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Author of queer, wry sci fi/fantasy books. On Amazon.
Editor of all fiction genres.

Tuesday 26 August 2014

Continuity: The Devils are in the Details

Hello hello!

A big and very gracious thank-you to the SFRB for letting me guest-post once again today. Today's post has been inspired by a bugbear I've been dealing with lately: continuity.

Those of you who are fans and bloggers might shrug when I mention continuity. Writers, on the other hand, are probably feeling a shiver down their spines that has nothing to do with the ice-bucket challenge. To explain why this induces muttering dreams and sleepless nights, it wouldn't hurt to have a definition.

Source. Pictured: a reader unhappy with continuity errors.

Continuity: what is it, and why does it matter?

"Continuity" refers to self-consistency through descriptions, action, storylines, and development in a creative work. In a nutshell, good continuity means adhering to your own rules. A work should be congruent and not vary too much throughout its existence. "Discontinuity" happens when errors are made or the lore is changed; "retroactive continuity", or "retcons", are made to reconcile early errors with later events, details, or changes. You can also manipulate continuity in order to make the narrator unreliable. Inception, American Psycho, Memento, and other films and books have made use of this. An unreliable narrator is great when it's done on purpose, but inconsistent details can also make a writer look sloppy.

 For instance, your distraught loner character might develop into a compassionate and friendly, even optimistic person through a series, but she probably shouldn't too perky and resilient right away if she's recently lost her entire family, dog, boyfriend, and ship in a single fell swoop. This usually happens when a series has been left alone for too long and the author's forgotten how to write for a character, or when the author is getting bored of a character's traits.

Character continuity is important, and the same goes for plot details. Something that one character says happened two years ago should not suddenly have happened ten years ago when it's mentioned again. We'll go deeper in a second.

Why is this important for sci fi? 

Everyone knows about the fan outcry that happened when George Lucas created the first Star Wars movies, but retroactive continuity issues also played a role in the first trilogy. Entire blogs have been written and based on examining errors in the series, so let's talk about a different example--Doctor Who. With so many writers, the story of the Time War has been bent and twisted and changed in ways that can seem self-contradictory. This also affects the characters and their journey, of course, because the plot never functions in isolation. (If it does, get an editor to look over your book, stat, because something is broken.)

As writers of fiction, it's important to learn from failures and make sure that our worlds are consistent. A tiny detail that was mentioned and thrown away earlier can be mined for plot purposes later, or, conversely, can break the plot. Farscape had a wonderful episode called "The Locket", but the mechanism their ship Moya used to escape a time-freezing zone, a "reverse starburst", unfortunately was never mentioned again. The eagles in The Lord of the Rings or the many, many plot devices used in the Harry Potter series are examples of dropped plot devices and throwaway details that accumulated to create some improbable and silly situations for the characters. The worst case I've seen was probably in The Sword of Truth--there were so many throwaway plot devices in this series that the author had to go nuclear on the ending for the last book in order to reconcile them all.

When plot devices are forgotten or tossed aside from continuity, characters' situations can end seem silly to the audience. Just because the author has forgotten something doesn't mean our readers will, unfortunately!


How do we fix it?

It wouldn't be a SciFiMagpie post without a solution. In this case, it's simple, but a lot of work: KNOW THY WORLD. Chuck Wendig has a particularly wonderful affirmation card (posted above). The way I'm coping with continuity in The Meaning Wars is by re-reading And the Stars Will Sing and The Stolen: Two Short Stories.  Unfortunately, it's also brought a few flaws and typos in the books to my attention, but that's part of the process. You can't be a better writer unless you know your flaws.

"How can I smooth over that exposition? How can I change things so I can avoid that head-jump--can I imply things, perhaps? Maybe do a short scene from the other character's perspective? Did I just change the location of this world by accident? How can a luxurious Southern California/Ireland-like region exist in a warzone? Should I move it?" These are just a few of the questions I've been asking myself, and while painful, it's also really satisfying to know when I've gotten something right. After all, readers love to niggle, but even the ones who miss continuity errors appreciate smooth, consistent stories. This is also the reason why editors are very, very useful people to know.

And the better you do at maintaining continuity, the less sleep you'll lose at night after you accidentally change a character's name, make them three inches taller than they were in the first book, and give them a peanut allergy that would have killed them in the first scene in the second book.

Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Don't miss any of the phuquerie. Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr, and find her work on Amazon. Check back on the blog to see when one of the irregular posts has careened onto your feed. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out! 

Saturday 23 August 2014

Hipsters: Why They're Not The End, Part 2

 Hello, hello!

