Monthly Archive: June 2010

The! Terminal! State!

The Terminal StateOKey-dokey, couple of announcements:

1. The oh-ficial site for Avery Cates #4, The Terminal State (on sale 7/27/10) is live! Check it out. Let me know what you think.

2. This means we’ve picked our winners for the Voice-Acting Contest. I got a lot of entries, and many were really, really well done. hearing your own words so passionately read back to you is pretty amazing, and I thank everyone who took the time to submit a recording to me. I hope you had fun making the files, because I had a great time listening to them! Sadly, I only needed four winners, and I have them:

Patty Blount is the voice of Mara

Tyrel Devlin is the voice of Wa Belling

Ben Linford is the voice of The Poet

Jeffrey Lamar is the voice of Canny Orel

Where can you hear these lovely voices? On the videos embedded in the new site, of course. You might have to look for them …

Pass the word, and all feedback on the site welcomed.

Subtle Trope Shifts

I have terrible time perception; my memory is often suspect, frequently hallucinogenic, and sometimes outright fantasy, and I find it impossible to place events in a clear timeline in my own damn life. I can’t explain it. Something that happened 20 years ago will seem like it happened last month, something that happened last month will feel like a lifetime ago. And let’s not even get into my day-to-day memory – it’s a disaster. Yesterday I had agreed to meet my wife The Duchess at her office to help a friend of hers with some computer troubles, and I forgot no less than four times during the day, having the following conversation:

THE DUCHESS: I’m just calling to remind you about coming by here later.

ME: The what now?

So, whenever I’m tempted to write about past experiences or my perception of things over time, I hesitate. When writing fiction this is no problem – is probably a boon – but when I’m trying to write about the real world and make actual points, I get nervous, because it’s entirely possible that Ronald Reagan did not tap dance on national television in 1983 like I remember, and using the Reagan Tap Dance as an example of cultural revival in the 1980s might invite criticism from the peanut gallery. The cruel, unfeeling peanut gallery.

Still, to be an author is to be heroic, right? So I will tender this observation: When I was a kid reading fantasy and sci-fi paperbacks like they were oxygen keeping me alive, there were a lot of stories involving people (usually youngsters) crossing over into magical lands where they were no longer simply schoolchildren or loafabouts, but heroic warriors or skilled wizards. Today, however, this trope seems to have shifted: No longer do characters cross over into magical worlds separate from our own reality; rather characters come to realize that the world they live in is actually but obfuscatingly magical to begin with.

It’s a subtle shift, in a way. The books I’m thinking of from my youth – starting with the granddaddy of all crossover stories, The Chronicles of Narnia and running through a lot of the books I read as a kid (The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, The Guardians of the Flame, The Darwath Trilogy, to name three off the top of my head) all involved mundane, ordinary people from my world being swept into a magical realm where they either had the opportunity to simply reinvent themselves, or where they actually had amazing new abilities they lacked here. Today, look at the obvious examples: Harry Potter and the Twilight series: These stories posit that the mundane, crushingly dull world we live in coexists, or actually is the magical realm where we can reinvent ourselves or discover we have amazing abilities. The characters in these books don’t need to cross over, they just need to open their eyes.

Part of this shift might be just simple innovation: After years of stories where ordinary shlubs travel to magical worlds, a little change to the formula was needed to spice things up, and when those changes proved popular they spread. Part of it is changing sensibilities, though, I think. I think there’s more of a sense these days that the world we live in is kind of amazing, and that magic and adventure might lurk around every corner, and not exist solely in a magical world we have to be very, very lucky to stumble upon. You can speculate endlessly on cultural shifts like this: Is it the way kids are raised today versus how they were raised in earlier decades? Is it the explosion of the Internet, which makes so much more of the world visible to us all, whereas in the past it was a dull murky shadow at best? Who the hell knows. Quite possibly it’s just that this subtle shift in the mechanics of stories makes timeworn ideas seem fresh again, which is a nasty trick all us authors use.

