Wednesday, October 26, 2011
To me, seeing the monster doesn't make it scarier. One of the good things about the original The Thing and other horror movies from its time was that they knew they couldn't make a very believable monster out of pipe cleaners and rubber. They had to rely on lighting, on the music, on the reactions of the actors to set the tone.
I don't know if Alien would have been nearly as much fun if the audience could see the alien in stark relief, the camera lingering lovingly on every computer-created inch. You barely got to see the creature, and that made it scary as hell. The new version of the The Thing aimed for the grotesque more than the scary.
I was more impressed by the host of Norwegian actors and their terrified, believable faces. I might catch the movie again just for the nice performances by actors mostly unknown to me. Then again, maybe I'll just look for them in films done by their own countries. ^_^
I'm reminded of a Dean Koontz novel I read years ago (whose name I can't remember.) Of course, there were no visuals at all, but the story revolved around a mysterious cabin and its aura of menace. Scared the hell out of me until the monster was revealed in the end. I can't tell you how disappointed I was, how robbed of terror I felt to have that monster described in detail. The not knowing was for more frightening to me.
Do you get a better scare by what's left un-shown? Or once you saw a computer-animated monster, did you never want to go back?
Monday, October 24, 2011
In the post (in case you haven't clicked over!), Echidne riffs on the poor young Wall Street Trader who just didn't know how he was going to struggle through on only $500,000/year, plus, natch, his gignormous bonus. It's a hard life for the aspiring young millionaire in the burgeoning leisure class, you know!
But the part that interested me was the paragraph she quoted before that, from a novel in which a duke is astonished to discover the existence of napkin rings. People actually wrap up their napkins and use them for another meal? "Good God! I never knew such poverty existed!"
Well, this is a bit over the top, frankly, I don't care how cloistered a life our duke has led. But it reminds me of the napkin ring discussion I did have with my HEL students once -- we were discussing the word shibboleth, and I was attempting to explain how various class markers acted as shibboleth. "Napkins," I explained, "and various types of napkins. Like my daughter. She attended Montessori school, and one of the things that happens at Montessori school is in the work room, when you're four and five, you pour water, you sweep, you clean up, you put the napkins back in the napkin rings after lunch, that sort of thing. So one day she comes home to me after school and says, Mama, where are our napkin rings?"
Now I had meant this to be a joke, you know, for the kids in the class to laugh with me, but they're all staring at me, bewildered, and I realize that none of them have the faintest clue what a napkin ring is.
There's your class marker right there.
"Yeah, okay," I said, and climb off the desk where I have been sitting. "Here's the deal. I was born in a trailer. Not even a big trailer. Two bedrooms, a living room. We didn't have napkin rings--" Here I paused to explain what a napkin ring was, and why you used them "--we didn't have cloth napkins, and most days we didn't have paper napkins either."
They were grinning now, and laughing some of them.
"When my mama said put the napkins on the table, what she meant," I said, "she meant, get the roll of paper towels and rip one off for everyone. Yeah?"
"And fold'em nice," said someone from the back row.
"Well, if they's company," I agreed. "So that's one level of class. Paper napkins is another. Cloth napkins with napkin rings -- that's another. Who has that level?"
"Rich people," my students asserted.
"Hells no," I said. "Napkin rings mean you're gonna use the napkin for more than one meal. Who does that?"
"Ick," they said, appalled. Who would do that?
"Middle class," I said, "but too good to use paper nakins. Rich people have servants to do their laundry. New napkins for every meal. Napkins are shibboleth. Class markers. Knowing what to do with a napkin -- where to put it, what to do when it falls to the floor, how to handle it at the table, what to do with it after the meal -- that's a shibboleth too."
Their eyes were big and round now. Who knew napkins could be so complicated?
And that's my point here for this post. Everything is that complicated. I remember reading a book by a writer I will not name, who thought he (or it might have been she) was writing about a sophisticated, wealthy character, born to the 1%. But this writer had that character, when he (or it might have been she) ordered meals in restaurants, order things like "thick rare steaks" with a "steaming Idaho potato, whipped butter melting on the side," with ice cream with blueberry sauce for dessert, as though this were the height of culinary delight. Further, this character talked like she was from Flat Bend, Kansas, and was as naive as someone who had never left Flat Bend, either.
Your world has classes. Your characters come from those classes. Even if they're denying that their world has classes, or class issues (and in America we like to deny that we have both) those issues and classes still exist, and everyone in your world is going to be aware of them.
(Oh, you should hear how rigidly my students patrol themselves and each other over various grammatical shibboleths, and shibboleths of dress and sexual behavior! Oh, don't tell me we don't have class issues in America! Come into my grammar class and argue that it's okay to use a behind preposition or a double negative one time and see what happens next! Or say that you think maybe tattoos aren't the worst thing that can happen in a young person's life!)
So! Figure out what the class markers are on your world! And exploit them! Because your characters will certainly know what they are, I tell you what.
Friday, October 21, 2011
In Resnick's Esther Diamond series, Esther is (da-DUM) an actress starting off as an understudy in an off-off-Broadway show about a magician. She could have had her big break when the female lead (Golly Gee) disappears for real during the disappearing act in the show. The police aren't taking it seriously because Golly Gee had plenty of reasons to disappear and no one saw anything suspicious beyond the fact that she didn't reappear when she was supposed to.
It gets worse when Esther starts getting threatening notes, but when that is ascribed to nothing more than a publicity stunt Esther is forced to do some investigating on her own. That's when things really get Urban -- wait, no, that's not right.... That's when things really get Fantastic.
Magic is real.
Yeah, she's stunned too, but she recovers quickly, and the rest would be spoilers.
I'm glad I went back and caught this one. Like the later books, it's lightweight and funny; a cheerful read without the darkness of a lot of Urban Fantasy (I say despite the demon rape -- and really, if you don't feel an overwhelming need to go read it right now, if only to figure out how Resnick did that, nothing else I can say will make you want to pick it up either.) It is, however, a solid beginning to an enjoyable series.
Published in 2005, this series isn't as old as a few of the books I've put here, so I'm thrilled to have found a more recent first. (I have a habit of lending out my newer books and forgetting to hunt them down again. You would not believe how hard it is to write about series starters when you've lost all your beginnings!)
I'm also thrilled this one is topical, since the fourth book only came out a few weeks ago, October 4th, in fact. If you hadn't yet discovered the series, you'll have the opportunity for four books of funny all in a row! How much better could it be?
I'll let you know once I've collected the fourth book -- which will be right after I finish reading Karen Chance's book 1, Touch the Dark and re-reading the beginning then catching up on Kat Richardson's Greywalker series. My copies have disappeared,so, in a burst of manic reading energy, I've checked them all out from the library. Now have to get through them all before I earn some late fees. Also, I should say that this copy of Disappearing Nightly came from my library and I was paid nothing for reviewing this book. Had they known I was planning on reviewing this book, they might have paid me not to, but I am far, far from getting paid to review.
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
And I would make all the lovely geeky toys and decorations featured on Epbot.
Has anyone seen a novel that has geek culture built into it? I mean, besides novels about our current culture or geeks here on earth. Are there novels with geeks on other planets, making their own geek culture? I'd really love to read about that.
(This is a short post, I know, but I haven't had any time to read, see movies or watch anything but half-paid-attention-to crime shows for the past week. I promise to do better.)
Monday, October 17, 2011
The short answer for this is, obviously, everything.
Sadly, unlike Time Lords, we are creatures limited by space and time (and, at least in my case, to a certain degree by aptitude -- for instance, there are some sciences I can't get my mind around even when I read about them on Wikipedia in Simple English).
But, particularly if you plan to worldbuild, you have to have some idea, a primary grasp, about an enormous range of subjects, or your world is going to be scrappy and thin at the edges, like CGI very badly done.
For instance: you're writing (and yes! I am speaking from personal experience here!) about a planet that is undergoing a revolution. What's the government like on this planet? Oh, you want a Parliament? How do parliaments work? Does everyone on the planet get a vote? Just peers, you say? How do we decide who is a peer and who isn't? What effect will limiting the franchise to that extent have on the power balance? Also, the planet (obviously) is not evenly populated: more people will live in the more fertile areas, fewer in the nasty bits. So we'll have more peers here, fewer there. Another power imbalance -- has your parliament been constructed to deal with that? How so? Does your parliament have some system of checks and balances? Does it have factions? How does that work? (Do you have any idea?) Does your Revolution want to take over this Parliament, or kick it out and start over with some other system?
For instance: your world has mag-lev trains and fuel-cell private transports. How does a fuel-cell actually work? (Or a mag-lev train, for that matter.)
For instance: One of your character has been a miner, in a slate mine. WTF does a slate miner do all day?
For instance: Another one of your characters is a baker. Explain the process, in less than 200 words, without boring the reader or attracting attention to what you are doing, of making flan.
For instance: your characters are attacking a supply depot with futuristic weapons. It's 2000 years in the future. What weapons are they likely to be using?
For instance: The economic situation on this planet. Explain it. Without annoying the crap out of your readers. Which means YOU have to understand economics first -- the economics of colonialism, slave labor v. free labor, taxation in its various forms, wealth concentration, free markets v. controlled markets, dozens of other things someone as math challenged as you, er, me, had no idea you, er I, would ever be studying.
My point? And I do have one! All this work does have to be done, even if you then have to work just as hard not to show that work in the actual text. Research, research, research. But if the reader can see your research, you are doing it wrong.
(The post at Crooked Timber that inspired this post.)
Friday, October 14, 2011
I am terrified that Amazon's new touch-tablet is going to kill Barnes and Noble and then I'll have to order all my books online and not have any local bookstores to wander through at all. I didn't even know I had abandonment issues until Borders went away. (All spurred on my Border's callous abandonment of me -- because it's all about me, right?) Maybe Husband did, but, if so, he decided to keep it to himself.
Anyway, since I heard that BN took over Border's site, it seems hopeful that they'll be okay -- because they wouldn't be expanding like that if they weren't, right?
Right. Just say I'm right.
So I went to check out the site. And I don't go to BN.com as often as perhaps I should, but I was hoping they would do something Borders did back in the beginning when the first store moved into my area. Back when they offered me the opportunity to look up a book online, find out if it was available in the local store, and put a hold on it.
I LOVED that.
I was so sad when they (Borders) joined their website with Amazon, then separated again, but still didn't come back to offer that beloved feature.
Anyway -- it looks like Barnes and Noble HAS that feature!
This very minute!
Now, if only we could get a tool that could take a book/author name combo and check (in order) my local library's holdings, the local BN, then the online Amazon (free 2-day shipping is a big draw), then the online BN and assorted used stores. If my local used store had an online searchable inventory, it would have to go second after the library.
You guys would tell me if that tool existed, right?
But, go try the Barnes and Noble feature. It's the little running man figure right under the "Add to Bag" button. You can know your local store has the book you want before you get in the car to go get it!
It is particularly useful if you find half a series at a garage sale and you realize you have books 1, 3, 5, and 6, but not books 2 and 4. Because, often 2 and 4 are immediately necessary and two shipping days is just too long to wait. It is also occasionally useful if a book blogger you follow recommends a book that you suddenly realize is the very book you have been wanting to read for years before it even existed.
Alright, you can use ebooks to bypass that waiting thing, but I'm still not quite as big on e as on paper.
And sometimes you just want to kill trees. So maybe they won't come take the trees that keep dropping limbs on my house and make them into books, but I can read on their kin. Just think how terrifying that has to be.
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
I admit it, I'm obsessed with giant sea creatures. I will read or watch just about anything that has a giant, mutant, or radioactive shark, squid or killer whale. I will take ravenous versions of normal animal (Jaws, Alligator, etc.) if nothing else is available, but I'm mostly interested in unexplored terrors of the deep.
I think I was born in the wrong century.
Then again, maybe not. There are still unexplored parts of the ocean, habitats as deadly to humans as outer space. I realize that tales of terror in unexplored regions always harkens back to a fear of the unknown. Space terror movies aren't as prevalent as they were in the 80's, but the space race also isn't as present in the public consciousness. As something many people see every day, the ocean is something we can always think about.
Just thinking about floating in open water is enough to give me chills. Miles of ocean below you, dark and impenetrable to the eye, to the brain. I start to imagine all the creatures that live there, and all those that might. I'm even a little afraid of whales simply because they're so large. I don't want to invade their space just in case they run into me by accident. *shivers*
Does anyone else share my obsession? Or do you have another fear that you're drawn to, that you seek out in movies or books that deal in terror?
Friday, October 7, 2011
I will take her word for it.
And I will only be the slightest bit annoyed at her talking down to me as if my reading tastes were less than hers. Then again, I do have trouble finishing books that bore the hell out of me, so maybe she was warning me that her books would fall into that category. If that is the case, the warning is greatly appreciated. I will avoid that potential purchasing error.
But that's no fun to talk about at all.
Must push past that annoyance, and remember.... A whole family dressed up for a post-apocalyptic photo shoot! Husband sent me a marvelous song about tea! (Yes, I'm a tea-drinker -- though I don't like Earl Grey. Too perfumey. Still, a tea song!)
Also, there was the PSA warning about meeting the Elder Gods on the internet. (It's Cthulhu, guys! Cthulhu!) The greatest part (okay, a great part) was that I'd found it on Facebook where I got to read a string of comments, including one by a 20 year plus Ancient Religion expert who had no idea who Cthulhu was. Seriously, there were several posts without bothering Google about it once. (I know, it's mean to be amused, but wiki would have told them right away he was a fiction creation (horror, not science fiction) and they wouldn't have had to deal with links to Bible verses telling them not to be ignorant or fooled by smooth-talkers. Does the phrase 'hoisted by his own petard' work here? I hope so, because it amuses me to put it here.)
And then there's my typed word salad.
Is anyone else doing this? Every now and then in my proof-reading I find a random word stuck in there that has nothing to do with anything. Not typos, but completely the wrong word. Sometimes it sounds like the word I'd meant to type, sometimes it doesn't.
Years ago (many years -- in the early 90s maybe?) I read an anthology of short horror stories -- all by one writer, I think, though I can't remember which one -- where a man's hands cut themselves free while he slept and went out to do whatever they wanted. I also can't remember what they wanted to do, but I'm beginning to think my hands are trying to tell me something and that I should keep a folder of these wrong words to see what they spell out. Hopefully, I'll figure it out before my hands feel the need for their own bloody secession.
But that might be science fiction as it is not realistic or plausible. Unless my hands are just special like that, then it's fantasy. If they were robotic, we'd move back to science fiction -- unless that is now realistic and plausible. -- This is too difficult for me (I am writing this late night Thursday, well beyond my usual bedtime.) Let's just say that Margaret Atwood did not write it, so it can go into any genre it wants.
Have a fantastic weekend, everyone!
Thursday, October 6, 2011
Speaking of, there's a whole slew of new sci-fi shows and movies out right now, and I know we're all too busy watching them to READ blog posts! Still, I'd like to hear what someone else thinks. What are your new favorites? Is Terra Nova even worth checking out?
I'm still waiting to get cable, so I can't tell you. As soon as I've got it, though, you'll be the first to benefit from my opinion. ^_^
Tuesday, October 4, 2011
No, not that kind of convention -- I wish. I'm going to the APA, AKA the Arkansas Philological Association. In Conway, Arkansas. Though I have often had brief fantasies of how much more interesting professional conferences would be if we treated them like SF/F concentions or Comic Cons. What if English and Rhetoric professors dressed up like their professional heroes? Michel Foucoults wandering about, Virginia Woolfs, here an objective correlative, there an aporia...
Well, in actual fact it will only be genial scruffy folk in sweaters and jeans and khakis, talking about (if last year's conference is anything to go by) literacy and television, Shakespeare and vampires. I will be reading a story that is not even a SF story, which I think may be a first for me.
Meanwhile! In lieu of actual content! Here is a crosspost to my other blog, where I posted my very first fanfic, written by my kid. It's very funny.
See you next week.
Saturday, October 1, 2011
That's the only possible reason the days shoot by now like they never existed.
Friday went so fast I can't even remember what I did -- except rearrange my house and make piles of stuff for Goodwill -- not actually Goodwill, but the animal version we have around here. It keeps me from having to write and face more rejections.
Along those lines...
I'm in here. (Crossed Genres Quarterly 3) Or one of my stories is. There's a Kindle version too if you like electronic. (I need a paper version to put on my admittedly small my-stories shelf.)
My manic rearranging fit means I haven't been able to read this week, but our television times are nearly set in stone. (Wednesday nights and Saturday afternoons) so the only Fantasy/Scifi things I have any ability to talk about right now is television pilots. We use our tivo a lot (wishlist "pilot" gives things like TopGun which has pilots in it, but also any show labeled with the show name "pilot") so we've watched most of them.
Let's talk about that.
Dark Matters. Still don't have that channel. Still sad.
The Secret Circle. Didn't catch me, as expected. (Was it my low expectations?) This was the witchcraft coven thing. Why do they keep remaking the same thing? It started with a murder, you'd think I'd care more, but the star didn't seem to care (she didn't know that it was murder when I gave up) but it was her mother and she didn't seem to miss her.
Charlie's Angels. It didn't catch in the television listings as a pilot, so we've missed it so far. We'll watch it soon.
Person of Interest. We are interested. The mystic computer is something I don't want to think too critically about, but I'm liking both the main guys so far.
A Gifted Man. Agreed with io9. I was too bored to even make it to the ghost part.
Terra Nova. Actively disliked. Cop decides to break the law and then expects to be rewarded for it. Doesn't understand why people aren't jumping all over themselves to work with him.
And here I'm recognizing a story-telling issue. The need to make a character who can change and grow to give the story meaning, but not making that character such a putz you'd rather kick them in the face than root for them. So far, only Person of Interest (from this list) has managed that.
We are so looking forward to Grimm and Once Upon a Time.
We also liked New Girl. Maybe. They changed black guys between the pilot and the next episode and we're not sure about the new one (or the interchangeability of black guys). But the girl's a geek so we're trying to be open. Free Agents has Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) in it. Also Hank Azaria. We're not in love with it yet, but we're still watching. Unforgettable. Crime show. It moved the ex-cop main character back into the police department faster than I expected; another one we're still waiting to love. Suburgatory has Alan Tudyk in it. I want to love it. (He's great.) Watch Tucker and Dale vs. Evil. Or Firefly. Or Serenity. The weirdest part was we usually keep our television volume in the twenties but we had to jack it 47 to hear this one.
I'm sure we missed a lot. (I miss Human Target, but from before they added the women -- I loved Guerrerro and Winston. Chance wasn't bad either.) What have you been watching? What should we make more effort to catch?