Pondering on predictability

So, the other day I was fattening my arse on the couch, browsing the wonderland of television. Spectre was on. I decided, what the hell, Imma give it a chance.

Mistake. It was like somebody drafted a list of the most likely Bond tropes, and the film cheerlessly checked each item in turn. I admit I didn’t last to the end, but reading the synopsis from Wikipedia, I see I didn’t miss a thing.

I like Daniel Craig as Bond, though, for what it’s worth. He’s hot. I just wish they’d given him better lines.

I think it’ll be decades before they make a truly surprising Bond film. I’m afraid you’ll have to thaw me from cryo to see Jane Bond. But I was thinking about that formulaic nature, and maybe it’s not all bad? Because, you know, for all my big talk, I loved Dredd.

I hate predictability, but at the same time, I need a bit of it to keep me in the loop. I think that’s the crux of formulas. When you mix in too much predictability, you get formulaic dross. But when you mix in too little, the cake falls apart.

Some of it must be connected to that Johnstone’s maxim on storytelling: you have to give the audience what it expects. I know that maxim may not make a whole lot of sense, given that I’m trying to rail against predictability here, but there’s the paradox – we gotta be predictable to be unpredictable.

Please don’t ask me how that works. I’m still trying to figure out the whole of it myself.

I should probably re-read Johnstone while I’m at it. Maybe you should, too?

Keith Johnstone. Try either Impro or Impro for Storytellers.

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Why I don’t do TBR piles

Hey peeps, this is Alice! Everybody pretty much agrees that writers ought to read a lot to stay in shape, right? I even had a wonderful quote to do with that, but I forget what it was. It somehow referenced that saying about the fear of the Lord. Oh well!

Anyway, a lot of folks keep what they call TBRs, to stay on track of what they’re gonna read in the future. (It stands for “to-be-read”… maybe? It could also stand for “tuberculosis”, but somehow I doubt that. Or “tha booty rocket”, but I find that more doubtful still.) Like to-do lists, TBRs are great!

And… Alice doesn’t really do them. (She doesn’t do to-do lists either. Coincidence?)

Why? Well, a number of reasons. Imma share them with you, in case you ever felt the pressure of keeping up a TBR and hated it. I’m saying it’s okay not to keep track of the books you should read.

First, Alice doesn’t really believe there are books you should read. I mean, you should totally read books, but there’s no particular book you gotta read. You could, uh, only read paranormal romance, if you were into that, but I think it’s better to branch out and read widely.

However, there’s no single book you gotta read. Occasionally someone gets in your face, saying, “If you only ever read one book in your life, read THIS!” And folks, they’re lying. I mean, they don’t think they’re lying, they prob think it’s a great book and all that. But you don’t have to read it. Might be a good book, sure, but if you don’t read it, you’ll live.

Global literacy rate is still about 90%, right? That’s one in ten who can’t read. And they’re no worse than the rest of us. (They’re likely worse off, but as people, they’re bound to be all right.)

Second, I feel pretty cosy about not having a TBR. I trust my memory, see!

Granted, it’s a pretty leaky memory. I really forget most of the books recommended to me. But sis, that’s okay too! It’s okay to forget. I mean, your mum will yell at you for forgetting her birthday, but hey, that’s life. It’s okay to forget books that you should read, too.

Forgetting is a great litmus test, actually. If, despite having a memory like a sieve, I still remember that there’s this book I need to read, then hey, it’s prob worth checking out!

Also, not having a TBR mountainously shadow my days is pretty relaxing. Less is more: totally my motto! As in, less commitments. Not less sex. More sex. Less TBR.

 

Okay peeps, that’s it for today! Have you read anything great recently? I’m eager to hear recommendations, even if they’re likely to slip my mind!

Good <3 Evil

Hello, this is Alice! Today, she wants to share some memories of good times!

You know Alice is a fantasy writer and loves fantasies (and not only the sexual kind). And in fantasies, the ancient trope of good against evil turns up again and again. Heroes battle wicked wizards, rebels resist invading empires, et cetera. Well, today Alice has decided that this trope needs a fresh reminder.

Who are we, reader? Are we on the side of good, or do we work for evil? Look into your soul. Do you see the answer?

Yes, that’s right, my dear friend! And to honour that fact, Alice is going to tell you about a handful of books she has read – books that aren’t about black chess pieces versus the white, but where good and bad blend, and morality isn’t as clear-cut as we might like it to be.

So, behold! Alice’s Glorious Good and Evil Mutual Love Harmonious Reading List Deluxe, Fantasy Edition!

