Friday, September 28, 2012

Library Disappointment


I normally write in malls—there’s something about the busyness of them that helps me write.  Earlier this week, I thought I’d write in a library for a change, for the first time in years. 

While there I noticed someone watching a rape scene on one of the library’s computers.  (If you don’t want the description, skip past the paragraph separated out by ***. 

***

The couple was mostly wearing clothes, but it was obvious what was happening.  I couldn’t hear the sound, since the guy watching it had the headset on, but the woman was clearly saying no.  I watched to make sure it wasn’t one of those miserable scenes where the woman at first says no, but then changes her mind after the man is done, but this wasn’t that.  The man raped her a second time, a prolonged scene.  Then they showed him starting in a third time, brutally.  During the whole scene, the woman was obviously unwilling and struggling.  The guy watching it, who was maybe college age, was just lounging back and showing no reaction. 

***

There was no use complaining about it.  This has been in the news:  In this county’s library system—and perhaps the whole state as far as I know—the librarians cannot ask him to stop watching a sex scene.  It would violate his privacy or something.  This became a famous case in the news when a guy in Seattle was watching something more explicit, and it disturbed a child.  The mother complained, but the most the librarians could do was ask the guy to move to a computer that was not as easily seen by other people, if he was willing. 

You might ask why I watched the whole scene.  As I indicated above, I wanted to make sure what I was seeing, but I also was witnessing firsthand what goes on in libraries. 

In the past, I thought about donating a substantial amount to the local library system if I became a successful author—become one of those “friends of the library” that you hear about.  Not anymore.  There’s a library at a private university I might donate to. 

I’ll go back to shopping malls to write.  Things are less disturbing there.  

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Review of Detention


So I’m reviewing a second movie in a row, but I’ll get back to books after this.  I can’t recommend Detention as a movie because of the vulgarity (including a couple of topless shots) and the rapid scene-cutting (the director only directed music videos previously).  But I can recommend it for the commentary track. 
The director and screenwriter freely admit that the dialog is so rapid, when the audience laughed, they would miss the next two or three lines.  Writers must have similar pacing concerns—not that a reader would miss some of the lines, but long passages of nothing but fast banter are actually tiresome.  And passages which only “show” what’s happening to characters need to occasionally “tell” their thoughts and feelings to be meaningful.  This especially applies to action scenes—they cannot be just one action sentence after another. 
photo by EsotercSapience 

Shanley Caswell, who played the main character of Riley, commented that a crucial turning point seemed inconsistent with her character.  That’s what I thought when watching the movie.  The director or screenwriter explained that that was the part of any teen movie when the teen has to go through an emotional change.  Okay, they made her go through a change like clockwork, but there was nothing organic to the character prompting it.  This is a cautionary lesson for writing novels. 
photo by Slackerwood

Josh Hutcherson, who played the cool student Clapton Davis, gave a more positive assessment of his own character.  He is undeniably cool throughout, but he starts out so locked into himself, he has no idea of how to deal with the real world after high school, and no clue that Riley likes him.  But he gradually comes out of that inward-looking phase.  And it’s a tribute to Hutcherson’s acting that we can see that happening during the story. 

So Detention is worth watching if you have time to watch it a second time with the commentary tract.  And to be fair, the scene of Shanley Caswell and Josh Hutcherson on a skateboard together, with no stunt doubles, was very cool.  


And notice who's on the T-shirt?

Friday, September 21, 2012

Review of Resident Evil: Retribution


photo by Lindsey8417

I’m not a Resident Evil fan, but I did see what I think were the first two entries in the franchise.  The first one was impressive, especially if you realize the characters are from Alice in Wonderland.  (I say Inception also did this, and you can read my opinion here.)  So how did this fifth movie in the series do? 

Well, if you like non-stop action scenes with over-the-top stunts, Resident Evil: Retribution delivers.  The standout scene features our favorite zombie-killer, Alice (Milla Jovovich), fighting off a horde of zombies from Tokyo.  Think you’ve seen every way to kill a zombie?  Think again.  I’ll just say that those clips for reloading bullets leave a lasting impression.  Every move by Alice looks barely possible, assuming she’s a hyped-up human being with enormous experience in hand-to-hand and hand-to-face combat. 

