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Posts Tagged ‘lists’

Those who have followed this blog faithfully (and I appreciate both of you), know that I am a man of sober mien. I run a factual, serious, and intellectual site.

Except when I don’t.

Everyone knows there are two kinds of people in the world: writers and those who think they can’t. But that’s not the only division–I’m sure if you think hard you can come up with other dichotomies, types of people divided down the middle, each equally certain that their way is the only way…okay, you laugh, but really, they exist.

Just to save you the trouble, I’ve come up with a few examples.

  • There are two kinds of people in the world: Those who like math, those who hate math, and those who failed calculus.
  • There are two kinds of people in the world: Those who understand comic books, and those who think the Fantastic Four is a Beatles cover band.
  • There are two kinds of people in the world: Those who think a man stomping around in a rubber suit is some kind of weird fetish, and those who like Godzilla movies.
  • There are two kinds of people in the world: Those who think George Lucas should have stopped after one movie, and those who think he should have stopped after three.
  • There are two kinds of people in the world: Those who think William Shatner is experiencing a career renaissance, and those who are glad that they do not live in an alternate world where he was cast as Batman.
  • There are two kinds of people in the world: Those who argue the minutiae of the ramifications of time travel in Outlander, and the men who married them.

I could go on, but I’m inclined to believe that there are two kinds of people in the world: Those who like this kind of stuff…

 

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Yes, you are “supposed” to write every day. Of all the “rules” (in quotes because the only rule everyone can agree on is that all the rules can be broken), this seems to be the most common. But there are days when you just can’t. Maybe you’re tied up with inescapable family business. Maybe you’re in surgery. And maybe you just can’t muster the time/energy/inspiration to write. Some days it just won’t happen. The only people who deny that writer’s block exists are people who haven’t experienced it.

So how, you ask, can writing be like not-writing? Is this some Zen thing? No, it’s just…well assuming I can come up with enough similarities, you’ll see. If I don’t, you won’t see, which will prove my point.*

  1. It’s frustrating. Writing is frustrating because it’s slow, and difficult to get anywhere. Not writing is frustrating because you’re at a dead stop, which also makes it difficult to get anywhere.
  2. It tends toward futility. If you don’t write, you don’t sell. If you do write, often you still don’t sell, at least not for some time.
  3. It’s time-consuming. Writing a story takes time, then editing takes more time. Not writing a story takes time away from writing, then noodling around on the Internet in the name of “research” takes more time.
  4. It’s hard work. Until you’ve written a story (or a novel!), you don’t know how tough it is. And until you can’t write, you don’t know how tough it is.
  5. It expands your mind. When you write, you open the way to your unconscious and allows you to say things you didn’t know you had in you.** When you don’t write, you open the way to reading sponsored articles for things you didn’t know you cared about. (See my Internet comment in #3.)
  6. It leads to writing. When you write, you write more. You limber up those mental muscles and they become easier to use. When you don’t write, you feel the need to write more. You bounce around trying to loosen up those mental muscles until you come up with a blog post, at least.

So we come down to it. The Secret. It is simple: If you are a writer, you will write. You may write blogs. You may write children’s books. You may write movies. What you write is up to you, but you will have no choice but to write.

Or not to write. It’s all the same.

 

*That may be zen, but I really don’t know. Or do I? Would I know if I did?

**Like how two opposing concepts are the actually the same thing.

#SFWApro

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I just saw a list of the “Twenty Core SF Books Every True SF Fan Should Have On Their Shelves.” I have no problem with people publishing such lists, and I have no problem with this list in particular, particularly with the fact that all of the listed works are by women.* It’s one person’s opinion, and we all know such lists are not meant to be taken seriously, but as a springboard for discussion–the kind of intellectual discussion which seems all to lacking these days, both in SF and in the world in general.

The problem with such lists, actually, is that they appear to stand for the proposition that you can make up a definitive list of must-read books of any stripe. Let’s disregard that literature is far too wide and deep for any real short catalog–there are so many classic novels out there; I submit that if you were to list the 500 books any “real” fan must have in his library, you would still get vigorous pushback about the books you left out. I guarantee it, in fact.

