Friday, May 29, 2009

That Madness to My Method in the Spring

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I have a long-standing fascination with the strange, the surreal, and the mad. I like themes of alienation and miscomprehension, mysteries that will never be solved within the scope of a story because they can never be solved. I like the idea of writing characters who aren't quite sane, either because they see things that aren't there and think thoughts that don't make any sense, or because they are the only ones who do see what's there and think the things that no one else dares.

If you know me in real life (and as you can probably guess from my blogging style), the real me is also fond of the off-beat, the eccentric, and the strange. I like to spice up my day with a little of the surreal once in a while. Nowadays I think it's a charming affectation, though I confess that in my youth it was a pretty obnoxious habit. Is it a good thing or a bad thing that my 4th grade students are fond of my invisible wolves, tales of mechanical ceiling-dwelling spiders, and penchant for handing out super powers?

Anyway, I've been known to approach these themes in roleplaying as well. A long-running Storyteller character in Dark Days, an Exalted game I've been running for the Abigail for about three years now is Zacharias, a (formerly) mad prophet of a Sidereal. Some of Zacharias's stranger comments ("very unprofessional... very, very unprofessional") have become relationship in-jokes. More importantly, despite beginning his career as a frustration for the Abigail's character (and the Abigail), he grew on us, to the point that the Abigail's character successfully derailed my plot, stopped me from killing him off, and quested to have his mind restored to him at great potential personal cost.

Other ideas to this effect drift through my head on a fairly regular basis. Magicians who have lost the ability to dream, granting them the power to create illusions at the cost of being a little crazy? A kingdom's last oracle, uncontrollably taken by fits in which she speaks prophesy, questing to prevent the doom so terrible that killed her entire family when they accidentally foresaw it? A homeless person in San Francisco trying to save a friendly cop from the lovecraftian horrors that took his mind? Golden.

Now, I know full well that real life mental illness is nothing to laugh at. What do I find so fascinating about psychological disease's fantastic cousin?

Part of it is probably just early exposure. One of my favorite parts of Madeline L'Engle's A Wind in the Door is the mad, scary scene where the angel takes on the Ecthroi, and my favorite vignette from A Swiftly Tilting Planet is Charles Wallace's soujorn in the body of Chuck Maddox, during which he must attempt to achieve his goal despite the body's severe brain damage. There's something about the struggle to make sense of the world when the world stops making sense and the challenge of effecting a change in the world when cause and effect break down that I find thrillingly elemental.

Part of it is certainly related to my experience of life. Blah blah blah, crazy family; the long and the short of it is that I often feel that I've had to create myself and my world without outside help (without any sane outside help, anyway). I see a thematic connection between that experience and a story about a character dealing with a world - or a self - that just doesn't click in a fundamental way.

The last and most important reason is the concept I named this blog after: the burning zeppelin experience, the moment of truth and drama where a character or a relationship is tested, burned, and purified. Narrative alchemy against a backdrop of magic powers and ray guns. I can't think of any struggle more powerful than the struggle of the higher part of the self against the lower. Fundamentally, that's what madness is: a mind full of possibilities struggling with the flawed brain that houses it.

And speaking of flawed brains, mine wants lunch. So, that's all for now.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Grappling with Allegory

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*Bing Bing!*

"In this corner, completer four freelance rpg contracts, author of countless short stories, and new online sensation, the captain of the burning zeppelin.... Maaaaaark Simmons!"

"And in this corner, as old as dirt and twice as mean, often mocked, but never ignored... Aaaaallegory!"

*Bing Bing!*

* * *

In case you haven't noticed, I have a bit of a chip on my shoulder when it comes to fantastic fiction. I have spent a lot of my life being told that it is ultimately meaningless, or at least less meaningfull than "conventional" fiction. I've come to realize that this attitude is nothing but base maturismo and has no place in my worldview, but sometimes I'm still insecure. Even though I've read fantastic novels and short stories that have changed my life, even though so-called "genre fiction" is the fastest growing segment of book publishing and television producing, I still badly want my stories to mean something.

