Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Excerpt: Black Desert Gets a Plot Shift

Black Desert is currently in the middle of a heavy rewrite. Here's some additional sceneage I was working on today (I'll post something with a bit more action tomorrow):


“Mercia’s mother called,” Suha said. She put out the cigarette and stuffed a wad of sen between teeth and cheek. Her teeth were stained bloody crimson from long years of use. Both habits were far healthier substitutes to venom.

“She deposit my fee?” Nyx asked.

“Yeah. Says she’s taking you off her daughter’s case, though.”

“You serious?”

“Says she heard we had some trouble downtown today.”

“Fucking diplomats. She should thank me for keeping her daughter alive.”

“I called the bounty note office like you asked,” Suha said. She started the bakkie and turned them out onto south Raban. From here, Nyx could just see the curved amber spire of the Orrizo in the distance – a monument to anonymous dead men. “There’s no record that anybody put out a note on you or Mercia. That bel dame was definitely rogue. Maybe running black work for some Ras Tiegan government official? Somebody who wanted to get to Mercia’s mother?”

“Then at least I’ve got my right ass cheek covered,” Nyx said. The left, she wasn’t so sure about.

Eshe hopped up and down in his seat. Nyx wondered if she was ever that giddy at fourteen. “Does this mean we’re going to the bel dame office?”

“It means I’m going to the bel dame office,” Nyx said. She palmed some of Suha’s sen.

“Thought you made a habit of running black work back when you were a bel dame,” Suha said. “Why do you care so much about turning her in? Burn the head and be done with it.”

“I don’t generally mind folks running around picking up illegal bounties,” Nyx said, “but she made a mistake.”

“And what was that?” Suha said.

“She tried to kill me.”

Eshe snickered.

“You sure they’ll let you in there?” Suha said.

“We’ll find out.”

The bel dame reclamation office in Mushtallah was at the base of the city’s sixth hill, known to many as Bloodmount. Particularly pious Nasheenians paid exorbitant prices to take a brief, musty tour of the interior of the derelict that made up the center of the hill. Most of the hills of Mushtallah were artificial. Their rotting cores were made up of old refugee ships, derelicts from the mass exodus from the moons back at the beginning of the world. Nyx had never been down there – she didn’t much care what came before her – but she heard most of it was sealed off anyway. What was left was just a sterile tangle of old metal, bug secretions, and bone dust.

As they came around Palace Hill, Bloodmount came into view. At the height of the hill, a single tower gleamed a burnished copper color. That was the only visible part of the ship above ground, a twisted metal spire where every bel dame took her oath to uphold the old laws of blood debt.

“You sure you want to do this today?” Suha muttered, and spit sen out the open window.

Nyx stared out at the spire. The bel dame training schools, residences, and reclamation office ringed the base of the hill. From here, she couldn’t see the organic filter that protected the hill, but she’d been through it enough to know that it was the most powerful one in Nasheen. Hard to do, with Palace Hill just up the street. The inner filters were more precise, and more deadly. She didn’t figure she’d get much past the first filter on this little jaunt.

Suha drove to the big, burst-scarred main gate at the base of the hill. This neighborhood was mostly boxing gyms and cheap eateries. There were a few shabby text stores and some bodegas. Nyx stepped out of the bakkie and looked up in the tenement windows above the shops. Teenage girls - bel dame hopefuls and university students - sat around on the tiny balconies. High pitched laughter trickled out over the street. She caught a whiff of marijuana, opium, and the distinctive milky stink of too many teenage women. A couple of leggy girls stood on the stoop of a bodega across from the bakkie. They smoked clove and marijuana cigarettes and wore calf-length burnouses and looked Nyx over with heavy-lidded eyes.

“Can I come?” Eshe asked, leaning out the window. A couple of passing girls turned at his voice and stared outright. One of them stumbled. Her companion shrieked with laughter.

Nyx pushed his head back into the bakkie. “Stay with Suha. This isn’t a good place for boys.”

