"No grey goo" -- don't strand us in a landscape of emptiness and nothingness unless you have a really, really good reason for it. Here are what some of those reasons might be.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2012/03/31 10:00
[Note: I'm skipping a rule because I feel Rule 4 in Hoyt's list is essentially the same as Rule 3.]
You shall not commit grey goo. Grey goo, in which characters of indeterminate moral status move in a landscape of indeterminate importance towards goals that will leave no one better or worse off is not entertaining. (Unless it is to see how the book bounces off the far wall, and that has limited entertainment. Also, I’m not flinging my kindle.)
This one barely needs comment from me, except perhaps in the form of perspective, in which I may digress a bit. Bring coffee.
The love of money, the root of all evil? Well, maybe the root of a fair amount of heads-in-the-sand ignorance.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2012/03/30 15:30
Paul Krugman gets it right often enough, but sometimes he gets it so right that I wince:
... what the money of rich cranks does is ensure that bad ideas never go away — indeed, they can gain strength even as they fail in practice again and again.
Money is a great way to decouple actions from consequences. The more of it you have, the less you feel the pain of anything stupid you do -- until, of course, the day comes when no amount of money can buy breathable air.
I once had a discussion with someone who believed, in all seriousness, that the coming virtualization of everything would make the excesses of the rich go away. If you can simulate for yourself having ten cars or three houses, then you don't have as much of a need for the real thing, right?
I suspect he didn't understand that most of why people want such things is not because they want the thing in itself: it's so they can use the fact they have it as a way to separate them from others. If someone gets an epic mount in World of Warcraft, we don't tend to think of them as being a world apart from us in the same way as someone who has five cars in his driveway, four of which are just for show.
(I also don't believe for a second we'll ever really get to a state where that kind of real-world stuff is also "virtual" and therefore ubiquitous ... but that's another story.)
The idea that adults reading YA fiction is embarrassing or silly is itself embarrassing and silly.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2012/03/29 10:37
There's little that's more embarrassing than a intelligent person saying "I've never experienced X for myself, but I'm going to tell you why it's no good." Look no further than Time columnist Joel Stein shaking his head at the proliferation of teen-lit in the hands of adults, and sticking both feet in his mouth for an encore. Right, because as we all know, books for children have absolutely no intellectual substance.
The last time this happened was when Harold Bloom weighed in on Harry Potter, which he was proud to have remained uncontaminated by when he slammed it as well.
I cannot for the life of me understand how people can say things like this with a straight face. I know I've done it myself, before, a number of times, but I learn fast. I haven't read The Hunger Games, but I'll put a "yet" after that, too. It's not something I consider to be beneath me on principle. Given all the manga I read and take pretty seriously, I rather owe it to myself to have that attitude.
"Don't write agitprop" - but first, know what it is and what stands in contrast to it.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2012/03/28 10:00
Your writing should not leave anyone feeling ashamed of being: male, female, western, non-western, sickly, hale, powerful, powerless. It should use characters as characters and not as broad groups that are then used to shame other groups. Fiction is not agit prop.
I'll use the last line as the directive: "Do not write agitprop."
(Note: I am explicitly not talking here about someone who is speaking their mind directly in the form of a nonfiction piece -- a blog post, an essay, an open letter, a conversation with a friend. There, you are not only permitted but encouraged to be as vociferous and opinionated as you can, because that way you leave no ambiguity about your position. I am confining myself here to discussing the art of fiction.)
But immediately we fall into a trap. One man's agitprop is often another man's speaking-out against being silenced by complacency or marginalization. So to just say "don't write that stuff" is to some ears tantamount to saying "Don't speak up for yourself or your brethren."
On Human Wave SF's 2nd conceit: "Do not inspire loathing." But how can we point the way to the future without being a Pollyanna?By Serdar Yegulalp on 2012/03/26 10:00
Your writing shouldn’t leave anyone feeling like they should scrub with pumice or commit suicide by swallowing stoats for the crime of being human, or like humans are a blight upon the Earth, or that the future is dark, dreary, evil and fraught with nastiness, because that’s all humans can do, and woe is us.
I'll boil that down to "Do not inspire loathing."
On Human Wave SF's first conceit: "Be entertaining!" Pitfall or paradigm?By Serdar Yegulalp on 2012/03/24 10:00
After re-reading the "Human Wave" document, I've decided to devote a series of posts under the Vajra banner (since that's what it's most relevant to) to examining each of the suggested precepts within. Here's the first.
