Tag Archives: Aliens Are Here

Big screens and small towns

Some years back I read a book called SMALL-TOWN AMERICA ON FILM: The Decline and Fall of Community by Emanuel Levy and wasn’t that impressed.

While working on The Aliens Are Here, however, I reread the section dealing with Invasion of the Body Snatchers and found it stronger than I remembered. A few months back, I sat down and read the whole thing. It is indeed better than I remember.

Levy looks at America’s long fascination with the small town as the heart of the nation and how that played out in films from the 1930s through the 1980s.

The same themes (big city vs small town, community  vs. individual, eccentricity vs. conformity) and stock figures (spinster, richest man in town, disruptive outsider) though they play out differently. Unsurprisingly 1930s films give more weight to the superiority of small-town morals and the value of conformity, though even they can admit some degree of darkness. Small-town widows crop up in a lot of these stories, plus corrupt leaders in films such as It’s a Wonderful Life.

In the 1950s, by contrast, there’s more emphasis on how stifling conformity can be, and that the disruption outsiders cause can be a net gain. In the 1980s, when financial crisis in farm communities was a hot topic, there were multiple “save the family farm” films such as The River, showing the small towns sliding into decline.

In the 1950s we get interest in the suburbs, which movies and print fiction have been scowling at ever since. Not as authentic as the small towns. Lacking the vibrancy and culture of big cities. Shallow settings for shallow people, most of whom are probably cheating on their spouses (always a popular theme, as in the 1960 image below).

Reading Levy’s book got me thinking how this applies to SF films, many of which are set in small towns. For example we have It Came From Outer Spacewhich has scientist Richard Carlson filling the role of the eccentric and outsider who doesn’t quite fit with the rest of the community (the same can be said of the shapeshifting aliens). In  Invasion of the Body Snatchers the community is tight knit; the alien intrusion corrupts and destroys it.

Then there are those time-travel movies that show their protagonist she made a terrible mistake (it’s always a woman) moving away from her small town and thinking she could do better than her childhood sweetheart:  Eve’s Christmas, Holidaze and Back to Christmas to name three. They’re annoyingly sexist, always judging the female lead for thinking that going off to pursue a career is a good idea (a common theme in non-time travel films, such as Sweet Home Alabama).

I’m not sure the small-town setting is always important though. While Midwich Cuckoos (cover by Dean Ellis) plays up the effect of alien rape and impregnation on the small community, and the 1960 Village of the Damned has a community feel, the 1995 remake (reviewed at the same link) is so listless that there’s no significance to setting it in a small town.

Give Small Town America on Film is now 40 years behind in its film coverage, I find myself wondering if there isn’t material enough for a new one. But I have a lot of fiction to get written before I even think of that.

#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holders.

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1950s computers, 1980s papergirls and modern voyeurism: movies and TV

In hindsight it would have been interesting to discuss GOG (1954) in the section of Aliens Are Here dealing with 1971’s The Andromeda Strain.

Like the later movie, Gog is a film about science and scientific research; where the Crichton adaptation makes scientific drudgery fascinating, Gog is plodding, talky and dull. That’s partly because where Andromeda Strain is tense — can we stop a xenobacteria from causing a pandemic? — the research scenes in Gog have nothing to do with the main plot of the movie.The plot centers on a series of mysterious deaths in a lab working on space research, including plans for an orbiting solar mirror that could destroy any target on Earth, so clearly our satellite has to get up before any foreign power tries it (the kind of thinking The Space Children later warned against). The mysterious saboteur could prevent that.

Dull as it is, Gog does have a couple of interesting elements. Gog and Magog are the screen’s first non-humanoid robots; the foreign power’s interference with the base’s central computer amounts to an early example of hacking. That’s not enough to redeem it though. Not a maniac, Dr. Burton — we have on our staff a cold, calculating killer.”

If you read this blog regularly you know I’m a big fan of the Brian K. Vaughn/Cliff Chiang Paper Girls comics series so no surprise I watched the Amazon Prime adaptation. PAPER GIRLS is  fun with its story of four kids suddenly caught up in a time war, though I think the originals are so cinematic the various changes to the original storyline were pointless. The best change is giving us a look at adult KJ, which somehow never happened in the comics. The most understandable is that while Mac handles cigarettes a lot, she doesn’t smoke any.

The changes I like least are number one, the lack of all the neat 1980s period references. Number two, the girls in the comics are acting on their own; here they’re constantly led around by one adult authority figure or another. That feels very unsatisfying, as if someone got cold feet about the kids trying to survive on their own in such a nightmare situation. In any case it’s been canceled, though I’ve no idea if the flaws I found are tied to that. “You just told me I’m adopted and you really think I want to listen to Whitney Houston?”

