Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Homophone Troubles

I'm being plagued by words. Specific words. "Know" and "now" are among them. Which, it occurs to me, aren't homophones. Or even homonyms. So I may have just invalidated my entire point right from the get-go. Or not, because the other words giving me fits lately are, in fact, homophones.

As opposed to homonyms, which if I recall correctly are the ones that are spelled the same but sound different, so even if you got them confused it wouldn't make any difference in your writing. Might make a difference if you switch them up while talking, but I don't know anyone who's ever done that. Confusing homophones is a different matter. There are whole sections of grammar books dedicated to this issue.

My current nemesis is "your" and "you're." I don't know why. I know the difference. Heck, I know the difference between "who" and "whom" and can even use them correctly. Which these days is saying an awful lot. Yet somehow, when the words are flying and the fingers are typing, inevitably the wrong one comes out. I catch it, most of the time.

As mentioned in the opening, "know" and "now" are also currently vexing me. I know which one I want in my head, but somewhere between my frontal lobe and my fingers, the signals get crossed. Again, most of the time I catch it but not always. Depends on what else I am doing while I type.

And of course the spellchecker is no help. I have no idea if the grammar checker would catch it, but as I turn that off on every single word processing software I own, it's also of no help. So I just have to pay attention, and hope that my current dilemma goes away on it's own. It should, as it has happened before, but it's just a question of how long it will take.

In the meantime, maybe someone will come up with a pill for it. The side effects would, if all those commercials I see are any indication, likely kill me, but hey, that would solve the problem.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Dark and Stormy Night

This is a line most people are familiar with, either because of its literary origins or as a result of the endless variations Snoopy penned from atop his doghouse over the years. It is a real line, from a real book, though don't even begin to ask me from whom or from what. (Yes, I could google it, but I've established a tradition of not doing so with this blog and don't intend to break with tradition now.)

It's also, supposedly, the worst opening line, ever.

I take issue with that classification. I understand that it's redundant, if taken literally, and that you're not supposed to start with setting. On the other hand, it's short, it's not that redundant when taken in the proper context, and what's wrong with establishing a spooky precedent? Now, I don't think it was meant to be spooky, so that could be a problem with my reasoning, but as with the checking of facts I try not to let logic undermine the points I'm trying to make.

Even absent the need to create an appropriate atmosphere, there are varying degrees of darkness at night. As anyone who has been outside during a full moon will attest, it's not always completely dark. In fact, during a full moon, it's actually kind of bright. Especially if there's snow on the ground. Add in other modern factors such as lights and when was the last time you experienced a truly dark night? With a storm, of course, it would be darker, so perhaps it could have just been left at "It was a stormy night."

THAT line sucks, however. It has no punch, no poetry, and is dull and lifeless. That would have gotten no argument from me about being the worst line ever. Which is another reason the line works as is, in my opinion. It has a certain narrative panache to it, that many other lines lack.

Like "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." This is often regarded as a classic opening line. Leaving aside my general dislike of all things Dickens (with a few notable exceptions), the line has a few flaws. Most notable among them being it doesn't end there. The actual first line goes on, and on, and on in true Dickensian fashion, as contrast after contrast after contrast is laid on. Had the line actually ended with that first contrast, it might be higher in my esteem, but by the time the period comes into view it's become more of an opening paragraph. And the rest of it is all redundant, because the point's been made.

(Dickens got paid by the word, though, so there's a certain understanding to why he wrote the way he did.)

It does have a bit of poetry to it, though as it's more of a head scratcher than anything else, and requires further explanation, it doesn't do much to draw me in. Plus, it's one of those large view statements, and you just know the book is going to deal with massive themes. (Which it does. Badly.) With "It was a dark and stormy night" my curiosity is piqued. What makes it so dark (other than it being night)? Why is the storm important? What's going on in this setting?

All of which makes for a line that, if not great, isn't the worst of all lines.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Muzak on the Space Elevator

I was listening to a program the other day... not sure which one (program, that is - day, too, for that matter) and they were talking about the concept of a space elevator. For those unfamiliar with the idea, it was first conceived by Arthur C Clarke, of 2001 fame. At least I think the idea is his. Might be some other sci-fi guru's, but I'm pretty sure. And lest anyone dismiss the concept as a flight of fancy, it should be pointed out that Clarke came up with the idea of a communications satellite. Designed one, too.