1. Your writing should be entertaining.
This seems like a given, doesn't it? But the problem I always run into with the dictum "Be entertaining!" is that there are at least as many definitions of "entertainment" as there are incarnations of it. There are people who find William Gaddis's JR entertaining, because the book tickles -- entertains -- a part of them that other books do not reach. Then there are people who see this 700-page doorstopper and just turn around and walk out of the room, because it offers them nothing they can find pleasure in.
How dystopia is just our way of saying "if you seek a monument..."By Serdar Yegulalp on 2012/03/23 10:15
So far I've been sneaky and avoided saying much about The Hunger Games, especially the way it's been compared (unfairly, if you ask me) to Battle Royale. Without having read Games yet -- it's on the agenda, though -- I'll just say they seem like parallel implementations of some of the same concepts.
I bring that back up here, though, as a way to talk about a larger subject that the two invoke together: Are the best dystopias just a reflection of the excesses of the time that they were written in, or do they look at something deeper?
For a while I've been struggling with a sort-of manifesto that I was going to use as a banner for Genji Press (and especially Fight of the Vajra). Then Sarah Hoyt came along and beat me to it, at least...By Serdar Yegulalp on 2012/03/22 12:00
For a while I've been struggling with a sort-of manifesto that I was going to use as a banner for Genji Press (and especially Fight of the Vajra). Then Sarah Hoyt came along and beat me to it, at least as far as the fiction-manifesto part of the game goes:
Give the whole piece a read. I'm kind of burdened with work right now, or I'd post a more in-depth analysis, but right now that analysis consists of two things:
The reason reading gives us a thrill like nothing else: it sticks its graphics where the sun don't shine.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2012/03/20 10:00
Brain scans are revealing what happens in our heads when we read a detailed description, an evocative metaphor or an emotional exchange between characters. Stories, this research is showing, stimulate the brain and even change how we act in life.
Infocom, makers of a revolutionary brand of text adventure games for PCs, had a great ad once: "WE STICK OUR GRAPHICS WHERE THE SUN DON'T SHINE." They were proud of how being text-only gave them the freedom to build a sophisticated textual interaction engine, and to free up then-precious disk space for more of the game. Irony: the company later did add graphics to many of its games -- Shōgun comes to mind, although even there they tried to make it interesting by designing the images in the manner of ukiyo-e painting. (Heck, I thought even that much imagery was still a sellout for them.)
How to market yourself without feeling like a creep.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2012/03/17 13:00
Steven Savage, my cohort-in-creativity over at Fan To Pro, was interviewed for a piece called "The Importance of Platform" where he and the interviewer both talk about, well, the importance of having a platform. Meaning how useful it is to have a central point, a launching pad, for all that you do -- a way to brand yourself.
Is it wrong to want to improve yourself?By Serdar Yegulalp on 2012/03/15 10:00
A bit belated, but here goes:
Pretty much all of our religions and our various self-help practices are based on the idea that what we are right now is not good enough. We then envision what "good enough" must be like and we make efforts to transform what we are right now into this image of ourselves as "good enough." We invent in our minds an imaginary "mindful me" and then try to make ourselves into that.
The real conflict, as Brad points out, is not in trying to improve ourselves. It's in aiming for a target that is produced entirely by our imaginations, and which may well be forever out of our reach because of that.
Being plugged in has already become a way of life. Does it just get worse from here?By Serdar Yegulalp on 2012/03/12 10:00
I spent most of last Thursday without access to the 'net. I know, I know -- shock, horror, gasp, you name it. Okay, I wasn't completely without access -- I had a phone with a 3G data connection, which I used at one point to do some Google Maps lookups.
Let me rephrase, then: I was shirking 'net access. I had access; I just chose not to do anything with it, because I had more important things I wanted to fill my time with for that one day. As much as I enjoy technology -- hey, I wouldn't have the job(s) I do if I didn't, and I sure as heck wouldn't be posting here with the vigor I do -- there are days and nights when a stroll around town, or a few hours with someone over dinner with no digital intermediaries between us, is a lot more appealing than yet another blog post.
