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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Review: How to Succeed in Hollywood without really Acting: Practical inspirational insider secrets to achieving your potential

How to Succeed in Hollywood without really Acting
Inspirational Insider Secrets to Achieving your Potential

Peter Skagen
Poubelle Publishing

When I grabbed this book, it was titled "Story and Craft" and promised to talk about writing as well as acting. The new title is catchier if potentially more controversial, no doubt. But it lives up to most of its promises. It promises "insider secrets" that are both inspirational and practical. It delivers with the kind of advice I prefer: no-nonsense, straight talk.

One example was to be who you are, who you look like. It would seem terrible to be typecast, but Skagen celebrates it. That's your look, what you're good at. Just develop it. My instinct would mirror the actor who says, "I'm an actor. I should be able to do any role." He suggests to revel in the roles that look right. It got me to pondering the writer's role, the typecasting that goes on when a writer writes one kind of material yet finds roadblocks when he tries to write another. Maybe we don't have to be trapped in one type of writing yet celebrate what people love about our work. I'm thinking of, say, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle trying to get out of writing about Sherlock Holmes, for instance.

What I wanted to see in this volume was writing from an actor's perspective. While his thoughts on scriptwriting shed no new light, his analysis of a brief segment of a script should enlighten writers. Actors have to gather character emotions, subtext, and background even from an excerpt. An actor (or reader) should ferret out motives, making it easier for actors to memorize lines. How many writers can claim that ability? It was a fascinating process, worth studying in depth.

Most of the advice, though, is for the actor. Once he laid out the reasoning, it seemed common sense. One would do well to apply his advice on jobs and in interviews. The acting world has developed its own culture with its own customs that outsiders wanting to take part in will have to learn. Should you shake hands with people you meet? How do you react to your competitors? How do you react if the person you're reading with shows no emotion at all? Skagen sketches out specific scenarios that can throw off your acting game and how to avoid them.

Although it is a book bent on guiding the actor through auditions and behavior on the set, writers will have much to glean from here. If you're looking to write about actors and/or Hollywood, one could do worse than to start here, with good and bad examples of actor types. Actors, though, will want to study this book, reading and rereading.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

"The Vaporization Enthalpy of a Peculiar Pakistani Family" by Usman T. Malik

First appeared in Qualia Nous. I believe it will be reprinted by Rich Horton. Online.
Tara Khan loses her brother, Sohail, to revenge himself on those who took his love.  Meanwhile, Tara loses the last of her family, her mother, so that she is seen as a seductress and troublemaker to the villagers. She leaves to educate herself. When terrorists attack the City, she goes off to find the Monster: Annunaki.

The story's successes are its title, metaphors, turns of phrases, prose, and a beautiful structure, mirroring a family's dissolution to both the states of matter and the state of the nation. Some phrases, though, need work: Mostly abstractions trying to be concrete and metaphors that don't quite work:

"She shuddered at the thought," 
"leprous grins" 
"Kites and vultures unzipped the darkness above in circles" 
"It impaled her with its familiarity and a dreadful suspicion grew in her that the beast was rage and wore a face she knew well."
Primarily, though, Tara outside much of the action, outside the heart of the story. If we don't experience critical events, it's harder to feel what we're meant to feel at the tale's climax.

No doubt these habits will disappear as Malik grows as a writer.  We do see much skill in rendering a culture uncommon to the genre and a loving care for his prose and characters. One looks forward to Malik's bright future as a writer.

A discussion of his earlier story, "Resurrection Points", can be found here. Both stories admirably treat the problematic issue of violence within a culture.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

"Poor Little Warrior!" by Brian W. Aldiss

First appeared in Anthony Boucher’s F&SF. Reprinted a dozen and a half times, including a few major anthologies, by Anthony Boucher, Ronald R. Wickers, Brian W. Aldiss, Robert Silverberg, Damon Knight, Martin H. Greenberg, Joseph D. Olander & Patricia S. Warrick, Edward L. Ferman, Robert Silverberg, David Jablonski, Charles G. Waugh, Jenny-Lynn Waugh, Anne Devereaux Jordan, Isaac Asimov, Jack M. Dann, Gardner R. Dozois, and Peter Haining.

Claude leaps back from the hum-drum future of 2181 AD to the Jurassic to hunt down a dinosaur. Claude goes for size rather than sport. It's not as exciting as he'd hoped... that is, until he kills Brontosaur and he gets everything he'd hoped for, just not in the way he'd hoped for it.

This is one several exclamation-point stories of Aldiss's. They seem over-the-top until you read them and understand the tone they're intended to be read.

There's an edgy experimentation going on, too--a little informal scatology and sexual reproduction. The switch between third and second person point of view. This may be meant to swing a finger on its readers (human, presumably). Weak creatures pretending to be strong with their guns: Prey upon nature, upset its balance at your own risk.

If one changes the ecology of a system, the system would need to adjust itself. Would the parasites leap off immediately? Maybe if there's a renewal process the ends upon death. Would the parasites leap on Claude? Maybe. Ticks, for instance, will go for any skin, but would parasites trade a thick for a thin one? It would depend on what they're thirsting for.

The prose here is richer than earlier efforts, the imagery more vivid, the irony thick as La Brea Pits' tar, but it isn't quite as thought provoking, perhaps inversely related to the images that impress. The ironic set-up executed at the finale, however, is well done.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

"The Failed Men" or "Ahead" by Brian W. Aldiss

First appeared in John Carnell's Science Fantasy. Reprinted by Damien Broderick.
Recruited from the twenty-fifth century by time-machine inventors further down the timeline, the protagonist is to help the last of humanity pick itself up and keep going. Instead, they are burying themselves, seemingly to stop existing, although what is happening and why remains a question he cannot comprehend.

Time stories often deal with paradoxes, either to revel in them or say they cannot exist. This falls into the latter camp. 

But it's less a story about time than generations, layering four generations of humanity, observing one another, growing impatient with each other:
  1. Present-day readers, reading and interpreting
  2. Completely flummoxed 25th-century aid workers--closest in time to us and our understanding
  3. Later time-machine inventors--still puzzled if less so
  4. The dregs of humanity who seem to have knowledge of doom that we cannot understand.
Of course, if a 25th-century man cannot comprehend, how much less you and I?

But it is not a tale of nonsense. Rather, it asks how evolutionary language barriers impede comprehension the other, anticipating the generational conflict of the next decade: the 1960s. It assumes a progress of intellectual advance from one to the other, so that the less knowledgeable ancestors are paradoxically called "the Children." 

The future labels "strubeck" as the cause of failure and, later, we learn that the past generation are strubeck, so the seeds of future failure are sown in the past, which likely bears much truth--not to say that one does not have responsibility for one's self. The effects of the past ripple into the future.

Now that Aldiss is on the other end of the generations, it'd interesting to hear what he thought of the tale. It's not a classic, but definitely thought provoking.

Monday, February 9, 2015

"Outside" by Brian Aldiss

First appeared in John Carnell's New Worlds. Reprinted by Edmund Crispin, G. D. Doherty, V. S. Muravyev, and Ellen Datlow.

Four men and two women live in a habitat which feeds them, allows them to play piano, and live day-to-day amid various domestic duties and pastimes. Harley, after years of doing the same things, feels an unease that he suspects his companions may not share. One night, when the command to sleep presses his brain, he decides to stay awake.

Harley discovers a whole world outside his habitat. An inexplicable sad rage comes over him at this injustice as he encounters a man in a suit and several uniformed men. The suited man explains that this war with the Nititians required them to isolate the Nititian spies from prying state secrets out of agents. Instead, the Nititians... play card games and the piano and clean the habitat? This leads to Earthlings learning Nititian secrets to defeat the menace.

In a proper Philip K. Dick fashion, we learn our protagonist is one of the enemy, soon to be eliminated. Perhaps this POV might trouble some readers, but any future POV, even if manipulated, cannot reach back into the past for us to read it. SF challenges standard narrative notions in a way that few question.

The story secretly allies us with our enemy in order to feel for a guy who lives pretty much as we do. We work, socialize, eat and sleep. Suddenly, we learn more or too much about our reality and we must die. How fair is that? Are we/Harley truly spies without our knowledge? or victims of this Cold War? Perhaps an evil switch is tucked deep inside us. Or else we are just victims steam-rolled by our society.

The reference to Calvin may refer to John Calvin, a theologian who believed people were pre-destined to be believers or not. Therefore, Harley's anger is that of an unbeliever who has not realized evil against others, find himself pre-destined for death in this "afterlife."

The writing style here is reminiscent of D.H. Lawrence's. Character emotions are labeled, but not in any way that might detract from the story. Even early in his career, the characterization is quickly painted in one-sentence strokes:
"Calvin, the handsome, broad man who looked as if he could command a dozen talents and never actually used one." 
As thought-provoking a tale it is, it stretches credulity that you can learn much about an enemy watching it play cards and clean house. For four years. Maybe. Still worth reading.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Free, Reduced and New Ebook Lunches

Gateway Drug 
by Scott Nicholson 

Basic Rotational Dynamics 
(Stick Figure Physics Tutorials) 
by Sarah Allen 

Lore of Rainbow 
by Vera Nazarian 

This Old Rock 
by G. David Nordley 

The Truth About Lies and the People Who Tell Them 
by R. Johnson 

Why We Read Fiction: 
Theory of Mind and the Novel 
(Theory and Interpretation of Narrative) 
by Lisa Zunshine 

After: The Shock 
(AFTER post-apocalyptic series, Book 1) 
by Scott Nicholson 

Mysterious Science Fiction: 
A WMG Duet 
by Kristine Kathryn Rusch 

Hot in December 
by Joe Lansdale 

The Rift 
by Walter Jon Williams 

Fish Tails: A Novel 
(Plague of Angels series Book 3) 
by Sheri S. Tepper 

Crooked Little Vein 
by Warren Ellis 

Incendiary Girls: Stories 
by Kodi Scheer 

A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent 
by Marie Brennan 

(The Afterlife Series Book 6) 
by Mur Lafferty 

Pawn of the Planewalker 
(Saga of the God-Touched Mage Book 5) 
by Ron Collins 

Changing of the Guard 
(Saga of the God-Touched Mage Book 6) 
by Ron Collins 

Five Stories Set in Ancient Worlds 
by Nina Kiriki Hoffman 

Book Two of the Dragon Apocalypse 
by James Maxey 

The Gentling Box 
by Lisa Mannetti 

spark: a creative anthology
$2.99 to $4.55

Saint Rebor 
by Adam Roberts 

Dr. Dimension 
(Dr. Dimension Series Book 1) 
by John DeChancie and David Bischoff 

Master of Spacetime (The Dr. Dimension Series Book 2) by John DeChancie and David Bischoff $3.99 

The Observers 
(CV Book 2) 
by Damon Knight 

After: Red Scare 
(AFTER post-apocalyptic series, Book 5) 
by Scott Nicholson 

The Spirit Gate 
by Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff 

The Rapture Effect 
by Jeffrey A. Carver 

Working Stiff: 
The Cases of Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I. 
by Kevin J Anderson 

Skin Folk: Stories 
by Nalo Hopkinson 

The Affirmation 
(Valancourt 20th Century Classics) 
by Christopher Priest 

The Lost Level 
by Brian Keene 

The Infinity Box: 
A Collection of Speculative Fiction 
by Kate Wilhelm 

Kate Wilhelm in Orbit, 
Volume One 
by Kate Wilhelm 

Robert Heinlein's Expanded Universe: 
Volume One 
by Robert A. Heinlein 

...And The Angel With Television Eyes 
by John Shirley 

Cobra Outlaw 
(Cobra Rebellion Saga Book 2) 
by Timothy Zahn 

Saint Odd: 
An Odd Thomas Novel 
by Dean Koontz  

Twenty Trillion Leagues Under the Sea 
by Adam Roberts 

Magic Ex Libris: Book Three 
by Jim C. Hines 

Castaway Planet 
(Boundary Series Book 4) 
by Eric Flint and Ryk E. Spoor 

The Top of the Volcano 
by Harlan Ellison 

The Whispering Swarm: 
Book One of The Sanctuary of the White Friars 
by Michael Moorcock 

The Just City 
by Jo Walton 

Science Fact and Science Fiction: 
An Encyclopedia 
by Brian Stableford 

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Tim Burton's Batman: Revisited

The last I watched Tim Burton's Batman, I must have been a teenager, which I had loved. Why had I loved it, and does it stand up?

  • Milieu

It felt like no other superhero movie I'd seen previously. The milieu was a mix of high and low sets, of gritty alleys and industrial plants making various toxins, juxtaposed against upper-class spacious halls. But they are sets, almost theatrical albeit detailed, making it both real and unreal. For example, consider a two-story, one-room museum, which doubles as a restaurant (not to mention huge industrial vents and rivets). This may be an homage to Adam West era of Batman.

The sets and costumes are 30s--the 30s fonts splashed across buildings and news reports (Axis Chemicals, perhaps a reference to WWII Axis countries)--mixed with then contemporary 80s but with detailed gritty-comic-book style. Viewers are displaced, thrown for a loop, uneasy--or at least transported to a land that never was.

  • Characters and theme

Batman as a character is more mysterious, less showy than other screen representations. Economical, he only throws a punch when required. He appears, disappears, and appears as needed. His appearances surprise, thrill, and even frighten a little as he stalks unsuspecting prey. His personality and taste, while high, are eclectic and reclusive yet, again, with a not quite real, comic-book flair.

The Joker begins as a gangster of ambition whose attempted murder, pushes him over the edge. He survives a fall into a toxic vat and a botched surgery leaving with a grin we are not immediately privy to. Hidden in the dark. Even his discolored skin is a game Tim Burton plays with us. When his flesh takes on old hue, he wipes his brow to reveal the stark, clown-white beneath. With nothing to lose, the Joker takes over the town's mob industry. His modus operandi is gruesome mixed with Danny Elfman's music and the Joker's light-hearted bullets fired or electrocutions. There's nothing funny about the way he smears his former boss's blood across the newspaper disgusted with news of Batman. His reactions to Batman include a flying boxing glove and party favors, tempered with memorable dialogue.

Due to her importance, Vicky Vale should have had a little more background than photographer and an interest in bats. For that matter, Batman and Joker weigh heavily in the character department, but what they do have meshes quite well. Both birthed the other's superhero-ness.

  • Cinematographic technology, action, and imagery:

The film's flaws are due in part to its age: Technological CGI would have amped up aspects of the film, but the director would not have used subtler means to capture this version of Batman. On occasion, they do resort to animated shadows.

The action sequences were unremarkable, except for its curious mix of the grotesque and comic. although the Joker's demise--his canned mechanical laughter sticks to the roof of your brain like peanut butter.

  • Dialogue:

"This town needs an enema."

"Ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight? I always ask that of all my prey." 
Bruce Wayne: Let me tell you about this guy I know, Jack. Mean kid. Bad seed. Hurt people. 
Joker: I like him already.