October 01, 2001
Just moved to a new server (and boy, are my arms tired!), and that means now that this journal is filled with links that got broken in the move. Just like that set of glassware when I made my most recent cross country move (he said, metaphorically).
If you spot any broken links, please email me and I'll fix 'em up as soon as I can.
October 04, 2001
I know that not all of your are sports fans. I also know that I posted an essay earlier about why I sometimes *do* follow sports. Hmmm. Can't seem to find it in the archives. Must have been before I got this handy journal software from Jehan.
Oh, well. I'll find it and post it again, soon.
Anyway, allow me to take a quick time out and let you know that a quarterback with class is doing well -- Doug Flutie is helping his San Diego Chargers win their first three games in a row, when last year they were only able to win one game in the entire season -- while the team that cut him -- the Buffalo Bills -- have lost their first three games in a row. They just can't seem to win ever since they gutted their own ranks.
I used to be a Buffalo Bills fan. Now, it's kind of fun to watch the team where the powers that be had chosen to cut the few players with class, and how their team can't win a game.
Perhaps there is a metaphor here; an analogy that has something to do with real life... maybe. Something about choosing to keep your losing leadership (like the quarterback the Bills kept: Rob Johnson) and cut your proven winners (like Flutie) and how that can affect how your team does. Flutie may not be the better quarterback as athletes go, but he is a bona fide leader. He knows how to get his team to shine at doing what they do best. Under him, the Bills almost always won. Under the other guy, the Bills almost always lost. Does it matter that Rob could throw the ball farther than Flutie?
Good leadership is undervalued, it seems to be. Good negotiation skills seem to be overvalued. Rob negotiated much better with the bosses than Flutie did. But, Flutie gets the job done. Now, he gets the job done for another team, and it's mighty fun to watch.
October 05, 2001
The following essay was originally posted here on November 5, 1998. I am reposting it now partly to explain my little outburst in yesterday's entry, and partly because I can't think of what to write tonight, and partly to justify an upcoming essay. This essay may also be of interest with the recent launching of yet another new Star Trek series....
* * *
Do you follow NFL football? There's an interesting story brewing in Minnesota and Buffalo, where two old "has beens" are turning in extremely strong performances at quarterback. Randall Cunningham of the Vikings and Doug Flutie of the Bills are two former stars who have returned from recent obscurity to just eat up the attention of football fans everywhere, leading their teams to the tops of their respective divisions.
What's that? You don't care? You haven't been following this uplifting story? You weren't aware that Doug Flutie came back to the NFL -- refusing a million dollar contract from the Canadian Football League to take a paycut of 75 percent -- simply in the hopes that by playing in the higher-profile NFL, he might raise awareness of autism? (Flutie's son is autistic) Or that Randall Cunningham credits his resurgence to a newfound faith in God?
You weren't paying attention to the fact that these guys are over 32 years old and can still play this kids game better than the $25 million kids who are supposed to be the best?
It doesn't thrill you to follow the story of how these grown men put on brightly colored costumes and then go run into each other in the hopes of carrying an oddly-shaped ball across an arbitrarily set "goal line"?
Well. Lemme tell you something. I didn't used to follow sports, either. But, lately, I've gotten more into it... to the point where I actually not only watch the games on TV when I can, and attend a few in person -- on occasion -- but, I even read the articles in the sports pages. Not just the scores... the actual articles!
This has been a gradual change in me. But, the question has come up from time to time: why? Why do you care about what's going on in professional sports? Recently, I had a chat with a friend who posed this question yet again. Only, this time, I stumbled upon an answer.
Competitive sports are, like novels or movies or television sit-coms, a particular kind of entertainment. Like the daytime soap operas, they are serials -- each episode building upon the previous to tell a story line that spans several months, with recurring themes year after year.
Football is like Hill Street Blues -- a soap opera with more violence and less romance. Baseball is like Dick Francis novels... the story always follows the same formula, but the details of each story vary. And, lets face it, some endings are more satisfying than others.
In fact, the best comparison that I can think of is to view professional sports as a kind of live-action equivalent of the Star Trek novels, books, or TV shows.
