Montages and Leveling Up

I’ve come to dislike the montage, despite its clear utility in modern storytelling, especially in visual forms like television and movies. I mean, I get it. As a viewer it’s not exciting to watch the mind-numbing repetition of martial arts training or the boring minutiae of repairing the space ship while adrift in alien space or documenting the research that goes into finding the likeliest place to start looking for the lost city where the artifact that will save (or destroy) the world has lain hidden for millennia, only to be discovered now by the worst possible antagonist. It’s a great big derailment, putting the story on hold while a character or team get ready for a mission or a boss fight or final arguments before the jury. Skip the boring parts is Storytelling 101, right? Get on with the plot.

The problem with the focus on plot is that it distracts you from the narrative, which Chip Delany taught me is a different beast altogether, and far more significant for a storyteller (and, I would add, a person; more on that below). The plot is a sequence of connected events, and indeed affects the narrative. But the narrative is what drives the plot, the why that produces the what. As heroines and heroes of our own personal stories (I really do believe human consciousness is best understood in narrative terms), what connects us to stories emotionally is the narrative. If we don’t care about characters or what’s at stake then what can a story really tell us? It’s why so many modern science fiction movies fail to stick. So much more thought and effort goes into the eye candy aspect than goes into creating multidimensional characters or situations that you can guess each character’s fate from their first onscreen appearance nine times out of ten.

From a plot perspective, the hero’s confrontation with the big bad is the culmination of the movie. But the story, properly understood, is not the fight scene and who wins, but what the hero undergoes in becoming the hero, how she develops and changes and reconciles inner conflicts in order to risk all for some greater good. In any good story, she experiences setbacks, and must level up in some significant way (usually leveling up as a person as a byproduct of the requisite dedication). Without this period of meditation, preparation, hard work, and evolution, the hero doesn’t qualify for the final showdown.

Without character development, basically, it’s not much of a story. Continue reading “Montages and Leveling Up”

Take Five Minutes to Save the Internet

If you know what net neutrality is, then you know what’s at stake with the rule changes being considered at the Federal Communications Commission (which regulates the internet). It’ll create an opportunity for the service providers we all know and loathe to provide a two-tiered broadband service, offering those as can pay for it much faster download speeds. Basically, it takes what’s been a level playing field and tilts it towards the already well-off. I think we all know how well that tends to work out for the rest of us (see also, most of the rest of the economy).

If you are not yet aware of what’s happening, and what the stakes are, former Daily Show correspondent and host of HBO’s Last Week Tonight John Oliver has a helpful (and hilarious) primer here.

For once there is easy, effective action available to be taken. The issue is open for public comment at fcc.gov/comments. Of course your own words are best, but if for whatever reason you’d like to borrow some, here is a brief statement available to cut and paste and send to the FCC. Whether you use them or not, please do go and comment.

I am writing to express my strong endorsement of net neutrality, and my strong opposition to any rule changes which undermine it. Opening the way for a tiered system in broadband access will further undermine America’s already lagging performance in this basic twenty-first century utility. The broadband market is already a negotiated monopoly. Allowing service providers with minimal competition this kind of leeway in pricing and service provision opens up unacceptable opportunities for abuse and goes against not only the public interest but basic American values like fairness and competition.

Keep Net Neutrality.

There’s an opportunity to take meaningful civic action right now on an issue that affects everybody. It only takes five minutes. We all know what’ll happen if this gets turned over to corporations like Comcast.

Act now, before the internet as you know it changes forever, and not in a good way. Go to fcc.gov/comments and make your voice heard.

The Resilience of Tipping

Tipping is “confusing, arbitrary, discriminatory, and basically anti-democratic.” So says Elizabeth Gunnison Dunn, in a post on Esquire’s food blog that’s been popping up in my facebook feed since it went up on Friday. The article is basically a dual interview with Ethan Stowell and Tom Douglas, two prominent opponents of Seattle’s newly-passed minimum wage increase. The gist is they have no choice but to move to a more European service model, where what’s now a voluntary gratuity is added to the bill and then distributed by the house. Their front of house staff, it’s implied, are going to have to take one for the team.

Dunn suggests, perhaps hyperbolically, that such a move might signal (or cause) a sea change in the way restaurants work in the US.

Dunn is against the institution of tipping, and has many good reasons. Having worked for tips most of my adult life, I’m sympathetic with her arguments. Maybe I’m being sentimental, but I am convinced that tipping will survive Seattle’s wage increase just fine. Because for all its downsides, there are good reasons tipping has evolved its niche in the American economic and cultural landscape, and I think they’ll continue to apply as Seattle’s economy evolves in the coming years.

Let’s start with why we tip. Continue reading “The Resilience of Tipping”

Five Great Speculative Fiction Novels by Women

I’ve been meaning for a good long while to set aside a period to read only women authors. It’s not that they’re unrepresented on my shelves or in my to-read pile. But if I’m honest, I’ve read way more books by men than by women. Having realized the disparity, I felt a certain compulsion to address it. But I put it off for a long time, for whatever reason I could think of when the disparity re-intruded on my consciousness. Again, if I’m honest, my resistance was rooted in discomfort, as much as anything at the realization that my personal pre-sets, left unchecked, had brought about the disparity in the first place. If I did something about it, well, that meant it was a real thing, a disparity between my aspirational and actually-lived selves.

All the more reason to do something about it, and so a few months back, I made a conscious decision to read mostly books by women for a while. And I am surely glad that I did. Not for some consciousness-raising epiphany about men and women and society and literature (though there surely was that), but because I’ve found a rich vein of work that tickles a personal and particular sweet spot that I had been previously unaware existed, and that I had fervently wished was out there. Turns out my pre-sets had just prevented me from seeing it (thanks, patriarchy).

See, I’m a bit of a rare bird in reader culture, or so it seems to me. I love and identify with both speculative fiction in most of its forms and with more highfalutin quote-unquote literary fiction, with all its inquiries into history, psychology, language, and well, you name it. I came up reading both, love both, and wish they got along better in public. As a writer I try and draw from both sources. As a reader I crave works that weave the two together. Despite the continued snootiness of the literary set and the flagellations of spec fic’s misogynist rump, the overlap between the two is growing, and the correlation with the increasing prevalence of women writing speculative fiction leaves little doubt the phenomena are connected.

There’s so much great work being done right now. It’s a really exciting time for a reader like myself.

In celebration of that, and in honor of Lightspeed Magazine’s Women Destroy Science Fiction! issue, here are five great speculative fiction books by women that I’ve read recently, and why I think they are awesome and you should read them, too, whatever kind of books you like to read. Continue reading “Five Great Speculative Fiction Novels by Women”