Category Archives: PK’s Pleasant Pomposities

Where I burble on about all sorts of things I find interesting of infuriating, or (usually) both.

Ruddy Dreadful

saw this a little while ago and grimaced.

My problem?

At the moment, people are just writing stuff, fast and loose, that other people can read and enjoy. These writers might even revel in the idea of being called ‘New Pulp’ but pretty soon it will be a whole thing. You know, one of those things where people tell you what something is without letting you make up your mind for yourself. You know… a thing.

It rapidly moves from being descriptive “wow look at what these guys are writing” to prescriptive “you can’t write sentences like that, that’s not new-pulp enough”.

To which the only rational answer is, “sod off”.

Writers won’t be doing this, because writers like to experiment and play (though some might like to be the big fish in a little pond and will grasp this newly defined genre with a grateful death-grip — but they won’t be the good ones. They’ll be the one-good-novel-on-infinite-repeat ones). The general readers won’t be doing this, because readers just want to read good stories well told. No, the fans-from-hell will be doing this. The ones that populate every genre forum they can find trying to define an art-form along strict illogical lines.

So what’s the problem? Just ignore the muppets, right?

I wish it was that simple, because what happens is that some journalists and some (the ones that don’t think for themselves …you know, most of them) literary critics, hear of this thing, this new thing, and they leap on it. It saves them having to actually read stuff that wasn’t written by some dead middle-class person before the end of the Boer War. You know the sort, I call them ‘Perkinses‘.

And then this definition becomes a sneer, a twisted lip, a guilty secret to hide under plain white wrappers.

And then novice writers think this is how you write and churn out tones of derivative crap that buries the good stuff.

And then readers move on to the next big thing, and miss the gems for half-a-century. Only discovering them when the author is dead and buried, which is no flaming use to anyone.

Oh I know, ‘Ruddy Dreadfuls’ yeah, that’s the next wave, look out for the ‘Ruddy Dreadful’ wave. It’s acoming. Forget New Pulp, that’s so last month, jump on the ‘Ruddy Dreadful’ bandwagon.

“Come on spring-heel, we have a reefer-mad dragon to save.”

 

PK’s Caveats: Caveat 1: I may not know what I’m blathering about. Caveat 2: There are no rules about writing, there are just things you can get terribly wrong. Caveat 3: If people apply the words never or always to storytelling techniques, ignore them.

First posted to ‘of Altered States’: http://www.ofalteredstates.com/blog/

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PK’s jaundiced futurism: Am I crazy Or Is It The Rest Of The Freaking World?

This io9 article  got an instant two letter answer from me, in a loud enough voice to disturb the librarian. I wasn’t actually in the library at the time, but she climbed the 1 in 3 hill to my house half a mile away just the say, “shhhhhhh”.

The answer was of course…

NO!!!!!!

A thousand bloody times no.

But that makes for a very short blog post so let me explain my gut reaction.

First, at the risk of upsetting Godwin’s law, ever heard of eugenics and the Nazis. Yeah, look them up, they took turn of the last century science and used it in a viciously nasty way. Do you really want to go down that route again? Do you think that if we start eliminating certain genes from the gene pool (via designer babies, abortion, or god knows what…post partum gene therapy maybe?) and make the culling (because that is what it is) a legal requirement that it will end there?

You give governments that sort of power at your peril. They should not even be allowed to look at your genetic code…ever. Not with your consent or without. DNA evidence at a crime scene (which is not the same as fingerprints. Fingerprints merely identify someone. DNA is the code used to build someone’s entire physical form—a slight difference there) does not mean the government should be able to go digging around in that code to find out stuff about the criminal, or at least it shouldn’t (they use the lovely term ‘genetic profiling’ for using the DNA to build a picture of the criminal—here’s a hint, they decide to make Jaywalking a criminal offence that requires a genetic swab being taken and bingo: you is being profiled, bruv) but they do.

It should not be legal to do this. We know that they will do it anyway, they’re governments, they don’t give a damn about your privacy or your rights, but they should have to do it under the counter not out in plain sight and if they get busted you should be able to sue them for the—frankly—disgusting invasion of privacy.

Why? Because they’re governments. What other reason do you need? Pick up a history book, read it, any period you like. See what governments will do if given the chance.

