Back to previous post: Babylon 5: Signs and Portents

Go to Making Light's front page.

Forward to next post: Scots Smot

Subscribe (via RSS) to this post's comment thread. (What does this mean? Here's a quick introduction.)

February 13, 2011

obRosebud
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 12:46 PM * 226 comments

There’s something that keeps cropping up in my Babylon 5 rewatches, both in the ways I find myself writing the posts and the ways in which people discuss them. It’s actually making it quite difficult for me to talk about the show—the more so because some of the people doing it are folks I’m quite fond of*. I want to bring it onto the front page, rather than tackling it in those threads, because not everyone with views on this topic will be following the series.

It’s the assumption that intelligent people always guess the surprises at the ends of stories. And implicit in that is the reverse case, that the people who don’t figure out whodunnit on page 3 of the mystery, Morden’s significance in Signs and Portents, and the identity of the Chairmaker upon reading the premise of Use of Weapons are…stupid.

And here’s the thing. I am not stupid. At the very least, I’ve been doing a credible imitation of being not-stupid for nearly 41 years. But I don’t guess these things on a reliable basis, because it’s not how I approach entertainment. What I really enjoy is sinking into the narrative and letting it carry me along to its end at its own pace and in its own way. I value how getting absorbed into a story makes me feel.

Then I walk around with it for a while and analyze it in retrospect. I flatter myself that I have, from time to time, come up with interesting insights by so doing.

So it bugs me rather a lot when my enjoyment of the suspension of disbelief becomes a negative trait. A willingness to break the fourth wall of the story to figure out the end ahead of time is not, in my view, strongly linked to intellectual ability.

I don’t want to be a curmudgeon about this. I know that there are more reasons to discuss how quickly one penetrates an author’s deceptions than simply to demonstrate one’s intelligence and perceptiveness. And I know there are some endings that are so clumsily hidden that it’s the critic’s duty to explain how easily they’re found. But underneath it all there’s this drumbeat of I’m smart. I’m smarter than the author. I’m smarter than anyone who didn’t guess this as quickly as I did.

It’s rather like the use of the term easily amused as an insult. Embedded in that is the assumption that anyone worth respecting is difficult to entertain, and spends their days in a miasma of ennui. The whole phenomenon puts me in mind of Patrick’s comment on political cynicism.


* I reallyo, trulyo am not getting at anyone in particular here. This is about a tendency, a commonplace, not about any individual expression of it.

Comments on obRosebud:
#1 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 01:27 PM:

FWIW, Abi, when I said elsewhere that Mordan read as significant to me as a first watcher, it was in an "okay, this is a gun on the mantel. Wonder who it's going to shoot and why" way. I have no clue where it's going, but have faith it will go somewhere. I know you're not talking about me, because I'm pretty certain that I'm not smarter than you are....

#2 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 01:37 PM:

I've been known to be surprised by a twist ending the second time I read the book.

#3 ::: Marie Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 01:51 PM:

Tim @ #2 -- I wouldn't say I've been surprised more than once, but I can be put in a state of absolute suspense by an ending I've read or watched a dozen times before. The reason? I'm empathizing with the characters, who don't know. Might be the same with you.

In general, I just wanted to say amen. Sometimes I see things coming; sometimes I don't. Sometimes seeing it is a good thing, and sometimes it's a bad thing, depending on whether the effect is one of beautiful clockwork or tedious paint-by-numbers. Sometimes not seeing it is a good thing, and sometimes it's a bad thing, depending on whether the effect is one of snapping into focus or coming out of wtf left field. But yeah, I want to smack everybody who acts superior about the fact that they saw the twist coming in The Sixth Sense. I'm not dumb for not having seen it; I was too wrapped up in the story to look.

#5 ::: Devin ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 02:02 PM:

Well, for those of us who are difficult to amuse, and do walk around in a miasma... Look, it sucks, okay? Let us have our petty superiority, it's all we have. You get to have fun, after all.

(I'm about fifty-fifty, mostly because I don't stop and think very much while reading. I catch the narrative cues indicating significance, and I suspect that if someone had stopped me halfway through Use of Weapons and said "Look, you have everything you need to figure it out, so who's the Chairmaker?" I'd have gotten it in about a minute, but like you, I was pretty well immersed and while there was something about the flashback sequences that bugged me, I didn't figure it out in advance.)

#6 ::: Teemu Kalvas ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 02:13 PM:

Me too to both parts here: I've noticed the tendency, and have been completely confused by the mindset. If anything, I would hold the opposite value in criticism: if you explicitly set out to write a mystery, at least make sure that no reasonably intelligent reader will possibly figure it out in advance. Then again, if it is handled well, I can enjoy a brutally railroaded plot too, where I will be yelling at the characters "don't do that! It's stupid! Don't go there! You'll be killed!" yet they don't listen, and rocks fall and everyone dies, just like I foresaw. I have a particular liking for The Wreck of The River of Stars in this respect. Of course, in this kind of book the author fully intends the reader to react in this way.

I guess what this all comes down to is that for me it's not the plot, it's the characterization.

#7 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 02:14 PM:

I'm one of those people who gets wrapped up in the story most of the time, so when I do spot a Clue or manage to figure out the Twist early, I'm fairly proud of myself. (On NUMB3RS, I get it right about half the time, but that's partly because I know how the writers tend to think by now.) But for me it's a game, not an indicator of intelligence.

#8 ::: JM ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 02:15 PM:

Marie @ #3: Yes, exactly. Sometimes I predict correctly (because Any Intelligent Human Being would), sometimes I don't have any idea what's going to happen (because who possibly could???), sometimes it's nice to know what's coming, sometimes it takes the fun out of things. There's no reliable pattern. Meanwhile, my husband, who is certainly an intelligent human being but not, I think, more of one than I am, can guess the outcome of a mystery 9 times out of 10.

I wonder if for fiction writers there's a link between being able to predict events in others' plots and being able to structure events in their own. I'm an otherwise decent fiction writer who is dreadful at plotting. When I can't figure out what happens next in a story I'm writing, I ask my husband, and he usually knows.

#9 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 02:21 PM:

Is it a problem of incompatible reading protocols? I'm reminded of the discussion a bit ago between people defending their distaste/love for difficult literature: those who saw enjoyability as a virtue were tired of being looked down upon for the insufficient rigor of their reading preferences, and those praising difficulty bridled at being called snobby masochists. Some people approach narrative as a puzzle to be solved, and others as a journey to be enjoyed. I don't think either side is wrong, but without acknowledging the difference conversation between sides is difficult.

#10 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 02:23 PM:

I don't think it's particularly important if/when you figure out one of the surprises in a well-written story (well, if it's a mystery story and you have it figured out on page 3, you're not going to enjoy it much).* Rather, I think it's gratifying when a plot element or a character lives up to the amount of mojo you sense in it. E.g. Morden: "What do you want?" is an incredibly impudent question, and for a stranger to know what you want is potentially very dangerous. Had this proven not to be a big deal, I would have been pissed, and not because it made me feel less smart.

*Dorothy Sayers is an exception--I have figured out exactly one of her plots, about 2 pages before the characters did, and it didn't matter. I re-read them all the time.

#11 ::: HelenS ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 02:29 PM:

Tim@2: me too. I reread mystery stories all the time, and *frequently* don't remember whodunit. If even I can see who the murderer must be early in my first reading, it's usually a bad book (once in a while, of course, it's quite a good book, just not in the usual whodunit vein). I figure it would be a form of cleverness to be better at figuring this kind of thing out, but it's just not the particular form of cleverness I have -- like not being able to play chess. (Chess and playing the piano with both hands, which are really fairly common skills, both seem obviously impossible to me, or did when I was a child. I am a very linear thinker.)

#12 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 02:30 PM:

When people tell me I'm easily amused, I inform them that I have deliberately chosen to be so, because it makes my life more enjoyable. The fact that this is true makes it easier to say, but it might be worth saying anyway just to see the expressions on their faces.

I find it annoying when I see the surprise ending coming. I guessed the "twist" of The Others from the commercials for it, and didn't go to see the movie. I've since watched it on TV, and found value in it despite the fact that I was perfectly right about the ending. (I still don't think it's a good movie, mind you. Nicole Kidman's character is just an awful person and I kept hoping she'd get hers...and in a way she did.)

So I value people who can still surprise me. Joss Whedon has surprised me over and over. Not every time, but often enough that I'll watch just about anything he chooses to do.

#13 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 02:36 PM:

Rats. I forgot to make my main point: I don't think it has anything to do with being stupid. I think it has to do with plot-analytical or story-immersive approaches to entertainment...not entirely under conscious control. It's akin to the geeking out over scientific errors and suspension of disbelief (and yet I watch Stargate, whose science is utter, utter crap).

That said, I DO think better artists can (among other things) keep larger numbers of people from guessing their endings (if they bother), and if you know exactly, precisely what's coming, then the first watching becomes a second watching, and is worth it iff a second watching would be, and for the same reasons.

#14 ::: Becca Stareyes ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 02:44 PM:

A friend of mine was a giant B5 fan, so I knew a lot of the twists and turns before watching it. It's one reason I love reading peoples' first watch-throughs of shows I enjoy, because I love seeing them discover the twists and seeing which ones they pick up on and which they don't, without the hindsight I have. Or interesting theories that don't work out, but would be wonderful ideas, especially given JMS deliberately set out to mess with expectations regarding Londo and G'Kar.

(I kind of want to introduce a friend of mine to Avatar: the Last Airbender for the same reason. Some of the twists she'll get before hand*, and it's reasonably well constructed, so you can pick out things that might pay out, but you might not know why. I knew a lot of people who expected the Sver Angvba jne onyybbaf to show up sooner than they did.)

* Honestly, the big surprise in Season 2 was that Mhxb QVQA'G fjvgpu fvqrf, rira gubhtu uvf nep jnf ohvyqvat gbjneqf fbzrguvat naq ur jnf frg hc nf na boivbhf pubvpr sbe 'ivyynva fgnegf jbexvat sbe/jvgu gur urebrf' (juvpu ur yngre qvq ng gur frnfba 3 zvqcbvag).

#15 ::: Chaz Brenchley ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 02:45 PM:

"What I really enjoy is sinking into the narrative and letting it carry me along to its end at its own pace and in its own way."

This. With all that this implies. (Which is why I dislike the classic whodunnit model, both as writer and reader: a novel is not a crossword puzzle, and the writer and reader are not engaged in a battle of wits, trying to outsmart each other. A novel should be a journey, and we can take it hand in hand.)

#16 ::: Braxis ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 02:45 PM:

My teenage daughter does this whilst watching Doctor Who. She gets enjoyment out of trying to guess where the plot is going, whereas I just want to immerse myself in the story and let it take me along.

On the other hand, when watching Monk, I count it as a win if I can work out this weeks murderer before Adrian can.

#17 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 02:50 PM:

Lee @ 7:

I think of it as a game too, most of the time. Sometimes my pride gets in the way and I act like Any Intelligent Human Being; usually I feel really stupid for doing that later.

Part of the reason I don't play the game all the time is that I've met a lot of people who are demonstrably smarter than me (and I'm rather smart myself). I've met a few card-carrying geniuses, and that tends to put me in my place.

But there are some interesting reasons why people do this that aren't so much about whipping out rulers and comparing lengths as about feeling like part of the in crowd. The example that I trot out when I'm thinking about my own behavior is the foofaraw around James Tiptree being outed as a woman. A lot of people dumped all over Robert Silverberg because he'd just recently written an article in which he stated categorically that Tiptree had to be male because no female could write like that. Well, he was wrong, but a lot of other people were too. I didn't realize Tiptree was female, and probably should have, but thinking about why I didn't, I realized that Silverberg was led astray by prejudices that he didn't have much control over, just as I was, and a lot of other people were. And the outbreak of trumpeting of "You should have realized, fool" was about everyone being unwilling to admit to having those prejudices, to not being in the hip, unprejudiced in crowd.

Similarly, there's a hip, intelligent in crowd that everyone has some desire like to belong to (it's built into us monkeys). The trick is to be introspective enough to look at why you have those desires and to see when they get in the way of real dialog between people.

#18 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 02:56 PM:

I frequently refer to myself as "easily amused." And "we make our own fun here" is a catchphrase.

Recently I've been watching the Castle TV show, in the never-ending hope that Kate Becket will take off her shirt. But I've noticed something about that show. It's built to a rigid formula. How rigid, you ask? If you watch it with the time-elapsed showing on your DVD player, you can tell who dunnit by seeing what character is introduced at a certain minute mark. This is extra-textual, I admit. But no matter how cleverly written the mystery may be ... they are sabotaging themselves.

#19 ::: Sarah E ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 03:12 PM:

I actually have a fondness for re-watching movies with twist endings in order to see exactly how they were set up - it's an equal but different kind of pleasure.

My only real quibble about twists isn't even a quibble, really - there are a few movies I've seen whose *openings* would be beautiful twists - to a viewer who stumbled in without knowing the movie's title, genre or historical setting. I keep wishing I could blindfold someone and take him/her into a showing of Wilde, Gangs of New York, or The Thirteenth Floor.

#20 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 03:17 PM:

I’ve been doing a credible imitation of being not-stupid for nearly 41 years

And a fine job of it you've done.
:-)

That being said, I don't really try to figure out the ending. What's the point of living the story if I know the ending even the first time around? But, if I go back after reaching the end, I'll go "Ahah!" about where the clues were laid down.

Regarding Rosebud...

#21 ::: janra ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 03:17 PM:

I am easily amused and I like it that way. I can also amuse myself fairly easily. I think it makes me a generally happy person.

I also think I'm most of the way to not caring when people sneer at me for having fun.

As far as twist endings go, and predicting them before you get there, I've generally used a measure of writing quality that includes how much I enjoy the story the second time through, once I already know how it ends. If knowing the end of the story ruins the story, I don't consider it to be particularly strong. "Funny once" maybe, but not much more than that.

#22 ::: Carrie V. ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 03:25 PM:

Jim @ 18: I've noticed that about Castle as well. The rigid formula also involves the side plot with Martha and Alexis and how that will give Castle the insight he needs to solve the "A" plot. There's also the "interesting subculture of the week" formula.

I keep watching because I admire how much they're able to do within that very rigid structure, and because of the incredible chemistry among the entire cast (not just the leads). Until now, I've never watched a show where I loved every single recurring character.

#23 ::: Jenett ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 03:28 PM:

Nancy Pearl, in one of her presentations to librarians about reader's advisory (aka, how to answer "what should I read next") talks about there being four doorways into fiction - plot, character, setting, and language. She argues (and pretty persuasively) that all works have a door of some size for each of these four, but also that *people* have strong preferences for which ones they enter (and you'll therefore be most successful in figuring out someone's preferred doorways, and suggesting books that match.)

Me, I have discovered I am a very strong setting and character person, but I care much less about plot (except that it needs to have reasonable internal consistency as it plays out), and while I appreciate fascinating language in writing, I'll enjoy anything that manages competence if it's got lots of good character and setting bits.

I think the same thing is true of watching, though the actual terms may vary a tad. Like others, I cheerfully forget the plots of mysteries after I read them, unless I consciously try to remember them - but I can be very detailed about moments of setting, or characterization.

All of which puts me into the category of people who enjoy not knowing where the plot's going in a TV show, but willing to wander along and find out, as long as you give me enough setting and character to keep my interest. (Which Bab5 has in spades.)

It's not about smart or stupid - it's something more akin to whether someone gravitates to art, or to music, or to drama or to dance as an art form. Totally different axis.

#24 ::: Dave Robinson ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 03:29 PM:

Sometimes I figure things out ahead of time - sometimes I don't.

For me it's not a matter of intelligence so much as a matter of immersion. If I'm fully immersed in the story I let it unfold and enjoy the ride. If it doesn't grab me, then I am more likely to try and figure things out.

#25 ::: Brooks Moses ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 03:37 PM:

I read like you do, Abi -- I get deeply immersed, and the point where I could think about the story from a plot perspective of "What do I think will happen?" is very different from the place where I'm reading. (And it's not been exercised that much, so I'm not all that good at it, too.) I'm not a particularly good beta-reader for consistency, either, for similar reasons; the characters' belief in a thing sells it to me, almost every time.

This meant that the time in the midst of a climactic near-the-end-of-the-book battle when I realized from the shape of the story that all the characters would survive -- in a battle that was going to kill a large fraction of their army -- was practically a book-meets-wall moment.

#26 ::: Jenni Halpin ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 03:39 PM:

I think about this in my teaching context. I spend a lot of time asking students to confine their discussions to what the class is assigned (spoiler avoidance), but I also point to elements of the assigned reading that particularly set up events to come.

Am I distorting their reading experiences? (I think of movies I've seen knowing beforehand that there was a trick or a twist. If I hadn't known that there was something to figure out in The Sixth Sense, then I doubt I would have spent any time figuring it out while watching it. And if I hadn't figured it out so early, I would have enjoyed the movie more.)

Part of the Aristotelian preference for a probable impossibility seems to me to call for texts (books, films, etc.) that are predictable. Or, as Asimov argued in presenting his SF mysteries, we often want our mystery writers to be fair to us, giving their readers the clues by which it would be possible for us to solve the puzzle.

What we do with those clues may come down to the distinction heresiarch and Xopher have pointed to above: the variety of the tasks we undertake as readers.

And so I return in my ramblings to the question that still bothers me: am I affecting my students' reading experiences for the worse by highlighting those elements that set up the direction in which the narrative is going?