So, this article came out not long ago. And more recently, we saw this one. And this one. And this one. Now, it's well-known that I technically participate in several of these cultures to a certain extent. Hippie and bohemian styles influence my wardrobe heavily, and writing from the romantic era of the 19th century is some of my favorite. And, yes, I've even been known to listen to a lot of 'indie' music and drink microbrews, and yes, there's a lot more black velvet and Victorian trappings and lace in my wardrobe than statistically average. So take that for what it's worth: I could be lumped into some of 'these people' and these tribes (in the Doctorow sense of the word).

Also, I haven't included the geek culture in this discussion because it's actually a departure from the trend, but there are some similarities. However, I don't want to get sidelined into some sort of 'geeks and nerds are morally superior' crapsack of an endless debate, so let's set that to the side. Why hipsters? Well, I got started with this post, so here's the rest of it--the how and the why, the rhyme and the reason.

Source. Even Victor Hugo liked to make fun of those damn bohemians.

How did this whole thing happen, anyway? When did being poor and dressing strangely become cool? 

I got started on it last week, but let's go deeper.

There's an element of classism here that cuts both ways in these aesthetics. Rich or middle-class kids pretending to be poor, poor kids pretending to be rich--British 'Chav' kids, for instance--and a tendency for the movements to be centred on white (Euro/American) kids while borrowing from other cultures to be cool, without providing context for them. The rapper kids are another glaring example of this trend, borrowing the aesthetic and struggles of African-Americans to provide a cool factor. Obviously, my knowledge here is limited to North America's trends, but I know quite a few of these actually originated in Europe, and that Europe partook in the phenomena, so that's something. (If anyone has more cultural context they want to share in the comments, awesome.)

Another thing about the rich-people-pretending-to-be-poor element common to all of these is that it lends a sort of false dignity and nobility to the kids who practice the lifestyles. I've read On the Road by Kerouac a couple of times, and The Great Gatsby as well, and they both exemplify this nicely. People love to slum it, partaking in what's perceived to be a 'more difficult' lifestyle to make them feel that their own wheel-spinning has context and meaning. After all, if you're poor, you must be doing something hard, right? And if you're suffering, life has meaning. Oh, sure, it may suck, but life without resistance and struggle is the most boring thing imaginable. "We droids are made to suffer, it's our lot in life", but if we didn't, we wouldn't be human.

Less philosophically, there's also the whole nasty 'noble poverty' culture we've been bequeathed from Regency and Victorian-era philosophers. Telling oneself that one's serfs are 'better people' for their suffering and that a reward awaits in the Great (Theoretical) Hereafter, and that everything will be better, is a great way to shut your conscience up. But the Victorian Calvinists weren't the only ones at it--there's certainly some traces of that line of thought in the Feudal era. Though admittedly, Victorian fascination for the Middle Ages has kind of messed up our understanding of what they were actually like, so this might just be another one of those industrial-era-guilt-and-inequality things.

So...isn't this still a cultural cancer? 

Are hipsters the polo and hair-gelled vanguard of the apocalypse? Nah. The movements above are definitely products of inequality, but realistically speaking, we're not going to stop having obnoxious rich/middle-class people pretending to be poor until we fix widespread economic inequality. And even then, that could worsen the problem--given the current exploitative structure of our economic system, there's a chance that hipsters/poverty fetishization would worsen as it became rarer. Seems like a small price to pay, frankly.

With life being easier for those in the middle and upper classes than it ever was before, and a large (though apparently shrinking) middle class, the fake struggle in hipsterdom certainly has a weird kind of appeal. Consider the flannels and Pabst Blue Ribbon and keffiahs--all of them were symbols of the lower class and of oppressed people. Ironically, by appropriating these symbols, they've lost their original meaning.

However, wailing and gnashing our teeth over fashion isn't the answer. People make new symbols. The old ones endure in spite of fashion trends, and even if ubiquity has deleterious effects on sacredness, it can't erase that sacredness completely. Irony, too, is probably safe as a form of expression. At worst, it's going to fall out of favour, but that just means it'll be cool again in twenty years. We can slag the fashion industry for borrowing and recycling and basically doing a one-man Human Centipede with trends, but that's been going on for several hundred years. We borrow, we steal, we modify, we file off serial numbers--this is human nature.

I don't think it's possible to eradicate hipsters, because by the very nature of cultural cycles, something else will rise up to replace them. Again, geek culture is kind of doing this right now, but the poor-is-cool aspect isn't as predominant. It has its own issues, such as racism and misogyny, but it's kind of a step forward in the whole trend cycle.


Do we need to fix it?

