Print Story He just stares at the world
By TheophileEscargot (Sun May 04, 2008 at 10:41:45 PM EST) Reading, Watching, MLP (all tags)
Reading: "Tooth and Nail", "How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy". Watching: "Iron Man". Web.

What I'm Reading
The third Inspector Rebus Tooth and Nail by Ian Rankin. Rebus comes to London, struggles with Cockney rhyming slang, is mugged by skateboarders in a housing estate, is repeatedly insulted for being Scottish, while tracking down a transvestite serial killer.

Pretty good. Still don't see why this series is sometimes called grittily realistic. This one ends with a car chase to Trafalgar Square in a commandeered Jaguar with a judge in the rear seat, after which the serial killer, who was the police pathologist, is chased through the National Gallery slashing portraits. This very rarely happens, even in London.

Rebus has definitely changed here: he's confused by literary references. The puzzle is much more cleverly set up in this one though with lots of satisfactory red herrings.

Interview with Ian Rankin. I suspect he's got a bit of a case of Arthur Sullivan Syndrome: he likes to think of himself as a Serious Artist who does some lighter stuff to make a living; but it's only the lighter stuff that's great.

What I'm Reading 2
How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card. Surprisingly good. Useful, short and focussed. Warns against plot formulas, but has lots of useful advice for avoiding traps. Also has some good insights into the publishing business. A few extracts.

One the rise of the divisions of genre:

Hilton felt no qualms about writing a lost-land novel, Lost Horizon; it troubled no-one that it didn't belong in the same category as, say, his novel Good-bye, Mr, Chips. And so many readers responded that the name of the lost land, Shangri-la, passed into the common language.

Today, though, an author who wrote a fantasy like Lost Horizon would immediately be placed into the fantasy category, and if he then wrote a Good-bye, Mr, Chips, American publishers would be at a loss as to where to place it. How could you call it fantasy? Yet if you publish it out of the fantasy category, the readers who liked the author's earlier books won't ever find it, and the readers who do browse the "Fiction" category won't ever have heard of this author and will probably pass the novel by. As a result there will be an enormous pressure on the author to write "more books like that Shangri-la book".

(Indeed, he will be pressed to write a whole series, which will then be promoted as "The Shangri-la Trilogy" until a fourth book is published, then as "The Shangri-la Saga" until the author is dead...)

On formulas:
Independent thinker comes up with great idea; bureaucrats screw everything up; independent thinker straightens it all out and puts bureaucrats in their place. (This story appeals to scientists and their fans because it is a reversal of the pattern in the real world, in which scientists generally prosper according to their ability to attract grant money from bureaucrats, a relationship that forces scientists, who see themselves as an intellectual elite, into subservience.)
And I wish Charles Stross had pinned this on the wall while writing Halting State:
That's why one of the most annoying things about Analog fiction -- annoying to me at least -- is the way that most stories there show little knowledge of fundamental human systems. Writers who wouldn't dream of embarrassing themselves with a faulty calculation of atmospheric density don't even notice when their characters-- whether scientists, government leaders, or gas station attendants; men or women; young or old-- all talk and act and relate to other people like smart-mouth schoolboys.
Some of the specific publishing advice seems a bit dated. But otherwise this book is worth a look, though it may be a bit elementary.

What I'm Watching
Saw "Iron Man" at the cinema. Pretty much what you'd expect: decent to average action movie with adequate effects.

I liked the crude hammered-out-in-a-cave suit: shame they couldn't do a bit more with that. The high-tech version seemed a bit too cgi-y: seemed a bit weightless. Wasn't quite geometrically impossible which always bugs me, but still didn't seem to fit together properly.

Plot is marred by being even more predictable than usual: you almost always know what's going to happen next. Also I find Gwyneth Paltrow to be a kind of black hole of eroticism, absorbing any trace of sexiness in the vicinity into oblivion.

Action was good enough and the plot didn't waste too much time on angsty bullshit.

If you feel like going to the movies, this film is a reasonable thing to see.

Pics. Eclipse. Urban exploration of a police station. (MeFi)

Neuroeconomics. Why things cost 19.95. Not a psychological barrier, but gets you thinking about smaller increments of money.

Audio ad: Disclaimer Guy (via Metachat).

