Wednesday, January 14, 2015

You "Down" Readers, You

I manage to read a lot. Nearly half of what I read each year is short fiction published in those pulp sized digests I mentioned here before, and many of those digest also publish book and movie reviews. I even attempt to complete those puzzles in the back of the mystery pulps. Needless to say, I sometimes get behind. For instance I'm just now reading the movie review section from the July/August 2014 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction where Kathi Maio reviews Divergent.

Her opinion of the movie wasn't what caught my attention, though, it was something she pointed out that you would think would have been obvious to me, especially considering the theme of my blog.

Maio pointed out that the trend in young adult literature and the movie adaption of those books is to market those works to the young adult crowd in the hopes that they'll catch on with adults who are open to the idea of "reading down." Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Divergent, and (unfortunately) Twilight are all examples of the books and movies appealing to more than just young adults. This works best in the science fiction, fantasy, and horror genres where the boundaries of the age factor is much less defined than in adult literature or mainstream fiction.

She makes the point, though, that just a generation or two ago, the reverse trend was true. For example, Salinger's Catcher in the Rye, even though it had a teen protagonist was marketed as an adult novel in the hopes that young readers would "read up" to it. There were fewer genre works aimed at teens and once past the basic fairy tales and mythology books, teens would read adult marketed literature and genre novels.

Like any good writer, she summed up in a few sentences a thought I've been wrestling with for months. So now it's time to take these observations and keep them in mind as we continue to study trends in book buying and reading habits. It'll make us better readers.

Until Next Time...
Boundarly Yours,
Michael

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Motoko Kusanagi is Japanese

The thought never occurred to me, but I suppose it should have. Tor.com has published a story that a live action adaptation of Mamoru Oshii’s classic anime movie Ghost in the Shell is in the works. For those who don't remember their cyber-punk history, Ghost in the Shell is the animated movie that inspired the 1999 Wachowskis brothers' blockbuster movie The Matrix, and pumped a little more life into a sub-genre of science fiction that had experienced slowing sales the previous few years. The movie, which was an extension of the print anime begun in 1989, dealt with the theme of artificial intelligence, the definition of life, and the concept of a soul.

What does surprise me is the casting. Scarlett Johansson will be portraying Motoko Kusanagi,  a Japanese cyborg cyber-crime fighter. Yeah, that Scarlett Johansson.

I guess the fact that the protagonist is Japanese and that Hollywood has decided to cast a non-Asian actress shouldn't surprise me, especially considering that movie execs would rather invest in big names than worry about something like "story-accuracy," but still...seriously? Ms. Johansson is a fine actress, and I have nothing against her or her acting ability - doesn't mean she's right for the role and it doesn't mean I have to like the decision to include her.

At this point, according to the article, the project has yet to be fully approved and funded (insert sigh of relief here), but attaching Scarlett's name to the effort may increase its chances of making it to the screen one day.

One can only hope they don't screw this one up too terribly bad.

Until Next Time...
Cyborgly Yours,
Michael

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Happy Birthday, John!!

Happy Birthday, Mr. Tolkien! Thank you for Middle Earth.

And you, too, Mr. Norman! Despite what everyone says, I still love those Gor/Counter-Earth novels - they are a perfect example of 1970s cheesy sci-fi/fantasy.

Until Next Time...
Celebratorily Yours,
Michael

Friday, January 2, 2015

Our Little Friend - the Dictionary

One of the first things aspiring writers are told is to invest in a high quality dictionary, and a large hardcover dictionary is best. When I was a reporter and a broke bachelor, I tried using a paperback dictionary, but it would disappoint me from time to time, so eventually I gave in and spent the extra money for the large, hardback. The one in this picture is one a bought a few years later at the local Barnes & Noble and became the family "go to" dictionary for many years. It's lasted for years, and despite its frequent use has remained in good condition.

Listening to a radio host the other day, she mentioned that back when she read more often, she used to keep a hardcover dictionary on her nightstand. She had bought it second-hand, and after years of use it was falling apart and she was forced to replace it. She contributed her good vocabulary and good spelling skills directly to that cherished book. Her story reminded me that my dictionary is now at least ten years old and needs replacement, especially since there are some new terms and phrases that are not in it. For instance, there is no entry for any form of social media. To my dictionary, a tweet is only something a bird does.

That got me thinking about some of the other dictionaries I have next to it on the shelf, and I thought it'd be cool to post a picture of them as well. Despite some of the good conditions of the books, all are well used and well loved.

