Monthly Archive: October 2009

Death of the Novel

The always-entertaining has a tidbit about Philip Roth declaring that the novel will be dead within 25 years. Which kind of sucks since, you know, I write novels. On the one hand, I toss this into the Decline of Western Civilization Since Year One category, because people have been bitching and moaning about how everything is going to hell since we invented culture, and every subsequent generation produces a few twits who like to prance about declaring that this time it really is going to the dogs. It’s either The Kids Don’t Read or Today’s Music Sounds Like Robots Fucking or We Had Something Called An Attention Span Back in My Day or similar; yet somehow society continues and some of the things decried as crap in the past becomes recognized as art with worth by future historians. And life goes on.

Generally I ignore this stuff. For one, these folks are universally wrong. Sure, it’s possible that someday the novel will be abandoned. Maybe it’s even likely. But people who think they have seen the future clearly are nuts: You cannot see the future, and history will confound you. Television was supposed to kill the movies, video games were supposed to make kids into violent sociopaths, and no one was supposed to get excited about a book ever again. Somehow, books still sell in the millions, and some folks think teh kids today are actually better readers because of all this newfangled technology. It’s always easier to declare the world doomed, and it gets you more press.

On the other hand, there is always a possibility that a watershed moment is coming, and I know for sure that I will be the last person in the universe aware of it. The point is not that I know Mr. Roth is wrong – I don’t. He may well be right, though I am suspicious that he conveniently chooses a time in history when he will most likely not be here any more to defend his statement. No, my point is that I don’t worry about such things because there is nothing I can do about them. If the novel is going to be replaced by, say, Twitter Plays or holographic machinima in my lifetime and I am left as The Sad Lonely Man with Books No One Wants to Read, well, I doubt any bloviating I do in the meantime will make any difference. And trying to be out ahead on these things is just silly, because you end up chasing trends that burn out. People are buying and reading novels right now, so I’ll keep writing them. Trying to figure out what they might be reading or experiencing instead 25 years from now so I can get on that train before the rush is a waste of time.

Of course, I’m always wrong about everything. Ask people about my sad Fantasy Baseball draft picks, or my geopolitical predictions. So if the novel disappears and I am left on the street corner wearing a WILL WRESTLE YOU FOR FOOD sign, please don’t laugh and point. Just wrestle me, like a Good Samaritan.

Random Monday Post

Herewith some random photos of bookshelves in my house. Why? Why not. These are just a few. There are many, many more. And people wonder why I’m lukewarm about eBooks.

More after the break.


Hello Bad Writing, My Old Friend

Last night, through a series of bizarre events I can’t even begin to describe, I watched a random episode of Castle on ABC. Now, Castle isn’t an SF show, unless you consider the concept of a crime novel author being allowed to partner with a detective in the NYPD to help investigate homicides to be “augmented reality”, which of course it is. “Augmented reality” being code for complete bullshit, but let that slide – TV shows have a storied history of crazy concepts delivered with a straight face.

It’s not a terrible show, saved by Nathan Fillion‘s infinite charm and occasional bouts of clever dialogue. Not exactly a show I’m going to schedule my life around, but if it’s on I might stick around for an hour and watch it. This, despite the fact that interspersed with the clever dialog are lengthy stretches of Bad Writing. Specifically, the form of Bad Writing known as The Dummy Double Tap.

DDT is a simple concept: Assume your audience is a crowd of lowing morons and write down to that image by having characters utter completely unnecessary clarifying statements. Things which are perfectly clear to anyone with half a brain get underscored by someone spelling it out for the Slow Kids in a way that no one actually does in real life. For example, in this episode a suspect had earlier stated that he was at a party from midnight until 3AM and then at home, providing himself an alibi for the murder. Later, the police follow up on this alibi (paraphrased because I can’t be bothered to get the exact wording):

DETECTIVE: The club said he was only there from 11:30 until Midnight.

CASTLE: But he told us he was there until three!

The audience heard the suspect say that about thirteen minutes before this, so the assumption is that we don’t have the brain power to retain that information for thirteen minutes and make the rather obvious connection that the suspect is lying about his alibi. Are there people in the world this stupid? Sure, I’d assume so. Are they a significant portion of the population, and hence the potential audience for a generic show like Castle? I hope not, for if they are, civilization is doomed. Another example: Early in the investigation they discover that the murder victim, who everyone adamantly denied would ever use drugs, had diet pills in her system. While interviewing folks, the detectives are told that one of the suspects once crushed up a diet pill in someone’s drink in order to sabotage them. The detective character and Castle then proceed to explain that maybe the suspect did the same thing to the victim! BECAUSE WE ARE APPARENTLY INCAPABLE OF MAKING THIS OBVIOUS CONNECTION OURSELVES. <Head explodes>

If you removed the Dummy Double Tap lines, the show would only be forty minutes long with commercials, and only slightly improved, as the story I saw was pretty boring and bland. The scenes with Nathan Fillion’s Castle character at home were much better – lighthearted and humorous, with some decent lines and no need for DDT because, I assume, no plot was being advanced so the producers decided that if the audience couldn’t follow the complex interactions of Castle, his mother, and his daughter nothing would be lost. And Fillion’s fun to watch.

To be completely fair, since I started writing this little essay we watched another episode and it wasn’t nearly as bad, without much DDT at all, although I can now see that every episode follows the well-worn trope of having the main suspect change every five minutes as new information is discovered – usually due to terrible, terrible police work. As in, a complete failure to ask simple questions that would have solved the crime immediately. That aside, however, I think Fillion can ride his Firefly goodwill a few years on something like this. Why not?

Tempest Rising by Nicole Peeler

Last night the lovely and talented Nicole Peeler hosted a little book launch party for her new novel, Tempest Rising. I recommend you buy five copies and read them all. Not because I have actually read her book, which I only just aquired last night, but because Nicole launched herself into my heart by a) hosting her launch at one of my favorite bars of all time, Beekman Bar & Books; b) offering her guests free single-malt Scotch (thanks to the wonderful Dr. Whisky, who I also got to meet and fall in love with); and c) not having me removed by security. For those reasons, I am now Nicole’s biggest fan. Until someone else buys me multiple drinks in support of their book. I can be bought with booze. Call me if interested.

There were also a bunch of Orbit folks there, including my fearsome editor. Somehow, as always, the Orbit crew and I ended up spending most of the evening together drinking recklessly and plotting to start a fire in the Orbit offices for the purposes of cooking. . .or something. The details are admittedly vague.

New Ridiculous Video

As I continue to be charmed by my own video-making, I’ve come to realize the only way to categorize these vids is with the term ridiculous. I think you’ll agree.

This time around, I’m discussing that peculiar horror: Reading from your books in public. This bizare promotional ritual has always been a source of adventure and humiliation for me. So it’s perfect for a video!

Lemme know what you think.

Send Down a Hogshead of Whiskey

Friends, let me make one thing absolutely clear: If I die and a series of books remains incomplete, do not – I repeat, do not – hire someone else to finish it. Let my works o’ genius remain mysterious and unfinished.

I haven’t read any of the recent examples of this phenomena. I spent plenty of hours reading The Wheel of Time series (ohmyfrickingod so much time slogging through those middle books) and I was saddened when Robert Jordan passed away, but I probably won’t bother reading the final volumes in that series. I have nothing against the guy who’s completing them, and I’ll probably seek out a synopsis somewhere so I can at least find out where the story was headed (since they are being written, as I understand it, from Jordan’s notes, so the plot should be more or less what he intended). But I don’t want to read the books.

The same thing goes for the ‘new’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy book. It may be brilliant. It may perfectly mimic Douglas Adams’ peculiar brand of brilliance. I probably won’t read it, though.

The reason for this reluctance is simple: The reason I read these books to begin with was because of the wit, talent, and heart of their authors. Hiring someone to finish the series’ after that author has passed away transforms it into simply a brick of product in the machine’s supply lines. If we imagine that anyone can write these books, then we’re that much closer to just writing a frickin’ computer program to create our books, and have done with it. Not only would that put me out of a job (and daddy needs his medicine), but it would be pretty goddamn depressing.

As a reader, sure, I want some closure to these stories. On the other hand, I like to imagine these stories are not just created via a combination of Magic 8 Ball, twenty-sided dice, and a thesaurus, that there’s some soul in there. That part of the appeal is the special sauce of the author themselves. If you decide that the story can be completed by someone else just as easily, then screw it: Every book series can be outlined by committee and then freelanced out. And that would suck.

