Thursday, October 25, 2007

Weirdly Ironic

I first heard about Nineteen Eighty-Four when I was in college. How we were headed that way. How scary it all was. I was intrigued. Since then I heard other things about it. How well it was written, etc. It's been on my "To Read" list for a long time now.

So I've finally read it.

Easily, I can give all those who praised it for skilled writing their credit because it was crafted very well, despite the few times when the hero would lapse into a memory and at some point I wasn't sure if I was still in the memory of if I'd reverted back to the present. It's still better than what I've produced, and likewise Orwell gets plenty of kudos for making something like this during 1949. Not for the content, as that sort of thing is still around, but more the futureness involved. We still don't have telescreens and the closest we've come to making one could be the little camera you have on your computer where you and your friend share real time video of one another. Considering the way telescreens are used though, that's a good thing.

When it comes to people freaking out over the government and the whole "Big Brother is Watching You" thing, they fuss over telephone conversations and emails. Now while I don't see us headed in that society as of yet, or in the immediate future either, I can't believe people ignore the other restrictions the government wants to put on us. People fuss about privacy. There's no telescreen in your house yet, but what about saying what you can and cannot consume/do to yourself? Cigarettes are barred from public places statewide. Yeah, ok, yammer on to me about cancer and while sure that's a possibility and the government wants to keep us all safe from secondhand smoke, consider also where it stops? Hmm? I read an article once about a consideration on taking Coke and Pepsi machines out of schools just to keep kids from getting fat. Are you serious? Whatever happened to conscious, intelligent thought? Don't want your kid chugging down suger-filled drinks? Don't give him/her money for it. Sure, he/she might get money from a friend, but face it, that friend isn't going to keep supplying them forever.

Here's one thing that always freaks me out. I'm a chocolate junkie. There's a really bad movie out there named Demolition Man where things deemed bad for you are outlawed. Chocolate is one of them. In this book, people get chocolate rations. You know what I say? Fuck that. The day chocolate is restricted in any form or fashion is the day I freaking riot. That's when you know things are getting way out of hand.

But back to the book. In some ways, I found myself disappointed. First because of the content. I expected something like The Giver or Fahrenheit 451. But a lot of it turned out to be exposition that no doubt contained Orwell's concerns at the time. That's all very fine and well, but it takes things down a notch when you have different expectations. It's just that everyone all giddy about it gave me that initial impression. Ah well.

Second is the end. I accept it, but I'm not thrilled by it. I guess that too is Orwell's thoughts on the subject. That "they" win in the end. Well...hopefully not. The whole world was like that? Eech. You get just a couple glimmers of hope throughout the book only to have more rhetoric take over and then whump. The end. Hero loses. Game over. Unless you read the appendix like some critics do; as the subject content is written in the past, it implies that Winston, the hero, was indeed right, and the Party fell. One may never know...

That's my take on it as fiction. It's still quite good, the fact that it freaks people out, not just as in "Ohmigod, that could happen to us!" but instead as politically dangerous and thus getting it banned from libraries and such. Well, well. More power to it then. The more a group rejects a book, the more I tend to rally behind it. Especially if it's a ridiculous claim *coughHarryPottercough* and people start chucking books into fires. Nazis.

You know what this book did remind me of though? V for Vendetta, totally. At least in that movie we get to see what might have been the results of the rallying lower class.

Ah well, hat's off to Orwell. I'm tired.

Currently: Blah.

P.S. I forget what's "weirdly ironic" as my title says. I'll be sure to come back and mention it if I manage to remember...

Read my Epinions review on Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

No more balking!

Swain's book is good stuff. He breaks down a lot of the pieces that make up a novel, and alerted me to things I'd never thought of before. I'd like to list them, but there are too many (ok, here are some; character drives, beginning help, ending ideas, an unhappy Unconscious and so forth).

I should have brought sticky tabs with me to work so I could have marked all those spots. No matter, I don't have to return this book until December so I can have until then to skim some of these ideas again and get them more firmly lodged into my brain. I liked how he not only included writing methods and items to look at, but also preparation for writing, locations to write, and so on. I've read some writing books before, and none of them really put it as well as Swain does. He mentions that if you have a window, you're likely to stare out at the world beyond it and forget about writing.

