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My Thoughts

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In My Thoughts you will find articles about various things that either are of interest to me, or that bother me. You'll find issues related to writing, movies, TV, Music or science fact/fiction. What you won't find is discussions on politics or religion. I don't like it when people try to convert me on either of these beliefs, and I will do you the courtesy of not imposing my views on you. If you'd like to send me any comments on issues I discuss, or suggest ideas for things I could write about, use the link at the bottom to send me an e-mail.

Latest Post (October, 2013)

How George Lucas Ruined My Childhood, and Other Such Nonsense

With Disney's purchase of the Star Wars franchise, there have been a lot of online articles on making the next set of movies, and beyond.  With these articles, and sometimes even within them, there is the endless comments condemning George Lucas.  This wasn’t surprising because Lucas was guilty in the past of going back and changing his movies.  If you are a Star Wars fan and haven’t heard about the infamous ‘Greedo shot first’ controversy, than you are clearly not as big of a fan as you think.  (You can find plenty of info on this all over the Internet if you are interested in the details.)  Ever since then, more and more people seemed to jump on the ‘Let’s criticize Lucas’ bandwagon for changes made to the original 3 films.  When the prequels started, the bandwagon became even bigger.  Many older Star Wars fans didn’t like the new movies and were not shy about expressing it.  I can’t even tell you how many times I read or heard someone actually claim that George Lucas had ruined their childhoods.

I can honestly say that Lucas DID NOT ruin my childhood.  Sure, some of the changes he made to the earlier movies left me disappointed.  (Changing the Ewok song at the end of Episode VI is one of them.)  However, most of the changes he did were to improve the special effects to add a greater depth and reality to the movies that he originally wanted to incorporate, but didn’t have the time, money and technology to do so.

Now, just stop and think about that for a moment.  Before George Lucas came around, how many other Hollywood producers went back to films they’d made to try and make them better?  I personally have not heard of any.  On top of that, what most people don’t know is that once Star Wars became so popular that it spawned a huge string of books, Lucas felt a huge obligation to its fans.  He made sure that any author who wrote a Star Wars novel adhered to what already happened in the movies, kept any storyline from contradicting what was to come in the prequels, and also kept consistency from one novel to the next.

For me, the last one was a huge deal.  I have read dozens of Star Trek novels, many of which contradicted other novels.  There was no continuity at all, which many times made the book fail for me. I never had that problem with Star Wars.

The complaints I heard about all the prequels really baffles me.  Sure, the story concepts are completely different.  Episodes IV – VI dealt with our heroes fighting an uphill battle with an evil empire.  Episodes I – III were about the fight to save a democracy.  Two very different story lines.  There was absolutely no way movies about the fall of the Republic could have the same simple, innocence of a black and white fight between good and evil.  I believe therein lies the true animosity of the older Star Wars fans.  When all is said and done, they wanted the simple black and white and felt betrayed when they didn’t get it.  The younger audiences, who didn’t grow up with the originals, didn’t have the same tunnel-vision expectations.  The sad thing is, the older, complainer fans were obviously not paying attention during the heyday of the original trilogy.  Lucas openly talked about his intended story arc of the entire series enough that anyone could have foreseen that the prequels would have to be different.  Hell, I even remember an artist’s rendition of the duel between Obi Wan and Anakin Skywalker on Mustafar in a book of art about Star Wars that came out sometime around Ep. V or VI.  I also remember a quote by Lucas that defined the entire six movies as the rise, fall and redemption of Anakin Skywalker. 

Lastly, many of these same complaining fans seem to be ecstatic by the news that the new director of the upcoming Star Wars films will be backing away from digital effects as much as possible.  I’ve read many complaints that the digital characters and special effects looked fake.  Really?  Obvious puppets look more realistic?  Plastic X-wing and Tie Fighters flying through space in a formation falsely tight in movement to one another, surrounded by obvious matte lines is more realistic than the fluid, but independent motion of the Jedi Starfighers and the Vulture Droids?  Depthless explosions of plastic miniatures looks more realistic that the ground battle on Geonosis?  Flat sets and obvious matte paintings look more realistic than the Senate Chamber?  A light saber duel on a static set of not much more then metal stairs is better than on a collapsing building falling into a river of lava?  I’m sorry, but I have to disagree with these people.  Sure, if you look hard enough you’ll find an element of two that may not look quite real.  They are far outnumbered by the elements that bring majestic depth to the worlds and aliens of the prequel movies. 

