Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Where were you raised, in a barn?!

We live in a polite society - or so we keep telling ourselves - and I can only conclude that this is correct, and it’s the select few who are striving at every corner to prove me wrong.

Case in point: Near my house, a mere 1 mile away, is a Starbucks (yes, I live in latte land, so it stands to reason) and like any of the other coffee or tea houses I frequent, there is an accepted social decorum. You place your order, retrieve your refreshments, and - if you choose to stay there - you find a nice comfy spot and relax. If you’re with friends, you find a table of suitable size and sit, sipping and chatting using what we term an “inside voice”. That is to say, you do not laugh loudly and rudely, or converse at a volume intended to call children in from the playground for their evening meal !

A simple concept, and yet it alludes so many.

Every Sunday, without fail, at “my” Starbucks, a crowd of women gather. They number around five or six, gather several tables together, and ALL TALK AT ONCE - loudly, rudely, and with absolutely no regard for anyone else inside or out.

You go in to place your order and find you have to raise your own voice so the person a mere two feet from you, on the other side of the counter, can hear and comprehend. This group - we’ve dubbed The Gaggle - laugh incredibly loudly, raise their voices to be heard over each other’s raised voices, and spread out so that no one could possibly walk around them or by them.

My sister and I have taken to either picking up our Sunday morning treat in the drive thru, or at another coffee house altogether, just to avoid the rudeness.

This Gaggle clearly hold no regard for anyone on this planet other than themselves. They don’t care that they’re rude, annoying, loud, obnoxious and literally take complete control of an entire establishment for several hours at a time every week. They don’t care that people stare at them, give them the “evil eye” or make other marginally polite public displays of suggestion, offering them the opportunity to quiet down like the rest of society or risk a shotgun blast to the head.

I’m assuming - and this could be a stretch - that taken one at a time, these individual people are likely to be as polite and socially aware as the rest of us. But for some reason - call it gang-mentality if you will - when they gather into a full-on Gaggle, all bets are off!

If this Gaggle were in a bar, or restaurant, you would assume they were drunk. Trust me when I say I am not stretching the description here - they’re just plain RUDE. And what makes this matter so inconceivable and unforgivable is the fact that they simply Do Not Care. They clearly could not care less that they’re being as rude as poorly raised spoiled brats accustomed to having their own way and throwing public tantrums when denied.

In fact, it’s my contention that these are the very people responsible for those children we all loath to sit with on planes, stand near in grocery store checkout lines or share a movie theater with.

I can understand why the employees of Starbucks do nothing. These are, after all, paying customers. Unlike a library, there’s no posting of a “please be quiet” sign, society assumes you know how to conduct yourself in a polite manner while in a public setting.

But why do we, as polite human beings, stand by and take it?

I’ll tell you why - because we’re POLITE! We’re so polite, we know it’s rude to approach a stranger and reprimand them on their public behavior. You’re supposed to glance sideways, give them “that” look, and they’re supposed to realize they’re being obnoxious and - out of fear of public embarrassment - tone it down.

I’m finding these days that works less and less, because more and more of the people who make up this supposed Polite Society are so impolite, they just don’t give a rat’s ass. They’re used to spending hours online, isolated from the public, insulated from social situations - then when the need arises, they surround themselves with their friends so they can maintain that sense of being in their own living room wherever they go. They drive as if their cars were simply telephones that transported them places, they feel the need to share their musical tastes with anyone inside a five-mile radius, assume the grocery store aisles are for their children to play in while they phone friends to share the latest gossip, and think nothing of reaching or cutting in front of you without so much as a “pardon me” !

They’re the reason I don’t go to the movies anymore. You either have some kid kicking your seat, teenagers chatting loudly in front of you, or a guy beside you with too much cologne. The last time I tried, a couple in their 50’s thought it was their living room, and they chatted about the movie as though they were alone on their couch - critiquing the sets, the actors, the film - at a volume the rest of us reserve for in-home use.

Well I’m mad as hell, and I don’t wanna take it any more !

But I will, and so will millions of others like me. Because we live in a polite society.

I’ve fantasized many a scenario wherein these rude Gaggles are mowed down, cut to pieces, banished from all social situations, and one - where little purple bug-sized aliens infest their brains and foofy hairdos, and send them screaming out into traffic where the little ships zap them up and take them to planet Rude-as-I-Wannabe, where they’re placed in zoos and forced to sit inside little cones of silence, unable to chat with their fellow abductees, while loud-mouthed little purple aliens walk by, taking no notice whatsoever and chatting loudly on their little alien cell phones.

