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January 11, 2006

Parsimony and refinement
Posted by Teresa at 09:25 AM * 392 comments

From Jed Hartman’s Lorem Ipsum, “Economy and efficiency as motivations in fiction”:

Something I see quite often in both submissions and published fiction (including movies) is plots that hinge on people taking implausibly inefficient approaches to achieving a goal.

It’s certainly true that individuals and organizations quite often behave inefficiently. That’ s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about a character or (more often) an organization or government choosing a really truly ridiculously inefficient and roundabout means to a straightforward end, when there would appear to be much simpler/easier approaches readily to hand. Sure, that too can happen in real life (can you say building papier-mâchè aircraft in East Anglia to fool the Nazis? talk about unlikely!), but sometimes real life is awfully implausible.

This comes up a lot in time-travel stories. Say organization A wants to get rid of the leader of organization B. In too many stories, the very first idea that organization A comes up with as a viable approach is to invent time travel and then go back in time and kill leader B in his or her infancy.

(I suppose it’s a little silly of me to presuppose that time travel is possible and then object to particular uses of it on plausibility grounds. I guess some of my argument is just my gut feeling about how people are likely to behave, given a ground situation.)

Of course, if time travel already exists and is cheap, this isn’t so implausible. But I’ve seen stories in which, as far as I could tell, a government sank huge amounts of resources into creating time travel (sometimes with no reason to expect that it’s even possible) in order to take down an opponent. And it just seems to me that in almost every situation, there’ve gotta be not just simpler ways to go about getting rid of the enemy leader, but ways that the government in question is more likely to try first. …

Many conspiracy-theory plots fall into the category I’m talking about, of course. Which is more plausible: that the protagonist is nuts, or that thousands of people are all playing their parts perfectly with the sole goal of keeping our hero from finding out one particular fact? Of course, this example shows the limits of my complaint, too; there are plenty of great conspiracy-theory plots, and in some cases the conspiracies even end up sounding kind of plausible. Or else they’re trying to make some broader point about society (think The Prisoner) and aren’t so concerned about mundane plausibility. Or else they’re using elaborate plans as a genre convention (as in the Bond movies). All that is fine; still, there are plenty of stories in which the good guys or the bad guys engage in ridiculously roundabout and inefficient ways to achieve a goal, simply because it’ll be more dramatic than doing it the simple way. Or (and I think this is really what bugs me) because it didn’t occur to the author, after they came up with the cool complex approach, that there might be a simpler or more likely way to do it.

There’s more to his essay. It’s all good.

The reason writers use implausibly inefficient approaches is that they start with a big dramatic thing they want to do, then come up with some sloppily pasted-on justification for doing it. A good way to study this is to refuse the stewardess’ offer of headphones on long flights. When a movie has an implausible plot, the visuals will have all the stuff they wanted to put into the movie in the first place. The dialogue will have all the stupid contrived reasons why the plot supposedly has to happen the way it does. When you can’t hear the dialogue, the moviemakers’ true motives are much clearer.

Twister, for instance: (1.) “Hey! We can do a pretty good-looking tornado!” (2.) You Will Believe A Cow Can Fly. The rest is just noise and rubbish. Speed is about a city bus that can’t slow down, no matter what. Jaws is about the shark coming to get you. The Warlock in Spite of Himself is about how cool it would be if a bunch of SCA people had psi powers and their own planet.

I kinda faked you out with that last example. The weird thing about the Stasheff novel is how little of the setup most readers remember, years later—all that to-do and fro-do about very large, very dull interstellar organizations—compared to how clearly they remember the cool bits. The mind performs the necessary edit in retrospect, and reshuffles the scenes that are the real reason the book exists into the Good Parts Version.

Goldman’s riff about the Good Parts Version in The Princess Bride is a far more sophisticated rumination on the transaction of reading than is generally recognized. The experience of reading a book is holding on to a contingent understanding of the plot kerfluffle while you wait for the good stuff to come along. Afterward, the good stuff is what you mostly remember.

Stephen King would understand this. I remember when I first read Salem’s Lot and The Stand, and understood that he’d reprocessed and transformed the experience of EC comics, Hammer films, Revell model kits, and cheesy post-holocaust novels into deeper and stranger works. It’s like what Patrick said when he first saw Alex Ross’s art: “This is what I saw in my head when I read comics as a kid.”

Yay, cool parts. Love the cool parts. But the other stuff, the supporting and explaining and incluing material, has to be just as good, even if it’s not what’s remembered. When that stuff is logical and proportionate and properly connected, we’re happy. It blends near-invisibly into our overall map of existence, bringing the cool stuff with it, so that both become part of our world.

When the support structure doesn’t work, the cool stuff’s still theoretically and abstractly cool, but we can’t connect with it. It’s like meeting what at first you think is the most beautiful [gender of your choice] in the whole world, only as soon as they open their mouth you realize that you never again want to hear their voice, and you wish you didn’t know their thoughts.

Regretfully, you fold your heart up and put it back in your pocket. They’re still beautiful, but they’re beautiful like an artifact, not like someone you could love.

Comments on Parsimony and refinement:
#1 ::: Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2006, 12:49 PM:

Thus, what may be the most honest movie of all time, coming soon to a theatre near you. Snakes on a Plane. Snakes. Plane. Samuel L. Jackson. What is this movie about? It's Snakes on a Motherfucking Plane, dammit!

Brilliant. Doesn't even pretend. It's just Snakes. On. A. Plane.

#2 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2006, 12:54 PM:

In technical plot theory, that's what we call a wind-up toy.

#3 ::: Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2006, 12:56 PM:

Maybe, but then this one ranks right up there with Nunzilla.

#4 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2006, 01:04 PM:

Ah, that WAS a great cover by Alex Ross, wasn't it? Great story too.

The best comic-books do deal in a believable way with why the villain has those incredibly convoluted plans to off the good guys. Why doesn't Dr. Doom just shoot the Fantastic Four? Because he thinks it's a crude way of dealing with them, one worthy only of inferiors. And his hatred of Reed Richards is all about who is the Best Man.

#5 ::: Chris Clarke ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2006, 01:06 PM:

Please pardon the blogwhoring, Teresa, but I disagree with you re: Twister.

#6 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2006, 01:29 PM:

How about the movie Point Break, as an example of ridiculous plot being merely excuse for action?

#7 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2006, 01:45 PM:

What about Jodie Foster's Flight Plan? That was one stupid movie with an unbelievable explanation for What-Is-Really-Going-On, one where the villains relied on many unlikely things happening one after the other right on cue.

And there is what also called the idiot plot. Speed is a painful example of it: if the cop had flashed his badge at the bus driver instead of pummeling the bus's door, the driver would have stopped before the detonator could be triggered.

#8 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2006, 01:50 PM:

Chris Clarke, having read - well, skimmed - your essay, I am irresistably inclined to doubt the veracity of your statement here.

#9 ::: Synedrian ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2006, 01:56 PM:

I was so excited for a second that there might be a film of "The Warlock in Spite of Himself". It was my favourite book when I was 12. Oh, well.

#10 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2006, 02:00 PM:

Oh, and one might wonder why, in North by Northwest, James Mason tries to kill Cary Grant by getting him drunk, then by using a cropduster? But I don't mind - in this specific case of what is probably one of my favorite movies.

#11 ::: rhandir ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2006, 02:09 PM:

Huh! That is a powerful explanation for why bad genere movies take hold of a subculture, and then suddenly evaporate. Er...okay, that assertion is going to be hard to illustrate, but here goes:

Back in the day, before Peter Jackson did LOTR, my friends and I loved watching certain movies precisely because of the Good Parts Version (tm) effect. We all dearly wanted to see the Tolkien movie-in-our-head, and so we'd do things like rent Taras Bulba* for the scenes of the Cossacks thundering across the plain for the sake of getting the idea of what the charge of the Rhohirrim would be like.

We'd watch less, ah, watchable fare, like Excalibur, or Highlander, or pretty much anything with magic and swords in it, too, but frankly, I don't think many of us really cared for those as stories, but as materiel. We never expected to get what we really wanted, and many of us were kind of disappointed when we did.

I wonder now if the buying/watching habits of otaku like us actually led to studios thinking we wanted such cruft as, say, the Dungeons and Dragons movie** (or Daredevil, Punisher, Superman II-IV, Star Trek:Nemesis, etc.) Oh dear. Are we repsonsible for the junk that has been thrust out there?!?


*Not an actual bad movie. Told you this would be hard to illustrate. Until I did a quick google, I had no idea that it was based on a story by Nikolai Gogol.
**Hey, it has Tom Baker in it! I'll have to rent that!

#12 ::: Rob T. ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2006, 02:11 PM:

Mostly agree with all this, but I just wanted to comment on the subtext of Speed. For me it was a parable of generational conflict '90s-style, with Dennis Hopper as a crazed baby-boomer with a strong sense of entitlement ("This is about money due me!"). Keanu Reeves, on the other hand, is a representative Generation X-er with no sense of entitlement to speak of, not too bright, and an object of contempt for boomers such as Hopper ("Do not attempt to grow a brain!"), but a survivor who gets the job done by whatever means necessary and/or available.

Obviously the explosions and such are the reason Speed got made, but the generational subtext (which I bet was the responsibility of uncredited script doctor Joss Whedon) is why it's one of my favorite action movies, and I bet I'm not the only one who remembers it this way.

#13 ::: Scott H ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2006, 02:13 PM:

Sounds like someone's been reading the slush pile.

#14 ::: Simstim ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2006, 02:52 PM:

My advice is: try to run your plot as a roleplaying game and watch as your players by-pass your carefully convoluted storyline with the simple "don't drown him in a pool filled with ill-tempered sea bass with lasers, just shoot him" shortcut. Of course, this sometimes works out the other way round when, no matter how many heavy-handed hints and clues you leave them, they insist on following up that red herring to the bitter and disappointing end.

#15 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2006, 03:06 PM:

Simstim, I once made an elaborate plan, with characters and everything, for all the things the players would encounter on the road to the city they were travelling to...expecting to play the whole adventure on the road, with most of it taking place at an inn on the way. Inn With A Problem; Solution Provides An Insight; NPC Owes Them A Favor, you know the drill.

They decided to turn into giant eagles and fly to the city.

Now, I was an inexperienced GM at that time, so I just said "Oh, well, then we can't play. I thought you were walking and I prepared a walking adventure." They walked, which was better than I deserved.

What I should have done was either a) come up with some reason they couldn't fly, which would have been heavy-handed but wouldn't have broken the frame like I did; or better, b) had them fly over the inn and see something irresistably interesting, to get them involved in the situation there. Later I learned how to do things like that.

Or I could have combined the two: "OK, you're flying, and it starts to rain. Then pour. Then zicker. You really can't see anything ahead, but there's a shapeless blur below you that just MIGHT be...an inn."

Later they just teleported everywhere, but by then I had stopped writing R66 adventures.

#16 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2006, 03:07 PM:

I wonder now if the buying/watching habits of otaku like us actually led to studios thinking we wanted such cruft as, say, the Dungeons and Dragons movie** (or Daredevil, Punisher, Superman II-IV, Star Trek:Nemesis, etc.) Oh dear. Are we repsonsible for the junk that has been thrust out there?!?

I think the cruft is just the 90% effect, combined with the human tendency to overhunt things into extinction.

After "X-men", the surprise wasn't "Constantine" or "Punisher", the surprise was "Spider-man", and [this may be an irrational love of mine] "Hellboy".

#17 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2006, 03:09 PM:

With the RPG thing, Simstim, the problem is, sometimes you get "Underworld."

#18 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2006, 03:16 PM:

I loved Underworld! Finally, a complex enough plot to hold my interest. The ending was disappointing, of course...and Scott Speedman as the Savior Of Us All was kinda miscast, to put it mildly. But I loved the whole tone of it, and the subtext of it, and the way it was shot.

#19 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2006, 03:31 PM:

They decided to turn into giant eagles and fly to the city

Funny you should mention giant eagles, Xopher. During the Holidays, my wife and I were watching our DVD of The Fellowship of the Ring. When we got to the part where Gandalf escapes from Saruman's Tower with the aid of a supsersized eagle, I turned to Sue and said:

"Why didn't Gandalf use one of those to fly Frodo straight to Mount Doom?"

What was the body count because they took the long way?

#20 ::: Harry Connolly ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2006, 03:34 PM:

Serge: Not sneaky enough.

#21 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2006, 03:37 PM:

As noted examples abound that are actually making good money. Wonder what's in it for the reader?

Speaking of economic plausibility, its long been a staple notion in science fiction that in the future, well move people to other planets to solve the population problem here at home. I had been reading sf for over 20 years before a friend pointed out to me that, unless you have basically free energy, thats ridiculous.

Marching Morons?

Wasn't there a long ago When World's Collide variation in which the government promised a one chance in ten of survival? The gimmick was that a ticket to ride the escape fleet was 1 in 10 chance but the escape fleet was expected to fail 9 out of 10 ships - typical government kidding on the square.

Sort of begs the question of what is the population problem - many stories have been on the get rid of dissidents and do some good based on the Australian model or on a suicide mission model depending on what's selling. Given access to low earth orbit for the energy cost it's about as cheap to send folks out at escape velocity as to move them from the slums of England to Australia. It's the Alderson drive that's implausible more than the energy. Granted a census that decimates may be the better story and I've read only one of those.

One of the points of reading science fiction for me YMMV is to enjoy a discussion of alternatives so impossible as to be immediately rejected out of hand in the real world. That is after the model of brainstorming many things are accepted uncritically as a starting point and then looked at seriously despite impossibility. In my experience this works better in a magazine format - e.g. Alien Rulers although obviously a very respectable publisher eventually did the expansion in Triple Detente - talk about a massive perhaps unsustainable conspiracy.

Economic implausibility - from Monte Cristo to Gully Foyle without the IRS audit?

The shelves are full of Alien Space Bats made it possible for me to write this Marty Sue in many volumes where Pennsic replaces the dreams of space for both writer and reader. Must be selling or maybe just imitating works that sold?

As has been noted many times many places it is quite possible to classify much genre fiction by the implausibility - the had I but.... known....told..... schools of crime drama and all the variations.

Of course implausibility may be the appeal - consider the shared universe stories from the Stratemeyer syndicate to Thieves' World - the teenage girl who had a loyal chum, an engaging boyfriend and a roadster of her own in the depresssion was pretty implausible right there let alone the cases.

I'd suspect Neil Gaiman could make me believe I Lucifer on the screen if I can get from the little girl Sergeant O'Donnell met in 1942 to Modesty Blaise.

#22 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2006, 03:41 PM:

'and [this may be an irrational love of mine] "Hellboy". '

I'll say, other than the opening sequence which really had me thinking it was all gonna be good.

#23 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2006, 03:44 PM:

Not sneaky enough, Harry? I guess Gandalf IS a nasty son of a b*tch.

I noticed another such 'oops' moment in the first Indiana Jones movie. That plane was going to take the Ark straight to Hitler, right? If Indy hadn't interfered with that, Adolf would have opened the Ark himself and we remember what happened when the Nazis did just that on that island...

#24 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2006, 03:49 PM:

Eagles weren't strong minded enough to be a ring bearer.

Been asked and answered in much greater detail than why wouldn't a winged balrog take down the eagle who, disguised as a flying reptile carrying a ring wraith, was transporting the ring.

#25 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2006, 03:55 PM:

Nah, Clark...

#26 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2006, 04:02 PM:

Xopher:

Not to get all comic store conversation on you here, but . .. hmm. I seem to have painted myself into a conversational corner there.

My opinion varies dramatically from yours. I felt Underworld greatly resembled a White Wolf game run by a 13-year-old, and opined that I could have done better, AS a 13-year-old. I respect Kate Beckinsale's dupa in its valiant attempt to carry the entire movie, but I feel there was just too much dumb for any two glutes to overcome.

#27 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2006, 04:03 PM:

More from the Dept of Callous Manipulators... Why didn't Glinda tell Dorothy right away the truth about how to go home? As a result of information withheld, Dorothy almost got killed by the Wicked Witch. Scarecrow got partially incinerated. I know, I know, she had to go thru the Hero's Journey and all that crap...

#28 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2006, 04:14 PM:

"I noticed another such 'oops' moment in the first Indiana Jones movie"

I don't remember any explicit delineation of what would happen when the ark was opened combined with everyone totally believing the supernatural theories behind such a delineation.

In other words, not an 'oops' , more a 'darn, if only we'd known'.

#29 ::: Ashni ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2006, 04:18 PM:

Serge:

1) Giant laser-eye-in-the-sky.

2) Giant eagle vs. Nazgul. Nazgul 1, Eagle 0.

But I'll grant you Indiana Jones. I had a similar problem with the Tomb Raider movie--if she'd destroyed the first plot coupon she found, she wouldn't have had to worry about the bad guys putting them all together and gaining absolute power.

#30 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2006, 04:22 PM:

Agreed, bryan...

The first plot coupon, Ashni? What was the movie about? The quest for Ultimate Power by Wal-Mart?

#31 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2006, 04:46 PM:

Plot coupons are usually exchanged for a credibility bill at the end of the story, IMO.

Actually, harking back to TNH's closing comments on the cool bits and the need for good supporting structure, this might explain why I've been having problems with some books lately that ought to make my sensawunda gland go ding (David Marusek's "Counting Heads", for instance -- I stalled out a hundred pages from the end -- and China Mieville's oeuvre, which I ought to love, but don't). It's the opposite of the pulp adventure yarn with furniture straight out of central casting but a tightly tuned standard plot -- spend too much time on the exotica and you end up with lots of brilliant designer furniture all over the set, but no actors.

Hmm.

#32 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2006, 04:50 PM:

Charlie, I've just read Singularity Sky and Iron Sunrise. The plot coupons are more than enough to cover the credibility bill. I'm looking forward to the next one (the one due in a couple of years)!

#33 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2006, 05:03 PM:

I thought trading in accumulated plot coupons was how you got your denouement.

#34 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2006, 05:07 PM:

Not so much taking a position as suggesting that particular question has been asked and answered and answered and answered. Moreover many of the regulars here (not me I don't much care about much of anything) have a strong preference that particular movie(s) never be mentioned.

The power of the ring over Eagles
... At first it seemed sensible but then I thought it would not work - 1. Sauron would
have seen the Eagle+ring bearer coming miles away and stopped them. ...
Sep 15 2003, 7:56 am by Michael Graf - 19 messages - 12 authors

I hate the eagles!!!
... In this context, why would Elrond et al trust an Eagle with the Ring? But
then, even if we assume the Eagles would undertake this ...
Jan 8 2004, 7:19 pm by Caeruleo - 316 messages - 62 authors

Dangers of Eagle flight
... So, quite possibly there is danger that an Eagle would take the ring away
from Frodo even if an Eagle is only carrying Frodo. There ...
Aug 30 2003, 6:12 pm by Yuk Tang - 252 messages - 55 authors

A simpler way of destroying the ring...
... it is difficult to see how any army could distract Sauron from Gandalf, a hobbit
with the One Ring, and an army of elves on Giant Eagles flying straight for ...
Jan 13 2002, 10:43 pm by Nystulc - 44 messages - 28 authors

Rings and Eagles
On a slightly different angle, would an eagle be corrupted by the ring?
If he's the one wearing it I don't see why not. But if he ...
Apr 17 2000, 8:42 pm by Carl Blondin - 11 messages - 8 authors

Eagles and the Ring
... Why *not* use the Eagles to fly the Ring to Mount Doom? ... Doom, and you end up with
the Dark Lord of the Air, as the Eagle seizes the Ring for itself. ...
Dec 12 1995, 11:32 am by Tony Zbaraschuk - 29 messages - 23 authors

eagles and the one ring
... near the end. If that's so, why not have one eagle fly Frodo and the ring
to the mountain to destroy the ring. A friend told me ...
Nov 14 1997, 8:44 pm by Jason Gibbs - 3 messages - 3 authors

Eagles - Repost
... Gandalf on another eagle 5- Fly to mount doom as fast and high as possible 6- Once
over mount doom dive in for the crack of Doom 7- Throw the damn ring 8- Get ...
Jan 8 2004, 5:35 pm by Al Jackson - 19 messages - 7 authors

I hate the eagles!!!
... A good number of the Nazgul would have to be in a defensive perimeter around
Mordor/Orodruin in order to have a good chance of stopping a ring-bearing eagle. ...
Jan 8 2004, 2:53 pm by Chris Wright - 45 messages - 11 authors

Eagles dive bombing ring i
Why didn't the eagle's dive bomb the ring into the fire Well who is to say that
the Eagle carrying the ring wouldnt fall under its power? Agreed. ...
Mar 11 1997, 2:59 am by Kjetil Dahl-Hansen - 9 messages - 8 authors

Lord of the Rings - story so far - POSSIBLE SPOILERS
... Now raise them mightily in the air so Frodo has none, zero, null, nil, empty, zilch,
hold-in-the-Ring chance of escape, and turn Boromir into an eagle. ...
rec.arts.sf.written - Jan 9 2003, 8:55 am by k...@hplb.hpl.hp.com - 113 messages - 60 authors

LOTR movie opening narration.
... Gandalf escapes from Saruman's tower by riding on the back of an eagle, so why
doesn't he just ride the eagle to Mordor and drop the ring into Mt. Doom? ...
rec.arts.sf.written - Jan 11 2002, 9:32 pm by Doug - 143 messages - 59 authors

#35 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2006, 05:09 PM:

I think the reason I don't like China Mieville is that all his characters are scumbags, dunderheads, or both. And if he has a marginally likeable character, she has a giant beetle for a head or something.

Also, he's a member of the Brian Aldiss school of "everything's bad, everyone deserves to be miserable, and guess what? they are" school of writing. Too depressing for words.

#36 ::: hrc ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2006, 05:13 PM:

my son is rereading A Song of Ice and Fire before beginning Vol 4 of the opus. Last night, he looked up about halfway through Game of Kings to say, "That scene was so good. (It's one involving Arya being chased into hiding into some forgotten dark tunnels, he said) If I ever write a book, I want to put a scene like that in it." Somehow seems to fit w/in the general subject matter of this thread.

#37 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2006, 05:44 PM:

HRC: Just so.

General: Plot coupons (and the less-well-known plot vouchers) were invented by Nick Lowe (only not the one you're probably thinking of) in an essay called "The Well-Tempered Plot Device," Ansible 46, 1986.

#38 ::: Fledgist ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2006, 05:50 PM:

As someone who couldn't write a novel to save my life (every time I try out an extended story in my head the exposition/action ratio gets out of hand and I go 'nah!') I'd like to ask the pro's a question: how do you balance the demands of plot, exposition, dialogue and action in a way that satisfies *you* as a writer and that you find intuitively salable? Or is that an unanswerable question?

#39 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2006, 05:53 PM:

Tolkien says a few things about the Eagles himself in his Letters, after seeing the script for an early movie treatment -- they were supposed to be a deus ex machina, used very sparingly (a magic three times is just enough), and not "as common as busses." Besides, the same arguments that apply to giving the Ring to Tom Bombadil would apply -- would they care? Is it enough of their fight that they should risk themselves? Perhaps they are serving in the fight in a different way that does not come into the story we know? Besides all the other reasons advanced above. Ahem. Yes, please leave the abomin-- I mean movies out of it.

#40 ::: A.R.Yngve ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2006, 06:11 PM:

I've often thought: "The middle in a book is often where it gets bogged down and the plot starts to creak. So why not just get rid of the middle?"

Well, why not?

The Italian semiotician/writer Umberto Eco wrote an essay about the necessity of having boring segments in porno movies, between the sex scenes.
Eco explained that each "boring" bit is necessary to give the voyeur a chance to relax before the next "good part". A porno movie consisting of ONLY sex scenes would be too tiresome.

Can the same be applied to literature? Actually, I'm not so sure. Yet, I can't understand why most new novels are so long, when everybody complains they are short on time.

Hypothesis: Today's book-reader is so stressed out from the overload of modern life, she needs to slog through 100 pages of boredom just to wind down enough to appreciate the Good Parts. It's the light salad before the big steak.

In other words, the boring parts are to fiction what the boring parts are to pornography.
;-)

#41 ::: Renatus ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2006, 06:18 PM:

I thought a good reason for the eagles not going into Mordor was pretty simple... Middle Earth does have bows (considering the description of Bard's bow, possibly longbows), and there are a lot of soft spots on an eagle, unlike a dragon. This does make an assumption that they couldn't fly high enough to be out of range at all times, but considering the mountains and walls and other obstacles that raise the level of the troops on the ground, I don't think it's entirely unreasonable.

Hobbits, unlike eagles, are small, compact, and good at hiding in tight places, and therefore less likely to be shot at.

#42 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2006, 06:22 PM:

I don't see stopping the Ark to Hitler as an oops, so much as a need.

Jones doesn't know what the Ark will do when opened, and that makes a big difference.

He might think it would be a disaster if it was anyone buta member of the Tribe of Levites who opened it, but then again, Hitler might have one of those handy (whether such a Levite, in the employ of Hitler would still be able to handle the Ark is a whole 'nother question), but he can't be certain.

In the absence of such certainty, the only reasonable choice is to keep Hitler from gaining the Ark.

TK

#43 ::: Bez Thomas ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2006, 06:30 PM:

One of the main problems with the eagle solution has been elegantly expressed here - in cartoon form, no less.