“Nyx –“

“You heard me. I’ll lose com with you once I’m inside the filter,” Nyx told Suha. “I’m not back in two hours, you file a report with the Order Keepers.” Not that it would do much good. Bel dames considered themselves autonomous. How they dealt with Nyx and her news was no business of the Queen’s, so far as they were concerned - even if Nyx hadn’t been one of their number in over a decade. At least if someone filed a report her absence would be noted.

Nyx motioned for Suha to pop the trunk. She dug the burnous-wrapped bel dame’s head out of the back and slung it over her shoulder. The burnous had eaten most of the blood, but it was stained a clotted amber brown.

She leaned into the driver’s side window and nodded to the side street. “There’s a good Ras Tiegan place two streets over called the Montrouge. Get the kid a soda and some curried dog.”

Eshe grimaced. “Tonight’s fight night.”

“I haven’t forgotten,” Nyx said. “Save room for rotis and beer, all right? I might be a bit.”

She wanted to pat his head, but he’d been too old for that for a long time. She snorted. Kids belonged at the coast. Nobody else knew what to do with them. She'd always thought it'd get easier as he got older. But it just got more awkward. Some days she wished he'd stayed eight years old forever.

“You watch yourself in there,” Suha said.

“You watch yourself out here,” Nyx said, and waved. She walked up to the front gate, and turned to watch Suha drive back out onto the main street.

There was a young woman at the gate, just a kid, maybe twenty. Couldn’t have served a day at the front. She had clear skin and clear, shiny eyes. Definitely not a day at the front.

“Here to report a rogue bel dame,” Nyx said.

“You got identification?” the woman said. Nyx held out her hand.

The woman pricked Nyx’s finger and smeared the blood on her desktop slide.

Nyx watched her reaction as the file came up. But the girl barely blinked. She raised her head.

“You’ve got level one clearance. You can go as far as the reclamation office without being cleaned.” She punched open the gate.

Nyx slipped inside. The gate clanged behind her. Old metal, the sort of stuff that came off derelicts. She walked across the courtyard, past the bakkie barns. A couple of tissue mechanics raised their heads as she passed.

The bounty reclamation office was a single-story building of amber stone. Most of the original arches had been whittled away by small arms fire, and what remained had been badly reconstructed. Only half of the bel dame oath was visible. The complete line, the heart of the bel dame oath, was “My life for a thousand.” All that was visible above the office was “My life.” Nyx thought that somehow appropriate, knowing what she did about bel dames.

She hesitated at the stoop. It'd been awhile since she crossed one of these thresholds.

"Well, shit," she said aloud, and hauled the bel dame's head into the office.

Zack and Miri Make a Porno

Don't. Just... Don't.

I'm all about a good Kevin Smith movie. This is not a good Kevin Smith movie. The characters are not only not likeable (which can be forgiven - there are plenty of unlikeable folks in fiction) but not interesting. There's this crazy misogynist bent running throughout (it's about porn, afterall. Still, I'd hoped it would be a little more transgressively about porn. I should know better than to expect transgression from Kevin Smith).

The real letdown here was Seth Rogan, who I genuinely like in 40 Year Old Virgin, and who I'd really have liked to develop a crush on. But he's actively unlikeable in this movie. He goes off on this really mean, sexist rant about halfway through, and I'd like to think it was just great acting, but I don't get that his depth as an actor could really stretch too far from home plate.

So the show is sexist to the point of misogyny, ridiculously racist, and worst of all: none of it's even funny. If you're going to be sexist and racist, can you do it in a smart, sly, *funny* way? There's a way to do this that's clever. This movie isn't clever. South Park knows how to criticize everybody in a way that's creative and... not lazy.

This is just a lazy piece of storytelling with dull characters who don't even stay in character. It's a lazy orgasm of every "nice guy"'s wish fulfillment fantasy: that the woman you've been pining after for years who insists that you'll always be "just friends" finally has sex with you and realizes - OMG! - she's actually in love with you!

See, guys, all we really need is one good lay.... Maybe if you just get her drunk enough or poor enough she'll sleep with you! THEN SHE WILL KNOW THE TRUTH.

And it's sad, right? Because in the movie, he genuinely likes her, and it made me think of all these sad, groping guys who don't understand the difference between fantasy and reality.

