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Flash: Keep Trucking

18 Wheeler Stock Photo

Image courtesy of Gualberto107 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“I can’t believe it! The feds are withdrawing funding for broadening I-85.” Betty shifted her tablet to a better reading position. “Citing budgets issues and projected reduced truck volume, the House passed a bill to freeze all new interstate construction for two years. Funds not already committed will be diverted to increase maintenance on existing roads and to underwrite the overextended healthcare marketplace.”

She continued, “In response, North Carolina Department of Transportation has shelved plans to complete I-485 yet again. – Charlotte can’t win for losing.”

“At least they didn’t stop underwriting the airport upgrade.” Harlan responded as he finished merging onto Charlotte’s major artery.

“Only because we threaten them every time they do.” Betty stared out of the car as they passed a flatbed truck loaded with source modules. “Have to admit they’re right. I’m seeing fewer trucks on the roads.”

“Remember when we were kids and we would try and get trucks to blow their air horns?” Harlan teased his wife of forty years.

She took up the challenge. Since they hit sixty last year, they started a game of remember when. Remember your first color television, remember when you needed to soak pans overnight, and remember Disneyland before Hurricane Hermine hit?

“Then truckers slept in their cabs.”

Harlan nodded, not taking his eyes off the road. “But then came those caps to cut down on draft.”

“I loved looking at the tops trying to figure out if they were living quarters or hollow shells. The companies sometimes put fake windows on the shells, so you couldn’t always tell until you were right behind them.” Betty’s head craned. “There’s an old style now, and it is … cabin space. The truck even has the underhang thing-a-bob.”

“It’s called a side skirt, hon, though I suppose the word is going to leave the vocabulary as quickly as it was added. I can even remember when they started putting mud guards on the trucks.”

His wife laughed. “Yes, follow at your own risk. Stones were thrown back all the time. I lost a windshield following one in ’84. And now every dump truck and hauler has that net thing to cover so nothing flies out of the load, as well as the mud flaps protecting tailgating idiots like me from road debris.”

Harlan signaled as he moved into the middle lane to let other cars merge. “Debris is way down. Cars don’t drop as much stuff, less litter, and I don’t think I have seen truck rubber in a couple of years.”

“In the sixties, there was so much, my older siblings made sandals out of them. They were such hippies.”

“If you remember the sixties, you didn’t live through it.” Harlan quoted the ancient meme.

“Drugs, free love, and bra burning, what a legacy. I think we did much better as teenagers.” Betty said primly.

Loving his wife sarcasm, he responded in kind. “Because our gift of disco to prosperity outweighs getting man to the moon.”

“The disco beat still throbs today, shall I prove it?”

Harlan slapped her hand has she reached toward the console. It was set to his voice at the moment, though with her in the driver’s seat the car switches vocal controls to her voice as it adjusted the seat for her height and weight. “Nope, I’m good just listening to the woman who rocked low-riding bell bottoms.”

A few moments passed in companionship silence before Betty flipped over her tablet and finished going through the morning news. She had the speaker directed for personal acoustic transmission, so Harlan only heard a slight murmur from stray sound waves.

He merged onto Route 77 and stated “Exit 82, confirm 82.” The car connected to the DOT-Fi and took over driving. Harlan clasped and unclasped his hands a couple times. Arthritis made driving long distances difficult, but seeing the grandchildren was worth a little pain.

“So are you going to miss them?” Betty asked.

Harlan turned his head to look at his wife. “Who?”

“Trucks. Semis.”

“Well, they do more damage to the roads than normal cars, so we’ll have less potholes.”

“All the changes and testing on new formulas on the road have paid off too.” Betty commented. “I remember my parents had us do a reunion in ’76 to celebrate the bicentennial. Potholes abounded.”

“On the other hand, I don’t think we will be seeing the drop off the politicians think we are going to get as we go to a Source-and-Replicator manufacturing base.”

“Really? Why?” Betty still was surprised when her husband came up with opinions she hadn’t heard.

“The Replicators are a great technology – pizza has never been better, getting your car repaired and not waiting a week to get a part in is a dream come true. But most of the transport over the Interstates has been raw materials, and source modules are raw materials.” Harlan reached for his wife’s hand. One of the benefits of technology was being able to hold her hand on long car trips. “What we are going to see is a lot less of the small trucks darting around town taking parts here and there. Source modules store better and longer, and businesses are just flipping over their storage space for the new model.”

“I think the local book store has done away with storage all together. It got in two B&N Replicators and that new eBook browsing station last week; now they are knocking out the back wall that used to store all the magazines are setting up two small rooms. They already have several reading clubs and non-profit groups asking to set up regular meetings.”

Light beeping gave the ten minute warning. Harlan tapped the console. “Hadn’t heard about that. … They are getting rid of all the magazines? I thought print wasn’t dead … oh, right, magazines are prefect for Replicators. Need the latest Hunting magazine? Just tap the screen and wait five minutes.”

“We live in amazing times.” Betty concluded.

“I’m just glad I don’t have to work in amazing times. Manufacturing is going to die as Replicators take over that slot like electricity killed the wick trimming business. That is going to leave food preparation and retail sales at the low end of the spectrum, and then a huge leap to educated, complicated jobs working the knowledge industry. With nothing in between. Physically skilled jobs outside of sports is going to go away. Maybe some construction until we figure out a Replicator to kick out prefab rooms.”

Betty nodded sadly seeing a glimpse in the future for her grandchildren, trying to find something to challenge them and give them purpose. Welfare is going to have to increase as there just won’t be the jobs; humans had become too efficient at streamlining what they need to survive. Her retirement was going to be relaxing, but she wasn’t certain if Magnolia, Sawyer and Parker would ever understand the difference between work years and retirement years.

She let go of her husband’s hand and he took back control of the car to maneuver the turns from the exit to their daughter’s house. At the traffic light, Harlan slipped behind another flatbed delivering source modules, these were bright orange and marked with the Home Depot logo. She speculated if they destined for the personal Replications to make stuff like screws, or if they would be used for the main store’s inventory of larger items, table-saws and hammers.

As Harlan made the snaky turns into the mountains, Betty wondered how long it would take before the overcrowded cities start regulating weight limits or volume limits on personal Replicators; the throw-away society already filled most existing dumps. Being able to easily redecorate a house each major holiday could fill a dump with Halloween and Christmas paraphernalia in no time flat.

But, she reminded herself, people used to scream about litter, and then about ocean dumping. Humans are clever. Something will be figured out. But not by her, not today, she thought as the car pulled to a stop. Opening the door to three screaming, welcoming, jumping grandchildren, Betty thought, today was the day to keep trucking through her life and enjoy both where she has been and where she was going.

(words 1,374 – first published 9/19/2013)

Review: The Man of Steel (Movie)

A little away from my normal posts – but right now I am learning about editing, revisions, and making stories better.

Some authors say, after you start being an author yourself you stop enjoying books and other story forms. You see the flaws. So far I have been fortunate – except in this particular case. I don’t look forward to the time when I react to all stories this way – I hope I never do.

Man of Steel Review

I went expecting the epic blockbuster with typical Superman twists related to an origin story. In that respect, the movie delivers. Explosions, buildings destroyed, flying, etc. – all the wonderful special effects one needs for a summer superhero flick. The slow unveil of the back story of Clark Kent growing up was acceptably poignant. A bonus with the Krypton sequences just as unique and otherworldly as Superman (Christopher Reeves) version. Gritter and more complicated than the ice-white sets of the 1978 version, but perfect for 2013.

If you liked the movie, don’t read further. I don’t want to ruin your pleasant experience. I am going to go into a lot of details (SPOILERS) because this movie is the perfect example of why you need to be consistent about a magic system and worldbuilding. I don’t remember any other movie where I was thrown out of it so often and so far by poor content. If you remember anything I missed or would like to comment about it, please respond. If it will be a spoiler, please clearly state where spoilers.