This trips me up sometimes. When is an allegory too obvious? When does a story about a big issue become too preachy? Is it all in the details, or are some story ideas just too damned issuey and best left alone?

The wonderful folk at Answers.com define allegory as "the representation of abstract ideas or principles by characters, figures, or events in narrative, dramatic, or pictorial form." Wikipedia lists C.S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia, Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials, and Albert Camus's The Stranger, among others (listing only a sampling of those I've read myself), as examples of literary allegory. I'd add J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings to the list, as well as many others. Tamora Pierce, for example, writes some brilliant allegories into her work, but she basically does everything right, so that's not surprising.

Some of these are better than others.

In my opinion, Lewis comes across as preachy (but fun) and Pullman as bitter and pushy (but zeppelins), whereas Tolkien's novels seem much more honest. All three writers are equally enmeshed in various views of religion, and expressing those views was a conscious goal in their creative process. How and why do these series occur so differently for me, and what can I do to be more like the latter and less like the former?

In the fine tradition of such productive posts as When Someone Asks You If You're A God, You Say..., now that I've asked the question, I'm going to bring the discussion down to the specific.

When I first started this blog, I had this idea that I was going to keep it apolitical... but I don't think it's working. In case you haven't noticed yet, I'm more than a little liberal. I'm sort of a raging leftist. In fact, I'm basically a communist. It's not my fault; I went to Oberlin. I have an idea of how the world should be and I'm going to do my damndest to make it so. Confession time: among the many issues that are near and dear to my heart (which is full of righteous indignation) is gay rights, starting with marriage equality and ending with not making more than a tenth of our population feel lousy about themselves for something that is inherent, beautiful and necessary, and extremely private. I have queer friends and I will cry at their government-recognized weddings, damnit!

In any case, I've been nursing an idea for a story for - wow - years now that's an expression of how I feel about all this. Only, every time I start to talk about it I get this queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach and a from the bowels of my brain tells me "this is hokey, this is preachy, they're all going to laugh at you!"

The long and the short of it (even writing this is hard - if I finish this paragraph it's a huge testament to my courage): a world where mankind has divided itself into three tribes - Sun, Earth, and Moon - based on sexuality, from which is also derived the varieties of magic someone can access. Set against each other by an ancient conflict, these three tribes have created a situation where everyone is miserable. Women are chattle in the Sun Tribe, men are second class citizens in Earth Tribe, the Moon Tribe survives in exile and hates everyone else, and those who reveal themselves as belonging in a different tribe than the one to which they are usually killed. Only by discovering where they really belong and leading the tribes to an overdue reunion can Our Heroes save the day (and incidentally find love and happiness). Yes, it's a fantasy world based on Aristophanes's parable of sexuality by way of "The Origin of Love" from Hedwig and the Angry Inch. It would probably be a YA title if I can ever find anyone to publish it. I am an enormous dork.

[I did it! I finished the paragraph! I win!]

This is clearly some very heavy stuff, but I want very badly for the story to work. At the same time, I don't want it to be preachy and heavy handed. I want the characters to be real. I want this story to be meaningful and change hearts and minds. I want to write The Stranger, not The Chronicles of Narnia.

I understand the basics - write real characters, write a deep setting, make it a matter of people and life, not "good guys" and "bad guys" - but I can't shake the feeling that this one's too big, this idea is too heavy, and in the end, Allegory is going to mop the floor with me.

*Bing Bing!*

* * *

  • What are your favorite fantastic allegories? What made them good?
  • Where have you seen an attempt at allegory fall flat on its face? What made it bad?
  • What do you suggest I do with this problematic idea of mine (other than "write it, stupid!" - I know that already)?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Burning Humility Experience: Conclusions

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The Burning Humility Experience is over. I have read Stephanie Meyer's Twilight from cover to godforsaken cover, and now I can say whatever I want to about it. What I have to say is this:

Actually, Twilight wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be.