You know, I write fantasy novels, and this fantasy was just too over the top for me.

Lazy writing. Lazy directing. Lazy acting. Lazy, lazy, lazy.

Gods and Monsters and Valkyries Oh My!

I picked up NorseCode based primarily on the strength of the back cover copy and first chapter, which is usually a good sign (Not always. See The Electric Church for first chapter readings that went wrong). Turns out this is the sort of book that makes me second guess my aversion for books clothed in urban fantasy covers (cause c’mon, you know this is how God’s War is going to look).

I’ve known Greg via shared friends/colleagues for some time, but it’s actually rare that I enjoy a book written by somebody I know. It’s just statistics: of all the books being written by all the folks in the SF/F community, I’m only going to like a certain fraction. The folks I know in the SF/F community represent a fraction of that fraction.

So anyways, this is an end-of-the-world-comes-to-California novel, made better by flawed gods and rogue Valkyries with swords. Overall, it’s good eats: totally epic battles and a whirlwind tour of Hel. There are just enough POV shifts, interesting characters, and great settings. It’s a good beach book.

And, of course, it helps that the female characters don’t suck. Who doesn’t want to read about a Valkyrie who’s good with a sword, really?

A couple of personal annoyances: our heroine and her sister had very similar voices. Totally different characters with very different views on life, but when I was in one head as opposed to the other, I couldn’t really tell much difference. They acted/reacted in very similar ways, and had similar thought processes. I actually wondered, for awhile, if they were twins and this was supposed to show how alike they were. In fact, they’re at least a couple of years apart, which is hard to tell based on voice and their interactions.

And, you know, the pan-to-the-lamp “romance” between the Valkyrie and one of the gods was, eh, so-so, and I was reeeeeally glad it was just a “pan to the lamp” romance. I liked that she was the active initiator of the relationship (gods rape human women so much in myth that seeing a human woman initiate was a nice change), but it felt a little strained. I had no idea what they saw in each other, except that they were a man and a woman at the end of the world. Maybe that’s enough.

In any case, this was a fun read. I was pleased to see eight copies on the shelf at the big bookstore in Newport, KY that J. and I visited on our way to see a far less entertaining bit of media...

Terminator, Or What the Fuck Did You Do With My Sarah Conner

This movie would have been better if I wrote it. It wouldn’t have sucked as hard.

How about this: they could have written all the parts that had to do with robots. And I would have written everything that had to do with the people.

It's true, the new Terminator machine concept was great. I genuinely liked the new Terminator model, and the creepy goo behind it. The heart imagery was way overdone (and let’s not even get into who the fuck is going to do a successful heart transplant in a field hospital but anyway), but dial it down by 50% and it would have been neat.

As J. said to me afterwards, “Well… I liked the robots.”

Indeed. The robots were great. They were fast, interesting, and in the case of the Terminator himself, strong, brave, and kickass.

But the people? The people sucked.

Let me tell you the fucking problem with the last two Terminator movies, because it’s pretty bloody obvious to anybody who loved the first two.

The problem is there’s no Sarah Conner. And I don't just mean Sarah Conner the actual character. I mean Sarah Conner the archtype.

I had great hopes for Christian Bale as John Conner. Because, you know, like anybody else who grew up watching Sarah battle it out for the future (her son’s and humanity’s), you really want to like him. No, you want to LOVE him. You want this to be the great, awesome, heroic, courageous leader you’ve been hearing about your whole life. This was the movie where I thought I would see him become that amazing leader. When he spoke, I wanted to be inspired. I wanted to believe him. I wanted a leader.

Instead, what I got was a whiny, hesitant, terrified grunt with a monotone Batman voice and absolutely no personality or charisma whatsoever (when Bale wanted to portray emotion, he yelled. A LOT. “I’M ACTING! I’M ACTING! I’M AN ACTOR!”).

