Okay. This could get bristly.
A while back I started learning the C# programming language —
(okay, okay, don't freak out, this is going somewhere)
— for the sake of rewriting a major website project which had been languishing in disrepair for entirely too long. I had a good teacher — or at the very least, a good inspirational guru, a professional programmer who was as interested in the philosophy of programming as the mechanics. This was, as I found, a fancy way of saying he had a morbid fascination with the way programming as a job can turn into a sixteen-car pileup.
I'd already known about the Mythical Man-Month long before I met him, so I was familiar with the whole fallacy of how throwing more programmers at a job that's behind schedule only tends to make it even more behind schedule. From him, though, I learned about Parkinson's Law of Triviality, a/k/a "bikeshedding". To quote Le Wiki:
Parkinson dramatizes his Law of Triviality with a committee's deliberations on a nuclear power plant, contrasting it to deliberation on a bicycle shed. A nuclear reactor is used as example because it is so vastly expensive and complicated that average people cannot understand it, so they assume that those working on it understand it. Even those with strong opinions often withhold them for fear of being shown to be insufficiently informed. On the other hand, everyone understands a bicycle shed (or thinks he or she does), so building one can result in endless discussions because everyone involved wants to add his or her touch and show that they have contributed.
You know what else that sounds like to me? Fandom, at its worst.
Most every fan discussion that generates heat turns into a bikeshed argument by default. The more of an emotional stake each side perceives to have in the argument, the faster this happens. The biggest reason it turns into a bikeshed argument is because fans believe they, of all people, understand the True Implications of the issue they are discussing by dint of merely being a fan. Their passion, in their minds, can be substituted one-for-one with actual experience with the topic at hand.
Because fandom is about passion, the more passionate the defense of a given position, the more right it is. This has led, in my time, to out-and-out screaming matches over any number of issues:
This isn't to say that any of these issues has been settled, save almost certainly the last one. (The fansub-vs.-piracy issue is still virulent as hell after all these decades, and I don't expect it to ever die down completely.)
It's that any discussion of them needs to be informed by both facts and a degree of respect for the other guy, which also means being willing to admit you're wrong. I prefer right-to-left formatting, but I'm not going to scream that the left-to-right formatted version of Blade of the Immortal is an abomination in the face of the Lord, especially not when the author himself asked that the book be released that way in English.
(This inevitably cues up another all-too-familiar argument: The Creator Doesn't Always Know Best, which is such a headache to even mention that I'll save detailed discussion of it for another essay.)
I learned the hard way that you cannot swap passion for experience, one-for-one, which is why I spend at least as much time reading about Japan generally, for context, as I do experiencing its actual cultural products. Not just for the sake of getting this or that in-joke, but so that I know when I'm obviously in over my head on a given subject and need to turn to an actual expert, instead of opening a Pandora's Box of wild-ass guesswork.
I also remind myself that a lot of what I know is not firsthand knowledge, but distillations (and sometimes distillations of distillations). With that will come bias that I might not even realize I have acquired. It helps to remember that your opinions are just that, opinions, and when the facts show them to be baseless you have to scrap them and move on. (To wit: Louis-Fedinand Céline's antisemitism, which I still find hard to deal with but at least I know now I have a context for it.)
More than almost anywhere else in manga/anime fandom, I see bikeshedding in the translation issue. This is something I have discussed before. I see fans with a working knowledge of Japanese made up mainly of trivia and footnotes arguing the finer points of translations with paid professionals who do more paid translating in a month than these people read in their entire career. This isn't to say that amateurs sometimes have a point about this or that translation being lousy, but it's bad faith to assume pros are a) malicious or b) have no idea what they're doing simply because they're "not a fan."
(As if being a fan and a pro, in different contexts, is somehow mutually exclusive.)
It's even worse when the translators cave in to such bitchery and start to believe that yes, they are Doing It Wrong, and the end result is translations that are fan-friendly without being reader-friendly. The less likely a title is to break wide, the greater the temptation to translate it in a fandom-centric way ... and the greater the chance of producing a translation that will be downright unreadable to anyone else. I don't know if this was what happened with Ōoku, but I'd bet at least my lunch money on it.
I'm not arguing that all fandom is like this, or that it is an inevitable consequence of fandom. I've been in more than a few tough, heated discussions that never sunk to that level.
But that requires some understanding on everyone's part that it can sink to that level, that you need to work to not let it sink to that level, and that the difference between a discussion and an argument is that everyone understands nobody needs to win at the former.
The arrogance of ignorance builds many nests in our world, but it seldom rests as comfortably in them as it does in fandom simply because there are so many opportunities for peer reinforcement.
To sum up: You can still be a fan without having anything to prove. All it takes is practice.
Dave Winer makes a point about Apple and their ecosystem that is precise enough to inspire jealousy in the rest of us who have been seeking to make the same point.
... computers are meant to be more than DisneyLand, they are meant to solve societal problems and help our species evolve. That means we must have freedom. And freedom and control are exact opposites. So I'd rather have wire-cluttered desktops and TV stations, than have Apple decide what I can and can't watch.
The whole issue of Apple-good-or-bad is so tangled and thorny you could rip the flesh from your hands just trying to pick it apart. I like Apple's products and technology; I don't like the company's behavior as a whole. I definitely don't like their authoritarian approach to content. I esent the idea that buying into Apple ecosystem is turning into the techno-ideological equivalent of buying a condo in a development where there are no pets and nobody with funny last names. The PC is a mess, but out of that mess has come some of the best of computing as we know it. (And as of late, it isn't nearly as much of a mess as it used to be.)
