Thursday, February 15, 2007

Names I've Given My Hardware

I was never one of those people who had names for my cars, mainly because I never actually owned them - my parents did. I got my first laptop as a graduation present when I finished highschool, and though I never named it at the time, the person I gave it to when I upgraded starting calling it "The Beast" because it weighs something like ten pounds (it also, unlike two of the three laptops that followed it, still works).

I had a nice, big-screened Gateway computer after that, which also went unnammed, though I certainly whispered many and varied terms of endearment over it when it actually managed to store 20 gigs worth of music.

When that one blew up on me, I bought one of those tablet PCs and called it "bird" because of it's small size (I think it weighed 2lbs).

When that one gave out on me last year or the year before, I bought this new Sony Vaio with the slick looking screen and comfy keyboard. It's reasonably light, but far from compact, and I've got a big wide screen for watching movies and a big keyboard for comfortably typing up a lot of fucking books.

It also just so happened that I was hip-deep in God's War about that time, and when I had to type in a name for this computer, the first one that popped into my head was the name of GW's heroine: Nyx.

My ipod, which I got soon after, has the name of Nyx's female sidekick: Anneke (that's the little name that shows up next to the drive letter and everything. It always makes me snicker).

If I keep burning through computers like this, I may have to shelve the old shells on the ego shelf with the actual books whose characters I named the hardware after and whose pages were typed on the same machines.

Books and dead laptops filed away on the same shelves feels very Gibson.

When the Plucky Heroine Stomps Her Foot and Tosses Her Hair, You Know She Means Business

I've been trying to get through Martha Wells's City of Bones for a while now, mainly because it's got a blasted-out desert setting with Old Ruines, bugs, mutants, and pirates, which sounded a lot like GW's world to me, and I wanted to see how somebody else handled that sort of setting.

And yea, you know, the world's cool and all, but it lacks a certain richness, mostly due to the writing style, and, worst offense of all - the characters are completely unlikable. I really don't care if either of them live or die, and they just aren't interesting.

There are great prose writers and great story writers, and if you're great at story or great at prose, I'll read you (I think writers like Catherynne Valente are great at prose, and writers like Stephen King are great at story - I'll read both, but for different reasons, and I'll get different things out of them), but great story means I need to enjoy reading about the characters. I want to be invested. It's not that they have to be likable: they just have to interesting.

Though SF/F has come a long way with it's female characters, they tend to suffer a similiar fate shared by their male counterparts, which is that they end up getting two or three character traits assigned to them, and in the same way a bad actor starts raising their voice during a particularly emotional scene as if to say "LOOK AT ME, I'M ACTING!!!!" these characters display their formulaic template of "plucky heroine" traits: stomp their feet, clench their fists, tug their braids, and then verbally spar with the Brooding Hero who doesn't get laid because he's "misunderstood," and then we move on.

The thing with this sort of set up - plucky heroine & brooding hero - is that that template *can work.* And when it *does* work - when it's done well - you can create characters people really love (Mal & Inara of Firefly, Alanna & her Thief King in the Alanna books, that Kushiel's Dart chick and the brooding celibate warrior guy in the first of the Kushiel books, etc); you know, the sort of characters people like to write slash fiction about. heh heh

The problem is when people get lazy, and they reach for that "plucky heroine" template and just scribble somebody in, like this Elen character in City of Bones. When she's feeling strong emotion, when we're given a scene meant to illustrate how Plucky & Independent she is, she does one of those clench-my-fists-and-stomp-my-foot things that I find really annoying. You see the same problem with Nynaveave in the Jordan books. When she feels particularly plucky, she'll tug her braid and stomp her foot, and then you know she means business! (this is amusing the first couple of times in book one. By book six, you want her to die quickly and suddenly; you hope a tree will fall on her).

I wonder how much of this is just plain cardboard character writing and how much of it is just seeing a lot of people rush to write Strong, Plucky Heroines without really knowing how to do that because most mainstream literature was about Brooding Male Heroes. The template you *did* drawn from that had strong female characters was romance, and I'm wondering how many of those Plucky Space Opera Heroines were originally conceived as pure Romance heroines.

So you end up with these women characters who may be smart and spunky, but they're pretty childish and vulnerable, too (again, how much of this is just poor and/or lazy writing?). After all, if she was *too* capable, and governed her emotions a little more diplomatically, then she wouldn't *really* be a female character, she'd just be a Guy in Drag.

I guess I've just never bought the idea that a fully realized female character who didn't act like a fourteen year old at thirty-five was "a guy in drag."

The Mounting Cost of Living

I received a bill in the mail today for $1617.73.

This is the amount of money I owe to COBRA if I'd like to have continuing medical coverage through March. I have paid $360 of that, which leaves me to come up with roughly $1250 by March 10th or forfeit my ability to be insured through COBRA.

I am currently making $15 an hour as a temp receptionist in the wake of my December layoff, which is a pay cut of about $4 an hour and another, what, missing $400 a year in matching 401(K) benefits. The layoff also meant the dissolution of my high-deductible-though-free (yes, free) health insurance, which is what kept me from going bankrupt when I spent four days in the ICU in May.

All those medical bills and a couple of blown-out computers have left me with roughly 10K in credit card debt (I was bemoaning the fact that I owned nearly 3K about this time last year. Oh, what I'd give to owe 3K!), which I'm paying off, minimum payment a month, $200. Rent and utilities are $750 a month. Medical supplies are $100-150. Gym fee is $109. Student loans are a whopping $300. I've gotten groceries down to $70 a week when I'm playing it lean. Transit costs are $90 a month.

I can almost make it with these bills at $15 an hour, cause I can clear nearly 2K a month, and bills above add up to $1900. Every three months, my endocrinologist charges me $95 for a 20-minute check up, so yea, those are tight numbers. Real tight. But I could almost make it.

What this slim little budget fails to provide for, of course, is that $360 a month in health insurance.

I try to keep my spirits, up, yo, but it's math like this that makes me "grimly optimistic" instead of, you know, optimistic.

It's also why I'm not a math major.

Numbers are cold, cold things.

Sometimes, just in order to get yourself going forward, to not give up, to stay resolute, you have to just say "Fuck it."

I don't think a lot about how I'll get through all this. I just get through it. I think, sometimes, that if I stopped and thought about it, I might not be able to get up again.

Close your eyes and leap.