And his wife? What was her name? I’m sorry, I don’t think she was name checked once. But whoever the hell she was, she and John had absolutely no chemistry, and she had no reason for being in this movie except to give you the impression that since she was pregnant it would be OK if Conner died, so you had a bit more suspense there at the end (honestly, I was secretly rooting for Conner’s death, if only because then maybe Bryce could have become the next awesome Mother of the Future in a Sarah Conner way and not a fucked up Padme way, tho honestly, I really can’t stand Bryce Dallas Howard and I have no fucking clue why she was cast in this movie. She acted with all the emotional power of a piece of blank cardboard).

The female characters in the movie are a BIG problem. James Cameron and Linda Hamilton set the bar for female heroines in this franchise, and directors have since gone backwards in their efforts to cast and portray female characters. I suspect this is largely because they felt that the only way to make John Conner awesome was to castrate all the women around him (freeing him from his perceived strong mother complex?). What they didn't fucking realize is that a guy who has a badass mother is going to surround himself with a lot of badass PEOPLE: this guy should have Gina Torres at his right hand. This is somebody who will naturally gravitate toward strong, kickass people, and many of those people will be women.

This is THE FUTURE, you fuckers. It’s a future full of badass people. Who else do you think would be left?

But instead of writing PEOPLE, the writers decided to write (and the directors decided to direct), WOMEN. WOMEN who wouldn't upstage Conner (first tip: surrounding a leader with strong people makes them stronger, not weaker).

What’s wrong with writing WOMEN as WOMEN, you may ask? After all, you don’t just want Conan with tits, do you? DO YOU??

Here’s what’s wrong:

When people who have a lot of preconceived notions about what a “woman,” is, about what “women,” can do, about why this character, in particular, is a “woman,” they’re more likely to write cliché women characters. They’re more likely to wax on and on about the character’s femininity, and take every opportunity to make it clear that THIS CHARACTER HAS TITS. Instead of, you know, writing a person.

Some of the great portrayals of great female heroines were parts originally written for men. This is largely because we all write with a misogynist bent, some of us more than others (you absorb this shit from you culture. Deal with it).

Note that Ripley in Alien was originally written as a man. Both female characters in Alien were originally written as men. The only change they made to the script was… well, it wasn’t. They just cast women for the roles and subbed pronouns. And why did they make this decision? Because the women’s movement was “really popular” at the time, and they figured it would sell more tickets to have more women in the movie.

What is it, exactly, that we figure will sell tickets these days? Not kickass female characters, apparently. Just women in leather who look good getting their asses kicked. The supposededly “tough” women in shows these days are all form, no substance. You can’t just put a chick in leather and hand her a knife. Recall Linda Hamilton’s arms. I BELIEVED she was a crazy psycho who could kick my ass.

I actually blame a lot of this form-over-substance change on Buffy. But that’s a rant for another time.

In any case, there are still a lot of writers who go out of their way to make sure we’re clear that the only reason the women are in the movie at all is *because* they’re women… not because they’re people.

So John Conner’s wife is pregnant (something only a woman can do). And Bloodgood’s character is 1) almost gangraped 2) cuddles up to and falls for the Terminator (both generally things that would only happen if the character was female. Far more transgressive would actually have been to write this as a part for a guy). At least the kid running around with Reese 1) had a useful 6th sense 2) knew how to properly load a gun 3) knew how to get her hands on lots of useful weapons and detonators. I guess that before you hit puberty, you're still allowed to be tough, because little girls are less scary that women with Linda Hamilton arms.

In fact, the one scene where we get to see a chick kicking ass… she’s saved by the Terminator. And even then, she doesn’t even hop back into the fight with him. She just lets him take over the whole fight, and doesn’t appear again until it’s all over, so she can shoot somebody (and puullleeeez, people: she’s been fighting machines for years, living as part of a rebellious underground, and she FORGETS HER GUN when she goes outside? Give me a fucking break. Folks who forget their weapons when they’re wandering around are just stupid, and wouldn’t have survived this long. Don’t insult me by making her stupid, too).

So, the female characters suck. Upshot would be that there were actually some faces (some with actual speaking parts!) that were non-white. At least there are black people, Asian people, and Other, in the future.

Though the Sarah Conners of the world all seem to have died off.

Apparently, the machines were smart enough to kill them off first.

These women were the biggest threat.