Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Passing of Forest J. Ackerman

I could hardly refer to myself as Das Übernerd without noting the passing of one of the first great Übernerds: Forest J. Ackerman.

I have to confess that while I've heard of Ackerman all of the deeds of fandom that he's remembered for like the magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland, his massive collection of SF memorabilia which he gladly showed to anyone who made the trip to his home, and the huge fandom communities he helped create since they were both before my time and well removed from myself geographically. He was awarded a Hugo in that first ceremony back in 1953 for the "#1 Fan Personality" and that's one award I've never heard anyone challenge.

I've read the anecdotes but I don't feel that I knew him or his works well enough to eulogize him. So I will just wish farewell from one Übernerd to the the King of the Übernerds.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

If I Had a Nickel for Every Time a Geologist Said This....

From an ad in the March 1951 issue of Popular Science which are now online thanks to Google. It's a wealth of deliciously ironic visions of the future.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

NaNoWriMo '08 - The Postmortem

This past month was my first attempt at a NaNoWriMo novel and it was an interesting experience. I learned many things but it doesn't really matter without careful reflection.

For the uninitiated NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writer's Month, an online movement where participants talk like a pirate... sorry that's Talk Like a Pirate Day. The idea of NaNoWriMo is to start from nothing and write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November. Okay, 50,000 words is about halfway between a long novella and a short novel (these days novels tend to clock in closer to 100,000 words) but the concept is there: nothing to a book in thirty day.

I've known about NaNoWriMo for a while but this was the first year I've participated. Time issues or other projects have made it clear that dedicating a month to such a massive undertaking wouldn't be wise. This year I was struck by what I thought would be an easy idea to use to pump words out: Teddy Roosevelt and Grover Cleveland fighting time traveling one term nineteenth century US presidents in a pulp adventure format. I had the idea on October 28 so I decided to jump into NaNoWriMo.

Now that it is over and I have successfully completed my novel I have also decided that I am never doing that again. It is not that I became disillusioned with the idea that "writing is easy"; while that is a common sentiment I am well aware of the fact that it is not. Instead I found that most of the intended goals of NaNoWriMo event were ineffective for me.

One of the purposes of NaNoWriMo is to encourage people to write regularly by setting a deadline. I have this blog to channel my writing instinct into and it serves those needs very well even when I don't have to worry about narrative structure. So I wound up feeling that I was sinking a lot of time into something I was already pursuing.

A big portion of NaNoWriMo is the community attached and I found myself turned off by it. There's no kind way to say this so I'll just be rude: the majority of those involved were barely literate. We'll get to my own failings in a moment (and they are many) but looking at the forums was more disheartening than helpful.

The emphasis on word count and time limits resulted in extremely poor quality output. I chose a light pulp format for the ease in construction (whenever I got stuck I could move the characters to another historical event and have something crazy happen) but I shift tone, style, and structure so often that I produced fifty thousand words of completely unusable garbage. This is why you won't see a sample of my novel here or anywhere else: it's not just first draft quality, it needs a complete rebuild from the ground up to even reach that point. Consequently while I'm proud to have written a novel I also feel that I have wasted my time producing worthless text.

NaNoWriMo is an interesting writing exercise for amateur and would-be writers but I found it to be of limited worth to myself so I won't be doing it again. I did learn things about establishing structure and format and spent a lot of time thinking about pacing. For that reason giving it a try once was worth it but the lessons have been learned and its time to move on.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Review - Howl's Moving Castle

Howl's Moving Castle
2006 Nebula Winner for Best Script
by Hayao Miyazaki, Cindy Davis Hewitt, and Donald H. Hewitt

I first encountered the films of Hayao Miyazaki in an unusual place: the video arcade. His first feature length movie had been dissected to make a laserdisk game called Cliffhanger and compared to other such games like Dragon's Lair and Space Ace the art was obviously superior. It wasn't until I became interested in Japanese animation a few years later that I realized who he was and sought out his movies. He's been called the Japanese Walt Disney but I find that handy shorthand used in newspaper articles a bit insulting: he's much better than Disney when it comes to feature length films.

