On Star Blazers

As a four year-old in the 1970’s, the joys of UHF channels were numerous. They were the old school equivalent of YouTube, showing a variety of things that regular network channels simply couldn’t or wouldn’t broadcast. Their boilerplate schedule typically included old sitcom re-reruns and movies the networks couldn’t be bothered to find ad revenue for. But every now and then, in the eyes of a kid, something truly unique would appear. School mornings, in particular, were notable.

I still remember one particular morning. It was so early the sun hadn’t decided whether to rise or not. Our house was not well lit even though the lights in the adjoining kitchen were on. The room was fairly dark, almost like a movie theater. My mother, an introverted hippy married to an extroverted salesman, was in the middle of getting me ready for another day of kindergarten. My sister, a mere two years younger, was throwing a hissy fit.

I never liked it when my parents were upset, and my high performance sis, bless her heart, had a special ability to fluster my mom at the drop of a hat. Before you could say ‘I’ll give you something to really cry about’, the tv flew on. My mom wrenched the UHF knob through over a dozen channels in a half second twist. Ah, a cartoon set in space. The zipcord-like sound of the channel knob stopped and she ran off to tend to my screaming sibling.

All of this focused my fragile little brain on the tv like a moth to the flame. The show, Starblazers, started with a marshal march, a catchy chorus, and a spaceship’s engine glowing in the eerie dark of space merged with the pitch black of our house. And with guns! Oh ho, the mom-lady wouldn’t like this! You couldn’t pry me away with a crowbar. I still remember the theme song over thirty plus years later:

We’re off to outer space, we’re leaving Mother Earth
To save the human race. Our Star Blazers!
Searching for a distant star, heading off to Iscandar.
Leaving all we love behind, who knows what dangers we’ll find?
We must be strong and brave, our home we’ve got to save.
If we don’t, in just one year, Mother Earth will disappear
Fighting with the Gamalons, we won’t stop until we’ve won
Then we’ll return, and when we arrive,
The Earth will survive with our Star Blazers!

 

 

Derek Wildstar and Captain Avatar were going to Iscandar. They gave you the basic plot right there in the theme song. Within half a minute, I knew exactly what the show was about. Hot diggity, a cartoon kinda like Star Wars! I loved cartoons (still do) but Star Blazers was another beast entirely. This show had as much in common with Loonytunes as Gilligan’s Island to Ghandi (no offense to Bob Denver).

To start with, the tone was much darker than anything I’d ever seen. The evil Gamilons had devastated the Earth’s surface with atomic weapons, driving all of humanity underground. The radiation’s toxicity would reach Earth’s remaining population in one year. Queen Starsha from the planet Iscandar sends a message: she has technology that can cleanse Earth of all radiation. She also sends plans for something called the Wave Motion engine, a powerful weapon to be used against the Gamilons.

To survive, Earth sends their last starship, the Argo, on a mission to planet Iskandar to retrieve the technology that can save the planet. The journey wasn’t told in one-off, disposable, adventure-of-the-week episodes. It was a continuous storyline, and you had to watch each episode to keep up. The show’s characters often got hurt, seriously injured, or died from battle or sickness. Nothing else on my tv rivaled it.

I hadn’t actually seen Star Wars at this point; I was barely 4 years-old when the movie came out. I knew the plot, the characters, and the toys. But Star Blazers might as well have been Star Wars for all I cared. I had no idea what I was watching. But it had robots like R2-D2, starfighters like X-wings, and big ships like Star Destroyers, and the good guys had all three.

I had no idea I was watching what was called anime. I had no idea how much Star Blazers had been fundamentally altered from the original anime, Space Battleship Yamato. I also had no idea I was watching one of the most iconic cultural depictions of Japanese nationalism in anime since World War II (and completely re-written for a western audience to boot). All I knew was Star Blazers was cool even if no one else around me knew about it, and that was all that mattered. This was something special, and despite my tender age, I knew it in my bones. Little did I know how right I was.