One of my initial criticisms of the novel was that it is, essentially, a guidebook for abused women. Bella spends the entire book passively accepting Edward's abuse: his emotional flip-flopping, his thinly veiled threats, and his insults. She has pathologically poor self esteem and agrees with him when he implies that she is stupid, weak, and generally pitiful. She is so dazzled that someone as gorgeous as Edward is supposed to be wants someone as generally awful as her that she takes whatever he dishes out. I kept on waiting for Edward to start hitting Bella, and for Bella to fall to her knees and start apologizing.

I don't retract my initial impression, but I do have additional thoughts. My fiance the Abigail's (I never get tired of saying that!) mother, a sex and relationship therapist, noted that what I saw as a guidebook for abuse sounded to her like a simple D/s (domination and submission) fantasy. As a kink-friendly sex-positive fantasist, who am I to stand in the way of kinky teens getting their sub on? I still wish that Meyer had been a little more aware about the book's D/s sensibilities - a little self-conscious nod to "this is ridiculous, a fantasy, and no one should really live this way" - but I feel that criticism of the book as destructive is probably a little hysterical.

I have been told by some who have read the rest of the Twilight series that the books become increasingly creepy, until the kinky fun defense no longer applies. However, as all I've read is the first book, I cannot directly comment.

That said, I still don't recommend Twilight. I thought the prose was blocky and awkward, the plot plodding and awkward, and the main characters unsympathetic, obnoxious, and (in the case of Bella, anyway) awkward. A sexy D/s sensibility is no excuse to reduce your main character to a mere observer in her own story - not because it's antifeminist, because it's boring. The most exciting stuff in a story should never happen offscreen.

Reading Twilight wasn't the unmitigated horror I feared, but if you want to get your kinky undead romance on, I recommend the early Anne Rice vampire novels.

* * *

This Burning Humility Experience was brought to you by world-saving educator Becca, award-winning author Diane Duane, and all-compassionate therapist-in-training (and my fiance!) the Abigail. Special thanks go out to Stephanie Meyer, my men's team, and everyone else who has ever called me on talking about books I haven't read: you're right, and I'm done.

God bless and good night.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Good News from the Zeppelin

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On Monday, May 11th, 2008, in Oberlin, OH, I asked the Abigail if she would marry me.

It wasn't that simple, of course. After being warned by my brother that something bad was happening, the Abigail had to find the magic ring where I had stashed it at the local games and comic store, Infinite Monkeys. Then she had to follow the clues to find out where I had hidden myself, arriving just in time to rescue me from ninjas. She had help from Jon, her occult expert, and Jacob, who was shifty. Of course, at our tearful reunion, when I asked the Abigail if she would be my wife, she said yes. After all that, how could she not?

And if you don't believe that we really are that dorky, check out the Abigail's livejournal.

In any case, the Abigail and my impending nuptials lead to a fascinating conversation, closely related to our discussion of girl fantasy. As pointed out by the Abigail's sex-therapist mother, why is it that no one in today's popular genre fiction - television especially - there are no long-term relationships that contain both happiness and good sex?

Now, I understand that having a single main character is an important choice, and it's popular for a lot of good reasons. A main character's dating habits can be a great way to hook new characters into the story, and the ups and downs of relationships can be a great source of drama. It doesn't bother me that a lot of main characters are unattached teenagers and 20-somethings. However, it gets old when every main character's friends, parents, mentors, and so on are divorced, undatable, or trapped in unhappy marriages.

Let's test my theory on some iconic geek tv shows. Buffy? Blargh. Lost? I'm surprised that anyone on that show can committ to a single long-distance carrier (with Penny and Desmond as a possible exception). Heroes had a dramatic super-powered couple, but first they were unhappy, and then they were dead.

