RSS

Monthly Archives: June 2014

Megamind and Women

I recently had the pleasure of watching Megamind – I know I’m behind the times, but it didn’t appeal to me when it first came out. I was very glad I decided to watch it, though, as it was extremely funny, quirky, and while often cliched and predictable, it still managed to be clever. The main characters were well done and I sympathized with or understood all of them – all of them, that is, except the sole named female character, Roxanne. In a movie that was all about subverting cliches, the one cliche they didn’t subvert was that of the damsel in distress. In and of itself, that’s fine, but then Roxanne never rose beyond the role of damsel in distress. She was introduced as clever and confident, but these traits mostly vanished as we got to know her better and she got used by pretty much everyone. She had so much potential and was so well-positioned to actually affect the plot, but she never did; she always went to Megamind or his alter-ego for help. She did almost nothing on her own, though she was clearly capable of doing so!

Other than her, the world they inhabit seemed to be entirely made of men, except for a few women who pop up in the large crowd scenes. As such, it’s a crime that they didn’t take advantage of the one female character they included, and then even more of a crime when the damsel in distress trope was pretty much the only one to survive unscathed. It was extremely frustrating to watch her miss out on all of these opportunities to do something, when it was perfectly in character, and soured an otherwise phenomenal movie.

Sorry for the little rant, but that aspect of Megamind really bugged me. Still, though, if you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend it.

Advertisements
 
Leave a comment

Posted by on June 18, 2014 in Watchings

 

The Gods Themselves

Of all of the hundreds of novels he wrote, 1972’s The Gods Themselves was Isaac Asimov’s favorite. Having picked it up after reading the first three Foundation novels (a review of that whole series will be coming once I finish all of the one’s he himself wrote), I can understand why it is. The book is divided into three parts, aptly entitled “Against Stupidity…” “…the gods themselves…” “…contend in vain.” The line, as mentioned in the book, is taken from the play The Maids of Orleans by Friedrich Schiller, and each title corresponds very nicely with the contents.

The first bit, “Against Stupidity,” details the struggle of a physicist-turned-somewhat-historian chronicling the invention of the “Electron Pump,” which produces free, unlimited energy with no downsides that is generated by exchanging matter with a different universe with different physical laws. The Pump’s inventor more or less stumbles into inventing it, and most of the technical work was supplied to him through mysterious beings in the other universe, about whom nothing is known, with whom communication is nearly impossible, and without whom the pump will not work, as they are the ones exchanging material.

Naturally, the man credited with inventing unlimited energy becomes an academic giant who rules the academic world with the iron fist of patronage, and much of the first third of the book is a criticism of academia (and particularly its patronage system) and human greed (which causes people to ignore danger when it is easier to deny it). The young scientist who stars in this part of the book, who finds out that the physical laws of the two universes are leaking into each other with disastrous consequences for mankind, spends the first part struggling in vain against mankind’s stupidity and illicitly contacting the “para-universal” beings on the other side of the pump.

The second part was the centrepiece of the book and by far the most interesting and fascinating. The para-beings on the other side of the Electron Pump are, compared to mankind, technological gods. The second part of the book focuses on these “gods,” and takes place in the other universe, focusing on those beings exchanging matter with mankind. What makes this part so brilliant is Asimov’s ability to create utterly alien races and at the same time make them very easy to relate to. One of the unnamed races he described have three sexes that interact in fascinating ways, and I shan’t say more about them as it would absolutely spoil the absolutely brilliant twist that forced me to put down the book for a good twenty minutes to get my bearing. It was simply the best twist I have ever encountered in television or on paper.

The third part, “…contend in vain,” is back in our universe, and takes place on the Moon. It deals with many “hard science” aspects of life on the moon, and brought the anime Planetes to mind in its discussion of native Lunarians (to borrow the Planetes term). In the last third of this very short book, Asimov touches on a lot of the sociopolitical issues of colonization, while simultaneously tying up the loose ends in the first two parts. The title fits a little less well here, as they in the end are not contending in vain, but perhaps the title refers to the lie that the chapter is exposing.

The fact that this book was originally serialized as three stories is rather obvious, as the three parts are rather disconnected thematically, and are only connected by the Electron Pump, which is the focus of part one, more fully explain in part two, and then resolved in part three. Each segment, though, also has its own important aspects of social criticism: part one criticizes greed and academic patronage, part two criticized greed and presented a fascinating alien society and parallel universe, and finally, part three dealt with issues of power and separatism on a colonial holding.

As in his other work, Asimov’s writing can be a bit clunky, and his individual human characters are somewhat flat, but his alien characters absolutely shine, as well as his spot-on presentation and analysis of various social problems that continue to plague us today. The book is well-worth reading, and definitely would be high on a list of science fiction books everyone should read.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on June 17, 2014 in Readings

 

The Art of Surprise

I think the word “suddenly” is one of the most overused words in the English language. The word has its uses, but it is not as useful a word as many think it is, in my own humble opinion. The word is an adverb, and if you adhere to Stephen King’s writing recommendations, this makes it inherently evil. While I don’t think adverbs are as terrible as Mr. King does, “suddenly” is an adverb that should immediately arouse suspicion.

Why? Because the word is counterproductive. The word “suddenly” is supposed to inform the reader that something is happening very quickly and is coming as a surprise or shock. But by informing the reader of the upcoming surprise, it spoils the surprise. For example: George lay down in his soft bed, lulled quickly into the depths of slumber by the constant chirps of the crickets outside. He dreamt of cake and cherry pie, and danced a merry jig with the lord of the ladybugs. Suddenly, the chirps stopped. George was awake in an instant. In that example, the word functions as a connector. It marks the transition from the soothing world of cricket chirps to the eerie world of silence. It makes the transition more obvious, less subtle, and most importantly for those who use the word, less awkward.

If you remove the “suddenly” from the example, it becomes: George lay down in his soft bed, lulled quickly into the depths of slumber by the constant chirps of the crickets outside. He dreamt of cake and cherry pie, and danced a merry jig with the lord of the ladybugs. The chirps stopped. George was awake in an instant. This doesn’t really work, as without the mark of the transition, we have no real sense of time or when the transition is taking place.

Yet, at the same time, the “suddenly” takes away from the surprise by warning you that you are going to be surprised. It is a red flag that tells the reader that something unexpected is going to happen. As a result, you expect the unexpected, and the impact of the surprise is lessened. So, the question becomes, how can you make the reader genuinely surprised and shocked, but also make the writing flow and make sense?

My own answer to this is the paragraph. Paragraphs mark divisions, but because they can mark a much wider range of divisions than the word “suddenly,” the reader doesn’t necessarily know that something unexpected will happen when they get to the next paragraph. As a result, we get:

George lay down in his soft bed, lulled quickly into the depths of slumber by the constant chirps of the crickets outside. He dreamt of cake and cherry pie, and danced a merry jig with the lord of the ladybugs.

The chirps stopped. George was awake in an instant.

For me, at least, this last example is the most powerful because of the abruptness of the switch. There isn’t a clear warning sign in the form of a connecting word; the surprise and suddenness of the event in question is conveyed by the abrupt writing and George’s reaction; the last example shows instead of tells. And, unlike the second example, the paragraph break allows the reader to differentiate between two flows of time; the status quo described in the first paragraph, and the disruption of that status quo in the second. To me, an abrupt breaking of the status quo, with no connecting words but a clear differentiation between two moments in time, is the best way to express surprise.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on June 3, 2014 in Writing