Archive for July, 2012
Back in the 80’s, it was hard to escape hearing Tears for Fears on the radio after the release of of their second album, 1985’s Songs From the Big Chair. While I am more of a fan of Shout or Head over Heels, this week’s pick is the track that helped to land them on the US charts, Everybody Wants to Rule the World.
[Originally written 6/7/2007]
Stephen leapt from the side of the tower. There were too many people that had seen his cast his spells that he knew he would be marked. Even if he could get away from the tower and into the crowds undetected, it would be almost impossible for him to make it out of the gates without being identified.
* * * * *
It was near dusk the previous night when he had been captured. Stephen had been dining in a pub, the place boisterous and the alcohol flowing, when the place suddenly became silent. Stephen was still laughing loudly when he realized what was happening.
I started talking about the Residency here… The next couple of days were much of the same blur of workshops and “academic” sessions that now, two weeks later, it’s all lumped themselves together. The general schedule was workshop in the morning (3-4 stories over a three hour period), and “class” in the afternoon. Except for Sunday, but I’ll get to that in a minute.
Day 2: Thursday
Workshop in the morning. For the 1’s, the afternoon “calss” session was a discussion of Character. Things to consider, keep in mind, and discussion of ways to present a character without smacking the reader with a DMV-styled list of details (often referred to as the “Driver’s License” introduction).
The evening was peppered with Mentor Meetings – where all of the students were scheduled for 30-45 minute blocks of time to discuss the writing project plans for the coming term, and some other housekeeping items related to requirements for the semester. Most of the meetings were done in under 20 minutes. The Meetings were held in the library, a slew of tables set up in the center that lent it a feeling like a speed-dating session.
Day 3: Friday
Like Thursday, except the “class” for us 1’s was a discussion of Plotting. The evening? Another series of Thesis readings, and a “Book Fair” hosted by the Alumni Writer’s Conference (that runs along similar dates for the Residency).
Day 4: Saturday
Workshop in the morning. The afternoon, however, was a session with the Featured Guest Presenter, Donald Maass. The session was… long. It didn’t help that the room we were in was not air conditioned, which didn’t help. Despite the length, though, there was good stuff to take away – mostly in the form of questions that we (as writers) could ask ourseleves about our projects – characters, settings, etc. – to find depths that we may not have plumbed yet, to bring more life to the story. Yes, a lot of the information may be in the book (the session was aimed at The Fire in Fiction), but it just felt different hearing them instead of just reading from the page.
There was another session, followed by a signing, in the evening. There was also a themed Costume Ball (part of the Writer’s Workshop, not officially part ofthe Residency).
Day 5: Sunday
The day was flipped, with “class” first thing in the morning – for 1’s this meant an overview of Marketing Synopsis writing. The afternoon was an abbreviated “workshop” session which, for 1’s, meant a discussion of Time Management.
After a very brief break, we all reconvened in the room with no air conditioning for the graduation ceremony. Then a brief after party and mingling.
And like that it was over.
Leaving behind a void that had been filled mere hours before with fellowship and conversation – about things as varied as craft elements to pop culture (with many of us getting our geek on talking about movies), and any array of other strange topics that spun out of stories that people had workshopped that you really just had to be there to follow.
The week was good, and exhilerating, but also tiring. And it was good to get back home.
I’ve done something recently that I hardly ever seem to do: read a book soon-ish after buying it. Especially one that is a new release! In Hardcover! (Proof on my shelf: Scalzi’s Fuzzy Nation, Kowal’s Glamor in Glass, and Stross’s Trade of Queens, Atrocity Archives, Rule 34 and Apocalypse Codex… all bought new in hardcover, all still unread. That’s not even counting the copies of both Stross & Scalzi books that were the featured titles for the past two Boskones.)
Today, however, having made one small triumph in the “read something actually current,” allow me to offer my couple of coppers on the title in question. If you read the title here, you know what I’m talking about. John Scalzi’s Redshirts, which was released a little over a month ago now. The original title indicated a “a novel with three codas”, which I discussed my wariness about here. Simply put, “How the hell did the Codas play out?”
That’s probably why I wanted to read it now, as a study in stylistic approach (for the concept, not so much the book itself). Without further ado, here we go, and I will try to maintain as spoiler-free a commentary as I can…
I was disappointed, but in a good way, with the main story itself. (Keep in mind, I have not read any other Scalzi novel at this point, mostly just his blog, Hatemail, and Coffeeshop.) When I first heard about the project, and as I started reading, I had this image of all of the events taking place within the confines of the ship – “What happens when some of the Redshirts start comparing notes?” That was actually one of the early pitch blurbs I remember circulating.
What I wasn’t expecting, which is that point of happy disappointment, was for the story to go meta (slight spoiler, sorry). As it was happening, the writerly side of the brain was going “Duh! How else could things have ‘realistically’ played out in the context of the narrative.” (Another running joke, that. “The Narrative.” Plays into the meta concept.)
I read some of the reviews that crapped all over the book. Are they valid? Meh… depends on what you’re into, and if you really get what’s going on. I think I got it… a hybrid of homage and parody of Star Trek, and SF television shows in general, especially those written lazily. Reading it through that filter: the book is conceptually handled in a genius fashion. Is it destined to go down as one of the greatest contributions to SF Literature? Will there be hordes of ravenous fans lining this book up against the likes of Heinlein, Asimov and Bradbury works? Probably not for the main novel.
What really got me, though, were the codas. In terms of technique, each of them are in different points of view (1st, 2nd, and 3rd, respectively), and generally different voices and styles. The last five pages of the book, in the Third Coda? One section in there and I had the feeling of Scalzi ripping my heart out so I could see it beating before he tucked it back in for a potentially happy ending.
The ripping of the heart thing? Don’t try to look for it until you have read everything else… that’s when you’ll get the most of the emotional resonance.
So, the Redshirts story itself? A fun read if you can appreciate the source material being poked at with a huge pole-arm of a stick. But Scalzi called it right, it’s the addition of the Codas (and how they were handled) that really makes the whole thing click.
At least, that’s how it worked for me.
I’ve mentioned before my appreciation for Dave Matthews, even if it was arrived at a little late. When I heard the album version of this track on their album Stand Up, it instantly resonated with me – maybe because I used to ride my bike down some old dirt hills in the area where I grew up. And, in college, I did some mountain biking. So, literally, I connected with the literal image of biking… but just the idea of reflection on all of the fun and good times from youth… the simple joys and pleasures that get blurred and pushed out of the way when “real life” happens…
I’ll crib this from Scalzi… It’s a clip that’s about as old as I am, or maybe just a shade older, and encapsulates a lot of the core significance behind the holiday (and, despite the abundant use of “fireworks,” that’s actually not it).
Have a good rest of the day.
While I’m not an over the top Hendrix person – I can appreciate his skills and how he pushed the aural envelope with his recordings, but I’m only likely to have a handful of tracks on any frequent playlist – there is one track that I think encapsulates my appreciation for him…
The Star-Spangled Banner.
A little over the top in the middle, but still an awesome version. In advance of the 4th of July holiday here in the states, here you go.