Now here is where my memory makes me uneasy: You see, it’s entirely possible that these plot tropes existed simultaneously back in The Day, and I simply don’t remember it. Sort of the way entire cousins of mine existed back in 1980, yet seem to have appeared fully-formed in 2008 out of thin air, demanding I appear at family functions. It could be that my childhood self simply preferred the sorts of stories where people had to find hidden magical doorways rather than waking up and realizing that they actually have magical powers in the real world. Who knows? I can’t even remember my own name some days, and have had a series of Memento-esque tattoos applied to my body in order to get me through the day.

In the end, of course, none of this has anything to do with quality: Either approach can yield fantastic stories, and everything old gets new again someday, when a cranky, forgetful drunk will write about it. It’s in The Prophecies. trust me.

Review of The Eternal Prison

Since we’re releasing The Eternal Prison as a mass market paperback, some new reviews are popping up. Since I love reading my own name in pixels, I naturally read them all, compile enemies lists, and post the good ones. I sometimes post the bad ones, when they’re really bad, but this time it’;s a good one, by Niki Bruce:

“Once again, Somers has succeeded in delivering a fantastic sci-fi, action thriller with enough resonance to current times that you’ll have no trouble believing in his dark future.”

Rawk. Read it here:

So, if you’ve been thinking of picking the book up, here’s that little extra push.

Pointless FX

DaybreakersSo, aside from my exciting life of international adventure, cybercrime, ballroom dancing exhibitions, and writing novels, I sometimes find myself on a couch with The Duchess and 2-3 cats at night, watching terrible, terrible movies. We like movies and have a very low bar for them, meaning we’ll watch almost anything. I am a man who paid for a ticket to view the classic John Candy film “Who’s Harry Crumb?” back when I was a teenager. Which dates me terribly, but if anyone has actually seen that horrible film it will give you an idea of how low my movie bar is.

The other night the movie Daybreakers leaped that bar with aplomb, did a few tumbles, and landed on our TV screen. To be honest I was intrigued by the concept even though I knew the movie had been made in 2007 and shelved for a few years, even though I knew it starred Ethan Hawke, who always looks unwashed and makes me want to Windex my screen whenever he’s on it. (To be fair, I usually enjoy Hawke as an actor. I just wish he’d stop writing). I thought the idea behind the movie was a good one: While it takes the tired old “vampire virus sweeps the world” idea, it has an interesting capitalist take: Once the world is mostly vampires, people just monetize human blood, start farming the remaining humans as livestock, and invert society so everyone can get on with their (immortal) lives at night.

I really like this. It makes sense to me: Once the horror of the whole world turning into vampires has past and everyone’s sitting around at night kind of bored, why wouldn’t society just retool for the new rules? The movie imagines a world that sleeps by day and works by night, cars that are modified to have “day driving” modes with tinted windows and cameras for steering, coffee kiosks offering 20% human blood in each cup, and an evil pharmaceutical company simultaneously farming humans for blood and researching synthetic blood. I like the setup.

Sadly, the movie itself is not so great. It establishes the universes pretty well and has some very nicely done design and effects, but ultimately degenerates into magical science solutions and characters with motivations so vague they might as well not exist. Sigh. But I’m not here to indict another failed narrative, I’m here to talk about special effects, and how often they are completely, utterly wasted in movies.

So, you have vampires. These are more like traditional vampires, not Twilight vampires: They need human blood to survive. They do not have reflections in mirrors. Sunlight kills them kind of gruesomely. A wooden stake through the heart makes them burst into bloody confetti. They don’t turn into bats at will, but blood deprivation makes them devolve into a bat-humanoid monstrosity with no higher brain functions. In a movie filled with vampires there are very few actual F/X shots; I don’t think the budget for the film was huge, and the directors probably had to be pretty picky about where they spent their paltry millions on effects shots. Sadly, they chose poorly.

