Previous Posts: October 2012

Jedi Mouseketeers Dept.

And the lamb opened the sixth seal ...


So I come back from two days of no electricity and no Internet, with Atlantic City now just Atlantic and Hoboken drowning in its own sewage, to find that the Mouse has control of The Force.

Just so people don't think I'm being insensitive: The latter is obviously far lower on my list of things to worry about than the former items. I have friends in Jersey that I'm just now re-establishing contact with, and they all seem fine barring a flooded basement or a downed power line. But the Lucasdisney thing is just weird. (And talking about it here helps take my mind off the chaos for a bit.)

I mentioned a way back how I kind of fell out with Star Wars after discovering Lucas's film school inspirations — mainly The Hidden Fortress and Seven Samurai, and how that permanently rerouted my interests. Now we have new films on the way, with the possibility of the creative process for those films more closely resembling the original trilogy, where Lucas gave his imprimatur on the broad designs of the project and stood back and let other people do the heavy lifting. It worked. It was when he stepped back into the director's chair and surrounded himself with yes-men that the whole project became a nasty parody of its former glory.

I'm not convinced this is a rebirth, but I'm curious. I am, however, wondering if this means the next Kingdom Hearts game will include Indiana Jones and Han Solo alongside Captain America and Goofy.


Tags: Disney George Lucas science fiction Star Wars


Flight of the Vajra: First Round Draft Choice Dept.

The first draft has ended. The rewrite approaches.


Flight of the Vajra, draft 1, finished, as of 7:30 or so Sunday night.

Now the hard part.

First, I have to survive the hurricane — I've buttoned everything up in anticipation of it — and then I can sit down and begin the rewrite process. I've mentioned before what this will entail.

It felt downright strange (in a lovely way, really) to type THE END and just before it see words you had ruminated about in one form or another for months. The emotional end of the book, rather than the logical end, was what mattered most, and while I had sketched out a general route to get there, I wanted to make discoveries along the way. I've found there are some discoveries that can only be made between writing one line and the next, that simply cannot (at least for me) be teased out at an outline level.

The rewrite process is going to involve a lot of bookkeeping, as I also noted. I always felt a little uneasy about accruing a note pile that was at least a big as the book itself — that always seemed like a misdirection of energy — but I also have the feeling many of the things I jotted down are redundant or no longer valid.

Some of them were "blind alley" notes, things I wrote down when it seemed possible the story might veer in a different direction but ultimately never did. They won't get used, of course, but it's fascinating to page through them and see hints of all the different things that could have been. But that doesn't mean they have to find a home in the work somewhere. Not every director's cut is longer.


Tags: Flight of the Vajra writing


Radio Silence Dept.

With a hurricane barrelling up the coast, there's a good chance I could be offline for days on end. Between then and now, I have the first draft of a book to finish (I hope). See you on the other...


With a hurricane barrelling up the coast, there's a good chance I could be offline for days on end. Between then and now, I have the first draft of a book to finish (I hope).

See you on the other side of the rain.


Tags: excuse our dust


Book Reviews: Heroman Vol. 1 (Tamon Ohta)

Enjoyable if not-impressively-drawn manga take on Western-style kid's action comics. (Stan Lee had a hand in it, and it shows.)



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Vertical has been attempting to snag a bigger slice of the mainstream manga pie in various ways now. This latest attempt is the adaptation of the Stan Lee + BONES anime which I liked for being an interesting Japan-POV take on the American kids'-comics mythos: kid has his robot toy struck by lightning and it turns into a giant fighting companion (see: Johnny Sokko, et al.), one which comes in great handy when fending off a burgeoning alien invasion. Emphasis here is not on the gimmick but on little Joey Jones's growing accustomed to the idea of being anybody's hero, especially when he's spent the better part of his young life being everyone else's kickball. Bad points: amateurish art by Tamon Ohta, and a translation that seems way below par for the typically meticulous Vertical folks.


Tags: books manga review Vertical Inc.


Calling Me Names Dept.

Labels, like "Buddhist" or "science fiction", are both a boon and a bane. We know this, but what do we really do about it?


Brad Warner, he whose Hardcore Zen and Sit Down and Shut Up I both enjoyed a great deal, has a post on his blog entitled Why I Am Still a Buddhist. Almost everything he says in it is something I echo myself, with regard not only to Buddhism but writing SF and fantasy. If that sounds like a stretch, well, he-e-ere goes.

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Tags: Brad Warner Buddhism fantasy science fiction spirituality


Possessive Plural Dept.

It's not enough for some of us to be fans; we also have to know we're justified. But why?


Most of us ought to know the phenomenon (as Marc mentioned in the comments in a previous post) where the fact that something has become popular now means it sucks. We all know this one; we just don't know what to do about it.

