I suppose that the evidence of a half century suggests that I am the kind of person who is given to introspection. I may sometimes be as knee-jerk as the next guy, but more often than not I’ll also sit back (afterwards) and try to figure out why I feel the way I do about something.
Maybe everyone else does this as frequently as I do, but since it’s an internal dialogue, who’d know?
My most recent internal musings have concerned the question of ‘why I don’t like certain genres’ and ‘why I have a problem with remakes’. I’ve come to what I think is an interesting, if preliminary conclusion.
To sum up the facts: I don’t ever think I’ve seen a re-made movie that was better than the original. Maybe one “as good as but different”, but not better. I don’t think I’ve ever seen or read an adaptation that was better than the original (movie to tv, book to movie, etc).
I’ve rarely enjoyed a fantasy novel (Tolkein and Donaldson’s Covenant original trilogy being the exceptions); not even fantasy works by favorite SF authors (Fafhrd & the Gray Mouser tales come to mind as an example) and I’ve utterly failed to be able to make any headway with: horror (excepting a couple by Koontz), urban fantasy, vampire/werewolf, SF romance, paranormal-reality and any number of other derivative, hyphenated sub-genres.
I think that the connection between all of these dislikes has something to do with the nature of the journey, and here’s how.
When you get into a cab, you tell the driver where to go. There might be some interesting things to be seen along the way, maybe a bit of engaging conversation, perhaps even an uexpected event or two – but you’re still on a rail, proceeding inevitably and predictably from point A to point B. You already know the destination. “Take me home from the airport” always ends in the same place.
On the other hand, when you take a road-trip (a real road-trip), you never know what’s going to happen. You pick a cardinal direction, hit a street and proceed until the first interesting thing appears, and then you detour. You might travel a thousand miles while still being within ten miles of your departure point, but you always end up visiting places you’ve never been to.
Re-makes are obviously a cab ride. We know the route and the final destination. The only real question is whether we’re going to get a cab driver who speaks English intelligbly or not. The same is true for adaptations – except maybe this time the cab is a rickshaw or a water taxi.
I’m not sure what kind of vehicle ‘fantasy’ is (this is only preliminary analysis, remember). I do know that it is colored by the fact that between Tolkein and Donaldson – there was an awful lot of Tolkein. Maybe fantasy isn’t a cab anymore, but ever since I got my own car I’ve stopped worrying about cabs.
The sub and sub-sub-genres: I think they’re taxis too. This is because they’ve self-restricted themselves to a particular set of tropes and must stay within that set in order to keep their readers happy: specialization only occurs when there is a niche to fill. Finches with beaks adapted for pulling insects out of dead trees can’t survive on fruit; finches that eat fruit can’t crack nut shells. The moment that a sub-genre steps outside of it’s chosen niche, it is no longer able to nourish its audience. The experiment becomes counter-survival.
I’ve left the cab analogy behind in favor of finches. Here’s where they come back together. The sub-genres are automated taxis. The elm street taxi only travels on Elm street. That’s great if you live and work on Elm, but if you live on Elm and work on Main, you’re going to need to make a transfer. Because of the specialization, like the automated taxi on Elm, you already know the destination.
And that’s fine if you’re a fruit-eating finch and a giant mango is staring you in the face. You’re going to get exactly what you need out of that meal and you’re going to love it.
But if you’re an omnivore, not only does eating mangos day in and day out get boring, it also doesn’t provide for all of your nutritional needs. Eventually you’re going to have to eat a finch.
My experience is that, rather than specializing, science fiction, as a genre, is an omnivoracious road trip. The genre is the progenitor of many, if not most, of the specialist species; its ‘genes’ are adaptable enough to have allowed its descendants to fill all of those niches.
SF is not a taxi, nor is it a finch. It’s a Cadillac, with a full tank of gas, gas shocks, a trunk you can camp in, equipped with stereo surround-sound, GPS, on-board computer and a touchscreen HUD on the windshield. And right smack dab in the middle of that HUD is a button that says ‘random destination’. That button is programmed to take you somewhere you’ve never been before.
I think I mentioned the other day that I signed up with Authonomy. I still haven’t put anything up there, but visiting the site and an NPR discussion with Clay Sharky, the author of Here Comes Everybody: The Power Of Organizing Without Organizations, got me thinking. If a publisher’s slush pile can become a social-networking, distributed activity – why not publishing itself? Authonomy already has a handle on the submission, review and recommendation side of things, now all that’s necessary is to figure out the links to cover design, copyediting, printing, marketing and distribution. Marketing is already partially taken care of by the reader/submitters on the slushpile end of things. Maybe one of those participation-point systems can be used to handle editorial, design and copyediting. Obviously I haven’t wrestled with the question too deeply – yet – but given what is already going on with sites like Authonomy, the folks who are doing the on-line ‘build your own anthology’ (link, please if you know who I’m talking about) and the huge increase in POD-self-publishing, something like the above isn’t too far over the horizon. Maybe small press folks can use sites like Authonomy to identify works they might pick up with an eager and ready market?
I finally read Doctorow’s piece on distractions and time management over at Locus. He has some good, simple suggestions, many of which I already avail myself of (so much for finding THE solutiuon). His high-points are: turn off the social pop-up stuff (like IMs); heck, I never turn those damn things ON to begin with. Commit to writing something everyday (such as your current novel, not the blog) – but don’t over-committ. Maybe write for 20 minutes or a page or two. A page or two in twenty minutes? Well, I guess that’s about right, if you take out the editinig/re-drafting time. So I kind-of already do that.
Leave a ‘hint’ as in – when your time is up, stop, “Stop even if you’re in the middle of a sentence. Especially if you’re in the middle of a sentence.” Here’s where Cory and I part company. i’m just too anal to be able to stop in the middle of
I’m also too emotionally involved in what I’m writing not to continue until the end of the emotion, rather than when my time is up for the day. But I do maintain the central concept of what Cory is suggesting, which is to leave yourself in a place that its easy to start from the next day. I always know where I’m going next and always follow his next suggestion, which is to think about that next scene when I’m not writing.
His final points are: don’t research (while writing). I’ve used pound signs up till now to mark places where I have to stick in researched facts, I’ll probably adopt the ‘TK’ convention.
Dump the word processor. I get the point – don’t play with formatting and etc., but since I was raised on a Royal and still love the old IBM Selectric II, I’ve never treated my word processor as anything other than an electric typer anyways, so I guess you could say I’m already in compliance there too.
Don’t be ceremonious. Are you kidding? I used to have to have quiet and isolation in order to be able to write. Now I think I could almost get the job done with a crowd of people standing around, loudly commenting on the latest page to come out of the printer. Almost – but not quite. What with the wife not understanding ‘don’t interrupt the writer when he’s writing’, the dog thinking that my feet are a chew toy, the house-husbanding errands that must get done daily, the other website that must be maintained. Speaking of which, I have to wash the dishes.