YouTube: Evil Floating Head:

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He just stares at the world | 11 comments (11 topical, 0 hidden)
Human systems by Merekat (4.00 / 1) #1 Sun May 04, 2008 at 10:47:55 PM EST
Having hung around the SF fandom scene for a while, which Stross is very much a part of, I can safely say that everyone does talk and act like smart-mouthed schoolboys.

Hmmm by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #2 Sun May 04, 2008 at 10:49:23 PM EST
Maybe it's just "write what you know" then...
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
[ Parent ]
pretty much by iGrrrl (4.00 / 1) #3 Mon May 05, 2008 at 08:11:02 AM EST
Although in Heinlein's later books, it seems more like, "Write what you fantasize."
"I honestly pity the stupid motherfucker who tries to talk down to iGrrrl" - mrgoat
[ Parent ]
Some divide his books into three categories by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #4 Mon May 05, 2008 at 09:14:43 AM EST
The Juveniles, the Adults and the Seniles...
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
[ Parent ]
Harrrrrsh. by ammoniacal (4.00 / 1) #5 Mon May 05, 2008 at 02:34:57 PM EST
That's the least enthusiastic review I've yet read for Iron Man.
"Weightless?" Did you step out for snacks when Tony landed on the garage roof without accounting for the suit?

Also, though I can't account for your taste in women, you'd certainly have to admit that Gwyneth P. was orders of magnitude closer to Pepper Potts than Kirsten D. was to Mary Jane Watson. Did any of the acting impress you?

Sorry you got a "meh" out of it. I thought it was a refreshingly good idea from the House of Ideas.

"To this day that was the most bullshit caesar salad I have every experienced..." - triggerfinger

Exactly by TheophileEscargot (4.00 / 1) #6 Mon May 05, 2008 at 09:07:23 PM EST
As I recall, he was about a foot above the roof, cut the power, and the enormous weight of the suit -- at that moment -- meant that that foot of acceleration gave him enough momentum to crash through several floors.

So how come most of the rest of the time he prances delicately around like Fred Astaire?
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?

[ Parent ]
IIRC by ammoniacal (4.00 / 1) #7 Tue May 06, 2008 at 04:49:20 AM EST
The only delicate movement I saw him make was when he was balancing while hovering in the suit.

"To this day that was the most bullshit caesar salad I have every experienced..." - triggerfinger

[ Parent ]
He seemed to in the fight at the end by TheophileEscargot (4.00 / 1) #9 Tue May 06, 2008 at 09:42:34 AM EST
And I seem to recall him clinging on to the framework of a shot-up glass skylight. Good thing that was built more strongly than all those floor/ceilings he was crashing through earlier...
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
[ Parent ]
Saw that Detroit police station last week by nebbish (4.00 / 1) #8 Tue May 06, 2008 at 06:09:48 AM EST

It's political correctness gone mad!

Gwyneth Paltrow by Tonatiuh (4.00 / 1) #10 Tue May 06, 2008 at 12:01:07 PM EST
I don't understand why an Oscar winner that showed so much conviction and gusto in "Shakespeare in Love" demeans herself to such lows as to play a colourless bimbo in a second rate action movie.

I have seen Ms Paltrow in close quarters (she stole my dinning table!) and I can only say she is the most stunning woman I have ever seen, but maybe that presence does not translate well in film (but convinces other people that it may).

The worst thing about the movie is the almost non existent muddled plot,  they paint the conflict with terrorism and angry Afghanistan insurgents like if Iraq had never happened.

Nowadays only the most myopic audience can buy this we are good, they are bad nonsense that worked so well in the Cold War, but that is an impossible proposition in these times of news spreading virally via the Internet, and frankly after Batman and Spiderman our heroes can't be completely white because is completely unrealistic to believe they are.

I saw a part of by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #11 Tue May 06, 2008 at 08:22:03 PM EST
Peter Bradshaw's review:
His captors demand he builds a hi-tech bomb for them. Instead, in an inspired twist, Stark secretly creates an iron flying-suit exo-skeleton which repels the bad guys' bullets with a satisfying clang. Iron Man comes clanking out of his cave and kicks insurgent ass before uncorking a flame-assisted vertical takeoff. A new superhero is born and he is capable of one extraordinary, mindblowing, superhuman feat that every US presidential candidate dreams about. He can get the hell out of the Middle East!

It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
[ Parent ]
He just stares at the world | 11 comments (11 topical, 0 hidden)