The previous post about the near-impossibility of their being a Star Wars for the current generation brought back to mind a precusor topic. Authors who try to resurrect literary modes from previous times — for instance, writing a modern-day take on the Victorian-era social novel, or what have you — make something of the same mistake with their own work.
Longtime readers know I trot out a formulation to explain this: the artist is as much a product of his moment in time as his creations are a product of him. We are not the same people we were a hundred years ago (for the better, I hope), and consequently we don't have the same things to say to the world around us.Read more
[Other music subscription] companies, these services, all lack curation. They call it curation; there’s no curation. That’s what we did as a record label, we curated. There’s 150 white rappers in America; we served you one. We are heavy on curation, and we believe it’s a combination of human and math. But it’s a give and take. Right now, somebody’s giving you 12 million songs, and you give them your credit card, and they tell you “good luck.” You need to have some kind of help. I’m going to offer you a guide.
The article itself is distressingly short in intelligent editorialization about its subject — Beats Audio is easily the biggest ripoff in audio since Monster Cable — but this quote from Iovine caught my eye, since it's also symptomatic of the current burgeoning problem in publishing.
The very people who are there to provide us with guidance — the publishers and bookstores — are being thought of as irrelevancies or archaisms. Crowdsourcing and friends' lists will replace all that (or so go one of the comments).
The terrible thing is, I think that's entirely correct. Such things can indeed replace the older mechanisms of brick-and-mortar institutions or editorial guidance, but whether they do as good a job or better is highly questionable. I trust my friend's tastes inasmuch as they are satisfied by something, not whether I think I will be as well. I trust the tastes of big groups of strangers not at all.
The resentment against Iovine as a curator for bringing us salable mediocrity is one thing (read the comments), but the answer to that is not floods of five-star reviews on Amazon for books that don't even pass basic editorial muster. There's got to be better ways.
There is a moment in Oliver Stone's movie The Doors, when Jim Morrison (Val Kilmer) tells the rest of the band, "That's not bad for a bunch of guys who weren't even talking to each other the day the album was recorded." That might well have been the making of Last Rights, which because of everything from its very title through to the downright eschatological sound of the album seemed for a time like the last album the group would ever make.
Or the last album anyone would ever hear, given how determined the record seems to be a final will and testament to everything from its band to its listeners to the world that produced it. It makes Pink Floyd The Wall seem downright upbeat, since that was only about one man's implosion; here, the whole of human creation and experience is in the process of being wiped off the map. This wasn't just "music for the end of the world"; the band had apparently gone and recorded the act while it was in progress. Nobody Gets Out Of Here Alive, indeed.Read more
Over at the comments section in AICN there was some speculative talk of digging up Philip Kauffman's unproduced original script for the first Star Trek movie, dusting it off, maybe also filing off the serial numbers, and making a new movie out of it. I pointed out this was all but impossible, given the legal quandaries of such a thing. "There is no market for unproduced film scripts," said Fred Pohl in his own book on science fiction in film (and while that was circa 1981 or so, his statement still stands).
He had a lot more to say, all of it heartbreaking:
Some of the best science fiction writers in the world, over the years, have completed major projects that were permanently shelved, or at least withheld from audiences for years or decades. There's the equivalent of a library of a hundred novels, by your favorite writers, which exist only in the form of spiral-bound, plastic-covered shooting scripts. ... The writer cannot even publish them himself and give them away to his friends, because they no longer belong to him.
Among them: Harlan Ellison's I, Robot script, now released — by some amazing legal legerdemain, no doubt — as its own book. That is, I would imagine, the impossible extreme exception to the rule. The vast and uncountable majority of such projects will never see public eyes, such as David Gerrold's original screen treatment for Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land (which, he maintains, he got fired from for "doing it right"). Tantalizing projects like The Tourist go unproduced for decades.
The worst part about such a state of affairs is how it leaves us so little to learn from. What sorts of things were being attempted, and to what end, with such projects? Were they never made for reasons that had nothing to do with their quality, or did they really not deliver the goods? (I can't assume that everything obscure is automatically a hidden gem.) The number of unanswered questions multiply like fungi.