Then again, my special sauce tends to be drunken, belligerent, and whiny, so maybe we’d be better off hiring someone to finish up the Cates series. AVAST! Over my dead body. Oh, wait. . .maybe I should stop drinking so much, let the liver swelling subside a little.

Random Tuesday Thought

Since my cats have very short memories and no sense of time, I believe that about five minutes after The Duchess and I leave the house they start to think the Apocalypse has occurred. I figure five minutes after we step out one of them rises up as a prophet of doom, telling how the Shaved Can Monkeys have abandoned us. About ten minutes in, there’s widescale wrestling and hissing and several cats take up positions by the dwindling food bowls, ready to pounce on intruders. Half an hour in, it’s Kitten Thunderdome.

I figure this solely from the reactions when I return to the house: First there is a sort of frozen awe, as if they can’t believe it – I am risen! Then there is what can only be described as joy, followed by a determined guidance to the food bowls so that I may be aware of the dire conditions they have survived fro thirty minutes. Then I feed them, and there is a feast, just like in most religions.

Carry on.

Zombieland and Credit Sequences

Saw Zombieland this weekend with venerable Inner Swine Security Chief Ken West, who asked me not to publicly associate with him but screw it, if you have dinner with me you’re in the blog, just the way it is. It’s a fun movie, and definitely seems to represent the complete deconstruction of zombie movies, so I’m not sure we’ll be seeing too many zombie-oriented horror movies for a while. I really enjoyed it, but I was really, really impressed with the opening titles.

I’m something of an opening titles whore; sometimes I like them a lot more than the movie itself, and I’m always annoyed when films just put words on a blank screen. I mean, here’s a few minutes of dead space for your movie – do something with them! Every now and then a movie does something really interesting with those opening moments, and I am filled with joy. For Zombieland, it was a stylish sequence, using Metallica’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, some nifty slow motion, fun superimposed titles that were treated as physical parts of the world (a’la Watchmen, in a way), and some increasingly ridiculous zombie apocalypse scenarios (for hilarious example, I would give you the Father-Son Three-Legged race, with 3 sets of zombie fathers and sons chasing one screaming uninfected father-son team).

This opening sequence got me so jazzed the rest of the movie both benefitted from my exhilarated state of mind, and suffered – on the one hand the goodwill the credits bought made me love the movie more, on the other the rest of the movie couldn’t live up to the fun of the first two minutes no matter what. It got me thinking about my love of credits sequences, and of course I did a bit of Googling and naturally millions of folks have thought about this way before me – there’s even this nifty blog, Art of the Title Sequence.

Some of my faves that stick with me are:
Se7en, of course, now a classic example that I still get shivers from.

Dawn of the Dead 2004, the first movie that made me think of title sequences as separate from the movie, because I think the opening and closing titles of this film are so far superior ot the mediocre remake they enclose it’s ridiculous. The opening/closing credits are genius. They could have made a middle sequence of the same length and sensibility that told the mall story and this would have been the perfect fifteen-minute horror movie, of which there are far too few.

Watchmen, of course. I hadn’t read the comic before seeing the movie, and these credits are so wonderfully explanatory and stylish, and the choice of Dylan’s music so inspired, I can still watch these and be incredibly entertained.

There are probably others I’m just not thinking of. These sequences are like prologues and epilogues to a book, if you think about it – an opportunity to flesh out the backstory and add some nonlinear elements to the story. They can set a tone for the film before the film even starts, and when handled well can improve the entire experience. Unlike standard credit sequences, which might inform but definitely do not entertain.

Mass Market Me

My sainted editor sent me a copy of The Electric Church mass market:

WO0t! That rocks. It’s purty. The design and packaging is amazing, and I wouldn’t be able to resist buying five or six of these if I saw their candy-like covers on the shelves. I AM GOING TO RULE THE AIRPORTS! And if you’ve been waiting to jump on board the Somers train because of filthy lucre, babe, this is your chance.

Besides, they’re adorable! Here’s a sense of scale:

You can have three or four in your pockets to hand out to people!

Now, seriously, it’s a fantastic package. As much as I love the Jae Lee trade covers (and I do love ’em), these are terrific and I applaud my publisher’s design sense and market savvy. Go on, buy five.