For that matter, there is a lot of drama to be found in testing a long term committed relationship. Comitted couples are still open to temptation and disagreements, and every writer knows how much tension you can milk out of putting one member of a relationship of any kind in peril. You don't need a boyfriend of the week (or season) to have dramatic, sexy stories.

At least, that's what I'd like the people who write genre tv to figure out.

Moving on to books, a lot of fantastic fiction has romance, some of it has sex, and almost all of it but stops right before marriage. As usual, Tamora Pierce gets the Burning Zeppelin Award for Doing Everything Right. Although some of her stories stop at or before marriage, others continue to show characters dealing with the ups and downs of long term romantic life. Even those books that don't end some time after the wedding contain happy romances happening in the background. I find a lot of Pierce's fiction a welcomed change of pace.

What's going on? Frankly, I think it's laziness. Somewhere along the line, someone figured out that it was just easier to write drama in totally changeable situations and easier to hook readers into characters who are sad and lonely all the time. Easier, sure, but more rewarding? As a reader myself, I don't think so.

And as a fiancé, I'm frustrated. I've had enough of the dashing single heroes wooing the women and leaving at first light. I want a hero who reminds me of me, fighting evil alongside his best friend and partner.

(That last sentence is for the Abigail. It'll make her smile.)

Friday, May 8, 2009

Burning the Midnight Zeppelin: Girl Fantasy

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Wow, this post is coming in late. That's going to happen a lot this month.

* * *

On the way to Cleveland, the Abigail and I got into a conversation about women in fantastic television. The results were rather morbid.

Dollhouse has a strong female character, but no female heroes. Adele may be tough, but she's no hero, not even a problematic one. Echo/Caroline's struggle is certainly heroic, but she lacks a persistent self; she can't be a hero because she isn't a person. If the show continues in the direction its headed - if the show continues, period - Echo's emergent metapersonality might eventually become a hero, but right now it's barely there at all. The real heroes of the piece are Ballard and Boyd.

Of course, Dollhouse has an excuse. Dollhouse is, in part, about slavery, and in America right now, most slavery is sexual. If the Dollhouse technology existed, we'd use it to screw, and it would be largely (not entirely, but largely) men who'd use it. It's hard to provide a huge number of female heroes in a show about female sexual slavery. Agent Ballard can't be a woman because he needs to have an attraction/revulsion connection to Caroline (and unfortunately, I don't think most of TV watching America is ready for the lesbian-driven cop story - the assholes), and Boyd needs to be Ballard's other number, his counterpart and his nemesis. In a culture that still primarily identifies people through gender, Boyd and Ballard sharing a chromosome is very important. Dollhouse isn't entirely out of the woods, but I'll cut it some slack.

Furthermore, Dollhouse keeps undermining it's one strong female character. At first, Adele is a tough, no-nonsense, take-charge lady. Then it turns out that Adele isn't really in charge, that there's a mysterious "sir" that she answers to, and then it turns out that her sexual desires undermine her and the only way to regain her strength is to forswear them. Way to be uncomfortable with female sexuality, Joss.

In Lost, on the other hand, we have many female leads. Some of them are even powerful. However, a closer examination reveals a frightening pattern. Consider attachment to plot. Who drives the story in Lost? Who makes plans and carries them out? Who is attached to the story? Right now Locke, Jack, Sawyer and Weaselface.... I mean, Ben are the movers and shakers. Kate and Juliet are attachments, always seeking powerful characters to follow and be protected by.

I will grant that Sun is the exception, though I feel she proves the rule. Sun is self-driven, and the fact that it is in pursuit of her husband doesn't really bother me. Love is a great motivator.

There is a lot of television I don't watch. I can't talk about what's going on in Fringe, for example. My friend Jon wants me to start watching True Blood, but that's another show I haven't seen yet (except for the incredibly evocative opening credits), though Jon, sitting across from me at the Abigail's uncle's table, informs me that it's no better. I see a pattern, and it bothers me. I see that female characters can only be strong for so long before the writers begin undermining them. I see that the characters that drive the plot tend to be male and women are relegated to secondary attachment. I see that sex weakens women and strengthens men (except in the rare cases that it demonizes them - see anything by Joss Whedon). All of this isn't true of any one show, but a lot of it seems to be true of many shows, across the board.

What the hell is up with that?

Turning to literature, I see that the situation is a little better. We have luminaries like Tamora Pierce and Diane Duane who write women who can be strong without men having to be weak. I get similar vibes from Jennifer Roberson and Garth Nix - see the former for a series that turns sword and sorcery on its head, inverting some of the core assumptions without losing the essential feel, and the latter for some really exciting female heroes. There are others - Neil Gaiman, for example - but there's also a lot of crap.

The long and the short of it is that I'm finally seeing the need for some powerful female heroes, and I'm bemoaning what seems like a lack of it outside of the rather limited subgenre of young adult, girl-oriented novels. I want to see stronger female characters on television. I want to see stronger female characters in young adult novels not directed primarily at girls. I want to see stronger female characters in novels marketed to adults.

Apart from giving myself the usual answer - write it yourself, shithead - what's up with this disparity?

I think what I'm seeing is the dregs of a sexist culture, pernicious shreds of sexism clinging to a people who have done a lot of work, but still have a long way to go. The tropes are against us, and it's difficult to escape them. Female heroes still need to do battle with a vast and terrible host of damsels in distress, scheming women and their dangerous sexy, bleeding hearts who go all mushy whenever a baby enters the picture, and a gaggle of equally silly stereotypes. All it takes is one lazy moment and the tropes rise up and devour you. Television is more susceptible to this phenomenon than books because TV shows are written by comittee and stupidity arises in groupthink, and also because, as the Abigail assures me, Hollywood is still an incredibly sexist place (she's studied this thing - take it up with her if you disagree). A book, on the other hand, really only takes one person, and writers live all over.

I'm glad we have what we have in literature, but I'm also looking forward to when fantastic television realizes that it's time to grow up.

The Invisible Post

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As I'm sure you noticed, there wasn't a Burning Zeppelin post yesterday. As I'm sure a lot of you know, the Abigail and I are running around Cleveland for our friend Rebecca's wedding (which will be followed by Boston for the Abigail's sister's graduation and New York for my brother's graduation). I hadn't thought that this-all would get in the way of the Burning Zeppelin, but that was before our flight got in slightly late, we got magnificently lost on the way to the Abigail's uncle's house. I passed out within minutes of finally settling in for the night.

Of course, that's just the story. The long and the short of it is that I didn't post yesterday, and I'm sorry.

Watch this place for a post later this day.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Contestation

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Hark!

Fantasy Magazine is hosting a contest: write a ten sentence (or shorter) story based on an image prompt of your choice. Fantasy Magazine must be able to post the image alongside the story if you win, whether it's because the image is Creative Commons, your own creation, or because you bought the rights from the artist. The work of the three winners will be published in Fantasy Magazine. Fans will then vote to determine which of the three is the super-winner. What the super-winner wins (beyond bragging rights) is not yet clear.

In addition to letting you all know about this because I want each and every one of you (whoever you are) to enter this contest, I have a question. You see, I am going to enter this contest, but I don't know where I can find inspirational pictures.

Does anyone know where in the web I can find some good Creative Commons artwork?

This game is on.

Wednesday Bonus Brilliance

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Listen to this.

Now.

I will reflect upon it later, but I can't right now. It was too powerful. For now, you just need to experience it for yourself.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Slow Day`

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It's a slow day here at the Zeppelin. Lots of working on redlines and getting ready to take a California teaching test in New York (long story)... and nothing to say.

A blogger with nothing to say? Blasphemy!

