Saturday, August 25, 2012

Seek the Original: Contact

94% of everything Hollywood does is adapted from a book, or short story, or comic. Never settle for an adaptation. Seek the original!

I watched the entire series of Cosmos, by Carl "billions and billions" Sagan over the last couple of months. The original science documentary. Amazing how every documentary after it pretty much just covers the same material Sagan talked about, just with more animation and less history. Sagan talking for 13 hours, and much of it is still accurate today. Basically college lectures on history, science, cosmology, astronomy and theory. I enjoyed the series.

So naturally I wanted to check out


Contact
by Carl Sagan


Ellie Arroway grows up into a scientist. From the very beginning she doesn't get religion. In fact, early in the book, she is quick to point out various inconsistencies in the Bible, and is subsequently told to shut up. She doesn't go back to Bible Study. Instead she focuses on her education and wants to become a scientist. She does, specializing in radio astronomy. While working at SETI, she and her team discover a transmission from an alien race.

It's as if Carl Sagan wrote a nonfiction book about a fictional person's life and the receipt of a transmission from an alien culture. Imagine a Cosmos episode wherein he explains the precise sequence of events for an hour with no visual aids apart from close-ups of diagrams and his disarming countenance. Once in a while he adds a human detail, an insight of perception, but that's as human as the people get. Parts one and two read like this. Lots of explanation, but no visual cues, no descriptions of anything happening. It doesn't flow like a story, but a series of long explanations. A nonfiction book about a fictional event. Makes Contact very tricky to read.

Word gets out that there's a message from aliens, and everyone else starts getting involved. Everybody has different agendas. The scientists want to explore this discovery without restriction because of the implications it has on mankind. The religious communities denounce this as the work of the Devil, or even a message from God, of which unbelievers like scientists should not have the right to be keepers. Politicians see this as a potential threat to security, and want to suppress it so the USSR can't exploit its contents against the United States. The Soviets have similar qualms against the USA. Everybody is suspicious of one another, but eventually they cooperate on recording and analyzing the Message.

The Message from the star Vega turns out to be instructions to build a Machine. Nobody is sure what the Machine will do, but it's deduced to take a group of five people somewhere. Perhaps to meet the messengers. But first, they have to figure out who is going to build the Machine.

Nations disagree on who should share the cost, nations jostle each other for position, making sure no one nation has more information than the other which can be used as leverage against the United States, or the Soviet Union, or Japan, or anyone else.

In the end, the Japanese Machine is the only one fit to work, after sabotage on the US side and construction failure on the Soviet side. (Those Soviets. Just can't build anything without... problems.) Five crewmembers, all scientists, including Ellie, are sent on a voyage to the stars. They meet the messengers. Or at least their descendants.

Part three is their voyage through the Machine to the center of the galaxy. They meet the aliens...kinda. Ellie meets a vision of her deceased father, standing in for the alien. The aliens answer a few questions, and then send the team back with no evidence. Part three is the best because the voyage through the galaxy is the most visual part of the trip, but even then it's not very vivid or engaging. The end leaves me bewildered and lost. It seemed they found something profound, got some answers, more questions, and then what?

Well, the aliens imply that there are violent species all over the universe, and their destiny is always self-destruction. Species with short-term perspectives do not live long, and the aliens never interfere. But the ones with promise avoid that fate. Those who can think to the future and act for the sake of the future instead of their own self-interests will survive to join something bigger. They leave the crewmembers with a sense that it is important to look for "God" in the science, and this will unify the world before we destroy ourselves.

Sagan was apparently very worried about that, and of course he would be, living his entire life through the Cold War, the Earth always seemingly on the brink of nuclear annihilation. He mentioned it extensively in Cosmos, and now here it is again. International cooperation and commitment to science and learning is vital to the survival of the species. The quest for knowledge should be a goal unto itself, not just for commercial purposes--it should be the force that unites the human race, not the arms race and trying to destroy each other.

It's a good message to convey and it's a good story to tell, but Contact isn't much of a story and I didn't care for the way it was told.