#44 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2006, 06:36 PM:

"...the descendants of old Thorondor, whose wings spanned thirty fathoms and who built his eyries in the Encircling Mountains in the days when the world was young."

One of a number of things in The Hobbit which, like the description of Elrond, doesn't seem to stick to anyone's attention.

The eagles are the Eagles of the Lords of the West; they are embodied spirits, all right, but not moral agents in the same sense that the Children of Iluvatar -- Dwarves and Elves and Men -- are, because they're people-of-the-Valar spirits, pre-existing and not part of the creation of the world.

So they'll help out Gandalf when he asks, and otherwise they watch. Trying to remove the ring with eagles would be much the same as trying to remove it by taking it over the sea to the Uttermost West; a refusal of moral responsibility, and so doomed, in Tolkien Middle-Earth, to horrible failure.

Even in the First Age, mostly what the eagles did was watch. Of the three exceptions -- the recovery of the body of Fingolfin, the delivery of Hrin and Huor to Gondolin, and the battle with the flying dragons at the end of the War of Wrath -- the first is a result of sacrificial valiancy of a very great degree, the second is a significant link in a chain of disaster, and the third is acting under orders from on high, or at least Taniquetil. (They are, after all, Manw's eagles.)

#45 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2006, 06:38 PM:

More from the Dept of Callous Manipulators... Why didn't Glinda tell Dorothy right away the truth about how to go home?

Having just finished reading the whole thing, into a live mic yet, I can answer that.

That wasn't Glinda at the beginning. That was the Good Witch of the North. She didn't know what the charm was on the shoes, just that there was one.

Glinda, the Good Witch of the South, knows lots more stuff, but the roads between the Quadlings and the rest of Oz, um, weren't.

Blame Hollywood yet again.

#46 ::: Ashni ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2006, 06:43 PM:

Plot coupons. Explanation is about halfway through the essay.

A shorter explanation by Neil Gaiman, with clowns.

Couldn't they have sent the ark to Hitler afterwards? It's not like anyone was going to report the results of the first try back to him.

#47 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2006, 06:51 PM:

The "plots" of the ULTIMA fantasy games were largely plot coupon collection. That and hewing a swath.

* * *

Back before MMORPGs, there were play-by-mail games.

Several of these had . . . plot coupons.

Well, not in the fictional sense. But when your tribe / empire / etc. found a magical artifact, or exotic beast, or met up with someone who had important knowledge, or contacted the opposition underground on Sirius VI, you got in your turn-results envelope a little slip of paper. You redeemed it when you used the artifact, sold it, etc.

#48 ::: FMguru ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2006, 06:55 PM:

"My opinion varies dramatically from yours. I felt Underworld greatly resembled a White Wolf game run by a 13-year-old,"

So did White Wolf - they sued Sony because the plot of the movie was clearly derivative of piece of Nancy Collins-penned World of Darkness short fiction. Sony laughed at them, until WW introduced a tape of a Comic-Con panel the Underworld crew had participated in - where they talked about how much they drew on White Wolf books for mood and inspiration. The case was settled out-of-court - nobody's talking (NDAs), but it looks like WW got paid.

So yeah - the reason that the movie seemed like a cheesy World of Darkness campaign module is because it very likely DID start life as a cheesy World of Darkness campaign module.

#49 ::: Eleanor ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2006, 07:11 PM:

plots that hinge on people taking implausibly inefficient approaches to achieving a goal.

Straight away I thought of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Why doesn't Voldemort's minion just turn Harry's toothbrush into a Portkey on the first night of term, instead of waiting out the best part of a year to Portkeyify an object there's only a one in four chance Harry will touch? Other than so Harry gets to do Cool Stuff like fight a dragon?

#50 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2006, 07:24 PM:

The Italian semiotician/writer Umberto Eco wrote an essay about the necessity of having boring segments in porno movies, between the sex scenes. Eco explained that each "boring" bit is necessary to give the voyeur a chance to relax before the next "good part". A porno movie consisting of ONLY sex scenes would be too tiresome.

This is hardly original, except in being willing to apply it to porn.

It may be a lesson all authors needs to learn. Moss Hart's autobiography, Act One tells how he finally turned his not-good-enough work (closed in into a hit based on somebody's remark that it was the noisiest play they'd seen; he dropped some of the unrelenting comedy (and spectacular -- a massive nightclub set was dumped) for some down time in the third act. The result was Once in a Lifetime, which may be terribly creaky now but was a huge hit when it opened.

TNH: I thought trading in accumulated plot coupons was how you got your denouement.

That's the nice way of putting it; considering the work to which the term is usually applied, somebody said that when the characters collect enough plot coupons they can buy their way out of the story.

#51 ::: Zander ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2006, 07:41 PM:

>"Yay, cool parts. Love the cool parts. But the other stuff, the supporting and explaining and incluing material, has to be just as good, even if its not whats remembered."

I question "has to." Yes, it's nice for intelligent perceptive discriminating people like all of you if it *is* just as good, if one can make an interesting story about people doing things easily, economically and efficiently. That's certainly a challenge for any writer.

And yet the success of all the examples you cite, including Harry Potter, indicates correctly that for plebs like me the good parts are all that is required, and the support structure just needs to be there. We can supply all the rationalisation required, because we really are quite inventive in our plebbish way. We don't let our brains get in the way of an enjoyable experience for which we have paid, thus wasting the money. We don't get bogged down in questions like the old eagles chestnut and miss the point of the story, which is the journey.

One day all stories will be written by masters of their craft, and the good parts will be sustained by a support structure beyond compare, with every part slotting into every other part smoothly and efficiently, every action and plot point justified and necessary, the whole thing a marvel of construction. And plebs like me will still read the thing for the good parts, and the fact that the support structure is there at all will still be enough for us. Sorry if that seems depressing.

#52 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2006, 08:04 PM:

Teresa wrote:

> General: Plot coupons (and the less-well-known plot vouchers) were invented by Nick Lowe (only not the one you're probably thinking of) in an essay called "The Well-Tempered Plot Device," Ansible 46, 1986.

Has Nick Lowe's stuff ever been collected anywhere - either on paper or a web page?

My reading order for Interzone used to be:
- Nick Lowe film review
- David Langford (until he spoiled it all by being available online)
- any interviews
- fiction, if I was in the mood

#53 ::: Michelle K ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2006, 08:07 PM:

hy didn't Glinda tell Dorothy right away the truth about how to go home? As a result of information withheld, Dorothy almost got killed by the Wicked Witch. Scarecrow got partially incinerated.

I have to disagree a bit with pericat's answer here. I think the reason that Dorothy had to go on her journey, is because right after she got the silver slippers, it wouldn't have worked. Because she didn't WANT to go home yet. She'd just escaped Kansas--a Kansas that Baum spends the first chapter describing as REALLY BORING.

Why would she want to go home to Auntie Em yet?

#54 ::: theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2006, 08:12 PM:

In response to A.R.Yngve: I've always thought the "dull" musical numbers in the Marx Brothers movies were there to give your ribs a chance to relax.

#55 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2006, 08:19 PM:

A thought on readers/viewers being willing to fill in the gaps in a story, forgive a few slipups, and just generally get on with waiting for the good bits -

I've recently gone back to reading rec.arts.sf.written after a couple of years away, and I see they're still maintaining the tradition of the bi-annual _Cold Equations_ flamewar, in which everybody gets together to pick holes in a harmless little story about how the universe is a nasty uncaring place.

I'm certainly not saying the story doesn't have a generous serve of plot holes, but I'm fascinated by how hard some people work to deny the story, rather than to work with it, as is so common.

I'm sure there's a potential masters thesis hiding in there somewhere.

#56 ::: Jeff VanderMeer ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2006, 08:54 PM:

I liked the article a lot. Writers are notoriously sloppy when it comes to this type of thing. At the same time, the faults he mentions may not really matter depending on the type of fiction and the style. Or, the weakness actually becomes a strength of the piece by the end.

But I liked the article because it reminded me of the way Nabokov taught fiction. He would deal with the technical issues in a famous work--whether Kafka meant a cockroach or a beetle in Metamorphosis, for example--and make it quite clear that all of these technical choices, all of these "little" things make a big difference in the ultimate success of certain kinds of stories and novels.

JeffV

#57 ::: Keith Kisser ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2006, 09:00 PM:

Hypothesis: Today's book-reader is so stressed out from the overload of modern life, she needs to slog through 100 pages of boredom just to wind down enough to appreciate the Good Parts. It's the light salad before the big steak.

I had a similar theory, until I read The Historian, which was great, even the boring parts, up until the fifth geezer archivist with a slightly different copy of the Cursed Book. That there were still approximately 8 million pages to go after that (OK, only 300) but they included a fruitless side trip to Bulgaria to track down the provenance of a couplet from a folk ballad that proves, without doubt! That Dracula did indeed sleep there, sometime in the fifteenth century.

Oh, and Star Wars. I want a good parts version, but will very likely have to wait until lucus is long dead and Im an old, and bitter man.

#58 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2006, 09:50 PM:

The "plots" of the ULTIMA fantasy games were largely plot coupon collection. That and hewing a swath.

Most of the computing power available to the CRPGs of the time went into putting some immobile on the screen and straining to do the math of the combat engine. There were games (some of them pretty good) that came with printed books of descriptive text; you would be instructed to read graf 143 to find out what was in a room, because there wasn't enough memory to store all that text. Interaction with characters was generally limited to hearing a very brief tale about how they needed an [Eldritch Veeblefetzer,] which was in the possession of a [Fuliginous Myrmidon,] who lived in a [Psychedelic Shack.] Getting there would involve your 8-bit character crossing green terrain (forest), brown terrain (wasteland), black terrain (caves) and sometimes blue terrain (wet), fighting randomly generated hostiles all the way, in order to bring back the Thing, for which you would be rewarded with some experience points, a nifty goon-basher, and directions to the next dispatch office. Technical sophistication has made it possible to have somewhat more complex conversations, and something like a recognizable storyline (even branching storylines, which some designers lived in terror of, but wow, is that another story). And now we have online, which makes it possible for actual live people to have interactions with you, like killing you and taking your stuff to sell on eBay. Books are way behind in this department, except maybe for books about becoming a rich internet businessperson (or a rich novelist) overnight.

I don't necessarily see the Plot Coupon as the problem; as LeGuin said, there are always going to be quests over sea and through dark forests, and which sounds better as a motivation for being exposed to tiger prawns and rye-crazed moose:

"At the end of your journey lies fabulous wealth and power, and vengeance on those who have wronged you!"

or

"At the end of your journey you'll feel a lot better about yourself."

Don't answer at once, think about it for a few chapters. The point being that the story (the force of nature) is about what happens to the characters, good, bad, hench, and comic-relief. The plot (the mechanical device) is just the excuse for being up to your keister in Heavily Armed Objectivist Space Bats in the first place.

#59 ::: Jennifer ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2006, 10:07 PM:

Simstim wrote:
My advice is: try to run your plot as a roleplaying game and watch as your players by-pass your carefully convoluted storyline with the simple "don't drown him in a pool filled with ill-tempered sea bass with lasers, just shoot him" shortcut. Of course, this sometimes works out the other way round when, no matter how many heavy-handed hints and clues you leave them, they insist on following up that red herring to the bitter and disappointing end.

Simstim, is that "ill-tempered sea bass with lasers" suggestion an Austin Powers reference of sorts? ^^ It sounds similar to Dr. Evil's plan to destroy Austin and Vanessa in the first film. Idiot didn't even tie them to the pole before closing the door on them... >_>

I often hit the kind of wall you mentioned (characters ignoring the planned plot) while roleplaying with my friends. Granted it's a writing roleplay and not a game, but the principle is the same. We still plan out a plot and characters (image, history, the whole works), then let them run with that plot. We usually hit the wall of them wanting to go their own way somewhere further down the line.

If it happens, we sometimes force the characters to follow the pre-planned plot if it's necessary to fill in plot holes and stuff. They may not thank us for it, but sometimes it has to be done. If the plot the characters want to follow goes a better way, or the planned plot isn't necessary, then we follow the characters's lead. ^_^ It all depends on how everything goes, and where the other roleplayers take the story before it's our turn again.

#60 ::: Will Entrekin ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2006, 10:35 PM:

(I have to predelate this, I've realized. I wrote it smiling, because it's something I've always thought was funny. Upon further thought, and as I've written it, I've realized it could be construed as somewhat chauvinistic, and is definitely a bit sophomoric [for what it's worth, I think the latter is necessary, on occasion, and if it comes off as the former, I apologize])
Ah, the good parts. My favorite reference to the good parts is Elmore Leonard: "I leave out all the boring bits."

David Spade did a routine years ago about bad made-for-video movies that had been adapted for television. The sole excuse for these movies to exist was basically a bad montage to a lycra-inspired power ballad, and a requisite boob shot somewhere in the movie.
Generally, when the movies were edited for television, Spade riffs, what would happen was, the characters would make a Great Big Deal about going to the BoobFest: "It's gonna be awesome! They're gonna be so hawt! We're all gonna get laid." Interlaced, of course, with various shots of sufficiently... well, slutty women, basically preparing for said BoobFest. Showers shot in such a way that the women could've been bathing in swimsuits and the viewer wouldn't have been able to tell. Candid conversations filled with... well, innuendo is more subtle than what passed for dialogue.
Much would be made, and then the male characters would pack their coolers and head out to the BoobFest.

-cut to commercial-

After which, the male characters would be piling, again, into their vehicle of choice. Their coolers would be empty, and they'd be cheering about what a success the BoobFest had been.
(which completely proves the "show, don't tell," rule)
So the entire reason the movies had existed would be negated, and you'd be left with wall-to-wall crap.

I also thought that was funny. To the point that my writing philosophy, for a very long time, was wall-to-wall-boobs. That was my motto to live by (I'm a male in my mid-twenties. If I'm not the demographic for boobs, there isn't one. Well. Besides nursing infants, of course).

My motto, or whathaveyou, for what little one exists, has since matured, at least a little bit. I got some great feedback from Will Shetterly early last year (I know he reads sometimes, so thanks again, Will!, if you're reading) that has helped a lot, and it's not so much...
Well, I had sacrificed a lot to maintain a breakneck pacing. It's more developed now.

This last bit to say that I think Eco is somewhat right, but I think it's more than just about breaks between sex scenes, or musical numbers between laughs. I think that really, what one must strive for in a novel, is altering the tone and mood throughout. There is always some comedy in tragedy, of course, and it doesn't all have to break readers' necks with pace. Sometimes the scenes that let readers catch their breaths, too, are the ones that take their breath most away.
Well. I think so anyway.

#61 ::: Simstim ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2006, 10:40 PM:

Jennifer: yep, it was an attempted reference to the first AP film.

#62 ::: Jennifer ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2006, 11:15 PM:

That was definitely one of the stupidest things Dr. Evil did, but he did make sure that Austin would be around to annoy him for two more films by doing so.

#63 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2006, 11:15 PM:

Xopher: O.K., I can't let this slide--My review of Underworld. Now I just need to figure out if I'm going to see the follow-up: it's one of the few things that I've written for my weblog that got any sort of response, but I'm not sure it got enough of a response to make it worth spending two hours of my life on the sequel.

#64 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2006, 11:23 PM:

In re eagles: That question doesn't really bother me. My hindbrain seems to've decided all on its own that since eagles don't partake of original sin, the ring is no business of theirs. I expect that means my hindbrain also believes that Tom Bombadil is in a prelapsarian state of innocence.

Fledgist: I balance those demands by being an essayist.

Yngve, I wouldn't say there's ever a need for boring passages in novels, but you do need some smoother, quieter passages. If everything's climax and crisis, nothing is.

Zander, nobody here's going to call you a pleb. We're all genre scum together.

"Yay, cool parts. Love the cool parts. But the other stuff, the supporting and explaining and incluing material, has to be just as good, even if its not whats remembered."
I question "has to." Yes, it's nice for intelligent perceptive discriminating people like all of you if it *is* just as good, if one can make an interesting story about people doing things easily, economically and efficiently. That's certainly a challenge for any writer.

And yet the success of all the examples you cite, including Harry Potter, indicates correctly that for plebs like me the good parts are all that is required, and the support structure just needs to be there. We can supply all the rationalisation required, because we really are quite inventive in our plebbish way. We don't let our brains get in the way of an enjoyable experience for which we have paid, thus wasting the money. We don't get bogged down in questions like the old eagles chestnut and miss the point of the story, which is the journey.

Boggle?

What kind of snots do you think we are?

My biggest problems with Rowling are that the rules of Quidditch don't work, and that by now Ravensclaw and Hufflepuff ought to be in despair, seeing as how nothing they do is ever as important as the Gryffindor/Slytherin rivalry. Those aren't exactly big objections. Oh, and Voldemort could accomplish most of his aims just by having one of his minions sneak into Hogwarts with a Thompson submachine gun -- but then, I think the same thing about the X-Men's mansion.

Please notice that all the people discussing eagles in Tolkien have the kind of close-grained knowledge of those books that can only come from multiple re-readings. That's love and appreciation you hear talking, not nitpickery. Same goes for their comments about Rowling. "Why didn't they just put a portakey spell on his toothbrush?" isn't a critical mandarin's question; it's a fan's.

We do this stuff all the time. I enjoyed the hell out of the Alvin Maker series, even though it would have made more sense for Alvin to reach out and change the kid's caul than to change the kid when the slavehunters came through. Same goes for Neuromancer, even though a simple deadman's switch would have been enough to protect him from black ice.

This is another important principle of the reading transaction. If you've got the readers on your side, they'll forgive you innumerable sins and fill in the potholes in your roads besides. We make the book happen in our heads when we read, and correct for errors while we're doing it.

When I say the supporting material has to be good, I mean it has to be thoughtful, logical, and well-constructed so that readers like you don't have their fun spoiled by that niggling sense that this fictional universe isn't as well thought through as it should be.

#65 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2006, 11:30 PM:

My favorite example of plotting exploding on the authors has to do with a field I don't even know the name of: it's the online games where folks search for clues from websites, physical evidence, et cetera. (Think of "I Love Bees" and "The Beast" as examples.) There was a privately funded game of this type a year or so ago (unlike Microsoft's massively funded "I Love Bees") where the organizers had spent ages carefully setting up websites with clues leading to other websites, stegged data files, the whole nine yards--and one of the players managed to jump to endgame within a couple of weeks, leaving nobody interested in all the clever clues that had been bypassed. After all that work I'm sure the organizers were biting through trees...

#66 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2006, 11:38 PM:

I find life is much easier if when you read Rowling's works you don't mentally transpose Quidditch with 43-Man Squamish. Also, do not think of a white elephant.

#67 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2006, 11:58 PM:

Hey, I remember 43-Man Squamish! I am sure I read that one in the magazine.

#68 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 12:04 AM:

Bruce, I'm morally certain you don't want to hear about Harry Potter and the Bridges of Pokemon County, wherein the true nature of the Golden Snitch is revealed.

#69 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 12:08 AM:

I still have the 300+ page detritus of the novel I (with great hubris) tried to write in high school. It's a gigantic ever-expanding plot complication. If I'd ever completed it it would have taken 10 cubic feet of paper to fulfill every plot complication that I launched. It gives me something that's a "yikes!" to look at.

#70 ::: Jennifer ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 12:15 AM:

Teresa: *cracks up laughing* I semi-want to read that book! Now I'm wondering if the Golden Snitch contains a robotic flying Pokemon... *ponders*

#71 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 12:27 AM:

I've always thought the "dull" musical numbers in the Marx Brothers movies were there to give your ribs a chance to relax.

That may very well be an actual effect, but I don't think it's intentional. It's more probable that, in the early MGM films, Irving Thalberg was trying to make them more like what audiences expected from a "comedy;" a romance, heroes and villains, and musical interludes.* The Paramount pictures weren't big hits -- as everybody knows, Duck Soup was enough of a flop when released that the studio let the boys go -- but now they're usually considered superior to all the MGMs but Opera and Races. (I don't disagree with this.)

*I did an essay Once Long Ago on what A Night at the Opera would have been like had it been a conventional, Marxless MGM film of the period, and for comparison's sake what Warners might have done with the same material. It's actually pretty easy to do, down to picking stars, story elements, and some crew, if you know the studio-system films of the time.

#72 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 01:47 AM:
Bruce, I'm morally certain you don't want to hear about Harry Potter and the Bridges of Pokemon County, wherein the true nature of the Golden Snitch is revealed.
Oh, owwwww! I need an icepack after a line like that. Is this the book where Dobby's speech capabilities are limited to his name and particles thereof? "House elf, I choose YOU!" Ouuuuuuuch.
#73 ::: Harry Connolly ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 01:58 AM:

Yngve, I wouldn't say there's ever a need for boring passages in novels, but you do need some smoother, quieter passages. If everything's climax and crisis, nothing is.

Bill Martell, a smart guy who writes scripts for low-budget films, says that he gives his scripts a primary genre and a secondary genre.

The primary is thriller or horror or whatever. The secondary is usually a romance, but it could be a whodunit or a coming of age or a troubled marriage story. All the high points of the script come out of the primary genre. All the lower points of the script that space out the exciting high points and give the viewer a lull advance the story in the secondary genre.

It's a pretty interesting idea.

#74 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 02:15 AM:

FMguru writes: So yeah - the reason that the movie seemed like a cheesy World of Darkness campaign module is because it very likely DID start life as a cheesy World of Darkness campaign module.

About when Underworld went into production, one of my friends completed a screenplay that amounted to a very, very loose adaptation of Romeo and Juliet with the Montagues and Capulets as vampires and werewolves. Talk about a wind-up toy, but I liked it. It was sweet and wonderful and dark and thrilling. And, yeahshe reengineered the ending to be less of a tragedy and more of a modern romance, but it was still good.

I would have much rather seen my friend's screenplay made into a Kate Beckinsale vehicle. She was, of course, mightily frustrated that Underworld made her screenplay basically unmarketable.

#75 ::: Dave Langford ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 03:38 AM:

Speaking of Nick Lowe, he turned up recently in the Times Literary Supplement. Not many TLS reviews of retellings of Greek myth make reference to H.P. Lovecraft, S.P. Somtow, and Gromit.

#76 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 04:04 AM:

" but then, I think the same thing about the X-Men's mansion.
"
The X-Men world is based on mutant powers trumping Thompson submachine guns 9,999 times out of 10,000.

#77 ::: Matt Freestone ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 04:08 AM:

Serge - I delurked just to post a link to this Bob the Angry Flower cartoon.

#78 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 04:09 AM:

"A porno movie consisting of ONLY sex scenes would be too tiresome."
This theory has since been disproven by the internet.

#79 ::: Matt Freestone ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 04:37 AM:

Bez - sorry, didn't spot you'd beaten me to it.

#80 ::: Leah Miller ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 04:40 AM:

I've run RPGs before, and after the first two minor disasters (everyone had fun but nothing went anywhere) I developed my own technique for GMing.

Don't plan anything specifically. Have a few of the most likely scenarios vaguely sketched, but basically leave the player to do whatever they feel like. This sometimes led to "talk amongst yourselves" segments of up to 15 minutes while I pulled stuff out of nowhere, but was generally fairly succesfull.

It also taught me a lot about "obvious" hints and solutions. No matter how genre savvy they are there are times when people won't take the hint. There will be times when the psychic NPC will be sitting in the floor, rocking and saying "we shouldn't be here, they're coming" and people will stalwartly refuse to leave.

Even when they are playing a game and should be able to get some perspective people will also make emotionally screwed-up decisions. There are times when the emotionally unavailable jerk will leave the player, and the perfect, devoted lover will ask that person to run away and the player will stay and wait for the jerk.

Character development isn't always gradual or explicable. There will be many, many times when a previously meek and naive player will turn suddenly, and with little justification, to murder.

That's part of why I love RP. It can be a good general rubric for a natural, human level of sensibility. Not deus-ex-machina, Sue-grade wise nor Horror-movie-victim foolish.

#81 ::: neotoma ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 05:24 AM:

The Good-Parts effect is probably why I prefer to remember the Star Wars movies than watch them.

#82 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 05:31 AM:

David Langford: The things I learn under your tutelage! I had not the slightest idea about Graves and his metamyth. Good heavens!

#83 ::: Kevin Marks ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 05:44 AM:

This reminded me of the wry denouement of Interface by Stephen Bury (Neal Stephenson's pseudoynm) where the one who has worked out the conspiracy explains it to people but no-one believes him because it is so far-fetched.

I must re-read that - sometimes I feel like the Cy Ogle of weblogging.

#84 ::: A.R.Yngve ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 05:53 AM:

"The primary is thriller or horror or whatever. The secondary is usually a romance, but it could be a whodunit or a coming of age or a troubled marriage story. All the high points of the script come out of the primary genre. All the lower points of the script that space out the exciting high points and give the viewer a lull advance the story in the secondary genre."

I've got to remember that rule. Thanks for the link to Martell's site.

Teresa suggested that a submachine gun could greatly simplify the plots of Harry Potter and X-men stories. True. But then you also get Arnold Schwarzenegger's spoof of HAMLET (as in the film The Last Action Hero)... or Indiana Jones shooting the big swordsman in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

"When you've got a machine gun, all plot problems start to look like targets."
;-)

#85 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 07:24 AM:

I've played with Thompson submachine guns, and I can see how keeping one around could put you in a "reach out and touch" frame of mind.