That's life, I suppose. But never fear, for I will never fail to divert you. Today, please have a look at Paper and Dice, where the gentleman and scholar Montgomery Mullen talks about how he deals with elves and Elf Rage. I'm always pleased when something I write makes a splash in the blogosphere, doubly so when it's Mr. Mullen, who I can always count on to take any idea the most exciting direction possible.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Scientists Killed My Puppy

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Yesterday, as I rode back from my teaching on the Peninsula, I listened to more PodCastle, as I am still blessed with a huge backlog of episodes. Listening ot PodCastle is almost always a good experience. I enjoy more than 90% of what PodCastle puts out, and the rare story I don't like is usually more of a "meh" than a "blech."

The first episode I listened to was Dragon Hunt by Sarah Prineas, which I enjoyed reasonably well. It was a fun, clever little story that hinted at more stories to come (just the way I like it) and the reading was well done; it asn't brilliant, but not every story can or should be. Then, because my commute is an hour and a half in total, I listened to De La Tierra by Emma Bull.

Blech.

Incidentally, if you plan on reading or listening to De La Tierra and care about spoilers - much as it pains me to say this - now would be a good time to stop reading. Allow me to instead recommend this io9 article about real-life superheroes patrolling Cincinnati.

I'm as surprised as anyone. Normally, I love Emma Bull. War for the Oaks blew my mind and I can't wait to read Territory and Freedom and Necessity (with Stephen Brust, another author I have loved for a very long time). However, I really couldn't stand De La Tierra, and here's why:

The Parable of the Twins: An Absurdity
By Mark Simmons

Once upon a time, a pregnant woman was running through the woods. She was being pursued by something terrible, something huge and scaly and dripping and awful. Perhaps it was the Internal Revenue Service or the Employment Development Department. In any case, it was so awful that she had to keep running, even though she was extremely pregnant.

Finally, she could run no more. She hid in a hollow tree trunk and gave birth to a pair of beautiful twins. She named one of them Fantasy and the other Science Fiction, hid them in the leaves, and ran off. The IRS/EDD probably ate her or something, but at this point she stops being important to the story.

What is important is that her children were not raised together. Science Fiction was found by a couple of hikers and taken to safety and civilization. Fantasy was raised by wolves.

As a result of her rather measured upbringing, Science Fiction grew into a rather reasonable and likable woman. She is primarily a sociologist, though she likes to keep up to date with new developments in science, especially biology, medicine, and engineering. She's also fascinated by the idea of space flight and dreams of the alien races and strange interstellar phenomenon mankind will one day encounter. She has a pretty pragmatic view of science; some scientific developments will turn out for the best and some are probably a bad idea, but science can't be stopped. We'll have to take the good with the bad and hope that humanity can figure things out.

Fantasy probably would have grown up similarly, but when he was fifteen, his wolf parents were killed by scientists. Fantasy doesn't know why - perhaps it was part of a long-standing feud between scientists and wolves, perhaps it was merely an accident - but Fantasy has harbored a grudge ever since. He hates science and everything to do with it.

What can come of this? Only a tragedy of epic proportions. When Fantasy and Science fiction meet...

In case you haven't guessed, I am extremely frustrated with what I see as a bias against science and the modern world in fantasy. It's not that I'm terribly fond of science - I am reasonably fond of the phenomenon, but that isn't it - it's that it's so damned predictable. Whenever a fantasy story involves a clash between the modern and the ancient, the scientific and the magical, I can practically guarantee that science will be painted as villainous and magic as ideal. Sure, faeries kidnap children and replace them with horrible simulacrums, dragons will eat your village, and ancient curses will turn you into a wombat, but science... science will make your life predictable. Science will make it likely that you will live past fifty and be survived by all your children.

How horrible.

It is when this metaphor is extended to "the modern world" that it becomes most aggravating. First of all, again, I'm rather fond of the modern world. It might be fun to pretend various medievalesque motifs from time to time, but I'm glad that in my real life I have antibiotics, running water, and rights.

