Monday, December 22, 2014

Give it away, give it away, give it away now

The Interview probably doesn’t need to be discussed anymore. The movie-houses that caved are foolish and shortsighted. Sony is even worse. They suck at manipulating public opinion. And really, what else do you want from major motion pictures than to be manipulated? Frightened, moved, made to laugh – if their mission was to sour the public on themselves, nicely done. If Sony wanted to stay in business, well, maybe you should start a support group with the people at MGM.

Shelving a movie the government of North Korea doesn’t want anyone to see is not just stupid and cowardly – it’s a lost opportunity. If you want to lose $40 million, do it with style. Give The Interview away. Post it. Let everyone in the world see if for free, without any hard targets at your local Omniplex.

To quote the Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Give it away, give it away, give it away now.” Because, like David Bowie, “We can be heroes.”

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A decent review

Finally, after eight months, an economist reviews The Milkman. And whew. It's a good one.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

More Women Cops, Please

Troubles in Ferguson, Missouri, and Staten Island, New York have left two young African American men dead at the hands of white police officers. The incidents feed racial fires and raise calls for more police of color, but that is only part of the problem. The violence isn’t just white on black  - it’s men on men.  We are taught to be competitive from an early age, it is reinforced throughout our lives by the majority of popular entertainment and it may very well go even deeper than culture.

Men and women are equal. Done. Glad I got that out of the way. They are not, however, the same. Multiple studies have shown that female brains have more interconnections and that leads to more holistic, big-picture thinking, better communication and a more complete understanding of social contexts. Sounds like a great skill set for a cop – if the cop’s purpose is to keep the peace.

Men tend – tend, mind you, as opposed to ‘exclusively’ or ‘universally’ – to be better at single-tasking and staying on focus. Wonderful skills for hunting, as in tracking down and capturing criminals. Combined with more profound upper body strength and an urge to compete, men are designed for conflict. Women, for dealing with it.

Which makes me wish that more than 14 percent of our nation’s police forces were women. The simple fact is they get into fewer pissing matches. Not none. God knows. Fewer.  They are less likely to compete for the sake of competing. There are not a huge number of studies to support this, but only because there have not been a huge number of studies on the subject at all. Those that have peered at the topic agree that women make excellent law enforcement officers.

Back in 1981 The Police Foundation followed 86 male and 86 female rookies for a year and found that the women were just as effective as the men when if came to police work. But, they were less likely to engage in “unbecoming behavior” and “more effective at defusing potentially dangerous situations.”

There’s a chance a female officer would have made no difference in the sadly short lives of Michael Brown or Eric Garner. It’s not a good chance, though. If the officers involved had stepped back, taken in the whole of the situations, de-escalated the conflicts, maybe heard “I can’t breathe” – things might have turned out different. I don’t know. Not everything’s black and white.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Book Giveaway

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Milkman by Michael J. Martineck

The Milkman

by Michael J. Martineck

Giveaway ends November 30, 2014.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win

Sunday, November 9, 2014

A little scribing bubble

There is no point to tile showers other than boosting the immune system. You can’t get them completely clean. Ever. It’s maddening. It’s all the trenches and pock marks. There is no easy way to address them on a macro level. I want to mix equal parts ammonia, chlorine and gasoline together, toss it in my stall and light it up.

A brush gets into the crannies. It is tedious. You scrub one place, it looks clean, so you move on to another. You scrub that until it looks clean and now that last spot isn’t as nice as you thought. You go back and around, scrubbing and scrubbing and best you can hope for is a loved one eventually pulls your fume-filled body out by your ankles.

And that is what it is like writing a novel. In case you were wondering. Except, on occasion, someone says they liked the book. No one has ever complemented me on my shower.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Campaign Ads are not Free Speech

You don’t have to be a writer to feel political ads are an affront to all that is holy. They should be excommunicated. I’m a firm believer in sanctity of the First Amendment. I mean, hey – it’s number one. The victor. It is obviously bested the others in feats of necessity. But it is not exactly what people think it is and that is never more painfully apparent than on the days leading up to a national election.

The First Amendment to the US Constitution does a lot of things: gives us the right to assemble, petition the government, keeps Congress from favoring one religion over another. The First doesn’t create free speech, it protects it from the clawing hands of our elected officials. “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech.” See, right there. Freedom of speech exists and Congress is not allowed to mess with it. That’s why the details of this freedom are not spelled out in the Bill of Rights. And why political ads have infected it.

Your are born with the right to speak freely. Running ads is a different right altogether. As a society we’ve decided that truth in advertising is a valuable commodity. Free markets work better with reliable communication. If I say my tonic is going to fill in your bald spots, we the people have created verification methods to ensure we’re not all throwing our money away all the time.

At least with hair tonic. Not, it would seem, with politicians. They are permitted to stretch, bend and falsify all through their ads. It is up to the consumer to weigh value and fact-check. The cost of doing that renders a cost onto the speech. The fact that everyone agrees that political ads are untrustworthy – and therefore worthless – makes them even worse. Now all they do is reinforce preconceived notions. They encourage lies to fester and grow. Not holding political ads to the same standards we do toothpaste, cars and sneakers renders this kind of speech far from free. The price tag is the cost of our democracy.

Just in: Hyndai and Kia are finned $745 million dollars for stretching the truth about gas mileage on some of their cars. This, on the day before midterm elections.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Remedial education

Max the eight-year-old got a note home from his teacher commenting on some bad handwriting. Mine. I’m required every night to sign between one and one hundred various sheets, forms, tests results and affidavits stating that I have listened to him read aloud. I don’t mind doing this.  In fact, I kind of like it. It forces me to sit down for a moment and see what he’s doing in school. It’s not like he’s ever going to ask for my help with his homework. He’s better then me in math and his vocabulary already exceeds mine. I’m not boasting about the kid, either. Just bearing witness to my decline.

Anyway, the note home bugged me. Then I thought maybe it shouldn’t. If you're on the driving range and a pro offers you a couple of tips, you don’t tell her to mind her own freakin’ business, right? Which is why I’m going to third grade next week, to audit a class. Max’s teacher wants me to write better, I’m going to give her the chance to show me how.  

Hope I still fit in the desk and really hope its pizza day.

Monday, October 20, 2014

A Cautionary Tale for Cautionary tales

Two children wander away from home and find a house made of candy. I’ll stop right there. You’re getting sick of grim and dour stories, kids fighting kids and such. You’ve been on that The Road and you want a detour. Fine. But heed my warning: We need every witch and wolf we have.  It’s how we make the real world better.

I am not insensitive to the concern that fiction just keeps getting darker and duller. I love the Hieroglyph Project out of Arizona State, for instance, and its devotion to optimistic science fiction. But when jewelers want to show you a how sparky a diamond tennis bracelet is, they put it up against a black background. Chiaroscuro. There is no light without dark. Our oldest stories – you and me – the ones we were told first – never started with triumph. Sometimes they never got there at all. They were tales of caution and I’m not sure they should ever be outgrown.

Outside of fandom there persists a myth that science fiction should be predictive; it needs to perform some parlor trick to prove its worth. This has never been the case. Mary Shelly wrote about the fears stirred by science. H.G. Wells wrote about imperialism, the amorality of progress and man’s ability, or lack thereof, to overcome his nature. Even Jules Vern, often touted as a visionary and futurist, did not sit down and simply describe rockets or submarines that might one day exist. He put them in stories that put them to use, by humans, for better or for worse.

1984 was not written because George Orwell thought the world would become a totalitarian nightmare. He wrote the book so it would not. Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison – and the more famous rendition,Soylent Green – pondered global warming, over population and decline in value of any surplus – even if the surplus is people. The author, and the auteur, wanted the world to veer off its course.

A book as wry and breezy as John Scalzi’s Red Shirts hints at dangers before us. Popular entertainment can desensitize us; make us callus. Superficiality can devalue life. Red Shirts won a Hugo Award for Best Novel because its real science fiction and real science fiction doesn’t come with a warning. It is a warning.

There is power in positive writing. Kim Stanley’s Robinson’s Mars trilogy, Allen Steele’s Coyote books and Karl Schroeder’s Virga sequence all show us where we can go and all the amazing things we can accomplish. These stories are valuable and we need them. They speak to the explorer in all of us. They tell us to plunge into the woods. Be clever and drop breadcrumbs (if carbs are the only tech you have.) If you want to stay alive, though, you might want to read a story about witches first. The tales can be a little dark, but illuminating, too.

Science fiction at its best doesn’t show us the future, it keeps us on our best possible path. Signs can really help. Like: Scorched Earth Ahead or Falling Asteroids. We may want to avoid those.

Monday, October 13, 2014

I am not Divergent

Divergent (Divergent, #1)Divergent by Veronica Roth
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Read this book because my teenage daughter liked it so much and, well, it's not like we're going to talk about boys and stuff. My son and I can, and do, talk superheroes all day, so I wanted to share something with the girl.  I liked it much more than I thought I might. There are moments of insight and innovation that surprised me. I can certainly understand the pull with a younger crowd, especially the fairer sex.  The book exploits common middle-American fears because Veronica understands them so well.

In the end, I am not Divergent.  I like the book like many, many others.

View all my reviews

Friday, October 3, 2014

I hate Nickelodeon

My hatred for Nickelodeon TV continues to grow, because they continue to feed it. Legend of Korra is not just the network’s best show, it is the best animated show on television and one of the best shows on TV period – no special classifications, pigeon holes or handicaps. I’m not kidding. The class and balance of this show puts it up there with Game of Thrones, House of Cards and even Breaking Bad. Seriously. And what does Nick do with such a slice of wonder – they promote it with less time than public service announcements and resign it to the Web.

Someone at Nick thinks they’re fighting the future. They feel the decline of cable and the surge in demand-responsive media. I get that. I also get the importance of timing. The convenience of watching shows online is indisputable – unless the show has a communal value. Unless you want to sit around and watch the airbenders as a family.

 Korra is one of very, very few shows on TV that my wife, teenage daughter, eight-year-old son and I will watch together. Nick wants us all to grab an iPad, don ear buds and watch it separately.

 So I hate them.

Monday, September 29, 2014

No ground for boots

For the nation’s well being, we should have a cabinet post dedicated to the efficacy of language in America. Secretary of Usage would be fine with me and I really need to be the first appointee.

First item: Boots on the ground. No one is allowed to use this phrase. Not only has it gone limp due to a trite infection, it never should have been allowed out of military briefing rooms to begin with. If a sergeant in the Army says it, fine. He or she has presumably had their boots on hostile ground. Anyone else is turning a person into footwear. When you order a bunch of 18 to 24 year-olds into Syria, you’re asking young people to stand at the wrong end of assault rifles. You are not asking them to get their Timberlands soiled.

Second item: Game changer. If you are not actually changing a game, the phrase is disallowed. For the record, politics is not a game. War is not a game. A game is fun and the consequences do not include dismemberment, death or the collapse of the world economy.

Third item: At the end of the day. The chances of this phrase being used to reference an actual end or an actual day are so minuscule that the phrase is forbidden. Yes, the English language revels in metaphor, but this one is a verbal tick. It is six words to say ‘ultimately’.

Thank you for your time. God bless America.

Friday, September 26, 2014

A piano, a cello and three batmobiles.

This is, for me, about as good as it gets.  I love the way these guys weave three bat themes together.  Very, very well done.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Life With an Apple Watch

Firearms, motorcycles, fried hand pies – everything that’s cool has a dark side. And nobody makes things cooler than Apple. Even low-utility gizmos like the Apple TV have an ease of use and simplicity of design that makes them desirable despite doing little for you. So, obviously, the Apple Watch is terribly intriguing. Notice that clause fails to make a value judgment.

 An Apple Watch-like device figures heavily into my novel, The Milkman. I didn’t set out to predict the future – that wasn’t even possible, lots of speculative stories have featured similar devices going back to Dick Tracy – I arrived at the device by necessity. In the Freeworld of The Milkman, everyone works for one of three super-companies. Those companies want you to have a phone/watch/wallet. No, they need you to have one. One will be provided should you not be able to afford one. The cuff, as most of my characters refer to their communications devices, provides several services for the mega-corporations in my future.

First, because there are only three companies, and no governments, each company has a closed economy. The only money is the money they issue. One way to promote growth in this situation is to increase the velocity of money. A watch, loaded with your credit card, does that quite nicely. Quick transactions, reduced time for impulse control and that lack of feeling that any money even change hands leads to a lot more money changing hands.

Second, the watch lets companies watch. This is not a matter of Amazon knowing what kinds of books you like. The dataset available from Apple’s package will include everything you Google, what you had for lunch, how much time you sit, your heart rate, your friends and whether or not you’re happily married, go to church or dream of owning a hot tub.

Third, and most creepy, people will like these watches. They will love the convenience, the shortcuts, the entertainment and connections they make available. All that good stuff flows through the company. Want to talk to your daughter, obtain your insulin or view all those baby pictures you took ten years ago? It depends on access and access depends on the company.

I’m not saying Apple is nefarious in any way. I’m just saying our future is like the French Quarter: very cool - wonderful nooks and crannies . . . and allies one best not go down.

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Milkman's coming: From Apple

I don't do this too often, but sometimes the news reminds of stuff I've written and I think it's funny.

This is one of my favorite excerpts from The Milkman:

“Commerce and communication. Once they got together, the world changed.”

“That’s the weapon of revolution? The wrist phone?”

“It’s more than that. It’s your link with society. Your strongest link. Think about it, man. Can you prove who you are without it? Can you buy anything? Talk to anyone out of ear’s reach? Do you know what’s going on in the world? Your body is only a part of your life. A little part, and not even the most important part. You’re a ball of numbers to the company – and to everyone else you’re not actually touching. Whoever controls that link, that bridal, can jerk you around like an old pony."

If I'm right, Apple might be on the road to scary. From Wired: How the Next iPhone Could Finnally Kill the Credit Card

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Milkman is Coming: From the state of Washington

What if Aladdin took all of the genie's powers? Mmmm . . .

Here is yet another entry in my continuing series of freaky stories that lend credence to my book, The Milkman.  This one is from Gawker about Aladdin, a software system acting as a hub for more $11 trillion in assets.  Seven percent of all the wealth in the world is managed, in part, by this one company.  For perspective, this little firm is, at any given time, the second largest economy in the world. Nope, not Apple, not Google, not Exxon.  Read all about it. 

It's not a whole new world.  It's ours. Aren't you glad you have a friend like me?

Thursday, August 28, 2014

We’re all science fiction fans now

My friend, the writer Ian Sales, made a harmless tweet with regard to why people mock science fiction fans. In one of those weird juxta-twitter-positions it ended up next to a story on the success of Guardians of the Galaxy.  The film has passed the $500 million mark. It is on its way to becoming the top-grossing film of 2014 in North America.

Internationally the story is different, Transformers Age of Extinction remains in the lead with $1.065 billion. Taste, it seems, can get obliterated in translation. It doesn’t disprove my point, though: We’re all science fiction fans now.

I would love to discuss novels and genres, but the fact is, movie-goers outnumber avid readers by about 20-to-one (at least, in the U.S.) So if you want to take the taste temperature of the populace, look up at the big screen. This is the year so far in terms of North American box offices grosses:

1  Captain America: The Winter Soldier
2  The LEGO Movie
3  Guardians of the Galaxy
4  Transformers: Age of Extinction
5  Maleficent
6  X-Men: Days of Future Past
7  Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
8  The Amazing Spider-Man 2
9  Godzilla (2014)
10 22 Jump Street

Only 'Jump' isn't speculative.  LEGO most certainly does.

Even more people watch TV. If you count Game of Thrones in the broader genre, it’s still a summer of speculative fiction:
 1  Under the Dome
 2  True Blood
 3  Big Brother
 4  The Bachelorette
 5  The Last Ship
 6  The Good Wife
 7  Game of Thrones
 8  Scandal
 9  Dancing with the Stars
 10 American Idol

Hell, Big Brother should count as sci fi. That’s where the name comes from. The Bachelorette is high fantasy. Dr. Who, not on the list, just had its biggest debut episode ever.

While pigeonholes help one navigate books stores, the labels Science Fiction/Fantasy or Horror or Self Help are not helpful for too much else. In North America, people like stories regardless of the line used to pitch them in the first place. World wide? The planet is doomed. Age of Extinction? Really? Crap might be a genre, but I don’t need to recognize it.

Friday, August 15, 2014

On Dystopias

Michael Solana had an interesting piece on Wired yesterday: Stop writing dystopias.  Interesting, as in not great or cute, or even shabby or dumb.  It made me think . . . and I think the essay should be marked incomplete.

Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus, by Mary Shelly is considered by many (most?) to be the start of the science fiction novel.  It is not a sunny work of unbridled optimism.  Science fiction has always played with our hopes for the future AND our fears.  There is no turning point - there is a pendulum.  I love reading review of my book, The Milkman, which takes place in a world with no governments.  Some people see it as a dystopia, others just the opposite.  It's fascinating and really muddies the argument - There is no general agreement on what a fine world even looks like.

Solana goes on to claim a fear of technology that grows from dour fiction, the evidence for which escapes me.  I see people more in love with gizmos than ever.  They want to strap it to their freakin' bodies, they love it so much.  Cars with radar.  Printers that can order their own ink.  A phone that reminds you to check your insulin.  This stuff is not just cool, but useful.

Dystopias are warning signs.  Don't go this way.  Or, if you do, use caution.  In end, a proper waring breeds respect.  Modern technology is right to ask for that.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Michael’s chainsaw massacre

I’m driving like Jason Stratham through the streets of Buffalo, desperate to get to the We Sharpen Anything store. My chainsaw can’t cut a day-old zombie. The previous weekend I attacked a salami-sized tree limb and ended up burning it rather than slicing it, so the chain really needed to be honed. We Sharpen Anything closes at 5 p.m. Seriously. The time at which you can try to get there after a day of work – and fail. It’s like getting front row seats at a school recital or tickets to Book of Mormon. You know these things can be done. You’ve heard of people doing it, just never you.

The mad traffic slicing pays off and I get to the store at 4:50 p.m. giddy with joy.  I have done it.  I have made it in under their unjust, anti-business wire.

And they are closed.  The sign says they close at 5:00.  May watch says 4:50.  I shake the door.  It looks old and sticky.  I shake the crap out of it.  I’m standing there, hot, pissed off and I remember I have a chainsaw in my hands. 

It’s bad business to anger a customer base that only visits you replete with knives, axes and things designed to hack.  I would have proved this to We Sharpen Anything, but my chain was dull.  Couldn’t cut a butter lamb.

Maybe next time? No. I said, like a Terminator, “I won’t be back.”

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Robert Reich knows the Milkman is coming

Love this post by the former US Secretary of Labor, and current Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, Robert Reich. As multinational corporations grow in scope and size, nations become more and more irrelevant. IBM is a great example. If only 20-percent of its employees are American, is it still a US company? It may want to self-identify that way, but in a functional sense - in the way that matters to most people - it's as nationless as Al-Qaeda. Or Greenpeace. The Milkman marches on.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Story About a Story

Yeah, stories about stories are a little pretzelish, but this tiny little essay is cool because it’s about one word. The word that, 30 years ago, made me think about writing The Milkman. was nice enough to post it.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Going to Detcon1

Not to be confused with Defcon1, I hope, in most ways. I want this convention to be exciting, but not THAT exciting. I will be doing several things in Detroit this weekend, the best of which are

Reading with Suzanne Church – we’re doing a joint reading 2 pm Sat. We don’t share, we read at the same time, cutting each other off. It’s fierce.

Reading for kids – 4pm Sat. I wrote a special chapbook just for the event, Max Goes to Detcon1. And I mean just. This is a one-time only deal, little ones. Grab a cookie and listen to me try not to sound like an old guy with a sinus infection.

 On Sunday, I’m on a panel about science and magic. It won’t go well. We all know those two things don’t mix.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Word Crimes

I haven't loved a Weird Al song in so, so long.  The wait is over.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Border Perspective

Since October 56,000 children have entered the country illegally. It seems like a big number.  God knows, if all of them we're buying one my books I'd be thrilled.  In that same time about 2.6 million children were born in the U.S. That's a bigger number.  Would anyone have noticed if America’s birthrate rose two-tenths of a percent in the last three quarters? Anyone?

I’m not advocating illegal immigration or law breaking. I do think people might want to try to keep the issue in perspective. Any protestor holding a sign up to a 12-year-old telling her to go home and saying to the cameras “I’m saving our country” needs to give the matter just a little more thought. Sure, tighten up the borders, tell all of Uruguay this won’t be tolerated, but please, don’t make kids your soccer ball.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Shia LaBeouf - The Real Story

Shia LaBeouf, as explained to me by a friend of a friend, got ripped after seeing Transformers, Age of Extinction.  It’s tough to admonish him for this.  I guess he said something like “They used to blame me for this crap”  and started pounding Bushmills. He escaped to the theatre, where Tony award winning actor Alan Cumming should have been able to help.  Then he realized it was the guy form Son of the Mask, lit up and got the boot.  I almost feel bad for the guy.  Almost.  I would if it weren’t for Indian Jones and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.  That remains unforgiveable.