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Tags: fandom


The Winter Of Our Discontempt Dept.

Write for the world you have, not the world you wish for.


Back in an earlier post I mentioned the "turn off your TV if you want to get some real writing done" crowd. I've touched on that idea before, and how inadvertently destructive it is.

Note that I'm not talking about the idea of minimizing distractions, which is perfectly okay. I know at least one person who can't write without the TV babbling away full blast behind her. Me, I barely even have music playing when I write; different scenes for different genes, and all that.

I'm talking about the idea, gaining a disturbing degree of acceptance in certain cultural circles, that one must manifest contempt for popular culture as a prerequisite to writing something truly great. What's worse is that I've come close to saying such a thing plenty of times myself, if not outright declaring it in so many words.

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Tags: culture writers writing


Flight of the Vajra: Smoothly Drafted Dept.

The technology of writing makes it easier to reach for the stars -- but it can't make up for the will to do the reaching.


Some more thoughts on the second draft process.

I can't deny how much easier all this is with a computer, although as I noted before, if I'd been dealing with nothing but a typewriter and a notebook I might well have managed just as easily because I wouldn't have known any differently, and would have made the best of what I had.

That brought back to mind how others have speculated that the advent of tools like the word processor made it all the easier for the writer to grind out dreck, or to add uneeded length to a story. Evidently those people never read Pamela or Vanity Fair (not the magazine), but let's look past that cheap shot.

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Tags: Flight of the Vajra technology writers writing


Genji Press: Projects: NopeNoWriMo Dept.

Sorry, no-Vember sprint for me. (And some notes on those who flip up their noses at the NNWM sprinters.)


Much as I hate to admit it, I probably won't be participating in NaNoWriMo this year. I want to, but I've got something a little more pressing on my plate, and its name is Flight of the Vajra.

A shame, too, because I had a great idea for a possible NNWM entry this year. What I wanted to do was wrap my first-draft work on Vajra, then work on this new (as-yet-untitled) project during Novemeber, then break and return to Vajra.

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Tags: NaNoWriMo writing


Flight of the Vajra: Roughly Drafted Dept.

The peculiar difficulties of the second draft, especially for a writer in the 21st century.


I can now report that I'm within spitting distance of the end of the first draft of Flight of the VajraDon't pop the bubbly yet; there's a long way to go.

I've never written anything this long before — 350,000 words or so — and so I had to change my work habits in ways that were humbling and frustrating.

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Tags: editing Flight of the Vajra science fiction writers writing


Science Fiction Repair Shop: Deep In It Dept.

The hazards of making a story long for its own sake are not always obvious.


The Believer - The End of the Story

[Wheel of Time author Robert] Jordan’s strengths as a writer were also his weaknesses. He abhorred instrumental characters, the stock pawns of the genre, there to be set up and knocked down to move the plot along. And he hated being obvious, choosing instead to subtly foreshadow plot developments whole books in advance (then ridiculing readers who couldn’t quite put the pieces together). Most of all, Jordan loved his own creations, good and evil alike, and wrote circles around them, developing their respective psychologies and romantic entanglements at what became a laughably immersive, infinitesimal pace.

I've cited Wheel of Time as one of many examples of why fantasy (and SF) is in such a bad state: length is not depth, convolution is not complexity, and detail is not observation. (And as someone writing a fairly long, complicated and detailed SF work, I'm fully aware of how those observations could just as well be used against me. I never said I was immune to my own bullets.)

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Tags: fantasy science fiction Science Fiction Repair Shop writers writing


Best Original Screenplay Dept.

Is SF better when written directly for the screen, instead of adapted from another source?


I've been curious about the ratio of original-to-adapted projects in  filmed science fiction for some time now, in big part because a cursory survey of significant SF movies from past decades shows that most of them were in fact reworked from short stories or novels. The originals mostly seemed to be the tons of awful cheapies that flooded the market and vanished without a trace, only to end up on midnight TV or Something Weird Video.

Among the early exceptions I can think of, apart from Metropolis, was Forbidden Planet. It was adapted — shilling for lifted wholesale — from Shakespeare's Tempest, but it wasn't reworked directly from any pre-existing SF novel. In fact, an adaptation of it was written from the script (something Frederik Pohl never stopped kicking himself for turning down, since he ended up loving the movie). 2001 was a hybrid: it was written both as a literary and as a cinematic project, more or less at the same time.

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Tags: adaptation anime movies science fiction


No Blu For You Dept.

UK versions, French versions, but no US versions?


This time around, a look at BD releases from overseas that have inexplicably not made it out here in the U.S.. but are available as cross-region imports.

