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Here are some neat posts: On SF and simplicity and Ladies, Don't Let Anyone Tell You You're Not Awesome (everyone's read that post about Mary Sues by now, right?).

---

Home.

I have been thinking about home, particularly home-in-speculative-fiction, at least since the Readercon panel "There Is No Homelike Place" (for which I skipped most of the Kirk Poland, because I had previous interest in the subject). The panel covered a lot of ground, and was one of my favorite panels at the con this year, but part of the basis for it was that, in this Modern Age, people are becoming less rooted in physical space. Part of what I started puzzling over then, and am still puzzling over, is, well--think of the children!

Because yes, in American society, people change jobs and people move and people get divorced and remarry and bring stepchildren into families, and people are more and more digital and Internet-based, and all of this changes children's feelings and thoughts about home. The middle class is also expanding--I forget the exact statistic, but a huge sector of American society self-declares in the middle class, and with that many people, it's no wonder there are more stories, more feelings, more people who don't fit into the mold of 'one picket fence and one building-structure on one plot of land for the greatest part of your life'. And this changes children's feelings and thoughts about home.

Some of it's positive, some of it's negative, some of it could go either way:

My parents divorced when I was in the beginning of high school; for the next two years, I bounced weekly between their houses (the third year I put my foot down... and moved every two weeks), and for most of that I used the word "home" very sparingly. Both houses were nice, I like both my parents, but it still just felt wrong. So they were "my dad's house" and "my mom's house", and they remain that to this day. Odyssey (six weeks living in the same place!) and then college (entire months in one room!) were a relief.

And yet-- to a certain extent, my home was on the Internet, and still is. My first real and awesome communities were on the Internet, during middle school, formed on Neopets guild boards. There remain plenty of people I mostly or only talk to via the web--although I have moved more of my socializing off the Internet in recent years.

College has become a sort of home, but as I go into my third (!?) year of four, how temporary it is becomes more and more apparent.

I still feel weird about using the word "home" sometimes, to refer to any place.

I still dream about living in one place for an entire year. It seems remote, almost impossible.

And there are countless more stories. This one's just mine.

Mainstream-children's and mainstream-YA might be doing better at this; I haven't read much recently. Even as a kid, I didn't read much. I loved to read fantasy and science fiction--especially in YA, the non-fantasy novels were mostly Issue Books or heterosexual romance, which has never interested me. Fantasy novels often ended with the finding of home (Narnia was brought up in the Readercon panel--England is their home, they have to go back at the end of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe), or began with it (the Enchanted Forest Chronicles, which I adore). Or there's a dichotomy--the Happy Family versus the Broken Home--while really, for many or most people, it's more complicated than that.

Fantasy and science fiction, though, have the power to address lots of people's issues and problems and thoughts and longings for and about home. They don't have to be specific to one situation. Look at Diana Wynne Jones' Homeward Bounders--a book which almost gives not enough resolution to the issues it raises (okay, it gives enough, it's just a resolution that hurts so I don't want to admit it).

Look at--as the Readercon panel suggested--Bella in Twilight. (Divorced parents, feels aimless, no real home, obtains boyfriend with ready-made, eternal family, wants to really belong.)

Look at (again, Readercon panel) Harry Potter. Harry grows up, simultaneously, with and without a family. Over the course of the series, sometimes he almost finds home, but it's snatched away. (Sirius Black.) Why? Well, as much as the books are ostensibly about beating Voldemort, they're at least as much about finding home. Harry does find a sort of surrogate family in the Weasleys, but their house is never completely his home. As Kate pointed out when we were on our way home from the last Harry Potter movie (I was grousing about how I dislike the epilogue and find it pointless and a too-easy jump into the future when Everything Is Okay), the epilogue is the end of that arc--Harry has a family, he has a home. Can you imagine the Harry Potter series where he spent the last three books living with Sirius Black? It's almost beyond plausible.