#27 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 03:59 PM:

Carrie V @ 25... I've noticed that about Castle as well. (...) I keep watching because I admire how much they're able to do within that very rigid structure

That's probably one reason I enjoy watching Perry Mason: of course Berger is going to be sure he finally has the upper hand this time, unlike the way ot worked out in the previous 2000 trials; of course Perry is going to flatten him; of course Perry is going to prove the innocence of his client AND find who really did it. But sometimes the show snuck in some surprises, like the episode where one guilty person disappeared before being taken in. Oh, and that person was played by Robert Redford.

And the Twilight Zone once came up with a story where the main character was invisible to everybody around him not because he was dead but because they were.

#28 ::: Jasper Janssen ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 04:21 PM:

Since getting a Kindle I have been reading some indie authors (the ones with free or cheap books in the Kindle store, especially the first couple of days or weeks of release), as well as my regular fare, and I've found the occasional one where I simply *could not* ignore the utter predictability of the outcome -- where, indeed, by page 3 you knew exactly what was going on, and I turned out to be *right*.

In good fiction, I tend to turn out to be *wrong*. My latest non-indie was Stieg Larsson's "Men who hate women" (in the English translation titled "Girl with the dragon tattoo"), and while there were a lot of clues, it wasn't superobvious just how deep the rot went until quite near the end. Incidentally, not a particularly happymaking book.

#29 ::: Mezzanine ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 04:23 PM:

And here’s the thing. I am not stupid. At the very least, I’ve been doing a credible imitation of being not-stupid for nearly 41 years. But I don’t guess these things on a reliable basis, because it’s not how I approach entertainment. What I really enjoy is sinking into the narrative and letting it carry me along to its end at its own pace and in its own way. I value how getting absorbed into a story makes me feel.

YAY. Someone who's like me!

I hate watching tv with one of my friends, because every time something surprising happens, he looks at me and says "What - you didn't see that coming?" He doesn't seem to understand that if I see something coming, that means I'm not getting absorbed in the story enough... which means it's probably badly written.

#30 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 05:08 PM:

Another thing:

A non-zero number of the regulars here are professionally involved in the creation of Story.

That means talking shop* about how to conceal clues, when and how to reveal the climax, and whether any of those are well done in various works.

Like law and sausage, those who aren't professionally involved probably shouldn't be in the same room.


------------------
Q. How many writers does it take to change a light bulb?

A. Two. One to screw it in and one to provide the final surprise twist.
------------------

(* If you really want to see a room clear out, you should watch everyone else in the cafeteria when EMTs at a conference break for lunch and start talking shop.)

#31 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 05:12 PM:

Jenett, #23: For me, it's character first, setting next; plot doesn't matter as much unless it's really clunky, while language is the cherry on top -- a nice extra, but I can do without it at need. But without good characterization, it all fails.

Serge, #27: I spent the summer between 6th and 7th grade methodically working my way thru every Perry Mason book in our local public library. Apparently it is possible to OD on formula, because I've never been tempted to read or re-read another one since! The only significant difference between one Perry Mason story and another one that I ever noticed was whether or not there was a pre-trial hearing. Oh, and one particular plot element in one of the books that stuck in my head because I thought it was clever.*

Mezzanine, #29: It's fun to speculate about what's coming next, and it's fun to be right. But it's equally fun when the writers manage to surprise me anyhow.


* Creel'f pyvrag unq qvfpbirerq gung ure uhfonaq jnf purngvat ba ure, naq jnf uvevat Creel gb trg vaibyirq jvgu n erny-rfgngr qrny gung ure uhfonaq naq gur zvfgerff jrer gelvat gb jbex, naq "znxr gebhoyr" -- juvyr fur jnf tbvat gb or fjrrgarff naq yvtug. Fur jnf gelvat gb vaireg gur hfhny cnenqvtz bs "guvaxvat nobhg gur zvfgerff oevatf hc cyrnfher, guvaxvat nobhg gur jvsr oevatf hc yvgvtngvba naq veevgngvba". V gubhtug vg jnf n arng vqrn.

#32 ::: Miriam ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 05:13 PM:

I am so glad I'm not the only one like this. I want to be immersed in the story, not distracting myself by trying to figure out which things Mean Something and which are Red Herrings and which are just coincidence and which are deliberate and...

One of the things I found interesting about B5 (even though I haven't rewatched it in ages) is that a lot of it is about the journey rather than the destination. We see, or get told, the endings of things -- how people will die, how they will live, what happens in the future -- and it's generally right but knowing the endings, regardless of whether they are done straight or with a twist or with several twists, doesn't tell us how they got there.

With mystery novels (among others), my ideal is one where I can get absorbed into the story and then reread it to see the clues that are dropped. I don't try to figure it out on first reading, and if I go "oh it must be X" then that tends to be clunky writing, but I also don't like surprise endings that have no relation to what came before.

#33 ::: Ingrid ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 05:15 PM:

This is why I cannot stand to watch television with my brother. He derives tremendous glee from shouting out the name of the killer, usually sometime in the middle of the second act.

I just want to enjoy the story as it unfolds. It's a variation on the old spoiler-phobe/spoiler-phile split in all fandoms, I think. I agree that there is an intellectual ah-hah!so-there! quality to the debate. Personally, I spend all day and every day critically analyzing text, so somebody else's "ah-Hah, I'm so smart" during my fun-time with TV tends to Damage My Calm.

Side note on #23 re Nancy Pearl - Jenett - is there anywhere I can obtain Ms. Pearl's presentation? When I was a bookseller, I evolved my own system of answering that question from customers, which broke down on similar lines.

#34 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 05:26 PM:

Jim, 30: Like law and sausage, those who aren't professionally involved probably shouldn't be in the same room.

That surprises me. What are conventions for, if not an extensive investigation into the writing process? Surely I'm not the only fan who doesn't want to be a pro.

#35 ::: Thena ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 05:32 PM:

I don't read a whole lot of fiction any more, and I almost never watch movies or TV. That does undoubtedly make me a statistical outlier for this crowd.

I love spoilers. Adore them. Read pretty much everything that gets ROT-13d around here. Because then I can know what's going on without having to invest the time and energy in consuming the entire work of fiction.

And my apologies to all the writers around here whose novels I've read: I'm the one who reads the last chapter (or more) first, so I know what's going on, and then I go back and read it first for the second time. (I also have come to immense frustration with serials & have developed a policy of not starting them until they're entirely published, so that I can, if necessary, read the entire thing in one weekend and out of order.)

If the only thing that makes the plot "work" is the surprise twist at the end, it's the wrong product for me. I'm not your target customer. Unfortunately, it's very hard for me to identify the stories that work for me, so I just mostly stopped buying stories at all unless I know there's some other draw for me - the last few years it's largely been "compared to writer whose work I like already" and/or "I like their blog, I should try their fiction".

(I'm also, weirdly enough, not particularly interested in the characters' personal lives. I don't want to say I prefer "cardboard" or "stock" characters, because they annoy me too - but I enjoy characters who tend to embody archetypes, probably because if X is a Hero, then his/her plot arc is going to, more or less, Do This - and the entertainment value for me is in an Old Story Well Told.)

I can't explain this pattern and don't expect it to make sense to anyone else, but it is very effective in limiting my media consumption.

#36 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 05:46 PM:

Jim @30:

I've actually found that professionals don't push this button in me. I think they know well enough that there is more than one way for an intelligent person to read a book.

And it's not the explanation of how to bury clues in the plot, nor even the professional appreciation of it being well done that I'm talking about here. I've been discussing those very things in the B5 posts; see my thing about Chow's guns in the most recent one.

It's the cliquish attitude that only people who spot these things ahead of time are exercising their intelligence as they read/watch/play* that gets me. I find it very difficult to admit that I was surprised by a twist or an ending. There always seems to be someone who wants to jump in and tell me that it wasn't at all surprising to them. And then I'm left feeling like a naïf and a dork.

It's most unproductive for any kind of writing about plot. And I imagine that professionals might want to hear from the people who were surprised about how and why they were, as well as from the unsurprised about when they guessed the secret.

----
* gamers do it too

#37 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 05:58 PM:

My response to "you're easily amused" is now along the lines of "I'm open to being pleased". And yes, as per Xopher's comments, I am very much an immersive kind of audience - I like to go with the flow, and I can enjoy the trip even when the last part lets me down. I like to have questions to ponder without feeling like they exist only be solved as quickly as possible and set aside; the experience of knowing there are things to know is part of the process, and I love it when it's done well.

#38 ::: Glen Blankenship ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 06:02 PM:

"we make our own fun here" is a catchphrase.

"A little small town, I suppose you have to make your own fun."

"Everybody makes their own fun. If you don't make it yourself it ain't fun, it's entertainment."

--Ann Black (Rebecca Pidgeon), to Joseph Turner White (Philip Seymour Hoffman), in David Mamet's State and Main.

#39 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 06:05 PM:

By the way: I have no problem with people who do want to treat books and movies as a puzzle to solve alongside the writer, people who delight in guessing plot twists before the big reveal, or people who simply and instinctively spot deception from its first appearance. There's a lot of value in that approach, and from what I gather, a lot of pleasure too.

All I mind is when they make me feel stupid.

#40 ::: Andrew M ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 06:09 PM:

I sometimes form an obviously wrong hypothesis - e.g. that the maid is the murderer, in the sort of detective story where servants are always trustworthy - and announce that that is what I believe, so I can be sure I will be surprised.

Of course, this system is not infallible. During the recent BBC version of Murder on the Orient Express, I decided gung gur qbpgbe unq qbar vg - na boivbhfyl snyfr ulcbgurfvf vs lbh xabj gur obbx be gur svyz. Ohg gur cebtenzzr, gb tvir vg n fyvtug gjvfg, yrsg bhg bar bs gur zheqreref sebz gur bevtvany, naq nqqrq nabgure gb znxr hc gur ahzoref. Gur qbpgbe.

#41 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 06:12 PM:

I'm not certain what can be done about the sort of people who approach a work of storytelling art as though it were a game of Name That Tune, other than to express a hope that they'll find their own table in the virtual bar and not shout out their guesses so loudly that they disturb the rest of us.

(In any case, the Name That Twist people don't annoy me nearly as much as do the Season Snobs -- the old-line fans of a series who are adamant in their belief that the quality of a particular long-running show suffered a grievous falling-off in Season Whatever, and who can't resist the urge to say so whenever newer fans are discussing more current episodes. It's like making a trip to see the New England fall colors, and having to spend the entire time listening to people tell you about how this isn't a very good year for them, and they all peaked last week anyway.)

#42 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 06:14 PM:

Anybody else remember that, in the last act of "Ellery Queen", Jim Hutton would turn to the camera and ask us if we had figured it out too? I never try to guess because the whole thing turns out to be so enjoyably ridiculous, I doubt anyone could hit upon the solution. Especially in the story about the locked-room murder in an elevator shaft.

#43 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 06:15 PM:

I don't know. I'm that way with books, for sure -- somehow, I can never see the twists until they're upon me, with very few exceptions. But TV... it's kind of like trying to guess what my presents are before Christmas. Except I'm more often wrong about tv and movies, which kind of adds to the fun of the game.

I don't think it's about being smarter than anyone -- my husband is a much better guesser than I am, and never indulges unless I've already started the conversation. But for me, it's about making an absolutely perfectly passive activity a little more interactive. I run commentary during movies too, even if it's all in my head. I have a terrible time trying to sit still and not say anything and not do anything for hours at a time -- it's just not something I'm good at. It's why I do most of my viewing at home, with a big pile of laundry or sorting or homework next to me.

#44 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 06:17 PM:

Oh, timing overlap. Sorry Abi.

#45 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 06:41 PM:

There's a worthwhile distinction to be drawn between smart and skilled. It's probably one we in the geekish tribes need to draw more often -- who hasn't been annoyed at some point by someone's assertion that some complicated computer-related task is the intellectual equivalent of knowing how to chew with one's mouth closed? (On the other hand, who among us hasn't been this guy at least once?)

Movie-watching, story-reading, these are skills. Someone -- I think it was Nick Mamatas -- once wrote about taking a course in film appreciation. One of the first things they do is teach you to consciously notice various things that you probably blip right over when you watch a movie, and a lot of the students in Nick's class complained that having to notice these things -- having to pay attention to more than the surface goings-on of the movie -- interfered with their ability to enjoy it. Some of them dropped out of the class. The ones who stuck with it, however, found that after a few weeks, their old naïve enjoyment of movies came back, with their new more sophisticated analytical capability running in parallel alongside it. This isn't an inborn ability, it's a learnable skill.

Which isn't to say that the ultimate goal of movie-watching or book-reading is to guess the ending ahead of time. But I often find that knowing the ending in advance enhances my enjoyment of the middle, as I see how things are fitting into place, or themes are being reinforced. In the case of Use of Weapons, I don't think it matters either way, as long as you appreciate that lovely ambiguous sentence that comes a dozen or so pages before the reveal. (I suspect the entire novel was built as a booster rocket with that passage as the payload.)

#46 ::: Walter Hawn ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 07:09 PM:

It's only the badly done stories that cause me to guess -- usually correctly, because, of course, these are badly done stories we're talking of here -- "what happens."

On the well-done stories, it doesn't matter "what happens." The happenings are the mcguffin, the reason for the story, not the story itself. the story itself is the people, their situations and how they approach or reject the reality they inhabit. To me, a good story is better on the rereading than the first time through precisely because I already know 'what happened' and can then look more deeply into the heart of the writer.

This is not to say that plot does not matter; it does, because the plot is the frame upon which is hung the character's responses.

#47 ::: John C. Bunnell ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 07:40 PM:

Serge@42:
I've been happily watching Tim Hutton do that for a couple of weeks now; the series is running on the Retro TV Network on Sunday nights. (It should be noted that the Challenges to the Reader/Viewer were also a fixture of some of the EQ novels predating the TV series, to the extent of becoming something of a genre convention in that generation of mystery-writing.)

#48 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 08:04 PM:

John C Bunnell @ 47... I myself have also been watching "Ellery Queen". I never even knew about the TV series until my wife told me about it, and even she had not seen it in ages. Then NetFlix came along. By the way, if Tim Hutton had been in the series, it'd have been not a crime show but a crib drama. :-)

#49 ::: Adelheid_p ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 08:47 PM:

I have been enjoying your comments here on re-watching Babylon 5. I have been reading this in RSS feed and not clicking through to view the comments so I haven't seen the topic that you reference here but I wanted to comment. By nature and trade I am a problem solver. When I watch a mystery type show or read a book, I naturally gravitate to solving the problem. I have friends who approach this differently. I actually enjoy being wrong more than being right. It detracts from the entertainment value to me if I solve the problem before the reveal point. Often, though, I do get more wrapped up in other things in the story and miss the important clues and am surprised. I, personally, certainly don't think that people who don't see the solution at a certain point are less intelligent. I realize that their brains and/or experiences are different.

#50 ::: Neil W ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 08:47 PM:

I was caught up in Castle, perhaps because of it's formula, certainly because of the way Richard Castle so shamelessly uses his very real charm* (and connections) until one week I missed it and the next week I read the description in the listings and decided not to watch. It turns out that there are limits to Nathan Fillion's charm.

Castle's books try to sound like they're all The Silence of the Lambs detail, character and gore combined with late period Agatha Christie puzzle, but I'm pretty sure they're formulaic and his early writer's block is him realising this and coming up with a new formula. I haven't tried to find out though.

* and maybe also the whole Kate Beckett might take off her shirt thing too.

#51 ::: John C. Bunnell ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 08:49 PM:

Gah; that would of course be Jim Hutton. I do know the difference....

Also, of course, the wonderful David Wayne as Inspector Queen (a considerable departure from his turn as the Mad Hatter on the West-era Batman, which was what I saw him in first).

#52 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 09:06 PM:

John C Bunnell @ 51... I myself came across David Wayne as one of the scientists in The Andromeda, which was even more of a departure, as he usually showed up in the Hepburn/Tracy battle-of-the-sexes movies. By the way, the first time I saw him standing next to Hutton, I immediately thought of Bilbo and Gandalf. And Wayne wasn't Gandalf.

#53 ::: hapax ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 09:22 PM:

Thena @#35 -- "I'm the one who reads the last chapter (or more) first, so I know what's going on, and then I go back and read it first for the second time."

Moi aussi! In fact, that's one of my big problems with e-books; it is much more difficult to flip back and forth in the book that way.

I have found that if I become too wrapped up in worrying about how the plot is going to turn out, I simply cannot enjoy the ride, the language, the characters, the way I prefer.

Oddly enough, even with reading reviews, copious spoilers, the final chapter in advance, I sometimes am *still* surprised at what happens, and how -- most recently, I think, with Jemison's HUNDRED THOUSAND KINGDOMS.

#54 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 09:48 PM:

TexAnne, #34: No, you're not. Nonetheless, I do find discussions of the writing process interesting (at least up to a point), because they make me aware of things I'd never thought about before. Sometimes they illuminate things about my own thought processes, and what I bring to the book as a reader, as well.

Thena, #35: Because then I can know what's going on without having to invest the time and energy in consuming the entire work of fiction.

That's pretty much my take on most movies and TV. I don't have the inclination to spend that much time watching, but I hang around with a lot of people who do; this means I pick up all the relevant cultural references by osmosis, so to speak -- for example, I haven't seen any of the Terminator movies, but I know when and how to use the tagline "I'll be back," and where it came from.

KayTei, #43: But for me, it's about making an absolutely perfectly passive activity a little more interactive.

That's a lot of it when my partner and I are watching series episodes on DVD -- we'll both speculate about what happens next, and see if we're right or wrong. We also snark a bit about tropes that are too obvious!

#55 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 10:56 PM:

I really need to reread Megan Whalen Turner's The Thief to see if I still take it personally that I guessed and discarded part of the ending. I think that what made me so upset was that the obvious audience for the reveal-- the people who were meant to feel like idiots-- weren't there. The only people who could hear the, "Ha ha, I have tricked you!" were... me. The book itself made me feel like it was pointing and laughing.

From the other end, I have accepted that I cannot talk books with my mother. She'll read what I recommend or buy for her, but is mystified and impressed by the parallel though processes going on as I read-- she often doesn't remember if she's read a given book, much less what happened. Even things like the JD Robb In Death books, I get some of my enjoyment from the analysis, and she doesn't do that. There have been some books that I read almost entirely because of the analytical track or the spiteful review in my head.

I have found that I like books better if I read them all in one day. If I have a night and workday to think about a book, I pick it apart a lot more than if I sit down a bit before I mean to eat, eventually have dinner, and finish it all in one long session.

#56 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2011, 11:19 PM:

Debra Doyle @ 41: "I'm not certain what can be done about the sort of people who approach a work of storytelling art as though it were a game of Name That Tune,"

I suppose keeping an open mind and acknowledging that there's more than one way to enjoy a story is right out?

#57 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 12:48 AM:

heresiarch@56: I suppose keeping an open mind and acknowledging that there's more than one way to enjoy a story is right out?

I rather thought that was the conclusion I had in fact reached. Perhaps coupling it with an expressed hope that one group's enjoyment wouldn't impinge upon the enjoyment of others added an unwanted extra layer of obscurity.

#58 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 01:05 AM:

Carrie V. @ 22:

I watch Castle for the characters and the dialog as well. And every once in a while there's a lovely bit of meta that tickles my funny bone. In one episode, Castle questions a Chinese spy in Mandarin and Beckett asks him if he studied the language in college. He replies, "No, favorite TV show."

Serge @ 27:

And another similarity between Castle and Perry Mason: the latter also had a fixed formula about who the killer was: always the last suspect introduced.

#59 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 01:09 AM:

I'm one of the people who didn't figure out the twist in The Sixth Sense until the end. But then when I watched it again, I got a completely different take on the movie, because once you know what's going on with Bruce Willis' character, you realize that the movie isn't about him at all; he's just a supporting character. The central character is Haley Osmond, and the movie is about the choice he has to make: whether to accept his powers and use them, or to reject them and try to have a normal life. So I'm glad I got to see the movie from both points of view.

#60 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 02:12 AM:

Some things I figure out ahead of time. Some things I don't, usually because I'm not looking for them.

I did not look for, or spot, the "twists" of The Others, The Sixth Sense, or The Usual Suspects (despite having talked about the underlying concept of the first on the same day I saw it) and enjoyed them a great deal, then enjoyed them a separate way when I saw them again.

I've seen the "twists" in certain media well ahead of time and enjoyed that too. In particular, I remember figuring something out halfway through David Edding's Mallorean and having to put the midpoint book down while I laughed my head off. It can be fun, particularly when you can do it in a way to astonish your friends and neighbors.

I'm thinking in particular of the third part of a Quantum Leap series (called "Trilogy"? I don't recall) jurer va gur frpbaq rcvfbqr, Fnz unq whzcrq vagb n frk npg ng gur zbzrag bs pyvznk. Gur guveq rcvfbqr bcravat fprar raqrq jvgu n fubg bs gur qnhtugre bs gur jbzna va gung frk npg, naq V fnvq bhg ybhq, "Gung'f Fnz'f qnhtugre, naq fur'f tbvat gb tebj hc gb jbex ba gur Dhnaghz Yrnc cebwrpg." When it all fell out that way, my father and my brother started eyeing me like I'd just turned into Cassandra, when the truth was I had independently come up with the latter half as a nifty story idea, and the mechanics of narrative made the first part obvious to me, so it just flowed.

The only time that the twists annoy me is when they're obviously hidden just so the author can do a Big Reveal. I like it much better when the author structures the story so that you can figure it out from clues... but if you don't, here's a little surprise for you, and you can go back and look at the clues later.

#61 ::: Andrew Plotkin ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 02:53 AM:

abi@39 -- "All I mind is when they make me feel stupid."

I'm as liable to jump in with a "I figured out..." as anyone. I suppose it doesn't help to say that figuring out things is *fun*, and I like talking about fun experiences. (I mean, I like showing off for the other monkeys *too* -- that's inalienably part of it.)

There's a related thing, which is plot holes -- aka "figuring out something that the author *didn't* put in on purpose". I'm terrible at it. Awful. I read a book (or, more often, see a movie) and I completely buy into it; then someone points out "But didn't X know that Y, and therefore, the whole ending makes no sense?" To which I say, er, I guess so. I hadn't noticed.

It's not that I don't care about plot holes. If I do spot one, I'm as aggrieved as the next aggrieved nerd.

This is a difference of reading protocols, as people have suggested, and there are a *lot* of *separate* reading protocols. The question of How To Drop In An Important Clue, in this example. Not only is it a balance between too-obvious and too-subtle -- a balance on which people will disagree wildly -- but people *also* have different assumptions about *what the signals are*. And what they refer to. Contrast the approaches of "that statement revealed something; what?" vs "it is viable to wonder who the Chairmaker is", cf Devin@5. (This is something I think about a whole lot as a game designer and puzzle person.)

Anyhow, I am very attuned to certain kinds of clue signals -- in SF and fantasy, which is where all my reading experience is. When I try a genre mystery, I'm generally befuddled, and trot obediently behind the protagonist for the whole book. And, obviously, for plot holes the author isn't putting in signals at all; that's at least part of why I miss them.

(Then there's another whole topic of surprises which are never given away in the story at all. Some of my all-time favorite reveals, like That Bit In _Deepness In The Sky_, were revealed to me by other fans showing off what they'd noticed.)

#62 ::: John C. Bunnell ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 03:16 AM:

Serge@52:
ROFL. However, that's not nearly as wacky an observation as you may think it is. As it happens, after Ellery Queen, the next place I ran across David Wayne was on the original Broadway cast album of a semi-classic musical called...

...wait for it...


Finian's Rainbow.

It was, if I recall the liner notes correctly, his first major stage role...

...as an earnest young leprechaun named Og.

#63 ::: Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 03:42 AM:

I was lucky enough to have a conversation with Robert B. Parker about his mysteries-- he seemed very pleased with my observation that his novels weren't so much whodunnits (he himself noted that his mysteries weren't that hard) and much more whatthehelldowedoaboutits.

Which has often been my observation in writing stories-- anything you can technobabble your way into you can technobabble out of, and many mysteries follow that formula. But you rarely can figure out where a good character is going to surprise you.

An interesting variation on this is the TV show House, because although it is a mystery, it's a mystery that 95% of the audience is not going to be versed enough in the medical science to solve before the characters do, and when the reveal happens, it still won't make much sense to them how the doctors figured it out and most viewers won't know if the writers have been playing straight with them. And yet, the show is wildly popular.

#64 ::: SKapusniak ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 06:36 AM:

Jenni @23, Andrew @61.

My reading, and viewing skills seem to go setting, character, plot, language; and it's where among those levels that a twist, the foreshadowing or incluing is operating that is going to determine whether there's a risk I'll turn into obnoxious explainy guy from hell, or clueless dimbulb asking pitifully what just happened, with everyone else wondering how I missed it.

For a setting twist, if you're doing it well, your clues and foreshadowing will be so clear to me that I'll fail to register that the twist was intended even to be a twist, and everybody coming out the theatre saying 'what a twist!' is going to get the baffled stare of 'Huh?'. If you do it at all badly it's going to be an instant wall-banger. It's this one where I run a very bad risk of becoming obnoxious explainy guy who must be destroyed. Note to self: must bite tongue.

For instance I really liked 'Unbreakable', but then the ending just didn't register as a twist or surprise with me, just the craftsmanlike and inevitable implementation of how the rules of that sort of universe are supposed to work out, such that if it hadn't turned out like that it would have been an instant wall-banger for me. Although other people said it was a twist ending for them, which they either worked out or didn't. I'm not sure at all what my reaction the movie would have been if it actually had been either surprise or something I felt I had worked for.

For a character twist, I'm probably only going to spot it the first time through if it's a cliche or you've doing rather wrong; tho' I am somewhat likely to suspect something is going on, just not what the something is. The second time through I'm going to enjoy seeing how the story changes now I know what's really going on. This is why the 'Usual Suspects' twist really works for me however many times I watch it. This is the sweet spot for me.

I'm not going to spot your plot twists coming unless they're also a setting or character twist, or you've really really screwed up. In fact your plot twists disturb me greatly and I wish you would stop it. Please give me your plot outline before we start so I don't have to worry about scary plot surpises, kthnxbye.

I suck picking stuff up at the literary technique or lanaguage level, so you can suck too. huge infodumps, redundant recaps, purple prose, hackneyed phrasing, florid sex scenes, I'm not even going to notice unless you start putting the words in the wrong order, stop using paragraphs and punctuation, or lay the fun funetik aksents on with a trowel. Unless you're really hitting me over the head with it (hello Mr. Joyce and Mr. Burroughs) anything clever you're doing in this area I'm not going to even see, and if you're using this to try and clue me into something important it is going to fly right over my pretty little head, alas.

#65 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 06:38 AM:

hapax, Thena: I strongly recommend you skip "And Having Writ..." by Donald R. Bensen if you use your normal reading patterns. Because Bensen does a hell of a trick in that book: not only does he write what I think is one of the best Alternate History novels ever, but he structures it so that the last sentence of the book instantly restructures the entire book into a giant shaggy dog story without cheapening the book. If you read the last chapter first you'll read the last sentence before all the stuff that feeds up to it and you'll never get the wonderful "AHA" moment when the world you've just visited restructures itself at the end: the best you'll ever get is "so?"

(There's a Mike Hammer novel that was written when Spillane bet an editor that he could write a mystery that the editor couldn't solve if Spillane left the last word out: Spillane wrote it, left the last word out, sent it in, and the editor gave up after a week. I don't know if that one would be a similar case [Tom Whitmore?], but it's the only other example of a book I know where the novel structure is so dependent on the last sentence of a book.)

#66 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 06:58 AM:

And then there's Stephen King's admiration of the way that Conjure Wife was written: he pointed out that if you read the last chapter you'll never get the big bang out of the story since it's actually the last sentence of (I believe) Chapter 9. I think the comparison he made was that if you read that sentence by itself there's no effect, but if you read the entire book to that point you'll look as if you've just been hit between the eyes with a large hammer--and there's no way you won't turn the page.

I just went through an actual David Cronenberg moment without the generally fatal results that follow such moments. I'm recovering from my surgery nicely, thank you, but there's a lot of strain for me to talk until the stitches that are in get removed--they're in a tender place. So, when I was under painkillers and having problems typing I fired up MacSpeech Dictate to have it do the typing and it couldn't recognize my recorded speech template. This is no big thing in the real world, but if you ever saw "The Fly" it's a fifteen second scene late in the film when the audience, if not the protagonist, realizes that no matter what he does or how hard he tries it's Game Over, with no cheat codes left. I've told three film fans about this happening and all three have gotten pale when I've mentioned it--which shows that Cronenberg did a marvelous job making a tiny little scene vital to the film and the viewer.

#67 ::: Alan Braggins ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 07:29 AM:

Bruce @ 17:

Robert Silverberg isn't stupid, but there is a big difference between "didn't notice X" and "announced that X couldn't possibly be the case".

If you try to show how clever you are by publicly predicting a twist ending (which is different from the Silverbrg/Tiptree situation) and you get it wrong, you probably do deserve snarky comments. (There's an exception where the actual twist makes no sense, and your prediction would have been an improved ending.)

#68 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 07:29 AM:

John C Bunnell @ 62... David Wayne as Og? Why am I not surprised? By the way, I seem to remember that Og once was played by Michael Dunn, who is better known in this crowd for playing a recurring character in TV series "Wild Wild West". No, his character was not named Voltaire.

#69 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 07:35 AM:

Bruce Cohen @ 58... That observation is confirmed by the episode I watched last night, in which Ham Berger once more complained that Mason's questioning as incompetent, irrelevent, and immaterial. Some people never learn.

#70 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 08:15 AM:

SKapusniak #64: Well, with "Unbreakable", the "twist" was overdetermined by its tropes, which worked mostly because the movie was partly a homage to those tropes.

#71 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 09:16 AM:

I think that what made me so upset was that the obvious audience for the reveal-- the people who were meant to feel like idiots-- weren't there. The only people who could hear the, "Ha ha, I have tricked you!" were... me. The book itself made me feel like it was pointing and laughing.


I read part of a book once -- it was such a puzzle whodunnit that not only was there a list of characters in the front, they had markings next to them to let you know which ones figured into the mystery and which ones were just there to make the story work and could be safely ignored. To be fair, I suspect that was meant as a friendly joke with the presumed audience.

I suspect the same of the footnote I encountered a couple of chapters in: The detective had a belated moment of realisation about the significance of a particular clue, and then came the footnote, which said something along the lines of "You, of course, spotted this long ago. But don't feel too smug: remember, you have the advantage of knowing what the book is called."

As I said, meant as a friendly joke, but the impression I got of it was (a) that I was being mocked, and (b) that I was being mocked unfairly. As it happens, my cultural background is such that I had spotted the "this" immediately the clue was discovered, and would have regardless of what the book was called.

Bye bye, book.

(In retrospect, I'm not sure why I started reading it in the first place. Puzzle whodunnits are not my thing; I don't care whether I solve the mystery, what I want out of a detective novel is the story of how the detective solved it.)

#72 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 09:21 AM:

Castle's books try to sound like they're all The Silence of the Lambs detail, character and gore combined with late period Agatha Christie puzzle, but I'm pretty sure they're formulaic and his early writer's block is him realising this and coming up with a new formula. I haven't tried to find out though.

I have read both of Castle's books that are available in this universe. They are competent potato-chip mysteries*, with some nice characterization and decent sex scenes.

*Non-mysteries can be potato-chip books, too.

#73 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 09:34 AM:

Paul A. (71): I don't care whether I solve the mystery, what I want out of a detective novel is the story of how the detective solved it.

A very succinct statement of my own preferences. I often phrase that as, "I like the kind of mystery that I can still enjoy the second time through, when I already know whodunnit." (Not that I often reread mysteries, except for a handful of favorite authors.)

Diatryma (55): I will sometimes forget whether or not I've already read a book. Sometimes, even if I know I've read it before, I will have forgotten enough of it to be surprised by the various events, even though I recognize them when I get to them.

Generally: I usually don't see where a story is going (and don't really try to guess; I'm too immersed to think that hard). As others have said, if the solution to a mystery is obvious even to me--and I'm right--I conclude that it must be badly written.

I also tend to forget details very quickly, which makes discussion difficult unless I just finished it, or have read/watched it multiple times. I'm rewatching B5 now (just finished first season, going to stop for a bit so I don't get too far ahead of the discussion) and continually being surprised, mostly of the "Oh, yeah, I forgot about that!" or "Is *that* where that bit's from?!" varieties.

I was a Literature major in college; I find that slowing down enough to analyze and to memorize details sucks all the enjoyment out of a book for me.

#74 ::: Theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 09:41 AM:

Actually, I'm annoyed on the rare occasions when I figure out the trick far too soon. Once, in (as I recall) an H.R.F. Keating novel, I deduced the murderer before the first victim; I saw the clue, said to myself, "That's got to be a mistake," and it wasn't. Spoiled the whole thing for me. Same thing happened with an early Rex Stout.

On the other hand, there was a Michael Innes (I won't reveal the title) where the author gave the crucial clue in the first two words, and I never caught on. That was wonderful.

#75 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 09:51 AM:

Would it have been possible to figure out the Big Revelation of the movie version of "The Prestige"? Of course, it wasn't a mystery story and so wasn't obligated to lay out clues so that the audience had a fair chance to guess. Come to think of it, the many hats might be a glaring clue. Or not, based on what Larry Niven once wrote about SF mysteries.

#76 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 09:55 AM:

there was a Michael Innes (I won't reveal the title) where the author gave the crucial clue in the first two words, and I never caught on. That was wonderful.

Rot13? I've read quite a few of his but I don't recognise this one.

#77 ::: Theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 10:00 AM:

Mary Aileen, one of my very favorite mysteries is R. Austin Freeman's Mr. Pottermack's Oversight (available as a .pdf). You know from the first chapter who the murderer is, why and how he commits the murder, and how he ingeniously lays a false trail to cover up his act. The pleasure is almost entirely derived from watching Dr. Thorndyke unravel the mystery, which of course he does. (I say "almost", because the murderer is an entirely sympathetic character, and you want him to escape as much as you want Thorndyke to confront him.)

Freemen invented the so-called "inverted" detective story, but as far as I know this is his only novel using in it the fullest form.

#78 ::: Theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 10:05 AM:

Ajay, it's Gur Ybat Snerjryy.

#79 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 10:07 AM:

Serge (75): (Some) mystery aficionados make a big deal out of "fair play" mysteries, ones in which the reader has all the necessary clues to have a fair chance to guess. I read, and thoroughly enjoy, a lot that don't give all the clues. There's a common ploy whereby the detective, late in the book, asks for a crucial bit of information--which is *not* revealed to the reader at that time--that clarifies or confirms the solution. It doesn't bother me*, because I had no hope of solving the mystery anyway.

