Don't Shake the Flask

Because you don't know if it'll explode

Month: February, 2010

My You Look Lovely Tonight, Crystalline Entity

In Zoomorphism in Science Fiction–In or Out? Heather Massey wonders whether designing fictional aliens to resemble Earth animals is stretching plausibility.  Well, it depends on the story, writer, and reader:

Execution can make the difference between a pulpy, campy story and one much more sophisticated in tone. In other words, believability. When zoomorphism is in the house, it takes a high level of authorial skill for me to suspend my disbelief. Done well, the characters feel organic to the worldbuilding and/or they’re compelling enough that their boar-like appearance isn’t a deterrent. But even in the hands of a competent author, I find myself distracted by characters whose hooves, horns, and tails resemble the cast of Old McDonald’s farm.

For me, it’s more of a question of intention rather than believability.  If the author is going towards the space opera/science fantasy route, I do not care as much.  In those types of stories, it’s not about the science but about the adventure.  If the story is trying to get a message across to today’s readers, I can view these futurist visions of chimeras as metaphors and representations rather than real aliens, per se.

But if the author is going to use any science to explain the aliens, they had better have a damn good reason why those aliens look like us and/or Fido.  Because who’s to say that any aliens out there have DNA like us (or even your garden variety Escherichia coli) let alone the same chemistry?

I would like aliens that are truly alien.  Aliens that have completely different motivations and behaviors than what we are familiar with.  I would like them to go even further than bug-eyed monsters, because insectoid aliens are still too Earth-like to me.  Any biologist worth their salt has at least taken a gene regulation class and have discovered that the fly* is much closer to us than popular perception would have you believe.

So, aliens.  They had better be alien.  And if you’re trying to put some humanity into them, well, wouldn’t it just be easier to make them human?

*See the hox genes, for starters.

Steampunk, Scientists, and the Soulless

In Gail Carriger‘s fantasy horror novel Soulless, Alexia Tarabotti–a soulless spinster–is rudely attacked by a vampire which is against the rules of etiquette in this alternate Victorian England.  She accidentally kills the vampire which prompts an investigation from Lord Maccon, werewolf and the head of the Bureau of Unnatural Registry.  But as Alexia and Maccon delve into the origin of the misbehaving vampire, they discover that strange vampires are appearing while known vampires are disappearing. Something more sinister is at work than just a couple of forgotten manners.

I enjoyed reading Soulless.  It’s an engaging cross-genre romp featuring supernatural creatures operating under Victorian strictures.  And it featured an original conceit for the existence of werewolves, vampires, ghosts, and other types of undead: that some people have an excess of soul so that under certain circumstances, they just won’t die.  This notion, it seems, eludes the antagonists who seek a more scientific explanation.

However, one thing that really bothered me about this book, and most other stories with scientist characters, is that the author failed to deviate from the stereotype when depicting scientists.  Like the virgin/whore dichotomy that feminists lament, there is also a scientist dichotomy in genre fiction, too.  Fictional scientists are either evil, mad, and amoral or brainy wimps with absolutely no common sense.

While it may be difficult to visualize people resembling Britney Spears, the elderly organist at the local church, or a champion skier as scientists, one should note that scientists are human, not cardboard cutouts.  Some scientists are brilliant, others not so much.  Some are photogenic while others need their teeth straightened.  Personalities can range from the grumpy and megalomaniacal to the sweet and quirky to the downright “normal” (whatever that is).  I am tired of authors taking the lazy way out or getting all their information from cartoons and fantasy notions of an ivory tower hermit who hasn’t changed his wardrobe since 1962.

Am I asking for too much? I hope not.

Script Ideas and Other Ephemera

Back in late January, I came up with a possible idea to use for Script Frenzy 2010 and posted it on Twitter:

An inkling of an idea for this year’s Script Frenzy has crept into my brain. It involves a road trip across a semi-terraformed Mars starring an astronaut with a mid-life crisis, a re-purposed lunar buggy, hot Martian chicks, and a multi-kazillionaire tycoon who wants to reactivate Olympus Mons to create the most awesome amusement park ever.

The only other planning I’ve done since then is to stare at topographical maps of Mars* and plot the direction of the road trip.

I really want to finish a script this year.  But I have had this block the previous years–mostly because I’ve failed to do proper outlines like I’ve done for Nanowrimo and having an indifferent attitude towards the script format which for some reason seems like a reject poetry form to me.

So my first order of business–to conquer this goal–is to write an outline.  Hopefully, I will restrain myself from making a stick figure storyboard.

*I also tell myself that this also doubles as doing research for possible future careers.  Let me know if you notice available post-doc positions in labs studying microbes in outer space.

The Pseudo-Literate Emoticon

There are certain circumstances that the usage of the emoticon is warranted.  Otherwise, it is unnecessary if the writer has an adequate, let alone deft, handle on the written language and the reader isn’t automatically assuming that all the static words on the computer screen were pounded out on the keyboard in anger.

But lately, I’ve been encountering a shorthand of intention that is lazy and baffling in its existence and in comparison makes the original emoticon the epitome of brevity and wit.

Because frankly, what is the rationale for putting a facial expression in parentheses?

Compare: “I can’t believe he did that! : D” vs. “I can’t believe he did that! (grin)”

Putting (grin) or (smile) at the end of a paragraph or sentence does not make one look more literate or correct.  True, both (grin) and : D are shorthands for those who are afraid that all readers will take them the wrong way*, but I would argue that writing an expression within parenthesis is also an indication of pretension and being not with it.  At best, one could assume that the browser had a hiccup when trying to render an emoticon.  At worst, it’s like claiming a porcelain toilet as po-mo art or orange Kool-Aid as the nihilist’s Minute Maid.

This type of written affectation is pointless.  Get rid of the wordy facial expressions in your communications and I’m sure people will still get the general gist of your comment.  If you really want to smile and grin your way through the internet, upload a video of yourself to YouTube.

*Rule of thumb: Always assume that your words will be taken the wrong way.

This Blog Has Moved

Since Blogger is no longer supporting blogs using FTP, I have decided to move on to a different blogging platform. The archives since 2000 will stay here. But I am now blogging at Don’t Shake the Flask.

A Clean Slate

Sometimes being forced to start over again can be a good thing. Even at the time, it seems annoying.

I am still trying to figure out this WordPress thing.  And biting my non-existent nails about my computer’s hard drive that died last week.  But in the meantime, I’m re-evaluating the notion that we really need all of our old stuff.  Having all that previous work there makes one comfortable and complacent.  Once it’s all gone–it can be terrifying.

It can be exhilarating, too.  Because once the inital shock has worn off, you realize that you didn’t really need the stuff.  The world still turns.  Life goes on.