If I could have enjoyed blockbuster features and only those features, the movie would have been perfect. But the worldbuilding was so cringe-worthy I nearly walked out during the last third of the movie (you know, the “best” part of a summer action flick – the final battle). Maybe if I hadn’t spent the day studying editing … but no, if I was using AJ Hartley’s ABC(D)s for Beta Readers  (p. 220 in How to Write Magical Words: A Writer’s Companion) the whole movie would have been marked up with D: Don’t Believe. Time after time I was thrown out of the story

I mean I am okay with the bad science already integral to the mythos. Superman flying, and getting his power from the sun, and wormhole transportation from Krypton, and X-ray and Heat and the dozen of other Visions and Super-Senses. Those mythos were absorbed as a child and part of me still believes them. I’m okay with the comic book violence and the emphasis of action over plot for a summer flick. But …

START OF SPOILERS …. STOP HERE IS YOU DON’T WANT THE SPOILERS

At least get night and day correct! My movie companion says I should treat the errors related to night/day as continuity errors. I am laying them at the feet of worldbuildng or fact-checking. Since we are using a present-day Earth as the base instead of a fantasy planet like Krypton, I feel the writers/directors should have gotten night and day correct under worldbuilding rules.

Technically Bad – Fact-Checking Editing Errors

So the first night-day issue was General Zod’s announcement. They go around the planet and we see people huddled around TVs (should have had more variation in size and “age” than shown) – all in twilight. Kind of cool – sunset around the planet at the same time. The other one (the final straw to throw me out of the story and want to crawl out of the theatre) – The world engines – one in Metropolis (New York) and other in Indian Ocean – on the other side of the planet. Both are in daylight. – WHAT? I mean, they even had Kal-El fly into space, have the planet (half-day and half-night) rotate around him and come back down. That was an awesome way to “fly” faster – use the planet’s rotation in your favor. But if the planet is half-day and half-night, …. Why isn’t the two terraformers under different light? If the world engine near Australia had been dark, I think the action sequences would have been spectacular – reimage the scene with dark and all the light happening around it – the water floating reflecting rainbows against stars.

How hard is it to get time correct? Pretty hard from the looks of it. Perry and his crew are at work always – no one but Lois traveling away for stories. I think we see the Daily Planet staff in the office early morning to late evening. Do they live there?

Other “technical” issues: (1) On Krypton, a broken moon is shown in the sky, yet when we pan out for Krypton exploding this is gone. I forgave the “art” issue. (2) Girl screaming under water on the school bus.  Really bad “foley”. I was going with it as an action flick, tension heightening item, UNTIL she inhaled and screamed again – really how did she get that second scream out … underwater? Check out of movie. I pushed myself back in as Clark brought the bus out of the water – I told myself this was a sound-editing mistake, one of the last things a movie lies down. No one caught the issue.  (3) Zod aged (beard goes white) in the 33 years since Superman grew up on Earth and Faora, his female sidekick pet-psychopath, did not.

A mantra I often use to enjoy movies with a few glitches – “It is art; let it flow over you”. A couple technical issues are to be expected. The daylight on opposite sides of the planet during the biggest battle – well, that is just crap. Like walking into the Louvre and discovering the Mona Lisa had Tammy Baker makeup added by the Joker.

Bad Worldbuilding

Worldbuilding is all about making consistent mythos. We all remember the scene in Supergirl as she slides while crossing the tilting floor and we are screaming at the screen – Fly! You I.D.I.O.T., you can Fly! Not very consistent in 1984. Destroys the dramatic moment.

Kal-El gets his powers from (1) Low Earth gravity, (2) Earth’s “rich” atmosphere (as explained by Jor-El) which seem related to super senses (Zod gets them when exposed to Earth’s atmosphere), (3) Earth’s “younger” sun producing radiation to harden skin and strengthen his muscles and structure still further (also explained by Jor-El), (4) End product of years of Kryptonian genetic manipulation with a bit of natural mutation by parental breaking of rules (implied).  All clearly explained.

The movie not only explains (tells) the world building, but also shows the world building, making the mythos believable and real. I assume the Oil Rig knocking him for the loop and pushing his superstrength to the limit is because he was growing older and in power. Initially the scene is dissatisfying because oil rig – pah, he can handle that. But if he was and is still growing in power because of time on Earth, I will happily absorb the worldbuilding.

We see him gaining control of his super senses – I guess that just hit him suddenly (?). He already seemed to have a good handle on the heat vision since the door handle heating was controlled. Poor Martha having a toddler with that power. Kal-el  learns to fly by jumping then ignoring gravity. I remember one comic stating low level telekinetic/levitation ability might have been something Kryptonians had bred into.

The worldbuilding shows time and again you need to be on Earth a while to gain all the abilities Superman has. Then throws it out the window making all Kryptonians are as strong, fast, and invulnerable as Superman. Ugh!!!

How did Zod get supersenses immediately upon exposure to the atmosphere when Clark didn’t get them until Elementary School – nearly a full decade on the planet?  How the heck did Zod get HEAT vision so quickly and under control to threaten people? Kal-el fell down coughing blood on the Kryptonian ship and took hours to recover – yet Zod can get rid of his breather and go to town in seconds? Faora and Ursa get POUNDED on by Kal-El and the American military – guess they spent lots of time in Earth-like tanning beds on the trip through space because they walk out without a scratch. Invulnerability much?

I am willing to give Zod flying since that seems to be related to Earth’s gravity and/or natural Kryptonian telekinesis. But the rest wasn’t needed. These Kryptonians came in BATTLE SUITS. Can you imagine the epicness of Kal-el going toe-to-toe with very strong people in the best armor ever made? Would have been awesome and believable. I didn’t believe Ka-el fighting a unit of elite military troopers – as strong and fast as him – bred and trained for war and surviving. The storytellers didn’t need to break down the worldbuilding they did to give Superman his powers, they could have used the Battle Suits and superior technology. I think that is why I don’t forgive them – they had an alternative works just as well, if not better! (And imagine them coming BACK in another movie after exposing themselves to the environmental features of Earth– sure, Kal-el will always be a little ahead, but EPIC possibilities!)

Bad Character Decisions

Still all of that may have been forgiven (well, I still think the night-day issue of being on opposite sides of the planet is a killer like Supergirl not flying), if the characters worked. Characters drive the story. At the end of the day, I don’t care about the invulnerable Super-Duper can do everything man – I care about the corn-bred boy from Kansas in over his head living in New York City – Metropolis – whatever you want to call it.  Therefore the actions of the characters and their decisions need to work.

And they don’t.

How did Clark infiltrate a military base in the arctic? More important, how did Lois Lane backtrack Clark from the base to his mother? Remember she has been pulled off the story already. Remember she does this quickly (the clock starts ticking from the time Kal-El activates the scout ship). Does she have private funds of her own? I know people who work even when rich – if she is one of them, establishment of her resources would be nice. “You are on two-week sabbatical without pay.” – “Dang it, I love to work.” “Right, money doesn’t matter since you are a Lane – make that a three-week sabbatical.” We don’t need to know where the Lane family has their money – we just need to treat the name like Hilton or Mars or Walton or Kennedy. One sentence, only one more sentence was needed in the dialogue.

Extremely annoying is the New Yorkers – I know Metropolis isn’t officially New York, but any comic collector knows the truth. In Avengers, the on-the-ground normal New Yorkers scream, but they also fight, they run, they plan, they move.  These people have seen buildings fall over. They know to leave the buildings, get on the streets, and head for the bridges out of town. You might walk for hours, but you get gone. Unlike the Avengers – the Man-of-Steel civilian counterparts stay put. What? At least let them be reporters – with Perry turning around and shouting at people to get the Story and the office emptying. Watching the battle forever and finally announcing “It’s time to leave now”. No, really it is not time to leave – it was time to leave half an hour ago!!!

The only gem of character action-development was General Zod. Once all his plans fail and he was alone in the world, his soliloquy about being bred only to protect Krypton and her people is perfect. You understand everything this man has done was for one purpose, the purpose he was bred and shaped for. He could not have chosen any other path. Confirmation and foreshadowing in the Krypton backstory and Jor-El remarks about wanting to give Kal-El, his son, choices no one on Krypton make you believe this. I was little put off by Zod then attacking the Man of Steel. He had just said he didn’t have any people left, but he did have one. Kal-el. I think the soliloquy should have ended with “All I have left is you, and you … you chose humans. You are human. You killed my people!” Still, I believe Zod beginning to end as a character and the actions he choose.

The scene where Superman has to kill Zod is suppose to be an OMG moment. Anyone following Superman mythos – comic and movie – knows Superman doesn’t kill. It is the one weakness (?) this god-power man has. Him killing Zod is suppose to be the climax of the emotional journey. Except this journey was NEVER ADDED TO THE PLOT!!!!  In this particular movie, Superman’s aversion to killing was NEVER established. Instead we see him going toe-to-toe with Faora and Ursa on Smallville’s main street with the army shooting guns and releasing bombs. He told people to go into buildings, but bullets ricochet. He tosses Ursa through buildings. Some of the Kanas residents must be hurt and killed. He never debated attacks on the villains – maybe in this scene he could have established an aversion to killing.  His heartache at failing to save people.

Or how about regretting losing his temper and beating on the villain after his mother was attacked?

I was so far out of the story by the time Zog was using his Heat Vision to hold the people hostage in Union Station (I know train station is “unnamed” – but come on, we all recognize where that scene was shot!), I couldn’t care. All I could think about was – Superman, you just destroyed half a city. Tens of thousands are dead, hundreds of thousands are seriously injured, a couple million have lost their home or their work. And you are upset by four people? Why were you not upset before? Why did you toss your enemies through buildings? I.is.confused.

CONCLUSION
So do you agree with my assessments? Did you see anything else that is bad? What did you think they did right with plot and character development?

I think my problem boils down to this – I have a “Willing Suspension of Disbelief”. I worked with the movie as best I could. They just used up their quota. Or as TV Tropes put it I was able to “believe the impossible, but not the improbable.”

Blog: ConCarolina Slump

I know – I am about 4 flashes behind and I haven’t produced a new flirt for Amazon yet. Several things have dovetailed to produce this effect, but I am now working on overcoming them. Many issues are a result of attending ConCarolinas.

First off, I bought a lot of new books. And I promised the people I bought them from I would review them after I read them. So I have been reading tons and writing reviews. I have read Theiftaker (D.B. Jackson), Bump in the Night ((John G. Hartness), Prime Suspects (Jim Brenheimer) and How to Write Magical Words just to name a few. (All very good)

Secondly, after attending the panels at ConCarolinas and reading Magical Words, I realized just how many mistakes I made with Honestly. It diminished my will to write.

Finally, at one of the panels, David B. Coe, promised writing exercises. Somehow my subconscious has been waiting for these to come out.

Today the exercises were published on the MagicalWords blogsite. I finished the Magical Words book last night and I had made a promise to myself to catch up on my writing today. ConCarolinas turned my muse off and now has reactivated it.

Oh, and the flirts for Amazon, the next one will be better. Much better. I just needed to remind myself the point of this is to become a better writer. One does not simply start writing good material. As with all skills, one must learn and practice.

(Update 1/22/2016 – And have discipline. Discipline is important too. Hopefully I have now learned that lesson.)

Blog: ConCarolina’s 2013

CeeCee, the ConCarolina mascot, with Phoenix
CeeCee Artwork by Bob Snare
http://concarolinas.org/

Just completed my fourth ConCarolinas and I had an absolute blast!

I attended 22 panels (mostly writer’s track) and one room party. Whew!

Last year (2012), at the end of the convention, I walked away going – “I did not learn anything new this year. I either need to start writing or stop pretending I am going to write someday.” – So I wrote and wrote (as this blog attests), and even self-published a little something-something to see what that process is like.

This year every class gave me something new. Now I want to rip up my one published piece and start over because I know all the problems – well, not likely all the problems. If I hadn’t published it, I wouldn’t know about these problems – so I am really glad I have it published. Learning is hard.

Don’t worry. Not going to discontinue Honestly. One of the lessons is you can spend forever “improving” your book. I want to tell new stories too. I am very glad I had Honestly to learn through, and I want to see what I can learn with other stories.

I hope to bring what I learned through the Convention to the page. Most of the new hints apply to the “long form,” meaning I need to start working on something other than flashes.

Thank you for joining on my journey of writing and I hope you continue to travel with me on the next leg of this adventure.