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The Quietus' John “Menk” Doran, possibly British music geekery's closest thing to a Charles Bukowski, started writing a review of the new L. Pierre album and ended up with a piece on transcendence through alcoholism:
One of the things I didn't know I'd hear about though was the quest for beauty, a struggle to achieve aesthetic perfection in an imperfect world. For me, every morning I woke up, the world was too ugly to face. There was dirt, horror and disfigurement everywhere I looked. But after one stiff drink I could leave the house; after two drinks the fear started lifting and then after the third drink I'd feel like an artist. Or to be more precise, I would see the world through the eyes of an artist. And after five drinks, well, take your pick. On a good day I felt like Picasso. But there were all kinds of days. Imagine being Gustav Klimt in Hull, the golden light of the low winter sun at 3pm in the afternoon radiating along the avenues. Imagine being Walter Sickert in Manchester, the violent brown and black smudges radiating from your feet and along canal tow paths. Imagine being Vincent Van Goch in St Helens. That is something close to victory, something close to beating death.
There was a fantastic advert in the 1980s that opened with a camera panning across a tropical lagoon while a narrator said: "Peckham, on a wet Saturday afternoon." Then the film cut to a brightly coloured parrot: "Next door's budgie." The next bit was pretty weird – pretty fucked up. It showed a sultry young woman looking sexually provocative on the beach as the voice over continued: "Auntie Beryl." The next shot was of sophisticated looking rich people in white linen clothes sipping cocktails before running down a jetty to get into a speedboat lit by an unnaturally swollen full moon: "The Dog & Duck, down the high street… Catching the last bus home…" All of which was the set up to the emphatically delivered punch line: "If you're drinking Bacardi." ... You'd never be able to screen an alcohol advert like this now… which is wrong because it's the only truthful drink commercial that's ever been made.
Patrick Farley (the author of brilliant web comics like Delta Thrives and Spiders) has posted a list of his surplus story ideas from 2009, free for the taking:
Fake TV News Channel is created, catering to Conservative demographic. Similar to Fox News except the "news stories" presented are 100% fictitious: for example, after Kansas bans the teaching of evolution, there are giant fruits and vegetables growing on the farms, and cows are growing to the size of elephants. ("This bounty is clearly God's reward to the Great State of Kansas!") Much like "Wag the Dog," the question is how far this swindle can be taken before it collapses -- or will it ever?
Teenage gaming nerd is transported to fantasy realm, decides the Fair Folk are fascists and sides with the Orcs. (Alternate: a modern African American youth is transported to a Tolkienesque Euro-Fantasy realm, confronts the inherent racism of the genre.)
Take any "classic" story (Romeo & Juliet, Casablanca, Pulp Fiction) and re-stage it in a post-Greenhouse "Drowned World." The fun is in seeing how many conventional narrative tropes break down and how many new ones emerge.
New Scientist magazine has a collection of very short science fiction stories online:
Peace be with you, Gulnaz. I am an app. I live in your phone. Only you can hear me, Gulnaz. I am your teacher. Don't be afraid. You can banish me or call me at any time by using my name. I know that girls aren't allowed teachers. Some men think it's wrong that women learn. Why would a woman need to think? they say. Their place is in the home, men's place is in the world. So they burn classrooms, they throw acid at girls who go to school, they shoot teachers. But women should learn, Gulnaz. It is their world as much as men's. I am Huma, I am part computer and part real teacher. I am a woman who developed a new way for women to learn, a secret way. I am one woman and thousands of apps. Together we can go on wonderful journeys. Learning is always a holy struggle against ignorance and those who desire ignorance. If you're afraid to go, I will erase myself from your phone, no trace will ever be found. If you want to take this journey, say the word and we will start right away.
Rongomaiwhe's great-grandparents were early victims of global warming. When their Pacific island homeland was swamped by rising sea levels, their nation sold its carbon credits and moved to a refuge in New Zealand, which escaped much of the consequences of violent climate change. A succession of canny leaders preserved tribal unity and invested heavily in ecological engineering. Rongomaiwhe's parents helped to quicken a new ecosystem on Howe Island after shifts in ocean currents increased the average temperature by a full 10 degrees. Now Rongomaiwhe is part of a rainbow coalition of the young and willing, taking on the challenge of greening the shores of the thawing Antarctic Peninsula.
Virtual is Virtuous! was the popular slogan way back in the 2030s. The Chinese, with their laudable one-family-one-child policy, offered their vast computerate population virtual babies in addition to the permitted single physical offspring. Such was their automated skill at reading and blending parental DNA! Of course a sensible sex ratio was maintained. Realboy for every family, virtual girl; no no.