The other side of this is the practical side — that there are plenty of people more than willing to pay piles of nice green money to buy into Apple's computing condo. They got sick of spyware-'n-viruses, or maybe they got started with Apple to begin with and everything else is just not where they want to be. I have no argument with that. I doubt anything I say would persuade them to leap back over the fence, and I'm not going to try because that's not the real point of posts like these. It's to argue that there is virtue in not micromanaging everything, that when you close all the doors you also shut out the things that make it possible to evolve in leaps and bounds instead of stage-managed turtle steps.
There is room for Apple's condos, but there should also be room for things that are not nearly as closed-ended. Or — better to say — things that strike a more generous balance between being freely changeable, and being a place where (as someone else once put it) a place where Man may romp but not bite.
Yes, Harry Lime's line about the cuckoo clocks comes to mind.
Review material, sent my way or purchased, for which detailed reviews will probably appear before long. Here's my quick-and-dirty rundown of what's currently in the bag ...
Audition, Ryu Murakami — yes, this is the novel that was adapted into the legendarily perverse Takashi Miike horror film. If it's anything like Murakami's other excursions into this territory it should be a good 'un — I read In the Miso Soup not long ago (American serial killer ends up in Japan, oddly heartfelt material mixed with splatterpunk) and this seems like a brother in spirit. And what idiot designed the horrible sub-manga-style artwork for the Kindle edition?
Afterschool Charisma, Kumiko Sekane — the manga-ka behind one of the Blood+ spinoffs has an original story about a high school populated entirely by clones of historical figures. On first read, it plays off a lot better than such a premise might indicate — it could have been offensive and stupid (which was how Axis Powers Hetalia came off to me) but manages to be snappily entertaining if nothing else.
From Haikasoru: Slum Online, Hiroshi Sakurazaka — from the author of All You Need Is Kill (thumbs way up) comes a story about life lived online. Looks intriguing and doubly timely. Also, The Next Continent, Issui Ogawa — from the author of Usurper of the Sun (thumbs up too) comes another space story about a Japanese effort to create a moon base suited for civilian use. Also timely given Japan's recent talk about setting up a robot moonbase.
FUNimation also sent over four flicks from their recent licensing deal with Celestial Pictures and their Shaw Brothers kung-fu catalog: Shaolin Handlock, 14 Amazons, Opium and the Kung-fu Master, Hong Kong Godfather. Haven't seen any of these before as far as I know, but they're all remastered from camera negatives (HK Technicolor looks great on DVD).
An interview with David Foster Wallace during his book tour for Infinite Jest that was commissioned for Rolling Stone finally sees the light of day as a book.
To say I didn't like Infinite Jest is the mildest possible way to put it. The only thing worse than Thomas Pynchon himself is someone gleefully imitating his every quirk and modality, and IJ was DFW pulling off a Pynchon-clone job for no discernible reason other than to point to it and say "Look what I did!" Dale Peck's "hatchet-job" review of the book (in his own book of almost the same name) covers a good deal of why I disliked the book on such a visceral, nearly personal level. It was the embodiment of everything I'd come to hate about modern fiction, which favored concept over any kind of empathic connection between reader, author and characters.
It bothered me all the more because there was a time, when I was fresh out of high school and too smart for my own good, that I could have easily fallen into a career of writing too-clever-for-your-English-department fiction. And when I dug a little deeper into my own feelings about Wallace, I realized what pained me most was a sense of missed opportunity. The guy was talented and no dummy (he'd spent a thousand-plus pages making sure I knew that), but it pained me to think he was throwing his effort into stuff this glum and reductionistic and ultimately, well, shallow.
I was dismayed to hear that Wallace had killed himself, because I kept thinking, "You know, maybe he's going to shuck off all this post-everything blather and write something as honest and true as only he can make it." But it never happened. The week the news broke, if memory serves, I was reading the first volume of the Black Jack reprints, and I think one of the Vampire Hunter D novels. The irony of this, as much of it as could be mined out of the situation, was not lost on me.
Here is something which sounds like an entry in a You Know You're Getting Old When list, so I might as well phrase it like that: You know you're getting old when the stuff you consider "classic" is just "old" or (polite way to put it) "old-school" to everyone else.
I was born in 1971, and immediately started doing everything in my power to fix that sorry state of affairs. To that end, I have a slightly skewed idea of what constitutes old-school anything.
But since the original conversation revolved around anime, my rundown of old-school in that department went something like Gatchaman / Battle of the Planets (depending on where you came in), Galaxy Express 999 and most of Leiji Matsumoto's work in general, Ikkyu-san (which aired on UHF in Jersey), etc. Other people chimed in with "old-school" titles that for me were the cusp of my involvement with anime generally: Utena, Lodoss Wars, Bubblegum Crisis, Akira.
Several things become clear from all this:
This last point's the most crucial one: Most people don't care where something came from. They don't care that Xerox PARC invented the mouse or the windowing system; they just care who's currently doing it right. Likewise, they don't care what the roots of this shonen trope or that character type came from; they just care about the most current incarnations of it. Archaeology is for nerds.
It's one of those things that every "second-order" fan — fans who write about, critique or otherwise go that extra mile with their fandom — has to make their peace with. Otherwise, you just make yourself feel like it's you vs. a universe of uncaring dolts, when the reality is far less adversarial.
The whole recent foofaraw about fanfiction (which apparently erupts with tiresome regularity every time a Big-Name Author opens his mouth about it and says something mildly non-fan-friendly) got me thinking about a project I had considered briefly a while back: creating a fanfiction-friendly "shared universe" project which anyone could contribute to.
The core of the idea is simple. I create a world, documented in a wiki or some other central location, which I also use as a source for my own fiction. Other people can do the same, under the caveat that the results have to be distributed in a non-commercial context. They would be free to contribute copies to the wiki I've created as well.
It sounds simple enough, but there's a part of me that thinks such things have a tendency to outrun their creators. One wrinkle is the relative lack of legal weight for things like the Creative Commons license — from what I can tell, it has never been tested in court, and essentially consists of a civil contract not to press legal action. (CC-BY-NC-SA would, I presume, be the exact license in question.)
Further complications include vagaries about what constitutes commercial use: "Whether or not a use is or is not commercial will depend on the specifics of the situation and the intentions of the user, as stated in the definition." So I'd probably have to draft my own notes about what I'd consider commercial use, and even then I'm not totally sure what applies and what doesn't. E.g.: if someone writes a one-off fanfiction for hire, is that "commercial use" in the same manner as selling multiple copies of a story for profit?
Gray areas, it seems, are par for the course.
What, expect consistency from the likes of Twitter? Their new ad rules are guaranteed to upset people, and so far they have:
The biggest difference between an open platform and a corporate-owned platform — he can change the rules after we've all invested. With an open platform, you know the rules when you start, and they can't be changed later.
Or, better to say the only practical way to change the rules is to do so in a parallel iteration of what you're already doing. But I suspect it's going to take multiple rounds of being screwed by the likes of FaceTwitTubeSite LLC before realize just how tough the tradeoffs really are. Your convenience or your privacy, you choose which one you wanna give up more of. (Nobody describes Facebook as a social ad platform, but maybe it would be more universally honest if we did.)
What I would like to see more of is substitutes for Twitter and Facebook that are built more along the model of the original iteration of LiveJournal. The one big restriction is how many people can join the service and use it, with expanded service capacity given to those who buy it. Or the Flickr model: a not-too-crippled basic tier of service (with no ads), and a totally unlocked for-pay version. (Although I suspect a good deal of Flickr's subsidies come from Yahoo! at this point, so that probably sinks them as a model for such things.)
The problem, of course, is that if such things only scale modestly well, then they're not businesses that present enough growth to be attractive. They're curiosities in the minds of most businesspeople, not the masters-of-the-universe that TwitTubeBook are.
Is it really impossible to want a web that isn't just one giant ad-rotation platform?
A sad pall hung over Cannes, in Ebert's eyes:
While the festivals was underway, the announcement came that some studios want to release their big first-run films to On Demand TV within a month of their theatrical openings. This is bad news for theaters, bad news for what seeing a movie has traditionally meant, and bad news for adults, because that distribution pattern will lend itself to easily-promoted "high concept" trivia. I've been to 35 festivals in Cannes. I'll tell you the truth. I doubt if there will even be a Cannes Film Festival in another 35 years. If there is, it will have little to do with the kinds of films and audiences we grew up treasuring. More and more, I'm feeling it's goodbye to all that.
The slow death of theaters means the death of a lot of things, but more than anything else in my mind it means the death of a certain experience that existed nowhere else. The sense of going somewhere that wasn't your living room and doing something special, with a whole bunch of strangers.
Truth be told, the distribution system isn't the only culprit. There's the death of civil society, so that yacking on cellphones and kicking the seat in front of you suddenly became acceptable behavior (except when you were the one in the kicked seat). Maybe the distribution system is just the most obvious symptom of how things have gone wrong — or, better to say, how they now have that many less ways of going right.
The Japan Society's newest newsletter brings word of this event:
The Tokugawa Era (1603-1868), brought three centuries of peace to Japan. In The Edo Inheritance, Tsunenari Tokugawa, the eighteenth head of the Tokugawa family, argues that the unique cultural values fostered during the Tokugawa Era have much to offer the world in an age of globalization and uncertainty.
I haven't read the book, although a cursory examination of reviews from various places (e.g., The Japan Times) make me think it is more inspired by an impulse towards cultural rehabilitation than scholarly thought — more Shintaro Ishihara than G.B. Sansom, if you get my drift. I'll probably check it out at some point, but I plan to keep a 55-gallon barrel of salt handy.
The title brought to mind The Shogun Inheritance, a glossy book issued in conjunction with a BBC-TV series on Japan back in 1980 or so. A decent introduction for beginners, but more notable for the photography than for its insights or analysis, which are already dated in more ways than one.
The New York Review of Books has a fine look at the "new populism", which might be better classified as the New Libertarian Nihilism:
Quite apart from the [Tea Party] movement’s effect on the balance of party power, which should be short-lived, it has given us a new political type: the antipolitical Jacobin. The new Jacobins have two classic American traits that have grown much more pronounced in recent decades: blanket distrust of institutions and an astonishing — and unwarranted — confidence in the self. They are apocalyptic pessimists about public life and childlike optimists swaddled in self-esteem when it comes to their own powers.
What galls me is how this blanket distrust is not manifested as healthy skepticism, which involves testing the information we're given. I suspect that's because most people, TPers included, aren't in the habit of testing things empirically — it's a skill you have to learn, and not something which just drops into your lap from heaven. It's the difference between "Please don't lie to me" and "I already know how to think". (Not what, but how. The process by which you arrive at your answers is far more important than the answers themselves, which can change.)
There is a good deal more, including this unnerving suggestion: "...as voters have become more autonomous, less attracted to parties and familiar ideologies, it has become harder for political institutions to represent them collectively." Call it the Balkanization of the Electorate, which fits perfectly side-by-side with a culture divided up into inches on Best Buy's shelf space. The only thing that can draw such people together is the crassest possible least common denominator, which is what we're seeing now.
Another nail hit on the head: how appeals to personal authority are trumping scientific and rational authority. The anti-vax crowd gets mentioned by name, along with the "health freedom" contingent, all proponents of the don't-tell-us-what's-best-for-us mindset. I find those trends far more dangerous than the political ones. You can always vote out a lousy politician, but death and disfigurement are forever.
You don't want anyone to tell you what to think? Wow. Join the freakin' club. Nobody likes to be told they're wrong, or they're stupid, or that their limited experiences do not constitute a scientifically broad sample of reality. The difference is that most of us don't make the anger of being in ignorance into a political position, because that only turns into the kind of paranoia where you end up purging your own buddies for stepping microscopically out of line.
And if you can choke it down and admit that sometimes you don't know everything, that the millions who came before you and set things up might know a thing or two about how it all works ... congratulations. It's a sign of growing up. Maturity is when you can live with being wrong and not only not take it personally but come out better the other side. But I don't see a lot of that in what amounts to a culture of instant political gratification.
In honor of the award I've put my review of Object back online; it was one of the many reviews that got lost in the shuffle of the move to Movable Type.
Oshima’s forty-year career, beginning in 1959 and ending in 1999, was that of an outsider. A theorist and critic as much as a director, Oshima, writes scholar Maureen Turim, “saw film as an activist intervention.” Naturally, this iconolast found it difficult to function within a studio system, and the titles gathered in this set hail from the period, in the midsixties, when he had just broken away from those strictures and started producing his films independently.
I'm still jonesing for the possibility that the novel Pleasures of the Flesh was based on (by, of all people, ninja-action master Fūtaro Yamada) will be translated into English, although it's a long shot.
A very good piece about translator Juliet Carpenter:
Carpenter isn't a stickler for literal meaning. She likens translation to acting, in that translators take words written by someone else and bring them to life in a different form, based on the translator's own knowledge and experience.
Certainly, inherent differences in Japanese and English writing conventions can complicate the translator's task, such as the penchant in Japanese for vagueness and sentimentality, or the contrast between the Western love of irony and the value Japanese assign to being sunao, or sincerity. "You don't have to translate every polite phrase. You don't want to make conversation sound exotic to the Western ear. It should seem to be normal people talking."
I have plans to look at more of Kobo Abe's stuff (she translated his Secret Rendezvous) in the wake of screening the movie version of The Face of Another, starring none other than acting chameleon Tatsuya Nakadai.
After my last post, I remembered distantly I'd written another article on this topic a while back, but time and happenstance shoved it to the bottom of the To-Post pile. One archaeological expedition later, here it is: my Totally Non-Canonical Guide To Making Good Live-Action Films From Manga And Anime.
Note that I don't expect anyone to actually follow this advice, but some open discussion about how these things do and don't work should be useful in the long run. Plus, it's fun.
Once upon a time, in the $1 bin at a library book sale, I discovered a little volume named Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee. A Chinese classic that mixed Confucian ideals with some startlingly modern detective-story tropes, it's often overlooked when compiling lists of Chinese literature for neophytes — which is a shame, because it's a) far shorter than stuff like Three Kingdoms and b) far easier to get into.
Well, actually, from what I can tell, it's not an adaptation of the above book, but rather a new story featuring the character of Detective (Judge) Dee, who inspired a whole slew of books by the translator of the above title. They also have Andy Lau in the lead and Sammo Hung doing action choreography, so it sunds like they're going to emphasize swashbuckling and Sherlock Holmes-style "detective work" over plot knots.
Between one thing and another over the past couple of weeks I squeezed in a few episodes of Soul Eater. I had no overriding reason to seek it out other than the recommendations of a friend, but it was easy to get hooked on it — it's just plain fun.
After putting about ten episodes away, I turned to the same friend and said something like, "You know, if they decided to make a live-action version of this show, too, I probably wouldn't run screaming."
Me: "Two words: Tim Burton."
He saw what I meant. The show has a very TB-esque vibe to it, the sort of look that we've had a fair amount of practice at rendering as live-action. And the very things you'd use to cut costs would actually make it all the more appropriate-looking: Death City in the show looks like a movie set in the first place, not like a place where people actually live. (Or die, as the case may be.)
I badminton'd it back and forth for a bit with other friends, and finally hit on this question: Is it easier to make something into a live-action production when you can just let it be theatrically unrealistic?
Then again, maybe "easier" is the wrong word, because it's still pretty hard on a technical level to create the costumes, props, FX. Maybe better to say "less likely to be a mess", because you're just following the existing suspension of disbelief created by the material instead of tearing it down and rebuilding it in a new incarnation.
For perspective, talk of Bleach as live-action made me balk not because of what they would show but the ties the show has to its own milieu: a Westernized Bleach is as illogical as a Westernized Akira, which is as illogical as ... etc. Being faithful to the look of the original there isn't as important as the fact that you can't really retell those stories outside of their milieu without turning them into mere dumbshow.
In more than one sense of the word "dumb".
Paul Greengrass (of United 93, but not of Watchmen) has, in my opinion quite wisely, turned down a chance to direct the remake of Fantastic Voyage.
Fred Pohl talked about the movie in his Science Fiction: Studies in Film, way back when, and I was surprised to find it had been changed drastically from its original concept. Jerome Bixby (of Star Trek and Twilight Zone) and Richard Matheson* wrote the original script, which was more in the vein of a Jules Verne / "steampunk" adventure — "bronze laboratories, crystal instrumentation, that kind of thing", as Bixby put it. Then it was rewritten by Harry Kleiner, who took out all the fun stuff and put in Donald Pleasance — made it into "cops and robbers inside the human body".
The movie's interesting mostly for its effects work, which cost a ton of money and is fascinating today because it was all done in front of the camera, with the cast hanging from wires and with lighting and creative use of materials on the set instead of matte photography. It also featured an ending so dumb that Isaac Asimov's then-eleven-year-old daughter saw right through and out the other side.
The one innovation they plan to bring to the remake is to make it happen inside the body of an alien, or so it has been said. I think it would be best improved by making it happen inside the head of Ben Stein, so they could laser away the blood clot that turned him into a supporter of Intelligent Design.
Even stranger, by my book, is Robert Rodriguez picking up the rights to a live-action version of Ralph Bakshi's Fire and Ice. The original is mostly interesting for the sake of nostalgia value: Frazetta's design work looks better on the poster for the film than it does onscreen (it seems to consist mostly of putting people in as little to wear as possible), and the story's only intriguing if you're fourteen and still have Iron Maiden patches on your denim jacket. No offense to Iron Maiden fans.
* You know you've arrived when you don't even need to have credits attached to your name. I'd have to think I have to tell anyone reading this Matheson was the dude what wrote I Am Legend (the original story, you doof, not the lame movie), but hey, I guess it happens.
... Burton had a film adaptation in preparation long ago but it never came together and he has only now been able to reacquire the film rights from Sony Pictures. Burton is apparently supervising work on the screenplay.
The artist for the series was Ryoichi Ikegami, whose distinctive designs brought more to the three-volume series than Kazuya Kudo's derivative story. At the very least, the whole thing does lend itself to being pretty easily adapted, but I'm not exactly ripping off my clothes with joy here.
The anti-vaccine movement has degenerated to the point where it is impossible to distinguish real from parody. It's just like Poe's law with fundamentalists, only this time with antivaccinationists.
I sometimes wonder if a basic variety of reality-checking is inherent in being able to say that you can no longer distinguish the real thing from a parody. Knowing that the distinction exists at all is pretty vital, too.
After looking over the post I made on Sunday about review formatting, I've decided to create a couple of reviews as experiments in new formats. Since I did this with Blade of the Immortal before as an anime, it seems logical enough to do it with the manga as well. Look for that in the next few weeks, after work lightens up a little bit and I'm not quite so dazed and Led Zeppelin.
I have been wrestling with a problem for a while now: what is the best way to review something that runs over a long period of time and appears in installments, like Berserk or Blade of the Immortal or ×××HOLiC (to cite three personal favorites)?
The way I've done this for a long time has echoed other sites of the same ilk, where each installment is reviewed separately. But with the sheer amount of material out there, and the effort required to do such things, I'm inclined to try a wholly different approach.
Here's a few possible ways I could do this:
1. The "review stub" approach. This is akin to what I did with Blade of the Immortal (the anime): write a short placeholder that explains the concept, adorn it with a couple of screenshots, and then write a full review later. This works better with anime, I think; you can cover a whole season of a series (or a whole series) more efficiently this way instead of reviewing each volume or even each episode.
2. The "expanding overview" approach. This would involve creating a stub something like in #1 above, and then adding short notes to expand the plot description with each successive volume or concluded plot arc. I resist this approach if only because it imposes a format that clashes with the general review format — but then again, if I'm coming up with a new format anyway, I might as well make this one that much more distinct from the conventional reviews.
3. The "encyclopedia entry" approach. My least favorite right now, and the most redundant with other sites. I'd only be inclined to do this if I was creating something that was primarily a reference work anyway.
4. The "first few volumes" approach. This would involve a review based on only the first X volumes of a series, not intended to be authoritative.
5. The "every X volumes" approach. Closer to #2, where the review would be updated / refreshed every, say, 10 volumes with new information.
What I might do is hybridize a couple of these approaches and switch between them as the material demands. Reviewing every volume seems like the right approach to take for something where I want to write about every volume, especially if it doesn't get nearly enough press (2001 Nights).
I've been too obsessed with consistency over flexibility, and now that I want to concentrate all the more on titles that matter as opposed to just anything and everything out there, it's high time I broke with a tradition that doesn't serve me or anyone else.
Criterion's new wave of titles has been posted!
Is it feasible? Yes; everything I've seen tells me this is not just feasible but relatively straightforward. It's just a matter of getting the pieces to talk to each other in a way that's friendly to the user.
Those last four words are the killer. Unless this becomes as easy to set up as creating a Facebook account, it will be a distant also-ran.
That is, I fear, where this project will meet its biggest resistance: the indifference of the nontechnical user.
I run this site with Movable Type, which as much as I love it sports several major drawbacks. One is that it is moderately hard to install and rather tough to upgrade. It's not a push-button process. WordPress has a major advantage in this regard: once you set it up, it's almost totally self-maintaining.
Diaspora* must be at least this easy to use, if not easier. That right there is project enough to give people months of sleepless nights.
