On "the world of demons" in Buddhist study, and other things in it that are routinely misunderstood.
Brad Warner has a video up on his channel about a subject he's discussed a number of times before, the notion of "the world of demons" in Buddhist study. It helped batch together a slew of thoughts I've been having about this stuff, so buckle your belts, this may get bumpy.
On being daring in a story, without that being an excuse for cruelty.
The other week friends of mine saw for the first time Strange Days -- a favorite of mine, and a massive personal influence -- and that inspired Steve to write up some thoughts about the film. He was as unhappy about the very ending as I was, but also agreed that a movie this maverick and daring was destined to have a certain degree of messiness. "Courage always beats cowardice," Steve wrote. "Even partial courage is better when it predominates."
What's most infuriating about Strange Days's cop-out ending (which for me still can't ruin a movie that strong and sustained) was that it was Cameron's original ending, as written. It wasn't something the studio forced on him; it was his own bad idea. Partial courage is better, but what about when it's not because you're pushing against some stricture like the studio system, but because you build your own cop-outs into the material? Cameron was at heart too much of a sentimentalist to give the movie what it really needed, something that the likes of Titanic and Avatar confirmed for me. Maybe he just loved the characters so much that he felt the ending they deserved was a happy one, even if that came at the cost of the story as a whole being potentially breaking its spirit.
Some technical notes about the blog system I built here.
I've received a couple of notes from people who're curious about how this blog is built. It's all custom software, which I will in time release as open source once it's not quite so awful to behold. But here's the basics.
"I keep thinking," my friend said, "that if only I'd done more, we wouldn't be in this mess we're in now." Were they right?
"I keep thinking," my friend said, "that if only I'd done more, we wouldn't be in this mess we're in now."
It was something like one in the morning (and on a school night, haha), and my friend was talking about how they felt like the Mess We're In was their fault.
I had to tease that one out as completely as I could. So you're saying, I said, that everything that's gone wrong with the state of things now -- the Trump presidency and all of its fallout, ecological collapse, bad Adam Sandler movies -- is somehow your fault? How, exactly?
The logic, as they laid it out, went like this:
It's easily to write badly. It's even easier to write badly when everyone else gets away with it.
My earlier post may probably have felt like I was just rebranding the term "infodump". In fact, I did use that very term in context there, but I was trying to think about something larger: the effects that 'dumping has on not only one's own book, but the general culture of SF&F writing. It's not just that it's easily to write badly, but that it's even easier to write badly when everyone else seems to be doing it and getting away with it.
Two different ways of making a story complete in terms of what it addresses.
Over the weekend, while working on Unmortal (we're at what amounts to a "draft 1.3" now, more on that later), I took a bunch of notes in re things that needed to be at least mentioned in the book, even if they didn't have to be expanded on tremendously. Bits of world background, references to things that deserved to be expanded, stuff like that. It struck me that there's roughly two ways to work such things into a story -- the Shoehorn Method and the Scissor Method.
On my long-honed sense of when something is rare and should be acquired, lest you never see it again.
There's this instinct I've come to develop over the years for when something crosses my path that's a) interesting to me, b) largely unknown, and c) not likely to turn up again anytime soon, if ever. Many of the key books or music albums or movies in my collection are of this nature. I come across them, I get a certain "wow!" from them, and I realize I'm going to regret it deeply if I don't pick it up because there's a good chance this is the first and last time I will find it. There may not be that many copies out there, and what other few there are may have ended up in the hands of the few people who're like me in that respect. So I pounce, and the total number of times I've regretted such a pounce I can count on a hand with fingers left over to grip my fork.
Stephen Downes and a few wise words on the idea of "character".
The following comes by way of Stephen Downes's blog, and I am posting it in its entirety:
I have been involved recently in a high-profile project wherein it is being asserted that the best response to the challenges of Covid is a restoration of some sort of character education. I have a lot of problems with this, not the least because character education is so often a proxy for blaming the poor for being poor, and because so much of it is based on what can only be characterized as bogus behavioural psych fads like 'grit' and 'respect'. I also don't agree that there is a single coherent concept of what would count as the sort of 'character' people should have - the proponents talk as though the issues of morality and the Good Life have been solved and can be passed along as though they were subjects like math and science.
I would argue we are nowhere near such a resolution. For example, nowhere in their list of "core features" are my own touchstones - distrust of authority, reliance on personal experience, scientific outlook, and sense of freedom and agency. My list of things we need to learn looks very different from theirs. Nor do they include in any way the critical literacies I think characterize an educated person. And they don't recognize that things like ethics and morality are things we have to decide for ourselves are important and worth pursuing; they are the result, not the contents, of good character.
(If you're not already reading Downes's blog, for the love of Winnie The Pooh, stop missing out.)
I wasn't sure any comment from me would be needed, as so much of what Stephen has to say on these subjects speaks for itself and stands so far above most of the drivel slung around about education. When education is essentially an indoctrination process, then of course things like agency of morals and ethics are seen as threatening, and must be caricatured as selfishness. (Individuality was never about the self above all else, but about awakening to the self as the dialectical partner to both the other(s) and the whole.)
Most of our yibbling about "character" is the same way. It's mostly someone's idea of character they like, or character they think is in the model of their own personality. Good character seems to be more about the process of personhood, not the arbitrarily labeled components of it. I'm not a good guy merely because I know the right words to say about what's good and bad. Anyone can do that.
The lone genius creative model, and all of its bothersome psychological baggage, really needs to go.
