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Diskage:
DVD •
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
CD-ROM • Empty
CD
Player
•
Alice in Chains - Facelift
• Mad Season -  Above
•
System of a Down - Toxicity

• God Lives Underwater - Life in the So Called Space Age
• Metallica - ...and Justice For All

Books Lying Open
• The Encyclopedia of Things that Never Were, Michael Page & Robert Ingpen

Soul-Devouring Worry
• Not being tasty enough.

When I Grow Up:
•
It will drive us faster.

Curse of the Day:
• May you be a little too easily amused.

Sunday October 20, 2002
Quote of the Day
"The slight browning of the flesh gave it an immeasurably better flavor -- softer than beef but with much the same taste." -- Culinary report on human flesh by one of the surviving rugby team players from that famous Andes plane crash.

Daily Update
I wasn't really in the mood for writing yesterday, which might not be a surprise after doing so much original material on the Band Names for the past few days.  Fortunately I avoided the temptation to just play Seven Seas all day, and caught up on site matters.  The daily archives are up to date, and I broke up the one massive 2002 archive page into monthly archives.  It always seems like I last updated the archives a few days ago, but then when I check it's usually about two weeks past.  I have a recurring deja vu that I've updated it and forgotten to upload the update.  The last one was Sept 24th this time.  Bleh.

The former archive directory page was around 15th by page loads, but was #1, with more than double any other page in total KB transfer, due to the massive size, so by breaking it up into 10 sub pages (Jan-Oct) it should cut that a lot.  I'm on track for a bit over a gig this month, in total data transfer.  I get up to 5gig a month on this account, so I can basically quad or quintuple traffic before I have to upgrade to a higher allowed bandwidth.  Or maybe just get a second account and put the images on it.  I sort of expect that at some point Fark or some slashdot or some other uber busy news site will plug something here and I'll do about 4 gig in a day, but it's not happened yet.

In addition to the excessive kb transfer and slow loading, I just found the huge archive page tacky. I don't like one huge mega long page for anything.  I considered doing the Band Names with every band on their own page, rather than all by initial letter, but thought that would be way too much clicking to navigate.  I might break up some of the bigger letters; S will be like 130k once I do all of the coming soon bands, and that's pretty long for one page.

I also articled a few more blogs, and added an Articles main page.  The big main navigation bar on the left is getting a bit long, IMHO, and I should have about 25 or more articles once I get all the decent ones extracted, and probably a dozen reviews.  I'll probably just list the last 5 or 6 of each on the main menu, and have a main page for each with the full listings.  Same with short stories, once I add more.

I need an intern to handle that sort of busy work, as well as foot rubs, snack-preparation, and oral therapy.  You should be 18-26, weigh less than most people, and look delicious in a French Maid outfit.  Apply here.

 

The new batch is old enough for some ratfruit'ing.  They don't climb much; they are small and sort of timid for their age, at least compared to the last bunch. You can see the awesome coloration variety here; there are brown and beige!  They are 3 weeks old now, and eating quite a bit, but still mostly sitting around in the bed waiting for mama.  Not real explorative in the cage, and hardly at all on the tree, which is out in the open with weird smells and light and dirt stuff underfoot.  I'd huddle in a pile with my siblings and hope the hawk/fox/cat picked off someone else too, so I can hardly blame them. 

 

Some news.

• So what if you live in the Washington DC area and own a white van for your business?  Or even worse, you're a painter or glass cleaner, and own one with ladders on the roof?  This has to be a bad time for you.  Unless you define fun as being stopped on the side of the freeway at gun point.

And yes, someone got shot mysteriously at a restaurant Saturday night, through the guts, and he may or may not live.  No telling yet if it's the same sniper.  Road blocks went up everywhere, no word of any arrests, which means probably nothing, or it would be big big news.