Don’t give them the chance.

Ever.

Okay, that’s one reason why I disturbed the librarian. Now onto the more philosophical reason.

Posit: we don’t bloody understand evolution fully and you buggers want to start playing around with the genetic code of the human race. What are you? Freaking crazy? (Hmmm…maybe philosophical was a bit of a stretch).

We have no idea what the genes that seem to point to a tendency towards psychopathic disorders are for, other than they seem to point to a tendency towards psychopathic disorders. So we go all snippy snippy on them and maybe we end up with an outcome we didn’t expect and that we can’t put right without genetically altering the entire human race. I’m not sure that is a particularly smart thing to do. It’s kinda like deliberately pumping tons of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere because you’d quite like to buy beachfront property in Alaska.

There is a law called “The Law of Unintended Consequences” because we live in a chaotic world. Start messing about with what makes us human (that’ll be the genes, and the expression of those genes, and the proteins that those genes produce, and the way those proteins fold, and methylation which leads on to epigenetics—which suggests that what your ancestors did in life affects how your genes are expressed. Grandmama lived through a famine, you have a propensity to put on weight. A good starting point for why we shouldn’t be futzing around with the human genome. And there are a whole host of other factors that I didn’t mention) and we don’t know where it will end up.

Start messing around with the human brain and there’s no way of knowing (at all) where we will end up. The human brain is the most complex organ in the world. We’re not really sure how it works. We’re not sure if the brain/mind duality exists or if the mind arises out of the brain through understandable process, we don’t even know, or are even close to understanding, how consciousness works. Evidence of this is shown by scientific papers using being awake as a synonym for consciousness, which technically in a writing sense it is, but it is not a synonym for mind.

I’m not against genetic medicine, but I think we should draw a line at germline medicine until we have more idea of how the germline actually works (and yes, eliminating psychopaths from the population will most definitely affect the germline).

It is not: plug this into there and that happens. It is: change this one thing in an individual and then let him/her loose to mix with all these other six billion individuals and then let their children mix with their children, and then let those children… It’s turtles all the way down and all of them can snap your bollocks off.

So, in conclusion, any chance of not screwing around with things you don’t understand just because you think you are doing it for the greater good?

Any chance at all?

No?

Didn’t think so.

But there will be soma, right?

PK’s Caveats: Caveat 1: I may not know what I’m blathering about. Caveat 2: There are no rules about writing, there are just things you can get terribly wrong. Caveat 3: If people apply the words never or always to storytelling techniques, ignore them.

First posted to ‘of Altered States’: http://www.ofalteredstates.com/blog/

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PK’s Jaundiced futurism: A Cloudy Culture

I intended to do a post on the ‘rule of three’ which is a rhetorical device, but then  I saw this.

And I changed my mind.

The reason that media streaming companies are bullish about cloud computing, despite the outage, is really very simple. It allows them to maintain control.

There is no real need to stream films, or any other media for that matter. Smart phones, tablets, and laptops have more than enough processing power and storage to hold and playback movies, TV series, and anything else. The amount of bandwidth required to stream a movie means that there is more than enough for relatively fast downloads.  Also, streaming ‘requires’ the bandwidth to remain high for the entire duration of the film, which means broadband drop out can destroy the viewer’s experience.

Granted, films are a high-bandwidth, high processing power (and high storage as a download) medium, so you could argue that, at the moment, streaming is the best way to supply these products. But as mobile devices become more and more capable, these arguments will fade—within the next year I should think.

So let’s look at some things that really don’t need to be streamed and yet are streamed: eBooks.

There is no earthly reason why eBooks should be streamed. They are tiny files, very quickly downloaded, that take bugger all space on hard-drives or any other long-term storage medium. They take up less room than music files, picture files, program files, any other sort of file. They are simple text files. They download in seconds even on a dodgy broadband connection.

Okay, an eBook will have covers and other bells and whistles that might bloat the file a bit, but they still do not need to be streamed.

So why are they? Why sell a product to a customer that can be compromised by a simple internet outage, when there’s no need to stream the damn thing? Why sell a license to access the file to the customer rather than the actual file?

As I said, it’s about control. If they sell you the file then you own it. It is yours to do with as you will. If they sell you the license to access the file via their streaming service however, then you have to maintain your connection to the provider of that service.

