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Okay, so I went to see The Bourne Legacy this weekend. It was fun, even though, wow, it had more than a few flaws. One of which is not really a spoiler but Jeremy Renner should never, ever have facial hair. Luckily, the facial hair doesn't last long.

Anyway, the rest of this is a rant that is maybe spoiler-y? Given that it's about a recent release, I'll put the rant behind a cut.

Potentially Spoilery Rant )

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Okay, it’s Christmas season around these here parts, and I thought I would share my little rant about Santa Claus. Because, believe it or not, there are kids who do not believe in Santa Claus. For that matter, there are also adults who do not believe in him. I’d expect a few teenagers to refute him just because they’re teenagers and being contrarian, but the rest… (I sadly shake my head.)

Let me lay this out in logical fashion:

Santa Claus gives presents.

He gives additional presents. All the various relatives have to give their own presents, they can’t lay claim to Santa Claus presents. (1)

So there may be all sorts of evidence against his existence (say, you saw Mom wrapping the presents for stockings or saw Dad dressed up in a red suit with a white beard, or you took a moment to consider the physics of flying through the air with reindeer) but clearly all of this so called evidence is trumped by the simple fact that he brings presents. It is completely counter-productive to deny the existence of someone who is giving you presents.

After all, someone who doesn’t exist, can’t give you presents, and there isn’t any greater issue at hand. It’s just a matter of, present or no present? A bit like Cake or Death.

Santa Claus clearly lives because his existence makes the world a better

(1) I’d also like to mention that Santa presents being additional is a wonderfully useful thing from the opposite side as well. Say you found the perfect present for someone but its not something you want to be known for giving, you wrap it up, sign it from Santa, and stick it under the tree. I did this a couple of years ago just for the fun of it, and the chaos it created was hilarious.
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I have a quick rant to make about showing honor and respect to either real people or to characters. This was inspired by a Veterans' Day radio bit which pissed me off. It was talking about how "Soldiers, not poets," did whatever. Allowed freedom, and free speech and whatnot. While it's annoying that it blatantly ignored the contributions of poets, that was more or less understandable given that it's Veterans' Day.

What was more distasteful was the fact that the radio apparently thought that the only way to honor veterans was to dishonor everyone else. This is distressingly common in writing, too: some authors think that the only way to show how smart one character is, is to show all the other characters are idiots. This way of looking at the world is also a main reason for domestic abuse: the only way for the one person to feel strong is for the other person to be weak.

The theory is wrong. Honor and respect and power are not a zero sum game. One person having these does not mean another person lacks. The opposite is true, they build upon each other. One of my favorite books is The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth. It's about an assassin trying to get past security and a cop trying to track the assassin. What makes it so good, though, is that both characters are so spectacularly smart, tricky, and clever. If one of them were simply incompetent, then both would lose that quality. A person can be defined by their friends and their enemies. Only a very small person needs very small friends and enemies. A powerful person wants powerful friends and can deal with powerful enemies.

A quote of dubious origin (either Marianne Williamson or Nelson Mandela):

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world. Thee's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us, it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we're liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."

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I recently stumbled across What's Special About This Number?, a perfectly awesome website that shows math trivia. This reminded me of one my gripes about Numb3rs fanfic. There are some very good stories in this fandom, but I have found very, very few that actually center around any math.

Are there just too few math majors writing fanfic? Surely not.

Is it too hard? It can't possibly be. After all, I have personally heard Quakerism explained by the solving of a quadratic equation, which is alas, not online, although I may need to bug the author to post it. (You know who you are, You-Know-Who.)

Admittedly, the canon authors aren't doing much better. However, frankly, that's more common than not, and most fanfic authors seem to take inspiration from the failing of the canon authors to Do It Right. So I would really like some authors to go do it right. And then let me know.

Anyway, for inspiration, here are links to the few stories I have found that are at least vaguely math-based:

The Arms of the Galaxy by [ profile] audrarose 

Calculus Is Easy by [profile] frostfire_17 

Game Theory by [profile] halcyon_shift 

Alas, I do mean "vaguely"

If anyone reading this has more suggestions, please let me know.

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NCIS has recently taken over my life. A fabulous show. I'm currently on disc two of season four, having worked my way there from disc one of season one not all that long ago. A really good show: the characters are quirky, the crimes are interesting, the filming is lovely.

Like many shows i have now seen, I started watching it to get some background for the fandom.

Normally I watch a few episodes, I might like it or not, but I'll continue to like the fandom more. (For instance, Vathara's stories got me watching Airwolf, but her stories are far, far better than the canon. I love those characters but her versions will always be the primary ones in my mind.)

However, watching NCIS is the first time that the cannon has far outstripped the fandom in quality. There's always a lot of dreck to weed through for good fic, but this is just weird. I have now read some really, really well-written stories, the stories that seem to be the classics of the genre, and they all have the tendency of turning Tony DiNozzo into a thirteen-year-old girl. What's up with that? 

He's an awesome character: he's strong, silly, resilient, something of an ass, often takes his own jokes a bit too far, occasionally gets a joke played on him taken a bit too far, but on the occasions when he drops the teasing and is serious, he's an adult.

One of the things I love about fanfic in general is that it gives more depth and insight to the events of canon. So a lot of fanfic around DiNozzo focuses on a few central stories that the authors then delve into. I seriously get worried now when I watch them, wondering if this is the time when the show writers brought out the angst. And each time it isn't. DiNozzo can and does take care of himself. So what's up with the fandom? 

(There are exceptions to this, here and here and here for instance, but still, these should be the rule rather than the exception, and all of them are rather short. If you have more exceptions, please let me know. I really want to read a good long story in which Tony is both the silly ass he is and the competent adult he also is.)

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Romance novels are a rather major genre. Nearly any bookstore, or any store that happens to sell books, will have a romance section. These are books where the main plot arc is the romance. There are frequently other plots, too -- murder mystery, action heist, fantasy quest -- any sort of plot that would appear in any other book, just made into the backdrop of the romance rather than having any romance be a side note to the plot, as happens in those genres.

That is actually annoyance #1 for me, especially within science fiction / fantasy. 

Good science fiction / fantasy involves requires world building. It requires an author think through what powers or abilities are there and what the consequences to those are, how the world and society are affected. Examples of ideals are Tolkien for fantasy and Asimov for science fiction. Tolkien created a world with history and societies and geography and the whole works, and it all fits together. Fabulous. Asimov looked at our world, added robots, and made it real. Artificial Intelligence academics still look at his Three Laws of Robotics. It makes sense.

Romance novels, on the other hand, don't put that much effort into creating their backdrop, since it's not the important part, and wind up with these peculiar societies that are useful plot devices on the top layer and completely and utterly messed up on all the layers under that. There are, alas, way too many examples of this. One example is Nora Roberts who wrote a whole "In Death" series that's set in the future. There's all sorts of computer gizmos that can do all sorts of things but the heroine is still banging the side of her desk top computer when the speech portion goes on the fritz, and the hero is still hacking complex systems by typing really fast on a keyboard.

Problem #2 is more general to the Romance genre than just the fantasy romance, and it is the characters.

I read my first romance novel a few weeks into my first year of college. It was about the same time as we were getting all sorts of orientation materials. One bit of orientation was on social skills for living away from home and with a bunch of other young adults, and included a list of warning signs for date rape. Curiously enough, it was also a check list for all the major character points for the hero in the majority of romance novels. The characters and their relationships are almost always awful! I want to smack them upside the head. Because no real attention is paid to the actual plot, there are rarely reasonable explanations for how the characters get into the problems they are in, which pretty much means they do something extremely stupid or fail to do something common sense demands, and lo and behold instant plot. Then they lie to themselves and each other and there's jealousy and possessiveness and all sorts of things that, really, nobody wants. But it's all very sexy in the book.

And when they're not being stupid/creepy/slime-y, they're being too perfect/rich/beautiful. It's a genre pretty much devoted to Mary Sues. Which are really oddly addictive. Alas, you may have also noticed that I feel well-read enough in the genre to make generalities. There's a reason why so many people write Mary Sues and it's a lot like why people eat cotton candy.

(There's even a sub-genre for lonely women who are unappreciated in our time being sent back in time to a more romantic era so that they can be loved and dominated by handsome brutish and possibly even vaguely historic heroes. These stories push my limits and I avoid them like the plague.)

However, these problems actually all lead to pro #1.   (I'm counting the addictive quality as something of a wash, both pro and con.)

These books are so very bad, their characters are so bad, and their plots are so bad, that they make really the perfect writing prompt. Do you have writer's block? Read a romance novel. Unless you somehow manage to luck out and find a fabulous one (I'm assuming such a one exists though I never found it), then you are instead going to find something that desperately calls out to be fixed. So all you need to do is fix it.

What would it take to make the premise work? What would the world actually look like? 

What would it take to make the plot hold together? What would fill in the plot holes?

What would it take to make the characters make sense? Be sympathetic? Would the main characters even wind up with each other? 

Of course, by the end of this, you don't even have a fanfic because you've probably made so many changes that it's an original work. But that is my response to writer's block. Read something good to be fulfilled in mind and spirit but read something bad to be inspired to write.


Feb. 21st, 2009 07:37 pm
marbleglove: (Default)
Okay, this is a just a brief rant about my problems with narrators, either in books or real life, describing something or someone with adjectives but no examples, or worse, contradictory examples.

For instance, I love Robert Heinlein's books, they're a great deal of fun, but you have to remember always that he was born in 1907 and his female characters are rather dreadful and better off ignored. They are described in the narration as being brave and brilliant and then shown to make major mistakes and cower behind the hero. It's not that I mind having wimpy characters appear in books (although they're not my favorite) as long as they are acknowledged as being wimpy. It's way too condescending to say that oh, this character is so brilliant because she's capable of understanding 90% of what the hero is saying, or oh, she's so brave because at least she didn't faint while the hero was fighting the monster. Urgh.

In real life it happens too. I met a woman the other day who described herself as being very honest and straightforward. "What you see is what you get." My first reaction was that that is a completely meaningless sentence in the context. A person telling you that they are trustworthy either is or is not, but their word on the matter can't really be the deciding issue. Given that she had brought up the issue of her trustworthiness, I then had to hold it in question: was she trustworthy? Plus, she wore make-up. My only real issue with make-up is the time it takes to apply but it's hardly an example of what you see being what you get.

More and more, I wish narrators, both in books and in conversation, would stick to describing events or places, letting actions or even recounted events reveal character rather than attempting to simply state character as if it were fact. Because really, all that does is make me doubt it and I do occasionally try to curb my cynicism.
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Consider the X-Men universe. Various politicians demand that mutants be identified and registered as such. The various mutants don't want this to happen and tend to have these amazing powers: telepathy, telekinesis, fire, flying, weather control, control of magnetism, etc.

However, assuming that these are actual mutations that work like any other type of mutation, there are a few other things that need to be considered: 

(A) The amazing abilities such as the x-men have, would actually be fairly rare in comparison to smaller modifications of the standard human. Thus there should be a lot of people who test positive for the X gene without having a visible or useful mutation (The housewife who can make perfectly round pancakes without any trouble. The guy who can always tell how fast he's going even without looking at a speedometer.) or have an ability that never gets used. (The kid who will never be harmed by fire but learned as an infant not to touch it because that's what parents teach their kids. The guy who could speak with whales or dolphins if he ever came into contact with them but he lives in Iowa and never visited the aquarium.) If the politicians who propose registration ever got it passed, I imagine a significant portion of the population would be in for a surprise.

(B) But while the minor abilities would be more common than the more spectacular ones, even more common would be the ones that are simply not viable. There should be a dangerous increase in miscarriages and still-born children with disturbing birth defects. Some of the politicians would worry about controlling dangerous mutants, sure, but a lot more should be worried about maintaining the population and not have too many grieving would-be parents. There should be movements to find the source of the X gene and eradicate it, not because they hate mutants, but because it's killing off so many babies.

Anyway, this all came up because if I have a mutant power, it may very well be a sort of anti-thickening power. No amount of boiling or cornstarch can withstand the awesome power of the anti-thickener. Thus, my cupcakes will, once more, be glazed rather than frosted. Hmph.
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There will come a time when I can walk through a bookstore, see the newest Laurell K. Hamilton book and be able to shrug and dismiss it as simply a book I don't care to read. Unfortunately, that time has not yet come. Each and every time it makes me want to rage.

It's not that she's a bad author or any of the other reasons why I don't care for any other given author. Part of it is that I did like her. The Anita Blake series started out really fun. "Guilty Pleasures" was a fun romp through the vampire genre, and the universe building is quite awesome with legalized vampirism and prejudice against lycanthropy and all. Not great literature by any means but fun and highly addictive. The next couple of books were pretty much in the same vein: fun romps that were still highly addictive, but the series went down hill fast until you suddenly realize that you're not reading PG fluff any more, but headed directly into some fairly hardcore porn.

Spoilers and adult content ahead )


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