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Apr 172014
 

by Laura Davis, managing editor

Redshirts_800At the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books (LATFOB) this past weekend, I got a chance to sit in on a panel moderated by Pamela Ribon (writer and producer of Mind of Mencia, screenwriter, actress, and best-selling author), with John Scalzi and Jon Shestack (film and television producer, executive producer, and actor) discussing the progression of Redshirts from John Scalzi’s brain to the pages of a book and on to its upcoming iteration as a limited television series on FX. Or, as Ribon put it, “I’m here with two johns. Yeah, I picked up a couple of johns on the way to the book festival.”

If you’re not familiar with Redshirts, Shestack explained, “When Redshirts came out, I thought it was going to be about Bolsheviks. I didn’t really understand.” After a burst of hysterical laughter from the audience, he continued sheepishly, “That’s true! I really did think that … It was about a group of young recruits on a starship who discover that they’re dying at an alarmingly fast pace, and they don’t really understand why. Then, they think they understand why; they think, ‘Oh, if you go on an away mission, you’re going to die. If you go on an away mission with a senior officer, you’re definitely going to die.’ They keep thinking they know what it is, and that they can trick it, maybe, and game it and not die. But that really is, sadly, not that possible. And then, they start to discover – well, somebody tells them actually -  that [their] lives are linked to a science fiction television show made 300 years ago. That’s quite bad news, but then on top of it, you’re not even the main characters, you’re the extras!”

Scalzi adds, “Even worse is that that television show? It kind of sucks!”

It’s always a pleasure to hear John Scalzi talk about writing, because he has such a great attitude and a really nuts-and-bolts-level understanding of both the business and the craft of writing. As he puts it, he is a “real, working writer,” and he’s “not precious about himself.” He understands that while it’s fantastic and amazing for someone to give you money to write novels, most working writers also do their fair share of copywriting, movie reviews, and whatever else pays the bills. And he’s really open in his acknowledgement that luck has had a hand in his success. He told last year’s LATFOB audience, “Yes, I am a good writer. Yes, I have good business sense, but one of the prime drivers for where I am now was luck. All these other things matter, but let’s not pretend luck didn’t have something to do with it. As with many things, luck favors the prepared mind.”

Scalzi explained how the novel Redshirts came to be. “It was almost accidental. I had gotten in my brain that I wanted to write three very short novels: like 40,000-word novels. Which was about the size of a novel back in the 1950’s and 60’s, back when they were all produced in pulp and put into supermarket racks. So, I was going to put three of them together, and I was going to call it Triple Feature. Two things happened. I started writing the Redshirts one … It ended up at over 40,000 words; it ended up at 50,000 words and then I wrote the three codas [these are essentially short stories that build on the reader’s experience of the novel]. So it became its own novel.”

 

Ribon asked whether Scalzi wrote his books with adaptation in mind, and he said,  “You have to be kind of careful about that. Because if you are writing something with the assumption that [you’ll be selling it] to movies or to television, then usually, you are either a little bit delusional or a little bit of a jerk. If you’re looking too far ahead on what you think should be happening to the story, you’re not actually paying attention to crafting the story. The first thing you have to do is make it a really good novel. Because if it’s a really good novel, then someone will want to buy it and adapt it … hopefully. But unless you have everything that needs to be in that book to tell a really good story in that particular medium, it’s going to fail. You will not have written a good book, and that will not recommend you to be adapted to any other medium. I’m mindful of the possibility, obviously that would be great, but the first thing really has to be first; you really have to write the novel first.”

Pamela Ribon, John Scalzi, and Jon Shestack at LATFOB 'Redshirts' panel.

Pamela Ribon, John Scalzi, and Jon Shestack at LATFOB ‘Redshirts’ panel.

So, how is the transition of Redshirts from novel to television series going to play out and how true to the book will the TV series be? Scalzi continues, “The book is the book. It will always be the book. It’s not going to change. I own the book. I own the copyright on the book, and everything in the book is as it’s going to be. But the book is designed for this medium: to be a novel … What will come out of this will not be Redshirts [the novel], because it’s going to get turned upside down and inside out.

“You have to understand when you get on a Hollywood train, that your book is a source; it is not the TV series … If you don’t understand that, in the words of South Park, ‘You’re gonna have a bad time,’ right? [Some authors] are like, ‘Why are you destroying my art?’ Well, your art is not meant to be the same in all media. It’s just impossible to have that happen, and it is going to change. What you want to do, in my opinion, is to manage the change so that what you get in the TV series … is something where all the high points of the book are addressed, all the themes are addressed, the characters are important and we care about them, so that when you get through the experience of Redshirts the television show, you have had a very similar emotional experience like you’ve had of Redshirts the book, with all the realization maximized for all the advantages of the television medium.”

So, now the book has a TV deal, and the television series has an Executive Producer (Scalzi), a Producer (Shestack), a Director (Ken Kwapis), and a small group of writers in contention for the show. Scalzi notes, “So, it’s like a group of six finalists, and then they go after each other with Sharpies. Because I’m not gonna lie: that would be awesome. That’s a limited edition reality series right there.”

Have they made any casting decisions, yet? Scalzi rolls his eyes. “I love it when people ask me ‘Hey, did you know you sold something to Hollywood?’ Did I know? Well, yeah, actually, I did. And then immediately after that, they’re like, ‘Oh. So, who’s going to be in it?’ And they have casting notes all ready for you. That’s a thing that authors always get. ‘You should have this person or this person.’ You realize, right, that these aren’t just fictional characters that you can just sort of slot in? ‘Oh, you should have Brad Pitt as Jenkins.’ Right. He’d really have to come to us. [He does his Brad Pitt voice] ‘Dude, so you guys are doing this Redshirts thing? Dude, that’s cool. I wanna do that.’ And I’d be like, ‘Oh, Brad. Fine. Fine. We’ll find some way to get you in if you really want.’ [heavy sigh].” He can barely get the last line out, he’s trying so hard not to laugh.

John Scalzi and Pamela Ribon at LATFOB book signing.

John Scalzi and Pamela Ribon at LATFOB book signing.

The interplay among the three of them was very entertaining all the way through the discussion, but the hilarity reached a peak when Ribon asked, “If you went back in time to talk to people controlling your narrative, and you met your doppelgänger, would you have sex with yourself?”

Scalzi barely missed a beat. “See, I know me. Right?” He pauses. “There’s not a lot of surprises there.”

Ribon shoots back, “I thought you were commenting on your abilities.”

The panel and audience are all in fits of giggles.

“Oh, no. Don’t get me wrong, it would be fantastic. But … no, I don’t think so. I mean quite honestly. Mmm … no.”

“Even you wouldn’t have sex with you!” Ribon is bright red by this point.

Scalzi is cracking up. “NO! I would find some way to let myself down gently. I would Friend Zone me … I don’t know that I would actually like myself. And I don’t mean that I’m a disagreeable person, but if you meet you, you know all your own tricks and ticks and everything else like that. I think that seeing me would be really unsettling and some part of my brain would be like, ‘Is that really me? Am I really that annoying? Is that what I really say and do? Am I that really that way? Why hasn’t anyone frickin’ killed me, yet? Because I should be dead. I should be pushed in front of a bus.”

Oh, please, no.

Referring to the yeti who roams around the ship in Redshirts, an audience member asked Scalzi, “Why a yeti?”

“The person I had in mind as the physical model of Jenkins was fantasy author, Patrick Rothfuss, and if you’ve ever seen Patrick Rothfuss, he looks like a yeti. He looks like a yeti crossed with a Muppet, crossed with Brian Blessed from Flash, you know the hot guy. Patrick has this jaw that hinges all the way back here [points behind his ear], it’s like a reticulated jaw, and he can swallow up a Mini, and you can see all 700 of his teeth. So, when I think of Jenkins, I think of Patrick Rothfuss, and he’s a beard-y, hairy dude. The short term for someone like that would be a yeti, so that would be the answer.”

