And the asshat for today is. . .

Paul McGuinness, manager of U2. Ok, we get it, music piracy = bad.

But, do we think that either a) Making ISPs responsible for policing net traffic for copyrighted data or b) Taxing ISPs to compensate artists (read: compensate the monolith corporations that profit from said artists) are in fact good ideas?

Quoth asshat:

If you were a magazine advertising stolen cars, handling the money for stolen cars and seeing to the delivery of stolen cars, the police would soon be at your door. That’s no different to an ISP.

So a manager for a major rock group can’t tell the difference between a content provider and a distribution channel. So if some *cough*Negitiveland*cough* artist decided to sample too much of U2s songs, he’d figure it was reasonable to expect the record stores selling the offending CD to be liable? Or maybe he just wants the stores to check their product for oversampling.

Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam. . .

Many moons ago I posted about a spam query letter I got. (Not to be confused with the spam book promotion I received recently.) Just to reprise, the query was about “A Best Seller waiting to be published – Discover the Revolutionary New Way to Heal Yourself!…”

Needless to say, the first mistake was confusing a writer with a publisher. But our spammer was not one to make such fine distinctions. Anyway, I posted, I vented, and the tale thus ended.

Or did it?

I was just checking traffic to my site and discovered a new referring link from the Doubtful Muse blog. It seems that our spammer has finally gotten around to spamming editors. Yep. She’s still at it. And, yep, by the pronoun I have a gender. You see, the recent post at Doubtful Muse gave me two tidbits of information I didn’t have before (or I just wasn’t up to Googling for at the time.)

Tidbit one is a post or two at the The Rejecter blog. Apparently this poor employee at a literary agency got the same spam around the same time I did. The response reached a snark level that equaled if not exceeded my own:

Fortunately you have magic cards to heal yourself from the emotional trauma when you don’t get published because you pissed off potential agents and publishers by randomly spamming their emailboxes instead of submitting your idea in the proper format, which can be found on the very page from which you got my email address.

But wait, there’s more! The second tidbit was the fact that the proprietor of the Doubtful Muse was able to Google the mysterious website only alluded to in the spam email. This was a dangerous thing to let me know. Apparently, our spammer is a woman named Christina, who operates out of the UK. Saying she doesn’t “get” the publishing industry is an understatement. Here’s some quotes from the site:

The ideas for these manuscipts [sic] are born out of many situations, if you have an idea worthy of development, please contact me for an informal but confidential discussion.
[…]
Therefore, the role of the editor is to save the writer from the embarrassment of presenting poor quality workmanship. Once an editor has proofed and streamlined a manuscript by strengthening any weak areas, the manuscript will then be ready for market.
[…]
I hope to fulfil certain criteria:

– to produce excellent, professional novels worthy of publishing
– an original plot idea
– to appeal to the a broad market place – with enough potential for the book to be commercially viable
– to continue to produce novels and I as an author stand the test of time

I won’t link to the site, but feel free to Google it yourself. The woman has invested a lot in web design, but could have done a lot better by actually submitting proposals. I really don’t know what makes her think some publisher is going to surf her site and solicit her for a book proposal. Not only that, but Christina is paranoid about “revealing” her “secrets.” She has synopses up on her site, but they’re password-protected MS Word documents. She has the spammed proposal up on its own domain that’s unlinked to from her author site, and insists you e-mail her for chapters. She has sample articles up, but no publishing credits listed. None.

However, we know she’s a certified published writer. How, you ask? Because she has this:

How can you argue with that?

Plot vs Character: aka The Emotional Zombie

I finally got around to seeing 28 Weeks Later on DVD, and it’s a great zombie flick and one of those rarities; a sequel that is a considerable improvement on the original. Not that 28 Days Later was a bad film, it was just sort of typical for the genre; “You’re in the midst of the Zombie Apocalypse, you have to survive. Go!” And, while 28 Weeks starts out in the same place, it goes in a way different direction.

When people talk of fiction, there’s often much made of the distinction between plot and character, or “plot vs. character,” as if the two were somehow in opposition. The fact is, a story needs both to survive. If either is missing it becomes hard for a reader to care. Without character there’s no reason to care about what’s happening. Without plot there’s nothing happening to care about.

Now the connection between the two is not always very strong. There are literary character studies where the protagonist is caught up in events beyond their control and the object is to watch how this person’s character changes, and there are genre stories where interesting sympathetic characters are caught up in some grand adventure that doesn’t do much other than threaten their safety and give them something to do.