....Ok, this is in no way a joke, but I have a window practically in front of me, and I was just staring out of it. Yikes. Then again, I am running on very little sleep so...

Another thing he mentioned that I thought was absolutely fantastic and I've never read in any other writing book: Get out and exercise! Do you know how good of an idea this is? I mean, just a nice walk around the block can help clear your brain. I go with my mom to the grocery store - I just did yesterday, in fact, in order to keep my brain from completely melting. Of course, I end up with a container of Chips Ahoy Cookies beside my desk, but you get the idea. Anyway, I thought it was great he mentioned that and I think a lot of writers would benefit from it. Otherwise, what? We'll all get slobby in front of our computer screens (or in my case, a notebook). Haha. Ok, maybe not necessarily, but do you know how many ideas and scenarios I've gone over in my brain while running on the treadmill to some good music? I once read that most writers get their ideas in the shower. ...Shower? I have never once had an idea in a shower. I've even considered this information and made a point to think about my stories in the shower, but I inevitably start thinking of something else totally unrelated. And hey, if you do get ideas in the shower, then you can hop in after you get a bit of exercise and have a double think session.

Of course, unless you live in a world during 1984, then doublethink is a bad thing...but that will have to wait until another blog entry!

Currently: Inspired

Friday, October 19, 2007

By the Way

I forgot to mention two things.

First, when it comes to the end of the world through our own destruction (and by that I mean human error - and that error could be anything, from overpopulation to developing AI that becomes self aware and freaks out on us), I think SF readers and writers will make it out alive the most. Why? Because those who can imagine the all-too-logical AI: "Humans destroy the planet, thus they must be destroyed themselves" or be able to realize the fact that we might totally ruin our planet (Al Gore does not count, I don't care what you say, that guy is an idiot. Did you hear his speech? The beginning of it made no sense for God's sake) are probably the ones that will see it coming the quickest. We'll look at the rest of the world and say "Fuck this" and move to places like Colorado or Wyoming and live where it's quiet and end up going back to hunting and stuff to survive. So yeah, when you watch movies of post-apocolypse type stuff, those survivors are genre readers and the people that got lucky.

Ok, not necessarily, but come on. When's the last time you read a SF book or even watched a movie and thought, "Oh crap. We're headed that way aren't we?" Some of the stuff that went down in The Fall of Hyperion didn't surprise me at all. Think of yourself as plugged into the Internet 24/7. I mean like, literally. A little wireless Intel Processor in your brain. And after centuries of this, people suddenly get cut off from it? Hell yeah there would be people that would go insane. Then there's 1984 but I'm not going to get into that quite yet. Waiting until I read enough of it to truly go on a tirade of some sort.

The second thing also has to do with (naturally) The Fall of Hyperion. Maybe it's a moot point, or not even really a point, but it made me smile...chuckle a little. Not in a happy way, but more of the ironic sort. As in, "Why does that not surprise me?" Here's the passage that did it, and by the way, for those of you who've never read the book (probably everyone reading this), this takes place at least 700 years into the future (probably more), so we're at the year 2694 or so, and the only means of world connection (ship travel excluded) has just been destroyed, thus cutting all worlds off from one another:

"On Qom-Riyadh a self-appointed fundamentalist Shiite ayatollah rode out of the desert, called a hundred thousand followers to him, and wiped out the Suni Home Rule goverment within hours. The new revolutionary goverment returned power to the mullahs and set back the clock two thousand years. The people rioted with joy."

I'll leave you to think about that yourself.

Currently: Feelin' Magical

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

So is the Shrike dead or what?

Back in June I read a book entitled Hyperion by Dan Simmons. It was required reading by the program just as the romance book Bet Me is required this time around. Hyperion is pretty hard science fiction reading, something that actually surprised me because I enjoyed it so much. Up until that point I'd been pretty convinced that I wasn't a fan of hard SF. Now I think it's just like any other genre; some books have it, some don't. I guess I never should have thought anything in the first place because I'd never really read any hard SF, so technically, I had nothing to go by.

