SFWA President Comments on ChiZine Publications

Mary Robinette Kowal, President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America today issued an advisory warning about ChiZine Publications.

SFWA is monitoring the ongoing situation with small press publisher ChiZine. In light of documented financial and contractual misconduct, as well as other troubling business practices, SFWA is placing an advisory warning on ChiZine.

One of SFWA’s main tasks is to support writers by helping the industry adopt best business practices. To this end, SFWA supports a number of initiatives to advocate for writers and educate writers about their rights. In addition, SFWA recognizes the emotional distress that the authors involved have experienced.

Authors who need assistance or wish to share their experience as part of SFWA’s monitoring process may contact Susan Forest at susan.forest@sfwa.org.

All information is held in confidence and will not be shared in any form without the writer’s explicit permission.

While we are aware that Chizine has begun to take steps on their own to correct their missteps, our duty to our membership requires that we evaluate the market based on their actions rather than their plans. The authors who are published through Chizine need a stable marketplace. As such, a SFWA representative has contacted ChiZine with an offer to set a series of benchmarks to bring them into line with industry standards. We hope that this will help with accountability moving forward.

In the larger picture, any SFWA members who are experiencing issues resolving problems with editors, publishers, agents, or other writing-related business associates are encouraged to contact SFWA’s Grievance Committee. Types of grievances that can be undertaken include: non-payment of money legitimately owed to the member; failure to perform or uphold contractual obligations owed to the member; release from contracts that are clearly, in the opinion of the Committee Chair, onerous; mediation of non-monetary, non-contractual disputes with publishers, editors, agents, or other writing-related business associations; and other situations which the Committee Chair may deem appropriate use of committee resources.

File 770’s ongoing coverage of authors’ experiences with CZP can be searched using the ChiZine Publications tag. The first post in the current series of reports is here.  

Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions #45

Who Watches The Watchmen? –  Part One: Episodes 1-3

**BEWARE SPOILERS**

By Chris M. Barkley:

WATCHMEN by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, 12 Issues, September 1986 – October 1987, omnibus edition DC Comics/Warner Books, 1987.

“This city is afraid of me…I have seen its true face”

-Rorschach

It is widely regarded that Jack Katz’s The First Kingdom (1974) and the late Will Eisner’s A Contract With God and Other Tenement Stories (1978) should be credited as being among the first great, modern graphic novels. 

Watchmen, by writer Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons is, without a doubt, acknowledged as the first masterpiece of this literary form.

This psychological and sociological deconstruction of the nature and mythology of superheroes has been a towering inspiration to nearly everyone who has aspired to work in the comics industry since its publication in the mid-1980’s.

I had the privilege of reading Watchmen in its original twelve issue run when it was first published. I vividly remember being very excited about reading this series. And I, as a jaded 30-year-old-reader, had not been taken by surprise by a graphic novel or comic book since I was nine years old and encountering the Fantastic Four and the Justice League for the first time.   

I was mesmerized as Ozymandias’ (Adrian Veidt) diabolical plan to unite the world by making it fearful of a faked alien invasion played out; the murder of a remorseful ex-hero Eddie Blake (The Comedian), the relentless and brutal investigation of his and other murders by Rorshach (Walter Joseph Kovacs), Doctor Manhattan’s (Jon Osterman) growing alienation from humankind and the personal struggles of Sally Jupiter (Silk Spectre) and Nite-Owl (Dan Dreiberg) and the eventual destruction of a good portion of New York City and a massive death toll., .

And the plan worked. Or did it?

A nuclear war between the Soviet Union and the United States was averted, and the surviving heroes, with the exception of Rorshach, agreed to keep silent. Doctor Manhattan kills Rorshach to ensure his silence. But knowing he might not be able to speak out, he cleverly planted a diary outlining most of plot with a tabloid newspaper. We, the readers, were left with an ironic, ticking time bomb waiting to go off…

Moore and Gibbon’s original contract with DC Comics stipulated that if Watchmen went out of print, the publishing rights and characters would revert back to them to do with them as they wished. But, not only a critical success but a big moneymaker for DC. Moore, citing this and other contractual disputes with DC, is totally estranged from the publisher and has repeatedly refused to have anything to do with Watchmen. And I don’t blame him a bit. If we were all moral and ethical people, we would boycott anything and everything Watchmen-related. 

Unfortunately, we are not very moral or ethical people. Are we?      


WATCHMEN (Director’s Cut: 3 Hours 2 minutes, 4/4 stars, 2009) with Malin Åkerman, Billy Crudup,Matthew Goode,Carla Gugino,Jackie Earle Haley, Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Patrick Wilson. Screenplay by David Hayter and Alex Tse, based on Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, Directed by Zach Synder.

“People’s lives take them strange places. They do strange things, and sometimes they can’t talk about them… I know how that is.”.

Laurie Jupiter/Silk Spectre II

The film rights to Watchmen were immediately snatched up by renowned producers Lawrence Gordon and Joel Silver. They were the first of many who tried, and failed, to make a movie out of Watchmen. Several writers and directors were employed to give it a go, among them Terry Gilliam of Monty Python fame, who exclaimed at one point it would be better as a mini-series and at another said the graphic novel was “unfilmable”.