Weekly Update, 08/17/2020

Last week saw some exciting updates in the mecha community:

Weekly Update, 08/10/2020

Last week saw some exciting updates in the mecha community:

  • Mecha Knights: Nightmare pushed back its release date to early 2021. Mecha Knights is a mecha action shooter soon to be released on Steam.
  • Rebelmini’s Motorpool Kickstarter is now sending out backers’ rewards. Keep an eye on your email, and update your email with them ASAP.
  • Zimmerit posted a new article on Masamune Shirow’s Appleseed.
  • Wargaming.net’s World of Warships announces a collaboration with Hasbro’s Transformers. The event, called One Shall Stand, will release new ships skins featuring Bumblebee, Rumble, Optimus Prime, and Megatron.
  • According to PCGamer, fans of the defunct mecha game Hawken have reinvigorated the game. The Hawakening team managed to get single player version of the game running. Instructions on downloading the client can be found at hawakening.com.

Weekly Update, 08/02/2020

Last week saw some exciting updates in the mecha community:

Weekly Update, 07/27/2020

Last week saw some interesting updates in the mecha community (mouseover underlined names for Mechapedia links).

  • Rebelmini’s Motorpool Kickstarter was a success! Congratulations to Rebelminis and John Bear Ross! Motorpool consists of armor and infantry figures for tabletop gaming in 15mm and 28mm scale sold as printable .stl files.
  • Alex Connolly is working on the next Motorpool vehicle design.
  • Orbital Speed Studio pushed back Dual Gear‘s Steam release date to July 29th. Dual Gear is a forthcoming PC game inspired by Japanese console games, like the Front Mission series.
  • Sean Suchanya released a new sketch of the Siegfried, a mech for the game Eisenfront.
  • Ksen posted a new art piece, robot sketch 113.
  • Emerson Tung, lead concept artist for iD Software, uploaded 30+ Tankhead images to Artstation.

Weekly Update, 07/20/2020

Last week saw some interesting updates in the mecha community.

The Rewrite

https://i0.wp.com/storage.needpix.com/rsynced_images/nuclear-2136244_1280.jpg?resize=353%2C235&ssl=1I’m still reeling over slapping 40,000 words from my novel into the Trunk of Wailing and Gnashing of Teeth. It’s may be all ‘part of the writing process’, but it doesn’t make it any less frustrating or painful. After months of agonizing re-writes, I came to a simple, brutal decision. Trunk the prose and start again with a better method of writing.

I pulled the trigger a month ago. However, it took me two years writing in my spare time to produce a nearly complete rough draft. Yet here I was tossing it all away. I may have done what I was supposed to do, which is bleed on the page as Ernest Hemingway so loftily put it, but it was all for naught. It gutted me like a Hollywood horror victim.

What triggered this decision? The major catalyst began when I took my first five pages to a writer’s conference for critique. This involved sitting around a table with my trembling imaginary child, several other writers with their invisible offspring, and a veteran novelist leading the critique. What followed was enlightening as much as it was agonizing.

What was my verdict? There was absolutely no tension. No one cared about the characters or what they were doing. No one had any reason to. You have to give readers stakes in the story, at least in the first five pages, or they will stop reading. Faulkner told me to kill my darlings, but the writing group already had. They did what I could not.

At the time, I took the drubbing, which is what it was, somewhat well. But it left me stunned nonetheless. I had characters, I had setting, I had action. How did I not have a story? But the critiques were honest and unanimous. No tension existed in those first five pages. That was a major problem, at least if I wanted my audience to keep reading any further.

But this didn’t mean tossing the whole 40,000 precious jewels out the window like a sack of rotten potatoes! The first five pages needed help, surely, but the rest of the story would come about in the re-write. A glimmer of hope lingered in me yet.

Where to go from here? I needed better tools. I needed research. But I also resolved not to write the story any further until I figured out how to solve the issue of tension. Without it, I may very well be furthering my mistakes. Deep down, I shivered at the thought of editing what I had so far, incomplete as it was. Little did I know.

Time To Take Off The Pants

Leather Pants Costume Clothing - Free photo on PixabayConfession time: I’m what the writing community calls a pantser. That means I sit down and just start writing. No outline, no planning, no research. I write what comes to mind. That’s fine when you’re writing a blog post or a short story. However, I’ve personally come to the conclusion there are very few people who can pants a novel well (and live to tell about it). This means I need some tools to help me write long form fiction. Thankfully I found them.

