Dec 5, 2012

Epic Science Fiction: Space Opera

TV shows such as Firefly, Farscape, Battlestar Galactica, Babylon 5, etc. have massive, loyal fan followings. Where are their equivalents in the book industry? I hardly see any. Epic space opera is very much in a low ebb right now. It seems that no one has had a space opera hit since Frank Herbert's Dune was published in 1965.

I think a large part of the lack of best-selling epic science fiction is its association with military fiction (a niche genre). These two don't need to go hand-in-hand, yet they often do. Many of the published Baen Books titles are military space opera. Ender's Game, Old Man's War, and the Vorkosigan saga are all arguably military space opera/epic SF. However, one could argue that George R.R. Martin's Game of Thrones and Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time are military fantasy. Why is epic science fiction consigned to the small niche of 'readers who like hard science fiction plus military stuff' while epic fantasy gets a broad audience? No one really thinks of those best-selling epic fantasy series as military fiction. They're associated with fascinating worlds, high adventure, epic battles and epic romances, colorful characters, and high stakes plots. Why can't epic science fiction have all this as well?

It can, and it should.

There's a war going on in my epic science fiction series. So yes, there are battles ... but it's not military fiction, any more than A Game of Thrones is military fiction. There's no chain of command until they create one. There are no uniforms. The story is not about learning who is in charge and who is subordinate. It's not about adjusting to military life. There are no barracks. The main characters are not soldiers.

In fact, one of my main characters is a handicapped boy who's too weak to walk. Another main character is a female elderly alien slave. Only one of my characters is a muscle-bound warrior type. That should make it clear: This Is Not Military Fiction!

One more thing, and then I'll get off my soap box. I want to read some new epic science fiction that has the same sense of grand adventure that we see in epic fantasy. It seems that book publishers have developed a bias against epic SF due to the boatloads of military epic SF already published. But there is more to epic SF than military fiction.

I'm a major Scott Sigler fan because he writes epic SF that isn't military.  I love his books.  But I want to see more along these lines.  I've been told that literary agents shy away from space opera because they claim that it's 'hard to pull off well.'  I think they mean to say that 'space opera is always military fiction, which doesn't sell well, and therefore we don't want to see it.'

I wish they'd give my saga a read.  One more time: It isn't military!!!

Jul 25, 2012

Awful Air France Ordeal

When we travel these days, we all expect long lines, underpaid airport staff who don't care about helping travelers, delayed flights, and hassles.  That has become normal (and I found a good article about why that is).  However, my experience over the past 30 hours goes way beyond normal.  I arrived at my destination a full day later than scheduled.  I've had to go through airport security three times during this journey.   I've had to pick up my baggage and re-check it twice.   The Air France staff lied and never provided any truthful explanations for their behavior.  Everyone on my flight was subjected to the same ill treatment.  The passengers were international, and include children traveling alone, an old woman in a wheelchair, and families with babies.

Air France flight 688 was scheduled to depart Paris CDG at 1:30pm, and arrive in Atlanta around 5:30pm.  What happened?  We departed Paris at 2:45pm, diverted to Washington D.C. for no apparent reason, and arrived in Atlanta at 3:30am the next day.

Here's how my particular adventure began.

If I had known what a mob scene awaited me at Charles DeGaulle airport, I would have given myself 5 hours to get to my gate instead of just 3 hours.  July is peak tourist season in Paris, yet the airport seemed ridiculously understaffed and overcrowded; much worse than anything I've seen at LAX

When I exited the RER train, there was a mad rush to the single escalator leading to Terminal 2.  It got mobbed.  I squeezed into the herd of travelers with luggage, and followed the herd until we arrived in an atrium with passages to 2A, 2B, 2C, 2D, 2E, 2F, and 2G.  I had no idea where to go.  A huge monitor listed flights, but mine wasn't on there.  The single information booth with its one employee had a huge line.  I was on the verge of choosing a terminal at random when I lucked out.  An airport employee hurried past me, and I asked her where to go.  She directed me to 2E and hurried onward.  I dragged my luggage to what seemed like the world's busiest, most crowded terminal.

I squeezed into the enormous mob crowding the Air France area.  There were no ropes or anything to corral the mob into orderly lines.  I figured I'd save time by checking myself in using a passport scanning machine.  However, the machine was French only, and when it got to the passport part, it wouldn't work.  I'd wasted time by waiting on line for this machine.  The people around me were unhelpful.

So I dragged my luggage around until I finally spotted an Air France employee.  I asked her how I might check in.  She flippantly told me to speak to another employee, pointing.  I asked her where he was, since all I saw was a mob.  She said, "he is there."  I asked if there is a line to speak to him.  She said, "no line."

Bit by bit, I inched my way into the mob.  I realized they were all waiting to speak to him, and plenty of anxious travelers were trying to cut into the disorganized mob.  Sure enough, one short man was scanning passports, slowly, one by one.  This one Air France employee was in charge of scanning passports for hundreds of travelers trying to get to their flights on time.  Other Air France employees frequently came by to speak to him, and he always gave his coworkers priority attention, ignoring the mob of anxious travelers.

I waited for at least an hour, and finally got the guy to scan my passport.  He printed out my boarding passes and told me to go to point 8 and 9.  I was at point 1 and 2.

I dragged my luggage through a ridiculously overcrowded terminal, only to find that point 8 and 9 was even more overcrowded.  I had to wait over an hour just to check my luggage.  The Air France employee who checked it barely spoke English, and she waved vaguely for me to go somewhere else.  I followed other travelers through a maze until we arrived at a passport checking station.  Another huge line awaited us.

By this time, it was past noon, and I worried that I wouldn't make my flight, which was scheduled to depart at 1:30pm.  Boarding would begin soon and I hadn't even seen the security line.  Other travelers in line were also anxious about their flights, many of which were scheduled to depart soon.  No one came by to reassure us about our flights.  The passport station employees were few and far between, and they all seemed bored stiff.  They moved slowly and paused to chat with each other.

After my passport was checked, I had to hurry through a corridor and more escalators.  When I spotted a few Air France employees hanging out and chatting, I asked them where gate L45 was.  They pointed to a subway train, which was about to leave.  I leaped on board just in time.

After exiting the subway, I finally encountered the security line.  It wasn't as bad as the rest; they had a lot more employees working there.  No body scanners.  I got a brief pat down.  My carry-on bag was searched.  Then I was through, and emerged into what looked like an expensive shopping mall.  Sephora and other perfume shops were everywhere.

I figured I was just in time to board my flight.  Relieved, I rushed to the women's restroom, which featured only four stalls and a huge line.  I emerged to learn that my flight was delayed.  Delta Airlines called me twice to let me know this.  It would have been nice if they only called once, and nicer if they'd called earlier, while I was stressing out about making my flight. 

The flight didn't board until 2:30pm.  The hour-long flight delay caused me to worry that I'd miss the tight connection I needed to make in Atlanta.  Maybe the delay was due to mechanical problems or bad weather, but I suspect it was actually due to the poor handing of passengers at CDG airport.  If the plane had left on time, there would only be about 50 passengers on it.  The rest would be stuck in various lines.

The fiight was full when it departed.  We were perhaps 45 minutes away from landing in Atlanta when our flight got diverted to Washington D.C.  The stewardesses claimed the change was due to a severe thunderstorm, and everyone believed them ... but hours later, we learned this was a lie.  Atlanta had clear weather that evening, on July 23, 2012.  No one ever explained why we were diverted.  I would still like to know.

And then we sat in the stuffy airplane at the Dulles airport gate for hours, stretching a 7 hour flight into a 10.5 hour ordeal.  Babies were crying, children were yelling.  We watched the sunset.  People fretted about missed connections.  I knew I'd missed mine.

Then the Air France crew announced, in their poor English, that the pilot was tired and legally couldn't fly any longer, so everyone would have to disembark and go through U.S. customs in Dulles.

We went through customs.  It took less than an hour.  After that, we went to baggage claim to retrieve our luggage, which took a long time to arrive.  Then we were rushed through a line to re-check our luggage to Atlanta, and we had to suffer through airport security again.  Then we were directed to an Air France ticket counter to receive fresh instructions.

We waited at that ticket counter for hours.  While we waited in this interminable line, one of the stressed-out employees announced that our rerouted flight to Atlanta would depart at midnight.  She claimed we would receive a meal voucher and a hotel voucher for our trouble.  In reality, all we received was an $8 meal voucher for the only airport restaurant still open at Dulles: Fuddruckers.  The Air France voucher didn't fully cover my overpriced airport hamburger meal.

By this time, the passengers were exhausted and furious.  Several passengers left, booking last-minute flights on different airlines.  Others had final destinations near the Washington D.C. metropolitan area, and they caught late night cabs or rented cars.  Still, hundreds of passengers remained corralled in the Dulles airport, which was shut down for the night.  We ate Fuddruckers and waited.  It was past midnight.

The airplane gained a fresh crew around 12:45am, and we began to board for our new flight from Dulles to Atlanta.  We sat in the same stuffy airplane for another hour before it finally took off, around 2:00am.  No one explained why we had to wait so long.
We arrived in Atlanta around 3:30am, and we got nothing for our trouble.  No vouchers.  No help.  The Atlanta airport was shut down for the night, and all we saw were cleaning crew, who stared at the hundreds of angry travelers from Air France 688.

The four Air France employees on duty in Atlanta looked stunned by the hundreds of passengers who suddenly showed up at 3:30am.  It seemed no one had told them what to expect.  They phoned in a manager to help out.  Still, the line moved slower than any before it.  I was in the first third of the line, and it took me over an hour to reach the counter.

There, I rechecked my luggage, and got re-booked on another flight to my final destination in Texas, leaving at 8:50am.  I had to go through airport security yet again.  My passport was examined for the tenth time. 

The remaining travelers from Air France 688 entered the Atlanta gate area.  Atlanta is the world's busiest airport, but at this early hour, it was utterly empty, except for the late night cleaning crew.  We had the whole automated subway train to ourselves.  Here it is, the Atlanta subway at 4:30am:

I settled in at my new gate and watched the sunrise.  I should have been home yesterday.  My Delta flight left on time, and I arrived home on July 24, 2012.  I was so tired, I slept for an hour on that flight, despite the shrieking, kicking baby sitting on her mother's lap next to me. 

As frustrated as I was, there were people from that Air France flight 688 who had it worse.  There were families with babies, an old woman in a wheelchair, and people with flights connecting to Alaska, California, and Guatemala.  I think one person was bound for Australia.  None of them will arrive on the day they wanted to arrive.  There were several children traveling alone.  I noticed that Air France took special care with them, since a lost child would turn our general ordeal into a P.R. nightmare. 

Air France should have been up front with their customers.  Tell us the truth.   They made a tough situation much worse by keeping all the passengers trapped on the grounded plane, uninformed, and lied to.  Quite a few people could have caught connecting flights if we'd been let into the Dulles airport at 6:00pm, when we landed there.

If Air France existed in a competitive market for airlines, they would be offering free flights in compensation.  Instead, they treated the passengers with lies ("go into the airport, there will be people lined up to help you") and no truthful explanations.  They offered a brief apology and an $8 voucher for Fuddruckers, and that was it.

Jun 7, 2012

Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury has died at age 91. He was the last of the major "Golden Age" science fiction writers, with Asimov, Clarke, and Heinlein being the others who gained mainstream popularity, due to successful film adaptations of their novels. Of those writers, Bradbury was my favorite, and the only one I've met in person. He was outgoing and friendly, and always seemed willing to speak to fans and audiences at conventions such as Comic Con.

I won't match what many others will say in eulogy for Ray Bradbury. But I was just talking to some neighbors, and when I mentioned his death on the news, they confessed they'd never heard of him. History is easily forgotten. So I do want to make sure that future generations recognize the huge impact that the Golden Age of science fiction had on our culture, and remember that Asimov, Bradbury, and Clarke (the A-B-C) were a major part of that. They inspired many real astronauts, physicists, and biologists to go into that line of work and change the world we live in. They inspired contemporary authors, artists, and film directors to explore other worlds, which in turn has shaped pop culture.  Perhaps you've never heard of Bradbury, but I'm 99% certain that people you have heard of--J.J. Abrams, Joss Whedon, Peter Jackson, Stephen King, Suzanne Collins, and many more--have read his books and consider him an influence.

When I attended a live panel with Ray Bradbury about his novel Fahrenheit 451, I was surprised by how many audience members focused on the book burning. Bradbury had to explain that the story wasn't mainly about politics, nor was it a Nazi allegory. It was about television. It was a cautionary tale about replacing active story consumption with passive story consumption--reading versus watching/listening.  I thought this point was obvious in the book, and it's by far the best rendition of this theme I've ever read or seen.

I wasn't around before the invention of television, but when I read Fahrenheit 451, I wondered if Bradbury was right; maybe we have lost something in our leap from books to radio to TV to the internet. Even the best film or TV show is delivered in a format that limits the imagination; we are shown exactly what to think and feel, and when it's over, we easily forget and move on to the next one. Books are a much more personal, intimate experience, and a good book can have a huge and memorable impact on a person's life. One-hour TV shows and two-hour films and 5-minute internet shows crowd our attention, demanding that we LOOK and LISTEN so we can be up-to-date and discuss them with our friends. And as a result, people have less time for books ... and less time to truly ponder an idea.

I never thought I'd side with the old guy. I enjoy contemporary TV shows and films, and I'm a technophile. Yet I will admit that something of myself is lost in all this easy entertainment. I don't see myself as a brainwashed drone, the way Bradbury depicted the reality-show-addicted character of Mildred, yet I would undeniably be a much different person if I spent years without TV, film, or internet. I would read more. I would write more. And perhaps I would think more, and be a smarter, better person for it. But that's not the world any of us live in.

I'm glad that Bradbury wrote about it, and I hope other readers understand his point.

May 19, 2012

Latest Publications

I've been storing up some news, saving it for the opening of my redesigned website.  But the website isn't quite ready to go live, and I don't want to wait any longer!

First, my article Implausible Dystopias: Logic Problems in Contemporary Dystopian Fiction is published in the April 2012 issue of the Copperfield Review.  Read my opinion on dystopias and the bleak outlook permeating today's science fiction!

Fried Zombie Dee-Light! is available as an ebook, with a cover illustration by me.  Read short stories by the talented Susan Abel Sullivan!  The theme is zombies, the slant is humor.

I did interior illustrations for Skeptoid 4: Astronauts, Aliens, and Ape-Men, by podcast/educator Brian Dunning.  The books and the podcast are fun to read!

Finally, I will be appearing at Armadillocon in July 2012, and I hope to be speaking on a panel.  More news on that later!

Apr 9, 2012

HBO's Game of Thrones

It's time to critique something I love!

First: I think HBO is doing a wonderful job of adapting George R.R. Martin's series to film.  The minor changes they've made to dialogue and events all serve the purpose of clarifying back story for viewers who've never read the books, or emphasizing character traits that need emphasizing.  Kudos to HBO, and hooray for the screenwriters, directors, and producers who are making such great decisions. I would love to see other book adaptations done this well. 