Let’s say you have a library of 1,500 books, all on one provider’s service—it really doesn’t matter which one, A or A or K or B&N, or any other, this is not bashing a particular company—and these are streamed files. You open up your e-reading program, it sends a request to the cloud, the servers whirr into action, and the text appears on your screen as if by magic.

If, and only if, you have an internet connection. No internet, no access to your library. So you need to keep your ISP happy, you need to keep the streaming company happy, and you better not be in an internet ‘not’ spot where you can’t get a signal.

The company can delete a book from your library, can alter the text of a book in your library, can—if they so choose—charge you to maintain access to your library.

No wonder companies are not put off by the internet outage. No wonder they are bullish about cloud computing. It makes the perfect business model. The customer owns nothing except a right to access a file. You can take that access away any time you feel like it. So long as you have written the T&Cs properly (and they probably have, because most people don’t even read them—I don’t) you can change the pricing structure whenever your business model changes.

The cloud is an incredibly powerful tool for data-intensive processing. If you need to access some large, powerful, program when on the move, then the cloud is a great way to do it. Don’t crunch the numbers on your own device; let a massive server farm do the heavy lifting.

But the cloud is a dodgy retail tool. By accessing cloud services for entertainment needs you are giving all the power to the providers. They can cut you off, change the content, remove it from sale (and claw it back from your device) at any time. It ties you into a walled garden. It can tie you into a particular device.

And if they decide to no longer support that device, you lose access to everything unless you upgrade to the new one. They don’t need to make new devices backwards compatible to old ones, as anybody with a PS3 and PS2 will tell you.

There will be more of these outages and I say, ‘good’. People should be clamouring for the file not the license to access the file. Otherwise, culture will exist ‘in the cloud’ and the cloud doesn’t exist.

Just saying, your mileage may vary. One man’s opinion. I may be wrong. I hope I am, but I doubt it.

PK’s Caveats: Caveat 1: I may not know what I’m blathering about. Caveat 2: There are no rules about writing, there are just things you can get terribly wrong. Caveat 3: If people apply the words never or always to storytelling techniques, ignore them.

First posted to ‘of Altered States’: http://www.ofalteredstates.com/blog/

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PK’s Jaundiced Futurism: On Enhanced E-books Alternate Endings

Enhanced e-books will be a boon for non-fiction. Video, interactive diagrams, the ability to update in the light of new information or research. The possibilities are endless.

Fiction…umm…not so much.

I can see hypertext novels coming back into fashion, though they will have to do away with those bloody irritating links — not very conducive to immersion having every character name and artefact highlighted. I can see illustrations becoming prevalent, though there is a point beyond which the novel becomes a graphic novel. I can even see interactive databases for the more extreme world-building; think of Tolkien’s appendices as a searchable database.

All that I can see being useful for storytelling.

But I’ve read a few posts recently, on blogs and writing news aggregation sites, where high muckity-mucks in the publishing industry also mention ‘Alternate Endings’ as an enhancement.

Why? How does betraying the story count as an enhancement?

There are essentially three forms of storytelling now current in our culture. Interactive games, the media (films, television, graphic novels, radio, audio books) and text (novels, shorts, twitter, blog-stories, and so on. There are slight differences in distribution, but the medium is still text-based).

In games, alternate endings are a great idea. The player is the protagonist in the game, he or she is the one making decisions about how they play, so it’s not a bad idea to make those playing decisions affect how the game ends.

Play the game through, shooting everything with the biggest gun you can get. Not a bad way to play a game for the first time: while you work out how the game engines work. Play it through again, but being kinder to the game environment and to all those realistically detailed creatures you can kill. Some people claim to play Grand Theft Auto while going out of their way to avoid running down the virtual pedestrians the game designers place all over the virtual streets. I have no idea why you would do that, it isn’t supposed to be a simulation of driving in the city, but some people are just strange.

Between those two extremes, there are a multitude of possible choices that the player can make and each choice could affect the ending of the game. All good. All useful. All enhancing the experience and making you want to play the game again. If only to collect all the endings in the same way you used to collect gold rings when playing Sonic the Hedgehog. Obsessive, yes, but games can make you a tad obsessive — that’s part of their appeal.