I have no answers, just observations, just questions, trying to spot patterns. Could this be part of the mythical Reasons Why Twilight (et cetera) Is So Popular? Are these popular books in fact doing more with the concept of home than less-popular ones are--or are these just the ones we think of first? Do series, which take longer to get to the home--if there is one--satisfy this need for the readers more comprehensively? Is this part of the dystopia trend (home isn't safe)?

Do you have any recommendations for recent books, children's or YA, that deal with this sort of thing in a complicated, non-Problem Novel sort of way? Any thoughts?
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334: The first I've read of Disch. (I first heard of him when he'd died.) It's weird--I've been on a '70s SF fling lately, it seems. Anyway, I'd checked this out a while ago and, well, last day at the library tomorrow so I figured I ought to actually read it. Interesting; I kept being distracted by the fact that, though 2021 was fifty years away in the 1970s, it's only about ten years away now. One thing that frequently strikes me when reading this sort of near-future SF from the past is just how slowly the world changes. Yes, things have changed since the 70s, in some cases drastically, and there are some marked similarities from the world imagined in 334 to the world of today...

We do this in today's fiction, too--particularly apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic. An asteroid hit the Earth, and everything changed. Zombies happened, and everything changed. X happened; everything changed. The formula stays the same. Maybe it's because we have nuclear weapons, and we know that the world really can change in a second, or a fraction of a second.

(I don't think my generation thinks about that, particularly, quite so much--six months after I was born, the USSR broke up, and now although people have nuclear weapons there hasn't been a serious threat of Someone Going To Use Them that I can remember. Everything's more low-level. But it does exist--it is out there.)

Anyway, to return to 334, I was intrigued by the setup of the second half of the book--like an apartment building in and of itself, I suppose, thinking about it now--but don't quite have the time or interest at the moment to untangle all the connections and various ways that one could read it. I flipped back and forth a bit, reading it... in the end, it's a story about a community, a family, how you live in a world that's a bit utopia and a bit dystopia at the same time.

----

A Returning Power rewrite:
28 / 70

This evening I just started reading what I have so far to get my head back in the revision; making a few brief changes as I go through, but nothing huge.
aamcnamara: (Default)
304 / 350


"There is too much stuff! I will never fit this all in fewer than fifty pages!"

...humans (/writers) are so predictable. Forging onward!

Highlights of today include but are not limited to Free Hugs, passing a guy playing guitar in the park, and working on old sheet music at the bindery.
(Lowlights include walking a mile and a half in the heat-index-91-degrees early afternoon. I didn't drop dead. Go me?)

The King's Peace: Interesting--not certain I will pick up the sequel, but I might.
Pale Fire: There are a few stories behind me reading this. One of them is "So I was reading Nabokov on the bus today..."*. One of them is "This morning I thought I wanted to read some SF-y, maybe space opera, novel, and then Nabokov lured me"**, and one of them is "Aaaaa, Nabokov"***.

All of them are true!

Spoilers, reading-protocols, slush )

*Pretentious
**Reader/writer (at least in my case)
***Writer/reader (ditto above)
aamcnamara: (Default)
Today at work I was pondering steampunk. (While making preservation boxes/wrappers for old books. It works in my head, all right?) On the Politics of Steampunk panel at WisCon, there were several different descriptions of what exactly steampunk is.

Someone (I'd have to go back to my notes to figure out who) said it was "retrofuturism". That word stuck in my head for a while, and something wiggled loose today.

Namely: what does steampunk do, what is steampunk, that isn't in Wells and Verne? What is steampunk, qua retrofuturism? What does retrofuturism mean? What does it mean in this context?

And: okay, so say that we have some ideas of what steampunk is, qua retrofuturism. How do we apply that to today? If there were a future society, can we postulate what kind of retrofurutistic SF they would write about our world today, and what would that look like?

