The New SyFy Channel

the-expanse-series

SyFy is headed to space, and it seems as though they’re serious. Last week, they announced a 10-episode pickup of The Expanse, a series that will adapt (presumably) the first book from James S.A. Corey, . In the wake of the announcement, I’ve seen a lot of complaints from fans, noting SyFy’s general track record with shows. Despite the last five years of distancing themselves from harder SF stories, this falls in line with the direction the channel is trying to lurch itself towards, shaking off their reputation for something better. It’s about time, too.

The Expanse is a good move for SyFy and the announcement that they’ve picked up the TV show fills me with quite a bit of optimism for the direction of the channel’s future. Over the last couple of years, the channel has been talking quite a bit about returning to space, with news over the last couple of years of shows such as adaptations of Larry Niven’s novel Ringworld and Sir Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End and shows such as Ascension and Defiance. So far, only Defiance (after a really long development period) has aired, and then, to tepid reviews and ratings. But, it’s a start, and shows that the channel is starting to think about bigger, more serious projects.

In the mid-2000s, the show was indisputably one of the better outlets for speculative fiction on the small screen: long-running shows such as Stargate SG-1 and its spinoff, Stargate: Atlantis collectively ran for fifteen seasons, while Farscape and Battlestar Galactica, two very ambitious space dramas, had fairly good runs before being cancelled. With the cancellation of Ronald D. Moore’s Galactica in 2009, the channel seemed to get nervous about shows set in space. Galactica‘s ratings had nosed down over the last two seasons (most likely due to some of the narrative stunts they took), and its follow-up successor, Caprica, set decades before, never found its voice or ratings, and was cancelled a year later. A third follow-up, Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome, died a slow death as SyFy executives waddled on the decision to release it to the web or to television. Ultimately, it was burned off on YouTube, effectively ending the franchise for the channel. A third Stargate entry, Stargate: Universe, a grown up, broody and excellent entry never quite captured the same attraction as its predecessors, and ended with a frustrating cliffhanger at the end of Season 2.

SyFy pivoted, perhaps seeing the successes rival networks enjoyed with shows such as True Blood, and went in an urban fantasy and Sci-Fi lite direction. It’s not really any surprise: the darker stuff hadn’t really succeeded, and shows such as Eureka had done really well. Alphas, Warehouse 13, Lost Girl, Bitten and Being Human have all been developed, and dominated the network’s offerings since 2009, alternatively earning praise from fans who enjoyed that type of story, and derided by those who missed the shows set in space.

All the while, SyFy expanded their offerings into reality TV, as well as the frequently-derided WWE on Wednesday nights. Often, their placement on the schedule has been explained as money makers for the channel (or, laughably, that it’s a type of fantasy in and of itself), which in turn support the programming of the other scripted shows. I don’t know that I’ve ever met anyone who’s actually watched WWE on the channel.

Meanwhile, a revolution in scripted television erupted from various premium and network channels. TNT’s Falling Skies, Fox’s Fringe, CBS’s Person of Interest, AMC’s The Walking Dead, and HBO’s Game of Thrones all came out, as well as show such as Awake, Under the Dome, Terra Nova, Revolution, Agents of SHIELD, Almost Human, Arrow, Orphan Black and Outcasts, to name a couple, while in non-Science fiction offerings, there’s Once Upon a Time, Grimm, Supernatural, Sleepy Hollow, American Horror Story, Vampire Diaries, and others. Science Fiction TV, once largely limited to the SyFy channel, found new homes. While not all have been successful, it shows that there’s a new appetite for speculative works on the small screen, and that such shows can not only do well, but do really well. SyFy, while it’s had some success with their current offerings, hasn’t had any hits on the same scale. They easily could have, with the right mindset.

Major projects such as The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones aren’t easy projects to bring to television: they’re big, elaborate, and cover subject material that’s far from the material that SyFy was putting out between 2003-2008. They’re ambitious (and I’ll throw Person of Interest in there, too, as an example of what network channels *can* also do.) and have received a disproportionate amount of praise from critics and fans alike, all the while seeing their ratings go up as viewers keep watching.

It’s clearly a balancing act: Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead take on popular properties and subject matter, all the while they’re fairly well written and scripted. Others miss out: Awake, while fantastic, never caught on. Terra Nova was silly and stupidly expensive. Fringe lasted on critical glee, but wanted for viewers. Others just do really well with the right combination of characters and story, building year after year: Supernatural is well into its tenth year, and has a spin off in the works, while Arrow doesn’t seem to be going anywhere but up (and also has a spinoff in the works).

SyFy’s clearly got the vision for ambitious projects, but they’re held back; from themselves. It’s a business, and accordingly, the material they’re turning out needs to be successful. However, it’s always seemed as though this very risk-adverse mindset percolates down into what’s being picked up. They say that you never make the shot that you don’t take, and the channel has been on a course where they’re only taking shots where the basket is five feet off the floor. Until Defiance, it’s seemed that there’s no sense of risk to the shows that they’ve tried, but rather gone back to the well time and time again for material that is proven to run with a certain audience.

In many ways, SyFy pivoted one way, anticipating an audience that they wanted to grasp, only to end up missing an audience that’s since moved beyond the SyFy walls. Game of Thrones, Walking Dead, Orphan Black and Doctor Who have become the destination shows that would make a dynamite portfolio for a dedicated genre-channel. Even the ambitious Defiance feels like it’s a compromise, existing only due to the momentum that a $100 million show causes. They’ve got a season 2, but the show won’t take off until the show becomes something a bit more interesting. Shows such as Helix have demonstrated that they’re ready to bring back some serious scripted drama.

Recently, SyFy seems to have realized something was up, and has been shaking off like a wet dog. VP Mark Stern, who oversaw the Battlestar-Defiance years at SyFy, and who’s been replaced by Bill McGoldrick. McGoldrick shift earlier this year has come with a lot of talk about bringing SyFy back. In an interview with Adweek, he noted that they’ve realized that scripted drama is what the channel’s reputation lives and dies by. The current reputation? Wounded from reality TV and crappy films. But, with the rise of shows such as Game of Thrones, they’re starting to see serious offers for new shows, one of which was apparently The Expanse.

If there’s a show that’ll demonstrate that the channel is serious about bringing back ‘proper’ science fiction, it’s Leviathan Wakes. The show has just about everything: spacecraft, epic world-building, military science fiction, conspiracies, and a huge cast of interesting and diverse characters. It’s large, hits all of the right notes, and it comes with a built in audience of readers who’ve made the books hits. The first novel was nominated for the Hugo Award, and along with a bunch of shorter entries in the series, an additional three novels were ordered after the first three. The fourth book in the series, Cibola Burn, hits this summer, this time as a more expensive hardcover novel (as opposed to trade paperback, like its preceding three books.)

Moreover, SyFy seems to realize that story’s paramount. Rather than putting together a pilot and worrying about ordering a full, 22-episode season, they’ve committed to a run of ten episodes – enough time to tell the story, but not so much that they’ll have to really stretch their special effects budget. In addition to The Expanse, SyFy has recently announced a limited 12 Monkeys series and Ascension, a limited series about a group of colonists, all the while cutting back on the B films.

Most of the complaints genre fans have had about SyFy are true. The channel’s shifted direction and gone the safe route, and accordingly, they’ve really missed out on both the opportunity to do great things, but also hitched themselves to the wrong horse, one that’s slowly running down. The Expanse has the potential to be an innovating move that can get the channel restarted with good stories, and can bring back an audience that they really want to attract. Already, shows such as Alphas, Being Human and Warehouse 13 have been wound down and ended, while SyFy is keeping shows like Lost Girl and Haven (which picked up a 2-season, 26 episode order) to have a balanced set of offerings for the foreseeable future. If you’re going to shake off a reputation, you’ve got to start somewhere.

There’s also a level of caution here. I don’t think fans should expect a return to the same SciFi channel that existed in the early 2000s. The landscape has changed, and accordingly, so has viewer tastes and viewing habits. Hopefully, we’ll be seeing a new channel that takes both storytelling and genre seriously, recognizing exactly what makes a good show that’ll not only do well season to season, but help the channel’s reputation and build on its audience year to year, which will mean more excellent projects will be attempted. More importantly, SyFy needs to learn to take risks. Even for projects that aren’t necessarily successful, the effort not only counts, but helps all involved figure out what to do next, in theory making things better in the future.

The Expanse is far from certain: it’s an ambitious project to run, and likely expensive. But, I’m optimistic. It’s got just about everything that science fiction fans have been asking for, and in an adaptation model that’s worked in the past. Let’s hope that the show-runners will do the books justice, but more importantly, tell a great story.

Bram in 2091

According to a random longevity calculator that I found on the web, my son, Bram (as a white male, born in Vermont) has a projected lifespan of 78 years, giving him until the year 2091 to live, provided everything remains the same. I’m guessing, given the age of some of my relatives, and the potential for progress in medical science, that there’s a good chance that he could live to see 2100 and beyond. By the same measure, someone born in 1913 would live until 1991, or someone born in 1935 would live until 2013. It’s an impressive range of time, and it gets me thinking about how things change from one time to another, and what it means.

It’s a slightly morbid subject, but it’s an interesting one to look at. I’m a historian, and recently, I’ve been reading quite a bit on the development of the 20th Century. Human nature generally gives us a short-term viewpoint for everything around us, and when it comes to imagining what the future holds for us, our art fails us. Science fiction doesn’t really have a good track record, despite some notable predictions here and there from Verne and Clarke. SF is more about the present than it is about what the future will really be like.

So, what’s Bram’s world going to be like over the next eight decades? To get an idea of how things change, it’s instructive to look at how much has changed since 1935 for some context.

Between 1935 and 1945, the Great Depression was underway and ending. World War 1 was just about two decades behind everyone, with those veterans now parents and trying to find work. The repercussions from the Great War no longer in the immediate forefront in US policy. Facism was on the rise in the world with Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler in power and actively breaking treaties. The Dust Bowl, a major ecological catastrophe, caused by over farming, loomed in the American Southwest. The WPA was formed by the Roosevelt administration, as well as the Social Security administration. World War 2 rose and broke over a majority of that time, with devastating, transformative consequences for the world. In the science fiction world, the pulps were started up and took off into a run, with the Golden Age starting up.

From 1945 to 1955: The Second World War ended with Hitler’s suicide and the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan. The nuclear race started, with a Soviet bomb in 1949. The Korean war started and ended, and the Cold War began. The US was quickly becoming an economic powerhouse in the new world. Golden age of SF was still going strong. Novels were starting to appear, magazines were waning. The Baby boomer generation were around, and getting older.

From 1955 to 1965: Sputnik orbited the planet in 1957, and the first man went into space a couple of years later. The Cold War was still going strong, and the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs showed us that we could go into space. The Vietnam War was starting to brew (US not fully involved yet). John F. Kennedy was killed.

1965-1975: Vietnam War was going strong. Robert Kennedy was killed, as well as Martin Luther King. Counterculture was in full swing, and the Vietnam War reaches its peak and ended. We landed on the Moon, more than once, and launched Skylab in 1973. Computers were starting to appear in colleges.

1975-1985: Iranian revolution happened and began to change some things in the Middle East, while the 1st Persian Gulf War began. Space Shuttle program was in full swing. The Regan administration was elected. Science Fiction shifts from books to movies. Star Wars, Alien, Blade Runner were all released during this time. I was born.

1985-1995: 1st Gulf War, Space Shuttle Challenger, fall of the Soviet Union all happen. Computers begin to enter classrooms, introducing the Internet to students (like myself). We get a computer in our house for the first time. Babylon 5 starts airing.

1995-2005: The internet is here to stay. Terror attacks in New York City and Washington DC shift the political focus in the country. Soviet Communism is a pretty distant memory, with the threat of radicalized islamic groups taking their place. Star Wars is re-released and a new trilogy hits theaters. Firefly is aired and cancelled. Space Shuttle program suffers blow with Columbia’s loss. The ISS begins construction in ’98.

2005-2013: Social Media sites take over the web, internet communications are intensely monitored. I watch/read (almost) live as a Mars lander hits the surface of the planet. Space X becomes first private company to launch and dock with the ISS. The Space Shuttle program ends. Bram is born into a house that has eight computers (5 of them hand-held) and parents who are both working in a technology-based workplace.

There’s a lot of changes in that time.

Born in 2013, Bram will never know a world in which the United States hasn’t had an African-American president, where the mobile phone is one of the dominant and most proliferated pieces of technology on the planet, and where he can watch an astronaut fix a space station from his home. He can talk to someone on a video phone with the tap of a couple of buttons. He’s growing up in a household with a robot in it.

He’s never going to know a world where there’s more hours of Star Wars: Clone Wars episodes than there are of the Original Trilogy. He’ll never know a household where there isn’t something to do with that franchise kicking around. He’ll never know a world in which the space shuttle was in operation, but he will know one where private operations are in existence, even flourishing. In all likelihood, he’ll see people land on the moon again, as well as seeing manned missions to asteroids, Mars and potentially, the moons of Saturn and Jupiter. He’ll see the beginning of a new space program, Orion. He’s growing up in a world where he’ll never know a World War I veteran.

Politically, while he’s growing up in a state that’s one of the least diverse in the US, he’s part of a generation that’s going to be amongst the most diverse in the country – ethnically, sexually, politically. This’ll have major implications for policy and the general makeup and attitude of Americans. He’s the beneficiary of a world that doesn’t have Osama Bin Laden or Saddam Hussein, but there’s plenty of other bad people in the world to take their places. He’ll see the final years of the war in Afghanistan.

Environmentally, he’s going to get the full brunt of global anthropomorphic climate change. If he stays in Vermont, we’ll likely still see extreme winters, but as global temperatures rise, the state will most likely see a collapse of its Maple Tree population as it gets too warm for them – no more glorious fall hillsides. Invasive species will decimate other tree species, which makes me wonder if we’ll see more evergreens over maples and ashes. Vermont will have its own issues as we see major storms pass over the state – our geography will lend itself to major flooding throughout the fall and spring seasons, and parts of the state will need to be reinforced against it, with more green spaces in flood plains, or total abandonment of some areas.

Computer-wise, he’s never going to know a time without a computer. A mobile phone that was pure imagination in 1935 took his first picture minutes after he was born, and he sees us work and watch things on our home computers. He’s entering an age when the television isn’t supreme: we don’t have live TV in the house at all. Moore’s Law will probably end, but computers will grow increasingly faster. Almost half of the world’s population will have access to the internet.

Bram will be 10 in 2023. Countries such as China, India and Brazil will likely be major world powers alongside the US, and we’ll likely see major space efforts to reach the Moon and Mars during this time. Bram’s schooling will probably have a lot to do with computers and online classrooms. We’ll probably see autonomous cars and aircraft more often, but not everywhere. The ISS will be decommissioned and will be deorbited over the Pacific Ocean. The veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars will be in their 30s/40s/50s, and the conflicts will start to pass into history. They’ll likely become precursors to other major conflicts in the region as it continues to stabilize after the Arab Spring a decade earlier. The US will be composed of a far different ethnic makeup, and there’ll likely be some grumbling about that. I’m guessing that women will become a more dominant part of the workplace, while transgendered and non-CIS folks will be far more accepted than they are now. The 99942 Apophis will pass by us, but won’t impact. I’ll be 38.

Bram will be 20 in 2032. The world population will be at least 8 billion people. io9 predicts that we’ll have some form of AI, computers everywhere, major effects from climate change (and mitigation projects), 3D printed organs, and more space travel and settlement. Bram will probably be in college or about to leave. His job likely doesn’t and can’t exist right now. 99942 Apophis could impact the planet. I’ll be 48. The last remaining World War II veterans will have died.

Bram will be 30 in 2043. Bram will have some form of job that’s unheard of now. Global climate change will bring up major storms, and will likely be the cause of conflicts as the global population shifts around. Africa will see some major growth, if not before. I’ll be 58, and maybe, I’ll be a grandfather.

Bram will be 40 in 2053. The world’s population will be at least 9 billion people, putting a huge strain on resources, provided that economics and infrastructure are insufficient. We might very well see the construction of a space elevator. I’ll be 68 – Maybe I’ll be retired, if such a thing still exists.

Bram will be 50 in 2063. Lunar mining operations might be around, and a good chunk of our energy will come from renewable energy. I’ll be 78, my projected life-span, if nothing else changes. Megan will probably outlive me.

Bram will be 60 in 2073. Space and international travel might be pretty easy to go do, but still expensive. I could be 88.

Bram will be 70 in 2083. China will likely be the major global power on the planet. We might be able to live on the Moon. I could be 98.

Bram will be 80 in 2093, the end of his projected lifespan – he might go far past that. The planet might be completely converted to renewable energy by this point. The world will be completely different from now, ecologically, politically, socially. The last veterans of the Iraq / Afghanistan wars will be few in number. I’ll be 108. Who knows what science fiction will bring at that point?

The point to all of this isn’t to be predictive: it’s to think about how much things will have changed. It’s easy to imagine our lives right now with things like space travel, 3D printed organs and computers controlling everything, but the ramifications on how that affects everything is much harder to predict. Very few people in the 1800s had any idea of what the world a century later would look like, and the same is exactly the same now. It’s a nebulous point in time, but there’s one major point to keep in mind: things will change, and we can’t – and shouldn’t – expect to build a world that’s a mirror of our own. My world isn’t and never will be Bram’s – he’ll have is own.

One of the major takeaways from this is that he’s likely going to lead a very different life from the one I’ve lived, something that’s relatively new in human history: up through the industrial revolution and even deep into the 20th Century, families often followed similar paths: sons would take their occupation from that of their father, and so forth. The shift is even more jarring when it comes to female employment. My father works in business and geology; I work as a freelance writer and educational administrator for a job that simply didn’t exist when I was born, or largely in the last two decades (online education is still a young field). Bram will probably do something completely different, and in a field that simply doesn’t exist yet. More than just employment, though; the lessons, habits and personality that he picks up from Megan and myself will come with him, and it’s something that remains at the back of my mind. Hopefully, we’ll impart habits of generosity, friendliness and curiosity to him, and hopefully, those will be traits that will aid him throughout his life.

If things go well, Bram might be among the first generations of people who could easily leave the planet and go somewhere else. He’ll be the recipient of technologies that will fundamentally change how humans live and interact with one another, and will continue to accelerate our development moving forward. Interestingly, while we can make some scientific predictions (I’d bet that most of them will come faster than we expect), I can’t get a good idea of most of the geopolitical ones.

These are all guesses. Looking at science fiction, it’s clear that their guesses for the future were sometimes correct, but more often wildly off target. There’s things that we know, barring something major and unforeseen: global climate change will be a factor in life. The prevalence of technology will continue. People will act like jerks to one another, and there’ll be a lot more of us.

I hope that we’ll see some of those things come to fruition, and that we’ll be fortunate enough to live to see them. Those predictions? Science fiction, especially as you get further and further away. Looking back at the past, they’ll likely marvel at just how much they’ve changed in their own generation.

2013

2013 was a rush. So many things happened that have never happened to me before, all positive.

Bram was born in May, and his entry into our family is one of those things that I can’t quite describe. He’s a beautiful, wonderful child. He’s happy, and lights up whenever one of us enter the room. He’s clocked in at 7 months already (where does the time go?), and one of the delights has been watching him unpack from day 1. It’s a cliché to say that they do something new every day, and it’s largely true. He’s gone from a small, helpless human to a larger, slightly less helpless human in that time. He’s curious, excited, constantly learning and changing. It’s been an adventure, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

War Stories was signed and announced in May, and successfully Kickstarted in October-November. That was a nail-biting rush. We’ve got an outstanding group of authors, some brilliant stories, and quite a bit of work ahead of us. Fortunately, it’s exciting work, and I’m looking forward to seeing this hit bookshelves in the near future.

I made my first professional short fiction sale in September – Fragmented, to Galaxy’s Edge Magazine. This was a huge milestone for me, something that I’ve wanted to do since high school. Every author makes their first sale, and my head still reels when I realize I made that step. Now, I need to make it happen again.

My column for Kirkus has been going strong, and I’m far happier with the work that I did in 2013 than I did in 2012 (not that there was anything wrong with 2012′s columns – I just found my footing, background and gained some experience). I found some outstanding people to write about, discovered a number of excellent stories. Even cooler, there’s a publisher, Jurassic London, who’s excited enough about the column (they called it essential reading!) to turn it into a proper book, which I’m beyond excited about.

On top of all that, I read a number of outstanding books. Ancillary Justice, The Violent Century, In Meat We Trust, The Shining Girls, Love Minus Eighty, Abaddon’s Gate, NOS4A2, Ocean at the End of the Laneand a couple of others. It was a good year to loose one’s self in a book.

On the other hand, it’s been an interesting year for being in the SF/F community – lots of drama. I found that it’s too easy to get outraged at what others are doing and how easy it is to be pushed along by others. I found it equally easy to cut and limit their influence into my thinking. My twitter feed is much quieter, and I’m less stressed about the things I enjoy. There’s still issues in various places, and I’m making some changes for 2014, but I feel like I’ll be happier for them.

What’s coming in 2014? War Stories drops (hopefully in May/June). My story will be published somewhere. I’m going to try and spend more time writing and less time worrying what others think of what’s going on. And, enjoying spending time with a growing infant/toddler.

Meet Bram

Little Bram was born this morning at 10:18am, and I’m now a father. Achievement unlocked, I guess. Abraham Charles Liptak is 7 lbs, 3 oz, 20 inches long and 100 % cute. He has features from Megan and myself, and so far, he’s been fairly quiet: some fussing, a little crying, but mostly, sleeping and holding onto my fingers. He’s one of the newest members of the human race, along with three others born last night and this morning here.

He’s a wonder to behold, and I’ve seen that said more than once when it comes to describing one’s newborn offspring, and as clichéd as it sounds, I’ve spent more time just staring and marveling at how utterly beautiful he is. For the last 9 months, I’ve realized in a conceptual sense that this is a life-changing event in my life, and it wasn’t until I first saw him that the full impact of that meant really hit home, in a wave of emotion that left me breathless.

It was a long night: almost 24 hours in all, from beginning to end, and I’m happy that that’s over. Megan did an insane job these last nine months, and she’s gone through something utterly terrifying to me, and what she’s gone through is nothing short of incredible. I’m sitting here, in the hospital room as the two sleep, and I can’t think of anything else in the world that I love more.

He’s barely 12 hours old, and I already can’t wait to introduce him to the world. I’m excited at the possibilities that the future holds. It’s going to be an adventure, I think.

DIY Dinner

I was struck with a thought a couple of years ago at the grocery store: this stuff is expensive. I was looking at frozen pizza, an emergency staple that got shoved to the back of the freezer and was used too often. My second thought was: I can make this myself, and I would bet that it won’t taste like cardboard.

Since then, I’ve worked on making my own pizza: it’s simple enough, and takes only a little longer to make. 3 cups of flour, some yeast, salt and a cup of hot water, and I’ve got dough that makes a pizza easily twice the size. I’ll grate my own cheese (a mix of Hunter Sharp cheddar, mozzaralla and some oregano) and recently, mix up my own sauce, and together, it’s something that’s quite good. More than that, it’s somewhat more rewarding to put on the table for dinner. I’ll still get a frozen pizza or order out every now and again for when I’m either really busy or just plain tired of cooking, but that’s become a rarer occurrance.

Back in college, I made my own bread: a superb loaf that was ridiculously simple to make. Since then, I’ve been finding that the foods that I regularly consume that comes in a package are something that are not only easier to replicate than I previously thought, but generally taste quite a bit better, but give me quite a bit more flexibility on just how I want it to taste. I’ve taken to experimenting with my food a bit more than I used to, coming up with some interesting things.

A recent notable example is chicken nuggets. I’ve had mixed experiences with buying a bag of them: some come out fine, but they have a tendency to burn under the right conditions, and a couple of times, they’ve made me ill. Looking around online, I’ve found that it’s reasonablely simple to make them: strips of chicken with a coating of egg, flour and spices. The result was quite good, even if their manufacture was a bit hair-raising (I hadn’t fried anything in oil before). Where I’m stuck with what I’ve got with a bag of them, putting together every ingredient allows me do to more than simply throw them into a heating mechanism.

I’m enjoying this DIY approach to cooking, for a couple of reasons. The first is that it’s simply cheaper to purchase the raw ingredients and assemble them accordingly. A frozen pizza costs anywhere from 4-8 dollars. From scratch, it’s considerably less: Three cups out of a 50 pound bag of flour is about 3%, or 30 cents for what I paid for it. Sauce (from a jar) is about $4, and cheeses are around $8. That comes out to $12.30? Half that, because what I make is about twice the size, and we’re down to $6.15. But, The sauce and cheese can be made into at least 3 pizzas. $2.05 for a dinner is something that I’m more than happy with. To order out costs at least ten times that amount, and I generally get a better deal.

