Wednesday, January 31, 2007

CSI

In every human interaction there are what you might call 'defining events'. Something happens, somebody does something that creates a wide opening in the carefully constructed skin which the requirements of social interaction conventions and decorum wrap around our true motivations and the elements of what makes us tick.

If you happen to be observant—or maybe if contingency basically shoves your face near that opening and says 'take good look: that's what this sucker is really like!'—you will gain insights that might otherwise forever be inaccessible; for overall and in general people do their best not to let such openings appear. Of course, others are so basically mentally dense and what can best be called 'socially clueless' that these revelatory cuts in their protective skins appear like pustules on a plague carrier virtually all of the time—and usually without them being aware that, in a metaphorical sense, those around them who aren't blind, either by choice or because they actually too thick to notice, are seeing them exactly for what they are.

Some might say that what lies revealed is 'character'—which I'll accept as a shorthand for something more complex, though I try to remind myself that the notion of the very existence of 'character' and 'character traits' quickly leads to the commission of the FAE, often mentioned in blogs of mine—and for a good reason, because as an adherent to a system of thought related to General Semantics I find the FAE one of the worst errors we can possibly commit in our social interactions and social thinking; not only in terms of what it says about our own stupidity, but also the all-pervasive consequences of its daily application by the vast majority of humans. A better way than thinking of revealed 'character' is of getting a glimpse into the network of narratives and behavioral constraints that really make this person do what they do—and will result in them doing certain things again, given the triggers that caused the revealing actions we started with.

Someone who stabs you in the back and then smiles at you while pretending he didn't a few days later, will almost certainly do so again in the future. Don't turn your back to him and have a weapon handy next time you're likely to have to deal with him. Or maybe next time strike preemptively. It's a form of self-defense.

On the other hand, other folks do things, little and big, that show the exact opposite—usually that underneath the skin of appearance lurk motivations, constraints and narratives that warrant attributing to the person such words as 'noble'.

The key to detecting the 'truth' about what makes someone tick and likely react this way or that is, of course, observation—and acceptance that, what is being observed constitutes some kind of evidence for the truth of something else. Let me put another plug in here for General Semantics, which is having a kind of revival these days and provides the implicit philosophical underpinning of the various TV shows containing the acronym 'CSI'. It amuses me to think that here, probably without being aware of it, is a whole lesson in philosophy and thinking, all wrapped up in some apparently trendy currently-in-fashion prime-time TV crap. I doubt the creators understand what they are doing, and the public even less so. But the GS meme lurks in there somewhere, using these hosts to slip itself into the consciousness of hundreds of millions of those who watch this on a regular basis.

Needless to say I applaud this development. It's going to be transient, of course, as such things are; but CSI shows have been around for long enough to make me think that it'll take a while for something else to supplant them.

Squish the nano

Soft the micro. Down with everything associated with Windows®. Vista® Shmista™. Some people now feel justified to state that, again, the Nanosquish® people have provided evidence for the paranoid-seeming assertion that Apple is the real R&D arm of their organization. Else you'd have to call VistaShmista®™ the most revolting exercise in design-'plagiarism' ever—and you would possibly get sued for that by this corporate obscenity; which is why I didn't say it. Did you hear me say it? How could you?

And then there was that ten seconds I made the mistake of staring at a TV without something running there I actually wanted to see; and this retard journalist, who fronts up one of the prime-time immediate-post-news magazine shows every weeknight announced the imminent launch of 'Microsoft®'s epoch making new operating system Vista®™', and they were going to be 'right there' when it happened.

I lost several hundredths of millimeters of the little remaining enamel on the biting surfaces of my teeth—and my expletives would have made Calamity Jane proud of me.

End of my anti-Nanosquish® rant for today. But I had to say it. I hate the f...ers. Every second I spend looking at a Windoze® interface is two seconds spent in an aesthetic bilge. Yep, time drags when Windoze® stares back at you.

Here are some cool Mac vs. Windows® ads from the UK. A slightly different sense of humor than the US version. Really cool. Have a good chuckle.

End of today's blog.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

"Those that don't eat, without exception fail to survive."

"Without a day's education, medical or otherwise, I vouchsafe this fuckin' truth: those that don't eat, without exception fail to survive."

Yep: Calamity Jane, (Episode 0308).

And, by the way, the answer to the question at the end of the previous blog is: "that my heart takes another beat". For I vouchsafe this truth: if it don't, in a just a few moments after that, after maybe an opportunity for a last few snippets of thought, nothing will either matter or not matter to you anymore; and the world and you, for you at least—though you won't even be aware of that anymore—will have ceased to exist forever.

Every moment...

bump — bump — bump — bump — ...

Or not.

And one day it won't.

The matter is so immediate, obvious and apparently simple and trivial that one might well think "so what?" Well, it seems to me that this is one of those basics we tend to forget, and with it we lose all our sense of perspective. Appreciating the fundamental importance of one's next heartbeat is the basis for learning to live 'in the moment'—for 'living' per se.

This is, of course, part of the theme of Thunder Trail, the movie I'm trying to put together—though I fear that if it does get made, it won't be funded by anyone but me, and I don't think I can afford that right now. Thing is, the DCC, at best, has funding for something labeled 'community projects'. Well, I'm not a 'community', nor do I qualify on the basis of being any kind of charitable or non-profit organization with 'good community standing' or a 'proven record'. C'est la vie, I suppose. Story of my story-teller's life. The good thing about it is that, once something comes of all this, I can safely say that nobody except my friends helped me with any of this. Beholden I am, as it were, to none but them.

Thunder Trail is an interesting study in how stories develop and mutate—and sometimes become 'about' something they weren't originally. It all started with a notion to make another movie about a 'threesome', similarly to a movie called Twisted, filmed by one Phil Davison on digital video a few years back and scripted by yours truly. 'Threesomes' are comparatively cheap to make, and they usually live off the 'thriller' element. Thunder Trail, the original script conceived with a medium-sized budget in mind, was set mostly in the outdoors and would have required some stunts. With a small-to-tiny budget we've got to get away from the action and increase the 'drama' factor. One could, of course, also increase the 'weird' or 'rebel film maker' factor, but I'm not into that. It generally produces crap movies that substitute effects for story and drama and gross-outs for decent dialogue. I'd rather go the other way. Take a look at Deadwood—about which I will say much more once I've finally gotten to watch the final episodes—and see how much mileage you can get out of a good setup and well-scripted drama.

Anyway, Thunder Trail is heading the drama way. It also found, in the adaptation to low-budget, something it would not have had in its original conception. It's that thing Joss Whedon was talking about in his director's commentary for Serenity, when he said that there was that point where they knew they 'had a movie'. I know what he means, because I now know that I, too, actually 'have a movie'. Don't have the altered script yet, but I know totally what it's going to be all about. I also realize that I have to have four actors, because it's become a foursome; with the fourth participant being a ghost. So we have four views of life, each playing off against the other and hopefully coming together in a small symphony of sorts. Maybe the closest thing I've yet come to something that qualifies as an 'art movie'. But it'll come from the heart, and that's where it has to come from.

Now, if only I could the money I need to make it.

Patience, my young Padawan. Patience...

To live or not to live

The ultimate source for the ultimate destruction of any utopia—yep, still on that subject—is that for every human being it is true that "Every day takes figurin' again how to fuckin' live!" This imposition on each and every one of us, together with the fact that we are all in principio unable to know most things we need to know in order to make decision based on a sufficiency of data, makes utopias impossible. For utopias would require that everybody basically does know how to live and what to do—at a very fundamental level. There can be no more open questions about fundamental ethics or purpose or the meaning of life. The moment there's even a single one left in the mind of a single person old enough to matter and influence any given utopian society, that person will either need to be drastically trained to have more conformant thoughts—Anybody, like I do, think Clockwork Orange here? More benignly, of course, but any less compulsive?—or else be exiled to some designated place of suitable 'exile', or else the utopia is doomed. For utopias are binary.

Among the first people to disappear in utopias would be the tellers of stories that are anything but decorous and conformist stories. Any nonconformist story would constitute dissent. Any dissent would imply that the utopia is not as it should be—and, even more dangerously, that others might be persuaded by reading the stories in question, that the teller of the tale has a point. End of utopia.

It occurs to me that utopias are like gods—ultimately bloating to become 'God'—and that their genesis is similar.

Wouldn't it be nice if the world were a better place?
Sure!
Wouldn't it be nice if it were a much better place?
Even better.
How about a really, really good place?
Sound's cool to me.
A supercool good place!
Yeah, man!
Where we would all like love each other and stuff, and there's no poverty and no wealth.
You said it!
Like an ideal kind of world.
Man! Let's do it!

You get the idea, I'm sure. I could hark on about this, but I think we've had enough of UDS, Utopian Disorder Syndrome.

Back to the real world, where I'm going to ask you one of those questions—only this one's actually very simple, and if you look for the complicated you'll miss its point. And, yes, I will answer that in the next blog—meaning, of course, that if you read this blog after the next one, which comes before it in the insane blogger universe of enforced sort-by-last-entry-first!—rather than letting you dangle there.

At the end of this blog there will be the letter 'X'.

at the very instant—insofar as anything can be localized to an 'instant'—that you read that letter 'X'...giving you time here to set yourself up!...what is the most important thing in your life?

Ready?



X

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Better than us

Here's one recent commentary from a film-maker (name omitted) regarding his view of his mission in life—or whatever...

"I don't feel so proud as a human being today, as an adult. Me, I'm not proud of the [rest of the world] either, it's not just me, it's not my fault. I don't feel so good, I don't feel proud, to leave the world the way we're leaving it to the 800 richest people in the world who have all the money to the 800 millions of poor people. Something is wrong. I mean, c'mon. I'm not part of the 800 guys; I'm not part of the 800 million, but we cannot live like this. We're going through a catastrophe if we live like this. There's billions of people who live with one dollar a day, and global warming and pollution. You feel responsible, so you turn to who? You can talk to adults—and there's better people than me who can talk about it, because I'm not a specialist, I'm just a citizen—or you can tell a story to a younger audience to at least try to give them some feeling so that they can be better than us. "

Go on, just nod. He's right, isn't he? Terrible world we live in. Worse than ever. All those evil capitalists and rich bastards. 800 of them. Give or take a few; who knows how many those 'few' are. And what can the little man do—he who isn't one of the 800 million? I thought...ahh, never mind, I guess he's saying, if he's capable of such metaphors, that the ratio of really-poor to really-rich is about 1 million to one and that, since there are over six billion people on Earth nowadays, that the ratio of those who are not a part of those 800 million is something in the area of 5 billion—give or take a few again. Meaning that at least six times as many people are 'well off' enough as aren't. Such at least is the math as it stands. If 'math' there was, rather than just self-indulgent jerking off. I'm still struggling with the difference between the 800 million and the 'billions of people' who live on less than a dollar a day.

Ahh, I shouldn't, should I? It's so easy to take cheap shots at numerical illiterates who ramble and rant and rave to promote their movies. Thing is, I would have expected more of a director. It takes a lot of organizational and other ability to direct a movie. It appears that the ability does not necessarily extend to other pursuits requiring thought, and not even of the complex kind.

Unfortunately the above utterances are a classic case of the kind of Missionary Delusion Syndrome (that being 'MDS', also not in the list of 'recognized mental diseases, though why not?) afflicting a large portion of the community of those artists involved in the telling of stories, from writers—novel and screenplay—to directors to actors. Musicians, too; the kind who write lyrics and thus could be considered story-tellers. You get the idea. Smug Alert and all that.

Personally, I have little time for them, which won't come as a surprise to anybody. I wish they'd leave their 'mission' at home, behind closed doors, like one should leave religion and/or sadomasochism and whatever sexual practices may tickle one's fancy and other places. In particular they should not inflict their zeal upon children, which is what the latest, much promoted movie, by the above director does. I haven't seen it yet, but I take the man's word for it when he talks about his intentions.

Which are?

To make the world a better place, of course. World Peace. An end to World Poverty and World Injustice.

Especially today, when everything's so much worse than it used to be in the halcyon days of yore. Of course, then we had kings and queens, and the average gulf between the rich and poor and those in power and those who weren't was so vast you couldn't even see the other side of the chasm. Nowadays, on the other hand, just about all of those 5 billion who aren't members of the 800 million can see well enough—if they only care to look, rather than watch Reality Shows; and, let's face it, the 800 Rich Ones Who Rule The World, though trying to shield themselves behind their walls of arrogance and obscene wealth—and, yes, I do think that this kind of wealth amassing qualifies as an 'obscenity', at least in the system of, entirely arbitrary, 'values' I live in and operate under—must be feeling considerably less secure from the prying eyes of everybody else than the royalty, secular and religious, of earlier ages would have.

So did the world get better after all—in some way? About the only measurable and unambiguous progress achieved is in the field of science and technology. 'Progress' here means specifically that knowledge about how nature works and technological abilities to manipulate it have increased from some previous state in history. Everything else is pretty much as it was, and there's not a shred of evidence that trying to give a the 'young' a sense that they can be 'better'—whatever 'better' is supposed to mean!—than their parents has ever actually succeeded in making them 'better'; or maybe one should just say 'different', for that's the crucial thing here: that in some way, as human beings, they change from what went before.

Story tellers with MDS miss the essential point of their craft, which is that, as Kenneth Burkeven put it "Stories are equipment for living". Their utility is to "[give] life its form", as Jean Anouilh wrote. They show us what 'form' there is and what 'form' we are capable of giving— with 'form' meaning anything from 'pattern' and 'rhythm' to, entirely self-imposed, 'purpose' or 'meaning'.

Of course, it could be one of these 'purposes' to try and make life and future generations 'better'; but that would only work if there were such a thing as measurable 'betterness'. Or, to be more precise, some yardstick that all humankind could agreed upon about what is 'good' and what isn't. And that doesn't exist, because it can't. The downfall of any attempt to make the world into a 'better place', or to establish a utopia are a number of vexed questions that must be answered before said attempt even starts, such as:

  • What to do with those who don't conform to the standard?
  • How to ensure that the system established remains established and does not fall victim to 'change'?
  • How to establish the standards of 'utopia'?
  • What price are we willing to pay for it?
The problem with utopia—and, more importantly, a utopia that isn't just a transient blip on the stage of history—is that, contrary to wishful folklore, it cannot be achieved by progressive approximation. You can't 'make a start' somewhere and think that this may well spread, with effort and energy, like some virus across the world. Utopia is a binary thing and its establishment would require not only a simultaneous switch of everybody to its precepts, but also, more importantly, a loss of historical memory—because it is in history where lies, on the global scale, one of the main sources of the impossibility of utopia.

This issue is, of course, at the heart of Keaen and its sequels. For, while some no doubt just take Keaen to be an adventure story with little philosophical profundity, the very foundations of the world herein depicted herein were laid by utopians who thought that maybe they had found a way—but in the end didn't. Because change came—eventually, as it always must. And in due course that change, some of it internal and other imposed by external contingency, must destroy the utopia, no matter how cunning its design and how well-planned its future.

Friday, January 26, 2007

The Design of Character. The Character of Design. Design and Character.

So this came up the other day in a discussion about a guy who is a mediocre designer, though he qualifies as 'competent'. He's also an asshole. The issue was raised as to whether his asshole-ness has any bearing on his qualities as a 'designer'. Specifically I'd like to rephrase it thus, and with the following specific provisos:

Take any two designers, of equal training and possessed of roughly equal skill and that nebulous thing called 'talent'. What they differ in is 'character'. One is a person of social perception and insight, nice-to-know and possessed of principles most of us would label as 'laudable'. The other is a soc-tard, skilled enough at getting on with people, but of significant egomaniac propensities, and basically an ethical long-drop shithole.

Do these 'character' aspects provide any indicators as to the qualities of 'design' these people produce—given that training, skill and talent are about equal? 'Design Quality' here is meant to refer to the aesthetic aspects of the activity—as opposed to functionality issues and such like—and such things as how the 'consumption' of products designed by these two affects the lives of those who 'consume' them, practically, visually, and so on.