I have to confess that I have not read Diane Wynne Jones's original novel since I suspect that at this point I am well outside of its target audience. Consequently I cannot comment on how faithful the film is to the book. All I can say is that as a movie it is spectacular.

Sofi is a young girl who is living a quiet life as a haberdasher when she has a brief encounter with the wizard Howl. Howl's rival the Witch of the East confronts her afterward and out of spite curses the girl to be an old woman who cannot tell anyone of the curse. Sofi finds herself in Howl's employ as a cleaning woman and they bond while dealing with things like the helpful fire demon that moves his steampunk castle from place to place and a war where the king is requiring all wizards to turn themselves to monsters in order to fight.

Much like many other Miyazaki films Howl's Moving Castle features a kind of fairy tale magic that carries with it a great deal of charm. Something strange and wonderous is always lurking around the corner. Unfortunately this extends to some aspects of the plot which are glossed over leaving the reason why events are occurring at some points unclear.

The movie is very fast paced. Perhaps a bit too fast paced since I would have appreciated more development of the relationship between Howl and Sofi since I have very little understanding of them at the end. They seem to end up together because they are together.

If there's one thing consistent in Miyazaki films it is the absolutely beautiful art direction. His films always have a water colored look to them that is different from just about any one else out there. Most animated films focus on bright, contrasting color palette but Howl's has a subdued look that appears more gentle. His eye for shot composition is also impressive; any single frame of that movie is a work of art.

It's interesting to note that Howl's Moving Castle is the only animated film that has been awarded a Hugo or Nebula. My interest in anime started from a lack of quality science fiction and fantasy movies or television shows and while some SF fans were willing to cross over there had been a significant number that ignored the development of a new SF medium. It is fitting that the only animated film to have bridged the gap is one of Miyazaki's.

Howl's Moving Castle is not my favorite Miyazaki movie (I couldn't pick a single favorite one if I tried) but it is an exceptional work by one of the last masters of traditional animation left in the world. Not only is it worth seeking out; if you haven't seen it then you need to make it a priority to watch this movie.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Review - "A Boy and His Dog" and "Passengers"

I have completed my NaNoWriMo novel and while I won't inflict it upon any readers I am going to provide a postmortem on the experience in the next day or so; I have a review of Howl's Moving Castle that I wanted to polish off last night for the last Best Script Nebula that may come first tomorrow.

As we come into December I'm going to start reviewing the World Fantasy Award winning novels. I've currently four novels into the list for my reading and have the first ten books already set.

"A Boy and His Dog"
by Harlan Ellison
1969 Nebula Winner for Best Novella

It seems strange to me that I've reviewed the film which won the Hugo for dramatic presentation in 1976 and I'm only now getting to commenting on the original novella. The film is a reasonably accurate adaptation of the novella which is no surprise given Ellison's involvement in the movie.

After a devastating war that has destroyed civilization a young man travels the wasteland with his telepathic intelligent dog. They go to the movies, look for a woman to rape, fight of a gang who wants to take his stuff, and visits an underground community.

The narrative isn't the strong point but the story does convey the setting very well. I found the dog to be an interesting character but the main character got on my nerves. He's a nearly compeltely self-absorbed jerk and doesn't manage to be entertaining in spite of that. The protagonist is a user of people with little to make the reader care about him.

Ellison's prose is as solid as it ever is but I think the lack of a strong narrative thread and interesting characters undermines the story. I think this can be safely bypassed but if you have any interest in Ellison's work then it is one to read.

by Robert Silverberg
1968 Nebula Winner for Best Short Story

In the not too distant future demonic possession has become a fact of life. Occasionaly a person will be possessed by an entity who will drive their body like a puppet and leave them only with vague memories of their actions afterward. A man who woke from a possession where he had a sexual fling finds that he still has memories of the partner. When he encounters her on the street later he tries to start a relationship with her despite the taboo of avoiding those encountered when possessed.

I found myself wishing that Silverberg had expanded this story further. I was interested in what changes people suddenly losing control of their actions would have on society but he only really explores this one aspect of it. It is a very interesting, very well thought out aspect, however.

For a story that was dependent on characters I didn't really get a grasp on who they were and that was a problem but I don't think it was an insurmountable one for the reader. All in all I found it to be a story that was worth reading.