*except insofar as I notice that it's not "fair play", which would bother some people, and the act of noticing is distracting

#80 ::: Dave Langford ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 10:11 AM:

#76: Michael Innes's Gur Ybat Snerjryy, I assume. Now who remembers the English detective story that reveals whodunnit in a verse epigraph before the story even begins?

#81 ::: Theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 10:17 AM:

"Fair play" is a funny thing, innit? I have criteria for fair play in alternate history novels; I think it a violation when "real-life" characters are present who were born after the critical fork in history (chaos theory would forbid it, you know). Analogs are okay; but (for example) Jon Courtenay Grimwood's "Pashazade" trilogy, which I loved, is a world in which the Ottoman Empire lingers on and so do the Rolling Stones. I'd call that haram.

#82 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 10:54 AM:

Mulling it over, it seems like there are two interesting but very distinct questions at work.

Most of us are talking about this one:

How do I read? (I use "read" in the encompassing sense to cover viewing, listening to, etc.)

But it looks to me like the question that's bugging Abi, or at least the one that's bugging me :), is this:

What do I owe people who read differently? And most crucially, what should I refrain from saying either loudly or immediately, without first finding out how others are going about it in this time and place?

#83 ::: Theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 11:02 AM:

Ah, that's a problem. I was in Politics and Prose on Saturday, and saw they had a new edition of Delany's Dhalgren. I thought, "Damn, I should read that!" But I didn't buy it because it was going to be too hard for me to read just now. I'm not always the same reader.

#84 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 11:11 AM:

Theophylact #80:

I think more similar characters make sense the closer their birth is to the fork; getting identical people born in two worlds, a century after the South wins the Civil War or some such thing, doesn't make much sense. On the other hand, this is sometimes done well as sideline references (say, who's that short, dark anti-Semitic German noncom touring the Canadian lines with Col. Morrel?).

I'm not sure how quickly the ripples should spread out from the forking event, either. FDR was born in 1882, so the end of the civil war would have had time to affect his parents. And yet, I'm not sure there's a reason this would have disrupted their courtship and marriage; I'd have to know more to have much sense of that.

#85 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 11:20 AM:

Bruce Baugh @ 81: But the second question is impossible to answer without hearing a variety of answers to the first, is it not? If one doesn't know how others reading styles are different, how can one determine what will make them feel out of place or stupid?

#86 ::: HelenS ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 11:27 AM:

I think a good half the people I know would not have been born if the World War II hadn't happened, or had happened differently -- certainly my parents would have been unlikely to meet. Even very small differences would result in people conceiving children at slightly different times, too -- heck, having sex half an hour earlier or later would result in a different sperm hitting the egg and a different kid being born. It's really only if you posit some fate that *wants* certain people to be born (or an elaborate theory of eddies in the timestream) that a lot of alternate histories make any sense at all. But I happily ignore that when I can, because I so love alternate histories.

#87 ::: Jenett ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 11:43 AM:

Ingrid @33 - unfortunately, I don't see anything detailed online beyond a blog post that goes into a little more detail than I did here. She does travel (in the US) fairly regularly, and some of her presentations are free/open to the public, so you might keep an eye out.

#88 ::: Andrew M ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 11:52 AM:

theophylact@80:

I think it a violation when "real-life" characters are present who were born after the critical fork in history (chaos theory would forbid it, you know)

People keep saying this, but is it clear? My understanding of the scientific concept of the butterfly effect is that it's something that can happen, not something that must happen in every case. Of course, as we get further from the point of divergence, it gets less and less likely that the same people will be born, for straightforward reasons; but we don't need chaos theory to see that.

It's also possible that in an alternate universe Joe and Mary Smith will have a son called John, who is not genetically the same as our John Smith, because not conceived at exactly the same time, but has a similar upbringing that enables him to play a broadly similar role.

Fantasy alternate histories, I think, have an out because you can, as HelenS says, posit a fate keeping some aspects of history on track.

#89 ::: Theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 12:10 PM:

Yeah, but would Winston Churchill Prime be an alcoholic, cigar-puffing bulldog?

#90 ::: scyllacat ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 12:43 PM:

Wow, I've been saying I was "easily amused" for years and doing it wrong.

A. "I'm easily amused." I'm frequently caught up in my own thoughts and easy to distract, surprise, or--yes--amuse with an incongruous thought.

B. "You're easily amused." A self-deprecating comment that wow, I didn't think my joke was that funny. And maybe you're a little like me, yay!

Sorry if that's too OT. Been enjoying your commentary on B5.

#91 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 12:43 PM:

Theophylact #88: would Winston Churchill Prime be an alcoholic, cigar-puffing bulldog?

Not unlikely... if the genes and the context are both close enough to identify him as "Winston Churchill" -- temperament would likely follow (including the depression) -- and choice of addictions would furthermore be encouraged by social factors.

#92 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 12:49 PM:

I sometimes have the same problem mentioned by Thena and hapax, of getting so eager to find out What Happens Next that I don't fully enjoy the story. But my strategy is to gallop on to the end, and then turn back to page 1 and read it again. Slowly. Ursula LeGuin and Lois McMaster Bujold have each come in for this treatment several times.

Glen Hauman @#63, I stopped enjoying House after the first season, in which many of the cases were based on Berton Roueche's The Medical Detectives. Being based on actual cases didn't make them easier to figure out (I read the book AFTER I'd seen the episodes), but it did make them more congruent with the little actual medical knowledge I have, and far less formulaic. (I recommend the book. Some of the cases are too wildly improbable even for House.) Also, I pretty much hate everyone on the show, so that's another minus.

#93 ::: Erf ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 12:50 PM:

I've never liked puzzle mysteries, mainly because of my poor memory; I'm supposed to remember details from chapter 3 to match them up with chapter 9. Ugh. (The one Agatha Christie novel I read, I hated -- I read it for high school English, but that's not why I hated it. It was obviously a puzzle book, to the point that I think the characters were all pretty flat and you're supposed to be engaged in the mystery itself. Then rirelobql qvrf. Then in the last chapter she explains the whole thing in detail, and we find out that gur xvyyre snxrq uvf bja qrngu, and I don't think we were given enough information to tell. Book-wall moment.)

I've always enjoyed mysteries like Columbo, or Hillerman's stuff, where a lot of times you're told whodunnit right in the teaser. The whole show is about the protagonist(s) figuring that out, proving it, and (especially with Hillerman) finding out why it happened, which is often the bigger mystery. (Often Hillerman will give the protagonist the final clue to solve the mystery, tell you he has it, but not tell you what it is, just to up the suspense for the climax. And it's effective. Especially since he only (IIRC) does this right before the climax so he doesn't string you along too much.)

I think the problem with people feeling superior about spotting the twist or ending comes from this societal obsession with "not giving away the end". Blurbs and reviews will happily tell you everything about a book or a movie but feel safe and justified if they don't tell you how it ends. A common way to say "I hated the story" is "I saw the ending coming a mile off". Maybe a lot of fiction I don't read relies heavily on the ending, but I completely agree with the Thread Consensus that it should be about how they get there, regardless of whether you see the ending.

(I've occasionally found the suspense increased when my pattern matching started suggesting where the story was going, because oh my goodness that would be terrible and awesome and she's going to die, isn't she? I don't even remember if it worked out the way I feared, but I couldn't put that book down until that was resolved.)

My favourite way of taking in a book or movie is knowing absolutely nothing about it (ideally including genre). Hard to do, but worth it when it works, because I can get dragged along the way the author intended. :)

ps. Sorry about the logorrhea. (Jim, what's the recommended treatment for that? It's chronic...)

#94 ::: Theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 12:55 PM:

Aphasia. But it's pretty drastic...

#95 ::: Victoria ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 12:55 PM:

James D. Macdonald @ 18 Recently I've been watching the Castle TV show, [snip] It's built to a rigid formula.
Carrie V. @22 The rigid formula also involves the side plot with Martha and Alexis and how that will give Castle the insight he needs to solve the "A" plot. There's also the "interesting subculture of the week" formula.

I have to say, I've never noticed how formulaic the series is, but I really don't care. A lot of things involve formulas that people don't turn their noses up at like sonnets or sestinas or any other hard and fast poetry format. Ditto with short stories and novels. Any organized format or genre has rules. It's making the rules work in support of the story/idea that is the wonder in the thing.

I see Castle as in the same category as Agatha Christie. Someone once complained that the first person you see in an Agatha Christie mystery is the killer. They were right, but it didn't ruin the books for me. I'm follow the genre to be entertained, not to be in competition with the writer or the investigator in the story.

Carrie V. @22 I keep watching because I admire how much they're able to do within that very rigid structure, and because of the incredible chemistry among the entire cast (not just the leads).

Amen. I keep watching for the characters, who I like; the dialog, that I find funny and charming; how well timed everything is from dialog to action and the side plots with Castle and his family as well as the meta story in each season. If I figure out who the murder is along the way, so what? I watch the show because it's consistently entertaining with consistent quality.


Thena @#35 I'm the one who reads the last chapter (or more) first, so I know what's going on, and then I go back and read it first for the second time."
hapax @ 53 Moi aussi! In fact, that's one of my big problems with e-books;

I start with the first chapter, if I think I know what's going on a few chapters in, I'll read the last chapter to be sure. If the book is entertaining enough, I'll keep reading. If not, I put it down as done. I'm very much in it for the journey.

CJ Cherry is an author I read pretty much out of order. I'll read the first few chapters, get impatient, flip to the back, read the last few chapters in reverse order, go back to where I left off at the beginning and repeat until I wind up in the middle. Whether or not I then re-read the second half in order depends on how well I get sucked into the story. I usually re-read the second half.

I will do this to other authors if I get impatient. Most of the time, I don't finish those books, I just flip around skimming things here and there, until I get the plot. The reason for this is one of three things. I don't find the characters interesting. I just don't care for the author's style. Something in the plot annoyed me.

I'm part of a mystery reader's group, so I've been exposed to a wide variety of formulaic and non-formulaic murder fiction. The worst offender in our book list was a Hollywood script writer who turned his unsold Bonnie-and-Clyde knockoff/comedy screenplay into a murder mystery that attempted humor. (This is all supposition my part after reading the book then the author's bio in the back.) I will admit that Bank Robber Barbie - an after market refit of the usual toy - was funny. Everything else left me going "this reads like a bad movie." It was one of the few books that got a universal "this sucks" review from the group - and every one had a different reason why. After that and a few other recommendations from the same source (a contest finalist list) we started recommending our favorite reads to others in the group.

#96 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 01:01 PM:

I recently read a romance* novel in which, halfway through, it looked as if the heroine was being matched with a guy who was All Wrong for her. If by the end she was still with him and this was presented as the right and proper choice, I was going to cross the author off my list. Thankfully, it didn't turn out that way. (My wishful thinking about what happened to the Right Guy, who was gone by then, turned out to be correct. Yay!)

*Yes, I read romances, wanna make something of it?

#97 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 01:02 PM:

David #90:

Parallel characters born long enough after the fork to have had their parents' courtship affected might plausibly be as similar as brothers or sisters to the historical character--half the genes + shared environment.

More isolated, insular communities should be more resistant to the ripples from the fork. Having the same Amish kid be born in OTL and the alternative time line, 50 years after a forking event, seems way more plausible than having the same kid born in Brooklyn.

In many places and times, there's a fairly small number of available pairings. For example, if you want to stay in your smallish town, there may only be half a dozen or so partners you'd ever plausibly end up with. So having the same parents get together, and give their kid the same/a similar name, and set him on a similar path in life, is plausible, even after the world has been given a good shaking up.

Similarly, communities in which marriages are arranged by familes when the bride and groom are still pretty young will be more resistant to ripples, in various ways.

#98 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 01:16 PM:

I tend to read (and watch), as someone described above, in two parallel tracks - the reader/viewer who wants to just enjoy the ride, and the analytical writer/editor brain, that notices gaps, and irritants.

If the reader brain takes over completely, this rarely hurts my enjoyment of the book at the moment, and it implies one of two things: A) I won't ever reread because it's too fluffy and there wasn't any substance, or B) it sucked me in so much I *have* to reread, possibly multiple times, to look at it with both tracks running.

If my editor brain takes over completely (assuming it's not due to actual jarring-me-out-of-story errors, which are another thing entirely), it means I'm utterly focused on figuring out the whodunnit etc to the detriment of appreciating the moment in the story - I stop wanting to see what's happening now, and start wanting to see only if my guesses will pan out. Usually, I can bite my tongue on this, and not offend fellow watchers.

The ideal experience is both running in tandem, where I can catch little details and let my editor brain toy with them, trying to see whrre they will go, while the reader part just enjoys things as they play out right here and now. Although doing so sometimes makes my mouth work at the wrong moment, because I'm too full of the reader squee, and I have something intelligent to say.

If they did something very very wrong or very very predictable plot or characterwise (usually plot, but Buffy's Hell's Bells was a character F-up all around), or they just stamped hard on one of my few areas of expertise, it's not the writer/editor brain engaged, though it's related. It's the MST3K brain engaged. And *that*'s the one that makes me shout things at the screen or mutter commentary in someone's ear, or curse the book I'm reading. But it's usually NOT things like whodunnit, that could spoil the rest of the story, it's the pain of the moment. And generally, I don't have as much fun, unless I'm in a group of MST3Kers. (I had a LOT more fun rewatching King Kong with people who were hating the movie along with me, but loving the act of taking it apart, than I did watching it the first time, with my reader brain running and my editor brain hiding in a corner sobbing.)

(I didn't guess the ending of the Sixth Sense, but I did appreciate the fact that it was story enugh that it could work even if you knew.)

#99 ::: thomas ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 01:40 PM:

A nice illustration of the role of genre and expectation in how one reads these things is Ohwbyq'f Zrzbel. It looks like a whodunit in an SF setting, and from the characters' point of view it is, but I don't think the book can work if read as a formal puzzle in the whodunit genre. There is only one significant character whom we don't know a priori to be innocent. But since we're not working by whodunit rules, we can be just as mystified as all the characters.

#100 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 02:21 PM:

Re: Michael Dunn and a spoiler.

Does anyone else remember the made-for-TV "Goodnight, My Love" with Richard Boone (another fine actor) and Michael Dunn as the central-casting struggling detectives? There is an unforgettable moment when someone pounds on the door, you know it's The Bad Guys, Michael Dunn goes over and reaches up to the handle to open it naq n gbzzltha fgvgpurf npebff jurer Evpuneq Obbar'f fgbznpu jbhyq unir orra - jryy nobir Qhaa'f urnq.

Connie Willis' take on Agatha Christie is that she wasn't trying to write mystery novels. She was making fun of working all the cliches.

"But all the suspects are dead!"
"They can't ALL have killed him" etc.

#101 ::: Victoria ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 02:42 PM:

Lenora Rose @97

I discovered via a read-and-comment writing exercise that I'm a dual-track reader as well. I read fiction as both audience and analyzer at the same time.

The truly engrossing books pull me into the story so much that I forget to do a critical analysis. These are the books I read multiple times back to back (to back). The not-so-good books don't engage my inner audience so my inner critic starts nit-picking at them. Those are the one's I can't finish or can't even get into.

The whole read a chapter and write down what stuck with you exercise began as writer's exercise in writing. You're supposed to do it with a book you've read before. My memory for stories is good enough that I decided to use a book I hadn't read before. I did that with three other previously unread books. It taught me a lot about how I read as much as it did about how a story works. One of these days I'll have to do it during a re-read.

#102 ::: Victoria ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 02:44 PM:

Mary Aileen @ 95

Genre Omnivore here, so no, I won't make anything of it.

Who are your favorite authors?

#103 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 02:47 PM:

Mary Aileen, #73: Sometimes, even if I know I've read it before, I will have forgotten enough of it to be surprised by the various events, even though I recognize them when I get to them.

Just had that experience on my recent re-read of the Mageworlds books. It had been long enough that while I still remembered the general shape of the plots, the details had gotten hazy enough to be surprising. And the last two (the prequels dealing with the Professor before he became the Professor) were forgotten enough that it was almost like first-reads again. Does anyone know if there's another Mageworlds book in the pipeline, and if so when it might be coming out?

if the solution to a mystery is obvious even to me--and I'm right--I conclude that it must be badly written.

I've had two "Aha!" experiences with Rita Mae Brown's animal mysteries which only happened because I'm not as mainstream as most of her audience. Which means that I'm familiar with (1) the fact that some people go by different names in different contexts, and (2) transgenderism. So things that probably went right past most readers were Giant Honkin' Clues for me. I don't consider that a failing on the part of the author, though; it's just that I'm not the typical reader.

albatross, #83: I think the meta-question you're asking there is, how elastic can we assume the timeline to be? Poul Anderson answered this very specifically in his Time Patrol stories; the timeline is very elastic under most circumstances, such that small differences get blurred out. It's only certain key events or changes which can actually set up a fork. Other authors come up with different answers.

Lila, #91: That's pretty much my problem with House; I can't watch more than about 5 minutes without wanting to whack somebody upside the head. I don't like having to deal with assholes in real life, and I really don't like having one presented as the Hero -- it sucks all the enjoyment out of the story for me. (FWIW, I have the same reaction to dumb-fluffy-bunny female protagonists.)

#104 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 03:12 PM:

#102: Lee

Does anyone know if there's another Mageworlds book in the pipeline, and if so when it might be coming out?

As a matter of fact, I know that answer.

It's called (working title) Commodore Gil in the Mageworlds, and it'll come out after we turn it in, which will be right after we write it.

Ahead of it in the queue: Arkham Ambulance (working title) #1 and #2.

Speaking of Mageworlds, though, The Price of the Stars is coming out in German translation with the subtitle "Die Kommandantin" on 21 June of this year.

All the cool kids are pre-ordering 'em.

#105 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 04:19 PM:

Victoria (101): My favorite romance authors are (in no particular order) Jennifer Crusie, Nora Roberts, Loretta Chase, Elsie Lee, D. E. Stevenson, Julia Quinn, and probably a few more that I'm forgetting at the moment.

#106 ::: Matthew Brown ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 04:26 PM:

I'm mostly a "journey" reader, not a "destination" reader, but sometimes I do guess the ending. The most recent novel that I did this on was Amanda Downum's The Bone Palace — an enjoyable fantasy novel I'd recommend, but with a proviso that if you hate knowing what'll happen, you might enjoy it less than I, because it's a bit too obviously telegraphed.

I'm also a firm member of the "rereader" camp. The two are probably connected.

#107 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 04:46 PM:

Matthew, 105: OTOH, when I read it, I had no idea what was coming--because I was so enthralled by Savedra and ure ybiref that I forgot to notice what was going on with the main plot.

I haven't thought about this much, but I think I tend to be immersive when reading, and analytical when watching. The more skilled the storyteller, the more likely I am to swallow the tale whole.

#108 ::: Naomi Parkhurst ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 05:19 PM:

It sounds to me like the problem here is how to find the Maximum Fun Quotient for everyone in a given book discussion. I'm used to doing that with friends for parlor games, but I don't, alas, have useful suggestions in this case.

#109 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 05:26 PM:

Can't comment on people's assumption in the posts I'm not reading (I haven't watched B5, and while I probably won't ever, I'm not that interested in a discussion of it).

But on the broader thing, I'm with you. I don't especially try to figure out the mystery when I'm reading a mystery book. If it's "obvious" to me, I feel a bit cheated (as I did in Spock Must Die, where I knew what the health problem was before the doctor did). I don't stop and think about it along the way, or try to find my way through; I just read.

And I, also, think of myself as fairly intelligent.

I'm not really puzzle-oriented; at least not constructed puzzles. All those little sets of interlocking rings and things, or a Rubik's cube -- eh. My major interest in the Rubik's cube was to wonder what the mechanism inside that let it more that way was. (I develop software, hence I debug software, which is a sort of puzzle-solving thing, which I'm not only fairly good at, but actively enjoy.)

#110 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 06:15 PM:

Carol @99

The problem with Agatha Christie (and that is an interesting view) is that she did so many things first. And then you get hit with Tommy and Tuppence deliberately setting out, as characters. to play at being the earlier generation of detectives. (Partners in Crime, a collection of short stories written through the 1920s).

#111 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 06:23 PM:

Mary Aileen, we match up a lot in romance authors. I think I've read the one you mention, with the mismatch-- was it a Mary Jo Putney? I think she's who I was reading when I lived in the place I remember reading that book.

Actually, romances are a pretty good example of journey-not-destination. I enjoy them a lot, and they give the analytical side of my brain something to chew on.

#112 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 06:45 PM:

Diatryma (110): No, it was Susan Wiggs's latest. She's not one of my absolute favorites, but she's usually pretty reliable. This one had me seriously doubting her sanity for a little while, though.

Mary Jo Putney belongs on my favorites list, too. Also Joan Wolf and Mary Balogh.

#113 ::: Dave Robinson ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 06:55 PM:

Bruce Baugh @81

I think what we owe those who read differently is the acceptance that their approach to reading is as valid to them as ours is to us - and so we should not judge them for not approaching the matter the same way we did, and therefore not reaching the same conclusion at the same point in the story. Especially if they weren't even looking for it.

#114 ::: Jonathan Adams ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 07:54 PM:

#75 Serge: What did Larry Niven say about SF Mysteries? A quick bit of Googling didn't reveal anything which looked relevant.

#115 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 08:03 PM:

I don't read mysteries to work out the puzzle. If it happens, it happens; if it happens fairly early (say, more than about 5 pages before the reveal), then it's obviously a "hit them with a brick" plot book, because I'm not paying attention to it.

I like a good story, but I'm interested in the story, not how it's going to turn out. If you point out how it's going to turn out, wonderful, way to ruin the story. And if I was "supposed to" have figured it out already, too, well, sorry. Go away and play with your toys and leave me with mine.

But the story, to me, is primarily the character's interacting. And I can reread that, long after the plot, or the hook, or whatever, is straight as railroad tracks from repeated readings.

MSTing, on the other hand, is a totally different pleasure, which is equally annoying to those who aren't of that game. But the difference is that MSTing is going after the hooks left, not after what's going to happen.

For me, the joy of B5 was, first, the overarching, huge world; the fact that there was no "reset button", and what happened in each show affected, permanently, the world; and the second and further times through, noticing all the clues left for later - much later, sometimes - that aren't guns on the mantle, more peculiarly-shaped teapots being used to serve tea (this time).

Also, I've never heard "easily amused" in this context before, oddly enough. My reference to that is "easily amused by shiny objects", a quiet dig at the more hypofocussed people in my life (and as I am usually described as "oblivious to the world around [me]", that would be...) But it's not a criticism as much as it is a comment; I continue to be amazed at the joy everyday life holds for the EA/SO people, and what they see and I totally miss.

By the way, I've been trying to find the Race in some Books for whom "EA/SO" was the description. My brain is remembering "Dragonlance" for some reason, but as I have never read any D&D tie-in novels, it would only be by reference from the person who brought me the expression.

You can now be glad that you don't have to follow my thinking patterns for an entire book, because I have no pretensions nor desire to authorship (except, maybe, collected bridge essays).

#116 ::: Dave Robinson ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 09:06 PM:

Mycroft @115 IIRC the race in question was called Kender - the non-infringing Dragonlance equivalent of a hobbit (and the basis for halflings in later editions of D&D).

#117 ::: Lin D ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 09:09 PM:

"Any intelligent human being could figure out the surprise."
or
"You should have seen that one coming."

me: "why?"

After some burbling and confused half sentences from the perp, I say, "If I wanted to solve a puzzle or untangle something, I'd do a puzzle or knit. I wanted to be entertained, and I was."

#118 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 09:23 PM:

People who like mysteries and who wish they liked "House" better might try W. Austin Freeman's Dr. Thorndyke mysteries. Freeman was a generation before Christie and Sayers; he was an M.D. and his detective is a forensic physician. Mumbo-jumbo and jiggery-pokery are strictly eschewed and the plots are rather neat puzzles. A fair number of them are available through Project Gutenberg.

Re journey vs. destination: for me the ideal example of the former focus is Georgette Heyer. You can easily tell a few pages into Chapter One who's going to end up married by the end of the book; the fun is in watching the characters make the trip from Here to There--which at its best can resemble a blindfolded unicycle trip through a 3-ring circus.

#119 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 09:33 PM:

Thank you Dave, both for the answer and for telling me (unknowing though you were) why I've been so frustrated trying to find the answer for lo these many years.

Due to the Western Canadian accent, I heard "Kinder" (which I knew was wrong, so I didn't post it). Needless to say, searching on that was unproductive (as far as answering my question went).

#120 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 10:01 PM:

Lila, 118: Thank you, those look like fun!

#121 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 10:44 PM:

Debra Doyle @ 57:

I confess that "What can be done about [group_X]" is not a formulation I often see leading to the conclusion of harmonious coexistence, but if that is how you meant it then all the better.

Though now perhaps a better answer than mutual tolerance occurs to me: "Have a kind, non-judgmental conversation with them about how they approach their media, leading to an enriched understanding of their reading habits as well as my own." Now where could I find such a thing? Hmm? What's that, abi? Just a moment, I'm thinking...

Glenn Hauman @ 63: "An interesting variation on this is the TV show House, because although it is a mystery, it's a mystery that 95% of the audience is not going to be versed enough in the medical science to solve before the characters do,"

Mystery seems to me to be the genre that most directly addresses the question of whether and when to foreshadow plot twists, and yet doesn't offer a single answer. This strikes me as strange, because wouldn't you want there to be a level of agreement between the reader and the author on what the rules are? Disagreement, as many have written, is a major source of wall-banging moments.

Serge @ 75: "Would it have been possible to figure out the Big Revelation of the movie version of "The Prestige"?"

I suppose it says something about the Prestige that I'm tempted to ask "which Big Revelation?" I saw the one with the hats coming, but I didn't get the one about how the other magician was doing his trick. Knowing what was coming didn't in this case ruin anything: to me, the Prestige was about the tragedy of the mystery of the tricks, not the mystery itself. Figuring it out just gave the horror more time to build.

#122 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 11:08 PM:

heresiarch, #121: That's why there are so many different styles of mystery! If you don't like one author's style, you cross them off your list and look for a different one. It helps if you can find a regular reviewer whose tastes seem to run parallel to your own. I particularly like Linnea Dodson, who used to work with Reviewing the Evidence; the same kind of things that bug her also bug me, and she will mention them.

#123 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2011, 01:27 AM:

heresiarch @121:

Not to be ill-tempered, but this?

Have a kind, non-judgmental conversation with them about how they approach their media, leading to an enriched understanding of their reading habits as well as my own.

When someone has already unthinkingly mapped "people who read their way" with "smart", I'm not really on the upside of the relationship. They've already taken all the ground they respect, and I don't have a lot of confidence that they'll listen to me. It feels, in a small way, like trying to argue my value as a human to someone who's just cracked a misogynist joke.

This post required half a day, plus nap, to tone down the irritation and to find a way to say, damn it, I'm an intelligent person and a worthy reader. I matter, too. It's a hard thing. Some of the emotive responses here are because people feel stepped on, and have done for some time.

Because there is always that quiet voice inside me that agrees. It says I'm not very perceptive, not in comparison to all the narrow-eyed souls who see the ending of every Babylon 5 episode before the title music fades. What the hell am I doing writing this rewatch series? Someone smarter should do it. I should stfu.

I'm sorry if you feel that this one thread has been too judgmental of your style. I'd collect all the comments just in the last couple of months that have done that to me, but I don't want to point fingers at people who didn't mean to make me feel the way they did.

#124 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2011, 01:38 AM:

Rosebud... It's a cook book!

#125 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2011, 02:05 AM:

Shorter me:

heresiarch, please put your privilege-reaction detection specs on and reread the thread. And consider what argument you're making when you look at it from that angle.

#126 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2011, 03:46 AM:

abi @ 123: "When someone has already unthinkingly mapped "people who read their way" with "smart", I'm not really on the upside of the relationship. They've already taken all the ground they respect, and I don't have a lot of confidence that they'll listen to me."

I couldn't agree more: the rhetorical high ground always goes to the one who got the twist sooner, who is less easily impressed, who can point out the plot holes with a bored eye-roll, who can't stand so-and-so's acting--to the one who knows the obscurest author, who first accuses the band of selling out, who is a long-time fan of the artist who did the same thing the artist you just mentioned, but better and first. It's a vicious cycle, twisting criticism tighter and tighter around the event horizon of jaded cynicism, smearing love and appreciation of art into a frozen band of disconnected atoms.

It's incredibly corrosive to conversation about art, which like art itself, requires a willingness to be vulnerable. But it's certainly not the only way that people map "those who read my way" onto "smart," or at least "right" or "good." There is also a vocal minority who insist that social jockeying is *all* criticism is, that people who claim to enjoy challenging or difficult media are self-deceiving masochists, that unreflective immersion is the sign of true and righteous enjoyment.

I have in my life been made to feel embarrassed and ashamed by both sides. I didn't see the twist coming in The Sixth Sense, and not seeing the twist until the very moment of the reveal was awesome. But do you know what else was awesome? Finishing an episode of Medium thinking, every wrong theory I came up with was great--I just got six mysteries for the price of one. I'm not willing to toss out either of those experiences.

I'm glad you wrote this post, because I don't think I would have been able to articulate that before. And I'm even gladder for having read the comments, because I think hearing people describe how they read more often than not made me go, "yeah, I do that too sometimes." That's the conversation I want to have. I'm not coming at this trying to defend one side from the other. I'm trying to defend the middle from both ends.

#127 ::: etv13 ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2011, 05:28 AM:

I almost never feel like my having seen the twist coming reflects some failure on the part of the author; usually I find it satisfying. Sometimes because it flatters my vanity (oh look! I figured that out, aren't I smart!), and sometimes it's satisfying in a deeper way, because the story is going where I feel the story ought to, has to, go. When it doesn't, sometimes it's a pleasant shock, like the very first time I read Cotillion. and sometimes it's mildly disappointing, like when, in The Dedicated Villain, it doesn't turn out that the joke was really on Roland's evil father and the fake marriage he pulled was really valid.

Having just cited two romance novels leads me to wonder if the romance reader's feelings about seeing the end coming are different from the feelings of readers in other genres. Reading a romance, you know there will be a happy ending, and you almost always know very early who the hero and the heroine are. It's all about the journey. I tend to be a very anxious reader, and it's only the assurance of a happy ending that makes the angst and tension of some romances bearable for me.

I loved Megan Whelan Turner's The Thief, I read it knowing there was a twist but completely clueless about what it was going to be until 5-10 pages before the reveal, when I began to get an inkling, and I found it completely satisfying. To the person above who had the sense that the book was laughing at him: I think your experience parallels the experience of a lot of the people in Gen's own world. Gen is a smartass, and he does like to trick people, and he's certainly not above laughing at them, especialy in his pre-Queen of Attolia state of development. I don't think Turner is laughing at her readers, though. She said somewhere that what she was hoping for is that you'd read it once, enjoy the twist, and then read it again to see where all the clues were buried.

#128 ::: MsAnon ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2011, 09:27 AM:

etv13, you might enjoy reading "Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women", which is a collection of essays by romance authors about the emotional experiences of reading romances--one, in fact, is all about "the assurance of a happy ending that makes the angst and tension of some romances bearable for me." (But, a warning to people who don't like analysis--it is an analytical book, even though it's about people getting "carried away" and "wrapped up" in the story.)

#129 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2011, 09:45 AM:

MsAnon @ 128... "the assurance of a happy ending that makes the angst and tension of some romances bearable for me"

Ah, happy endings... This reminds me of how people tend to pooh-pooh Frank Capra's movies because of their endings. Mind you, his characters go thru Hell before they are vindicated and frankly life is crappy enough that one would like to think that - at least in stories - Justice is done. (True, Mister Potter isn't punished in this life, but you know where he'll wind up when he kicks the bucket.)

#130 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2011, 10:16 AM:

I always admired The Demolished Man for the author's boldness in setting up a major plot twist.

Ervpu fraqf n zretre cebcbfny gb uvf eviny hfvat n pbecbengr pbqrobbx -- Orfgre fubjf hf frireny bs gur ragevrf sebz gur eryrinag cntr bs gur obbx. Na nzbhag bs gvzr (naq frireny fgbel cntrf) cnff orsber ur trgf uvf ercyl 'Erwrpgrq' -- naq gura ur fgnegf cybggvat gur zheqre bs uvf eviny.

Zhpu yngre va gur fgbel, jr svaq gur ercyl unq orra 'Npprcgrq' -- naq gur pbheg qrgrezvarf gung Ervpu unq ab zbgvingvba sbe zheqre. Guvf chmmyrf Ervpu nf zhpu nf nalbar, naq gur fgbel tbrf bss va na nabgure qverpgvba.

Jung vzcerffrq zr jnf: jura Ervpu tbg uvf ercyl, V pbhyq unir ghearq onpx frireny cntrf naq ybbxrq vg hc va gur pbqrobbx. V qvqa'g; qvq lbh?

Wikipedia's plot synopsis presents the 'twist' I describe as if it were a straightforward reading of the story.

For more nuanced review, Jo Walton's essay at Tor.com.

ObBabylon5: This story was a major inspiration for JMS, and is why the senior PsiCop is named Alfred Bester.

#131 ::: Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2011, 10:42 AM:

#121: Mystery seems to me to be the genre that most directly addresses the question of whether and when to foreshadow plot twists, and yet doesn't offer a single answer. This strikes me as strange, because wouldn't you want there to be a level of agreement between the reader and the author on what the rules are?

You'd think so. And yet, I'm reminded of what John Rogers said about the focus groups for his show Leverage: 30% of the regular viewers never get what the con of the episode is and how it works. This surprised me, until I remembered that a somewhat higher percentage of casino gamblers don't understand the rules of the game that they're playing, which is even more flabbergasting.

A similar process was pointed out to me on an Internet marketing blog recently:

Why are critical reviews always worse than user reviews? I challenge you to go to Yahoo! Movies and find a movie where the overall critical grade is higher than the the average user grade. I've never seen it happen -- though there may be a few rare instances I just don't know about.

That used to drive me crazy. I'd watch a good movie and see that the critics gave it a C- and the users a B+. "Are critics really that clueless?" I thought.

No, they're not clueless. The problem is exactly the opposite -- they know too much about movies.

Let me give you an example: let's say you build houses for a living. When you walk through a house to size it up and see what it's worth, you're going to see every design and cosmetic flaw in that house. You'll see them because you know where to look, and you understand what you're looking at. After all, you build houses, too. But the average person might walk through that house and say "Wow, what a great house!"

A home builder would think less of a house because he knows how to spot the flaws. In the same way, movie critics think less of the movies because they know how to spot the flaws. Thus it's rare to see a movie with a higher critical score than user score.

...In a way I feel sorry for movie critics, because it's so much harder for them to enjoy a movie. Instead of just kicking back with some 'corn and a soda, watching the flick and having a good time, they're busy noticing every failed theatrical device and every minor mistake made by the cast. What a great way to ruin a wonderful pastime -- and your business, too!

One more note on mysteries: I knew a cop who thought mysteries were hilarious, because in 95% of his work, the obvious suspect is the guy who did it. Occam's Razor is the policeman's friend.

#132 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2011, 11:21 AM:

abi (123)/heresiarch (121): I read this

Have a kind, non-judgmental conversation with them about how they approach their media, leading to an enriched understanding of their reading habits as well as my own
as meaning that heresiarch thought that we were already having that conversation in this thread.

#133 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2011, 12:15 PM:

Glenn Hauman quoting Jonathan Leger @ 131: I challenge you to go to Yahoo! Movies and find a movie where the overall critical grade is higher than the the average user grade. I've never seen it happen

It took me all of two minutes to find Spirited Away (A-/B+), There Will Be Blood (A-/B), and Lost In Translation (A-/B-), and the only reason it took so long is that the first five or so movies I tried didn't have critics' ratings at all.

...In a way I feel sorry for movie critics, because it's so much harder for them to enjoy a movie.

People don't become movie critics unless they really, really like movies, perhaps even while they're thinking about them.

Instead of just kicking back with some 'corn and a soda, watching the flick and having a good time, they're busy noticing every failed theatrical device and every minor mistake made by the cast. What a great way to ruin a wonderful pastime -- and your business, too!

What a great way to valorize ignorance!

#134 ::: Victoria ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2011, 12:21 PM:

Abi @ 123

I often have this response to professional film critics who don't get genre films and pan a good film because it was not a more "mainstream" effort. It seems, to me, that those critics have two areas where they consistently miss the mark. 1) they have a one-size-fits-all definition of good. 2) they're really bored (have a bad case of ennui) because they watch everything in all genres of film. There literally isn't much that's new for them so it's either a movie or a documentary.

Lets face it, I don't go to an animated movie expecting car chases. I don't go to action/adventure films for the romance, and I don't go to Special Effects films expecting plot and character development. However, that's because I assign genres to films.

When a genre film fails to meet genre requirements, that's when I get annoyed. The same thing goes with books. I try really hard not to turn into a lit/film critter (i.e. beastly reviewer) even though I had four years of it in college.

#135 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2011, 12:27 PM:

Rob Rusick @130 -- it may say something about me to say that I remembered enough about the code to check. My mind does odd things like that sometimes.

And I frequently get plot twists early, but not always; and I hope I don't make others feel unintelligent when they don't, because I really do know that there are more kinds of intelligence than I recognize, and each is really useful in some situation. Getting plot twists is seldom actually useful in life.

It's indeed a form of privileging certain quirks.

#136 ::: MsAnon ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2011, 12:28 PM:

@131, 133

Everyone accepts that people who read for "sinking into the narrative and letting it carry me along" are reading for pleasure, and gaining pleasure out of their method of reading.

However, sometimes those people say that reading analytically "ruin[s] a wonderful pastime". I understand that those readers don't enjoy analytic reading, and that it might, indeed, ruin their enjoyment of a book if they tried to analyze it.

But I, for example--and many others--gain lots and lots of pleasure out of reading a book analytically. When I read analytically--which is not a performance, it takes place in my private mind, as it does in yours when you read--I am reading for pleasure. I am having fun. I am enjoying what I do. In fact, I am increasing my pleasure by reading the book in an analytic fashion. And I know that I am not the only one who gets pleasure from analytic reading.

#137 ::: Angiportus ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2011, 12:36 PM:

Speaking of feeling not that bright...and not wanting to derail this thread, but...what do I click, what program do I have standing by to decode those things that everyone else knows how to scramble by moving them halfway up the alphabet? Or, conversely scramble them if I want to?
I've been in both the position of the cynical snob who picked up on something first and the poor so and so who didn't get it as soon as some critic did. I really appreciate the suggestion [confirmation of my half-formed theory] here that when someone doesn't predict something that doesn't mean they are dim.

#138 ::: Theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2011, 12:50 PM:

http://www.rot13.com/ is good.

#139 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2011, 01:19 PM:

re 137: If you use Firefox the leetkey add-on will take care of it nicely.

#140 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2011, 01:34 PM:

131/133: I wouldn't say that a critic's viewing of a film is "ruined", but it is common to fall into the trap of assuming that movies are made for critics, and therefore producing reviews that aren't very useful to people who view movies uncritically (pun intended). Likewise a great book need not be a great read (or vice versa).

#141 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2011, 02:00 PM:

C. Wingate @ 140: I would say that a review that's useful to people who view movies uncritically isn't a review at all, but a recommendation (for or against).

#142 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2011, 02:31 PM:

For me, character and plot are by far the most important. If the story isn't strong in both of those, I'm generally not interested (okay, short stories don't always require great characters). Language - well, sometimes a very well crafted sentence wakes me up and I think "wow" - quotable quotes and the like - but most of the time I prefer it to be in the background, unobtrusive (I do have a particular fondness for those short phrases or sentences of Lois McMaster Bujold which have you laughing or crying - but which wouldn't work without all the story leading up to them). Ditto setting - long descriptions of setting bore me (get on with the story); I prefer just enough to tell me where we are - a house, a city, a clearing in a wood, a spaceship, a planet with two moons, whatever - really, cardboard cut-out/generic scenery works for me, so long as it isn't obtrusive.

My preferred way to read a novel, given the opportunity, is to pick it up and only stop when I reach the end. Sadly, life doesn't let me do that very often nowadays, but on occasion my husband is very understanding as I sit, engrossed, until the small hours. Of course, if it's really good, ideally I then get to re-read it immediately, but slower, to appreciate nuances I may have missed on the first run (unless the story sucks me in so much that and I find myself galloping though it again!) There are some exceptions with very densely written books, where I find I need to come up for breath periodically.

I loved The Sixth Sense and that moment of revelation, where I got to replay the whole film in my head and think "Oh! Yes!" And then watching it again, you get to appreciate the craftmanship - and, as Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) says @59, re-think who the film is about. Unfortunately we had a couple sitting near us in the cinema who clearly didn't get it and were asking each other, after the film finished - "huh? what was that last bit all about?" - Which ties in again with how large and heavy different people need the cluebat to be.

#143 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2011, 02:33 PM:

MsAnon @ 136: But I, for example--and many others--gain lots and lots of pleasure out of reading a book analytically. That's fine - unless you start telling people who prefer to "sink into the narrative" how much more intelligent/more intellectual you are because you prefer to read analytically, and how dumb people are if they don't.

#144 ::: MsAnon ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2011, 02:56 PM:

@dcb 143

You know, that point has been so obviously made so many times in this thread, that I thought it unnecessary to add it as one more caveat to my post. I merely wanted to push back against the statements some people seem to be making: that people who read analytically are doing it for points, for glory, to tick other people off, to ruin their fun, rather than for pleasure.

And, while people who discuss works analytically should be ethical in their discussion, I would say that most of them are discussing for pleasure, not points. Honestly, I didn't even want to talk about *discussion*, just about *reading*. Unless I'm your literature professor and assigned you the book, I don't care whether you *read* your book analytically or not.

#145 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2011, 02:58 PM:

MsAnon @144:

I merely wanted to push back against the statements some people seem to be making: that people who read analytically are doing it for points, for glory, to tick other people off, to ruin their fun, rather than for pleasure.

Please cite comments and comment numbers where people have been saying that on this thread.

#146 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2011, 03:06 PM:

abi, 145: They're not, any more than the people on the other side have been saying "gosh, you're stupid." It's all in the implications, especially when you read large chunks of the thread at once. (And when I say "you," I naturally mean "me.")

It's beginning to feel like many another intrafamilial religious dispute: Mac vs. PC is only the tip of the iceberg.

And now I'm going to fold some cranes while watching the silliest thing Netflix will serve me. Who's in?

#147 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2011, 03:17 PM:

TexAnne @ 146... when I say "you," I naturally mean "me."

Doctor Jekyll, or Doctor Banner?

#148 ::: Theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2011, 03:28 PM:

If it's a movie I know I'm going to see, I won't read the review until after I see it. Not just because of the spoilers that almost every critic studs a review with, but because I don't want my reaction prejudiced -- even, or especially, if I trust the critic's judgment.

#149 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2011, 03:34 PM:

I think the problem may not be what people are saying, but what people are hearing. I've been known to interpret some comments as "Boy, you're stupid" when that was the farthest thing from the commenter's mind. And that interpretation falls squarely into the "Any right-thinking person..." trap, without my even noticing it.

It's often good to check and see if someone intended to say what I'm hearing. And if the other person continues to say things in a manner that I hear differently than s/he intends, the problem may be in either one of us (but I'm only able to change myself).

#150 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2011, 03:39 PM:

TexAnne @146:

I could cite you comments where people have equated guessing endings and intelligence. I can cite you ones where people have valorized guessing endings ahead of when I wrote about guessing them myself. I haven't, because the people who said those things didn't mean them badly, and don't deserve the finger-pointing. Should I? Would that help anyone?

But that's a different thing than not saying the contrary thing at all, and having someone false-equivalence it into this thread.

I want both behaviors to stop. But that doesn't mean that their frequency is the same right now in this community.

#151 ::: Chris W. ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2011, 03:45 PM:

Abi @ 145:

Isn't that a bit of a double-standard?

You've started a whole thread based on the premise that people can be made to feel bad about their choices on how to read books without anyone explicitly saying "Your reading choices are stupid." Shouldn't that apply no matter what the reading choices in question are?

It doesn't seem unreasonable to me that if a thread full of "I analyzed this and figured it out right away" makes people who don't do that feel stupid a thread full of "I never analyze and it makes the reading experience so much richer" can make those who do enjoy analysis feel rather denigrated.

#152 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2011, 03:55 PM:

abi:

There are differences in reading/viewing styles here, but also differences in familiarity with SF ideas/tropes, with different genre conventions, and with other books and movies that are being referenced or echoed in the current one. (I always think about _A Deepness in the Sky_ here; I'm not sure how readable that book would be to someone who hadn't read a lot of SF, because it draws on so many ideas from other SF books/movies.)

There is a delight in catching something hidden by the writer intentionally, that you got some obscure reference or worked out how some technology must work from a thin description--it's like finding an easter egg. There is a delight in showing off for the other monkeys that you found it first. And there is a delight in seeing that other people read the same book you did, in the same way, a kind of validation.

I'm not sure how to avoid having that delight exclude people who didn't get the same thing out of the book. I loved _Deepness_; it's one of my favorite books ever. I don't think my wife would get it. That's not remotely about her not being smart (she is), it's about her not having the genre expectations and the ideas from having read a dozen other books before.

There's something about sharing a love of any kind of art that naturally excludes people who just don't like that kind of art, for whatever reason. And similarly, there's something about talking about why you liked some kind of art that inherently excludes people who didn't read it that way, or get what you did out of it. I can see how to moderate the sneering and whipping out of rulers, but I can't see how to change the fact that if you and TexAnne and teresa all go off on a tangent about how some B5 episode is really an hilarious reference to a bit of _The Odyssey_ or something, I'll feel excluded, having never read _The Odyssey_. You can avoid implying that only the uncultured would not be familiar with it, but you can't change the fact that I'll be excluded from that bit of the conversation.

#153 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2011, 04:02 PM:

Chris W @151:

vide comment 150. It's not a double standard; it's a rejection of a false equivalence.

#154 ::: johnofjack ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2011, 04:08 PM:

Checking in late here, but I just wanted to say that I'm very often the viewer who's trying to figure out where the story is headed--it's really rare for me to be so engrossed in the story that I'm not.

I personally love it when I'm wrong about where the story is headed, because I don't think very highly of my own creativity and so when I'm wrong about a story it usually means that the story is better than I expected.

But, sadly, I have been that obnoxious person pointing out clues and resolutions, so I'm glad to have read the discussion here about how different people read books and watch films and movies. I think that my friends and family have been humoring me, or maybe I'm dense. Or both.

I don't read this thread as hostile or shaming, though I do think it's illuminating.

#155 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2011, 04:09 PM:

albatross @152:

But in this case we're talking about pretty much the same community, with pretty much the same background, reading/viewing the same works in different ways.

What I want people to do is to think before equating one particular style of doing so with intelligence (or, for that matter, interest, enjoyment, sense of humor, luck, loveworthiness or tendency to smell like tea on a damp day).

I don't think it's a sign of intelligence to have read, not read, remembered, or not remembered the Odyssey. If I talk about the ways that journeys on the Ice in The Left Hand of Darkness are in the same tradition as Odysseus' journey, and you go, "huh?", I don't take that as any measure of your intelligence. If I ever imply otherwise, slap me with a stale salmon.

Likewise, the next person who, intentionally or unintentionally, uses "smart" or its synonyms as a descriptor for people who guess the endings of stories before they're shown will get linked to this thread.

#156 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2011, 04:11 PM:

albatross @ 152... Me, I wouldn't feel excluded. I'd be delighted, because I've learned something.

#157 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2011, 04:24 PM:

I apologize for the ill-tempered tone of my comments on this thread. The hurt from this goes deeper than I realized.

#158 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2011, 04:31 PM:

abi@ 155... in the same tradition as Odysseus' journey

I should watch "O Brother Where Art Thou?" again.
:-)

#159 ::: MsAnon ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2011, 04:34 PM:

5: "Well, for those of us who are difficult to amuse, and do walk around in a miasma... Look, it sucks, okay? Let us have our petty superiority, it's all we have. You get to have fun, after all."

9: "Some people approach narrative as a puzzle to be solved, and others as a journey to be enjoyed." (My personal reading description is "a puzzle to be enjoyed"; here we have the idea that solving is not enjoying.)

131: (Glenn quotes the internet marketing blog; I’m not saying Glenn *agrees* with the quote:) "...In a way I feel sorry for movie critics, because it's so much harder for them to enjoy a movie. Instead of just kicking back with some 'corn and a soda, watching the flick and having a good time, they're busy noticing every failed theatrical device and every minor mistake made by the cast. What a great way to ruin a wonderful pastime -- and your business, too!"

140: "Likewise a great book need not be a great read (or vice versa)." If I'm interpreting correctly, "a great read" means "a book that's really fun and enjoyable to read". And I think that here, “a great book” means, like, Great Books (in Whatever Canon). Now, I am a proponent of radical reading pleasure for analytical and immersive readers alike. And I would actually say that it can’t be a great book--or even a Great Book--unless it gives the human reading it pleasure in some way. If, for example, Silas Marner is boring the boots off of high schoolers, college students, graduate students, professors, immersive and analytical readers alike--then why should it be a Great Book? On the other hand, it’s entirely possible--and probable--that, for all the people who are trying to read Silas Marner immersively and getting bored stiff, there are some joyous geeks/critics gleefully analyzing George Eliot’s ideas about industrialization. Why can’t that also be a great reading experience? Caveat here: I may be misinterpreting C. Wingate’s terms. He may mean something different by “great book” and “great read”.

Also, I’m sorry if I came across as snippy in my response to #143. I’m sure dcb didn’t mean that I actually *would* behave in such a way. I am fine, since I don’t feel the need to tell anyone that I’m smarter than them, to judge their personal reading styles or what they choose to read, or tell people that they are dumb. (And, yes, I agree--people who behave this way are jerks.) In fact, I earlier recommended a book, on this very thread, that uses critical-analytical writing, for a critical-analytical audience, in defense of an immersive, emotional style of reading and a much-maligned genre, because I think it’s important that all reading styles and choices are given their due.

#160 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2011, 04:58 PM:

MsAnon @159:

5: That was a riff on a line the original post that had nothing to do with reading at all.

9: I can see that interpretation. I think it's a reach for someone who was just looking for balanced phrasing in a sentence, but I'll give you that one.

131: If Glenn doesn't agree with the quote, and I think it's pretty clear that he doesn't, then you probably shouldn't cite it as someone expressing that opinion on this thread.

140: I think you're having to spend a lot of time defining terms to get to the idea that that statement accuses any people of reading books "for points, for glory, to tick other people off, to ruin their fun, rather than for pleasure."

Seriously, most of the thread is about people who have felt squashed for not reading in one particular way expressing relief. And there's a reason I made one comment explicitly welcoming other reading styles than mine. I'd be quite peeved if this thread turned into a Squash Anyone thread.

(Also, I'd like to push back right alongside you against the common idea that people can't read "difficult" or "classic" books for pleasure. Two of my less linear Italo Calvinos are currently out on loan to different colleagues, and I've got to bring Bleak House in once our scrum manager finishes Robinson's Mars trilogy. Meanwhile, I'm behindhand in getting through House of Leaves before the owner wants it back. Thing is, I don't think anyone on this thread needs that pushback.)

#161 ::: Theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2011, 05:02 PM:

On the other hand, sometimes an author or a director does something SO contrary to physics or human behavior that it simply wrecks my suspension of disbelief; for instance, when the bus leapt the gap in the movie Speed, that was it for me. I could believe in Dennis Hopper, even in Keanu Reeves -- but not that.

#162 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2011, 05:05 PM:

Theophylact @ 161... I could believe in Dennis Hopper, even in Keanu Reeves

Kneel before Zod!
("No, Serge, it's 'Reeves', not 'Reeve'.")
Oh.
Nevermind.

