Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Weather Report

A lovely day. Bright and clear and warm with a slight coolness in the wind. There are people sculling on the river, people biycling and walking. Flowers are blooming. Birds are singing. I got some writing done.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Story and Plot

LeGuin is writing about story telling over at the Book View Cafe blog. This first quote is from her:
E.M.Forster had a low opinion of story. He said story is “The queen died and then the king died,” while plot is “The queen died and then the king died of grief.” To him, story is just “this happened and then this happened and then this happened,” a succession without connection; plot introduces connection or causality, therefore shape and form. Plot makes sense of story.
I read this and realized that I was not entirely sure I could define either story or plot. So I checked an online dictionary. This is story:
A narrative, either true or fictitious, in prove or verse, designed to interest, amuse, or instruct the hearer or reader; a tale.
This is plot:
Also called storyline. The plan, scheme, or main story of a literary or dramatic work, as a play, novel, or short story.
I'm still not sure I know what a plot is. Per Forster, it is a causal chain. Per the dictionary, it is a plan. I guess this makes sense. One plans out a story the way one plots a course -- unless one is the kind of writer who does not plan ahead. I tend to think of plot as the action line of a story, as opposed to the setting, characters, mood and so on.

"Story" is from the Latin "historia."

"Plot" seems to go from a piece of land to a map and then a scheme.

Anyway, I'm inclined to think that a long work of fiction needs an action line the way a large animal needs a skeleton. It keeps it from collapsing in on itself.

Though I'm not sure what to do with a book like Italo Calvino's Imaginary Cities, which is made up of wonderful descriptions of imaginary cities. The plot, such as it is, is Marlo Polo telling Kublai Khan about his journeys and the cities he has visited. But the book is really about the cities, which are fantastic and amazing and well worth the read. LeGuin's Changing Planes is a similar collection of descriptions. So also, maybe, is Angelica Gorodischer's Kalpa Imperial. LeGuin's Always Coming Home is more description than anything else. The least successful part of the novel is its most conventional part, the story of Stone Telling Woman.

I'm not sure about Forster's causal chain or his belief that a story has to make sense. A story has to interesting. I'm not sure what else it has to be.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Literary Fiction

From facebook:
I used to argue that literary fiction tended to be (a) realistic and (b) depressing. The message was: life doesn't get any better than this. TINA, if you will. It's a good message for comfortable, upper middle class people who don't really want to change their lives. Popular fiction -- or mass fiction -- tends to be unrealistic will fulfillment. The message here is for the young and for working people, and it says: our lives are hard and we are angry; we dream of change, but realistic change isn't possible.

The question is, what is realistic change? How do we build a new world? (We really have to; this world is going down in flames. Just ask James Hansen.) Is there a way to move from the unrealistic action of a superhero movie to a realistic form of action? Or do the movies simply defuse anger and distract us from the real world?
More, in answer to a comment from Gregory Feeley, who pointed out that my description of literary fiction sounded like defensive remarks from SF writers in the 1970s and 80s:
I'm no longer sure my take on literary fiction is correct. My problem in discussing mainstream or mundane or literary fiction is, I don't read enough of it, and I certainly don't read widely enough. Having said that, I don't see the problem with literary fiction is that it lulls us. Instead -- I suspect, based on inadequate data -- that it limits us. It does not give us a vision of large scale change that we need now, if we are actually going to save the planet. It doesn't tear the top off our lives. Much popular art does envision large change. However, the way the change happens is unrealistic.
I think the phrase "tears the top off our lives" is close to what I want. The Avengers does this, but then it leaves us with Midtown Manhatten in imaginary flames and the heroes in a shawarma shop.

What happens next? Do we build a new Jerusalem? Or is it more of the same? The same battles with the same supervillains over and over?

Friday, May 11, 2012


Some of the power comes from myth. Humans like stories about big guys beating monsters: Gilgamesh, Hercules, Thor... I think the Hero Twins in various Native American cultures are also examples, though I don't know them as well...


What I'm wondering about superhero comics and movies is -- what is the social and emotional content? What grabs and hold people? The simple answer is wish fulfillment fantasy. But that's not adequate. The situation is more complex. The four movies I've seen recently tell different kinds of stories. Yes, they all end in smash! bang! boom! kapow! But that's kind of like the ballet in an opera. You know you are going to have to sit through it, so you grit your teeth. But the real story -- and the real joy -- is elsewhere.

I enjoy the action in comic book movies more than the ballet in opera. I still enjoy the stories in both more.

This is not entirely idle speculation. I am trying to figure out if there's a way to write science fiction/fantasy that has the appeal of a good superhero movie.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

The Avengers Yet Again

I am still trying to rewrite The Avengers. Not on paper or a computer, in my mind as I walk the track at the Y. This is dangerously close to fan fiction.

My obsession with the Marvel universe seems to be working to break my overly intense focus on news media and their unending bad news. Now I have to break the focus on Marvel movies. At least the Marvel universe has happy endings, mostly. As well as a lot of ambiguity and a lot of interesting evil. Real evil, the stuff we meet in this world, is mostly boring. It's like Lyme disease or HIV. It's bad. It has to be dealt with. But you don't spend a lot of time trying to understand its motivation. Actually, a viral infection is a lot more interesting than a bad person.

The current British government (among many other governments) is evil. Are the government's members interesting? No. They are stupid, greedy power freaks with a hatred of ordinary people. Their motivations are as complex as the motivations of a shark. The interesting question is, how do the people of Great Britain get rid of these jerks? How do Americans and Canadians change their governments? How do we save the world?

