Archive for April, 2003


Tuesday, April 15th, 2003

I lent my lovely sister Veronica Core by Paul Preuss, but she didn’t make much headway and gave it back. I can certainly see why. The characters were entirely unsympathetic. The Hudder dynasty in particular consisted of four generations of indistinguishable, unemotional, unheroic men, two of whom (the designated heroes of the book) flounder through life in a series of flashbacks which break up what there is of a plot into tiny, useless pieces. The story was heavy on the science, but not in a way that enlightened the reader about oil-rigs or magma, or even what’s going on in the novel itself. Overall Core reminded me of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy, though Preuss’ skill at painting scenes in technobabble cannot compare to KSR’s.

The currently-tanking movie “The Core” is supposed to be based on Core, but isn’t. First of all, the loss of the earth’s magnetic field is barely mentioned in Core - twice at the beginning and once at the end. A decade of missing magnetic field ought to have more noticable effects, but the only thing that interests the novel’s author is the big hole. The reader gets no dramatic scenes of falling bridges or Parthenons. In the book, no submersible is built to explore the magma - instead, the novel focuses on issues of patent law, politics, and international intrigue, with a side of bratty kids and the aforementioned flood of flashbacks.

The science behind Core is not as ludicrous as Hollywood has portrayed it. Much of the technobabble is devoted to issues in materials science that come up when trying to work with the astronomical pressure and heat of the Earth’s core. The secret to coring success is using a sci-fi substance named hudderite and some interesting bucky-footballs.

I wouldn’t recommend Core unless you know a bit about drilling for oil (I didn’t, and still don’t) and are unusually fascinated by the question, What is the deepest hole which may be dug into the earth? I hear the movie is even worse.

I thought they wanted my money

Monday, April 14th, 2003

You can’t get a Massachusetts state income tax form in this town for love or money. Believe me, I looked. I know the budget is tight, but not printing the tax forms is cutting off the state’s nose to spite its face. If they think this is going to get me to Telefile, they’re out of their minds.

So I printed out the non-Teleforms from the Dept. of Revenue site, and it turns out the state owes me ten big smackers. That’s nothing compared to what I owe the feds, but it’s nice to know that the state will be compensating me for the time I wasted hunting for tax forms today.

On the up side, while I was at the main library of the city of Boston (the capital of the state of Massachusetts), which had no Mass tax forms, I picked up a how-to-write-sci-fi book I hadn’t seen before and a copy of Weird Al’s Running with Scissors CD. Yes, there is a SECRET FILE on the Weird Al CD. I was hoping it was the “The Saga Begins” video, but instead it’s some interview or other.

Impressions of Impressionists

Sunday, April 13th, 2003

Cool link of the day: City Creator

This was the last weekend for the Impressions of Light exhibit at the MFA, and though we both hate Impressionists, my lovely sister Veronica and I were there with a slightly sniffly mom. It began with the muddy tones of the Barbizon School, moved on to some overwrought sketches, a section of photographs that didn’t seem to have much to do with impressions, and, of course, the Pink and Blurry section. I admit, I’m a senseless cad, but all Impressionism says to me is Pink and Blurry. Veronica claims Monet only did it because he was going blind.

Veronica also claims that I can go back sometime this month and get into the museum with my ticket stub from today. I hope it’s true, because I need to wash my brain out with some good Dutch Masters. I abhor pink.

Destiny’s Way

Saturday, April 12th, 2003

I never read media tie-in fiction, but I made an exception for the recent Star Wars novel Destiny’s Way because it was by Walter Jon Williams. I couldn’t have told you otherwise that it was by WJW - it was readable, but it didn’t have his special way with characters and universes.

I spent the beginning of the book wondering how it had come about - did WJW write a masterpiece, and then the Lucas Books people gutted it or dumbed it down for the masses? Or did he go into this assignment with the intention of slumming and raking in the big bucks? Did WJW get to write his own plot, or, like an unfortunate participant in a bad Virtual Season, was this Nebula-winning author expected to take dictation from the Lucasfilm people? By the time I’d reached the end, I’d decided that the “New Jedi Order” universe was sufficiently complex (or baroque and soapy) that the novel contracts must come with detailed outlines.

