Thursday, October 08, 2015

In Defense of Physics

Every once in a while, when discussing the phenomena of movie nitpicking, someone brings up the argument that "how can you believe in the giant spiders, talking lions, and semi-magic telekinesis but not that who's-his-face survived that explosion?"

John Scalzi has written about this topic before ("The Flying Snowman" Part 1 and Part 2) landing on the side of "if you can accept these implausible things from the science fiction, why can't you accept this implausible thing?" (even though he contradicts statements made here) But I was mostly instigated by this trending GIF from Conan's Comic-Con interview with the cast of Game of Thrones.

Also, Maisie Williams's expressions are priceless

The basics of the argument are that, the more ridiculous things get, the more everyone's going to see some element that unsuspends suspension of disbelief. Like a bad magician's levitation trick. It's not an argument to abandon all criticism or hope for realism in media. But one must ask if the one thing is unrealistic, is that consistent with the world-building presented?

At minimum, storytellers need to make their works accurate enough to science and history that an average movie-goer doesn't get pulled out of the story. Unfortunately, sometimes directors underestimate "average" intelligence.

Let's take another frequently used example -- Gollum falling into Mount Doom. He makes impact, then slowly sinks in. A similar scene happens in Volcano, where a man jumps from the back of a bus to spreading lava, landing feet first and slowly melting.

Also, no such thing as conductive heat.  Get as close as you want, just don't touch it.

Real lava is quite dense -- imagine a Styrofoam cup falling onto a bucket of motor oil. Scalzi said that "if you need the lava to be dense, why do all those other things get a pass?"

I'll tell you why they get a pass -- they're magic. Maybe it's got to do with their bigness, how they're used as set pieces and focused on (we see the giant spider but not the cute little flying seahorses on the other side of the world). That focus is telling the viewer "look at this cool thing that's a featured part of the story. I'm showing it to you so that you understand it's part of the world -- hiding out in the open."

I'm not a lava person, but I've seen enough movie trivia and Mythbusters to know the most common errors. There's no sound in space, bullets can't make cars explode, and getting knocked out results in brain damage. I know lava doesn't act the way it does in Lord of the Rings, but I could believe that the lava has something up with it. It was used to forge the one ring (and others) so maybe that did something to the lava, either before or after. Thus it has a lower viscosity.

However, nothing in the books or movies calls attention to this fact, thus it is pure conjecture. Also, this argument fails for "Volcano" and other stories that take place in the "real world".  Scientifically speaking, not all lava is created equal.

I don't know what he's talking about.  I'm standing in lava and I'm fine.

This is why it bothers me when people dismiss things like Sam Tarly's weight as a joke at the expense of overly attentive fanboys. Yes, Sam should be getting thinner or more muscular. But I know that being schlubby is part of his character, so it never bothered me and I never noticed it. Like explosions in space, payoff is the overall aesthete and the work doesn't suffer for it.

But we live in a world of physics. A man hiking across mountains, living off rations, should have some body changes. Episodes of Survivor prove this. We live in a video game. Imagine something big, like GTA. This video game has rules. You can run, walk, shoot, drive, etc. But then a glitch happens. The screen tears or a cheat code gets entered, or someone runs into a wall and flies into space. Your immersion into that world has been suspended. It's not surviving a car crash, which is possible. It's something that violates logic.

G.R.R.M. never establishes that metabolism is different in Westeros. It could be, but there's no gun on the mantle to indicate that. Nor clues to lead the reader to a reasonable conjecture. However, this is not bad writing.

And that's the distinction to make. There's fantasy physics and then there's bad writing. Bad writing is usually avoidable. It happens when the style more important than substance or the writer just doesn't care.

In Superman, Superman catches Lois Lane falling from a building. It's supposed to be majestic, but that impact would shatter her spine. But he could fly up, then slowing down his momentum as she drops in his arms. Godzilla takes a nuke, but there's no consequences -- no fallout, no nuclear winter. Just change it to something else radioactive. And then there's everything in the Star Trek reboot. Whoever wrote that needs to get their head out of their ass.

This is something the writer has to choose for him or herself: when to prefer stylism over realism. And when the writer finds this conflict, there are three things to remember:

1) The fact is, there is always going to be an expert in your audience. Someone who knows geology or arachnology or radiology. It's the writer's duty to be as accurate as possible, but even living in the world, you gain prejudices and false information that you think is factual.

2) Everyone's going to trip up on something different. We have "tiers" of believability. But there are ways to mitigate that. It could be a matter of creating more graduation before the thing people are tripping on. It depends on the style of the piece. Does it lead to an air of mystery and enchantment where anything can happen? Or is it a cop-out, where it's just a matter of avoiding this thing/writer's block. Imagine if E.T. hadn't been shown to fly before the cops got him.