The main problem I have is with their casting choices.  Many characters are cast well.  The best choices are the actors who play Arya, Bran, Tyrion, Catelyn, Sansa, Petyr (Littlefinger), Joffrey, Cersei, Varys, Renly, Melisandre, Lysa, Shae, Theon, and Syrio Forel.  But why does Stannis look and sound like he has a sense of humor?  Why does Davos look and sound so regal?  Why is Daenerys a bleached blond, and why is Craster well-groomed?  Why does Jon Snow seem more like a poet than a northern ranger?  Why does Gendry look more like a ballet dancer than a blacksmith's apprentice?  Why does Robb Stark look pouty instead of battle-worthy?  They should have gotten the guy who plays Grenn to play Jon, Robb, or Gendry.  Samwell Tarly comes off as a bit of a creep, overdoing the social ineptness.  Hodor seems a bit old for a young giant in the bloom of health.  And Sandor Clegane (the Hound) isn't exactly hulking; he looks more pathetic than dangerously full of anger.  

The problem goes deeper than these characters merely being different than how I envisioned them as a reader. If the actor doesn't fit the role, in terms of personality or physical type, then the scenes with that character ring false.  An original screenplay has flexibility for an actor to redefine a character, but this is an adaptation of a book series, and therefore a rigid story.  The actors cannot redefine the roles too much.  

So viewers are told that Craster is a polygamous wildling who abuses his wives and daughters ... but upon seeing a well-groomed man, they might forget his role, or at least forget that he's a wildling.  He simply doesn't look like the crazy hermit that he is.  A viewer who has never read the books will have trouble understanding why so many characters fear the Hound, or refer to him as angry, since the actor shows no hint of that personality. Those scenes are written for someone who looks and acts more like an angry bad-ass.  

I suppose viewers will be more accepting of heroic protagonists Jon Snow, Robb Stark, and Gendry as pretty and pouty actors, since that look is unfortunately the Hollywood norm these days.  What happened to heroes who look more like (young) Harrison Ford, or Viggo, or Guy Pearce?  Oh well.  And I guess Daenerys exemplifies another Hollywood norm: collagen-injected lips and as much pout as possible.  With that super-fake bombshell look, it's hard to take her seriously as a dothraki khaleesi roughing it on the grassy plains.  That look seriously undermines her role in the story. 

Finally, I'm going to complain about the snow setting of the Night's Watch scenes.  I get the sense that no one on the board of producers and directors has ever lived in a snowy forest.  In a truly cold setting, there would be icicles hanging off eaves and branches.  Also, people's breath would be visible as white vapor.  Every time I watch those scenes, I feel like I'm seeing a movie set instead of a real place.  I'm sure other viewers are also jarred out of the story for the same reason.  It sounds like I'm nit-picking, but attention to small details (like icicles and breath vapor) are what make a story come to life. 

If anyone wants to take a look at the actors I'm talking about, here's the HBO cast page.

Apr 5, 2012

Spring Cleaning

I'm clearing out my gmail archives, which have attained shameful proportions. If my gmail was a person, it would be morbidly obese. Would you believe that it was 77% full? It clogged up at least 7000 MB ... just with email.

To all the people I neglected to reply to from the years 2003 to 2009: I'm sorry.  Very, very sorry. This must be why I always feel a nagging sense of guilt.

I'm not a very good correspondent.  Oftentimes, I put off a reply because I want to make it a good one, and then it falls off my inbox screen and I forget it exists.  A better way to reach me might be blog comments!  At least I'm sure to see it, since I don't get many.  :-)

Feb 14, 2012

Mentally Flawed Heroes

Another day, another rejection letter from a literary agent.  I realize that many agents are too busy for a new client, but the rejection stings more when it comes after a partial request.  I can't help but hope "This is the one!"  But she wasn't.

Anyway, here's my topic of thought. I'm attracted to mentally flawed protagonists. Give me a depressed dwarf (Tyrion Lannister), a moody guy with voices in his head (Rand al'Thor), or a flipper baby (Arturo Binewski) over a normal swashbuckling hero any day. I'll even extend this to comics and films. Hellboy and Spider-Man are way cooler than James Bond or Jason Bourne, to me.  Bond or Bourne don't have enough issues.