Don't worry. I'm not about to write some fulminatory screed about how technology is destroying simple honest human interaction; you've got Jonathan Franzen to do that job for you (many times over). Instead, consider this: What convinces us that we need to have at least some of our lives lived outside of the envelope of perpetual connectivity?
Why is it only innovation when mainstream literature does it?By Serdar Yegulalp on 2012/03/11 13:11
A quote from a book review:
This new [post-9/11] reality seems to have manifested in the literary world in what must undeniably be called a new literary genre. For lack of a better word, let’s call it Translit. Translit novels cross history without being historical; they span geography without changing psychic place. Translit collapses time and space as it seeks to generate narrative traction in the reader’s mind. It inserts the contemporary reader into other locations and times, while leaving no doubt that its viewpoint is relentlessly modern and speaks entirely of our extreme present.
Hm. In other words, exactly what the best SF has been doing for decades now, I'd wager. Didn't Clifford Simak's City do just this, to the thunderous applause of absolutely no one but the alleged ghetto of SF (and fantasy) readers? Is it only okay if it's "real" writers who do this sort of thing, not folks like Simak -- who had at least as much to say about human destiny in City as most any other, larger, better-promoted, or more allegedly ambitious book?
The author of the review, by the way, is Douglas Coupland.
Addendum: The above is not meant to be a patch on Kunzru's book. I'm just frustrated at the way critics and reviewers talk about this or that thing being "new" in literature when SF/fantasy have been doing it for a good long time, and doing it quite capably thank you.
Vision, ended.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2012/03/11 11:18
Goodbye. Thank you.
Like so many other kids my age, I blundered into your work in the pages of Heavy Metal, then went on to discover you in anthologies and collected volumes, many of which are now out of print and change hands at collector's prices. (Let's do something about that, okay?)
I liked how you saw things. I don't mean to say I liked the way you made these lines thicker or these lines thinner, or that you used this kind of color wash. I mean I liked how you saw things. You did what any truly great artist did, from H.R. Giger to Andy Warhol: you taught me a whole new way to look at the world and see new things in it.
I hope I won't sound grubby for saying this, but if I had my pick of artist to create art for Vajra, no limts at all, you would have been the one. It's only now that I realize how much of what I wanted to let people see through the story in that book was inspired by all you did.
Nostalgia isn't what it used to be. Or could be. Or something.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2012/03/10 15:00
Another piece about John Carter (a full review), which brings up a point about both it and other works I've seen in its vein:
One reason we're drawn to retro futurism, or visions of tomorrow from the past, is that there's a kind of crazy, adorable wrongness to them. We chuckle at nineteenth century visions of flying contraptions and glass cities.
Well, not all of us do. But I would wager the vast majority of people who walk into SF with nothing more than the most obvious touchstones of it rattling around in their heads -- the folks who've seen all the easy* blockbuster SF like Star Wars, The Matrix, and so on -- will do the giggling. They're less familiar with the idea of SF having a "retro" component that should be savored separately, and so attempts to invoke it don't work as well with them.
When is writing most like acting? When you're getting out of your own way.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2012/03/08 16:00
One of my favorite actors speaks about his role in the upcoming John Carter (which really isn't getting the attention it ought):
.... sometimes I feel like if I need something to put me in the right place I’ll make a project out of it. Like sometimes you think you’ll need a look. Or you’ll need a costume. Or an accent. You look for things to trigger you to put you in the right place, to make a shift from your everyday consciousness to the consciousness of the character. Or you’re everyday impulse to the impulse of the character. And sometimes those little choices can direct in the right way. So as soon as someone tells you that you’ve got a distinctive voice, you gotta be careful. Because you don’t want to use your voice in that way, like they love you to do. And when you do voice work, there is some of that. Because that’s what you’re using. So you become very conscious of what comes off your voice and what you can accomplish with it.
What it was about 1982's explosion of moviemaking that is making so many of us misty-eyed.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2012/03/08 11:00
There's been a whole raft of articles lately about how Hollywood 30 years ago, in one single year, somehow managed to produce so many of the films that became high-water marks for SF / fantasy / action cinema (and cult filmmaking, too). Among the best retrospectives around is this piece at the Guardian, which also nails how what happened in '82 dictated the future path we'd take:
With the success of ET and the relative failure of the rest of the crop, Hollywood took the safest, most obvious lessons from what had happened and the trend towards today's bland, boisterous multiplex began. It was also around this time that executives from multinationals pushed out actual film-makers in studios. Creative decisions were now made by non-creative types, there was no glory in losing money, and much more to be had in making as much as humanly possible.