In 2005, Gordon and a new partner, Lloyd Levin, tapped director Zach Synder, who had just completed the special effects historical epic, 300, to try to bring it all together. Synder and new screenwriter Alex Tse used elements of an earlier script by David Hayer, restored the Cold War setting of 1985 and an element involving Doctor Manhattan working on an energy conversion project backed by Adrian Veidt.

I saw the film when it premiered a decade ago but hadn’t seen it since then. I remember being impressed with it and thought was a very good adaptation. Looking back, I gave it three out of four stars (on the Leonard Maltin rating scale) because as good as it was, I found the underlying themes of the source material somewhat muted. 

To re-acquaint myself with the film, I purchased a copy of Zach Synder’s director’s cut (which has 24 minutes of additional footage) and found it that it was a more satisfying experience. Sure, it features extended action scenes but it also gives more nuance and character motivation to Laurie Jupiter (Malin Ackerman), her mother, Sally (Carla Gugino) and Nite-Owl (Partick Wilson). Their character arcs actually heighten the performance of Jackie Earle Haley’s Rorshach, whose contrasting performance as the hard ass, uncompromising vigilante burns even brighter. In a fairer world would he have been nominated for an Oscar and aced the winner Christoph Waltz (for Inglorious Basterds) for the award.

Synder and screenwriter Alex Tse received a lot of criticism for changing a vital element of the original story; the conspiracy behind faking the alien invasion. Instead, a subplot involving Doctor Manhattan and Adrian Veidt developing a new source of energy derived from his superpowers and Veidt framing him for a far more heinous crime, the utter destruction of several major global cities. While I thought this was a brilliant way to set the film apart visually from the graphic novel, other critics harped that it was either still too faithful version or or disagreed with the choices storywise. As for me, I think that; filmmakers have a better chance of producing more interesting and innovative art when they bring their perspectives and ideas to an adaptation than being a slave to the original material.

(To get an author’s first-hand perspective on how they viewed an adaptation of their own work, interested readers may want to hunt down David Mitchell’s essay on how his 2004 novel, Cloud Atlas, was handled by its three directors. It was originally published in the 2012 movie tie-in edition and, as of this post, is not available online.)

Watchmen was not the huge financial success Warner Brothers and DC Comics had hoped for at the box office, earning $185 million worldwide against an estimated budget of $138 million. Sales of various home video editions have been moderately good. In bookstores and online, the graphic novel spiked in advance of the film and did so again this past year upon the announcement from HBO that a limited series was in the works. 

Despite the failure of the film, DC embarked on a series of prequel stories called Before Watchmen in 2012, featuring individual characters from the novel.

Naturally, Alan Moore was very unhappy with these developments, stating in a 2012 interview on the Seraphemera (Books & Music) website:

“All the nasty comments that I was making when I was angry–about the comics industry not having had an idea of its own in the last 40 years…it would seem that DC are really going that extra mile in trying to prove me incontrovertibly right.”

and

“What the comics industry has effectively said is, ‘Yes, this was the only book that made us briefly special and that was because it wasn’t like all the other books.’ Watchmen was something that stood on its own and it had the integrity of a literary work. What they’ve decided now is, ‘So, let’s change it to a regular comic that can run indefinitely and have spin-offs.’ and ‘Let’s make it as unexceptional as possible.’ Like I say, they’re doing this because they haven’t got any other choices left, evidently.”     


WATCHMEN: White Rabbit, HBO, DC Comics, based on Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, with Regina King, Jean Smart, Don Johnson, Tim Blake Nelson,Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Andrew Howard, Jacob Ming-Trent, Tom Mison, Sara Vickers, Dylan Schombing, Louis Gossett Jr. and Jeremy Irons.

“I’ve got a nose for white supremacy and he smells like bleach.” 

Angela Abar/Detective Sister Night, Episode 1

  • Episode 1: “It’s Summer and We’re Running Out of Ice”, Written by Damon Lindelof, Directed by Nicole Kassell
  • Episode 2: “Martial Feats of Comanche Horsemanship”, Written by Damon Lindelof & Nick Cuse, Directed by Nicole Kassell
  • Episode 3:”She Was Killed by Space Junk”, Written by Damon Lindelof & Lila Byock, Directed by Stephen Williams

Which brings us to Damon Lindelof’s “remix” of the original graphic novel for television.The veteran of high profile genre shows like Lost and The Leftovers, he turned the job down twice before accepting. He went in knowing that he would never get Alan Moore’s approval and that whatever may come, the die-hard fans of the graphic novel (or the film for that matter) would never be satisfied with the results.

Taking a deep creative breath, Lindelof took to Instagram and made the following statement: “I am compelled despite the inevitable pushback and hatred I will understandably receive for taking on this particular project. This ire will be maximally painful because of its source. That source being you. the true fans.”

He also said: “I’m a true fan, too. And I’m not the only one. What I love about television is that the finished product is not the result of a singular vision, but the collective experience of many brilliant minds.”

Among those brilliant minds is Watchmen’s original artist, Dave Gibbons, who signed on with Lindelof as a visual consultant. His contributions are immediately evident in costumes of the characters and the style and feel of the production itself. 