First, there's the formula. Each sport consists of a league of teams which are composed of characters who fill particular roles (the quarterback/pitcher/captain, the running back/designated hitter/engineer, the receiver/catcher/science officer, etc.) that play out their drama within a certain set of goals (get the ball into the endzone, run to home base, spread peace and harmony throughout the galaxy) within a certain set of rules (try to make 10 yards within four downs, try to score a run before three outs, try to seduce the alien spy before the show is over).
As in Star Trek, pro sports have a code of conduct which may or may not result in penalties... it all depends upon whether you get caught (no holding, no stealing, no interference with the development of a civilization's culture).
But, as with Star Trek, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts in professional sports. Although one episode/game contains a great deal of drama, intrigue, and even a little character development, a series of episodes/games strung together in a season tells a more sweeping story. It is precisely this sweep that grabs the interest of the sports enthusiast and the Star Trek geek. As a football season progresses, we begin to notice certain teams emerging as contenders for dominations of the league... just as a season of Star Trek may begin to reveal certain races/species/aliances vying for dominations of space/time/whatever.
Sometimes, such contenders may suddenly fall apart. The Denver Broncos, in the season before they won the Super Bowl, were eliminated from the playoffs by Jacksonville in the first round. The Borg, just as it's shaping up to be a real menace one season in Star Trek: Voyager, gets practically wiped out by "Species 8472".
Then again, sometimes the underdogs struggle back from near annihlation to virtual dominance. There was that year the Buffalo Bills came back from a pathetic opening of a season to just barely get into the playoffs to stage the greatest comeback in an NFL playoff game ever, and eventually even make it to the Super Bowl as a Wild Card team. Just like the Cardassians, after beaten into submission, form a surprising alliance with the Founders to end up wipiing out half of the Federation fleet.
Of course, the Bills lost that Super Bowl, and the Cardassians are having troubles of their own in the Star Trek universe.
Here's a similarity with a twist: both pro sports and Star Trek have good guys and bad guys. Heroes like Mark McGuire, Joe Montana, and Captain Kirk. Villains, as well... Charles Barkley and the Evil Romulans. However, in sports, villains are usually identified as powerful adversaries to your particular favorites. So, if you're a 49ers fan, Green Bay or the Cowboys might be your villains. In Star Trek, alas, the villains are a little more universal. We know when to boo the Klingons or the Cardassians, because we are told under no uncertain terms that, at any given time, they unequivocally represent evil.
As with Star Trek, sports' sweep extends beyond single seasons. The Klingons evolve from season to season, changing from dishonorable enemies to wary allies to brothers-in-arms. The Broncos dominate the AFC but lose every time they reach the Super Bowl... until, near the end of John Elway's career at quarterback, they finally win the Big Game. Traditions and records span through the seasons; some changing, some not. Vulcans are traditionally logical. Yankees are traditionally jerks. Kirk is often alluded to as a history maker in the Star Trek mythos. Likewise, Joe Montana or Babe Ruth. Remember the Curse of the Bambino!
Ah, which brings me to the real draw of sports as entertainment. Depth. The more you follow the story, the more details you discover that subtly enhance the story; give it flavor.
If you are intrigued by the story line of a Star Trek series, you can get into other series... or, the books, the movies, short stories, interactive computer games, technical manuals, collectible toys.... The Star Trek universe is rich with detail.
The same is true with sports. You can follow the careers of specific players, teams, divisions, coaches. There are stats, records, and scores to track for a game, season, career, or even the entire history of a team, league, or the sport itself.
As I mentioned earlier, the ending isn't always satisfactory. One episode/game may be poorly written/played, or have an outcome you don't like. The bad guys sometimes win. Luck sometimes has more impact on the outcome than ability. Sometimes, you cheer the good show of the good guys, you appreciate the development of a dynasty; but, sometimes, you also see cynicism win out. Florida Marlins, anyone? Star Trek V: The Final Frontier?
Like soap operas, Hardy Boy mysteries, and other forms of serial entertainment, neither Star Trek nor pro sports show signs of ending. The story is open-ended and ongoing. This, too, may be part of the draw. Fans get upset -- very upset -- when a soap is threatened with cancellation. Days of Our Lives, anyone? Witness the fan reaction to the cancellation of the original Star Trek, or the various baseball/football strikes. Look at the current NBA lockout. Competitive sports are as much an opiate for the working class as soaps used to be for the traditional homemaker or Star Trek is for geeks. Because they endure.
And, that's what keeps us coming back.
October 09, 2001
I'm having some difficulty advancing the many projects I'm working on these days. The problem is, they all demand a lot of time and attention, and I don't seem to have that much time or, quite frankly, that much attention.
What projects? There's finishing the novel (still tentatively entitled The Do Over, but that's likely to change), polishing several short stories that I want to send out, completing work on a new 10-foot-wide bookcase I've started building in my den, preparing the house for an upcoming house party, fixing up my car (needs a tune up and some maintenance work)... oh, and finding a new income stream with which to pay the mortgage.
That last one is a particularly tricky one. I'd assumed that once I left my place of employ, this could potentially mean more time for writing. Instead, it has had the net effect of *reducing* the amount of time I have to write. I'm not sure how that happens.
I still manage to write one new scene for the novel per week, but work on short stories has ground to a halt -- with the exception of getting one story sent out as a submission -- and the novel is not really any closer to being ready to send out to agents now than it was a month ago. October was originally when I'd hoped to send it out.
All I need to do, I have been reminded, it set aside time in my schedule each day to write. Set aside one hour. Everybody has an hour in their day... right?
Somehow, it's not working out that way.
I was able to be very productive at Clarion West because I'd managed to put pretty much my entire life on hold for four of those six weeks. Now, I can't get away with that.
Or... can I?
What if I took every other month and just disappeared to write? Hmmmm.
What are *your* thoughts? Any suggestions?
October 15, 2001
So, a font walks into a bar.
The bartender looks up and says, "We don't serve your type here."
October 17, 2001
The current version of the manuscript for The Do Over contains over 93,000 words. I spent all day today typing in seven scenes which I'd written longhand over the past month and had never gotten around to entering into the computer.
The first chapter, which I'd written a few months ago, had been retooled from the original first few scenes because I'd changed the location and time of the opening for dramatic purposes. As a result of this change, the second chapter is also going to require a lot of rework from the next batch of scenes. My goal is to tackle that project, next: to craft a second chapter out of what I have so far.
This past week, I've received some amazing critique on the first chapter, which I intend to employ as soon as I finish the first complete draft of chapter two. My primary concern is to tighten the opening, flesh out a particular scene in the middle, and more directly address the world from which my main character has appeared so that it's clearer to the reader what is at stake, initially. However, it's important to move the project forward, so I must have a draft of the second chapter before I begin re-working the first.
That said, I'm hoping that the crafting of the third and later chapters will be a little easier, as the repercussions of changing the opening location/time should flatten out pretty quickly. My goal is to have the first four chapters completed in draft form, with the first three relatively polished, by the end of the month. It's an ambitious goal (this, coming from the guy who had once planned to have the entire manuscript done by now), but attainable. Since the rest of the proposal is already done, all I'll need to do is slip in the first three chapters and send this out to my agent of choice... and then, keep writing!
Must keep writing. If the agent of choice responds that he wants to see more, I'd better have more to send.
In the meantime, I've sent off one short story so far for consideration. I have another goal of getting revised versions of *all* of my Clarion West stories out there for consideration before December rolls around.
A couple of my fellow Clarionites have recently sent word of their work being accepted for publication by various periodicals. The key to their success? Not only are they writing, but they send out what they write. They are most excellent writers, but that's not all it takes. And, thus, if I'm to enjoy any kind of success, it is time for me to send out my work, as well.
Today, tomorrow, and Thursday are dedicated to The Do Over. Next week, I'll set aside time for both the novel and for readying a short story.
Oh, and one more thing. The results of the poll on whether I should change the name of the novel are rather clear: the majority of visitors to my site think that I should change the name. While I'm not certain yet about whether to change the title, I'm happy to report that I now have some interesting possible contenders to take the place of "The Do Over" as the title. Thanks go out to my critiquers, a couple of whom made excellent suggestions.
That's all for now. More soon.
October 22, 2001
A friend of mine is taking a feminist theory course in grad school, and she plans to write a paper about feminism and science fiction. Toward that end, she has sent out a survey to several friends with the following questions:
1. Do the goals/ideals of feminism mesh well with the genre of science fiction? Why/why not? Does science fiction offer any special opportunities for feminist writers? Or, does it present any special difficulties?
2. Have you read any feminist works of science fiction that influenced your own political ideas? Do you think it is possible for a work of science fiction to change someone's mind about feminism/gender?
3. Do you see any difference between 'woman-centered' (ie, with a woman as the main character) science fiction and 'feminist' science fiction?
4. Do you think the field of science fiction has been welcoming to feminist authors?
What do *you* think? I'll be posting my answers here this week, but I'd love to hear yours, as well (and I'll be happy to pass them along to my friend).
October 24, 2001
1. Do the goals/ideals of feminism mesh well with the genre of science fiction? Why/why not? Does science fiction offer any special opportunities for feminist writers? Or, does it present any special difficulties?
The first part of the question assumes that there is a coherent set of goals/ideals associated with the term "feminism" -- an assumption that I think is dubious. The term is generally considered to describe "the doctrine advocating social and political rights for women equal to those of men." (This is the definition found in the Random House College Dictionary) I favor this definition.
However, Gloria Steinem and Camille Paglia, among many others, show just how divisive the moniker "feminism" can be. There are several major schools of thought pertaining to the advocacy of social/political equality for women, and they are often bitterly opposed. The legality of abortion, for example, is both fought and defended by camps claiming to defend feminist ideals. Some feminist camps deride the choice that some women make to become mothers or housewives, while other camps maintain that women do not have to pursue careers to the exclusion of family in order to become "equal".
Since (unlike my friend in grad school) I am not a student of feminist theory and am therefore not certain which aspect of feminism is being favored as the "true" school of thought, I'll simply refer to feminism as defined by Random House, above.
There is also the problem of defining science fiction. There is a very long and hard fought disagreement among those who discuss this field as to whether a story must rely exclusively upon scientific principles in order to count as sci-fi. For example, since several of Ray Bradbury's stories in The Martian Chronicles do not *have* to occur on Mars in order to still be coherent, do they count as sci-fi? Again, I'm going to defer to the definition I find in my dictionary, rather than go into this argument here. Random House defines science fiction as "a form of fiction that draws imaginatively on scientific knowledge and speculation." I read this to include the works of Ray Bradbury and Ursula LeGuinn, even though others may disagree.
The ideals of social and political equality for women clearly mesh well with the genre of science fiction. The genre encourages authors and readers to consider not only what life and human nature is like now, but what life *could* be like, given any number of opportunities, environments, or histories. It allows us to speculate on the good and bad results of living in a world where equality is supported or denied. It affords us the chance to consider "What if...?" As we imagine these different possibilities, it also allows us to imagine that they are possible, and that we might well pursue and attain them.
In general, stories in the genre tend to favor the ideal of a society in which women and men are socially and politically equal.
That said, while the genre meshes well with the ideals of feminism, it does not always conform to the ideals of feminism. Because this is a literature of speculation and free-thinking, it also includes stories that endorse or advocate views opposed to those of feminism. Given the definition that feminism is an advocacy for equality among the sexes, the fact that science fiction includes some works that do not share that point of view reveals that the goals of this genre *can* mesh well with those of feminism, but that doesn't mean they always do.
Science fiction does, however, offer many special opportunities for feminist writers. Like other genres of literature, it enables authors to tell stories that embody or challenge ideals of human relationships -- political, social, and otherwise. But, what is unique to this genre is the ability to extrapolate behaviors from settings; to distill ideals to their purist forms and tell stories that evoke much more vividly the concepts that are being presented.
