Archive for February, 2002

No News is Bad News

Tuesday, February 26th, 2002

I’ve been using a shareware newsreader for Mac OS X called Thoth. It was nice enough, but it wasn’t MTNewswatcher, the lovely program I used to use with OS 8.6. Today, Thoth decided to stop sharing, because I hadn’t coughed up the $25 despite our month-long relationship. Yes, the hieroglyphic Thoth icon is cute, but it’s not $25 worth of cute. Nevertheless, alt.startrek.creative is in the throes of the ASC Awards - I needed a newsreader, and I needed it now.

Fortunately, whilst I was suffering the annoyware annoyances of Thoth, MTNewswatcher had gotten ported to OS X. Like Newswatcher, the program all Mac newsreaders seem to be based upon, MTNewswatcher is freeware. Freeware is the best ware. Free fic is the best fic. (See, that was all relevant…)


Tuesday, February 26th, 2002


I’ve stumbled across some weird stuff in my search for more Legofic. I learned at LUGNET that I’m not the only one who considered the sunshine-yellow LEGOLAND Castle the apex of Lego. And though my soulmate geeks alone in their playstudios filming Legofic frighten me just a bit, the man who gets paid to build things out of Lego frightens me even more. Read the tale of how he got paid to make a desk out of Lego™ in those heady days of the California Silicon Rush. He also appears to be responsible for the Lego Bart Simpson I’m certain I’ve seen somewhere before.


Tuesday, February 26th, 2002


First there was fanfic, then litfic, then fanfanfic, then Real People Fic (perhaps not in that order). Now the pinnacle of the fic phenomenon, the final transition from the shackles of low literature to the freedom of high art, is upon us. Yes, folks, it’s Legofic, and it’s spreading. Long long ago, in a blog far, far away, I first became acquainted with Legofic on-line, in The Brick Testament. Yet, as clare reminded me recently, Legofic was my first fic. Knights in armor rescuing princesses from elaborate sunshine-yellow castles…the little plastic smiley-face that launched a thousand ships…the quest for space in tiny grey gliders I fear were never airtight… There is no fic like your first fic; there is no fic like Legofic.

The very latest in Legofic, the Earthlink Bulletin tells me, is The Lord of the Rings in Lego™ format. See Strider with his broken sword in the People section, and the behind-the-scenes, making of the Legofic shots among the Places. Story chapters already up include the moving scenes at The Bridge of Khazad-Dum.

Building Moria out of Lego (a lot of Lego) was one of the quixotic quests of my misspent youth, so I was curious to see the author’s Lego Moria. I find myself disagreeing with his Legartistic view of Khazad-Dum - my Moria was smoother and clearly multi-levelled, if unfortunately built mostly in red. (Primary colors were popular in those days.) There are many challenges to building the Black Pit, including filming angles, but it is not the artist’s place to make excuses. Unfortunately, Bruce’s production values are not quite up to the standards of The Brick Testament. Perhaps he has forgone strict realism for Legabstraction, but in painting and in Lego, I prefer the realistic approach. (No cubism puns, please.)

Bruce’s Lego Site contains much more than just LotR; among the scenes from literary masterpieces, you can see Khan’s line from Moby Dick. There’s a snowy Olympics scene and plenty of Lego background images to download. (You know I had to grab the sunshine yellow ones.) I’ll be on the lookout for more Legofic. If I ever have children, I may even start filming my own.

Jade passed along a related link: Little People, featuring Fisher Price figures for many shows, but no actual fic content.

The Joy of X

Tuesday, February 26th, 2002

The Joy of X

I decided that my fic deserved version control. I used it when I wrote my thesis, and though I rarely rolled anything back, even to look at previous versions, it was very comforting to have old versions around. Installing TWiki in various places brought to mind RCS, that BOFQ of version control programs that makes the little version numbers at the bottom of the page in TWiki. RCS is a bear to install on Windows - or rather, it’s easy to install but impossible to coax into working properly. But I had to have it for my fic. The muse deserves the very best. With all the chopping and overhauling and POV-shifting of fiction-writing, the ability to grab that paragraph you wrote in your first draft and cut out during the mad night of the third edit, in order to use it again in the same story or another, is priceless. I don’t know how I wrote without it.