In real life, of course, I would prefer to avoid people who hear voices or have murderous impulses. So why do I find "normal" heroes to be boring in fiction?  I think it's because I immerse myself in the story, and become the heroic character for a time, which frees me to say, think, and do things I would never say, think, or do. One of my protagonists lies to himself and treats people with savage rudeness, which is definitely not something I approve of. If I knew him in real life, I'd hate him. But I like being inside his point of view, since it's so different from my own. And he has a lot of growing to do as a character, which makes for fun storytelling.

Here are some protagonists I've cooked up, over the years:

- a wheelchair-bound, telepathic child misanthrope
- an agoraphobic giant with an overprotective mother
- a bookish kid who watched an angry mob murder his family
- an anorexic mermaid
- a telepathic seductress with jealousy issues
- a gambler and compulsive liar who murdered his father
- a spoiled prince with solid gold and silver body parts who trusts no one
- a mountain man whose roommate secretly rapes little girls

Yes, these are my protagonists. My antagonists have more serious mental issues.

Jan 25, 2012

Clear internet vs. Broadband cable internet

I want to take a moment here to reflect on the incredibly bad customer service of Clear 4G, a WiFi internet service which is offered in my area as an alternative to DSL or cable.  Most people want an alternative to the big cable corporations, such as Time Warner and Comcast.  Clear could tap that huge market and become a major corporation in its own right ... if it could get its act together and offer competitive prices and decent support.  But it doesn't.

First of all, potential customers should be aware that Clear lies.  Their customer support (outsourced to foreign countries) representatives barely understand English, and apparently it's okay for them to lie to customers or potential customers.  If they tell you the service costs $35/month, it actually costs $42/month.  If they tell you there's no contract, there's actually a 2-year contract that you're locked into.  I've been shifted on the phone to two different representatives who told me two different prices for the same modem. 

Once I realized that their company policy is to lie to customers, I asked for email (written) confirmation on the next change to my account.  They told me that their company policy is to never put anything in writing.  I can see why...

So today, I got broadband installed from my local cable mega-corporation, and cancelled Clear 4G.  My cancellation call went like this:
REP: "Why are you cancelling ma'am?"
ME: "Bad customer service."
REP: "Oh i am very sorry ma'am. Let me transfer you."
new REP: "Why are you cancelling ma'am?"
ME: "Bad customer service."
REP: "Oh i am very sorry ma'am. Please hold."
[3 minutes later]
REP: "We can offer $27 a month and waive the first month."
ME: "I want higher speed, and I already signed up with another service."
REP: "We can offer $27 a month at higher speed."
ME:  "Your company policy is to lie.  I've been told in the same phone call that high speed would be $45/month, and then the next rep said $50/month.  You don't put anything in writing, so I can't trust what you say over the phone.  Clear also locked me into a 2-year contract, when the rep told me there would be no contract."
REP: "This high speed will be $27/month, and we will waive the first month."
ME: "I don't believe you. Please cancel my account."

Then we did 5 more minutes of the song and dance.  Anyway, I hope broadband Turbo will be better.  I don't have high hopes, but at least I hope they won't have a company policy of flat-out lying to customers. (For the record, $27/month for high speed would be a great deal ... if it were true.)