But, in the best stories, the plot is a direct result of character and vice-versa. It is a feedback loop that, in a tale like 28 Weeks, sets up a resonant vibration that shakes the whole universe of the story apart. (Before you go on, warning: Here Be Spoilers.)

In 28 Weeks we start with the typical post apocalyptic holdouts, a bunch of people including a man and wife whose children are safely on a school trip out of the country. The movie begins much as Night of the Living Dead ends, with the zombies storming the house, and one lone man (the husband) escaping. This is the point where we enter new territory. Not only do we jump to the post-apocalypse reconstruction effort, we get to see Dad— wracked with survivor’s guilt that’s painful to watch— reunited with his kids. When he breaks down explaining what happened to Mom, we care about this guy and his kids more than any ten characters in a dozen other action/horror films.

This is also key to the series of events that pushes the rest of the movie into motion. The kids slip out of the safe zone, not because they’re kids and kids do stupid shit, but because the son’s grief-stricken and his big sister wants to go back to their house and get some pictures for him. When Mom’s at the house, apparently uninfected, the first thought isn’t “What? How’d she survive?” it’s more “Mom’s alive!”

Of course when the army brings Mom and the kids back and put them in isolation, Dad’s reaction is even more intense. Up to now he believed he had left her to die. Of course he’s going to go see her. . .

The most powerful moment of the whole film is when he’s facing his wife, apologizing for leaving her in the farmhouse to die, and she forgives him! You’ve agonized with this guy since the opening of the movie, and you can see the weight lift off his shoulders. He walks to her side, and even though you’re screaming at him not to, he kisses her.

And unlike so many “too stupid to live” characters in dozens of other movies, you’re not screaming at him because it’s an idiotic thing to do. You’re screaming at him because you know, given what he knows (the plague has burned itself out, the military said so), and what he’s been through (this his his wife) there was precious little else you’d expect him to do. Even though we see it coming, because we see it coming, we’re as horrified as his wife when we see the infection grip him, and when he kills her it’s as close to classic tragedy as I’ve seen a genre film get.

28 Weeks is made of this stuff. Human beings bring about the end of the world, not through malice or stupidity, but because they’re human.

In case you weren’t sure what plagiarism isn’t.

The whole Cassie Edwards flap continues to ripple outward, leaving blog posts and long comment threads in its wake. One of the things it has unearthed is a widespread misunderstanding of what plagiarism actually is, leading to some rather eloquent posts on the subtle difference between copyright infringement and plagiarism.

But there is another widespread confusion that also needs to be addressed. It seems that for every person who believes “she did noting wrong”, or “she was just lifting non-fictional facts”, or “it’s romance so it don’t really matter. . .” there’s someone else who’s just as willing to dive overboard and say “hey that (description of a) book looks like (a description of) some other book,” and point screaming “PLAGIARIST” like Donald Sutherland at the end of the 1978 Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Such people don’t get the fact that, in fiction at least, there’s no ethical problem with taking ideas/plots from prior work and adapting them to your own.

In fact, there’d be a bit of a problem if there was such a restraint as is pointed out rather amusingly on the Smart Bitches‘ blog:

There seems to be some confusion regarding the status of ideas in copyright law. You can’t copyright a plot or an idea. You can only copyright the specific expression of that plot or idea as recorded in some sort of tangible form. Think about the nightmare of attempting to nail down and legislate a plot or idea for a story. How specific would you have to be before you could declare something unique enough to copyright?

“An angst-ridden story about a vampire falling in love with a human.” Dude, if you can copyright that and collect a small fee every time somebody published that story, you could have your own giant pool of gold coins to swim in, Scrooge McDuck-stylee. (Side note: doesn’t that sound like a painful idea to you? Because it always has to me.)

Or, as Justine Larbalestier pointed out in a follow-up on her blog:

I am so sick of people thinking that retelling a story is plagiarism. If that were so then we would have, at most, ten novels. All books about vampires, zombies, middle-aged English professors are not the same (well, okay, some of them are). It’s not about the story you tell so much as HOW YOU TELL IT. Why is that so difficult to understand?

Georgette Heyer did not plagiarise Jane Austen. David Eddings didn’t plagiarise J. R. R. Tolkien. Walter Mosley didn’t plagiarise Raymond Chandler. I did not plagiarise C. S. Lewis.

The next person who says to me, “Oh my God! Did you see that Certain Writer’s next book is set in a future world where you have to have your skin removed and replaced with carbon when you turn sixteen? That is just like Scott’s Uglies books! He should sue!” That person will get smacked. HARD.

For some reason, a lot of people are tied up with this misunderstanding, to the point that I’ve seen multiple someones opine that Author A should sue Author B because of some similarity in plot mechanics. (“OMG they both feature red-haired were-weasels in a New-England high school!!!1!) In their view the similarity (usually between two Amazon-style plot synopses) is a BAD THING.

To this I say, “No, it isn’t, you twit.”

Fiction endlessly recycles plots, characters, tropes and the other structural elements of a story. Fiction is in a constant dialog with itself, and many stories are written in reaction to prior work. My own Emperors of the Twilight is a response of Heinlein’s Friday, Dragons of the Cuyahoga was directly inspired by the “Future Boston” portrayed in In the Cube by David Alexander Smith, Raven has Edgar Allan Poe smeared all over it, the situation in Broken Crescent bears a (in this case accidental) significant resemblance to the plot set up in Wizard’s Bane by Rick Cook, and a large part of Wolfbreed #1 owes its genesis to an anime series I’m rather fond of.

Those of you who’ve not gotten the point are going to start getting all Sutherland on me, somehow thinking my history of literary borrowing makes me a hypocrite for jumping all over poor Ms. Edwards. Let me clarify something for you. In fiction. . .

PLAGIARISM IS THE COPYING OF SOMEONE ELSE’S TEXT. T-E-X-T. NOT PLOT, NOT IDEA, NOT SOME CHARACTER’S ÜBER-COOL SUPERPOWER. TEXT! AS IN, THE PLAGIARIST OPENS THE SOURCE AND COPIES THE WORDS THERE! GET IT?

Thanks.

When a would-be writer is in denial

One of the most important elements in being a pro writer (or artist of any stripe) is the ability to accept criticism. Not only will you receive it from editors and, if you get published, fans and reviewers, but if you wish to improve your craft you need to accept that others will read your writing and find fault. Maybe a lot of fault. If you’re a beginner, it will be a painful amount of fault. Not everyone is thick-skinned and mature enough to accept this. Some are so in love with what they think is on the page that they cannot conceive of something wrong with their golden words, the mean person disrespecting their story is either jealous, or reading it wrong. . .

I bring this up because I have a significant follow-up to my last spam deconstruction. When last we talked about this “compelling and absolutely authentic SF novel” I was reflecting that spamming a bunch of professional SF writers and hawking your self-published manuscript was not the best way to sell your book. However, curiosity did get the best of me and I did eventually visit the spammer’s website. Here’s a sample.

Journey with our main characters SeiWan Li and Lazarus as they go from young adults to maturity while they begin their mind altering excursions into the familiar settings of our solar system and beyond. Quest with the feating duo in their magnificent vessel The Star Voyager.
[…]
Immerse yourself in the informative epilogue providing detailed diagrams and alpha numeric data of ship profiles, speed scales, alien life, and locations throughout Star City.
[…]
We want to maintain a comprehensive narrative. Informal facts are available for the appetent scientific crowd to devour. This is not a work of strictly science yet herein surfaces fantasy.

I was so aghast at all this I had to tell someone, but instead of blogging about it (I’d already done the spam, and that seemed enough) I posted my discovery on my favorite bad movie site, the Agony Booth. I started a thread on the forums there letting the patrons know that this curiosity existed. (If you’re curious about the site, the link to it is in the first post there.)

I created a monster. Nearly two months later, and the thread is six pages long. And, believe it or not, the author showed up, posting in the same broken spamtastic grammar. With the Mary Sueish touch of using his protagonist’s name as a handle. Here’re a few choice quotes:

You’ll get 87.000 words of structure and adventure of exeedingly accurate and classic scince fiction action, thrill, and even a little romance for all you lovers out there.
[…]
I would like to assure you though I am in aggreeacne that we are not an official dissenminator of science fiction
[…]
I am reasonbly certain you will find it thoroughly efficient. Our team consists of writers, philosophers, and physicist to bring you the most accuract perspective on true space exploration.
[…]
The armature work “Star City” is available and ready to be acquired. Though you may find random spelling anomalies even in the face of our diligent editing of the conglomerate host of narrative and astronomical data, we believe that the random grammatical anomalies could be overlooked for the sake of ease.

