see was the celebrity, not the character. Perhaps "In Time" would have been better with an indie cast. Who knows? We need more SF films like this. Though it falls short of the mark, "In Time" definitely strives to be more than just a run-of-the-mill futuristic thriller, and for that I'm grateful. If you've got some time (no pun intended) and a buck or two, do yourself a favor and rent this. You won't be blown away, but you will think. And sometimes that's more important. Four out of Five stars.
Here's my first foray into podcasting, an audio recording I did for "Unnatural Selection", the first story in my collection Blood Red Mars, now available on Kindle. In the future I hope to do more podcasts and audio shorts. Enjoy!
It occurs to me that I've spent several posts talking about writing, but not many about reading. For me the two activities are intrinsically intertwined and I've never met a writer who wasn't also a voracious reader. Lately I've expanded the breadth of my reading to include non-fiction, which I've found essential to crafting good fiction, regardless of genre. I've always read a lot of science, but not much in the way of history or biography. Two books I recently read and enjoyed tremendously are Gaspipe: Confessions of a Mafia Boss by Philip Carlo, a biography of Lucchese underboss Anthony Casso, and Merchant of Death by Douglas Farah and Stephen Braun, a bio of Viktor Bout, a notorious arms dealer, who was the basis for the main character of the film Lord of War starring Nicolas Cage. A lot of my fiction includes crime, even if just as a background element, so reading these bios has helped shape my understanding of criminals and how they think.
As for fiction, I've recently read the SF novel Necropolis by Michael Dempsey, published by Night Shade Books. I can't recommend this one enough. It's a cool concept: NYC has been hit by a virus that reanimates the dead, and a dome has been constructed over the city to keep the infected contained. But these aren't zombies. They're living, breathing people alive and well just as they were when they died, only they age backwards. The story follows a hardboiled cop who comes back and must investigate his own murder. Along the way he discovers the origin of the virus, and the dark secret behind the corporation that controls the city. The book is dark, funny, and clever, a brilliant combo of noir and cyberpunk. Think Blade Runner meets Raymond Chandler.
I've also just finished a brilliant short story collection by Jeffrey Thomas called Terror Incognita, which includes one of the most disturbing stories I've ever read. If you like horror, you can't go wrong with this collection. Read "Empathy" and you'll never look at a lamp the same way again. I'm also reading The Angels of Life and Death, a collection by Eric Brown. I encountered Brown's fiction awhile ago, when I picked up a copy of Helix, and I must admit, I'm now a huge fan of his short stories. Personal favorites include "Venus Macabre" and "Bengal Blues."
You can't go wrong with any of these books. All of them can be found on Amazon, but I was only able to get The Angels of Life and Death and Terror Incognita through Kindle. I'm sure they're also available through Nook and iBooks. Anyway, that's it for me. Happy reading!
So, I've just hit the halfway point on the new novella. With the exception of a couple of minor setbacks, I've managed to meet my daily goal of 2,000 words. I tried a new method of outlining this time around, one I learned from Nancy Holder, and I think it's helped tremendously. When I first set out writing I was not an outliner. Far from it. I was what they call a "pantser" as in, I flew-by-the-seat-of-my-pants. The results were some decent scenes but a lack of cohesion on the whole. Then, some time last winter, when I was banging my head against the wall trying to slog through the first draft of my novel, I discovered the necessity (for me at least) of the outline. I live in true admiration of those who can make it up as they go and somehow get it right. I believe they have a more intuitive understanding of structure than I do, which is why I've got to have everything plotted out on color-coordinated notecards. Do I always stick to the outline? No. But it's a safety net, a roadmap in case I get lost, which I inevitably will. I believe this new outlining method, plotting out the story based on the three act structure and dividing the overall narrative into percentages, then dividing those percentages into scenes, is quite useful for me. Since the types of stories I tell are typically very action-oriented, this method works well. Would it work for a nonlinear slipstream story? Probably not. But then again, I don't write slipstream and nonlinear narratives give me a headache. So, now that I've written about the method, what about the story? Well, the kernel of the idea started some time ago, back when I was finishing up the last couple stories for my Kindle collection. I wanted to write a novella, about 30,000 words or 100 pages, set in that same universe, but not in the same city. I had the strange notion of an SF action adventure set in a futuristic Las Vegas-type colony on Phobos, Mars's closest moon, a sort of Die Hard in outer space with terrorists, gangsters, a high tech casino with an Aztec motif, and lots of sneaking around in ducts. It would be rollicking, over-the-top, guns-a-blazin', nail biting, edge-of-your-seat adventure. I plotted out the story, wrote some brief bios of the characters, and as soon as I got back from my winter residency, launched right into it. And I haven't stopped. Once I finish Die Hard in space (tentatively titled "Phobos Strike"), I'll do the cover art, editing and polishing, then get it up on Kindle whenever I have the time. When I get my novel manuscript back from my mentor, it's heavy revision time, and that'll probably take most of my attention for the next couple of months. In the meantime I want to finish the novella, start a new dark fantasy story (new genre for me), and polish a couple of shorts I've had sitting in a drawer for awhile before shopping them around. Oh, yeah, and there's also the matter of preparing my thesis and graduate presentation for July. Maybe one day they'll invent a chemical substitute for sleep and I'll be able to work 24/7. Until then... back to the grind.