It's dismal situations like this which convince me the best route for a filmmaker to take is to get a camera and make a film, not write a screenplay and try to fob that off on a producer. At least with camera in hand, the finished product is yours. A script, once sold, can vanish forever and not even leave behind enough memory to have its disappearance lamented by the right people.
Marc's comment in an earlier post about the notion of "this generation's Star Wars", or "this generation's X" in general reminded me how I'd gotten mud all over my hands when wrestling with that idea earlier. I dug around and found some notes I'd taken to that effect, and then realized on re-reading them that the problem was far more egregious than I thought.
There are big problems with calling something "this generation's [fill in the blank]". The first, and for me the biggest, is that generational experiences do not map to each other with complete correspondence.Read more
Astute readers will know the title of this post as an allusion to Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, a work most every aspiring student of Zen comes across at some point in their practice. Like most who are confronted with the concept of "original mind" or "beginner's mind", I had my own struggles with it. How is it not, say, a celebration of naïveté over wisdom? In what way is it possibly good for us to treasure ignorance?
It took some time, and more than a few stubbed spiritual toes, before I realized my questions themselves betrayed a misinterpretation of what was being said. To keep "beginner's mind" is not to value naïveté over wisdom, or to treasure ignorance. Rather, it is about having those things always within ready reach, even despite our wisdom or experience. We should be prepared at any time, on a moment's notice, to put aside the things we know so that something new can reach us.Read more
I doubt I'm going to surprise too many people by saying this, but when news broke (however unofficially) that J.J. Abrams was in line to direct one of the new Star Wars films, my reaction was one of ... curious indifference. Curious, in the sense that I wanted to give more of a damn than I did, and failed miserably.
It's not that I think he's a bad choice. If anything, he's all too fitting a choice. It's that Star Wars, like Star Trek before it, has ceased to exist for me as a cultural entity of importance.Read more
I normally eschew stuff like this, but a few other folks I know and respect have been doing it — a ten-question self-survey where you talk about your Next Big (Literary) Thing and then tag other folks to follow suit. Thinking I could answer a few common questions about my own project in the offing, I've now done the NBT thang for your reading pleasure:
1. What is the working title of your next book?
Flight of the Vajra — actually, that's the title. I went through some thirty-odd titles before settling on that one, so perhaps we could say that is the working title because it's the only title I came up with that worked.
2. Where did the idea come from for the book?
The various elements in the book — the far-future materials technology, the pontiff of a universe-spanning religion, the noirish protagonist — all existed as separate elements that were originally to be inserted into different stories. Over time they drifted together and started living under the same roof, so to speak. Before I knew it, it was hard to think of them as having ever been separate things.
3. What genre does your book fall under?
Most likely "space opera", a term I don't mind using even when it only seems to cover part of the territory.Read more
There was a time when the mere fact of an album’s existence seemed dangerous. Lester Bangs made an unnerving personal case for it with Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols, when he reported how it wasn’t just the sheer sneering cynicism of the record itself, but the mood it inspired in people, both at large and up close. He and his friends would put it on and feel such disgust, such negative energy accumulating within themselves thanks to that music that they became genuinely frightened at how there seemed to be nothing to do with that black aura except be roasted alive in it. Even the Pistols themselves couldn’t survive being the source of such a miasma; the whole point of the group had been to create something horrible and unstable. After them it was difficult to imagine a group, or a record, released on a mainstream label, whose very existence implied its imminent destruction: it had to be a publicity stunt, right?
Give any cultural marker ten years, and see what the people raised on it will produce. Ministry was far tamer as a cultural phenomenon than the Pistols — it never reached quite the same level of public awareness as Sid's Kids, and even at his most outré Al Jourgensen and the rest of his buddies could still be packed away as "just another rock band", instead of the most scabrous embodiment of a country's cultural souring.Read more
I’m familiar with the pressure that friends and family can put on someone to leave behind hobbies that might come across as being fancies of the immature. Mass-produced fare like The Big Bang Theory only reinforces the idea that geekery and fandom are fodder for the emotionally-stunted and inexperienced among us. Even in fandom-positive spaces, though, it can be difficult to distinguish between the things that we like and want to do, and the parts of fandom that we need to help define ourselves.