The book is very much a Cold War story of the value of cooperation over petty bickering. There's a lot of petty bickering in this book, but it's explained in scientific terms and doesn't flow in the sense of a story. Nothing does. There's nothing visual anywhere, and the characters aren't really there so much as explained to be there.

I enjoyed the religion verses science debates though. Ellie's way of debunking the Bible at a relatively young age is intriguing, and her debate with charismatic preacher Palmer Joss is thought-provoking. And unlike certain other books, there is actual debate. The creationists can argue their point. It's balanced, and it is a realistic discussion the two sides may actually have.

It is also realistic to portray that many people on the outside, who have no knowledge of the science and what's really going on, will look at the Message from the stars and find various ways to misinterpret it.

But this debate is not central to the story. The politics of international bickering are not central to the story either. Ellie's personal development is not central to the story.

Imagine a half dozen moons sitting idly in empty space. Each of these factual discussions is like one of those moons, just sitting there, not moving, you can see they're there, and they stand very well on their own, but that's all they do.

We may visit the center of the galaxy in the story, but the story itself doesn't have a center point. Nothing that sits in the middle of that system of moons and pulls them into exciting orbits. There's a lot of explanation, lots of talking about history and science and religion, but it's all just there, unconnected.

And here's an author's worst nightmare: the main story takes place in the 1980's and continues just past the year 2000. In that time, the Soviet Union still exists. It's not a good sign when your futuristic book is outdated just five years after it's published.

It's not a bad book, definitely not, but it's clear Sagan wasn't used to fiction. The characters are uncharacterized, the scenery is invisible much of the time, there is no action, nothing actually happens, but everything sure is explained to have happened. For all of these explanations, the book never really makes a point.


Compare that to...



Contact (1997)
starring Jodie Foster and Matthew McConaughey


As with many adaptations, the story is stripped to the bare bones and then retold. But in this case, it's a huge improvement.

In his book, Carl Sagan took the bare bones of a story, hung scientific explanation on them and published it as fiction.

In the movie, the filmmakers took the bare bones of Sagan's story and hung human flesh on them. They took everything that was insufficient about the book and corrected it, focusing the story around a central point.

Sagan's book didn't focus on something as a central idea, but the movie does, and now the entire story has something to orbit. The science and action and religious debate now support a single idea, which is just what the story needed.

Ellie's atheism (agnosticism?) is now deeply rooted in her past. The death of her father is a much stronger element of her personality, and it's because of her father's death she was turned away from faith.

In the book David Drumlin is rather passively introduced as the doubting Thomas wanting to shut down SETI for financial reasons. In the movie, he's the two-faced, passive-aggressive jerk who at first wants to shut down SETI, and then nudges in to take credit for the discovery of the Message.

Michael Kitz remains the asshole politician, but much stronger than in the book.

Finally, the religion verses science debate is now the singularity around which the entire story orbits!

Just about everything is different from the book. It would have to be. Sagan's novel is mainly about the importance of international cooperation during the Cold War. (In other words, please don't destroy yourselves!) Well the Cold War is over. Fears over nuclear war aren't very relevant anymore. But the religion v/s science debate is still universal.

The movie saves the major plot points from the book and essentially builds up a new story around them: Ellie Arroway is a science girl, while working at SETI she hears a message from an alien species, the message turns out to be instructions to construct a giant machine to travel and meet the messengers.

But now instead of nations bickering with one another, the movie focuses on people who don't understand what's going on completely misinterpreting the facts.

When word of the Message from the stars gets around, people find ways to misunderstand it, and spread that misunderstanding to others in order to make themselves look more important. For example, when the aliens send back the first TV transmission they receive from us, and it's the Olympic broadcast from 1936 featuring Adolf Hitler at the opening ceremonies, the first thing the politicians think is the aliens must be hostile, genocidal maniacs since they sent that back to us.

They don't understand that the TV broadcast was the first transmission powerful enough to leave the Earth's atmosphere and travel across the stars, so it would have been the first signal the aliens received. There's no evidence they understood who that man was, or what he would later do; they just sent the broadcast back to let us know they received our transmission.