Anywho, that book ended on a "to be continued" note, so naturally I decided I had to read the next book. How could I not? I mean, come on, you're talking to the girl who reviewed over 50 volumes of Inuyasha and a ton of Fushigi Yuugi like a loser. Basically I finish what I start, and besides, since I enjoyed Hyperion so much, I figured I'd probably enjoy the next installement.

Good times.

Granted, sometimes Simmons will ramble on with tidbits of information we really don't need, which I'm sure could pare the book down by...probably a decent number of pages, but oh well. To me, it never really gets excessive. Mostly because somehow he manages to make it seem relevant and it doesn't get too boring or repetitive. Compare that to Jane Eyre and the entire page dedicated to how blue the sky is. Ok, I get it, move on please. Yikes. The techno-babble never bothered me because it settled in so nicely to the rest of the text. There were a few places where I thought, "What?" but not many and they didn't seem to major so that if I didn't fully understand it wasn't any big deal.

For a brief moment in time, when I read that the AI's "God" was at war with a human developed "God" I almost laughed in an "Aaaah, you've got to be kidding me" way. Something like that meant that after hundreds of pages, everything boiled down to a hyper-detailed and elaborate version of humankind vs. artificial intelligence (that we created...yet again. Why are we always doing this? You'd think humankind would know by now). But there's way too much going on for it really to be trimmed down to just that. Even if it sort of still is. If any of that makes sense. Mostly because it's not so much "robot vs. human" like in Terminator or The Matrix, but that on a higher plane of existence. Strange, but that's the best I can describe it.

It was a wild ride, though I have to say, I was getting a little....maybe not annoyed, so much as "Get on with it!" Monty Python style with the whole John Keats thing. Is Dan Simmons obsessed with John Keats? Did he write some graduate dissertation on the man or something? Having poetry laced throughout this kind of SF book was a little weird, occasionally annoying, and sometimes fitting. For example, the giant AI personality speaks in verse at several points which was both annoying and yet in some ways fitting. I know a lot of people would roll their eyes and think, "Lame. Why is an advanced AI rambling in poetic verse?" Yeah, I tend to agree. However, the simple fact that I've never heard of or encountered any other AI doing so gives this an interesting twist. Then again, as I've said before, I've not read much in terms of hard SF, or anything that's ever had AI in it either.

There are still plenty of questions to be asked. What happened to all those poor bastards on the Shrike's thorn three? How many Shrikes are there? What was up with Brawne's air-walking and Shrike killing? And the whole time traveling thing makes me feel like I was just in the middle of some really bizarre episode of Doctor Who. But concerning all the weird stuff that went down in this book, I tend to agree, or at least apply the Doctor's concept of time as being just a big ball of wobbly...stuff. Certainly seems that way here.

Of course, I'll have to read the next book. Yes, that's right. The craziness keeps on going. There's Endymion and The Rise of Endymion to go through. With this thing going through crazy AI, humans, semi-humans, non-humans, portals, time travel, Gods, and other totally off the chart I-don't-even-know-what, how can I not read the next couple of books? Besides, I want to know who wins the war, that the real deal is with the Shrike, and what this supposed message is that is so universe-shattering. ...I'll bet I'm the only one out of the whole residency group that plans to read all four books.

Hey, I told you I finish what I start.

And by the way, the cover art for this book sucks. That Shrike is not scary and dammit, the thing has four arms, not two! Does no one tell the artists of this? Becuase I don't think it had four arms on the first cover either, but that one looked a little freakier at least...

Currently: BLEH!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Techniques and a bit of Hyperion

I realize I never really did finish talking about my previously read book about SF history and whatnot. Guess I'll finish that before going on my next ramble.

In a nutshell, I was disappointed. I was hoping for a good, strong SF history chunk and instead got...well, truly, I'm not sure what I got. Not a real, clear history lesson, that's for sure. Expectations made the text hiccup; I was hoping for [this] and instead found myself reading about [that]. The fact that he drifted a lot didn't help. One minute we're talking about 1984 and the next it's something about Star Trek.

Fine, whatever, I perservered. I finished. Book's back at the library. Clean cup, move down.

I'm nearing the end of Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain now. Actually I'm reading two books at a time - I've been slowly chewing on Techniques and just recently plucked out three other books from the library (because they were finally available - though I might as well just buy them, truth be told). Some people might worry that since October 25th is nearby, I'm taking a risk by procrastinating. Psh. Obviously no one knows the way I function. The Fall of Hyperion will take me 5 days max. Judging by my current speed, that's about right. 1984 will take much less - 2 days, 3 max. But back to Techniques.

I have to admit, sometimes I zone out and will read through a page without really reading it. Annoying because then I have to reread it. Sometimes I don't because I've caught enough to fully grasp what Swain is talking about and realize, "I already know that." But of course there are oodles of ideas and things he's mentioned that I've either had trouble with or never thought of in that light.

For example, I've always had issues with time. In my previous books it wasn't a worry because things naturally progressed quickly. Days were just fine and dandy as something interesting would happen each day (sometimes night) and I never had to worry about "3 months later" and so forth. It wasn't until book #1 that I had to plan out days. Anyway, before I get too off track with other books that need polishing, Swain pointed out a great way to bridge that span of time. Slip it into the middle of a character's musings or current emotional feeling. That's the abridged version of his explanation, of course, but with his examples and whatnot I thought, "That's perfect!" And it seemed so easy too. Why hadn't I done that before? Doy, I was too preoccupied with the time factor I totally missed out on how I could gloss over it with just the right flicks of the pen. Not to say that the time isn't important, but it's a hell of a lot easier to slip it in so your reader knows 6 months have passed as opposed to trying to drag it out saying what went on these 3 months and then these next 3 months, blah blah, when it's not even important and all your reader sees is, well, "blah blah." I hate that extra crap.

I love Swain's style too. It's quick, to the point, and clear. I've always had trouble with the difference between "show and tell" and frankly I'd love to strangle both of those words, something I frequently have to do to my internal editor because she's back there poking a finger at my text saying, "Show, don't tell" and my description comes out like crap. Oh how I could go on about my description. But reading The Fall of Hyperion helps with that too because while Simmons can go overboard sometimes, he does have some good ways of presenting it. Better than myself, that's for sure. Swain also notes showing and telling and gives a few tips and explanations. His style is sort of like an outline (no, literally, it's like an outline with writing in between, it's rather great, actually), which keeps things orderly and helps restrain potential rambling, which after Hartwell, is really nice.

Something he mentioned near the beginning of the book was "Grammar as a fetish." I thought that was brilliant and giggled. Too many people can get stuck on perfect grammar. Personally, I love a good fragment. I don't think I've used any in my current book, but I know I have a lot in book #2, all intentional of course.

His section on beginnings is rather helpful because of my current fist-shaking at my own beginning. What to ditch. What should be important. Cutting and flashbacking. Other concepts to make sure the reader doesn't say your book is garbage and puts it where the rest of the garbage is. I think what he had to say will help give me a better beginning. More interesting. Less backstory since much of it is indeed inconsequential to the reader. One thing he mentioned is along the lines of "What may be important to you concerning backstory isn't always going to be important to the reader." Even if I need it to make my world work, they probably don't. Keeping that in mind makes cutting down a lot easier. Adding to that is The Fall of Hyperion's description and the fact that it gave me a few extra ideas that could be fun to include in the beginning (again, working with description and not just offering readers some lame, punch-out postcard crap). I feel much better about this.

Haha, my mentor Anne Harris warned me that Swain is a little sexist. Or maybe not so much that he is (was?) but that the book kind of is since it was written in '65. There are several places where, yeah, I can see it. Hahaha. I don't mind, of course, as long as I'm getting good advice. But it is kind of funny. Women tend to be leaving or cheating on their husbands, and the hero is always a guy. Sometimes I'll hit on something that's obviously guy-sided, but I just smile and shake my head. And I'm not all that feminist either, haha. Still, it's good stuff and I've already suggested it to a few people because he's got some handy points.

Cool beans.

Currently: Feelin' magical.