Archive for October, 2002

Just Say No to “Squee!”

Thursday, October 31st, 2002

I gave a State of Zendom address earlier today.

What’s your inner fangirl? Take the test!

On a more serious note, I just read an article on dhimmitude and political correctness that someone had cut and pasted to a mailing list. The part of the controversy that most interested me was the doublespeak - the students who organized the dhimmitude lecture bent over backwards to say they didn’t know what they obviously did know, and that their objection was not to what was said, but how it was said, and that it was said in the first place.

It’s annoying when fangirls value niceness above honesty, but it’s frightening when college-age adults at an institution devoted to the pursuit of truth do so.

Death of a Dot.Com

Wednesday, October 30th, 2002

Every day, the company I work for edges closer and closer to its final resting place in the dot com graveyard. Tomorrow is moving day, when we give up part of our office space to save on the rent. There’s a certain attitude of despair percolating up through the eyes wide shut denial now. The issue of paying the rent has far too much resonance, I’d say. It’s a wonder we lasted this long. Nobody’s buying and nobody’s hiring.

As I was looking up dot com graveyard sites, I stumbled across this recent insult to bloggers everywhere. It’s on a slimy marketing site, but still, the attitude is awfully snarky. Maybe they feel threatened by ad-free, grassroots content.

Anything’s possible.

The Near Occasion of Plot

Tuesday, October 29th, 2002

I’m going to take a big chunk out of my backblog by brain-dumping all my recent thoughts on Buffy. The older backblog item concerns the eternal topic of Why I Hate Volvo Boy. It’s not just his boxy build anymore.

Angel, in his lurky first-season incarnation, represents everything I disliked about the X-Files. XF fans can be divided into two camps - the Government Conspiracy people, and the Fat-Sucking Vampire (a.k.a. Monster Episode) people. I’m a monster episode girl. In Buffy, I don’t mind a charismatic monster that plays for a whole season, like the Mayor or Glory - it’s not arcs qua arcs that I dislike.

The Government Conspiracy style of writing, by no means limited to XF, makes the motions of a plot without actually having any fixed content. Writing is not a process of accretion, and a show does not end well if all it can do for itself is recap the various disconnected bits (pox? bees???). There is no connection, no cause-and-effect. Government Conspiracy writing is the form of plot wihout the substance.

Likewise, when Angel leaves Buffy, or Buffy leaves Riley, or Oz leaves Willow, or Xander leaves Anya, with no better motive than Joss made me do it, you have not a plot but a soap opera in which characters are pushed around for no adequately explained reason. People like Angel and Cigarrette Smoking Man aren’t characters - they’re angst ex machina. This is exactly was Nick Lowe was talking about in his article when he pointed out authors who “smuggle the Plot itself into the story disguised as one of the characters. Naturally, it tends not to look like most of the other characters, chiefly on account of its omnipresence and lack of physical body.” The Government Conspiracy is everywhere.

So bad episodes make much more sense that way, when you consider that the Plot made Oz run off to Tibet to find himself, or that Xander got cold Plot and left Anya at the altar. Angel’s main purpose in lurking around Buffy was to keep her up to date on the Plot. Whenever Chris Carter had a bad week, we got the Plot trying to infect everyone with pox using bees, or Scully getting kidnapped and impregnated by the Plot, or CSM trying to convince Mulder to join the Plot.

I’m still angry at the Plot for making Xander leave Anya. Xander, for all his silliness, never struck me as a cad or a coward. That he had visions of Anya as a hoary old shrew is just not sufficient excuse. It must have been the Plot, which is to say, Joss. However, if you’re still working from a rational basis, you see Anyanka’s troubles of last week and wonder what she did to deserve all this. The implication, with the flashback to her singing on Xander’s recliner, is that Anya’s mistake was wanting to devote her life to Xander. Really, she should have run off to Tibet or LA or South America like everyone else. Obviously a career isn’t the answer here - Anyanka had a very successful career before Xander, and a second one during Xander.

It’s one thing to make Buffy unhappy for legitimate plot reasons - it’s not easy being the Slayer and having to kill your friends. It’s another matter to go gunning for Anya and Xander. That’s plain authorial cruelty and caprice, punishing two characters not for being in the wrong place at the wrong time like Willow and the late Tara but simply for being in love and wanting to get married. Breaking up X/A was more unnatural than any vampires, demons or giant snakes.

Final gripe: Buffy could be a bit nicer to Spike now that he’s insane. Being the Slayer doesn’t give you a pass on common decency. After all, it was the Plot that made him attack her last season - it certainly wasn’t good characterization.

Starswarm, Neuromancer

Sunday, October 27th, 2002

I didn’t know, when I picked it up remaindered, that Starswarm was a children’s book. Despite several clues - the book was about children, and had an introduction that mentioned Robert Heinlein’s “juveniles” - I didn’t figure it out until I happened to take off the dust jacket and see the Jupiter imprint on the spine. I knew Tor had a young adult line, but I assumed they were kept in some YA section of bookstores.

Nevertheless, I kept reading Starswarm. The setup was interesting, despite the obvious King in Disguise plot. At some point, though, the author (Jerry Pournelle) decided he had discharged his descriptive duties and switched to talking-head, tell-as-you-go dialogue. Add the genetically modified dogs and the third cute kid and you get Scoobie Doo In Space. It was a fine cartoon, but I was expecting a book.

Neuromancer by William Gibson is the 1984 classic that is credited with launching the cyberpunk subgenre. I approached it with a sort of suspicious reverence. I have to admit that it was a good read, but not anything I’d want to carry on into an entire genre. I neither loved the characters nor loved to hate them, which made the book a rather flat experience despite the stylistic talents of the author. It reminded me of the old, hard-bitten school of sci-fi. They weren’t bad stories, but I can’t say I miss them.


Saturday, October 26th, 2002

What Weird Quote Are You?

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No, I didn’t cheat.

Which fandom archetype are you?

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I still need to get the BOFQ quiz up. I was going to do that for the zenniversary, but now there’s a speech to write. There are a few BOFQ quiz substitutes out there already:

Which fandom dinosaur are you?

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When Bad is Good

Saturday, October 26th, 2002

I had dropped the issue of badfic off my backblog list, but Lori linked an amazing article on the subject by Nick Lowe, The Well-Tempered Plot Device. It cannot be described, only excerpted:

…bad writing is governed by subtle rules and conventions of its own, every bit as difficult to learn and taxing to apply as those that shape good writing.
And while I’m about it I’ll propose a new definition of magic, account for the existence of Lionel Fanthorpe, and show you a way to derive pleasure from Stephen Donaldson books. (Needless to say, it doesn’t involve reading them. But neither does it involve burying them under six foot of badger manure and napalming the lot, which you might think the obvious answer.)

Yes, I did think that was the obvious answer. I’m not alone! (By the way, I’m blogging as I read the article, for that elusive first impression.) Ah, clench-racing… All I need is a few Catherine Asaro novels and some gullible friends and I can take up gentled-racing.

…I like to term this kind of thing Collect-the-Coupons plotting. It would be much too complicated to have three goodies overcome the whole usurping army, or at any rate it would be far beyond the plotting powers of a Lin Carter. So what you do instead is write into the scenario one or more Plot Coupons which happen to be “supernaturally” linked to the outcome of the larger action; and then all your character have to do is save up the tokens till it’s time to cash them in.

Obviously, this is an artifice which lends itself particularly well to fantasy writing, and is capable of widely varying subtlety of application. I think The Lord of the Rings, or Lord of the Plot Coupons, is the chief villain here, unless you want to trace it back to Wagner and his traditional sources.

Yes, the man is a genius. He goes on to explain how the author himself can appear in fiction:

One thinks irresistibly of Gandalf’s famous words to Frodo when explaining the logic of The Lord of the Plot Devices: “I can put it no plainer than by saying that Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker.” Frodo, unfortunately, fails to respond with the obvious question, to which the answer is “by the author”. […]
But actually, it’s not always necessary for the author to put in an appearance himself, if only he can smuggle the Plot itself into the story disguised as one of the characters. Naturally, it tends not to look like most of the other characters, chiefly on account of its omnipresence and lack of physical body. It’ll call itself something like the Visualization of the Cosmic All, or Seldon’s Plan, or The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, or the Law, or the Light, or the Will of the Gods; or, in perhaps its most famous avatar, the Force. Credit for this justly celebrated interpretation of Star Wars belongs to Phil Palmer; I’d only like to point out the way it makes sudden and perfect sense of everything that happens in the film. “The time has come, young man, for you to learn about the Plot.” “Darth Vader is a servant of the dark side of the Plot.” When Ben Kenobi gets written out, he becomes one with the Plot and can speak inside the hero’s head. When a whole planet of good guys gets blown up, Ben senses “a great disturbance in the Plot.”

Was that deep or what? Unfortunately, it doesn’t help me much. Although I approve of pulps and plot devices, I have a tendency (in original fiction) to implant my plot devices in the characters’ brains or genomes. If you don’t look too closely, it passes for characterization.

Still Burning Bridges

Friday, October 25th, 2002

You Are Jemima
You Are Jemima
Queen of the Filk, Our Lady of the AU, and accidental founder of Zendom, you tend to burn your way through the dry wood of fandom, leaving more than one bridge in flames behind you. You are content with your muse, your blog and nice pairing or two to marry off.
Take the Which Zendom Mod are You? Quiz

It’s good to know I’m still me, though I am sliding slowly into Loriness. I don’t know why the other mods decided to resurrect the Mod Quiz (it may have something to do with the approching zendom anniversary issue), but I’m sure it was All Seema’s Fault.

BackBlog II

Thursday, October 24th, 2002

I’m feeling uninspired - or rather, drained after a rant on-list about condescension - so I’ll get to that backblog of material now.

First of all, I forgot to mention that it snowed yesterday. In Boston, on October 23rd. The leaves aren’t even properly turned yet and there was snow falling out of the sky in broad daylight. Yet people keep telling me it’s going to be a mild winter.

Second, on the very hot topic of whether the sniper in Washington, D.C. should be referred to as a sniper: yes. I know the real snipers are up in arms because the alleged sniper didn’t use proper military-issue sniping equipment or murder his victims from a sufficiently challenging distance, but you can’t pin this use of the term on the sniper media circus. The dictionary definition of sniping is to shoot at exposed individuals from a usually concealed point of vantage. He shot at people, they didn’t see him - ergo, sniper.

I forgot to mention the forums at NaNoWriMo. They reminded me how much I hate forums. A nice little flat-level forum, say, of the size of the J/C Index message board isn’t bad despite the trolls, but when you get into thousands of posts like at TrekBBS, who has time to follow it all? There are no trolls at NaNoWriMo, but still, a thousand people saying hi, a hundred random topics about novel genre - I can’t face it. I’d rather meet the people in person, though, unfortunately, I’ll be away this weekend so I won’t get to go to the Boston kick-off party.

Liz gave a 1 to 10 scale for ranking fic a while back. There’s a more accurate way to rank fic, though - put it all in order, from Revisionist History to Burning Thistles Amongst Thorns. The story’s score is the percentage of stories that are ranked beneath it. That’s how the SAT’s are scored (or at least, how they were scored before the grade inflation). Of course, a scanner doesn’t have to suffer through the bad fic.

There are simpler ways to do it. One could, for instance, take down the name and summary of every story posted to ASC in the course of a year, or every story in the J/C archive, then ask fans a binary question about the list - say, “Do you remember story X which was about Y?” Then rank the stories by the percentage of readers who remembered them, or remembered them fondly. Anyway, it could be done. People would scream bloody murder if you did it, but it could be done.

The new backblog list is:

  • The Jossing of Anya
  • Extreme measures in veterinary medicine
  • That the things I hate about Buffy are just like the things I hated about XF

As long as I’m here, I’ll add my rant on condescension:

Condescension means taking an air of superiority, or having a
patronizing attitude. It has nothing to do with the opinions being
voiced, and everything to do with the tone in which they are said.

Use of rhetorical rejoiners along with the other person’s first name
(”Is that what you really think, Lori?”) is a sure
sign of condescension. Of course
she really thinks so. Everyone means what they say, unless they’re
lying. Everyone is speaking their own opinion, unless they are lying.
These are the basics of conversation and they do not need to be repeated
every time someone posts an article or writes an email.

Let me be perfectly clear: it does not matter how stuck up you think a
person must have been to have said such-and-such a thing.
Having controversial beliefs, even beliefs about the general
stupidity of fans, is not in and of itself condescending. Thinking that
you’re the best thing since sliced bread is not condescending. Saying
“I’m the best thing since sliced bread; everyone should write exactly
like I do” is not condescending. Saying “P/T sucks - you should write
P/C” is not condescending. Only saying things like, “Don’t you think,
Lori, that we would all be better off, Lori, if you stopped diddling
around with Picard/Troi and started writing Picard/Crusher like the big
girls, Lori?” is condescending.

So stop it already.


Wednesday, October 23rd, 2002

National Novel Writing Month is coming soon, and I do have a novel in mind. At first I’d decided to write a children’s book, not because I was especially inspired, but because it seemed like the most efficient use of 50,000 words. While it’s the ideal for a month-long spate of novelizing lunacy, fifty thousand words is too much for a novella and too little for a novel, market-wise. In my complete ignorance of children’s lit, I thought it might be an appropriate length for that.

As far as I can tell, a children’s book is a book about children. Yes, it’s shorter than Gone with the Wind and less racy than Anne Rice erotica, but there are adult books that are neither infinite nor smutty. Maybe there are certain factors of tone involved; I think my tone would do. My interest in writing for children is not the smut-free pass, the reduced word count, or even the off-chance of striking it rich with the next Harry Potter phenomenon.

Children’s books are the best-loved books. I may have read better books since the Chronicles of Narnia and Taran Wanderer, but they just haven’t hit me the same way. I think it’s more the childhood than the literature - my attachment to LotR dates to elementary school. Man of La Mancha, the musical, wouldn’t form such a large part of my worldview if I hadn’t grown up on it. So yes, I want to scar youth permanently the way Aldonza’s song did me.

But I won’t be doing it for NaNoWriMo, because another idea came to mind. A certain character has popped up in a couple of my uncompleted novels (the Wrong Novel and the Wrong Prequel, to be precise), and I decided that since he fascinated me so much more than my nice female protagonists, he deserved history - a name and a habitation.

I’ve known for a long time that his name was that of an ex-boyfriend of mine, though I’ve buried it in faux-futuristic versions in the other novels. If I stopped to think about it, I might find some unresolved bitterness in the fact that he’s destined to start a war, end a golden age, and perhaps get a little genocide in on the side. Simple filicide will do for the first 50,000 words of his life, though.


Tuesday, October 22nd, 2002

I looked up some text generators along the lines of Lorem Ipsum today. Using something called the Dada Engine, one generates postmodernist journal articles, one writes adolescent poetry, and the third does band names. Another site provides legalese on demand.

A belated article on the Alan Sokal affair led me to the pomo generator above, and on to thoughts of what it means for a text to be sense rather than nonsense. SETI, for example, isn’t really a search for intelligence but a search for that which can be distinguished from random noise.

I thought for a moment of adapting the Dada Engine to fanfic, but in fact even the most mockable fanfic is too linear for the random approach. Just suppose, for a moment, than a computer could generate fanfic. (I once accused Suz Voy of being an artificial fanfic intelligence program.) What would make our live fanfic better than the canned thing? How would we know the difference between bad human-written fanfic and good computer-composed fanfic? I don’t know.

I get the feeling that a good computer program could write soap opera scripts. How far is it from there to fanfic? I’m tempted to write a fanfic-generating program myself, but I waste enough time trying out new styles, and we all waste enough time reading bad fanfic. There’s no need for computers to get into the game.