The story begins with one of the most stunning opening sequencing in the history of television; a brutal recreation of the ransacking, murderous rampage and destruction of the Black Wall Street of Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1921. Emerging from the carnage, a young black child rescues an infant and flees the burning city.

We then shift ninety-eight years into the future and thirty four after the events depicted in the graphic novel. Loud rap music drones from of a pickup truck late at night. The middle aged driver become apprehensive when police lights signal for him to pull over and it appears he is a victim of racial profiling. And as the officer questions the driver in an antagonistic manner, it verifies these suspicions with one startling twist; the driver is white and the Tulsa cop is African-American and wearing a mask. When the cop is brutally assaulted and critically injured, it set in motion a series of events that will range far across this alternate universe.

And what a strange universe it is. Over the course of the first three episodes several several passing glances and easter eggs have revealed the following observations and easter eggs:

  • That actor Robert Redford has been President for decades. 
  • That African-Americans were granted some substantial reparations from the government over the years.
  • There are no cell phones or the development of any social media outlets. But electric cars seem to be a standard mode of travel.
  • Author/Attorney John Grisham was appointed to the Supreme Court and is retiring.
  • Masked vigilantes were banned in 1977 but apparently many persist in the practice.
  • A newspaper announces that Adrian Veidt (Ozymandias) has been officially declared dead.
  • Tiny squids fall from the sky on an irregular basis, a stark reminder that mankind is still living under a threat of an impending “invasion:’
  • A dramatization documenting adventures of the first vigilantes called “American Hero Story” is being promoted on television (a clear call out to the Tales of The Black Freighter comics in the original Watchmen AND to Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk’s American Horror Story).
  • And Doctor Manhattan has been spotted on Mars, puttering around building and deconstructing things on the surface and, presumably, keeping an eye on Earth.

Tulsa’s police chief, Judd Crawford (Don Johnson) quickly deduces that a white supremist group, the Seventh Kalvary, was responsible. Three years earlier, the force and their families had been targeted in a surprise attack that left them dead and the few that remained demoralized. In response, the state government funded a pilot project that allowed officers to mask themselves and detectives to don elaborate costumes to protect their identities. Unfortunately, as the first episode amply demonstrates, this habitually leads to the abuse of the civil rights of criminal suspects and innocent civilians alike.

Our main protagonist, Angela Abar, is a survivor of the attack and has adopted the guise of a mild mannered, civilian identity of a local baker. But, when she’s alerted via pager to an emergency, she swiftly enters the back room and, like Spiderwoman, the Green Hornet and countless other heroes, transforms herself into Sister Night; with a nun’s habit and balaclava clad, she is a total badass supercop.

Sister Night forcibly brings a suspect into Tulsa’s secret police facility where he is subjected to an interrogation by Detective Wade Tillman, aka Looking Glass (played a droll and sardonic Tim Blake Nelson), who wears a reflective mirror mask. After conducting a very strange method that seems imitate Bladerunner’s Voight-Kampff test, Tillman concludes that while the suspect may not have been directly involved with the attack, he definitely knows something. And Sister Night proceeds to beat the location of the Seventh Kalvary out of him.

Meanwhile, at an undisclosed location, we spy a man (Jeremy Irons) riding horseback through the countryside. (Although he isn’t identified, I immediately suspected this regal looking rogue to be Adrian Veidt. And I was right.) While he seems to be right at home, he gives the appearance of being preoccupied with writing a play called “The Watchman’s Son” and recruiting his servants, Miss Crookshanks (Sarah Vickers) and Mr. Phillips (Tom Mison) to help him bring it to life.

At first, I thought these might be androids, but no, after Mr. Philips is burned alive during the performance of the play, it’s revealed that there are multiple copies of him and Miss Crookshanks, clones, doing his bidding around the castle in various roles. And who knows, they might even be clones of himself!

It also becomes evident that while Veidt lives in relative comfort, he is not at liberty to leave the compound at any time. After another one of his Philips clones expires in a grisly manner during one of his experiments involving a primitive pressure suit and a trebuchet, it is evident that the World’s Smartest Man is trying to escape. And the person who is standing in his way is a mysterious character named “the Game Warden”, who sends Veidt a written warning that he suspects his current activities may be in violation of the terms of his imprisonment. And Veidt, being the person he is, doubles down on his efforts.        

Meanwhile, Sister Night and Chief Crawford lead a nighttime raid on the Kavalry’s remote safehouse, which, like the first two episodes, are thrillingly directed with precision and verve by Nicole Kassell. And while they succeed in breaking up the gang’s current plan, they don’t gain enough intelligence to know exactly what they’re up to. 

Angela goes home only to receive a phone tip from a strange voice who tells her knows who she is and proceeds to demands she drive to a location in a field she knows well. Fearing that her identity and family has been compromised, she drives there only to find Crawford’s body hanging from a tree and a VERY elderly black man in a wheelchair (Louis Gossett, Jr.), proudly claiming to be the murderer.