People twist the Message around. They accuse scientists of attacking faith. Bash scientists for talking to God when it should be the people of faith who have that privilege. It's completely ridiculous, but at the same time it rings true. It's easy to imagine commentators on CNN saying ridiculous stuff like this. We know the Message has nothing to do with faith, but the ignorant find ways to misinterpret it.

This happens all throughout the movie, and it makes the film frustratingly realistic. It took me years to figure out why Contact is so frustrating, but I think I have. It’s because we see what’s really going on. We know what this really means. We know the facts. But ignorant people stick their noses where they don't belong. We know what the correct interpretation of the evidence is. Everyone else doesn't. They get it all wrong, and yet they're allowed to speak in public and influence people. It's irritating, but oh God it's exactly what would happen in reality.

The character of David Drumlin is especially hatable because he's a total phony. Ellie is the honest person, she does all the work, but this man is taking the credit. He pretends to be whatever people want in order to get ahead in the world, while Ellie does all work and is honest about who she is, and is constantly pushed aside. Drumlin represents everything that is wrong with humanity, and yet he is chosen to represent humanity! This is maddening because it's exactly what would happen!

In spite of everything he does to Ellie, she doesn't want to see him dead. Nothing could be more human than that. She tries to save his life when the terrorist blows up the Machine on launch day. Just like in the book, now that he's out of the way, she is chosen for the mission.

Instead of a five-person team, it's just one person, Ellie herself. Her trip through the wormhole is spectacular. The relationship with her father is better established in the movie, so meeting a vision of her father at the center of the galaxy means far more.

The alien's conversation with Ellie now carries much more weight for her personally, and for the entire human race. In the book, the moral is Cold War cooperation. ("Please don't destroy yourselves!") In the movie, the moral now reinforces the central theme: there is no proof of God, the aliens don't have all the answers, but there is proof of other alien civilizations, and that is in essence the same thing. Being part of something bigger than oneself--knowing there is more to life than this is the most hopeful feeling in the universe.

Ellie's atheism comes to the foreground of her character because she has a spiritual experience she can't prove or explain rationally. Unlike in the book, it really does humble and change her.

The movie is better than the book. It tells a much stronger story, gives human breath to the characters, makes the story relevant both to them on a personal level as well as on the level of humanity itself. If only the book had told this story! It is much more timeless and profound than the Cold War cooperation warning.

I do wish there had been more on science verses faith, but the filmmakers probably didn't want to offend anybody with such open discussion. What little debate there is ties in with the characters' personal histories, which is a clever way of disguising it. The audience understands that Ellie had a personal tragedy that turned her away from faith, so her arguments are from that point of view, not attacking religion itself. The tradeoff was worth it. The movie makes the story into something that really is a personal voyage.

Read the book if you want more overt debate, but in terms of story, you won't miss much by skipping the book. Give credit to Carl Sagan for coming up with the story in the first place though.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Seek the Original: The Wizard of Oz

88% of everything Hollywood does is adapted from a book, or short story, or comic. Never settle for an adaptation. Seek the original!

The internet can be very depressing because when I have a great idea, I search it and discover about 100 people have already done my idea better than I could have. The internet just drives home how unoriginal we are. One reason I abandoned my youtube account. At least without the net there was no way to know! But oh well. I'm gonna keep seeking the original for myself, and if anybody else wants to know what it's like for me, that's even better.

Here's one I've been looking to do for a very long time because I am probably the last person in the country not to have seen the movie. Yup, somehow I never saw the 1939 film with Judy Garland, so it was a perfect opportunity to check out the public domain children's book.


The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
by L. Frank Baum


A magical journey through Wonderland--er, I mean the land of Oz. Oz is a country ruled by witches and wizards. Four witches rule the four compass points of the land. The good witches are in the north and the south. The wicked witches are to the east and the west. The Wizard rules Emerald City in the center of Oz.

Dorothy's house is lifted up by a tornado and dropped down onto Oz, killing the Wicked Witch of the East. The Munchkins, who live in the eastern land of Oz, greet Dorothy with open arms, for the witch kept them oppressed and in slavery. Dorothy wants to get back to Kansas, and is told the Wizard can help her. She takes the silver shoes the wicked witch was wearing, and she and her dog Toto walk west towards the great city.

On the way she encounters a scarecrow who wants intelligence, a woodsman made of tin who wants a heart, and a lion who wants courage. Together they brave the dangers of the country of Oz and reach Emerald City.

It's very much a children's book of the era. It's not descriptive, action is not dwelt upon, but simply told, and the characters speak in unnaturally formal dialogue. Did people really talk like this in the early 1900's or is it just how storybook characters were expected to sound?

I have only one real problem with everything up until this point: none of the characters lack their respective traits! The scarecrow is supposed to be stupid, and yet he himself comes up with the most ideas for how to get out of danger. The Lion lacks courage, and yet he is the one brave enough to try jumping over a great chasm. The Tin Woodman is supposed to lack the ability to love, and yet he cries after stepping on a bug.

I think I get it... everyone sought what they lacked, when in reality they possessed courage, intelligence and compassion the whole time. If this is so, and not simply bad writing, it was so obvious I nearly missed it...

The origin story for the Tin Woodman is grotesque. The Wicked Witch of the East enchanted his ax to chop off his limbs one at a time, but this doesn't phase him, as he simply goes to the local tinsmith to have new limbs made to replace them. For kids!

They must cross chasms, rivers, a dark forest full of dangers, and a field of deadly flowers. It takes many days, but they reach Emerald City.

They meet the Wizard, and he wants them to kill the Wicked Witch of the West before he'll grant their wishes. So the group sets out for the West land of Oz. The Witch throws everything she has at them (bees, crows, wolves), but each of their unique talents helps them survive the attacks. Finally she calls the winged monkeys on them! Dorothy is captured, and her friends are nearly dead. Surprisingly, Dorothy kills the Witch quite quickly, she and the natives of the West find her friends and the winged monkeys fly them back to the Wizard.

But it turns out the Wizard is just a big fraud. He gives the scarecrow, the Tin Woodman and the Lion their wishes, but it's obvious to the reader these are placebos. He tries to take Dorothy home, but the hot air balloon he builds takes off without her. So now Dorothy has to go to the Witch of the South to find out if she knows how to get back to Kansas.

I like this last leg of their journey the best because of the land of china. No, not China. This is a land where the animals, the buildings and the landscape itself are all made of porcelain! It's funny, and it reminds me of something that would be in Gulliver's Travels.

She meets Glinda, the Good Witch of the South, and in the end, much like the other members of the group, Dorothy always had the means to go home. She clicks her heels together and returns to Kansas. In her absence, her uncle has built them a new house.

I do wish for more details instead of just telling the reader this happened and then that happened, but it was how stories were written at the time. I had not seen the movie before reading this, so it was a fun little adventure.


Compare that to...


The Wizard of Oz (1939)
starring Judy Garland


Talk about hype. Do a search for best movies of all time, odds are The Wizard of Oz will come in either first or second place (with Citizen Kane and Gone With the Wind as its only potential equals). I'm surprised I never saw the whole thing until now.

Well of course it was the 30's so everything becomes a musical and every actor is expected to sing and dance. It's just how movies were made back then. The acting is very "theatrical," which is a nice way of saying it's overdone. Nobody reacts to anything like a person would if he or she were actually there. They act like they're acting. I recognize it was meant for kids and this is also how movies were made back then, but it's still very artificial and distracting. The sets are gorgeous and colorful, the makeup and costumes are elaborate and these are spectacular special effects for the time. It looks like a big budget blockbuster. The movie was a real triumph of filmmaking for its time, and thanks to the numerous restorations MGM has done over the decades, it still looks amazing today.

The entire first act has nothing to do with the book though. Dorothy is in trouble because Toto chased the neighbor's cat, and the evil witch of a neighbor wants to take Toto away. Yeah, that ferocious terrier is just a menace to society and needs to be destroyed. So to save her dog from being taken away, she runs away from home. This lasts all of five minutes and then she decides to go home again, worrying how she must have upset her adopted parents.

We have to go through all that to get to the first pages of the book. Ah, the tornado. Outstanding special effects for the 30's! No computer animation here--somebody had to make that tornado and make it look like it was tearing up the land behind the house, larger than life! It works. I know it's a special effect, but I still believe it.

Finally we land in Oz, and pow! TECHNICOLOR! It was quite a shock to go from sepiavision to glorious Technicolor, even for me! I can't imagine what it was like for theatergoers in the 30's.

The movie exchanges story for song and dance. Most of the music numbers are sequester, meaning they help to tell the story instead of interrupting it. Though I was very eager for the Munchkin's number to be over and the story to move on. Meeting the scarecrow, his backstory is sung. Same for the tin man and the lion. It's not nearly as detailed as what the book gives us, but it's enough to know what each character wants.

The tin man's disturbing backstory is omitted. We don't know why he is the way he is. I wanted to hear a song about that!

The scarecrow and the tin man don't lack their character traits, just like in the book. The tin man still seems to have feelings and the scarecrow comes up with ideas, but at least the lion lacks courage.

They don't encounter a lot of danger in Oz. In the book, the land itself is dangerous in places, there are monsters they have to face, chasms and rivers they must cross to reach Emerald City. In the movie, the Witch of the West is stalking them the whole way, and she's the cause of the danger. Well, really just one obstacle, the field of deadly poppies.

The scene is very weak compared to the book. It's not explained exactly why the flowers make them sleep. Something the Witch of the West does, maybe? How do they get out of it? Do the scarecrow and the tin man carry Dorothy out of the field and make friends with the field mice and employ them to build a cart to carry the lion out of the poppies where the toxic fragrance can't affect him? No. Of course not. That would've been too complicated to pull off on screen, even with the budget this movie had. Instead, the good witch makes it snow, and somehow that... neutralizes the flowers... cancels out the witch's evil magic... something?

The only other threat the witch seems to dish out is the flying monkeys. They're a bit of a mystery in the movie. In the book, their leader speaks to Dorothy and tells her the story of who they are and how they came to be under the witch's command. The filmmakers let the image of monkeys with wings stand alone without explanation, and it works well enough for the film. Letting them talk would have looked ridiculous!

The rest of the movie follows the book fairly closely, reaching the witch, killing her, the Wizard turns out to be a fraud and Dorothy misses her chance to go back to Kansas in the Wizard's balloon. But the movie leaves off the final leg of the journey, traveling to the south to talk to the Good Witch to see if she knows how Dorothy can go home. Instead the Good Witch of the North comes to Dorothy right then and tells her how to return home. All she has to do is click her heels.

By the way, it was a good design decision to change the silver shoes in the book into ruby shoes for the film. They look way better on camera than plain ol' silver would have.

So Dorothy clicks her heels and wakes up in bed. It turns out the whole thing was a dream. A dream... The movie goes out of its way to dismiss everything as the dream of a little girl coming to terms with how glad she is to be home after running away because their neighbor wanted to take her dog.

It's such an anticlimax to turn it into a dream. In the book, Oz not a dream. The tornado really does hit the house, lift it off and drop it smack dab on the Wicked Witch of the East. In the movie, the house is never even hit. Dorothy dreamed the whole thing up. It's like if it turned out Gulliver only dreamed up the fantastic countries he visited--totally ruins the whole setup and everything he was trying to say.

The story was strong enough in the book with a journey through the bizarre country of Oz. The movie adds this confusing, weak setup for the people in Dorothy's real life to be characters in the dream of Oz, loosely inspired by her one-act drama to keep the neighbor from stealing her dog. Why make a simple story more complicated when there was nothing wrong with how the book did it?

Well if Wikipedia is to be believed, someone in the studio assumed audiences were too sophisticated to buy the fantasy, so it was changed into a dream. Too sophisticated, or too stupid? I wouldn't doubt either possibility. After all, Hollywood producers are good at gauging what audiences are smart enough to handle. They sure nailed it with Star Trek!

In the movie, Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, knew the whole time that Dorothy could use the ruby shoes to go home at any time, but she didn't tell her because she knew Dorothy wouldn't have believed her, and she needed to go through all of Oz first to learn an important lesson.

