RIPPER STREET (spoilers included)

22 03 2014

I truly, truly wanted to like this series.

And I guess I do like it, but before the end of Season 1 I’m already seeing a disappointing pattern. The show’s a victim of its own talent.

All the actors & actresses are doing a fine job. Matthew McFadyen (did I spell that right?) fits this role so much better than he did “Mr. Darcy”. His earnest face, on such a brooding and calculating hero, is a great focal point for the camera shots to revolve around. He’s just the right person to be at the center of these stories. And the offstage works are done very well too: set design, costumes, and music all pass muster. And the writing’s not bad either, to start with.

But I see a pattern that’s something of a pet peeve of mine: when the setting, the characters, the theme, and the narrative manner are so well done — so lovingly, so painstakingly constructed, that no one can bear to risk seeing any of it change.

MINOR SPOILERS FOLLOW

I just watched the episode where Sergeant Drake (Jerome Flynn) falls in love. I don’t want to say too much more about it, but you find out some things about his past; another actor you’d recognize from Game of Thrones appears out of nowhere, playing his old commanding officer, and puts a difficult choice before him. Moreover, it’s a choice where questions of right and wrong appear ambiguous, and it also bears directly on his romantic aspirations. After seeing Flynn play such a jaded character in GoT, it’s a great switch to see him play a brutal pit-fighter of a man with such a faithful, sensitive heart. I loved this character, rooted for him, berated him when I thought he’d sold himself short.

Needless to say, a LOT happens in this episode — including some things that appear impossible to easily undo. Yet, the episode ends with literally every aspect of this character’s life in the exact same place it was before. It’s done as believably as possible — but it still hurts the show’s credibility. I don’t mind that so much, but then I started thinking about other parts of the story.

McFadyen’s Inspector Reid has a secret past he shares with his wife, about a daughter they lost (perhaps in a fire). By episode 7 there’s been no action on that whatsoever — just occasional cryptic ruminations and lamentations. The American “Captain”, sometimes referred to as a Pinkerton who has a talent for forensics and doing hard drugs (which go together better than you’d think, particularly at this time in history) also has a secret past he shares with the proprietress of a bordello — and again, the characters go on through murders, gunshot wounds, arguments, fistfights, and terrible verbal threats, only to repeatedly “reset” every tiny detail of their lives exactly to where they were at the start of Episode 1.

Obviously, a series needs to be grounded in something and you can’t change things too often just for change’s sake — changes need to spring naturally, coming about from the interaction between characters and setting. But the other extreme’s no good either — everything gets calcified.

I won’t stop watching the show — I still appreciate its very real merits. I just hope the writers get a little bolder.





ANCIENT WISDOM AND PASSIVE VOICE

5 03 2014

When people ask me about the dreaded passive voice . . . 

I share the timeless wisdom of TAI CHI . . .

 

Passive voice is best reserved for those scenes in fiction where you wish to immerse the reader in the story

When your point-of-view character is 

 

Terrified,

Anguished,

Immobile,

 

Clueless,

Helpless, or . . . 

Intoxicated

 

For those times when events seem to just unfold of their own accord, taking the protagonist by surprise and just sweeping them off into the unknown. I suppose this could occasionally be something that the protagonist finds pleasant, like a carefully planned surprise party . . . but more often, it’s shocking, demoralizing, confusing, or just plain creepy.

 

Use sparingly. 





THE LAST DAMN SENTENCE

29 10 2013

Well, I’m completely stuck. I know what the last sentence of Misfit’s Trek needs to say.

I know a few different ways to say it. All I have left are minor variations on a sentence. . . twelve of them.

To me, they all sound okay. Or maybe good.

Not good enough, though. Not yet.

Rick rides through the night toward San Bitante,

to thwart a hideous mass execution.

He’s got his saber, his magic, his pistol . . .

and no idea what he’ll do when he gets there.

Misfits' Trek

It’s his first day as a rebel.

Volume 4 of The Talan Revolt





WHISKERS AND TUSKS

16 07 2013

Here is the link for the RAFFLE!!!

http://indiebloghops.blogspot.co.uk/

OK, down to business. I’ve already posted something describing the elves in my fantasy world (it would probably qualify as ribbing, actually, if the darn things actually existed…) But here’s the specific roles of a particular elves that appear in my series, The Talan Revolt

RAINGUN (Book 1)
The hero, Rick Rivoire, sees the abuse of an elven slave and attempts to help her. In the end, he is terribly disappointed on how little he is able to improve her situation. This happens the night after a battle in which he played a critical role in defending a city from an onslaught of undead monsters, during which he is being celebrated for his courage. These events make him question whether defending such a society is truly as heroic as he thought it was, and whether this is really what he should be doing.