Dave, thanks for the link to the TLS essay: a nice piece of work. I hope he had as much fun writing the Lovecraft-and-Somtow paragraph as it sounds like.

#86 ::: xelf ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 07:26 AM:

What have you got against artifacts? I have pleanty of artifacts that I love dearly, sho 'nuff. I suppose next you'll be starting in on fossils? Ammonites aren't fond of criticism, mind you.

I never saw Twister, but I do think that the Tornado Edit of Talula by Tori Amos is the better version.

#87 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 07:39 AM:

Regarding the good old why-didn't-they-use-the-Eagles chestnut, I'm reminded to once again link to the unparalleled Tolkien Sarcasm Page at the Flying Moose of Nargothrond, where the reader is invited to contemplate even finer hairline cracks in the matter of Middle-earth:

"If, as is likely, a bacterium had landed on the inner surface of the Ring, would the Ring corrupt it into an evil bacterium? Would it be invisible to other bacteria? Would its life stretch out and become an unending weariness? Would it use its increased strength and stature to rule over other bacteria? Would it fight to keep other bacteria from adhering to the Ring? Would it still evolve genetically, or would it instead become a Bacteria-wraith?"
Just asking.

#88 ::: Francis ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 07:59 AM:

It also taught me a lot about "obvious" hints and solutions. No matter how genre savvy they are there are times when people won't take the hint. There will be times when the psychic NPC will be sitting in the floor, rocking and saying "we shouldn't be here, they're coming" and people will stalwartly refuse to leave.

Been there, done that. Character thought it was much smarter to set up some serious hardware (anything up to and including an old TigerII tank) and produce a crossfire to obliterate the demons as they came out of the temporary gates of hell two abreast than try to face them later. Yeah, we all died. So did almost all the demons (at least before we ran out of ammo...).

#89 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 08:50 AM:

" The real innovation is earlier: Selene draws twin '45's and spins on the floor while firing her guns until she shoots a toilet-paper like circular perforation around her so she and her chosen section of floor can drop to the next level. Without reloading. Through an apparent stone floor. Now that's something you didn't see in The Piano."

But did see in Olivier Gruner's Nemesis.

I'm sorry to keep beating down Underworld, but when a reasonably straight male says "How many times are we going to have to see Kate Beckinsale's ass stomp through the Vamp Orgy Frat Mansion?" * you're not succeeding as a filmmaker.

*two or three. They may have reused footage.

As far as X-Men and tommyguns: I can think of at least four X-men who can get shot until the gun jams (which is probably around 20 bullets), and then put that gun where the sun shineth not.

#90 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 08:53 AM:

I've recently gone back to reading rec.arts.sf.written after a couple of years away, and I see they're still maintaining the tradition of the bi-annual _Cold Equations_ flamewar, in which everybody gets together to pick holes in a harmless little story about how the universe is a nasty uncaring place.

I'm certainly not saying the story doesn't have a generous serve of plot holes, but I'm fascinated by how hard some people work to deny the story, rather than to work with it, as is so common.

I can't speak for anyone else, but the reason I get picky about Cold Equations is because it's this close *holds up fingers a quarter-inch apart* to being a really great story. And then you realize that the girl died for bureaucratic idiocy, and it all falls apart. As I read somewhere, a sign reading "No Admittance" is only guaranteed to work on 19th-century Germans...

#91 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 09:11 AM:

By the bye, is this where I confess to having liked both Daredevil and Constantine? Though the latter was pretty clearly an Elseworld (lessee...not blond, American, et multi cetera).

I loathed Underworld, though. It would have been better, IMO, if it had been a White Wolf movie. As it was, one could watch them dancing around all the WW terms they really wanted to use, but couldn't.

#92 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 09:27 AM:

Er, Carrie, care to enlighten me? Why does the girl in "The Cold Equations" die for bureaucratic idiocy? (Been a few years since I read it)

#93 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 09:44 AM:

"As far as X-Men and tommyguns: I can think of at least four X-men who can get shot until the gun jams (which is probably around 20 bullets), and then put that gun where the sun shineth not."

X-men strategies for dealing with tommy guns:

Wolverine: Get shot a bit, get pissed off, kill tommy guy user. That guy sure overreacts to every little scratch he gets.

Nightcrawler: teleport behind tommy gun user, coldcock.

Cyclops: shoot bullets out of the air with wide angle wide beams, shoot tommy gun user.

Beast: I guess if someone actually managed to shoot him he'd be in trouble.

Iceman: SuperThick ICESHIELD TM

Colossus: Bullet's bounce off, knocks wall down on top of tommy gun user, feels angst.

Rogue: Bullet's bounce off, but look more dangerous than with Colossus because she's not made of metal. Beats up tommy gun user, calls tommy gun user sugah.

Jean Grey as Phoenix: Destroy universe

Jean Grey: Stop bullets with telekinetic powers.

Kitty Pryde: bullets go through her but not in the normal way, don't cause any damage.

Professor X: notices you are within a couple miles of house with tommy gun, sends everyone else to kick your ass.

Storm: Will Hurrican force winds stop a tommy gun?

Gambit: Wow, what a lucky guy, none of those bullets ended up hitting him. what are the odds?

Well I'm sorry but if Teresa was the evil minion of someone like Apocalypse, and suggested sneaking in a tommy gun to take care of the X-Men I'm going to assume there would be some sort of survival of the fittest scenario taking place immediately after the suggestion, with Apocalypse doing the standard megalomaniacal villain rant to show how crazy and badass he truly is.

Basically the way to take care of the X-Men is to counter them with a force they are not prepared to deal with, and that force is magic (as has lately been aptly demonstrated), this is why, my lord Apocalypse, that I suggest we build a dimensional portal to another earth where Magic is still rife and trick the X-Men into entering this portal, the magical champions of that earth will easily destroy our enemies.

Apocalypse: Excellent done, minion! And where do this other world's champions reside?

Evil Minion ME: A little boarding school for the magically gifted called Hogwarts, oh mighty one.

Apocalypse: good.

I depart. Apocalypse stands looking out over the world from his newest impressive floating space fortress. He has a bewildered look upon his face.

Apocalypse: "Tommy Gun?!?"

#94 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 09:53 AM:

Patrick: No, because bacteria don't have will. At least, I don't think so, and I'm better at atthropomorphism than anyone I know.

The RPG thing: how to deal with players who do "let's turn into giant eagles and skip the plot" thing is the thing it really is possible for a writer to learn from roleplaying and which translates well. It's a pacing thing as well as a plot thing. So, in fact, is the infrastructure "boring connective tissue" stuff. Nobody talks enough about pacing. I think it's really interesting, and also very useful to consider.

#95 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 09:59 AM:

the answer to
'Why does the girl in "The Cold Equations" die for bureaucratic idiocy? '

is indicated by

'As I read somewhere, a sign reading "No Admittance" is only guaranteed to work on 19th-century Germans...'

#96 ::: Paul Herzberg ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 10:07 AM:

Carrie S. Says
By the bye, is this where I confess to having liked [...] Daredevil
I bought this cheap on DVD last month. It's not as bad as I'd been lead to believe, I liked most of it except the bits with Colin Farrell.

Farrell, I sincerely believe, is some kind of anti-talent where not only is he very bad indeed but he manages to bring down the performances of the other much better actors (Pacino, Sam Jackson) he works with. The fact that he's just a marginally better-looking version of every second Irish barman I've ever met doesn't help either.

#97 ::: mayakda ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 10:08 AM:

The portkey problem always bugged me in Goblet of Fire also, but I then figured no one's ever been shown using a portkey to get into or out of Hogwarts. So there's probably a security spell of some sort that prevents portkeys from functioning in Hogwarts & the grounds. The maze might have had a workaround to that problem -- maybe it wasn't technically part of Hogwarts.
I guess that's just points out the difference between a good book and a bad one -- in a good book the readers will fan-wank the plot-holes to make sense. In a bad one the plotholes will be the excuse to throw the book against the wall.

#98 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 10:12 AM:

Ajay: It has been said far more completely than I can manage here on this page (incidentally the source of the Germans quote, I notice), and in greater detail on this page.

I have been trying intermittently to rewrite the darn thing so it still upon reflection makes the point Godwin wanted it to make. This may be hubris on my part.

#99 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 10:22 AM:

I think Colin Farrell is a very dedicated actor. You may not like his off-duty Dublin barman character, but the fact that he's been doing it 24-7 for several years is impressive.

#100 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 10:28 AM:

I think Colin Farrell is a very dedicated actor. You may not like his off-duty Dublin barman character, but the fact that he's been doing it 24-7 for several years is impressive.


So, is there a risk that watching Colin Ferrell causes liver damage? Ought not Public CItizen look into this, with a possible eye on having the INS send his back whence he came?

#101 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 10:28 AM:

I know I've been struggling for several years with "cool ideas in search of a plot" (the ideas just got cooler, and might at last be pointing toward a viable plot). Is that better than instantaneous plot generation from A to Z, as some writers claim to do? Dunno, but it's another example of that human trait of blundering around constructing images and stories out of everything we see -- bright stars, Orion, myth of Orion, etc.

As a reader and reviewer my disbelief suspends or reasserts itself at widely different points depending on the book. Since I don't get to see much SF, I'll happily accept wormholes, FTL and other chestnuts as long as the story is clever and compelling. With medievalesque fantasy I tend to nitpick more and get grumpy when Order Is Restored at Last -- unless the writer is really good. [Fannish obsession with games, films or comics is a foreign country to this fuddy-duddy.]

Some plots can be beautifully linear, some wondrously baroque, some delightfully cheesy, depending on the reader's taste. Is there some gold standard that could satisfy all of this site's sophisticated bloggers? Unlikely. But it's sure fun to talk about!

#102 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 10:41 AM:

Plot is the trail you take over the Plane of Attention.

Since this is a collaboration -- the writer constructs variously indications of appropriate direction, blazes trees, game trails, and so on until one reaches the paved highway between high concrete walls of the least subtle of fiction -- the reader doesn't have to, quite, stick to the path the writer expected. People who really like the work will wind up trying to get under or behind the mountains in the distance, or through the doors that never open, or into the seasons never seen.

The writer gets to provide weather, and verdure, and diverse other amusements, but it's the terrain of thence-to-this that sets what can be seen, as well as what is.

That's what I use instead of an understanding of plot; if the terrain is steep, you-as-reader will eventually need a breather. If you-as-reader get heaved off too many cliffs, you shall grow bewildered and disinterested, no matter how lovely the fleeting scenery that rises as you plummet.

The downside of the excess of geography is thinking of odd associations as places, variously difficult to reach -- even if neither Sauron's lettuce nor the leisure suit goat are places I would wish to go, the desire to know how to get there is real.

#103 ::: FMguru ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 10:58 AM:

"The portkey problem always bugged me in Goblet of Fire also, but I then figured no one's ever been shown using a portkey to get into or out of Hogwarts."

Book 5 or 6 does explicitly mention that Hogwarts has very strong spells preventing unauthorized teleportation. An important subplot of Book 6 involves Draco Malfoy finding a way around this, and another subplot is about sixth-year students learning how to apparate (clear analogy to driver's ed), which requires deactivating the spells in a certain corner of the great hall for a certain period of time, so students can practice.

My favorite Quidditch glitch has to do with size of the crowd at the game. There are only about 280 students at Hogwarts (7 years x 4 houses x 10 students per year/house) and it's set in an isolated village, so how do the stands fill up with cheering throngs for each intramural match?

#104 ::: Matt Austern ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 11:10 AM:

That's a glitch I hadn't though about, but the one that still bothers me more is that, as written, the rules are too unbalanced for it to be a workable team sport.

As for "The Cold Equations", I tend to think that the story it should have been is Arthur C. Clarke's "Breaking Strain".

#105 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 11:19 AM:

I had no idea the graduating class at Hogwarts was so small. . . How big is a throng, anyway? I'd think that you could get a pretty good throng out of a couple hundred people.

#106 ::: elizabeth bear ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 11:53 AM:

Mr. Ford, nobody needs an excuse for being up to his keister in Heavily Armed Objectivist Space Bats.

#107 ::: Scott ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 12:35 PM:

TNH wrote:
"... Oh, and Voldemort could accomplish most of his aims just by having one of his minions sneak into Hogwarts with a Thompson submachine gun -- but then, I think the same thing about the X-Men's mansion."

Hmmm. Somehow I think that JKR has maybe thought of this (or something like it); perhaps she just hadn't included a situation where it could be tested. Personally, I had thought a couple of times of the Bk7 denouement of the Harry/Voldemort conflict ending with a scene straight out of Raiders of the Lost Ark - After listening to another Voldemort harangue (I'm gonna kill you, you can't stop me, etc.), Harry just pulls out a Glock and empties it into Voldemort.

Not original, I admit, but an oddly satifying mental image.

#108 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 12:39 PM:

Re: "The Cold Equations:"

More than that, I think these readers are tripping on the story's considerable jolt of machismo. It's a commonplace that our civilization is soft and sentimental. It's less remarked that soft and sentimental people-- particularly the chair-bound geek variant-- often idolize brutality. The actual inhabitants of barbarian eras don't necessarily share this feeling; they often took pains to appear as refined and cultured people.

Just so. I often find myself thinking those things when I'm arguing with a particular variety of impassioned net personality.

Moreover, when arguing with that variety of Passionate Net Tough Guy, I often find myself thinking: You're saying that because, in this society, you're a loser, and you think that in some other society you would not be.

But then again I am notoriously mean-spirited.

I am a creature of civilization and I know it. I am a tough guy in cyberspace, not so much in hand-to-hand combat. When the big comet hits the Earth and civilization falls, the roving cannibal barbarian armies will find me at my desk, waiting for the power to come on so I can finish posting a flame to some butthead who richly deserves it.

Gotta run now, I'm late for my 9:30 am puppy-torturing tutorial.

#109 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 12:56 PM:

I've run RPGs before, and after the first two minor disasters (everyone had fun but nothing went anywhere) I developed my own technique for GMing.

But "The Game must be Fun shall be the Whole of the Law. Fun is the Law, Fun under Rules."

I discovered eventually, after many carefully-worked-out disasters, that my ideal GM style is "wing it." I'd work out a few things, but let the adventure be driven by the players' wishes...but then I'd throw them another curve, and of course their wishes were shaped by the many other curves I'd thrown them in previous adventures; they want to get the solid metal rings away from around their necks: well, I gave them the rings to make them easier for the Fair Folk to keep an eye on them, which was needed because they caused a massive (to a potentially deadly degree) snowstorm in the capital city of their favorite country, by trying to plane-flip something waaaayyy too massive (exponential heat-transfer is a consequence of plane-flipping, didn't you know that?), which they had to do to help overthrow the oppressive oligarchy that had arisen while they were off-universe, where they got blown because someone was experimenting with enchanting Koch solids, which...

You get the idea.

#110 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 01:02 PM:

Mitch, that makes me think of the old Soviet emphasis on on avoiding the appearance of being "nyekulturny"--no matter who you'd seen taken down or shoved out, no matter who you'd conspired against to get ahead, no matter how much blood was on your hands, it was Very Important to show an appreciation for the various (approved) arts--and to knock the snow off your boots when you came indoors, send the right little presents, and make the right kind of toasts at banquets. Because it was unthinkable that people take you for an ill-bred thug.

#111 ::: mayakda ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 01:17 PM:

My favorite Quidditch glitch has to do with size of the crowd at the game.

Maybe the house elves get to watch.

I didn't realize it was just 10 kids per grade per house -- I thought there might be more kids per house that are just not mentioned. But I'm not a careful reader.

#112 ::: Smurch ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 01:26 PM:


This is a very fun comment thread to read.

I just wanted to poke my head in to say, it's been a few years since I read Eco's essay on pornography. But I recall that his point about the importance of the boring parts was not that they give you rest between the fun 'n games parts. His point was that if the in-between bits were more interesting, they would distract from the pornography. The boring parts are how we KNOW something is pornography and intends to be pornography, and not a failed attempt to portray the many varieties of sexual expression. Or something.

Which is why for me The Devil in Miss Jones, which I see as "No Exit with sex", is funny instead of pornographic.

#113 ::: Eleanor ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 01:45 PM:

Scott, JKR has claimed somewhere or other that Muggle machinery doesn't work at Hogwarts. It's mentioned in book 4 where Hermione explains that Rita Skeeter can't be planting hidden microphones, and contradicted in book 2 by Colin Creevey's camera (which has to use magical film in any case so as to develop pictures that move).

I thought that was interesting - what counts as machinery? Do the toilets at Hogwarts have to be magic? Or the door handles? What about something really simple like a belt buckle?

As for Quidditch, surely JKR long ago came to regret designing a game where it was hard for the outcome of a match not to depend on Harry. She's invented excuses to cancel matches, or for Harry to miss them, in almost every book.

#114 ::: Magenta Griffith ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 02:28 PM:

Xopher, I absolutely love "fun is the law, fun under rules" and will quote it the next time I'm around Thelemites.

Upstream a bit - I suspect the original reason for the "boring bits" in porn movies was the refractory period of the male. Not as necessary for a tape, DVD, or streaming video that can be paused.

Whoever introduced the idea of X-Men - Harry Potter is responsible for the condition of my keyboard.

The reason I really loved Bakshi's "Wizards" was the ending. It was a magical battle until the end, when the good wizard whipped out a gun and shot the evil wizard. Sometimes, that's what you need to do.

#115 ::: Cassie ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 02:29 PM:

I can't stand magic/science dichotomies that say it's one or the other, unless they are very, very good at making me believe them. Often, the difference between technology that works in the designated magic area and technology that doesn't is either the time period-- medieval tech is accepted and encouraged-- and what the author understands. Some of them are good, but often, it's clearly a way to keep people from using obvious, nonflashy means to an end. Why use a dishwasher when you can use a house-elf, after all?

#116 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 02:40 PM:

fidelio:

Mitch, that makes me think of the old Soviet emphasis on on avoiding the appearance of being "nyekulturny"--no matter who you'd seen taken down or shoved out, no matter who you'd conspired against to get ahead, no matter how much blood was on your hands, it was Very Important to show an appreciation for the various (approved) arts--and to knock the snow off your boots when you came indoors, send the right little presents, and make the right kind of toasts at banquets. Because it was unthinkable that people take you for an ill-bred thug.

But what I was describing is the opposite, yes? The prototypical geek I imagine when I'm in Certain Online Discussions is someone who wants desperately to be taken for an "ill-bred thug." The worst thing he can imagine is that he might be mistaken for an overweight, nerdy fanboy (like me, for instance).

Magenta Griffith: The reason I really loved Bakshi's "Wizards" was the ending.

Whereas I wouldn't say I loved "Wizards"--as a matter of fact, I thought it was kind of dumb, with a creepy anti-rational streak.

But I loved that their super-wizard talked like an extra in a "Bowery Boys" movie--or liked Ben Grimm in the 1960s "Fantastic Four" cartoons--I wonder if it was the same guy doing the voice?

And I loved one of his lines, and its delivery: When talking to the Evil Overloard, who is also his brother, the Good Wizard responds: "Oh, yeah? Well, mudda always liked me better'n you."

#117 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 02:43 PM:

One thing I learned from RPGs is that the flashy stuff is sometimes less interesting than the quiet set-up / character stuff. I was once GMing a single-person Call of Cthulhu adventure for my brother, and early on he encountered a circle of Nyarlathotep cultists performing a ceremony in an abandoned warehouse. Despite the ever-more-extreme warnings about how nasty things were going to get, he insisted on standing right at the front of the circle and watching as the Big N himself got summoned.

He then made a sanity roll of 01. Nyarlathotep simply strolled in as a dapper, balding man, was perfectly charming and totally charmed my brother into doing his dirty work for him. This was a much better plot than the one I had had in mind.

Meanwhile, the least of the things that I have learned from this thread is that Nick Lowe, the classicist at Royal Holloway in London, writes a film review column for Interzone. It explains the Lovecraft references, anyway.

#118 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 03:01 PM:

Mitch, re "ill-bred thugs" and fanboys wanting to be same: I think fidelio's point was that it's the same impulse, just directed differently. The Russian ill-bred thugs desperately wanted to be taken for cultured men, just as the fanboys desperately want us all to think they're tough and Heinleiny.

I admit, I'm not immune to it myself. The list of people I want to be currently includes Wolverine, Miho from Sin City, and Miles Vorkosigan.

#119 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 03:05 PM:

Carrie S. - I just want to be myself, only younger, stronger, and with a bigger...with better physical attributes.

Or no one. That's starting to look good again. I'm nobody. Who are you? Are you nobody, too?

#120 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 03:10 PM:

Carrie: Exactly--but I was thinking of the bit Mitch quoted about the barbarians trying hard to be civilized.

Doesn't Wolverine have an appreciation for oriental art?

#121 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 03:13 PM:

fidelio: If you include speaking Japanese, occasionally using a katana, and having been engaged to a Japanese woman, then yes. :)

Actually, he does go through periods of bushido, depending on who's writing him, so one must assume that he's up on origami and haiku and whatnot.

#122 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 03:37 PM:

I have a vague recollection of Wolverine and a tea ceremony. This many not be canonical.

#123 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 03:39 PM:

But I loved that their super-wizard talked like an extra in a "Bowery Boys" movie--or liked Ben Grimm in the 1960s "Fantastic Four" cartoons--I wonder if it was the same guy doing the voice?

Avatar the Wizard was Bob Holt, an actor with a long career in 'toon voices. Ben Grimm (in the 60's version) was Paul Frees, who you already know was an actor with a long career in 'toon voices.

The slightly earlier Marvel cartoon series -- the one with the nightmarishly catchy theme songs -- was produced by Grantray-Lawrence. One of their directors on the show was a kid named Ralph Bakshi. Everything is connected. That's why it shorts out so often.

The discussion of "if you, like,* wanted to take ou the X-Men, and you didn't have a whole miniseries and lots of new characters to do it, what technique would you use?" has missed one of the obvious choices:

"Gentlemen and obligatory token lady, SOFoDoSATReMuFoGAA** Research Division has finally perfected our Ultimate Weapon. As we all go heavily armed as a matter of personal safety, I will skip the PowerPoint presentation and go straight to the reveal. I give you . . . the Mutant Operations Field Reaction Angst Grenade, or, as we in ASSWIT*** call it, MUTOFRAG."

*All fannish hypothetical discussions must include at least one interlarded "like."
**Secret Office For Doing Something About Those Reprehensible Mutants For Good And All. A division of SHIELD they forgot about decades ago but fund anyway.
***Acronymic Shorthand Systems, Word Initializing Team. An outside contractor with connections to governments and conspiracies in both the Marvel and DC Universes.

#124 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 03:40 PM:

Thanks, Matt, for the 'Bob the Angry Flower' cartoon.

I should have known there was an answer in Tolkien's work about why eagles couldn't be used to fly to Mount Doom. I admit that it's better to not bring up a point that only a geek would pay attention to, unless of course one is willing to have the plot screech to a halt while things are explained away. Another example of such a situation is why Charles Xavier had free access to Magneto's prison when even Senator Kelley didn't.

#125 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 03:45 PM:

Faren wrote about "cool ideas in search of a plot"... I know what she means. I've had one kicking around inside my head (yeah, that's where that sound of bells ringing comes from), wondering what to do with it. I think I've finally found a way to make a novelette out of it, but it'll probably come to naught - English isn't my native language and I have a tin ear where my own style is concerned. Maybe I could blackmail my wife the real writer into a collaboration. ("It's either that or YOU take the garbage out from now on.")

#126 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 03:48 PM:

Another example of such a situation is why Charles Xavier had free access to Magneto's prison when even Senator Kelley didn't.

You mean, because Xavier's a powerful read/write telepath and Kelley/Mystique isn't? :)

#127 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 03:51 PM:

Mike... Didn't Bakshi also work on the first animated Spider-man? I think Vincent di Fate was there too, but I couldn't swear to that.

#128 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 03:53 PM:

Actually, Carrie, I thought of that possible explanation, but it was obvious from everybody's behavior in the second movie that he wasn't clouding their minds a la Lamont Scranton.

#129 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 03:53 PM:

"The list of people I want to be currently includes Wolverine, Miho from Sin City, and Miles Vorkosigan."

There was a Jubilee line, once. Something like this:

"Ever notice that when Wolverine introduces an 'old friend', they're always female, always beautiful, and always super-powered?"

I read that and went, "I want that to be true about ME!"

And so it is that many of my old friends are.

#130 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 04:11 PM:

Ah yes, Avatar, especially when he finally confronts his bro Blackwolf...

"You know, I'm glad you changed your name, you son of a b*tch."

...before putting a few bullets in him.

#131 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 04:15 PM:

Carrie S.: "The list of people I want to be currently includes Wolverine, Miho from Sin City, and Miles Vorkosigan."

I want to be Spenser from the Robert B. Parker detective stories, and Lord Corwin of Amber. Or Conrad, from "... And Call Me.... "

#132 ::: HP ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 04:20 PM:

His point was that if the in-between bits were more interesting, they would distract from the pornography.