Before I go into that, let’s go back to what inspired me to write in the first place. I’m a fan of giant robots that blow stuff up. Robotech, Macross, Gundam, Voltron, Mighty Gobots, I could list off dozens of shows that inspired me as a child (and that I never outgrew). I cobbled together several sprawling day dreams I’d accumulated over the years into what I will loosely call a ‘story’.

As I wrote, a deep sense of foreboding kept creeping up the back of my neck. I didn’t care if I had the tools to write a good story or not, I thought. I need to write this and get it out of my head and onto the page. I kept saying to myself: I’ll fix it all in the rewrite. Very famous last words.

I delved into craft immediately. I purchased and read several informative, teachable texts on craft, characters, plotting, and scene structure. I learned from the likes of Orson Scott Card (Character & Viewpoint), Donald Mass (The Emotional Craft of Fiction), and Jack M. Bickham (Scene & Structure). These books were a good start. However, I would not recommend them as a starting point for researching craft. Think of them as extra credit courses, but they’re not in your major.

I worked on my characters and plotting, and overall I felt an improvement. But tension continued to elude me. I delved further. I had to find what kept my story from being as interesting as it ought to be, needed to be.

I switched focus from characters and plotting to actual writing basics. Better to be humble and learn than stumble and fall again, I thought. I came across James Scott Bell’s “Write Your Novel From The Middle” and devoured it in two days of study. Finally, I thought, I’m making some headway. Bell makes some good points. However, this still ended up being a book I’d save for a little later if I had to do over again.

A Hybrid Snowflake

snow, crystal, winter, cold, snowflake, ice, frost, frozen ...Flummoxed I still wasn’t finding what I needed, I hit up Randy Ingermanson’s webpage for the “Snowflake Method”. I couldn’t stomach the schlocky advertising for the book, but I did want to see what he had to say. Ironically, it was when I came across his blog post “How To Write The Perfect Scene” that I stumbled upon, for the first time, a decent way to write. A way to write I could understand and use.

Randy is an Outliner, the opposite of a pantser. His book, the Snowflake Method, is one holy grail method for a lot of outliners. I can’t outline my way out of a paper bag, but Randy does have some good advice for pantsers looking for a hybrid method that may work for them.

Buried in the first few paragraphs, Randy mentioned another author’s book on craft, Dwight Swain’s “Techniques of the Selling Writer“. Wait a minute, I thought, James Scott Bell referred to Dwight Swain in his book. If two writing authors refer to the same guy they learned from, I ought to pay attention.

It turns out, Dwight Swain is to authors what the Ramones are to rock bands. No one knows who they are, but members of both professions respectively worship the ground each broke in their fields. Also, both are dead, but that only enhances their notoriety.

In my opinion, Dwight Swain’s career ended as a paradox. Despite writing more than 50 novels and being published in Fantastic Adventures, he found more fame in writing instruction. Although prolific, he wound up as professor emeritus at the University of Oklahoma. His works, although numerous, didn’t strike me as very popular; I hadn’t heard of a single story he’d written. Not an auspicious sign.

However, if both Randy and James worshipped the words this guy wrote, I ought to persist. I bought the kindle version of Techniques of the Selling Writer, popped it onto my phone, and began reading. Two days later, I had documented 26 pages of notes. I’ll repost the Cliff Notes in my next missive.

Welcome!

After much thought, I decided to startup Soul Magnum Publishing, my own imprint. Being an independent publisher has its rewards and pitfalls, of which I know many. There are also the lessons I’m unaware of, which I know not. I will walk through the fire with both. After all, that’s what life is about – new experiences.

This will be interesting in more ways than one. I’m writing part time, publishing part time, and working full time. Glad I don’t have much use for sleep! There’s also Bowker to talk to, editors to hire, and covers to create. Eventually, I’ll be talking to Amazon, et al and hopefully end up on a best seller list with more novels to come. Yes, that’s overly-optimistic, but shoot for the moon and end up in a star. Or something like that.

There won’t be much content here yet, at first. We’ll start with a blog and social media. But gradually, once I begin publishing my own work, the site will expand. Until then, I’ll post about life, giant robots blowing stuff up, speculative fiction I find interesting, science, and possibly interesting tidbits from you, the reader. Feel free to have a look around, just don’t fall into any wormholes or get paint on your shoes. After all, this is a work in progress, and it should be anything but boring!