There are two films within Prometheus, one brilliant and the other inane. The brilliant film is preoccupied with questions about man’s place in the universe, and the ghastly indifference of the universe to such questions in the first place — much as Alien itself was before. The inane film is full of people running around like idiots and screaming at each other and getting killed horribly by space monsters. Sorry, folks, but that's the way it is.
It’s not impossible for two such wholly disparate films to coexist inside the same skin. In fact, the one movie that comes most readily to mind is not any of the previous Alien films, but the “Hellraiser-in-space” horror-SF hybrid Event Horizon. Buried within that mess of a film was either a great horror movie or a great SF movie, but the filmmakers tried to have it both ways and the studio a third, and the end result is one of those films that deserves a director’s cut that we’ll most likely never have. Prometheus, on the other hand, was the movie that Ridley Scott and his cohorts wanted to make, so none of them can fall back on the Terry Gilliam Tampering Clause to explain the results.Read more
I recently picked up an iPad Mini, mostly for the sake of having an iOS device of some variety. It's next to impossible to work in the field I'm in(information technology journalism) without knowing at least something about the Apple side of things, and since all my experiences thus far have been with Windows, Linux, and Android (for some folks those two may be the same thing; for others, not), I figured it was time I got my feet wet.
Some part of me did expect to pick up the iPad and be instantly enveloped by the Reality Distortion Field. I'm not even sure I would have minded all that much if it had been the case. What happened instead was a somewhat milder experience, and in fact an almost disappointing one. While I like iOS and wouldn't say no to other devices that use it, I found my Android 4.1-powered phone to be that much more flexible and useful. (I know, I know: heresy!) Because I'm using the iPad as an adjunct to things and not a centerpiece, I have a bit of distance from it.Read more
When I was younger — I'll say high school, since that seems about the right mental timeframe for thoughts of this caliber — I had the belief that science fiction and fantasy could be all of the things literature always seemed to be trying to be but holding itself back from being.
It wasn't until a little later on that I found the reason for this holding-back was, for lack of a better label, a fear of social ostracism. No one, or at least no one who cared about their credentials as a Serious Writer, wanted to be caught dead writing such juvenile stuff. It was the unseriousness of it that offended them, or rather, the idea that the only way a story could embody serious intentions was by being what people could label outwardly as serious, because how the hell else were they going to know what was what?Read more
When people ask me about a particular movie, they don't say, "Are the performances transcendent?" Or "is the direction sublime?" Or "is this an engrossing, life-enriching experience?" They ask, "Is it any good?" That's what they always say.
Look no further for proof that critics and audiences speak different languages, even when they use the same words. Thing is, that's part of the idea — critics look at the work in their field, well, critically. It's interesting for them (me as well; see the rest of this site for proof) to take things apart and see how and why they tick. But it never hurts to start from a position where you say, "Yes, it's good," and then try to back it up. There are many things I love that I can't recommend to random strangers, because odds are the recommendation will be lost on them. But I can at least describe where I'm coming from when I do.
It was, I think, 1987. I was sitting on the floor in a friend’s room when he announced that a friend of his had passed along a tape from a band with the stupidest name he’d ever heard in his life.
I was sixteen at the time, but I was used to the idea that you could camouflage something great behind a terrible label. When one of the finest books I’d read up until that point had been named Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the notion that a band could be named “Skinny Puppy” didn’t exactly have me giggling, or reaching for the smelling salts. And having already experienced Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Kontakte courtesy of an LP at the library, I was no stranger to the idea that music could be about more than just mere entertainment. None of this was defense enough against what came out of those speakers and mugged me.Read more
Criterion's new title announcements, that is. Among them: Gate of Hell, Repo Man, and Naked Lunch (the latter on Blu-ray for the first time).
Gate of Hell I'm particularly excited about, as up until now the only home video versions were either pricey imports or the prehistoric VHS edition ('pon which I cut my teeth as a wee one). The cover art for Repo Man is great; Gate of Hell, not so much so. Is it me or are Criterion's designs losing some of their savor? The last few months of releases haven't done much for me in that department. But I can forgive them a lot when they bring us the titles they do.
