Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Say Hello, Wave Goodbye

Well, what better way to round off things on this blog than to post a picture which I don't have the real right to post, but which is, y'know, of me? Seems about right somehow.

Anyway, this blog is not dying, it's moving - or, to be more accurate, I'll be moving my attentions to my 'new blog' and so I doubt I'll be posting here again (techical issues permitting) for the foreseeable future.

The reason for the move is pretty simple, really - for some time, I've been looking into trying to 'streamline' the number of places and locations I occupy online, and so I've revamped and reshaped my website so that it now includes automatic updates on my Twitter messages, and so it only seems logical that I shift the blog updates over there too.

I speak with utter confidence about this move, but of course if the server crashes or my technical ability reaches its limits, I may well be here again, so I won't be deleting this blog. Many of the links which you can see in the right-hand column are on the new site, so you don't have to feel lost and disoriented if you just use his blog as a stepping-stone to other people's pages. I don't mind being the guardian of the crossroads, even if Robert Johnson had his misgivings...

Anyway, I hope you'll come and visit the new blog, and maybe you'll even be so kind as to add John Soanes to your list of bookmarks? Thanks in advance.

Finally, if this is your last time of visiting, many thanks for your time and eyeballs over the last few years. It's much appreciated, and as intermittent as my updates may have been in the last year or so, it's always been reassuring to know that you fine folks were out there reading my nonsense. Seriously, you've been fantastic.

And you know what? So was I.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

If I Name This Post 'Sextuple Mumbo Jumbo', That'll Increase Traffic To The Blog, Right?

I think it was the late (and in my estimation rather great) Blake Snyder, author of the screenwriting book Save The Cat who came up with the concept of 'Double Mumbo Jumbo', and it's something I've been thinking about a bit recently.

Double Mumbo Jumbo, put simply, is the idea that "as an audience we can only buy one piece of magic per movie" (or, I'd say, book or play or other medium). Where Blake says 'magic', I like to think this equally means coincidence - for my money, Spider-Man 3 suffers from Double Mumbo Jumbo in the plotlines relating to the Venom symbiote (to non-comic geeks, that's the black costume-thing which bonds first with Peter Parker and then with his rival) when it happens to land first near Peter Parker's moped (if memory serves; I've only seen the film once, and don't plan to watch it again, even if it means verifying details for a blog post) and then it's roaming ownerless again when Peter Parker's workplace rival is out and about in the area.

I think the second story in Pulp Fiction suffers from this sort of coincidence problem as well, though I know a lot of people hold that film in much higher regard than I do.

It's not just a problem which you see in films, either (though the example I'm about to give was, I think, adapted to film): the novel Perfume by Patrick Suskind is very well-respected and was given to me with strong recommendations by a friend, but when I read it I couldn't get past the fact that the main character had no personal scent (which struck me as being biologically unlikely) and also had an extrememly sensitive ability to detect odours.

This felt like a cheat to me, as if the author realised that someone with a truly super-powered nose would be unable to smell anything beyond the scent of their own sweat and clothing. I didn't buy it, and as a result the rest of the book felt hard to swallow, built as it was on a foundation that I didn't find particularly sturdy.

This has been on my mind a bit recently, because in the novel I'm currently writing (due for completion about half an hour before the heat-death of the universe, longtime readers might suspect) I have various 'secret' government agencies and bodies, and I don't want to have too much stuff that looks like a fudge - whilst I'm confident that most readers will accept that there are bodies within government and the military which don't appear in annual reports and budget publications, I don't want to make it look as if I've made them 'secret' just so I haven't got to do the research on Home Office heirarchies and departmental responsibilities and the like.

In a strange - though hopefully understandable - tangent, thinking about the concept of Double Mumbo Jumbo has partly explained to me why I find the following advert irks me more than it probably should:

The advert doesn't really make sense to me on any level - and yes, I know it's meant to be a bit out there and surreal, but consider the things that we're supposed to accept:
  • He's so fond of sausage rolls he's cloned a miniature dog to say what he can't
  • He carries the miniature dog in a jewellery box in his pocket
  • He had it in his pocket, but initially wasn't intending to hand it to her (note how he turns away at first)
  • The 'garage lady' accepts what appears to be a gift of jewellery from a customer
  • The miniature dog speaks english (with, I think, the voice of Mathew Horne)
  • The dog knows which button to press on its (also miniaturised) keyboard to start the music (which is either drum and bass or garage, I think - I'm not bothered about either of those choices really, though I hope it's the latter as it would be appropriate given the setting of the advert)
It just feels like the advert-makers have hit the 'random' button in an almost cynical way, as if throwing diverse stuff together like that immediately equates to something surreal and/or clever. The main problem I think I have with it is that for someone who's "just a bloke", and apparently incapable of expressing himself, he's gone to a lot of trouble (and a weird kind of trouble) to express his gratitude.

In fact, within this universe where we can create speaking miniature animals to perform tasks we humans can't, I'm surprised that there are petrol stations at all, as the normal rules don't seem to apply; surely the pumps dispense some kind of liquid boulders, and the 'garage lady' is in fact the reincarnation of Alexander the Great, wearing a human outfit to disguise the fact that he's come back as an oversized moth (I'm aware that many insects' tracheas don't function once they get above a certain size, so this is an inherently unrealistic proposition, but given that the shruken dog apparently suffers no difficulty breathing despite his size and being enclosed in a small box, it seems all bets are off). Actually, it's strange that this bizarre world they inhabit has sausage rolls and money in it at all really. What are the odds of that?

I can live with the odd quirk or wrinkle to things - and as I understand it, much of the 'magic realism' school of writing is based on the world as we know it reacting to strange and unusual things happening - but it needs to be balanced, I think. The Queen in Alice in Wonderland boasts "sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast", but that advert seems, to me, to be a case of Multiple Mumbo Jumbo, and so I can't swallow it (then again, as a vegetarian, I was probably unlikely to swallow anything related to sausage rolls).

Come to think of it, no wonder the chap in the advert accepts the strange world he lives in: it's clearly the early hours, and maybe he needs to believe the six impossible things I list above before he can have the sausage roll - that is, his breakfast.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Short Film: 'Revealing Diary' By The Guerrier Brothers

Videos on Thursday appear to be turning into a habit round here, don't they?

Anyway, this is a cracking short film made by writer Simon Guerrier and his director brother Thomas, and I think it is very classsy - good and unsettling, with a very strong ending.

I heartily recommend you invent the 5mins or so in watching it - seriously, check this out:

Told you it was good. Simon's posted an interesting write-up on the production process here, which provides insight into how it all came together.

Impressive stuff, and very good work, I feel.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

It's A Kind Of Magic

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic" - Arthur C. Clarke

"Any sufficiently advanced special effect is indistinguishable from reality"  - Me

A little bit of magic to start your Thursday. Have a smashing day, eh?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

One Of The Perils Of Getting Older Is That Many Things End Up Reminding You Of Other Things, Which Leads To This Sort Of Post

Over the weekend, I was on a train, and saw two young-ish chaps talking quite excitedly. They were twenty years old at most, and they were chatting as they passed what looked like a glossy magazine back and forth.

If you're thinking it might have been a ... let's say 'gentlemen's leisure interest periodical', then I'm sorry to disappoint you; it was, as I saw when they sat quite close to me, a glossy rulebook or other supplement for a role-playing (or tabletop miniature combat) game, and their excitement and interest seemed to stem from the implications of this on their chosen game - I could hear them saying things like 'magic attacks' and 'stats', which rather reminded me of my teen years.

It probably won't surprise longtime blog readers to know that I was what is now known as 'a nerd', though back in those days you were more likely to be labelled a 'square' or 'boffin'. But we all know what that means - probably wearing glasses, not physically confident, not very good at talking to girls, and so likely to have solitary (or at least indoor) hobbies such as playing Dungeons & Dragons or computer games, or reading books or comics. And of course there were quite a few of us at school, as well as all the others who weren't like that.

Strangely enough - on a mathematical basis if nothing else - my school's equivalent of the cheerleaders and jocks so often shown in American films seems to have been known as 'the popular kids'. I say 'strangely' because the school year I was in had so many 'factions' in it (why, even the secretary in Ferris Bueller's Day Off refers to "the sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wasteoids, dweebies, dickheads" at Bueller's school), that if you took out my group of friends, the other groups such as the gothic kids and the very studious kids, and the various loners, there were probably only about fifteen of the so-called 'popular kids', and none of us really gave a monkey's about them and what they did, so I have no idea where the presumed 'popularity' came from.

