Read “Terminal Synchronicity” – My Latest Short Story

Terminal Synchronicity: A Short Story by [Foley, Scott William]

Click “Kindle” to download

Click “NOOK” to download

In this brief tale, Eli and Molly collide in a terminal. They are ecstatic to see one another again, yet both state that such a meeting is impossible. Their love has seemingly conquered time and space, but how? And for how long? (Science fiction/Fantasy/Love)

Advertisements

Stories Of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang – A Book Review

As you know, I loved the film Arrival.  As is my habit after watching a great movie based on a book, I immediately acquired the source material.  It turns out that Stories Of Your Life and Others is actually a short story collection and “Story Of Your Life” is specifically the installment that served as Arrival’s source.  However, there are seven other shorts in this collection by Ted Chiang, and they are all imaginative and thought-provoking.

Chiang trained as a computer scientist, and it shows in his writing.  He is very precise, very analytical, and very scientific.  Yet he also has a great sense of character, pacing, and detail.  I especially appreciate that he seems to know the appropriate time to really delve deeply into scientific jargon, but he also knows the right time to pull back and simply let the story flow.

I would not say that all of his stories are purely science fiction, by the way.  “Tower Of Babylon,” for example, explains the science behind building a structure reaching to the heavens, but I would say it is more commentary about the human spirit than anything.  “Hell Is the Absence Of God,” a story about the physical, spiritual, and emotional consequences following sporadic visits by actual angels, is also far more about what it means to be human than anything else.

In fact, at their root, most of Chiang’s stories in this collection are investigating the plight of the human condition.  He tackles love, greed, beauty, sin, justice, obsession, honesty, and even eternal life, but he does so in extremely smart, original, and imaginative ways hidden within the genres of science fiction, steampunk, and fantasy.

If you enjoy innovative, thought-provoking stories, I highly recommend this collection.  They are all fairly complex reads, but well worth the effort.  You will like some more than others, but each is to be appreciated in its own way.

(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

“Phasks” – My Latest Short Story On the Nook and Kindle

Phasks: A Short Story by [Foley, Scott William ]

Click “Kindle” To Download

Click “Nook” To Download

They say technology will one day tear us apart, but for some, it will bring us together, especially in the case of two young women traveling to a Jill Thompson fan club meeting. Set in the near future, this short story is optimistic, innovative, and humorous as it propels today’s technological trends to the next level. (Science Fiction/Social Commentary/Technology)

The Book Of Strange New Things by Michel Faber – A Book Review

A friend recommended The Book Of Strange New Things to me a while back, so when I saw a beautiful hardcover edition in the severe discount bin at my local grocery store, I swept it up without hesitation.  (I’m still trying to figure out why it ended up in a discount bin at my grocery store.  Weird.)

The Book Of Strange New Things is a breath of fresh air, that’s for sure.  But, if I’m telling the truth, it didn’t end quite satisfactorily in my mind.  More on that soon …

The premise is that Peter, a man of 33, has been selected by a clandestine corporate entity to serve as a missionary to an indigenous species on a planet said entity is colonizing.  Peter is very happily married, and while he moved through the vetting process with ease, his wife did not, which results in her having to stay behind.

Both are incredibly devout to God.  They effectively run their own church while Peter’s wife, Bea, also works as a nurse.  Both experienced a difficult past, and it’s amazing Peter even lived long enough to eventually find God.  If I may be so bold, Bea and Peter are the sort of Christians who lead by example.  They do not force God upon people.  They treat people with respect, they administer to people, they expect nothing in return, but if an opportunity comes along to share the Message, they will.  They do not judge, for Peter has plunged lower than most anyone during his previous life.  They do not beat their Bibles.  They love.  They care.  They help.  They share.

Due to their faith and bond, they agree to serve God by sending Peter off to this distant world as Bea stays behind.  Once Peter arrives, his work proves to be far simpler than he imagined.  In fact, the denizens he’s serving are all too willing to have him; they’ve even been looking forward to his arrival!

But soon after Peter settles in on this new world, horrible things begin happening back on Earth.  He and Bea’s faith and love are put to the test in ways they never imagined.  Even their belief in God is strained.

I won’t spoil it any further, but this gives you a good sense of the tone of the book.  It introduces some compelling themes.  The idea of putting God first, before oneself and even one’s spouse, is a conflict of great interest to many.  There are also several mysteries unfolding, particularly in regards to the aliens themselves.  Just why are they so enthusiastic to learn about God?  Why did they specifically request a missionary from the corporation?  What is their motivation?  Furthermore, Peter suffers dismay as he is unfathomable miles from his wife as her world seems to be falling apart.  What is going on back on Earth?  Are things as bad as she says?  Is it even her writing these messages to him?