Later in the story, Rick fights in a prolonged hit-and-run battle against elves in their native forest. They fight like Aztecs, with swords of wood and obsidian, wearing leather armor filled with rock salt. Unfortunately, they also have ritual magic at their disposal that makes survival difficult.

RESOLUTION and BALISLANKA (Books 2 and 3)
As I recall, no elves make an appearance here.

FLIGHT OF MISFITS (Book 4)
A powerful elven enchantress appears to Rick in a vampire’s lair, explaining that they share the vampire as a common enemy. She provides Rick with a lot of aid, but he’s suspicious of why she doesn’t seem to want anything in return.

OK, that’s it (or mostly it) for the elves.

I use orcs, and shallorians with much greater frequency. Neither of these races are good or evil at heart, but neither race has done very well under the rule of humans. They are mostly used for manual labor, or as cannon fodder. Orcs, with their thick skin as proof against insects and poisonous plants, are at home in the swamps that humanity doesn’t want; shallorians enjoy deep forests — sometimes coexisting with the elves, sometimes fighting them for territory.

The orcs didn’t always live near humans in large numbers, but they were driven off the plains by goblins who ride wolves. Orcs are poor at handling both horses and firearms, and are thus easy prey for goblin mounted archers.

Rick’s stepfather Leon Pristov, who is the mayor of his hometown, employs one orc (Targ) and one shallorian (Ragshaw) as “muscle”. They enjoyed bullying him as a child, and they don’t care for him much now either. While they enjoy arguing and insulting each other while in the company of others, they do enjoy the crude camaraderie of those who believe they’ve been screwed by a common oppressor (in this case, humanity). On at least one occasion, they’ve been observed drinking together and singing a song on that subject: “Whiskers and Tusks”.





Dosvidanya, DELOCATED

7 07 2013

I’m still recovering from the end of Delocated, an Adult Swim show by Jon Glazer . . . like a lot of other shows on Adult Swim, most people seem to love it or hate it. 

I was sorry to see the show go. I caught the “Finale” by accident one evening while working out in front of cable TV, and it made a hell of an impression on me. After all these months, I think I finally understand why.

“Delocated” satirized reality TV. 

Some people rolled their eyes at this, with an obvious reaction: “What’s the point of satire or parody being targeted at something that’s so ridiculous to start with? Can you even do it?”

The assumption is that satire does sort of require that its target have a certain level of dignity, or pretense of dignity, or history of dignity, or (at least) delusions of dignity. Reality TV has none of those. . . so surely, that makes it impossible to satirize?

No, it doesn’t. Either that, or “Delocated” did the impossible. 

Jon Glazer did this by trying to be as ridiculous as possible. This, by itself, is not so surprising; people try it in comedy all the time. What set him apart was how he did it. 

He didn’t just try to portray reality TV as ridiculous, or try to push to some “new frontier” of crazy on the front of reality TV. He left reality TV just as it was — he showed it as any other sort of (somewhat risky) business with moments of craziness, run by more or less rational people who often made reckless decisions. TV viewers have seen TV executives portrayed that way for decades. . . no one would consider that ridiculous.

The ridiculous part was having the reality show be about a family in the Witness Protection Program who willingly chose to be on camera 24-7; that they wore ski masks and spoke in garbled voices 24-7; that they were followed around by FBI agents 24-7; and that, in all other ways, they went about their business in a perfectly normal way that obviously made them the easiest murder targets that any Russian hit man could ask for.

After Season 1, the pitiful, bumbling Yvgeny wasn’t cutting it as a villain, so he was pushed aside by Sergei, another assassin for the Russian mob: but this one was all business. He never said anything funny, had a strong streak of sadism, and was cold as ice when it came to killing people (which he did a lot).

Light-hearted humor would go to sheer terror, and back again, in the blink of an eye. . . at levels that most TV producers would never go for. 

To me, it proved that the best targets for satire aren’t authority figures, pompous people, or other easy targets that we all learned to satirize in eighth grade. 

The juiciest targets for satire are . . . situations!





THE COZY, PRIVATE, 2000-SQ-FT LOVE HIDEAWAY

7 05 2013

complete with hot tub in the middle of a densely crowded war zone IS becoming a bit of a cliche, not just in fantasy but in historical fiction as well. 

The last one I read was in The Religion, set during the Turkish siege of Malta, where the hero wasn’t only a formidable warrior, military genius, master spy and sexual dynamo, he also possessed the engineering expertise to build a functional love jacuzzi and keep it secret from the starving wounded filthy multitudes crammed into the city blocks surrounding it, even while having frequent wild sex with the most mindbogglingly beautiful woman in the city.