I wonder if the TV series will include the yeti? Or possibly a cameo from Patrick Rothfuss? I really hope they go ahead with the screenwriter Sharpie melee … and post video … or at least photos! Details on the series release haven’t been announced yet, but I’m sure when it airs, it will have premium geek appeal, and be every bit as entertaining and satisfying as the novel.

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We’d love to see your photos from LATFOB! Tag us on Instagram or Tumblr (#kryptonradio), post on our Facebook, or email us.

Apr 072014
 
Lucy-Scarlett-Johansson

Scarlett Johansson and Morgan Freeman star in Lucy, from Universal Pictures.  Pro-tip:  Morgan Freeman is not in the title role.

Set in a futuristic world that is run by the mob, street gangs, drug addicts and corrupted cops, Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) plays a woman living in Taipei, Taiwan, 2069 AD, working as a drug mule for the mob.

Johanson is kidnapped and a packet of illicit drugs surgically inserted into her stomach, then used as an unwilling courier to deliver the drugs to their destination.  We’re pretty sure it’s not the usual stuff, though, because when she’s kicked by one of the thugs, it bursts open and things start to happen to her that are beyond the normal range of human experience.

The film is directed by Luc Besson, who has been bringing us high grade entertainment like La Femme Nikita and The Professional, but we geeks may know and love him best for giving us The Fifth Element. Lucy also stars Academy Award winner Morgan Freeman and is produced by Virginie Besson-Silla for EuropaCorp. Universal Pictures will distribute the movie worldwide, except for France, Benelux and China.

Lucy was filmed in Taipei, Paris and New York, and releases in the U.S. on August 8, 2014.  We can’t wait to see this one.

Enjoy.

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Apr 042014
 
drleuthardt_052lr

RedDevil-4He’s a neurosurgeon.  He’s a bioengineer.  He specializes in the cutting edge field of neuroprosthetics – and he’s a newly minted science fiction author.

Tune in at 9PM this Saturday to hear this week’s episode of The Event Horizon, featuring special guest Eric C. Leuthardt, author of the science fiction murder thriller, Red Devil 4, now available in hard cover from Tor/Forge Books wherever books are sold.

The conversation is wide ranging and covers a lot of ground, not only talking about the novel, but about the future of cybernetically enhanced humans and how this will redefine what it means to be human.

If you miss the show tomorrow, or you want to hear it again, you can tune in again on Sunday, April 6, at 4PM Pacific.

The Event Horizon – it’s Sci-fi for your Wi-fi.

See you there.

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Mar 282014
 

external forcesby Aly Runke, contributing writer

Dystopian literature has been around for decades, however it seems to have come into popularity within this last decade, especially with regard to young adult (YA) literature. Anyone and everyone has heard of the success of The Hunger Games and Divergent, which have both become box offices successes as well. And now YA dystopian series that have been around for quite a few years such as The Uglies are gaining a new fan base. Another effect of such fervor is readers  -including me-  looking for more new dystopias to read. So, when I read the synopsis of External Forces by Deborah Rix I knew I had to read it, and boy, am I glad I did.

This book is everything you could want in a YA dystopian novel, and it’s only book one of a trilogy! External Forces is set in a skewed version of a world we know: America. Inside the walls is a carefully monitored “superior” genetic society, outside are wastelands and deviants, people born with a genetic difference of sorts. The society wants to weed these people out of existence, killing the newborns that are tested deviant, and hunting and killing those living in the wastelands i.e. the Southwest and Northwest United States and the rest of the world outside the enclosed America.

Our  protagonist, Jess Grant, is joining the military in order to hide; she fears she is in fact a deviant and somehow slipped through the cracks of detection. Mysterious talents with futuristic technology and Sim programs along with superpower-like abilities lead us to believe her assumptions about her deviance are correct. So she joins up to try and become a member of the Special Forces, a guarantee of little to no surveillance. The scientists, genetics technicians, are at the top of the food chain in this world. A tattoo of the DNA helix on their wrist marks them as being above the rest: as people to be afraid of. The only group immune to their influence is the military.