Yes? No? Maybe? As noted above, this isn't something you really fix. It's a chronic condition, something you live with and try to ameliorate. But who knows? Maybe we'll some day come up with a happy drug that makes people treat each other with respect and not steal from each other's cultures disrespectfully and not idolize being poor because it somehow makes you a better person. I tend to doubt it, but I guess we could try borrowing from bonobos--those little guys seem to have the whole diffusing conflict thing worked out pretty well. In the meantime, being aware that colonialism hasn't really stopped might help. At least people are starting to figure that out. Starting.

I'd like to end with a non-ironic Kurt Vonnegut quote that sticks in my head on a regular basis:

“Hello babies. Welcome to Earth. It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It's round and wet and crowded. On the outside, babies, you've got a hundred years here. There's only one rule that I know of, babies-"God damn it, you've got to be kind.”

Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Don't miss any of the phuquerie. Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr, and find her work on Amazon. Check back on the blog to see when one of the irregular posts has careened onto your feed. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out! 

Sunday 17 August 2014

Hipsters: The Cultural Circlejerk, Part 1

 Hello, hello!

So, this article came out not long ago. And more recently, we saw this one. And this one. And this one. Like emo kids from the early/mid-2000s, hipsters are the well-worn punching bags of the internet. And of course, formal media sites also love to take shots at them. From claiming that they're using moral high grounds to dispense the most obnoxious kind of liberal hypocrisy to claiming (ironically) that they're killing culture with overuse of irony, we love to hate on hipsters.

Why hipsters? Why are bearded, skinny-jeans-wearing, paperboy-hatted, fixer-bike and typewriter-using, soy-latte-drinking, occasionally androgynous, infamously Tumblr and Instagram-addicted twentysomethings getting so much heat?


Clothes (and beards) make the punching bag

But the real issue is actually just something very familiar--a vintage issue, even--dressed up in a flannel shirt and thrift-store fur coat. The hate on hipsters is about class warfare and the backlash against the social ruling elite, a fight against the arbitrary and frustrating realm of coolness.

It's fashionable to look "poor" and to dress like the blue-collar workers, even to drink their beer--Pabst Blue Ribbon was originally the "working man's" beer. This might have started as a backlash against the trappings of wealth, but in the context of irony-worship, it has a nasty undertone to it. I'm just going to offer the phrase "ironic poverty" and leave it there for you to dissect and unpack.

Hipster culture also comes from university students, who are in the unusual economic bracket composed of people just well-off enough to attend university or college, but who often have to work their fingers to the bone in order to afford attendance. Thus, the fashion statements hipsters make, with thrift-store aesthetics as chic must-haves, actually result in offering more flexible fashion options for people who can't afford new clothes.

So how the hell did this become a subculture, and why "contaminate" other subcultures by saying that hipsters are just repeating the mistakes of those who came before?

Source. The terrifying thing? The term "hippy" came from the word "hipster".

What makes a subculture?

 Consider a few other famous targets of a backlash, with eras. These groups comprise people who were both idolised and derided. All of these terms were used--and sometimes still are used--as perjoratives as well as descriptors.

  • Emo kids (mid-2000s)
  • Rappers and gangsta kids (mid-2000s)
  • Jocks (90s)
  • Yuppies (80s and 90s)
  • Hippies (60s and 70s)
  • Beatniks/Hipsters (50s)
  • Jazz fiends (30s and 40s)
  • Flappers (20s) 
  • Bohemians (1830s onward; resurgence in 60s, 90s)

Obviously, this could be further refined, but you should notice an interesting and very consistent trend. The mechanics of the trends share a shocking amount of overlap. These include wealth-restricted items, such as craft beers, brand-y designer shoes, fancy coffees, and weird knick-knacks; unusual clothing that is imitated by the mainstream designers but also rejected by them mainstream culture, and a sense of common culture between people who participate in the movement that also involves rejecting the 'normals'. The rappers, punks, and some of the fiends were definitely associated with poorer populations, but it was the rich who made the trends, well, trendy.

A bunch of them--the Jazz fiends, Bohemians, Rappers, Hippies, and Yuppies--also tended to rest of borrowing elements of their trends from non-Anglo-Saxon cultures. Jazz fiends and Rappers lean on the experiences, music, and stylings of African-American people; Bohemians and Hippies (as well as some Yuppies) borrowed from Indian, First Nations/Indian American, and Asian cultures in their aesthetics.

Maybe it's also about a coping mechanism for wealth and white privilege--camouflaging oneself and playing dress-up in an (admittedly problematic and strange) attempt to understand other people's lives and experiences. However, the line between participating in someone's culture and dressing up as that culture, especially in the context of the weird ironic racism thing, is a pretty easy-to-define one. Sure, culture-hunting makes a certain amount of sense, and learning is good--but minimal-effort learning and, as I said, "playing dress-up" are really bad things.