 

• Video for the new Nirvana song is available online.  It's edited in a blender, like they had some sort of legal requirement to change the image on the screen every .2 seconds.  I can't imagine the first 30 seconds not setting off an epileptic.  The footage does occasionally sort of match up with the song, showing a picture of Kurt screaming when he does so in the song, showing the drummer when a drum hit is in the song, etc.  This might pass for a real video, rather than one put together from clips of a dead man, if you didn't know better, but it would still be pretty lame for the frantic and pointless editing.

 

• Romania trying to pull a France/Quebec, and ban simple English terms, forcing them to always be translated into Romanian.  The law appeals to older people, defined as those over 45 in the article.  It's absurdly-unworkable and would require thousands of signs be changed and simple words like "hotdog" would become nine-word Romanian tongue-twisters, as well as hurting their already-stunted and backwards economy.  However since it appeals to nationalism, there's no telling if they'll actually do it or not.

In other silly foreign laws, a popular singer and actress in Turkey is being tried for desecrating the Islam flag after she kicked some red balloons out of her way while walking to meet guests on her TV show.  The balloons had a depiction of the Turkish flag on them.

Under Turkish laws, the flag may not be depicted on objects and must never touch the ground.

The woman of course had nothing to do with decorating the set for the TV show, and probably didn't even notice what decoration were on the balloons.  And even if she'd made them herself and kicked them on purpose, get over yourself.  It's a picture on the flag. Sweet baby Mohammed isn't going to sob his little eyes out.

 

• Article about "synesthesia", some sort of odd combination of taste and color perception and sounds that a very small percentage of humans possess.  I've never heard of it before, but it's damn interesting.

And when psychologist Thomas Palmeri gives one of his test subjects a difficult test -- to spot a tiny "2" on a computer screen scattered with tiny "5s" -- the man finds it instantly: To him, the "2" shows up bathed in a different color.

These are all examples of synesthesia, an unusual phenomenon whereby people experience different senses blending into one another. Some synesthetes experience individual words in particular colors. Others experience smells when exposed to shapes or hear sounds inside tastes.

While most experts do not consider it a disorder -- synesthetes are usually glad to have the ability, and it sharply improves their memory -- research into synesthesia is teaching scientists important lessons about the normal brain, perhaps even about aspects of creativity.

site reader mailed today to ask about the Fantasy Review page.  More specifically, since I criticize famous and well-respected authors like Tolkien and LeGuin on it, he wanted to know what fantasy author I think is truly "great". I found it an interesting question, and as my email reply got quite long, so I thought I'd paste most of it in here, for lack of anything better to faff on about today.

First thing was to reread my fantasy review page, since I hadn't looked at it in a while.  I was surprised how short the page was; I wrote more about fricking Mφtley Crόe for a quick joke than I do about fantasy novelists that I've read half a dozen books by.  I should flesh that page out at some point.  Anyway, it does cover the basics well enough, and I didn't read anything there I was desperate to change at this point.

On one level his question (Which fantasy authors I think are great.) is sort of silly; I mean if there were any, wouldn't they be listed on that page?  But I enjoyed answering it anyway, mostly elaborating on things on that page.

The quick answer is that no, I've never read a fantasy novel that I thought was excellent, nor do I think any fantasy novelists (that I've read) are great.  However the best novel I've ever read is at least partially "fantasy", though it's classified more as horror.

How about Tolkien?

Tolkien is such a huge influence on fantasy that every author since him that's not doing a humorous style (Piers Anthony for instance) is more or less doing Tolkien in mood and theme. So most fantasy is very ponderous and somewhat depressing, with huge weighty events hanging over the heads of the characters, a small group in an epic and desperate struggle against enormous odds, etc. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, I'm just pointing it out.

I'd say that Tolkien is a much better writer than LeGuin. Tolkien writes very well in the way he wants to write. It's not like he's trying to write in quick, lively language and have dynamic characters questioning their inner motivations. He's writing an epic in LotR, with classic characters and gigantic events. Battles on a massive scale, noble good guys, wickedly-evil bad guys, etc. My criticisms of his writing are for what it's not, and what I think it could be. He wrote it just how he wanted to, and did a very good job of it. It's like someone who built a massive granite and marble cathedral. It's built and it's very solid and sturdy and beautiful. Now maybe if it had stained glass it would be better, and it could have some more artistic touches, carvings on the walls, smaller more practical rooms, etc. But that's just someone else's opinion; the actual builder did it just how he wanted to do it.

I would prefer LotR if it had some non-static characters, ones who actually lived in the story and did things that didn't just serve the plot, who questioned their actions and perhaps did things that were illogical and unexpected, like people do in real life. He paints very good characters, but they are very seldom dynamic. You know exactly what you're getting with almost everyone in the novels right from the start. Would I have liked it more if there had been some female characters who did something? If there were clever and lively dialogue? If almost everyone weren't so stolid and fixed in their course? Yes to all of those, but there's no telling if people would like the book more if it had those things, and in any event, Tolkien couldn't write it that way, so it's irrelevant.  He wrote how he could write, and his style is immutable.  He's not going to write a comedy.

The main thing I think could be improved in LotR is the pacing. This sets the tone of the book, that things take a long time to happen and are very important, but Tolkien always reminds me of Lovecraft where you have to really read every sentence to get the meaning. It's very ponderously-worded and weighty, which is why so many people are unable to read the books; they can't take the time to get involved in the story, to get past the thicket of verbosity that's between them and the action. Especially people who don't read much and aren't used to having to pay attention and think while they do it.

Most readers don't want great writing. They aren't real picky; if there is good action and interesting characters and some drama/suspense, even if it's utterly-formulaic, they'll snap it up. If they've read a few other stories by a given author and liked them, they'll keep buying. There is ample evidence of this: Anne Rice and Dean Koontz are two examples off the top of my head. Relatively dreadful/formulaic writers who have huge followings due to writing the same thing over and over again, and most people slurping it up like warm Jell-O. It's certainly not just horror that has that problem; the new Tom Clancy novel "Red Rabbit" is said to be awful, I've seen three reviews that just wept at how ponderous and overlong it was. And it's a #1 bestseller entirely from the author's past fans. I think people base their book buying/reading more on topic and subject and author than any objective quality evaluation anyway. I know I do; I'm must more likely to pick up some unknown fantasy or horror novel that will probably be pulpy crap than I am to read a superbly-reviewed historical fiction novel.

 

Writing is hard. Especially a novel. I'd say that maybe .1% of people alive can write a coherent story. Fewer than that can write a novel and keep it readable, and maybe .000001% can write a novel that's really great. I mean how many people out there are writing, or aspiring authors, and how many are actually published? (Not that publication has much to do with writing quality, as any check of the best seller list will show you.) It's not like making a movie where you need a huge crew and lots of money as an entry requirement; anyone can write a novel and try to get it published. Every English major in the last 50 years has probably tried. Hardly anyone can succeed, so obviously it's very hard to pull off.

And then even the published writers are mostly awful. So many are basically hacks, churning out formulaic junk. Maybe their first novel or two were good, but they've run out of ideas now, or are just continuing the initial story endlessly. They might be able to create interesting scenes and characters, but it's so hard to have something fresh or new or creative happen, and especially to have the actual words on the page crackle with energy and wit and liveliness. I've written two novels, neither of which were any good, and I know how hard it is to balance plot development, action scenes, character development, keep on track and not get sidetracked, keep the writing fresh and lively, etc. I've read hundreds of novels in my life, and probably no more than 8 or 10 did that.

Most of the so-called "best writers" are creating novels most of us have no interest in reading. They are doing literary stuff, talking about society or politics or history. I think it's easier to write well with non-fiction, since you just have to relate events entertainingly; you don't have to actually think up the events yourself and know how they fit into the whole sequence of events for 500 or 1000 pages.

So to finally answer the question, there aren't any fantasy writers who I would really recommend or hold up as excellent writers. I've read a lot of good novels, a lot of bad ones, and many in between. I enjoy a lot of them, good and bad ones. A bad novel can still be fun to read if it's got interesting events and characters, after all. The biggest problem in novels, especially fantasy, is that there will be 400 pages of book, and those pages need to be turned into about 280 pages with the space and redundancy and dead time and empty lines wrung out. This is colossally hard to do; perhaps even impossible; you need to write it that way to begin with; otherwise the 400 pages are sort of a very long outline for the novel that you should write, if you could.

My example of a movie that does everything is Pulp Fiction. Virtually every moment in that movie has something interesting happening. Characters on their way to do one thing are talking about something else as or more interesting than their actual objective. Events that seem to be unfolding one way suddenly take wild turns to another outcome, one that was totally unexpected. There are surprises and action scenes that come from nowhere all through the movie. Now I'm not saying that Sam and Frodo walking through a swamp for 50 pages should be having a sparkling conversation about the hottest hobbit girls in the Shire and what type of ale they like, but there are stretches in virtually every novel that you'd like to fast forward over and get to the next thing, since you know what's happening and it's not especially interesting, but you have to keep going to get to the next section.

Some novels have such an interesting plot and events that they can stay on one course the whole time and never be less than engrossing; a lot of the early Steven King novels do that very well, but a great novel would keep bringing in new and interesting characters, seeing how they react to and with the main characters, having everyone encounter new challenges and change and adapt to them, while keeping on track for the main plot and quest, which should ideally be something of enormous importance, rather than just some mundane errand. If the same few characters are the entire novel, then they need to keep doing new things, or interacting in new ways. This is the perfect world case here; 99% of novels don't even attempt this, and lots of those are very interesting anyway. It's just that they could be better. Which is why I haven't read a great fantasy novel, just a lot that are pretty good and a lot more than are okay.

The closest to a perfect novel that I've ever read is probably Clive Barker's Imajica. It's technically horror, I guess, but it's as much fantasy as horror, so maybe that qualifies. The story is incredibly long and complicated with dozens of fascinating characters, most of whom change greatly over the course of the story. There are also amazing plot events, challenges, totally unexpected events, including the entire ending, side quests and plots, etc. And this is just my opinion; many people don't like the novel or find it boring. There's no accounting for taste.

I absolutely adored Steven King's The Stand the first 2 or 3x I read it, but that's more for the world and plot, which really caught my imagination. The characters and events he populates the story with aren't as fascinating as the whole concept itself. It's not as well done as Imajica, but it's got a ton of good characters, lots of interesting happenings, a great overall plot that keeps being advanced towards the conclusion, etc. Barker has the edge for the overall story being better, and also since he's just such an amazingly-good writer, but both are superior works.

I can't recall ever reading a sentence or paragraph by King and stopping to think, "Christ that was well written." Barker does that all the time, or at least he did in his 80's-early 90's prime. I get that from various non-fiction writers, but their overall stories/books aren't as interesting to me. I also get that from my own writing, in places, but I'm hardly objective there. Obviously I'm trying to write in a way that I like and think is good; otherwise I'd write in some other way. I'm ultimately unsatisfied with 95% of my fiction, but it's usually a case of "good enough".

As I said above, it's extremely difficult to get the tone, events, characters, plot-advancement, and crystal writing all at once. Just relating the events that advance the story is the easiest thing; wording every line perfectly to accomplish that task is very tedious and difficult, and would go unnoticed by most readers anyway. That's more the sort of thing that other writers notice; most people just plow through the fair or good or great prose; devouring the plot and events. I'll notice a beautifully-designed scene in a movie, but it's not a real big priority of mine; I'll take a straight-forward scene as long as the events are interesting, while aspiring film-makers probably notice how well a scene was designed and edited as much or more than they do the plot of the actual movie.

 

And with that cheery, inspirational essay, I return to working on my D2esque fantasy novel thing.

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