The process by which Raymond Milliband's sons ended where they now are may be mildly interesting. That's about self-corruption and self-delusion. Even that is not worth much time. I don't think psychology works to explain societies. Sociology, political science and maybe economics do a better job.

But in fiction, it's possible to make evil complex and interesting and even charming.

It's possible to embody great issues in individuals...

Maybe I can do a political analysis of Loki. He has become a tool of the aliens, just as capitalists become tools of their capital. He may think he's in control and still a god, but he isn't and won't be till he breaks away form the aliens.

And why the heck does he let them into Earth? Why doesn't he double-cross them and keep the Tessarect for himself? He's a master double-dealer. But in this situation, he is a tool.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

More on Obsession

It's kind of embarrassing to be hung up on Marvel movies. But I wanted to break my unproductive obsession with news; and I wanted to get out more and see more movies...

The news (most of it) makes me feel helpless and overwhelmed and angry. It does not make me want to write or march. It makes me question writing.

I think obsessing about Marvel movies is more likely to get me writing than obsessing about the news. One problem with the news is -- most of the media give us only discouraging news. There is good news in the world. A huge number of people are trying to figure out how to change the world, and we mostly don't hear about them. With all their failings Marvel movies show us the good guys winning. They don't say TINA. Granted, the good guys are superheroes, and we can't win the way they do.

More Avengers

I am reduced to writing dialogue for the movie, which is sad. I can fix this, I tell myself. But I can't. There are too many explosions.

Loki says to Thor, "You don't know what happened to me when you threw me in that wormhole. You don't know what I've been through. I died in there."

Thor, the golden and dim, replies, "You are here and alive, brother."

Loki gives a little laugh and his sneaky Loki smile and says, "I am not the same." And then he adds, with an edge of malice, "Brother."

I'm not happy with Loki's reply. It needs work, and maybe he needs to repeat his blaming of Thor. You did this to me. You robbed me of Asgard and put me through hell. You killed me.

The Avengers

From facebook:
Well, I saw The Avengers. There were many explosions and much destruction of high tech equipment. Midtown Manhattan was wrecked. I liked Iron Man, Thor and Captain America better. I even think I liked Iron Man 2 better. Tom Hiddleston, who was a fine Loki in Thor, was completely wasted. Robert Downey Jr. was wasted. They were all wasted.
I've seen lots of rave reviews, so I am clearly in a minority. There was so much beating up, so much noise, so many clouds of dust and fire that I found it hard to follow the movie. Maybe there were characters in there somewhere.
More from facebook:
Well, maybe Tom Hiddleston was not entirely wasted. The explosions are fading from my memory, the adrenaline rush is almost over, and I'm trying to figure out the movie's plot. There are hints... When Loki appears, the skin around his eyes is badly bruised, and he looks as if he's been through hell. He's recently been through a wormhole, which is probably stressful even for a god. And he's also met the nasty aliens. My impression is, he's their puppet, though he thinks he's the puppetmaster. This is nice. This is irony. But I'm not sure. I wasn't given enough. I would have liked a bit of conversation with Thor. "You don't know what happened to me when you threw me in that wormhole. You don't know what I've been through. I died in there." Maybe the conversation was there, and I missed it amid all the explosions.
Loki is nastier and more desperate than he was in Thor, less in control. That is interesting, and I would have liked to know more. Again, I would have liked a bit of conversation with Thor to explain. The key to Loki is his relationship to Thor, the golden big brother. He's lost the chance to be king of Asgard -- he does mention this in The Avengers -- and now he wants to be king of Thor's Midgard, in part as revenge against Thor.
The aliens want the Tesseract, which is their motivation. Loki is willing to trade it for Earth. It's a lousy trade, another indication that Loki is not playing at the top of his game. Something has happened to him. I assume he was torn apart in the wormhole and blames Thor and is really mad now and more than a little crazy. Okay, now I have most of a plot, and most of it is in the movie. It was just hidden by the explosions.
Loki is what drives the entire movie. We did need more of him; and Thor -- the golden brother -- was dim in this movie. He's always dim in one sense of the word, but he needs to shine. He is the heir to Asgard, after all, and Earth is his world -- both in the Thor movie and in Norse mythology. Thor is "the friend of men." Envy of Thor is what drives Loki, along with a need to be loved.

Sunday, May 06, 2012


Exploring the cosmos at extreme energies, the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope orbits planet Earth every 95 minutes. By design, it rocks to the north and then to the south on alternate orbits in order to survey the sky with its Large Area Telescope (LAT). The spacecraft also rolls so that solar panels are kept pointed at the Sun for power, and the axis of its orbit precesses like a top, making a complete rotation once every 54 days. As a result of these multiple cycles the paths of gamma-ray sources trace out complex patterns from the spacecraft's perspective, like this mesmerising plot of the path of the Vela Pulsar. Centered on the LAT instrument's field of view, the plot spans 180 degrees and follows Vela's position from August 2008 through August 2010. The concentration near the center shows that Vela was in the sensitive region of the LAT field during much of that period. Born in the death explosion of a massive star within our Milky Way galaxy, the Vela Pulsar is a neutron star spinning 11 times a second, seen as the brightest persistent source in the gamma-ray sky.


No, they are not alive -- but they are dying. The unusual blobs found in the Carina nebula, some of which are seen floating on the upper right, might best be described as evaporating. Energetic light and winds from nearby stars are breaking apart the dark dust grains that make the iconic forms opaque. Ironically the blobs, otherwise known as dark molecular clouds, frequently create in their midst the very stars that later destroy them. The floating space mountains pictured above by the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope span a few light months. The Great Nebula in Carina itself spans about 30 light years, lies about 7,500 light years away, and can be seen with a small telescope toward the constellation of Keel (Carina).