Yes, the thesaurus is a paperback, and I should have spent money on the hardcover, but I still haven't gotten around to it yet. The Latin dictionary is paperback as well, but I only use it when I do a little root-word searches. The pocket Spanish dictionary belongs to The Boss, and From Absurd to Zeitgeist is a Writer's Digest book of literary terms.

That orange German dictionary is pretty much the best one you can buy. It only comes in a paperback version, but every German instructor I've ever had declares that dictionary plus the 501 German Verbs books are the best and most useful books any student of the language can reasonably purchase. It's hard to believe I carried those two books around in a backpack for four semesters and they stayed in such good condition.

The Rhyming Dictionary I bought because many poets both past and present recommend it, but believe it or not, a rhyming dictionary in general is a little harder to use than you'd think. Of all the dictionaries I own, that one probably gets used the least. Finding a word to rhyme with a particular word is easy, but is it the right word for the poem? Many times the answer is no.

By their very nature, owning and using these books will make you a better reader and writer, as long as you actually use them. So don't be skittish about investing a few extra bucks to get good quality ones. You won't regret it.

Until Next Time...
Referencely Yours,
Michael


 

Comic Relief

It took me a moment or two, but once I got it, I laughed out loud.


Until Next Time...
Comically Yours,
Michael

Monday, December 22, 2014

C & C Best of 2014

It's the end of the year, that time when every publication known to mankind publishes their "Best of 2014" list, be it books, movies, songs, cheese dips, etc. Which means my Cheesy Readers may be asking, "Michael, where is your list? What books made the top of your list? What science fiction movies? My God, Man, at least give us a list of your favorite block cheese!!!"

Nope. Not here.

Of course the fallacy of the above hypothetical questions is that my Cheesy Readers know better. The whole point of this blog and of my website is to read classic works of literature, read science fiction and fantasy from different decades, watch movies that everyone should know by heart, both the cinema classics and the cult classics. In other words, take it all in from a general perspective as a means of discovering what our cultural truly is and not what others tell us that it is.

Yes, I go through all those "Year's Best..." lists, and sometimes I find some truly good works, but by the time I read the list, and put that work on my ToBe Read/Watched list, it's already the end of the year. And by the time I actually watch the  movie or read the book, it's usually the summer of the next year.

For instance, Panic in a Suitcase by Yelena Akhtiorskaya. I've been hearing about it all year, it's made many "Best of..." lists, it has garnered multiple positive reviews, and has a really cool title, so I bought a copy. Will I be reading it in 2014? Nope. Probably more like spring or summer 2015. True, true, I will never be able to say that I read such-and-such before it was popular, but as my Cheesy Readers know -- I don't care. I still have ten-year-old Jonathan Franzen works to catch up on (although I do highly recommend Freedom).

The same is true of video games. The hottest video games I'll sometimes buy within a week of their release will sit on my shelf until the winter rolls around, at which time, all the cool kids will have moved on to the next big release, and I'm trolling the internet for YouTube videos on how to defeat various levels of six month old titles (think Arkham City, Injustice: Gods Among Us, Halo 4, and on and on).

I still enjoy every moment of this, which is, after all, the whole point.

Until Next Time,
Bestly Yours,
Michael 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Quote for the Weekend

“It is likely I will die next to a pile of things I was meaning to read.”
- Lemony Snicket

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Rubyfruit Jungle Party Massacre

Back in my early university days when I was toying with the idea of teaching English for a living, I became fascinated with post-Summer of Love literature, i.e., the novels and stories written by authors who were either involved with or influenced by the social movements of the late sixties and early seventies. A friend of a friend, who was a professor of Feminist Literature, suggested I read a few books by Rita Mae Brown, specifically Rubyfruit Jungle, a breakthrough feminist and lesbian novel of the 1970s, and Southern Discomfort, a novel published in the early 1980s, but written in the late 70s, and set across two generations in the American South.

Ms. Brown was deeply involved with many social movements of the 1960s and 70s, writing essays and novels, and participating in marches and social demonstrations. As an outspoken advocate, Ms. Brown was a woman's woman, exposing and arguing against many stereotypes and archetypes women of previous generations had been forced to comply with. She took an unpopular stance in the early 1970s at the height of the ERA era when she admonished the National Organization of Women (NOW) when NOW publically backed away from supporting lesbian causes. She later became infamous for a statement she made in a TIME magazine interview when she said, "I don't believe in straight or gay. I really don't. I think we're all degrees of bisexual. There may be a few people on the extreme if it's a bell curve who really truly are gay or really truly are straight. Because nobody had ever said these things and used their real name, I suddenly became [in the late 1970s] the only lesbian in America."