3) There will always be inaccuracies in science and history. It is unavoidable. Titanic is full of them. History doesn't always fit even basic storytelling style and pacing. It's a trade-off and the balance must be maintained. No movie is without sin.

Or maybe Gollum was just incredibly dense. He never did lose that hobbit weight.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

The Last of my Query Letters

I sent the last of my query letters for Defender today. A little less than a year after I first finished the thing.

Total queries sent: 89. Total bites: 1

Man, I don't know how you don't curl up into a ball weeping in this business. Between Black Hole Son, Merm-8, and this, I've sent hundreds of query letters and had very minimal response. Not even people who were intrigued with the idea and wanted to see the writing style. Just whoop, reject, not even the 250 words were enough to put the foot in the door. I guess it's not my third novel. My third novel, I get permission to cry. I wish I know where I'm coming in on the slushkiller percentile. All I ever get is "this is not right for me" or "my client list is full".

Someone's got to fill these casks

These days I feel like I'm not writing what I'm meant to be. I get my favorite ideas for fantasy and science fiction. I got a cute little story that's like a fairy tale romance but with a naga girl. But that's all it is--a cute cozy story. These days, fantasy is full of epic landscapes and 500,000 word volumes. Or if you're YA, ten book series with female warriors who know how to cartwheel through a hoop of fire but not how to talk to a boy. I'm not sure if I should try a non-spec fic or something else.

I should maybe be working on short stories. Practicing voice and style to match the current heavy hitters. I just finished "Press Start to Play" and these guys are light years ahead of me. I'm staying medieval and they're flying hoverskids into tomorrow. Maybe I need to read more contemporary stuff to write in a contemporary way. My style's more rooted in Stephen King and the classics that people tell me to read. It'd be like a baseball player modeling their swing after Babe Ruth. It was great in the day, but cannot contend with how the game has evolved.

NerdCon: Stories is coming up and I feel like I'm going as a poser. My heroes will be there and I don't want to meet my heroes. I'm too afraid that they won't measure up to my ideal. I'm too afraid any exchanges I have with them will be awkward. I'm not even really a fan -- at least I don't consider myself one. I love their works, but I don't worship or fawn over them. My goal is to be like them. I'm afraid it's going to be like Convergence all over again.

I haven't looked at how "Dwarves Can't Climb Trees" is doing either. I'm too afraid. Afraid that there are 0 hits, 0 downloads, 0 ratings, 0 feedback. I haven't gotten one response about it since it went up. Even self-publishing is betraying me. How much longer am I going to have to be shouting into the dark?

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Let's Laugh at the Guy Who Doesn't Know Marvel Comics (Part 4)


So I guess Dr. Doom has a set of "doombots", which must be like robot servants.  Which means he knows about robotics and technology.  So does that mean he's supposed to be a mad scientist or a mad dictator?  This might be the reason I'm not that thrilled with him -- he's too much like Lex Luthor.  Cause inventors thrive on the accolades and praise they get from inventions.  But dictators want to dominate.  Anyway, cute little robots.

Doombot (V-Series)

Less cute.  I guess Doom needed something to take on heavy hitters like Hulk and Thing.  I particularly like the little fan thing around his neck.  Looks like a dilophosaurus on steroids.

Drax the Destroyer

Comes from what I presume is a planet of autistic Klingons.  I don't know if the red marks are scarring or decoration, but I hope it's scarring.  That would be cooler.  His family was killed by the guy who had the "black paint eyes-to-forehead" look before Furiosa did it.


As opposed to angry African-American blue guy, this Electro wears a silly lightning mask that looks like a star.  He belongs in a Super Mario game.  Besides that, I really don't know anything about his origin.  He seems to be a little high strung, like Megavolt, but less nerdy.


The Catwoman to Daredevil's Batman.  Elektra is a Greek assassin trained by Daredevil's old trainers, and uses twin sais and a headband.  I always thought if she had a few transformations like Catwoman's had, she could be at her level.  As it is, she's became an unfortunate blip on the MCU radar. Does not have electric powers, which makes her a superhero name squatter, like the people who buy up domain names.

Emma Frost

Girl with psychic powers AND can turn her body hard as diamonds.  Basically Professor X and Colossus combined, but super super hot.  Way overpowered IMHO.  She was formerly a bad guy, but I guess in recent comics, she's been acting as the de facto leader of the X-Men, with Cyclops as her whiny boy-bitch. Not a poster-child for woman-empowerment in comics.