I wasn’t looking forward to building RCS on my Mac, though, not after my several unsuccessful attempts using precompiled binaries for Windows at work. Nevertheless, I bravely downloaded the source and prepared to compile. Then I had one of those “Mac is Unix” moments, and I thought, maybe RCS is already around here somewhere. Mac is Unix means you can just type: which rcs at the command line, and lo and behold! /usr/bin/rcs

As an added bonus, when next I opened my lovely Emacs for Mac OS X (it’s not just a text editor, it’s a way of life), I found Version Control right there in the tools menu. A thing of beauty is a joy forever. It’s just like being back on that decrepit Sparc running SunOS 4…well, never mind about my misspent youth. You, too, can use RCS on Mac OS X, but I should warn you that I’m not sure it came on the first disk. It may have appeared later, once I installed the developers’ tools in order to compile Emacs. That’s the third disk that came with OS X, the one you look at suspiciously and put away in a dusty corner until you notice that make won’t make without it.

Other People’s Playgrounds

Sunday, February 24th, 2002

This is another excerpt from my daily tirades in Zendom. Clare asked about something I’d said earlier:

Maybe I’m the only person who makes this distinction, but I think there’s a significant difference between borrowing TV characters and raiding someone’s book (be it HP, LotR, Jane Austen or Trek novelizations). I wonder if HP fandom is such a thieving lot (no offense intended) because of their original sin of raiding the books.

I just got around to answering Clare’s questions (in bold) today.

Interesting distinction. Why is it significant?
The show is primarily visual (once you hire Jeri Ryan, anyway) and completely external. There is no first-person, no third-person-limited, not even an omniscient POV. It’s flat dialogue, camera’s-eye view. What you can do on TV or in the movies is very different from what you can do in a book. So in some sense you’re not invading the author’s turf by making a film of a book, and you’re not invading the screenwriters’ turf by writing fanfic about a show. [In that case,] you’re doing something new, in a medium whose artistic standards differ significantly.

Making TV shows is a corporate enterprise. Writing a novel is an individual art. By writing litfic, you’re doing the same thing the author does, in her territory, without her permission. Almost by definition you’re doing it worse, because writing is an art and her universe is whatever she makes it to be. You’re munging her world.

Also, now that there is a movie of HP (and LOTR for that matter), is there a difference between borrowing characters from that medium instead of borrowing the same characters from the book?
The act is different, and the results would be different, but the author (or someone inheriting the author’s rights) is still there to be offended, and you still won’t be able to get it right because the book is the standard of what’s right for that work in the literary realm. Not that that matters in and of itself (teen fanfic writers rarely get much right from the literary perspective), but doing someone universe wrong is not something you’d want done to you, is it?

Also, what if I were to use Buffy characters from the screenplays themselves rather than the ones on my TV screen?
I’ve used Jim’s reviews for a lot of my fic. The screenplay is just a version of the show with visuals mostly removed. It’s not any closer to a book.

And are the trek characters in the novels different characters [from] the ones on the screen even though they have the same name?
You know how I hate pay-per-fic. […] Media novels are a unique case. There isn’t a single author with a single vision you’re munging, and because of Paramount’s restrictions and the fact that the show came first, they’re a kind of fanfic themselves. The mere existence of Trek novels does not make Trek fanfic into litfic.

Nevertheless, it would be just as wrong to take the original characters or original settings from a Trek novel as it would be from anyone else’s novel. I’ve preached against Justin in fic on exactly this basis - Justin is the property of Jeri Taylor. Paramount has the right under copyright to use him, but if we use him, we’re appropriating an author’s work, whether or not she sold him out to a corporation.

