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Nicholas Batura: Optimist, Futurist, Master Bookworm, Writer

Travel Oddities

          For me, one of the best parts of air travel is the people watching. The regional variations in dress, speech patterns, and mannerisms are fascinating. I could sit in an airport all day long and not get bored.
          I took a trip this past week. Overall, it was a good time, but we had a bit of a scare before departing the gate in SLC . . .

          I’m minding my own business, strapped into my seat, nose deep in my cellphone screen, trying to piece together the right words for a tweet about a mind-blowing Jocko Podcast I’d just finished, when I hear a male voice.
          “Ma’am, ma’am, are you okay?”
          I’m in a window seat, so I look toward the aisle.
          The woman at the end of my row is slumped over, completely unresponsive.
          “Ma’am,” the flight attendant pokes the woman’s shoulder, “ma’ma, are you okay?” Poke, poke, shake. He walks away.
          She’s still slumped over, in her mid-fifties, toothpick-thin. Her glossy white Samsung has slipped from her grip and is inching its way down her thigh, toward the floor.
          The guy in the middle seat next to me nudges her. “Hey, you okay?” Nothing. He shakes her. No response.
          My heart is racing.
           Is she dead?
          Two minutes ago, she’d been talking up a storm with someone a few rows down. She’d mentioned getting a Bloody Mary after take-off.
          Now I’m staring at her for signs of life. I can’t tell if her chest is moving. Her head is rag-dolled to the side, mouth slightly open.
          Her finger twitches, but that doesn’t mean anything. It could be a death rattle sort of thing.
          Two flight attendants come back. It’s the same man and the cute Latina from the entrance. They loom on either side of the woman’s seat.
          The man’s robotic calm is impressive. He pokes the woman and asks, “ma’am, are you okay?”
          Nothing.
          A passenger, another mid-fifties woman, comes forward from several rows back. She pushes past the male flight attendant and really shakes the woman. “Betsy, hey, wake up.”
          The woman, Betsy, stirs. “Huh?”
          “Ma’am.” It’s the male flight attendant again. “Are you okay, are you taking any medication?”
          Betsy’s groggy as a bear in mid-winter. “I took a Valium.”
          The male flight attendant’s voice is the same smooth tone. “Are you okay to travel? Will you be okay for a three-hour flight?”
          Betsy’s barely with us. “Yeah, I’m good.”
          The flight attendants stare at her for a moment, look at each other, then leave in opposite directions.
          And just like that she’s out again. She slumps forward, folded in half at the waist. Her seat belt’s the only thing between her and the carpet.
          She does this all flight long, coming-to every so often, then blacking out again. Maybe she’s some techie’s glitchy cyborg. Might be a simple wiring problem or a faulty battery pack; hopefully it wasn’t sourced from Samsung Galaxy Note 7s…
          For half the flight, she’s leaned so far into the aisle that bathroom goers have to push her head out of the way to get by.
          She wakes up and puts her tray down when the flight attendant is about to serve us our first round of drinks, then she’s out. She may have been conscious for eight seconds. Something isn’t right. I don’t know what it is, but it’s there.
          At some point, she manages to order a drink.
          The flight attendant pushes his cart away and the woman’s head lolls toward her tray table. Her forehead is half an inch from her plastic cup of diet coke.
          “Hey,” I say to the guy next to me and point to the woman. “She’s going to hit her drink.”
          He wakes her up and she sits back. It’s twelve seconds before she’s inches from her cup again.
          Part of me is pissed. It secretly tells her she’s being an inconsiderate asshole. Why the hell should I waste my time worrying about her nosediving into her beverage?
          A bigger part of me wonders why she’s in this state. What is her affliction, and how did she come to this point? Is she sick in the traditional sense of the word, or is she a junkie who’s so far gone she’s lost all self-respect and doesn’t give a shit about what she looks like or does in public?
          It’s too easy to believe the latter. To call her an asshole in my head. It’s the weak way out, the path of least resistance.
          So I go the other route and ratchet up the compassion. I hope she gets better. I don’t think anyone would choose to act the way she is in public.
          We land.
          Her steps are unsteady. She toddles up the aisle, pulling and pushing on the seats as she goes.
          I silently wish her well and wonder if I, or anyone I love, has ever been where she is.

On Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

I liked it.

Here’s why.

The world-building was fantastic. It was deep, beautiful, and thought provoking. Each new setting begged a thousand questions. I wanted to hit pause and explore the universe Besson spread before us in such vivid color.

Aside from the world-building, did the movie have some flaws? Yes (like why the hell was Rihanna in it?).

Was it predictable? Yes.

Did the writing leave something to be desired? Yes (tropes, much?).

Unfortunately, the list goes on and I don’t have the time or willpower to discuss it all here. Also, some sweet reviews on Valerian's serious flaws have already been made (like this one), so hit me up in the comments if you want to talk specifics.

Ultimately, the gorgeous world allowed me to suspend my disbelief and enjoy the ride.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets wasn’t a great movie, but it rivals most films in the world-building department, and that’s why it’ll stay on my top ten for world-building inspiration.

Netflix it when able.

Rogue One Quick Review

Rogue One Overall Impression: If you like Science Fiction, go see this one in theaters while you still have a chance.

 

* S P O I L E R S * A H E A D *

Well, I finally saw Rogue One, and my first impression was positive. The first time I watch a movie is purely for enjoyment, and I was able to get that with Rogue One. I’d like to see it again so I can look at it with a more critical eye, but that’s going to have to wait until it’s on Netflix or Amazon Prime, cause that’s how I roll.

Rogue One Quick Review

Characters: Good. The writers did a good job of building primary and supporting characters with enough depth that we cared about them in the two hours we were with them (which is a hell of a lot more than I can say for those first three movies). The Governor Tarkin or Leia CGI wasn’t great, but it also wasn’t a show-stopper.

Conflict: Good. Jyn Erso’s desire to reunite with her father was believable, and General Draven’s rash decisions were understandable and helped to keep the tension pegged.

Plot: Good. It was believable that the Rebel Alliance, fighting a guerrilla war against a stronger foe, would use someone (Jyn Erso) to get to a critical figure (Galen Erso) whose demise could help further their cause.

Setting: Rock and roll. Space, spaceships, lasers, octopus-faced bipedal aliens.

Dialogue: Good. Sparse and gritty; it fit the tone of the movie well.

Tone: Fantastic. War is hell, and its currency is life. The high price the Rebellion paid in Rogue One cemented the reality of the Star Wars universe firmly in our minds. It’s not a fun universe to live in. It’s dark, dangerous, complex, and we got all of that in the movie.

Conclusion: Despite the wonderfully dark tone of the movie, it left viewers with a sense of hope. Not only is hope a hallmark of good Science Fiction, it’s, as Jyn Erso pointed out, what rebellions are built on. Well played, Disney.

French Press Killer

I love good coffee.

I spent one of the best years of my life as a barista at Barnes and Noble Café. Thirty percent off books and fifty off  of café items; it was book geek heaven. This kick ass artist was my boss; he encouraged me to pick up Alan Moore’s Watchmen and I can’t thank him enough for it.

But I digress.

It's true.

My French Press is dead to me.

Well, not dead, just entombed in a box in the basement, next to a spare toaster and a grilled cheese sandwich maker that hasn’t been plugged in since ‘Nam.

I've embraced the latest coffee trend, and I have no plan to revert to old practices; pour-over coffee is the shit.

Not only is it as tasty as French press, but the equipment is about six thousand times easier to clean.

I opted for an electric kettle to heat my water, and i'm happy I did; it's about ten times faster than heating water on my gas range. 

My French press killer is a Bodum pour-over coffee maker.

One of my favorite things about the Bodum is its washable/reusable filter.

Yup, pretty self-explanatory operation. Add grounds, add hot water, drink badass coffee. Rinse, repeat. I use mine every morning. I find that by the time the water is ready to go, I'm also just about coherent enough to begin my morning writing session. The brew takes me the rest of the way. Good stuff.

Funeral for a Band

            I’ve got Funeral for a Friend rockin’ in my headphones now. Long time no hear. I used to listen to the shit out of these guys a decade ago . . .

           I stumbled across their albums on my computer last week, pushed play, and memories flooded back. Sights and sounds, the places I’d been back then, the people I’d run with when these guys were blasting in my stereo. Good times.

            I googled Funeral for a Friend to see if they’d be in town anytime soon. It was a punch in the gut to find out that the culmination of their 2016 tour is a planned breakup.

            Music is such a powerful thing. If magic exists, then it’s gotta be music. How else can something intangible influence so many people, and in so many different ways?

            Music has always been there for me, through good times and bad. Especially the bad.

            I’ve never met Funeral for a Friend, but their breakup still feels like a personal loss. Weird.

            I still remember the day I found out Soundgarden was breaking up. I walked the halls of my middle school, black hoodie pulled up over my chunky headphones, discman held just right so the cd wouldn’t skip. I must have listened to Superunknown fifty times that day. Sad days when our favorite bands breakup.

            So, yeah, if anyone has a chance, go see Funeral for a Friend this year before they’re gone. I imagine it’ll be a good time.

Happy New Year

I quit watching movie trailers a few years back.

It’s just not worth it anymore.

I don’t know what logic the trailer-creator-people are following, but it’s flawed. Nobody wants to see all the good parts of a movie up front. And those who do, well, they’re wrong and they should also stop shaking their gifts and leave them under the frickin’ tree until Christmas.

Patience. Come on, people.

My philosophy made Star Wars: The Force Awakens that much better when I saw it last month. I had NO IDEA what was going to happen. It was awesome. I loved it. Especially the part when that guy we all love dies. It was sad but necessary.

My no trailer rule also paid off when I then watched Ex-Machina. It was another good one. I sure hope it’s a trend. Two good SF movies in 2015. Can we have three in 2016?

But my mind was really blown when I discovered that -- go ahead and take a seat, friend -- Nathan Bateman is Poe Dameron. “What,” you say, “can it be?” Yes, it can, it is, and you’re welcome if you didn’t already know.

So, in case you’ve been living under a rock (the kind of rock with wifi and/or an ethernet connection and power for your sturdy laptop else how could you be reading this magnificent blog post?), go see Star Wars: The Force Awakens, then see Ex-Machina and be blown away by sweet plots and good acting.

If you're a movie trailer watcher, I challenge you to hold off on watching the trailer for the next big movie you're excited about. Mute the tv or change the channel when it comes on. Raise a hand to whomever starts dropping details. Don't give in. Be surprised for your next movie. I bet you'll enjoy it.

P.S. Anyone see any other good SF movies last year?

A Weekend of Lessons Learned

Well, I survived the July fourth weekend mostly unscathed. No suitcase nukes or suicide bombers visited my home town, or if they did, they decided the place was worse off without the added destruction their homemade explosives might wreak, and moved on to discover bacon or some other morally corrosive substance. A lesson is hidden in there somewhere. If you find it, lemme know.

The lesson I learned this weekend is manifold. I learned that PBR is an excellent beer for patio drinking. It's perfect for when the temperature's pushing ninety-two in the shade of your patio umbrella, and it's exceptionally refreshing as you power through a paperback book (Anansi Boys) beneath said patio umbrella. But I also learned that PBR is a monster . . . why else would it keep from me the secret that even in the shade one can get sunburned? That the reflection from a clean, over-sized cement patio is just as harmful as the beating sun? I learned that no one is safe when PBR is around, and I have one demon red, hot-to-the-touch arm to prove it.

I'm willing to bet the headless fellow in Maine was drinking PBR.

I'm willing to bet the alligator hater in Texas was drinking PBR.

You have been warned.

Lesson learned.

Squarespace App Test, Go!

So I just downloaded a new blog posting app from Squarespace. One dislike already is it won't allow the screen to shift to landscape for easier typing. Grr. Not a show stopper, but . . .

On the writing front, things are going well. The end of MFA semester three is coming up next week, which has forced me to work on a short story for my next residency critique session. The story involves a midget, a private investigator, and the Loch Ness monster . . . should be good stuff. I'll post a bit here after its been torn apart at residency.

Anyone looking for a pretty good background noise generator for writing sessions should checkout soundrown.com. I'm digging it so far. 

And that'll be it for now. Hopefully this app doesn't suck.

Now for a pot of coffee and google docs; gotta get back to writing.

Cheers.

 

Life, the Universe, and Everything (LTUE) Symposium, 2015

If you’re a writer or artist in or around Utah, GO TO LTUE!

I just found out about this sf/f gem of a conference, so 2015 was my first year to attend. I had a blast. Three days of panels on all aspects of sf/f writing and art/design, and an overall air of geekery . . . it was wonderful.

Although many of the panels were on topics I've already discussed in school and heard about at other conventions, it’s always nice to refresh, to keep the mind aware of all the little things we may forget about writing or the genres. So for me, the panels were a win. For other “church” outsiders like me, be prepared, the conference is held in the Mormon motherland, so some panelists threw out the occasional LDS reference or quoted scripture (no shit, it happened at least twice), but don’t let this deter you. Ninety-nine percent of panelists were professional and really fun to listen to and interact with. Plus, there’s a pretty cool dive bar (ABG's Libation Emporium) on the same block as the Marriott Conference Center (where LTUE was held), so post-conference brews and live music were available.

Long story short. If you live in or near Utah, go to this conference. It’s totally worth it, both for the educational benefit and for networking.

 

Here are the panels I hit up (panels ran 50 mins):

 

 Thursday:

Self-Promotion Through Blogging

FTL & Time Travel

Revision: Getting started and managing the project

Comic Books: Writing vs Art

Description: Drawing the line between too little and too much

Using History & Folklore to Enrich Your World

Genre Mash-ups: Isn't it all just fiction anyway?

Building a Team: Writer/Artist/Colorist

Graphic Novels: More than just a comic book

 

Friday

Military on Sci – Fi Military

Your Workspace: Staying Inspired and effective

Stealing From the Best – Heinlein and Star Trek

Science Fiction and Horror: A Marriage Made in Hell

Psychology of a serial killer

Hard Science in Fiction

Michaelbrent Collings on Amazon

So You Want to Write Horror?

 

Saturday

(By day three I was starting to run out of steam, but HOLY SHIT was I INSPIRED!)

 Self-Promotion Through Social Media

What would alien tech look like?

Xenobiology 101

Frank Herbert’s Dune – Of Religion, Ecology, and Substance Abuse

Blog Post #1: Enter the Blogosphere.

Welcome, friends.

I'd like to start by saying if you haven't read it yet, I highly recommend American Gods by Neil Gaiman. I can't believe I've had the damned book on my shelves for, sheesh, five years, and I'm just now getting around to reading it.

But American Gods is not what this post is about. It's about new beginnings, I suppose. You see, this is my first post and I'm feeling a bit nervous. First date nervous, not firing squad nervous, so it's a good thing. I like it. It’s something new, and it’s been a long time coming.

This blog, this website is NOT a new year’s resolution. It’s a promise to myself and anyone else who’d like to come along for the ride. It’s me taking the ugly fork in the road, the one that’s dark and rocky, that scares the shit out of me and, dammit, is it going uphill too?

I've always embraced my inner geek. But now I’m embracing my inner writer. I’m flipping it all inside-out. Us writers have to do it, eventually, right? Introvert or not, if we want to set our crazy brain-children loose in the world for others to meet, then we've got to get the hell out into the public eye. We must leave our comfortable dungeons.

I mentioned a promise. I promise to make good art (thanks Mr. Gaiman) and share it with you all. And I promise my next blog post will have something more interesting in it than the nervous rant of a noob.

Until then, here’s a cool link to a craft book I recently picked up called Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction, by Jeff Vandermeer. http://wonderbooknow.com/

Now go write something.

Background image by the ridiculously talented Elisha Frey

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