American Near History

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There is a compelling new trend in television that I find incredibly engrossing. The trend started with The Americans, a show about a couple living in suburban America who are also Soviet spies; and the same trend continues with Manhattan, a fictionalized show about the creation of the atomic bomb and the work at Los Alamos. The shows have one thing in common: taking historical events from America’s near past and putting a fictionalized spin on them.

Both shows have engaging story lines, quality casts, and make for incredibly impressive television. They each take events which have happened in America’s not too distant past and are able to make those events both watchable and enjoyable. Sure, each show takes artistic license, and each show doesn’t represent real historical people, but they are representing real historical events. Even if it is in a fictionalized way.

What I find incredibly interesting is how close the events depicted in these shows are to our current time. There are plenty of shows that are based on topics of fictitious history, The Tudors and Reign just to name two examples. There are plenty of movies and shows that show Americans partaking in fictions events (such as Clear and Present Danger and that series of movies). However, I can’t think of another time when these two genres have been so effectively combined.

It’s very interesting to watch an emerging genre, which I will call Near American Fiction. It is a genre comprised on story lines that are based on real events in the near past of America. Not stories like The Patriot, which are based a few hundred years in the American past, but stories based on events that happened only a few decades ago.

Like I said, I am currently loving Manhattan, and I have loved the portions of The Americans that I have caught, and I’m looking forward to the other TV series and movies that develop out of this emerging genre.

What do you think about Near American Fiction? Are there shows and movies that I’m missing? Let me know in the comments!

Gone To Wonder

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“Is that…?”

“No way,” said Gavin, pulling down his goggles to peer through the jungle growth.

“It’s them!” He whooped loudly, hopping up and down. Wendy couldn’t believe she was friends with this 19-year-old boy who was bouncing and giggling like a five-year-old at Christmas.

But she was excited, too. Down the road, surrounded and followed by a crowd of adventurers, were the two great mountains of metal, Tank and Tonk, lumbering down the path, blocking its entire width. Gavin shouted at her as he jogged to catch up to them.

Tank and Tonk hadn’t been seen outside of Ganton in Wendy’s recent memory. The closest they came was the day-ending parade, where they marched with all the others, stopping short of the Coast Way. But here they were, on the way to the Rogue’s Gallery.

Something was amiss, however. The crowd following them was excited but confused. And the two roving animatronics didn’t look right. Wendy couldn’t place it, but something about them was abnormal. It wasn’t till they had caught up that it dawned on her.

“Gavin,” she said, tugging him down so she could speak in his ear. “Look at them.”

“Yeah I’m looking. How could I not?”

“No. Look. Inside.”

Within the arcs of bronzed metal, churning pistons and spinning gears, something was missing.

“Holy crap. No operators,” said Gavin, his excited turning to puzzlement.

Wendy nodded. And what was more, she could see their heartgears, the source of an automan’s energy, buried within their frame, which normally glowed white or blue. Both Tank and Tonk’s heartgears were bright red. That meant one thing for an automan: Torque, the berzerker state that meant bad news for anyone in the way of their mission.

“They’re torquing,” said Gavin, only he wasn’t looking at the gears. He had walked to the side and was looking at their faces, at their glowing red eyes. He shared a look with Wendy, one that she needed no words to understand.

Something was very wrong in the Wonder today.

 

Above is an excerpt from an early chapter of Absent Hero, the first episode of my series Gone To Wonder. I’m not usually one for excerpts, since a lot of the time they’re rubbish out of context, but I can’t help myself. The first draft of Episode One was finished up just over a week ago – just in time, in fact, for me not to have to pony up on the Steak Bet. And I’m itching to get this thing out into the world.

Gone To Wonder is about a young woman named Wendy Danek. Wendy is a superfan of a revolutionary theme park called Finnegan’s Wonder. It’s a place where augmented reality, vivid video projections and holograms, hundreds of animatronics, and thousands of actors combine to create storyscapes: landscapes where stories come to life around the visitor. But it is more than that, because the visitors themselves become characters, adventurers in a brand new world of steampunk behemoths, pirates who command the wind, a mysterious mystic, woodland warrior poets, sprites, whisps, airplanes, vicious mechanized plants, and more. There are no rides in this park, only experiences that challenge the divide between real and make believe.

But the Wonder is in trouble. Attendance and enthusiasm are waning. Maintenance is lackluster. Whole lands are closed. And worst of all, it’s legendary creator and leader, Clayton Ferris, has been ousted by the majority shareholder, a man named Charles DeWitt. The day after the hammer falls, Wendy and her crew of faithful friends are thrust into the story in ways none of them had known before. Animatronics are coming to life, characters are attacked, and a war against a mysterious new race of automatons is brewing. At the center of it all is Wendy, chosen against her will by someone — or something — to push the story to stranger heights than it has ever gone.

In the coming months we plan to bring you five thrilling episodes of Gone To Wonder. It’s a story that has quickly become my favorite project to date. It combines my love of theme parks and armchair imagineering with a healthy dose of fantasy, steampunk, and science fiction. It blends a near-future setting with an impossible, fantastical world, and comments on the power of story on our lives.

We’ve got a ways to go yet. The first episode is in revision mode now, but keep watch over the next few weeks for news on a release date, as well as where and how you can get a copy. I look forward to bringing this project in front of readers soon. Until then, I’ll be gone to wonder.

Disbelieving is Believing

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I write a lot of genre stuff. You know, science fiction, speculative fiction, young adult, and the sort. If there is one thing that I have found to be incredibly important when writing that kind of fiction, it is suspension of disbelief.

Like I posted before, suspension of disbelief is an incredibly important tool when you are writing genre fiction. Just like I stated in that post, Cars is a great example of where suspension of disbelief can go wrong. There is an entire universe in Cars that is based on the fact that all cars are anthropomorphic beings that rule this world. Everything is set up for the cars. They do all the jobs in this world, they eat and drink oil, they have an economy and sports industry that is set up around cars and what they can do as living beings.

That is all well and good. But there is one small detail that throws me completely out of that universe. There are handles on the car doors. Why is this such a big deal? Well, if cars are the people in this universe, then why would there be handles on the car doors so that people could get inside? Yes, all cars have doors in our universe but they wouldn’t need them in a world with no people.

Okay. I get it. I am talking about a children’s movie. And I am talking about something incredibly small that most people would gloss over and not give a second thought to. But it is still something that pulls me completely out of the universe. And it’s something that I just can’t get over.

There are other universes that do this, too. Why don’t the kids learn arithmetic or grammar in the Harry Potter universe? Is it a skill that they just don’t need? Why in every fugitive procedural crime drama do they only send in a few cops to arrest a bunch of well armed bad guys? (I’m looking at you, The Following.) There are plenty of places to look, but if you look at all of them, it will probably drive you insane. And I’m sure that some of the things that I love most have things in them that affect viewer’s and reader’s suspension of disbelief that I just can’t see.

What’s important here is making sure that you try and mitigate the factors that will undo suspension of disbelief. Making sure that you are able to properly suspend a reader’s disbelief is incredibly important when you are building a universe. And that is because of what I stated above — a reader or viewer can be brought out of your universe because of even a small event.

You can have a universe that is inhabited by monsters and elves, you can have a universe based in far off galaxies, you can have a universe in which machines rule the planet. What is important is to make sure that you keep your details straight and don’t stray too far from what makes your universe believable.

You can build a universe that takes place in space and has ships that travel faster than the speed of light. But if you don’t take the time to explain why these ships travel this fast and make sure that this explanation fits within the rules of known physics (or perhaps with the physics that you have invented for your universe — that’s fine, too), then no one is going to be able to believe that these ships could exist in your universe.

It’s always tough, when you are writing, to make sure that you are taking care of all the details. Making sure that everything matches up and that it all makes sense. But it is incredibly important to do. It is incredibly important that you make sure that you details are coherently put together, and that what you are making is believable.

In genre fiction, you want your reader to get sucked in. Making sure that your details are up to par and that a reader’s suspension of disbelief is placated should be tops on your to-do list.