While writing the last post, something came to me worth spinning off into its own post. The lone genius creative model, and all of its bothersome psychological baggage, really needs to go. It's done nothing but hold people back, give creators bad role models, and do great damage to things that might otherwise have been executed far better.
There's a division between the "gruntwork" and "creative play" sides of any creative endeavor -- the times when you just need to put words out, and the times when you need to toy mentally and daydream.
My friend Steve, the perpetual Organization Man, recently noted something after reading a book about business leadership. There's a division between the "gruntwork" and "creative play" sides of any creative endeavor -- the times when you just need to put words out, and the times when you need to toy mentally and daydream. (Cue the old joke: "You're not working, you're just staring out the window!" "You don't know this job very well, do you?")
Writing is not some seamless continuity of creativity but is different kinds of activities coming together. If we do not see these differences, then we miss when we’re ready for Redwork, when we’re ready for Bluework, and when we need to stop one kind and switch to others.
Spot-on. I looked at the way I've been working on Unmortal and saw this dynamic there. Days of simply lining up words one after the other in Microsoft Word alternate with days of me sitting with a Folio article open asking myself "What if this? What if that? And then what?" Each feeding back into the other; each requiring different kinds of time and attention. Writing sessions can be metered more aggressively than creativity sessions -- do a thousand words in 90 minutes, that kind of thing -- but creativity sessions are more open-ended, less governed by time and more by whether or not we have the needed insights.
For an artist, worldview is all.
Japanese director Kei Fujiwara (of Organ, and Shinya Tsukamoto's Tetsuo: The Iron Man) gave an interview recently, something she rarely does. The whole thing is excellent, but this snippet caught my attention:
I just really like Kenji Miyazawa. I like the way he thinks, and his philosophy. He’s a Buddhist, and as I haven’t studied Buddhism properly, I cannot say for sure, but I think his seimeikan, or view of life, is on par with that of Osamu Tezuka. Osamu Tezuka and Kenji Miyazawa are two gods with the same perspective regarding seimeikan. No matter how great their art is, Yoshihide Otomo and Hayao Miyazaki can never reach Osamu’s level. Osamu’s core is love. There’s only love. The way they think about life is totally different.
Miyazawa, for those not in the know, was roughly equivalent to the Walt Whitman of Japan, a polytalent with a overarching love of the natural world. And Tezuka, well, I suspect by now most everyone reading this blog knows him at least by name. But the key point she makes, about views of life, clicked deeply with me.
Progress on 'Unmortal', including a sneak peek at some wild new cover art.
First: Get a lot of the latest iteration of the cover art for Unmortal! Barring a better concept, I'm most likely going to stick with this one as our final design. It also shapes up nicely against the others in the Infinimata lineup (compare it with the covers in the sidebar). Aside from a consistent typeface and element mix, another thing I wanted with the Infinimata "look" was a certain flavor of imagery -- steely sleek and fiery, like the curves on a new car.
I didn't leave Star Wars. Star Wars left me. And not in the way you might think.
I finally got around to seeing The Rise Of Skywalker, and there was nothing in it that was worth putting off doing the laundry for. I wasn't expecting any different, really, in big part because everything that bears the name Star Wars hasn't meant anything to me for a long time now. It was me that started walking away first. And not because I'd "grown out of it", but because of how the things it meant most to me changed, and forced me to looked elsewhere for what it gave me once.
(Note: I've probably told one version or another of this story over the years on this blog, but seeing SW IX gave me incentive to retell it once more for everyone who just walked in.)
An introduction to the roster of characters for 'Flight Of The Vajra', starting with the leads. (Including character art!)
In my previous installment in this series, I talked about the general outlines of the story for Flight Of The Vajra, as dictated by its influences. Now it's time to look at the characters who populate the story.
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Want to read one of my books for free, along with a bunch of others that might be interesting? Check out my currently running promotions through ProlificWorks:
How the diverse influences for 'Flight Of The Vajra' shaped its story.
In my previous installment in this series, I talked about the major influences on Flight Of The Vajra. Here, I'm going to talk about the way those influences came together to form a story.
Some novels by women you need to know about, and probably don't.
On the shelf behind me where I type this are some, but I fear not enough, works of fiction by women. Here's a few that you might not know about. Seek them out and cherish them.
On how new influences keep every kind of art healthy, including and especially popular arts.
Apropos of totally nothing, I started re-reading William Gibson's Neuromancer -- although at this rate it might as well be a first read, since the last time I read it was ... cripes, before I got married, I think. Even though some of the tech details here and there have aged, the flavor of the whole, the spirit of it, really hasn't aged much. What's a lot clearer to me now than before is the debut Gibson owed to noir, in big part because around the first time I read it I had encountered very little noir fiction, and so had little way to make the comparison. Neuromancer was far from the first time someone thought to juggle together noir and SF, but I think it was the first time someone found the parts of each that complemented the other so well: the cynicism and the moon-eyed romanticism both, just for different things.
At the end of the day, it's just a fancy excuse to shoot a bunch of scenes in reverse.
Tenet is one of those movies that thinks it's a lot smarter than it really is. And that's a shame, given that director Christopher Nolan is neither stupid nor untalented. It's just that with this film, he's used his intelligence to talk himself into making foolish choices for it. As a spy story, a Bond installment with the serial numbers buzzed off, it's passable. As science fiction, or even fantasy, it's -- to borrow a phrase from another field -- not even wrong.
What I'm working on these days, March 2021 edition.
Habits beat goals, and one of the habits I'm trying to keep is a monthly here's-how-we're-doing.
This is Rumor Control; here are the facts.
This page contains an archive of posts for the month of March 2021.
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind