The Tesla Truck Is Gorgeous

One of the few popular posts I’ve made on Tumblr was from the set of Aliens, James Cameron’s epic tale of motherhood in space. Since time is short and no one has time to read a thousand babbling words of description, it was this picture:

Two lovely ladies

Aliens definitely pitted two devoted mothers against each other. It’s easy to defend Ripley – she’s a badass human, after all – but it’s more difficult to defend the alien queen. Some of that is the way the story was written. We’re expected to see the aliens as the antagonists because they run contrary to the human goal of staying the fuck away from monsters with acid blood and penchant for implanting their parasitic young in our chests through a process that’s not entirely unlike rape.

Turn that around a bit and you’ll see a young mother – the alien queen was probably less than a year old at that point – trying her damnedest to raise a family in a harsh environment and then a bunch of weirdos with guns show up and start shooting up the house she’s built for her kids. Then, in the ultimate dick move, the weirdos nuke the planet.

Jerks.

Now, all joking about motherhood in space aside, you have to admit the alien queen was remarkably good at her job. By our standards, she’s a hideous beast, but she was an efficient hideous beast. Before Prometheus and whatever the name of its sequel was came along, it was possible to see the aliens as the most recent product of their evolution. Critters that took reproduction to whole new levels. Amazingly tough, single-minded, and adept at fulfilling their biologically-programmed goal of making more of themselves. You can’t do that kind of thing and worry about how you look doing it. You just do it and if you’ve got an evolutionary advantage like acid blood or the ability to survive in the vacuum of space, you use it.

In their own way, the aliens were beautiful. The queen even more so. Not because of any fickle human concepts of beauty, but because they used their bodies to further their goal of reproduction like a bunch of drunken sorority girls with armored skin.

So, that picture was, indeed, two lovely ladies. You just had to get past the queen’s looks to see she was freakin’ beautiful.

Hold tight, here comes the segue.

Whoops. Wrong segway.

Last month Elon Musk and crew dropped the Tesla Cybertruck on an unsuspecting world. It looked like something out of the old Battlestar Gallactica, a brown, pointy thing with weird lines and not a curve to be found. Imagine if an F-117 had sex with a Lancia Stratos and the baby got the Nighthawk’s looks. Immediately, the world jumped on it. Hell, I’ll admit it, I took a few potshots at the thing’s looks, too.

But the more I look at it, the more I see the beauty of the design. It’s a truck. It’s meant to haul things. It doesn’t have to be a classic beauty. After all, who would you rather have carrying your stuff, Audrey Hepburn or Andre the Giant? Audrey may look better doing it, but I can guarantee you Andre could have carried more.

The world of trucks is the world of functionality. It’s the world where other people will judge you based on your truck’s towing capacity and ability to go off-road and save virgins from terrorists. Apparently, the Cybertruck can do all those things, although Tesla hasn’t published the results of the all-important saving virgins from terrorists test. But I’m cautiously optimistic.

Remember, it wasn’t that long ago that pickups were very much the realm of American manufacturers. The first full-sized pickups from Toyota and Nissan were originally shunned, but now they’re commonplace. I promise you, it won’t be that long before the Tesla Cybertruck starts winning people over. The lusty allure of not having to put gas in a vehicle coupled with the promised torque will be all it takes. Soon, you’ll see Cybertrucks with lift kits and Molon Labe stickers and bumper stickers that read “These colors don’t run”.

Just like with the alien queen, sometimes you’ve got to push past the initial looks to see the beauty. If Tesla can pull it off and make it do everything they say it can – tall order, I know – it won’t be long before people start looking at this thing and thinking, “Damn, this truck is freakin’ beautiful”.

Information Density

Information density refers to putting more information into a single statement than is readily obvious. Think of it as a process of layering key pieces of a story on top of, or underneath, other things that are happening. Oftentimes it gets revealed through dialog, but there are other ways to accomplish it.

If you’ve been writing for any length of time, you’ve probably heard someone say, “Show, don’t tell.” In fact, you’ve probably heard it enough that it makes you want to strangle a manatee in the nude every time someone says it.

It’s a bit of cryptic phrase. This is, after all, writing we’re talking about, not cinema; showing stuff in prose seems like the antithesis of telling a story. I’ll admit, I struggled with getting my head wrapped around it. But, like all things, once you come at it sideways, it makes a bit more sense. The path to understanding was a long, strange trip, but I finally had an epiphany that made it click into place.

Supposedly, Anton Chekhov once wrote “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass”.

This is all about scene building and adding poetic license to the grim details of monkey knife fighting in dimly lit alleys surrounded by drunken, toothless rabble chanting broken prayers to empty gods. Imaging the scene in your head. Freeze the frame. See the guy with the eye patch and his fist raised in the air. He’s screaming, lost in the ecstasy of the moment while the woman in the tiny dress leaning on his arm is staring at her phone. She’s focused on a single text and smirking.

The monkey on the right is in the air, about to ram a narrow gleaming dagger into the skull of a gray and black beast with wide eyes and his arms crossed in front of his face.

Now, read between the lines and see what’s lurking in there. The guy with the eye patch bet on the monkey that’s about to kill. He’s happy because he’s gonna get some soda water money. His girl has someone else on the side, someone she’d rather be with. The monkey about to get stabbed knows exactly what’s about to happen because he’s done it to others before.

That’s information density. That’s showing not telling. In a nutshell, you don’t have to be explicit about every little thing. Let the reader make up their own mind about the detail. Give them just enough extra information beyond the scene taking place that they can fill in the details.

The first thing to understand about showing not telling is it doesn’t have to all-encompassing. There are plenty of places where simply saying, “The damned light was blue” is all it takes and there’s no hidden information you need to divulge beyond the blueness of the light.

So, how about some examples?

In 1986, Aliens was released. Some people will disagree, but I still think it was the best in the series and set the tone for everything that came after it. If you’ve ever read the novelization, one of the things that gets brought up is how the aliens are showing signs of growing intelligence, probably due to the age of the hive. In Alien, the critter wasn’t too bright. It was in pure survival mode and, of course, hopelessly outclassed its prey so it didn’t have to be too smart. In Aliens there was more at stake, there was a hive and a queen and relative safety and the aliens had the luxury of moving beyond pure survival.

Even though the movie never explicitly states this, it hints at it in two places. The first is the fact that aliens found a way around all the locked doors and security and generally showed they had an intellect beyond pure animal instinct.

The other place, and the one that should have stayed in the final cut, was more obvious. Unfortunately, you’ll have to scrounge up the director’s cut to see it. In that cut, there’s a scene where the marines set up automated sentry guns. The first gun runs out of ammo and the aliens overrun it with pure numbers. The second gun, however, stops firing before it runs out of ammo. The aliens recognized the threat and retreated to find another way around. That way turned out to be crawling through the ceiling and dropping on their unsuspecting prey. Clever bugs.

Again, information density. Even though both scenes moved the story along and were pretty damned fun to boot, there was another layer that wasn’t as obvious. Even though that layer didn’t necessarily serve to push the plot along, it added something important to the characterization of the antagonists and also ramped up the tension. Now the marines weren’t just fighting a horde of killing machines, they were fighting a horde of smart killing machines.

In the beginning of this post, I alluded to the fact that information density is often revealed through dialog. Imagine a character with a recurring drinking problem. He’s trying to get his shit together, but has a long and storied history with alcohol. At various points in the past, he’s gone so far into the arms of mother booze that he’s made up crazy stories. You could spend a paragraph or so detailing his many times on and off the wagon, or you could hit in one line.

“Are you back on the sauce again, Colton, because that story doesn’t make a lick of sense.”

Your readers are smart. They don’t need everything spelled out for them. Don’t just let their imaginations soar, encourage it.

Got any other tips, drop ’em in the comments. I love comments.

Full-Bore Gonzo

If you’ve ever wondered how it is I come up with some of my more bonkers ideas, let me tell you a little tale.

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Back in and around the turn of the millennium, when everything was supposed to go to Hell in a hand-basket because of the Y2K bug, I was living down the street from where I am now. Truthfully, that’s not that important, except it put me in close proximity to the house of one of Diazien Hossencofft. That name, in conjunction to the time frame, should trigger alarm bells in anyone versed in Albuquerque’s strange and savage history.

Now, I have never met Hossencofft, nor have I met any of his multiple wives, but he was living a short distance from me and I didn’t even know who or what he was until I repeatedly saw news crews outside his house as I driving home.

Diazien Hossencofft and his girlfriend were convicted of murdering Hossencofft’s wife (whose body still hasn’t been found) and sentenced to whole mess of time in the big house. That, in and of itself, isn’t all that crazy. What is crazy, is there were allegations during that trial that they killed her to get ready for the mass invasion of reptilian-alien masters who already ran the US government and Hossencofft and his girlfriend may have eaten at least part of his murdered wife.

That’s bonkers, even in New Mexico where alien abduction is a perfectly valid excuse for being late for work.

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Remember, this is a state that gave the world the Roswell Incident and all the allegations about a secret base in Dulce, NM run by aliens and former Nazis who are trying to create alien/human hybrids. (Admit it, you thought I was making all that up in Arise, didn’t you?) Even here in the Land of Enchantment, the story of Diazien Hossencofft is outlandish.

And this guy was living a stone’s throw from me.

All those ideas that seem so far-fetched – aliens, secret bases, alien/human hybrids, Satanic plots – are pretty run-of-the-mill in New Mexico. We were telling those stories long before Scully and Mulder showed up on the scene; I just took those tales and used them as plot points in fiction.

When it comes to high weirdness, we’re experts, so it shouldn’t be surprising that magical realism is a common theme here. We made international news in 1947 and have been riding high on it ever since. The first atomic bombs were detonated here in New Mexico. We’re used to this kind of thing. If that makes us weird, then so be it. As the master of Gonzo himself said,

“When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” – Hunter S. Thompson

They say when it comes to writing, write what you know. And I know weird.

More on the murder of Girly Chew Hossencofft

Book Review – The Experiencers by Val Tobin

I had a fun childhood. I grew up looking for UFOs and buried treasure. Our school library had all manner of kick-ass books on UFOs and ghosts and MiBs. I got my first copy of Who Goes There? from a school book drive when I was 11. For those of you not in the know, Who Goes There? would later become a little movie called The Thing. These were the heady days when Star Trek and Space:1999 reruns could be found from time to time and movies like Hanger 18 were out there. My childhood also include V, that crazy series about spacefaring lizard people and the rebellion that fights them on Earth. The end result was I spent a lot of time thinking about aliens and UFOs and MiBs and all the other fun stuff that makes up a healthy childhood.

Space, you might say, was injected into my blood from a very early age. Maybe not injected. Maybe an IV drip would be a more apt description. At any rate, space is there.

Any time you start talking about UFOs and aliens, it’s only a matter of time before conspiracies start getting bandied about. That’s total X-Files territory. One of the things that always fascinated me about the totality of the UFO-MiB-Government Conspiracy mythology was the individual. Who would work for an organization that was hell-bent on covering it all up and why? Men In Black touched on this, but it was far too lighthearted a take on a group of people who silenced those who knew too much.

In saunters Val Tobin’s The Experiencers (The Valiant Chronicles) (Volume 1) and shows us the story of alien abduction and silencing those who know too much from the points of view of an abductee, a guy working to silence people, and the head of an organization working with the aliens. Tobin also manages to weave in other paranormal aspects through her psychic lead character.

Tobin (not the author of the Spirit Guide, BTW) doesn’t pull punches with her action or allow her characters to stray too far off into the woods. By adding the psychic element to the classical UFO tale, The Experiencers has a dimension most alien abduction stories lack. The story is tightly paced and full of enough wonder to keep everyone entertained. Amazingly, considering the subject matter, The Experiencers manages to feel grounded and grittily (if that wasn’t a word, it is now) realistic.

All in all, a unique mixture of UFO conspiracies and psychic theory wrapped in a bow and adorned with believable characters. An excellent read.

Michael Valiant, Agency black ops assassin, deals death without question. He knows it’s all in the name of duty and the fight against terror, particularly at a time when the earth is as close as it’s ever been to self-destructing. But when his orders include silencing members of a UFO group who look less like terrorists and more like housewives and UFO buffs, he decides to do some digging.

His curiosity arouses the ire of his boss and his partner, who warn Michael that his actions are putting him in danger. When Michael’s wife dies in what appears to be a traffic accident, Michael, with his partner’s help and support, pushes aside his doubts and immerses himself in the jobs he needs to complete.

Carolyn Fairchild, Psychic medium and believer in angels, lives happy and contented in a nice home in Newmarket, Ontario, with her husband and daughter. All Carolyn wants is to live in peaceful obscurity. When Carolyn loses her husband under suspicious circumstances, and other members of her group die or disappear, Carolyn grows desperate to uncover the truth and save herself and her daughter.

Ordered to kidnap Carolyn and turn her over to the Agency, Michael confronts Carolyn in her home, ready to complete his assignment. But when Carolyn connects to Michael’s dead wife and reveals to him the truth about her death, Carolyn forces him to choose between saving himself and doing what’s right.

Unaware that they are repeating a pattern enacted over many lifetimes, Michael and Carolyn must find a way to break the cycle, or continue playing it out over lifetimes to come.