I appreciate that Peter is quite believable as a man who lived in the gutters before finding God.  Faber had to walk a tightrope in making a missionary who did not come off as too preachy, too stereotypical, too “holier than thou.”  He also came close to making Peter too selfless, too forgiving, and too naive.  Instead, he managed to strike that delicate balance with Peter, and, as a result, created an engaging character for whom we care.

The book moves quite slowly, but not unpleasantly.  Faber spends a great deal of time establishing Peter, Bea, the creatures, the new planet, and even Peter’s coworkers.  He explains just enough to make this colony believable, yet he smartly avoids trying to explain every nuance of the science and technology involved.  Peter is a bit of a amateur when it comes to technology, so it helps to see the world through his eyes.  Things happen, but he doesn’t pretend to understand the science behind it, nor does he particularly care.  He shares his curiosity with the reader, but does not try to focus too much about anything beyond the natives and his mission.  Oh, and Bea.  For the most part.

My only complaint is the ending.  For a book that burns so slowly, I expected a bit more from the conclusion.  On the one hand, we are given some interesting revelations concerning the planet’s inhabitants, but in regards to life back on Earth and Bea, I found myself rather unsatisfied.  I don’t need everything wrapped up in a tight little bow, but I thought Faber could have rewarded the reader a bit more in that regard.

There tends to be a real trend of late with new takes on space travel and “aliens.”  With mature, thoughtful approaches like Arrival and The Book Of Strange New Things, I hope the genre continues to expand and reinvent itself.

I absolutely recommend The Book Of Strange New Things for its characters, themes, creativity, originality, conflict, style, and plot.  My only reservations in recommending it to you are the pacing and the conclusion.

 

Image result for the book of strange new things

Arrival – A Movie Review

I could keep this review pretty simple by saying this is one of the best movies I’ve seen in quite some time and it also brought me to tears.

Not enough for you?  Okay, I’ll keep going.

The premise of Arrival is that twelve alien ships have arrived across the planet’s surface.  The ships are monolithic.  They look like giant rocks.  They defy every preconceived notion of “space ship” that we have previously employed.  Amy Adams plays Louise Banks, a linguistics and written communication expert.  She is recruited by the military to take point on trying to talk with the aliens.  Jeremy Renner is Ian Donnelly, and he’s a mathematician partnered up with Banks to try to make sense of what the visitors want from humanity.

This is a quiet, understated film with almost quaint special effects when compared to all the star wars and super heroics we’ve witnessed.  Though technically science fiction, the movie deeply explores the ideas of time and space, communication, the modes by which we communicate and how that influences communication in and of itself, and ultimately the human condition (hence, the crying).

I appreciate this movie because it introduced fresh takes on old ideas.  Yes, we’ve seen movies about aliens landing on our planet and humans trying to figure out what they want.  But I don’t know if we’ve ever seen a movie quite this personal.  I don’t know if we’ve ever seen a movie with a linguist actually explaining important ideas about oral and written communication.  At one point, Louise actually begins to diagram a sentence.  On screen.  For several minutes.

The film also defied expectations in regards to the aliens themselves.  It recognized that life forms existing outside of our planetary environment would likely look, act, and sound nothing like us.  To even assume an alien would have eyes, a nose, ears, or a mouth in the conventional sense is awfully presumptuous on our part.  To believe that aliens will speak the way we do and write the way we do is probably childish.

Nuanced, touching, smart, though-provoking, and beautifully executed, I could easily see Arrival earning a “Best Picture” win.  It’s that good, albeit unobtrusively so.  I absolutely recommend this movie to anyone who loves a good story.

At this point, I’m going to discuss some issues concerning the movie that will unquestionably ruin it for you if you haven’t yet seen it.  I implore you to watch it now and come back to finish this piece if so inclined.  Do not forge ahead without having seen the movie, though, I implore you.

Last warning.

Arrival delved into some very serious aspects of the human condition.  It demanded we investigate the philosophical aspects of love versus duty, happiness versus heartbreak, selfishness versus selflessness.  In the end, I drew the conclusion that there is no real distinction.  We endure all of those things all the time, just as the aliens existed perpetually at all times outside of our own space and time continuum.

