Posted by midiguru on April 7, 2013
I got bored about 2/3 of the way through the first volume of Game of Thrones and never finished reading it. But the series is clearly a Big Deal in the fantasy realm, so this morning I thought I’d skip ahead and try the opening of volume 2, A Clash of Kings, to see if it had something that would spark my interest.
In the course of the first few pages, we’re treated to: an old man with a bad hip who has painfully to climb many castle stairs; a young princess with a serious facial deformity; a half-witted fool who is just pathetic, not funny; a king who is churning with resentment over the actions of his brothers and obsessed with reclaiming his rightful throne, no matter how many thousands of men have to die along the way; an envoy whose left hand has been maimed, by the king, with a meat cleaver; a queen who is tall and thin and has “prominent ears, a sharp nose, and the faintest hint of a mustache,” and who is telling the king he should kill his remaining brother; offhand recollections of a siege in which people had to eat rats; and a blood-red comet providing a nasty omen of things to come.
Given that the story is about Serious Business, we can perhaps forgive George Martin for neglecting to include so much as a trace of humor, though such neglect is bound to make the story somewhat leaden. His failure to present a character we can admire or care about is, I think, a more serious defect.
Clearly he’s doing something right. People are eating this stuff up. To me, though, it reads like gravel.
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Posted by midiguru on December 19, 2012
Another day, another book review. I was up until 2:00 this morning finishing Breakdown, the new V. I. Warshawski mystery by Sara Paretsky. I like Paretsky a lot. She writes well, and also she kind of wears it on her sleeve that she’s a liberal. Paretsky and Carl Hiaasen, another liberal who writes crime novels, are aces in my book.
As a sleuth, Warshawski is annoying but endearing. Her personal life intrudes too much into her cases, but Paretsky is nowhere near as self-indulgent in the sleuth’s-personal-life department as Sue Grafton. Grafton’s books are an unreadable mess, largely for that very reason.
After tumbling into bed, I started mulling over the loose ends in the plot of Breakdown. There’s a wicked assortment. If you don’t like spoilers, please stop reading.
We never do learn how the bad guy tracked Leydon Ashford into the church, where he tossed her over a railing and bounced her head on the stone floor. We can guess why he needed to search her purse, but it’s not at all clear how her purse ended up so far from the body. Nor is it clear why, after failing to find the newspaper clipping in her purse, he doesn’t take the trouble to break into her apartment and search it. It’s not even clear which bad guy tossed her over the railing. Could have been the main bad guy, could have been his slimy assistant. That’s probably not important, but it’s a loose end. We never learn which of the bad guys was spying on or in touch with Miles Wuchnik’s sister. (Remember that mysterious phone call?) We do learn, in passing that it was the main bad guy who ran down Tommy’s mother and killed her, but his motivation for taking such a major risk — hey, somebody could have jotted down his license number, though nobody did — is no more substantial than tissue paper.
After the bad guy kills Xavier, we’re told offhand that rope marks were found on Xavier’s wrists, which meant he didn’t commit suicide after all, somebody tied him up and forced him to take the poison pills. But Xavier was a guard at a security complex, so it’s not at all clear why he would passively have put up with such treatment. Also, before he died he texted his lady friend, confessing, so he couldn’t have been too far gone after he was untied. Also, the bad guy inexplicably doesn’t Read the rest of this entry »
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Posted by midiguru on December 18, 2012
Tad Williams is a terrific storyteller. I’ve enjoyed a couple of his fantasy novels, so when I saw The Dirty Streets of Heaven on the new-and-interesting table at the library, I checked it out.
I devoured it immediately. Reached the last page at midnight. It’s a good read. Plus, it’s apparently the first book in a planned series, so if you like fast-paced action adventure with a fantasy twist, you’ll like it.
And yet, as I reflect on the substance of the story I find myself oddly dissatisfied. I’ll save the spoilers for the second part of this little review and alert you when they’re about to start. If you just want to read a quick synopsis before deciding whether to go out and buy a copy, you’ll be safe reading the next few paragraphs.
The fantasy premise is hallowed, yet treated with a contemporary edge. Bobby Dollar is an angel. A real one, but he’s driving around California in a beat-up old car, and you’ll never see his wings. He’s an advocate angel, one of a number of entities so employed. When somebody dies, Bobby’s cell phone rings, and the home office sends him out to support the departed soul in its moment of Judgment. The other side sends out a demon, and there’s a quick trial before a judge. If Bobby presents a stronger case, the soul goes to Heaven (or perhaps to Purgatory). If the demon has a stronger case, the soul is cast into the eternal fiery pit of Hell.