A few weeks ago I watched a remarkable ~1970 French film called Morgane et ses nymphs, recently released for the first time to English-speaking audiences as the DVD "Girl Slaves of Morgan le Fay" (Blue Underground, 2005). Two young coeds, driving across France on holiday, somehow cross over into a Faerie Land ruled by the Queen Morgan. It is, for all intents and purposes, a typical Eurotrash softcore lesbian porn film (cf "Emannuelle"), except that the in-between bits recreate a Faerie Land that has the sense of disorientation, horror, and parahuman amorality you find in medieval works like The Ballad of Thomas Rhymer or Le Belle Dame sans Merci. The film also has a dizzily ambiguous sense of gender and sexual politics that could keep academics arguing for decades. All the sex and nudity does slow it down a bit, I suppose.

Actually, to the larger point of this thread, I have in the last few years become fascinated with (continental) European genre films in general. The best of these (e.g., Operazione paure [Kill Baby ... Kill], Profundo rosso, Dr. Orloff's Monster) seem to abandon the conventions of plot almost entirely, and instead present a variety of loosely connected set pieces and striking tableaux vivants separated by long stretches of pure atmospherics. The small bits of plot and exposition that exist serves mostly to confuse the viewer. I find that much preferable to sitting through long, awkward stretches of exposition and plot contrivances and trying to make sense of things.

Of course, cinema is primarily a visual -- rather than narrative -- medium. I'm not sure whether the same approach could be made to work in a novel.

#133 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 04:28 PM:

Scott wrote:
After listening to another Voldemort harangue (I'm gonna kill you, you can't stop me, etc.), Harry just pulls out a Glock and empties it into Voldemort.


You mean sort of like this? (Warning: slow-loading video)

#134 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 04:54 PM:

TNH: That was a marvellous answer (I wish I had come up with it).

#135 ::: jhlipton ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 04:59 PM:

With this emphasis on plot, I thought I'd bring up the Page 137 Test: Pick a page about a third of the way in. Read the entire page. If you like the page, buy the book.

This will let you in on the Voice of the Author, which I find far more important than the plot (Avram Davidson or Robert Sheckley, anyone?). And, and as I have learned from bitter experience, it's a lot easier to write a brilliant first page than to maintain a brilliance all the way through a book.

BTW, a random page from the first third is unlikely to be all too spoilery for the rest. But ya never know.

#136 ::: A.R.Yngve ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 05:04 PM:

Smurch, I do believe you're right about Eco's essay on pornography. My memory failed there... but still, it made for an interesting juxtaposition about "boring bits" in a story.

(Related question: were Jean M. Auel's Stone Age romances more or less based on the same principle as pornography: long boring bits building up to hot sex scenes? Or is that an unfair assessment?)

HP, you should see Roger Vadim's film BARBARELLA. The set pieces are dreamlike and spectacular, you won't care about the plot. Very European.
:)


#137 ::: Linda Fox ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 05:09 PM:

I severely irritated someone recently by pointing out that in Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone/Philospher's Stone the whole problem would have gone away if Harry and the others hadn't bothered to solve all those riddles to get through to where the stone was. Quirrel/Voldemort obviously wasn't psychologically equipped to get past Dumbledore's little mirror puzzle.

#138 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 05:10 PM:

clouding their minds a la Lamont Scranton

Um...Cranston, IIRC. Scranton is a town in Pennsylvania.

I am a huge nerd.

#139 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 05:18 PM:

I just love the name Lamont Scranton, though.

#140 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 05:19 PM:

One wonders if Lamont Scranton ever, ever eats bananas.

One does.

#141 ::: Bryan ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 05:22 PM:

"I have a vague recollection of Wolverine and a tea ceremony. This many not be canonical."

Canon Flummerbuff delicately dipped his wolverine in the chipped cup of Earl Grey tea three times in succession, trilling after each dip the mystic phrase "nug ymmot".

#142 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 05:23 PM:

Xopher... Speaking of the one Who Knows What Evil Lurks in the Hearts and Minds of Men, it was dumb of them to release the movie's DVD only in the full-screen format. The movie was kind of stupid, at least where the villain was concerned, but it looked great and needs the letterbox format to do justice to something that has Tim Curry AND Ian McKellen in it.

#143 ::: A.R.Yngve ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 05:25 PM:

Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of overripe bananas? The Shadow knows... HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA!

#144 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 05:27 PM:

And then there's Lord of the G-Strings, in which the sex is numbingly dull (and inexplicit, at least in the late-night-cable cut) and the stuff in between is reasonably funny. There is in fact a scene in which the people who have arrived for a Titanic Battle Between Good and Evil have to wait around with increasing impatience while two elf-maidens finish going at it, which might be an internal critiquey sorta thing.

Oh, and speaking of the Read Page Whatever Test: Alien vs Predator* just flickered through on cable. Before all the exploding gooshy bits, the leader of the human expedition shows the disposable minor characters an image of a structure whose purpose is completely mysterious to anyone who's not in the audience. His line is "The experts tell me it's a pyramid." One wonders how much expertise that required.

*Not to be confused with an episode of Law and Order, though the presence of Lennie Briscoe would have helped it immeasurably.

#145 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 05:31 PM:

I would have shelled out good money for Alien vs Predator if it had had Jerry Orbach in it.

#146 ::: Bryan ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 05:36 PM:

just think, if world history had been slightly different the Shadow would have known what evils lurked in the livers of men.

#147 ::: FMguru ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 05:42 PM:

"I would have shelled out good money for Alien vs Predator if it had had Jerry Orbach in it."

Will you settle for a painting of Jerry Orbach battling pirates on the high seas?

http://www.brandonbird.com/lno_me.html

#148 ::: Smurch ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 05:44 PM:

A.R.Yngve, my mother and her husband once recommended Jean Auel's novels to me. Knowing how closely their tastes align with mine, I decided to take a pass :)

#149 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 05:52 PM:

It's a real source of sadness for me that the real world no longer has Jerry Orbach in it.

#150 ::: A.R.Yngve ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 06:05 PM:

Please, Teresa, resolve the Time Paradox of modern fiction: if people's time is getting ever more precious, why is every new Harry Potter book longer than the previous one? (Shouldn't it be the other way around??)

It's not just the issue of shaving off "boring parts". Fiction is getting more long-winded. Why? (And it's not just books. I recently sat through Peter Jackson's interminable KING KONG. The original was barely 90 minutes.)

#151 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 06:18 PM:

Backing up to Raiders of the Lost Ark:

No, this isn't a glitch. In fact it's explicitly addressed in dialogue.

Commander of Nazi expedition: I am uncomfortable with the thought of this Jewish ritual. Are you sure it's necessary?

Belloq: Let me ask you this. Would you be more comfortable opening the Ark in Berlin for the Fuhrer and finding out only them if the sacred pieces of the Covenant are inside? Knowing only then whether you have accomplished your mission and obtained the one true Ark?

I thought at the time that was a clever bit of thinking, and still do.

#152 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 06:49 PM:

True, Bruce, about the Ark. I take back my original comment.

#153 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 06:53 PM:

Sure, FMguru, I'll settle for a painting of Jerry Orbach battling pirates on the high seas.

While on the subject of Law and Order's cast past and present... Am I the only the only person who ever saw Saw Waterston parodying his insurance-spokeperson gig, except that here he tells the audience about how old people need insurance to protect themselves against really dinky robots that steal their meds?

#154 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 07:05 PM:

That robot insurance bit was one of the funniest adverts SNL ever ran.

"People who tell you there aren't any robots are probably robots themselves."

#155 ::: Glen Fisher ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 07:09 PM:

In the derail-the-author category: my first (and only) game of Traveller (a space-based RPG, for them what doesn't know). The GM had carefully set things up for a long, involved fight to retake a captured space station. Combat didn't much interest me, so I started asking questions about the technology: could it do this, what were the operational limits of that device, and so on, and got all the "right" answers. I ended up teleporting an asteroid into the base, got a series of good rolls (that one hit all but wiped out the opposition, what with failing locks, communications, and all), and pretty much ended the game immediately. The GM had assumed that running the combat would take all the available time, and had nothing in mind for after "you've retaken the station". (He didn't have the option of saying "you can't teleport that asteroid" because I'd already established that, yes, I could teleport it.)

On Harry Potter: I confess I've read only half of Book 1. I put the book down at that point, and I've never been tempted to pick it up again. As I recall, there were far too many things "just happening", without any apparent cause except the author needed them to happen. (For specific examples, I'd have to reread the thing, a prospect that has no interest to me.)

In the matter of plotting and such, I will admit I've got an idea for a tale or two, but keep discovering that I don't have an answer to "why shouldn't things be done in the obvious, easy, fast way?", when the obvious, easy, fast way leaves you with no tale to speak of. In a sense, this is "how do you decide what the plot coupons are?", or perhaps "where do plot (story?) obstacles come from?" (the more general question). (And, yes, these may be better asked--or have been already discussed--in one of the writers' forums; if so, pointers to relevant FAQs or whatever would be appreciated.)

#156 ::: Keith Kisser ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 08:44 PM:

I had thought a couple of times of the Bk7 denouement of the Harry/Voldemort conflict ending with a scene straight out of Raiders of the Lost Ark - After listening to another Voldemort harangue (I'm gonna kill you, you can't stop me, etc.), Harry just pulls out a Glock and empties it into Voldemort.

Not original, I admit, but an oddly satisfying mental image. --Scott

And a plausible one as Harry was raised in the Muggle world. The only other wizard or witch who would get wise to the idea might be Hermione, because she's from the same. No one else would see it coming, as they seem, except for Mr. Weasly, to be uninterested in anything invented after the Renaissance.

#157 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 08:45 PM:

TNH wrote: Oh, and Voldemort could accomplish most of his aims just by having one of his minions sneak into Hogwarts with a Thompson submachine gun -- but then, I think the same thing about the X-Men's mansion.

It occurs to me that Voldemort so hates Muggles that he's even less capable of learning to use Muggle tech than the average wizard -- and given the way he treats his help, it's not clear anyone would be willing to admit to knowing that much about Muggle tech by suggesting it.

Linda: I severely irritated someone recently by pointing out that in Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone/Philospher's Stone the whole problem would have gone away if Harry and the others hadn't bothered to solve all those riddles to get through to where the stone was.

I'm unwilling to re-read the book, but my visual memories of the movie (which changed one of the problems but IIRC not the others) were that solving the "riddles" (is flat-out chess a riddle?) was the only way through them -- it wasn't like Ditch Day, where some "stacks" are brute-force problems and others put you on your honor to solve the puzzle as constrained ("Smoke this doobie then solve these calculus problems to find the combination to the lock.")

#158 ::: Keith Kisser ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 09:04 PM:

Glen fisher said: In the matter of plotting and such, I will admit I've got an idea for a tale or two, but keep discovering that I don't have an answer to "why shouldn't things be done in the obvious, easy, fast way?", when the obvious, easy, fast way leaves you with no tale to speak of. In a sense, this is "how do you decide what the plot coupons are?", or perhaps "where do plot (story?) obstacles come from?" (the more general question). (And, yes, these may be better asked--or have been already discussed--in one of the writers' forums; if so, pointers to relevant FAQs or whatever would be appreciated.)

This is where likeable-but-flawed characters come in. They are the people so blinded by love/faith/their own ego/the Maltese Falcon that they will do the unobvious, really cool plot coupon acquisition, simply because they don't see another option/their god demands it/ willfully chose the road less traveled/listened to Brigid O'Shaughnessy.

We the author and audience may sit there and say, "No! Don't go into the Mines of Moria, you know what shadows lurk there!" but they decide it'd be a nice shortcut. It's tough to remember sometimes.

For years now, I've been trying to write a story about a perfectly lovely young woman who accidentally steals a mysterious, mustached man's umbrella and tries to return it to him. At every point she thinks ahead and does the right thing and it's a complete boor ten pages in. Because while she would be an interesting and charming person to have dinner with, she's way to self aware to be an interesting character.

Remember that episode of Star Trek TNG where Geordie accidentally gives the holographic Morriarti enough smarts to beat Data? He becomes too aware to be a character any longer and sees through the fiction of the Sherlock Holmes world.

#159 ::: Craig McDonough ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 09:31 PM:

In regards the complicated exposition, two items of note:
-a- Indiana Jones thinking "bugger this for a lark" and shooting the Evil Big Competent Swordsman (which is supposedly in the movie because Ford was tired from recovering from the Tunisian variant of some sort of bug) and
-b- Cheapass Games published a game (sadly, now out of print) titled "Before I Kill you, Mr Bond," which alows the player to vent their frustration about the explanatory lump that preceeds the Rube Goldberg(tm) machinery to kill The Hero, rather than a straighforward bullet to the brain. (another great classic duo from Cheapass was "Give Me The Brain" and "The Great Brain Robbery" -- and one of the strangest gifts I ever gave was a copy of "Give Me The Brain." In Polish. The recipient gamer knows not a word of the Polish language - and he loved the gift)

#160 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 09:45 PM:

Keith --

This is where competent opposition comes in. One doesn't need to make the characters flawed, in the sense of inept or incompetent; one needs but toss something actually difficult at them.

(In retaliation, my Rune Quest group didn't let me away with anything.)

#161 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 10:54 PM:

About the best way of doing something... I am reminded of Farmer's Riverworld books. In The Fabulous Riverboat, Mark Twain and company build a guess-what to go to the source of the very convoluted River since very few people are tempted to use the Suicide Express of explorer Richard Burton. In a later book, someone does Twain one better and builds a zeppelin. When asked why he didn't think of doing that instead of a boat, Twain hems and haws, but you guess he never proposed an airship because he was scared of heights. Personally I think it was really Farmer slapping himself on the forehead and realizing he had to come up with an explanation of why the author never considered the better solution of an airship - beyond the fact that the whole thing started as an SF riff on fantasy book A Riverboat on the Styx.

#162 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2006, 11:57 PM:

"Before I Kill You, Mr. Bond ..." isn't unavailable. It had to be renamed (SPECTRE keeps an adamantium grip on its IP), and is now called "James Ernest's Totally Renamed Spy Game." It's now got full-color cards and some rule tweaks. (It also costs more than the old monochrome cards, but that's Progress v2.0bis.)

Backing up to the "Well, I've got this brilliant idea, but there's no story to go with it" analemma, a stefnal gimmick of considerable antiquity is "Who does this hurt?" That is, what people are going to be put in a hard corner by the Cylert -- I mean, the marvelous technosocial advance. It's applicable well beyond tech-based sf (or fantasy working a similar groove).

#163 ::: Jacob Davies ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 12:36 AM:

On the houses in the (atrocious) Harry Potter books, that two of the four houses are completely boring was not one of the many things I hated or found completely implausible. Someone's got to be having a fairly normal school life there, surely.

Despite the mostly-arbitrary assignment to the seven houses at my English private school, some of the houses did tend to have more interesting people & happenings & so on than the others.

Partly that was due to which teachers got assigned to which house - obviously their personality had a strong imprint - and partly of course just the chemistry of mixing together people at random, and then keeping them together for six years, having them influence newcomers, and so on.

(Only mostly-arbitrary assignment in that School house was all the boarders, and minors & terts got assigned to the house of their older brother e.g. me. Otherwise, random.)

#164 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 12:46 AM:

Craig McDonough - by tang ig stuh ta da flah!

Keith Kisser - I agree on the opposition. Have there be SOMEONE who does NOT want this man to have his umbrella back, for whatever reason. Myself I'd take this in a humorous direction as the young woman dispatches the opposition group by group, from shoving aside the gentleman who gets in her way to, finally, killing a group of twelve katana-wielding ninjas with her bare hands.

Nothing is out of reach for a determined lass.

#165 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 01:09 AM:

Harry Potter missing Quidditch matches...

This echoes some of P. G. Wodehouse, and his Mike character, a keen cricketer who gets transferred to another school because his academic work isn't up to scratch, and becomes embroiled with Psmith[1].

You can find Mike and Mike and Psmith on Project Gutenberg.

[1] The 'P' is silent.

#166 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 01:38 AM:

Serge:

About the best way of doing something... I am reminded of Farmer's Riverworld books. In The Fabulous Riverboat, Mark Twain and company build a guess-what to go to the source of the very convoluted River since very few people are tempted to use the Suicide Express of explorer Richard Burton. In a later book, someone does Twain one better and builds a zeppelin. When asked why he didn't think of doing that instead of a boat, Twain hems and haws, but you guess he never proposed an airship because he was scared of heights. Personally I think it was really Farmer slapping himself on the forehead and realizing he had to come up with an explanation of why the author never considered the better solution of an airship - beyond the fact that the whole thing started as an SF riff on fantasy book A Riverboat on the Styx.

I think you're misrembering.

Clemens is asked why he never thought to build an airship, and he responds that of course he thought to build an airship. He is, after all, the author of "Tom Sawyer Abroad," in which Huck and Tom travel across the Atlantic in a balloon.

However, he said he was not interested in the direct route. He wanted to sail up the river at a leisurely pace, and be admired by the crowds as he went by in the greatest riverboat ever built.

As you say: Perhaps this was Farmer retconning why he, as the author, didn't think to have Clemens build an airship the first time around.

"Tom Sawyer, Abroad," is a real book, by the way--Twain did at least two sequels to "Huckleberry Finn," that one and "Tom Sawyer, Detective."

#167 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 01:39 AM:

I think the Harry winning with muggle-tech idea has been around for a while, but I'm not sure that it would be in-character. He started Hogwarts a little bit too young, I think, and his Muggle life has been pretty grim. I rather doubt he has the intellectual tools to MacGuyver Voldemort.

Hermione do have the brains, and a more plausible family background, but does she have the tools to apply that particular knowledge. She knows that you don't need a house-elf if you have a vacuum cleaner, but does she, for instance, learn how to pass her Muggle-tech driving test?

(I now have this image of Hermione in Emma Peel mode. John Steed is slightly wizard-like, isn't he. Just how does he manage to write "Mrs Peel, we're needed" in the places where he does?)

Cue theme from The Avengers, mysterious event happens, cut to Hermione walking along, reading a newspaper, and wearing late-60s fashion. She stops, with her surprised look on her face. The camera moves to show the page she's reading, which has the headline, "Mrs. Weasley, we're needed". Pan and re-focue to shop doorway, and Harry appears, wearing a smart suit abd bowler hat, and carrying an umbrella.

(That's lifted from the episode that will be shown on the BBC4 TV channel, late tonight (Friday) in the UK.)

#168 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 01:53 AM:

Here in the UK, the UK History channel is showing a lot of Fred Dibnah documentaries. One series, made shortly before he died, covers the tech that lurks behind the traction engine he rebuilt, and the few places left which can do the work needed.

(And many of them are using machinery which would be classed as antiques. There's a forge in Sheffield, where they're making components for modern tanks, and the hammer is around a century old, and until recently it ran on steam. So those British tanks invading Iraq probably depended on steam power.)

The big difference between a riverboat and an airship is in the effort you need to build the powerplant, and even low-pressure steam needs significant background tech to be developed.

Of course, this could be a little bit like the starship problem. You set off on a torch-ship, using time-dilation to make the trip within a tolerable time for the crew, and by the time they get to the destination the people back home have invented hyperdrive, and are waiting to greet you.

#169 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 02:20 AM:

The Unteleported Man!

Earth is overpopulated. Teleportation is taking the excess off-world. No-one ever comes back, or sends any kind of message. The teleport is really an extermination device! I'll take a (very slow) starship there and check. No, in fact the teleport stuff was real and everyone in the off-world colony is on drugs. There was an actual plot in here once, I swear.

I love PKD because his plots were almost always rigorously logical. (Less so in the novels.) The movies generally screw them up, of course. Did anyone else think that the movie of Minority Report not only spent all its time as an extended chase sequence, and made no sense whatsoever, but in fact destroyed the precise thing that was interesting in the initial short story?

Apologies if this has been discussed before.

#170 ::: Colleen Lindsay ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 03:09 AM:

Faren: speaking of plots in search of a book or movie...every year, on New Years Eve, I wonder why someone hasn't written the perfect cliche thriller involving the ball drop in Times Square. It seems to scream DIE HARD 4: WE"VE RUN OUT OF IDEAS.

Cheers!

#171 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 05:18 AM:

Well, 'The Avengers' is definitely magical realism. I've always suspected that Mr Steed was one of Mr Leakey's pupils.

('My Friend Mr Leakey', by JBS Haldane; being the adventures of a left-wing mathematical biologist who knows a slightly eccentric and very English wizard. Did you know that magic carpets, like radio waves, travel better at night? Did you know that djinns can be repelled by the BBC World Service? What is the explanation for a talking fish coming out of the hot water tap into my bath, and why doesn't it seem to mind the soap? Which of the three inventive brothers finally rid the Port of London of its rats, and won the hand of the PLA Chairman's beautiful daughter?)

#172 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 06:11 AM:

Teresa: You're right: I have no urge to hear about Harry Potter and the Bridges of Pokemon County but not for the reason you think. A couple of years ago a fan of Randy Milholland's Something Positive did a posting in the newsgroup about how, duplicating a joke in the strip, she screamed "I choose you, Pikachu!" during climax. Ewww. Now picture any female character in Harry Potter doing the same thing. Ewwwwwww.

John M. Ford: Pacing was the issue according to the bio Groucho by Stefan Kanfer. He says that Thalberg told the team "I'll show you how to get twice the laughs with half the jokes." Additionally, since polls showed that women disliked the Marx Bros (they loathed W.C. Fields), scenes where they help a pair of young lovers might get women to actually come into the theater voluntarily.

David Langford: Thank you and Nick Lowe. I think. Mr. Lowe's description of, "The Shattered Horse, by the composer and SF author S. P. Somtow, which in one astounding scene solemnly presents a ritual at Sparta where local sex goddess Helen stands at one end of a mushy field while a line of naked young men crawl towards her, ploughing the soil with their erections as they go and ejaculating away to fertilize the earth, whipped on across their naked backsides by gangs of young virgins with switches" may force me to read the book just to see if Somtow dealt with refractory periods, or hardpan, or penile fractures. I've now got the phrase "the plow that broke the plains" stuck in my head.

Sandy B: You read it! Somebody read it! And they quoted it! Thank you--I'm very happy...

HP: If in your investigations of European Genre Films you find a copy of Adela Jeste Nevecerela a.k.a. Nick Carter In Prague please post where you found it. I keep searching for a DVD for sale and only find Bittorrents...

Dave Bell: I assume that John Steed got his abilities to manipulate newspaper contents where W. Mark Felt got his. Woodward still doesn't know how that was done.

#173 ::: chris ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 07:25 AM:

TNH - "and Voldemort could accomplish most of his aims just by having one of his minions sneak into Hogwarts with a Thompson submachine gun"

The image of Roland stalking through the halls of Hogwarts is one for which I shall be eternally grateful.

#174 ::: rhandir ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 07:39 AM:

Here's an idea. In "good" fiction Obvious Plot Holes (eagles and the Ring, toothbrush as a portkey) are overlooked because the author very subltly inserted enough world-building to make it obvious that those aren't good solutions. If you can accept values of world-building that include good characterization, (see Keith Kisser, above), you can get authentically motivated coupon collection too.

If the author did their job at all well in making the world building seamless (i.e. the dreaded expository lump is there, but not noticeable), after the fact you wouldn't remember the details for why the specific case wasn't plausible, you just wouldn't consider it while "in" the story.

After the fact, it becomes difficult to tell the difference between a good book and a bad one just through retrospective analysis for plot glitches, unless, as we have proven here, you have access to geeks devoted to that particular story who can remind you of the relevant consequences of the expository lumps.

-r.
p.s.
An alternative approach for authors is to pretend that you did in fact present the expository lump, and move the story along quickly enough that no one notices. This seems to work better in movies than books: it works in North by Northwest (just what was the maguffin anyway?) and fails in DaVinci Code. It could be argued that Carey Grant had enough "character gravitas" to make the audience not notice. I'm tempted to argue that Hitchcock knew that the only way he'd be able to get away with filming something with such a lame plot is because he knew he had Grant to work with. Oh, I'm thinking of "character gravitas" as being similar to the "This is where likeable-but-flawed characters come in. They are the people so blinded by love/faith/their own ego/the Maltese Falcon that they will do the unobvious, really cool plot coupon acquisition, simply because they don't see another option/their god demands it/ willfully chose the road less traveled/listened to Brigid O'Shaughnessy." that Keith Kisser mentioned.

#175 ::: Eleanor ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 08:37 AM:

In "good" fiction Obvious Plot Holes (eagles and the Ring, toothbrush as a portkey) are overlooked because the author very subltly inserted enough world-building to make it obvious that those aren't good solutions. If you can accept values of world-building that include good characterization, (see Keith Kisser, above), you can get authentically motivated coupon collection too.

JKR may have been trying to do this retrospectively in book 6 where Dumbledore and Harry look back into Voldemort's past and try to analyse his character. Voldemort's grandiose streak probably meant he was unwilling to achieve his grand goal of killing Harry in any lesser way than at the climax of a dramatic adventure and by making the portkey out of something very special. After that all that's needed is for his agent at Hogwarts to have failed to convince him of the superiority of the toothbrush plan.

#176 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 08:45 AM:

rhandir... The thing is that movies set the pace at which we absorb the story, while in books it's the other way around and so the reader can catch things more easily. I once saw an interview with Ernest Lehman, on TCM, I think, where he talked about cooking up the script of North by Northwest with Hitchcock. He called many of the scenes, like the cropduster scene, refrigerator moments. Meaning, you watch the movie, go to bed, wake up in the middle of the night and decide upon a midnight snack. Then, finally, while looking at the contents of the refrigerator, you suddenly go waitaminutethatmadenosense. Hitchcock was a very skilled magician, very good at distracting you away from what he didn't want you to notice.

Kind of like The Day the Earth Stood Still... Klaatu gets shot ("Yes, yes, Gort, you were right, it wasn't such a good idea to point a spring-loaded gizmo at someone with a gun aimed at me"). After a brief stay at a hospital, he escapes and decides to explore human society incognito. Incognito. Huh, why didn't the govt publish a photo of Klaatu? Someone who looks like Michael Rennie is going to stand out. But then 80% of the movie's plot couldn't happen, unless Klaatu decides to disguise himself with a ZZtop beard.

#177 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 08:48 AM:

Mitch Wagner... It has been over 20 years since I read that scene from the Riverworld novels and I was bound to forget some things. Are you sure though that Twain was NOT denying being afraid of flying?

#178 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 08:50 AM:

Serge: Actually, Carrie, I thought of that possible explanation, but it was obvious from everybody's behavior in the second movie that he wasn't clouding their minds a la Lamont Scranton.

Well, that's clearly because we didn't see the people whose minds were being clouded. The guards don't have to have the Mojo worked on them; they have orders from On High to let this guy in. It's the On High people that Xavier had to mess with.

Yngve: Thing that weirds me out about the Stone Age books is how they can go from a technical discussion of different kinds of grass to Hot StoneAge Sex in the space of a page. I actually tend to skip the sex scenes, as I seem to lack entirely the "finds porn arousing" gene. Which means I've noticed how bad the books are. :) It's like, OK, what's Ayla going to invent this week?

#179 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 09:01 AM:

Xavier is also an expert on mutants and called in for all sorts of things involving mutants. so they want someone to take a look at Magneto, who do they call? The top mutant expert, pay him a big consultant check too.

#180 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 09:09 AM:

"But then 80% of the movie's plot couldn't happen, unless Klaatu decides to disguise himself with a ZZtop beard."

And the "Day the Earth Stood Still" / Soggy Bottom Boys connection is successfully made.

'Well, sir, in fact, we are coloured men. Except our accompanist, Tommy Johnson. He's a ten-foot-tall robot.'

why Charles Xavier had free access to Magneto's prison when even Senator Kelley didn't.

Xavier has access because he asked to visit the prisoner, and the prisoner didn't mind - just like in any other prisoner. Mystique/Kelley could probably do the same - but say she did have access, and went in to visit him. What's she going to do?
She can't smuggle in a weapon for him, because you can be damn sure they have metal detectors on the entrances. The only way round that is the injection method she used on the guard, and that would kill her on extraction. She can change her own appearance, but not Erik's, so there's no way she can get him out.
No, the only way for Magneto to get out is to break out using violence, and for that he needs a weapon, and the only way to get a weapon is the injection method. And once he's got one, he can get out by himself.

(I must admit the injection thing surprised me slightly - I was expecting a rather more grisly escape involving either a hip replacement or a surgical skull plate.)

#181 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 09:09 AM:

A combination of what Carrie and bryan suggested is probably how Xavier got access to Magneto - although his being an expert on mutants might be counterbalanced by his having been a friend of that very dangerous prisonner.

My point was that the movie's writers were very smart not to bring up the issue otherwise they'd have had to spend time on it that could better used elsewhere.

Meanwhile...Only four months until the third movie comes out. Woohoo!!!

#182 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 09:11 AM:

Unfans of Jean Auel: try "Dance of the Tiger" by Bjorn Kurten. It's well-written, the characters are engaging, and it has a much more interesting theory of the interactions between Cro-Magnons and Neanderthals.

The author is a Finnish paleontologist.

"Kurtn has managed to insinuate into his story - in a way so subtle and natural that we can scarcely recognize he is teaching as well as novelizing - every fact and theory that I know (and several, undoubtedly, that I don't) about Neandertals, Cro-Magnons, human evolution during the Ice Age, glacial geology, and ecology and behavior of the great Ice Age mammals, including mammoths and saber-toothed tigers." (Stephen Jay Gould in his introduction to Dance of the Tiger)

#183 ::: A.R.Yngve ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 09:14 AM:

Carrie S. wrote:
Yngve: Thing that weirds me out about the Stone Age books is how they can go from a technical discussion of different kinds of grass to Hot StoneAge Sex in the space of a page. I actually tend to skip the sex scenes, as I seem to lack entirely the "finds porn arousing" gene. Which means I've noticed how bad the books are. :) It's like, OK, what's Ayla going to invent this week?

-Oh, I dunno... the wheel, maybe. ;-)

In Jean M. Auel's defense, I want to say that the Good Parts (omnicompetent Stone Age heroine discovers neolithic contraceptive, has great sex without getting pregnant) must have been successful with a lot of readers.

Suppose the author had "shaved off" about 50% of the "boring parts". The books would be much shorter, but the sex scenes would stand out EVEN MORE. Would this have embarrassed the readers so much, they wouldn't have dared to buy the books?
(Just teasing... ;))

#184 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 09:18 AM:

Lila: Alas, I have been contaminated by Clan of the Cave Bear et sequelae, to the point that I will watch shows about real anthropology and be disturbed by their theories not matching up with what's in the books. :P Comes of having read them when I was young and impressionable, I guess. Rationally I know that Auel is/was on crack, but my gut doesn't agree.

#185 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 09:24 AM:

Is Ayla the direct ancestor of Agatha Heterodyne, aka the Girl Genius?

#186 ::: A.R.Yngve ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 10:08 AM:

I propose the "Mary Sue Litmus Test": simply replace the protagonist's name (in this case "Ayla") with "Mary Sue".

If Mary Sue seems an appropriate name change, then the book IS a de facto "Mary Sue" story. (Try this on other best-selling books! You'll be surprised.)

#187 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 10:24 AM:

Could I get a refresher course on the Mary Sue Litmus Test?

#188 ::: Annie G. ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 10:31 AM:

Serge: Looks like there's a copy of a litmus test (I dunno if it's the one you wanted) posted here.

#189 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 10:40 AM:

And the "Day the Earth Stood Still" / Soggy Bottom Boys connection is successfully made.

Coughgagsplutter!!!

Don't make jokes like that early in the morning, ajay. That's when most of us are having coffee.

As for how Mystique snuck a weapon in to Magneto, it was damn clever. Not as gruesome as yanking someone's hip-replacement parts out, but having sucha guard around would have been incredibly dumb. I must say I can't help but laugh when Magneto makes a plate out of that metal and just floats away, arms crossed like an old-style comic-book magician, of the kind who'd be wearing a turban. What a showoff. Then again, Magneto was established as a comic-book lover.

#190 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 10:46 AM:

Thanks, Annie G. I think Our Hosts had something about the Mary Sue Litmust Test when I first came to their site, but that was many moons ago.

I myself have a Susan Test: if the main female character of a movie is named Susan, or a variation thereof, she's probably going to be romantic trouble for the hero, as I am fond of reminding my own Susan.

#191 ::: Smurch ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 10:49 AM:

Didn't I read somewhere that Jean Auel and her husband are Ayn Rand epigones?

If so, I'd expect the sex among the Cave Bearians to be more slap than tickle.

#192 ::: Sandy ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 10:53 AM:

Bruce. . .err. . .was that your line? It's a good one.

Serge: My opinion is that Agatha H. is not a Mary Sue. I actually had a discussion on the topic in Kaja Foglio's livejournal; my argument was, if you're going to be a Mary Sue, there have to be moments where everyone else just stands back and admires you. Often while you're not DOING anything, just BEING.

If Agatha took a second to look beautiful, she'd get run over by a crazed mechanical elephant, with six Jaegermonsters trying to control it, pulling an entire circus tent. That was on fire. And full of sinister assassins.

And it would then hurtle off a cliff, forcing someone to disassemble the elephant/tent combo in midfall and build a powered kite- and if it wasn't Agatha, it would be some other Spark . Possibly two, working on opposite ends of the tent and arguing about laminar airflow and who stole whose idea.

But, y'know, I'm open to other opinions.

#193 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 10:58 AM:

The injection method was STUPID. First of all...

...oh, wait. Everybody here already knows that it was stupid, and why.

I'll be over here.

#194 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 11:05 AM:

Actually, Sandy, not too long ago, Agatha Heterodyne did find herself having to look beautiful (like that's hard work for her) and none of that happen. We did get a ruthless Lord who then attempted to do something surgically nasty to her, then his daughter, whose brain is inside an automaton, electrocuted him to death because she too wanted to do something nasty to Agatha. Who next found herself in a great state of undress. Again.

#195 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 11:10 AM:

OK, apparently there are some fairly hilarious ODTAA stories starring a character named Agatha Heterodyne, who sounds like a steampunk Ubabe to me. What/where/who by?

#196 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 11:14 AM:

This is Agatha, Xopher.

#197 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 11:18 AM:

Yes, and I plead guilty to Failure to Google Before Asking. I found this page. I must read these. They sound like screaming naked fun.

#198 ::: Andrew Willett ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 11:22 AM:

Aaaack! Xopher, don't! Not that page! Not today! The latest page contains a serious spoiler and won't make much sense besides.

If you're looking to follow the adventures of Agatha Heterodyne, Girl Genius, then start here, at the beginning.

#199 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 11:27 AM:

No, of course I'm going to start at the beginning. I did read that page, but it didn't make any sense, and I doubt I'll remember the spoiler. It was funny that the villain (she's clearly evil; I assume she's the villain) was speaking Linotype.

#200 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 11:30 AM:

At last year's NASFiC, Phil Foglio explained that that Bill & Barry Heterodyne were modeled after some scientist friends of his, whom he described as too smart for their own good. He originally wanted to do the adventures of the Heterodyne Boys, but he wasn't sure he'd really want to draw them week after week. He apparently had no such difficulty with Agatha.

#201 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 11:47 AM:

The injection method was STUPID. First of all...

...oh, wait. Everybody here already knows that it was stupid, and why.

I'll be over here.

Aww, don't sulk. Tell us. We'll be interested.

Strangest bit about The Day The Earth Stood Still:

The robot's name, which adds a strange new image to the history of Europe in 1940.

Wonder if that was deliberate?

#202 ::: rhandir ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 11:56 AM:

Carrie S. said to:
Yngve: Thing that weirds me out about the Stone Age books is how they can go from a technical discussion of different kinds of grass to Hot StoneAge Sex in the space of a page. I actually tend to skip the sex scenes, as I seem to lack entirely the "finds porn arousing" gene. Which means I've noticed how bad the books are. :) It's like, OK, what's Ayla going to invent this week?

*shudder* I remember the first time I read Clan of the Cave Bear. I was in 7th grade, and found the sex waaaaaaaaaay disturbing, particularly since the first sex scene I came across I recall being:
1. non-consensual
2. pregnancy inducing, with accompanying descriptions of how no one in the clan understood what caused pregnancy.
I was hoping for a nifty hero-quest kind of thing, and instead I got...well, whatever that was. Ignorant people behaving badly towards a semi-clueless heroine. I thought grownup's tastes in books was crap for years aftewords.

There's a fair number of instances of authors inserting sex into narratives that really bothered me when I was young (still do), but the common thread seems to be a kind of callousness about the act instead of its presence. (Callous treatment of characters at the hands of an author in general I find unappealing, which is one of the reasons why I cordially dislike 1984. Hmm. That had some "unfriendly sex" in it too, didn't it? I seem to recall C.S. Lewis complaining about that.)

#203 ::: Annie G. ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 11:58 AM:

regarding Girl Genius, I just have to say wow. And thanks for introducing me to it. It's awesome!

#204 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 12:02 PM:

Besides the Mary Sue Litmus Test, does anybody know of the Shirley Knight Test? It follows these simple criteria:

1) Are you watching one of the Law and Order shows?
2) Is there a character - however minor the character may appear - in the show played by Shirley Knight?

If the answer is yes to both questions, you need not wrack your brains trying to figure out who committed the crime.

#205 ::: rhandir ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 12:08 PM:

Eleanor, re: Obvious Plot Holes
Thanks to the pointer regarding the retrospective on Voldemort. Book 6 makes much more sense (structurally) to me now. (I snicker internally at some poor sap trying to suggest the toothbrush plan to Voldemort. "but sir..." "Silence you snivelling fool!")

Serge, re: North by Northwest
I had a hunch it was a pacing thing in movies vs. books. To extend my earlier thought, perhaps it was the fast pace* of Da Vinci Code that explains why so many people seemed to be immune to it's badness.

Pacing has changed quite a bit in movies too, I'd say NbNW flows a little slow nowadays. I rented The Guns of Navarone, recently, and I remember J. Lee Thompson explaining in the commentary (during the lead up to climactic sequence no less!) how he would have cut things out to speed things up, and how slow it ran to his eyes after all this time.
The interview with Ernest Lehman sounds facinating. Anyone know if it ended up as a dvd extra?

-r.

*end every chapter on a cliffhanger, start the next with different characters/location, short chapters, etc etc as specified in that old thread.

#206 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 12:16 PM:

Xopher: I don't. Why was it stupid?

(Well, OK, unless the answer is "because he wouldn't've made it that far with that much ?lead? in his blood", which I kinda figured but hey! It's a comic book...)

#207 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 12:16 PM:

Dave Bell: You set off on a torch-ship, using time-dilation to make the trip within a tolerable time for the crew, and by the time they get to the destination the people back home have invented hyperdrive, and are waiting to greet you.

Hopefully, they brought cake.

candle: I love PKD because his plots were almost always rigorously logical. (Less so in the novels.) The movies generally screw them up, of course. Did anyone else think that the movie of Minority Report not only spent all its time as an extended chase sequence, and made no sense whatsoever, but in fact destroyed the precise thing that was interesting in the initial short story?

Didn't read the short story. Thought it was a hell of a movie, for the way in which it created a believable world of a couple of decades in the future, in a very "Bladerunner"-like way. Lots of neat details, which, of course, the characters took completely for granted because it was part of their everyday world.

Colleen Lindsay: every year, on New Years Eve, I wonder why someone hasn't written the perfect cliche thriller involving the ball drop in Times Square. It seems to scream DIE HARD 4: WE"VE RUN OUT OF IDEAS.

"Die Hard 4: So Die Already!"

Apologies to "Mad About You" for stealing that joke.

Serge: Mitch Wagner... It has been over 20 years since I read that scene from the Riverworld novels and I was bound to forget some things. Are you sure though that Twain was NOT denying being afraid of flying?

You know what? It's been that long--or longer--since I read that particular scene myself, and I won't swear to anything I said earlier under oath.

But I'm pretty sure I'm right. It stuck in my head, for some reason.

Farmer's Sam Clemens character gave no other indication of being afraid of heights; nor did (as far as I know) the historical Mark Twain.

I was somewhat disappointed in the story arc that Sam Clemens went through in that series. In "The Fabulous Riverboat," he was a heroic, but deeply melancholy and troubled character; in subsequent novels he became a neurotic jerk.

#208 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 12:29 PM:

The pace of movies has picked up, rhandir? No kidding. I remember the opening segment of Raiders of the Lost Ark, and thinking it was a good thing that the rest of the movie did slow the pace down afterward. Nowadays, it seems like action movies stick to that opening scene's pace. One particularly dreadful example of that is van Helsing.

I don't think the Lehman interview ever made it into a DVD's extras. It's something that pops up every once in a while on Turner Classic Movies when there's a gap between movies. There's another one with Lehman where he recounts how, back in the mid-Eighties, he was channel-surfing and he kept coming across the scene of Cary Grant being chased by the crop-duster. That's how he figured out that Grant had just died.

#209 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 12:33 PM:

Does it seem to anyone else that the term "Mary Sue" is getting mis-applied to characters who are merely good-looking and widely competent?

#210 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 12:39 PM:

Serge: I believe the Shirley Knight test is a special case of the Recognizable Actor test.

#211 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 12:43 PM:

OK...you asked for it.

The iron in your blood isn't ferromagnetic. And a good thing, too, or my head would have exploded at the very first pulse of that MRI machine a couple years back. (Yeah, there are other metals that respond to magnetism; they all change their properties when corroded, that is to say oxidized.)

If it were, Magneto would have been able to do that to anyone...or used his own body's iron and asked for extra spinach, and sneakily accumulated iron that way. But, you say, that's just not enough iron.

"Enough" iron to form the various objects he made? If you get too much iron in your blood, you likely have a stroke or heart attack. The injection given that character would likely have been lethal if it had that much iron in it!

Supposing this animated corpse walked into the prison, wouldn't he set off the metal detector? An amount of metal equivalent to several bullets? And remember, this isn't a cheapass airport metal detector we're talking about; this is one that goes off if there's a pin in your pantscuff, because they have to keep all metal away from the bad guy.

Supposing that the metal detector won't detect tiny, tiny bits of ferrous iron in the walking corpse, and Magneto's whole grisly extraction works. How does it happen that he gets the metal dust to form solid objects? He's apparently liquified the iron at room temperature (because it would also lose its magnetic properties if heated above its Curie point, 770 C...note, iron's melting point is 1535 C), and he does it repeatedly.

And even if you assume that he's just superskillful and is holding all these little bits together in the desired shape, and if he stopped they'd fall back into dust again, well, that only gets you part way home. He could do the bullets, but not the floating plate.

Think about it. He moves things around with magnetism relative to his own body. He could float the plate around, but not if he moved with it. And remember there's no other metal within his range. What's the metal plate repelling (below) or attracting (above) to float through the air?

And look how far down the chain of "and even if THAT made sense..." we had to go to even get him halfway there. I saw this coming when I saw Mystique injecting something into the hapless guard. "Oh, no," I thought, "they aren't going to..." But they were. I was yelling "No way! That's so stupid!" through that whole scene.

Good thing I was watching it alone in my apartment, huh?

#212 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 12:46 PM:

There are other recognizable actors who've played good guys in some L&O shows, TexAnne, and bad guys in other episodes. Shirley Knight has wound up being the bad guy in each and every episode. Really. Of course, there may be some episodes I've never seen where she wasn't the one whodunit.

#213 ::: rhandir ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 12:56 PM:

Serge wrote:
I remember the opening segment of Raiders of the Lost Ark, and thinking it was a good thing that the rest of the movie did slow the pace down afterward.
Heh, I remember watching it in the post-Matrix era, and being stunned that it ran so slowly. Particularly since I didn't remember it that way. Otoh, the first Matrix movie kinda slows to a crawl during the final climactic battle/chase sequence once you've seen it a number of times. Interest/fast pace that is determined by plot considerations (what has Keanu gotten himself into?) rather than simple suspense (who's going to win?) might be an explanation. Or, I may merely be a bit depressed.

Nowadays, it seems like action movies stick to that opening scene's pace. One particularly dreadful example of that is van Helsing.
Is that what went wrong? I watched it, hoping for a "good, bad movie*", and it felt flat. I couldn't figure it out how come - it had so much schtuff going for it - it should have been Girl Genius-esque in its franticness, as opposed to being merely frantic.
-r

*the fact that the geeky sidekick gets a girl was cute though. See Why Geeks and Nerds Are Worth It... for out of plot justification

#214 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 01:00 PM:

rhandir, while I'm sure 'franticness' is standard and perfectly correct, I feel that some here, possibly including you, will share my preference for 'franticity'. :-)

#215 ::: jhlipton ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 01:02 PM:

rhandir:
Callous treatment of characters at the hands of an author in general I find unappealing, which is one of the reasons why I cordially dislike 1984. Hmm. That had some "unfriendly sex" in it too, didn't it?

But that was intentional callousness, to make us feel what the time is like (same as the relative not-unfriendly but very sterile sex inBrave New World is to flesh out (as it were) the world the characters inhabit). That doesn't bother me near as much as unintentional (or callous) callousness: having bad things happen purely to highlight the main character's goodness or to advance the plot. My main objection to Constinitine (since I don't read the comic, I could just view it as itself) was the senseless death of the inventor, who really should have been kept for future adventures. Now that was a waste.

#216 ::: Sandy ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 01:05 PM:

"Does it seem to anyone else that the term "Mary Sue" is getting mis-applied to characters who are merely good-looking and widely competent? "

It might. I know what it sued * to mean, but it shifted on me.

Ah, I was sure there was a description here somewhere:

MARY SUE (n.): 1. A variety of story . . . in which normal story values are grossly subordinated to inadequately transformed personal wish-fulfillment fantasies, often involving heroic or romantic interactions with the cast of characters of some popular entertainment. 2. A distinctive type of character appearing in these stories who represents an idealized version of the author. . .

It's a word evolving at Internet speed, so it's easy to get sloppy in usage.

Serge:We did get. . .
but other than that, and the geisterdamen [sp], and the juggler assassins and the rain of flaming toads. . .nothing really happened to upstage her backstory recap.

*this typo is so brave, beautiful and obviously good that I don't have the heart to kill it. And it has a lovely singing voice.

#217 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 01:09 PM:

Xopher: Hmmm, OK.

Of course Magneto couldn't use the iron from his own hemoglobin; when I said "that much [metal] in [the guard's] blood" I meant the stuff Mystique injected (though I do believe there's a scene in a comic somewhere in which an amped-up Magneto actually does pull the iron out of someone's hemoglobin, as a method of execution. But then we've gone from movie physics to comic book physics, which is not an improvement.)

OK, that much metal floating in the blood would have caused issues. How long would it take? Long enough that Mystique could have a decent surety that the guy would make it in to work before keeling over? Would it have made a difference if the bits of metal had a plastic coating on them?

The metal detector...is pretty much a killer, and I wondered about it myself, though it occurs to me that there was a bit where the guard at the console (which must have fiberoptic wiring, BTW) looks puzzled for a few moments. Maybe being inside the body screwed up the machine enough?

He makes the dust into objects 'cause he's Magneto, and he can do that. :) Maybe he holds them together with magnetic fields. That accounts for the shininess, too.

Why couldn't he do the plate? Given that they're not allowed to have metal around him, they couldn't have a great big Faraday cage going; hence, he was floating the plate against the Earth's magnetic field.

#218 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 01:12 PM:

Van Helsing was a terrible movie but an OK drinking game. Yes, at 35 I'm a little old to be sneaking liquor into the theater.

I was drinking on "Screen full of teeth", which was bad enough.
My wife was drinking on "S&M- Standing and Modelling". That is, someone takes the "I'm going to hover imposingly before the attack, so you have lots of time to shoot holes in me" pose.

She finished a movie-sized drink in the first half of the movie, and we decided she'd paid her dues.

#219 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 01:14 PM:

I should never have brought up van Helsing...

What was wrong with it, randhir? For one think, it had Kate Beckinsale in it. . The villains were really hammy, but bad hammy. I got tired of the vampire women attacking the hero again and again in scenes that lasted too long and became repetitive. The pace of the whole movie never really let up, to the point where the action became mind-numbing. And it wasn't even fun. Compare that movie to the same director's Mummy films. Those were fun, hammy but in a good way. And the pace was just right.

#220 ::: rhandir ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 01:19 PM:

Xopher said: I feel that some here, possibly including you, will share my preference for 'franticity'. :-)
lol!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! For TEH w1n!*

-r.
*ahem. please disregard this abasement of the high intellectual tone of this thread. I really did laugh out loud.

#221 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 01:24 PM:

Carrie S. IANA doctor, but I think he'd die within a few seconds of the injection. Even microencapulated as you suggest, it would stop his heart pretty efficiently.

If not, it might take minutes as it busted up his lungs, causing him to suffocate on his own blood. The ME might mistake it for hantavirus, but that's about it.

Certainly his kidneys would concentrate and eliminate it, if it got that far. He'd have "kidney bolts" (since they're metal, not stone). Death by internal bleeding. Might take a bit more time, but he'd certainly never wake up.

Even if he did, he'd be in excruciating pain in short order. No way would he be showing up for work. I doubt he'd make it to the ER.

Oh, and if it were microencapsulated, Magneto would have no way of DEencapsulating it to form objects. He can move the bits, but not the capsule, which would merrily follow along. I suppose he could scrape them against each other, but that would take a while, and I didn't see any bits of plastic falling down, or see smoke rising, or anything.

As for Earth's magnetic field...if he had that much range he could pull metal from the ground. Unless you just mean he's hanging it off lines of magnetic force in some way. There's nothing to push against. The magnetosphere doesn't lift anything.

"Floating the plate against the Earth's magnetic field" strikes me as comic-book physics (which if we're using that explains all the above anyway), but IANA physicist either, so I'm not absolutely sure of my facts there.

#222 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 01:28 PM:

Xopher --

The iron is in (thin!) aluminum inside bio-neutral polymers. Since the metal detector is going on field effects, not mass spectroscopy or a CAT scan, it doesn't work.

If you generate high enough strain forces in an abrupt way, the stuff will move even without melting; this is what happens to the liners of shaped charge warheads. (This does raise the issue of why Magneto's never killed someone directly with the 10 T field he must be able to generate, but perhaps he has aesthetic issues with it.)

Mutant powers don't obey Newton's third; if they did, Cyclop's head would have been found four counties away the first time his powers went off. (His eye-beams, from observed direct kinetic transfer effects, are well into the 10 MJ tank gun muzzle energy range.)

#223 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 01:31 PM:

Next thing you know, someone will criticize the kind of biology that allows someone to be made of living metal, about which I usually try not to ask myself how Colossus can see with metal eyes.

Ever read Larry Niven's Man of Steel - Woman of Kleenex? It's about why Kryptonians can't have intercourse with Earth Girls. I especially liked the part about young Clark discovering masturbation and the image of his sperm zipping around Smallville, breaking the lightspeed barrier...

#224 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 01:53 PM:

Bruce D: Politely, I think that was what I said about Night at the Opera; Thalberg gave the audience the plot elements it was expecting. Pacing was a component of that, but not the only one, and the Marxes had already acquired an education in comic timing. Thalberg -- who, unlike a lot of movie moguls, had grown up reading a lot of books -- also tested the scripts with live stage versions, tossing out jokes that didn't work.

Having been acquainted with Phil Foglio for nigh on to thirty years now, I'm pretty confident in saying that Agatha is not a fantasy amplification of himself. (A fantasy figure in various ways, yes.) Also, Agatha's not omnicompetent, nor is she the only Spark in the woodpile; other characters, including some of the less nice ones, are allowed to be brilliant and diem-salving as well. And in that world, nobody has to invent sex, though building ancillary contraptions for it is always a possibility.

And the idea of a connection between Gort and Lord Gort is fascinating, in the My Zeppelin Has More Duraluminum Flying Buttresses than Your Zeppelin sort of way, but, well, y'all do remember that the yarn started life as a véritable sf story, right? In which the robot's name was Gnut, a name it's not too hard to understand a screenwriter changing, along with just about everything else about it/him.

#225 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 01:54 PM:

Ever read Larry Niven's Man of Steel - Woman of Kleenex?

(Widely available online -- just google the title and giggle.)

#226 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 02:00 PM:

Graydon - they don't obey ANY of Newton's Laws, really. Like I said, if it's comic-book physics, no discussion. It's just magic and we go on with the story.

I might buy your explanations if I understood them...what kind of field is Magneto's 10 T field? Non-physicist here, remember. Do even massively powerful magnetic fields affect human flesh?

I still think the guy would die or be too sick to work. And the more layers you add to the encapsulation, the more total gunk - even bioneutral gunk - he'd have floating around in his blood.

And if that microencapsulation would work, Mystique could just dust her clothing with it and go in as Senator Kelly - then she could help Magneto fight his way out. Well, I suppose if it had to be inside a body to escape detection...

Serge - yeah, and invisible people can't see, either (the light passes right through their retinas). And where is Iceman dumping all that heat? The same place Pyro is getting his? And when Magneto stopped the plane from crashing, why wasn't he electrocuted by the resulting discharge?

OK, I get it: It's a comic book. We're used to stuff like that. But somehow the injected iron (which IIRC looked more like half a liter of mercury - a swift and ugly death, that) stuck in the craw that merrily swallowed all those other physical absurdities. Not quite sure why.

#227 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 02:08 PM:

And where is Iceman dumping all that heat? The same place Pyro is getting his?

That one seems to balance: Iceman dumps heat to Pyro!

#228 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 02:13 PM:

Naw, it has to be stored someplace during the time between their power-using.

Now see, THAT would be cool: identical twins, one who can suck up heat like Iceman and pass it to the other, who can only put it out. Call them Fire and Ice. If they did it miles apart, it could end the world, and it wouldn't matter which part of it you were in; it would suffice.

#229 ::: Smurch ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 02:22 PM:

****Call them Fire and Ice. If they did it miles apart, it could end the world, and it wouldn't matter which part of it you were in; it would suffice.****

Xopher, nice tracks left behind in the frost. You're aglow with pale fire today :)

#230 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 02:35 PM:

Looking at the sequence from The Mummy to van Helsing, you can still see traces of neat ideas in van Helsing, but it's the climax of a sequence of growing spectacle and dodgy technology.

All the ancient Egyptian traps, that's magic. But the airship in the second movie, and the horde of monsters summoned, that's starting to get to the limit. At least the characters are strong enough to hold it together, including the smart kid, and the tragedy of why the bad guy fails: he does all that stuff to ressurect the woman he loves, and she betrays him.

But van Helsing, while you can see traces of there being characters you might have cared about, crams in all those movie monsters, and only has room for action sequences. It's completely out of balance. There's no room for the secondary genre.

#231 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 02:59 PM:

The only character I cared much for in van Helsing was Frankenstein's Creature. He looked stupid and rather fleshy around the middle, but his sadness came thru.

#232 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 03:45 PM:

For a TV-watching litmus test, this column today (in the SFGate section where Jon Carroll also has a good piece on "non-fiction") uses the "Polar Bear Moment": http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2006/01/13/DDGE4GLR6K1.DTL&type=printable. I don't watch the shows he mentions, but sounds good to me.

#233 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 04:02 PM:

Teresa, I have always (well, since 1987) thought it was a shame that the delicious concept of the Good Parts Version did not survive when William Goldman translated his own book The Princess Bride into a screenplay.

I admit, however, that if it had been my job to write the movie, I would reluctantly have done the same. Having read a couple of books on screenwriting. By William Goldman.

#234 ::: Betsey Langan ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 04:06 PM:

One possible fan-wank for the "iron" shot -

There are suspensions that can be given intramuscularly (IM). IM suspensions tend to have delayed onset relative to solutions of the same drug (assuming the drug is soluble at all) - compare regular insulin, a solution, to NPH insulin, which is a suspension. Regular has faster onset and shorter duration of action.

Further, there are some weird polymers in use or under study that are liquid at room temperature but solid or semi-solid at body temperature. This is one of the methods by which long-acting depot injections are created. If the "iron" was a suspension of ferrous iron dust in some sort of extreme-delayed-release polymer, it is possible that it would have still been mostly sequestered in the injection site, rather than being taken up into the bloodstream and killing the guard. Because it's a suspension vehicle rather than an encapsulation of the particles themselves, Magneto would not have to strip it away mechanically.
(No, this doesn't explain why he recovered the "iron" by pulling it out of the front of the guard as a spray rather than out of his gluteus as a lump. We'll chalk it up to "but it looked so pretty".)

I seem to recall the scanner buzzing when the "loaded" guard went through and the guy watching the screen passing it - probably on the grounds of "he's never had a lump of ferromagnetic stuff in his buttock before; it must be a scan glitch". (Having said that, I think the scan did show it still at the injection site, rather than his whole body being ferromagnetic.)

#235 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 04:28 PM:

Faren, have you got the right URL? I clicked on it and wound up somewhere not Jon-Carrollesque at all.

#236 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 05:30 PM:

The URL as presented in Faren's post is correct; the link you get by clicking isn't.

It's about 24, which I haven't seen a single episode of, for the same reason I never watched Buffy or Lost and only reluctantly watch "Battlestar Galactica":

I don't want to devote too many precious brain cycles to a TV show.

The fact that these shows require brain cycles is a complement. But one must prioritize.

#237 ::: rhandir ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 05:32 PM:

Dave Bell said about The Mummy Returns:
"...At least the characters are strong enough to hold it together, including the smart kid, and the tragedy of why the bad guy fails: he does all that stuff to ressurect the woman he loves, and she betrays him.
You are right, that's exactly what saved the film from the spectacle. Too bad similar casting and writing couldn't have saved another set of movies. I swear, my S.O. and I turned to one another and intoned in unison, "If only Lucas had cast that kid!"*

Come to think of it, if Anakin-as-grownup had been played by Arnold Vosloo, that would have been wicked cool! *stunned thought*
You know, if he had brought Padme back, and she betrayed him that would have been...

Serge,
I agree about Frankenstein's Creature. Some authenticness to the original source(s) there. I thought the references to absinthe to be slightly clever also.

-r.
*actually, we originally said it about the kiddo from Sixth Sense

#238 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 05:41 PM:

Anybody would have been better than the kid that Lucas chose to play Bananaskin Skywalker, randhir. I heard that the kid from '6th Sense' had auditioned for the part, but that George passed. This, among other things, tells you that the man has lost all taste. Or he is surrounded by sycophants who don't tell him what he doesn't want to hear. Yeah... Like that other George.

Authenticness? Is this a challenge to come up with my own replace-city-with-ness neologism?

#239 ::: bonniers ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 05:45 PM:

I had a hunch it was a pacing thing in movies vs. books. To extend my earlier thought, perhaps it was the fast pace* of Da Vinci Code that explains why so many people seemed to be immune to it's badness.

That was one of the infuriating things about the book. I was screaming to myself, "But this is so bad!" as I turned every page and stayed up until four in the morning to finish it.

One of these days, I'm going back to try to figure out how Brown does it. It's more than the cliffhanger chapters.

#240 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 05:56 PM:

There are suspensions that can be given intramuscularly (IM). IM suspensions tend to have delayed onset relative to solutions of the same drug (assuming the drug is soluble at all) - compare regular insulin, a solution, to NPH insulin, which is a suspension. Regular has faster onset and shorter duration of action.

IM injection "tends to have delayed onset" because it takes longer for drugs to be absorbed from the muscle -- certainly than IV, than which there ain't much faster, and usually than SC, where there is good bloodflow.

And the example given doesn't apply at all. Both those insulin preparations are given subcut (regular can be given IV, but it's not done very often, and usually only in hyperglycemic crisis) and the NPH is slower not because it's a suspension of insulin -- in that sense, both Reg and NPH are solutions -- but because it's unmodified, "regular" insulin with suspended elements (protamines) that slow down its absorption.

#241 ::: Lux Fiat ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 06:22 PM:

Graydon: Mutant powers don't obey Newton's third; if they did, Cyclop's head would have been found four counties away the first time his powers went off. (His eye-beams, from observed direct kinetic transfer effects, are well into the 10 MJ tank gun muzzle energy range.)

Well! Interesting that you should mention the first time Cyclops used his powers, since I think that might have been the only time the writer allowed him an equal and opposite reaction. Young Scott Summers and his brother Alex were falling from a plane with no parachute, and they only survived because Scott's optical force beams manifested themselves in time to cushion their fall. Since then, though (and this sounds like a no-prize just waiting for some creative soul), he may shoot his eyebeams with no thought to Newton or any other physicist.

'Course, now I have a mental image of Cyclops zipping backwards around the sky, trailing a ruler-straight, ruby-red exhaust.

#242 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 07:44 PM:

Those of you who like the Niven story would love The Superman Sex Boogie. I like Tom Smith's work anyway, but this one is hilarious.

#243 ::: jhlipton ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 07:44 PM:

I have only been skimming the Magneto/Mysique posts (not an area of interest), but one pooped an old saying into my cranium:

"If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the colloidal suspension."

#244 ::: A.R.Yngve ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 08:32 PM:

Bonniers wrote:
One of these days, I'm going back to try to figure out how Brown does it. It's more than the cliffhanger chapters.

Now the shocking secret can be told: the publishers took a cue from the "poisoned bookpage" murders in THE NAME OF THE ROSE... and laced the page corners of each copy with heroin!
;-)

#245 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 09:49 PM:

"This author's work is literally finger-lickin' good. "

#246 ::: bonniers ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 10:05 PM:

"laced the page corners of each copy with heroin!"

I think you're trying to snow me...

#247 ::: Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2006, 10:59 PM:

Re: Glinda-- Peter David did a wonderful takedown on this years ago in But I Digress:


A careful viewing of the film reveals Glinda either is a total moron or simply a nasty customer.

We know Glinda's a few yellow bricks shy of a load from the moment she shows up. Her first words to Dorothy: "Are you a good witch or a bad witch?" All right, a fair question. But when Dorothy says she's not a witch, Glinda then addresses the same question to the dog. This woman can't recognize a dog? You can't be serious. And don't say there are no dogs in Oz, because The Witch of the West knows Toto for what he is immediately.

It gets worse. The Wicked Witch shows up, and Glinda removes the formidable ruby slippers from the dead witch. Does she put these magic talismans on herself to battle The Wicked Witch? No! She puts them on the non-witch from Kansas!

Why? The only reason I can think of is this: Have you ever rented bowling shoes? They always feel creepy, and sometimes there's stuff growing in them. And that's shoes worn by mortals. Can you imagine shoes worn by a witch, for who-knows-how-long? We know witches aren't big on personal hygiene; if they wash, they'll melt. The only way I'd put on those ruby slippers is if they came with industrial-strength Odor Eaters.

So Glinda sticks these disgusting, unclean pumps on poor, helpless Dorothy. And then Glinda delivers the strangest line of the movie to the Wicked Witch: "You have no power here. Begone," etc. This statement is not refuted by the evil one.

I don't get this at all. She has no power in Munchkinland? She's surrounded by 3 million Munchkins who have just learned this bit of information. Barn. Film's over by reel two, as this powerless, green-skinned crone is battered to death by the Lollypop Guild and danced on by the Lullaby League.

But no, the Munchkins are in on it with Glinda-- either stupid or vindictive. Probably stupid. Dorothy is given simple traveling instructions: "Follow the Yellow Brick Road." She even says it to herself a few times to get it down. What happens? There's a damned Munchkin stopping her every two feet repeating it to her, apparently concerned she can't remember five words in sequence. They think she's as stupid as they are.

Probably she is, because she never realizes that the whole film is an arbitrary, pointless exercise on Glinda's part. Why didn't Glinda tell her the shoes would bring her home? "Because she wouldn't have believed me."

Was anyone besides Dorothy taken in by this? I mean, come on. She was standing in Munchkinland, in color, surrounded by little people and witches, having been swept there by a tomado. Does anyone think that if Glinda had said, "Try banging the shoes together," Dorothy would have said, "Hah! You expect me to believe that! I'll walk, thanks?"

I think not. I think Dorothy's suspension of disbelief was pretty much over the rainbow by that point, thank you very much. Call me crazy, but I think she would have given it a whack.

No, she wanted Dorothy to learn a lesson. What was the lesson? This: Never dream. Never travel. Never envision that which you do not have or strive to acquire more than is immediately available, because, if you don't already have it, maybe you didn't need it to begin with.

Right. We don't need to travel to the stars or seek new technology or dream of going over the rainbow. Stay at home, dwell in sepia tones, and be content in a colorless world where an old bat can come along and have your dog gassed. What a great message.

The message of a benevolent person? A sane person? No. Glinda was demented at best or at worst just plain buck-stupid.

More at the link, along with that deus ex machina at the end of the film.

#248 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2006, 12:04 AM:

And where is Iceman dumping all that heat? The same place Pyro is getting his?

Easy. They're both Schroedinger's Demons on a large scale; they shift small amounts of thermal energy between the many masses all around them and the one mass they want to affect. (It doesn't matter which way you shift the energy -- both concentrated heat and concentrated cold are un-entropic.) "Many a mickle maks a muckle"; spread the draw out enough and nobody even notices the wide-area temperature change.

Cyclops seems like a harder case; his brain is turning out MJ of mechanical energy -- is he doing the same counter-entropy stunt \and/ converting thermal energy to mechanical?

#249 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2006, 12:22 AM:

Speaking of the end of the film: you realise, don't you, that the change they made to the last scene of the film frees them from any responsibility for making the rest of it make any sense.

#250 ::: Bryan ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2006, 02:39 AM:

a propos all this theorizing about the physics of marvel superheroes there was a limited series of books put out by marvel in the mid-80s delineating every marvel superpower character and in many cases the source of their powers. I remember that Cyclops had something to do with an alternate dimension, and Magneto was theorized as proof of some sort of unified field actually existing.

#251 ::: Bryan ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2006, 02:43 AM:

"You have no power here. Begone,"
hmm, well she did have the power to begone in a flash of smoke didn't she, or am I misremembering.

I don't think all witches are melted by water, each one has their own particular weakness. otherwise everyone would be running around with firehoses.

#252 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2006, 06:16 AM:

At last year's NASFiC, Phil Foglio explained that that Bill & Barry Heterodyne were modeled after some scientist friends of his, whom he described as too smart for their own good.

In fact, Bill Heterodyne is named after our own Bill Higgins - Beam Jockey.

#253 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2006, 07:34 AM:

Maybe Glinda and the munchkins had breathed too much helium throughout their lives...

In his speech as guest of honor at 1980's worldcon, Damon Knight talked about being a kid and seeing The Wizard of Oz. When he told the adults around him how he was disappointed he was that Dorothy's adventure had turned out to be a dream, they responded:

"Well, what else could it have been?"

I wouldn't be surprised to learn that many people on this site have had similar experiences.

I had a moment like that with my college buddy. He didn't read SF, but he didn't make fun of me for it. Still, one day, I was telling him of a novel I was reading, about what if the Nazis had won the war and his reaction was:

"But WE won."

#254 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2006, 07:36 AM:

So, Bill Heterodyne is among us? Wow. I am impressed. Really. And what about Barry?

#255 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2006, 09:59 AM:

Glenn Hauman: The whole thing works better in the book. The movie pisses me off to this day. In the book, it was NOT a dream. In fact, in a later book Dorothy, Em, and Henry move to Oz permanently, after losing their farm in the Dust Bowl.

Also: she kills the Witch of the West deliberately and methodically.

And the Witches have true power only in their own lands. The Witch of the West is very limited in what she can do to Dorothy until Dorothy comes to Winkieland (the West). And the Witch of the North protects Dorothy further by putting her Kiss on the latter's forehead.

In short: read the book. It makes a hell of a lot more sense than the Hollywoodized movie.

CHip: That makes a fair amount of sense. It's kind of classic actually. For a recent (excellent) use of this (albeit with "life energy," which isn't exactly plain ol' heat) see "Carnivale."

#256 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2006, 10:01 AM:

That link I gave was the right one. As I noted, he talks about TV shows I don't watch -- beginning with 24 -- but later gets into his Polar Bear thing. It's an interesting discussion, even if the shows themselves aren't of interest.

Incidentally, how do some of you create those elegant links that can look like a single bolded word but lead to sites with long, messy addresses like the one I posted? I haven't the foggiest notion!

#257 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2006, 10:10 AM:

Thanks again for the link, Faren. Someone later pointed out to me what was going on. As for how to set up elegant links without the messy addresses, see below the comment box.

By the way, did you eventually find a plot to attach to your neat idea?

#258 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2006, 10:16 AM:

In spite of all that, Xopher, The Wizard of Oz remains very popular in the Castro. A few months ago, the Castro Theater showed it and people dressed up as characters from the movie. I wish I could have been there. Strangely enough, while there were a few flying monkeys and some wicked witches, there apparently wasn't a single Glinda the Good. Maybe it's the size of the skirt.

I read an article about the newly re-released DVD a couple of weeks ago. It had a quote from movie director Jon Waters, who couldn't understand why Dorothy would want to go back to Kansas, what with all those neat friends she had in Oz, especially the talking lion with a pink bow in his mane.

#259 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2006, 11:01 AM:

Serge...unlike most of us, she got to go back and get the people she loved most, and bring them to her true home--where after a difficult (and funny) period of adjustment, they were very happy.

Aunt Em's first meeting with the Hungry Tiger is particularly hilarious.

#260 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2006, 11:06 AM:

Serge notes: So, Bill Heterodyne is among us? Wow. I am impressed. Really. And what about Barry?

To heck with Barry - - what about Agatha???


#261 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2006, 11:10 AM:

True, Xopher. I once asked a buddy of mine who lives in the Castro if the Rainbow Coalition go its name from "somewhere over the rainbow". He said it did. I'm probably mistaken, but I'm under the impression that the song was originally just put in there to fill in a blank, and that there weren't any expectations that it'd become so beloved. Funny how things work out.

#262 ::: SeanH ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2006, 12:13 PM:

Re: Magneto

Okay, what basically happened (as I recall) is that quite early on, Marvel realised that their main villain, the big bad Magneto, actually had quite limited abilities. There's not a great deal you can do with control over magnetism, really. It's a neat trick, but he can basically throw cars at people. So since pretty close to the beginning, they've been coming up with progressively more and more tenuous applications of his power.

The "iron in the blood" thing is comic canon; I remember Magneto once choosing it as a particularly grisly method of execution for some redneck who'd killed a mutant girl. He's used it as basically telekinesis, pushing things and people around with "magnetic waves". Once he was in an igloo created by Iceman, and he "seal[s] the opening up... magnetically!".

My favourite Magneto lameness moment:

"Poor fool... even intangible, your ATOMS are still governed by ELECTROMAGNETIC forces... forces which I alone command!"

So, you know, he controls atoms. At this point, I'm not sure there's anything he can't do with magnetism.

#263 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2006, 12:31 PM:

Avram:
Does it seem to anyone else that the term "Mary Sue" is getting mis-applied to characters who are merely good-looking and widely competent?

I've recognized this trend for a while -- a prime example was in the original Namarie Sue thread right here, when someone asked if Odysseus was in fact a Mary Sue, though that got taken apart nicely in the same thread. Other examples of same in other places have not.

In fact, there aren't *enough* really competent characters who aren't Mary Sues out there. They exist, don't get me wrong, and they definitely shouldn't be the only kind of hero out there. Still, I think that in the course of being taught "Your hero shouldn't be perfect/should have flaws" and "solving the problem/defeating the villain shouldn't be too easy", people have too often just powered down the main characters, when "add nuance!" was the intent of the request. (Or sometimes "Make the plot happen because of the character, not vice versa")

That was part of why, when critiquing a story done by a friend of mine where the main character came off as a Mary Sue, one thing I advised her NOT to do was power down the character.

#264 ::: theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2006, 02:59 PM:
There are suspensions that can be given intramuscularly (IM). IM suspensions tend to have delayed onset relative to solutions of the same drug (assuming the drug is soluble at all) - compare regular insulin, a solution, to NPH insulin, which is a suspension. Regular has faster onset and shorter duration of action.
Can suspension of disbelief be given intramuscularly? Better yet if it could be administered orally, say, fifteen minutes before beginning to read a Dan Brown opus.
#265 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2006, 04:25 PM:

Serge, the big-name Rainbow Coalition, now Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, was started by Jesse Jackson as a means for minorities to get political power.

#266 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2006, 04:40 PM:

I can think of people in Britfandom who have at least some of the characteristics of Agatha Heterodyne, including being female and cute.

Also, dangerous...

#267 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2006, 04:41 PM:

I'm under the impression that ["Over the Rainbow"] was originally just put in there to fill in a blank, and that there weren't any expectations that it'd become so beloved.

Given that MGM had cut it before release (their excuse being on the order of "nobody wants to see singing in a barnyard"), and had to be persuaded to put it back, their expectations were even lower than that.

#268 ::: JennR ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2006, 05:38 PM:

Serge: Barry is currently teaching molecular biology, etc, at a small college in northern Arkansas, iirc. Anyone who's ever been to a "Bill and Barry Show" panel at a con has seen the original Heterodyne Boys in action. (They're actually better if you catch them in the GT suite, but that's not been possible lately.... :( )

#269 ::: Holli ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2006, 06:00 PM:

yeah, and invisible people can't see, either (the light passes right through their retinas).

Warren Ellis's Planetary has a neat nod to this idea: his version of the Invisible Woman wears goggles that plug in to the back of her neck, and when they're unplugged in a fight she's effectively powerless-- she can't go invisible without going blind. Since she is also evil, this is a good outcome.

In fact, let me make this a blanket recommendation of Planetary. I'm pretty sure I *still* don't get all the levels that story is working on, but it's fantastic, and its central idea (uncovering the secret history of the 20th century) allows for an astonishing range of stories.

#270 ::: John Peacock ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2006, 06:56 PM:

On the subject of Magneto - I have in my hands a copy of The Physics of Superheros by James Kakalios, an actual PHD in physics, who teaches a very popular intro physics class "Everything I know about Physics I Learned from Reading Comic Books" (which I'd love to sit in on, except he's in Minnesota and I'm not).

I looked up Magneto and after a long discursion on why the iron in your blood isn't magnetic, he points out that Magneto could, in fact use diamagnetic levitation which has been demonstrated to work for frogs.

John

#271 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2006, 07:04 PM:

diamagnetic levitation, which has been demonstrated to work for frogs.

Except when it doesn't, whereupon it rains the aspirational little croakers.

"I dunno, Scooter. I've never done this for a live audience before."

#272 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2006, 07:20 PM:

Ah, diamagnetic whatevers!
I met this in physics, where we watched a film showing this with liquid oxygen flowing through a fairly strong magnetic field (yes, LOX is diamagnetic). Then we got to play with the Big Electromagnet (about the size of an old Hoover canister vacuum-on-a-sled) and pieces of sheet copper. (I enjoyed my lab classes: we got to Do Things!)

#273 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2006, 07:28 PM:
Cheapass Games published a game (sadly, now out of print) titled "Before I Kill you, Mr Bond,"...

The curious may like to know that according to Wikipedia the game was reissued as James Ernest's Totally Renamed Spy Game after they were sent some paper by Mr Bond's lawyers. Or something.

#274 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2006, 07:33 PM:

Ach, my search fu failed me; the point was already made. Ignore me, nothing to see here....

#275 ::: Betsey Langan ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2006, 12:47 AM:

John M. Ford said, entirely correctly:

IM injection "tends to have delayed onset" because it takes longer for drugs to be absorbed from the muscle -- certainly than IV, than which there ain't much faster, and usually than SC, where there is good bloodflow.

And the example given doesn't apply at all. Both those insulin preparations are given subcut (regular can be given IV, but it's not done very often, and usually only in hyperglycemic crisis) and the NPH is slower not because it's a suspension of insulin -- in that sense, both Reg and NPH are solutions -- but because it's unmodified, "regular" insulin with suspended elements (protamines) that slow down its absorption.

--
I was imprecise in my typing, and have been properly called on it. Yes, insulin is given SQ, and I was talking IM. Yes, I handwaved the different types of insulin more than I should have.

My small idiocies aside, it is also true that a suspension of a drug administered by a route (whether SQ or IM - suspensions can't go IV) will be absorbed more slowly than a solution of the same drug given by the same route. (The vehicle in which the drug is suspended also plays a significant role - suspended in watery vehicle is faster than in an oily one, and the special "turn into jello in your muscle" polymers even more slowly than that.)

Sorry if I caused any confusion. I should know better than to handwave in here.

#276 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2006, 01:50 AM:

John M. Ford: my apologies if I managed to offend--I certainly didn't mean to do so. I was rereading the chapter in Groucho about the negotiations surrounding A Night At The Opera earlier this week, and when you said that Thalberg's "probable" goal was to match the structure of a typical comedy of the period I rushed to the conclusion that you hadn't run into Thalberg's quote, since it seemed to stress pacing rather than trying to force the Marxes into a studio mold. I have fond memories of the Vanguard meeting where we were discussing MST3K in the kitchen, and I wouldn't want to annoy you just because I was being a jerk...

(Kanfer has a bizarre suggestion that one of the reasons that Duck Soup failed was that audiences earlier in the Depression went to Marx Bros. movies repeatedly to catch the jokes they missed because the Marxes couldn't pace themselves properly for film. He thinks that by 1933 audiences didn't want to spend the money to see a film twice, so Duck Soup got no repeat business. I think he should go have a lie-down and think this one over again...)

#277 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2006, 02:16 AM:

Bruce, I wasn't offended; that's why I said the comment was meant politely. "Pacing" is a curious thing -- most people today find two of the big musical numbers in Opera -- "Alone" and "Cosi, Cosa" -- to stop the action stone dead. It's true that neither one moves the plot -- when Allan Jones and Kitty Carlisle sing "Alone," we already know they're in love and don't want to be separated, and "Cosi, Cosa" doesn't do anything (though it frames Harpo's and Chico's harp and piano routines). Groucho in fact asked to have "Alone" removed (even though his dad has a walk-on in it, standing on the dock), but Allan Jones fought for it, and it was very popular on radio, whatever it may have done to the movie.

Nobody should actually know this much about a single motion picture, but as the man said, there ain't no sanity clause.

#278 ::: Leah Miller ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2006, 03:32 AM:

I'm a constant defender of Oz, if not a defender of the movie.

I saw the movie as a kid, lots of times. I very likely saw it first, as I read the book at about seven. Even at that age I was old enough to consider the book the "real" version. A lot of the actions of the Good Witches and of Dorthy make a lot of sense when the Good Witches at the beginning and end are two different people and Dorothy is a much younger child. I don't recall her age being specified in the books (though that could be inaccurate) but to me she was seven when I was seven, and ten when I was ten. Her actions make more sense for a child than for a 16-18 year old, which was the age the movie always suggested to me.

Honestly, to me basing your take on Oz off your impression of the Oz movies is like seeing Constantine and saying "I'm not a fan of Hellblazer, he's too clueless and gobsmacked for my liking." Ok, maybe not that bad, but close.

And that's one thing that seriously bothers me about the book Wicked. It reads like Gregory Maguire's first impression of Oz was formed by the movie, and that he then went and read the books but only integrated those facts into his prexisting impression, rather than letting them change his initial view. Oddly enough, the musical version of Wicked takes away all the things that are blatantly against the very spirit of Oz and provides a parody/backstory that fit very well with the world.

#279 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2006, 06:26 AM:

JennR wrote that "...Barry is currently teaching molecular biology, etc, at a small college in northern Arkansas, iirc. Anyone who's ever been to a "Bill and Barry Show" panel at a con has seen the original Heterodyne Boys in action..."

Hmmm... I'd pay good money for a live Heterodyne Boys show, provided we're reasonably sure that no giant Clank will crash thru into the room a la X-men's Sentinels. That being said, anybody knows if they'll be at LAcon IV?

#280 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2006, 06:33 AM:

All those Oz experts... I think I had heard that "over the rainbow" almost didn't make it into the final movie, but wasn't sure. Does anybody know if the story is true that, due to some misunderstanding between the studio's bosses and the movie's producers, they went for Judy Garland instead of Deanna Durbin, which was the opposite of what the big bosses wanted? Sounds like an urban legend...

#281 ::: Wesley ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2006, 09:40 AM:

"Pacing" is a curious thing -- most people today find two of the big musical numbers in Opera -- "Alone" and "Cosi, Cosa" -- to stop the action stone dead.

There's a great moment in A Day at the Races where, in the middle of a musical number, the camera cuts to a shot of the Marx Brothers sitting off to the side and looking profoundly bored.

#282 ::: Vardibidian ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2006, 09:59 AM:

OK, then, you know how Dorothy frees the Munchkins from bondage to the Wicked Witch of the East? Right? What evidence is presented to us of that tyranny?

The whole description of Munchkinland is of fields of grain and vegetables in abundance. Dorothy has dinner with Boq, one of the richest Munchkins in the land, and he and his friends show no signs of having been collaborators, or fearing the loss of the privilege they held under the now-toppled Witchocracy. Further away from the capital, things arent so nice; road maintainance is badly neglected, and the farms are neglected, and the animal control problems are pretty severe. On the whole, though, its hard to blame that on the Witch.

In the movie, its even more obvious that there is some sort of governmental infrastructure, with a mayor, and various Guilds and Leagues (and the childrens imitations thereof), all of which show either that the Witchs control was pretty loose, or that the area is in dire need of some sort of Dewitchification process, to ensure that the bondage isnt carried on. But here, as well, theres a sense of prosperity, order, and social comfort that seems incompatible with the implied horrors of the Witchs rule. And, I should point out, its not that either Baum or Fleming (or Harburg) appear to think that even a benevolent dictatorship is something to be loathed, as they scarcely blink at the transfer of the tyranny of Oz from the Humbug Wizard to the Bra[i]n-filled Scarecrow.

Im not saying that the Witch of the East wasnt Wicked: her actions in the Tin Woodman matter showed both venality and a sort of sadistic creativity worthy of Haman. But her death is clearly presented not as punishment for her Wickedosity, but as a liberation for the poor enslaved Munchkins. And I just dont see it. Anyone?

Thanks,
-V.

#283 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2006, 10:32 AM:

Serge: By the way, did you eventually find a plot to attach to your neat idea? I'm working on it! More research required (thus my Hekate question in a thread a month or so back).

Re "diamagnetics": sounds like a religion Tom Cruise might go for. Anyone care to elaborate on that?

#284 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2006, 10:55 AM:

About 3 days ago, A.R.Yngve wrote "...I recently sat through Peter Jackson's interminable KING KONG..."

Now THERE is a movie with a problem with pacing and parsimony. When I first heard that the remake would be twice the length of the original, I hoped it meant we'd find out who or what had created Skull Island's various monsters. No such luck. We were introduced to characters who didn't matter to the plot or to the texture of the story. There were lots of events, but events don't necessarily amount to a story and, if I may paraphrase the despicable Hemingway, one should not confuse movement with action. Hell, even the grand finale went on too long and I found myself starting to think that the heroine must be freezing her b**bs off. I don't suppose that's what I was supposed to be delving upon.

Meanwhile, last night's Skiffy Channel version of War of the World suffered from the opposite problem. Within the first 5 minutes, the main character is introduced, the mysterious meteor falls to Earth and almost right away out comes the Martian war machine. The movie accomplished what I thought would be impossible: it made me believe that Spielberg/Cruise's version wasn't so bad after all. Still, I'll stick with the 1952 movie. About that one... Remember the first words humans speak to the Martians before walking toward that cobra-shaped machine of theirs?

"Welcome to California."

#285 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2006, 10:55 AM:

Keep us informed, Faren.

#286 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2006, 11:16 AM:

Start to as yet undetermined story:

The wickedness of a witch and the wickedness of a human dictator are often not in relation.

For the human dictator tyranny leads directly to increases in wealth, women, and flashy uniforms. Swiss bank accounts and munitions figure largely in their calculations.
For a witch to tyranize a population is a less varied occupation, a hexetrice cares not a jot for the pomp of marching millions, she scorns gold that she can have a surfeit of by mere alchemy, and sex for her is a cold exchange with a certain dark gentleman of sulferous reputation.

No, my friends, the coin of a witch's tyrrany is in one thing and one thing only: fresh babies.


#287 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2006, 11:30 AM:

hmm, there sure was a wide variation of the spelling of tyranny. I must be tired.

#288 ::: A.R.Yngve ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2006, 11:38 AM:

Serge: What puzzles me is not so much that pacing & parsimony problems exist in fiction (books, movies, what-have-you), but why so much of them right now.

We live in an accelerating culture: everything seems to go faster, and yet films and books just get longer and more long-winded. I expected the opposite development: that books and films would become shorter and more "spare," almost to the point of resembling Cliff Notes and music videos. But that hasn't happened.
:-S

#289 ::: Benja Fallenstein ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2006, 12:02 PM:

Teresa, that's such a wonderful post. I feel like I've just learned something important.

Thank you.

#290 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2006, 12:33 PM:

A.R.Yngve makes a very good point. Still, I have no idea why movies and books are getting longer while our attention span is supposed to be getting shorter. Maybe our attention span is NOT shortening. Maybe we want something to grab us quickly, but once we're hooked, we want to stay in for a long time but not have it feel like we're sitting in one spot (or in one scene) for too long.

I'm not sure that what I just wrote is coherent.

#291 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2006, 12:45 PM:

A.R.Yngve: We live in an accelerating culture: everything seems to go faster, and yet films and books just get longer and more long-winded.

I suspect two dynamics. Nobody-edits-the-superstar and the emergence of identifiable micro-audiences.

Nobody is going to stop Peter Jackson from making a three-hour epic, even if a 100 minute version would be a better movie. Nobody is going to edit a Stephen King tome down to the 200 pages it really wants to be.

The second is the Family Guy effect (or Firefly or Dr. Quinn or many others) where there's an audience dying for more of something and they'll write and plead and spend money to get it. Make a ruckus, get your show/movie/universe back, even if it's for a limited run. And these niche audiences want detail and closure, because they know that they might never see their favorite universe/characters again.

Both of these select for length and exposition over brevity.

#292 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2006, 01:25 PM:

Dorothy finally tells the Wizard that the reason she's so keen to get back to Kansas is that if she stays away much longer, Auntie Em is likely to put on mourning, and unless the crops are better this year than last, Uncle Henry won't be able to afford it.

There's bits like that all through the books, little "what just happened here?" moments. Somehow, it makes sense that Boq and his neighbours are prosperous; the Wicked Witch has been dead for at least twelve hours, plenty of time for the effects of tyrannical oppression to dissipate. If it didn't happen instantaneously, you'd need an explanation for the delay.

#293 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2006, 01:27 PM:

Vardibidian - I recall this making a lot more sense in the book, but it's been a long time. I suspect she more terrorized than tyrannized them.

Now, the Winkies (in the West) were outright enslaved, and the death of their Witch was a genuine liberation. They proclaimed the Tin Woodman Emperor, IIRC.

#294 ::: Lisa Goldstein ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2006, 01:56 PM:

I remember reading that Thalberg didn't think women liked the Marx Brothers and being enormously annoyed with him. Not only do I love the Marxes, I think Thalberg's addition of the cutesy lovers' subplot was responsible for ruining later Marx films -- he knew what he was doing, but the later directors didn't, and so we were subjected to those godawful sappy songs and goofy couples staring moonily at each other. (John Ford -- You have of course seen the "Straight Man Nausea Rating" in Groucho, Harpo, Chico and Sometimes Zeppo with Tony Martin from The Big Store at Number 1?) Also, why on earth would the Marxes (agents of chaos, primal tricksters) suddenly decide to help out these dorks instead of insulting them like they do with everyone else?

Rant over. Sorry. It's something I still feel strongly about.

John again -- Is your essay on A Night at the Opera available anywhere online?

#295 ::: A.R.Yngve ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2006, 03:43 PM:

Larry Brennan wrote that
these niche audiences want detail and closure, because they know that they might never see their favorite universe/characters again.

Makes sense... so I'll try to organize my own niche "pro-brevity" audience. We'll push for 90-minute Special Editions of movies, special 60,000-word Stephen King novels... and 5-minute Family Guy edits filled with only funny jokes.
;-)

#296 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2006, 03:55 PM:
...the Wicked Witch has been dead for at least twelve hours, plenty of time for the effects of tyrannical oppression to dissipate.

I was suddenly reminded of the poor Indian villagers in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom who as soon as the evil vizier and his Thugee cohorts are defeated -- only a short elephant trip by Indy -- have put away their threadbare brown rags and broken out their most gaily-coloured saris. Must have had them hidden from the tax collectors, I guess.

#297 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2006, 04:02 PM:

Lisa: No, it was never published. Maybe I should bring a copy to Boskone, assuming I can locate it in the Vast Pile O' Stuff.

I suspect you know this, but as a sidenote for the audience, Opera and Races were the only Marx films Thalberg produced, and he died before Races was released.

#298 ::: Vardibidian ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2006, 05:33 PM:

Now, the Winkies (in the West) were outright enslaved
It was that, in my latest rereading of the book (aloud to our four-year-old a bit each bedtime, which leaves a lot of time for thinking about it) which led me to question the whole Munchkin oppression. I mean, you want to know what an tyrannical Witchocracy is like, that's what it's like. Munchkinland is a frickin' paradise (in both the book and movie), and if they are sacrificing babies to the Witch, it sure isn't hurting the Munchkin economy much.

Thanks,
-V.

#299 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2006, 06:24 PM:

Lisa, I too was a bit surprised at Thalberg's notion that women didn't like the Marx Brothers because my wife certainly doesn't fit that idea either. As for why they'd help the young lovers get together, wellll... Doing that often gives them the chance to give the finger to Authority, especially in A Night at the Opera. But I don't know where Margaret Dumont's characters fit in.

By the way, did you ever read Ron Goulart's mystery novel (published a few years ago) where Groucho is the main character? it was amusing and it did sound like Groucho did in his movies, but that was the problem I had with it. It used Groucho's persona, bit didn't show the real person behind it.

#300 ::: Keith ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2006, 07:11 PM:

I owe a big wow and thanks to Xopher:

...Have there be SOMEONE who does NOT want this man to have his umbrella back, for whatever reason. Myself I'd take this in a humorous direction as the young woman dispatches the opposition group by group, from shoving aside the gentleman who gets in her way to, finally, killing a group of twelve katana-wielding ninjas with her bare hands.

Nothing is out of reach for a determined lass.

It may seem like a bit of obvious business, but this may have just saved the plot. Thank you!

#301 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2006, 08:10 PM:

The Groucho persona can be replicated, given inspiration, comic style and sufficient wit. Dave Sim managed it, for a while, for instance. It's very difficult to keep it up, though. The character was a work of genius, after all.

I have no idea what would show the real person behind Groucho. There was a person, Julius Marx, who became a character called Groucho. Maybe you could characterise Julius, as well as Groucho, but in that case, what you'd have would be a character, by definition.

#302 ::: Lisa Goldstein ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2006, 08:14 PM:

I suspect you know this, but as a sidenote for the audience, Opera and Races were the only Marx films Thalberg produced, and he died before Races was released.

Right. Should have mentioned this. I hope the rest of the post was more or less intelligible, but I suspect my ranting tendencies got in the way. What I was trying to get at was 1) not all women dislike the Marx Brothers, and 2) Thalberg's idea to draw women in -- put in a lovers' subplot -- was, IMO, not so good, and resulted in movies that were badly done by directors who took over after he died.

Still would like to read the essay on A Night at the Opera. I didn't mean to imply that I'd only read it online -- I'd take it in any form available, so if it's ever collected, let me know ...

Serge -- I haven't read the Goulart books -- I've seen them and thought about picking them up, and I still might.

#303 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2006, 09:32 PM:

Lisa, I think the "women don't like the Marxes" idea is in the same category as most of Hollywood's ideas about what its audience wants. I'm not sure there's anything worse I could say, except maybe that this is a field in which Michael Medved is considered worth anyone's time.

I can understand a large number of women not liking W. C. Fields's movies, given the way the female characters are presented in the non-sentimental ones (and sometimes in those), though I know exceptions to that, too.

#304 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2006, 02:00 AM:

I can understand a large number of women not liking W. C. Fields's movies, given the way the female characters are presented in the non-sentimental ones (and sometimes in those), though I know exceptions to that, too.

Notice that, with the exception of the waitress in (I think) "You Can't Cheat an Honest Man" and possibly the daughter in "The Bank Dick" it's mainly shrewish wives. Having read the letters in "W.C. Fields By Himself" by Ronald Fields (his grandson) I suspect that this was a result of his disasterous marriage: the mail between the two of them starts out as affectionate as things can be when one party is always on tour, then proceeds to him thundering at her for turning their son against him and constantly demanding money and her rampaging right back at him for being heartless and cheap. This explains a lot of things...

#305 ::: A.R.Yngve ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2006, 05:52 AM:

Perhaps Thalberg was misquoted, and what he meant was: "Women who are like the characters that Margaret Dumont play in the Marx Brothers movies do not like Marx Brothers movies."
:)

#306 ::: Itea ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2006, 06:03 AM:

I've always resented the Superman factor. The idea that the protagonists struggle and struggle, and then someone else just steps in and does whatever was necessary with a bare minimum of effort. It's why Superfriends sucked when I was 7 (Batman lassoes one guy, the Wonder Twins talk to a teenager, Aquaman summons a dolphin, and Superman flies into space and stops a comet with one hand).

The eagles _are_ a plot flaw. The idea should have been floated at Elrond's, and shot down there for whatever reason.

Also, just because people have reasons why the eagles would be unlikely to work doesn't mean that it would have been a bad decision to try it. It's the comparative likelihood of the Eagles vs. F&S, and since the implication is that they are fighting against ridiculous odds (cue Spock: Captain, our chances are approximately 1 out of 7342.6 that the Enterprise will make it through this gaseous cloud without being destroyed...) one would need to have a low estimation of the eagles' chances indeed to think it's not worth trying.

#307 ::: Paul Clarke ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2006, 07:22 AM:

Does anybody know if the story is true that, due to some misunderstanding between the studio's bosses and the movie's producers, they went for Judy Garland instead of Deanna Durbin

According to this site, she didn't get the part because she looked too mature at the time. The same page mentions that, about three years earlier, she missed out on a contract with MGM because of a misunderstanding.

#308 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2006, 08:03 AM:

"the Wonder Twins talk to a teenager"
I'd like to see Superman try that.

#309 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2006, 08:28 AM:

Please don't remind me of the Wonder Twins on TV's Superfriends. Darn. Too late. Well, since some people on this thread have felt the need to explain superpowers - yeah, I mean you over there - can someone figure something about whichever of the Twins could turn into water?

There was one episode where the Superfriends have to force some thick safe-type door open. I suppose that Superman wasn't around to just kick the darn thing off its hinges with his pinky because their solution was to have one of the Twins turn into a gorilla who, after the other Twin turns into an ice crowbar, uses the latter to force the safe's door open.

Was that Twin able to turn into Ice-9 or something?

#310 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2006, 08:29 AM:

Deanna Durbin was deemed too mature to play Dorothy, Paul? More so than Judy Garland? How strange.

#311 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2006, 09:28 AM:

sure the twin turned into an ice crowbar, but that crowbar, due to compression into a far smaller space, had a far greater mass than the wondertwin body.

#312 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2006, 09:36 AM:

Hmm... What is the tensile strength of compressed ice?

#313 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2006, 10:00 AM:

For waaaay more "Superfriends" criticism than anyone has time for, see this page.

#314 ::: Paul Clarke ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2006, 01:30 PM:

Deanna Durbin was deemed too mature to play Dorothy, Paul? More so than Judy Garland? How strange

That's what the Web page says - whether it's right or not I couldn't say. A couple of other pages suggest that she was simply unavailable, and the Wizard of Oz FAQ treats the idea as nothing more than a rumour.

I wonder if we'd still be discussing The Wizard of Oz if MGM had been able to get Shirley Temple for the role of Dorothy.

#315 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2006, 01:37 PM:

I wonder if we'd still be discussing The Wizard of Oz if MGM had been able to get Shirley Temple for the role of Dorothy.

Meaning what, Paul? That Shirley's presence would have sunken the thing? It's true that, had Shirley landed in Oz, she'd have seen to it that everybody get along with everybody else. No need to melt wicked witches, among other conflicts removed from the story...

#316 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2006, 03:22 PM:

Also, just because people have reasons why the eagles would be unlikely to work doesn't mean that it would have been a bad decision to try it.

There is, however, only one try possible. If whoever (or whatever) is carrying the Ring is sent into Mordor and doesn't make it, All Is Lost, as they say in highish fantasy.

And it isn't a military SF novel; it's a story in which Good wins because its agents, despite flaws and temptations, are morally stronger than their opposition.* Frodo carries the Ring because he is willing to carry it, though he doesn't know the way. In the particular logic of this kind of story, that makes him the best possible choice. Elrond & Co. have certainly been discussing what to do about The Ring Crisis, and in a different book hearing them quarrel could have been interesting. But, given the nature of the fable, they would have had to come to the conclusion that neither force nor guile can defeat an enemy who is all force and guile; the best they can do is delay catastrophe until the Ringbearer can reach his goal. The book instead does this over its whole length, by example. Story is a . . . well, you all know that one.

*Sometimes that moral strength is signified by being the True King, which has a rather sour taste for many of us these days . . . not least because for a lot of people it still holds as a belief.

#317 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2006, 03:45 PM:

If I may nitpick on the movie version of LoTR... (Or am I being a pedant?)

Saruman has his little helpers put a big load of gunpowder at the weak point of the defenses of Helm's Deep, right? Until then, aside from Gandalf's magical fireworks, there's been no sign of pyrotechnics, right? Why then is it that, when Aragorn sees one of Saruman's minions rushing toward the wall with a torch, he knows what's going to happen next?

Picky, picky...

#318 ::: JBWoodford ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2006, 03:59 PM:

P J Evans wrote:
"yes, LOX is diamagnetic"

No, LOX is not--it's paramagnetic. Diamagnetic materials (those w/o unpaired electrons) are weakly repelled by magnetic fields, for reasons described above; paramagnetic materials (those w/unpaired electrons) are weakly attracted by magnetic fields. Hence the common demo of first pouring LN2 between the poles of a big horseshoe magnet and seeing it apparently unaffected by the magnetic field, then pouring LOX the same way and watching it sit there in a glob between the poles, boiling away.

JBWoodford

#319 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2006, 04:29 PM:

"when Aragorn sees one of Saruman's minions rushing toward the wall with a torch, he knows what's going to happen next?"

did anyone else know? maybe it was something about Aragorn.

#320 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2006, 04:41 PM:

What I saw in the film - we didn't get to play with LOX in the lab, only LN2 - was it slowed down going through the field. As for diamagnetic vs paramagnetic - I'll bow to the real physicists, since I'm not one, and the class was far enough back that I could easily be misremembering. But it was fun watching.

#321 ::: Ashni ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2006, 05:16 PM:

Things we can currently do with magnetism:
-Perform a detailed brainscan
-Enhance or decrease activity in any area of the brain, selectively--or shut the whole thing down entirely

Thus, with sufficient neuroanatomical knowledge, Magneto's power is more-or-less equivalent to Professor X's.

#322 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2006, 05:18 PM:

Except that Magneto wears a dorky helmet.

#323 ::: Ashni ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2006, 05:21 PM:

Concerning Oz, I have a literary theory (or maybe a theory of film criticism, given the topic). This is the theory of the Girl Slot. Certain films have to have a relatively mundane character give something up so the viewer can imagine taking her place. Thus, Dorothy goes back to Kansas so the ten-year-old girl watching the movie can imagine traveling to Oz and taking up the girl slot herself. And Sarah has to turn down Jareth so that a slightly older girl can fantasize about comforting him.

#324 ::: Ashni ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2006, 05:28 PM:

As I recall, the dorky helmet is meant to block X's power. This must be some odd variation on Lex Luthor's old motivation, when he blamed Superman for his baldness.

"Curse you! The very existence of your mind control power dooms me to wear this funny hat! I will destroy you, so that I may show off my beautiful mane of hair and get all the cosmic imperial bird girls for myself!"

#325 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2006, 05:35 PM:

I think that the comic-book Magneto wore that helmet to amplify his powers, but I couldn't swear to it, Ashni. Maybe there was no reason. People wear really stupid outfits in comics without ever saying why.

#326 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2006, 05:47 PM:

late thanks to Dave Langford for the pointer to Nick Lowe - nice to see he's still out there and writing, mixing Wallace and Gromit references with Cthulhu references.

#327 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2006, 05:49 PM:

Ah, more fumettopazzia.

In the first movie, Xavier comments that he can't read Magnus's mind, and reasonably assumes that the helmet shields him. (Hmm. SHIELD. The Bureau of Useful Technological Toys, and its Head. No, that way lies fumettopazzia terminale.)

Jack Kirby's original design (back when Magneto went in for a lot of red, and a cape, and called his posse the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, just so you knew they were mean mutant mofos) was based on a Greek helmet (the "Corinthian" helmet), and like the original had a nasal, a piece of metal covering the nose. It allowed him to show expressions (especially the Burning-Eyed Beware My Frickin' Wrath Look) but pretty effectively concealed his appearance. (Stan once observed that you couldn't even tell how old he was.) But in a movie it would have severely limited the expressiveness of an actor.