Tetsuo / Tetsuo IIThe first film is pretty much indispensable to any understanding of modern Japanese / horror / SF filmmaking (any one of those three, or in any combination). The second, less so — and the third, even less so. But a properly-restored version of the first movie alone makes this vital.

Gate of Hell. Not all of my other J-cinema fan friends are fond of this movie, but it had a pretty major impact on me when I was first getting into that field, and its gorgeous cinematography is a major plus (the opening scene, shot in three-quarters perspective like a ukiyo-e scroll, is amazing).

The Nest. I had great things to say about this nifty action-thriller when it first debuted here, not least of all because it manages to convery an amazing amount of its storytelling with nothing but imagery (the entire first reel is without dialogue). The lack of a domestic Blu-ray hurts.

Eraserhead. Of course, but where's our copy? I think Criterion is working on their own version, but don't hold your breath.

The Lost Weekend. It's only dated in a few superficial aspects, and the scenes with Milland fighting off DTs aren't the most frightening ones: it's when he's trying to pawn his typewriter on Sunday for more booze. Why no U.S. edition?

Profound Desires of the Gods. Another curious omission, a Shohei Imamura production from the '60s that by all word is one of his best works. I liked that we were able to get Vengeance Is Mine, but it would be nice to have this round out the bill too.

Fantastic Planet. I never forgot this amazing little film, a precursor it seems to so many of the stranger corners that anime would wander into in later decades. A BD edition seemed as proper for this as it did for Yellow Submaries, but again, why no domestic pressing?

Ran. Do not, under any circumstances, buy the terrible Studio Canal versions of this magnificent film. Criterion was all set to produce their own BD edition before they lost the rights to the film, and now all the current transfers are wretched upscale jobs. I hear the Korean edition, with English subs, is worth the effort, but the question of whether or not one of cinema's greatest achievements is ever going to be free of this kind of gratuitous humiliation remains unanswered.

Repo Man. Yep. The ultimate '80s cult film, more or less, did get a nice Anchor Bay DVD edition a while back, and I know an HD transfer has been struck, but we're still waiting on actually getting a release for it on this side of the pond for some weird reason.

Depending on my time management strategies, I plan on getting the movie-reviews section geared back up again, with a new focus on films and critiques that reflect the ways my interests in genres, etc. have been shaped by recent discussions.


Tags: Blu-ray Disc movies


No Quantum of Solace Dept. (Updated)

The Possibilities of Quantum Information - NYTimes.com Classical computers use “bits” of information that can be either 0 or 1. But quantum-information technologies let scientists consider “qubits,” quantum bits of information that are both 0 and 1 at the same...


The Possibilities of Quantum Information - NYTimes.com

Classical computers use “bits” of information that can be either 0 or 1. But quantum-information technologies let scientists consider “qubits,” quantum bits of information that are both 0 and 1 at the same time. Logic circuits, made of qubits directly harnessing the weirdness of superpositions, allow a quantum computer to calculate vastly faster than anything existing today. A quantum machine using no more than 300 qubits would be a million, trillion, trillion, trillion times faster than the most modern supercomputer.

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Tags: science


Book Reviews: Paradise Kiss, Part One (Ai Yazawa)

What makes a story that's nominally a romance into something a little deeper and more insightful? The idea that the characters want to be more than overgrown children, for one.



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It’s been said that genres are reading instructions. A book bearing the label science fiction earns certain exemptions of tone and content right out of the gate that a book labeled fantasy or romance or literary fiction does not. Romance is a label we associate freely with broad brushstrokes of emotion (e.g., hate-that-is-actually-love), coincidence, and a great many other things we’d only tolerate in small doses, if at all, in something not sporting that label.

In other words, a genre is a label for a specific kind of suspension of disbelief, and that may explain why many people turn their nose up at certain genres. Some people find the suspension of disbelief re: human behavior or motivation required for a romance to be far more absurd than the suspension of disbelief re: physical reality required for a fantasy, SF, or four-color comic story. I don’t believe this mechanism underlies all instances of why people snub a romance for something else, but it sure explains why many people never try out certain genres at all. They have evolved a certain discipline for their suspension of disbelief. They do not let themselves play outside of those strongly-painted lines.

It’s a shame, because within any genre there is always the possibility for happy accidents and lively discovery. Shojo manga, the whole subdivision of manga nominally intended for girls, has many titles with plenty of crossover appeal. Having a mainstream breakthrough experience with one of them doesn’t much increase the odds of the others following suit — the Dark Knight Trilogy hasn’t caused mainstream moviegoers to pick up too many Batman comics — but it can at the very least expose the reader to new territory. The very best of shojo manga has included some territory I might never have discovered on my own: Keiko Takemiya’s To Terra, for instance, or Moto Hagio’s remarkable work that freely crossed between labels: romance here, fantasy there, science fiction at times, all of it remarkable. Read more


Tags: Ai Yazawa books Japan manga review romance shojo Vertical Inc.