I may seem a little inconsistent here considering that I defended plagiarism in my blog a while back. Using someone’s universe and plagiarizing their exact words are two different issues. You don’t infringe on anyone’s vision by minor acts of plagiarism - you do it by writing litfic in the first place. People don’t seem to understand that (in cases where no one pays for the plagiarized work) plagiarism is an offense against the reader, not against the original author. Plagiarism is merely unoriginality where originality was expected - and I, for one, don’t expect originality in fanfic. So that there’s plagiarism in HPfic doesn’t bother me. That there is HPfic at all is a little disturbing, and LotRfic even more so.

Litficcing is an offense against the original author - not much of a legal offense if no money changes hands and the fandom doesn’t affect the mass-market, but an artistic offense nonetheless. I wouldn’t do it (or rather I wouldn’t make it publicly available) unless the author were (1) long dead, along with his copyright heirs or (2) explicitly unopposed to the activity.

Nevertheless, I believe people have the right to litfic. I find it squicky and irreverent (especially in the case of LotR), but the right to reinterpret what’s thrown at you by the culture is inalienable. While I could live with being both plagiarized and litficced, I wouldn’t do it to someone else because I’m an author myself. I respect the art. I don’t respect TV shows - not even BtVS, which is a close call.

Someday, I’ll get back to real-time blogging.

The Uplift War, “Hominid”

Thursday, February 21st, 2002

   Word of the day:  misanthropy

There’s a particular style of sci-fi that I’ve been running into lately, in The Uplift War and also “Hominid”, serialized in Analog for the past four issues. The plot parts are good, the characterization is bad. (”Isn’t that all sci-fi?” the wags ask.) I don’t mind wooden characters so much, until they start preaching their own superiority over us flesh-and-blood human beings. David Brin kept it down to a dull roar, with constant, but small, jabs at us and our backwater century. Robert J. Sawyer, on the other hand, harped on it for the duration on Hominid - how wretched we are for exterminating the wooly mammoth and the saber-toothed tiger, how ignorant we are to believe in gods and big-bangs, what a bad idea agriculture was, and how much better than ours is a society in which the families of criminals are sterilized. Why don’t you just invade Poland while you’re at it?

I suppose it’s not surprising that people who hate people would be bad at characterization. Brin won a Hugo or a Nebula for his tale of teenage boy meets teenage alien girl and nothing happens. Sure there are spaceships and guerrilla war and everything, but on the character level, nothing you expect to happen happens, except with the chimps. Brin writes chimps as though they were human, and humans as though they were rocks. If you just subtracted the humans from the equation, it would have been a great book. They’re just ballast anyway.

The “Hominids” had an interesting neanderthal society, but unlike Brin’s chimps, they didn’t balance the story’s equation of missing personality. Why are all alien cultures cheesy? Tolkien created five or six races and made them believable. Why can’t sci-fi authors handle even one without descending into the familiar language of the unbelievable? Eg: “when the Two become One” - cheesy! Tolkien would have made up a word for it. Tolkien would have made the male and female subcultures more distinct - he did, in fact, with the Ents and the missing Entwives. Tolkien knew what he was doing.

It’s a good thing I have a spare LMB book to read this weekend, or I might slip into sf despair.

Cheating at Blogger

Thursday, February 21st, 2002

It’s past my bedtime, so I won’t be able to generate any original content for you. I can, however, quote myself. Here’s a tangent I took in Zendom tonight, when Seema said VOY was easier to write because of the plot-hole spackling opportunities:

I don’t think VOY had an unusual number of plot holes. The thing I find easy about VOY and hard about BtVS is the episodic nature of the show. You can’t just sit down and write a Buffy story - you always have to place yourself in the Buffy timeline. It’s not just the arcs, but also the characters coming and going. First Oz then no Oz, first straight Willow then gay Willow then Evil Willow then recovering Willow, Angel/no Angel, no Spike/bad Spike/pet Spike/Spuffy, no Tara/Tara, no Anya/Anya/engaged Anya, etc.

There was one character switch in Voyager - Seven in for Kes. Fic from the Kes era is rare indeed. If you block out C/7 like most fans do, then there was one relationship change in VOY - the P/T wedding, and there was marginal P/T for most of the fan-active seasons so you can gloss it over easily. Voy, TOS and TNG had a fixed situation (starship explore explore explore) that made it easy to write a story. I thought of it as the Eternal VOY Now - that moment between The Gift and Endgame (or for jetcers, that moment between Resolutions and Shattered) in which almost all fic was set. If you happened to have seen Drive you’d call Tom B’Elanna’s husband instead of her boy-toy. If you happened to have seen Imperfection you’d write the Borg Children off the ship - but those were minor points. Mainly you thought “how about Voyager hits some kilometer long space avocados that burn out all the whosits, trapping J/C in a turbolift together? Yeah, that would be a good fic,” and you wrote it. You never got Jossed, until the finale.

Strangely enough, though, this reset-button Eternal DQ stasis of Voy tended to lead writers to do the unepisodic - kill off the characters, settle down in the DQ, blow up the ship, stage Maquis rebellions, let all the babies be born, and of course, get the ship home. None of that, if it began in the Eternal Now, was considered an AU.

I’m still not an expert on Buffy, but it seems to me that when people write BtVS, they tend to get all psychological and vignettey, because anything you *do* is an AU the next week. Any little misstep also an AU makes - a petty little AU, not a broad and sweeping AU. (For broad and sweeping AU, see MJB’s Revolution:

When I think of good Buffy fic, it’s usually fic that has somehow slipped into the Eternal Now, mainly by forcibly eliminating the normal BtVS world. Yatzee wrote Phoenix-something that dealt with Buffy’s experiences in the far future. If you kill off all those complicating rotating characters, you get a sort of Now out of it. And there was Jintian’s fic about Faith - if you, again, cut out the main cast and follow someone off-screen, you get a Now. Anna’s Demon Noir throws the show into a demon dimension in which the Scoobies are relatively minor characters and Spuffy-noir is big. In all those cases, you have to simplify the show - or remake it in your new, orginal image - in order to really *write* something at length. I haven’t followed DS9 fic enough to comment on that - maybe Seema can tell me if my model fits. Voyager certainly always left you room for a novel or two’s worth of plot. XF must have been the same way, while Mulder was there. UST is so Eternal Now.


Monday, February 18th, 2002

I finally got to an Evil Microsoft™ computer to look at my new style from the Other Side. Opera, of course, displays it perfectly. Netscape, as usual, gets it right most of the time but suffers from a few kinks, especially on the sample viewer page. I was warned that IE would be a mess, though IE on the Mac is pretty good with style. The funkiest thing IE is doing is putting the yellow border around the edge of the page, instead of at the margin next to the inner border. It looks kind of cool that way, but it’s not As Designed.


Sunday, February 17th, 2002


J.E.M.I.M.A.: Journeying Electronic Machine Intended for Mathematics and Assassination

Jemima’s true Borg nature was brought to you by C.Y.B.O.R.G., kindly linked by Lori. Brunching Shuttlecocks is a dangerous site to surf to - there’s an infinite list of toys, including a test to tell whether your fic (not my fic, mind you - your fic) is porn or erotica. I got 8 out of 12 right on the Christian Metal Band or Star Trek Episode? quiz.

The Road to Perl is Paved with Good Intentions

Sunday, February 17th, 2002

The stylesheet madness that was Filk of La Mancha has spread. All non-trek pages have now been restyled. For samples, see the sitemap (tan) and the Buffy pages (verdigris). The style sheet sample viewer script has been updated, so you can see it all from that link as well. As per my copyleft statement, all stylesheets are free and snatchable to the public.

I’m trying to get over the filking sickness, but I’ve already been inspired by a tasteless idea for my next musical, to one-up Liz:

Oh? I’ll see your Slytherins and raise you twelve Scoobies playing…the Apostles. Yes, it’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer tastelessly cast in the lead role of Jesus Christ Superstar. Willow plays Judas (whose offense, in this case, is the resurrection), and the Legion of Duh will provide a fine Caiaphas, Pilate and Herod. Last but never least is Spike as Mary Magdalene.

I think I need a twelve-step program.