It's not like we ever took a vote on it or anything... though maybe it was an early example of the kind of 'implied consensus' or 'silent majority' that you often come across in later life. Returning to a film that was out at the time (and whilst it may seem lazy to refer to 1980s films, they were the cultural backdrop of the time, and I think we tend to try to find something that mirrors our own experiences in films and other stories), there's a nice exchange in The Breakfast Club which may touch on the truth of this:

Your friends [...] look up to us.

You're so conceited, Claire. You're so conceited.

... I never actually heard the 'school dynamic' verbalised like this, but I hope I would have responded in this fashion, as my circle of friend didn't look up to the 'popular kids'. We were too busy worrying that playing Daley Thompson's Decathlon on our ZX Spectrum computers would, as legend had it, kill the keyboard before its natural expiry date.

Anyway, when I saw the two chaps on the train at the weekend, I looked at them with a mixture of recognition and almost-pity; I say 'almost' because I was genuinely happy with my life in my teen years, even if the things that made me happy were incomprehensible - or risible - to other people: I was more concerned about whether I'd get my D&D character to Level 5 than whether I'd get to home base (no, not the shop) with a girl (and one of those events certainly seemed much more probable than the other during that era of my life). So I can't honestly look back on that period, and the way I led my life, in such a way that I pity those who seem to be treading the same path.

Yes, I could have shouted to the chaps on the train, "for the love of God, shave off the wispy beards and get some contact lenses and spend more money on cool clothes than 20-sided dice, and maybe you'll get to touch a boob this year", but they seemed pleasant and happy enough, and besides it's possible that they were both total hits with the ladies (or gents, I don't want to presuppose too much), and that I'm just projecting.

But after I'd thought about this sort of thing a bit, and both wallowed in nostalgia and cringed at the recollection of the clothes and large aviator-style glasses I wore, it occurred to me that there are often articles in papers and magazines nowadays with headings such as 'The Geeks Inherit The Earth', talking about how the rise of the internet, and the information age, has meant that many of my pasty cohorts have become very successful in their chosen fields, with the financial rewards attached to that. The heads of IT firms, founders of websites, creators of best-selling computer games and apps, and even the directors of films, are shown to have had classically nerdy formative years - and whilst some of them have made their way in the world by appealing to nerds alone, many of them work in fields with wider audiences.

It's intellectually amusing to see large crowds of people getting excited about seeing films like Watchmen and Avengers Assemble, when I was reading the source comics twenty-odd years ago, and whilst there's a slight frisson of 'Hah! I was right all along!', I can't get too triumphant about it - possibly because having that kind of teenagehood doesn't necessarily prepare you for being the victor, and maybe because of that sense of loving something niche that gets a little soured when it breaks through to a larger market (which of us hasn't either been or known someone who talks up a band, but the minute they get big, starts talking about them 'selling out'?). More than anything else, though, I think it's because the stuff I was into back then, like the stuff I'm into now, was a genuine interest, and wasn't on my list of 'Likes' to impress other people: it was stuff I was actually into.

Which, it strikes me, is probably why there are fewer bold claims of triumph from the swots and nerds and squares; whilst the people who were concerned about looking cool as teenagers are keen to claim they were right all along, when offered the chance to write a book, Bill Gates writes about future technology and the like. Whilst the 'popular kids' at school spent a lot of time (and, I'll wager, their parents' money) on their outfits for the '5th year social' (aka what would now probably be called a Prom), I was reading and re-reading Batman Year One, and not bothering about what anyone might think about this.

I think that's why the articles you see about the Rise Of The Nerds will tend to be written in the third person plural - that is, not written by the geeks in question; because they're still out there, doing their thing - coding, writing, rolling dice or whatever. But the chances are it's indoors.

They say the best revenge is living well, but I suspect many of those who were made to feel somehow 'geeky' will be living well albeit unseen by those who may have ostracised them in the past. Except for those of us who decide to post about it on the internet, of course.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

It's Just A Cycle Of Disagreement...

 Boys, boys, boys.

 Instead of confusing the nice bookshop customers, can't you  just agree to disagree?


Friday, April 13, 2012

Video: An Invocation for Beginnings

Doesn't matter if you apply it to writing or to anything else, I think this video has something to say to all of us who hesitate to begin a project, or procrastinate on continuing, or in any other fashion getting on with it: