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Getting Weird…But It Always Has Been April 2, 2017

Posted by bobv451 in history, robot rights, science fiction, serial fiction, steampunk, westerns, Wild West, writing.

I am talking about weird westerns, of course. Writing has taken me on a curving path the past couple years, but weird westerns have always been there along the way. Awhile back I looked into the history of WW and found, to my surprise, that they have been around almost as long as western fiction and, more than once, have saved the traditional western from extinction.

Back in 1860 Beadle’s Dime Novels ran a story, “Captives of the Frontier” by Seth Jones. Straight ahead western–and it sold 400,000 copies. The appeal of the frontier, the Wild West, the freedom offered by endless vistas (and the dangers, such as being kidnapped by ferocious savages) proved to be a big hit with Eastern audiences starving in rat-infested tenements. But even such derring-do and fraught-with-danger tales can pale. In 1868 Edward Sylvester Ellis perked up the field with what is likely the first WW: “The Huge Hunter or The Steam Man of the Prairies.”
Even better (for me) it’s got a robot in it!

Tale tales in the West (or anywhere else) are hardly unique. Paul Bunyon and Pecos Bill and La Llorona and…lots. Creepy and funny, outrageous and maybe hinting at what it was like to be an explorer, the stories were told around the campfire. But the Dime Novels gave a new dimension–the printed word. As the western rose, WWs languished, but as the traditional western fell out of favor, WWs flourished in many forms. Today the traditional western (published in NYC) is on the wane. Indie publishers are taking up the slack but WWs are proliferating (and along with them steampunk stories set in the Wild West). A forthcoming WW anthology has some of the best sf writers around in it but very few western writers–that’s good for cross-pollination. It’s hard these days to find such an anthology of only traditional western writers (and if you know of a new one, let me know. I missed it.)

Learning Charisma March 2, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in ideas, movies, movies & TV, robot rights, weird news, writing.
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No, not Charisma Carpenter, though that would be interesting, but rather that unidentifiable trait that makes a person shine, sparkle (not in the vampire sense) and be the center of attention…even if they aren’t trying.

John Wayne had this star quality. He came onscreen and whatever else was going on didn’t matter. He wasn’t all that good an actor because no matter the role he was always playing John Wayne, unlike actors who act and become chameleons (Dustin Hoffman comes to mind). So there was something about John Wayne that commanded attention. Q: could Dustin Hoffman capture this quality in a character and *act* charismatic?

The answer is that it might be possible. Crafty scientists have made charismatic robot fish that become the leaders of their schools. Tail motion is the key. A stationary robot fish got no attention but when it duplicated the tail flicks of a leader, the real fish followed. It is likely the same thing is possible with humans.

Can it be speaking ability? Hitler enthralled an entire country into war, but John Wayne’s verbal delivery was never all that compelling to me. But I still couldn’t stop watching when he came onscreen even when he didn’t speak. Something about him made him a star. He had charisma. Watching Hitler’s speeches and not understanding German makes me think there is something about body motion, stance, confidence. Is there a human equivalent to the robot fish tail flip? Can we make a robot with human-attracting charisma? I am sure this will make the Japanese perk up, if it is possible since they are world leaders in robotic/human interactions

A while back I did a Magic: The Gathering book, Dark Legacy, that addressed whart made a charismatic leader, at least in part. After all these years, the notion still intrigues me. Rather than 15 minutes of fame, maybe we should all get 15 minutes of charisma?


Quick, Before It’s 6PM May 21, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in e-books, iPad, iPhone, robot rights, VIPub.
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There’s still time (except for you elevated souls in the Far East) to take advantage of the 25% today only discount at The Cenotaph Road Store. Use code rapture E-books! For iPad and iPhone! Nook and Kindle, too.

Hey, it’s not like money is going to be any use to you, right? Do they have Roombas in heaven? The image of a robot Roomba vacuuming up clouds as celestial harps play is very…amusing.

