In which Ellen pokes her head out…

2 10 2008

Hello everyone!

My name’s Ellen, how do you do? I’ve been an avid fan of Science Fiction and Fantasy for pretty much as long as I can remember, and since I also know all of these other jokers that post on Conventioneers, I figure this is a good place for me.

I’ve been reading Conventioneers for some time, all the while wishing I could think of something to post about. Last week, while watching the start of Heroes season three, I finally realized what I wanted to say. I’ve been thinking about the evolution for the show, and would like to share my thoughts so far with all of you. This is going to be a Heroes review of sorts, but I think a lot of the points I raise are meaningful for a lot of other stories as well.

I began watching the show this summer because I was interested in the concept and wanted to see what all the fuss was about. I found it genuinely compelling and felt connected to the characters, or at least that I understood why each character behaved in the way that they did. This started to dissolve in season two, when I felt like I had lost touch with the characters and their motivations. Or rather, that the writers had. Season one was largely devoted to developing the backstory and unique circumstances surrounding each “hero”, and as such there was little interaction between the main characters until the end. In season two, all of the heroes generally knew each other and the writers were suddenly faced with the challenge of writing interactions between multiple main characters while still remaining true to each person’s motivation and values. On many occasion I feel that they failed.

Instead of feeling connected to the characters I found myself asking why they were behaving as they were. It seemed to me that their personalities and motives had become more generic, watered down versions of their past forms. Perhaps this is what must happen when you throw so many well-developed, strong personalities together and still want to get anything done. I’d like to get your thoughts on this. Is it possible to have a large group of characters with a wide variety of motivations and powers and still write a story with momentum while being true to each person? I feel like a lot of super-hero comics have this problem.

Another problem I had with season 2 is that the writers took the story in some of the places they did to get high ratings even if it meant compromising the identity of the characters. For example, on several occasions I was at the point of pulling my hair out watching a huge conflict develop because of a misunderstanding that could have been easily defused if the characters would have actually used their heads and talked it out. It seemed like a big cop-out on the writers’ part to just use misunderstanding for easy drama. The characters also repeated bad mistakes they made in season one just because the audience responded to those mistakes the first time. It’s these decisions to sacrifice quality for ratings that make me really disappointed in the writers. The reason I hold Heroes to such a high standard is because season one had relatively few of these problems.

I had hoped that the show could regain its old glory in season three with the writers’ strike over and after Heroes showed so much promise in the last few episodes of season two. Unfortunately, the three episodes that have aired so far still have a lot of last season’s problems and ultimately leave me questioning my faith in the series.

I’d like to hear any opinions or comments you may have. I am especially interested to hear what you have to say about how shows and comics maintain the identity of their characters after they’ve all met each other and are suddenly interacting and working together.

Babyquakes and King Richard’s Faire.

22 09 2008

Today I half fell asleep during my Geology Lecture (I blame this entirely on King Richard’s Faire, which I will speak to in a moment) and had a dream about babyquakes. It’s like an earthquake, but in a baby. I’m not entirely sure what it would mean, but in my dream there was a scale for it and everything (feeling it while holding the baby, shaking the crib, etc.)

On Sunday I made the two hour trip to Carver, MA to spend a delightful day at King Richard’s Faire. A friend of mine works at one of the shops there, and subsequently had free tickets to give away. I saw “jousting” and a Liger (that thing is huge), ran around the shops, talked up pretty sword smith boys and aerial silks girls and saw a high school friend I haven’t seen in years! My father and youngest sister were able to meet up with me there, which was also a nice surprise.

All in all I had a lot of fun and I recommend the faire for anyone who is close enough to Carver, MA to consider it. Of course – having free tickets is a particularly nice way to enjoy it and those of you accustomed to SCA events might be horribly offended (I saw at least six Captain Jack Sparrows and one Link walking around.) But if you like laughing and running around in the woods with a commercialized “Medieval Faire” in the background – you’ll probably enjoy yourself just fine.