This stuff parodies itself. If you’ve been on the internet any longer than the last 24 hours you can only imagine the level of snark that erupted in the thread in response to these pronouncements. It would be awe-inspiring if this was all there was.

But it isn’t.

One of the fellow forum members, Premier Blah, actually had the balls (or the masochistic streak) to order a copy of the book. The author actually had the balls (or the masochistic streak) to send him a copy. Now, since the Agony Booth is dedicated to sarcastic, snarky, scene-by-scene deconstruction of crappy movies, you can guess what happens next.

Premier Blah starts his own forum thread where he does his own recap of the novel in question. And it is as awful as you think it is. And the author himself weighs in, which I’d feel kind of sad about if it wasn’t for the fact that this train could be seen coming for two months and the guy still stood on the tracks pimping his self-published masterwork. It is a sight to behold. . .

Laughing with you/Laughing at you

Well, I have again returned from the CWRU Film Society’s SF Movie Marathon, which makes this about #20 for me. (I’ve been there enough times I’ve seen Zardoz twice there.) As last time, I’ve been left thinking about SF movies— in this case “SF/horror” movies since there was a zombie/undead theme going on. In particular, I’ve been left thinking about the differences between parody and homage.








If you look to the left here, we see four films I saw during the marathon. (Shaun of the Dead was one of the three “surprise” flicks, for the commenter who asked; the other two were Ice Pirates and The Day the Earth Stood Still.) The four share a common thread in that they are rather loving reworkings of earlier genre material done with tongue firmly in (through?) cheek.

I probably won’t hear much of an argument if I say Young Frankenstein is the best of this lot. (And IMO the best film Mel Brooks ever did.) I may hear more of a complaint if I say that Planet Terror, is the least of the four. Yes, I rank it below Black Sheep. Why? It comes down between the difference between parody and homage.

The dictionary definition of the two mostly take the tack that parody is imitation with ridicule, whereas homage is imitation with respect. Which, when we talk about films, is close but not really exact. Parody can be done with great affection for the source material. In this case, parody is making fun of structural elements or genre tropes, taking them further than they normally go for the sake of highlighting them. This can be done with ridicule or, as in Planet Terror, with great affection. In Planet Terror the attempt is give an extra postmodern level by inserting splices, scratches, film burns, trailers, and missing reels to mimic the experience of cheap urban 70’s filmgoing. Only Young Frankenstein can match it for authentically reproducing the feeling of its source material.

So why do I think it the lesser work?

To explain, let me define “homage” in this context. A film, IMO, counts as a homage when it imitates the source material faithfully enough to actually become an example of the genre. It may be self-aware, but it isn’t (when well done) self-conscious. Most important, the humor is self contained. A proper homage stands alone as a film and will work for a viewer who has no prior experience in the genre being paid tribute to.

In contrast, a “parody” relies a great deal on the viewer’s prior experience.

A good part of Planet Terror, especially the missing reel gag, requires the viewer to understand the source to get the gag. For someone unversed in 70’s schlock, the self-conscious reproduction of all the form’s flaws will, at best, come across as slipshod screenwriting.

However, while a diet of zombie apocalypse cinema makes Shaun of the Dead a richer experience, anyone can enjoy the film, even if you think George Romero is the host of an Italian cooking show (and today… brains!).

Young Frankenstein is hilarious even for people who’ve never seen the Universal original that it gives tribute to so faithfully. Even Black Sheep, a gory New Zealand effort that owes a lot to early Peter Jackson, while it has the DNA of a 1970 wildlife-gone-amok film, has smartly decided not to rely on the viewer’s knowledge of that particular micro-genre.

Planet Terror is redeemed by the “cool shit” factor, and is loved by many for that alone. But it unfortunately so in love with its subject and in such a self-conscious and self-referential manner that as the movie proceeds, the less accessible it becomes, until it largely falls apart as a film and devolves into a sort of uber-sketch; a bloated version of the fake trailers that preceded it.

We have a novel

Or a third of a trilogy. Final verbiage until editorial revisions kick in: 95,859. Since rewrites for me always go long, Prophets will probably be 100K words when it hits the shelves. I’ve retired the counter, and adjusted the word count for the trilogy as a whole so that Prophets is actually 1/3 of the total.

Yea me!

I now have a long weekend ahead filled with a buttload of SF movies and office furniture assembly.