Then when I got home Tordotcom had a post about Alex Varanese's Alt/1977. To me, this exemplifies some things I was thinking about (eliding a few decades into each other, distilling the essence of what 'we' like or see ourselves in from it, romanticization to a certain extent), but I'm sure there are lots of ways that people could take this concept. And, of course, this has an entirely different stated intent--but it's somewhere to start with imagining it.
aamcnamara: (Default)
Presentation completed. It was the one on fantastic/surreal/numinous elements--basically I argued that people talking about philosophy in fiction find it really useful to put in fantastic elements so they can literalize metaphors and capitalize on known concepts to make ideas easier to understand. It was a two-blackboard presentation, also a two-chalk-breakages presentation.

(I find these useful metrics. My last presentation involved no blackboards and no chalk, let alone the breaking of chalk, so clearly this one was more enthusiastic. Better? Who knows.)

Then I had to finish up my classics work before class, and then I had class, and now I am watching a cappella videos on youtube, because life is too short to spend all my time working on final projects, or, well, something like that.

Today has been another grey day, with peeks of sunshine. The moments of sunshine glow through all the little white flowers on the tree outside my window.

And, well--life, you know, is too short to spend all my time watching videos on youtube. Or even posting on LJ. Maybe I'll go write.
aamcnamara: (Default)
O great internets, I have a request.

See, I am doing a presentation next week (or the week after that?) for my Critical Social Thought class. We've been reading a bunch of different things this semester--some of Kafka's short stories, Camus' The Stranger, The Little Prince, the Book of Job, Voltaire's Candide. My plan for the presentation so far is to talk about the fantastic in connection with each of these works.

My question is this: for a low-level academic discussion of what the fantastic is/how it operates in books like these, what sorts of terms do you think might be useful and how do you define them?

(You don't have to have read them to give me suggestions, but being familiar with at least one might help.)

So far I've come up with things like fantastic (obviously), numinous, surreal, uncanny, but I haven't gotten too far in defining them.

Obviously, since it's my presentation I'll be doing a bunch of synthesis and all that, but I haven't done much talking about the fantastic outside of the field/fandom before, especially in an academic setting, so I want to make sure that my concepts are easily understandable and also make sense. I'm not looking for The Right Definition, just something useful.

(Classmates have largely in their first year of college, have likely read or are aware of Harry Potter and the Twilight books, and I can maybe count on some of them having read things like Narnia or His Dark Materials as kids.)

Also, if you know people who might have interesting things to say, it would be awesome if you'd relink this post to them. Thank you!
aamcnamara: (Default)
The reading for my sociology class today was a guy named Goffman, who has this theory about how the "self" is performative. That is, everyone is performing some "front" for some audience all the time, and we use settings and props and mannerisms in our performances to make them more convincing.

And according to him, life is performance. If you stop performing one role, you're just performing a different one. If you strip away all the performance, there quite literally is nothing left.

Which just strikes me as an ultimately sort of sad way to look at life. Maybe it's me being naive or not cynical enough, but--if we can never stop performing? If we always are faking it, on some level? That's sort of depressing.

I feel like there's a true me. Sometimes it's hidden, maybe most of the time some part of it is hidden in one way or the other, but with friends that I really connect to, I feel like I can be every bit of me. I can express every bit of the reactions that pop up in my brain without censoring myself--"she won't appreciate that joke", "they wouldn't think that was interesting", "he'd just look at me like, 'what?'".

At one point or another when I was auditioning for play after play in high school and not getting into any of them, I came up with the theory that maybe the reason no one cast me in shows was that I'm not very good at not being me. I've spent so much time becoming as much me as I can that when I'm acting I can never really forget that me. Being cast in this play in college means that that probably isn't in fact the case (at least, I hope against hope that I wasn't typecast in this part), but the ideas slot into one another.

Maybe I'm deluding myself, that my self exists. Maybe "my really me" is just a different performance I put on. But I don't think so. Sociology is all about distrusting things--distrusting thoughts, distrusting impulses and initial reactions--but if I can't trust me, trust my self, then when I'm thinking about sociology, what am I standing on?
aamcnamara: (window)
By which I still mean college. Still not too much writing; intermittent sprinkles of it, which is enough for now in a busy life.

