Wednesday, July 28, 2010
This book is not the sort that spawns merchandising tie-ins -- but you never know. I, for instance, possess a Jane Austen action figure, an object that would undoubtedly surprise the original Jane. The action figure sits upon my bookshelf, in front of the six Austen novels and other books about them. Usually Jane stands there proudly alone. Lately, though, I have been waking up to find her menaced by a variety of alien figures, such as this one from ALIEN:
Or perhaps she's being not menaced but embraced. Of so, please take note, Jack -- Jane is not that kind of girl!
Sunday, July 25, 2010
WINTER'S BONE has no car chases. It barely has any cars. Also no video games, cell phones, or night-vision goggles. There may have been a brief glimpse of a TV. What WINTER'S BONE has is people -- striving, feeling, and desperate people. This is not a cheerful movie, but it is a very real one, and its unknown young star, Jennifer Lawrence, is amazing.
[WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!]
Lawrence plays Ree, a seventeen-year-old girl living in the ass end of the world somewhere in Appalachia or the Ozarks. Her mother is too mentally ill to function, she has a little brother and sister, and her father has disappeared. Ree has to find him or the family, barely surviving as is, will lose its land and pehaps even starve. Ree is kin to everybody for miles around, but her clan alternates between helping her and warning her off, sometimes violently. Ree knows why, and we gradually learn why, too -- the entire clan survives by operating meth labs. The law knows this as well, and they would also like to find Ree's daddy. If all this sounds like another set-up for complicated double games and shoot-outs, it's not. Ree's kin know where he is, both she and the law knows they know, and only torn loyalties and potential betrayals are in operation, not con games. It's more than enough. This movie is about courage and desperation and the ties of blood, and it is terrific. Not for the faint-hearted, but I can't recommend it highly enough.
And young Jennifer Lawrence is Oscar material.
Friday, July 23, 2010
This excitement has now moved to the Web. A much-visited site invites writers to paste in a section of their texts and purports to analyze it to see what famous writer you most write like. After Mike Flynn sent me the link (http://tofspot.blogspot.com/2010/07/who-do-you-write-like.html), I tried it, putting in three separate sections of STEAL ACROSS THE SKY. The first time, the site informed me that I write like Leo Tolstoy. The second time, also Leo Tolstoy. The third time: Raymond Chandler.
Can you think of a single thing Tolstoy and Chandler have in common? I can't!
A commenter on Mike's blog researched this further. He discovered that:
- The Gettysburg Address was said to be in the style of H.P. Lovecraft.
- Ditto for the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence.-
-One guy entered a paragraph of (which I believe to be) the Odyssey in Greek (even in Greek letters) and it was identified as being in the style of Charles Dickens.
In a way, this is too bad. I was pleased to think I might write like Tolstoy. Another cruel disillusionment in a cruel world.
Monday, July 19, 2010
The plot is unusually complicated.
I was absorbed throughout the entire movie. At times I was also lost because:
The plot is really complicated.
Some of the film is moving: specifically, the parts involving Leonardo DiCaprio's family.
Ariadne's involvement, motivation, and quickness at understanding Cobb (faster than people who have known him for years -- in fact, almost instantly) make no sense. But they are necessary because she is necessary to explain things to, because:
The plot is amazingly complicated.
Leonardo DiCaprio turns in a heartfelt performance.
There is way too much shooting, being shot at, and fleeing shooting people on foot, in cars, on skis, and in null gravity. Way, way too much.
I recommend the movie, even though its central ideas could have been explored better IF:
The plot had not been so extremely complicated.
INCEPTION is, in microcosm, the state of much current SF. It is so complex and self-referential that much time is spent figuring out what is happening, rather than inhabiting what is happening. Is this good or bad? I guess that depends why you like stories. If you want them to be puzzles, then INCEPTION is brilliant. If you want them to be reflections of human experience, then INCEPTION is still good but not as good as it could have been if the film maker, Christopher Nolan, had kept things a bit simpler (for one thing, characters could then have spent less time giving us info dumps). However, judging from the enthusiastic audience reaction last night, puzzles are what is wanted. People applauded at the end. Lobby comments afterward were positive (I eavesdropped). This is, apparently, what SF means to a mass audience.
And I, too, am glad I saw it. However, for me, less would have been more.
Saturday, July 17, 2010
I met Judith Merril in the late 1970's. She came to read and lecture at the college where I was a graduate student and I was assigned by the English Department to drive her around. I received this assignment because I had published a few SF stories and because Judy, as an SF writer, was not of much interest to most of the department. (When Isaac Bashevis Singer came to campus, the Dean drove him around.) Judy was fun, gracious, and very kind to a star-struck young wannabe. But when the subject of ex-husband Frederik Pohl's autobiography, THE WAY THE FUTURE WAS, came up, she grew incensed.
"He sanitized everything!" she said. "I'm going to write those years the way they really happened!"
She didn't finish that project, but her grand-daughter has. Judith Merril was one of a kind -- brash, opinionated, highly political, a force of nature -- and her personality comes through strongly in BETTER TO HAVE LOVED. I have no idea how accurate her recollections are of Sturgeon, Pohl, Knight, Kidd, Kornbluth, McLean, Wollheim, and the other SF figures of that era, but they certainly make for absorbing reading. With nothing sanitized at all.
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
His reading was really well received, and so were his remarks before and after; one point was particularly interesting. Explaining that he came from a working-class background (his father and two brothers were coal miners), Graham said that this background had influenced his attitude toward writing fiction. He does not regard it as a "priestly calling, but more like a job." You go to the job, you do it whether you're in the mood or not, and you make steady progress. That is, he said, "the industrial method of writing fiction."
Graham's prose -- witty, polished, and sophisticated -- is anything but industrial. But his attitude is echoed by nearly every successful writer I know. In addition, his situation points up another facet of the writing life: writers come from all sorts of backgrounds, not all of them literary. When Graham's first novel came out, he reports, this exchange ensued:
Father: What's your book about, then?
Graham: It's about dreams.
Father: Dreams? What are you on about, 'dreams'?
Graham: It's about dreams and what they mean.
Father: They bloody well mean you're asleep!
An enjoyable evening.
Friday, July 9, 2010
Harris-Moore is 19 years old. When he escaped from a halfway house and began running, he was 17.
What does all this have to do with YA novels? Sometimes I think that YA protagonists (including my own in the fantasy I'm writing) accomplish more than a teen could. More outwitting of adults, more successful escapes from capture, more self-discipline and ingenuity and resourcefulness. Then I read about Harris-Moore and realize that no, these protagonists are not unrealistic. What is unrealistic are the low expectations we have for teens, treating them like six-year-olds ("Teacher, may I go to the bathroom?") until we suddenly allow them into the army, put a M-16 in their hands, and send them to Iraq.
For much of history, a 17-year-old was an adult, or so close as to make little difference. Perhaps YA fantasy and SF reminds kids of that. Perhaps we need that reminding. I certainly do not condone Harris-Moore's antics -- someone owned that $384,000 plane he flew and crashed. But he is a powerful argument that teenagers may possess more ability and resourcefulness than we give them credit for.
Tuesday, July 6, 2010
Miller's point is that these are not realistic dystopias (she nicely deconstructs the non-logic behind THE HUNGER GAMES). Rather, they are fables or "psychomyths," mirroring how kids feel in adolescence -- particularly modern adolescence in huge high schools, too big for adults to effectively police them, and rife with extrme forms of bullying and ostracism of the unfavored. Such an environment, Miller argues, is a dystopia for most, and so adolescents feel beleaguered, outcast, manipulated, and in danger -- just as in the futures portrayed in these YA novels. For kid readers, she says, dystopia "isn't a future to be averted; it's a version of what's already happening in the world they inhabit."
Do I believe this? The truth is, I don't know enough about modern high schools to know what they feel like to their young inhabitants. But certainly one function of fantasy is to dramatize and give concrete shape to readers' inner lives. This is what Ursula LeGuin also argues in her new collection of essays, CHEEK BY JOWL: that fantasy is essential to understanding reality. She writes "And the stories that call most on the imagination work on a deep level of the mind, beneath reason (therefore incomprehensible to rationalists), using symbol as poetry does to express what can't be said directly, using imagery to express what can't be perceived directly -- using indirection to indicate the truthward direction."
If the inward truth of today's adolescents is best expressed by forced gladiatorial games, then America has a problem. But these books -- all of them cited above, and more -- are what kids choose to read, not what schools or parents choose for them. For that reason, Laura Miller's thesis deserves serious consideration.
Saturday, July 3, 2010
- an inflatable fruitcake -- "Just as inedible as the original!"
- action figures of Wall Street zombies
- underpants for squirrels
- boxes of Nihilistic Mints -- they have no flavor at all
- a wedding-cake decoration of a Reluctant Bride -- he is dragging her kicking and screaming to the altar
- and my absolute favorite -- Cold War Unicorns. They are rearing up to fight. One is painted red with hammer and sickle and the other painted with the Stars 'n Stripes.