Personally, I love all of the Star Wars movies.  I’ve watched all many, many times.  The one thing I’ve noticed, though, is when I get a hankering to revisit a galaxy far, far away, I have been pulling out the prequels far more then the originals.  I don’t expect to change anyone else’s’ mind who doesn’t like the prequels.  Everyone has their own tastes, and is entitled to them.  My biggest concern is that Disney is listening too much to the whiners, and are not looking at the heart, depth and continuity provided by Lucas.  They need to respect ALL Star Wars movies, as well as the novels that followed. Not only does George Lucas deserve this respect, but so do ALL Star Wars fans.

Tom A. Wright
Posted May, 2013
Death of the PC? Not Likely

It seems everywhere I look, the media is declaring that the PC is dead. I've read this in newspapers, online news stories, and have heard it on television news. With the popularity of smart phones and tablets constantly growing, you can actually see why people may believe this. Even Microsoft has jumped on the bandwagon with their latest operating system, Windows 8, mimicking the operations of the new portable computing devices.

What you do not see or hear from the news sources is how much people really HATE Windows 8. Nor are they talking about the limitations of the portable computing devices. Sure, having a tablet is a major convenience. I personally have an older Kindle for downloading electronic books, and love it. I also wouldn't mind having a more advanced tablet for the portability. These devices do serve a purpose for the people who buy them. They may even replace a PC for a good percentage of the people who buy them. But the limitations of these devices are huge. Most mid to large businesses cannot use these devices for all their processing needs. Data entry, spreadsheets, databases, and other business related software will simply not work anywhere near as effectively as on a PC. And for personal use, tablets are just too small and limited to do many things a desktop PC is capable of doing. Let me cover just a few things I personally use my PC for that will be impossible to perform on any tablet existing, or still on the drawing board.

1) High End Graphics - I use multiple graphics programs to create and manipulate high resolution images. Some of the projects I've worked on required pushing my PC memory to the maximum RAM. I've even run out of memory and had to save where I was, then reboot my computer to clear some more memory to continue. The current tablets available today don't have enough RAM to do the same job. Even when the tablets do increase their RAM, you still have to work from a small screen. Manipulating graphic files is far easier with a large monitor and a mouse.

2) Computer Animation - I've long used a 3D animation program called TrueSpace to create 3D graphics and animation. Since Microsoft bought and removed this program from the market, I've started learning Blender. To create a complex 3D animation, any of these types of programs require high RAM capacity, as well as a high end video card and huge amounts of hard drive space. Unless the technology changes drastically, there is no way to fit a video processor into a tablet that would enable it to come anywhere close to what can be done with a middle of the road video card for a PC. Also, screen size makes the idea of computer animation on a tablet idiotic.

3) Video Editing - Many people shoot videos with their camcorders and edit them on their PC. Although the requirements of editing video are not as intensive as computer animation, it would still be very hard to make a tablet that can handle the flow, storage and manipulation of high resolution video. Again, future tablets may eventually acquire the memory muscle to do the job, but screen size is still the tablet's demise.

4) PC Gaming - This is the big killer of the tablet. Even though there are console games like XBox, Playstation and the Wii, many people prefer to play their games on their PC. Modern games require a higher level of video cards than a tablet could ever fit inside their tiny, thin frame. Also, larger screen sizes gives definite advantages to online first-person shooter games. Die-hard gamers would never trade their PCs in for a tablet.

5) Web Page Design - Although the computing power of tablets could easily handle this task, there are still limitation that would adversely affect using one to do so. I am notorious for multi-tasking when creating my web pages. Besides using my Dreamweaver program, I many times need to open multiple browser windows to search for required information, many graphics programs to create images I need, and sometimes I'll even jump into 3D animation program. Bouncing back and forth between these programs is far easier with a larger screen, and an operating system that gives me fast access with my mouse. A tablet and its touch-based operating system would be a huge hindrance.

On top of these limitation, there is one serious flaw in tablets. They are an entire computer in one disposable package. This means that you have to actually buy a completely new tablet every couple of years to keep up with the latest technology and software. The same applies if you have mechanical problems. With a PC, once you buy a complete one, you can update or repair as needed. For example, I've used my last PC monitor for 15 years. If I hadn't decided to upgrade to a larger wide screen version, I could probably have kept using it for many more years. I've also upgraded my PC video card about once every 4 years or so. When my last motherboard on my PC started giving me problems, I simply bought a new one, updating the processor as well. All in all, the money I've spent on maintaining/upgrading my PC would be far less than buying a new tablet every other year, and I get far better performance.

So, don't believe the hype. Many people may ditch their PCs for tablets, but a large percentage won't. Tablets are good for portability, the casual web surfer, and many other uses. They may even have some uses for businesses. They will not, however, totally replace the PC. Too many of us hard-core users need them.

Tom A. Wright
Posted March 2013
Enough with the Damned Cliffhangers Already!
Update at the bottom

I’ve been reading a series of books by Andy McDermott.  (Spoiler Alert.  Don’t read this article if you don’t want to know what happens at the end of Empire Of Gold.)  The series follows Archeologist Nina Wilde and her protector, then boyfriend, then husband, ex-SAS Eddie Chase.  The books are almost a modern-day Indiana Jones.  The writer knows how to do action sequences, and he created very engaging characters.  The books are fun to read, despite the repetitiveness of over-used story-telling tricks.  (C’mon, now.  How many times can our heroes be captured, manage a daring escape, get captured again, and escape again, multiple times in multiple books?)

The latest of his books I’ve read is Empire of Gold.  It started off great, where you learn about Eddie’s past, involving one of this books primary villains.  The book delved deeper into Eddie’s dark side, and a fundamental difference in attitude between him and Nina.  By the time the final climax of the book, you can see how this difference, and the dark events that preceded it were taking its toll on our heroes’ relationship.  The story had me hooked, eagerly awaiting the conclusion. But the conclusion never came.  In fact, the bad guy gets away, along with a villain thought dead from previous books.  On top of that, Nina sees Eddie kill a traitor in self-defense, but only sees enough to believe he killed the man only out of anger.  With Nina believing Eddie a murderer, he runs away, planning to find a way to prove his innocence.  A cliffhanger. 

Needless to say, I wanted to throw the book across the room when I finished it.  I was emotionally invested in the story, in Eddie and Nina’s relationship, and being left where it did made me feel cheated.  This is especially frustrating because of how long I’ll have to wait to read the next one.

Some analytical soul reading this will say that the ending had the desired affect.  That I will anxiously buy the new book once it comes out.  The soul(s) who believe that are missing an important fact in their reasoning.  The emotional levels that keep me (and others) reading the book, and caring for the characters, are high as a build up of the story.  Those emotions fade with time.  What keeps me coming back book after book in a series is the amount of satisfaction I received reading the stories before.  What I’ll remember when the next book in the series comes out is not how I felt during my previous reading experience, but how angry, used and manipulated I felt once I finished reading it.
This isn’t the only book series I’ve read that has done this.  The way Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince ended left me feeling somewhat similar when Dumbledore died in the end.  If it wasn’t for knowing the next Potter book would conclude the series, and the vested interest I had in the other HP characters, I might not have read the last.  Many of the other authors I’ve read who’ve done this lost me as a reader.  And don’t get me started on TV series that do this.  End of the season cliffhangers can be just as frustrating, but can ruin the entire series if the episode and/or story arc are not resolved and the series is canceled.  (The 4400 is a prime example of this.)

As a writer, I will never, ever do this to my readers.  First and foremost, I will always make sure the story I’m telling will be complete by the end.  This doesn’t mean I’ll never do a series.  I already have a series with Distant Ties and the sequel Broken Ties.  And, sometime in the future, I plan to write a third, called Ancient Ties.  Each of these books can be read by themselves, and still be enjoyed, leaving a feeling of story closure.  Also, A book I write may not end in a way that people expect, but will bring closure in a way that compels your imagination to see how the story resolves.

So, will I buy and read the next Nina and Eddie novel when it comes out?  Probably, but writer Andy McDermott will have to re-earn my trust.  If he pulls another cliffhanger, that will be the last book I read from him.


Have read the next book, Return to Atlantis (UK version named Temple of the Gods) and am quite pleased. No additonal cliffhangers, fun read and the story is wrapped up. I'll just hope he doesn't try a cliffhanger again.

Tom A. Wright

Posted January, 2013

Whose Bright Idea Was It To Group Science Fiction With Fantasy?

Although I’ve occasionally enjoyed reading a book or two in the fantasy genre, I much prefer Science Fiction.  So, when I’m looking for a new book to read, the odds are I’m searching for the latter.  Why then, when I search bookstore shelves or do an Amazon search, the two are combined?  I’m sure there are many other readers out there who prefer one to the other and, like me, find the clumping of the two frustrating.