... and the Repo Man set includes the "melonfarmer" edit for TV. Wow.
Nagisa Oshima (most notorious for In the Realm of the Senses) has died at the age of 80. I wonder whether or not someone of his cage-rattling importance will be able to step up to the plate in his absence.
I've reviewed a number of his films here (see the link with his name above) and will continue to do so as they become available. Which, I hope, will only continue as time goes on.
... worse than a lack of diversity is people whose intellectual impulses lay elsewhere attempting to write that way. ... I think people believe artists to have more power than they actually do. You can only write what you want. In fact you must only write what you want. That isn't the problem. The problem is that only certain people get to write what they want.The problem isn't the Lena Dunham show is about a narrow world. The problem is that there aren't more narrow worlds on the screen. Broader is not synonymous with better.
Time and again, I encounter — both in myself and in other creators — the problem of "what you know". If you are inclined only to know about certain things in a certain way (which, really, is an issue common to all of us), you have that much less facility to speak about other things. Nobody believes for a second that a writer of thud-and-blunder fantasy actually lives in a castle and swings a sword, but we'd like to think he did some homework about what was involved in doing both of those things, and has combined that factual stuff with some of his own insight into human behavior generally.Read more
[Snyder] is in fact developing a Star Wars project for Lucasfilm that is set within the series’ galaxy, though parallel to the next trilogy. It will be an as-yet-untitled Jedi epic loosely based on Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 classic Seven Samurai, with the ronin and katana being replaced by the Force-wielding knights and their iconic lightsabers.
We all knew one of the consequences of having the Force merge with the Mouse House would be spin-offs and ancillary works that weren't part of the "main line" of Star Wars films, but still seated comfortably somewhere under its general umbrella. This — as the Vulture piece goes on to note — is an eyebrow-raiser, since it was 7Sam that Star Wars itself was at least partly influenced by. (More so and more directly by The Hidden Fortress, but the total package of influences is manifold and evident.)
If this seems like I'm gearing up to scream sacrilege, I'm not. For one, Lucas has done right by Kurosawa many times over — not just because Star Wars was itself a fine homage to the other man's work (it feels strange to say that now after so much dilution of the brand, but it's true, I tell you), but because Lucas helped co-finance Kagemusha when just about every film studio in Japan no longer considered Kurosawa to be a bankable creative force.
It's also not as grotesque as it might seem in big part because Kurosawa's estate has already given the go-ahead to so many remakes of its own property that another one is just par for the course. Live-action remakes of Sanjuro and The Hidden Fortress; anime reworkings of Seven Samurai (entitled Samurai 7) and Yojimbo (Kaze no Yojimbo), and probably many more that I've missed out on tallying.
So what's one more on the pile — and, for that matter, one more that brings the cycle of cultural interchange between Kurosawa and those he influenced one more step full circle?
(Side note. For those not in the know, the word "jedi" was derived from Lucas's hearing the word jidai, the Japanese term for period dramas — like, say, Seven Samurai itself. Such is how deep that particular vein runs.)
EDIT 2013-01-14 21:42: Zack Snyder denies he is working on any such project. That said, my other comments about Lucas and Kurosawa generally still stand.
Yasutaka Tsutsui's Paprika, the basis for Satoshi Kon's film of the same name, is now available in a domestic printing. I had great things to say about the novel back when it was only available as a U.K. import.
Back when Dark Horse still published manga in the 32-page newsstand-comics format, two of the titles I encountered regularly from their lineup was Urusei Yatsura and a still-ongoing favorite of mine, Blade of the Immortal. Both had been reformatted and retouched to read left-to-right, as opposed to the original right-to-left orientation in the Japanese printings.
When at the time I mentioned this casually to a fellow fan of a few more years' experience than I, I got a seething earful from him about what horrible butchery this was and how it totally ruined the original artwork and I should boycott the publishers and mail them dead cats because blah blah creative integrity blah blah artistic intentions glib blurb. I quickly learned not to bring up the subject with him again.
Note that I'm not pooh-poohing his position per se, just the fulminating vehemence with which he delivered it. In fact, at the time, I mostly agreed with him. I thought dubbing anime into English was an abomination, too, and for many of the same reasons he cited: wasn't it a violation of the creator's intentions to essentially rework a significant component of his product?
I've run into variations on this argument over the years, and they all revolve around the same question: Do creators always deserve the final say in how their product is delivered to an audience? Or are there circumstances where others know better, and might even be able to improve on what they've been given?Read more
In his columns on finance, Paul Krugman touches on a number of other topics, but one thing that's come up consistently in recent months is the way other experts in his field who have consistently made predictions that have not come true for years on end (verging on decades) are still being considered authoritative and have their word taken seriously. And yet other people — apart from him, mind you — who quickly realized they were on the wrong track and changed their theories to fit the evidence, are attacked for their views.
Why are people valued more for their consistency than for their ability to learn and adapt, to say "I was wrong" and get something out of it that benefits both us and them?Read more
I got into a discussion the other night with a new acquaintance about the role of the villain in a story. His take was that a story's only as good as its villain, and in particular he cited a story where the villains turn into grudging allies against a greater danger. I disagreed: not every story needs a villain to begin with, and of those that do, I actually found the example he cited to be more interesting than the usual sort of villain for whom death means the solution to all the story's problems.
Is a story only as good as its villain? Sure, if you're dealing with the sort of story that is constructed to feature a villain in the first place. A story needs obstacles that are to be overcome, and sometimes those obstacles take the form of another person, but a villain is only required for a story inasmuch as it gives us something for the protagonist to confront.
I'm most interested in villains who on closer inspection turn out simply to be the heroes of their own stories, or fragile underneath, for totally coherent reasons. Blade Runner's Roy Baty is sinister on first viewing, but on closer inspection he's more desperate and frustrated than anything else. He does do terrible things — he kills everyone who blocks him in his quest for more life — but in the end he realizes a single good death is worth a hundred bad lifetimes. This is far more fascinating to me than someone who simply spits in the bad guy's face and twirls his Snidely J. Whiplash mustache.
The morality play used in most fiction — kill the bad guy, make everything perfect forever — is something we respond to instinctually, but not for noble reasons. It flatters us. It tells us things can be made better in a way that history shows to be the gross exception and not the general rule. These by themselves are not evil things, because life without mythology and hope becomes that much closer to mere existence. What makes them problematic is when we teach them to ourselves again and again without questioning them, without reflecting on the limitations of what we're being told, and without investigating to find out what else might be possible.
After too many problems with the native MT comments system, I'm replacing it with Disqus. Old comments should show up in the system over the next couple of days.
As they say in study hall: talk amongst yourselves.
Tags: excuse our dust
I find [Christopher Tolkien's] attitude refreshing in a time when crass commercialization is not only expected, it's essentially demanded. There is no purity to anything anymore, and fans demand endless waves of tie-in products to sate their desire to own a piece of their favorite book, movie or TV show. There's a place for that, but does everything have to become dolls and sticker albums and Coke cans and video games?
Here's where I find myself, once again, with a foot in each world. I felt a twinge of what Christopher was talking about while watching the first of Jackson's Hobbit trilogy, and watching the escape sequences near the end play out as if they were a particularly expensive variety of video game.Read more
Comment subscriptions should be working again. One of the many little moving parts that broke during our recent upgrade.
Tags: excuse our dust
After some consultation, a revised IPS logo:
The slogan was a revision based on a friend's suggestion: "Amidst Them All" implies they are more part of the situation they're patrolling, rather than merely standing "between" others. I also thickened up the stroke width on the logo itself.
I also have a rough draft of the insignia for the Old Way, the belief system that plays a prominent role in the story:
A little something visual I'm working on as viral marketing for Flight of the Vajra:
(Design subject to change, but that's the basic idea: it's the insignia worn by the officers who amount to the closest thing the universe in the book has to a shared police force.)Read more
It would be so weird if we knew just as much as we needed to know to answer all the questions of the universe. Wouldn’t that be freaky? Whereas the probability is high that there is a vast reality that we have no way to perceive, that’s actually bearing down on us now and influencing everything. The idea of saying, ‘Well, we can’t see it, therefore we don’t need to see it,’ seems really weird to me.