Recently, as I rearranged some bookcases, I looked back at a lot of the novels I read during that time period, and thought it was about time I put Southern Discomfort higher up on my ReRead list. I had purposely quit following Brown when she began writing mysteries - little cozies she claims are co-written with her pussy cat Sneaky Pie Brown (I'll let my Cheesy Readers figure out the double-entendre of that name). But because I had quit following her career at that point, I thought I'd hit Wikipedia first and figure out what she'd been up to lately.

As I was reading along, looking at her list of published credits, I was surprised to seen Screenwriter among those credits, then even more surprises to see...

Slumber Party Massacre

What?

THE Slumber Party Massacre? The cult classic slasher movie of the 1980s? The movie filled with gratuitous shots of college-age girls in sheer underwear being chased by a serial killer with a giant phallic symbol drill? A film that any feminist would decry as everything that is wrong with female exploitation films of Western culture?

No! That has to be a mistake. Wikipedia can be said to be only 90% accurate on average. Surely some goofball playing a practical joke put that in there to see if anyone would notice.

A quick trip to IMDB confirmed - nope, not a joke. Rita Mae Brown, the bastion of the lesbian and feminist movement of the early 1970s, the woman who fought for equal rights for all people, be they man, woman, transgender, homosexual, lesbian, bisexual, or non-gender, was the screenwriter.

WTH?

Was she desperate for money? Emotionally lost? Did she write it while on a three-day acid trip?

None of the above.

She wrote it as parody. She was poking fun at the popular slasher films of the time. The problem was, the director and the rest of the production crew didn't know how to film it as a parody, so they shot it as a straight slasher film, and it was so bad, it was good. It became a cult classic, an icon, a symbol of 80s horror movies that many teenage boys stayed up late watching over and over again. Essentially, it became (in the words of your beloved blog author)...Cheese.

Who woulda thunk it?

See how fun this kind of thing can be? Maybe next time I'll tell you about the degrees of separation between Slumber Party Massacre and Fannie Flagg (yes, the author of Fried Green Tomatoes and regular guest star icon on Match Game that you can catch in reruns on the Game Show Channel!).

Until Next Time...
Feminally Yours,
Michael
 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Avoid Clichés Like the Plague III (FOR JOURNALISTS)

This post is directed at anyone in the media. I'm thinking specifically of journalists, either print, television, or bloggers, but in all honesty I'm speaking to everyone.

I understand that sometimes the words we use to describe things aren't always that exciting, and the urge to be witty or add a small bit of humor has a certain appeal. But sometimes journalists "out witty" themselves and use a cliché under the impression that they're being funny and/or cute or even original. So without further ado, please journalists, stop using these two clichés:

facelift -- this is a lame way of saying a building has been remodel or reconstructed. Not only has this word been overused in this capacity, but it's technically inaccurate. To get a facelift requires a face. That doesn't stop journalists from using it every single time they broadcast a story about some place undergoing reconstruction or a remodel, and every single time they say with a little chuckle in their voice as if they are the first ones to ever use this word this way. Seriously, Cheesy Readers, start paying attention to how often this is used, and you'll notice the trend too.

across the pond -- this flippant way both Americans and the English refers to the divide the Atlantic Ocean creates between the countries might have been cute the first time it was used, but since then it's been overused to the point of annoyance. Could we at least modify it to "across the lake" or something, anything?

So... the "take away" from this post is don't try to be witty, or if you do, at least be original about it.

Until Next Time...
Cutely Yours,
Michael

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Mailing Labels in the Middle

We all know that magazines choose their covers based upon what the editors believe will make their publication stand out on a magazine rack. The hope is that the cover catches your attention enough to pick it up and impulse buy it. For science fiction and fantasy magazines, obviously the art must be fantastical and pique the imagination.

Those of us who subscribe really don't need an attractive cover - we've already paid our money and will read the magazine regardless of what the cover looks like. With that being said, though, we subscribers should still have the opportunity to enjoy the cover, and slapping that mailing label right across the middle kind of spoils the fun. Not only that, the names of some of the authors are covered up as well. As an author, getting your name on the cover of a magazine of this reputation is a big accomplishment. Then to have it covered over by a stupid mailing label has to be disheartening.

Eventually time may cause the label to fall off, but honestly, how does this happen? Can't they have their label gluing machine put that label over the barcode since that isn't needed for mail delivery? Seems like a logical place to put it to me. But, I'm just a reader, so what do I know about these things?

Hopefully, whatever process put that label where it is, will be corrected so we subscribers get to enjoy the artwork that off-the-shelf buyers do.

Until Next Time...
Coverly Yours,
Michael