What did Dorothy learn? Some sort of lesson that now she realizes that she can dream of a place she'd rather be and where everything is better, but everything she needs to be happy is right at home? Where did that come from? How did going through Oz and killing the Witch of West teach her that? I really don't get what Dorothy was supposed to have learned. It's supposed to tie into what happened in the first act, but the connection is barely there. If this is a dream, I'd think her subconscious is trying to tell her the best way to keep her dog safe is to kill her neighbor!

It's so much weaker than the book, which seems to be going for the theme of "we believe we lack what we already possess." Why not have her learn the same lesson, that she's always had the power to go home? Much like the scarecrow has always had intelligence, the Tin Woodman has always had a heart, and the Lion has always been courageous. They had been looking for an outside solution to their personal deficiencies, but the answer has always been with them. The subtext is barely there in the book, but at least I caught it! Why didn't the movie do this, too?

Well, story wasn't the point back then. Technicolor musicals were all about being colorful spectacles for pure entertainment, and The Wizard of Oz is definitely that. I'm glad I watched it because it is a cultural experience and everyone should see it at least once.

I'm done with it now. With the lone exception of the scarecrow's song, I didn't like the song and dance sequences. They did a poor job telling the story. I prefer the book creating Oz as a real country with a rich history and magical objects over the movie's excuse for a dream. I liked the beautiful sets and the wonderful 1930's special effects, but the acting was so artificial it dulled the joy. I enjoyed the story the book told more than the spectacle the movie presented.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Versatile Blogger Award

thanks, Dale, for nominating me for the Versatile Blogger Award


Rules:

Thank the blogger who nominated you
Add the Versatile Blogger award picture to your post
Share seven random facts about yourself
Nominate 15 fellow bloggers
Let the nominees know that they’ve been nominated


I'm now obliged to share seven random facts about me.

  1. I'm a health nut.
  2. I've gotten more pleasure from video games than sex so far.
  3. I have no pictures hanging on my walls.
  4. I dislike owning things.
  5. I'm a MST3K fan.
  6. I'm proud to have grown up before the internet.
  7. I'm a game music junkie.

Next I'm supposed to nominate fifteen other bloggers for the award, but I don't want to spam everybody I know with this. Thanks though!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Top Ten Books that Changed My Life

I seem to post about games a lot, and yet this is an author's blog... I guess that means I should write about books from time to time, so here's my

Top Ten Books that Changed My Life



10

When We Were Real
by William Barton


Not every book that changed my life has been a good one. This book scared me away from writing about sex, or even mentioning it in my stories, for years! There's so much tasteless sex in this book it convinced me to avoid the topic at all costs. It took me a long time to get over this fear. Many more books to convince me that it is possible to handle it in a tasteful way.

...then I wrote Felix and the Sacred Thor...

...which still has no sex..

*cough*


9

Rendezvous with RAMA
by Arthur C. Clarke



One of the first books I ever read that left me breathless with wonder. Clarke has this way of describing the environment and technology that makes them seem more real than the people who inhabit his books. So real I was there, and the images stuck with me for years. Rendezvous with RAMA in particular is his most vivid, and it certainly affected how I approach description. I became obsessed with building my environments to be this real as well, and Clarke showed me how it was done.


8

Anonymous Rex
by Eric Garcia



Up until I read this book, most of my writing was very formal. I was taking after Arthur C. Clarke and trying very hard to write professionally. Eric Garcia's Anonymous Rex showed me a serious, professional story can be told with informal, witty prose. Another effect it had on me was showing it is possible to write about sex tastefully. Lessons I never forgot.


7

Timeline
by Michael Crichton


Had the same effect on me as Rendezvous with RAMA, but for the opposite reason. There's nothing visual about Timeline. I read the book unable to see a damn thing, and this scared me. I became paranoid that my writing was turning out this way, too, so I began describing everything in such vivid detail the reader would have no choice but to see it! I wanted to make sure readers understood what I meant--to see what I was seeing--to avoid the same fate Timeline met. It affected me for years and I probably went too far with this in my early works.


6

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
by Douglas Adams


The second book I read that made me laugh and opened my eyes to what's possible in storytelling through absurdity and humor...and also seriousness. Adams showed me you don't always need eloquent descriptions to help the reader see what's going on. The original book has a very radio-play feel to it, often using dialogue to set up a scene and describe what's happening. It's very sparse, and seeing this technique work convinced me good books don't have to be descriptive to draw a reader in. You don't have to describe everything to death for readers to understand.