Secondly, "the modern world" almost invariably means "the white, Western modern world," and that's exactly the trap Emma Bull fell into in De La Tierra (you didn't think I was gonna pull this rant back to the topic, did you?).

De La Tierra tells the story of a young Latino in Los Angeles who has become a killer for a group of Standard European Fae (SEFs) - tall, willowy, impossibly beautiful WASPs - and his targets are Genius Loci fae from South and Central America. At the beginning of the story, our hero has style. It's a bleak cyberpunk (faepunk?) sort of style, a man full of magical implants that give him information, control his mood, and enable him to do battle with beings that are far out of his league. He's a reluctant warrior in a battle to protect Los Angeles from beings that want to suck out its natural magical resources, fighting monsters he doesn't understand, on behalf of beings he can't understand.

The long and the short of it, though is that our hero discovers that his targets are really just fleeing ecological devestation in their homelands and hoping to set up shop in the United States. The problems the SEFs point to as evidence that there are too many invaders is actually the result of their own depredations and the lack of crunchy granola South American faeries. And after all, aren't the SEFs the real invaders? Once he recovers from losing his battle, our hero ditches it all - his style, his snark, his magic - and heads south to wander the wilderness of South and Central America, making offerings to the fae and teaching them how to avoid guys like him so their invasion can succeed.

This isn't even the biggest plot hole, just the most interesting. The biggest is that all it takes is a few insistent words on the part of his target to turn him around, and if that's all it was going to take, how has he been doing this job for years?

What bothers me is that the main character abandons everything he is to become everything he should be. The color of his skin and the language his grandma speaks tells us all we need to know about who he really is, what he really should be doing with his life. The modern world and its conveniences - the jazz bars he dreams of playing saxaphone in - is not his destiny. Being the slave of incomprehensible beings is his destiny. What is supposed to make this story anything but a twisted tragedy is that in the end he's the slave of the right incomprehensible beings.

Here we have it: magic and marginilized ethnicities vs. science and "the mainstream." Magic wins. Predictable, boring, and essentializing.

I know it hurt when those scientists killed your parents, Fantasy, but you've got to get over it.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Call Her "Flashfinger" Lafferty

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Fingertips, by They Might be Giants, is a set of 21 tiny songs, meant to be randomly interspersed throughout Apollo 18 when the album is played on shuffle.

Mur Lafferty is the brilliant creator of I Should be Writing, an author, blogger, podcaster, and all-around geek demigod.

What do you get when you put them together? They Should Be Giants? I Might Be Writing (ok, that one strikes a little close to home...)?

Actually, you get a set of fun little stories. Mur Lafferty has taken it upon herself to craft a short story for every one of Fingertips' songlets. One of them, Wreck My Car, caught my attention (via Twitter, further proof that Twitter is the coolest thing ever), and it ought to catch yours, too.

What has this got to do with the Burning Zeppelin Experience? Not a hell of a lot, except that today is a rushed day and I'm throwing a link at you rather than a real post.

That said, I have always been amused and fascinated by the strange places authors get their inspirations from. Riffing off faerie tales and Shakespeare? Dreams and nightmares? The mumblings of blind idiot oracles residing beneath the streets of San Jose? They Might Be Giants songlet titles? Man, it's all cool.

Where does your inspiration come from?

More importantly, this phenomenon can be mined - like pretty much everything Mur Lafferty does - for useful and compelling wisdom. You don't hear Mur Lafferty talking about getting her inspiration from any one thing. I've never heard I Should Be Writing talk about how Mur gets all her ideas from music, or dreams, or faerie tales, or blind idiot oracles (plus, the flight from North Virginia to San Jose would get really expensive). Mur doesn't wait for inspiration to come to her, she goes off hunting for it, and that's something we should all use.

Now it's time for me to get back to my redlines. And you? You should be giants.