Appallingly bad story ideas

I have great ideas. I think I do, anyway, but I’ve never gotten around to actually putting those ideas into action. For many years, I’ve had various ideas for stories fermenting in the back of my head, and I’ve even got a few notes I’ve written out here and there. However, I’ve never actually tried to write those stories down.

Until now. Seriously, I thought to myself, why the hell shouldn’t I try to write these stories? Why shouldn’t I try to publish these stories? There’s a lot of unreadable crap out there that somehow got published, so at worst I’ll just be adding another drop of literary horridness into the ocean of mediocrity that surrounds the rare islands of genius which make reading such a pleasure. And I might get paid for doing so!

As part of my quest for joining the creative industry, I’ve started looking at venues for short story publishing. Specifically, I was looking at the submission guidelines for the Strange Horizons sci fi magazine when I came across their list of Stories We’ve Seen Too Often. All of these story types sound incredibly bad, but the situation turns from amusing into horrifying when you remember that all of these stories keep getting submitted.

Still, while some of these stories are simply uncreative (honestly, a story about a writer having difficulty writing?) while others are merely clichéd, some stories are actively detestable, particularly the ones that are heavily misogynist in plot. If you can get past that, though, then it can be kind of fun to spend some time being reminded that there are worse writers out there than you. Some favourites:

A "surprise" twist ending occurs. (Note that we do like endings that we didn’t expect, as long as they derive naturally from character action. But note, too, that we’ve seen a lot of twist endings, and we find most of them to be pretty predictable, even the ones not on this list.)

  1. The characters’ actions are described in a way meant to fool the reader into thinking they’re humans, but in the end it turns out they’re not humans, as would have been obvious to anyone looking at them.
  2. Creatures are described as "vermin" or "pests" or "monsters," but in the end it turns out they’re humans.
  3. The author conceals some essential piece of information from the reader that would be obvious if the reader were present at the scene, and then suddenly reveals that information at the end of the story. (This can be done well, but rarely is.)
  4. Person is floating in a formless void; in the end, they’re born . . .

Story is based in whole or part on a D&D game or world.

  1. A party of D&D characters (usually including a fighter, a magic-user, and a thief, one of whom is a half-elf and one a dwarf) enters a dungeon (or the wilderness, or a town, or a tavern) and fights monsters (usually including orcs).
  2. Story is the origin story of a D&D character, culminating in their hooking up with a party of adventurers.
  3. A group of real-world humans who like roleplaying find themselves transported to D&D world . . .

Strange and mysterious things keep happening. And keep happening. And keep happening. For over half the story. Relentlessly. Without even a hint of explanation . . .

Evil people hook the protagonist on an addictive substance and then start raising the price, ruining the protagonist’s life . . .

Twee little fairies with wings fly around being twee.

Man, suddenly I feel like ten times more confident in my writing abilities. Thanks, Strange Horizons!

The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya

I watched The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya last night. Word on the street was that the movie was a good addition to the Haruhi Suzumiya series, and I really must concur. I’m kind of glad that I didn’t get into the series until a few months ago, since apparently the last new content was from 2007. That must have been a long three years for the fans.

The Haruhi Suzumiya series reminds me a lot of The Time Traveler’s Wife – not in terms of plot or even aesthetics, but rather in the way both use science fiction in the service of the story. They’re not like too many other science fiction stories, where the writers are too busy geeking out over the ray guns to bother about the characters or the plot. Rather, the fantastic elements in both stories exist to drive forward the fundamental relationships at the heart of their respective plots – in Haruhi Suzumiya’s case, it’s about a misanthropic girl learning to appreciate the mundane and a misanthropic guy learning to appreciate the fantastic (with that term encompassing time travelers, psychics, and aliens). However, both Time Traveler’s Wife and Haruhi Suzumiya aren’t just regular stories with science fiction stuff thrown in, they would be fundamentally different without being science fiction.

I like Haruhi Suzumiya. It’s always got such interesting ideas.

Never Look Back (rec)

Just found this fanfic, Never Look Back. It’s a crossover between Neil Gaiman’s short story A Study in Emerald (full version, PDF) and Sherlock, the BBC tv series which sets the Sherlock Holmes stories in modern Britain. A Study in Emerald is itself a crossover fanfiction between the classic Sherlock Holmes series and H.P. Lovecraft. So basically the fanfic updates Gaiman’s story to the modern world. Read it. It are good.

Seriously, I’m not into slash but I’ll make an exception for the fic (that, and the slash parts are easily skippable). I’m green with envy at the prose.

Norwegian Wood

Haruki Murakami’s novel Norwegian Wood has been made into a film and has premiered at the 67th Venice International Film Festival.

It looks rather like another tragic romance story, which I suppose is understandable. I hadn’t realized it when reading the novel, but a lot of what happens is internal. If you were to simply list the things that happened then the book would seem like an above-average love story. Look at the plot: guy goes off to university and is torn between his feelings for his dead friend’s girlfriend and a new girl who excites and challenges him. I sincerely hope the director manages to capture the air of quiet strangeness that’s always to be found in one of Haruki Murakami’s stories.

Battlestar Galactica 2010

Get Your War On

So, Adama didn’t nuke the planet after all.  I’m having trouble remembering other parts of last Sunday’s episode, though, since I almost dozed off a couple of times.

I don’t think it’s because the episode itself was boring, since the parts I recall seemed fairly exciting — Cylons getting blowed up, gunshot wounds to the head, and a scene where Apollo and Anders almost gave in to the sexual tension between them (this one I may have hallucinated while I was half-conscious).

I suspect I was still somewhat tired from skiing the day before and pleasantly groggy from my pork chop dinner, but I think my inattention also had to do with being in a different place and time to watch Battlestar Galactica.  This is the first time I’ve watched this show on Sunday instead of Saturday and in my old house instead of my place in Halifax.  It didn’t quite feel right, and the experience made me consider just how much context is responsible for Galactica‘s success.

Consider, for instance, that there is a new animated series of Star Trek being considered for production by whatever company it is that makes Star Trek.  The third comment points out that the original Star Trek drew upon dewy-eyed 60s optimism in its story-telling.  Star Trek failed and was cancelled in its first incarnation, but became popular in its movie version.  I think this was due partly to the difference between 1966 and 1979, the year the first movie came out.  In 1966, the United States was steadily losing its war in Vietnam, and Star Trek‘s optimism must have seemed like some cruel joke to a country dealing with major military defeats for the first time in its recent history.  In 1979, the Vietnam War was already finished for most Americans, and perhaps Star Trek: The Motion Picture was a nice distraction from the reality of corrupt presidents, dead leaders, and empty spots at the dinner table.

I’m sure we can all think of other tv shows or movies that, no matter how excellent, just didn’t catch on for some reason.  The Al Pacino movie Scarface, for instance, was a flop when it was first released, but it’s now considered a classic today, with its digital re-release celebrated by numerous film critics.  The reverse also holds true: classic Saturday Night Live skits like Jim Belushi’s samurai deli falls flat among people of my generation, the phrase “pile of dog crap” being bandied about at times.  The present is different from the past, and stories that were popular yesterday are not necessarily popular today.  But what, then, of Battlestar Galactica and its examination of the so-called War on Terror?  What of Battlestar Galactica‘s prospects for popularity among future generations of viewers?

Let us pretend that it is possible to win the War on Terror, or conversely (and perish the thought), it is possible to lose that same war (victory not necessarily being the objective of either “side”).  Let us pretend that it is now years, decades later, and we have achieved the status quo ante bellum, and the War on Terror is as distant as the Falklands War.  Would Battlestar Galactica still be considered brilliant by those who’d never seen it before?

I can easily imagine that it would be seen as too dark by future viewers who’d never been disgusted by graphic images of actual torture or had to helplessly read about monstrous crimes being perpetuated in their name many distant miles away.  In fact, Galactica might be seen as an unwelcome reminder of a past better buried, or perhaps even as a sign of the sickness of the society that it was produced in — after all, Galactica is meant as entertainment, and what is entertaining about reproducing images of terror?

The greater fear, of course, is that Battlestar Galactica will still be relevant twenty years from now.  If satire is meant to serve as a warning, then does that mean that Galactica‘s creators would like nothing more than to be a historical curiosity in the future?

I’m reminded of Weapons of Choice, a science fiction novel I read a few months back.  In it, a naval task force from twenty years in the future accidentally time travel back to the Second World War.  This means that the crews on board the ships have lived through twenty years of the War on Terror.  The future presented is grim, with summary executions of prisoners being conducted by the US military immediately after battle, and with American citizens living in a heavily militarized society.  Setting aside the author’s Tom Clancy-esque fascination with the machinery of war, the book’s portrayal of the future seems depressingly probable.

So there you have it, fellow fans of Galactica.  The series will be relevant in the future, or it will not.  A prediction, though: either way, lots of stuff will get blowed up.

What is the meaning of this?

So, you know what I hate? When bloggers stop updating their blogs. Actually, I don’t hate it, I just get mildly disappointed. I have a massive post in the works, but it’s so massive that it scares me. So that will be next week. For now, I thought I’d explain what the cryptic titles of my posts mean. They’re mostly just allusions to various works of media.

