Trying to get my thoughts in order…

Over the weekend I watched four Star Trek films: 5 (The Final Frontier), 6 (The Undiscovered Country), 7 (Generations), and 8 (First Contact). I hadn’t seen any of them for at least a couple of years, and I found my reactions to some had changed, and some had stayed the same.

TFF I still like, though of course it has serious flaws of structure (too jokey in the middle, and the journey to the God planet too short and easy). But I like the character stuff, and the way they are tearing down idols in the manner of TOS.
TUC I find I like less than I did in younger years: apart from dinner with the Klingons and the “are we obsolete” scene, I find it hard to like. There are a lot of things about it that niggle at me, but then we could say that of almost any Trek film. I haven’t been able to figure out why this one rubs me the wrong way, but there it is.
GEN was a lot better than I previously thought; much has been made of the plot problems of the Nexus and Kirk’s death, but if we can accept these then there is a lot to like. The first 40 minutes are great; after this the level remains, on average, very good. We could wish for Kirk to end another way, but the intentions of the writers and actors were sincere, and I find that counts for something.
FC doesn’t impress me as much as it used to, now that I’ve become familiar with its plot; the various strands of the plot don’t add up to a lot, and I find I don’t much care about Picard or Data’s encounters with the Borg. (And once again the “we don’t use money in the future” speech seems unbelievable to me)

Now, what elements are there in common among the films I like, and the films I don’t? I think a large part of it may be to do with grandeur of scale, both physical and thematic.

TUC and FC feel relatively small in scale:
Despite the distances supposedly travelled in TUC, it seems like all the locations are in ready reach of each other (Earth, Kronos, Rura Penthe, Khitomer), and travel between them is easy and brief. The Kronos court room, the mines, and the conference hall all feel too small in scale (though for some reason the Klingon ship interior is HUGE). The interior of the Enterprise is widely explored, but only in the bathetic search for boots (and mashed potatoes).
FC is set on Earth, admittedly Earth of the past, but as usual with time travel stories the mechanism is basically ‘press X for past, press Y for future’. The lack of effort in the travel means I don’t feel impressed by the change in time-location. Also, the new Enterprise feels very cramped and small in scale for some reason.

Both these stories are very grounded in politics and military operations. Cochrane’s flight should be an exception to this, but unfortunately it is commandeered by Riker, who barks orders at Cochrane and gives off the attitude that space flight is mundane.

TFF and GEN by contrast deal with larger things:
In TFF, Nimbus III feels like a neglected outpost very remote from civilization. Just the look and attitude of things there suggest it’s a long difficult journey to reach it. The subsequent journey to galactic centre is sadly much too easy, but there is still a sense of moving from one kind of space to a very different one, and then stepping onto an alien world.
GEN has its roaming anomaly, which regularly traverses the entire galaxy every few years. The initial encounter has an impressively vast appearance, and the later stellar cartography scene gives a sense of the interstellar distances and forces that are involved in this story. The crash of the saucer-section is not as impressive as the film-makers hoped, and neither is the part of the story set in the Nexus, but the mountain peak Soran has chosen as his launch site is convincingly arid, rugged and remote.
There is also an unusual sense of temporal scale, with long-lived (immortal?) characters connecting the two periods of the story, and Kirk meeting Picard not by travelling through time, but by a kind of shortcut through “God’s waiting room”.

In contrast to the previous mentioned films, TFF and GEN are concerned with metaphysical themes:
TFF is essentially about a religious pilgrimage, along the way raising questions about the nature of God and faith, and the necessity of suffering, and it also touches on Vulcan philosophy.
GEN too is essentially a religious investigation: what is Nexus if not a physically observable Heaven? The harmonious wish fulfilment of heavenly life is compared unfavourably with the potential moral advancement of reality, in which suffering is balanced by the possibility of “making a difference”. Confining the minds of those caught in the Nexus, Heaven is smaller than the universe, rather than being infinite.

I guess we can deduce from my speculations the sorts of stories that interest me. Although I’m not much interested in morality tales of the ‘tolerance=good!’ sort, I like stories that reflect on the nature of life and humanity. OTOH I imagine that these same contemplative aspects might be, for other Trek fans, irrelevant or even a source of distaste.

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Amanda Lewis has written a hagiography of the novelist Haruki Murakami, and apparently believes he deserves the Nobel prize. Let’s overlook that the prize is historically a badge of ephemerality, of middle-brow worthiness, of mediocrity.

Lewis believes Haruki Murakami became a more important writer when he got a message to convey. She helpfully summarises his message: individuals are more important than groups, individual perception is more important than historical truth or fact, violence is caused by depersonalisation of individuals. Well, that’s handy. Now we have the message, we don’t need to read the books.

One point of Haruki Murakami’s that Lewis emphasises near the end of her essay is that fact is near-worthless next to hearsay. It is somehow more “true”. Well, of course we are familiar with the idea that a poetic truth has more value, or is more profound than a mundane fact of reality. But it’s not necessarily true. Things that we call profound SEEM important; their actual importance is another thing.

For example, in Murakami’s “After the quake” he says (says Lewis) that the only person emotionally affected by news of a distant earthquake is a four-year-old girl, who has “hysterical fits” after watching news reports, because she has not yet learned the apathy of adults. Wow, what a deep truth about the innocence of childhood and moral degradation of adulthood. Except that a girl who had such fits would be extremely unusual, as four-year-olds feel very little empathy except for people who are close to them. The author’s great “truth” is a cheap poetic device conceived by someone who doesn’t know much about how people’s minds really work. The fact that he is “socially conscious” does not vindicate him. His “truth” is vacuous and inane.

At the end of the essay, Lewis relates some anecdotes about encountering the “Japanese mind”, but is unable to relate this to Haruki Murakami’s thesis in the obvious way: he has developed concern for the value of overlooked individual experience, contrasted with his previous self-professed contempt for the “masses”. But Lewis’s anecdotes show that most people don’t want to be individuals as much as they want to be like everyone else.

Instead of delivering a message, Murakami should be asking questions: What is the value of the individuality of a person who despises this quality in themselves? Of what value is that person, compared with a person who does not think their opinions and beliefs have universal qualities? And is “individuals have value” enough of a take-home message to entitle the novelist to a prize?
 

If you go looking for song lyrics on the internet, you’ll usually find the same version copy-pasted to every lyrics site, and if that version of the lyrics is incorrect, you’re usually just out of luck, and will probably never find out what the lyrics really are.

With that said, here are the correct lyrics for the Slowdive song Celia’s Dream:

Celia’s Dream

She flies –
She’s gone to ride an angel’s breath
Gone to taste a dream
And every time I call her
A shadow calls in vain
But she takes –
She loves it all and leaves
And everything feels free

She gives –
She told me that she loved me
Love just for a day
And all the time I feel her
I feel her fade away
But she takes –
She gives it all and fades
And everything feels good
The clouds like shadows pass
She’s passing like the day

She takes –
She gives it all and leaves
And everything feels good
The clouds like shadows pass
She’s passing like the day

I’ve read this complaint in a few places; I’m not sure if it’s the opinion of several different people or just one nut who gets around a lot. Basically, some people get very self-righteous about novels, movies, etc. that disobey the vampire “rules”: vampires should not go out in daylight! Vampires should be allergic to garlic! Vampires should not sparkle!!!!!!!!!!ONE

The first argument against this attitude is that we are not talking about the laws of physics here, but about fictional, magical beings. It doesn’t make a vampire less believable to say they can walk in daylight than it does to say they live on human blood. All that is required is for the story to be internally consistent.

The second problem is the supposition that artists should subordinate their imagination to the rule of an external judge. That’s a sure way to kill creativity, especially if the imposed standards are essentially arbitrary.

The fact is that most conventions of vampire fiction were invented by writers over the last couple of centuries (as opposed to coming from folklore), and many are silly or at least outdated: Fear of crucifixes makes little sense in our irreligious age. And are you going to demand that vampires not be able to cross running water? In that case, that’ll pretty much put an end to the genre, thanks to modern plumbing and drainage. And then there is the lore that vampires have numeromania and if you throw a handful of wheat the vamp must stop to count the grains – a story that consistently enforced that rule would be a comedy, not a horror.

The best thing is to judge a work by its success or failure in dramatic terms, not by its adherence to formulaic rules. So I have no problem with any variation on the vampire myths. Sparkly vamps aren’t personally my thing, but whatever floats your boat is fine by me.

 

Bound to be controversial 😀

En dash versus em dash

The en dash is wider than the hyphen but not as wide as the em dash. An em width is defined as the point size of the currently used font, since the M character is not always the width of the point size. In running text, various dash conventions are employed: an em dash—like so—or a spaced em dash — like so — or a spaced en dash – like so – can be seen in contemporary publications.

Various style guides and national varieties of languages prescribe different guidance on dashes. Dashes have been cited as being treated differently in the US and the UK, with the former preferring the use of an em-dash with no additional spacing, and the latter preferring a spaced en-dash. As an example of the US style, The Chicago Manual of Style still recommends unspaced em dashes. Style guides outside of the US tend to diverge from this guidance. For example, the Canadian The Elements of Typographic Style recommends the spaced en dash – like so – and argues that the length and visual magnitude of an em dash “belongs to the padded and corseted aesthetic of Victorian typography.” In the United Kingdom, the spaced en dash is the house style for certain major publishers, including the Penguin Group, the Cambridge University Press, and Routledge. But this convention is not universal. The Oxford Guide to Style (2002, section 5.10.10) acknowledges that the spaced en dash is used by “other British publishers”, but states that the Oxford University Press—like “most US publishers”—uses the unspaced em dash.