For your entertainment:  I did one chat session online with Clear, in an attempt to get their contradictions in writing.  Here's the chat transcript:
Hello Abigail. Please wait while we find a CLEAR specialist to help you.
Your question is: I would like to replace my home modem lease with a refurbished home modem.
All agents are currently busy. Please stand by.
An agent will be with you in a moment. Thank you for your patience.
You have been connected to Dennis.
Abigail:  Hi Dennis. I just spoke on the phone with a representative named Cesar, and he said I could buy a refurbished modem for $50 (one time fee), which would also cancel my 2-year service contract and make it monthly. Is this true?
Dennis:  Thank you for contacting Clear, my name is Dennis. So I can help, may I please have your first and last name?
Abigail:  Abigail Goldsmith
Dennis:  Thank you for the information. Please allow me a moment to pull up your account.
Abigail:  Right now, I'm locked into a 2 year contract (not my choice), and I'm unhappy with all the hidden fees Clear hit me with. I'm paying $7/mo for a modem lease, plus the basic $35 internet service.
Dennis:  Yes, you can purchase the device for $50.
Abigail:  Would this device: a) Replace my current home modem, and work just as well?
Abigail:  b) cost $50 one-time only? (not a lease)
Dennis:  I see.
Abigail:  c) cancel my two year contract and make it month to month?
Dennis:  A new device?
Abigail:  refurbished
Abigail:  a home modem to replace the one I'm leasing (which is white)
Dennis:  Okay.
Abigail:  ... can you answer my questions?
Dennis:  That will be a Home modem with no Wi-Fi.
Abigail:  the one I have has WiFi
Abigail:  it's the basic CLEAR Moden wf Wi-Fi
Dennis:  Yes
Abigail:  I am asking about buying a refurbished modem to replace it
Abigail:  you're saying that I could buy one for $50, but it would lack the Wi-Fi?
Dennis:  Yes
Dennis:  The one with Wi-Fi refurbished is $79.99.
Abigail:  What is it called? Series G or Series M?
Abigail:  What is the difference between those two?
Dennis:  Series G. It has no built in Wi-Fi but functions the same.
Dennis:  No difference much, only the manufacturer.
Abigail:  neither one has Wi-Fi?
Abigail:  hello?
Dennis:  Yes
Abigail:  Dennis, can you transfer me to someone who can type faster, or have faster comprehension?
Dennis:  All agents are assisting right now.
Dennis:  To give you the best assistance regarding this matter, please call our Account Services Department at 888-888-3113.
Abigail:  I'm chatting because I want this in writing.
Abigail:  I want to know: If I buy a refurbished modem, will that cancel my 2 year contract and make it monthly?
Dennis:  No
Abigail:  ok, that contradicts what I was told on the phone.
Dennis:  If you would buy a modem and then you change your plan, that will cancel the 2 year contract.
Abigail:  I want to be clear on this, before I dump more money into CLEAR. Please answer:
Abigail:  Are you talking about a package deal? In other words, the deals listed here:
Dennis:  I'll check.
Dennis:  Please wait.
Abigail:  ok
Dennis:  Yes, those are the deals.
Abigail:  so if I buy one of those, it cancels my current contract WITHOUT the cancellation fee?
Abigail:  (according to the phone guy, my cancellation fee would be $92.50 this month)
Dennis:  We will just switch the plan. But it will also switch the service to NO Contract.
Dennis:  Yes
Abigail:  No cancellation fee?
Dennis:  If you will switch plan. Yes.
Dennis:  Month to Month plans have no cancellation fee.
Abigail:  I'm not currently on a month to month plan, though.
Abigail:  one more thing: Those package deals offer 4G Home service for $50. It used to be $45, and I was told $45 over the phone today. Which is it?
Dennis:  It will be $50.
Abigail:  Why did the phone guy tell me $45?
Dennis:  There are no entries regarding your conversation just summaries. But I do verify that it is $50.
Abigail:  Time Warner cable offers internet service for $30/month.
Dennis:  But surely that will at a limited speed.
Abigail:  I'll call them today and get back to Clear. Thanks for answering my questions.
Dennis:  You are most welcome!
Dennis:  I apologize for the inconvenience incurred to you by this issue.
Dennis:  Thank you for chatting with me today! You may receive a page asking you to take a survey about your experience today. Please take time in taking the survey and tell us what you think. If you have any further questions or concerns, please feel free to contact us; we are available in live WebChat 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Thank you for visiting You may now close this window.
Apparently I'm not the only one who had problems with Clear.  They've been accused of running a Ponzi scheme, and there's a website for complaints, as well as a pending class action lawsuit.  To make a long story short: Don't believe their advertising, or any claims they make.  They're lying. 