The quote is from Saunders himself (whose work has been compared to high-art SF), and for me it seems to sum up the difference between the sorts of people who not only read SF but take strong cues for their worldview from it, and those who don't. There is always more to our world, and it helps to know of it, even if our knowing is forever incomplete. It's not the body of knowledge, then, but the thirsting, the act of knowing how much or little we do know.Read more
I'm pretty sure that the best way to get a toehold in writing is to start writing work that you yourself want to read. Then, see who really cares about it, and try to understand why.
(Quote: Sterling himself.)
Vajra got started for precisely this reason. I had a kind of story I wanted to read, and I couldn't for the life of me find anything remotely like it. So, I went and wrote it. It remains to be seen if I scratched anyone else's itch at the same time, though.Read more
For some, The Dark Knight was the moment when the “comic book movie” finally became cinema. For others, it was the moment when the bottom fell out, when the “comic book movie” became a self-indulgent and bloated enterprise, a mix of art-film pretentiousness and big-budget spectacle splatter. I take the middle view: this was the moment when the “comic book movie” stopped being a “comic book” — a genre — and started becoming a medium, a receptacle for whatever you could see fit to pour into it.
Small wonder The Dark Knight has been stuck with so many genre labels apart from “comic book”. I’ve seen it variously described as an urban thriller, a heist film, a noir crime drama, an existential revenge picture — anything and everything that would seem to take it that much further from its roots in either the Bob Kane comic, the campy ‘60s TV series, or the Pop Art Deco movies of the ‘80s and ‘90s. Batman itself has, and comic-book movies generally have, been reinvented to the point where it’s the reinvention that matters far more than the source material.Read more
In John Cage's essay "History of Experimental Music in the United States" (collected in Silence), Cage wrote (in the context of a discussion of composers such as Elliott Carter and Henry Cowell), "Jazz per se derives from serious music. And when serious music derives from [jazz], the situation becomes rather silly." He made exceptions: William Russell, for instance, and Cage also had approving things to say about Harry Partch, whose train-jumping lifestyle and omnivorous ear made for compositions that still sound radical and striking today.
I know Cage was still alive and well when Intents and Purposes was first released in 1966 — eight years after the above essay was penned — but if he had any awareness of it, or reaction to it, I am unable to say. I suspect it would scarcely meet with Cage's stern standards for what constitutes "experimental", and he might well have been dismayed, if only in principle, at the way this serious music (as per the "orchestra" in the group name) derives almost entirely from jazz. It's records like this which convince me Cage, despite still being an idol of mine, held a stance was as naive and divisive as it was sophisticated (shilling for recherché).Read more
The last entry I had posted in this category was almost a month ago, before the end-of-the-year rush and the sheer grind of working on Vajra avalanched all over me. So, some word about what gives.
2nd draft edits are (quick math) 97% complete. I'm betting they will be done by this weekend, at which point I will give the book one more once-over. That part I am guessing will last me the rest of January and then some, at which point it will be out to the Super Secret Select Beta-Read Team. You all know who you are.
I didn't end up making drastic cuts to the story in this 2nd pass. It was more nip-and-tuck stuff — removing redundancies (of which there were a few), rearraning a few passages for better impact or clarity, that sort of thing. A total of maybe one or two scenes in toto were axed. This is still a long book, mind you — 348,000 words by my latest count — but a) it's part one of, well, one, and b) I'd like to think there are as few places as possible where things don't move forward in some way. I may, on the third pass, find some sections (a character speech here or there, for instance) that could stand to be axed or condensed — heck, I'm bringing back to mind one such sequence right now, but I want to go back and see how it plays in context before red-lining it.
If Summerworld ended up being 90% of what I had wanted it to be,Vajra is closer to 80-85%. Pretty good odds. The finished work is not something that's cast all at once; it's closer to something that's unearthed bit by bit and whose real dimensions and demands cannot always be seen from the outside. It's nothing like where I started out, but that's a good thing. Working on it has taken me into territory I would never have dreamed of venturing towards before.