That one’s my personal favorite.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Klatu Barada Nikto

Aliens - many a Science Fiction writer’s joy. And I, too, have on occasion added them to a story. Although they’re not necessary - one can have a high quality piece of Science Fiction without adding a single alien being or creature. When television does it, all too often they cheat, and have their aliens speaking perfect English, contractions and all !

I’m not a Star Trek fan - so you’ll understand when I say one of my major beefs with that franchise is their lack of imagination when it comes to aliens. All they ever do are variations of the bipedal humanoid, alternating the color of the skin or the shape/size of head ridges or nose bumps to indicate another species. Come on, people! Is this a budget constraint, or a lack of creative thinking? I could probably count on one hand the amount of times they got creative with their aliens.

I realize if you want your aliens to communicate, you have to give them language - in television that usually translates as English for reasons of simplicity. Some programs at least use a form of translation device to explain their ability to understand an alien language. One show - Farscape - used a method of implanting nanobots into the brain that would instantly translate any language into the one you understood. A stretch, maybe, but more fun than most. Until the main character was implanted, every alien there spoke a completely different and totally alien language.

There’s a trick some script writers use, when creating dialog for an alien that is already established to be English-speaking - it’s a cheap ploy, but it does distinguish them from Earth-based humans. You simply assume they wouldn’t know slang or contractions - so instead of Can’t, they say Can not. Instead of It’s, they say It is. Take any paragraph you’ve written or any group of sentences you’ve said recently, remove all contractions, and you’re left with a very formal sounding person the writer is hoping will pass as alien. And let’s face it, formal speech is pretty alien these days.

Personally I think it’s arrogant to assume aliens, even humans from other galaxies who’ve never heard of Earth, would speak English. Why not German? Or Chinese? Of course it’s done so those of us who understand English will take enjoyment from the story. Though I once read - as an assignment in college - a book that was written in English with all the dialog in Spanish (and no, I don’t read Spanish) I still managed to get through the book, understand what was taking place, and get an A on my review. (which brings up another subject I’ll discuss in the next blog!)

Aside from language is another issue that plagues me; Aliens who act just like us! Typically they walk on 2 legs, breathe air, sit down, eat solid food, drink liquid water, etc etc.

Easy to do, easy for your audience to understand, but also a lazy - cheap way to cut a corner.

I remember a class I had (way) back in High School - one of the biggest influences on my young life was a writing teacher - Mrs. Wright - who dared us to challenge convention while keeping within the realms of physics - a necessary evil when writing Science Fiction as opposed to Fantasy where anything goes.

She challenged us one day to try and look at our class - the room, the students, the furniture - from a completely alien perspective. And I mean alien. You couldn’t even assume that, as the alien looking in, you had legs that bent or opposable digits. Even a chair would hold no meaning, and you’re trying to make sense of these things you’re seeing, and attempt to theorize their use based on life as YOU know it, as the alien.

Have you ever seen one of those Swedish ergonomic chairs - where you just perch your ass on one section and lean your knees into another? They don’t even resemble a chair as we’re used to seeing, so when you come upon one of these things, you can’t for the life of you figure out how you’re supposed to use it. There’s no flat part where your butt goes !

After someone shows you how it works, and you get in, you can see it for what it is. But heaven help you if you have to get up in a hurry !

I’ve had some fun creating an alien environment and asking my characters to figure it out. They come up with all manner of logical theories, based on life as they know it, then change their minds as something new comes along. Without making contact with the owners of the objects they’re finding, they can theorize all they want and never truly know the answers. Unless you see the aliens using the items, your characters can’t possibly know for sure. But you, and they, and -- with any luck at all -- your audience, can have a great time trying.

Just keep in play the laws of physics to the best of your ability - understanding certain things might have to be fudged for readability (accepted fudges include gravity on space ships and faster-than-light travel) You can explain some things away by putting your story far enough into the future to assume someone has invented it by then, or add some alien technology to explain what can’t quite be figured out. You’ll soon find the word “alien” is a useful catch-all for the bizarre - as long as you don’t go overboard !

And keep in mind - NASA loves to harp about how liquid water is necessary for life. That’s not true. Liquid water is only necessary for life as WE know it. Carbon based life. Don’t assume your aliens are carbon-based, or in need of liquid water. That’s just plain boring.