I am going to have to get out my camera one of these days, because my pocketwatch came today and it is awesome. I may not have mentioned it here before. If not, I got it because of my workstudy job, which requires me to sit in a rare book room and stare at books for hours and not get completely lost and forget to, say, go to class. Having a watch seemed like a good idea. I've never been one for wearing things on my wrists--just not my style--and, I mean, come on. Pocket watch! It arrived today. I immediately began showing it to everyone I know. I may have missed some people, but I will get to them. (That is a promise! Not a threat! I swear!)

(As a side note, both a geeky dance and Halloween are approaching. Given my pocket watch and potentially bringing my haircut into consideration, please suggest costumes.)

Very busy lately: week of the first papers. I had a sociology paper due and a physics test today, both of which went smoothly. I have a philosophy paper due tomorrow, which I am still sort of sidling up on--I have most of it, but it's still eluding me a little. Taking sociology and philosophy together is intriguing, and something I fully intend to write more about, one of these days.

One immediate contrast is that while writing a sociology essay mostly felt like writing a history essay (potentially I have been writing sociology essays all along, which would account for a few of the essay grades I got in high school), writing a philosophy essay doesn't really feel like anything else.

It's taken me several days to get this far; all I really need now is a lead-in to the conclusion, a conclusion, and another pass over it to check for logical inconsistencies, etc. Somehow, even though the rest of the essay is written, I can't come up with a way to get to the conclusion. Something's missing there, and I'm not sure how to find it.

On the other hand, I keep having to tell myself that I don't have to prove everything ever about philosophy in this 2-3 page paper. I keep having stylistic flights of fancy and half-quoting Dylan Thomas.

Does this mean that I should take more philosophy classes? Major in philosophy? Who knows. There are some things about it I don't like, or that I don't find enjoyable. There are some things about writing this essay that I don't find enjoyable. On the other hand, it's working my brain in ways my brain hasn't been worked before, which in my opinion can only be good.
aamcnamara: (window)
So there are at least three facets of drafting new stories, as far as I can tell.

One is pure thought. The original "what-if?". The times when you stop writing to think, "Okay, so I have this, but where does the story go on from here?" and think about the component ideas of the story, the themes, the plot, etc. without actually writing anything.

The second is thought-in-writing. This is the one where you just keep writing along, but the things that come out of your pen, or onto the keyboard, are not things that you knew before your fingers touched the keys.

(This second one can also be split into two: thought-in-writing that sets up the framework for what the story is, and thought-in-writing that veers off from the third, writing.)

The third is writing. There's probably a more apt term for this one. Sitting down with the knowledge of what-happens-next and, well, writing it.

Personally, I've found that I have to have at least a little thought-in-writing to keep my brain engaged. If I know too much about exactly what's going to happen next, either my brain just shuts down from that story ("what's the point in writing it if I already know what happens?") or, if I have a particular momentum, invents new tangents for the narrative to take.

The three also require different levels of mental energy. I suspect that this varies for everyone. For me, the second sub-category of thought-in-writing is the easiest; it takes determined mental energy for me to do "writing" to a formula I know beforehand, whereas inventing as I go along is easy, as long as I know the framework of the story.

This is why I think I need to figure out how to stagger stories. If I always had something to work on where all I need to do is invent within a framework, something easy like falling down a hill, then I could feel satisfied with that and still have energy left to framework something else. Otherwise, I get stuck in periods like right now, when I don’t have a novel to work on any more, and all the stories I've started are demanding full mental energy to deal with frameworking them up from the ground.

Rewriting is a whole other story.
(Pun unintended.)
(Mostly.)
aamcnamara: (Default)
So I got the International Baccalaureate Diploma. (Scores went up today.) The proudest part of that was probably the B grade I got on my extended essay, which I posted about here and which was on DUST by [livejournal.com profile] matociquala and PARADISES LOST by Ursula K. Le Guin. I didn't really ever get any guidance on it from my adviser (which, all right, I knew would probably happen when I picked him), and I wrote it in two drafts, in furious weeks of rereading and taking notes and restructuring. They were awesome weeks.

Personally? I think it's awesome. But I wasn't sure that the IB graders would think the same. So I'm very happy about that.

Beautiful weather this whole weekend. I was up near a lake--got to hang out in a pontoon boat, drive a pontoon boat, crash through the woods on an island and discover picnic tables and a forest of milkweed plants. My mom made a good half-gallon of fantastic lemonade, which we are still consuming. There were lots of lovely wildflowers, whipping past on the drive up, on the island, just around. There were many many berries consumed. (This is one of my favorite eating times of the year. Fresh local berries? Yum.) There was a fire, and marshmallows, and deliciousness resulted.

There was time for me to sit out on a dock and read, to write and to stare at the water and think. Or just stare at the water.

And today? Today I have not decided yet what will happen. I know what the next little bit of the novel is, so I might write that. I might work on the poem that's started to climb out of my brain with its little spindly claws, or the couple of short story ideas that dripped out of my mind. (I know I shouldn't--I have a novel to finish--but I might.) At some point I'll go through some slush for Ideomancer.

After reading [livejournal.com profile] matociquala's post here, I have been thinking about writer peer groups, and what is my peer group, and what are peer groups anyway? I seem to have a lot of writer acquaintances, but not very many writer friends.

And some people, I think (or hope?), feel the same way. I meet people at cons and think they're cool, friend them on LJ or whatever, and end up just reading their posts and being uncertain if I should comment, because maybe I just had a tiny conversation with them or maybe not even that. Maybe I comment, and they maybe remember who I am, or maybe they don't, and anyway it fizzles out.

So! If you are a writer, and want writer friends--i.e., me and whoever else comments on this post--comment! (Hey, it might not work out, but it's something.)
aamcnamara: (Default)
So one of my recent accomplishments was finishing this long essay. (For those of you playing along at home, it's the first entry on this list.) It's about DUST by Elizabeth Bear, and PARADISES LOST by Ursula K. Le Guin, and fate and free will and angels and SF.

Now I am done, and so, because I am simultaneously proud of it and want to stuff it down a well, I am posting about it here, and saying that I will send it to people.

Which I will. Send it, that is. I have a whole bucket of excuses for it, which I will not give.

details and how to get it )
aamcnamara: (Default)
"[The poet] wants to tell the truth, and he wants to amuse his friends, and what kind of truth he tells and what kind of friends he has depend partly on the state of society as a whole and partly on the kind of life which he, as an artist, leads.

"When the things in which the poet is interested, the things which he sees about him, are much the same as those of his audience, and that audience is a fairly general one, he will not be conscious of himself as an unusual person, and his language will be straightforward and close to ordinary speech. When, on the other hand, his interest and perceptions are not readily acceptable to society, or his audience is a highly specialized one, perhaps of fellow poets, he will be acutely aware of himself as the poet, and his method of expression may depart very widely from the normal social language."

-- W. H. Auden, Introduction to the Oxford Book of Light Verse

(Admittedly, you have to get past his assumption of "he" and his complete inability to end a sentence with a preposition if it killed him.)

One of the big perpetual discussions is, What's the short story world like? Is it a feedback loop, writers producing stories for other writers? Is it failing? Is it thriving? What is it, anyway?

Another one is, Why are bestselling books best-selling? Why do many of the writers considered masters at the craft get good reviews and few sales?
W. H. Auden may or may not have the answers. )

Next time:
The Romantic poets "turned away from the life of their time to the contemplation of their own emotions and the creation of imaginary worlds."

Consider this statement of Auden's in relation to science fiction and fantasy. Discuss.

August 2015

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