Thursday, March 29, 2012

This Month's Netflix Obsession... Stargate Atlantis

Every month or so as part of my geeky homework I run through a sci-fi or fantasy series on Netflix from beginning to end, tackling a few episodes a day. The reason I do this is because I ultimately want to be seen at a convention as an authority on such things. It gets under my skin a bit when a panel turns to something I haven't seen yet, like the finer points of Farscape or Babylon 5. (Many of my readers will see these as glaring omissions in my geek cred... you're right, and I'm working on it) I started a few months ago with Reaper, then went through the final three seasons of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. This month, I decided to run through the entire run of Stargate Atlantis.    
For those unfamiliar with the show, well, Wikepedia puts it really well in explaining the show's basic premise:
The story of Stargate Atlantis follows the events of Stargate SG-1's seventh season finale episode "Lost City", in which the cast of that series discovered an Antarctic outpost created by the alien race known as the Ancients. In the pilot episode "Rising", Stargate Command sends an international team to investigate the outpost, where Dr. Daniel Jackson discovers the location of Atlantis, the legendary city created by the Ancients.
 Of course, those wacky Tyree of Stargate command can't resist but send an expedition right away to find out what's the deally-o with the lost city of the ancients. The problem is that because of the amount of power required to get there, it's a one way trip. Most of the first season is spent bitching about this... but in a "look at this tremendous sacrifice we've made that no one will ever know about" way. (This is an old writer's trick to elicit unearned sympathy from the reader/viewer... you want someone to feel sorry for your protagonists, strand them far from home with no hope of return. Now you too see the man behind the curtain.) One can just imagine how that briefing went...

Daniel Jackson: So, we've figured out how to get there. It will take a lot of power, but we can do it...
O'Neill: Okay, that's great... how do we get back?
Daniel: Not real sure on that part.
O'Neill: You said the same thing the first time we stepped through the Stargate. You know, back when I looked like Jeff Bridges?
Daniel: Well, we did get back.
O'Neill: I ain't going. Why don't we send that annoying civilian observer they saddled us with last season?
Teal'c: Indeed.
Daniel: Good idea. No sense in risking our lives on my half-thought out theory again.
So our team, (led by former civilian observer to Stargate command Dr. Elizabeth Weir... seriously.) enters the Pegasus Galaxy and immediately finds out that the city has been abandoned, and that they don't have the power to return. The team is "Multi-cultural" in that it's supposed to be made up of people from exotic countries around the world like 'Canada', but it's really just a bunch of cookie cutter stereotypes. You've got the "strong yet feminine peacenik diplomat leader" (Dr. Weir), The "Tortured Military leader with the heart of gold" (Major John Sheppard), The "Bumbling and arrogant but brilliant scientist" (Dr. Rodney McKay.. a character whose most memorable trait was that he hit on Carter a few times back at the SGC) and the "alien chick who knows her way around the Galaxy so let's trust her now" (Tayla).

The rest of the expeditions is primarily made up of heavily accented actors playing nuanced parts like "soldier with guns", "medical doctor", and "second scientist in case the first one breaks".

Seriously... it's not till the second season that any of them really start to develop a personality.

So, the United Nations of Benetton ad that they've sent on this mission goes and wakes up an ancient enemy of the Ancients known as the Wraith. The Wraith are basically space vampires, only they don't sparkle or have that annoying weakness to sunlight. Seems that in the Pegasus galaxy the Wraith awaken every 1000 years or so, eat all the humans they can gorge themselves on, and then go back to sleep. Only the folks from Atlantis interrupted their nap (our bad), and now they're pissed.

I know I'm making it sound just awful, but the characters do come around to being likable by the end of the first season, and once contact is made with Earth again the series really finds it's legs. There is a lot of good in the series, and it was a really fun ride. By the time I got to the series finale, I was genuinely disappointed that it was over.

Notable episodes:
"Rising"- pilot
"The Seige"- The Wraith stage an all-out attack on Atlantis
"Runner"- introduces Ronin Dax, the teams token "alien dude that kicks ass"
"Progeny"- a race that appears to be the Ancients aren't quite what they seem
"First Strike"- a preemptive strike against an old foe has disastrous consequences
"Midway"- worth it if only to watch Ronin and Teal'c beating the piss out of each other while the Atlantis crew bets on them
"Enemy at the gate"- Atlantis is all that stand between the Wraith and Earth.

Friday, March 23, 2012

CoastCon 35

This past weekend was a very good weekend to be Rob. I was a guest at CoastCon 35, and while I have been involved with the organization for years, it was far different to be on the other side of the guest table.

I owe CoastCon a lot, when I think about it... The first time I realized that this whole "writer" thing was going to work out for me was at last year's convention when a fan I was unaware I had approached me and asked if I had any copies of Dimensional Games for sale. I had already learned that one of the best things you can do as an author is to carry a copy on you at all times, so of course I did... But just the one, because I was a staff member at that con, not a guest. Then a second person came up to me and asked me the same thing. I was flattered, but didn't have a second copy.