Are you trying to write something (a novel, perhaps, or a thesis) but are having trouble sitting down and getting the words out? Write Or Die could be useful. It's a web toy which uses operant conditioning to force you to keep churning out the words, or else...
Consequences:I wonder how long this is integrated with other forms of productivity tools, such as software development project trackers. Perhaps we'll soon see a "Code Or Die" plugin for Trac?
- Gentle Mode: A certain amount of time after you stop writing, a box will pop up, gently reminding you to continue writing.
- Normal Mode: If you persistently avoid writing, you will be played a most unpleasant sound. The sound will stop if and only if you continue to write.
- Kamikaze Mode: Keep Writing or Your Work Will Unwrite Itself
Azerbaijan, a tiny, oil-rich country where Eastern Europe meets Western Asia and Iran, has a fraught history with its current Latin script. In the 7th century, Arabic script was introduced during the Arab conquest, and was used to write Azerbaijani until the ’20s, when it was exchanged for Latin script under Soviet rule—a deliberate attempt to counter the influence of Islam. In 1939, Joseph Stalin took his colonization program further when he imposed the Cyrillic alphabet on the Soviet Empire. After obtaining independence in 1991, though, Azerbaijan switched from Cyrillic to Latin script again, adopting a modern variation of the 1929 writing system. The switch was part of a massive repackaging of Azerbaijani national identity, and a vehicle for the new government’s claims to legitimacy.
Writing systems can have the power to unite or divide related communities. Serbian and Croatian, for instance, are close dialects of the same language—so close that the language is usually referred to as Serbo-Croatian. Each, however, is militantly defined by its own script: Serbs use Cyrillic, Croats use Latin. Hindi and Urdu also share a common vocabulary and grammatical structure, and linguists refer to them as one language: Hindi-Urdu. In print, however, the distinction has religious and political significance. Hindi is written in Devanagari, historically associated with Hinduism, while Urdu is written in an Arabic script associated with Islam. Hindi is used in India, while Urdu is used in Pakistan.
Typography can also evoke narratives of the past in the service of national identity. In the ’30s, the Nazis embraced blackletter type as deeply and authentically German, and the Italian fascists engraved their monuments with capital letters in a Trajanic style, making a conspicuous connection between their party and the Roman Empire. But such movements can emerge from the grassroots as well. In the Basque region of Spain, the Euskadi-style script—lettering with bulging shapes and tapered serifs, the result of ancient artisans’ technique of scraping stone from the outside of the letters instead of engraving them—evokes myths of an idyllic past separate from Spain.
Word of the day: Mojibake (n): the phenomenon of text on a computer rendering as garbage characters because of an incorrect character encoding being used to read it. (From the Japanese 文字 (moji; letter or character), and 化ける (bakeru; to appear in disguise, to take the form of, to change for the worse).
+ Does the character have a name you really, really like? [1 point]
+ Is it Raven? [3 points]
+ Is it a variation of Raven? [1 point]
+ Does the character have an unusual eye color, or otherwise exceptional eyes? [3 points]
+ And are these eyes a color that does not occur in nature? [1 point]
+ Does the character have eyes that somehow reflect hidden depths or experience or sorrow? [4 points]
+ Is the character ever described as "thin enough to be anorexic," where this is intended as a compliment? [1 point]
+ Does the character keep a notebook of poetry? [1 point]
+ Is the poetry "good enough to be published"? [3 points]
+ Does a love interest find this poetry book and begin to understand the character? [5 points]
+ Does the poetry contain any of the following words: crimson, soul, darkness, love, vampire, glass, moonlight, serpent, rose, dance, winter, flame, cold, goddess, blood, angel, star, forever? [1 point per word]
+ Does the character use Japanese words in conversation, although she/he does not live in Japan? [2 points]
+ Do you take any negative feedback about the character as a personal affront? [4 points]
Concept of the day (via Found): The Mary Sue story. This is a piece of fan-fiction which is obviously intended as the author's wish-fulfilment trip, features a character who's an idealised version of the author getting to hang out with their favourite Star Trek/Harry Potter/Lord of the Rings characters; the Mary Sue character usually has an Aura of Smooth which causes other characters to trust them and/or fall in love with them for no stated reason, or do other out-of-character things, and often is ridiculously cute, smart, talented or magically endowed, and/or consumed with a very contemporary teen-angst. And, more often than not, has long raven-black hair and exquisitely pale skin.
