2014 Writers and Illustrators of the Future Awards

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Hanging out on the red carpet – is it weird to see Geek Outlaw out of uniform?

First let’s address the giant oliphant in the room. Yes, this is called the L. Ron Hubbard Writers and Illustrators of the Future Awards. Yes, this made me very nervous when I first got the invitation to cover it. If you are unaware, L. Ron Hubbard was the founder of the Church of Scientology, a church that has seen its share of controversy. Then again, I’m half Catholic (in theory, not in practice), so who am I to talk about religious controversy? I was quick to ask if the Awards had anything to do with the Church and was given a quick, but polite response that L. Ron Hubbard was also a prolific science fiction writer and the Awards had nothing to do with Scientology. I did a little research and it seemed that they do try and keep the two quite separate. After talking it over with my NerdBFF, Geek Outlaw, our curiosity got the better of us and we decided to go and see what it was all about for ourselves. I will say that there was no indication that it was a Scientology event aside from that it was an L. Ron Hubbard love fest. A large portrait of him hung from the stage the entire time except during the music and dance performances, there was a rather lengthy video montage honoring him, and his name was mentioned every few minutes, at minimum.

Hanging out before the awards

Hanging out before the awards

Now, that being said, if there is one thing that I took away from the Writers and Illustrators of the Future Awards, it’s that it was a very positive experience and a very big deal for the winners. They were obviously well taken care of by Author Services and enormously grateful for the week of classes and activities that were organized for them, including workshops with talented and established authors and artists, trips to museums, etc. They also receive cash prizes that are much higher than other contests, are given opportunities that they wouldn’t otherwise have, and many of them go on to become highly successful authors and illustrators in their own right. Regardless of whether or not there is any religious affiliation, I think that there is a place for this competition.

Some of the winners

Some of the winners on the red carpet

For me personally, the highlight of the evening was having the opportunity to chat with the winners and presenters on the red carpet beforehand. The winners were nervous and excited, the presenters approachable and proud of the honorees. Geek Outlaw and I had the pleasure of interviewing the evening’s keynote speaker Astronaut Leland Melvin:

Astronaut Leland Melvin

Astronaut Leland Melvin

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BL9_7szTMLE] – June Scobee Rodgers, widow of Challenger Astronaut Dick Scobee:

June Scobee Rogers

June Scobee Rodgers

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1FDJwC1h5UA] – Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Orson Scott Card, author of the Ender’s Game series of sci-fi novels:

Orson Scott Card

Orson Scott Card

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dOJqORDz3Lg] – Robert J. Sawyer, author of Flash Forward:

Robert J. Sawyer

Robert J. Sawyer

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WRST4raF_SQ] – And Kevin J. Anderson, author of Dune and X-Files fiction:

Kevin J. Anderson

Kevin J. Anderson

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CFlrp3tRRGU] – The winners were announced alternating between the writers and the illustrators who created the original artwork for that particular story. The winners were from every conceivable walk of life. From high school teachers to high school students, computer scientists to real estate agents, Veterinarians to former military. And from every corner of the planet including South Korea, Jamaica, Canada, Finland, East Siberia, England, Portugal, Germany, Australia and, of course, all over the United States. Some of the awards were interspersed with circus performers, Indian dancers, BMX cyclists and musical performers. DSC01960 (Large) The grand prize is the Golden Pen Award and the Golden Brush Award. These two gentlemen received $5000 and had previously delivered two of the most emotional speeches of the night. Both were enormously grateful and humbled by the fact that they had won. Golden Pen Award: Memories Bleed Beneath the Mask by Randy Henderson DSC02029 (Large) Golden Brush Award: Trevor Smith DSC02024 (Large) The evening wrapped up with a reception and a chance to have our copies of the Anthology signed by all of the winners. I tried to get as many signatures as I could but the crowds because ridiculous and I reluctantly gave up since I had to drive back to San Diego that night. There and back in one day was a doozy, let me tell you! We did get a chance to hang out with writer Tim Powers for a bit before we left. His 1988 novel On Stranger Tides was optioned for Disney’s fourth Pirates of the Caribbean film. DSC02034 (Large) All in all it was a delightful evening and anything that helps writers get their foot in the door is a good thing.