From what few hints are available on the project's site, they are planning to do this — to make the process of setting up a Disapora* node as straightforward as installing a program on your own computer. The bad news is, I don't see how this is possible without either a) the end user having intimate knowledge of web hosting (something even many WP users don't have, to say nothing of Facebook users), or b) the Diaspora* people working closely with a number of web-hosting outfits to make this happen ... which means people would have to pay for their own hosting, a major downside right there.
A parallel to this question was brought up in a Q&A on their own blog:
What is the strategy to get to a critical mass of users (or avoid having to get a critical mass?)
We think that there is a solid contingent of people who would want to host their own node. How many people host their own blog? That’s not certainly Facebook numbers, but once we get that first kernel of people using it, we think people will see that having (at least) a copy of your data which you can apply to anything is a really empowering proposition, and not just in a social networking context.
Once again I cannot help but see what I would call the Nerd Myopia Effect here. It's too easy to assume that the word will be spread by people "like you" to "just plain folks", when most of the people who would host their own node are not automatically going to be in the business of evangelizing that, with all of the attendant headache that implies. Facebook is free and dead easy to get going with, and for most people — loss of privacy aside — that's the big attraction.
The problem I see is not technological, but social. People have, for a long time now, had the choice of paying for a degree of control (run your own blog) vs. trading some privacy for having many free goodies (Facebook). Even many of my fellow geeks are not interested in paying for many things on the web; why do it when there's a perfectly suitable, if crippled, free alternative? My feeling is that if people get fed up and ditch Facebook, odds are most of them will not replace it with anything; they're going to go back to a life that's mainly lived offline — which is where most of them were before all this goofiness got started, anyway.
So what would work? One approach I can think of is what Flickr did. A re-hosting service (or one of many) could get into the business of helping you set up your Diaspora* account, initially free but perhaps with cost-plus advantages. The restrictions on the free accounts are tuned so as not to alienate users too quickly, and the costs are reasonable enough (and perhaps scaled according to needed features/bandwidth/storage).
The problem, of course, is whether or not that simply puts us right back to where we started. That the code for Diaspora* will be freely available is slim compensation.
In short, I wish them a ton of luck — and once there's something resembling a usable piece of code, I plan on giving it a whirl. I don't have much of an investment in Facebook except in the sense that everyone else uses it. But that right there is the point of it, isn't it?
The discussion is about music, but this could apply to most any talk about art:
... because of our Internet facilitated increased inter-connectivity, less people are making personal art. Deep engagement with one's own surroundings can seem so boring, so artists look outward with the ease of the click of a button. The Techno producers in this documentary seem to be hyper aware of how their surroundings informed their music. I think these days, the best of us continue that tradition.
It's something I've faced up to myself, many times. I've written books set in other times and places, but I know if I don't infuse them with something taken from my own life, they're dead meat.
The Four-Day Weekend was more directly informed by my own life than most anything else I'd done up to that point. During the preparation period for the book, I hearkened back to conversations I'd had with other budding writers, folks a decade or more younger than myself, all engaged in things that were explicitly fantasy or SF or some variety of same. When I noted that you have to draw on your own life for everything you write, one of the most common responses I got was this:
"But my life's not interesting."
I could see where they were coming from, too. I wasn't a Wielder of the Sword of the Six Suns in a war against the Hellbinders of Nozg; I was some schlub in Jersey (or Long Island, or wherever) poking around in some job where I messed with computers all day.
So I had to rephrase things. To wit:
When you draw on your own life for inspiration, that doesn't mean you draw exclusively on the exciting and adventurous parts. In fact, the number of people who have had adventures worth writing about is minimal. What you want to do is take the little things that happen, good or bad, and draw wisdom from them.
This also means drawing on things that you don't want to draw on. I've had some humiliating experiences in my life that I don't want to go on about in public. But I glean things I learned about myself, and human nature generally, from those experiences. I'd be short-changing myself to not draw on them. You can't fake what you don't have, as Mr. Cray once said — and you can't put into a story the pain and the love and the trouble that most stories revolve around if you didn't get those things from somewhere inside.
Another thing you can do is draw on little things that can be expanded into big things. The way someone lives a completely ordinary life can be loaded with details that are beyond anything you could invent. Go pick up Joseph Mitchell's My Ears Are Bent for endless torrents of such details, like the bar owner who would shake his fists at the ceiling and cry out "I am being crucified!" when he felt like the universe was screwing him (which was more often than not). Writing like this is an example of how a whole New York City of old has vanished, and how a whole way of listening to quirky human experience and seeing it for itself is dying out.
If you aren't going to dig that deeply, then your work is going to be correspondingly facile. It's going to be about ideas and plots and actions, not people and emotions and behavior. People will read it and nod and move on to something else.
Or you can invest it with something from within, the way people like Ray Bradbury did, and keep 'em coming back.
How will the news business survive? From the look of it, Dave Winer doesn't think there will be a news business. At least not a corporate one:
Enough of this How will the news business survive? mess. That's not the question. The question is How can we make news work much better given the new realities? That's a great question and the guy who answers it is the next leader of the news business.
The answer will not come from a corporation.
The way I read his piece, there will continue to be journalism, but it will not exist in the same form we have now. That said, I hope we find a good, sustainable way to fund and protect journalism of the classic shoe-leather-reporting variety. Web searches and opinion pieces are by themselves not journalism, and I say this as someone who has confused and conflated the above too many times myself.
Am I leery about Google getting into publishing? Yes, still.