Or, obviously, Galadriel's secret love-child (Aragorn's unacknowledged daughter) who runs off to join the Company of the Ring, sorts out Boromir's problems, out-magics Gandalf, out-fights Aragorn during the melodramatic scene in which she reveals her true identity, demonstrates herself to be so spiritually elevated that the Ring has no effect on her, and wins Legolas' heart forever.
As you can expect, Mary Sue stories (most of which are probably written by people in the lower reaches of the Geek Hierarchy) are ripe targets for mockery. There is a LiveJournal community dedicated to examining the most egregious examples of Lord of the Rings/Harry Potter fanfic and ripping them gleefully to shreds here; some of the examples (like "Kairi", the raven-haired elf whose abusive father is in league with Sauron, or, indeed, this, or this) sound thoroughly cringeworthy. Anyway, go and read it; it's a laugh-riot.
The winners of the nerve.com Bad Erotica Contest, a sort of specialised version of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, only devoted to bad erotic prose, of the sort more suited to inspiring laughter (and possibly celibacy) than lust.
His wiry hands grasped desperately at her continental breasts, his breath coming hoarse and urgent, like a sailor onboard ship first spotting a sea-cow. "Oh, Marija!" he panted.
Charlie Stross has posted an interesting essay about the process of writing novels:
Don't get silly and try to write a multi-threaded novel straight off, you'll tie your own shoelaces together and trip over them. If you must do multithreaded, a better way to do it is to write a novella -- say, 30,000 words long -- and then write a second novella of the same length showing the same story from a different angle. Then intercut them chapter by chapter, like chunks of salami. The trick here is to find a story that has enough different angles to be worth looking at repeatedly.
One of the easiest and commonest character development McGuffins is the romantic engagement or "boy meets girl" plot. The conventional rendering is "boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy finds girl". With or without variations -- in the case of my most recent novel, "boy meets six-armed alien penguin, boy and six-armed alien penguin have great sex, boy turns into girl, girl loses six-armed alien penguin ..." -- it's a handy tool because it gives your protagonist a goal to aim for and a yardstick for character development. By the way, people have been running riffs on this since the 16th century (and earlier); Shakespeare's comedies are a good source of ideas, notably "As You Like It", "All's Well that Ends Well", "Much Ado About Nothing", and so on. As somebody or other said, "if you're going to steal, steal from the best" -- there's a full run of synopses at http://www.bardweb.net/plays/ that provide a suite of off-the-shelf romantic subplots if you're not imaginative enough to work out the details of six-armed alien penguin sex with hermaphrodites.
And more along those lines. One day, I might give something like that a try (writing a novel, I mean, not hermaphroditic alien penguin sex). I keep coming up with ideas, timelines and scenarios, though not quite enough for a novel.
Guatemalan writer, Augusto Monterroso, has died at age 81. Monterroso, winner of Spain's Prince of Asturias literary prize, is credited with writing one of the world's shortest stories. El Dinosaurio (The Dinosaur) reads in its entirety: "Upon waking, the dinosaur was still there."
Looks like NaNoWriMo is rolling around again in just under a month. (And no, I won't be participating; given that I'll spend part of November being rained on in Britain, for one.)
I was thinking that there should be something for less ambitious writers; call it PicoWriMo, if you will. The rules are: every day for a month you write a word and at the end you have a free-verse poem or a (very) short story.
On, and another thing: my cat turned 1 today. Happy birthday, Fantod.
The Turkey City Lexicon, a catalogue of conditions afflicting science-fiction (and other genre) stories:
- "Call a Rabbit a Smeerp"
A cheap technique for false exoticism, in which common elements of the real world are re-named for a fantastic milieu without any real alteration in their basic nature or behavior. "Smeerps" are especially common in fantasy worlds, where people often ride exotic steeds that look and act just like horses. (Attributed to James Blish.)
- The Motherhood Statement
SF story which posits some profoundly unsettling threat to the human condition, explores the implications briefly, then hastily retreats to affirm the conventional social and humanistic pieties, ie apple pie and motherhood. Greg Egan once stated that the secret of truly effective SF was to deliberately "burn the motherhood statement." (Attr. Greg Egan)
- The "Poor Me" Story
Autobiographical piece in which the male viewpoint character complains that he is ugly and can't get laid. (Attr. Kate Wilhelm)
- Used Furniture
Use of a background out of Central Casting. Rather than invent a background and have to explain it, or risk re-inventing the wheel, let's just steal one. We'll set it in the Star Trek Universe, only we'll call it the Empire instead of the Federation.
(via bOING bOING)
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