Saturday, October 29, 2016

Yarn

I probably should not have followed that yarn into the forest.

I was trespassing in a field photographing indifferent cows when I saw the end of the black yarn entangled on the barbed-wire fence at the edge of the field. There was a signficant ball of it there, wadded up in an angry mess, and pulled surprisingly taut in a long line into the darkness of the forest on the other side of the fence, as if whatever had caught on the barbs was still trying to move away. There was no motion in the string, and despite the soddening influence of the rain, it refused to sag.

I paused and contemplated whether I should stay with the cows or follow the yarn. I couldn’t imagine getting many terribly interesting images of yarn but I was bored of the cows but didn’t yet want to return home. I wiped the outer UV lens of my camera free of miniscule water droplets, returned the camera back to it’s bag, and gingerly made my way over the fence nearby where it had partially fallen down.

It was a quick walk into the forest and as I made it the yarn was at my hips. It looked to be made of some sort of wool, given the way that droplets collected at shedding hairy bits that protruded nearly perpendicular to the thread. I touched it with my hand and felt water crawl onto it, but also felt a warmth, like I was touching an animal, but unlike any animal hair I had ever touched this was as wiry as steel. I removed my hand, wiped it on the thigh of my jeans then touched with both hands and the yarn gave a stiff shudder. I jumped back! This was not normal.

I looked again to the edge of the forest and where the yarn disappeared into the darkness. I took a few steps forward without thinking and as I realised what my feet were doing I stopped. It felt odd. I unsheathed the camera and took a few photos. I did not review them on screen and I wished I had.

I moved forward again, camera in hand and snapping randomly. I didn’t want to fall. I paused to set the camera to an automatic metering mode then continued on. The forest had that wonderful familiar smell of leaves and soil and greenness and I felt at once at ease. The yarn continued to be taut and seemed to avoid all trees and entanglements. It did not rise or fall, dip, sag, or turn. At times as the ground lowered, the level of the line was above my head and where the land rose up the line was at my ankles though it never once touched the ground nor any plant. It was a true vector to wherever it was going. I thought it must have been man-made, perhaps by some teenagers on a lark. But as I was to find out, that was not the case.

It was about ten improbable minutes of following the yarn that I began to see what might have been the end. There was a darkness ahead, glimpsed through the trunks of trees, a black mass with but with arms like a star, grabbing into the sky and darkening it, in contrarian defiance of the earliness of the day. It was then that I finally looked at my feet.

They were covered entirely with black sheathed ladybugs, their shiny backs glistening. That was disturbing enough, but underneath my feet the ground was writhing with threads of the same yarn, burrowing into the soil, poking holes in the leaf litter, and worst of all, carrying every sort of small dead animal you could imagine, slowly towards the black mass further into the forest. There were mice and voles, worms, crickets, rabbits, snakes, an owl, several sparrows, the bloodied leg of what looked like had been a deer, a badger, and some miscellaneous entrails all entangled, wrapped, and pierced by the writhing yarn.

I did not want to be among that collection so I started to retreat, but the ladybugs all at once took flight from my legs and formed a buzzing haze in front of my face. I pulled my camera up, and drew my hood closed around it. I looked through the viewfinder as the ladybugs landed on the lens. I turned on the flash and started snapping, then looked at the screen, which was difficult since the camera was so close to my face, but I was astonished to see no ladybugs at all even though I could hear them clearly through the fabric of my coat. The yarns were gone as well, but there were still dead things on the ground that looked to be rolling across the forest floor of their own accord.

I moved quickly in the opposite direction, avoiding roots and rocks, back to the field, snapping my way through so I could see where I was going. About halfway back to the fence the buzzing faded but I was too afraid to remove my hood. It was not until I was back with the cows that I dared to look back with my own eyes. The yarn was still there, but as I looked at it, it started finally to sag, and miraculously, over the course of a few minutes, managed to untangle itself from the fence and slink entirely back into the forest.


