Categories
Editing

The Joshua Tree

As preparation for launching Space Westerns magazine I began researching Western-genre fiction. I wanted to be familiar with the tropes, plots, themes, stock characters of a Western so I’d recognize them in a Space Western story. So I read John G. Cawelti’s The Six-gun Mystique, and David Mogen’s Wilderness Visions, and Jane Tompkins’ West of Everything, and Matt Braun’s How to Write Western Novels. Now when I watch Star Trek, I don’t just see colonists and Starfleet and Klingons; I see homesteaders and the U.S. Cavalry and the Mexican Army. When I watch Star Wars I don’t see Han Solo and Chewbacca and Boba Fett; I see The Lone Ranger and Tonto and The Man with No Name. It dawned on me: this is just another example of designer Robin Williams’ The Joshua Tree Principle:

Many years ago I received a tree identification book for Christmas. I was at my parents’ home, and after all the gifts had been opened I decided to go out and identify the trees in the neighborhood. Before I went out, I read through part of the book. The first tree in the book was the Joshua tree because it took only two clues to identify it. Now the Joshua tree is a really weird-looking tree and I looked at that picture and said to myself, “Oh, we don’t have that kind of tree in Northern California. That is a weird-looking tree. I would know if I saw that tree, and I’ve never seen one before.” So I took my book and went outside. My parents lived in a cul-de-sac of six homes. Four of those homes had Joshua trees in the front yard. I had lived in that house for thirteen years, and I had never seen a Joshua tree. I took a walk around the block, and there must have been a sale at the nursery when everyone was landscaping their new homes—at least 80 percent of the homes had Joshua trees in the front yards. And I had never seen one before! Once I was conscious of the tree, once I could name it, I saw it everywhere. Which is exactly my point. Once you can name something, you’re conscious of it. You have power over it. You own it. You’re in control.

I see “Joshua trees” everywhere now.

Categories
Ramblings

Fake X-files novels

I found these this past weekend on the GreenTentacles servers:

Backstory: Keith DeCandido (interview with him on Space Westerns Magazine) was having a bad day with random rumors and he mentioned how in the thread someone was complaining about his X-files novels. Of course, Keith has never written an X-files novel. I made these fake X-files novel covers to cheer him up.

Categories
Interviewed

Wall Street Journal Interview

I was interviewed by Don Steinberg for an article about Cowboys and Aliens that appeared on The Wall Street Journal: Hollywood Frontiers: Outer Space and the Wild West. He tracked me down from Space Westerns.com and my article on Strange Horizons: The Emancipation of Bat Durston. Here’s the relevant part of the article that was paraphrased from our interview:

“Avatar,” set on a distant moon in 2154, isn’t obviously a Western—but hold on, says Nathan Lilly, who runs SpaceWesterns.com, a website dedicated to the subgenre. The Na’vi tribe are classic movie Indians. They may be 10 feet tall and blue, but they shoot arrows, wear their long black hair in ponytails and live in harmony with the land. The greedy white mercenaries intent on snatching the land’s precious minerals are familiar characters, as is the one renegade who falls in star-crossed love with a native woman. In “Avatar,” it’s Marine Jake Sully, who inhabits a lab-made body that resembles the natives, under orders to embed with them and gather intelligence. He romances the lovely Neytiri, and as the invading soldiers try to destroy the tribe’s sacred tree and mine the valuable ore beneath it, Sully leads the resistance, with help from an alliance of clans from around the planet.

Falling for the squaw is very “Pocahontas” (1995) and very “Dances With Wolves” (1990), but there are earlier precedents. In “Broken Arrow” (1950) Jimmy Stewart is a former Union Army soldier who befriends Cochise in 1870 to learn Apache ways and stop their attacks. He marries an Apache girl and is seen as a traitor. In “They Died With Their Boots On” (1941), Errol Flynn is General George Custer, leading the 7th Cavalry. Pioneers pushing west want every scrap of Indian land. Anthony Quinn, as Sioux chief Crazy Horse, says his people will give up everything except the sacred Black Hills, where “the spirits of our fathers dwell,” warning that if those hills are infiltrated, all the tribes will unite and fight back. Just as in “Avatar,” greedy bureaucrats direct soldiers to invade the sacred territory, tribes unite, and we know what happened to Custer.

We did speak more about Firefly, Star Trek, Star Wars, and Westerns in general, but it seems to have overlapped with other interviews where it may have been more relevant to quote or paraphrase someone else.

Categories
Ramblings

Getting my house in order

You deserve an explanation. An explanation as to why I haven’t, among other things, answered an e-mail, called a friend, attended a convention, or updated any of the fiction markets that I operate (and/or other websites) in quite a long time… I bought a house.

This is a good thing! I haven’t died; I’m not sick; I’m not stuck in a major depression (just a little ennui). It’s just that I’ve become utterly unreliable for everything outside of my family, my day job, and the house. Overall my priorities shifted a bit and my fannish/freelance enjoyment took a back seat. Until this past weekend when I attended The Steampunk World’s Fair, I hadn’t been to a convention since Balticon 2010 (last Memorial Day). I haven’t played Dungeons & Dragons with my regular group, my childhood friends, in quite sometime. I haven’t kept up with my e-mail, often going weeks at a time avoiding it. I’ve got a long, long list of things I haven’t done or kept up with.

I have been working hard at a demanding job as a web developer at a major financial institution. I have been enjoying quality time with my family, including game nights, carnivals, birthdays, etc. I have been exercising regularly, eating right (probably not in the way that you think) and improving my health. So, personally, things have been going well for me. I almost wish I had a crushing depression so that I’d be able to excuse my utter neglect of everything else…

Thaumatrope is closed. Announcements to this effect and changes to the website will appear (when the stars are right). It is very likely to reopen in the future. Outstanding payments will be sent out. The site will remain online, and the stories will remain available. I’m planning on publishing an anthology.

Everyday Weirdness is closed. Announcements to this effect and changes to the website will appear (again, when the stars are right). It is somewhat likely to reopen in the future. Outstanding payments will be sent out. I’m planning on publishing an anthology.

Space Westerns is on hiatus. It will reopen. I still have big plans for it. The website redesign is stalled, but when it launches (soon, always soon) that will be the first sign that things are happening on that front. When it returns in full it will return with big guns.

Containment is being updated. If there are conventions in your area that you think should be on it, either add them or let the proper people know about the listing service so they can add their info.

So, I’m starting to be able to be active again. I’ll have more detailed posts about the markets soon, but if anyone has any questions, just let me know.

Categories
Events

An Evening with Marian Call in Philadelphia

I’m hosting an evening with Marian Call in Philadelphia (more information on Space Westerns Magazine).

Categories
Events

Coming to the Chestnut Hill Book Festival

The Chestnut Hill Book Festival (July 9th-11th) has a full track of science fiction panels this year. I will be giving an “Introduction to Space Westerns” on Friday night at 7PM. Afterwards, at 8PM, Tom Purdom will be reading. On subsequent days look for Lawrence M. Schoen, Gardner Dozois, Gregory Frost, and many others.

For the full schedule and details visit the Chestnut Hill Book Festival website.

I hope to see you there!