We still have snow and even got some new snow today, though it’s supposed to start melting tomorrow, most likely with freezing rain, too – brrr. And that on a day I’m supposed to go to Oldenburg.
Anyway, I’ve got a bunch of links for you, about literature, SF, Star Wars, comics, writing, TV and a bit of politics, behind the cut:
At The Guardian, Margaret Atwood offers her appreciation for George Orwell. My own first experience with Orwell was doublefold. Because I was alive and conscious when the real year 1984 came around and the media wouldn’t shut up about the “Orwell Year” and how accurate or not Orwell’s predictions had been. The only problem was that as far as I was concerned, 1984 was a very good year. I got good grades at school, we had a lovely summer holiday at a castle on the Neckar, I finally got the doll I had wanted for so long, my Dad worked in Rotterdam and had a flat with cable and cartoons galore on TV. So really, what was this Orwell guy’s problem? And anyway, what did he know, considering he had died a long time ago?
Meanwhile, I had already encountered Animal Farm via an animated adaption, though I never knew Orwell wrote it until much later. And like a young Margaret Atwood, I viewed it as a neat story about animals and was outraged that the pigs were so mean. Though I was happy that Orwell’s pigs were at least smart, because way too many people didn’t know that pigs were really smart. I think the true genius of Animal Farm is that it works on multiple levels. You can read it as a simple animal story as well as a parable for the history of the Soviet Union and it works on both levels.
A few years later, we read first Animal Farm and then 1984 at school as well as several Orwell essays and I became a fan. Particularly Orwell’s essay Why I Write resonated with me, because he could have been speaking about me. It’s still one of my all time favourite texts about writing.
Some twenty years after the original Vernor Vinge essay postulating the imminent arrival of the singularity appeared, Bruce Sterling dares to point out the obvious, namely that the singularity just isn’t happening. You’d figure that something so bleedingly obvious could not possibly be controversial, yet a number of people disagreed quite vehemently. And it doesn’t seem to be the usual “But I want my brain uploaded to become an immortal computer god – pout” crowd either. I guess tech fears are far more deeply rooted in many people than we realize.
Meanwhile, I have just one request. Since it’s pretty clear that there will be no singularity in the foreseeable future, can we please stop writing SF about it? Cause it wasn’t even interesting the first time around.
Star Wars Links
I guess you’ve all heard by now that J.J. Abrams has been chosen to direct that new Disneyfied Star Wars film. I was not at all wild on George Lucas handing over control of the Star Wars universe to Disney, because Disney mainly stands for bland, safe and ultra-commercialized family entertainment these days. There was a time when Disney at least combined the commercialism with true art, but that went away sometime around 1990 during the gap between The Black Cauldron and The Little Mermaid. Coincidentally, The Little Mermaid was also the first animated Disney film I did not watch in the theatre when it came out. I mostly ignored Disney thereafter – I was no longer their target audience anyway. Though it annoys me when they gobble up companies like Marvel or Lucasfilm (don’t give a damn about Pixar) whose output had more of a meaning to me than Disney’s. Still, there was a chance that I might have watched the new Disneyfied Star Wars, if it looked and sounded good. That chance has gone out of the window with J.J. Abrams, because Abrams is unable to produce something that I don’t wind up hating. It’s bad enough what the man did to Star Trek, so must we throw Star Wars into his maw, too?
At Tor.com, Ryan Britt rereads Alan Dean Foster’s ghostwritten novelisation of the first Star Wars film and the discrepancies between book and film. I own this book and must have reread it about half a dozen times, so I know all of these bits. And Obi Wan’s line about ducks who must be taught to swim, always struck me as out of place. After all, Luke and Obi Wan live on a desert planet, so where in the universe would the ducks come from?
At the Crime Fiction Collective, thriller writer Andrew E. Kaufman shares his thoughts about writing sex scenes from the POV of someone who doesn’t like them. I largely agree and this is from someone who does like reading and writing sex scenes, when the story calls for them.
At her blog, Ruth Harris offers eight tips for turning real life into fiction. Quite a few of my stories are based, partly or in full, on real events, for example The Other Side of the Curtain and Loot (also available in German as Reiche Beute). The only people who ever notice the fictionalized real events are those who were present at the time, mostly family members. Peter, the creepy molester in Honeypot (also available in German as Honigtopf), is also based on a real person. I’m always a bit freaked out that somebody might figure out who he is based on (though the details are completely different – the only thing that’s the same is the tendency to harrass women) or worse, that the real “Peter” might read the story and realize that the character is based on him. But then serial harrassers like “Peter” usually aren’t aware that what they are doing is wrong.
Sarah Hoyt has an interesting (and largely politics free) post about the relationship between writing, particularly when characters/stories pop up fully formed in one’s head, and magic. My own experience is very similar, since I also get characters popping into my head and starting to talk. And yes, it is a sort of gift, though I’ve never really been at odds with it, except when a character or story showed up in my mind at an inconvenient time.
In fact, Sarah Hoyt’s post reminds me of my attempts at reading Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. Now a lot of writers rave about that book and say how much it has helped them. So I bought it and in the beginning there was all of that stuff about people refusing to write or make art, because they believe that it’s wrong or immoral or will make them gay or something. And I constantly shook my head and said, “But I don’t think writing is wrong or immoral and I don’t think it will make you gay, either, and besides there’s nothing wrong with being gay.” I suspect that the sort of anti-artistic attitudes described by Julia Cameron are a common feature of American socialization, so the book resonates with all those who have indeed been brought up to believe that writing and art are something immoral. But I have never had that socialization, so the book does not work for me.
Lynn Viehl at Paperback Witer has a nice post on the mechanics of coming up with good titles. I often have problems with titles. The SF series I’m currently working on is particularly problematic in that regard, because it will need individual titles as well as a title for the overall arc.
And yet another comic hero comes out as gay, since an upcoming edition of Judge Dredd shows Dredd or someone looking like him kissing a man. I never read a whole lot of Judge Dredd, so I tried a few issues when I was a student in London. At the time, I assumed that Dredd would end up with the female judge (Hershey? Anderson?), though come to think of it, she always seemed a lot more interested than he was. Of course, I’m also perfectly certain to have seen the face of Dredd in one issue (I was really surprised, because he was bald and had big ears and that’s not how I imagined him at all), but British friends assure me that that never happened and that Dredd’s face has never been seen. So anything I remember regarding Judge Dredd should be taken with a huge grain of salt.
At Wired, Graeme McMillan discusses why the series finale of Fringe marks the decline of SF on American TV. I’d say that the decline began long before Fringe, but then – see my remarks about J.J. Abrams above – I never liked Fringe in the first place. I’d probably have watched it if it had just been Peter, Walter and Astrid solving supernatural cases, but Olivia annoyed the hell out of me. And that was before the whole parallel universe stuff came in.
Denzel Washington called Wetten Dass?, the flagship show of public German television, “really touching” and “a show from another time which reminded him of the television of his childhood”. Shorter Denzel Washington: “This Wetten Dass? show is really old-fashioned. Amazing that something like that is still on the air.” Actually, I’m inclined to agree with him.
Meanwhile, fellow Hollywood stars Tom Hanks and Halle Berry felt quite literally trapped at Wetten Dass? and had zero idea what the show was about and why that thing was still on the air and the people responsible hadn’t been fired. Though Tom Hanks at least enjoyed the labscouse he had beforehand. This caused a lot of stir in the German media who still consider Wetten Dass? important and added more fuel to regular complaints about “those American Hollywood stars” who are only there to promote their latest film and don’t care about the show and anyway, why don’t they invite Veronika Ferres once again? Of course, the problem goes deeper. Because while the international stars are regularly cited as the main draw of Wetten Dass?, the regular viewers of the show are usually elderly* and don’t care about American actors – they want to see the same people they’ve seen in a TV melodrama they watched last week. Meanwhile, the stars draw casual viewers who tune in specifically to see Tom Hanks or Halle Berry or Denzel Washington or whoever, which pushes up the ratings and results in the meme of Wetten Dass? as the all-important crown jewel of German television.
*The people who regularly ask me whether I’ve seen Wetten Dass? (not in years) and what I think of so-and-so are generally in their 60s and over and they regularly complain about “those Americans” on the show. Meanwhile, the teenagers and younger viewers whom the international stars are supposed to attract rarely watch Wetten Dass? My students, for example, don’t talk about Wetten Dass? They talk about the casting show Deutschland sucht den Superstar.
At the German political blog Wiesaussieht, Frank Lübberding has some interesting analysis of the outcome of the Lower Saxony state election. I don’t agree with everything he says – IMO the main reason why the Left Party and the Pirates (and the Greens for that matter) could rise at all was that plenty of younger voters like myself no longer felt that the SPD was speaking for them or indeed interested in their votes at all, because the socialdemocrats seemed too busy catering to a steadily vanishing demographic of miners and steelworkers to notice the voters they might have had. But it’s still an interesting article.