#328 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2006, 06:04 PM:

But did the comic-book helmet have any function besides allowing Magneto to look mean?

As for his choice of a color scheme, Magneto could have come up with a worse one. Interestingly, in one of the last issues written by Grant Morrison, a couple of years ago, they had him stick to those colors but with a costume obviously inspired by the movie Magneto. (Frankly, Ian McKellen would not look good in tights. Take a look at him in Gods and Monsters and you realize that his physique isn't unlike Commandant Cousteau's.)

#329 ::: Jeff Lipton ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2006, 06:19 PM:

yes, LOX is diamagnetic
No, LOX is paramagnetic

Whatever -- LOX is delicious. Now what about sesame seed bagels and a crean cheese schmear?

#330 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2006, 06:27 PM:

Groan, Jeff...

#331 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2006, 12:50 AM:

Well, as we all know from the classic FLASH story, there are tailors who specialize in creating costumes for super-villains.

The tailor for the FLASH villains made some pretty snazzy costumes. Other tailors, not so hot.

("EPAULETS! You've just got to have epaulets! And let's just put some more braid on the trousers! Trust me, you're going to be gorgeous! The heroes will just swoon when they see you!")

#332 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2006, 05:58 AM:

"with sufficient neuroanatomical knowledge, Magneto's power is more-or-less equivalent to Professor X's"

Does the marvel universe have publically available neuroanatomical knowledge that allows one to know exact thoughts from brain scans?

#333 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2006, 05:58 AM:

Luckily, Bruce, Marvel's good and bad guys usually show a better fashion sense. I do remember a story from the early Eighties where Thor meets a bunch of New York City teenagers and they tell him that capes really aren't cool anymore. After they criticize his long hair, he responds he can't cut it otherwise his helmet's rim would sink down to below eye-level.

#334 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2006, 06:03 AM:

"And yet the success of all the examples you cite, including Harry Potter, indicates correctly that for plebs like me the good parts are all that is required, and the support structure just needs to be there. "

Ah, you can probably change all sorts of different parts of harry potter and not have it affect the outcome.

The fact is that there are lots of books that are far better than Harry Potter - unless of course you are reading it in the latin or welsh versions.

#335 ::: Paul Clarke ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2006, 06:57 AM:

Meaning what, Paul? That Shirley's presence would have sunken the thing?

Maybe it's just me, but I can't remember anything about any Shirley Temple film I've ever seen except for her singing "On the Good Ship Lollipop", and even there I can't remember anything past the first line. "The Wizard of Oz", on the other hand, has so much going for it that maybe it could have survived this effect.

#336 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2006, 08:00 AM:

It's true, Paul, that, unlike Shirley Temple, Judy Garland got to sing quite a few memorable songs throughout her career. And over the rainbow isn't the only one that people didn't expect much out of. Remember the trolley song in meet me in Saint Louis? Comden and Green were told that the scene needed a song just to jazz it up. Next day (or close to that), they had whipped something up and voila!

#337 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2006, 08:03 AM:

What age was Shirley at this point? was it right about then that she was trying to transfer from child star to adolescent?

#338 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2006, 09:09 AM:

Shirley Temple was born in 1928 and Oz came out in 1939, but I'm not sure where her career was going at that point, bryan.

#339 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2006, 09:11 AM:

Saruman has his little helpers put a big load of gunpowder at the weak point of the defenses of Helm's Deep, right? Until then, aside from Gandalf's magical fireworks, there's been no sign of pyrotechnics, right? Why then is it that, when Aragorn sees one of Saruman's minions rushing toward the wall with a torch, he knows what's going to happen next?

I think Aragorn's thought process went: Hmmm, there's an orc with a torch, indulging in atypical behavior; that is, he is running at us with no weapon other than that frickin' bright torch. I'll bet he's up to no good, and that we should prevent him getting wherever he's trying to go.

Aragorn didn't know what was going to happen; he just knew it was unlikely to be good for Helm's Deep.

Re Magneto's helmet: in the comics, it is meant to block Xavier's telepathy. In the first movie, there's a bit where Xavier tries and fails to take over Magneto, and so punts to Sabretooth; Magneto does not say anything, but makes a little gesture at his helmet.

In the second movie, Pyro says "That's a stupid-looking helmet" and Magneto replies with words to the effect of "The stupid-looking helmet is all that keeps your professor out of my mind." Also he's able to walk around doing stuff when all the other mutants are helpless under Xavier's hallucination-driven assault.

If you're into the X-Men, by the way, check out the Medicine Wheel, which contains some very nifty movie-based fanfic. Just as one example, her post-X2 fic references "the Blackout", otherwise known as "what happened when 99% of the world fell over writhing for 45 seconds one day." I very much doubt that X3 is even going to mention it.

Don't get me wrong, I love Wolverine. But I don't think that Singer's decision to make him the centerpiece of the movies was necessarily a good one (if for no other reason than the huge amount of Logan/Rogue fic out there, which ewwww.)

#340 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2006, 09:14 AM:

And, um, the URL there doesn't work. I have no idea what I did wrong. Anyway, it's www.themedicinewheel.net

#341 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2006, 09:24 AM:

I don't think that Singer's decision to make him the centerpiece of the movies was necessarily a good one.

My wife would disagree with you, Carrie. And some women who'd never have gone to see that kind of movie if not for Hugh Jackman. Besides, he is the main character in what seems to be each and every X-men comics.

But I think the movies have short-changed Cyclops. Joss Wheadon reminded us in his own X-men comics that, for all the head-butting between Cyclops and Wolverine, the latter knows who Da Man is. There was a scene a few issues ago where yet another busted-up Sentinel is attacking Xavier's School. Cyclops, who I guess has had it up to here with those robots, simply takes his visor off. Next scene, we see acres of forest flattened up and the Sentinel is definitely kaput. Wolverine simply says to Cyclops he just reminded him why HE's in charge.

#342 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2006, 09:28 AM:

1939 was the year she did The Little Princess, pretty good actually - highly sentimental of course, but it was based on the Frances Hodgson Burnett story of the same title http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0064401871/002-6518814-1367234?v=glance&n=283155
not an especially close relation between book and movie.

I've seen all the shirley temple child movies mainly because Utah once had a classic movies show sunday mornings which ran the series. This was probably the best, what one forgets often is that Shirley Temple's characters shifted between the saccharine and the lachrymal. She was very good at the weepy orphan nonetheless persevering against a cruel world.

#343 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2006, 09:45 AM:

I've seen all the shirley temple child movies mainly because Utah once had a classic movies show sunday mornings which ran the series.

My wife had the same experience. Which is probably why she had heavily hinted that I should give her that DVD set last Xmas.

As for The Little Princess, I think I prefer the version done about 10 years ago. The story-telling sequences were particularly neat, with their re-creation of scenes from Indian mythology.

#344 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2006, 09:45 AM:

I do remember a story from the early Eighties where Thor meets a bunch of New York City teenagers and they tell him that capes really aren't cool anymore.

So what they're saying is NO CAPES.

#345 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2006, 09:59 AM:

I guess so, abi. Unless you are the Last Son of Krypton, do you really want to wear something that a bad guy can easily grab onto.

About stupid outfits... I once caught an episode of Wonder Woman where the bad guys are watching a film of WW in action. Their leader, played by Jessica Walter, kind of shakes her head and makes a crack about WW's costume.

#346 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2006, 10:17 AM:

Remember the trolley song in meet me in Saint Louis? Comden and Green were told that the scene needed a song just to jazz it up.

Ralph Blane and Hugh Martin.

#347 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2006, 10:21 AM:

Blane and Martin? I stand corrected.

#348 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2006, 10:25 AM:

Serge: My wife would disagree with you, Carrie. And some women who'd never have gone to see that kind of movie if not for Hugh Jackman. Besides, he is the main character in what seems to be each and every X-men comics.

Well, like I said I love Wolverine, and one of the reasons I love him is because Hugh Jackman is about as hot as it's physically possible to get. :) That being said, I don't like Wolvie being the "main character" in all the X-Men books either. He's getting overexposed and less cool.

It made sense to have him be the centerpiece in the first film; he was an outsider and could therefore be the vehicle to introduce the audience to the X-Men without a lot of as-you-know-Bobbing. In the second one...we had "Wolvie vs acrobatic chick" already; did we need Lady Deathstrike too?

(Of course, a big part of Wolverine's problem is that there's only one kind of opponent you can put up against him; this leads to a lot of similarity in storyline. In my recent watching of X2, I also noted the interesting fact that Wolvie is the only Good Guy who's allowed to kill people.)

Wolverine simply says to Cyclops he just reminded him why HE's in charge.

Dunno; it's a cool moment, but I think it shortchanges Cyke in an entirely different way. He's not in charge because he can do the most damage; he's in charge because he's good at being in charge and can make the tough choices.

#349 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2006, 10:39 AM:

Yeah, Wolverine is overused in the comics. I can see your point about the second movie, but they had to wrap up the mystery (or part of it anyway) of his origin in some manner since they couldn't assume there'd be 200 movies after it.

True, zapping away a Sentinel and a forest in the process isn't why he's the leader. It was something of a dramatic shortcut. Also, causing a lot of damage is something that Wolverine can respect.

Now if only the comic-book Wolverine would just say no to wearing the stupid tights...

#350 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2006, 10:54 AM:

One more thing, Carrie...

Wolvie is the only Good Guy who's allowed to kill people

I don't know about that, considering what Storm did to Toad in the first movie, and what Cyclops did to Sabertooth, I'd say Wolverine isn't the only one. Of course, just because Toad and Sabertooth are nowhere to be seen doesn't mean they're not simply licking their wounds (an image that makes me go ewww in the case of Toad).

#351 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2006, 11:09 AM:

Now if only the comic-book Wolverine would just say no to wearing the stupid tights...

Heh. "Maybe you'd prefer yellow spandex?" According to Joss Whedon, this is not actually his line. But it should have been.

Cyke and Sabretooth; Storm and Toad: Yes, indeed, but they're comic-book dead rather than knives-through-the-ribcage dead. Sabretooth and Toad are the kind of dead where you say, "No one could have survived that!" Which is the best way I know of to guarantee that they, in fact, did survive it. :)

Meanwhile, in X2 Wolvie's stabbing (normal) people in the chest--the soldiers in the mansion, to be precise. On the order of 10 of them. And Deathstrike, who he also kills, doesn't count because she's also comic-book dead (and really, really heavy when she wakes up :).

#352 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2006, 11:25 AM:

True, true, Carrie... I've been reading comics for a long time, but I still can't figure out who got decapitated by Wolverine in that Grant Morrison story. He looked like Magneto, he had the same powers, although souped-up by some drug that allowed him to wreck every building around Central Park. Then some other writer steps in and Xavier and Magneto are living together on Genosha Island. Maybe that was a shape-shifter, or a twin, or a clone, or a life model decoy, or a Magneto from some alternate future, or whatever.

#353 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2006, 11:31 AM:

By the way, Carrie, what did you think of last summer's Fantastic Four? I thought it sucked. Which didn't keep me from asking for the DVD for Xmas...

#354 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2006, 11:41 AM:

I thought Fantastic Four was OK, and worth what I paid to see it, that being $1.50 at the local third-run theater. The FF have never been my favorites--I'm pretty solidly an X-Men girl, with occasional forays into Daredevil and Batman for the DC fix--so I may have been a little more forgiving on things that a real fan would dislike.

It was a "comic book movie" in a way that X-Men and Spiderman weren't. There were pacing issues, and I wish the bit with Ben's wife had been brought out better. There were references that were clearly in there for the fans, but unlike X-Men and Spiderman they weren't either explained enough to be useful to or backgrounded enough to be ignorable for the non-fan. And the final fight was, frankly, boring. Still, it had some nice bits (mostly on Jessica Alba, if you listen to Liam. ;)

#355 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2006, 11:47 AM:

You pretty much nailed it, for the FF, Carrie. And it frustrates me that the damn thing missed so many chance at heroics from the main characters. I never could figure out why people cheered them on after the Brooklyn Bridge mess considering that it had been caused by Ben Grimm.

#356 ::: Paul Clarke ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2006, 12:09 PM:

Remember the trolley song in meet me in Saint Louis?

I have to confess that, no, I don't. I'm sure I have a, um, thingy you use for remembering things with, but it doesn't always seem to work as well as I'd like.

#357 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2006, 04:04 PM:

"As for The Little Princess, I think I prefer the version done about 10 years ago"
never saw it, probably was preferable, the only things that one could prefer in the shirley temple version was shirley temple's acting and the people who played the Minchins (brother and sister, running seminary).

#358 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2006, 04:14 PM:

The modern version of The Little Princess had Jean Marsh as the evil woman running the school. Can't beat Jean Marsh as an evil woman. (Welllll, there IS Jessica Walter...)

#359 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2006, 04:37 PM:

"Can't beat Jean Marsh as an evil woman"

mary nash: http://www.reelclassics.com/Actresses/Nash/nash.htm

they could be twins!

but actually you can beat both of them quite easily, as I thought we all knew here
http://www.geocities.com/Hollywood/Hills/6396/maggie.htm

of course it seems she was actually a rather nice woman in real life.

#360 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2006, 04:44 PM:

What I heard, bryan, is that Margaret Hamilton took a long time before she let her kids watch The Wizard of Oz.

As for my original assertion, I was thinking of people still among the living who could play Eeeevil Women.

Jessica walter gets my vote.

#361 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2006, 04:50 PM:

through much of the history of western culture evil has been associated with death.
Dracula, the Evil Dead, Dick Cheney, etc.

I think the evil women should be played by dead women, like they're doing with Ann Coulter, thankfully due to the miracles of modern technology this is a possibility.

#362 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2006, 04:57 PM:

Glenn Close (sp?) had a nice streak of evilness going, what with Dangerous Liaisons and all. Either typecasting or finding her niche, your guess is as good as mine.

#363 ::: Melissa Mead ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2006, 05:44 PM:

"As for The Little Princess..."

PBS did a version that almost exactly matched the story in my imagination.

#364 ::: Zander ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2006, 05:49 PM:

Whoops, should have checked back sooner...

Teresa, I don't think any of you are snots or anything like. You are more demanding readers than I am, and you talk (complain?) about plot holes and inconsistencies and so on whereas I prefer to stay immersed in the story and not think about them, and on the whole manage to do so. I think it would be generally accepted, and rightly so, that your approach to books and films is more intelligent and discerning than mine, but it does seem, from the tone of the discussion, than I enjoy more of what I read and watch than you do. I find Underworld eminently rewatchable, to take just one example, and I'll be seeing the sequel next week.

I'm reminded of the Cask of Amontillado segment in Roger Corman's Tales of Terror: Vincent Price's Fortunato doing all the little wine-taster's rituals, and Peter Lorre's Montresor just glugging down the lot. Both arrived at the same conclusion, but in different ways. And I think Montresor got more enjoyment out of the process.

#365 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2006, 10:18 AM:

Carrie S. wrote: And, um, the URL there doesn't work. I have no idea what I did wrong.

Looking at the result, my guess is that you didn't put the "http://" bit on the front.

#366 ::: Hob ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2006, 04:04 PM:

I would just like to thank Itea for briefly shorting out my brain in an amusing way, by mentioning "the comparative likelihood of the Eagles vs. F&S" as successful Ring-bearers in LOTR. Never mind Glenn Frey or football - the first thing "F&S" makes me think of isn't Frodo & Sam but Flanders & Swann. Pushing Flanders's wheelchair into Mordor would've really been the hard way.

#367 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2006, 06:54 PM:

Serge writes:

At last year's NASFiC, Phil Foglio explained that that Bill & Barry Heterodyne were modeled after some scientist friends of his, whom he described as too smart for their own good.

You rang?

#368 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2006, 07:06 PM:

Yes, Bill, I heard elsewhere in this thread that you were the inspiration for Bill Heterodyne. Phil Foglio was quite awed when he said what I hope I didn't misquote too badly.

#369 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2006, 07:40 PM:

Phil Foglio was quite awed when he said what I hope I didn't misquote too badly.

Phil Foglio is, himself, extremely smart.

As for Agatha, well, there is considerable resemblance between Kaja Foglio and Agatha. See Kaja's essay here.

#370 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2006, 07:52 PM:

Thanks for Kaja's essay, Bill.

I definitely got the sense that nobody in the Foglio family ranks in the low IQs. I remember last autumn at the NASFiC being near their table in the dealer's room and it was hilarious hearing Kaja Foglio explaining to her son that mealworms are NOT worms you can eat.

#371 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2006, 09:35 PM:

. . . the first thing "F&S" makes me think of isn't Frodo & Sam but Flanders & Swann.

One must be careful what Words of Power one uses . .

Oh, life is sweet and simple with the Hobbits of the Shire,
We take our breakfast in two sittings here;
Next comes a lunch alfresco, and dining by the fire,
And life is beer and skittles, and more beer.

And then a roving wizard brought his caravan to town
'Twas merry (Hobbits celebrate a lot)
He joined in with the party, and burned several buildings down,
And then he started to unfold the plot.

Our Mr. Frodo's got a Ring around his neck
He's on a Quest, his courage he must prove
It whispers in his hindbrain, and it's made his life a wreck,
A Ring that Fairy Liquid can't remove.

So off the Hobbits wander for a fateful rendezvous
And near run-ins with Darkness on a horse,
A meeting in a tavern with a scurvy lout or two,
And lots of roadside barbecue, of course.

And after such adventures they arrive at Rivendell,
A sort of Castle Howard-in-the-Glade,
A green and pleasant venue where the Elves do elfly dwell,
And Elrond sees his guests aren't overstayed.

Our Mr. Frodo's got a Ring around his neck,
Inspiring envy in all who they meet,
His foe's a foely artist who has armies at his beck,
While he has . . . very road-resistant feet.

And so our daring doers on their doughty deed are sent,
With cloaks of green and food that's spoilage-free,
We have a rugged Ranger, who's got issues of descent,
A mighty wizard from the RSC,

A Dwarf with iron scantlings and an Elf with savoir-faire,
A warrior who's bound to come to grief,
A Hobbit for the carrying and one with lots to bear,
And two more as the comedy relief.

Our Mr. Frodo's got a Ring around his neck,
The Dark is dreadful, but the Light is strong
An epic tale is powerful, and numinous as heck
But what it is primarily is long.

#372 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2006, 11:59 PM:

(Note to self: Remember to check who has written the latest post before lifting glass to mouth. If John M. Ford, leave glass on desk.)

#373 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2006, 05:10 AM:

Any particular tune for that one, Mr Ford?

#374 ::: shane ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2006, 05:37 AM:

Glenn Fisher, from way up there ^^^, crashed an asteroid into his GMs carefully polished battle plans: "...(He didn't have the option of saying "you can't teleport that asteroid" because I'd already established that, yes, I could teleport it.)"

A regular occurrence in made up settings is new readers/players/protagonists solving long-term problems with solutions that should have been obvious generations ago. (Or solutions like yours: highly complex but with such great advantage at apparently little cost).

As your GM, I'd respond "crap. I never thought of that. Ok everyone, Stop game. This is an established universe with stable technology. Why has nobody thought of Glenn's unstoppable asteroid attack in the last 450 years? Why have they no defenses against it? (they don't, Glenn checked) and why doesn't everyone live their whole lives in fear it will happen to them." In short, the story world is revealed to be badly inconsistent and everyone has only just noticed.

ObSF: WJW's Praxis has whole space fleets demolished throught stupidity because they are just now getting the chance to work out basic tactics.

#375 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2006, 05:38 AM:

"The Armadillo" ?

#376 ::: shane ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2006, 06:09 AM:

gahh. Glen, please accept my apologies for the inadvertant expansion of your given name.

#377 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2006, 07:17 AM:

Yes, I didn't like the way the Praxis was used as a synonym for 'the Plot'.

"Why can't I just build AIs to run my spaceships, rather than using people?"
"Oh, er, the Plot forbids it."

"Surely by now we've developed ubiquitous surveillance? Wouldn't that make the life of our heroic resistance fighters rather tricky?"
"No, no, that would be against the Plot."

"Why are all the military commanders so inept in this battle/navy/universe?"
"They're bound by the Plot."

#378 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2006, 08:31 AM:

"Why can't I just build AIs to run my spaceships, rather than using people?"

Well, ajay, starships run by AIs usually try to kill the crew, or, during Fleet Exercises, decide that the Exercise is the real thing and proceed to use live ammo at everybody but the ship's own crew. Conclusion? AIs are bad for crews all around.

#379 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2006, 09:30 AM:

starships run by AIs usually try to kill the crew

"Well, Mr President, I hardly like to condemn the entire program because of one slipup."

#380 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2006, 09:36 AM:

One slipup, ajay? Reminds me of the scene in the first Robocop movie when the OCP's execs are introduced to the Future of Law Enforcement, aka ED-209, whose first action is to turn one of those execs into hamburger. The reaction of the project's sponsor?

"It's just a glitch."

#381 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2006, 10:50 AM:

"...one slipup" is a Dr. Strangelove reference...

#382 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2006, 10:56 AM:

Dr. Strangelove... Of course.

#383 ::: Glen Fisher ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2006, 06:20 PM:

shane wrote (of my derailing a Traveller scenario):
A regular occurrence in made up settings is ... solutions like yours: highly complex but with such great advantage at apparently little cost.

Teleporting an asteroid is highly complex? Especially compared with the logistics involved in actually invading the station? Surely you jest!

#384 ::: Keith Kisser ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2006, 07:09 PM:

I never was a huge FF fan and apparently didnt miss anything. But then, Im kind of tired of the origin story retread. The movie I wanted to see:

The origin story is covered in a montage during the credits. The movie starts and theyre already super celebrity heroes, complete with real world problems like Bens troubled fianc and law suits and all that.

Then Galactus lands.

#385 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2006, 07:58 PM:

Except that Galactus is being set aside for the Silver Surfer movie, Keith...

#386 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2006, 12:20 AM:

"starships run by AIs usually try to kill the crew"

those crews are usually too stupid to live.

#387 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2006, 06:12 AM:

I don't know, bryan... Remember Dr. Daystrom's M5? I wouldn't say that Captain Kirk's crew qualifies as too stupid to live.

#388 ::: Sandra T ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2006, 10:18 PM:

I remember watching 2001: A Space Odyssey at the theatre in high school. "Oh No! HAL reads lips!"

Re: Raiders - why does a big whoosh of air eminate from the stone tablet covering the Well of Souls, suggesting that it is in a vacuum, when the thing is full of snakes? Don't they need air? That movie played for about two years straight at the Runnymede Theatre across the street from my sister's place. We'd sit around, bored on a Friday night, and without fail we'd end up at the Runnymede with about five other people, quoting the movie line for line. It was a real party.

Re: Harry Potter - Isn't that brat Malfoy really one of Voldemort's minions? He's inside...

Re: plot holes - they scare the heck out of me. When authors have a difficult time beating their novels down to 100,000 words, my two novels are struggling to reach the 54,000 mark. Mind you, they have pretty good pace, so the reader with little leisure time will find them an entertaining read.

I tried reading a popular author's recent best-seller in order to get a feel for the genre, but it launched into a back story from the get-go. Man gets out of prison, grew up miserable, blah, blah, etc. Character number two suffering with financial woes because her husband died leaving her in debt, whine, whine etc. No dialogue yet, no action, no nothin'. I put down the book and don't intend to pick it up again. Good thing it was on the discount table. God, I hope my work manages to get a better grip on the reader.

By the way, why are the bad guys in the movies such lousy shots? They surround the good guy with a myriad of bullets and only manage to wing him.

On actors: Colin Farrell is not an actor, he is a movie star, like Tom Cruise and Kevin Costner. Johnny Depp is an actor, and so is George Clooney. Remember My Favorite Year? Peter O'Toole declaring, "I am not an actor, I am a movie star!"

Re: Wizard of Oz: I swear to God that when I was a child, I saw Dorothy shift the bedcovers after recovering from her 'knock on the head' to discover that the ruby slippers were still on her feet. Did I dream that?

Re: LOTR - There are a lot of unexplained events, but they were probably written because the reader should already know what is normal in that world. That's probably why The Silmarillion was developed, to help the reader understand why things happen the way they do. It also helps to read the darn thing over and over again so we can fill in the holes for ourselves. One can really suffer from sensory overload with a book like that - there's only so much room in the old brain - stuff starts falling out. I've read it about fifteen times since I was seventeen, and I'll probably read it another ten times or so before I retire.

#389 ::: Jo MacQueen sees spam @ #389 ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2011, 10:33 PM:

I've got the image of a multi-named hydra attacking. Or a less than benevolent version of the entity with several heads named John[1] in Clive Barker's Abarat books.


[1] For those who haven't read them, yes, that sentence should read exactly like that.

#390 ::: Jo MacQueen did see spam @ #389... ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2011, 10:36 PM:

...but I take it the gnomes ate it? I hope their stomachs are very strong and very large, given these things seem to come in great waves.

#391 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2011, 10:41 PM:

The gnomes are working on it.

#392 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2011, 11:25 PM:

Just as a long-delayed postscript to the Oz discussion, we've since seen the appearance of Gregory Maguire's book Wicked. This work (eventually) covers Dorothy's adventures... from the point of view of Elphaba, sometimes known as the Wicked Witch of the West.

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