Inspire: Halloween To Me

I guess it’s about time I do a Halloween special. Don’t worry, there won’t be any Hanukkah, Thanksgiving, or Christmas ones. Though there may be something about Thanksgivukkah this year.

As I do not have children nor have I been one for some time, it’s been awhile since last I knocked on a neighbor’s house like a Jehova’s Witness and asked for candy. Not that I’d do much with it anyway; too many years in the health food industry have endowed me with a sort of paranoid fear of high fructose corn syrup. Furthermore, I was brought up in an extremely rural setting – lets just say we had no neighbors – so I was never taken out on this strange community pilfering ritual.

Now, that’s not to say I haven’t enjoyed a good costume. There was this one time I was visiting friends at a college not my own, all dressed up as Dark Link – won a useless lava lamp at the costume contest. No one asked whether or not I was a student there. Last year, I met with some friends and went out on the town of NYC in a full-body gorilla suit.

Clearly, you can tell I know how to pass an evening in style.

As for the holiday itself, I remember writing an essay on the alignment of the day. I figure lots of folks see Halloween as “evil” time, though of course rational adults understand it as just another excuse for people to put on masks and show off their bondage outfits in public. The Hallow’s Weening has Pagan roots. Which of course means evil to, well, people of devout persuasion.

But I digress.

I remember proposing that Halloween, even before I knew the whole Celtic harvest festival thing, was in fact a Neutral day – as opposed to a Good or an Evil time. As often happened when I voiced my ideas to class, everyone fell dead silent and didn’t know how to react. At least my English Teacher at the time understood what I was getting at. “So,” she had said, “perhaps Halloween isn’t good, or evil, it just is.”  My influence for this thought was, in full and to the exclusion of all other things, The Nightmare Before Christmas.

I kept that last part to myself.

Fear is a fun thing to ruminate over, though. Call it superstition, call it “weakness of the mind” – I prefer to think of Fear as (occasionally, anyway) translatable to “good imagination.” For an excellent, EXCELLENT 9 minutes about the science of creepiness, check out this video by Vsauce.

Now, sleep well, dear readers, and…

Or better yet, if you have any memories of Halloween you’d care to share, leave a comment!

Experience: NaNoWriMo

So those of you amongst the worded folk may have heard of an annual event known as the National Novel Writing Month  – aka NaNoWriMo. Those of you familiar with this, go ahead and skip the following paragraph.

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NaNoWriMo is an event I’d heard of in the past but never really took time to check out until this year. Every November, from the 1st to 30th, participating writers are encouraged to write a novel in a month. I often see numbers along the lines of 50,000 words, which isn’t really that big in terms of novels. But in a month? Well, I’ve heard it doable. Those of you without a calculator handy, that comes out to approximately 1,666 words written a day. The NaNoWriMo is not a competition, and it costs nothing to enter. it is merely encouragement, and they encourage community groupage; it isn’t hard to find people near you. I live pretty out of the way, and was pleasantly surprised to find people even near me.  As of this writing, we meet for the first time tomorrow.

Check it out.  It starts on November 1st, so it isn’t too late to sign up!

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Right then. So I’ll be a first-time WriMo, or a NaNo, or whatever it is they call noobies. I find the impending month to be exhilarating, as I’ve already drafted out a story and have been working on timelines, setting, character and their motivations, and the like. It isn’t a race, but I feel as a sprinter, edgy for someone to fire the gun.

As a result, it may be difficult for me to keep up the blog, but I do not want to make any excuses. Not even NaNoWriMo will keep me from uploading posts about writing, about fantasy, about storytelling, or anything in between.

I highly recommend anyone whose had a book in their mind to consider this. You may not even wish to use the time to write a novel – I have heard of folks who use NaNoWriMo’s positive, pressured atmosphere and encouraging community to write out short stories, or even blog posts. I imagine it would be a large store of ’em, more than half a year’s worth of weekly posts ready to go.

And now for something completely different.

Review: The Gentleman Bastards

Short version: The books are hugely fun, well crafted, and compelling. Read them.

So the last several weeks have been comparatively exciting, literally speaking. I haven’t had this much fun with the work of an author for what feels like a very long time.

Redwall is delightful in that childhood happiness sort of way, and Dune I will always adore for that mind-expanding feeling of awesome I get – which isn’t too far off from the vibe I derive from sitting and thinking about Neon Genesis Evangelion. I’m a geek, I know.

But recently, I’ve come across an author whose work I’ve come to regard as someone I truly wish to emulate – and, wouldn’t you believe it, they’re still alive. Most authors I’ve come to admire died years before I ever knew their name, or found their work. It is a crime.

The Lies of Locke Lamora is a fantasy novel by Scott Lynch  , a man whose word smithery leaves nothing to be desired. To describe Lies, I affectionately draw offer a cross between Oliver Twist and Game of Thrones. At least for the beginning. Then it becomes Ocean’s Eleven set in a fantasy realm. We’re talking heists, killings, mischief and all manner of “fuckery.”