The movie broke my heart in the beginning when it seemed that Louise previously lost her daughter to illness.  Juxtaposing the line “Come back to me” when the child is born and then when the child dies reduced me to tears.  But when we learn that Hannah is not of the past, but rather of the future, Louise’s plight becomes all the more heart-rending.

When Louise ultimately grasps the visitors’ language, she gains their ability to access consciousness throughout an entire existence.  This gift from the aliens allows Louise the knowledge necessary to help the world avoid catastrophe, but it also informs Louise as to her exact future, and that her future daughter will die an awful death.  She learns that Ian will be the father of that child, and that Hannah’s terminal illness will drive husband and wife apart.  Yet, she chooses to love.  She opts to hang on to the fleeting moments she knows she will have with both Ian and Hannah.  She decides the time she has with Hannah will be all the more precious with the awareness she’s been granted.

For her to take on that pain, to accept a child’s death, to willingly endure such calamity … it drove me to tears.  I can’t lie—I hid in the shower and wept like a baby.  I can’t imagine ever having to make such a decision … Yet, Louise chose love.

However, today, as I kept thinking about the movie, I grew angry at Louise.  There’s a moment in the film when Louise is explaining to Hannah why Ian is looking at his daughter differently (this is after they’ve separated).  Louise explains that Ian is angry because she made a decision without his involvement.  We’re to presume that when Louise accepted her future, when she reciprocated Ian’s love, she did not tell him that this would lead to a child that was destined to die far too young.  I think withholding that sort of information would detract any marriage.  So I became angry with Louise.  First and foremost, I disliked her for being so selfish—for choosing to enjoy the brief time she has with Hannah rather than to never experience Hannah at all.  Hannah never had a choice.  (Nor do any of our children.  They are all the victims and/or beneficiaries of circumstance.)  For her to put Hannah through such torment … to thrust her child into a broken home and a terminal illness … it made me furious.  Also, to make that choice on Ian’s behalf and to preclude him from having a voice in the matter … that upset me as well.

Can you tell I’m a father of two children whom I love more than anything in this world?

However, upon further reflection I realized Louise never had a choice at all.  I say this for two reasons.  The first reason is simpler than the second, and it is the fact that if she didn’t follow through with the prescribed future revealed to her then she would not have gained the knowledge that she used in the moment of the film’s story to circumvent disaster with the Chinese and the visitors.  Each moment of the future exposed to her must occur in order for the present to survive.  Without the present, there will be no future.  She never truly had a choice.  She chose her own suffering, Hannah’s suffering, and Ian’s suffering, rather than make the world suffer.

Yet, the second reason negates the first.  The visitors say they have a weapon for us, which they actually intend to mean “gift.”  They say they will give us this gift so that in 3,000 years we can help them in return.  For the aliens, our perception of linear time has no value.  They live outside the notion of our “beginning, middle, and end” time stream.  Like their language, everything is happening, has happened, and will happen at the exact same moment.  They see all, know all, and experience all in the same moment.  Keeping that in mind, once Louise attained their unrestricted sense of perception, she lost all power of choice.  Future Louise exists in tandem with present Louise, which makes the latter powerless to change the course of the former.  I suppose some would call it a sort of “predestination.”  When looked upon through that lens, I cannot be angry with Louise any more than I can be angry with my own future self.  My only advantage is that I have no idea what glory or tragedy awaits, whereas Louise knows exactly what’s in store for her.

It’s been awhile since a film moved me as much as Arrival.  I hope it means as much to you as well.

Image result for arrival movie poster

(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Patience by Daniel Clowey

I have to admit that when NPR recommended this graphic novel, it did not seem to be something I’d enjoy.  If I’m being completely honest, I judged it by the cover, and the cover did not speak to me.

However, I found myself in a situation in which I had nothing else available to read, and so I gave it a shot.  The art immediately struck me as oversimplified.  Furthermore, the characters were initially completely unlikable while also making ample use of the “f” word.  The colors were far too bold.  In other words, it did not immediately win me over.

In the beginning, the story focuses on two adults—Patience and Jack.  They are truly in love with one another, but both are generally unsuccessful, uncouth, and somewhat rough around the edges.  Neither has made great choices in life; Patience has suffered indignation throughout her past; Jack has virtually no motivation.

Soon enough, Patience discovers she’s pregnant.  Both are elated, but both are also terrified.  They recognize the fact that they are not especially qualified to be parents, but they strive to forge ahead nonetheless.