None of the photos I took were of much value; even the first photos of the taut yarn were completely missing its subject. It was as if it was never there, never pulling in anything or anyone, and I have no actual proof that this even happened, but it did, and I warn you: never go in that forest alone. There are dark things in this world that defy all reason.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Interview with Kealoha of HawaiiSlam Posted to Soundcloud

Kealoha in 2007
Waaay back in May 2007 I did an interview with the founder of HawaiiSlam, Kealoha (unimonikered like all the best performing artists). It was for local Honolulu magazine about the arts, but the magazine folded before the first issue. So, the interview has gotten dusty on my harddrive ever since.

Listen it to it now on SoundCloud.

The interview is 36 minutes long. He talks about his education at MIT (he's not only a poet, he's a nuclear physicist) and his experiences with slam poetry. HawaiiSlam is the largest poetry slam in the world.

I get a little chatty, and too excited about physics, as I often do, and to my now Brit-attuned ears, I sound drunk (I was not).

Friday, August 2, 2013

If Only Mako was the Protagonist

*Spoilers!*

I saw Pacific Rim last night, and while it was visually stunning, the narrative was just dreadful. The 'science' bugged me as well (the drift, the amount of time to engineer the Jaegers, helicopters delivering jaegers, the amount of time it takes for kaiju to swim from the mid-Pacific to anywhere coastal--I mean these things would have to be swimming at supersonic speeds, just...*gah*), but let's call it fantasy and not science fiction and accept the 'science' as part of that world. So yes, the narrative really brings the film down more than anything else. How to fix?

Make Mako the protagonist. The Alaska guy is boring, and it's a bit mystifying why he was chosen as a protagonist when Mako clearly has the best story to tell. Did Guillermo Del Toro not consider telling the story from her perspective? Even Idris Elba's character had a better story. Hannibal Chow had a better story. Newt had a better story. Max the dog had a better story. Which is part of the problem too--too many characters have too much development time. This would be great if Pacific Rim was a TV show and had a languorous 13 or 25 episode arc, but it wasn't and didn't. Still, it's better than the Transformers franchise (I need to mentally cross myself when I think of it, and I'm no longer even Catholic). I really, really hope that Mako wasn't overlooked because she's female.

Here's how I would have set up the story:

Open with the scene of Mako being chased through (Tokyo?) by a Kaiju. It's strong, emotional, and shocking. We instantly care for the kid (and are not-so-subtly reminded of the girl in the red coat from Shindler's List). End with Idris Elba emerging from his Jaeger (bleeding at the nose because he was solo or whatever). An audience fresh to the film wouldn't know that the Jaeger is a good guy, so Idris's emergence would give us a shift of perspective and hook us into this whole jaeger thing without being bludgeoned over the head with narrated backstory.

Opening credits.

Scene of Mako training, perhaps in a simulator because I don't get why martial arts are so important in this world (except that it seems to be in keeping with the whole anime vibe. It's like dancing on Bruce Lee's grave to throw in plotless, emotionless martial arts scenes, but whatever). Enter Idris Elba, trying to discourage her from entering the jaeger program--which since this is now strictly fantasy, can be in Hong Kong from the beginning, without the military/UN braindead higherups. The main obstacle to the jaeger program should be lack of resources and a losing war to increasingly adaptive kaiju; bureaucracy doesn't need to be dog-piled on, nor a clearly ineffectual and resource costly wall--I mean, think of the fisheries? How will most of the human population get their protein--I'm sorry, that's science, and this is fantasy. *sigh*.

Anyway, their father/daughter, sensei/student relationship is revealed, and you care about both of them. And you can also find out that he's no longer a pilot but in charge of the program, so you know, he has decision making power and stuff (will he be just and fair? Let's be intrigued and find out).

They are interrupted by a kaiju alert! Idris Elba (I love typing that name) rushes off to deal with it and we are introduced to the science and ops people, but no long back stories! Maybe throw in a few women with speaking roles*! Let's get crazy!

Idris Elba sends Alaska guy and his brother off to fight the kaiju. Boat gets in the way (I mean who the hell is still out trying to earn a living crabbing after big-ass aliens come through a rift in the ocean floor?), boat gets rescued, brother dies, Alaska guy kills kaiju and solos it to have his jaeger die dramatically on a snow-swept beach, just as in the movie. Now we care about Alaska guy. A bit, because we've seen jaegers win, and now we know they are vulnerable so the death of the pilot has a lot more meaning, and everyone back at HK HQ can react to it with heavy hearts (I mean, show some actual wartime grief).

The kaiju body is recovered, and we get treated to a gory autopsy, similar to the one in the movie. No subplot of Hannibal Chow needed (even though I really liked his character--to the chopping block with him!) Technobabble ensues about imaging the beast's brain to figure out how to close the rift (I refuse to call it a throat). Use a friggin' fMRI machine instead of the drift thing (hells bells that annoyed me). I'd have loved seeing a scene of a kaiju brain being shoved into an MRI machine.

Meanwhile Mako sees an opportunity to step up to the plate, and approaches Alaska guy, who is deep in grief. She could be insensitive to his feelings in her go-getting-ness. He wants nothing to do with her, and she has to work to prove her ability to him, his responsibility to humanity to keep being a pilot, and to show Idris Elba that she's no longer a victim. Maybe they have a cathartic (for both of them) martial arts training scene (alone, without people staring at them). They spar on par, and it's brutal and angry. Maybe Idris Elba spies on them. Mako and Alaska guy come to realize this is what they're both best at. This is what needs to be done. It's emotional for both! It carries the plot! No more milquetoast Alaska guy! Huzzah!

The kaiju brain gets fuzzily imaged. Maybe the brain explodes in the MRI machine (that would really satisfy my inner 13-year-old). The science peeps realize the rift is gated. They work out how to unlock it (genetic barcode is actually kind of clever, though how that's done underwater without contact between the kaiju and the gate is beyond me *sigh*).

Idris Elba concocts the plan of dumping a bomb in the gate. But wait! A pair of kaiju come up from the deep and are headed towards HK HQ! Let's send all the teams out! Russian and Chinese teams are cannon fodder, same as the movie, and Aussie dad becomes injured. Mako and Alaska, sensing the danger/opportunity, surreptitiously suit up and head out. Idris Elba is powerless to forbid them because they really are the last hope. Fight scenes progress as in the movie. Mako and Alaska guy are proven as a team.

And from here, the story can progress as it did in the movie, except we should see more of Mako's POV rather than Alaska guy's.

That's it, that's the narrative unwrinkled (and no need for that pesky drift). No long brainbashing intro about the jaeger program and the politics and the blahblahblah. Less of the horrendous science and the cheesy insight into the Hong Kong black market (because that's not a stereotype at all). It'd probably be only 90 minutes, but isn't that the length Hollywood prefers? The time it takes an ingested large Coke to reach your bladder from the beginning of a film?

---
*This movie did not pass the Bechdel test. At least though, the main female character didn't have a romance with Alaska guy, although I have a hunch that it wasn't thrown in specifically so that the 13 year-old boys this was aimed at wouldn't feel all squicky.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Separation

"Do you have any last words?"

The warden with his craggy face loomed above Earl, who was strapped to a gurney. Earl shook with a cold sweat and turned to the window and looked at his reflection and then the faces beyond. He thought he might see him, the man, the other, but all the faces were unfamiliar, except for the family members of the three men who he was accused of murdering. They'd shown up in court everyday of his trial and heard him plead repeatedly that he was innocent of the crimes. None of them cared; they only wanted what they thought was justice.

"It wasn't me." Earl croaked out the words, tears blooming at his eyes.

"Anything else?" asked the warden after a long sigh.

"I'll tell you, I'll tell you what really happened," said Earl.

"Oh? This again?" asked the warden with a smirk.

