Living forever: human aspiration or cosmic crock?By Serdar Yegulalp on 2012/01/31 20:15
I’m amused by how intent people are on making human beings immortal or at least extremely long-lived. One of the consolations of dying is that [you think], ‘Well, that won’t have to be my problem’. Seriously, the world is changing so quickly that if you had any more than 80 years of change I don’t see how you could stand it psychologically.”
Most of Franzen's comments on e-books and technology are pretty shallow — he's an admitted atavist, as per his essays in How to Be Alone — but he does touch on something worth expanding on here, even if he doesn't seem to realize it.
My rationale for why I don't plan to write sequels. (I could be wrong.)By Serdar Yegulalp on 2012/01/30 18:02
An incredibly well-timed post from io9: Great Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Who Never Wrote Sequels or Trilogies.
"Well-timed" in big part because I was just debating this very issue with others earlier today, and because it's something I've taken a stance on re: my own work. No sequels, no multiple works in the same universe.
That said, I am fully prepared to admit I might reconsider once I have to deal with the way publishing works apart from hustling individual copies across a table at a convention.
On giving the gift that you made, and on what "making" means.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2012/01/29 21:27
A common trope of far-future technology is matter synthesis — essentially Star Trek's transporter, wired up in such a way that you just spit out copies of things via energy-to-matter conversion.
We're not going to have anything remotely like that for a long time, but right now we have a fabrication technology which has been turning a few heads: 3D printing. The technology has advanced quite a bit in a very short amount of time, so much so that it's a little intimidating. Check out the Shapeways site, and the range of materials available for use in a given project: it's not just ABS plastic. Naturally the implications vis-à-vis patent and copyright are pretty hair-raising.
What got me thinking, though, is a slightly oddball, sidelong aspect of the whole thing. At what point does the term "handmade" become pointless, especially if you could program a 3D printer to emulate the very imperfections and quirks that make a handmade item so endearing? Or is it even any of those things? Is it just the cachet that goes with knowing you have something an actual human being created with their own hands? How valuable is that feeling going to be in the future?
Ambitious attempt to place the Buddha in, and outside of, his historical context as a thinker and philosopher.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2012/01/28 19:18
“This book argues,” writes Richard Gombrich in the preface to What the Buddha Thought, “that the Buddha was one of the most brilliant and original thinkers of all time.” Gombrich's aim is to place the Buddha in the same canon as Aristotle or Descartes, rather than Jesus or Mohammed—a philosopher and thinker, not simply a religious figurehead.
This is an ambitious undertaking, and I am happy to report that What the Buddha Thought is not a case of hubris or mislaid ambition. It is one of a number of works that I am tempted to call “revisionist-Buddhist,” works that attempt to wipe away the encrustations of time or the dirt of history from Buddhism and make them not only relevant to the current age but allow us to see more of Buddhism than would be possibly by simply reiterating previous work. Brad Warner and Dzogchen Ponlop have both produced work in this vein for lay audiences, and now I am exploring works of a more scholarly nature that attempt to do the same things.
More choices in entertainment means more competition, all against all.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2012/01/27 23:52
Comic books aren't competing with other comics or being damaged by piracy so much as they're competing with video games, movies, music, and more. They aren't competing with baseball cards or riding around on a dirt bike any more. Is the latest issue of Daredevil more entertaining than Saints Row the Third? In a way, that's comparing apples to oranges. But to consumers, they're both entertainment options.
I suspect this argument cuts in all directions. The range, breadth, and availability of entertainment has broadened to such a degree that competition between all flavors of entertainment has also increased. I'm becoming convinced it's a cycle, and not simply a one-way street.
Osamu Tezuka's gender-bending fairy tale, now in English, was worth the wait.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2012/01/27 16:10
There’s been any amount of talk lately about how comics, science fiction and fantasy, movies, and all the rest of pop culture constitute a new mythology for the age. I go back and forth about this one myself, because one of the things a mythology seems to imply is the presence of some larger belief system about what is being mythologized. Maybe it’s a matter of terminology: would a fairy tale for the modern age imply that much less baggage than a new mythology?