But then Jack comes home from work to discover Patience has been murdered.

Of course, the authorities pin it on him, but he is eventually found innocent.  Jack is devastated.  His greatest loves—Patience and the unborn child—have been ripped away from him and cut out of his life.  He now has motivation.

The book next skips ahead several decades and we find Jack still searching desperately to find Patience’s killer.  Technology has evolved exponentially while society seems to have devolved.  We even have a few folks who don’t look entirely human.  Jack eventually gains the capability to time travel, and that’s when the book gets really interesting.

I won’t spoil the rest of the graphic novel, but Clowes delivers a story that kept me guessing and impressed me with its originality.  I won’t lie to you—I thought I had the ending all figured out, but Clowes managed to surprise me nonetheless.

This is a time travel story, with Jack jumping around quite a bit, and Clowes meticulously endeavors to make every event consequential to the overall plot.  Everything plays a role in this story—every action has a reaction.  That result may not be immediate, but it invariably happens.  I love the commitment to tight storytelling, I love the attention Clowes pays to time travel’s ramifications, and I love that, in the end, his unlikable characters grow into people for whom I deeply care.  Clowes also forced me to realize that they were actually the same all along—I am alone at fault for misjudging them.

On that note, the art, which I deplored at first, ultimately won me over.  Clowes lines are simple, but his anatomy and perspective are always perfect.  His panels are very straightforward, yet if you look hard enough, you find incredible detail in the little things such as books on the shelves or several doorways within the background of an apartment’s interior.  His colors are very bright in this book, as you can tell by the cover, but those bright colors work to contradict the dark tale unfolding. Perhaps those colors are simply his style, or perhaps those colors are meant to signify an eternal optimism even amidst the savagery surrounding Patience and Jack.  … I could be overthinking that one.

Be aware if you buy this book, there are brief, rather tame, moments of nudity, so you may not want to leave it sitting out for a youngster to grab hold of in the hopes of seeing Batman.  There is also a lot of profanity.

Patience surprised me.  I’ve never read anything quite like it, and it certainly struck me as completely original especially in regards to its medium.  It delivers a love story, a science fiction story, a philosophical take on time and space, a mystery, and a good old tale of revenge.  It studies a man who would do anything to save his soul mate and unborn child, a man who believes in the greater good even as he dives into the muck.  It also comments on how the past can shape the future, for better and for worse, and how sometimes we need to judge the present less harshly because of that fact.  Patience reminds us that we are all a product of what has previously transpired.

Related image

Star Wars: Ahsoka by EK Johnston – A Book Review

Perhaps the greatest Star Wars character to never actually appear in one of the films, Ahsoka Tano broke out during the animated Clone Wars series.  If you’re unfamiliar with her, she once served as Anakin Skywalker’s Padawan.  She and Anakin had an incredible bond, and when she left the Jedi Order, it broke Anakin’s heart.  In fact, her departure coupled with the perceived betrayal of the Jedi absolutely led to his downfall.  One must wonder if he could have resisted the Dark Side had Ahsoka been with him.

Nonetheless, due to her break with the Jedi, she escaped Order 66.  Ahsoka picks up later after Palpatine took control.  Now permanently on the run, Ahsoka must use an alias wherever she goes and downplay her connection to the Force.  She’s a hero at heart, though, and like her Master, she can’t help but get involved when she must.

The first half of the book is comparable to the other Star Wars books in that she lands on a remote planet, she meets characters of no real significance, and a small–ultimately inconsequential–operation begins against the Empire.  I felt real disappointment at this premise because everything felt rather … unimportant.  The beginning of this book seemed entirely forgettable.

But then the second half of the book happened … and I couldn’t put it down.

I won’t spoil it for you, but Ahsoka leads directly into both the cartoon Rebels and Star Wars:  A New Hope … maybe even Rogue One.  Want to know why the Sith’s lightsabers are red?  Want to know how Ahsoka ended up with white lightsabers?  Want to know how Ahsoka became Fulcrum?  Want to witness the beginning of the Inquisitors?  Ever wondered about Bail Organa’s role with the Rebels?  The second half of the book answers all of those questions and sets Ahsoka up for big, big things.

Johnston understands Ahsoka’s character well, especially in terms of where she was in Clone Wars and where she’s going in Rebels.  I’m not sure how I’d feel about it without  having watched both cartoons, but as it stands, Ahsoka ended up being incredibly satisfying.

Image result for star wars ahsoka book