The en dash—always with spaces in running text—and the spaced em dash both have a certain technical advantage over the un-spaced em dash. …

 

As Australia tends to British rather than US customs – and there is a monopoly that essentially prohibits retailers from importing US books – I recall seeing the m-dash on the printed page only once in my life. It looked very strange to me. I still don’t like it – rather than separating words, it seems to draw them together like an extended hyphen. It also seems visually less “airy” than the UK format, somehow more oppressive on the eye.

The m-dash is rarely seen on the internet, except on websites of certain highbrow US magazines, used in an effort to duplicate the look of the printed version. The n-dash might appear then to have won – except that it is very often (almost always?) substituted with the hyphen, which is easier to type. Deceptively, WordPress is smart enough to understand my usage and correct it as required.
 

Revisited two outliers from the Alien universe:

Alien Resurrection DVD cover
ALIEN RESURRECTION

It’s interesting to think about why the later films are less successful than the first two. The first two are thematically very basic, 1. Old Dark House, 2. War movie. Any moral ambivalence lies in the human shenanigans.

The later two films tried to go deeper, in a way Hollywood isn’t set up to bring off. 3 is about acceptance of death (symbolised by the Alien), with the planet location being purgatory/hell. I basically like it, and it’s on my list of films to re-edit.

4 – they never quite figured it out. The overall plot motivation seems to be “We want another Alien movie.” There are ideas about the merging and crossing over of alien and human identities, but these are dropped into the plot sporadically, in amongst the action set-pieces and humorous interludes. The humour generally undermines the tone of the movie, and seems to be the film-maker winking at us, rather than something emerging naturally from the characters (as in the previous films). Weaver plays the human/alien hybrid character with a lot of smirking and artificial gestures, and is not particularly believable. Also, one thing that really bugs me, and always has, is Ripley providing a mercy killing – with a flame thrower! Surely a bullet to the head would have been kinder?

Thinking on the deceptive simplicity of the first two Alien films, I dug out my copy of

Alien vs. Predator DVD cover
ALIEN VS. PREDATOR

In terms of achieving its aims, this is a much more successful film than Resurrection. I just wish there had been more grandiosity and sense of plot direction in the later part of the pyramid section. In comparison with the earlier film, we could say this one is a tasty take-out burger, while Resurrection is a high-grade steak that is half raw, half burned to a crisp.

Next up, another viewing of Pitch Black, which David Twohy developed from his proposal for an Alien sequel set on the creature’s homeworld.

 

I posted this in a forum, and thought I’d put it here as well….

As someone currently attempting to complete my first novel (after numerous previous attempts), I think I’m more aware than most of the mechanics involved. Yes, I said mechanics. Characters don’t always spring into existence fully formed, especially if you are dealing with a lot of them. This is where method and technique matter just as much as inspiration.

The first thing to remember is character=story. Plugging characters into a story that has no personal meaning for them usually makes for an unsatisfactory story. Ideally, the main character’s personality will relate directly to the themes of the story and goals of the plot.

Second is character depth. The more detail a characterisation has, the more real they seem. Think about their little likes and dislikes, their happy and sad memories, their individual ways of dealing with the world. Don’t be afraid to make heroes terribly flawed – but remember to give them some underlying kindness and desire for love, or else they won’t be sympathetic.

Third is character detail. Although some scorn them, character charts can be invaluable, not only for keeping a record of your main character’s, um, characteristics, but also for ensuring your secondary characters aren’t just cardboard cutouts. Here’s one I prepared earlier:

Summary: (Age: , Sex: )
Appearance:
Personality:
Likes:
Dislikes:
Greatest desire:
Surprising fact:
Traumatic moment:
As a child:

When you fill one of these out, you’ll often notice characteristics bounce off each other and produce more character information (which can in turn help develop the plot).

If you relate a character’s personality to the plot, a lot of character detail should emerge automatically through the narrative and action, but keep an eye out for important characteristics that don’t come out that way. In this case, you should (generally) show (not tell) this characteristic. E.g. if you decide that your character has a short fuse, it’s necessary to show this play out, which requires planning: what is going to anger the character? How exactly will they react? Ideally you’ll make this scene a part of the plot, or at least part of an ongoing process of character development. The same thing applies to character relationships. If, for example, you want two characters to fall in love, you’ll need scenes that specifically show (or imply) the characters transitioning from not-love to in-love – things like finding each other attractive, realising they have the same attitudes, the same life-goals, finding that they miss each other.

I hope someone finds this useful!