Both Heaven and Hell are quite real. As I said, it’s a hallowed premise. But the story isn’t really about Bobby’s activities as an advocate — that’s just the setup. The plot problem is that souls have started disappearing before Judgment, and nobody knows where they’re going. The angel, the demon, and the judge show up at the bedside of the newly departed, and there’s Read the rest of this entry »
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Posted by midiguru on October 6, 2012
Writing historical fiction is uniquely challenging, not only because of the need to research countless details but because it can be so difficult to truly enter into the mind of someone whose view of the world is, in some ways, quite alien to our own. When the narrative is written in the first person, the difficulty is compounded. The narrator must never use a modern turn of phrase.
In The Alienist, Caleb Carr seems to have done a fine job researching the details of life in New York in 1896. But his narrative voice is not flawless. The narrator, purportedly writing 20 years after the fact, in 1919, at one point observes two other characters, a man and a woman who may possibly be romantically linked, and reports their interaction in these words: “…the strange chemistry between them…”.
I’m pretty sure that’s an entirely modern use of the word “chemistry.” Certainly chemistry itself was well known in 1919, perhaps even better by the average person than today. But “chemistry” was not used as a metaphor to describe subtle personal interactions.
It’s not a bad story, even so. Very sensationalized, and some of the criminology is also suspiciously modern, but I’d have to do research to be certain.
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Posted by midiguru on July 1, 2012
I read a lot of mystery novels. Like most mystery fans, I have authors whom I follow faithfully. When I give up on an author, it’s usually because their books have too much soap opera about the detective, and not enough actual crime story.
I gave up on Sue Grafton after N Is for Noose. I felt it should have been titled N Is for Nancy Drew. The big action-packed crisis moment in the book occurs when detective Kinsey Millhone is staying an a motel room and a man is lurking around outside. He breaks in and attacks Kinsey in the dark, but then he runs off, for no apparent reason. In the scuffle she breaks her finger. And that’s it for the action — an entirely ineffectual, wimpy assailant and a broken finger.
Today at the used book sale I spotted a pristine hardback copy of R Is for Ricochet. For 50 cents, I figured I’d give it a try.
The fact that this woman can get her novels published — in hardback, and from Putnam, no less — is explicable only on the theory that she’s sleeping with someone in the publisher’s office. These days you can say that about male authors too, if you see a need, so it’s no longer a sexist insult, it’s just an insult.
In the first 31 pages (three short chapters), about three pages are devoted to the crime story. The other 90% is filler. I’m not even sure it qualifies as soap opera, because there’s not much in the way of suds. The crime story, what there is of it, starts off not with a bang but with a whimper. A woman is being paroled from prison after serving 22 months for embezzlement, and Kinsey is hired to Read the rest of this entry »
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Posted by midiguru on May 28, 2012
I’m one of the West Coast’s least active science fiction/fantasy writers. Four years ago, after a very long hiatus, I did sit down and write some new stories. Three of them I sold, to the usual magazines (Asimov’s, F&SF). The others, disappointingly, didn’t sell. I went on to other things.
This week, for reasons too convoluted and not interesting enough to dwell on, I pulled out one of the unsold stories from 2008 and did a thorough rewrite. I could see immediately (as I had not seen at the time) why it didn’t sell. I have a tendency to pull my punches, emotionally. The resolution of the story was just too easy. The main characters didn’t have to work very hard to overcome their difficulties.
I think the rewrite is probably a lot better. It also grew from 7,000 to 12,000 words, which is an inconvenient length. It probably won’t sell at that length, no matter how much improvement I’ve wrought. That doesn’t concern me too greatly, because I certainly don’t plan to try to whittle it down to 5,000 words. What does concern me is that I don’t quite know how to get feedback from knowledgeable writers that would help me gauge whether the new version has succeeded.
One of my friends is an unpublished writer of what I guess you could call serious mainstream fiction. She has attended a couple of the summer writing workshops at the University of Iowa, and says she got a lot out of them. But I have also heard her voice frustration that the participants in the workshops didn’t always grasp Read the rest of this entry »
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Posted by midiguru on May 1, 2012
Yesterday I summarized the problem: The existing delivery systems for interactive fiction (a.k.a. text adventure games) are mired in the 1980s. The early 1980s. Today I’d like to toss out a few ideas about what, ideally, ought to happen in order to bring the presentation of IF forward into the 21st century.