Funny thing was, by '82 so many of the pieces for that kind of by-the-bucks filmmaking were already in place.
Why SF forgets that the way we do our laundry is just as important as the way we travel between the stars.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2012/03/06 10:00
One of the things that has frustrated me about science fiction is that technology pertaining to the smaller aspects of our lives is often neglected in favor of big giant rockets and exotic weaponry. Birth control seems non-existent and childbirth is still rocking the stirrups. And the home is at best not mentioned much.
This is something I've tried to avoid -- although again, I can't claim I'm successful just yet -- with Vajra. When I create a spaceship, I don't just think about the faster-than-light drive; I try to give at least as much thought to the bunks and the bathroom, because that's what people who ride in it are still going to care most about. If it takes ten days to cross the galaxy, that's still ten days of bad food and crowded quarters. And then there's everything that happens planetside ...
I think part of why SF ignores domesticity, or at least doesn't think of it as much, is because a lot of it is about people who are at the top end of the Being Somebody spectrum. Domesticity just isn't that important to the story, because the characters have been liberated from having to care about it by dint of being Important.
Fiction isn't just about making stuff up. SF is even less about such things.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2012/03/05 10:00
If science fiction and fantasy have always had a shortcoming, it's in how they have always felt more dreamed up than observed. I know, more anti-fabulist heresy: surely the point of a literature of the imagination is to imagine things that don't exist?
I wrote the above sentence about a week ago and immediately threw it into the back of my blog folder. (One of the disadvantages of using a computer is how little visceral satisfaction there is in much of what you do. For neither the first nor the last time I missed having a desk drawer that I could slam.)
The last thing I want is to be accused of being "anti-imagination" or something along those lines. But at the same time, I sense there is this constant confusion about what imagination is or what it's for.
Picking up where Tokyopop left off, it's Onizuka before he was the Great Teacher.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2012/03/04 10:00
Bit of a gamble, this. For the first time, Vertical, Inc. is resuming a manga series that was previously being issued by another publisher. In this case, the publisher was Tokyopop and the series was GTO (Great Teacher Onizuka): The Early Years. It's an interesting parallel tie-in with Vertical's other GTO-themed offering, which I covered previously.
Early Years is, as the title implies, the story of GTO back when he was just "O": Eikichi Onizuka, young punk with an idealistic streak that tends to put him on the wrong side of most fights. Years deals with his time in a high-school gang along with his buddy Ryuji Danma, and much of what goes on is a lot like what Onizuka-the-teacher would himself be dealing with years later: gang wars, trouble from the wrong side of the law, trouble from the right side of the law, and the endless ways Onizuka can get rejected by women.
Is it OK to cheer if someone you hate dies?By Serdar Yegulalp on 2012/03/02 14:03
I don't normally post about politics, but I had a curious line of thought about Andrew Breitbart.
Someone I know mentioned that he was sorry Breitbart was dead. Someone else I know (in parallel, not as a response to that comment) mentioned he was not sorry Breitbart was dead, because Breitbart had done a great many reprehensible things with the power and attention he had wielded during his time on earth.
I can think of one reason to be sad at the passing of someone even that contentious: now that he's dead, there's no chance he'll ever be able to make up for the bad things he did. A dead man cannot own up, save face, or mend his ways.
The problem is, I'm not sure I can make myself believe that.
I've noticed that when people get a lot of power and use it for demagoguery, the odds of them ever having a turnabout and changing their minds about what they've done approach zero. They have so much invested in being who they are, even if who they are is grotesque. To become anything else requires such an effort of reinvention that most people never bother unless they have no other choice -- and even then we question their motives.
We like the people we know to be simple, predictable, easily-labeled and just as easily discarded. I am no more immune to this than anyone else. I suspect this exists because in many cases human inertia is such that to label people is a remarkably good survival mechanism. But that doesn't mean we can't see it for what it is and be skeptical about it.
So, I'm sorry he's dead, and I'm not sorry he's dead, and the above is my explanation for why that's not a cop-out or a contradiction. At least until I come up with a better way to think about all this.
Science fiction, rebooted.
Other Lives Of The Mind