(Spoilers ahead!) As with most media-fic, the main characters were somewhat sketchy - Luke and Leia, Han and Lando were still running around, but they were rather wooden. I found myself sympathizing with the bad guys - in fact, I couldn’t tell at first that the bad guys were supposed to be bad. I thought Nom Anor was a double agent, and I agreed with Fyor Rodan that the Jedi cult had no natural place in a democratic government. I wanted to storm out of the room with him after Luke had had his smuggler friends bribe senators to throw the election to his friend. I was with Vergere in her criticisms of New Republic Jedi dynasties founded by Darth Vader, one of which, to my shock, had the nerve to name a child Anakin. Bring back the Old Republic!

Another problem of media fic is laziness the lack of description. While Destiny’s Way was good with the battles, I don’t recall any extensive descriptions of worlds besides Zonama Sekot. Much of the appeal of the movies is the gorgeous future scenery, like that of Naboo in Episode One, so it surprised me that I didn’t even realize much of the action was taking place in a floating city until someone aimed a torpedo at it.

And then there’s the Force. In the movies, the Force is mysterious, and Jedi knights are single, solitary, and monklike. In the books, the Force serves as a gigantic invisible calling card with which the various Jedi reach out and touch each other, not to mention reproduce with each other. All the Forcely reaching and sensing and touching and energizing got tiring quickly. Judging from the anvils of backstory, the Jedi bounce back and forth betwen the light and dark sides like so many ping-pong balls. At least the Real Anakin had the decency to stick to the dark side until the end, and to die immediately thereafter rather than tiring the reader with a perpetual repentance.

None of these problems are particular to Destiny’s Way, though. If you like the Star Wars thing I’m sure this was a fine example of the genre, if not of Walter Jon Williams.


Friday, April 11th, 2003

It’s snowed twice already this week, so the rain, even in torrents, is a nice change of pace.

I just thought I’d blog for a minute, and maybe I’ll get over this sudden (or really, not so sudden) urge to quit my job.

No, it’s not going away.

It’s still not going away.

In fact, it’s sounding better every minute.

Analog, Crossfire

Thursday, April 10th, 2003

It’s finally over - “Shootout at the Nokai Corral” has come to the traditional yet satisfying conclusion of all Westerns. The stereotypical Western characters didn’t evolve much to speak of over the course of four issues of Analog, but that’s sci-fi Westerns for you. “The Monopole Affair” wasn’t bad, and I highly recommend “A Good Offense” by Don D’Ammassa, a tale about the diplomatic challenges of dealing with aliens who communicate entirely in insults.

I read the first volume of Otherland by Tad Williams, but those first 800 pages were barely even a start. I realized 300 pages from the end that the margins would not allow space for a conclusion at the author’s current pace. I’ll have to wait until Book 4 for a proper, reviewable ending.

Desperate for something that concludes, I decided to read Crossfire by Nancy Kress. I figured she could be counted on for a simple, one-novel, ends-at-the-end plot, and I was almost right. Most of the book was good - wacky characters and mysterious aliens, a little space travel, more than one moral conundrum, and a running Quaker theme. The only trouble was the end, in which a vital and somewhat vague plot point happened off-stage. In fact, for all I know it didn’t happen at all, and there will be a sequel dealing with the non-event.

One Browser to Rule Them All

Wednesday, April 9th, 2003

I’ve been playing with icons. I downloaded a bunch of them and replaced my story files’ boring document and folder icons with cool planets, aliens and PADDs. Along with one of the sets, World of Aqua 4 from the Icon Factory came a lovely icon of the One Ring, and I wondered where I could use it.

The answer, in the end, was obvious. There’s only one artifact of a dark, all-consuming power on my bright and sunny mac - Internet Explorer. I did the standard Show Info, copy new icon, paste over old icon with IE, and you can see the results here:
new icons in the dock
(Click to see more of my desktop icons.)

My One Ring transplant into IE was only partly successful. It shows up in the dock, but not everywhere in the finder. I put it into the dock so I could admire it - I never actually use IE. Directly above the One Browser is the result of a more complicated icon transplant. I hated the default AIM icon enough to do ResEdit surgery on it. I got the directions from Resexcellence - you can see the original version there. The replacement icon is from Spiffy Apps at

A prepubescent flyin’ ace

Tuesday, April 8th, 2003

I can’t believe I mentioned Anakin Skywalker without linking to Weird Al’s video of The Saga Begins. The title of this entry is taken from that epic filk of “American Pie,” and it relates to the protests of HP fans that Harry is just a normal, average wizard. I’d be more willing to believe that if he weren’t a first-year Quiddich phenomenon. (Please pardon my spelling, if I’ve gotten it wrong - I find the HP books extraordinarily forgettable, even though I just read one a couple of weeks ago.) I’m not judging HP from the perspective of a student of canon but from an overall impression of its themes. Of course, people may differ on the themes they see in a text, which brings us back to…

…subtext. When I made my off-hand comment that I don’t believe in subtext, I didn’t realize I was playing a “get out of slash free” card. I’m not complaining, by any means. Seema, in between lewd comments about my dude Weird Al, gave me this link to AJ Hall’s thoughts on subtext and backstory. Caught between an RJ and an AJ, I asked Seema whether she believed in subtext. She said she didn’t believe in J/C subtext.

I’d mentioned exactly this example before - that Janeway/Chakotay fans see J/C subtext and Chakotay/Paris fans see C/P subtext, and rarely the twain end up meeting. While certainly something happens to the story in the readers’ minds, that something has very little to do with the story itself. Thus I’ve heard J/C fans raving about all the J/C subtext, and C/7 fans raving back that J/C is the most nauseating, unbelievable, and chemistry-less pairing known to Trek - there was never any such subtext. And that’s without even involving a slash pairing!

I’m not saying there isn’t more to a story than just the words themselves, but when you get into an aspect of characterization that people violently disagree about, such as J/C vs. C/7 or C/P, then the most likely explanation is that neither one is part of the shared world of canon. I’ve been down that fanon road before, and all slash looks like to me is another fanon’s rose-colored glasses - the odd thing being the use of “subtext” in place of “fanon.”

Harry Potter as Star Wars

Tuesday, April 8th, 2003

I’ve been going back and forth with RJ about Harry Potter, and this time I hit her comment size limit, so I’m going to have to put it all here. For those who have missed my other discussions with RJ, I should mention that I don’t consider Tolkien’s works to be “Christian” in any important sense - the category was brought up by RJ and I’m not relying on it when I criticize HP any more than Brin was when he lit into Star Wars (chuckle now if you know Brin). I also don’t believe that children need to be shielded from literature.

In response to RJ’s first entry, I commented:

One difference between HP and your other fantasy examples is that in Tolkien and Lewis, the human/hobbit characters do not have inherent magical powers. HP is more like Star Wars that way than Christian fantasy, and is susceptible to the criticism David Brin once made of the Force, which I linked in my blog back when I saw the first HP movie.

In brief, Brin calls Star Wars a “demigod tale”; analogously, Harry Potter isn’t worshipping another god, he is another god. He is born with powers no one else has, and he and his class despise the general run of mankind - the Muggles. Brin’s main concern was the democracy of equals vs. the depotism of the genetically superior, but I think that the deeper concern for children’s literature is the very concept of the boy born to be king. Most boys are not born to be king.

Frodo is a positive moral example because, like the Narnia children, he was sometimes weak, and paid the price, and ultimately he chose to do good despite the temptation not to get involved. Harry Potter, on the other hand, regularly lies to his family and his teachers. He breaks the rules and is rewarded for it because he is the anointed one. He does good accidentally, as part of his mysterious demigod nature, starting with his defeat of Voldemort while still an infant.

HP certainly is a pagan book, but not because of the magic.

In response to RJ’s comments on the above, I said part of the following:

Harry isn’t the analogue of Anakin Skywalker, but of Luke Skywalker (unless something unexpected happens in the later books). Part of Brin’s point was that Luke was born to be a demigod, and that that is a bad sort of person to star in fiction. His points about Anakin are valid, but irrelevant to HP.

I admit I’ve only read the first two HP books, but it’s not clear to me that anyone else is as powerful as Harry. Other characters constantly reinforce the specialness of Harry and the belief that Harry defeated Voldemort as an infant - and therefore, his unusual power even among wizards. Later revelations won’t negate that initial impression for me. How would you disprove Harry’s superior powers, unless by a faceoff between, say, Snape and Harry? That’s unlikely to happen, and any apparent superior skill among Harry’s elders can be attributed to education and experience rather than innate talent.

It is likewise clear to me that Muggles are, if not to be despised, at least to be pitied. I don’t think you can excuse Harry’s behavior by his bad Muggle parentage - it was the author’s decision to give him bad parents, to put him in that situation, and therefore to glorify his rebellion, however justified, to minors. It’s certainly true that the story of the boy born to be king (with a side of evil stepparent) is quite common - for example, it occurs in Star Wars - but that doesn’t make it an admirable story. I find it morally questionable.

You know I don’t believe in protecting children from literature, so what I’m really questioning is the appeal of HP. I think it’s so popular with children precisely because it tells this fantasy (in the bad sense of the word) of the boy born to be king, who’s the most popular in the school, who’s the most talented at sports, who has the most magical powers, who’s the most oppressed by his clearly evil guardians, and who saves the world in every novel.

Anyway, in real life we don’t see every infraction summarily punished…

Good literature does not copy real life, it idealizes it. What happens in the books expresses the ideals behind them. Especially in a fantasy, you can’t say that the author was just being realistic - that’s not the nature of literature, and certainly not of fairy tales.

So why do we expect anything different from fiction?

Well, the reason I expect more from fiction is that I still remember reading Lewis and Tolkien and Leguin as a child, and you mentioned two of them. When I read HP, I was surprised at how flat it seemed, how little it had in common with the books I remember. Lewis’ and Tolkien’s stories took average characters and put them into difficult situations which they overcame because of their moral qualities (and possibly supernatural aid), not because of native power or birthright. Frodo was the best hobbit in the Shire because of his character, not his parentage or his inheritance of the Ring. At best, with Harry it’s unclear whether his choices or his powers are behind his success, and though that doesn’t make the HP novels particularly evil, it does make them inferior as literature to the others you mentioned.

Non-Canonical Replies

Monday, April 7th, 2003

Since they were getting long, here are some responses to the last entry’s comments:

Scrollgirl said: I’m just not ready to say that, just because we don’t see it, it is therefore uncanonical.

The definition of canon is that which appears on-screen. Anything that doesn’t appear on-screen is not canon, for my purposes. (Jeri Taylor novels are not canon.) Anything we haven’t seen, such as a sexual orientation for which there is no evidence, is therefore non-canonical. I don’t think I used the term uncanonical, which is a bit stronger. If something contradicts the actual facts of canon, such as saying Tom is exclusively gay when in fact he had heterosexual relationships in canon, that would be counter-canonical.

I’m not saying you can’t make an attempt to found a non-canonical characterization in canon facts - just that it’s still non-canonical, and therefore not what I’m after in fanfic.

Caffey said: I certainly do believe in subtext or else the only VOY pairings I would care for and/or accept as valid (for lack of better term) were P/T and C/7.

I don’t care for P/T myself - they bore me. I do like some non-canon pairings, especially J/P and J/C, but that fondness is not based on subtext. Maybe because it isn’t, I rarely find J/P or J/C fic convincing, and so I don’t read much of it.

Fay said: What puzzles me still […] is what you would consider NOT to be non-canonical, short of copying out the scripts verbatim.

The example that comes immediately to mind is my fic 148, which is a Spike monologue based on the events of Bargaining and After Life. As far as I recall, there was nothing controversial about my characterization of Spike and I just followed along with the relevant canon events for the plot.

However, I never said that I don’t read non-canonical fic. What I don’t tend to read is fic with non-canonical characterizations. Non-canonical events are fine by me, in the form of parody, AU’s, and adventures that go beyond simple novelizations of canon events.

Katta said: There are, in general, the kind of ficcers who want “more of the same” [and] there are also the kind of ficcers who want a twist - they like what they see, but something is missing.

I certainly don’t mind more of the same, but I’m more interested in twists to the canon universe and situations (AU’s). I’m not interested in major twists to the canon characters (slash, angst, etc.).

eleanorb said: The divisions for readers […] are breaking down, at least in the eyes of SF readers who read far wider than the delimited genre and recognise the themes of SF whoever writes them and whatever it is listed as in the publishers catalogues.

I don’t see any such breakdown. While I mentioned that there are stories which are hard to classify, they’re the exception that prove the rule. A similar theme doesn’t make something sci-fi, because sci-fi isn’t identified by theme any more than mysteries or westerns or thrillers are. Mass-market genres are classified by plot - they are the bastions of plot in modern literature.