Robot Nudists March 29, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in ideas, inventions, nostalgia, robot rights, sci-fi, science, science fiction, writing.
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For whatever reason, the post on the Balboa Park nudist colony has engendered a passel of searches. Here’s a bit of science fiction to go along with Zoro Park. The picture is nothing less than weird being a guy in a robot suit with a bunch of almost nekkid ladies with strategic stars placed to avoid an NC-17, er, R, uh, PG-13 rating. Apparently this was part of a Depression-era exposition to coax people to San Diego. I’m not sure which is supposed to be the real attraction, being a nudist or a robot.

This was about 15 years after Capek (Josef, not Karel) coined the term robot so it is likely the mechanical critter was so-billed. Mechanical contrivances were a staple of French society and Hisasage Tanaka invented robots to serve tea and do all manner of things, including drawing kanji characters. There are all kinds of stories lurking in that–a Japanese robot writer. Of course there is Tesla with his radio-controlled torpedoes and dirigibles. Always great stuff, and of great interest to me (see my story in Time Twisters) and if you are really interested, pick up “The Power and the Glory” off Nook or Kindle.

Some of my earliest TV memories are of robots and androids (on the German/Brit Flash Gordon series!) But Dr Satan’s Robot remains a guilty pleasure. When I was a kid I built robots that looked like that with my Erector set. In a way I understand the Japanese fascination with ASIMO and similar gadgets, but robots can be any shape and ought to be designed for the job they’ll do.

Excuse me. I need to refill the inkwell on my Tanaka robot.

Mr Roboto January 13, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in ideas, inventions, nostalgia, robot rights, steampunk, weird news, writing.
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OK, I admit it.  I’ve always been a sucker for robots.  It might go back to my earliest childhood days of excitement at visiting downtown Indianapolis and seeing the monster fish tank or the Soldiers & Sailors Monument or sticking my feet in the fluoroscope and wiggling my toes as I received fatal amounts of radiation or even the pneumatic tube sales system at a dept store.  It was certainly there at that dept store where I saw Elektro and knew what the future would be.

Oh well.

Roombas are ok but not like that.  Tom Swift and his Giant Robot is nifty, not to mention being about a nuclear research plant.  I started young on my geekiness. But I thought this was the opening salvo of robotics.  But nooooo….

I came across this yesterday on io9 (which, if you don’t follow, you really should–it’s got great stuff).  A steampunk robot that looks pretty darn cool.  1868?  Astounding!  Amazing!  Fantastic! Vargo Statten!

Robot history has certainly been one of attempts at making the ‘bots look human or at least humanoid, but there is no reason for this (the Roomba, for instance).  There is no reason form shouldn’t follow function.  This might well mean future robots will be teeny nanomachines (nanobots) or Chthulu tentacled monsters or something too strange to describe.  Considering how much info can be placed on a hard drive now, the nanobots might carry information/memory you could use.  It evaporates after a predetermined time, making you an expert for only so long.  For really complicated tasks, this might be very useful.  Why spend months or years learning (building those neurons) when you can let a robot give you all the skill you need?  Especially if you aren’t likely to need to do the same job again for a long time?

On a Doc Smith scale, what would a robot the size of a planet do?  I’m just now starting to work on the final book in the Star Frontier series and am thinking of doing more than just rewriting.  Introduce some new stuff?  Like robots the size of a solar system?  Might save that for later.  Other ideas away from the Star Frontier concept crop up.

Up (Outside) the Air October 27, 2010

Posted by bobv451 in cats, conventions, e-books, iPad, movies, robot rights, science, science fiction, sense of wonder, space, VIPub, writing.
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Tom Swift and his Outpost in Space was one of my favorites in the series (I like giant robots, too). I wondered at the time why Tom didn’t build a Stanford torus but years later I figured that one out for myself. Better to have it at zero-g than try to balance shifting masses or play traffic cop for when crew left the rim and went to the center. Wobble wobble.

I found this with some of the oldie space station ideas. I still like the O’Neill colonies the best (obviously–I have done 2 short stories in a future universe where the sky is filled with them).
Burn the Sky On Wings of Plague. Also on the Kindle. And I am plotting out a new one, “Fade to Nova.”

I was less a fan of the Tom Swift, Boy Inventor (series5) Space Hotel since it read too much like a bad sf movie with air vents you can crawl through and some bogus dangers when real ones would have worked better. But orbiting stations are the in thing, with private companies talking about them and the Chinese with one going up any time now.

But I do like the idea of an inflatable space hotel, reportedly coming up in Q2, ‘11 (not to be confused with economy ruining QE2)

While this is all really up there in the air, I hope to be cruising along at 35,000 ft this time tomorrow on my way to World Fantasy Con in Columbus, with a plane change at Midway. May the weather cooperate since I have my iPaddy, tux and everything ready to go (almost–I need to get the cat out of my suitcase or he’s in for a long and harrowing weekend). [If the weather doesn’t cooperate, *I* may have a harrowing weekend ahead of me.]

Be back on the other side of the WFC. Feel free to browse my blog, my site, my store.

What Works September 3, 2010

Posted by bobv451 in conventions, e-books, ideas, podcast, robot rights, sci-fi, VIPub, web & computers, writing.
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Continuing from the notes I took on Pari Noskin Taichert’s seminar at Bubonicon 42.

Two things needed for marketing your work:
1) Consistency
2) a long list of ways to promote. Check it out a couple days back but I wanted to go into one she likes. Radio. This medium has several advantages. You are usually doing something else while the radio is on, so your message is more likely to be followed through to the end. Channel hopping in a car notwithstanding, of course. Think of radio as subliminal, oozing into the brain because retention of the message is better with the association of other things. I’d love to be on Coast 2 Coast AM, for instance, maybe talking about Uncanny Encounters: Roswell
but associating anything with the show gives dual bang for the buck. Whenever C2C is mentioned, chances are better for remembering your work if you’ve been on. (But why oh why do they keep giving Richard Hoagland air time?)

Pari also reiterated what has been discussed here at length. Book tours aren’t all that good now, taking up precious time with little bang for the buck. But they might be better if they are integrated into a media campaign–which likely means radio.

Since getting on commercial radio shows with any regularity isn’t likely, what’s an author to do? Mike Stackpole has had great response to his Cover 2 Cover podcasts. I did one for Radio Riel that was well received. These offer a less structured informal way of getting to know the audience and letting them know you and your work.

What do you need to convey? Go for a thematic description rather than relating the plot. You’ve told the story in print (or at least in words that can be read). You don’t expect a billboard to give you the plot. You expect it to let you know this is a thrilling military sf novel or one of deep sociological examination of what it means to be robot or an exploration of the effect of an alien artifact on human emotions and needs.

I came across this site via Zumaya Books. The guy is another of the “tweet to sell” types. I have read other books on this and have yet to figure out why (or even how) this works. That so many claim it works tells me it is time to go back to Crush It! and this site and similar others to try to figure it all out.

As Pari said, choose a couple ways you like for promotion and can keep up with, then press on with them.

VIPub, folks, VIPub!

Always Robots May 12, 2010

Posted by bobv451 in conventions, inventions, nostalgia, robot rights, sci-fi, science fiction, sense of wonder.
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One of the staples of sf is the robot. I’ve been fascinated by them ever since I saw Elektro at a department store in Indianapolis Today’s Bleat from James Lileks has a link to a YouTube video of the 1939 appearance of Westinghouse’s gold-painted robot. Even when I saw Elektro I knew most of it was done by a guy at a control panel. Answering questions certainly was since there wasn’t any way to program such in (even with *48* relays!). But the idea of a robot carries over today to movies like Iron Man (you become the robot) and undoubtedly has great appeal.

Even when the robots are Spirit and opportunity, that’s pretty amazing. Even if it would be better to have a human on a Segway motoring around in person.

Vacation this year looks nonexistent but I think I will take in the 100th Anniversary of Tom Swift at the convention in San Diego just before the free-for-all that is Comic Con. Nifty looking stuff here and other TS fans (I am a pretender in the realm of these trufans–my collection disappeared during a move too many decades ago, alas. My only real “treasure” now is a library binding copy of Galaxy Ghosts). So, I’ll be substituting a more businessy WWA for this. But it inspired me to dig out my reading copy of Tom Swift and his Giant Robot.

I love the ever-so Eastern seaboard view of New Mexico. Sandy and Phyl are warned to wear their boots because of snakes and Gila monsters. And they weren’t talking about the Gila Queen either. But geographical silliness aside, there is some good stuff lurking in the book. Tom’s adversary is a master at miniaturization and quite frankly, makes robots better than Tom’s. Why he wanted to steal the relotrol is beyond me but that was the heart of the story. And the Citadel, a place I always longed to see. This was the senior TS’s atomic pile with just enough description to make it seem real. Needless to say, Tom’s radiation hardened robot is necessary to the plot. Great fun.

A parting thought. I am coming to think we live in a Yogi Berra world. I over heard this line this morning: I had the 24 hr flu. It took me a week to get over it.

Wouldn’t that better be called a 168 hr flu? But Elektro doesn’t get the flu (now lung cancer is another matter…)

Lost Dreams May 7, 2010

Posted by bobv451 in movies & TV, robot rights, space, weird news.
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Forget Mars. Returning to the Moon is too great an ambition for the US (where victory is not an option) and the Japanese have their own odd take on what it means to explore. I find the notion that they want a bipedal robot to act as a surrogate human distressing, but then they want robots to act as surrogates for almost everything.

Robots don’t have to look like humans and shouldn’t unless their performance depends on humans pretending to be doing what the robots are doing. Projection.

Yesterday down at White Sands the Orion escape pod was successfully tested. I say successfully because there was a 95 second flight, rockets fired, parachutes deployed, all went well. But for what? The Constellation program has been cancelled, yet because money is still in the pipeline work continues. This sounds more like a machine running the program than a human.

And the headline of the paper today was how machines have taken over. I was watching the stock market live yesterday when the Dow took its 1000 point drop (so what do you do while eating lunch?) Proctor & Gamble went from 62 to 40 in seconds. Fascinating watching the talking heads react. Erin Burnett looked as if she were having an orgasm (I would certainly like to find out firsthand what this would be like, but she’s supposed to be reporting, not emoting, while on air. She forgot the line “the humanity, the humanity.”). She jumped up and down and screamed and otherwise looked as if she was losing it entirely. Not so oddly, Jim Cramer, who makes an entire show out of screaming, jumping around and throwing things, was level-headed, calm and simply said “there’s been a machine malfunction.” Nobody listened to him. So we know which is on-air schtick and which is his real personality. Given what seemed a crisis he was cool throughout. And he was right. Only it was likely a human mistake–a trader at Citi entered a trade as $16b instead of $16m for P&G. This drove down the stock when the trading programs kicked in and started selling, which added another 500 pt loss to the Dow.

But the machines accelerated the mistake.

Using surrogate machines to explore the Moon and beyond (and mocking us with human features) is just wrong. We ought to sift alien dirt through human-gloved fingers.

Robots, Robots… March 29, 2010

Posted by bobv451 in inventions, robot rights, science, sense of wonder, writing.
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…everywhere. And in the good sense, not the robot taking over the world and using our body fat for lubricant type of robot. I saw this and was amazed at how far advanced these things are. And also amazed at how the surgeons using them consider us to be lagging. Of course we are because progress is never enough for such things, but part of it caught my attention.

The haptic part is something I used in stories twenty years and more ago. Check out Alien Death Fleet and subsequent titles in that trilogy. I also used the idea extensively in another book that never saw the light of published day, Xander In Lost Universe”Cosmic Lens, which is about the same era. The tactile feedback is what is lacking in things like the virtual keyboard. Tapping a screen to text just isn’t the same as feeling the keys sink and rebound. Of course, surgery via telepresence would get a huge boost if the surgeon put on gloves and felt what’s going on.

Reach out and touch someone could have a whole new dimension added to it. Remember how the VCR came to flourish. With a 3D webcam, a haptic glove (or suit) can make our society become really agoraphobic.

Back from my Arizona trip real time tomorrow. Rarin’ to get to work.