How can anyone confuse one for the other?  With a few exceptions, rarely are Science Fiction and Fantasy anything alike.  Fantasy usually delves into things like magic, and mythical monsters or creatures.  Science Fiction usually delves into science and technology that may or may not exist at some future date.  The only correlation I can see is the element of existence.  Neither magic nor speculated technologies exist.  This one, extremely thin thread, is too flimsy to forever bond the two together.  After all, Fantasy has unique rules of follow, often tied to mythology and folklore.  Science Fiction usually has a different set of rules to follow, tied to science and technological theories of today, extrapolated into a logical progression of future applications.  An advanced particle beam weapon would be as out of place in a Fantasy novel as a wizard is in Science Fiction.

Oh, I can hear the objections already.  Star Wars had Jedi knights performing magic through the force.  Star Trek had omnipotent beings like the Q doing like-wise.  Arthur C. Clarke wrote “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”  And Larry Niven delved into Fantasy on a few occasions, blending Fantasy and Science Fiction in a very humorous series about a time traveler sent to what he thinks is his world’s murky past to recover animals lost to extinction.  In actuality, the time machine sent him to the past in an alternate dimension where dragons and unicorns really existed.  And let’s not forget Anne McCaffrey’s Dragon Riders of Pern novels.  Even though the stories are of people with primitive technology living in a world with Dragons, the set up to the whole series is that the characters are descendents of space travelers who colonized the planet Pern.  They genetically engineered local flying lizards from two foot long creatures to full sized, flying dragons, then lost their technology. 

I’m sure there are quite a few other examples of novels or other media combining the two genres.  But there are a huge number of books that cross between two or more genres.  Books like the Da Vinci Code mixed Suspense, Religion and a Mystery.  Janet Evanovich mixed Comedy, Suspense and Romance in her Stephanie Plum series.  Even I like to mix Mystery into my Science Fiction. 

Sure, the lines can be very blurry.  But my novels are first and foremost Science Fiction.  I would be annoyed if Amazon classified Terraforming Teardrop as a Mystery.  It is first and foremost, Science Fiction.  When people want to find it, they would look for it under Science Fiction.  When you or I want to find Science Fiction books in general, we don’t want to weed through entry after entry of Fantasy.  Fantasy fans will most likely feel the same way, not wanting to weed through Science Fiction.  In the end, I feel the laziness of the bookstores in not separating the two a huge disservice to both writers and readers alike.
Tom A. Wright

Posted December 2012

Nauseating Cinematography

For decades now, a form of Cinematography has infected TV series and Movies like a plague. It's called Documentary Style Cinematography. Basically, the people who impose this jerky, nauseating camera work on the public believed making the camera move around randomly and flow in and out of focus made viewers feel they were watching out-in-the-field camera work from rushed news journalists, therefore making the viewers feel the show was more real. This, however, was a completely wrong assumption. Most people have just gotten used to this amateurish style and learned to ignore it. Unfortunately, I'm one of the minority of people who this cinemagraphic style literally makes sick. I remember watching Word Trade Center in the theater and had to spend most of the movie with my eyes off the screen. Since then, if I see previews that portray a lot of jerky camera work, I will not go see that movie. The remake of the Battlestar Galactica TV series came very close to losing me as a loyal viewer during its first season because they employed this awful style. Lucky for me, I endured it for the first year and the producers toned it down after.

I've had this discussion with people who took offense at my position, saying the equivalent of "I loved that movie/TV show. Why should I have had to suffer because of your issue with nausea." It is a complete fallacy.that the cinemagrapic style made the TV show or movie good. The reality is that over the years, there have been outstanding movies and series that were hugely adored and made tons of money that didn't use documentary style. The camera movement did not make any of these shows good. The story, acting and directing made them good. If any of the productions these people vigorously defend were, instead, originally made without the jerky camera work, none of those defenders would have liked it less. In fact, I believe they would have liked it even more, without realizing it.

As a writer, I was taught that anything that pulls a reader out of the story is author's intrusion and it negatively affects the reader's enjoyment. I know this is true, having read many, many books, and have experienced this myself. Sometimes it was so bad that I was actually jerked out of the story hard enough that I found myself angry at the author. The same principle applies to TV and Movies. If a percentage of your viewers are looking away from the screen, then you have pulled them out of the story.

Luckily, I'm seeing less and less of the documentary style cinematography on the big and small screens. However, there are still those in the industry who continue to hold firm, and keep trying to make people like me sick, driving us away from their products. I can only hope that the trend away from nauseating cinematography keeps going until it is only a bad memory.

Tom A. Wright
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