Jan 15, 2012

Abby Online

It's been a busy 2012 so far, and we're only halfway through January. First, I was interviewed on an art & architecture podcast for Austin, Texas.  You can stream/download the interview HERE, or from iTUNES.

I'm collaborating with a programmer and some other friends to create iPhone games and apps of my own design. This is super exciting for me, since it's the first time I'm getting to work on my own games.  I'd like to pump out a lot of material and see if anything takes off.  The advantages we have: A talented team with lots of excitement and passion, and (if I say so myself) good ideas.  The disadvantages: Lack of budget, and my own inexperience in marketing.  The more I learn about marketing, the more scary it seems. Anyway, I will do my best.  I'll let everyone know when our first game comes out. If you haven't subscribed to my blog, please do so!

I'm recording tutorial videos for 3D Modeling in 3dsmax.  They're available in HD on my YouTube channel, and on the new tutorial page of my website.  I plan to add more tutorials for animation, Flash, and other art software.  This is partially just because it's fun to make videos, and relatively easy nowadays.  It's also to prepare for my first job as a teacher.  I will be teaching a 3D Animation class once per week at the local community college.

Games, contract art, teaching.  What else am I doing?  Still writing novels, of course.  Actually ... no ... I'm editing and marketing novels now.  I would like to get back to writing original material, but sadly, I've learned beyond any shadow of doubt that marketing is important if one wants to sell one's work.  I'm 3/4 through an edit of Book 2, and in the process of querying agents and publishers about Book 1.  Still getting top tier rejections for my short stories, but I haven't written any new short stories in a few years.  Participating in (and enjoying) my local novel critique group.  It's a talented bunch of writers.

I wish I could report more on my personal life, but there's not much to say.  My adorable dog says "hello."  She apparently sees the HOA (home owner's association) lady as a threat, which could be why the HOA lady got on my case a few months ago.  My dog normally loves people, but every once in a while, she goes into attack mode ... this was the first time I saw her growl at a woman, though.  Strange.  Usually she has a problem with men in uniforms wearing hats.  (I will add that I don't encourage aggression in my dog; she just has guard dog tendencies.  She might be part pitbull or akita, and I suspect she might have been abused before I got her.)

Movie Reviews:
I enjoyed HUGO, both visually wonderful and good storytelling.  I saw TINTIN in 3D, and although it was visually stunning, I thought the story was weak; predictable and beating the same joke to death.  THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (American version) was really great.  I was pleasantly surprised that it followed the book closely, and managed to do it well.  There's an example of a well written screenplay adaptation.

Book Reviews:
I read the first ten books in the ANITA BLAKE, vampire hunter series.  What can I say?  GUILTY PLEASURES is aptly named.  I'm not sure I can recommend this series for everyone, but the first four or five books entertained me.  After that, there's some fall-off.  Many fans say that it devolves into weirdo erotica after the tenth book, and I can see that happening.  Dating a vampire and then dating a werewolf is fine.  Menage-a-trois sex with a werewolf and a vampire, plus bondage rape with a wereleopard, and turning into a succubus ... um, starting to cross a line there.

Then I read the Stieg Larsson series, which starts with THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO.  Interesting stuff.  People may scoff, but I find the books to be very feminist, despite being written by a man!  The main characters get a little ridiculous and unbelievable, especially in the second and third book, but I don't mind ridiculousness with a good story, which this had.  Salander is a cool character.  No one knows if she has Asperger's Syndrome or what, but she's a criminal mastermind who looks like a sullen Goth teenager, so who cares?

And I just finished listening to Scott Sigler's THE STARTER, a sequel to THE ROOKIE.  Yes, that's right, I don't have a clue about sports or football, yet I read two books about football.  I'm just a hopeless Sigler fan.  I guess it's weird that I like his alien voice acting and his super-weird alien universe, where humans play pro sports alongside drooling alien teammates.  What a cool idea, though.

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