And that’s only a part of what will grab you in this book, there’s also romance (refreshingly minus the love triangle!), plus starting from chapter one, serious life-or-death situations. Ms. Rix does not shy away from ruthless killing or gore and, it’s fantastic; it serves to show the terror of the dystopia the characters live in. Just as in any beloved dystopia in External Forces we fall for the love interest, are horrified at the cruelty of the twisted society and its military, and become invested in the protagonist making it out alive and by the end eager to figure out even more abut this world. So, if you want an intense YA dystopia, go buy this book and join me in eagerly awaiting the next installment.

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Mar 252014
 
Four and Tris overlook the city

Movie poster for Divergent

by Karina Montgomery, contributing writer

Rating: Rental Price

The film adaptation of Divergent is diverting, well-paced, and well-performed.  Full disclosure: I had not managed to read Veronica Roth’s trilogy before seeing this film.  Generally speaking, a movie that stirs my brain and/or spirit makes me want to run out and read the book afterward, if I had not before.  Divergent fails on this count, and in fact reduced my former desire to read the books.  I don’t think any of this is the fault of the screen adaptation, but rather the overly simplistic themes and frustrating lack of basic logic in the story.

Shailene Woodley beautifully plays Tris, a girl who is – spoiler alert! – Divergent! This basically means that she does not fit into just one of the five neat categories determined by the society in which she lives (an isolated post-cataclysm Chicago, color coded like Logan’s Run, but by faction rather than by generation).  For some reason, if your personality is not entirely subsumed by your factional duty (kindness, self-denial, honesty, intellect, or bravery), then you are a huge threat to the status quo… yeah, see, it’s pretty silly already.  Woodley acts the hell out of this movie, as do her compatriots on the screen.  Mentor Four (Theo James) is almost too good looking to take seriously, but by Act III he brings it just as well as she does.

I totally get why the YA audience it was written for (and by) is smitten by it – it’s a vivid and high stakes portrayal of the coming of age struggle we all face as we leave high school and break out into college or the real world or wherever we go.  I can see how someone who had been defined by their schoolmates/social identity for 18 years would want to emulate Tris and choose how they are identified going forward, or reject their stringent upbringing for something they deem more valuable.  But as a metaphor, it’s fatally simplistic and still strained by the simple reality of That’s Not Really Not How People Work.  If anything, Darwin would recommend more divergence rather than less; what a waste of human skills and potential to grind out all but one positive quality in each person.  Woodley grounds Tris in a solid place and makes the whole thing believable, despite the 1980’s teen movie depth of the rest of the story.

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We are never really privy to the threat that Divergents seem to represent, nor to the bigger picture motivations of the baddies.  They tell us, but it’s not ever coherent enough a plan for us to think it has a remote chance of working.  You can tell who’s the heavy as soon as you see her – it’s Kate Winslet, enjoying the pants off herself as basically a megalomaniacal Vulcan. Why she wishes to crush the meekest and mildest faction is never logical, and after a while it doesn’t matter.  We’re really watching Tris come into her own, Stripes-like, going from zero to hero, and all the big picture machinations seem only to be pasteboard reasons for her to keep her secret shame to herself.

The rubble of Chicago houses this reborn society, which somehow let itself devolve into this ridiculous system (is the rest of the world gone, or coping similarly?).  This microcosm walks a knife’s edge between “Know Thyself” and “Know Your Place.” This could lead to some very interesting philosophical ruminations about questioning authority and how misplaced leadership can stunt the burgeoning throes of rebuilding civilization. And maybe the other two books/movies will do that.  But this movie was sadly forgettable while also being legitimately wonderful to experience as a piece of disposable entertainment.  Cinematographer Alvin Küchler (Hanna and Sunshine, if that helps) shoots this beautifully and viscerally. There is a lot of interior landscape for him to traverse with his camera, and he makes it just as immediate as the real-life action.

CinerinaRating

  • MPAA Rating: PG-13
  • Release date: 3/21/14
  • Time in minutes: 139
  • Director: Neil Burger
  • Studio: Summit/Lionsgate