While there are historical fiction stories that may display the grit and resourcefulness of a female protagonist, or mainstream novels in which equality is shown to be preferable for all concerned than inequality, science fiction can challenge our assumptions on a more basic level. For example, Ursula K. Leguinn's classic The Left Hand of Darkness takes us to a society were members are inherently equal with regard to gender because they do not express/embody gender except during mating season, and even then, they may change from one gender to another as they move from one mating season to the next. In a society where gender is not a given, we look look to other cues to explain characters' behavior.
When I'd begun writing this essay, it seemed to me that science fiction presents a particular difficulty to the feminist author, however, that other genres do not. There has long been a general precept in science fiction that something has to happen -- that action must take place -- in order for the story to move forward. This is not a requirement imposed by other genres, where it may suffice for a story or novel to simply describe a setting or a society without much activity on center stage.
Milan Kundera's literary novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being explores the social and sexual roles of men and women (and has a very strong female protagonist) against a backdrop of invasion and war... but, the characters never do much of anything. They talk a lot, and it is through these conversations that their gender roles are explored. But action? Forget it. I even learned recently that in the movie version, the director had to substantially cut back on the battle footage montage because it stole attention away from the non-action of the rest of the film. There could never be a science fiction equivalent to Kundera's work.
Science fiction, conventional wisdom states, requires action. This is not to say that lizards need to eat their way out of our favorite characters' bodies, or that kickboxing robots are necessary to blow up large buildings. Nonetheless, characters need to be going places and doing things.
The more I've considered this idea, however, the more I realize that it is not entirely accurate. There are counter-examples. Flowers for Algernon, one of the genre's best examples of an intensely personal exploration of the meaning of identity, is hardly action-packed. The conflict is ultimately, as it is in Unbearable Lightness, internal to the characters.
That said, I suspect it is nonetheless harder for a writer to present the "people talking" style of story within science fiction than in the more mainstream genres. Is this a "special difficulty"? Perhaps not. This tendency toward action within sci-fi has not discouraged writers from "talking" at length in their stories about the points they are trying to make (Robert A. Heinlein and Ayn Rand leap to mind).
Sheesh. I sure can leap into that stuffy old academic tone of voice when I want to, no?
Tune in tomorrow, when we address the second question in the series. :)
October 25, 2001
So, this week and a couple of weeks ago, I was party to the live television broadcast of a local station's afternoon chatfest called "Northwest Afternoon". I attended as a member of the "live studio audience" so as to pay off a favor. They run our PSA's (that's a "public service announcement", and they're pretty much required to run a number of these every day as a community service) in exchange for us putting some butts in seats for their daily afternoon talk show.
It was fun to watch people who are good at their jobs do what they do well. It was also fun to see first-hand exactly how plastic and phoney everything is in the world of television. Examples:
* applause is not only handled through the use of applause signs (well, okay, a twenty-two year old blonde chick who raises her hands when she wants us to clap), but said pre-arranged applause is also augmented by canned applause.
* the star of the show is returning from getting a face-lift. She was very funny and witty about it, but the reality remains that she got a facelift... almost certainly because either she is that vain or the industry let her know that they'd can her butt if she didn't do the deed.
* the stars enthusiastically read the teleprompters as if they're making up the words right off the top of their heads.
There were other things, but you get the gist. Nothing here that surprises you, I'm sure... it was simply the totality of it all that I found amazing.
That said, these were also very fun and engaging people. They seem to like their jobs, and they were very good at getting the audience involved (for live Q&A of the guests, etc.).
On today's show, the guests were co-authors of some lame book about love and romance. Blah, blah, blah. But, one of the members of the audience said something that I found very interesting.
She told the story about how, before she got married, she surveyed everyone she knew about marriage... what makes it work, or why it fails. She said that of those who had stayed in long lasting relationships, every single one of them said that the single most important thing to making their relationships work was *compromise*.
When she asked people who had been divorced what the single most important thing missing was, they said it was *communication*. The woman said that pretty much every divorced person she asked attributed the break-up to "a lack of communication". Whereas, those who stayed together credited "the art of compromise."
I found that interesting.
As it so happens, the others in the audience also found that interesting. So, naturally, the hosts sidestepped her point and went on to talk about other things. :-)
(I'll resume on the feminism and science fiction track tomorrow. No, really!)
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