Friday, August 30, 2013

Bathroom Monologue: Rorschark Attack

A Washington D.C. Rationalist Think Tank was on holiday at the undisclosed beach that day. Three employees saw it break the surface. Tammy saw a deck of playing cards. Guido saw a platter of fried shrimp. Ironically only one of the rationalists, Virginia Welsley, saw a shark fin. Even more ironically, she was the only rationalist in the water.

She swam like Hell. Tammy would attest that the shark went straight after Virginia, while Guido swears it swam in the opposite direction. Other beach-goers looked when they heard the screams, but the majority said they didn’t see a shark at all (while three saw an ice cream truck treading water behind Virginia).

When Virginia looked over her shoulder mid-breaststroke, she saw the gaping jaws of her third grade Math teacher – the one who always put impossible bonus questions at the end of his quizzes, presumably just to watch his pupils struggle and fail. That pungent memory felt apt as she swam for her life, and even more apt when she was seized in the middle-aged Math teacher’s overbite.

She was fortunate enough to awake, alive, in the local ICU. Apparently the shark had nearly ripped her in half. After much fighting with her doctors she was allowed to see the damage the shark had done to her torso. When the medical technician removed the bandages so that she could see the marks he instantly stepped back and crossed himself.

“It’s the Blessed Mother!” he exclaimed, looking at the bizarre shape of her bite wounds. She frowned at him and looked down.

“No it isn’t.” she said disdainfully. Then she squinted at the sutures. “Is… is that a Ferris wheel?”

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Off the WorldCon! Join me?

Early this morning I'm off to the first of two flights to San Antonio. I've never been to Texas before and am looking forward to experiencing the culture, if not the climate.

The big reason for this journey is the 71st annual World Science Fiction Convention, or WorldCon. It's one of the biggest SF/F conventions in America, hosting many of its premiere authors, like Scott Lynch, George R.R. Martin and Neil Gaiman. This is my second WorldCon, and I'm better prepared after last year. I've met more of the authors before and am helping arrange one of the parties, which is exciting. Carrie Clevenger is actually coming all the way into town for the SF Signal lunch on Saturday, which I'm terribly excited for. It's been an entire year since I've seen Emma Newman or John DeNardo, and this is my first meeting with Carrie in the flesh.

If you're anywhere near Texas, SF Signal has a free meet-up at the Rivercenter Mall on Saturday afternoon. You can also look out for me avoiding alcohol at Drinks With Authors at Ernie's Bar. If I have the energy, I'll also be staffing the Reddit table in the Exhibition Hall for a couple hours.

I'd like to live-blog the Hugos on Sunday night, but I'm hearing the convention center has either no internet or very expensive wifi. I'll still try to live-tweet them, though, and you can catch me @Wiswell. As it is, internet unavailability will keep me relatively radio silent until I get back home Tuesday the 3rd - the day before my birthday.

That reminds me: keep those Rarely Asked Questions coming! If you're lucky, I'll answer yours while loopy from jet-lag.

I'll keep updated on Twitter if I can, though, and I have a pretty special Friday Flash planned. If it's a fruitful convention, I'll be blogging it up all next week. And I still owe you folks a recap of the overpacked glory of Otakon...

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Bathroom Monologue: Coldblooded Body Image Redux

“I try not to talk about it because it's unfashionable for men to have body image issues. Society is acutely aware of how unrealistic their demands are on women's appearances, but you never think how much pressure you put on a man. I spend hours in aerobics classes, arms behind my back and undulating on my belly. I've paid thousands for skin creams and mud treatments without a single scale to show for it. There's a surgery to bifurcate your tongue if you want to half-ass it. Truth is, science won't ever give you a reptilian mouth. The funding isn't there. It isn’t profitable enough. Now you're going to tell me I'm silly, that I'm too hard on myself, that nobody expects me to become a snake. Ride the rails in my shoes for just one day. How they stare at me while I’m trying to coil in my chair. They're all thinking, "What a worthless cobra he makes." But none of them are willing to help me become whole!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Do Readers Actually Want Character Development?

According to Jack Miles,
even He changes.
This post was inspired by a Reddit thread questioning if Fantasy readers actually liked character development. The original poster, bradbeaulieu, had been on a panel where Patrick Rothfuss had taken the devil's advocate position that Fantasy readers didn't abide much character change. It had to be at least a little capricious given that Rothfuss's famous Kingkiller Chronicle is about a young Mary Sue turning into a broken old man.

To me, it depends greatly on the kind of character, circumstance and length of the novel. Flowers for Algernon without character development is a ridiculous idea. He has to change - the development is the plot, the gimmick, the engine for social criticism and introspection, and for the experiment of the prose. Its fame is largely from readers having strong reactions to the character development, and whether they prefer his rise or fall in intellect, or hopefully, having deeper reactions than just "liking" it.

That extreme example points us toward how good change typically works: being appropriate to the personality and circumstance. I don't want Bilbo Baggins giving into blood lust and singing war songs. He adapts to his circumstances, is forced to assert himself more, grows confident and capable, but is still timid, anxious, and by the end of the The Hobbit, is actually opposed to the greed that stirred him in the beginning. He is a better person for going through this arc, and the novel far much richer for it. If he became a ranty pacifist, it would have gone too far in that direction. If he became just another warrior Thorin could rely on, it would have gone in a less imaginative and compassionate direction and damaged the book. Bilbo goes through changes that we buy and that help the book.

Brad wondered if audiences didn't only like certain kinds of change, specifically positive change. Certainly Bilbo changes towards the heroic or the moral. Yet audiences love Batman and Breaking Bad, which are respectively about an innocent boy becoming destructively consumed with revenge, and a cancer patient becoming a meth tyrant. A frightening number of Breaking Bad fans are still rooting for Walter White in the final season, more attached to him than ever. My brother is one of them.

While I want Walter to fall from disgrace, his development has been superb and worthy of the attention its gotten. Breaking Bad is originally about Walter White's transformations, and the stages of his character are earned. That's what I want. Gandalf can be the same guy all the time for his role and his personality traits, and I won't mind. Lupin the 3rd can always be that lecherous thief. But an affecting novel usually puts its characters through some sort of development, or at least reveals more of who and how they are over time. The notion of readers being opposed to character development scares me more than any change itself.

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