"I was embarrassed," said Earl. "It was years ago now. I was ravenous. Just hungry all the time. I put on a lot of weight and I felt ashamed of it. And after a few months I realized I wasn't growing fatter. I was...I was growing sideways."

The warden sighed deeply again and rolled his eyes.

"I know you won't believe me, but I have to tell the truth. You're going to kill me anyway, put down like a rabid dog. But I'm not a bad person."

"Uh huh." The warden looked at his watch.

Earl hurried to continue.

"It got noticeable, and my clothes wouldn't fit. People looked at me funny, and when I got stuck in a doorway I thought, 'that's enough, people will talk'. So I took some time off sick. I kept eating until all my food was gone. I didn't dare go to the grocery store. And when there was nothing left to eat, the pains set in. Oh the pains! All on my left side. The skin started stretching, and new bones started to poke out under my flesh. I stayed in bed, curled up under the covers. I must have been there for days. I'd take the odd call and tell people it was just the flu and not to worry, but I sure was worried! I was getting wider and wider and things were moving under there without my control. And then the pain got so bad that I passed out.

"And then I woke up, feeling dizzy but remarkably better. And there he was, sitting in the chair next to my bed."

The warden squinted in confusion.

"Who was?" he asked.

"The other me. The one that came out of me."

The warden laughed.

"It's true," said Earl. "He looked exactly like me and he was staring at me with those dead eyes, sitting in my chair, completely naked. I could just feel the bad thoughts swirling down deep in him. I knew he was a bad, bad thing the moment I saw him."

"And what did he do?" asked the warden, wiping tears of laughter from his cheeks with the back of his hand.

"He put his finger to his mouth and went 'shhh'. And I was so scared I couldn't move. I watched him dress in my clothes, and he took my wallet and then he went outside and took my car. And I never saw him again. I don't know what happened to him, but I know it was him that committed the crimes you think I did. That's why the DNA matches and why the witnesses identified me."

"Well that was a whopper. How convenient for you that you have an evil twin to do all your dirty work."

"You don't believe me warden, and I understand that. I've come to terms with the death you're about to hand me, but the true killer is still out there, and you need to know that."

"Are you finished?" asked the warden.

"Yes, sir, I am."

Earl stared up at the ceiling and let out a long, relieved sigh. The warden signalled to the doctor to begin. The first injection was put into the IV. Earl felt his limbs go numb and heavy. His tongue slackened in his mouth and his eyelids started to slide together. Then the doctor leaned over him, masked as he was, and shone a light into Earl's eyes. As he leaned in, the doctor winked at Earl, and Earl looked up only to recognize the eyes that were his. He tried to scream, to point, to flail, but was unable to. The doctor, Earl's other self, moved back and administered the second injection while the warden looked lazily on.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Submission for Concept Art Writing Prompt: The Girl Who Was a Giant Eyeball

The eye had grown like cancer, engorged her face, swallowed it up, wet and constantly weeping, and still she hung on, ever the addict, until she could no longer breath, the growth covering her nose and mouth completely, and then she expired.

"Why?" asked her mother, adjusting the dress she chose for her daughter to wear, a dress she would have never in her life worn, such an impractical garment it was for the looking of things, the finding out of things.

The taxidermist bowed his head and left the room quietly. Her mother stood slowly, forcing her back to uncurve and fit its corset. The room smelled, tasted, of chemicals still, as the layers of shellac over the the vast expanse of open eye continued to dry.

"Why did you keep looking?" Her mother closed her own eyes, almost willing them to disappear into their sockets, the jelly sucked back into her brain to soothe the sadness that lived there. "You knew this could happen. Science is not for a woman to pursue. There is a curse for us to ask questions. I can't understand..."

"Why?" she asked again after a moment, asking against the pressure building in her skull. "Why?!" Her vision distorted then dissolved to spots. "Why?!"  Her fingers and toes and face went numb; her breath was quick and shallow. "WHY!!!"