This man, who calls himself Will, also claims to be Angela’s grandfather and to being 109 years old. Angela takes him to her bakery hideout, handcuffs him and takes a DNA sample to be tested and later is shocked to find out his claim is valid. Having kept Will out of the investigation of Crawford’s death, she decides to formally take him into custody as a material witness. But as she places him in her civilian car under the cover of darkness, a mysterious craft swoops in with an electro-magnetic grapple and spirits Will, and her car (!), away. A paper flutters down from the car; the tattered leaflet with the words “Look After This Boy” scrawled on the back, the same note that was placed in the pocket by the father of the boy who survived the 1921 Tulsa riots. 

The third episode introduces the audience to a middle-aged Laurie Blake (Jean Smart, who is equally snappy and ironically sad in her role) the second Silk Spectre and daughter of Sally Jupiter and Eddie Blake. A hard-bitten veteran of the FBI’s Anti-Vigilante Task Force, she also appears to be trapped in a life she doesn’t enjoy very much. It is heavily implied that her ex-husband, Nite-Owl, is languishing in prison for violating the 1977 federal anti-vigilante act and Laurie feels guilty for receiving a get out of jail free card in exchange for her services. 

Enter Joe Keene Jr., a US Senator from Oklahoma (and an aspiring Presidential candidate) who comes calling on Laurie to do him a favor; he has arranged with the Bureau to send her to Tulsa to investigate the death of Chief Judd Crawford, who he strongly suspects might not have been killed by the Seventh Kalvalry but by a masked vigilante. .Should Laurie succeed and he becomes President, he strongly suggests he just might pardon Daniel Dreiberg.

But Laurie doesn’t only pine for her ex-husband, in her spare time from the investigation, she also records phone messages beamed directly to Mars via special booths for her ex-boyfriend, Doctor Manhattan to “hear”.

As sad and lonely as Laurie seems, her demeanor in public is sharp and professional. In her interactions with Angela, Wade and her nerdy FBI partner Dale Petey (Dustin Ingram) she lets it be known that does not suffer fools gladly and that she has read all of the reports, seen all of the video and is as smart as a very sharp, venomous tack. And if anyone is hiding anything, she’ll be the one to suss it out. Wade seemingly bows to her authority but not Angela, who puts on a brave and defiant face. That’s because she has plenty to hide at this point, including finding evidence that Chief Crawford may have been on the take and is concealing her grandfather’s role in his death.

And at the end of the third episode, as Laurie completes her phone call to Mars that evening, pleading for a sign from Doctor Manhattan that he might still care for her or the human race. As she is walking to her car, a huge clue falls into her lap from the sky above. And as she looks to see where it came from, she catches sight of Mars, glowing ominously in the distance. We leave Laurie as she laughs maniacally at the night sky and the audience wondering what the hell is going to happen next.

I must admit that I have been fairly overwhelmed by what Damon Lindelof has done with this production of Watchmen. He clearly reveres the source material but is totally unafraid in taking it in unexpected and startling directions.

There has been some blow back from fans who have complained at great length that Lindelof has made Watchmen too “political”, which is laughable because a more discerning reader should have caught on to those themes in the very first issue back in 1986. 

Others have vociferously objected to Rorschach being held up as a modern-day symbol of white supremacy. Well, those people thought he was the “hero” of previous iterations of Watchmen, when in fact, he was a damaged human being who was given the worst aspects of Batman, which were then magnified to the nth degree. A nihilistic, psychotic and inflexible, Walter Kovacs was the perfect character for other nihilistic, psychotic and inflexible racists to glom onto as their object of adulation.

Furthermore, Lindelof and his crew of creators are daring the audience to immerse themselves in a world where they may have to either root for, understand or have empathy for people, especially police officers, who are going about their jobs and lives in a completely aberrant and disgusting manner as they try to grapple with forces and circumstances they are having a hard time comprehending.

Also, in an era where more television shows and films are telling more diverse stories, it is utterly refreshing to see a gerne-oriented show tackle racial and political issues head on for a mainstream audience. These are exactly the sort of entertainment vehicles we need more of in these confusing and turbulent times; confounding, controversial and profound, they excite the intellect and stir meaningful conversations about who we are and what we should be doing.

This past spring, I stated that I was only going to list HBO’s magnificent techno-horror miniseries Chernobyl as my lone entrant on my Best Dramatic Presentation-Long Form Hugo award ballot. Well, I think may have been a bit premature saying that; if Damon Lindelof and company can pull it off this daring adaptation over the remaining six episodes, I’ll be nominating Watchmen as well. 

And from what I’ve seen so far, I’ll be VERY disappointed if they don’t make it. But, after seeing the first three episodes of this series, I have a sneaking suspicion they will stick the landing, in the biggest way possible.

Anthony Daniels On Tour in Cincinnati

By Chris Barkley: Actor Anthony Daniels’ book tour in support of his newly published memoir, I Am C-3PO: The Inside Story, stopped at Joseph Beth Booksellers in Cincinnati, Ohio Wednesday evening.

The brief question and answer period was highlighted by a question from a very young fan who demanded to know why C-3PO interrupted the kiss between Leia and Han in The Empire Strikes Back. (Answer: It was not his fault, it was in the script!)

The event was attended by several hundred enthusiastic fans, with many of the attendees in full cosplay mode. (Note: The author was dressed in chinos, a dress shirt, a leather jacket topped off with an NPR baseball cap. DON’T JUDGE ME!)

Daniels’ famous co-star, R2D2 was also on hand to amuse, amaze and pose for pictures with fans…

[Photo of Daniels taken by Paul Glasser, all others by Chris Barkley.]

Roddenberry Jr. and Daley Discuss Star Trek and Human Destiny in LA on 11/2

Tad Daley will be live on stage in conversation with Gene Roddenberry Jr. — son of the legendary creator of Star Trek – on November 2.

Daley explains, “We’re NOT going to discuss whether warp drives and phasers-on-stun and ‘beam me up Scotty’ are real world possibilities. Our topic instead is how Star Trek, and many other non-dystopian works of science fiction page and screen, have portrayed a healthy and sustainable planet, the abolition of war, and the political unification of humankind.”

The event happens Saturday, November 2, from 4-6 pm at the Anagnos Peace Center, 3916 Sepulveda Boulevard in Culver City, CA.

Get your free tickets through Eventbrite.

Uncanny Magazine Issue 31 Launches 11/5

The 31st issue of four-time Hugo winner Uncanny Magazine, which also won a 2019 British Fantasy Award this month, will be available on November 5.

Hugo Award-winning Publishers Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas are proud to present the 31st issue of their four-time Hugo Award-winning online science fiction and fantasy magazine, Uncanny Magazine. Stories from Uncanny Magazine have been finalists or winners of Hugo, Nebula, Locus, and World Fantasy Awards. As always, Uncanny features passionate SF/F fiction and poetry, gorgeous prose, provocative nonfiction, and a deep investment in the diverse SF/F culture, along with a Parsec Award-winning monthly podcast featuring a story, poem, and interview from that issue. 

All of Uncanny Magazine’s content will be available in eBook versions on the day of release from Weightless Books, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Google Play, and Kobo. Subscriptions are always available through Amazon Kindle and Weightless Books. The free online content will be released in 2 stages- half on day of release and half on December 3. 

Uncanny Magazine Issue 31 Table of Contents

Cover: La Palma by John Picacio

Editorial

  • “The Uncanny Valley” by Lynne M. Thomas & Michael Damian Thomas
  • “So Long, and Thanks for All the Space Unicorns” by Michi Trota

Fiction

  • “A Time to Reap” by Elizabeth Bear (11/5)
  • “Nutrition Facts” by D.A. Xiaolin Spires (11/5)
  • “Black Flowers Blossom” by Vina Jie-Min Prasad (12/3)
  • “Peridot and Rain” by Laura Anne Gilman (12/3)
  • “A Mindreader’s Guide to Surviving Your First Year at the All-Girls Superhero Academy” by Jenn Reese (12/3)

Nonfiction

  • “The Page and the Panel: Writing Between Prose and Comics” by G. Willow Wilson (11/5)
  • “The Science, Fiction, and Fantasy of Genre” by Alexandra Erin (11/5)
  • “If You’ve Heard This One Before” by Brandon O’Brien (11/5)
  • “As You Know, Bob…” by Jeannette Ng (12/3)
  • “Confessions of an Adjacent Geek” by Keidra Chaney (12/3)

Poetry

  • “Without Prayer or the Place in the Forest” by Sonya Taaffe (11/5)
  • “fear cat” by Hal Y. Zhang (11/5)
  • “The Wooden Box” by Annie Neugebauer (12/3)
  • “Manananggal” by Sylvia Santiago (12/3)

Interview

  • Elizabeth Bear interviewed by Caroline M. Yoachim (11/5)
  • Jenn Reese interviewed by Caroline M. Yoachim (12/3)

Podcasts

Uncanny Magazine Podcast #31A (11/5)

  • “Nutrition Facts” by D.A. Xiaolin Spires, as read by Joy Piedmont
  • “Without Prayer or the Place in the Forest” by Sonya Taaffe, as read by Erika Ensign
  • Lynne M. Thomas Interviews D.A. Xiaolin Spires

Uncanny Magazine Podcast #32A (12/3)

  • “Black Flowers Blossom” by Vina Jie-Min Prasad, as read by Joy Piedmont
  • “The Wooden Box” by Annie Neugebauer, as read by Erika Ensign
  • Lynne M. Thomas Interviews Vina Jie-Min Prasad

Watchmen Series Discussion Post (Here There Be Spoilers)

By Daniel Dern: Having (a) read Alan Moore & Dave Gibbon’s original WATCHMEN comic book  mini-series as it was coming out (and keeping up with the discussions on Usenet), (b) watched Snyder’s 2009 movie (see my write-up, “I Watched The WATCHMEN (Movie, That Is)’), and, (c) least importantly, read DC Comics Before Watchmen 37-issue prequel (and d) having, somewhere, a set of the original Watchmen pins), I can say with reasonable confidence that you don’t have to have read/seen any of these to watch HBO’s new Watchmen mini-series. At least, not as of Episode 1, which is all that’s been aired as I write this.

If you have read the original comics and/or seen the movie (particularly the former), you will spot, or know a little more about, some of the bits (although these will, presumably, be explained as in further episodes), e.g., (1) the little blue guy doing something on Mars, (2) the old rich white guy, (3) a cake that I think looked sort of like a squiddy monster, (4) the use of watch and watchmaker references and imagery.