#163 ::: Chris W. ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2011, 05:23 PM:

Abi @153 and elsewhere:

You say toh may toh, MsAnon says toh mah toh. The thread you linked in the OP show one clear example (to my eyes) of what you're talking about. This thread shows at least one arguable example of what MsAnon's post was about. Obviously you two are reading this thread (and probably that one) very differently.

Your preemptive dismissal of MsAnon and labeling of her argument as a "false equivalence" for my taste strays rather too close to saying "Your reading is wrong, and your reaction to this thread is not legitimate." And I thought that was exactly the type of thing this thread was supposed to be against.

[full disclosure: I am rather close to MsAnon in meatspace, and had a version of this argument with her over the weekend, with me broadly taking Abi's side.]

#164 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2011, 05:34 PM:

Chris W @ 163...

You say toh may toh, MsAnon says toh mah toh

Let's call the whole thing off?
:-)

#165 ::: Chris W. ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2011, 05:36 PM:

@Serge:

Sounds good to me.

(And rereading, that line does come across much more flippantly than I intended it. I just meant to convey that judgments on the good faith of arguers often depends on the subjective assessment of the validity of their arguments.)

#166 ::: Victoria ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2011, 06:22 PM:

Tim Walters @141

I have to disagree. A review is a review.

Just to be certain of my terminology, I went out an looked up "review" on merriam-webster.com. Of the eight definitions, only one involved critical evaluation. Two dealt with general surveys and retrospective views of something. Then I looked up critique from the same source. It means to look at something critically.

I'll skip the rest of the defining, and simply say that to look at something critically means you first have to set criteria for evaluating purposes. A professional reviewer of movies/books seems to have one set of criteria for what makes a movie or book good. Me, Jill Schmoe, and others like me have other criteria for our measuring stick(s).

Also, every review or critique that ends with a rating, IMO, is a recommendation. The low rating is a suggestion to not waste your time. A high rating recommends that Jill Schmoe and co, go see/read something they normally wouldn't.

In short, all critiques are reviews, but not all reviews are critiques. The difference is fairly obvious. If the reviewer tells the reader why the movie was good or bad using standardized-to-the-reviewer categories and ranges or clearly defined reasons, then the review is also a critique. A reasonably cued in reader can figure out from a reasonably well written review-cum-critique if that movie/book will be good for them.

#167 ::: Victoria ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2011, 06:31 PM:

msanon@159

Why not "A journey to be solved"? Because at some point someone somewhere is going to ask "Where are they going with this?"

#168 ::: theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2011, 06:52 PM:

Serge @ #154:

You say "Carmina", and I say "Carmana";
You say "Burina", and I say "Burana";
Carmina, Carmana, Burina, Burana --
Let's Carl the whole thing Orff.

#169 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2011, 07:01 PM:

Rob Rusick@130, Tom Whitmore@135: I also turned back and checked the code group -- but I dismissed the discrepancy as an editorial error, rather than a deliberate authorial clue. Not sure what that says about me!

Angiportus@137: Kate Nepveu has a bookmarklet you can put in your browser bar, I find it really useful: rot13 bookmarklet. The page says that it works on Opera and Firefox, and I can attest that it works in Safari as well.

#170 ::: Victoria ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2011, 07:12 PM:

Abi @160 regarding 140 comments

I have met, studied under and/or deal with people who do read "for points, for glory, to tick other people off, to ruin their fun, rather than for pleasure." I know readers with agendas are the worst offenders in the "you're stupid for liking _____" category. It's part of why they read with an agenda as far as I can tell.

Then there are readers who also like argue about what they love from their point of view. It's not really debating, even though it takes that form a lot of the time. For them a series of reviews like you've been posting about B5 here is a lot like a pickup game of (American) football. Some people like showing off and don't always remember that other people can't take the harder hits without bruising or breaking something. Some can't take the gentler hits, either.

I see the real problem as being a mental reflex based in the "defend/explain your opinion/idea and it's value" attitude that is used in a lot of post-secondary education.

I grew up in a family of Debate Is A Contact Sport people. I know how to hit hard. I used that to hold my own with the Readers with Agendas in college. After I left academia, (ran screaming from the English Department, truth be told) I had to recalibrate my debates with readers who didn't have agendas and didn't view friendly discussions as place where you score points off each other for fun, glory and renown.

You see, I read for pleasure and I read with an agenda. The more I tried to score points off of others for glory, the less I liked reading.

That's one of the reasons I haven't been re-watching the B5 series and commenting on your posts. I know I hit too hard, so I choose not to play the game.

#171 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2011, 07:18 PM:

HelenS @ 65:

WWII acted on Europe, North Africa, and East Asia like a giant mixmaster: very few people went to the same places or did the same things they would have if not for the war. More than 40 million people died directly or indirectly because of the war, and tens of millions were displaced by the end. I haven't crunched the numbers, but I would be surprised if there were any similarly disruptive period in human history prior to the end of the end of the 20th Century (the 30 Years War was probably more disruptive, but on a smaller scale, both geographically and the size of the population affected).

Andrew M @ 87:

Of course, as we get further from the point of divergence, it gets less and less likely that the same people will be born, for straightforward reasons; but we don't need chaos theory to see that.

What chaos theory does give us is some prediction of how fast the divergence is. It's typically exponential, so that, for instance, if there is a given amount of change in ten years, the amount of change in 20 years will be the square of that. That implies that even in very stable times, after a generation or so the populations are going to be drastically different.

#172 ::: MacAllister ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2011, 07:40 PM:

Bruce Cohen @ 171 said: I would be surprised if there were any similarly disruptive period in human history prior to the end of the end of the 20th Century

Black Death, perhaps?

#173 ::: Laina ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2011, 07:45 PM:

abi @ 123 Because there is always that quiet voice inside me that agrees. It says I'm not very perceptive, not in comparison to all the narrow-eyed souls who see the ending of every Babylon 5 episode before the title music fades. What the hell am I doing writing this rewatch series? Someone smarter should do it. I should stfu.

Is there any way I can help hush your quiet voice? I'm enjoying the rewatch series as written by abi, and was looking forward to revisiting the whole series with you.

#174 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2011, 07:54 PM:

MacAllister @ 172:

I thought about the Black Death and decided that it was more disruptive over a short period and over relatively short distances than something like the 30 Years War, but perhaps less disruptive in the long-term, and less disruptive to large-scale geographical areas (less mixmaster effect over long distances). I suspect this is susceptible to mathematical analysis, but I'm not up for a project the size of a doctoral thesis just now. Anybody out there looking for one?

#175 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2011, 08:03 PM:

It's well to remember that while it's relatively easy to separate reviews into classes as to whether or not they're critical, it's not the case that all critics will see the same things in a movie or book. Far from it, because critics have their specialist expertise in one or another aspect or genre of an artform, and often have strong opinions about specific artists/performers that casual viewers/readers may not have.

I have some training in film technique and theory, and have done a fair amount of reading about the subject, and watched a lot of films over the last 50 years or so. I have found few critics whose opinions about a given film I agreed with, and perhaps only 2 whose opinions I was in agreement with more often than not. There have been many times when I'd ask "What movie was that critic watching? It wasn't the one I saw." I think this happens because if you do approach a work of art, whether book or movie or painting, with a critical eye you are bound to see things that a critic with even slightly different experience and training will not see or see differently. Adding all those differences up for a given work results in a large number of different ways of looking at it.

#176 ::: MacAllister ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2011, 08:10 PM:

Bruce @174 - Heh, it's certainly a comparison beyond my own analytic and statistical scope.

I've seen it convincingly argued that the long term effects of the plague--a two-or-three year event that killed perhaps a third of Europe's population (and a significant portion of China's, as well, though that's rather less well-documented in Western histories) arguably re-shaped entire cultural and economic environments that ultimately hastened the end of the middle ages and ushered in the Renaissance.

Nonetheless, it was the only comparison in human history that I thought might approach the level of impact of WWII, so I dutifully offered it.

#177 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2011, 08:38 PM:

Mary Aileen, I use Balogh as an example to SFF folks who sneer at romance and then say they can't have women in their books, the books are about war!* Balogh put at least three heroines at Waterloo. Go her. She's also pretty good about physical disability, though not mental/physical involving the brain. I shall dig up some Susan Wiggs soonish.

*granted, this happens about once in a green moon, so a lot of the argument has imaginary opponents and occurs entirely in my head.

Someone way upthread mentioned going back and picking up the clues in The Thief; part of my reaction was that I had seen the clues, but discarded them because there was either an incredibly effective misdirection or I imagined something that completely contradicted the twist I was expecting and later got. Between that and the lack of audience, I felt like the book had tripped me, then pointed and laughed at how clumsy I was for not seeing the now-gone obstacle.

And if I get like that without an actual human telling me I'm slow on the uptake, imagine how annoyed I'd be with someone on the other end! I have already shown myself to have an idiosyncratic response to being told how to feel about books. I do not like it when I can get a book Wrong.

On the other hand, part of my reaction to romance, as seen above, is that oh, it's not frivolous, look, I'm analyzing it! I am being thinky!

#178 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2011, 09:17 PM:

Diatryma (177): For Susan Wiggs, see if you can find Summer at Willow Lodge, which is the first of her ongoing "Lakeshore Chronicles". The books are all self-contained, but it's fun to follow the continuing characters from book to book.

#179 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2011, 09:35 PM:

Theophylact @ 168...

Have you no shame?
("Nope.")
Me neither.

#180 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2011, 02:41 AM:

Mary Aileen @ 132: "I read this...as meaning that heresiarch thought that we were already having that conversation in this thread."

Yes, this. I think the conversation on this thread has overwhelmingly been really great, and when I saw something I perceived as a turn towards judgmental I tried to send a clear signal that that wasn't the conversation we were having here.

The best thing to come out of this thread, to me, is how many people have said, essentially, I read/watch things both those ways at different times. Isn't that interesting?

#181 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2011, 08:02 AM:

Serge @ #162:

If I remember correctly, there was a point in the nineties where the suits were seriously considering casting Keanu in the lead role of the next Superman movie. It was about the same time period where they were seriously considering making the big action piece of the film be Superman vs A Giant Robot Spider.

#182 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2011, 08:38 AM:

So, they kept the gigantic robot spider for Will Smith to fight later?

#183 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2011, 09:01 AM:

albatross, 182: "Reduce, reuse, recycle." Not just a slogan anymore!

#184 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2011, 10:01 AM:

Come to think of it, I've read books "for points, for glory, to tick other people off, to ruin their fun, rather than for pleasure."

Specifically, there were two (unrelated) books that I really, really despised from quite early on; but I slogged on through to the end, because I was absolutely sure I was going to argue about these books periodically for the rest of my life, and I wasn't going to hand my opponents the easy out of pointing out that I didn't really know what the book was like since I hadn't actually read all of it.

(While I'm boggled that some people considered them in any way fun, I don't really want to ruin the fun they had, or any prospective fun other readers might have.)

(Probably fairly easy to find out what books via Google, or email me and I'll be happy to tell you; seems like getting into that would be derailing here.)

#185 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2011, 10:15 AM:

albatross @ #182:

Yup. There was this one executive who kept trying to put a giant mechanical spider into every action movie he was attached to, and eventually succeeded with Wild Wild West. (He was also producer on the notoriously awful attempt to make a film of Neil Gaiman's Sandman, and he tried to get the giant mechanical spider into that, too.)

#186 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2011, 10:19 AM:

Paul A... The giant mechanical spider turned out to be the best thing in Wild Wild West, even more so than Salma Hayek.

#187 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2011, 12:13 PM:

MsAnon @ 159: First, apologies for dropping out of the conversation yesterday - went out for a day-late Valentine dinner with my husband (you get the restaurant pretty much to yourself when you do that!). Second, no, I didn't mean that you in particular would behave in such a way - just that it's a problem (as this thread is discussing) when people do - I probably should have said "unless one" rather than "unless you".

I sometimes wish I -could- read more analytically, but in general, if it's a good book, I find that really difficult because I keep getting caught up in the Story. Badly-written books, it's easier...

#188 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2011, 01:08 PM:

Bruce @171

It's likely that WW1 and the Spanish Flu were a closer analogue to the Black Death. For instance, a strong tendency not to talk about the epidemic: Europe is studded with war memorials, but the flu doesn't get the same commemoration. I gather that the scale of the flu outbreak was never mentioned in the press, even as public health professionals were passing on warnings. The Bright Young People of the 1920s are usually explained as a reaction to the War, but they saw the Spanish Flu up close.

Now remake The Masque of the Red Death in that period. It's almost a classic Country House Party murder mystery in its feel, but maybe with features found in Murder Must Advertise. And, icing on the cake, you have Bolsheviks.

I wonder how much of that went into H.P. Lovecraft's writing. How much of the secret horror comes from Spanish Flu?

#189 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2011, 03:19 PM:

Serge @ #186: "The giant mechanical spider turned out to be the best thing in Wild Wild West, even more so than Salma Hayek."

obJudgmental: You're crazy. No one and no thing is better than Salma Hayek.

#190 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2011, 04:00 PM:

Linkmeister @ 189... You're crazy

I reconsidered my earlier assertion and must amend it.
It is a tough call, to choose between this and this.

#191 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2011, 04:25 PM:

abi #123: Because there is always that quiet voice inside me that agrees. It says I'm not very perceptive, ... What the hell am I doing writing this rewatch series? Someone smarter should do it. I should stfu.

Anything like this?

#192 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2011, 04:36 PM:

Abi: You've been noticing and analysing a lot more stuff than I did, even on recent re-watch. And I've been enjoying your comments, and others.

David Harmon @ 191: Oh. Thanks for that.

#193 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2011, 05:36 PM:

David, #191: Wow. That's the Goddamn Tapes personified -- although of course the specific wording is customized for each individual.

#194 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2011, 06:11 PM:

Lee #193: Exactly. I would say it's a nice coincidence that the strip came out recently, but it's not the first time Subnormality has taken on The Critic.

#195 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2011, 06:35 PM:

Chaz Brenchley @15: Which is why I dislike the classic whodunnit model, both as writer and reader: a novel is not a crossword puzzle, and the writer and reader are not engaged in a battle of wits, trying to outsmart each other.

Thank you. You've neatly articulated my irritation with Standard Issue Mystery. Really, I don't care who dunnit. I'm far more interested in why.

#196 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2011, 06:55 PM:

WRT being "easily amused," I can never hear that phrase but what I think of Jon Singer being entertained by his new ultrasonic toothbrush.

James D. Macdonald @18: you can tell who dunnit by seeing what character is introduced at a certain minute mark. This is extra-textual.

Likewise, a writer in TV Guide's lettercol pointed out that you could always tell who the culprit was on Murder She Wrote because it would be the first actor listed in the TVG's list of guest players on the show. (To their credit, I think they changed things after the letter appeared so that strategy didn't work anymore.)

I was fascinated to notice, some while ago, that I use these sorts of extra-textual cues to predict the outcome of most stories, especially on TV. Given the constraints of prime-time TV in particular, it's really hard not to.

I was startled at how huge a relief it was, when I was reading Bujold's Sharing Knife books, at how un-bound the story was by such constraints. It was weirdly like taking off a heavy back-pack and flexing my shoulders.

Sarah E @19: movies I've seen whose *openings* would be beautiful twists - to a viewer who stumbled in without knowing the movie's title, genre or historical setting.

The instant I get a hint that I might want to see a movie, I very carefully avoid learning anything more out about it. (I have a friend who's just the opposite, and I had to smack him down really hard to train him out of forwarding me reviews.) The less I know, the more fun it is. The standard blurb that shows up on Netflix is often even more than I want to know, for a really good movie. (Hard to engineer, though, which is one of the reasons I miss being able to channel-surf past movies that have just started on Saturday afternoon TV.)

I keep wishing I could blindfold someone and take him/her into a showing of Wilde, Gangs of New York, or The Thirteenth Floor.

Oo! OO!! Me! Me!

Actually, I think I already know enough about Gangs to feel I don't really want to see it, but I am as an egg wrt the other two. (Scampers off to Netflix queue.)

#197 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2011, 07:32 PM:

Jenett @23: four doorways into fiction - plot, character, setting, and language.

Huh. I like that model. That actually explains a lot. I'm clearly attracted to character and language first. Plot and setting are definitely secondary for me; if the first two are good, I'll forgive a multitude of sins in the latter two.

Orthoginally, the parts I retain with the most fidelity are language and plot. I have to be very careful re-reading stuff I like, because it's easy for me to memorize it, and that sucks all the juice out of it.

All of which puts me into the category of people who enjoy not knowing where the plot's going in a TV show, but willing to wander along and find out, as long as you give me enough setting and character to keep my interest.

I can very easily wander into most movies and TV shows in the middle, and be perfectly happy if it's about people I find interesting. In fact, the truncated context will often enhance my enjoyment, as it makes me work a little harder to catch up.

abi's point about immersion. If the story sucks me in thththTHOOP! I don't really care what the outcome is, except to be disappointed when it's over.

#198 ::: Alberto ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2011, 07:43 PM:

Bruce @ 171: I would be surprised if there were any similarly disruptive period in human history prior to the end of the end of the 20th Century

The (post-)contact period in the Americas. Entire civilizations collapsed, with an estimated 90% mortality rate amongst the Native Americans--and that's before we take into account the conquests of the Aztecs and the Incas. The massive deaths from foreign diseases left huge swaths of the Americas post-apocalyptic landscapes, all in a very few years.

It's one of the axes of history we Americans are taught very carefully not to think too heavily upon.