Helpful Hints When One is Attempting to Start a New Club at College…

14 09 2008

This semester I have added to Hampshire’s long list of student groups: The Hampshire College Space Program. I’m quite excited for the club to start meeting (I attracted members by asking “Do you want to go into space?” so everyone in the group answered yes to that question… really I think that about sums up my expectations.) Additionally exciting is the fact that every single Hampshire College Signer sweatshirt will have “The Hampshire College Space Program” on it. As a college we officially have a Space Program! I wish I knew how to bounce up and down in excitement via the internets.

I did learn a little bit from the process of creating this group which I feel the need to share with everyone.

One Major Thing I Could Have Done Differently

(which ultimately would have made my life much easier)

Approximate answers from the official student group recognition form submitted to the college last spring.

Group Name: The Hampshire College Space Program

Group Mission Statement: We love space. We love learning about space. We want to bring a love of space to the community at large. We want to go into space.

Things you want to accomplish: Building a rocket and going into space.

Now, I thought this was all very amusing seeing as how new student groups are given no more than $300 (and the chance of receiving that much funding is fairly slim.) But I guess Hampshire College was not amused. They demanded Safety Write-ups, Faculty/Staff advisers, Waivers for every club member and basic bureaucratic nonsense because I believe that they actually believe we might be attempting space exploration on a budget of less than $300 dollars.

Well shoot – I guess if we have to jump through all these safety hoops we might as well do it! Does anyone know where I can buy a whole lot of rocket fuel? (And I do not mean the drink that is traditionally made at Arisia.)

Review: Iron Council by China Miéville

19 08 2008

China Miéville is a brilliant writer. This was not a difficult conclusion after reading Perdido Street Station.

Miéville visualizes and commits to paper ideas that could never occur to mere mortals. His world of Bas Lag is so rich and full of amazing scenery — an ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ place, yet strangely compelling. Everything bizarre disjointed and imperfect, yet meshes to create a layered and interesting world in which nothing is ever simple or black-and-white. In fact, there are few moral judgments made at all. Everything is shades of grey. It’s magic steampunk to the max. For the best description possible, read the Science, technology and magic section on wikipedia:

“New Crobuzon’s technological capabilities are decidedly steampunk: difference engines, advanced clockwork “constructs”, helium-balloon airships, firearms, primitive photography and coal-powered trains and ships all abound in the three Bas-Lag novels.

Where science fails… magic steps in. New Crobuzon harbors a large population of magic-users — broadly referred to as “thaumaturges” — who are capable of earning a substantial living from their craft.”

I’m one of those people who runs around imagining a fantasy world unfolding over mundane scenery. Anything to add richness or feed me with ideas is welcome, even sought out. I can not get enough of Miéville. Perdido Street Station was amazing, and then I read The Scar which was not quite as good, but still filled with amazing imagery. Iron Council, the latest book set in this world of Bas Lag, was a veritable travel journal across the continent and back. The ideas and images were amazing and terrifying and new.

Despite this glowing recommendation of Miéville’s writing, I don’t actually recommend Iron Council. If you’re a casual reader of fantasy the beautiful and alien images in his writing won’t be enough to string you along for very long. When I said it read like a travel journal, I mean it. If I actually told you the plot of the book it would spoil the first two hundred pages of people running around to find it. It picks up around the last fifth, as actual life-threatening motivation is introduced to the characters.

The book is also plagued by one of Miéville’s major flaws — the inclusion of what are essentially gamesmaster controlled NPCs. These overpowered deus ex machinas characters drive the plot forward when the protagonist can’t because he’d be flattened by some terrifying slug monster from beyond reality or the army of terrifying fish-men. It’s a problem in The Scar and a worse problem in Iron Council. When these characters step in, it seems almost like the author is rolling dice to figure out what happens next, because their actions are sometimes so random and unexplained or overpowered compared to the more mundane elements of the world. It rarely makes much sense.

If you haven’t read any Miéville, I recommend starting with Perdido Street Station, though folks who read The Scar first seem to recommend that. If you desperately need more, I suppose you could read Iron Council but don’t say I didn’t warn you. There are times where you’ll have to force yourself forward through the beautiful-described plodding non-plot. At this point, I don’t expect any brilliant stories from Miéville, but if he wrote a Bas Lag codex or encyclopedia, or other supplement to a role playing game, I’d buy it in a heartbeat.

Review: The Drawing of the Dark by Tim Powers

15 08 2008

Okay, first of all I’m sorry for the serious downtime this week. I’m job hunting, and Lindsay is off assistant-teaching at a trapeze camp in Pennsylvania. It’s really cool and we’re both kind of stressed out in weird ways. However, we enjoy your continued reading. We also enjoy your commenting! Let us know you’re here.

The Drawing of the Dark by Tim Powers

The Drawing of the Dark by Tim Powers

Secondly, I read The Drawing of the Dark by Tim Powers. Way back in high school, I read Expiration Date, another Powers book about a kid and Thomas Edison’s ghost. It was really awesome — maybe some day I’ll get around to re-reading it and reviewing it up here. A few weeks ago, I was trying to read Earthquake Weather, the sequel. Same kid, but this time, he’s potentially the Fisher King.

While I was reading it, everyone kept saying, “Yeah, that one’s good. But you gotta read The Drawing of the Dark!” I haven’t finished Earthquake Weather, but Drawing ended up back in the house. So I read it today.

I’m kind of annoyed at Powers for recycling the same story, but he’s really good at telling it so I can forgive him. The Drawing of the Dark takes place in the sixteenth century (1500’s). The Turks are invading Europe, but the real driving force is that the evil Eastern forces see that the Fisher King is really weak and are moving to take over. It’s all up to Brian Duffy, an Irish mercenary to save the day — ironically by making sure a three-thousand year old brewery doesn’t get destroyed.

The Drawing of the Dark is really worth reading. Not only does Powers tell the story really well, with clarity and humor, but he also manages to blend gripping action with exposition in well measured doses. I am a fan of good action scenes, and this book has plenty of them. Of course, it can’t all be action scenes, because then you the reader get tired, and the characters realistically can’t fight that long.

One cool thing about the book is that it reminds me of a young adult novel I read in elementary school — The Emperor’s Winding Sheet — the only book to ever make me cry, ever. It’s about an English boy who becomes the Emperor of Constantinople’s servant while the city is being taken over by the Turks. Powers’ book is an extension of that history. I don’t actually know if the Turks attacked Vienna, but they very well could have and it certainly would fit into my made up version of Europe’s history (largely informed by the true and factual Girl Genius, of course).

The major problem I see with The Drawing of the Dark is that it’s short enough that you can practically read it in one sitting (but I suppose I should be happy that it’s short, because yanno I haven’t finished Earthquake Weather yet). If When you read it, be sure to savor it.

So yeah. Go out and buy or borrow The Drawing of the Dark. Well worth the read. You’ll want to prance around like a swashbuckling mercenary afterward, which is awesome.

Oh, one other problem with the book — there’s so much beer that it makes you want to go drink one. Be sure to have a bottle (or three) handy. Make sure it’s good, because the beer in the book is supposedly some of the best and most magical stuff in all Europe.

Continued Correspondences from my Love Affair with the Great British Author Neil Gaiman (and more recently Terry Pratchett)

1 08 2008

Neil – Oh dear, how embarrassing! I came across this unposted letter while finishing up my most recent one. I shall post them both together, and I apologize for my forgetfulness.

July 3rd 2008

Dear Neil,

I have, as promised, moved cautiously from our one-afternoon stands to timidly attempting a weekend getaway (encouraged by my trusted relationship-advise-giving friends) with Nerverwhere. Though I did believe this particular adventure of yours was overall quite predictable (really, I knew almost exactly how the weekend was going to go after the first couple pages!) It was definitely satisfying. There were a few minor surprises but most of the enjoyment came from the way you described and really showed me the ins and outs of your imagination. Your ability to create worlds is astounding, and your attention to little details and the bits of humor you bring to our time together are much appreciated.

That being said, I am still cautious about entering another long-term relationship with you. Though the combination of the current success of our weekend fling and my lack of plans for the rest of the summer is damaging my resolve to stay away from your longer writings…

Yours occasionally,

– Lindsay

July 31st 2008

Dear Neil and Terry,

You sure know how to show a reader a good time! I must admit I was a bit skeptical at first… my attempt to find someone other than Neil to spend some time with (Terry, that’d be you) didn’t quite work out as planned. I found myself so intimidated by your section of the bookstore, Terry, that it was much easier to go with the partially familiar and pick up both you and Neil in Good Omens. As it turns out, you two are so much fun together (as I’m sure you’ve both heard before) that I felt entirely at ease with both of you no matter where we went or what we were doing! (On the subway, camping, anywhere! Though I have yet to try the bathtub as you both seemed to suggest… ahem.) You guys kept me laughing out loud all week. I even wrote down my favorite exchange:

In fact the only things in the flat Crowley devoted any personal attention to were the houseplants. They were huge and green and glorious, with shiny, healthy, lustrous leaves.
This was because, once a week, Crowley went around the flat with a green plastic plant mister, spraying the leaves, and talking to the plants. He had heard about talking to plants in the early seventies, on Radio Four, and thought it an excellent idea. Although talking is perhaps the wrong word for what Crowley did.

What he did was put the fear of God into them.

More precisely, the fear of Crowley.

The plants were the most luxurious, verdant, and beautiful in London. Also the most terrified.

In addition to which, every couple of months Crowley would pick out a plan that was growing too slowly, or succumbing to leaf-wilt or browning, of just didn’t look quite as good as the others, and he would carry it around to all the other plants. “Say goodbye to your friend,” he’d say to them. “He just couldn’t cut it…”

Then he would leave the flat with the offending plant, and return an hour or so later with a large, empty flower pot, which he would leave somewhere conspicuously around the flat.

The plants were the most luxurious, verdant, and beautiful in London. Also the most terrified.

Pure brilliance.

I did find the end of our time together a little, thrown together? Hasty? Dissatisfying? Or perhaps I was just a little distracted by the end of our week together. I do wish I could pursue a long-term relationship with both of you together (please?) though I understand if you would rather not continue to be involved with each other and I hope I can continue to see both of you separately in the future. The week I got to spend with both of you was splendid, and I shall treasure it always.

And Neil – I think I’d like to try something new with you in the future, I’ll keep you posted ^.~

Yours more frequently,

– Lindsay

Zombie Apocalypse: Choose Your Own Final Stand

30 07 2008

On facebook there is a current group titled If 1,000,000 People Join This Group, We Get Heath Ledger Back. Sidestepping the Humor vs. Tasteless argument entirely, I would like to move on to a more pressing problem that this group, ahem, raises.

Zombies. If 1,000,000 people join, and the group succeeds in doing what it promises, it has been pointed out that Heath Ledger could possibly come back as a zombie. Might that be the catalyst for the Zombie Apocalypse?

Begin exciting fantasy: The Zombie Apocalypse is in full swing and you are making your final stand against the zombie hoards. One thing’s for sure – you’re going down. You are going to die and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.. But how’s it going to go?

1. Choose your ideal setting

2. Choose one weapon

3. Choose what song you want playing in the background to make your final stand the most awesome moment ever.

Additional Fantasy Fun:

4. Add any exciting details you want (final words, your last meal, who you would call right before your final moment, etc) just remember when it’s all over, you’re dead!