Several weeks before this post, I ‘read’ The Lies of Locke Lamora (4/5 Stars) in my preferred medium – that is, audiobook – and the narrator, Michael Page, does a tremendous job with the voices and tone. Now, about a tenday later, I’m deep into Red Seas Under Red Skies, the next of Lynch’s Gentleman Bastards series; also narrated by a familiar voice, much to the delight of yours truly.

I wanted to mention that I discovered something about myself in reading this book. I was primed by the latest Dead Author’s Podcast (where “Edgar Rice Burrough” claims he wrote Tarzan because he wanted to write a character that was everything he wish he could be), and had been set to thinking a simple question:

“What characters do I like most? In my own writing or otherwise, what characters do I wish to be?”

And so I discovered that I am fascinated by characters who can talk their way into – and out of – trouble. Locke Lamora is one such individual. Another, whom I didn’t realize I loved up until I now have the mental vocabulary to describe it, is Odysseus. In a Fantasy setting, see no shame in having a talent for killing or statecraft. In fact even something as mercantalism is pretty nifty if someone has a knack for it. But Speechcraft! Ha! It all makes sense now; no wonder I was so compelled by games like Baldur’s Gate and Fallout: New Vegas. Dialogue options that allowed you to manipulate the story and arrange your own safety, or any other desirable boon, is apparently more appealing to me than “Making the biggest badass character in the realm.”

The Gentleman Bastard series is fun to read and as of this post, the 3rd book was released days ago. I’ll likely secure a copy shortly after this. Imagine my excitement; now I understand some shard of what the Halo and Game of Thrones fans feel when Bungie reaches to scratch itself or when George R.R. Martin burps.

But perhaps most interestingly, I’m going to endeavor to improve my Speechcraft Skill. Starting with this over LifeHacker.org.

Happy writing!

Review: Breaking Bad

Now let’s get something straight, dear readers. I generally don’t watch television. I’ll enjoy a movie now and then, and used to be a very avid gamer. But when it came to T.V., back when I bothered with it, there were very few shows around which I would actually “make time” to watch. A notable exception is Whose Line Is It Anyway?

Breaking Bad is also a notable exception.

Fortunately these days, anyone who pays a little attention to anything technology or media related can watch most of their favorite shows online, whenever they want. Thus I was introduced to Breaking Bad, about two years ago exactly – and only recently just finished the final season.

I’d rather not talk about specific plot points, as I’d prefer not to really just blow more smoke at the series. Not that they don’t deserve it! From an acting perspective, I had a total suspension of disbelief. This series is a long, painful story that smacks of realism and grit, full of wonderfully colorful characters – most of which are given the depth that only a drama (as opposed to a movie) could really offer.

The greatest stories are about change; don’t take my word for it, ask Joseph Campbell or read his The Hero With A Thousand Faces. Many characters went through some serious changes in Breaking Bad, not least of which was Walter White, and for that alone I count this as an excellent viewing. An expansive cast of talented actors supported this drama very well, and I have next to nothing negative to say about the story itself.

Here comes the part where I might get some flak.

That being said, the show did suffer from, in my opinion, a case of extendeditis (which may or may not be considered akin to “Jumping the shark”). Some episodes, though engaging, didn’t do much for the plot except add character development (which certainly is not bad). I mean, I probably enjoyed every episode, but most of them were forgettable. I think it was around Season 3 when I started thinking “Alright, wrap it up guys.” But a symptom of extendeditis is a bit of deus ex machina – something happens, usually to the hubris of Walter White (pride), that causes him and others to get re-involved in the nasty situation. Pride is a powerful thing, I understand, but it gets tiring when a show drags on.

I don’t have the patience of most loyal viewers, perhaps. I wouldn’t accuse Breaking Bad of containing “fluff” or “filler” (them’s fightin’ words) but it could’ve been more tight. Particularly the final episodes. After everything that had been hurdled, everything the characters had gone through, the finale was expertly acted and filmed, but writing? There wasn’t much of a “finale” feeling to the last obstacle – in fact I’d go so far as to say that other situations prior were much more dire and well thought-out.

Overall, Breaking Bad was a wild ride, but I was left unsatisfied – I think I liked it more when it was Dark Comedy, before it became just plane Dark. It isn’t as though I watched everything all at once, either – in fact I took a break for some months between some seasons, on account of the extendeditis. Not to mention the show seriously wore down my nerves. I’ve never been more angsty watching something since that K-Horror phase I went through years ago.

Extendeditis happens in lotsa things though, and I have to say that of them all Breaking Bad really stands out as a stellar example of the excellence possible in the realms of cinematography and acting performance. I see extendeditis in anime, videogames, loads of modern movies, and of course, television. These days I’m still unsure as to whether I’m simply impatient or its just a trend the likes of which most viewers simply embrace.

Breaking Bad gets a 8 out of 10 meth crystals.

Experience: Thrilling Adventure Hour

On the 11th of October, I sojourned to the Bell House of Brooklyn, NY, eager to see the live performance of a podcast to which I frequently listen.

Anyone familiar with The Thrilling Adventure Hour know what I’m talking about.

The Thrilling Adventure Hour is a podcast that perhaps can best be described as a sketch comedy. The time there at the Bell House, one and a half hours in total, was spent watching a number of voices I’d only heard for the past half-year or so come to life before me.

Now I’m not for knocking anything really, but I’d be lying if I said the severe lack of chairs did not affect my experience there. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t until after I’d crossed the threshold into the building that I realized I’d been to the Bell House once before – some foray mini-concert with a friend, years ago – and I had to stand the whole time then, too. But I digress.

As for the the Thrilling Adventure Hour itself, it was delightful to see the actors perform live before myself and my friends. It’s a funny thing, how the face and body doesn’t even remotely match the voices I’d come to know and love. I was pleasantly surprised to see various folks playing the parts of multiple characters too – I’ve a sort of soft spot for voice actors, you see. Pleasantly surprised, and impressed.

Now, I can’t say I adored every one of the sketches performed. The crowd around me seemed uproarious, so who am I to say? All I do know is that I think it was clever that the show was bookended with its best performances, opening with Sparks Nevada: Marshal on Mars and Beyond Belief. I had gone with three folks, one of whom was a longtime listener of the podcast like myself, while the other two had no prior experience. In short, one of those two found themselves having a good time (minus the lack of seating), and the other found the whole charade “Boring as hell.” It was an interesting, if brief, discussion on the way back to the subway.

All in all I can safely say I do not regret going. I’m not a person to really go out there and do things, like concerts (except the one I mentioned just before…) or any performance for that matter. Seeing as the TTAH is based in L.A. and this was one of their rare events within arm’s reach of me, I figured I’d regret not going.

I think I’ll stick to just listening, though, considering the memory was soured by aching knees and less-than-great sound quality. Of course I blame them not for any of this, but hey, if you like them then I encourage you to give them a go live.

Here’s to them doing a great job bringing fun and imaginative characters to ludicrous settings!

Review: Subsoil

Not too long ago, I was listening to a newly-discovered podcast called Selected Shorts (episode “Too Late”) an NPR program that enlists various celebrities or actors to read some short stories over the airwaves. This may not be the first time I cover a story from Selected Shorts, but as I only recently discovered this ‘cast, I was pleasantly surprised at the quality. Though all the shorts in this episode were excellent – it was a tough choice about which one I would write – today  shall talk a bit about Subsoil.

Subsoil is a short story by Nicholas Baker, and as I endeavor to improve my own craft regarding the making of short stories, this one is henceforth counted as a favorite. In this story, a man who by all accounts is an agricultural historian, goes off and stays at an inn on his way to the Museum of the Tractor. His trip is radically altered when he’s attacked by, as NPR puts it, killer potatoes.

Yes. Killer potatoes.

Now this sounds like some B Movie from the 80s, but Nicholas Baker does such a tremendous job writing it that I was instantly drawn into it. We’ve got serious whimsical, silly storytelling here – I’d almost go as far as to say that the narrative is akin to Terry Pratchett’s. 

There’re loads of potato jokes and dry humor, a recipe for excellence any day of my week. If you’re unfamiliar with the podcast, highly recommended for anyone interested in fiction which, since you’re reading this, I’d safely assume might in fact be you. Or at the very least, find and read/hear Baker’s Subsoil. That’s a good twentyish minutes you will not regret!

The potatoes of Wikipedia demand it.

 

Concept: Healing in Fantasy (pt.3)

In the last entries of this series, we observed Natural Healing and Divine Healing. Today, we turn down the lamps and pull closed the shades as we delve into the dark arts – what I like to categorically call Vampiric Healing.

This is more or less parasitic healing. Vampires would like to consider themselves Lords of the Night or Top Predators or whatever, but if you ask me, they’re parasites.

We do not speak of sparkles.

Vampiric Healing, as a general term, is what I use when referring to any spell along the classic “drain” or “leech” – you’re inflicting damage upon a foe (or maybe a loved one if they’re into that), in order to steal their health/blood/vitae to replenish your own. I hear this is frowned upon and in most fantasy settings, it’s pretty nasty business. There’s often lots of blood involved and usually there’s someone getting the short end of the stick. I’m sure you’re all familiar with that.

Don’t mind if I do. (Force Drain from the Star Wars wikia.)

Considering there’s outright theft, sacrifice, pain and suffering involved, it’s no wonder healing of this variety gets a bad rap. Though I suppose when the powers deliberately age, inflict pain or suck out the target’s soul, well, a humble scholar might think of this as appropriate. Selfish magic is, no matter how fantastic, still selfish.

I’ve been thinking about a circumstance in which Vampiric Healing could be construed as positive, or used in a good way. Trouble is, I’ve read or played no such instance where someone willingly offered themselves up as a sacrifice to have their life stolen. Brainwashed servants or bred slaves don’t count, and neither does it count (in my book, anyway) than if some heroic soul somehow “gives their life force” to someone else in order to save their life, it’s still not parasitic

So how can Vampiric Healing be good? How could a parasitic spell ever be used for anything but self-preservation?

Not as far as I can tell. Chances are there’d have to be a very well-orchestrated scenario for this to work, but in the end, stealing health is still stealing health. Even using dark magic to steal and inflict pain on dark creatures is awesome, it’s not exactly kosher.

But I’d love to hear your theories. In your mind, is healing of this nature ever good?