The space elevator hasn't been built yet, but it's an elegant and simple concept. You stretch a thin yet high-tensile cable up to a geosynchronous position in orbit, and then use that to haul an elevator up to orbit, carrying all manner of things that can then be put up there. It would ultimately be cheaper and easier than a rocket, and probably comes with other advantages I'm not grasping at the moment. (Because I'm not bothering to look it up, per usual, and going with what I can remember at 11:30 at night.)

I've heard about the idea before, and I should mention that it's being discussed as a way to haul cargo, not people, for obvious reasons, starting with the ending destination. I suppose if someone does build it, there would be ways to make it carry people, though, again, I'm a writer, not an engineer. However, it occurred to me ask if it does carry people, would it have elevator music?

It was initially a silly question, but it raised an interesting issue nonetheless: as much as I enjoy sci-fi and technology, for all the fantastic things it does there are still the mundane aspects of life that just never go away. It's like the story of Alan Shepherd having to pee his suit because no one had thought to deal with that particular problem (in part because he was only supposed to be in it for a short while and ended up stuck on the launch pad). People have to go the bathroom in space, just like they do here.

Then there is the tech that becomes commonplace. Think about it. As much as I adore modern communications, I was among the last group of students to come of age without email. I remember using the fledgling version of it on campus. If you'd told me then about all the stuff I can do now, a mere 15 years later, I wouldn't have believed you. Not that we have everything. I want my flying Delorean, dang it. Though I fully expect that if we ever have flying cars, there will be bumper stickers on them.

It's those little touches, when they go into a work of sci-fi, that help ground it for me. I can accept the fantastical if the noodle shop guy is still getting the order wrong because of the language barrier. (Noodle shops, like yellow taxis, apparently being a cultural artifact that survives long into the future. Both Harrison Ford and Bruce Willis have told me so, and they wouldn't lie to me.) It's those little touches that, if a writer can integrate them skillfully enough, manage to work wonders with the believability of the story. Even if the rest of it is just so out there as to be ridiculous - deliberately so or otherwise.

So there is a part of me that hopes that, should the space elevator be built, and should it carry people, it will have muzak.

I just don't want to have to ride it if it does.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Death of a Character, Part 1: The Replacements

Batman's dead. (Okay, probably should have put a spoiler in front of that, but if you read the comics you know this already. On the other hand, if all you know is the movies, it's unlikely this development will affect Christian Bale's next paycheck.) To the best of my knowledge this event hasn't made the kind of headlines that happened when they - in this case the overlords at DC comics - whacked Superman, probably because by now the death of a superhero is almost commonplace. Of course, this is Batman, and easily DC's #2 (or possibly #1 ) headliner, which makes it a major comics event.

This, in combination with a few other things, got me thinking about what happens when you kill off a character. In the case of Batman (and even, from what I remember, Superman) the fans aren't entirely up in arms because it's unlikely to be a permanent state of affairs. Though that's not a sure thing by any means. This is DC, after all, and while of late past dead heroes have been resurrected with alacrity, the original Flash was dead for quite some time. As was the Green Lantern. So Bruce Wayne might be MIA for a while. Or would that be KIA? Guess that depends on how optimistic you want to be on whether he comes back soon.

In the meantime, Batman continues, much as the Superman comics continued after his "death." In Batman's case they've replaced him with Dick Grayson, formerly known as Robin and then Nightwing. I admit to still reading comics, and so far I like what they've done with the storyline. This, of course, is the first option that comes when you kill off a character: you can replace them. With superheroes this works because they all wear masks anyway, and you don't even need to necessarily kill off the first guy (or gal): they can just retire. DC has an entire pantheon of retired characters, for example.

I think in order to make this approach work, you have to do a number of things. For starters, you have to have a role someone can step into in some fashion. With Green Lantern and the Flash, there was someone else to take over the role. Ditto for Batman. Even over at Marvel, when the original Spider-man bowed out (for a bit) they had someone with his powers who could fill the role. Which is another part to it: you have to have someone to fill the role. A third part, and perhaps one of the most important, is how you get rid of the original character.

Batman died fighting evil. Twice, actually, one in a helicopter crash, and then again later on an alien world. Somehow I like the crash better. But it makes sense, because he's never been the kind of character you see retiring in old age. You don't ever see him getting to old age (with the exception of a cartoon done in the mid to late 90's that I thought handled the issue well). With Spider-man, it turned out to be a clone. Yes, there was outrage that the story had been following an "imposter" and the Peter Parker everyone loved wasn't the real deal and hadn't been since a storyline in the 1970's. I was, at first, one of those outraged fans. Then Marvel Comics did this very nice little mini-series about what happened to the now spandex-free Peter Parker.

That mini-series sold me on the new direction. It gave a nice, satisfactory ending to the character that I had grown up reading, and (I thought) gave Peter the life he deserved. I started reading about the replacement, which brought a new set of storylines and perspectives to the character that, I thought, made a nice change. Marvel didn't stick to their guns, in part because I turned out to be in the minority on that one. They eventually brought Peter back (he wasn't the clone after all) in a storyline that was so convoluted it's become one of the hallmarks of what not to do with a character.

(Which raises another issue in killing off a character, that of what to do when you've changed your mind. More on that later.)

Once you've shuffled your primary character off to retirement, or free from their mortal coil, then you bring in the replacement. It can be a chance to take things in a new direction, explore what-ifs that you couldn't do with the original character, or any number of things that couldn't be done with version 1.0. Or it can be a chance for version 2.0 to be essentially version 1.0 but with a new costume or a girlfriend. (Like the Flash, for example. Or Green Lantern, though that loses points for creating one of the worst cliches regarding the mistreatment of women and being a wasted story opportunity. One of the reasons, I think, the original was resurrected.) In that case, it almost seems kind of pointless. What was the point of killing the character in the first place - other than potential shock value for the "death of" story - if he or she is just going to be replaced by a near carbon copy?

Not every character can be replaced, and often times the whole point of dropping an anvil on a character is because it's simply time to move on. In comics this most often happens with characters whose storylines have run dry. (Until the upswelling of outrage from the fans demands a retcon, of course.) In other media, this may a way to serve the needs of a larger story - often when the dying character is of importance, but not the central main character. Or it may be a way to serve the needs of the author, who has simply grown bored with, or is feeling hemmed in by their own creation.

The ones who stay dead will be the subject of Part 2.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Even Dracula Wasn't This Creepy

I was watching the television a few nights ago when I saw a promo for something that made me stop and think. (Yes, yes, I know, television is evil, it rots your brain, etc... but like most things which are bad for you it's fun. And occasionally informative. More on that duality in a later entry, I think.) This one was for the "Vampire Diaries" which I gather is based on the YA series of the same name. Now, I could rail against the current trend of angsty vampires in high school - with or without sparkles - but if I was going to do that, which I might some day, I'd have to go back to Anne Rice. Because Louis had ANGST. Lestat less so, in the beginning, but then things just got weird. However, something else in the promo struck me and got the old gears in my head churning.

Namely, the unaddressed subtext of hebephilia, or if I'm going to be a little generous, ephebophilia. To get away from the technical terms (because they're hard to spell and way too big for me to keep typing over and over again), this is the kind of behavior for which society has such things as "age of consent" and statutory rape. It should not be confused with pedophilia, which is a somewhat different thing, though it's still creepy.

Think "Lolita," only 16 instead of 12. Or whatever she was in the original. Which I think was 12.

Here's the bit that got me thinking along these lines: once again, as in the sparkly vamp saga, there is a vampire. Who, for some insane reason, goes to high school. (You didn't see Kiefer Sutherland hanging out in high school. He was hanging upside down, sure, but who would voluntarily go back to high school to be a student?) And once again, falls in love with a human girl.

(Which begs the question, what happened to all those homo/bi-sexual vampires from Anne Rice? Or at least a little bromance vampage? Okay, I'll stop digressing now and try and stick to my point.)

Yet in the promo, they specifically mentioned this is a vampire who is a century old. As in 100 years. So regardless of how he looks, which, being a teen on television means he looks like he ought to be working on his Master's thesis instead of his diploma, he's had a century of experiences. Plenty of time to mature, develop, etc. This was a theme explored by Anne Rice with her child-like vampire, Claudia, who was a little girl but only on the outside.

The fact is, there's more to getting old than just numbers, and puberty. Which, considering they're posing as high schoolers, they've all been through anyway. There is the sum of our experiences, the things we do, the places we go, the things we see, and these more so than any biochemical processes are what shapes us into the adults we are. No matter how the vampire might look on the outside, on the inside he is, by all human definitions, old.

Which makes you wonder what he would see in a high-school aged girl. (Other than the obvious "Lolita" inferences. Or, if you've not read it, go listen to "Don't Stand So Close to Me" by the Police. Classic stuff.) I can understand liking them young - though not that young - so I have to ask, why not just go to college? Granted, it would still be somewhat creepy, but at least they'd all be over the age of consent. Not to mentioned more experienced in terms of their life.

I would think anyone of a mature enough age - and at a century you'd think that would qualify -would find the life and interests of a high school student to be rather mundane and trivial. Not that it's unimportant to them, but let's face it, even those who have an interest in the lives of high schoolers, such as teachers, don't socialize with them. They certainly don't date them, or at least they aren't supposed to and society gets very upset when they do. To have an interest, and more than that, an attraction, to someone so young and immature....

It's just creepy.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Unexpected Origins

I learned the origin the other day (well, all right, it was at least a month ago now) of a word that I'd known without knowing where it came from. I have to admit, now that I know the word's roots, it's lost a little something. It's one of those things where the mystery of it, the enigma behind it, turned out to be a lot more fascinating than the actual solution. A minor thing, to be true, yet somehow I think I'd have preferred to live with the mystery.

(Which is what passes for a spoiler around here.)

The word is "GORP." Which, technically, turns out to be an acronym.

If you've ever been hiking or camping or anything like that on a regular basis, you probably know already what gorp is. It's trail mix, essentially. A hodgepodge of dried fruits, nuts, and other crunchy, chewy, naturally sweet bits. When I was in the Scouts (yes, I was a Boy Scout) we'd often make our own, which isn't hard to do, really. You can buy it pre-made, of course, and in about a dozen different varieties, but making your own was not only cheaper in the long run, but allowed for customization.

I happen to like m&m's and coconut pieces in mine, along with some dried pineapple.

Which, now that I know what gorp stands for, would technically make it something else, I suppose, which might be why it's mostly sold under "trail mix" and not "gorp." Yet if you're going camping or hiking or biking or whatever, and hang out with people who do, chances are they may well refer to it as gorp, regardless of what's in it.

Because gorp is just "good ol' rasins and peanuts."

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


It's funny the associations the mind makes between things. How you can be going along about your day, and then out of the blue you come across something. Something that stirs up a remembrance, stirs up memories, and suddenly the years strip away. They say time heals all wounds but I don't think that's true - I think time just dulls the nerves. The wounds never go away.

Loss is an odd thing. It creates a blank spot inside, a place where you used to fill that blank with someone's presence, only they're not there anymore. Yet the space remains. You get used to it, over time, and it never feels as badly as it did that first time you knew that person was gone. It couldn't, I suppose, because that first time, even when it comes as something expected, is always still a moment of shock. Of realizing that this is it, they're gone, and that you are not. After that, it's just a question of getting used to it as much as you can.

Only with the big losses, I don't think we ever really do get used to it. We push it to the background, we deal with it (if we can and we're smart) or we don't (often with unpleasant repercussions), and our lives go on. You don't ever get rid of it, no matter how long you manage to go on. It's always there, sometimes stronger, sometimes not, but it never ever quite leaves. And it comes back in unexpected moments, with unexpected triggers.

Sometimes I think those moments are harder than the initial moment. They aren't, really, having been through them I know from experience the first is always the most difficult. Especially the kind of losses than can take you off your feet, either literally or figuratively, and leave you wandering around in a bit of a daze. But, because those later moments can come at you unexpectedly, and always when you aren't prepared for them, it can be almost as difficult. The only saving grace about them is that they are almost always shorter in duration. A moment's pause, a moment's reflection, and then they pass until the next time.

But they never really go away.