Science Fiction Repair Shop: The Other Side Of The Fence Dept.

What will it take for SF&F and mainlit criticism to appreciate each other? New critics, I suppose.


It's time the major literary awards stopped being a gated community (io9, by way of Salon)

The traditional objections to genre fiction - that it is formulaic, psychologically inauthentic and indifferently executed - are not without merit, but then neither are the genre fans' familiar retorts that literary fiction is self-indulgent, feebly plotted, overwritten and dull.

Yes, I normally wince at most anything io9 puts out, but this was worth chomping out and discussing. (That and it's a link from elsewhere.)

Right there is the same thing I've been saying here in one form or another for a while now: SF&F and mainstream/literary fiction have a lot to teach each other, and it's often not the things most people assume. I find much literary fiction can be "formulaic, psychologically inauthentic and indifferently executed", and SF&F can be just as "self-indulgent, feebly plotted, overwritten and dull" as the competition. Neither one has a monopoly on wretched excess or mingy middle-mindedness.

The hard part seems to be getting critics of one field to take the other more seriously, as the article goes on to note. Most mainstream literary critics aren't trained to pick up on when SF&F leaps out of its box and becomes something a little mroe ambitious, just as they're not terribly clued-in on when mainstream lit tries to spin in SF&F tropes without actually thinking through the full implications of their inclusion.

So what will it take? New critical standards, at the very least — something that won't happen until the current crop of mainstream lit-critics stop flipping their noses up at everything that doesn't have a book award ribbon on the cover. It takes at least a generation and a half for that kind of turnover. In short, no holding your breath.


Tags: fantasy publishing science fiction Science Fiction Repair Shop writing


Flight of the Vajra: The Unplaylist Dept.

What I listen to when I should be working, and what I listen to when I am actually working.


Someone asked me the other day, "Do you have a playlist of music for Flight of the Vajra?" The short answer is yes, and at some point I'll post it here, but that gave me an opportunity to talk about the odd relationship I have with music in my writing.

The other books I've created do all have playlists to go with them as well, but in every single case I can think of, I haven't listened to the music in them while actually writing the book. I listen to the music in them at other times — walking around, for instance. As soon as I sit down, I have to put on either nothing at all, or one of a small list of "pre-cleared" music titles which I can listen to without getting hopelessly distracted. The music in those "for work" playlists are generally totally unlike anything in the "for the book itself" playlists, both in terms of sharing no common material and having no common mood.

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Tags: Amon Düül Aphex Twin Brian Eno Cliff Martinez Harold Budd music playlists soundtracks Tangerine Dream writing


Flight of the Vajra: Tools of the Trade Dept.

Who's up for swapping their PC for a typewriter and a looseleaf binder?


The other week I scored a replacement typewriter ribbon for my Remington portable, an artifact a good decade older than I am and still in functional shape. My original version of this post was a dig at how this fifty-year-old machine works better than some of the PCs I've had that didn't even last a tenth that long, but even I have to see clean through the chicanery and half-truth in such a statement. Sure, the typewriter still runs, and I get good results with it, but the only way I'd write a 350,000 word manuscript on it (like the one I'm pounding out right now) is if the lights went out, Revolution-style.


Remington Manual.

That thought inspired another one: what if I, with my current headful of ideas, had been living in, say, 1975 or so, with nothing but that typewriter (or that level of technology generally)?

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Tags: Flight of the Vajra technology writing


Nothing Personal, Everything Personal Dept.

Why I'm not really an MST3K fan anymore, among other things.


A comment from one of my earlier posts coarsened some hairs: "Why celebrate movies at their most pathetic and incompetent when there are so many genuinely good ones that remain unseen, even by knowledgeable fans?"

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Tags: criticism entertainment


Science Fiction Repair Shop: Cruel To Be Kind Or Vice Versa Dept.

What should SF criticism really be doing? Just catering to fans' tastes, or expanding our understanding of the genre? Why not both?


Dale Peck, he of Hatchet Jobs fame, once said, "Literature does have its enemies, and chief among them are pseudointellectual artists and critics who think their love of books translates into some kind of knowledge."

This problem is writ large in SF&F fandom, where most of the criticism has passed into the hands of fans. What sounds like a good idea on the face of it — fans serving other fans! what's the problem? — has a downside: fans can be both the best and worst evangelists for, or interpreters of, something.

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Tags: criticism fantasy science fiction Science Fiction Repair Shop writers writing



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This page is an archive of entries from October 2012 listed from newest to oldest.

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