#199 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2011, 08:41 PM:

The discussion of movies (and books) that would be very different/more mysterious if the viewer didn't know what genre they were watching is reminding me of a book where my knowledge of the genre provided me with a "twist ending" moment.

It was an old-fashioned romantic suspense novel; I had read quite a few by the time I hit this one and was very familiar with the tropes. Modern romantic suspense is a different genre, but this one was written in 1980, when RS still bore a strong resemblance to gothic romances--more of a continuum than two distinct genres. Traditional romantic suspense typically had, besides a heroine who was menaced by unknown parties, two young men that she was attracted to but didn't trust. One would ultimately be the love interest, the other was usually either the villain or in league with the villain. In this case, there were the requisite two young men, but one was the heroine's half-brother, whom she hardly knew. The other guy therefore had to be the love interest and not the villain, even though the text was signaling pretty hard that he was Up To Something. I assumed that this was misdirection. Nope. Instead, the brother wasn't really her brother. Gotcha!

#200 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2011, 09:16 PM:

Diatryma @177 Someone way upthread mentioned going back and picking up the clues in The Thief; part of my reaction was that I had seen the clues, but discarded them because there was either an incredibly effective misdirection or I imagined something that completely contradicted the twist I was expecting and later got. Between that and the lack of audience, I felt like the book had tripped me, then pointed and laughed at how clumsy I was for not seeing the now-gone obstacle.

I had a similar experience, of seeing the clues, but falling for the misdirection. But when I got to the twist, I didn't feel laughed at. It was more like having watched a magic trick and thinking, cool! Now show me that again slower so I can see how you did it!

This doesn't say your reaction was wrong, of course. It just confirms, as if this thread needed it, the idiosyncratic nature of our reactions to books.

I don't mind a book that uses my expectations, like a martial arts expert, as leverage to throw me in ways I didn't expect. In fact, I often appreciate it. I do mind something that makes me feel mocked for having those expectations in the first place. And I can be annoyed by something that too ham-handedly misdirects me, but of course "too ham-handed" is a personal taste as well.

I am, however, fairly solidly in the "want to know it's going to come out okay before I invest in the angst" camp.

ObSFF, one of Zenna Henderson's stories had a little boy who was having trouble learning how to read. As I recall, he could read some things fine but not others, and it didn't seem to be predicated on the difficulty of the material. He had, for example, trouble with the nursery rhyme about Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater though he read more difficult things. The stumbling block turned out to be that he couldn't stand reading about things that involved compulsion or captivity, and a surprising number of children's stories and fairy tales did. He was, of course, speed reading the material to find out if it hit his triggers or not before he began to "read" it, and so the teacher could point out to him that he could read.

I could use that superpower.

#201 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2011, 09:35 PM:

OtterB #200, Diatryma #177: this sort of diversion, and "hiding clues in plain sight", was also discussed in the Dream Park novels -- iirc, Niven+Pournelle+Barnes. In their high-tech LARPs, that was considered a matter of art in pacing and shaping the adventure... and in one case, indoctrinating the participants. Since these were often multi-day affairs, bodily rhythms and time cues were used as well.

#202 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2011, 10:44 PM:

Alberto #180:

Yeah, it seems like that's a different kind of event, though. I mean even the worst of the plagues in Europe seem like they left behind a functioning society. My understanding is that the one-dose Eurasian disease package wiped out whole cities and civilizations. (I remember hearing that on both the Mississippi and Amazon, there were early explorers' reports of largish cities and heavy populations along the rivers. And that later explorers assumed the earlier ones were making it up, because all *they* saw were ruins and the occasional small settlement.) It's hard to think of an event of comparable impact to that in recorded history. I think it's hard to *have* recorded history when your civilization goes through something like that; what's left is more like ruins and artifacts and old stories and legends. But my history knowledge is seriously lame, so maybe there are dozens of comparable events I just don't know about....

#203 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2011, 11:00 PM:

Jenett #23: four doorways into fiction - plot, character, setting, and language.

Where does Idea fit into that floor-plan? Especially in science fiction. Or is Idea just a variant or elaboration of one of the other Doors?

#204 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2011, 01:46 AM:

Bruce Cohen @ 171: "I haven't crunched the numbers, but I would be surprised if there were any similarly disruptive period in human history prior to the end of the end of the 20th Century"

The Mongol Conquest of the thirteenth century: a direct military impact on nearly all of Eurasia between Japan, Hungary and Egypt; established transcontinental trade on an unprecedented order of magnitude, indirectly setting the stage for the spread of the Black Death; introduced and popularized early gunpowder technology, beginning the not-yet-ended arms race; not to mention was perhaps the first model of a secular government. It didn't affect the Americas, but otherwise its effects were intense and widespread. WWII wins on brevity and scope, but the effects of the Mongol Conquests were more profound, I'd say.

#205 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2011, 04:54 AM:

#185 is worth a film of its very own. "Spider: A Man and his Dream".

Whatever happened to Mediterranean civilisations in 800BC might count as similarly disruptive. Albatross, it's not that your knowledge of history is excessively lame - it's just that massively disruptive events tend not to leave many historians around to record them...

#206 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2011, 09:06 AM:

ajay #205:

"And I alone am escaped to tell thee"

#207 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2011, 09:10 AM:

Thinking about this, I think people who speculate on where the book or movie or show is going (I often do this if I have a break, where I'm not reading or watching right now but I'm still immersed in the story) often do guess where the story is headed. But we also guess where it's not headed with some frequency. Confirmation and retrospective bias means that we tend to remember times we were right more than times we were wrong. To repurpose the old joke about economists, so far in my watching of B5, I've predicted 23 of the last 5 dramatic plot twists.

I would normally take this as a given, but in case it's not: I'm not assuming this somehow gives me special "mine's bigger than yours" points in some battle. It's just an observation--I find it interesting to play out in my own mind where the story will go from here, and I'm usually surprised when it doesn't go in what I think is the obvious direction.

#208 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2011, 09:41 AM:

Earl Cooley III @ #203:

One possibility is that Idea could be any one of the other doors, depending on what kind of idea it is.

For instance, if your Idea is "There's this planet shaped like an M&M where the gravity is about a hundred times stronger at the poles than at the equator", that's Setting, but if your Idea is "There's this guy who was marooned in space, and he's obsessed with revenge on the ship that didn't rescue him even though it must have known he was there", that's Character.

#209 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2011, 10:07 AM:

Paul:

So, I think you can sort-of map big ideas to setting, but that this loses a lot of detail. As an example, in _A Deepness in the Sky_, the setting includes a lot of SF tropes (and includes a huge amount of stuff more-or-less by reference--having read, say, _Protector_ and _Citizen of the Galaxy_ changes how you read it).

But part of the setting is this big idea that there are limits to technological advancement, and that sooner or later, all closed civilizations locked into their own solar systems collapse under their own weight, after making some asymptotic approach to a technological ceiling imposed by limits of physics and human intelligence and computing power. This is occasionally referenced or even pointed out in conversation, but it's not exactly "setting" in the sense of Qeng Ho ramscoops traveling between worlds, or the highly advanced, moderately advanced, and just-up-from-collapse civilizations they visit at different times. It's an assumption about how the universe works. And a huge amount of the book is about attempts by Pham Nuwen to work out how to live with that assumption about how the universe works, or how to fix it. And in that, only a very few people ever really *get* what he's seeing--his wife (who betrays him at Brisgo Gap), maybe a couple other top-level Qeng Ho we don't see, the magnate-philosopher he gets the advanced localizers from, Ezr Vinh, and (monstrous) Thomas Nau. That's it[1]. Otherwise, he's doing stuff that's locally interesting or profitable, so people go along, not really interested in his Crazy Eddie talk about ending the cycles.

That's partly setting, partly character, partly plot. But that idea is a huge part of what makes the book so amazing. (And it's something Vinge has wrestled with again and again in his career, from different angles.)

[1] By the end, I'm sure Anne and Qiwi get it. And Sherkaner would have gotten it and loved the challenge of thinking about it. I think I liked Sherkaner even more than I liked Qiwi.

#210 ::: paul ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2011, 11:34 AM:

I used to be a Solver, but I found that writers cheated too often. Makes me think of the days when my then-s.o. taught the intro classics, and would get papers with lines like "Zeus is angry because he believes that XYZ" and would politely comment "Who believes what? Works have authors."

I really like the idea of multiple doors. Explains a lot, including why sometimes the most nominally formulaic stuff can be the best reading for me.

#211 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2011, 12:47 PM:

paul, #210: What were those papers supposed to be about? If it was the-story-as-metaphor, then yes, you have to look at the author. If it was analysis of what happens in the story, then you have to look at the characters -- who have indeed been written that way by the author, but that's not the point.

#212 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2011, 11:52 PM:

Unsorted comments:

I stopped trying to solve mysteries, probably, around the time I read an Agatha Christie where she mixed up Carbon Dioxide and Carbon Monoxide.

I think the tragedy of M. Night [google]Shyamalan is that the Sixth Sense was a twist movie, and none of the critics figured it out, and they wrote reviews about how they figured it out, and they watched every movie he made after that for the twist, and judged it on those terms. Including Signs, which is technically a twist movie, because nobody could predict something that stupid. The aliens carried the idiot ball for light-years.

As far as the original post: I sometimes catch the incredibly obscure. I frequently miss the incredibly obvious. I occasionally outwit the author. I'm not a big fan of trying to solve the mystery.

Glenn @131: "One more note on mysteries: I knew a cop who thought mysteries were hilarious, because in 95% of his work, the obvious suspect is the guy who did it." It's nice to provide a foil for your genius detective, but there is no IQ test to become a criminal. Elmore Leonard has some marvelous moments in his books; one that sticks with me is when someone says to a detective, "Nobody would kill someone for [reason x]"- and the detective mentally goes through about six recent killings (possibly his case list). They're all about as masterful as "He made fun of my meatloaf again, so I shot him", and they're all different.

#213 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2011, 12:18 AM:

Josephine Tey has a related comment in The Daughter of Time where the policeman is talking about faces—he says he can recognize which person is the criminal in, say, a lineup, because the criminal is "a moral idiot." Tey then has her protagonist go on to explain that criminals can reason from A to B just fine—'I steal the money, then I have the money'—but can't do B to C—'Someone finds out I have the money, then I get caught.'

It may not work in every case, but one common theme I've seen in stories of crimes is that the criminals NEVER expect to get caught.

Of course, it's not just criminals. I've actually seen many cases where people don't understand that there's consequences to their actions, which is why I'm very careful with my kids. I don't ever want them to assume that actions (good or bad) don't have consequences, because that way lies trouble.

(Nothing too severe, of course—just things like "You throw your books, and they get taken away for a while.")

#214 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2011, 07:03 AM:

Sandy B @ 212... Maybe the aliens in "Signs" were the equivalent of a bunch of drunk teenagers ripping thru town.

#215 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2011, 05:40 PM:

I figured the aliens were looking at Earth as a source of weapon supplies, in vast quantity.

But Signs always struck me as a classic example of a lame plot being used to serve a more interesting theme.

They even made fun of that plot on Stargate SG-1, which is, to my mind, some nerve. Check your own drawers before yelling "Poopypants!" at someone else, Stargate.

#216 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2011, 05:49 PM:

Xopher @ 215... the aliens were looking at Earth as a source of weapon supplies

They couldn't recognize the weapon potential of a baseball bat, though.

#217 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2011, 04:04 AM:

B.Durbin:'(Nothing too severe, of course—just things like "You throw your books, and they get taken away for a while.")'

But Mommmm! The book was so badly plotted! And the twist at the end just didn't make sense! And the characters weren't even two-dimensional! And the pictures were no good at all!

#218 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: February 22, 2011, 11:45 AM:

Xopher @#215: My theory of Signs (aside from the blatant Jvmneq bs Bm ripoff) is that it was some kind of alien extreme sports.

#219 ::: Shannon ::: (view all by) ::: February 22, 2011, 10:10 PM:

I did not look for, or spot, the "twists" of The Others, The Sixth Sense, or The Usual Suspects (despite having talked about the underlying concept of the first on the same day I saw it) and enjoyed them a great deal, then enjoyed them a separate way when I saw them again.

Watching The Usual Suspects for the first time, I knew the ending and was still surprised. The entire movie was so twisty that I convinced myself that I must heard the ending wrong, because there was no way that could work out. And then the ending happened, and of course, I was right originally, and it managed to surprise me to no end.

In terms of "it's the way you get to the ending," Touching the Void was the epitome of this for me. It's a semi-documentary about two mountain climbers, and you know they survive because they are narrating it. But the entire time, you're in immense suspense because the circumstances are so unbelievable that you are wondering how the hell they get out alive.

SKapusniak #64: Well, with "Unbreakable", the "twist" was overdetermined by its tropes, which worked mostly because the movie was partly a homage to those tropes.

I think the only people who thought there was a twist were the ones who had never read a superhero comic book or seen a superhero movie.

Of course, you can never account for everyone. One of my sister-in-law's friends genuinely had no idea what happened with the twist in The Village because she never thought it wasn't in the modern day. She somehow had no idea that it was supposed to seem set in a historical time period. The strange thing is, she's not dumb (she had a scholarship to Columbia for her masters) - just terrible at picking up on things and sorta ditzy.

#220 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2011, 12:34 AM:

One of my sister-in-law's friends genuinely had no idea what happened with the twist in The Village because she never thought it wasn't in the modern day. She somehow had no idea that it was supposed to seem set in a historical time period.

As I said somewhere before, this is the rare twist I picked up on immediately, and it was precisely because the "historical time period" was less convincing to me than, say, Errol Flynn's Robin Hood. I guessed that the filmmakers were trying to fool me but playing fair, but guessing that it was a film about a bunch of Knightriders-grade* recreationists would have been reasonable enough.

*Not a diss on Knightriders itself, which I like very much.

#221 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2011, 12:38 AM:

Um... reading my last comment, it sounds it might be taken as an example of the very sort of thing that sparked this thread in the first place. I didn't mean it like that, honest.

#222 ::: PrivateIron ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2011, 12:57 PM:

I thought about this issue some and that's why this is so late in the thread. I think sometimes, not always or even usually, the "I saw it coming" is a reaction to actual dislike of the execution of the twist. And when people go, ZOMG, cleverest thing ever, in a sort of passive aggressive assertion of their cultural dominance, my response is "Seriously?" Use of Weapons and Usual Suspects are two cases where I thought the twist just highlighted the defects of the work. And people almost always incorporate praise of the twist into their adoration for those works; so it is a natural entry for criticism if you do not concur. Particularly as there is always the implication that you are not "with it," if you do not swoon over their cleverness. On the other hand, I don't think that seeing a twist is per se evidence of cleverness. The Crying Game was written up as twist movie and the twist ended up, I thought, being mostly peripheral to the great drama of that film. Whether it was easier or more difficult to discern the "twist" coming really would not impair my appreciation of the themes or execution of the plot in that movie. I can also see Sixth Sense as being not utterly dependent on the twist to have some emotional impact and story to tell. On the other hand, people beat you over the head with how compelling and well hidden the twists in the first two works are and thus provoke more of a sharp reaction.

#223 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2011, 01:11 PM:

221 Tim W: I saw *that* one coming around post 100.

</joke>, because it may not be clear. Or </smartarse>, I guess.

#224 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2011, 01:43 PM:

Tim Walters @ 220... I rather liked "Knightriders" too. What tipped me off about "The Village" was its very title as it immediately made me think of "The Prisoner".

#225 ::: Lexica ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2011, 01:59 PM:

PrivateIron @ 222 — at risk of passively-aggressively asserting my cultural dominance by saying that I liked it, what "defects of the work" do you see in The Usual Suspects?

(I thought the discussion had moved away from the ad hominem attributions of qualities like passive-aggressiveness and "asserting one's dominance" based on whether somebody likes, doesn't like, gets, or doesn't get a piece of creative work. If it hasn't, I wish it would.)

#226 ::: Jim Henry ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2011, 09:26 PM:

JM @8:

I wonder if for fiction writers there's a link between being able to predict events in others' plots and being able to structure events in their own.

I think it was Connie Willis who said -- in some interview, perhaps -- that learning to write tightly-plotted novels has made it a lot harder for her to be surprised by plot twists in other people's stories.

Welcome to Making Light's comment section. The moderators are Avram Grumer, Jim Macdonald, Teresa & Patrick Nielsen Hayden, and Abi Sutherland. Abi is the moderator most frequently onsite. She's also the kindest. Teresa is the theoretician. Are you feeling lucky?

If you are a spammer, your fate is in the hands of Jim Macdonald, and your foot shall slide in due time.

Comments containing more than seven URLs will be held for approval. If you want to comment on a thread that's been closed, please post to the most recent "Open Thread" discussion.

You can subscribe (via RSS) to this particular comment thread. (If this option is baffling, here's a quick introduction.)

Post a comment.
(Real e-mail addresses and URLs only, please.)

HTML Tags:
<strong>Strong</strong> = Strong
<em>Emphasized</em> = Emphasized
<a href="http://www.url.com">Linked text</a> = Linked text

Spelling reference:
Tolkien. Minuscule. Gandhi. Millennium. Delany. Embarrassment. Publishers Weekly. Occurrence. Asimov. Weird. Connoisseur. Accommodate. Hierarchy. Deity. Etiquette. Pharaoh. Teresa. Its. Macdonald. Nielsen Hayden. It's. Fluorosphere. Barack. More here.















(You must preview before posting.)

Dire legal notice
Making Light copyright 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 by Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden. All rights reserved.