I now carry two copies at all times, either in the trunk of the car or in my bag.

Still, being a billed guest is a really humbling experience. I had people hanging on my every word at the panels I was on, looking for my "sage advice" about the craft of writing. Said sage advice consisted primarily of how much is too much to pay for an iced mocha, and how if you want to be a writer, don't assume that fame and fortune will immediately follow.

One of the strangest experiences I've had so far as a guest has more to do with my interactions with other guests... I sat on a panel with my publisher, Allan Gilbreath, my editor, Kim Richardson, and Hugo award winning, NYT best selling author, Timothy Zahn.

Read that again, and try to think of it from my perspective... Two of my bosses, one of my idols, and me, all talking about the craft of writing. What was really strange is that among these incredible writers and personalities, I totally held my own on that panel, very much giving the newcomer's perspective on my craft. In less than a year, i've gone from "goober in audience" to "respected colleague". When the heck did that happen?

Afterward, I got compliments from all three of them about how well I handled myself, and what good advice I gave about writing. Mr. Zahn was particularly gracious and encouraging, using terms like "after you're done with your next twenty books, you'll see how much your opinion of certain things will change" then he goes on to tell a story about him and George Lucas ("George" to him of course) like these are the types of stories we all have to tell. I told him I would check in with him in twenty years, and we would have the conversation again.

Before I get accused of having a swelled head, let me say that there are definitely some media guest types that still intimidate me. Ms. Lindsay Wagner was a guest at this con as well, and I spent a good part of the weekend trying to talk to her and not come off like a gibbering fanboy. It was not easy... I have had a crush on the bionic woman since I was six. For most of the weekend I totally avoided her, and got teased mercilessly by my wife and friends for the fact. It was finally the sage wisdom of Allan Gilbreath that made me buck up and go up to her, by reminding me where I stand on the "con food chain" at this point in my carreer.

"You're not just joe shmoe off the street, Rob" he said in all seriousness, "You're an award winning screenwriter and novelist with a story in an anthology that has itself been nominated for three prestigious awards! Years from now, she'll tell the story of the young fanboy that approached her blushing at a con, and turned out to be Rob fricking Cerio!!!"

"You're right!" I yelled, granting a few stares from the other people in the merchants room, "I AM A BAD ASSED NOVELIST!!" I screamed a primal scream, and ran from the room right to the end of the autograph line.

I still came off like a gibbering fanboy, mind you.... But I was a fanboy that had every right to be there and gibbering. Ms. Wagner was very gracious and sweet for her part... Although she did seem very slightly disturbed when I explained about the whole " crush since I was six" thing. It occurs to me now that she probably gets that all the time, and was probably just sizing me up to see if I was "harmless goober" or "psycho stalker". (Wrong on both counts... More likely "psycho goober".) I even got off an intelligent question as she signed her picture for me that she answered thoughtfully and at length. (Why did she pass on the role of Captain Janeway? The short answer- she didn't... Her agent passed without asking her)

The most interesting thing about her to me was that her voice still sounds just like it did when she played the Bionic Woman... She still very much has that " schoolteacher" air about her, and carries herself with an easygoing dignity that is rare among pop culture icons.

Speaking of pop culture icons, it was also a good weekend for Captain Chaos. He participated in a lively panel about super hero movies, and got to help judge the costume contest. He's well on his way to becoming a fan favorite in his own right, and I couldn't be any prouder. I doubt that they will ever allow the good Captain to be a judge again, because he kept inventing awards in the intrests of equality and justice. (and the award for best jumping jacks goes to...)

Tuesday, March 06, 2012


I was going to take some time out to write about how forgetful i've been lately, but I forgot to research the topic. Ow. I think I just hurt my brain.
I often wonder what it is about getting older that seems to destroy our capacity to keep thoughts on our mind's "to do" list for longer than a few hours. I also marvel at the paradox that if I take the time to write something down, I invariably find that I didn't need to.
Case in point: Each day, as I wake up, I have gotten in the habit of making a "To do" list of my day's errands. I do this because once I wake the boys, it becomes difficult to concentrate on anything not involving kids, dogs, school, cartoons, bathtime, diapers, medicines, schoolbags, breakfast, or some horrible combination of all of the above. Yesterday, I had the foresight to remind myself that I needed to go to the Hardware store. I spent all day thinking that I need to get to the hardware store, but never did because the bulk of my day was spent chauffering my mother in law around. Today, the first thing I said to myself was "I must get to the hardware store", and so I did.
Only to have absolutely no recolection of WHY it was so important for me to go there.
Early onset alzheimers, perhaps? One too many contact highs from hanging out with stoners? Or just running into the fact that my eight pounds of grey matter is becoming more limited in its capacity?