On the other hand, at least so far, the “Rorschach” inkblot masks, and people wearing them, in HBO’s series may, for all I know/we might find out, have no relation to the original.

That said, one episode in, it’s incredibly well done. It slightly reminds me of the recent (still going, IIRC) Legion show in the way that many of the scenes don’t immediately make sense or fit together, although Legion went mind-bendingly over the top on this, while this is simply, “whoa” level.

This is an grim show so far — unsurprising given what the show is focusing on and how — and I don’t anticipate much if any cheerful parts, although hopefully there’s some glimmer or change or hope at the (very) end.

Now to wait for HBO/BBC’s His Dark Materials mini-series, premiering on HBO on November 4. The trailers look awesome. Very different from the Disney movie (just a comment, not a criticism — Disney’s looked spot on to how I “saw the book in my mind as read it”).

Add your thoughts about the new Watchmen series in comments. *SPOILER WARNING*

Register for Odyssey’s Winter 2020 Online Classes

Odyssey Writing Workshops is offering three live, intensive online classes this winter. Odyssey’s nonprofit mission is to help writers of fantasy, science fiction, and horror, however, writers of all genres are welcome to apply. Courses will cover issues relevant to writers of adult, young adult, and middle grade fiction. Full information can be found at their website or you can email jcavelos@odysseyworkshop.org.  

The three classes are:

Three-Act Structure in Fantastic Fiction
Course Meets: January 2 – 30, 2020
Instructor: Award-winning editor, bestselling author, and Odyssey Director Jeanne Cavelos
Level:  Advanced
Application Deadline: December 7, 2019

In Jeanne’s 32 years working with writers, as a senior editor at Bantam Doubleday Dell and then as director of Odyssey, she has found, again and again, that writers struggle most with plot and structure. A story or novel may have compelling characters, an interesting world, and a strong style, but without the engine of a plot, the other elements lie static on the page. Writers struggle to find the best place to start the story, often starting too soon or too late. They get mired in the middle, with the protagonist wandering to various locations, picking up plot coupons in the hope of redeeming them for a climax. The climax often feels weak, forced by the author, or as if it belongs in some other story. Even if the protagonist has run through the plot like a mouse through a maze, the plot often carries no emotional impact.

To solve these problems, writers need to master the act structure underlying strong fiction. While writing books and blogs periodically discuss acts, few clearly define what truly comprises an act or explain how plotting in acts can create a more suspenseful, unpredictable, and emotionally satisfying experience for the reader.

In addition to studying acts, and in particular three-act structure, the course will cover how to plot within that structure, creating escalations, reversals, and crisis points of impact and emotion. Jeanne will explain how structure and character are intertwined, so the turning points in the plot connect with changes in the character. With a strong act structure, your protagonist will face challenges that will put the character, and readers, through an experience they will never forget. For those who struggle with plot, this is a great opportunity.

The Heart of the Matter:  Bringing Emotional Resonance to Your Storytelling
Course Meets: January 6 – February 3, 2020
Instructor: Award-winning novelist Barbara Ashford
Level:  Intermediate
Application Deadline: December 7, 2019

One of Odyssey’s most highly rated online instructors, award-winning author Barbara Ashford, is tackling another major challenge for writers in her course, The Heart of the Matter: Bringing Emotional Resonance to Your Storytelling. Writers are constantly frustrated to discover that the characters and situations that seem so moving and powerful to them leave readers shrugging and saying, “Meh.”

If you want your work to be imbued with emotion, if you want your readers to care as much about your characters as you do, this is the course for you. The Heart of the Matter will not only show you how to get character emotions on the page in a powerful and affecting way; it will explain how to infuse each element of your story–setting, description, character, plot, point of view, beats, rhythm, subtext–with emotion, so all the elements are working together and emotion resonates through your story with great impact. This course will take you from “setting the stage”–understanding the heart of the story you are telling–to “getting it on the page”–exploring techniques that will not only show the emotions of your characters but orchestrate the overall emotional experience of readers. Then your stories can take readers on a journey that satisfies their hearts as well as their minds.

Standing Out: Creating Short Stories with That Crucial Spark
Course Meets: January 9 – February 6, 2020
Instructor: Award-winning editor and publisher Scott H. Andrews
Level:  Intermediate to Advanced
Application Deadline: December 7, 2019

Scott H. Andrews, editor-in-chief and publisher of the fantasy magazine Beneath Ceaseless Skies, a seven-time Hugo Award finalist, taught for Odyssey Online for the first time in 2018. The response to his class, Standing Out: Creating Short Stories with That Crucial Spark, was extremely enthusiastic. Students who took the class found it fascinating and very helpful; those who weren’t able to get in have been asking us to offer it again. Scott is doing more than that, offering an expanded version of the course with classes running 1 hour and 50 minutes, rather than Odyssey Online’s usual 90 minutes.  