Broadly, there are two ways to move forward: either a massive extension of an existing authoring system, or an entirely new system. Both courses are fraught with difficulties; neither is a stroll in the park.
Let’s take a brief look at the characteristics such an authoring system would, ideally, have. The list below is not intended to be exhaustive — I may have left something out. It’s intended to serve as a starting point for discussion.
- The games produced using the new system should be playable, and with an essentially identical appearance and functionality, in MacOS, Windows, Linux, and mobile platforms.
- Convenience for the end user should be emphasized. The user should not have to download and install separate interpreter software or a self-contained app.
- The authoring system itself should be available on all three desktop platforms, and without too great compromises in terms of utility. (No use of a command-line compiler should be required in one OS, for instance, if it’s not required in another.)
- The author should have Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in fiction, Interactive Fiction, random musings, technology, writing | 4 Comments »
Posted by midiguru on April 20, 2012
Recently a couple of threads have popped up on the interactive fiction forum proposing that interested parties write games set in shared worlds. The worlds to be shared were set forth in some detail. As it happens, I found one of the proposed scenarios rather evocative, the other less so. But that hardly matters; I already have a few ideas of my own that I’d like to develop.
What struck me was how easy it is to spin out phantasmagorical ideas for a shared world — and how much more difficult it is to craft an engaging story.
When she wrote an introduction to the 1831 edition of Frankenstein, Mary Shelley described the little contest that gave rise to the novel. Lord Byron had proposed that he, Percy Shelley, Mary, and a certain Dr. Polidori, who were cooped up in a house in Switzerland owing to an incessant and altogether fortuitous siege of summer rain, each write a ghost story. “Poor Polidori,” she tells us, “had some terrible idea about a skull-headed lady who was punished for peeping through a key-hole — what to see I forget: something very shocking and wrong of course … The illustrious poets, annoyed by the platitude of prose, speedily relinquished their uncongenial task.”
And then she says, “I busied myself to think of a story.” (The italics are hers.) That sentence has been a touchstone for me for a very long time.
Storytelling is surely one of the oldest of art forms — and unlike painting and music, its essentials probably haven’t changed much, if at all, in the last hundred thousand years. The most exotic and elaborately imagined world will fall flat if it isn’t animated by a compelling story.
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Posted by midiguru on March 22, 2012
The goal is clear: I’d like to write stories and make them available for people to read. The stories themselves would be concrete experiences — just words on a page or screen, it’s true, but words stimulate the brain to imagine that real events are transpiring.
Same deal with Buffy: The reality (cameras, scripts, lighting, makeup, paychecks to the actors, carefully designed special effects) is an abstract apparatus, but the viewer has, in the end, a concrete experience. Mentally constructed, to be sure, but it’s an experience of “real” events, not an experience of the syntax of computer code, nor of camera angles and all the rest. If we notice camera angles and lighting while watching a movie or TV show, Read the rest of this entry »
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Posted by midiguru on March 19, 2012
What will interactive storytelling look like in the 21st century? Oops, we’re already 12 years into the 21st century. And yet the main authoring systems for interactive fiction still produce stories that rely on a computer user interface that was common and well understood in 1980.
Maybe it’s time for a paradigm shift. Do you suppose?
In the last couple of days I’ve glanced at a variety of new software tools designed for interactive storytelling, and/or stories created using said tools. Verdict, first, evidence afterward: Undum with Vorple is the clear winner.
Twine has a nice editing environment (it’s a bit like Quest), but Twine stories seem to want to clear the main display area and toss up entirely new text every time you click a link. Continuity of narrative in such a system is essentially zilch. Bad psychology — in essence, it’s even worse than what you get with an old-school command line interface.
The two ChoiceScript stories that I looked at were stunningly bad. It appears ChoiceScript is set up to collect the player’s characteristics based on what radio button the player clicks on in various menus of choices. Player characteristics — a relic of Dungeons & Dragons. Radio buttons — ugly.
John Ingold wrote a clickable story called “A Colder Light” using Inform 7 with some extensions. That development system may have some promise, but “A Colder Light” reads exactly like a 1980-era command line game (because that’s what it is). The sugar sprinkled on top is Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in fiction, Interactive Fiction, media, technology, writing | 14 Comments »