GISHWHES 2014

Two teenagers who I know – one my godson, the other a girl in my girl scout troop – asked me to help them with the GISHWESH scavenger hunt this year. Specifically, they asked me to produce an original short story, 140 words or less, that includes Misha Collins, the Queen of England, and an Elopus. Because I know them, I was happy to do this favor for them.

Other, much more well known, authors have been inundated with these requests and have refused them. I understand their point of view – writing these stories did cost me several hours of writing time that I could have spent on another project. But it was an interesting challenge to get the three required items, all the names of the teens on each team, and a coherent story into 140 words. And I’m fond of these kids.

Below are the two stories I came up with. Which do you like better?

 

The Scavenger Hunt: A SF Story for GISHWHES 2014

By Antha Ann Adkins

Hordes of teenagers swarmed through the space station, lists in hand, looking for the items worth the most points. Sophie and Abigail led a group to Hab 12.

“What the heck is an Elopus?” Erica asked.

Linda looked surprised. “A cross between an elephant and a octopus. My Aunt Holly collects them.“

“Would she have a Misha Collins?” asked Greg, stopping. Meleena, Berber, Tiana, Sarah, Dyson, and Vianne almost ran into him.

“Or a Queen of England?” asked Isa.

Linda knocked on her aunt’s door.

An Astrid-class robot answered. “No, you can’t have an Elopus,” it recited.

“Aunt Holly,” Linda called. “Are you home?”

“Linda!” her aunt said. “So many strangers have asked to borrow my stuff today. But you’re my favorite niece. Come in, and let’s see what I’ve got. Just promise me you won’t bother the bridge crew.”

 

The Scavenger Hunt: Team 2: A SF Story for GISHWHES 2014

By Antha Ann Adkins

Michael and his friends commandeered a classroom to strategize their twenty-first century scavenger hunt entry.

Peter shook his head. “The only thing I recognize on this list is the Queen of England. But which queen? Elizabeth? Kassandra? Emily? Zelda? Jessica?”

“Twenty-first century? Must be Elizabeth,” said Rodrigo.

“How do we take our picture with a dead woman?” asked Adam.

“Cosplay!” said Guilia. “A dress, a handbag, a sash – no problem.”

John bounced with excitement. “Can I cosplay, too? I’ve got the Misha Collins stubble.”

“I could draw an elopus,” said Megan, opening her sketchpad.

“I want to cosplay Sherlock,” said Steven.

“I want to be Watson,” said Chris.

“We can make a TARDIS,” said Tom and Walter.

“I’ll get a wide angle lens,” said Michael. “So we can get all of twenty-first century pop culture in one shot.”

Blog Tour: #MyWritingProcess

My Writing Process is an ongoing blog hop where a writer answers four basic questions about their writing process and then is asked to pass the baton to two more authors. I’ve been invited to participate by the funny and talented James Beamon.  You can find his answers to the questions here: fictigristle.wordpress.com.

You can find my answers to the questions below.

What am I working on?

Last year, I had yet another short story idea expand into a novel.  I knew that was happening early on in the process, so I used my version of the snowflake method to plan it out, and I have a plan down to a list of chapters and scenes.  However, said plan does not stop me from writing whole chapters of additional material when I realize I need it – which I just did.  I’m now on chapter 11 out of 21 (unfortunately, my word count is not yet at half a novel, but I’ve got some content that I need to fill in later), and I’m trying to keep my momentum going and finish it this year.

Meanwhile, a number of short story ideas are rattling around in my head.  I’m trying to keep them quiet long enough to finish the novel.  Gags and muzzles may be required.

How does my work differ from others in its genre?

I’m more inclined to think about utopias than dystopias, and my take on even the darkest subjects is likely to be light.  I am an eternal optimist, a glass-half-full kinda gal.  I’m also an engineer by profession, so my take on things tends to be “how can we fix this” and “how can we make this better” more than “everything sucks”.  So all hell may be breaking loose around my characters, but my emphasis will be on how to fix it, not on how bad hell is.

I wish I could claim that I was funny; the best I can say is that I’m working on it.  Writing humor is very challenging.

Why do I write what I do?

I am fascinated by space travel and the idea of alien life (hence the title of this blog).  Science fiction is a natural fit.

How does my writing process work?

When I start a new project, I start a document I call the project “journal”. I use this document to discovery-write various aspects of the story: the plot outline, character names, the world I’m writing about, etc.  If the project grows to novel length, I follow a modified snowflake method to plan it.  I also doodle a lot and have a sketchbook where I draw maps and building layouts and spaceships and aliens and whatever else I need to “see” before I can write the story.  I write the story itself in a different file. Once I hit “the end”, I still have a checklist I follow to edit the story. Once I’m sure there’s nothing I can improve, I send it to my real-world writing friends and my online critique group (critters.org, which I have gotten a lot of mileage out of) so I can learn that there is, in fact, a lot I can improve. I wait until I’ve gotten all their comments, make a list of my responses to their comments, and implement my list. Then it’s a last pass with my editing checklist, and I’m ready to start submitting. Through all of this, I keep a log of how much time I’ve spent writing and how many words I’ve written per day.

So those are my answers, but every writer is different!  You can find answers to the same questions from two other members of the Houston SFF Meetup group at the links below next week.