It isn’t as if I think fairy tales sit further down the ladder from full-blown mythos—more like they occupy different seats on the same general bus. One thing I can say about Osamu Tezuka is that he seems to have been comfortable in any of those seats, as well as comfortable driving the whole bus. He created works that were not only mythology for the new age (Phoenix) but which dealt with real-world myth figures (Buddha)—and on top of that created a whole slew of manga which we could comfortably call fairy tales without feeling like either his work or the term itself was being demeaned.
On character in SF, especially bad character.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2012/01/26 18:45
... "sympathetic" isn't the same thing as "compelling" — a character can be unsympathetic but utterly fascinating and spellbinding. Like a lot of the things on this list, this is all in the execution — if you're going to go with a protagonist who's fundamentally unsympathetic or unrelatable, you're going to have to do an amazing job of making the reader care about him or her in spite of everything.The Stars My Destination comes to mind as a great example of this. Gully Foyle, the hero — er, protagonist — is one of the less likable characters of any SF story I've read. What makes him the center of such a compulsively readable story is a) we know exactly what he wants, but we never know how he's going to go about trying to get it next, and b) he does humanize as the story goes on. He begins as a brute, mutates into a creature of revenge, evolves into a spy / supersoldier, and ends as a repentant and a transcender of human limitations.
When SF addresses religion.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2012/01/25 20:14
Theological Science Fiction - Reason Magazine (Gregory Benford)
The point of speculative ideas and science fictional treatments is not to foster propaganda (though many do so, usually obviously and unsuccessfully), but to make us think. As a literature of change driven by technology, science fiction presents religion to a part of the reading public that probably seldom goes to church.
The piece as a whole is only okay — it was written in 2003, and it doesn't trot out a lot of stuff that we haven't heard before and since — but the above comment deserves some expansion.
Write genre fiction, not just "fiction". We'll be better off for it.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2012/01/24 15:11
Writers shouldn't think of adopting a genre as selling out or pleasing the market, but rather as an homage to their heroes, and a small step towards saving society: an opportunity to reinvigorate the calibre of popular fiction by writing it well.
Good advice and thoughts all around, and it's nice to see more folks coming out of the woodwork and saying something that's been unjustly ignored or snubbed for too long: genres are not evil.
Will they abolish money in the future? Don't bank on it (ho ho).By Serdar Yegulalp on 2012/01/23 13:11
(Note: My boilerplate Point-In-Time Disclaimer applies for this post.)
Not long ago, in another part of the web, I watched a discussion wherein someone attempted, very unconvincingly, to defend the position that money should be abolished. He had no coherent idea about what to replace it with; in fact, he didn't seem to be of the opinion we should replace it with anything.
From what I could tell, he had far bigger problems than the fact he was stumping for a not-very-defensible idea in the first place. He could barely hold a train of thought long enough to complete a sentence, let alone complete it coherently.
But out of that grew some thought on my end: would there come a time, far enough in the future, where money might well be abandoned as no longer serving any useful purpose? Note that I'm not talking about a "cashless society", but a society where the very concept of money has been ditched.
I didn't think this would happen, and here was my reasoning for same.
It's the beginning of a new project, and a new way of talking about it.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2012/01/22 22:44
I've been hinting on and off about a new novel-length project, Flight of the Vajra, but I haven't actually talked about it in detail for a couple of reasons.
One, I'm always a little reluctant to reveal a lot of details about a project in progress, because things could change quite radically between now and the final draft, and I hate the idea of looking like I'm pulling a bait-and-switch. Earlier this week I read about how Dostoevsky fed his original draft of Crime and Punishment to the flames after realizing his story deserved to be told anew in a better way. I was appalled at first, but then I realized a) it was his damn story, and b) look what we got because of his willingness to break from his own continuity.
Two, I don't want to get into the habit of substituting talking about my work with actually producing it. I have a deep-seated aversion to such things — I think it comes from having spent time with too many people who were themselves more talkers than doers, and I don't want to imitate their habits if I can help it.
So here's what I'm gedankening: Rather than blog about the book, I'll be talking on and off about themes related to the book, posted under a general topical heading (Flight of the Vajra). Some of the stuff I talk about there may make it into the final draft; some might not. At the very least you'll be guaranteed an interesting time.
As they say in advertising: Watch this space.
(Smartass voice from off-stage: "Why, what's it doing?")
Writer's advice that doesn't stink.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2012/01/22 22:25
After reading Nick Mamatas's sarcastic advice to would-be writers, I have to agree with him on one point: there is a great deal of advice being flung around for writers, and most of it is little more than a way for some writer to justify what worked for them. From what I've seen, most of the writers out there who have made it are too busy actually writing to bother with such overbaked homilies.
That said, here's my take on his rules. Nothing dogmatic here, just some observations from my side.
1. Don't give up, but don't get a swelled head either.
If you want to write, you almost certainly will continue to do so without any incentive other than the reward of writing itself. What you need to want even more than that — assuming you have it — is the willingness to look at your work as egolessly as possible and improve it.
2. Show what needs to be shown and tell what needs to be told.
There is no golden rule for this; you have to figure out on your own what the thresholds are. Look for other examples of showing and telling that seem to work; compare notes with others whose opinions you trust.
3. Be yourself.
You're a writer, sure, and you want your work to be noticed. But you're a lot of other things, too. Don't crowd that stuff out of the picture, because those things feed back into making you a better writer (and, most likely, a more balanced person.)
Most people are going to be more interested in you as you-the-person instead of you-the-writer, especially if you aren't published yet — and sometimes even if you are. If you're a schlub, work on that first. It'll benefit more than just your writing career.
4. Be yourself on the Internet as well.
See #3. Just remember that anything you type in anger at 2 A.M. is probably not going to help your position.
5. Aim ahead.
Don't aim for the top; aim forward. The "top" is arbitrary. Selling a million copies of something is a very narrow definition of "success" — it's nice, but it's not the whole picture, and it can be misleading.
Finish the work you have in front of you, make it the best possible work you can in this moment in time, learn from what didn't work, and move on to whatever else you have planned. Kurosawa said it best: "When I am asked what my favorite of my films is, I say 'My next one.'"
6. It is what it is.
It helps to be able to see your ego for what it is and what it's trying to do to, and, in, your work. The more you practice this, the better you get at listening to it when it matters (as in when you need that voice to give a story its particular force and energy) and ignoring it when it's just getting in the way (as in when it's telling you to leave in things that simply do not help).
7. Revise as you must.
The more you actually write, finish, and revise, the easier it gets to tell what needs another round and what doesn't. Some things are best left as-is in their first white-hot incarnation. That said, you should always consider anything you produce worthy of a second look.
8. Write every day.
Sorry, I have to dissent on this one. The question of how much is open-ended, though. A thousand words, two thousand, five hundred — none of those are absolutes. Pick something that fits your life. If you find the ideal number is zero, at least then you won't be kidding yourself.
9. Don't think about the goals.
This is my way of stepping around all those other recommendations in one swoop. The more you get hung up on addressing arbitrarily goals (and believe me, they're all arbitrary), the less interesting writing itself seems.
If you dread the idea of sitting in front of the keyboard that much, either confront the dread or get another hobby. You'll be much happier either way.
10. Get out and live a bit.
Writing isn't like anything else, and neither is life itself. Go get some life under your belt so you have something to write about. Watching movies is not life. Reading other books is not life, either. They can add to life, and they often should, but they aren't substitutes for direct experience. Don't draw on the way people interact on TV when you can draw on how they interact right in front of you. And if you're not paying attention to that stuff in the first place, why cheat yourself?
Will any of this work for you? I have no idea. Why not go find out?
I've added category-specific navigation to the "Next" and "Previous" links at the top of every article. This way you can easily browse back and forth between movie reviews, books, etc. Turns out there was a very easy way to do...By Serdar Yegulalp on 2012/01/21 13:29
I've added category-specific navigation to the "Next" and "Previous" links at the top of every article. This way you can easily browse back and forth between movie reviews, books, etc. Turns out there was a very easy way to do this in Movable Type; I thought it required a plug-in or some other low-level monkeying.
Sexual violence misused in the arts, continued.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2012/01/20 10:05
This serves as a good follow-up to my earlier post about the misuse of sexual violence in fiction:
... at the age of 41, at about 94 minutes into "The Divide," I reached a breaking point, and I realized that I am pretty much incapable of sitting through one more cheap, pointless, exploitative rape in a movie.
Intriguing look at how Buddhism was equated with nihilism in 19th-century philosophy, for reasons more to do with politics than the intellect.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2012/01/13 19:32
This survey of the intellectual history of Buddhism in the West was not written as a full-blown exegesis, but rather as an attempt to trace the prevalence of a single, common thread of thought: why Buddhism was regarded by many prominent 19th-century intellectuals (and earlier than that as well) as a “cult of nothingness” or a religion whose highest affirmation was nihilism.
The first thing Roger-Pol Droit assumes of his readers is that they understand the general history and conceits of Buddhism. His main audience is not laypersons, although an educated person without a scholarly background can make sense of the book without undue effort and derive quite a bit from it. He speaks most directly to people who have a scholarly understanding of Buddhism—and, most importantly, those who already understand without laborious explanation how Buddhism explicitly rejects nihilism and encourages positive action in the real world. For that reason, there is no general introduction to Buddhism in the book, but rather a direct plunging into the fray.
The first program I ever used for word processing was WordStar 3.3, which came with the PC clone my father brought home from work one day. For perspective, this machine -- the Panasonic Senior Partner, it was called -- was...By Serdar Yegulalp on 2012/01/11 18:23
The first program I ever used for word processing was WordStar 3.3, which came with the PC clone my father brought home from work one day. For perspective, this machine — the Panasonic Senior Partner, it was called — was what they called a "lunchbox" or "luggable" PC — a full clone of the original IBM PC with a built-in 9" monochrome monitor, two 5" floppy drives (one of which was replaced with 10MB hard drive later on), a built-in thermal printer, and a power supply so loud you could hear the machine running from the next room. I think I ended up using the PC more than my father did.
I stayed with WordStar 3.3 (later 4.0) until I eventually bought my own PC, when I switched over to WordPerfect. That in turn I stayed with until I discovered Word for Windows, where I remain today. I mention this to some people — mostly purists who still use the DOS version of WordPerfect — and I watch them thrash around and scream in agony. Why, why, why would I want to give up on the purity, the simplicity, the elegance of WordPerfect and replace it with that awfulbad terrinogood abominotrocity known as Word?!
Between bouts of work, work, work and work, I've been straightening up both the house and the PC. Over the years, one's user documents directory becomes a stupefying toxic waste dump of digital effluvia. I've been unearthing half-started projects that...By Serdar Yegulalp on 2012/01/09 14:34
Between bouts of work, work, work and work, I've been straightening up both the house and the PC. Over the years, one's user documents directory becomes a stupefying toxic waste dump of digital effluvia. I've been unearthing half-started projects that I can't even remember writing, fragments of this and that, things which I imagined looked good in the ten seconds it took to scribble them down, and just a whole farrago of utter clabber that I deleted without looking back.
One thing I did find was a list of full-length projects which I actually completed, and it was humbling to see how many of them were in there. Humbling in the sense that most of them are not worth showing to other people. I've completed at least twice as much stuff as I've actually published or made available, although the ratio of unshown-to-shown stuff has gone up in the last several years. That's most likely due to me finishing stuff, learning from it, and then rolling what I learned into the next project.