However, this is running a little on the long side--next time, let's talk about how the whole thing got started. There's a few hints here, but of course, I'm not going to stop here. Tune in next week!

Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Don't miss any of the phuquerie. Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr, and find her work on Amazon. Check back on the blog to see when one of the irregular posts has careened onto your feed. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out! 

Saturday 2 August 2014

Comparatively Analyse This: American Psycho vs American Psycho vs Banksters, Part 2

Hello hello!

This is a continuation of a three-way comparative analysis of American Psycho the movie vs the book vs an indie parody/standalone called Banksters by Nic Wilson. Obviously, there are some epic


ahead. Round one is here, but let's get to round two. This is a three-way fight--book vs book vs movie!

It's like the internet!

Portrayal of Characters

Banksters has more female characters, and the side characters feel more real than the ones in American Psycho. Obviously, this is intentional, because the human cost in Banksters actually feels higher. They both have a detached prose style, but you can still get a glimpse of humanity in the first one. Like Patrick Bateman, Mark Danes is a misogynist, but his casual objectification is less grating and repetitive, and like a shark, he just doesn't care about his victims. It makes the book a lot easier to read, but the characters also stand alone from the American Psycho cast quite well. Alice and Elizabeth, in particular, are great, and his secretary, Petra, and the head of security, Julee, were both memorable, too.

The thing about the characters in American Psycho is that the detachment comes back to haunt the author--Jeannette the secretary and Luis Carruthers were fairly human, and even Courtney and Evelyn were somewhat unintentionally sympathetic, but the other yuppies are just so interchangeable and dully horrible that you don't even mind much when bad things happen to them. Again, that's the point, but it's still annoying. And poor Bethany--I liked her so much for the brief time we spent with her. It was a damn shame.

In the movie, the detachment comes across too, but the characters are still a bit better and more carefully treated, and there are fewer, too, which makes for a less confusing flow. Of course, you can also see some of the points the book is trying to make--I mean that literally; Bateman's physical similarities to his friends are clearer. Christian Bale and Willem Dafoe and Reese Witherspoon all do a great job bringing the characters to life, and they lose none of the humour from the book. Well, it's a little blunter, maybe, but it works better, and it's a fair tradeoff for all the damn torture porn in the original.

Source. I feel like Bale had too much fun with this role. Seriously. Too much fun. It's scary.


Banksters has an evil but satisfying...happy ending, I guess? I don't want to spoil that, actually, in spite of my warning, because it is the indie book and most people won't know about it. However, I will say that it was narratively satisfying.

My biggest problem with American Psycho, in contrast, was the ending--it was not narratively satisfying, it felt rushed and sloppy, and it didn't really have enough of a payoff after all the build-up. I literally threw down my phone (I tend to read on my Kindle app) and yelled, "WHAT THE PHUQUE?" when I was finished. Then I had to listen to Evil Dead: The Musical and read Charles Dickens until my soul felt cleaner. It was gross and infuriating and hopeless, and not in a way that was appreciable, either. Sure, madness narratives aren't really where you go for a happy ending, but they don't have to be letdowns either.

Now, the movie has to cut so much from the book that it's much more compact and tightly paced, and for the most part, that works to its advantage. There is a big change, though; Jean finds Bateman's crude scribbles in a dayplanner, and they don't really have a relationship. Also, Bateman's lack of resolution is left intact--but here, again, the metaphor for the corruption in Wall Street and the human cost of it, and the meaninglessness of a single person's attempts to reform all come across more clearly. It's the same, but it's better.

Final Verdict 

Over all, I think I liked the movie most, but Banksters bruised my soul a lot less, and that counts for something. Oh, they're all brutal, but I think it's a mark of style and panache if a book or movie can scare you more by doing less. The ultimate horror film, I think, would be rated PG for gore alone (Parental Guidance, for non-Canadians, is basically a G rating with a few swearwords) but leave you awake and shaking in bed for days. Banksters was disturbing in a way that lingered, and it had the least gore of all, though there is a graphic rape scene at the end of the book. I'd have to call this one a tie between the movie version of American Psycho and Banksters. 

Here's the breakdown:

American Psycho--book: 4/10
American Psycho--movie: 8/10
Banksters--book only: 9/10

Basically, I only enjoyed two thirds of the experience, but it was still worth it. So, on that note, I'm going to go watch My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic or some Jane Austen or something to cleanse my soul.

Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Don't miss any of the phuquerie. Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr, and find her work on Amazon. Check back on the blog to see when one of the irregular posts has careened onto your feed. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out!