Why does a story need “spark”? Scott receives far too many well-crafted, engaging stories each month to publish. For him to publish a story, it needs to be special; it needs to have that crucial spark. Creating a story with that crucial spark is one of the major challenges writers face. What exactly is a “spark”? This course will involve studying and discussing stories that have a spark. Scott will then explain various ways to create a spark–with a fascinating concept or thematic impact or emotional resonance or potent voice. Students will learn the most effective techniques to create a spark, practice those techniques, and then work to add a spark to their own work. Having that spark can make the difference between personalized rejections and sales. If you want to write works that are more than competent, that captivate or enthrall or delight, this course is for you.

Live class meetings allow a virtual “physical college classroom” experience, in which students can participate in discussions, ask questions, and learn from an instructor who is responsive, in the moment, to students’ concerns, confusions, and thoughts.  Between meetings, students interact with each other and the instructor in a discussion group, complete demanding assignments, and give and receive in-depth feedback.  Each student also has a one-on-one meeting with the instructor.  Graduates of Odyssey Online regularly praise the depth and value of the content provided in the courses, the rigorous, carefully designed assignments, and the insightful, detailed critiques from instructors.

Odyssey Online offers only three classes each year and admits only fourteen students per class, to keep quality high and ensure each student receives individual attention.  Courses are focused on some of the biggest challenges writers face.

In addition, the Odyssey site, http://www.odysseyworkshop.org, offers many resources for writers, including free podcasts, a monthly discussion salon, a blog, a critique service, coaching, consultations, and information about the six-week, in-person workshop.  

[Based on a press release.]

Two’s Crowds at the KGB Bar

By Mark L. Blackman: On the evening of Wednesday, October 16th, as a nor’easter raged outside, the monthly Fantastic Fiction Readings Series hosted authors Barbara Krasnoff and Nicole Kornher-Stace at its longtime venue, the most sincerely Red Room of the second-floor (or third – there’s a major schism – but, either way, it’s a steep climb up stairs) KGB Bar in Manhattan’s East Village. (The Room seemed darker than usual.)

The event opened with Series co-host Matthew Kressel welcoming the crowd (who’d come out in the storm) and the standard exhortation to thank the Bar by buying drinks, hard or soft (readings are always free, and our patronage keeps it so) (somewhat smaller, likely due to the holidays) and reported on upcoming readings. The next months’ readers are:

November 20
David Mack
Glassner

December 18
Paul Tremblay
Nathan Ballingrud

January 15, 2020
Cassandra Khaw
Richard Kadrey

February 19
James Patrick Kelly
P. Djeli Clark

(Details are available at here.)  All dates are the third Wednesday of the month.

He concluded by introducing the first reader of the evening. Nicole Kornher-Stace is the author of the Norton Award finalist Archivist Wasp and its sequel, Latchkey. Her next novel, Firebreak, is due out from Saga in 2020, and it was from it that she read. Firebreak, she relayed, has been described as “if Saga Press and Black Mirror had a baby.” Set in the future, in an oppressive company town – notably, they’ve locked up the water supply – Mallory Parker leads a protest (the revolution is being broadcast online), and security, behind disruptor shields, is brutally disbanding the crowd. (Though, of course, not intended, it was hard not to think of what’s happening in Hong Kong.) When there is a rainfall, protestors grab red plastic cups to catch it, deemed illegally “poaching water.” Her offering was well-received, though Kornher-Stace did read a bit too fast.

After an intermission, the Series’ senior co-host, Ellen Datlow, introduced the evening’s second reader. Barbara Krasnoff is the author of over 35 short stories, including “Sabbath Wine,” which was a finalist for the Nebula Award, and recently published a mosaic novel (connected stories) titled The History of Soul 2065, a generational saga of two Jewish girls’ descendants, spanning from the eve of World War I to the second half of the 21st century, including “Sabbath Wine.” (She’s also responsible for a series of wryly captioned photos delving into the inner situations of street objects and urban wildlife that can be found under the hashtag #TheirBackstories.)

Her reading was of a story from The History of Soul 2065, “Stoop Ladies.” Set in 1983, in Brooklyn (of course), Julie Jacobson (not strictly speaking on either girl’s family tree), newly laid off from her office job (a PR representative) after 17 years, sighs and decides to join the crowd (a very different one from Firebreak) of mostly elderly women who congregate evenings in the yard outside her brownstone to schmooze and gossip, and with whom she occasionally sits. (My mother called the bunch who set up beach chairs outside our apartment house “Rogues Gallery,” with people passing by on the sidewalk or entering the building running the gauntlet of their scrutiny, though we dubbed them “Yenta Center.” Julie’s neighbors are more ethnically diverse.) Sharing her woes, she finds Chablis and sympathy, and perhaps a little magic. The story was quirky – like the ladies – and enchanting.

Prior to the reading, as usual, Datlow whirled through the audience, taking photos. (It looks like she’s also using a cameraphone these days.) Her photos of the event may be seen on her Flickr page.

Comes a Reckoning: NYRSF Readings Spotlight Creative Writing on Environmental Justice

By Mark L. Blackman: One might think that, as we all breathe air and need potable water to survive – among the few things that all of humanity has in common – the environment would be as noncontroversial and nonpartisan as anything could be, but no. Even the very first Earth Day in 1970 was savaged as, variously, Hitler’s birthday and Lenin’s birthday. One button that I have from back then displays an upside-down peace sign, resembling a tree, calling us to “make peace with nature” … thus environmentalism was deemed “unpatriotic” (and ridiculed as “tree-hugging”) long before visible and undisputed climate change was called “a Chinese hoax” and even weather reports were politicized.