So in my opinion, if you want to create aliens - go for it. But seriously GO for it. Don’t assume anything based on the world we know. Maybe cats really DO read minds and rule the universe. After all, who’s cleaning the litter pan, you or them?

And hey, maybe we’ll make great pets !

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Flipper, The Final Frontier

They say space is the final frontier. Well at least William Shatner said it was. Doesn’t matter to me, I’ll never get out there. And frankly I don’t care. If I did, I would have become an astronaut when I was young.

But you know what really curls my fries? The fact that there ARE no more frontiers!

Ever since I was a kid, and learned about pioneers in school - how our great grandparents left everything they’d ever known and forged into the unconquered world. How they packed up their belongings, and ventured forth, not knowing what they were going to find, what their lives would be like when they got there. Not even knowing for sure if they would get there.

That’s the kind of person I wanted to be when I grew up. And I fantasized in school that by the time I was a grown up - since all the continents were already colonized - they’d have deep-sea, underwater cities where I could go and become one of the first or second groups to colonize the ocean and live miles under the surface. My own brave new bubbly world.

I have ancestors who packed up all they owned and braved the seas from Sweden to Seattle, not speaking a word of English, to start new in America. I have ancestors who left all they knew, family and friends in Scotland, and traveled over the Atlantic to Alberta, buying a massive piece of land and building a homestead, living off the land. (okay, sure, you can't really live off the sky or the tree branches, I get it)

And here I sit, born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, with no place NEW to venture forth into.

I’ve resented that since the day I realized they just weren’t going to get around to colonizing the ocean, like I’d planned!

There are no more frontiers. No more unexplored regions of the planet, no more continents in need of colonists. And no, the Amazon doesn't count - it's been discovered!

And they found bugs. Really big ones.

There just are no brave new worlds left.

I think that’s one reason why I write Science Fiction. I know I’ll never get up there, and I don’t really believe anything that I write will even come close to being a reality - but at least through words, I can explore the unknown - see what’s never been seen, forge my way in a dangerous new world, facing the odds and risking it all just to be one of the first ones there !

More or less.

It’s not quite the same when the brave new world you’re exploring is something you had to create first. But in a way, by creating new worlds - keeping to science and physics to the best of ones ability - you could call that exploration. As a writer, I do not live vicariously through my characters (they're men, I am a woman) - but I do enjoy seeing through their eyes on occasion. I like watching them discover these new worlds and situations, and it never ceases to amaze me how they react to them.

So, until they get busy on that undersea colony, I guess that’ll have to do.

But I'm keeping my water wings handy!

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

It's like being pecked to death by chickens

Writing novels - posting them for the free enjoyment of anyone interested - and using a Web Page to distribute . . . is like being pecked to death by chickens.

First the page had too many graphics. So I removed them.

Then the page wasn’t an easy color to read. So I changed it.

No one liked having to read a chapter segmented into several sections. I had to wait for Geocities to catch up to my file sizes, but eventually I was able to change that.

Then it was too frustrating to have to read chapters instead of the whole story on one page.

After that, it became too annoying for them to wait between chapters for the next one.

Next they wanted to download the whole story, so they didn’t have to spend any time online.

Thanks to some very helpful naked campers, I managed to find the right - most accessible file format - zip that up tight and post them all.

Ahhh - - now it’s too hard to download a zipped file.

Can’t open a zipped file.

Seem to believe you have to pay a fee to read a zipped file.

Have no programs on web tv that open files.

Can’t make Word read an .rtf file. (yes, you can)

Can’t figure out how to download, unzip, or read a file.

Have no way of unzipping a file - what’s a zipped file?

Can’t spend more than 3 seconds online at any given time - can I mail them printed copies for free?

Love the page.

Hate the page.

Thanks for the new file formats!

I can’t stand the new file formats - how do you expect me to read the stories?

Downloading is so easy now!

I can’t download - change it or I won’t be able to read them.

I preferred to read the chapters online, can’t I change back to the way it was?

Don’t know anything about computers, couldn’t possibly download or figure out a zipped file. Fix it.

Can’t I email them the entire, unzipped, whole series in Word format, complete with snacks and a drink - after all, I’m doing this for free, that means I must be a desperate whore willing to do anything to get people to read the stories.

Chicken McNuggets, anyone?