In the media, mostly films it must be said, alternate endings are sometimes DVD extras. Twenty-Eight Days Later is the one that immediately springs to mind. No spoilers, for those who have not seen it, but I preferred the bleaker ending. I remember watching the film and feeling cheated by the ending they actually used. It felt forced. Please note this is before I even knew the alternate ending existed; once I found that on the DVD, I was even more irritated by the Hollywood ending they chose.

But, and this is important, films (and I suspect TV) are created in the editing suite. They are not created during principal photography. The actual filming simply gives the director options when the film is finally cut together. So much so, that many fine movie actors deliberately avoid giving the same performance in every take. They ‘wilfully’ (as Ian McKellen said about Ian Holm — when making Lord of the Rings) vary what they do to give the director options in the cut.

This is where the alternate endings that end up on DVDs come from. From this exact same process. The director may film more than one ending, because they don’t know how the story is going to play out, they don’t know if the pacing will work, they don’t know if the producers will accept a bleak ending, they don’t know until they have made the film. And since the ending is filmed and done and dusted, well you may as well stick it on the DVD as an extra. That’s a no-brainer.

In text — well novels really, yeah…look, I know these publishing execs have a great deal of experience and are, obviously, very smart people, but…um…have they any idea about how a novel actually works?

Just in case they need a heads-up, I’ll explain.

This is how a novel works. Every scene, every scrap of dialogue, every piece of action, every bit of fore-shadowing, every character interaction, every bit of weather, every setting, every damn thing that survives the editing process and ends up in the finished novel does service to the plot and make the ending of the story emotionally satisfying to the reader. That is a novelist’s duty. We don’t always manage it, but that is our aim.

Alternate endings will destroy what we have tried to create. They will make whole sections of dialogue nonsensical or irrelevant. They will make action scenes seem trite and unrealistic (because if we need alternate endings we can’t kill off characters that need to be killed off because we need them for the alternate ending). They will make foreshadowing a series of red-herrings that are never explained. They will make character interactions bland and boring (because everything will have to be left open to allow for different endings). Even the weather may have to be moderated so there are no extremes just to help keep the ending open. And of course settings will have to be rendered either very sketchily indeed or in so much detail that every single possible interaction between the character and the environment is possible.

Most importantly of all, we will be breaking our trust with the reader. Clever is not the same as honest. A writer seeks honesty, honesty to the prose, to the plot, to the characters. We seek to show the truth through the prism of our own understanding. Readers know this, that is why they read books instead of watching a film or playing a game.

Alternate endings are clever, even philosophical profound. Hmmm. Would they be nihilistic, existential, or solipsistic? I suppose that would depend on the author.

I’m not saying that a genius writer at the top of their game could not write a novel where the different endings actually enhance the story, where they alter the way it is read, where they change the way the reader understands the world. But I seriously doubt there will be many novelists of that calibre alive at any one time.

So, publishers, please, for the sake of the art-form I love, and the craft I have learned, and for my own sanity, stop talking about alternate bloody endings for novels.

Unless of course, you want to write the damn thing yourself.

PK’s Caveats: Caveat 1: I may not know what I’m blathering about. Caveat 2: There are no rules about writing, there are just things you can get terribly wrong. Caveat 3: If people apply the words never or always to storytelling techniques, ignore them.

First posted to ‘of Altered States’: http://www.ofalteredstates.com/blog/

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A Brand Is For Life?

This is about fiction writing not non-fiction.

We all know that publishers are not really the brand that readers worry about, though that might change in the future—if subscriptions take over from wholesale.

We all know that the author is the brand. The reader looks for the author’s name and then buys the book because they have enjoyed other stories by the same author.

But.

Is the actual brand the author, or the writing?

The writing is what the reader reads, not the author’s life-story. Does it matter who the author is, what they have done, how they view the world, so long as the story does its job?

I worry about being called a brand. I find this whole ‘writer as brand’ nonsense. I have two pen-names, Stephen Godden and T F Grant. One for Fantasy (Stephen Godden) and one for Science Fiction (T F Grant) because readers of Fantasy may not be readers of Science Fiction and I think it’s only fair to let them know what they are buying before they open the cover and look inside. Though, to be honest Speculative Fiction is a continuum, so there is a large chunk of either/or stuff in the middle. I suspect T F Grant will be the truly weird stuff, because ‘truly weird’ is pretty much the preserve of SF. Fantasy can be weird of course, but SF is weird based on science, that is usually mind-smackingly out there, when you come right down to it.

