Dream Theater (Mike Portnoy) – Shattered Fortress (Twelve Step Suite)

Mike Portnoy wrote this as a series of pieces over five albums.  This was his way of honoring the 12 Steps.

1. “The Glass Prison”
(0:08 – 13:56)
2. “This Dying Soul”
(13:57 – 25:19)
3. “The Root Of All Evil”
(25:20 – 32:26)
4. “Repentance”
(32:27 – 43:09)
5. “The Shattered Fortress”
(43:10 – 55:59)

Out There by Michael Wall

Another book I finished last week was Michael Wall‘s Out There: A Scientific Guide to Alien Life, Antimatter, and Human Space Travel (For the Cosmically Curious).

Dr Wall’s book gives a glimpse of the search for extraterrestrial life.  Beginning with the Drake Equation and possible chemical compositions of extraterrestrial life, Wall explores what life might look like in the universe.

The book explores what alien life might be like, how it might communicate with us, world reactions and responses, and current and possible future techniques to search for life.

Dr Wall also explores the possibility of our colonization of other planets, our exploration of interstellar space, time travel, and evolutionary implications of our leaving our home planet.

Whether you’re just curious about alien life and existing theories of life, or if you’re looking to create an alien life form in a story you’re working on, this book is a must read.

Making the Monster by Kathryn Harkup

Last week, I finished the book Making the Monster: The Science Behind Mary Shelley’s Frankensteinby Kathryn Harkup

This book provides an interesting look at the how the year without a summer, odd relationships, 18th century science and a ghost story contest over a series of summer nights led to the writing of the first science fiction novel.

Dr Harkup is a chemistry scientist who decided to pursue an interest in communicating science instead of being stuck in a lab.  This is Dr Harkup’s second book on the science background of fiction, following her previous A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie.

These kinds of books have always fascinated me, by granting a look behind the scenes of how stories come together.  In fact, this book pairs great with The New Annotated Frankenstein, edited by Leslie S. Klinger, to provide an overview of the meeting of the sciences and the arts resulting from the Enlightenment period.

Among the influences on Frankenstein, one standout is several references to Erasmus Darwin, an early biologist and grandfather of Charles Darwin.

Dr Harkup doesn’t just provide a glimpse of the sciences as they were forming and emerging in Shelley’s day.  She also traces those sciences from Shelley’s day to whatever era the science suggested by Shelley became scientific fact in the real world.

Anyone interested in Frankenstein or scifi in general should definitely check out this book.  You won’t be disappointed.

Writing Tools

As anyone with a creative skill knows, practice is a requirement to maintain and improve that skill.  I’ve got a couple of tools I’ve picked up over the years that I use for practice and to combat writer’s block.

The first tool I picked up is Rory’s Story Cubes.  I found the Rory cubes in Walgreen of all places while waiting for the filling of one of my wife’s prescriptions.  Walgreen had the base set at the time, which I’ve found to be quite useful by itself.

Basically, the idea of the game is to roll the 9 story cubes like dice and then create a story using the 9 images that come up.  The options are endless and the cubes can be used multiple times to come up with a variety of story ideas.

Over the years I’ve also picked up the Actions set and the Voyages set, which at times I’ve used by themselves and together with the base set.  I’ve used the Rory Story Cubes alone and in workshop and classroom settings.  I would definitely recommend picking up a set and trying them out.

The other tool I’ve picked up is Yeti Eats Alien.  This one I discovered recently while browsing through the shelves of the Puzzle Warehouse‘s local retail shop.  From what I can tell, this one is a relatively new game, but I don’t know for sure.

While the idea of this game is funny headlines, using the headline game rules gives a good basis of five words from which to build a headline.  As a story writer, that headline provides a starting point to build from.  From a humorist perspective, there is plenty to work with in this set and I could see future expansions adding even more comedic fun.

I’m always on the lookout for pocket sized games and games that can serve as story writing tools.  These two provide for both purposes.

The Seventh Victim vs The Purge

Finally got around to watching the movie The Purge.  This movie was on my want to see list because of the dystopian aspect.  I’m kind of an iffy horror fan.  I’m not a fan of slasher films but I do like the tales of  H. P. Lovecraft, monster movies, and the Alien franchise.

Once the movie started getting into the background and history of the annual purge of the movie’s dystopia, I kept thinking, “I know this story”.  As the purge scenes of the films’s name got going, I recognized many elements of the Robert Sheckley short story,”The Seventh Victim“. 

This got me thinking that I can’t be the only person to see this.  Unfortunately, I was surprised that an internet search of The Purge and “The Seventh Victim” only turned up one link making this connection, part a reddit discussion about a movie plagiarism lawsuit.  All of the other links were lists of dystopian stories where murder was legal and happened to contain both stories on the list.

Is it plagiarism?  I’m not going to say yes, because I don’t think it was intentional.  Though I do keep seeing a trend of new scifi, fantasy, and horror movies lifting concepts, plots, and general world elements of older texts without giving credit to the older works.  As I mention above, I don’t think it’s a case of new authors always intentionally borrowing from older authors.  However, I am disappointed by the number of storytellers who get defensive instead of acknowledging the possible influence of the older work on the newer one. 
While The Purge makes an interesting movie, I think Sheckley’s story covers the idea much better and handles the story ending plot twist more shockingly.
Clipart stolen from Clipartmax.