THE RENTAL (2020) is a clunky horror story in which two couples spend the weekend at an isolated coastal vacation house with suspiciously cheap rates — would you believe this turns out as disastrous as seeking refuge from thunderstorms in isolated castles? However it’s very oddly structured, starting off as personal drama (did the homeowner refuse to rent to a Muslim because he’s a racist? Will two of the quartet hooking up with the wrong person ruin everything?), shifting into Voyeur of Doom territory (the entire house is wired with hidden cameras!) then has the Voyeur turn into a Masked Slasher who kills them all. Thumbs down. “I’m not saying we can’t get away with it — I’m saying I don’t want to get away with it.”

#SFWApro. Comics cover by Chiang, all rights to images remain with current holders.


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Two strange weekends in a row. But good strange

Labor Day weekend, as I mentioned before, I took off to chill after finishing Aliens are Here. But I don’t think I mentioned how strange it felt to not be doing anything for five days (Sept. 1-5). A little blogging, yes, but no other writing. I rarely take vacations that long and it’s always when I’m going somewhere, which means I don’t just lie around and read or take walks.

Of course, I did do things — shop for food, cook — but still, it was unbelievably relaxing to let myself off the hook for anything more than that. As TYG was out part of Saturday, I couldn’t do much because I had to keep an eye on the dogs. That helped me give myself permission, I think.

Then, last weekend, I attended my first Mensa event since 2019. It was the Atlanta Mensa gathering; I’d been invited because they had a time travel theme and the organizers wanted me to speak on time travel on film. How could I resist? Though work kept TYG away (we could probably have managed it, but by the time we knew that, I’d already had to book the flight).My talk went great, even though I managed to erase the outline I’d saved on my phone. Fortunately I’d practiced enough and know the material enough that I could do it even without notes. Beyond that I got to hang out with my fellow Mensans, eat some good food — the vegan meal Saturday night was so good, apparently even the meat-eaters in the Atlanta group wanted that restaurant to cater — and participated in a quiz or two. Didn’t win but one question asked for a Batman villain with a time-themed name. I gave them four (Clock, Clock King, Time Commander, Calendar Man).

I must admit, though, the socializing was a little overwhelming after so long without. Sure, I was at ConGregate and ConCarolinas this summer but cons are primarily about activities — selling books, sitting on panels — with socializing squeezed in wherever possible. In gatherings, the socializing’s the priority. I spent a lot of time re-energizing alone in my room.

Oh, I also got my first case of acid reflux in years, due to eating chocolate cheesecake late at night. With no other food in my stomach to cushion the shock. But it was very good cheesecake.

I had no problems with my flights though the airport was packed both times. I used to laugh at myself a little for always following the “get there two hours before the flight” standard. I don’t laugh so much any more.

Below, a closer look at that chocolate cheesecake (with a brownie on the side).

#SFWApro. Comics cover by Gil Kane, rights to images all remain with current holders.

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First week NOT working on Aliens Are Here

It went okay, given that I was off Monday for Labor Day and took most of today off for social activities.

With Aliens Are Here in the bag, I figured the thing I needed most to catch up on was the promotional activity for Questionable Minds. I’ve signed up for a blog tour and spent much of Tuesday and Wednesday prepping materials for that — book blurb, blog posts, stuff like that. I also contacted a couple of book bloggers to ask for reviews, though I think I’ve left it too late.

I also submitted a couple of stories and two queries for nonfiction articles.

Thursday — wait, I forget if I mentioned I’d submitted my short story Impossible Things Before Breakfast to a friend’s anthology. It’s a collective anthology with all of us giving feedback on each other’s stories, selecting the cover, etc. Based on the feedback I’ve been rewriting the story, and it’s done. I didn’t agree with all the suggested changes, but the ones I did follow improved the story. The others, not so much, but that’s typical with more than a couple of beta-readers.

However there were multiple disruptions Thursday so I lost my focus after that. I’d hoped to work on Don’t Pay the Ferryman — I’m thinking the final title will be something like Smiles in Dark Mirrors — but no. Next week, for sure, unless I get some Leaf articles to work on.

I was also slowed down by my computer keys sticking a lot. We ordered some compressed air and I gave the keyboard a blast this morning. I think it’s done the trick so I can postpone buying a computer a bit longer.