Frost Giant

One of Thor's bad guys.  And from actual Viking lore, I believe.  Makes for nice disposal foot soldiers to make short hammer work of.

Galactus (Minifig)

Mini version of giant demigod and ubervillain who consumes planets for nourishment.  I guess he's one of those guys whose always been, always is, and always will be.  Assisted by Silver Surfer, who guides him to these planets in order to avoid as much collateral damage as possible.


One of the X-Men's most eligible bachelors.  Comes from Louisiana and speaks with a VERY thick Cajun accent.  Like super-thick.  Thicker than that guy from The Green Mile.  His power is telekinesis which he uses to chuck playing cards around, even though a "gambit" has to do with chess.  Also whacks people with a stick.  


Not an Orion Slave Girl or She-Hulk.  Well, maybe an alien She-Hulk.  She's another of the Guardians of the Galaxy.  Former bounty hunter and former ally of one of the bad guys.  I guess she's part of the GOTG team now.  Probably the love interest of Chris Pratt.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Self-Publishing on Amazon

So the novella's not available yet, but it seems to be legal for pre-order. Here are some impressions from the process.

There is a lot of data to read. Mostly tips about how to maximize the exposure of the book, how to enter information in correctly. As far as I could tell, everything was pretty cut and dried. It's pretty sophisticated, but also user friendly. Plus I've been following Scalzi's blog and other news about Amazon's self-publishing notoriety to know what pitfalls to avoid and which to jump into. But that doesn't mean there wasn't lots to read.

One more thing I ran into that there is only the choice of making it available immediately or setting a pre-order at least ten days in advance. Now I wasn't ready to publish the book right then and there. I hadn't done any promotion for it (although really, who am I kidding) and I still wasn't 100% sure I was ready to make the selections that I did. There didn't appear to be any "draft" status, unless you chose pre-order.

So I chose pre-order and I chose to not make the version I uploaded final. Even though I had already meticulously formed the book into an ePub using Calibre, and checked it out on the Amazon viewer to be all right. This began a bunch of confusing e-mails where it said my book wasn't ready to be finalized yet, and that if it wasn't finalized, I'd lose the ability to make pre-orders for a year. But I couldn't figure out what wasn't finalized. I had completed everything, even the tax forms. But it took a long time for the book to update. It said I would have to wait twelve to twenty-four hours for the changes to show up. And by then I'd forgotten what I'd changed.

But finally I saw that I had to select "this is my final version of the book". Once I did that, I got a congratulatory e-mail that basically said "You did it! Your book is ready to be published. See you on September 25th!" I wanted it on a Friday because... I don't know, Friday felt right. People buy stuff on Fridays, getting ready for the weekend. Especially ePurchases. Maybe searching for products you might like to purchase while a bottle of wine lays empty next to the monitor.

My hope is that this sells better than Merm-8 did under Musa. It's cheaper, it's audience is clearer, it's higher concept and based on a tested formula. So I'll hopefully see you in a week, little dwarves. In the meantime, promotion!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Dwarves Can't Climb Trees - Now Available for Pre-Order

So, I've decided to give self-publishing a try.  I wrote this 34,000 word novella, but as you might guess, it's impossible to get novellas published anywhere (unless you're a big attractive name).  Even the magazines on Duotrope max out at about 20-25,000 words.

So I figured this would be a good chance to dip my feet in the Kindle Publishing waters.  There's a lot to consider like Kindle Direct Publishing, KDP, filling out tax forms, waiting for the web site to update. I'll report back my findings and with any luck, I'll have some good news to report.
Vala has finally been invited to the sacred glen, where she and her friends will choose their husbands.  But Vala is less than thrilled -- no one wellborn is going to look twice at a farmer.

But the only way to beat the snooty, upper crust girls taking horses is to hike through the forest.  That's no place for mountain-dwelling dwarf folk, and her friends agree.  But better to have a few days of hardship than be miserable the rest of their lives.


A new take on "Stand by Me", "Dwarves Can't Climb Trees" is about friendship, bravery, and what it means to change from a girl to a woman.
Pre-Order! Pre-Order now! Do it or my children won't eat (snacks) ((this week))!

This puppy liked it.  She told me so.  Puppies are never wrong, are they?

Thursday, September 03, 2015

I'm Fixing a Plot Hole Where the Ocean Gets In

One of the biggest plot holes in The Little Mermaid that everyone brings up is "Why doesn't Ariel just write out a message to Eric?" One could have explained that away by saying mermaids have no written language if not for Ariel's signed contract. I've tried to explain it by saying it's translation convention (the same way Klingons speak Klingonese to other Klingons, but we hear it as English). It's possible that telling him might have an effect on him falling in love with her (like ulterior motives or the fact that she's a mermaid), however if the alternative is turning into kelp, I might risk it. But the sad short answer is if she does, there's no movie.