It occurs to me that the answer is 'most likely', and before you jump into my face about propounding such a politically and otherwise incorrect notion, think about it for a while.

The same goes, of course, for all other areas of life. Is being a responsible or decent politician (an oxymoron to begin with? quite possibly, but let's assume it's feasible...) compatible with being a chronic womanizer or an alcoholic religioid? Or an egomaniacal asshole with an in-any-way-relevant philosopher-of-life?

Thing is, they may well change to become one such, but that means they'll have to cease being womanizers, alcoholics, egomaniacs, etc. They can't be one thing and the other thing that's claimed to be in some way independent of the remaining unsavory aspects of their personalities. This, I maintain—just as a thought to put out there and without major justification, which you can work on yourself—goes for every activity that is connected in some way with those other things. Aesthetics is inseparable, I believe, from 'social' skills and attitude toward fellow human beings. That's because aesthetics is not something ideal, but an aspect of our human-ness. The same is even more obvious for politics and philosophy. Therefore low-quality human beings make low-quality designers, politicians and philosophers—plus low-quality practitioners of a gazillion of other professions or activities that fall into similar categories.

The same isn't necessarily true for activities that are what one might call (borrowing dreaded mathematical terminology) linearly independent of, and even orthogonal to, social and ethical aspects of 'character'—though it could be argued that religious fervents of all persuasions will probably never be anything but scope-limited scientists, because they will always have blinkers with regards to their activities and researches. And I am almost considering the possibility that social dimwits probably make inadequate and possibly quite inefficient programmers, but I guess I am not a programmer and don't have the inclination to be one. Therefore I might not be the most qualified person to adjudicate 'coding quality'. Maybe you need a nerd-brain to appreciate its intricate aesthetics. Though here, too, one needs to appreciate that 'software engineering' and 'coding' are two very different things.

Everything depends on everything else. We tend to forget that this is an all-pervasive truth.

By the way, Ben, I was meaning to screw with your mind when I injected the mathematical terminology into this blog. But you knew that, right?

Thursday, January 25, 2007

To tell or not to tell

I've mentioned this before: I have Obsessive Compulsive Storyteller's Disorder, also sometimes described as a 'syndrome'—making it into an FLA, namely OCSDS; and how cool is that?—and since everything's a 'syndrome' these days (here, for those who can read German, is a list) I feel that I have a right to be considered 'syndromatic'. I don't think I can sneak my disorder into the list, but with all the idiotic 'diseases' and 'syndromes' and 'disorders' extant these days, why not??

Anyway, OCSDS is preying on my mind. Tethys, which was supposed to have been a 'finale', has ended up as a witches cauldron wherein ideas and possibilities are stewing and bubbling away merrily. Of the potential sources of further stories several stand out:

  • Why is the DNA on Tethys basically the same as that of Earth? How did it get to be that way? Artifice? Nature? Prehistoric seeding? Sheer accident?
  • How is Gaston Huil, the soon-to-be-a-former-Controller going to take to whatever role he will assume when eventually he sets foot on Tethys? Will he just become a useful member of whatever group he chooses to associate with, or is he likely to have his own nasty schemes?
  • What is Daveed's—brother of Mac's former spouse—role going to be; especially since he's a recent barely-survivor of Authority interrogation techniques?
  • Naela's pregnancy—or maybe the next story starts after the birth of whoever is being born—and the child: a creature born of ordinary man and woman and brought to term inside the womb of a Sareen.
  • What's up with the Land of the Ring Mountain, whence Teris hails? I have a giant map of the place, or something that may be that place.


  • What are Teris and Falcon going to do with themselves? They're not going to sit on their asses and do nothing.
  • Is it realistic at all to expect that Tethys will remain unscathed and isolated? What may Mac have to do to ensure its safety? How will that change Tethys itself? Will it change the face of human civilization, and if so, how?
  • What is the fate of 'Ailin', now that she is what she has become at the end of Tethys?
And this was just the start. Over time and the last five books this world has become self-sustaining, if you will. It's getting to the point where enough things just 'are', so they become givens and I now have to perform some kind of 'exploration', rather than just throw things into the mix as it suits me. One's technique has to adjust to the exigencies of the situation. The imaginary world becomes more like the real one we know. Constraints exist that cannot be shouldered out of the way. World-building and world-exploration assume comparable significance in developing the story.

Of course, one still can introduce the 'new'—but the new must now be consistent with the existing and may be less 'new' than 'previously unknown', even to the world creator. I'm getting to the point where I have to put bookmarks into places so I have what amounts to references to 'facts', both physical and chronological.

I find the process fascinating and immensely gratifying. When Keaen was written, everything was 'invention'. I had to follow my characters through this mostly unknown world and see what was there through their eyes. The vision was often woefully imperfect and cursory—and I intend to correct a lot of that in the revision of Keaen. It was a learning process for me as well. In Finister I had already learned to look much closer and see details that eluded me in Keaen. In Tergan I dug deeper into the minds of antagonists, trying to understand their own rationales and prompts of action. In Fontaine the nice-girl image of the 'Sareen' was questioned, as it had to be. Ailin was far too angelic, and a flawed angel is infinitely more interesting than a clean one.

And so on. Each time it was something else and each time I was building more constraints around my freedom to create, thereby in effect defining what I was allowed to create. In the end of course that will leave only two things: unpredictable contingency or 'the unknown', and characters. As the process continues I suspect that it changes me. Creation changes the creator, if for no other reason but that he sees himself in it; mirrored through what he has done and is still doing. By the way: no religious connotations intended whatsoever, and anybody who wants to read them into the above does so at his or her own peril and without any support from me. Do not mistake my usage of certain words shared with religioid lingo for any suggestion of analogy and/or metaphor.

However, one thing you might wish to contemplate: that, no matter what 'creation' is in ontological terms, this constraint-upon-the-creator may be part of its essential being.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

No games—no toys—no porn—no pictures—not interested

Well, that's putting me in my place. Buddy of mine told me off today for being too high-falutin' with some of my blog entries. Whoosh! he says, making a gesture of things zipping past his head.

Cool. I can live with that. As long as he is good enough to keep checking the blog out on a regular basis. I don't mind folks skipping past those bits they don't really care about.

Having said that...

Only joking. This is the end—for today. I can be non-discursive. I think. Maybe.

P.S. Just found out that a new collection of Fables episodes is coming! For those who await every new issue with bated breath, now's the time to pre-order.

Let's talk about the weather.

NOT!

Here's another gripe, just for starting this off. Why, by all the NEDs in this universe, do people keep on making endless comments about the damn weather? (Sorry, 'NED' is a variation on 'END', and means Non-Existent Deity. The two shall henceforth be used willy-nilly, as it suits me.)

Said talk consists, as it often does, of observation of what the weather is actually like right now. Often there's also a comment about what it was like a short time in the past. Dunedin, with its whimsical weather-patterns provides endless material for such soctard conversation material. This kind of report will then be followed by an analysis that often degenerates into a discussion with ethical dimensions—like how unfair it is that the weather turns to crap the very day the hloidays are over, or something along those lines.

I know, I know, it's all social-connection small-talk. I guess it's better than politics, religion, horses, sex, violence or the steady progression of everybody toward the grave. ("Hallo, Mr. Smith. And how are you today, now that you're one step closer to the grave than you were yesterday?") But I draw the line at anything that goes beyond "Lovely day, isn't it?", to which one can nod politely and leave it at that—and I never respond to somebody declaring what a crappy day it happens to be. I just pretend I haven't heard it. And when somebody feels compelled to describe to me, in excruciating detail, the way the weather is right now, or was yesterday—all the whole knowing full well that, duh!, I was there, too, and I do have a memory that reaches back a day—I am at the stage where I have to leave that person's vicinity, because laughter lurks too close below the surface and it could be socially or otherwise detrimental to let it bubble to the surface.

When the ethical dimensions of the weather discussions are brought into play—well, as a good existentialist I immediately beat a retreat for the nearest exit, and if that's not possible, try to do something busy and intensely distracting. There's also the possibility of trying to change the subject, but people are amazingly tenacious when they vector in on the unfairness and whimsical nature of the 'weather'. It becomes a creature, with intention and purpose, singling out the person issuing the plaint—for a plaint it usually is—for special treatment and targeting his or her welfare in some way, possibly acting as the executor for some divine form of dispensation of a kind of twisted justice and/or talion.

Thing is this: weather is.

Weather exhibits 'patterns', but they are extremely complex, governed by factors too manifold and obscure to fully take into account, and proceeding according to equations whose exact solution are beyond even the most advanced of computing systems extant. If it is 'nice', it's nice. If it isn't it isn't. That's all.

The human obsession with weather—a daily presence and virtually un-ignorable facet of human existence—has absurd dimensions. There are 'weather channels'! Yeah, I know, I hear you say "sure, big news—so where have you been?" But think about it. 'Weather Channels'!!

If anything expresses the fatuous lunacy and addiction to the irrelevantly trivial of today's 'advanced civilization' it must be—next to 'Reality Shows'—the very existence of 'Weather Channels'. Their target audience consists almost exclusively of western world urbanites: people whose contact with the weather is reduced to a minimum. Their livelihood very rarely depends on it—unlike that of farmers, say, or sailors, aviators and so on, who have an acute and often mission-critical need for meteorological information. The main consequence of the weather on their lives, which are spent in well-sheltered indoors most of the time, is one of 'convenience'. How's the weather going to screw up my holiday plans? What's it going to add to my utility bills? Can I mow the lawn tonight? What about the 'Game' today? Trivial shit like that.

There is, of course, another way of looking at this, and it has to do with people just not being able to shake off their ancient superstitious baggage. The weather had god-like attributes because basically most people are still, in their heads, hairy stone-age brutes, huddling in their caves, wondering at the whimsical patterns in the world around them—among which 'weather' would have figured with prominence.

Gods. Mother Earth. Gaia. In this deep-rooted supersition, I suspect, we find the reason for the religious dimensions to which the current 'Global Warming' debate has risen. The South Park cartoon in which the residents of the town fled in terror into a refuge because "Global Warming is coming!" parodied this with merciless South Park pointedness. It's all a part of the 'Environment' thing, of course, which has even greater mythos dimensions.

So, each time someone talks about the weather, take a moment out to stand back and get a sense of perspective on this bit of standard-issue small-talk. At that moment you see before you the participants stripped of their civilized accoutrements, performing a much-transformed version of the dance of a cave-dweller pondering and trying to fathom—with a view toward influencing?—the ins and outs of the world around them. And, insofar as the 'social bonding' dimension of this activity is concerned, it is probably not unreasonable to suggest that here, again, we see right before our eyes a current-day leftover of the roots of religion as a social phenomenon. The same way you can look at a bird and, with only a little extra imagination, see its origins in the age of dinosaurs.

I find it particularly amusing—albeit potentially socially perilous—to contemplate the participants of a weather discussion and imagining them nude, dancing and stomping while circling a fire and performing complicated gestures of appeasement and supplication.

Humba. Humba. Bom bom bom. Hoola hoola, bom bom bom. Dum-dah dum-dah dum. Bom Bom Bom.

Monday, January 22, 2007

"Every day takes figurin' again how to fuckin' live!"

The title quote is by 'Calamity Jane'. Deadwood, Episode 2, Season 3.

I love the character. I think everybody does. She's the most foulmouthed of the lot—maybe; depends of the episode I guess—but also the most endearing. She's also dying because, as the doctor tells her, her liver extends from her neck to her crotch; but she's hangin' in there, regaling us with her observations on life and the universe and stuff. Deadwood on the whole has definite Shakespearean characters and dimensions, and not just because some of the characters often wax in language that's at odds with the curses, expletives and obscenities that will spew forth in the next instant.

Language is a funny thing. (Yeah, I know, that's one of those statements which, upon further reflections, makes you wonder about what it is you actually meant, or if you actually meant anything at all!) Thing is, I am just having a dear friend reading through some of my novels, and every now and then she—who is an English major, though I didn't know that until some weeks back—comes across some word-usage that either qualifies as, at best, 'non-standard' and at worst as 'obscure'.

I remember the editors of Keaen telling me that I used words in ways that deviated from the norm. My favorite was 'unsurprising', which they claimed wasn't actually a word and should be 'not surprising', until I showed them the word in at least one dictionary of reputation. I also pointed out that—very subtle, I know, but it's my job when smithing words to be subtle if required—that it is different when someone is 'not surprised' as opposed to being 'unsurprised'. I also was told that maybe I should standardize—my term for the process—my approach to choosing my terminology, because that would possibly sell my book better to my potential reading public.

This is, of course, bullshit; masquerading as 'common sense' among the publishing community, and I've heard lots of arguments for its validity. There was a time I even considered that it might be valid. But the more I think about it, the less sense it makes. That so many people should take its validity for granted is a sad reflection on the quality and independence of their thought processes. Well, duh, what else is new?

Look at the process of people choosing and reading a book. Suppose we're not talking about some super-well-known author who will sell millions of a book just because s/he is who s/he happens to be. Somebody in the middle somewhere. Makes a living, but no riches forthcoming.

Someone walks into a store and starts browsing through the sci-fi/fantasy section; without specific target. Just to find a story they like. The processes accompanying the decision of deciding whether to pick the book and eventually buying it, roughly are these (generalizing, but you'll get the drift):

• visual impression of spine (if only spine visible)
• visual impression and imagination-stimulation of cover
• image and blurb on back (does this fit in with what I like to read?)
• sample page (page 1? page #random?)
• maybe more pages
• more contemplation of cover image?

Thing is, once people have bought a book they are inclined to read it. People do that kind of thing. It's why they usually buy the book. Or else someone gives it to them, but if the present is a fantasy book, that's likely to be given to someone who is known to the giver as actually liking fantasy. Fantasy books are rarely general-purpose book-ish kinds of pressies.

Once those in possession of the book actually read it—especially if they bought it themselves!—and are interested and pulled into the story, they are inclined to continue reading it, and never mind the occasional use of words they might not know or not know in that particular sense, but whose meaning is pretty obvious from the context. I'd like to go further and assert that sci-fi and fantasy readers in particular are actually attracted by such usage of language. Unlike readers of other genres, they thrive on such things. It adds that essential thing called 'atmosphere'. For fantasy, and in particular the kind involved in extensive 'world building'—meaning the construction of environments and societies that are, at the same time, like the ones we know and yet definitely not like them, since they often serve as metaphors—demands that we mix in the unusual, without overdoing it.

The work of Jack Vance represents a prime example of this kind of approach, and I am an unabashed admirer and aficionado of Jack's. He's stated that he expects his readers to be above average intelligence—including what you might call 'imaginative intelligence' I suppose—and, let's face it, that mathematically implies that the readership comprises half of the pool of available readers. It seems big enough.

There is really no need to dumb down language for the sake of compromising. There's no point in overdoing it either, of course! But a few words here and there that seem just enough out-of-place to be familiar-and-yet-different in construction and usage, and it can only be of benefit; for my likely readership anyway. Besides, sometimes a word used in a context that's not it usual 'habitat' opens up completely new vistas of meaning. And, let's face it, today we speak this way; yesterday we spoke that way; tomorrow we will speak yet another. Why should one tie oneself to 'current' parlance? Fantasy writers above all, and especially those like me who like to think their tales will stand the test of time—and that may just be decades, with the changing-wind fashions going as they do—should not become too present-day slangy. If a character in a fantasy novel goes "How's things?" and another character in another one goes "How are you faring?", it involves a results in completely different sets of evoked images.

Besides, the use of 'ornate' styles of language allows one—in this instance it allows me—to create contrasts that are pronounced, yet subtle. For example, from Fontaine onwards, we have the 'outside' world and its representatives interacting with the folks of Tethys. They speak slightly different languages, which are related, but in the way Chaucerian English is related to todays US English, or something along those lines. How to represent this without rubbing everybody's face in it every few seconds and taking them out of the story? Well, the easiest way is to modify the vocabulary and vernacular; both, in speech and in the description of actions of the people concerned. The sense of difference remains, yet it also 'flows' without hindrance.

I find this technique much more satisfying and reader-accessible than other methods. And though I have been accused by one—otherwise benignly inclined—reviewer of Keaen of using what amounts to cheap fantasy devices...