The Religion WAS a fine book, by the way. It’s one of the few I’ve enjoyed enough to hang onto the paperback even after moving. Yes, the hero does seem dangerously close to being a Mary Sue from my description, but there’s a good reason why he’s so capable. In addition, he also has a fatal flaw that sneaks up on him in a way that makes him pay. Dearly.

As for Game of Thrones — a recent episode of which inspired the whole “love hideaway” post — whoever wrote the screenplay adapting it to HBO did incredible work. George R.R. Martin’s strategic choices about GoT — following so many characters, so many of whom are flat or predictable — involved putting the story itself at terrible risk. But he possessed the extraordinary skill to make it work, beautifully. Even the flat, predictable characters, besides moving the plot along, make the dynamic characters (and the world itself!) more vivid, and more endearing. He understands that 40 or 50 characters can’t ALL be wonderful and fascinating — not if the desired object is a realistic, gritty world. 

It’s almost like cheating, how Martin took so many daring risks and pulled it off. It’s like walking a tightrope wasn’t enough, he needed to ride a unicycle across it. In heavy winds. At a 45-degree angle. Upwards. And on and on!

And the way this epic doorstopper is being adapted to such a highly entertaining TV series — well, that’s just wrong. It feels like it almost shouldn’t be possible! 

Imagine if it were YOU in John Snow’s place, in the middle of a long-awaited consummation with your new love. Do you really think you’d have the place to yourself? Or would you be lost in a crowd of sweaty barbarians stacked like cordwood?





NOT EXACTLY TOLKIEN’S ELVES

1 04 2013

I’ve heard complaints here and there about the overuse of elves in fantasy, and how they are drawn as superior to humans with irritating regularity. So some readers avoid stories with elves in them.

But what about a story that has elves — but they’re a bunch of losers?

Seriously, a long time ago I decided I needed a constant minor threat to the setting of the “Talan Revolt” series (Foverre) — out of the wilderness on its western border. The wilderness happens to be heavily forested, so I put elves there.

They’re a minor threat because they’re just not that effective. Over the last several generations they’ve steadily lost ground to the humans.

It’s not because they’re a dying race, or the tragic remnant of a glorious bygone age — they outnumber the humans significantly.

The elves try to use the terrain to their advantage, but there’s cat-people living the same forests, who eagerly cooperate with the elves’ enemies — because the elves are racists and treat them badly. (That’s right, these elves aren’t particularly enlightened.) And when it comes to stalking and sneaking around in the woods, well, the cat-people just eat the elves for breakfast. Literally. Come to think of it, the elves in my world aren’t really much better than the humans at all that woodsy stuff. These elves aren’t exactly “in touch with the land”.

The elves use magic, sure, and occasionally have a good trick up their sleeve that’ll win them a battle here or thre. But on the whole they’re no better at magic than the humans.

The elves are slighter of build, though, so the humans tear them up in close combat (especially since humans are better at most forms of crafting and manufacturing).

The elves don’t really have the moral high ground, either. Sure, the humans have a tyrannical society that’s getting worse, but the elves are way ahead of them. They have long traditions of racial and religious intolerance that motivated them to invade the humans (whose homeland was across the ocean from where Foverre is now).

Not only did the elves fail horribly in their invasion attempt, they also allowed their maps and navigation charts to fall into human hands. So the humans soon found, invaded, conquered and colonized the elven homeland. It’s kind of like if the conquistadors’ conquest of the Aztecs was sparked by a failed Aztec amphibious invasion of Spain. Except that the Aztecs were pretty impressive in a lot of ways…

The elves and humans each take slaves from time to time, but elves are enslaved less often since they’re not strong enough to be much good at manual labor. Um, yeah I know what you’re thinking next, but they’re not used as pleasure slaves much either because most humans find elves kind of unattractive. These elves have black eyes with no visible pupils; and while it’s inevitable that a few humans will find that appealing (in an “exotic” kind of way), the majority find it creepy.

Occasionally, elven military commanders rack up a few victories over humans and eventually achieve reputations as strong tacticians; but this is rare since the elves’ overall physical frailty causes them to die of wounds more easily than humans. Their weak health also tends to give them a shorter lifespan.

I doubt I could call this an “elf story”, since none of the major characters are elves. The threat posed by elves is (all things considered) nowhere near the hero’s top priorities, which include confronting the growing injustice of his own society, and two evil cults that seem to have it in for him. All in all, the elves aren’t on the hero’s radar screen very often because compared to his other enemies, they’re just not that dangerous.

Just a bump in the road.








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