Welcome to their newest wrinkle:
Google also may want to reshape how and when we buy books, says O'Leary. What he envisions is a Google search for, say, cats and fleas. Traditionally, results would be a list of Web pages with information on that topic. But what if, with Google Editions, Google decides to mix in a link to a book about cat health, with options for immediate e-book delivery, or delivery of a print-on-demand copy the next day?
The idea alone isn't what disturbs me; in fact, I find it pretty enticing. What bugs me is Google's track record for making stuff like this happen, which so far has been a mix of soft power strong-arming and implicit manhandling of copyright law.
... the more players there are in e-book publishing and distribution — and Amazon, Apple, and Google make a dazzling trio — the more negotiating power reverts back to the content creators and owners.
Or, it presents you with three equally bad ways to lose. Each of them have their own problems: Google I've groused about before; Amazon is determined to follow Apple's model in making sure the device and the content are inextricably wedded together; and Apple is ... well, Apple. Few pipelines exist to reliably provide literary content that isn't locked down, which tells me you're going to have to pick two out of three: open, well-distributed, convenient.
I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that the fact competition exists does not automatically imply the consumer — or, in this case, the producer — benefits from such competition. Competition which consists of getting six of one here and half a dozen of another there is meaningless.
Funny how things can explode in parallel in several different parts of your life at once. This past week there was a veritable eruption (no, not of Eyjafjallajökull) over fanfiction, on multiple people's blogs.
This time 'round it was personal, since many of the people advancing their opinions (good, evil, indifferent) were writers. Some were people who had their creations fanficc'd; some were published writers who wrote fanfic of other creations and were proud of it. Discussions of what was legal/illegal, right/wrong, polite/rude, etc. unfolded. Many jaws were broken on both sides.
Fanfiction is strange stuff (that is, to the uninitiated) It evokes squeals of glee from some, wrinkled noses from others. From a few, it evokes vomit. Not just the stories themselves (although I think most of us gagged on all the Legolas-Gandalf slash floating around out there), but the mere idea of it.
Both sides, as one of the other bloggers pointed out, are rooted in emotional attachments in different things. Those who do it, do so out of love for the material; those who stand against it, also do so out of love for the material. The former show their love by transforming the original; the latter show their love by defending it against what they perceive as corruption or dilution.
I can see where both sides come from. Maybe a little too well, which is why my take is a mix of left, right and center:
I've written fanfiction myself. It was, I freely admit, pretty bad stuff (no porn, just bad writing), and most of that material has mercifully faded from memory. It might still be floating around out there; I haven't looked for it. I stopped producing it after I started concentrating on my own original material, mostly because a) I got more satisfaction producing my own material and b) it took up what time I had to devote to such things.
That doesn't mean I assume everyone else who has the urge to go pro will feel the same way. Or should. Many pros now are former fans who still keep a strong connection with their fandoms, and resent being told that they need to put aside childish things and join the Grown Ups at the Big Dinnertable.
The one big takeaway for me from all this has nothing to do with fanfic at all. It's the simple tenet that nobody who takes their work or play seriously wants to be lectured about what to do, not do, or how to do it — by fellow practitioners, ardent devotees, or random strangers. You can make your case pro or con, but the more strident the attack, the greater the odds of someone smacking their forehead and saying "My god! I've been living all wrong!" asymptotically approaching nil — and the greater the odds of the other party simply feeling they're all the more justified in dropping anchor in their current spot.
On a side note, this reminds me of a project I noted down and then shelved: a kind of shared universe, where the story, setting and characters have been created for the express purpose of allowing fanfic to be derived from them. I'm fairly sure someone's taken a stab at doing something like that, but it's something I might be interested in setting up later on. After I get my current book off my back, for instance.
There are two things I hope come from this.
The first is wholly optional: the possibility that Sentai offer a BD set for the series as well as conventional DVD. I've seen episodes in HD and they're stunning; this feels like a show that was authored from the inside out, from the backgrounds to the characters themselves, to be shown that way. Many anime that have HD editions still have that simplified, for-TV look to them, since they were created at a time when the average display was low-def.
If we only get a standard-def set, I won't cry into my beer: the mere fact we have the show in a licensed version at all is enough to be happy about. But it would be nice to have the option, now that there's a sizable market for it. I just hope the touch-and-go situations involving reverse-importing don't make this unfeasible.
The second item on the wish list is the real doozy: bring us more volumes of the original novels, in English. That's something more in Vertical's hands than Sentai's, and from all that has come back my way it is tough to say they could ever fulfill such a wish with the sales of Guin Saga being what they were.
Here's an idea, which I freely admit may be impossible to enact, but I'll toss it out there anyway: a rolling licensing deal for the Guin books, one pre-paid by fans.
The process would go something like this:
The production costs could be further alleviated by using print-on-demand, especially since we're dealing with a series that has over 120 books plus side stories and bonus material. I don't know that the Japanese licensors would be willing to set up a more flexible licensing deal, allowing for low-volume printing, but the idea is certainly worth floating.
I suggest this approach as a way to break the peculiar stalemate that has arisen with this series, where a great deal of it — over a hundred books — remains behind the wall of another language. I know I want to read it, and I'd bet there's enough people out there willing to pony up ahead of time to see more of it.
What say you good people?
Yesterday I made the mistake of "upgrading" my phone from a primitive-but-reliable Nokia to one of Motorola's new Cliq XT (Droid) touch screen models. The experience has confirmed, for me, why I loathe and despise most current phones: they try to do too much, they do most of it badly, and they fail in ways that are deeply exasperating.
I hate touch screens. They replace one good, consistent set of HCI feedback metaphors with others that deprive you one of the most useful ways of validating input: tactile feedback. They accumulate fingerprints and dirt faster than a bottle of Scotch passed around at a frat party, which not only makes them unsightly but makes it all the harder to slide your fingers around on the display in the first place. Those "flick" and "slide" motions turn into "splat"s and "thud"s. A touch screen, by any other name, would be just as big a filth magnet.
Oh, and unless you wipe it off regularly, you better not use the security code function. One of the functions in the phone is an unlock code, where you swipe your finger across a 9x9 series of dots in a certain pattern to unlock the phone. After doing this a few times, I realized that the face of the phone now has a greasy smear in exactly the same pattern as the unlock code. So all someone has to do is tilt the phone to catch the light, look at the smear, and follow it with their finger. This is like writing down the combination to a lock on the wall next to it. Telling me to wipe it off just reminds me that I'm now being forced to perform that much more maintenance I never had to do when I had a phone that sported buttons.
Hey, look, there's an update available for the phone! So, like a good little techno-loser, I download it. I have the phone plugged in for charging while this is happening, because god forbid the battery should die on me during the update cycle, which for all I know could brick the damn thing. When you have the phone connected for charging via USB, by the way, the internal memory card is unmounted so that the PC can access it (which is stupid, but whatever).
Guess what? If you apply the update while the phone is plugged in this way, THE UPDATER CAN'T FIND ITS OWN UPDATE AND CRASHES HORRIBLY. It tells you to press a certain key combination to reboot, but it just hangs instead. I had to pull the battery out and hard-reboot it (getting the cover off is like opening a jar that's been in the freezer for a month), and run the update cycle from scratch again. No, it doesn't warn you about leaving the phone plugged in during the update; why on earth would they bother trapping such an obscure, corner-case error condition?
I've managed to accidentally turn the phone off twice now, when trying to use the auxiliary function of the power button that lets you toggle things like the GPS and the wireless. I really like how it takes minutes on end to boot, too — my desktop boots faster than this thing. And I really, really like how the boot process doesn't even give you the convenience of a progress bar and how the back cover (which I've had to pry off twice now) is about as hard to open as a jar you've left in the fridge for a month.
So why did I get it? It was a free upgrade.
Yeah, that'll learn me.
I've updated the review for the animated version of Blade of the Immortal. It's beautiful to look at and highly watchable as drama, but strangely lacking the cutting black humor of the original manga. It's a case study in how it's possible to be too reverent to your source material.
The next wave of Criterion Blu-rays is up for pre-order, and they're doozies.
The first two are mine, mine, mine. Antichrist I checked out courtesy of NetFlix streaming, and I can see why people think it's pretentious trash. I'm still sifting through my feelings about the movie, so I may end up posting something when the BD is finally out.
Seven Samurai requires no defense from me. I have an older review of it, but I'm not especially happy with it, and I'm probably going to revisit it from top-to-bottom. Criterion has apparently been busting king-sized hump to make this edition a for-the-ages piece of work, now that they have access to Toho's vaulted camera negatives for all Kurosawa's product.
I also plan to revisit Videodrome, which was either the first Cronenberg movie I ever watched or just felt like it was.
How's this for a variegated career — an immunologist turned Nō dramatist?
Roger Ebert lets fly at the rush towards 3D. It's a good piece, in large part because Ebert not only talks about how 3D filmmaking adds little to the experience that wasn't already there, but how theaters are being blackmailed into carrying 3D films.
It's this last which feeds back into my ongoing theories about how the marketing and sales end of the pipeline are the ones running the show now. The exact material being pushed out to the audience isn't important, so they don't care if damage is being done to the movies we're all forced to watch.
Recall the greatest moviegoing experiences of your lifetime. Did they "need" 3-D? A great film completely engages our imaginations... I have the sense that younger Hollywood is losing the instinctive feeling for story and quality that generations of executives possessed. It's all about the marketing.
Losing? Try "lost" - such thinking went into a coma a generation ago, and has been on life-support ever since. Good movies today get made in spite of the current movie-production system, not because of it. The Hurt Locker was a maverick production, not a big-studio concoction. Avatar made tons of money, sure, but I'd wager that's because it was tailor-made to showcase its production technologies, not because it was an interesting story. (From all I've seen, a good story and a spectacular experience do not have to be inherently incompatible.)
It's not the tech of 3D that bugs me, although that can be problematic enough. It's the fact that, once again, bad movies are driving out good across the board.
I got handed a slew of major assignments last week, so to celebrate a bit before disappearing into the salt mine I headed into New York City. Last night's Times Square bomb scare was still fresh in everyone's mind, but I suspected the worst I'd face was lousy traffic. I was right: getting into the city via the 59th St. Bridge was agony, since the entire upper level was closed for the bike marathon. (And if they didn't postpone that, why bother canceling any of my fun?)
First stop: Book-Off, at their new 45th St. location. They've moved and they're huge.
The big find here was something recommended by folks in the comments for my review of 2001 Nights: Yukinobu Hoshino's manga adaptation of James P. Hogan's The Two Faces of Tomorrow. Look for a discussion of that here, real soon.
Then downtown to the Strand:
I never leave this place empty-handed.
... all of which were $1 bargain bin finds.
Also found a $1 copy of The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film (vintage 1983). It seemed entirely appropriate that the cover sported blob of some effluvia that resembled melted chocolate, which thankfully could be removed with a little Glass Plus and elbow grease.