5

Far-Seer
by Robert J. Sawyer


I don't have enough good to say about this series. It's so rare a storyverse draws me in so completely, and here I am nearly ten years after I read the books still talking about them. How do you help a reader understand an alien species? By introducing the reader to a different set of morals, laws and conventions in a way that they make sense in the context of their society. This has the side effect of helping us to understand our own. Yup, this is how it's done.


4

Dr. Identity
by D. Harlan Wilson



A book that truly opened my eyes to what is possible in writing: the impossible. It takes place in an impossible, distorted world, filled with impossible characters doing impossible things. It uses absurdity to tell a logical story. I get the feeling there's some kind of sinister scaffolding holding the story up beneath all the surrealism. Seeing this in action broadened my mind and freed up stories that otherwise would never have found release. Dr. Identity gave me permission to be weird.


3

Alice in Wonderland / Through the Looking Glass
by Lewis Carroll



The first book I read that made me laugh out loud. It was so inspiring I actually took the time to stop and figure out how to sing the various songs in it. Then I wrote songs of my own! I never had an urge to write songs until then, and I haven't since, and it was so magical to see it coming from me. It was the first time I became aware of just how much of an influence reading has on a writer. Whatever you put in your mind is what comes out. This is scary, and since then I have gone out of my way to read a broad spectrum of books on a broad range of topics because I want my writing to be influenced by that.


2

Atlas Shrugged
by Ayn Rand



While it is a painful read, it has changed my perspective on life. From a storytelling perspective it is everything a writer should avoid: heavy-handed moralizing, preaching, straw man arguments, Mary Sue characters, soap opera drama...

It is a book published in the 50's during Red Scare that advocates 1) cooperation in any form whatsoever is equal to theft, which is equal to evil, which is equal to communism, which is equal to failure, 2) every man for himself is natural, and 3) a person's value to society can be accurately judged by how much money he has, therefore what's best for the rich is best for the country.

Before I read this book, whenever I heard someone say that taxes are theft at "gunpoint", or people are using the government to "take the product of their labor and give it to people who did not earn it", none of it made sense to me. Now all I hear is quotes from Ayn Rand thrown around like Bible verses.

I'm so glad I read it because now I have a greater understanding of the two prevalent philosophies competing with one another in the United States, one that advocates individualism is what makes America great, and the other pushing for cooperation. I only recognized the debate itself, and the differences between the two sides, thanks to Atlas Shrugged. The book taught me that one should never shut out someone else's point of view, for understanding theirs will help you understand yours.


1

1984
by George Orwell



It didn't fill my head with paranoia. It filled my head with wonder and clarity. The ultimate totalitarian regime. Unrealistic? Sure it is, but the book shows how things work and why they work so clearly that it is believable on its terms. It is the finest example of worldbuilding I know. It uses everything to set up the world: dialogue, character actions, narration, events, flat out explanation, and they work together so vividly. This is the book that gave me something to shoot for. To be breathtaking, terrifying, wonderful and so full of scope you can't help but see everything, even the things that are not shown. It is the book that made me say, yeah, that's what I wanna do.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Lone Survivor



I didn't enjoy Lone Survivor the first time I played it. Combat is awkward, the story is obtuse and there isn't much to explore or to find.

Then I got to the end. It was obviously the bad ending. The game showed me why I got the bad ending, and I was put off. All that promotion of survival being up to you was bullshit. If you want the good end, you have to survive a certain way. So much for choice.

I was going to hang it up, but I was drawn into this strange story! I had to know what happened! I had to find out what was going on! So I played it two more times until I finally figured out how I had to survive to receive the good ending. It's still ambiguous, but it makes a hell of a lot more sense than Braid's, and provides much more closure, too. Satisfying closure.

Lone Survivor turned out to be the most satisfying game experience in months.

The atmosphere is creepy because of the retro graphics. The great music and sound design is a big factor. Makes the game feel like a cinematic experience. I'd recommend it to anyone.