However, I've come upon a possible theory (thanks to a tweet) that could explain this discrepensay. Keep in mind there's a lot of conjecture here. These are all guesses based on evidence or absence of evidence (which is false cause and anecdotal at best). But at least it's better than saying that the plot demands it or that Ariel is holding the idiot ball.

Ariel doesn't know what a pen is. Scuttle never told her or misinformed her.

Let me explain. Ariel knows what a pen is -- she uses one to sign her contract with Ursula -- but she doesn't know what humans use for a pen. We never see her write while she's a human and we can presume she never sees anyone else write. Or she might believe humans don't use them. It's not mermaids without the written language, it's the humans (from Ariel's POV, at least).

One must presume that she never saw anyone in the world writing or reading. Based on what we see in the film, this is plausible. She spends day one getting clean, then has dinner with Eric. The next day is spent touring the kingdom. I don't see any words during this part -- not even the storefronts have signs. But let's keep in mind this takes place between the 16th and 18th century. The commonality of literacy was questionable at best. And what it was in Denmark, I have no idea. And the third day, she spends most of it sulking while brainwashed Eric prepares for the wedding.

All right, so obviously there are some issues with this. Here are the big ones.

A) Ariel has books in her grotto.

True, but ocean water plus ink equals one destroyed book. If she found any that she could open without it crumbling to pieces, I doubt the words would stay.

B) But she holds a book during Part of Your World. She even points to something in it.

Yeah, she uses a book during her "questions and answers" lyric, but we never see what's inside it. She points to something in it, so that likely means there's still something to see in it. Could be a book of art for all we know. Since my argument is based on lack of evidence, I say counter-points can use the same. Besides, knowing humans have words doesn't mean humans have something to write with.

C) Doesn't Sebastian know what a pen is? 

Who? Me?

By his own admission, Sebastian's had copious interaction with the human world, by virtue of his crustacean nature (crustature?).  We must assume he's an intertidal crab (the other two kinds, marine and terrestrial, would die if they're taken out of their respective environments).

Intertidal crabs must keep their leg cuticles moist in order to process oxygen from air.  Meaning it's not likely he strayed far from water in his life.  And how many people bring pens to the beach?  He was paying attention to the music.

But let's presume he does know that humans write.  I wouldn't trust Sebastian to spread butter on my toast.  He may be a court composer, but he's a neurotic doofus.  He's too busy worrying about Ariel, the spell, King Triton's wrath, Ursula's magic, and his own safety.  Just the fact that he has to keep his distance (which translates to all kinds of shenanigans) means his tiny crab brain's too stressed to think about alternatives.  He's concentrating on playing the game: "You got to get dat boy to keess you."

D) In "The Scuttle Strut" in Songs of the Sea, Scuttle is helping Ariel write a letter. He specifically says "First you need a tappelhooper / That's what they use to write / A BALLPOINT tappelhooper / would really be out of sight"

All right, let's assume that this album is canonical for the sake of argument. Scuttle's statement implies that there is a difference between what humans use to write and what mermaids do.

But Scuttle never describes what it looks like.  Without a picture, Ariel would have to imagine what a tappelhooper is.

She knows what a comb is, but thanks to Scuttle, thinks human combs look like forks. She knows what a saxophone is (or its coral equivalent during the "Under the Sea" sequence) but thinks human saxophones look like smoking pipes. Thus any attempt to ask for one would result in getting a cattle brand or butter churn.  If somehow she was able to ask for a tappelhooper, all she'd get would be a funny look.

Also, let's consider that the first patent for a ballpoint pen was in 1888 in Sweden. The Little Mermaid takes place in 1890 (this is inferred based on the architecture and technology presented, although the fashion borrows from several periods. The original fairy tale was written in 1836). Would it be commonplace enough for Scuttle to know about it by then? (I use the word "know" in the loosest sense of the term.)

E) Even if Ariel doesn't know what the human pen is, why doesn't she ask for a mermaid one? Why doesn't she write it in the sand?

You got me there. We see Ariel use a fishbone pen to sign Ursula's contract. When it's presented to her, she knows what to do with it. Therefore, mermaids know what writing utensils are.

The best I can come up with (besides translation convention) is that she is so enthralled with being a human and living with Eric, she forgets all about this. Ariel is a headstrong, lovesick girl. No one said she's a genius.

Personally, I'm more worried that Eric somehow hears Sebastian say Ariel's name. Crabs can speak to humans? They just don't notice? Is anyone worried about this?