"Call a Rabbit a Smeerp": A cheap technique for false exoticism, in which common elements of the real world are re-named for a fantastic milieu without any real alteration in their basic nature or behavior. "Smeerps" are especially common in fantasy worlds, where people often ride exotic steeds that look and act just like horses.

...the criticism misses the point (though other comments in this review will have effects on the Keaen rewrite!). Thing is, 'daka' are not 'sheep' ! They are genetically modified creatures that have a lot in common with sheep—but they aren't 'sheep' per se. A lot of creatures are 'changed' by Tethys, or were adapted by the original colonists. I don't make this explicitly clear, but the fact that I call some things by their currently-known names should imply for the perceptive reader that I mean that this is what they are, and those creatures who are named differently aren't. It's all a part of a technique that might be too subtle for some readers, but others don't seem to mind. Still, even those who do mind still seem to like the story. Which is the whole point of it all, is it not?

I accept that, if 'smeerps' are just dropped into the conversation—which, by the way is hard, because you'd have to explain, at some time, what the damn things actually are!—and then just used occasionally, in amongst a gazillion other exotically-named creatures, who are similarly treated, then one could make a case against them. But, if the animal has a sensible name—'smeerp' isn't, and if some dickwit uses it or something similar, he deserves to be ignored—and then properly and subtly contextualized (like 'daka meat' or 'daka wool', implying its use, while still emphasizing that it isn't a sheep; just something that has a similar function in the society and economy); that, to me at least, is a perfectly sensible thing to do. Who knows; maybe the planet was colonized by Spaniards and they might be calling this sheep-like creature 'veja', which would be sensible, given the etymology such a word might have.

End of 'smeerp' topic.

Back to my friend, the English major, who notices things I would expect an English major to notice. She'd be a brilliant editor, by the way, and maybe should consider this as a part-time career option. END knows, there are few good editors extant—at least in my limited experience. But the bottom line is that I have a way of saying things and putting things down on paper that has become very much 'mine'. I will make some sacrifices for the sake of comprehensibility, but I won't 'simplify' or 'streamline' my language just to attract more readers—if for no other reason that, ultimately, in the genre in which I tend to write, it won't make an iota of difference. It would also homogenize my stories to the levels of others. Thanks, but no, thanks.

'Style' is a strange and hard-to-pin-down quality of story-telling. It took me decades to find mine; just like it took me even longer to find my 'voice'. I'm sure it won't please a lot of people. As long as it pleases and attracts enough of them, I'm good. Besides, I don't even think about it much anymore. It just is.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Global warming, P2P and the MPAA

The absolutely dumbest, most stupidly myopic, greedy c........s must be the retards from the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America). A few days ago I had a look at my fav P2P site, isohunt.com—PLEASE SUPPORT THEM BY USING THEM IF YOU'RE INTO P2P!!—only to find that their ISP pulled the plug on them in consequence to a MPAA lawsuit, which those f...tardy toilet bowls are trying to bring against the whole P2P system.

That's an inconvenience, because I found isohunt the most accessible and user-friendly and extensive of the sites that do this kind of job. They're now apparently moving to Canada, to start up there again with an ISP who presumably doesn't give a shit—for the moment, and until the MPAA's overpaid legal eagles try to come after them—and soon it'll all be peachy again. Meanwhile I have to scrape my torrents together from other methods.

Still, I am not angry, just mildly puzzled at the overwhelming stupidity of such a lot of people, who obviously otherwise are smart enough to shovel huge amounts of money into their own pockets. I suppose they've been egged on by their legotards who in turn profit from the affair to an obscene degree.

Thing is that the P2P phenomenon is not stoppable. These morons can go after the 'trackers' all they want. They'll make the system less reliable, but stop it? Ha! Even as we speak the torrent running the fastest—using an Azureus client, which by the way is too cool for words—on my machine is one where the tracker is out of action; put out of action by whatever agency I do not know. Some hours ago it ran faster than the others by a factor of 10. The risk with such untracked torrents is higher than the orderly kind, because of, for example, MPAA-sponsored corrupted torrents, but stop it? My personal response is that I might so pissed off that I will actually do what so far I have neglected to do: sent these people, especially the developers of Azureus, some money, so they can get on with screwing the MPAA for all it's worth. The further development of tracker-independent technology and its reliability seems an important thing to do. The internet, at that level, is a tool for a measure of anarchy that I find appealing. And guys like me, who favor small business over the larger kind on principle and who is of libertarian persuasions...well, MPAA, stick something up your hole beyond which the sun don't shine; because if you don't I will do what I can to help someone else do it.

NEWSFLASH:

As I wrote the above two email trundled in, notifying me that Tergan and Fontaine have just been assigned ISBNs. That means I really should work hard to get the Fontaine cover done. This enterprise is actually going much faster than I had anticipated. I love beating deadlines!

Back to my rant:

P2P is a lot like global warming. It's here, growing—as inter alia the storms in Europe just now evidence—and unstoppable. The MPAA reminds me of those retards who think they can do anything of significance to stop global warming and the changes it will bring to life on Earth.

Sorry. Ship's sailed. Way out of the harbor and going on its merry way. Best things you can do is live with it. Stop listening to those who think they can control things they can't.

Hence the title of this very ranting blog.

Friday, January 19, 2007

What are you?

Here's the question, and I know it sounds nitpicky, but bear with me.

Guy with a PhD in Physics ends up with a software company that has little contact with 'physics' per se and basically spends his working life smithing code. Is he a 'physicist' or a 'programmer'?

Same question: Guy with a PhD in Mathematics ends up with a software company that has little contact with 'mathematics' per se and basically spends his working life smithing code. Is he a 'mathematician' or a 'programmer'?

Guy with an M. Sc. ('M.S.' for Americans) in Physics ends up with a software company that has little contact with 'physics' per se and basically spends his working life first programming, then writing technical documentation. Was he ever a 'physicist'—what with having only an M.Sc., instead of the requirement-Ph.D.? (I know a lady, who usually is able to think more clearly than a lot of other folks I know, but insists that anyone without a Ph'D' can never be called a 'scientist'! What gives?) And what is he now; or what was he? Programmer? Technical writer? Documentation developer? If he also spends a significant time and mental effort on other things outside 'work', does that influence what he should be classified as?

Guy with a Ph.D. in Physics, but also a believer in 'creationism' and/or 'intelligent design' spends his life working on using physics to 'prove' the veracity of his beliefs. Does that guy merit the appellation 'scientist'?

What, in other words, makes someone into what he 'is'?

One of the programmers mentioned above gets very uppity when described as such, insisting, not without a hefty touch of arrogance, that he is a 'mathematician'. The one who used to be a physicist is more relaxed about things, though he, too must know, that by now he's merely a C++ programmer—and, believe you me, being a 'C++ Programmer' with all that entails doesn't leave a lot of head-space for in-depth practice of much else. Finite brain resources and all that.

There are several ways of looking at this:
• The whole thing is arbitrary and who gives a shit?
• You are what you're trained for.
• You are what you do.
• A mix of all the above.

Thing is, if only it were this easy—for it's all got to do with not only how we see ourselves, but also how others do, and even more importantly which 'others'.

I mean, take me as an example. To the readers of this blog and my website I am probably seen as being a 'writer', though I see myself more as a 'storyteller'. To the people at work, and the 'bosses' in particular, I am a tech-writer and a small cog of ultimately disposable and minor significance in their production machine. To the folks in the dojo I am a practitioner of Samurai-derived swordsmanship. I have M.Sc.'s in both Physics and something called 'Cognitive Science'—though I wouldn't call myself either a 'physicist' nor a 'scientist'—even though I tend to practice the 'scientific method' very rigorously wherever appropriate.

So, maybe the question I'm asking—if a single 'question' it is!—is inherently silly and its answer entirely a function of context. That's probably true. Yet people insist that they are this or that, and their identity and self-worth is tied closely to something that they apparently see as context-independent. Like the touchy programmer who thinks of himself as a mathematician.

There's an unkind saying—origin unknown—that states that crappy scientists will probably end up making a living as mediocre programmers.