1. Hello world

This is a standard thing run by programmers. It’s probably the simplest test of a program: make it display the words “Hello world”.

2. I am the Gatekeeper

This is me quoting from the movie Ghostbusters. It’s set in New York, which is why I thought it was appropriate, given that the post was about me getting rejected for a travel grant to the city.

3. Hoy pare, pakinggan niyo ko (also, my hands are deadly weapons)

The first part is Tagalog, it means “Hey man, listen to me.” It’s from the Black Eyed Peas song Bebot, sung by the Filipino American Apl. The next line is “Ito na ang tunay na Filipino” (Here is the real Filipino). I was presenting myself and my daily routine in that post, which is why I thought the line was appropriate. The second part — about my hands being deadly weapons — is actually from an old cartoon show I used to watch, Karate Kat. That may not be the ultimate origin of the quote, but it’s where it came from in this particular case. I said that because I mentioned going to a karate class in the post.

4. Nationalism and its discontents

This title originally comes from Sigmund Freud’s book, Civilization and its Discontents. I’ve never read it. The book that I was actually alluding to was Sasskia Sassen’s Globalization and its Discontents, which I actually have read. But I think she got her title from Freud’s book.

5. In which I prove that I actually work

I originally thought this “In which . . .” construction was from Alice in Wonderland. I really did. Now, I’m not so sure. I’ve never fully read anything by Lewis Carroll. I tried to read Alice in Wonderland when I was little and it made no sense, so I stopped. I’ve never seen any of the movies, either. I think it’s also in the movie Benny & Joon, another work of fiction that I’m only vaguely familiar with. I think I actually did see it, but I don’t remember anything from it except Johnny Depp dressed up as Charlie Chaplin in The Little Tramp (I think that was what the movie was called). I like to pretend he was actually dressed up as Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange.

6. I’ll go a little later

This is from the Simpsons. It’s a line from the episode where Homer becomes an astronaut. He’s describing to Marge the time he missed the chance to meet Mr. T at an appearance in a shopping mall: “I said, I’ll go a little later, I’ll go a little later. But when I went later, Mr. T was already gone. And when I asked the man at the stall if Mr. T was coming back, he said he didn’t know.” Since the post was about me briefly overcoming my own laziness, I hope you can see why I quoted this line.

7. On the Internet, no one knows you’re a dog

This is from a cartoon in the New Yorker which shows a dog using a computer and saying that line to another dog looking on. I got it from Lisa Nakamura’s book Cybertypes, which I mentioned before. She discusses the cartoon according to the idea that bodies don’t matter online, and so being a dog doesn’t matter when you’re on the Internet. She disagrees with this idea and goes on at length about how and why bodies matter online.

8. Adventures in babysitting

I believe this is or was a book series for girls. Or was that The Babysitters’ Club? The closest I ever got to girls’ literature was when I read a crossover book between Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. It was kind of disappointing because Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys already knew each other at the beginning of the story. Wait, it was actually a bunch of stories. Anyway, the teen detectives were supposedly already friends with each other. I think it would have been more interesting if Nancy Drew and Joe and Frank stumbled upon each other while investigating the same case. Maybe they think the other party is working with the bad guys at first. Then you get the scene where everyone figures out they’re on the same side, and then the cool part comes when they’re working together. Maybe put some sexual tension in there. Sure, Joe and Frank had girlfriends, but we’ll pretend they were on a break or something. I think Nancy Drew also had a man friend, but I can’t be sure. Maybe she was tired of him and was looking for an intellectual equal (or two). Oh hang on, Google reveals that Adventures in Babysitting was apparently a movie from 1987. I was only six years old when it came out, so don’t blame me for not knowing about it. I apparently came across the title at some point in my life, though.

Oh, and speaking of teen detectives, weekend fun from the satirical website McSweeney’s (I actually got the link from the blog of danah boyd, who is a fairly prominent blog researcher): Publisher’s response to a Hardy Boys manuscript submission

First and foremost, we are unpersuaded that the subject matter of The Case of the Secret Meth Lab is appropriate for our readers. We understand that the manufacturing of narcotics in otherwise bucolic towns has indeed become a problem. That said, we ask you whether Joe Hardy would realistically go undercover and turn into what his brother repeatedly refers to as a “crankhead.”

. . .

Page 60: We encourage including Nancy Drew in the adventure as it represents great cross-marketing with our other adventure series. We would think it goes without saying, however, that she would not have, nor even contemplate, surgical enhancement. Please delete all references to her “killer rack.”