The pain struck her, an iron pendulum to the face. She fell to the floor, still conscious, but now blind. Blood poured into her hair and she smiled, glad for her pain and glad to be free from the curse.

"I will complete your work, my darling. I will seek for you, and I will tell you all the things learn. I will be your eyes now, darling."

---
See all the stories for this prompt at io9.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Finding Form: Cloud Atlas

So...I have a bit of an obsession with the trailer for the upcoming movie Cloud Atlas. Every couple of days I'll watch it at least three times in a row, and this business is getting a bit embarrassing now. I think  my fondness for it is partly because the trailer different from everything else out there; it's made up of these diverse and reverberating parts and is just a puzzle. I really hope the actual movie can live up to the trailer! Anyway, the movie is based on the book by the same name by David Mitchell. I can't get my hands on a copy just yet, but I read up on the book and it turns out it has an interesting structure and I thought it was worth covering in this series of blog posts. There are three things of note in the structure:


  • there are six nested stories
  • the first five are cut off halfway and each are finished in reverse sequence after the sixth story (which is presented whole)
  • each previous story is presented *as a story* in the story that succeeds it (you can see how this might function in the bit of the trailer about the Pacific journal)


That's just the skeleton of it. From what I can glean from the free Kindle sample, each story is written significantly differently. The first story is set in the nineteenth century and is written in the elaborately literate language often used in that era. One of the later stories is evidently presented in the mystery genre. My takeaway is that this is like six interwoven short stories that are a bit meta about each other, which has been done by other writers before, but I think this is the first time nesting has been used (if you know of other examples, let me know).

Incidentally there is a lot of controversy surrounding the movie and how it uses the same actors to portray different ethnicities and even genders. Hollywood has a long history with whitewashing, which is tragic, but I don't think the movie is actually engaging in whitewashing since the actors are being used to portray the same character (or soul) as present in different embodiments through various times (and non-white actors are portraying white characters...though I don't know if that in itself is a defense against whitewashing). The point is, the story examines the same characters in different time periods, as different people, and I think that is also relevant to the story's form. This examination dictates the story's structure, so even though the structure is weird, it would be awkward or impossible to look at the characters and their development in a more linear fashion.

I hope to get my hands on a library copy soon rather than breaking down and getting the Kindle version, because this looks like a fascinating read. If I can, I'll report back on the blog.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Playlist Project and the Bechdel Test

Have you heard of the Bechdel test? It's a very basic litmus test of gender bias in stories. In order to pass, three criteria must be met: 1) there is more than one female character, 2) they talk to each other 3) about something other than men. There are variations, but that's the most basic one. Films and comics are particularly bad at failing this test (think about recent films you've seen...try Avengers for instance--and that was written by Joss Whedon who has actually written lots of stuff in the past that does pass the test).

I thought it would be interesting, since I have so many stories and also consider myself a feminist, to see how the playlist project does with the Bechdel test. Am I free of gender bias? So far I've gone through the first 72 stories in the project and analysed them to see if they passed (yep, I'll go through the rest too because I know I was more aware of the character gender as I went). 19 of the stories, or 26% completely pass the Bechdel test. I'm not sure what to make of this at this point. Many of the stories contained only two characters, so if the gender was randomly distributed among characters, 25% is what I should end up with, at least to meet the first criterion. Some of the stories also had characters of unidentified or no gender (yep). Some of the stories didn't have any dialog (failing the second criterion automatically). Only twice in those 72 stories did I have two female characters talking exclusively about a male character (failing the third criterion).

So I think I'm actually gender unbiased in my writing, on the whole, since the gender of my characters align with random distribution. Since my stories are almost always speculative, the female characters are naturally unlikely to solely discuss a male character (as opposed to say, the romance genre), which may affect the pass rate compared to the output of other writers. Would you agree that I am unbiased or disagree?

When I'm done with the analysis I'll post a list of the passing stories (and maybe someone can use them as an example--it would interesting to see if male readers find the stories that pass boring compared to those that don't, or don't notice anything at all).