And the reason is that reading is a matter of taste. I’m not talking “literature” vs. “beach reads,” I’m talking about personal preferences. I have read a good portion of the books on that list, most I’ve heard of, and a couple were completely new to me. I can tell you that the books I’d heard of but not read, I will probably never read. Yet I’ve been an SF fan for decades, and I’ll bet I’ve read good books that someone else who sees that list has not, and never will. (Again, we’re not talking about how you define “worthy” literature.)

So if I love Asimov and you won’t touch it, and you adore Lem and I can’t get through one book, which is us is the true fan? All things being equal, we both are. We just enjoy different parts of the same fandom. It’s true that things evolve, and certainly, as N. K. Jamison said recently, SF has evolved.

But nobody ever said we had to evolve the same way. That’s a very science-fictional concept, by the way –in fact, I would say it’s true science fiction.

 

*I do have a problem with the grammar, but that’s an argument I don’t want to get into here.

#SFWApro

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If nothing else, this should prove the truth of my recent tweet: “The easiest thing about writing is thinking of ways not to.” Because if there were ever a good excuse for not writing, being able to say “I’m the President of the United States and I’m too busy to write,” has to rank near the top.*

On the other hand, writers have a lot of qualities that one would want in a president. Let’s see now…

  1. We’re patient. We’re used to fighting great odds for a long time without any apparent progress.
  2. We plan ahead. Okay, some of us operate by the seat of our pants, but by the time anyone else knows it, we’ve finished the job and made it look seamless.
  3. We know how to listen. Writers don’t write books, characters do. We just transcribe.
  4. We can take criticism. Actually, we don’t have much choice, but then neither does the president.
  5. We’re used to bad press. Not every review is positive, and we learn to ignore them. If this seems inconsistent with no. 4, then…
  6. We can handle contradictory ideas simultaneously. One beta reader wants the story to go this way. The other wants the story to go that way. Both might be good, but which is better?
  7. We know when to stop. Sometimes a story near and dear to your heart just isn’t coming together; you have to be able to put it aside.
  8. We can work with co-equal branches. You can negotiate with an editor, but you can’t ignore him.
  9. We’re not too proud to accept help. Amazon reviews! Please!
  10. The buck stops here. If something isn’t working, there’s no one else to blame.

So the next time someone tries tempting you with politics, you can say: “I’m a writer, and I’m too busy to be President of the United States.”

 

*If anyone can find an actual instance of a president ever having uttered this sentence, I’ll buy you an ice cream cone.

#SFWApro

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If there’s anything we can count on in today’s world, it is that if you dare to put any sort of opinion forward on the Internet, a million people will attack you for it. Amazon apparently feels it is big enough to stand the hit, and it is publishing various lists of 100 Books You Should Read in Your Lifetime, categorized by genre. Today it’s science fiction and fantasy’s turn. Well, to take my inspiration from the Bard (who better?), I come not to praise Amazon nor to bury them. I just want to nit-pick a little bit.

First, in a flurry of self-congratulation, I have to admit that I’ve read–or tried to read–a good number of the recommended books already. (Okay, 37.) Although “tried to read” is a more accurate description in several cases, I count them. Intent is important, and in almost none of those cases did I simply give up for lack of time. No, it was nearly uniformly for lack of interest. And therein lies the nit-pick.

Now, I am not going to say that every one of those books I failed to finish was bad and doesn’t belong on the list. Most of the time, they simply weren’t my cup of tea. And a couple were just too damned long. There are only so many hours in a day. I mean, I read A Song of Ice and Fire, but I gave up in the third book because the story’s just too complicated and I haven’t the time–nor can I remember each book for five years until the next comes out. But a few of these titles…yes, one or two I simply cannot hold with. And while I realize they have their defenders (I’ve had the arguments), and they certainly have the sales, I would not have put them on this list.

Three books stand out for me: Pawn of Prophecy, Perdido Street Station, and Guilty Pleasures.

I didn’t hate The Belgariad. I read the first five Eddings books straight through. They were entertaining. They just weren’t award-worthy. I thought they were derivative, stereotyped, and thoroughly run-of-the-mill. It’s on this list because it sells, and Amazon is a book-seller.