Latro in the Mist

This is a duology by Gene Wolfe, comprising Soldier of the Mist (1986) and Soldier of Arete (1989). It tells of an amnesiac Roman soldier, lost in Greece, who can communicate with the local gods. The Rope Makers Spartans play a big role, and arguably Pausanias and Pasicrates are bad men, but to call them evil would be very short-sighted. Both of them are chiefly allied with Latros and help him at pivotal points in the story.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

This is a bloody brick, by Susanna Clarke, published in 2004. I’m still not done with it, but here’s what I know: it’s the story of two English magicians who lived in the early 19th century, and details their difficult relationship, first as teacher and student, later as rivals.

You could claim that the gentleman with thistle-down hair is the villain here, but if you said that, shame on you! How dare you hold the sidhe to the same moral standards as humans? What’s next, saying that cats are evil? Pshaw!

Skellig

Who on earth could be evil in this story? Or good, for that matter? It’s about a depressed angel on the attic and a baby who has a heart defect, for chrissakes. Ostensibly a children’s story, but what do the categorical adults know, eh? Written by David Almond, out in 1998.

The Book of Knights

Written by Yves Meynard, published in 1998, The Book of Knights tells the archetypal story of a young man growing up and becoming a knight. It is, frankly, more nuanced than I can understand, and I should read it for a third time before saying my piece. Adelrune fights monsters, wizards, mad kings, and faerie queens, but who’s really evil here?

Lastly, he ends up in dread combat with himself. The finale made me cry the first time I read it.

Wise Children

This is Angela Carter’s last work, published in 1991. It’s the story of a Shakespearean family and the struggle to redefine parenthood. More capers than I can count. If you’re into twins, Shakespeare, butterflies, sexy Poles, bombs, tits, kitsch, or all-out song-and-dance shenanigans, this is for you! (Melchior is evil here. Or was it his brother? Or their father? I forget…)

 

That’s it for today, peeps! Does anything ring a bell? If you can recommend similar works, let Alice know!

Alice Question Extravaganza, vol. 2

Hello once more, this is Alice! Tags and awards make rounds, the wheel of fate spins, and the arrow lands upon Alice. This time, the mistress of fate is the lovely Melissa Rose Rogers! Again, Alice won’t nominate anyone.

To be frank, Melissa is a newer acquaintance of mine. I have little in-depth knowledge of her, but she seems sweet, clever, alert, and savvy. One of her aspirations is screen-writing, which is highly important! You see, much as it saddens me to say so, screen-writing is the writing of the future, quite apart from novels and like. Ergo, every writer should be proficient in screen-writing. Melissa is.

Also, she’s photographed sharks circling over a sunken ship. How awesome can you get?

Anyway, on to the questions:

If you could have lunch with anyone in the world, who would it be?

My mother. She’s an irritating little boozer. I could use that lunch to try and talk her out of the goddam habit!

Yes, I know. The question is set up so you’d be inclined to choose some historical or modern celebrity, or something. But suppose I chose Lord Nelson, everybody’s number one lunch companion? He might be delighted to find himself alive again, depart the lunch table, and embark on a destructive naval campaign of global scale! Wouldn’t want that.

The real trick with wishes is to wish small. So yeah, my mother.

What word annoys you the most?

Creativity. Just, yech. It gets bandied about so much it doesn’t even mean anything any more.

When you were six, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A space fighter! Yes baby, I had it all clear in my mind’s eye. I’d have a wicked beam-gun (kind of like the Nintendo laser gun), and a really sweet, glossy, green-and-blue jumpsuit that my mother had made for me. And a baseball cap. In that getup, I’d be racing through the stars, fighting nefarious enemies, and… you know… being cool. The dreams of six-year-old me didn’t really go further than that. Good thing my dreaming ability is now much more well-developed.

I’d still jump at the chance to be a space fighter, though.

Is there a movie based off a book that disappointed you?

I don’t know. I haven’t seen that many movies where I’d also read the book. What comes to mind is the Lord of the Rings trilogy. That kinda sucked.

Is there a dessert you find overrated?

Cake. My God, CAKE. It’s like the mother of evil advertising! I fall for the promises of cake every time: so foamy, so crispy, a balance of perfect sweetness, tempered with tanginess, and lovely chewiness that melts your jawbone! And it’s a lie, every time. Cake never delivers.

Besides, if I want dessert, there are tons of better options: gelato, pudding, toffee, rolls, even pie! (Pie is usually pretty icky. But compared to cake, it’s up there in the third or fourth heaven!) And lastly, port. Oh Lord, I despise drunkenness, but… port. Turns my gonads liquid.

What was your favorite book when you were a child?

I don’t know. I don’t think I was a very bookish child. Maybe Moominpappa’s Exploits. That’s still a great book.

What’s something that always makes you smile?

Elves with pistols! And Relm from Final Fantasy VI.

Is there a book that you wish was a movie?

Elric of Melniboné. In a bizarre way I’m fond of the original Conan the Barbarian, you know, the Milius film. Yes, it’s a platter of cheese on top of a slab of bad acting, but some of the images just make my mind spin. I’d like for them to make Elric into a film of that scope – no cheese, but the same kind of cinematic ambition.