Ender’s Game – Double Review

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Since I’ve read the book and Geek Outlaw hasn’t, we decided that it would be fun to do a joint review of the movie Ender’s Game from both perspectives. That being said, this seems to be a particularly busy and hectic time for both of us so it’s just now all coming together. We’ll start with Geek Outlaw since his review is shorter and doesn’t have any spoilers 😉

[youtube:http://youtu.be/SVlgzbuqsn0]

 

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Geek Outlaw (didn’t read the book)

If there is one thing Geek Outlaw is confident about, it’s that I’m a cheap date.

I confirmed what most people already knew as I decided to take advantage of my local theater’s $5 Tuesday where every pre-hump day movie is $5 per ticket for any flick, any time.  Couple that with the 25 cent banana and free bottle of water from work I smuggled in to the theater and it boggles the mind why I’m still on the open market.

Doctor Who banana

It also marked a first-of-sorts as the Outlaw took in Hollywood’s latest sci-fi release, Ender’s Game, all by my lonesome.  If memory serves me correctly – and being a male in my 30’s I’m fairly certain it doesn’t – this was the first time I went to a movie theater Han Solo style.

Enough about my deteriorating social life, and more about Ender’s Game, the new Harrison Ford vehicle based on the somewhat controversial novel from author Orson Scott Card.  Unlike the likes of my blogging counterpart Hot Nerd Girl, I have not yet read the book so my perspective comes purely from the film it’s based on.

I’m never one to spend too many words on plot overviews, and I’m not going to break any new ground with this review either.

The gist behind Ender’s Game the movie is that Earth is recovering from an invasion from an insect-like alien race. (By the way, why do 99.8% of all alien races look like over-fed bugs that mated with the likes of Keith Richards?)

enders game alien invasion

The audience is told that 50 years have passed and humans are preparing for another potential attack from the flying ants.  Unfortunately, us two-legged fleshies got lucky when legendary war hero Mazer Rackham (Ben Kingsley) found the enemy’s weakness.  Now, the military is looking to the X-Box generation to find the next “One” (and no not the actual Xbox One) to lead mankind to another victory.

Enter Ender Wiggen (Asa Butterfield), a virtual Doogie Houser in the ways of all things strategy and knowing when an extraterrestrial might have his next bowel movement.

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Let’s start with the good.  Ender’s Game was an entertaining movie in that it proved riveting.  When I say riveting, I mean I wasn’t looking at my watch every 10 minutes and wondering what else I could have done with my $5 and two hour investment (Note: it would have involved dinner at Taco Bell, baby oil and a mechanical bull).

The other positives of note related directly to the special effects, specifically to the scenes in the space arena where the Hunger Games-esque team battles took place

enders game battle room

As for the rest of the movie, I can’t say I was impressed by any means.  The most glaring issue I had with Ender’s Game may have actually been a result of this being an adaption of a novel, which as I mentioned prior, I’ve never even read a paragraph of.  While I never read word one of the original material, the film had a very choppy feel with regards to the story and overall compressed timeline of events.

If I don’t sound like I’m explaining my point well, then it probably wouldn’t be the first time.   Nonetheless, Ender’s Game just felt like it had too much story to tell, too many characters to develop and not enough film reel to do it in.  In general, relationships seemed to evolve in a matter of seconds – much like they might on The Bachelor – and months of time seemed to be explained in a matter of seconds without even (gasp) a montage!

Another element of the story that struck me as slightly head-scratching, was the odd “are-they-really-just-brother-and-sister” relationship of Ender and his sister Valentine (Abigail Breslin).   There seemed to be more romantic chemistry between them than Kate and Leo had on that sinking cruise-liner as it plunged to the ocean floor.

ENDER'S GAME

Perhaps the most disturbing part of the film had to have been Harrison Ford’s Hitler-like locks.  No lie, every time he appeared on screen I desperately wanted to draw that goofy little Adolf-stach below his nose to complete the entire Gestapo look.  Performance wise, Mr. Ford turned in an average performance with a few small moments of sparks seen from some of his better showings.

Even with the semi-predictable twist ending, Ender’s Game failed to deliver the goods where it counted, the characters.  In the end, not enough time was spent with the supporting cast, nor was Asa Butterfield’s turn as Ender incredibly convincing.  Still, at $5, free water, and a virtually free piece of fruit, the entertainment value was definitely fulfilled given the cost.

More importantly, any women out there looking for a dating partner that won’t break the bank can reach me at GeekOutlaw@Outlook.com. Even the email is free of charge.

2 out of 6 “Spur” of the Moments

2 Spurs

Hot Nerd Girl (read the book)

Fair warning: I’m probably going to spoil the crap out of this movie. Mostly because it’s one of those movies where, since I read the book, I don’t know how to review it without bringing up some of the book and to do that I’ll probably have spoilers. You’ve been warned.

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I was so so soooooo excited about this movie. The book Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card is considered controversial in many circles. Personally, I don’t find it all that controversial but then, I grew up watching Star Trek where they used sci-fi to push the boundaries of what was considered acceptable topics. It’s one of the magical aspects of science fiction, the ability to teach and discuss without necessarily letting people know that they’re being taught or allowing those who do to have something to talk about.

I loved the book. Mostly because I can feel Ender’s pain while reading it. Like many an avid reader, I can identify with most characters on some level. I grew up in a military household where we moved around a lot and I was often finding myself whisked away to a new place, surrounded by strangers, just when I was starting to feel comfortable somewhere. I was shy and didn’t have many friends. But I was lucky in that my teachers recognized the fact that, even though I was quiet, I was smart, and they placed me in gifted programs. Obviously my experiences as a kid were the barest fraction of what Ender went through, but they allow me to empathize with Ender in a way that many people probably can’t.

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In the book Ender is at Battle School for several years, from the age of 6 to (if I’m remembering correctly) 12. I knew going into the movie that they would need to abridge his time there and I was ok with that. What I was looking for wasn’t the amount of time they showed him there (it feels like maybe a few months while you’re watching the movie), but the emotional pain and turmoil that he experiences. It’s what I consider the most important aspect of the entire book. Sadly, that was almost completely missing from the film. Aside from some moodiness and a couple of yelling sessions, you don’t get the sense that this is any great challenge for him; that his childhood has been stolen from him. They try to show you that he’s being manipulated by Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) and Major Anderson (Viola Davis), but it seems superficial as opposed to heartbreaking. Certain adults, like Sergeant Dap (Nonso Anozie) and Mazer Rackham (Ben Kingsley) seem to alternate between treating him like a grunt as part of the manipulation, and treating him with extreme reverence, like he’s a Jesus figure who is going to lead him to the Holy Land (that analogy is worthy of its very own post). It makes Asa Butterfield’s portrayal of him seem entitled and cocky as opposed to brilliant and humble/unsure.

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In the book Ender’s birth is commissioned. There’s a two child limit and his parents already have Peter (Jimmy ‘Jax’ Pinchak) and Valentine (Abigail Breslin). Both Peter and Valentine are geniuses but Peter is a sociopath and Valentine is too compassionate. But because they both showed so much promise, the International Fleet (IF) allows Ender to be born, hoping that he’ll be a good mix of Peter and Valentine. The parents go along with this because the Dad is an “reformed” Catholic and the Mom is a “reformed” Mormon. They both abandoned their religions in order to have opportunities they wouldn’t have as religious outcasts but they never abandoned their beliefs, which include having multiple children. Still, Ender is an embarrassment. Calling someone a “Third” is like calling someone a “mudblood” in the Harry Potter ‘verse. So when he’s chosen for Battle School it’s a relief to everyone but Valentine, the one person Ender feels any real emotional attachment to. The International Fleet gets what they want and need in Ender. He’s got Peter’s violence when necessary and Valentine’s compassion when necessary. It allows him to understand his enemy and destroy them but in the process he grows to know and love his enemy. Because when you truly understand someone, you cannot help but love them. Because of this, Ender can only do what he needs to do if he believes that it’s a game. So the adults don’t tell him that it’s not.

I’m not sure why the filmmakers decided not to use the term “Bugger” for the aliens. The term “Formic” (Formica is Latin for ant) used in the movie wasn’t seen in any of the books until 1999, a full 14 years after Ender’s Game debuted even though the novel we first see it in, Ender’s Shadow (aka the story of Bean) happens at the same time as Ender’s Game chronologically. It might seem silly to someone who hasn’t read the books, but not hearing the word “Bugger” automatically makes you feel like something is missing from the film. I was worried that they’d cut out the Fantasy Game. It would have been an easy cut to make that would have destroyed the film. I wanted to see more of it though. The entire subplot of Peter as Locke and Valentine as Demosthenes is cut which is really too bad. It helps you get a complete picture of the way the minds of the Wiggin children work and why Ender is the way he is.

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The special effects were fantastic. I loved the look of the Battle School, the space travel, and the Command School simulator. The nitpick in me wishes that there had been more of the Battle Room and watching Ender work out the strategies in his mind but that would have required two movies so I have to let that one go. It just bums me out that you don’t get the sense of his true brilliance. Also, the Armies are way too small in the movie. There’s supposed to be something like 40 kids per Army and they maybe had half that. That was an issue I had throughout the movie, there were always too few kids.

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One of the key parts of the book is that Colonel Graff is constantly trying to keep Ender isolated. He wants Ender to be completely self-reliant with no one he can depend on. He has fleeting friendships with kids like Alai (Suraj Partha), Petra (Hailee Steinfeld), and Dink (Khylin Rhambo). And more complicated relationships with a few other kids, like Bean (Aramis Knight), but they come in and out of his life and he’s never permitted to get too close. Even at the end when they act as a well-oiled battle machine, he never truly knows them on an emotional level except for a few fleeting moments of connection. There are kids who genuinely like Ender and want to be friends with him (like Petra) even though they are scared of him. Most of the kids dislike him altogether, though everyone respects him. Ironically, the one person who knows Ender better than anyone, even Valentine, is Colonel Graff because he’s been inside of Ender’s head practically from birth. Either with the Monitor implanted in the back of Ender’s neck, or the Fantasy Game later on in Battle School and he uses this knowledge to push Ender to the brink over and over again. In most ways, Ender has no idea just how powerful and brilliant he is. But like many brilliant people, he’s quite fragile. Graff sees this and protects Ender from the knowledge of just how much damage he’s inflicted on a couple of his childhood enemies (Stilson and Bonzo). This is something they softened for the book, I’m guessing because they were looking to attract a young audience. But again, it just doesn’t seem right if you’ve read the book.

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The final battle was chilling. It actually gave me goosebumps. I guess because I knew what was really going on. I kept wondering if the movie made sense to anyone who hasn’t read the book but my Mom said that she followed it just fine and enjoyed it way more than I did.

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The end threw me off a bit. The big mama Hive Queen showing up in the cave was annoying at first but I got over it pretty quickly because I guess it makes more sense for the newbies than watching a baby Hive Queen emerge from the egg sac only to chat with Ender and go right back inside again. What really bothered me about the end was that they didn’t show Valentine recruiting Ender to go with her on the first colonization ship. Their brother Peter sees both of his genius siblings as a threat to his power agenda and, recognizing this, Valentine removes both her and Ender from the equation. Ender can’t go back to Earth. He’s just killed an entire alien race and the people of Earth will never leave him alone for the rest of his life, either because of how much they love him or how much they loathe him. He doesn’t leave on some solo mission to find the baby Hive Queen a new home; he flings himself into the great unknown with others at his side hoping that, eventually, he’ll land on a planet where he can make up for the Xenocide by giving the baby Hive Queen a new home in which to reintroduce her species.

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The performances are fine. No one really stood out as being great or terrible. I personally think that Asa Butterfield is a fantastic child actor (watch him as Mordred on BBC’s Merlin) and he made the most of what he was given as Ender. Harrison Ford was gruff as Graff and I wanted to see more of the internal conflict he experiences in the book, but at least he didn’t seem bored like he has in some of his more recent roles. Ben Kingsley’s Mazer Rackham was not how I pictured the character AT ALL in my head but his facial tattoos gave them a nice excuse to reference the next book in the series Speaker for the Dead.

I could go into a whole spiel about Speaker for the Dead and the Xenocide and what the humans, the Formics, the Piggies, and Jane eventually think of Ender but that’s a whole ‘nuther blog post and I’ve probably written too much about it already.

2 out of 5 Sci-Fives!

2 out of 5 sci fives