A couple of these things are worth dusting off and republishing — like Another Worldly Device, one of my first really ambitious novels. Flawed as it is, it's worth saving. Many of them are things that were cannibalized for other works, like the two aborted attempts at a novel called The Young Gods, pieces of which were recycled into Summerworld. The two projects couldn't have been more dissimilar.
The one thing I've learned from all this is to not look back. Not in the sense of "don't learn from your mistakes" — who'd want to forego that opportunity? — but in the sense of, don't regret producing those hundreds of thousands of words that you simply can't show anyone because they aren't up to your current standard of quality, or don't represent you at your best. They are part of how you got here.
Whenever I was at a convention, I'd almost always end up at a table next to an artist and watch them at work. The one thing you almost never see when an artist works is the hundred other images they produced that led to them producing the one you do see. You never see the stuff they tore up or ditched halfway through; you never see the dead ends and the experiments that never should have been. But all that stuff leads them somewhere. It's only because we see the 1% at the tip of the 'berg, the finished product, that we never think about the 99% beneath it.
Every time I've made revisions of one of my books, I've made a discrete copy of the draft and set change-tracking to allow all the edits to be displayed. I don't do this under the delusion that it's going to be of historical importance to anyone else someday — yeah, like my papers are going to end up in some university library — but mostly out of a sense of completeness. I like to know how I got here, and what terrain I traversed on the way.
While grousing elsewhere about the Akira live-action adaptation -- which now mercifully seems to be off the table -- I used the term "insider's hubris". This was a phrase I coined a while back to describe the kind of disconnect...By Serdar Yegulalp on 2012/01/08 12:08
I have had an essay in the works for some time where the core thesis is that most SF (and fantasy, but I see more of this in SF than fantasy) is written by and for people who read mainly...By Serdar Yegulalp on 2012/01/03 15:28
I have had an essay in the works for some time where the core thesis is that most SF (and fantasy, but I see more of this in SF than fantasy) is written by and for people who read mainly because they are interested in ideas and situations, rather than people and feelings. The essay remains unfinished because I have a hard time making it sound like I am tarring and feathering everyone who reads SF and fantasy, and that's not what I wanted to do with it.
Yet over and over again, I get this nagging feeling that I find hard to put into words about both the writers and audience for much of this material. I suspect this feeling, again, does not encompass all of both, but enough of each for it to be noteworthy. And the more I think about it, the more I suspect the things that bother me are not exclusive to SF and fantasy, or genre fiction generally: they are more a matter of bad writing overall than they are of a bad genre.
Some of this snapped into focus when reading an essay by Jim Hines at Apex about the wretched way sexual violence is treated in most SF and fantasy. The things he describes, though, could apply to any story in any genre — but then this sentence jumped out at me:
If you ever run into an editor, ask them how many badly-written, vicious, misogynistic, angry, and just plain awful stories they receive about rape and sexual violence. (Especially if they edit dark fantasy or horror.)
Deadline has a nice piece in the "what the hell happened to the movies?" category, with the telling headline "Brands, Budgets, & Bankability Still Don’t Explain Why Studios Are In Crisis." One issue that comes more to mind when I...By Serdar Yegulalp on 2012/01/02 20:59
Deadline has a nice piece in the "what the hell happened to the movies?" category, with the telling headline "Brands, Budgets, & Bankability Still Don’t Explain Why Studios Are In Crisis." One issue that comes more to mind when I read this piece: the closed-ended, suicidal production schedules of most Hollywood films.
Most people don't know this, but a big Hollywood movie has a release date the minute it's considered a go picture. It's pre-booked into theaters from that moment, and is only moved around if absolutely needed (and even the only by a few weeks, tops). This is a reflection of two things: the amount of control the theater chains have as one of the mouths of the distribution pipeline, and how locked-in the whole process is from front to back. It's the ideal process for a business whose entire monetization model is the minimization of risk.
Science fiction, rebooted.
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind