Tuesday, May 31, 2005

silver dinner dress c. 1880

I kept referring to it as the "blue" dress while I was sewing, but as you can see in the pictures, it's really quite silver.

Monday, May 23, 2005

another Star Wars regurgitation

Well, it seems Episode Three is out now. There's just something really degrading about watching Yoda steal a burger and fries from a white guy in a diner.

It's at 82% on Rotten Tomatoes this morning, but I don't believe it for a minute. Even the critics who say it's worth seeing are admitting that the dialogue and characterizations are just as bad as the last two, but dammit, we stuck it out this long and we're going to ENJOY IT. I AM ENJOYING IT. HOW DARE YOU DEGRADE A PIECE OF MY YOUTH!

It's like finally getting to date that person you've admired from afar for years, only to find out they're dull and shallow. You stick in there, because of some remembered affection and a desperate hope that it will get better, but basically you're doomed to disappointment and struggling to be nice to this person who can't really be blamed for not living up to your fantasy.

Personally, I'm not going to see it. Scott has been waffling, but I told him he'd have to go without me. Poor guy, he's been living with me long enough he can't suspend his disbelief that high, either.

Couple weeks ago when I was complaining about AOTC, Scotius admonished me to "just turn off your brain and enjoy it." He probably knows he's cribbing Asimov, who said the same thing about Episode IV, back in 1977, but I doubt he expected me to know that.

I make no judgments on what people like or don't like. I have always been able to differentiate between whether a piece of art is "good" and whether I like it. For instance: the musician Prince is probably a musical genius, and definitely a brilliant guitar player, but I was always lukewarm about his work. On the other hand, lately I've been listening to Top-40 country music, which I find trite, lazily constructed and pandering. But it's also bright and bouncy and fun, and I guess I've been needing that. Everyone's got their guilty pleasures. I have my own collection of embarassing movies and books that I love.

But the "just turn off your brain and enjoy" exhortation is not acceptable here. It was appropriate when Asimov said it, because he was a scientist and he was telling us to ignore the rubber science. At that point, Star Wars still embraced the human condition; we still cared about the people and believed in their struggles. It was a fantasy; nobody pretended otherwise.

These new movies don't even have that to fall back on. When you can't sympathize with the characters, when the world they live in and their actions don't make sense, it's not a matter of turning your brain off. It's a matter of the brain grasping for meaning. In order to enjoy a story one has to forget one is watching a story. In order for the brain's "unawareness" to kick in, events have to proceed in such a way that they more or less meet our expectations and understanding of the way the world works. Or, if the setting is in a world unfamiliar to us, then the rules of that world must be explained in a logical and consistent way. In my own writing, I call it "doing the reader's thinking for him."

When the writer doesn't do it, conflict arises between the brain's expectations and the incoming data--kind of like when Yoda says "Tempted by the dark side, you are," instead of the normal S-V-O order we're used to in English. The brain has to stop and sort it out, try to fit the square pegs into the round holes.

The plots and character motivations in this movie make so little sense that we are forced to fill in the holes--or at least try to--ourselves. It's damned difficult, in such a situation, to "turn your brain off," because George sure as hell ain't doing the thinking for us.

But aside from that, I find the idea of "turning your brain off" offensive. It seems to me, fifteen years ago even the bad movies made better sense and had more "point" than the bulk of what's coming out now. I can still watch Back to the Future or Raiders of the Lost Ark, and while nobody would accuse them of being High Art, they still hold up story-wise, whether you believe in time-travel and Old Testament mythology or not. They hold up because the internal logic of their respective worlds is first explained and then adhered to. The characters' desires are expressed clearly and then acted upon in a consistent and reasonable manner.

We go to the movies because we want to "turn our brains off" and I simply cannot do that if the writer and director haven't put some thought into it. I want my mind and emotions BOTH to be engaged, or at least respected, and I suspect I'm not the only one, given how movie ticket sales have dropped in the last few years. I'm not saying every movie has to be a life-changing experience; that would be exhausting. But if all you're looking for is a little sensory stimulation, you may as well stay home with a mirrorball and some loud music.

The Star Wars Prequel Trilogy is just BAD. Badly written, badly plotted, badly directed and badly acted--although I can't know how much of that is really the actors' faults. It may be visually gorgeous, but if that's the case I'll just look at the movie stills all over the internet. I am not giving that man any more of my money, and if y'all want some better quality in your entertainment, you won't either.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

on the cusp, alarmingly

Last November/December, as I was starting on the first Trace story, Scott and I were telling each other that westerns were about due to come into style again. "Deadwood" had already finished its first season, and we guessed there would be more to follow. How right we were.
In the last three hours I've seen three things that totally freaked me out.

1) I went to the mall today. All the new summer stuff is in the stores. Just a sampling:
  • Linen skirts with cutwork embroidery around the hem.
  • Double-layered, three-tiered gauze "petticoat" skirts.
  • Sheer blouses with embroidery and pintucks, looking for all the world like a Victorian shirtwaist.
  • Belts with conchos and leather strands.
  • Heaps of silver and turqoise.

And a half-dozen other examples of pioneer-flavored looks in women's clothing for the summer. It's less peasant-y than when it came around in 1987, and they're pairing the flowy skirts with stretchy modern tops, or sheery fluttery blouses with slim capris, so the effect is still modern. I like it quite a bit, but I kept looking at all this vintage-inspired stuff and cackling like a nut. For the first time in my life I'm ahead of the curve.

2) TNT is releasing a new 6-part miniseries next month, titled "Into the West." It's the saga of two families, one Native American, one American Pioneer. I already knew this was coming, but not when. Sarah McLachlan covered her song "World on Fire" for it, cleverly changing the lyric, "planes crash" to "blades slash." How very, very, clever. The video is on Netscape Music.

3) On a different, more unsettling note, I keep running into this Cowboy Troy dude. (No, this has nothing to do with the resurgence of westerns, it's just freaky.) He calls his style "hick-hop," and it's exactly what it sounds like--rap set to twangy guitars. Is it different? Yeah, but not in a good way. Frankly, I can't process it. To my ear, he's skillfully amalgamated everything I hate about both types of music. He's apparently been doing it a long time, and won the attention of some heavy-hitters in Nashville, but the sound and the songs themselves strike me as mere gimicry.

I'm not sure why, either. Country music has a tradition of "scatting" and "talking blues," so you'd think there would be some reconciliation between that and what Troy is doing, but I sure can't find it. So what's the difference? The sound, the production, a simple difference in cadence between scat and rap? I don't know. Of course, I'm not a good judge of either style.

A few months ago there was a commercial out for iPod, I believe, that showed several city kids breakdancing in alleys and on streets, accompanied by hoedown music. The result was curiously poetic, and absolutely hilarious. Apparently, however, it wasn't as impossibly juxtaposed as I first thought.

Monday, May 16, 2005

busy weekend

Saturday was my semi-monthly real-life writer's meeting. I took them "End of the Line," and the reviews were rave. "Wonderful" was the word being tossed around. Also "fast," "exciting," "fun, "well-researched," and "stands alone well, but also enriches and builds upon what we already know of the characters."

Got to do a little fact-checking, but I figure I'll send it out by the end of the week. There's a limited market for things of this length, but I know it's good and I'm hoping F&SF will make room for it.

Rob lent me Writing the Blockbuster Novel by Albert Zuckerman. I'd seen this book before and was curious. It's not really germaine to my genre, because SF/F/H novels are pretty much never blockbusters, except of course for King---well, I can't say that any more, since Laurel K. Hamilton and J.K. Rowling have come on the scene. Never mind, I take it back.

At any rate, I don't expect Trace to be a blockbuster. However, the stories and the novel I have in mind meet most, if not all, the qualifications listed by Zuckerman in Chapter Two: High Stakes (risk losing your own soul, or let lots of innocent people die), Larger than life Characters (he's a six-foot-six cowboy who sees dead people--it doesn't get much bigger than that), Exotic Locations (the Old West), and High Concept (Ex-priest Civil War Vet who now works as a trail guide and who happens to be a spiritual medium--much to his dismay--is hired by a wealthy, mysterious benefactress who sends him on increasingly bizarre and supernatural "jobs" which may put his eternal soul in danger--even if he survives.)

I'm beginning to think my husband is justified in his gung-ho starry-eyed belief that this is going to be "Big!"

Sunday I went to kung fu, after having missed the last three classes. Not cool. My neck is still killing me--not because of the kung fu, that just exacerbated it. I turned the mattress and it seems to have helped, but not enough. I must get back into my qi gong routine.

Sunday afternoon, I sewed. Both the underskirt and the overskirt are done, except for hemming the one and trimming the other, both of which are things to be done in the evenings while watching TV. I had a slightly panicked moment on Sunday when I realized I had less than two weeks before ConQuesT. I should have plenty of time, but that's assuming there are no further interruptions, or I don't get sick.

The navy-blue underskirt looks fab. The overskirt I'm not sold on yet; I haven't decided about the draping, but that can be negotiated. But they both are very slim and drape nicely. I'm kind of eager to get to the bodice, truth be told. That silk handles beautifully.

Finally, and I was waffling about whether to share this news yet:

I have received an offer to publish Escaping Ariston, the first Quinn Taylor book. I'm not gonna say who yet, as no contract has been signed or even seen. It's a small but traditional press, they put out trade paperbacks as well as ebooks, and they want to publish Ariston in both formats. If I accept, and the contract goes through, Ariston should be out in print around Thanksgiving of 2006. So here's to small blessings, eh?

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Promontory, 1869

Both ends have been joined; the golden spike is driven home. "End of the Line" is complete, at least in its preliminary form. Nineteen thousand, one hundred sixty-eight bleepin' words.

Sleep now.

Monday, May 09, 2005

attack of duh clones

I wrote a bit this weekend. I wrote the ending of "End of the Line," which is not to say it's finished--I just wrote the last two scenes, skipping past the climax. I do that a lot. Sometimes I have to see where I'm going to know how to get there. I also wrote a bit more toward the climax. There are a lot of things I have to work in at that point, so I did a little outlining, wrote a couple pages, stepped back to see where I could splice-and-dice. I'm afraid it's going to come off looking too compressed, but we'll see. I'm finding that the parts of this story I like best are not the action sequences, which makes sense because the action bits aren't really what the story is about. Of course, in a really well-done action sequence the characters' development is enhanced. It works best if you can do both things--develop the characters, and forward the story--at once.

And that brings me to the presumption part. I bit the bullet and watched Attack of the Clones this weekend. Scott watched about half of it with me, Saturday morning. He said, "This is even worse than I remember," and left for work. I watched the rest of it by myself, while ironing. I put all the pleats into the ruffle at the bottom of my midnight-blue underskirt. It was a pain in the ass, but the results are fab.

But I was talking about Clones. It's embarrassing. Disjointed and shallow and confusing because of it. I was thinking seriously about writing a crit of it and posting it with my other writing essays, but that would take days to do properly and other people, I'm sure, have already covered that ground, so I'll just post a brief outline:

  1. It's too choppy. There are too many cuts back and forth between Anakin/Padme and Obi-Wan. This is both an editing and a writing fault. The scenes should have been longer and they should have been more efficient, conveying character while they were forwarding the plot.
  2. The romance subplot is too disconnected from the politics. There was no real reason to sweep Padme out of town, except George apparently thought that people cannot fall in love in the course of their everyday lives. This was a grave error. Danger and intrigue create tension, tension hightens emotion, emotions make people do things they wouldn't normally do with people they shouldn't do them with. Besides, what better way than to develop Padme's character than to show us how competent and clever she could be at her job? And what better way to make Anakin fall for her? As it is, there's nothing to make us believe these two people would be attracted to each other, other than their both being pretty.
  3. Shallow world development. I'd have to watch it again and keep a list to track all the seeming contradictions and misassumptions in this universe and its politics, but the most glaring, to me, was the Jedis' total apparent lack of intelligence in the military sense--they had no spies, in other words. I don't care how noble and honorable they're supposed to be, if you've been a peacekeeping quasi-legislative body to the galaxy for umpteen thousand years, you've got to have a street-level network. There was no excuse for the Jedi being so clueless about what was going on. None. They could have had conflicting information, they could have had inaccurate information. But they should have had something.
  4. Basic confusion/unanswered questions/insider information. Who was the Jedi who ordered the clones? Was he dead or in hiding? Has he changed his name? Is this some fanboy in-reference I can't understand unless I read issue #78 of some out-of-print sci-fi journal? Sorry, George, but that doesn't cut it. A movie has to be a self-contained unit, even if it is part of a continuum. You can leave cookies for your die-hard fans, but any facts which affect the basic story logic must be included.
  5. That awful, awful American Graffiti salute in the diner, when Obi-Wan goes to visit his "contact." (Again, Obi-Wan has a contact but Yoda doesn't? Must be because Obi-Wan is young and reckless.) Don't even get me started.
Anyway. It was bad. It was amateurish, and I think poor George knows it. When The Phantom Menace came out, everyone said George had gotten too insulated, that no one would say no to him. Frankly, I think it's the other way round. George knows he can't write. That's why he got other people to write and direct Empire and ROTJ for him. That's why he bought up all the copies of the original A New Hope novelization. But I think when it came time to write the prequel trilogy, every writer and director in Hollywood dived into a hole in the ground, because no one wanted to make a movie that could only fall short of expectations. But of course they show must go on, George wrote the script and showed it to everybody, and of course they all knew it was bad but not how to fix it.
Attack of the Clones shows signs of too many cooks, in my opinion. It has bandages slapped on the rough parts, when the bones should have been broken and reset. Things that don't make sense are explained in ways that seem to make sense--if you're willing to believe the Earth is flat because we don't fall off. And I've seen that over-edited choppy quality in far too many Critters rewrites not to recognize it here--it wasn't that George was ignoring everyone's advice: he was taking it indiscriminately, trying to please everybody.
What's really sad is, the overall story structure could have worked. The second half of the movie is smoother, more sure than the first half, and I could see glimpses of personality in Anakin, his idealism and frustration. It wasn't the idea that was flawed, it was the execution.
Interestingly, the resulting mess ties in with what I was saying about iconic characters into which people build their own rationalizations. Not saying George did that on purpose, but that, I fear, has been the result. You don't believe me? Read Harry Knowles review of Revenge of the Sith, if you don't mind the spoilers. Yeah, maybe it's presumptuous of me to crit a movie I haven't seen, but I stand by my assessment. If I'm wrong, I'll be admitting it some time this fall. Don't hold your breath.

ADDENDUM: David Brin, author of The Postman and other stuff, has a crit of Eps. 1 and 2 on his site. He attacks it from a political/idological angle, rather than a strictly storytelling angle, but he, interestingly, makes the same point my husband did: Obi-Wan should've been the hero of this first trilogy. I don't necessarily embrace Brin's Obi-Wan/Anakin conspiracy solution to the whole thing, but at least it would hold together better than what we've got now.

Honestly, I am never going to let my kids watch these movies. They rot your brain.