But even then, with pseudonyms, is the author the brand or is it the writing?

See, if you say the author is the brand then anything the author does affects the brand. There is a danger that the author’s personality becomes fixed, that they keep churning out the same stuff, because they are seen as a brand.

My personality is not a fixed point, my tastes are not fixed, and I reserve the right to change my mind about just about any thing at any time for no more reason than I feel like doing so.

But if ‘I’ am a brand then changing my tastes, my opinions, the way I interact with the world becomes part of that brand. Changing any part of it can lead to accusations of hypocrisy or—that old favourite of the ‘we-so-special’ classes—selling out.

That’s the problem with making your personality, whatever flavour it reeks of, part of your marketing process, part of your platform. You are telling people, ‘This is me. If you agree with my political views, my philosophical views, my lifestyle choices, then please buy my stories’. You are asking people to join your tribe and fight all-comers on your behalf.

Then you write something that is an exploration of some facet of the world that goes directly against what you have told your tribe you believe in, and maybe your viewpoint shifts because of the writing of that work. Because at heart that is what I—as a writer—do; I write about stuff that interests me, in a way that gets my juices going, all the while learning something new about how I see the world. Without that interest, without that excitement born of trying something I have never tried before, without that exploration, then I get bored and churn out monkey-chum.

But what happens is you write something that says the exact opposite to what you said in your last novel? What happens then? Your ‘tribe’ loses all faith in you because you told them that you were one of them. There is no room for flexibility if your brand is a fixed point. There’s a falseness to a brand, if it is built from artifice.

So my advice is to make the writing the brand. Write the best you can. Range far and wide across all the genres and sub-genres you want to explore, don’t be fixed spot, remain a moving target. Who you are is inherently part of the writing process, but don’t make it part of the branding process. Don’t make promises that you can’t keep without slumping into tedium.

Essentially, get the hell out of the way. Let the writing do the talking.

Brands are fragile. They are a shared delusion (like cyberspace: *tips hat* to Gibson). I’m a real person. I’m robust. And I reserve the right to change whenever I feel the need.

PK’s Caveats: Caveat 1: I may not know what I’m blathering about. Caveat 2: There are no rules about writing, there are just things you can get terribly wrong. Caveat 3: If people apply the words never or always to storytelling techniques, ignore them.

First posted to ‘of Altered States’: http://www.ofalteredstates.com/blog/

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Century or decade? Who knows?

This habit of using the **00s to refer to an entire century is really quite irritating.

It’s a good idea for your prose to be clear. The story may be ambiguous, the narrator may be unreliable, but the readers should not be scratching their heads about what the sentences actually mean.

1800s (for instance) could refer to a single decade (1800 -1809) or the entire 19th century. I have to look at context to figure it out. And these days writers sometimes don’t even supply the context.

I know it must be hard to remember that 18** happened in the 19th century (I’ve fallen foul of this myself. It can be embarrassing) but that is no excuse for sloppy ambiguous writing that leaves the readers scratching their heads.

PK’s Caveats: Caveat 1: I may not know what I’m blathering about. Caveat 2: There are no rules about writing, there are just things you can get terribly wrong. Caveat 3: If people apply the words never or always to storytelling techniques, ignore them.

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Filed under General rants., Style and Voice

The Difference between Planners and Pantsers is:

Not that pantsers are somehow organic and spontaneous while outliners are staid and rigid.

No, the difference is that Planners can leave the plan. They are able to just busk away from their outline whenever they need to.

Pantsers (and I can only really speak for myself here) can’t do that. We take the plan as The Plan and have to follow it. Therefore we don’t plan and hence we don’t have to follow it.

PK’s Caveats: Caveat 1: I may not know what I’m blathering about. Caveat 2: There are no rules about writing, there are just things you can get terribly wrong. Caveat 3: If people apply the words never or always to storytelling techniques, ignore them.

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Filed under General rants., Pantsing and Planning