Tag Archives: quality

Better Than They Needed To Be

4 May

I’ve recently come across a new category of films. These are films that turn out to be great–deep and moving and philosophical–but are at their core, simply a cheap franchise. Why are they better than they need to be?

So me and my son watched the first two Hunger Games films together, after my friend introduced me to them in Tucson. At their face value, the story is rather simple. Teenage girl, dealing with teenage problems, now has to balance her love triangle in a deadly situation. Okay–since your audience is teenagers, you have to keep the rating down to PG-13, otherwise, they can’t get in the movie theatre.

You’re asking the director to make a film about a battle to the death… without showing blood. This sounds like a box office nightmare.

And yet… you watch it and… it’s unbelievably brilliant! It compares economic disparity, elaborates on the falsehood of television, deals with PTSD… all of this through something that was supposed to be a throw-away blockbuster. The story writing is amazing, there are NO bad roles or bad actors in this film, and the costume and makeup are insanely good.

Then how did they get around showing a blood bath without blood? Simple camera tricks; in the first film, they had shaky cam work. The second one was even more clever–having the camera leave the focus for a second or have something else move in front of it. Better yet, do it off screen! The scariest part of the second film had no blood in all, just the screams of the people of they loved… (shiver)

Similar thought about the Lego Movie. Lego had been making movies for years–usually 5 minute clips with no sound showing off how their playsets could be used. So they knew it could be done well. However, no one was expecting anything hilarious and brilliant. The writers realized that, “Gee, no one’s expecting to take this seriously, so why not just go all out with it!” And they did.

Once they had a great script, they could bring in a serious amount of voice talent with known names to do the roles. (Of course, you could say the same about the Emoji Movie.) However, they had access to all the franchises that Lego has ever done (DC Comics, Lord of the Rings, NBA All-Stars), which helped up the ridiculous factor. What came out was an amazing film that has great quotes, great earworm music, and a plot that made you laugh and cry with these animated characters.

In the end, way better than they needed to be. Is there another example that fits this category? Should it be it’s own subgenre? Let me know in the comments below! Speaking of better than they ought to be, check out one of my books. 🙂 However, if you’re not convinced that $1.99 is worth losing to chance, go ahead and download one of my stories for free! Then I’ll see you at the movies.

“This is a really great book.”

16 Feb

Reading a really good book is a wonderful opening into someone else’s world. It can refresh you after reading mediocre… or just plain bad books. However, it can also be terribly disheartening when trying to write your own.

Not that quality has anything to do with success; but it helps. I try to reassure myself that if really bad books can somehow make it to be published, sometimes hitting the best seller lists, then my decently written books can also be read and enjoyed.

So recently, I’ve finished reading “The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi (“bag of galoshes”) and was bowled away by it. First off, because it was set in post-apocolyptic Bangkok, which appealed to me greatly since I lived there for a year. However, second, it was the perfect mix of steampunk and cyberpunk which fit beautifully together. It was also a great choice, because even though it was written ten years ago, it’s setting of a world ravaged by genetically engineered diseases and climate change didn’t seem too far fetched. The characters were wonderful, nuanced, and blended well together to tell the whole story of a Thailand in trouble.

However, it also had another side effect. It made me completely stop wanting to write my own story. Of course, I wasn’t that motivated to outline it as of late, but having my own story set after the warming seemed rather trite after reading the major award winning book. What kind of story could I tell that could compare with that?!

So I feel like I need a better story idea–and after reading Leviathan Wakes, I’m realizing that my merchant marine in space story is kinda weak tea as well. Thankfully, I already knew that was whale puke, so that’ll have to sit in the electronic desk drawer for a little longer.

But what do you think? Have you read something so good that it’s turned you off to working on your own stories? Let me know in the comments below!

Is there a decent Steampunk book out there?

1 Nov

When I read The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling – the creation of Steampunk – I thought, “Wow, the first story is amazing, the second is okay, and… what the #*$& is this?” Since the beginning of that subgenre, I have yet to find a decent book written in it.

Now… what do I mean by “decent?” For me, any “-punk” has to have the tech as a major part of the plot. It can’t just be “and there’s airships.” For example, the first part of The Difference Engine was all about finding the really cool computer and what it did and why. The tech and the manipulation of the tech surrounded the whole plot.

“But wait,” I hear you say, “The Difference Engine is a book you like!” No, I like a story in that book. There are plenty of short stories which work well in Steampunk, but they can’t seem to expand into a novel. I read Buffalo Soldier by Maurice Broaddus and it’s pretty good, but it has some serious flaws.

I think part of the problem is that involves world building, and that takes a lot of effort that authors don’t necessarily want to do. If you have computing engines that work in the 1830’s (saying Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine worked), you have to ask yourself, how does this affect the history of everyone after that point? So in Buffalo Soldier, it’s set in the current day, so he has to explain 200 years of history, without slowing down the plot. He also throws in a failed American Revolution and Civil War, so “Albion” still rules half of the modern US, but not Canada, and that’s… interesting. However, he has everyone still in Victorian modes and dress, which is… difficult to explain for 2010.

The other problem is that… authors aren’t engineers. There are many computer programmers who are authors, but we really don’t understand how the tech around us works. We start with the idea, “I think the internet would be cool in 1880’s England.” Okay, but authors need to take the next step – “What does it take to create the Internet?” First you need computers, which requires a certain level of sophistication. Then you need to have a way for them to communicate. Which means there has to be a standard protocol to talk to each other (which is what the “P” in HTTP means). Then that transmitted information needs to be displayed to you. Do they have monitors? Vacuum tubes?

It’s easier to do that in a short story, because I don’t need to (or have time) to fill out all the universe’s details. Take, for example, a story I wrote called It is Dark Under the Lamp for a Steampunk anthology (that wasn’t accepted). I set it in 1920s Japanese-occupied Korea, where the point was the main character has to find a way to “hack” the foreign-controlled network. The computers… aren’t connected, but you can manually or automatically (taped) transmit. However, there are multiple telegraph wires with different feeds. So I avoid the protocol by having everything on the Asian-equivalent of Morse Code (a 4-digit code to represent a single character) which is what the Japanese telegraph was using at the time. For the display, I used split-pane panels, what we used to use for train schedules, with the clicky-clack thing… still within the tech of the time.

Is there a decent Steampunk novel out there? Is there other obstacles that I’ve forgotten? Let me know in the comments below!

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