The other major reason is the ingredients label. Here’s what I pulled offline for a Red Baron 4 Cheese Pizza (admittedly, this is a decent brand):

ENRICHED FLOUR (WHEAT FLOUR, MALTED BARLEY FLOUR, NIACIN, REDUCED IRON, THIAMINE MONONITRATE, RIBOFLAVIN, FOLIC ACID), TOMATOES (WATER, TOMATO PASTE), LOW MOISTURE PART SKIM MOZZARELLA CHEESE (CULTURED PASTEURIZED PART SKIM MILK, SALT, ENZYMES), WATER, CHEDDAR CHEESE (PASTEURIZED MILK, CHEESE CULTURES, ENZYMES, SALT, ANNATTO [COLOR]), VEGETABLE SHORTENING (PALM OIL, SOY LECITHIN, BUTTER FLAVOR), SMOKE-FLAVORED PROVOLONE CHEESE (PASTEURIZED MILK, CHEESE CULTURES, SALT, ENZYMES AND SMOKE FLAVORING), CONTAINS 2 PERCENT OR LESS OF: YEAST, SUGAR, SOYBEAN OIL, PARMESAN CHEESE (PASTEURIZED CULTURED PART-SKIM MILK, SALT, ENZYMES), MODIFIED FOOD STARCH, SALT, SPICE, MALTODEXTRIN, HYDROLYZED SOY AND CORN PROTEIN, ISOLATED CARROT PRODUCT, PAPRIKA, GARLIC POWDER, DOUGH CONDITIONER (WHEAT STARCH, L-CYSTEINE HYDROCHLORIDE, AMMONIUM SULFATE), ASCORBIC ACID.

There’s a lot there that I don’t recognize, and that seems to be the case with most of the products that I’ll pick up off the self. Admittedly, I don’t know much about some of the components, but if I go the distance to making my own sauce and crust, I know exactly what’s going into what I’m making. Some things, like Cheese, is outside of my control, but I tend to go with local companies with a good reputation for quality.

This extends to meals beyond pizza. Chicken Tika Masala is a dish that I’ve made from largely from scratch, as well as bread, salsa, hot chocolate, various types of chicken, hamburgers, and a couple of others. While there are things that I largely won’t be able to make on my own – due to constraints from not owning livestock or poultry, what I can control is most of what goes into the meal.

Breaking one’s food down to it’s rough component parts has been a rewarding experience thus far. The food tastes better (although there’s the points where I screw it up – which does happen), it’s largely cheaper, and it’s something that I’ve made myself. A year or two ago, it never would have occurred to me to try and figure out just how to go about making something like Chicken nuggets. I suspect that there’s a certain DIY mindset that’s bled over from my work in the 501st Legion, playing with Legos as a kid and other things like that, and it’s something that I think should be ingrained more firmly with the public at large. We place an enormous amount of trust in persons unseen, and while I certainly don’t believe in conspiracy theories (that requires a guided intention), I think that it’s far easier to simply not expend extra effort when it’s seemingly redundant.

So, while you browse your local supermarket next, think about what you’re buying.

Before and Away

 

2011 had its moments. I did some excellent troops with the 501st, read some awesome books and generally got to geek out about some neat things. Started work with Lightspeed Magazine, and published my first article with Armchair General, submitted another couple for publication, which will happen in the next couple of months / at some point in 2012. Went to Belgium, worked on an awesome bit of research. Got married to a wonderful girl.

I’ll skip over the down points. Suffice to say, there were some very difficult points that tested my will and resolve in a lot of ways. Take the bad, learn, and move forward.

2012 looks to be an interesting year. Our wedding is coming up (for the rest of the family), work with freelance publications is beginning to pick up, and I’ve got some cool plans coming up for the first part of 2012.

This year, I’m going to:

  • Continue work on large project. Finish large project. Begin next step of large project.
  • Begin, research, write and collaborate with Megan on a cool historical project.
  • Write, submit, and repeat.
  • Learn, move forward, and continue.
  • Conceptualize, plot, plan and outline the next large project.

The Aftermath

This past weekend, I was able to volunteer in both Waterbury and Moretown, two towns that are struggling with the floods. The aftermath was heartbreaking. My hometown was inundated with upwards of 7 feet of flood waters in places, and many other communities around the state were under water, with roads flooded, houses swept away, and businesses destroyed.

On Saturday, I drove a group of Norwich University students out to Waterbury, where they worked on one of the streets hardest hit by the rising waters, which took out a number of places in the downtown areas of town, including one of my favorite Pubs, the Alchemist, and a number of state administrative buildings. While I’d seen a number of pictures, videos and driven up and down several roads up and down the Northfield area, nothing prepared me for what I saw in Waterbury: houses with their entire contents in the front lawn, silt baking on their surfaces. Mud and dust filled the air: everyone wore a mask, gloves, heavy boots, and clothes smeared with grime. The scene changed as I drove back out of the village, and onto the interstate: everything was green and untouched.

Sunday marked a work day. I’d driven through the day before, over patched up dirt roads, and into town. The scene was even more striking. Descending into the village, we passed a sign: “All routes in and out of town closed.” Moretown was covered in a fine layer of dust, kicked up from the cars that passed up and down Rt. 100 B. Driving through town, we saw where the bridge into town had been washed out at one end, over a narrow chasm of rock that was still saw the Mad River rushing below it. Megan and I signed in, and helped wash one man’s house before moving on to another, which had seen a couple of feet of water in the main parts of the house. Tearing up the floorboards, I was struck by two things: no matter how secure we see, nature can really disrupt our everyday lives, and that I was tearing up a gorgeous hardwood floor, and the home’s owner was smiling. It was astonishing.

A pack of volunteers had converged on the house: groups of two were pulling up the floor, sweeping up the dust and river muck that had collected under it, and pulled out the nails. Bathroom tiles shattered, sheetrock was removed, pipes stripped out, as we sweated in the dust. It was a rewarding couple of hours of work: by the end of the couple of hours, the floor had been removed, swept and free of nails, while others outside were salvaging what they could of the wood we pulled up and out. Fortunately, they seem to have had flood insurance.

The attitude of Vermonters in the aftermath of the flood has been the most remarkable thing to have come out of the disaster. Everywhere, people were enthusiastic, ready to work, ready to volunteer, and ready to rebuild. Despite the dust, the mud, the destroyed roads, washed out riverbanks, bridges and fields, the people of Vermont have shown that they’re resilient, tough and as a whole, strong. While disasters such as these are horrifying in the damage, they’re welcome in only that they can demonstrate the unity that they invoke from the community. Their roads and homes might be broken, but not the people.

Random Things

The iPad 2 was unveiled the other day by a skeletal Steve Jobs. It looks neat, and it’s clearly designed to entice the next crop of people who held off on the first one. Faster, slightly different shape, new cover, etc. They’ve got a good product, and I suspect that anyone who’s waited a little while will be happy that they did.

That being said, I’m not planning on upgrading mine for, well, ever. It’s a fantastic product (and I’m decidedly not an Apple fanboy) that I’ve gotten a lot of use out of since I got mine 8 months ago. I do a lot of writing on mine, and I’ve been happy that it’s an all around general computer that does pretty much everything I want it to. I don’t do a lot of web browsing on it, but when I have, I’ve generally been pleased. (My one complaint is Safari’s insistence on updating every single open tab when there’s a couple open. It’s annoying). Writing is fantastic, and as predicted, I’ve gotten better at writing on the screen. Moreover, I use the calendar a LOT. Since I take the thing everywhere, I’ve gotten into the habit of writing down dates, something that I’ve typically never done, and it’s nice to have a reminder when I need to be somewhere.

Plus, game developers are starting to get in on the platform, and there have been some very cool games over the past couple of months that I’ve gotten hooked on. There’s the obligitory Angry Birds obsession, and I’ve found two other games lately, Battleheart and Canabalt, that I’ve really enjoyed. Battleheart is a fun cross between World of Warcraft and D&D, which appeals to my geek sensibilities, and Canabalt is a game that’s stupidly simple, and stupidly addicting (running and jumping over gaps on a roof).

I’ve been reading more books on the device as well, mainly late at night, when I don’t want to turn on a light and keep Megan up. It’s not something that I read a lot – I’m currently reviewing Embedded, by Dan Abnett for SF Signal, and between late night reading sessions, I typically pull out my other book, Kraken, which I’ve got in hardcopy.

I also haven’t upgraded my iPad since I got it – it’s still on the original iOS system, which I’m content with. I’m not particularly won over by the introduction of folders, or the removal of the lock switch (which I really like having). It was fine when I got it, and I’m still pleased with the purchase.

I’ve had the pleasure of writing for the website Blastr a number of times over the past couple of months (the articles that I’ve written are linked in the ‘Writing’ tab here), coming up with lists on all sorts of things when it comes to science fiction. It’s fun to relate what we love to read and watch to current events or to pick apart a franchise for things, and while it’s not particularly smart writing, it’s fun writing, and I’m really enjoying delving into a topic and finding a wide range of things.

By far, my favorite one to write thus far has been the ‘83 Crazy Differences Between Fringe’s Alternative Universe and Ours‘ piece, which allowed me to look at one of my favorite shows, Fringe. There have been a couple of things added, and if the show goes on, I’m sure that we’ll be able to add an update to it at some point.

Lists by themselves are meaningless, I think: the usual top ten or top one hundred lists of the ‘best’ and ‘favorite’ types are always so contingent on people’s individual tastes – and they fall into either the list of safe choices, where few people can argue about the selections, or a bunch of obscure or other ones that gets people arguing about everything that wasn’t on the list. It’s frustrating to read comments, I’m finding, because people either don’t read the article and think about it, or read it and ignore what you’re trying to put forward.

Such is life. I’ve got a couple of lists that I’m working on, and I’m excited about what’s to come.

Last year, a friend of mine and I started up a website called Geek Mountain State (a play off of Green Mountain State), designed as a catch all for all things geek in Vermont. So far, it’s been quite a lot of fun to write for. The idea for the site goes back to 2009, when I was driving out to Middlebury for a talk by author P.W. Singer, who wrote a book called Wired For War, (I wrote a review for the book for io9, here, and interviewed Mr. Singer, here.) an examination of robotics in the battlefield. It struck me that there were probably more talks like that around the state. Over a year and a half later, I’ve heard more and more about all types of science and technology news, commentary on the future, politics, geeky events and things along those lines throughout the state, and after speaking with a friend of mine, we decided that the idea had merit, and we decided to launch a blog, along with a Twitter and Facebook feed, to capture these sorts of things happening around the state.

Looking at almost 30 other websites, we’ve been able to update a daily list of events happening throughout the state that relate to geek interests, either in the typical geek interest levels, such as science and technology, but also gaming and book signings, while we prowl through Flickr and online for photos of niche things that catch our interest: ruins, wind farms, bookstores, and quite a lot more, along with blurbs and links to articles that fall under the same heading, as well as short pieces that I’ll put together.

The site’s not quite where I want it yet – I’d love to see a larger audience (it’s certainly growing though), and eventually, our own domain that we can maintain ourselves. We’ve got some ideas that we’ll implement as time goes on – I’d love to begin interviewing people in all walks of geek life, get some more original articles, new writers, and monetize the site on a local level, for local businesses, but some of that is pretty far down the line. Eventually, I’d love to get to the point where we can solicit and commission local science fiction and fantasy (and pay people to do it!), but I don’t know how to get there yet. Personally, I’d love to see an anthology of local speculative fiction, by local people – that would be beyond cool.

This year, I’m thankful…

…to have a job.
…to have the means to support myself.
…to be able to put food on the table.
…to have the means to enjoy my time.
…for the books that I have read.
…for Blake Charlton, David Forbes, Paul Thompson, Paolo Bacigalupi, N.K. Jemisin, Karin Lowachee, Charles Yu, Neil Gaiman, Ian McDonald, Joe Hill, John Joseph Adams, Christie Yant, Aidian Moher, John Denardo, Brit Mandelo, Annalee Newitz, Charlie Jane Anders, and John Scalzi.
…for io9, SF Signal, Tor.com and Blastr.
…for The Walking Dead, Stargate Universe, Caprica, Castle, House and Fringe.
…for my family being close by.
…for the road cone that by brother left on top of my car as a prank.
…for the internet’s rage to correct things that are wrong.
…that I haven’t been attacked because of my race, religion or by being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
…my car works.
…the City of Montpelier and its three bookshops that I regularly visit.
…the libraries in the area, and the librarians I’ve worked with.
…the stories that I’ve found of Norwich alumni in Belgium.
…for the sacrifices that they made.
…the students and people who I work with who actually take responsiblity for their lives.
…for my the strides that I’ve taken with my writing.
…for the gigs that I’ve gotten.
…for my education, and how it’s changed my outlook on the world.

…most of all, for Megan. I would give up everything above for her.

A Stranger’s Gift

I have one particular addiction: books. There’s very little that I don’t like about them, from an orderly line of them occupying a shelf, the heft and weight, to their universal format that allows them to be accessed by everyone. (That sounds like a dig against eBooks, but it’s not). Inevitably, when I am drawn to a bookstore, I end up with a couple volumes that caught my eye under my arm as I leave the store.

This happen earlier today after a late lunch when Megan and I wandered back home. A local store, The Book Garden, is holding a sale for their used books, buy one, get another free. I’ve picked through the store pretty well, and I’m always happy to see that they’ve got a replenished collection every time that I go in. This particular trip, I found that they had a pair of Harry Potter novels, The Sorcerer’s Stone and The Deathly Hollows, neither of which I had, and both in hardcover. I’ve bee working to get all of the book for my own collection (in hardcover), and used bookstores usually have a couple of them, I picked up the pair, intending on adding them to my collection (with just a couple of others (Books 4 and 6) left to pick up after that before I had the entire set.

The books bagged, We walked home along Barre St, where we came across a trio of children playing on the sidewalk. The three of them were bundled up against the cold, but looked like they were having fun. They spread out across the sidewalk and a demanded a password to cross, giggling. Megan guessed Cat (or Kat, they said it began with K) and I guessed people for mine, and they allowed us to pass. One little girl said that she could read the sign on the side of the truck parked across the road, and read it for me.

Impulsively, I asked them if they liked to read. Her dark face lit up with a wide grin and nodded. I pulled one of the books out of my bag, The Sorcerer’s Stone and handed it to them, asking if they wanted it. They took it out of my hand and look even more excited, and ran inside. I overheard the brother tell his mother that a ‘nice man gave us Harry Potter!’ as we walked by their apartment’s door. I hope that the mother’s reaction wasn’t that her children had just been given a book by a stranger, and throw it away or forbid them to read it, but accept it in the spirit that it was given: impulsively, with the intention that they will read a fun children’s story, one that I greatly enjoyed as a youngster. Their excitement was tangible, and he way that their faces lit up gives me some hope that the book will be enjoyed (maybe in a couple of years, or hours).

Books, I think, should be given out more freely, and their use encouraged in the instances when that’s not possible. It’s certainly something that I’d like to do more, and I wonder if i should start picking up books that would appeal to children and find some way to distribute them to those in need. Reading is important, essential, and some of the stories that I’ve heard from family members and significant others about the abilities of children in the school systems, I’m worried about some of them. Hopefully, I’ve inspired a couple of kids that reading can be, well, magical, interesting, and exciting.