For example, early in the film when Ethan Hawke’s character is introduced, we see his car first. A shot zooms in on the side mirror, and we see a pretty traditional WOW shot of things floating in the air, disembodied (because he has no reflection) and then the camera spins around to show us Hawke, looking normal aside from slightly glowing eyes and fangs etc. The shot itself is nicely done, and achieves what I suppose was the goal: Establishing that these are vampires. It’s pointless, though. The vampiric lack of reflection never comes up again as a plot point, and there are plenty of other ways the characters are established as vampires (glowing eyes, fangs, a tendency to drink blood and burn horribly in the sun). So what was the point? They blew millions of dollars to underscore something that didn’t need to be underscored. It’s a nifty shot, yes, but there might have been better ways to spend the money. If you removed that 30 seconds of film the movie would not be appreciably changed in any way.

This is often the trouble with F/X shots. You have some movies, like Transformers, where the entire damn movie is one long F/X shot, but then you have the lower-end SF films where the budget is not infinite, and the decision to include some F/X is a momentous one. They’re usually bad choices because no one seems to know how to use them to further the story – or to know that if you don’t need the F/X to further the story, it’s possibly best to just leave it out. Daybreakers could have spent that money on another writer to come up with a better ending than the mumbo-jumbo they put out there. If the lack of reflection had come up again later, been important in some way, that would have improved things considerably, but aside from an aversion to the sun and a deterioration due to blood deprivation the fact that most of the characters are vampires doesn’t really come up much in the plot mechanics.

Of course, you could argue that the concept of the film precluded a lot of vampiric F/X – the whole point is that humans roll with the vampire thing, recreate their materialistic world (except now literally feeding off of people!) and get back to drinking and smoking and wearing stylish suits while living in fabulous homes. It’s not about horror or action, it’s about society running out of resources and turning in on itself like a starving dog. Or it should have been, except for the mumbo jumbo ending, which makes no sense in that context.

Oh well. A better ending, of course, would have improved this movie a lot more than one unnecessary F/X shot, but better endings are a little more amorphous and difficult to quantify, whereas $5 million for 30 seconds of useless film is easy to tally up. Lord knows if they ever make an Avery Cates film, I hope they spend $20 million to build complex Monk robots with animatronic faces instead of just hiring guys to wear latex masks, and then someone will remind me of this essay when they spend $20 million on a single shot of a hover floating in the air and then the rest of the movie is stick figures and stock footage because they blew the budget, and i will despair.

Avery Art

Reader Keith Puryear sent us this:

That's Mr. Badass to you.

Yup, that’s an artist’s representation of Avery. I’m always amazed when people decide to visualize him. It’s damn cool. Thanks to Keith for letting me post it!

we are all part of the same compost pile

Dawn. Of. The. Motherfucking. Dead.Everyone likes a good end-of-the-world scenario. Ever notice how many SF stories have this as a component – either as the main crux of the story, or as a historical backdrop? Disease comes along, destroys the world, except for our main characters. War comes along, destroys the world, except for our main characters. Zombies come along … vampires come along … superintelligent lizards … you get the idea.

Part of the appeal of such stories is people’s tendency, when imagining such scenarios, to imagine that they themselves will be the main character. In other words, we all seem to assume that when a disaster wipes out 99.9% of the world, we will somehow survive. Because we’re special.

Of course, the stipulation that there would be survivors at all is kind of dubious, albeit admittedly necessary for narrative purposes unless you’re going to Watership Down your apocalyptic story. I mean, vampires come and devour the earth until nothing’s left, how in the world would a few spunky folks escape doom? Part of it is that we all like to imagine we’re smart/lucky/special enough to be survivors, so it just makes sense to us. This is the same appeal that Doomsday Cults have, the belief that you are special enough to witness the end of the world. Forget it, bub: You will witness everything get incrementally worse, just like your ancestors and just like your descendants. No one is special enough to preside over the end of everything.

To be fair, of course, many of these sorts of films could be showing us the final moment of the most resilient survivors – in short, the end of the end. In other words, not a story about some Very Special People who are somehow spared by the universe, but rather the final moments of people who are just as unlucky as the rest of us.

Usually, though, it’s pretty clear the characters in these stories are meant to be Special, and it appeals to us, because we all think that just because The Rapture has failed to happen to for thousands of years, it’s no reason to think WE aren’t important and special enough to be alive when it actually happens. When, in fact, the chances are pretty frickin’ slim. But that’s the appeal: Imagining yourself in that scenario, comparing your theories on how to survive with what the author serves up. I’ve actually imagined myself in Zombie Apocalypses, and wondered what the best strategy would be. In real life, of course, I’d probably be discovered crouching in my crawlspace, slathered in barbecue sauce via a series of events so improbable you wouldn’t believe them even if I explained them in detail, and there would be much Zombie feasting and rejoicing. But it’s fun to imagine what if I was a Type-A personality who reacted well to crisis and apocalypse. I so would not make the mistakes people make in movies. I’d make different, equally disastrous mistakes, yes, but … still.

This is one reason I have an unreasoning affection for the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead: There is a pretty strong implication that the characters in the film are, in fact, the last people alive in the world, or at least their hemisphere. The doom that the credits sequence spells out for them elevates the movie from mediocre horror movie to something I still watch when it pops up on cable – the idea that after all their struggles, these characters are doomed, and none of their efforts will count for anything is a powerful ending, and one that feels a lot more real. Real for a Zombie Apocalypse, that is.

I myself am convinced of my own fleeting meaninglessness in life, and know that if the world ended tomorrow it would more than likely happen so fast and completely I wouldn’t even be aware of it. one second I’d be eating french fries and humming to myself, the next I’d be dissolved into my component molecules, no survival skilz needed.

Sometimes it’s restful to acknowledge your insignificance.

Book Giveaways

TECTDPTo celebrate the upcoming mass market paperback release of The Eternal Prison (Cates #3) on June 29, I’m giving away 10 copies each of the mass market versions of The Electric Church (Cates #1) and The Digital Plague (Cates #2). The giveaway is being run through the fine folks at GoodReads and runs starting today through June 29.

Although bribes are always accepted, the folks at Good Reads will be picking winners, so it won’t avail you much. So surf on over and put in a request. If you win, I could be bribed into signing the copy. Hint: I like liquor and Gibson Les Pauls.

The Doom of Men

That's Mr. Merlin to You

That's Mr. Merlin to You

It is The Doom of Men That They Forget.Ah, there is much that the movie Excalibur can teach us, isn’t there? Perhaps you have not seen the movie, in which case I don’t understand you, but that’s beside the point—I don’t understand most people, and spend my life terrified and suspicious. Don’t judge me; you bastards prove me right so often it’s ridiculous.

Anyway, I am not here to bemoan the way you all frighten me with your slang, musky odors, and political beliefs—lord knows I’ve written that article before, several times, and will write it again. No, I’m here to tell you about the time I went to see Batman. No, not the new Batman. The first Batman movie that changed entertainment as we know it, the one starring Michael fucking Keaton (twenty goddamn years later and I still can’t believe it) and Jack Nicholson.

So, it’s 1989. I’m between high school and my first year of college, my liver is still normal-sized and I still know several dozen folks I haven’t spoken to since 1989, and I don’t know several people I know now. Which makes no sense, but let it drift. Batman was the big movie that summer; I think every kid I knew was at the theater that night. The place was a madhouse. People had brought beach balls, which were tossed around the theater. Half of us were drunk, which is of course a scandal—that it was only half (I am personally committed to endrunkening the world, as I am convinced this will lead to world peace, the singularity, and my own independent wealthiness). There was a buzz of energy in the air, like we were all expecting to be sucked up into the air, like the rapture was about to happen.

There is a peculiar moment in life when you’re seventeen, eighteen years old and you actually believe that the swill the entertainment industry is serving you means something aside from extracting a few dollars from your pocket and even more for their craptacular snacks. You think it’s an event that will resonate throughout time, or at least throughout your own existence. Decades later, you imagine you’ll be stopped in the street by reporters who want to know where you were when Batman came out.

Ah, youth.

Anyway, it was a party. The movie started and we cheered and afterwards the consensus was that this was the greatest movie evah.

Looking back on the movie 20 years, you gotta ask if part of that reaction was hype, was feeling like you’d just taken part in a shared chunk of awesomeness. The answer: Absolutely. I saw the 1989 Batman again recently, and that is one fucking awful movie.

Even taking into consideration my expanded movie lexicon, maturity, and the fact that I now have a gleeful Heath Ledger in my brain, the Batman ’89 is a mess, ruined by Tim Burton’s hyper-artificial set design, Jack Nicholson’s fey over-acting, and Kim Basinger’s gravity well of talentlessness. I may be in the minority here, but if I could travel back in time and change one thing, I think I’d skip this movie.

Maybe kill Hitler. But most likely skip Batman ’89.


It’s funny how time erodes everything down to its core. If the core is good, it’ll survive. If the core sucks, it’s history, or grist for a remake or “reboot”. Nothing lasts. The shelf life of a movie these days is about 10 years, which is roughly the time it takes for the next generation of snot-nosed kids to age into ticket-buying, at which point anything that predates their own existence is considered lame until they turn about 35, when suddenly some of them will discover otherwise. And since Hollywood ran out of new ideas the day Star Wars was released, the only thing that matters now is whether they can convince you to pay $10 for the ticket. A movie you’ve seen fifteen times, own on DVD, or consider a lame relic from your parents’ day? Probably not gonna happen. A remake starring Angie Jolie’s tits and a soundtrack by Trent Reznor? Giddy-up.

Science-Fiction movies are all the rage on the ‘reboot” merry-go-round these days, possibly because for decades Sci-Fi movies were treated like something Hollywood stepped in and couldn’t scrape off its shoe, leaving us with dozens and dozens of movies with great ideas and terrible low-budget excuses for sets and costumes. These kinds of films are easy enough to remake, and there’s added value in it for people, too, because they get to see the story done “properly”, with effects and A-list actors and all that. Add to that the possibility of drawing in older fans who don’t go to movies much but who might recall the originals with nostalgia, and it’s a workable formula. Workable because the collective memory of the movie-going public wipes itself every 10 years.

As a result, whatever movie you just saw that rocked your world, forget it. You will. Eventually it will be remade with younger, fresher actors who have just been born and a revamped script, more recent pop-culture references and era-appropriate technological devices as props. You’ll be sucked into attending a screening because of a relentless marketing campaign that reminds you of how great you think the original was, as your memories are vague, and before you know it the only version of Casablanca you can remember is the 2017 version starring Macaulay Culkin in his big comeback. Because it is the doom of men that they forget.


Of course, what happens to a culture when it stops creating new material and just rehashes existing plots, characters, and tropes? What happens when we stop creating Star Trek, The Original Series and settle for Star Trek by That Guy Who Created Lost? Which was a fine movie, I think – though ask me again in 20 years. One could argue that we’ve all been remaking the same plots for thousands of years anyway, with the same basic characters, and all that’s ever changed are the names, the props, and the settings, and possibly some of the mechanics as technology and culture change. In one sense, sure—everything’s either a story about murder, theft, unrequited love, requited love, war, god, or zombies. Mostly zombies.

I think the safety net here is the tendency for folks to create their own counter-programming. Big Entertainment has to keep churning out the goods to keep fannies in the seats, but there will always be a disaffected group of folks who can’t swallow it and who therefore create their own media to entertain themselves. And thank god for them, because they’re laying the foundation for the future reboots of the world. Damn kids.