Perdido Street Station is hailed everywhere I look as a transcendent work of art, a masterpiece. Me? I finished the book, looked at the cover, and asked: “What was the point of that?” It might belong on this list, but I wouldn’t put it there.

I loved Guilty Pleasures. I bought it when it first came out, and read the next half-dozen or so like clockwork. I got some signed. Then I stopped. The story veered way off in the wrong direction, and the last I heard, it was a parody of its former self. More to the point, though, there’s nothing ground-breaking or life-changing about that first book. Again, it’s there because it sells.

Bonus title: Why The Curse of Chalon? Why not one of Bujold’s Vorkosigan novels? Not a quibble, just a question.

What would I have picked? Why, I thought you’d never ask. Off the top of my head…

Telempath, by Spider Robinson. Blew my mind. A Princess of Mars, by Edgar Rice Burroughs. It’s been in print for over a century for a reason. And for heaven’s sake, any of a dozen novels by Tanith Lee. They’re like Pringles, except that you can’t read more than one without a break, because they are so rich.

So, there. Only three or four disagreements out of a hundred. Who says you can’t be reasonable on the Internet? Now, if you wanted to rate all the Godzilla movies…

#SFWApro

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Ah, yes, the ubiquitous “Best X of All Time” debate. Never can we get enough of these, and if we are honest, we admit that we tolerate (love) them only because we love to argue with them. And I’m nothing if not honest. I’m here for the argument.

The British genre magazine SFX took a poll of British fans to ascertain the “250 greatest moments in sci-fi, fantasy, and horror.” (They appear to have limited these moments to media moments.) They report receiving 96,000 replies, a pretty good sampling, one would guess. (Only the top ten choices were released publicly.) So how do 96,000 people come up with this?

1. DOCTOR WHO The Doctor and Rose say farewell at Bad Wolf Bay in “Doomsday”
2. AVENGERS ASSEMBLE “Puny god!” The Hulk owns Loki
3. ALIEN The chestburster
4. FIREFLY Mal Reynolds kicks a bad guy into Serenity’s engine intake (“The Train Job”)
5. STAR WARS: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK Luke learns that Darth Vader is his father
6. BLADE RUNNER Roy Batty’s “Tears in rain” speech
7. GAME OF THRONES The Red Wedding: “The Lannisters send their regards”
8. THE MATRIX Neo dodges bullets in the bullet-time scene
9. HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE Dumbledore’s death
10. BACK TO THE FUTURE “Where we’re going, we don’t need roads”

Where to start? Okay, the beginning. Not a bad choice, and considering it’s a British poll, not surprising. But I think there’s room for argument. As opposed to say, no. 2, which is just plain silly. And Mal kicking a bad guy ranks higher than Vader & Son? Really?

Rather than dissect the entire list (which is largely unobjectionable, if controversial), here’s mine. I don’t know that these are the top ten moments in genre history, but I’d argue that any of them has a place on the list. I’ve limited each movie and TV show to one entry to avoid overconcentration (I’m talking to you, Twilight Zone!). They are presented in no particular order, except No. 1, which I would argue should have been no. 1 in the SFX poll, as well.

1. STAR TREK “City on the Edge of Forever” The death of Edith Keeler

2. SUPERMAN Superman: “Don’t worry, miss, I’ve got you.” Lois: “You’ve got me? Who’s got you?”

3. YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN The candle scene

4. TWILIGHT ZONE “Time Enough at Last” Burgess Meredith loses his glasses

5. STAR WARS Han saves Luke at the Battle of the Death Star

6. FORBIDDEN PLANET Anne Francis [swimming]: “Come on in.” Leslie Nielsen: “I didn’t bring my bathing suit.” Anne: “What’s a bathing suit?”

7. INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956) Kevin McCarthy in the final scene

8. ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. The animal skin bikini

9. SMALLVILLE Clark puts on the suit

10. STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE My wife’s turn as an extra. I defy anyone to watch her performance and say she wasn’t a Starfleet officer.

Of course, now that I have a list, I expect you all to argue with it…

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