Sometimes I do wonder. To be a good and what you might call 'significant' scientist, you probably need more than proof of competence delivered via a 'degree'. In particular you probably need some kind of passion; and if you don't have that, then at least dedication.

That, of course, may be true of everything we 'do'.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Déja Vu

...being the name of a movie I saw last night. One cool flick. I quote an edited version my IMDb/Amazon review below, just FYI.

Warning: this containz major spoilers.

When I realized at the start that it was a Jerry Bruckheimer movie, my reaction was 'cool'! A time travel theme done by Bruckheimer; what more could anyone want? With Denzel Washington and Val Kilmer to boot—plus one Paula Patton, who in the beginning on the morgue slab looks almost like Halle Berry, almost to the extend of making me think 'what the...', but then definitely turns into a non-Halle-Berry, which is all good, because Patton has several times the personality of the former.

Of course, I count as a clued-in kind of guy when it comes to anything containing sf/fantasy, and so when a contemporary terrorist/CSI tale set if post-Katrina New Orleans (a nice touch, and a kind of homage as well) turned into a time-travel story, well that was even better. It's a daring genre mix—a bit like The Island was, another favorite flick of mine—but that makes it more interesting. I know a lot of cinema goers get 'genre-confused' when the clues are pointing this way at the start, but then the movie ends up going that way; but in this case it worked.

The sci-fi premise was simple, supported by the inevitable and probably necessary bit of yak-speak in which the word 'wormhole' just had to figure. But once you accepted the basic idea, it was followed through with fairly solid logic. That's the hallmark of good sci-fi premises, and especially those involving time-travel, and even more especially those set in a current-day context.

In this instance it was this:

Take any given location on the map. You can build a device that peeks a fixed amount of time into the past within a given radius around that location. Meaning that you can't peek outside the area thus defined. The only way you can do that is if you carry some remote to the device around and position said remote close to whatever you want to look at, since it was a much smaller viewing radius. Also, you can only always look at a given point in time a fixed interval 'behind' your current position on the time-axis; that is, if you are looking back using the device at time t and you can look back by an interval of ∂t, the point in time you're looking at is t-∂t. Meaning you'd better look close, because if you don't you might miss it—and even recording what you see doesn't help, because you can't look everywhere and record everything. Just like you can't look everywhere right now.

That was the premise and they basically ran with it. I like those kinds of plots, because they allow you to spin out things without too much strain on credibility. Stephen Gould writes books like that: Jumper, Reflex and Wildside are two examples of the same kind of approach. I've tried it myself in Continuity Slip and Seladiënna. It's a very neat way of story-telling and kind-of adventurous for the author as well, since s/he's doing much more real 'exploring' of the possibilities of the story. Also, simple and clear premises often give rise to much more complex tales than worlds created with too much artifice.

Another thing I really liked abut Deja Vu was the nature of its characters. They were intelligent people and behaved as if they were. In other words, they were also 'competent'. All-too-often this is a neglected aspect of characterization that tends to make otherwise potentially great movies seem unbelievable. The viewer sits in the cinema and says to him- or herself (and to the character actually) "Oh, come on, how could you not see that coming? What a dimwit!"

It doesn't happen here, and especially to the main protagonist. What he doesn't predict and can't factor into his decisions are things he genuinely cannot know—because stuff just happens and that's life. But when he can, he thinks and calculates and judges and knows well enough what's what. That goes especially for his ability to judge people. He's the kind of guy who'll try to convince someone that something should be done, but at the same time sizes up and assesses a given situation, and knows when it ain't working and people aren't going to do what he wants them to. So he smiles, pretends to be agreeable—and then finds the best way to get around the problem. No temper tantrums and really stupid moves.

I know some people think a character needs a significant 'flaw' to be interesting, but I always thought that there's plenty of 'interest' in someone being smart and competent. Life is complicated enough. 'Doug Carlin' is a character that could have sprung straight from a Robert Heinlein or Jack Vance novel. Mixed in with his competence is character with 'backbone'—a commodity I rarely find in people on the whole—and a capacity to make decisions about what's what and what he has to do, given that he is who he is.

Of course, part of what drove him was not just what would have driven him anyway (the notion that he could maybe prevent the deaths of several hundred people), but the fact that he fell in love with the woman the back-in-time-peekers were peeping-Tom-ing at, and whom he'd previously seen on a slab in a morgue. That was very sweetly done, and also very believably. Another example of how the whole movie hung together almost seamlessly.

Great flick. Worth every dollar it cost me to see it. I wish it wasn't in its last week, for I'd go and see it again.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Help!

Some people need—or think they need, or are told they need—something usually called 'help'. A dreaded phrase it has become: "Mate, you need help!" Call in the men in white coats, or the conformism-rules nazis. If you're not what you're supposed to be, according to some 'tard who thinks s/he knows what you're supposed to be, you're probably in need of 'help'. Help, help, help. Helphelphelphelphelp!

Anyway, I do need it. Seriously! Unequivocally! Definitely!

I'm referring, of course—yeah, 'of course'; for what else could it have been, you...ahh, never mind...—to my OCSD blog, because I basically have the grand scope of the next sequel all worked out, with premise, twists, turns, grand schemes and denouement. So, now I'm working on something else called 'excuses'.

Excuses for writing it, when I just promised myself and the world that I wouldn't. Excuses for putting off the prequels—yet again. Maybe, I'm asking myself, I don't want to write the prequels. But then I know I do, and so...

Aaaaahhhhh! Help!

By the way, here's something about the dark side of POD books. I'm not talking about the cost, which is a pain, but about the variability of the printers and what they produce. Apparently the books I had sent to some friends in the US are OK. They were printed in the US and shipped from there. My own first copy of Finister—printed in Spain, END only knows why!—was a disaster. Everything was misaligned on cover and content alike. The writing on the spine was off-center. The pages inside had randomly adjusted vertical offsets. The printer, whence the books were sent is some bunch of slack-arses called Publicaciones Digitales, of Sevilla, Spain.

They suck majorly. Lulu was very good, acknowledged the problem after I sent them a scan of a couple of pages with leaping print and done with dirty rollers, and had them send me a replacement. This came yesterday. The cover is fine now. The inside...ahh, don't get me started. So I took pictures, and sent another complaint email. I can't be the only one who gets crappy product here, right? I hope others are complaining bitterly as well. These guys need un palo con pico shoved up their digital printing asses.

As I said, the dark side of POD. A 'real' printer would never be able to get away with that; not if they'd be asked to redo a run of 1000 or so!

To finish, a picture: my stack of the collected Fables. So there.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

335

335: the number of pages Tethys comes to when typeset. Just uploaded it to Lulu, plus a template for the cover. Cool. Almost there.

Also, in the spirit of Christmas and all that, here is an Reason magazine interview with Tray Parker and Matt Stone. That's the South Park guys, in case any of you 'tards don't know who they are. Parker and Stone are among very few folks whose opinion I'd at least listen to, no matter what the context. I might not agree with them, but they're always worth at least my ear and my time. Not many people I can say that about.

I laughed out loud at the interviewer's comment introducing the article:

[We are talking to] Matt Stone and Trey Parker about South Park and their other creative endeavors, including 2004’s wonderful puppet epic Team America, which was not only the first full-length movie performed by wooden actors since Charlton Heston retired from the screen but the most profound discussion of U.S. foreign policy and the War on Terror to come out of Hollywood. Or Washington, for that matter.

OCSD

Obsessive Compulsive Storytelling Disorder.

I swear—I swear! Honest to END!—that I wasn't going to do that. But I am weak and, though I tried to think of other things, like move-making and just publishing and new things to do with a sword and a novel about a guy with a strange (but not outrageously incredible) talent and so on, I had to edit Tethys, because it's never been through a proper edit before. So I went through the 4-page error report by my friend and constant reader Philip S. (Thank you for all that! It was incredibly helpful!), plus another by someone called 'Ben', who found far fewer errors, but only a very few of them were found by Philip, which again shows that different people see different things.

So I typeset Tethys, just to see how many pages it's going to be and so I can upload it to Lulu and see about the dimensions of the cover, and as I was doing that and editing it, it occurred to me that I actually 'went out' of Tethys with more questions than I was left when I was done with Keaen. It looked like a 'finale', but talk about 'unfinished'! And Philip, you're a trouble-maker, because you asked me some questions and dared to doubt the logic of my story. Thing is, the story is actually very logical, but you've got to realize that the Caitlan-Ailin issue and the introduction of one 'Gaston Huil', as well as 'Daveed', and what I did with them, plus the Earth-DNA question, and not to forget about that growing embryo (being cryptic here for those who aren't in the loop on this!) introduces so much potential conflict and intrigue and what in the genre is known as 'hooks', that it's bouncing around in my head and I can't seem to get it out.

The What happens now? looms like a massive specter in a corner of my OCSD afflicted mind. And so we must indeed ask, what will happen now? This phase of the Tethys story is definitely complete. What happened between the start of Keaen and the end of Tethys took less than a year. (For continuity freaks: did I take this into account, on the large scale, when talking about 'weather' in these stories? I only once alluded to something seriously 'seasonal', and that was in Fontaine, where it was mentioned several times.)

A year in the life of a planet and its people, spanning about a decade of my life. I had planned to go about a thousand years back to write the prequels, some of which exist as drafts, except for Turillian Odyssey. In a way this is almost like the Star Wars problem, and George Lucas wasn't exactly a shining example of doing the 'prequel' thing right. And spinning out a story in 'sequel' mode always carries its own dangers of becoming just a way of not thinking of any new stories.

On the other hand, the prequels are inherently very different from the five books in the current series, in content and style alike. And as for telling stories about different things, I think that between Keaen and Tethys there were quite a few turns of topic and general approach, if for no other reason but that it took a decade to write them all. What could be more different than the treasure-hunt/quest story of Finister and the palace-intrigue and political-wrangling tales of Tergan?

So, OCSD had struck. I don't know where this is going, but I know I've got shitloads of stuff to write. I could do with some spare cash to stop my dull day-job and get on with what I really like to do.

Oh, and in case you're wondering what 'END' meant: it's a TLA, of course, meaning Every Nonexistent Deity. I think it's better to use it than the conventional Honest to God, because how can you be honest to something that doesn't exist? But, you will argue, neither does END! But the things exists as a 'negation', and so I feel much better about it.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Forging ahead

Publication progress report:

Just bought two more ISBNs: for Tergan and Fontaine. About a week and I should have them, which means I'd better my ass into gear about the covers. Here's the current version of the cover for Tergan. The assassin is already in the picture. Now I just have to add the intended victim, coming down through the staircase.


And, yes, just in case you're wondering, the assassin is yours truly, dressed up in a black gi, and with a dark cloth over his head. The original image looked like this:

The image of the door/gate was taken by my daughter Aynia some years back while traveling around Britain. I had the negative digitally scanned for this purpose.

So, Bigby did kick ass.

Yeah, yeah, I couldn't leave it any longer. It was staring at me from the top of my pile of Fables comic compilations, daring me not to read it. So I said, "f...k it"—because of watching too much Deadwood—and went for it. What else could I do? I am weak.

Anyway—SPOILERS COMING! skip past the images below to avoid them—Bigby did wreak havoc in the land and the very lair of the 'Adversary'. I loved the juxtaposition of magic and technology. Priceless! Also, Willingham managed to not just insert a mere reference to world politics and political philosophy—as he has done everywhere in this series, but sometimes you've got to look for it—but this time critical actions were explained and justified by direct analogy with what one might call a 'world situation', in this instance with reference to the Israelis-vs-Arabs conflict. The relevant panels are below, in sequence.



Together with everything else Willingham's scripted in this series it gives me a pretty clear picture of where the man stands in the 'politics' field, as well as a lot of other issues of philosophy, ethics and metaphysics/religion. I shan't elaborate. I'd rather encourage you to buy the whole damn series.

An interesting speculation is about what this actually tells me about the people the writer works with. The US is currently awash in 'artists' in the throes of loathing of anything that isn't peacenik, leftist, anti-militarist and everything that comes packaged up with those kinds of predilections. Said 'artists' come from every industry: music, visual arts, literature and movies. I would have expected, maybe naïvely, that illustrators such as those working on the Fables series, would fall into that camp.

There are two possibilities here (not necessarily mutually exclusive, but possibly mixing in the various instances):

1) The money and potential promo value of working on these comics is so good that even those inclined to disagree, possibly profoundly, with Willingham's politics don't really care. Everybody has a price.

2) The community involved in producing a certain type of 'graphic novels' does not consist entirely of the kind of 'artist' you'd usually expect in the 'artistic' community.

I'm not sure what's the truth of this matter, but it would be interesting to find out. It also occurs to me that I may have been subject to a version of outgroup homogeneity bias. I tend to put the word 'artist' in scare-quotes, because that's how I feel about the term. Whenever I have no circumlocution available in everyday speech my hands twitch, wanting to make those pretentious quote-marks in the air—and often end up doing it, because I find it so-o-o difficult to even think about 'artists' (Here we go again!) except in scare-quotes. Unfortunately, doing this carries with it an implicit homogenizing of the group; and the world is so much more complex than that. But I find it virtually impossible to refer to most 'artists' without the quotes. There are very few, usually those who don't label themselves as such, who I see as being the genuine article. The group of these folk includes many writers—predictably!—and in the 'visual arts' field mostly those dismissed as 'illustrators'.

Having said all that someone's certain to challenge me on my definition of what an 'artist' is. Well, an 'artist' is whatever the word defines in any given context. It's not like the word itself actually means anything beyond whatever people imbue it with. That's that. No more needs to be said about it.

Way I see it, there are people who make music, compose, tell stories, paint things, sculpture, write poetry, sing, dance, write plays, make movies...plus a gazillion other things that causes others to call them 'artists', thinking that these kinds of activities make those people different from others who don't apparently do any of those things. Does that mean that a scientist who contrives a theory of how the universe was created is not an 'artist'? Conversely, if we do extend the notion of what 'artistic activity' is to such pursuits, does not the word lose whatever distinguishing pretense it had up to that point?

Thing is, a 'mechanic' is definitely a mechanic. A 'doctor' is a doctor. A 'musician' is a musician. A 'story teller' is a teller of stories. And so on; no problems with any of those.

But what's an 'artist'? One who produces 'art'? Am I the only one who finds the notion incredibly...well, just dumb?

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Thunder Trail

Just thought I'd share this. In between getting my books out to publication, here's something for a change...

Somewhat over a year ago I wrote a screenplay called Thunder Trail.

Three people meet on a lonely wilderness track:
• a young man who has inside him the heart of his dead sister
• a young woman about to commit suicide
• a maker of 'real reality footage'

Ample material for some twisted material. So, I'm thinking of making a movie of it.

Got a new camera. Got lots of cool wilderness tracks for locations within easy reach of Dunedin. Need to adapt the script for low-budget, just like I did for Dating Blind, which I shot some years back.

Practical considerations:

• money (even 'low budget' isn't 'free')
• permissions to use the locations (very important)
• actors (definitely!)
• time (yeah, that...)

Anyway, I'm thinking. I shall approach the Dunedin City Council for permissions and maybe some supporting funds. After all, I'm showcasing some important Dunedin near-city walking tracks.

We'll see. Watch this space.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Bigby kicks butt and more

Here's one of these quotes, uttered by the redoubtable 'Al', from Deadwood:

The world ends when you're dead. Until then you got more punishment in store. Stand it like a man and give some back.

Another one is a fragment of a sentence by David Mamet in the intro to Eric L. Haney's Inside Delta Force, on which the series The Unit is based. He talks about the 'curious, moving and persuasive philosophy of the soldier trying to find wisdom in defeat and humility in victory'.

These verbal gems tend to stick in my mind and bounce around and around. In the process they trigger avalanches of other thoughts, notions, ideas, feelings—until at the end something shakes out of them that very often qualifies as 'rather unexpected'. Which is all good, because it makes life interesting.

So, why, you ask, does Bigby kick butt? And who the f...k is 'Bigby' anyway?

Well, for those innocents who have never read a single volume of Bill Willingham's Fables, Bigby is Bigby Wolf. Big B Wolf. Big Bad Wolf. The humanized version of the monster that wreaked havoc throughout and terrorized the fable-lands, but who ultimately fell victim to the scents and charms of one 'Snow White'.

So, yes, folks, yesterday, shortly into the New Year there arrived in my mailbox the latest installment of Fables, entitled Wolves.


I haven't read it yet, because I'm saving it up like that famous piece of allegorical 'special' chocolate, alluded to by Brendan Fraser in Still Breathing—the piece you don't just gobble up because it's there, but you wait until you find the right moment and place and mood and all.

But the cover notes pretty much give it away, because after all the pussyfooting about in the previous compilation, we're finally getting back to the fate of the two central characters in this tale—and with whom it all started. I have a notion that BigB is going to take no prisoners. He never did, really. He ate them, not to put too fine a point on it. That's what primary predators do. That's why they kill. Cool, I say.

Bigby is sort-of one of my heroes. A monster with a heart. Kind of like 'Howl' from Howl's Moving Castle. Way I see it, the goody-two-shoes of this world ain't worth diddly squat, and never do anybody any good, really. Give me some 'divided nature' any day.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Arvin Sloane vs. Kelly Peyton

Over the period both of my daughters were home I hardly wasted any time watching that vicarious form of mostly sick entertainment commonly called 'the News'. It took my daughter to tell me that Saddam had finally been hanged and, so I heard, after some very undignified last-minute [sic!] humiliation by some guards, and of course there was some fucktard with a camera-cellphone, who made sure that the death of this monster sparks more unnecessary anger and violence and death. Not that I regret the final moment humiliations inflicted upon this cretin during what is, after all, just an occasion of officially sanctioned killing. He did not deserve to die with dignity, and I sense the Law of Cosmic Justice at work, even though it's at a terrible cost in terms of the consequences. The journalist speaking at the end of the snippet of news I saw made me want to vomit with his self-righteous platitudes. Methinks I'll try to avoid the news, for the few items that 'matter' are so few and far between and so rarely reported that one might as well not bother. I'll probably hear about them even without subjecting myself to endless wasted hours in front the 'news' entertainment. It'll also save me a lot of stress and wear on the surfaces of my teeth, which tend to be clenched in anger at said times.

Instead, I'd rather spend my time catching up on some decent TV-serial fiction, or, as will probably become common practice in our house, watching P2P downloaded episodes, because once you're locked into being a season or two ahead of what's being shown on your own pathetic TV and adulterated with the same stupid ads and 'news-breaks'—yes! I do have it in for 'news' and damn journalists right now—over and over again, there's really no going back. And since I bought that dongle which displays the content of the screen of my iBook on a TV, I'd rather watch everything in HD format anyway. As a healthy antidote to the vomitous 'news'—yeah, I know, no need to rub it in yet again, but this is my blog, so...—and journalists' endless pious, biased and mostly uninformed ponderings on the state of the world, a few crisp lines on a show like The Unit, in this instance Episode 206, put the whole damn thing into very clear perspective. Things are never as simple as they're thought to be, especially by those who fancy themselves 'thinkers'.

Speaking of fiction and TV serials: One of the—by necessity short-lived—'traditions' established over the family's Christmas get-together was watching the entire series of Alias for the corresponding year on DVD. Now, of course, the tradition is at an end, because the series is. Alias wasn't the best thing since sliced bread—which, by the way is also highly overrated and I usually slice my own—but it was good mindless fun; and, as any fiction with any level of complexity is wont to do in those who have sufficient neurons to interact with each other and who haven't put them out of action by soaking their brains with ideological garbage, it stimulated at least one interesting comment by one of my family members: a previously-mentioned 20-something female member of the species—they all are females in my family, excepting yours truly, of course—of discernment and intelligence, with strong existentialist leanings. Let us call her 'A'.

Anyway, for those not in the know, Alias is populated with a number of characters, very few of them entirely unambiguous, like the goody-two-shoes 'Sydney Bristow' (Jennifer Garner). Most of them have light and dark sides, among them the ultimate antagonist 'Arvin Sloane' (Ron Rifkin) and one 'Kelly Peyton', (Amy Acker of Angel fame), cast against type (best casting: 'against type'!)—which disturbed A, because she always thought of Amy Acker as being cast 'with type', namely as 'nice'.

Anyway, A made a comment to the effect that Peyton was more 'evil' than Sloane, because, after all, Sloane 'believed in something' and therefore qualified as a 'zealot' or a 'fanatic' maybe, but not as 'evil'; whereas Peyton appeared to be motivated purely by selfish inclinations.

Putting aside the whole issue whether any decent existentialist should think in terms of 'good' vs. 'evil', or the quality of 'evil' or degrees thereof at all, there is something disturbing about the notion that just because someone 'believes' something, that that excuses or...'qualifies', if you will...anything he or she does. A's argument was that Sloane saw himself as a part of something greater than himself, which Peyton did not—the implication being that that very perception of a greater context by anyone might serve to qualify the degree of 'evil' or 'depravity' one should ascribe to him. Basically, let's face it, that whole line of reasoning is the same as that applied by those who maintain that 'religion' for example, provides any excuse at all for any given bit of nastiness, while someone who might just do it 'for the money' is declared to be somehow a 'badder' person than the one who does it 'for God' or 'the Cause', whatever stupid cause that may be. We're supposed to have 'respect' for religion—and these days that becomes respect for anything qualifying as 'faith', in whatever demented thing we might have faith—but not for selfishness; the latter being distinguished from the former by...what exactly?

Way I see it is this—and Alias actually made that quite clear, whether intentionally or not I do not know—is that there is no difference between those following a 'cause' or those being just plain 'selfish'. The reason: nobody follows a cause for any motives but strictly selfish ones. There is no 'cause' followed by anyone from which the follower does not expect some kind of reward.

I know, I know, the argument appears nuncupatory, since ultimately, one might say, we all do things that in some way serve 'selfish motives'. At a certain level we can't do anything else, since we only can have one point of view and one set of motives: ours. Even those who 'find themselves' through the company with others—think of the Rangers and their creed, to pick one of the more edifying examples—do so because it in some sense completes them and provides meaning, context and so on.

But this is not the selfishness we're talking about. There are things we can't change, and they are not at issue. But there are those we can change, too. Those where we have choices and where we make choices. And within that context I repeat my assertion that everybody espousing a 'cause' of any sort—religious, political, social, whatever—does so because they hope to derive some gain from it, which they would not derive if they did not espouse it. Said 'gain' may be very twisted in the eyes of those who look on from the outside, but remember that some people do 'gain' by doing things that make them suffer pain and degradation. People are driven by the oddest of motives, and just because we might think this or that really couldn't possibly regarded as a 'reward' of sorts, that other do not feel very differently about this.

So, A, I disagree. Sloane and Peyton are either equally 'evil', if that's the measure you want to apply—or, alternatively, Sloane is more evil, because the scope of the consequences of what he does is far greater than Peyton's. Certainly the measure of his betrayal of others to serve his purposes leaves a much broader and bloodier trail.

Still, I come back to doubting the value of applying value judgments to such behavior—though if one must...

From that remarkable series, Babylon 5, here's a quote from Season 2:

"How do you know the chosen ones? No greater love hath a man, than he lay down his life for his brother. Not for millions, not for glory, not for fame. For one person, in the dark, where no one will ever know or see."

To "Not for millions, not for glory, not for fame." I would add "not for God, not for salvation" plus a few things more, and you can make up your own. Indeed not done 'for' anything at all but for that person, so that they may live and breathe, while 'the chosen one' will die, quite possibly in the knowledge that the life he or she loves will be over forever, and there will be no rewards but the knowledge, which will be extinguished with their death, that...well, they have given some more life to the one(s) they loved. That's all. And yet, can one give more than that?

Only one character in Alias, 'Thomas Grace' (Balthazar Getty), comes close to this, and he is a minor one as the series goes, appearing only in the last season. Because he might have lived, and he had every reason to want to live because he had just sorted out a lot of shit from his past. But he was placed into a situation where he indeed became the true 'chosen one'. I bet just about everybody missed that. More's the pity.