Timmy, Jimmy and Jeffy: How I Know When the Author Doesn’t Have Kids

Writing

I read a short story today about a boy and the monster living under his bed. It’s a clever idea written by an author who doesn’t have kids. I’m assuming this because the boy in the story is named Tommy.

I’m a dad so I know what parents are naming their kids. There isn’t a single Tommy in my neighborhood, a part of Brooklyn that is literally a breeding ground. Parents abandoned those names decades ago. In fact, the author of the story has a name more typical of millennials, the first generation born to parents looking to express themselves through the naming of their children. She should know better.

To avoid sounding like you’ve never sweated a preschool application or had a run in with a library cop, give your boys creative names like Chancellor, Omri, Soren or Cyrus. If you need something less conspicuous, try Max, Miles or unshortened classic names, like Thomas or James.

Wacom Cintiq Pro “13

News & Events

The Wacom Cintiq has been around for almost twenty years and I only bought one in April. I had an Intuos tablet that work just fine, even after over a decade of use, but the old driver wouldn’t play well with the OS on our newest MacBook Pro so I was forced into an upgrade. The Cintiq is an upgrade.

I bought the 13″ version for budgetary reasons and for what I do -storyboards and comics- that’s big enough. Drawing feels more natural on the Cintiq and it’s easier to maintain line smoothness.

The Cintiq and the computer still have their disputes and I always restart the computer when I connect the tablet. Also the touch feature on the tablet – what allows navigating the screen with your fingers- is way too squirrelly to be useful. The Cintiq does one other weird thing – a radial menu pops up randomly while I’m working, for reasons that neither I, nor anyone on the Internet, can explain. But, even with all that, it’s still better than my ancient Intuos.

So how to pronounce Wacom? I’d always said Waycom. Watching an online tutorial on how to hook up the tablet (because the instructions included are no help) I heard it was pronounced Wackum, But then I watched another video series on the specifics of Wacom products and learned it’s pronounced Wahcom.

I’m more than halfway through an 8-page comic story done completely on the new Cintiq, I’ll post some of it when I’m done.

Reality: It Is What It Is.

Writing

We speculative fiction writers have a problem with the physical sciences. The life sciences, too. Sure we ‘ll wear “Let’s have a moment of science” t-shirts -some of us even wear lab coats at work- but when science tell us that a man of Mark Ruffalo’s proportions can’t transform into a 1,400-pound monster, well, we’ve heard quite enough from the eggheads.

The planet Tatooine from Star Wars.
But if Tatooine is all desert, how can it support life?

I’ve noticed in my spec fiction writers groups that the first “But if… then…?” question unleashes a cascade of similar questions. Quibbles about why the zombies in the story need specifically to eat brains inexorably lead to the unassailable observation that “living dead” is a contradiction in terms.

The only subgenre that sidesteps this issue is alternate history. It was physically possible for me to marry my college girlfriend and for Germany to win World War II.

Or was it? There are some smart and learned folks who’ll contend that this is the only possible universe. To them, my first serious relationship and the Third Reich were equally doomed.

The only thing I can say for certain is that this universe works the way it is and could not function otherwise. Change one thread and the entire sweater unravels. Life cannot exist in the same universe as a vampire. Introduce, a potion that causes the drinker to fall in love with the first person she sees, and every atom would wink out of existence.

But I’m not going to let that ruin the Marvel movies for me.

UFOs Are Real. But You Knew That.

News & Events

This week the Pentagon released three declassified videos taken by U.S. Navy pilots. The videos, one taken in 2004 and two in 2015, were leaked in 2007 and 2015. You’ve probably already seen them on YouTube and wondered why the Navy can’t put color video cameras on an airplane that costs thirty-million dollars.

From the Pentagon: “DOD [Department of Defense] is releasing the videos in order to clear up any misconceptions by the public on whether or not the footage that has been circulating was real, or whether or not there is more to the videos. The aerial phenomena observed in the videos remain characterized as ‘unidentified’.”

So they’re UAPs, not UFOs, because no one would take the Pentagon seriously if they claimed to have videos of UFOs.

Still frame from U.S. Navy video of UFO
It came from outer space.

This revelation caused barely a ripple in the midst of a global pandemic, but I suspect that, even without a medical emergency, the response would have been the same. By now, we Earthlings have become comfortable with the idea of extraterrestrials. UFOs, and the aliens they transport, are part of the culture. We’ve all seen the movies and the New Yorker cartoons. Well, the movies at least.

If the DOD were to admit to having the crashed flying saucer and alien bodies that some say are hidden in the Nevada desert, the U.S. public would still be more concerned with Covid-19, the upcoming election, and Tiger King. In fact, if the Pentagon could confirm that Carole Baskin killed her husband, that would be news.

Kindle Fire 7

News & Events

My new Kindle Fire 7 arrived today, the replacement for the old Kindle that stopped working a few days ago.

I was surprised to see that the latest Kindle is an iPhone you can’t make phone calls with. I already have an iPhone so this isn’t going to improve my life much, except that now I can read comic books on my Kindle.

This gets back to my last post about the lack of innovation in the 21st century. In the year 2020, the best a successful gadget can do is to become more like another successful gadget, one from the previous decade. At worst, Amazon has taken a device designed for reading books and turned it into yet another way to watch television.

New York Times Columnist Ross Douthat put into words something I noticed years ago – despite being told that we live in an age of unprecedented change, things haven’t changed that much in my lifetime. Cars don’t fly and they still run on fossil fuels; the biggest innovation in commercial aviation has been in inflight entertainment; and my apartment still gets cleaned by a flesh and blood person.

Cover of The Decadent Society: How We Became the Victims of Our Own Success by Ross Doutat

I think his points are relevant to science fiction, a genre that has not developed at all since I started reading and writing it. I have a bookshelf overstuffed with editions of F&SF, Analog and Asimov’s in chronological order and, if you read the oldest one, it would be indistinguishable from the latest.

Douthat begins with an event that made a huge impression on my very young self – the first moon landing in 1969. As a kid, I figured that that was the first step toward the stars. I watched Space 1999 thinking that it could really happen. That it would happen. Instead I got the Space Shuttle that, after 30 years and a couple disasters, was trundled off to museums around the country.

I did get the Internet and it’s pretty cool. It’s allowing me to write this blog post, after all. But the Internet facilitates what I could already do. I could already send a letter, buy a pair a shoes or find the lyrics to a song in the 1980s. It just took more effort. My iPhone is a handy gadget, but I already had maps, grocery lists and a camera, before it existed.

“Space, the final frontier,” states Captain Kirk. True that. On a gut level, we know we should be out there, landing on distant worlds. Of everything that had to be explained in Star Trek, the question of why humans were bothering to explore the galaxy didn’t need to be asked or answered.

Mr. Douthat concludes his book calling for a return to religiosity and a revival of the space program: fantasy and science fiction. I’m more a science fiction guy so I’ll address the latter. Without a frontier, without struggle and sacrifice, humanity will continue to stagnate while drifting toward discontent. Science fiction will also continue in its circular path, recycling stories about Mars colonies and asteroid miners while waiting for the next reboot the Star Trek franchise.

Books