A New Age Sci-Fi thriller that delves into existing UFO and doomsday weaponry conspiracy theories,The Experiencers keeps readers riveted with non-stop action while the characters struggle to control destinies that may have been predetermined lifetimes ago.

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Get your copy here

Follow Val on Twitter

True Tales From The Albuquerque Underground

Like all good stories, this one starts way in the past…

Ask the average person these days what they know about New Mexico and they’ll happily tell you blue meth and Heisenberg.  I guess at least we’re famous for something modern, even if it was just revolutionizing the fictional drug trade.  As a side note: I live around the block from Walter White’s fictional house; we used to see them filming out there all the time.  Saul Goodman’s office was just down the street from where I live.  It’s my own little brush with greatness.

That’s not this story, though.

Way back, even before Weird Al immortalized us in his epic song “Albuquerque“, we were famous for something else:

I'm sure it looked exactly like this.  In fact, even though the title says fake, that's just the government covering its tracks.

I’m sure it looked exactly like this. In fact, even though the title says fake this is real. Saying it’s fake is just the government covering its tracks.

Okay, so maybe the Roswell Incident didn’t happen, but even if it did, it was nearly 70 years ago.  Personally, I’m kind of the fence about it.  At the very least, I could see it happening.  Thank God for Breaking Bad or we’d be stuck forever as the UFO state.  Seriously, aliens crash and that’s all anyone can talk about for seven decades.  You’d think that was a rare event or something.  Even now, a lot of people think New Mexico is nothing more than aliens chasing cowboys around.

So fake.  You don't wear your dress hat out in the desert.  Everyone knows that.

So fake. You don’t wear your dress hat out in the desert. Everyone knows that.

Now, back in 1997, I was finishing off a Master’s degree in Communication.  Or starting one.  I forget which, but I do know it was a Master’s and I was going to school in Portales, New Mexico, which is not far from Roswell.  In the summer of 97 it was the 50th anniversary of the UFO crash and Roswell held one hell of a gala event.  People came from all over the world to swap stories and sell goods and generally have fun.  That was also the year ID4 came out and a bunch of us watched it in Roswell.  That was the most active crowd at an alien invasion movie I have ever seen.

If you ever have the opportunity to go to Roswell, it’s a fun time if you’re into aliens.  They even have this place, which is a hell of a lot of fun:

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Like all good alien bases, it’s bigger on the inside.

 

So, flash forward a bit.  Now, we’re actually getting to the story proper.  Everything else was just leading up to this.  In 98 I moved to Albuquerque and got a job working at the Kinko’s on Central.  I worked as a graphic designer and general computer tech on the late shift.  Met all kinds of interesting people.  For some reason, Kinko’s had a policy that everyone wore ties to work every day.  This was supposedly to ensure that our adoring public (and yes, that includes the coeds we caught photocopying their breasts and the college students who would test viruses on our computers) would see as professionals.

I hated that policy, but had to abide by it during the six months I was there before I found a better job.  There was no policy on what the tie had to look like, only that we had to have one.  I had a handful of Simpsons ties, some really ugly ones I’d found at a thrift shop, and one that I actually liked.  I’d gotten it in college and adored it.  It was all black and covered with neon green alien heads (see, there was a reason I was talking about aliens).

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Scully? Mulder? Mostly Scully. Could use a little help here.

 

So, I’m going to work one day and stopped in at McDonald’s for lunch from the 99 cent menu because that’s all I could afford.  Kinko’s paid minimum wage and ordering a drink with lunch was called splurging.  I had just finished eating and was cleaning up my table when I look up and see the manager standing right in front of me.

“You’d better be careful,” he said.

Since I was already cleaning up my table I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about.  I mumbled something about being done and out of his hair soon.

It was then that the really crazy part of his brain kicked in and I realized he didn’t care about the table or the trash or perhaps even reality in general.  “They’re looking for people wearing that symbol,” he told me and pointed to my tie.  “Watch out.”  Depending on your point of view, the scary part or the funny part was that he was completely dead serious.  I saw him a few more times without the tie on and he told me it was good that I’d taken his advice.

Ah, Central Ave in Albuquerque.

He never did explain who they were.  Which leaves me with but one logical assumption.

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As a side note, when I was looking for pictures for this post, I came across this guy represented as the crashed Roswell UFO.  The timeline is correct, but the manufacturing base – while not American – was certainly terrestrial.  Say hello to the first jet-powered flying wing, courtesy of Nazi Germany.  Built by evil to do evil, but most definitely not alien.

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