On the evening of Monday, October 14 – Indigenous Peoples’ Day, Federal Columbus Day and the start of the second day of Sukkot (a Jewish festival with arboreal aspects) – at its venue, the Brooklyn Commons Café in Brooklyn, two floors below the beleaguered WBAI-FM (more on that below), the New York Review of Science Fiction Readings Series spotlighted Reckoning, an annual journal of creative writing on environmental justice. (Trade paper, perfect-bound copies are $15, but are free online to get the message out. The 4th issue will be out in January. Visit Reckoning.press for more information.) The event was guest-hosted by its publisher, Michael J. DeLuca, and featured readings by Emily Houk, Krista Hoeppner Leahy, Marissa Lingen, Emery Robin and Brian Francis Slattery. (The readers read from works in Reckoning 1 and 2, with the exception of Robin, whose story will run in Reckoning 4.)

The event opened, as usual, with producer and executive curator Jim Freund (and, until last week, host of the long-running sf/fantasy radio program Hour of the Wolf) welcoming the audience. He began by noting that tonight’s readings would on Facebook Live, rather than streamed on Livestream, (Livestream should be back in November.)  He then addressed the elephant in the room two floors above. A week earlier, WBAI-FM’s parent company, Pacifica Across America – or, more specifically, a group of the owners – abruptly shut down the listener-sponsored station. Legal counteractions ensued, with more to come. Freund (who was wearing a WBAI t-shirt) assured all that WBAI-FM would be back, and announced that there would be a rally and press conference on the steps of City Hall on Tuesday the 15th at noon (too late for those reading this) in support of BAI.

Michael J. DeLuca

Returning to why we were there, he reminded those who can to donate to the Series ($7 is the suggested donation, but no one is ever turned away due to lack of funds), and reported that the home audience (to coin a phrase) may donate on its Patreon page. He concluded by announcing future readers: On Tuesday (yes, the Series returns to its usual schedule), November 5th (Election Day and Guy Fawkes Day – “Remember, remember, the 5th of November”), the readers will be Gay Partington Terry and Robert V.S. Redick. December 3rd will be “party time,” an evening of Glitter Spec Fic, featuring A.C. Wise and others to be corralled “reading stories and performing music to do with glitter.” (On the Series webpage, this notice was displayed in multiple colors.) Disclosing his own early environmental activism, he then turned “the show” over to DeLuca.

DeLuca describes hisroots as mycorrhizal with sugar maple and Eastern white pine,” a theme seen in his website, mossyskull.com. His fiction has appeared most recently in Beneath Ceaseless SkiesThree-Lobed Burning EyeStrangelet and Middle Planet. He observed that holding the event on Indigenous Peoples’ Day was “in keeping with the spirit of environmental justice” (some anthropologists may disagree).

Brian Francis Slattery

First up was Brian Francis Slattery, who has written four novels and is also the arts editor and a reporter for the New Haven Independent, and a musician. “For a week out of every year, lives without electricity” (and that’s without living in California). He read from his semi-fictional essay “The Kinder and More Caring Future,” musings on sustainability (we shouldn’t eat meat-eating predators, including certain fish like haddock) and a reminiscence on the wake of Hurricane Irene. “Hurricane Irene was the future calling,” showing us the perils of seas rising.)

Krista Hoeppner Leahy

Krista Hoeppner Leahy, the second reader, has appeared in a Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy,  ClarkesworldLady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet and Farrago’s Wainscot. Her offering washer short poem “Eathspun,” about our relationship with Nature (“All of us belong to the sky”). (Another memorable line was “Breathe through your cloaca.”)

During the intermission, a raffle was held (for those who donated), with the prizes being copies of Infomocracy by Malka Older and Galápagos Regained by James Morrow. DeLuca then opened the second half of the evening.

Emily Houk

Emily Houk commented that her story “Plague Winter” reads as science fiction, but is historical, about bio-control of invasive species (we were referred to The Simpsons). Here a lab assistant sets plague doctor beetles on hemlocks. (I might have seen the trees in her story in Western Massachusetts.)

In keeping with the ecological theme, Marissa Lingen reported that she has “a large collection of foliage-themed jewelry.” She read her story “The Shale Giants.” (“Humans want to steal their breath.”)

The final reader of the evening, Emery Robin, read a story set in her hometown Oakland, “Ambient and Isolated Effects of Fine Particulate Matter.” After fires – and drought – in Northern California, the sky is hazy, and the air quality has been severely affected, become unbreathable (people wear masks) and ashy – people are turning gray.

DeLuca concluded the evening by inviting submissions.

The traditional Jenna Felice Freebie Table offered a small assortment of books along with copies of Cultural Survival Quarterly (focused indigenous issues and traditional knowledge; DeLuca’s sister is on staff). The audience of about 40, counting Freund and the readers (but not the Chabad duo who wandered in with the Four Species), included Amy Goldschlager, (House Manager) Barbara Krasnoff, John Kwok and (Tech Director) Terence Taylor. The kitchen closed early, but the Café still offered beverages, cold food and snacks.