One good thing: based on the amount of time I put in proofing and indexing The Aliens Are Here, I figured I might be able to up the time I spend writing during the day. I managed six hours both days which is only a half-hour more but that’s 2.5 hours a week. However it does make it harder to get blogging done.

And speaking of blogging, I posted at Atomic Junkshop about indexing and why Marvel’s Sgt. Fury doesn’t measure up to even a bad WW II movie. Jack Kirby’s cover is for Sgt. Fury #5, the focus of my post.

#SFWApro. Questionable Minds cover by Sam Collins, all rights to images remain with current holders.

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I finished Aliens Are Here two days ahead of deadline!

And wow, was that a load off me.

I spent the last days of September noting all the corrections on the PDF. And realized that while the book would definitely have benefited from a final going-over to clean up my writing, it’s not as clunky as I thought. So yay. The Aliens Are Here should be out later this month, if everything proceeds smoothly.

The proofed manuscript was due today, but I got it in Wednesday. We had our neighbor’s dog Kaya staying with us yesterday and I didn’t want to be obligated to work. Though she spent a lot of the day sitting in her crate — she’d been staying with another family for a couple of days and I think the second move just overwhelmed her. But she and Trixie did some heavy chasing first.

I also wanted a chance to kick back before I started/resumed any projects. So I took today and yesterday to read, watch extra TV, think about September goals and donate blood (this morning).

It’s a relief to have the book off my hands, though it hasn’t entirely sunk in yet. Wrapping it up was exhausting; it’ll take me a while to feel yay! instead of phew! But soon I will have copies in hand.

Oh, and I got royalties for my previous McFarland books this week, plus someone checked out a copy of Atlas Shagged on Hoopla. Unlike regular library checkouts, this digital service pays a small fee every time someone borrows one of my books through their local library. Cool, huh?

#SFWApro. All rights to covers remain with current holders.



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Dying is easy — indexing is hard!

(For the source of my title, click here).

But it’s done. As of this morning, I finished the index for Alien Visitors. This afternoon I reread McFarland’s instructions for indexing, corrected some errors, and proofed the whole thing.

I’ve also completed the list of errors in the text, though I still have to add notes identifying them. Fortunately I figured out how to do that in PDF. The big challenge will be that as I got the galleys — used to be we’d get edited proofs first — the pagination can’t change. So if there’s anything deleted or added that would affect the following page, I have to make a counterbalancing addition or deletion so the text stays constant. In a couple of spots, this will be a challenge.

It’s doable though. I’ll have it done by the end of the month, then take the first two days of September through Labor Day (maybe Labor Day) off.

I’m impressed to see that like so many writers, a deadline can push me beyond my limits. I’ve put in way more hours than usual this week to get the job finished. Unfortunately some of that time came out of things like exercising, which is not optional. And reading, which is optional, but not really (I can’t do without it for too long). Besides which, this isn’t creative work. Indexing and proofing requires close attention to detail but I never have to stop and ask myself what comes next or whether what I’ve written works. Accuracy is all I need. So I doubt this heralds a sudden boost in my productivity, but you never know …

And then there’s the dogs. The photo above is from a recent trip to doggie rehab — they both need it for different reasons — when Plushie decided he wanted to be drive. He didn’t get his wish, but I’m sure you knew that.

The past two weeks, though, have been less cute. First we took them in for dental checkups. Trixie was in good shape but Plushie, who resists tooth-brushing, had to have two teeth removed, plus the under-the-gums stumps from some previous effort. That meant nothing but soft food for a week, which is a problem since it excluded most of his treats. Fortunately they think pasta is delicious so I made a couple of extra pots of it and fed him that.

This week, repeated jumping off the bed upstairs threw his back out again. He’s on cage rest and heavy painkillers for ten days or possibly a little longer. That makes caring for him more complicated — we have to carry him up the stairs — though it’s easier to concentrate on work when he’s not right in my personal space. Except when he gives the agonized “my foot is caught in a bear trap, I’m suffering!” whine for being caged (no, it’s not because of pain. Trust me). However the pain meds are taking care of that by keeping him zonked.

All in all, a good week, if not exactly a lively one.

#SFWApro. All rights to cover image remain with current holder.

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Filed under Nonfiction, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals, Undead Sexist Cliches: The Book, Writing

Indexing is still kicking my butt—

So I’m too zonked for an intelligent post today. Here’s a look at my chapter titles for Aliens Are Here:I went into the contents in more detail a few months back.  And here’s Richard Powers’ cover for Childhood’s End. I don’t spotlight the SyFy miniseries in my book but I do discuss it in the Gods From Outer Space chapter.#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holders.

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Indexing is the death of the soul. Well, not really, but it certainly isn’t fun

Not much to blog about for this week. I completed another of those articles I work on for Accounting Seed and I got through editing and indexinng the first four chapters of Aliens Are Here. I’m on track to get it done but lord, it’s tedious. There are just soooo many names to index in a movie book.

Part of the problem is that in the past I’ve always gotten the edited text to proof, then the index later. Now I’m doing both at once which sharply increases the workload, and I think the time constraints are tighter too. Needless to say, I’m also finding lots of errors in my work, which is both annoying and irritating. And means more corrections, which slows me down (McFarland didn’t catch as many of my mistakes as usual)

It’s enough that rather than simply listing them I’ll try using Adobe Acrobat to edit directly in the PDF. I can download it for a week as a free trial, then cancel; that’ll be long enough.

On the fun side, I have an Atomic Junkshop post about comics in 1965 and romance tropes I hate. And I got my royalty statement from McFarland; people are still buying my books! The royalties aren’t much but it’s cool I get them at all; if you’re reading this, thank you for spending money on my work.I’d have gone into more detail about the editing and indexing but the dogs are needy.

#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holder.

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I changed my routine. You won’t believe what happened next!

Okay, not anything shocking. But this seems to be one of those clickbait headlines and I can always use more clicks, so …

Last Thursday and Friday I accepted a bunch of articles for the Leaf content provider. However there’s a three day deadline to finishing once I accept them and for a Thursday acceptance that meant Sunday. Much as I hate breaking up my weekend, I decided to take Saturday off, work Sunday, then take Tuesday off instead. Coupled with some personal distractions, I felt very disorganized this entire week.

Nevertheless, it was productive. I got about fourteen Leaf articles done, though it took me longer than it should have — the disorganization, I imagine.

I also went over the corrections to Death Is Like a Box of Chocolates and responded; mostly they were solid choices by the editor. But now there’s a final set — I probably won’t get to them until Monday.

I also completed Phase One of the index, which is going through the manuscript and putting everything in alphabetical order. I prefer doing this before submitting my manuscripts because no matter how carefully I proofread, I always find more errors. That wasn’t an option this time, as I had to push to complete the book by deadline as it was. I feel embarrassed seeing all the errors now.

It went quickly but now comes Phase Two, where I put in the page numbers. It’s slower and absolutely mind-numbing but it has to be done. Plus, of course, proofing the final copy of the text.

It’ll be a busy rest-of-the-month and the promotional effort for Questionable Minds will drag as a result. But first things first.#SFWApro. Bottom cover by Sam Collins, rights to images remain with current holders.

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It’s a trap — and I walked right into it!

Not really trapped but I do perhaps feel a little hemmed in. As it’s by good stuff and I had a good week, perhaps it’s more that I’m a bird in a gilded cage?

Yesterday McFarland mailed me the PDF of The Aliens Are Here for me to proof, edit and index. This is quite a job, especially the unimaginable tedium of indexing. Due by early September (the book comes out late that month). And wouldn’t you know, after a couple of months of quiet, Leaf suddenly has a ton of articles available. And one of my other clients wants me to do an accounting article.

I think this will rule out any chance of writing any more fiction this month. But that’s okay: I knew the proofs would arrive, I know from experience how much time it takes so I was prepared to drop everything. Well, except the paying stuff.

Oh, and I have a story I need to approve the edits on. I got an email Monday offering to buy Death Is Like a Box of Chocolates and of course I said yes. I got the email today saying they’d done the edits, would I take a look please? But hey, that’s a job I’ll do with pleasure.

I’ve also got some work to do on promoting Questionable Minds. That’ll have to wait, but it can’t wait too long.

But that’s a boatload of sudden deadlines when I normally don’t have any. I’m not really complaining because it’s all good, I just wish the timing had been spaced out. Still, having too much work as a freelancer is better than not having enough work.

Prior to everything heating up, I went over Don’t Pay the Ferryman and I think it’s in good shape. I’m ready to give it a final edit, but obviously not right now. And I finished this draft of Impossible Takes a Little Longer. It’s not looking as good but a first shot at replotting went surprisingly easily. Possibly the problems are more fixable than I thought. Again, not something to tackle right now.

Oh, I also had a filling adjusted yesterday. And posted a couple of articles at Atomic Junkshop, one on the debut of Marvel’s SHIELD and another on comic reboots that missed the point.

#SFWApro. All rights to image remain with current holders.

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