The 2011 Conan was stupid, of course, and most films of the genre are ghastly in their pandering. I know it’s a pipe dream, but I want a swords & sorcery film that’s actually thoughtful and artistic and goddam credible. I want Elric to be that.

Elric books mostly suck, though. Just like Conan. See, more parallels?

Is there a disease you wish the average person knew more about?

Yes! That disease in Judge Dredd, where he goes to that weird planet, and the man he’s tracking has contracted a local disease that makes parts of his body slowly disappear! So, when Dredd meets the guy, he’s full of square holes! I want the average person to know all about that disease!

Yes, out of all fictional diseases that I know of, that one is the stupidest. But it’s stupid in a pretty funny way. “Hey! Where’d that bit of my leg go? Well, whatever. For some reason, I can still walk normal.”

What is your least favorite movie?

You mean a movie I absolutely loathe and despise above and beyond all the other movies I loathe and despise? You must know me well, for I loathe and despise most movies in existence!

Jokes aside, I don’t know. “Least favorite” doesn’t imply outright hatred, anyway, right? It implies that if given the choice of watching something, it’d be near the bottom of the list. Something unpleasant, something trivial, something you wouldn’t want to give a minute of your life to. Right. Manchester by the Sea, you’re up!

If you could only read books by one author for the rest of your life, who would you choose?

This is a very evil question. As a writer, I need to be able to read my own works, if I want to edit them and improve. But I also need to read broadly to keep my blade sharp. I’m afraid that if I had to so choose, it would be a mortal blow to my work.

In fact, if faced with such a wicked predicament, I would probably stop being a writer.

If I could.

Reading and being disappointed

Hello! This is Alice! Recently, I’ve waded through Emma Bull’s Territory and I’m now knee-deep in Martha Wells’s The Death of the Necromancer.

Imma be frank. Territory felt choked-up and inconsequential. The Death of the Necromancer is just bad. They have their merits (the former more so than the latter), but my foremost feeling is being deeply disappointed. Shucks, these stories coulda been good! Why’d they have to be ruined so?

Actually, I’m disappointed in pretty much every book I read. Even the ones I’m wildly ecstatic about, like The Knight. (Seriously, why the fuck is every damn woman hot on Able?)

Yes, every book I’ve ever read usually contained something I’m not happy about. I’ve been mad, I’ve been sad, I’ve raged, frothed, sighed, groaned, complained, and, in various degrees, been disappointed. And you know what, guys? That’s bloody good.

Why? Well, because I’m a writer. I became a writer because I was disappointed. And I keep being a writer because I keep being disappointed.

Disappointment is my fuel, people. It’s what gets my ass off the couch, puffed up and red with anger, swearing, “You band of no goods, I’m gonna show you how that’s done!” Disappointment is what makes me write. In fact, the day I’m perfectly content is prolly the day I’m gonna die.

Yes, yes, I know what you folks are gonna say. “Don’t you have any joy in your writing? What motivates me is joy! Overflowing joy!” Don’t worry, I have that, too, I’m not a total grouch. But I far prefer disappointment as my motivator.

Again, why? For the very simple reason it tells me what to do. I’m disappointed with Able being an insufferable chick-magnet? Imma do that better. I’m disappointed with the naive “noble criminal” of The Death of the Necromancer? Imma do that better. Joy, on the other hand – well, it’s nice, too. But all it does is make me go, “Yay!”

That’s why, the worse a book is, the better fuel it is. In general. And I’m not saying I love terrible books. Hell, if I was happy with them, I wouldn’t have my healthy dose of disappointment!

I’m saying terrible books deserve to exist. Like shadow, they show us where the light is.

Also, no matter how mad I may be at others, as a writer, my deepest disappointment must always lie with my own work. I can’t really go out there, clobber Wolfe on the head, and demand that he write better, can I?

No, it is me I must clobber.

Alice Reads: Soldier of the Mist by Gene Wolfe

Some time ago, Alice read Gene Wolfe’s Soldier of the Mist (1986). It features Latro, an amnesiac Roman soldier who can see ghosts. It goes like this:

Latro: I rock. But, like, low-key. Also, all the girls want me bad. I’m pretty super, huh?

Is it worthwhile? Yes. Wolfe’s language is ambrosia, and his storytelling is Olympian. Just mind the gaps.

Alice Reads: Blindsight by Peter Watts

Recently, Alice read Peter Watts’s Blindsight (2006). It goes something like this:

“Hey, look at these cool aliens I came up with! And hey, look at these even cooler space vampires I came up with! Also, everybody in the future is so edgy.

Is it a worthwhile book? Yes. If only because it references Metzinger’s Being No One (2003). But skip if you’re prone to depression.

In case you were wondering, yes, this is a book review, Alice style.