Hyperpat\’s HyperDay

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Archive for February, 2009

The Creative Schedule

Posted by hyperpat on February 26, 2009

There’s been a little flap lately over just what an author owes his readers, if anything, especially as it pertains to the time between books in a series. It started with George R. R. Martin’s post to his detractors who are moaning about when Dance With Dragons (the next volume in the Song of Ice and Fire series) will be published, which in turn has occasioned comment by Charles Stross and John Scalzi.

Now to my way of thinking, once an author embarks on a story that’s too large to fit in one volume, he does at least have an implied obligation to those whose purchase the first volume to eventually finish the story. However, and this is a big qualifier, when he does so is strictly up to the author. As Scalzi points out, if the author rushes the job to get that next volume out, the quality will suffer, and those who were eagerly awaiting this next installment in the story are going to be disappointed and unhappy. Alternatively, if the author takes so long to get that next installment out that everyone has totally forgotten the earlier parts of the story, this will not bode well for either his sales or for keeping his fan base (here specifically I’m thinking of things like Stephen King’s Dark Tower series – 20 year gaps are not conducive to maintaining interest).

As Stross points out, there are basically two kinds of extended stories: those that basically have multiple complete stories all based in the same universe, perhaps with same characters, perhaps not (Norton’s Witch World set is a good example of this type), but certainly each volume can pretty much be read independently of the rest of the series; and those where it is really just one long extended story, where you really must read from volume 1 to volume n in order to grasp the entire story (and here Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire certainly qualifies). Each type has advantages and disadvantages.

The first type has the distinct advantage of the reader being able to get full satisfaction from any single volume, and where his expectation level is that he would like to see more stories set in this world, but he won’t feel abandoned if those volumes never appear or only show up many years later. However, the requirement to tell a complete story in one volume limits its scope and does not allow for as complex a world or depth of character building as the second type.

The second type is a great challenge to the author and potentially can be a mesmerizing story that completely immerses its readers in a fully realized world – the canvas is large, with plenty of room to properly develop all the ins and outs of the story, where complex multiple sub-plots can intertwine, characters can change at realistic paces, and be given enough room to become living, breathing people. Its disadvantage is that it is complex, takes a long time write, with always the possibility that other life happenings will eventually interfere with its timely completion, or simply that the author loses motivation to finish it, with other ideas and projects coming to seem more interesting. And it generates an expectation in its readers that more of the story will be forthcoming real soon now. Authors really should consider this factor before embarking on such a project (though I know that sometimes a story just grows, and becomes far longer than what was originally intended). Once he decides he really wants to write this story, he really should do his best to finish it as soon as is possible while still maintaining his own standards of excellence. This is really the author’s only obligation: to do his best.

Those who moan and whine and send nasty emails to the author demanding that the next volume be delivered right now are not helping. In fact, besides being rude and crass, such badgering of authors may end up causing the target author to just abandon the project. Fans who act like this should be beaten over the head with a politeness stick. Creative works are not like cars, producible on a set schedule, and fans really need to get hip to that fact.

I’ll certainly get Dance with Dragons and read it with enjoyment, whenever it makes its appearance. The series so far is both captivating and excellent, and has all the hallmarks of eventually becoming one of the great fantasy stories ever told. If it takes Martin another three years to get this next volume right to his satisfaction, so be it.

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Posted in Books, science fiction, Science fiction and fantasy, SF, Writing | 3 Comments »

The Academy and Animation

Posted by hyperpat on February 24, 2009

Stupid me, I went and watched the Academy Awards show on Sunday. What I saw was an almost complete disparagement of animation and science fiction, as if neither of those categories was really worth any consideration by the Academy. Yes, Wall-E took best animated picture, but that was almost a given – there was nothing else out there remotely approaching its quality in animation land. But, and this is a big but, it wasn’t even nominated for Best Picture, even though (IMO) it was clearly better than a couple of the movies that did get a nomination nod. Iron Man was almost completely ignored, and The Dark Knight got only what everyone expected.

Now it could be argued that The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is sf – but I think it really belongs in the fantasy camp, or perhaps ‘magical realism’. Regardless, the focus of this movie is not on the mechanism of his reverse aging, but rather what that does to his personal relationships. It might also be noted that some of film techniques used in this movie are traveling into the world of animation, especially in the early scenes which have heavy CGI graphics. Apparently such work is acceptable if it’s a ‘live action’ movie.

The query becomes, why did this movie get nominated and not Wall-E? I think it has a lot to do with the ‘quality’ of its origin, being based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald – and as such, shows up something that I think has been present in the Awards process for a long time: the snob factor. This is not to say that I don’t think Button shouldn’t have been nominated – it’s a fine movie. But The Reader, Milk, and Frost/Nixon are what I consider to be marginal entries.

Maybe someday the Academy will get hip to the fact that some of the best stories, acting, and overall movie experience today are being produced in animation land, and are given nominations and awards on an equal basis with live action movies – but I wouldn’t count on it soon.

In the meantime, I’ve already nominated Wall-E for the Hugo Award, and will vote for it when that time comes. But getting that award may seem like small potatoes to the creators of this movie.

Posted in Hugo Awards, Movies, science fiction, Science fiction and fantasy, SF | 2 Comments »

BSG: The Final Five

Posted by hyperpat on February 17, 2009

Battlestar Galactica has had a pretty good run. Throughout most of its shows, it has been marked by a consistent level of good-to-excellent writing and acting. Now it’s trying to wrap itself up and complete the story line, which has led to, well, problems…

It became obvious even as early as season two that when the show was created, it really didn’t have a firm vision of where it would end up. As a consequence, the writers kept adding complications and tangential plot threads with little apparent thought to just how consistent the whole thing was. Centurions, Cylons, humans, the thirteen colonies, New Caprica, resurrection, the twelve (13?!) models of Cylons, the ‘Final Five’, the ‘visions’, the hybrids, the revisions the viewer had to make in his outlook as various Cylons were revealed, with some convenient ‘holes’ in these Cylon’s memories so they could have performed their prior actions thinking they were just humans… this list goes on for quite a ways.

Last Friday’s episode saw a massive info-dump that has started trying to make some sense of all these different threads. As could be expected, some items are being glossed over, some actions are just not mentioned, and there are still some rather large questions about how it all fits together. Still, even given these quibbles, I thought that someone, somewhere, did quite a bit of thought to come up with the explanations they did, and they have managed to almost make some sense out of the whole thing, no small achievement given all the things that have happened on the show. For a more detailed look at this Friday’s episode, see the round table discussion over on Tor.com. (Warning: severe spoilers within this discussion – if you haven’t seen this episode yet, don’t go here).

Now they still have five episodes to go, so there’s still room to wrap up some more of the problems. I really hope they can pull it off, without losing either the sharp dark ambiance or the biting social commentary that has been the hallmark of the best episodes of this show.

Science fiction with the quality of this show has been extremely rare, either on TV or the movies. It is no surprise that this show has developed quite a following of avid fans during its run, nor that it has gathered several awards. I’m crossing my fingers that they will end this show with all of its great qualities still intact.

Posted in Movies, science fiction, Science fiction and fantasy, SF, TV Series | 1 Comment »