But if you like well thought-out, original plots, your pizza delivery boy is more likely to deliver one of those.  Oddly enough, most critics seem to think there is not enough explanation of what’s going on.  I say there’s too much—we really do not need the little red queen girl announcing to no one in particular that she will now execute measures against the humans.  The first movie was better, when the characters had to figure out what was going on, or they just allowed us to follow the action.  And as for originality, I do not like how they ripped off Ripley’s desperate search for a little girl in Aliens.  The original was better. 

photo by Helen Taylor

Another very pleasant problem was Milla Jovovich is not the most beautiful and compelling woman in the movie.  Sienna Guillory is.  I noticed this back in Resident Evil: Apocalypse.  She played Jill Valentine, an astoundingly tough police officer, and I found her much more interesting than Jovovich.  In that previous movie she had short black hair, so when she showed up with long blonde hair in the current entry, it threw me at first.  But she’s still compelling. 

photo by Peter Duhon

Others would find Michelle Rodriguez, known for her tough chick roles, more attractive.  She put in a spirited performance in Battle: Los Angeles, which I reviewed here.   She’s reprising her character of Rain from the first movie, in a split role:  Good Rain and Bad Rain.  I thought they could have done more with the two characters to provide intentionally confusing scenes for the audience, but I think fans will be satisfied with seeing suburban Rain and Rain with an automatic rifle.  (I’ll let you guess which one is good and which is bad.) 

So if you like the concept of the Resident Evil movies and want to see a multi-million dollar extravaganza featuring zombies with machine guns, this is for you. 


Monday, September 17, 2012

First Page Contest – Day 10K


I suppose I should show the excerpt I entered into the First Page Contest I mentioned in my last post.  This is a little longer than my excerpt for the contest, as I start by introducing three of the main characters. 

As a side note, I’ll probably be blogging less often—maybe once a week.  I’m starting some online courses, so I’ll have to concentrate on them. 

photo by JulieCarree

Astonished, Shushan looked up at the blue sky . . . and bit a chunk out of the chuppa fruit she had been holding in her teeth, the rest of it bouncing on the tar paper roof beneath her feet.  The silver glint seemed to be the right angle among the clouds.  It had to be:  The ship that had come from Earth, come to prevent their colony from collapsing. 

It was almost too late—her family had made their decision to flee the cities before the riots started.  And this emergency generator for her bank she had climbed on a whim—it would belch oil tomorrow if all the banks went down.  All her dreams for the future, all the endless horizons that had just started to beckon her would end in grubby ashes if this world slid backwards—again. 

Shushan wiped at the under-wimple that covered her chin, in case any juice had smeared, then looked at the glint in the sky again.  “They won’t let us down. They won’t let it happen.”

#

Ensign Nathan Kendrick tossed the clipboard onto his bunk in disgust, watching the words scroll across the digital surface: A cowardly order to withdraw all their teams to the ship, to abandon the planet they had come to help. He would confront the captain on this final outrage, even if it would ruin his career. He straightened up and—

—clipped his right ear on the fan perched on the top bunk. Of course it was on. The junior grade lieutenants’ foul exhale when they slept made the narrow quarters seem more like the low-oxygen training back at the Academy. Kendrick was only glad his uniform had been cleaned and pressed, smelling crisply of naphtha. The jacket had to be square on his shoulders, everything had to be in place for when he questioned the captain’s judgment. He strode into the hallway.

Mannheim bumped into him. Or rather, his clipboard did.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

First Page Contest


WriterTherapy is kicking off its new blog by having their First Page Contest.  Winners could get a query critique, or even a first page critique by professional agents. 


So get on over there with your first 250 words.  The worst thing that can happen is they’ll sic the dogs on you.  

Monday, September 10, 2012

Worldcon 2012 Part III


Saturday (Sept 1) was my last day at the convention.  Here are a few pictures: 


A sharp-looking girl at the planetarium


Couple in matching suits and top hats


Regency Dance

In the Regency Dance picture, notice the women at the end of each line, with gear designs on their clothes.  They are dressed in the steampunk, or gaslight fantasy fashion.  I saw hardly any such fashion this year, in contrast to last year’s Worldcon.  I think they are going off to their own conventions nowadays. 