They are:

Dominick D’Aunno, MD, was born in New York and now lives in Houston, Texas.  He is an Internal Medicine physician with a subspecialty in Space Medicine and Physiology.  He was a NASA and US Air Force flight surgeon and a research physician-scientist at NASA JSC, focusing on cardiovascular adaptation to short and long duration space flight. He is also interested in immune function and extreme environments, and bone and mineral metabolism in microgravity.  He currently provides primary medical care for adults and adolescents with autism/mental retardation and children in CPS custody.  He writes science fiction and fantasy, and enjoys giving lectures and workshops about writing.  You can find his blog at: www.dominickdaunno.com.

and…

Judith B. Shields is a cross-genre filmmaker, screenwriter and author for historical, sci-fi, light fantasy and New Adult topics. In the fable tradition, her goal is to publish stories with a moral ending. Her website is www.judithbshields.com; her blog is judithbshields.wordpress.com.

Be sure to stop by and read their answers next week!

Aliens at the Movies: Earth to Echo

Given its metallic exterior, blue-lit interior, and magnetic powers, whether Echo is an alien or a robot is debatable.  For the purpose of this blog, I am going to treat it as an alien.

Visual ***

Since this is a children’s movie, it comes as no surprise that the alien is cute.  Echo looks like a tiny owl with big eyes.  It’s designed appeal to the human protective instinct, and I think the design is successful.  The characters want to protect and help it, and the audience wants them to succeed.

My only quibble is that I didn’t like Echo’s limp black legs; they didn’t seem to match the rest of it.

Features *

Like Iron Giant, Echo is able to use magnetism to collect its parts.

Motivation **

Echo wants to retrieve its spaceship and, like ET, go home.  Why its spaceship was here in the first place is a mystery.

Communication **

Echo takes over the local cell phones to generate a map that leads the characters first to itself and then to its scattered parts.

Echo can understand and respond to natural human speech.  However, its responses are limited to “yes” and “no”.

How Echo learned human language and how to hack the cell phones is not clear.  Since the challenge of learning to communication with an alien species is a theme that interests me, I would have liked to have seen more about how Echo learned to communicate, but I didn’t really expect to in a children’s film.

In the end, I found Echo’s communication unsatisfying.  If it can hear human speech, understand human speech, and control the sound output of a cell phone, why can’t it use the cell phone to speak?  Technically, it did not seem consistent.  And story-wise, I think “ET phone home” is much more emotionally powerful than “one beep for yes, two for no.”  So I think the writers missed an opportunity to have Echo communicate much more powerfully than it does.

Overall **

Echo is a children’s movie alien that seems to be a cross between ET and Iron Giant.  It’s cute and successful in making humans want to care for it, but not as successful as I think it could have been if its creators had let it speak.

Please share your thoughts about this movie alien in the comments below.

Aliens at the Movies: Edge of Tomorrow

As it says in my blog title, aliens are one of my favorite things. I love to invent them and explore how someone could be different from us and what it would be like to live with that difference.

I also like to see what other creators explore with their aliens.

So I’m starting three new occasional series of blog posts about Aliens at the Movies, Aliens on Television, and Aliens in Books, and I’m starting with the movie Edge of Tomorrow.

Edge of Tomorrow aliens:

Visual ****

I really liked the “look” of these aliens – very different from us. They seem to be made of twisted-together constantly moving ropes that form body and limbs, and they whip across (and through) the landscape with incredible speed. Because of the speed they were both challenging and fascinating to watch.

Features ****

The aliens seemed to come in three types: basic, alphas, and omega. The basics were the smallest and moved the fastest, the alphas were in the middle and had faces, and the omega was much larger than the others but seemed to settle in one place.

The aliens functioned as a single unit, but I got the sense that the aliens were not a distributed mind, but a hierarchical system. The basic aliens fought. The alpha aliens provided sensory input, and the death of an alpha triggered the time loop capability. The omega did all the thinking and planning. If the omega died, the others did, too.

Since the aliens move at such high speed, I wondered if they experienced time differently than we do. If they process information as much faster than us as they move, they would have the ability to react and plan much faster than us as well. But they had another, even more powerful, capability …

If one of the alphas is killed, the aliens can create a time loop and reset the day and start over, experiencing the day over and over again until they get it right. What is it like to live like that? We experience just that with Major William Cage (Tom Cruise), who hijacks the aliens’ “repeat until right” time loop life when the alien’s blood spills on him in battle. He experiences a day in war hell over and over again, trying each time to get a step further towards killing the omega alien and survive, but failing and dying each time. In a twist on Groundhog Day, he has to die in order to try again. In a way, it’s like living in a video game where you can reset to a saved point and try and try again. But fighting and dying day after day after day … is hard and exhausting for a human, who is, after all, a single organism. Especially when he has to kill himself to make sure the loop starts over. But for the omega, it’s only a small part of its extended self dying day after day as it struggles to find the best path forward. Perhaps it’s only like getting a daily paper cut, worth it for the chance to get infinite do-overs until it can beat the day.

Motivation *

We don’t learn much about what motivates the aliens and what they want, other than to wipe us out so they can live on our planet. In this regard, they are not much more than monsters.

Communication *

The aliens don’t seem interested in communicating with us (except, possibly, to lure us into traps). In this regard, they are not much more than monsters.

Overall ***

For motivation and communication, the Edge of Tomorrow aliens are not much more than monsters, but visually they are a treat. The ability to create their own time loops is fascinating, thought-provoking, and, of course, the key idea of the movie. What would it be worth to have the capability to redo a day until you got it right? A paper cut a day? Your death a day? The end of the world – every day? What do you think?

Please share your thoughts about these movie aliens in the comments below.