So I left late on Saturday.  On Monday, Labor Day, I thought things would be back to normal.  Then I saw the Oscar Mayer Weiner Mobile. 


I cannot make this up.  

Friday, September 7, 2012

Worldcon 2012 Part II: Deleting Words, Literary Bheer


E.J. (Emma) Swift has a quaint English accent and is graceful, since she works for the Conservatoire for Dance and Drama. 


At the self-editing session, she surprised us by saying she enjoys deleting words from her rough drafts.  I think she said she deleted forty thousand words from one manuscript, and she was really happy about it.  I’m not sure what her book Osiris is about, but here’s the cover: 


Both she and Carrie Vaughn have multiple critique partners help them go over their manuscripts before submitting them to their agents.  Carrie is famous for her urban fantasy Kitty series, but I enjoyed her talk last year about pirates, as research for her young adult pirate novel. 


I was so intent on telling John Hemry that I’m writing a mashup of the The War of the Worlds (see my previous entry), I forgot to take a picture of him.  Here’s one from last year’s Worldcon


Of course, he simply nodded at my writing a mashup on the same novel he had written a “forgotten chapter” for.  A number of us had a chance to speak to him for ninety minutes.  If this sort of meeting takes place in the morning or afternoon, it’s called a Kaffeklatsch (and tends to be shorter).  This took place in the evening, so it was called a Literary Bheer, reflecting what was available to drink.  Only a small group is allowed, so convention members have to sign up early. 

This was so comfortable—a small group of people with common interests—that I think I’ll do them instead of the major parties where there’s a crush of people and conversation is difficult.  To get in any good conversation, I’ve ended up staying incredibly late, which can ruin the rest of the convention for me.  So I think I’ll stick to these more personal meetings, and small parties that are held by individual authors to launch their latest books.  This makes sense. 

In the next post I’ll wrap things up.  

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Worldon 2012 Part I: Science, Fiction, Science


On Thursday, after my sightseeing yesterday, I visited the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. 


Their most picturesque exhibit is on solar energy, in the form of light coming down from the ceiling to photocells.  It’s in the center of the picture, between a couple balloons on the lower left and an artificial tornado on the right: 


Their standout exhibit is the captured German U-Boat, the U-505: 



At Worldcon itself, the conference room door was locked for one of the sessions.  Mary Robinette Kowal took charge and had the speakers stand against a wall as the rest of us gathered ‘round: 

Mary is third from the right

She’s the person who gave me a professional lesson on how to do a public reading, back at Norwescon. 

My favorite author, John Hemry (who also writes as Jack Campbell), gave a reading later on.  To my horror, he read a short story that serves as a lost chapter to H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds.  I didn’t get a chance to tell him I’m doing my own mashup of the same novel, and that it bears no resemblance to his.  I’ll have to tell him tomorrow (Friday). 

In the evening, I was among one thousand, three hundred and sixty Worldcon guests went to the Adler Planetarium, on the shore of Lake Michigan: 


They have many educational exhibits, but out back is an actual observatory, where I peered through their powerful telescope at the moon: 


This is real science!  Then I had to get some sleep for tomorrow’s sessions.  

Monday, September 3, 2012

Worldcon 2012 Part 0 – Chicago


Worldcon, the world’s largest science fiction convention, was held in Chicago this year.  The convention hadn’t started yet, so I did some sightseeing on Wednesday.  This bas relief was just outside my hotel: 


I don’t normally see art like this casually on display. 

Further on, their Magnificent Mile featured Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate sculpture, often nicknamed “The Bean.” 


The Cloud Gate was featured in the movie Source Code, and you can see my review here.  Notice how the buildings are clearly reflected in the surface: 


People can easily walk beneath its curved surface: 


Beneath the center of it, the reflection seems much farther away than it really is. 


I became nervous there, because loud street noises reflected around inside. 

On the other side of the Chicago River is the NBC tower: 


I had spotted the peacock while walking from my hotel, and you can barely see it at the top of the picture. 

So here’s the Chicago River itself, looking towards downtown: 


My next entry will be on the convention itself.  

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