Friday, June 28, 2013

A Worthy Endeavor

Is it the weekend yet? Oh god... It's about damn time.

Right now I am on the cusp of a pivotal change, transitioning between cheap speaking and shitting, to finally getting off the pot and putting my money in close proximity to my mouth. Colorful language aside, I think tomorrow is going to be a good day.

For a while now I've been teasing the possibility of doing a webcomic. Unfortunately I haven't bothered to give you all any details for fear that until I have content posted and ready it would be stolen. I think my idea is original, which is hard to come by in the comics game, so sharing the idea with you all is actually quite difficult for me.

My journey to this moment is public domain, however, and quite a colorful journey.

The idea that I've been kicking around in my head had been there for almost a year now. It was birthed so during the height of my post college angst, but since has smoothed out considerably in intensity. I think this is always a good practice for writers. You have to sit on your ideas for at least a few weeks/months so that the period between flash inspiration and conviction passes completely. The reason for this is nothing more than distancing yourself from the material. If you are angry, in the heat of that anger you write a tale worth telling, but filled up with you. Then, after reading it in the future, it's like experiencing that scene from Being John Malkovich where the titular protagonist, Mr. Malkovich, enters the portal and experiences his life through his own eyes. The subsequent existential loop is terrifying and overwhelming. Reading your own words from long ago stirs these feelings, and I wouldn't wish it on anyone.    

What I have now though has expanded into a universe, which is a good thing. It I could toot my own horn I would wager that immersion is one of my strong suits. When I write stories, the narrative/dialogue always appears to be on the back burner. I want to walk around in my tales, pure and simple.

So this weekend I plan to see my friend Phil Kiner to discuss some final details, such as the website (soon to be revealed) and the first issue of the comic. Since attending the Arts Center in Pasadena he has become a marvelous artist, and I am excited to see what he can contribute to what will be our communal portfolio. Jason Brubaker of reMIND has been giving Phil a lot of pointers that will strengthen the project in the coming months. Ramón Pérez too has shared his insight with me. Thus far the comic book community has come off as not only helpful, but down to earth and a pleasure to work with.

This is the next big step. I know that most of you who come to the site are redirected here from my writings on Sequart, so it would stand that there would be something here that would relate to comics. I've always considered myself a novelist first, but I enjoy both trades, comics and larger narratives. So I hope you like the comic. I am looking forward to sharing my dream with you.



SW

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Adventures of Reynard Olfsson (Part 4)

“So how many?”

“Thirteen, one of them is a real bruiser.”

Lief put down his rifle underneath the ridge and took a deep breath. It had been seven days since we had eaten, five of which being stuck outside of Cologne's city gates. The sparse areas of civilization that developed in the aftermath of Professor Magnusson's children were not without their antagonists. Every city had those clamoring to be let in: the weak and enfeebled, the greedy and the worthless. I knew we would have to wait until they disappeared, and went away to forage for food elsewhere. These ones were tenacious. They were also cannibals.

“Can I ask you something?” Leif looked at me, then looked back wearily at the group ahead. My eyes met his lazily.

“No, I have never eaten another man,” I said preemptively.

Leif shook his head.

“That's not what I was thinking.” He replied. “Good to know though.”

A moment of silence passed.

“Do you like being immortal?” He finally spoke up, looking once more over the ridge.

The thought had never occurred to me. One doesn't think about things like this on a regular basis. Speculating the pros and cons isn't a thing that immortals do. I've never heard a normal man speculate his own eventual destruction at the hand of disease or the sword. Death comes to them quite naturally. For us, it does not. What is there to discuss? Perhaps I entertained his question then for entertainment. What else was there to do?

“Eh...” I grumbled noncommittally.

“I haven't loved a woman in almost 200 years.”

This made me chuckle a little. For me it was nearly 250. To be sure my misfortunes wasn't for lack of trying, and there were plenty of brothels where one could savor any taste, exotic or domestic. Being immortal doesn't shelter one's self from diseases however. Quite the opposite, really. After nearly a hundred years dealing with the consequences of my Promethean curiosity I wasn't about to go down that road again.

“I just don't think it's worth it. To meet someone and watch them die, I mean. I just could never do it again...”

That also was a difficult situation. I remembered when my first wife passed away. Much to my embarrassment, when I couldn't hang myself, I realized that it would happen again and again. So I ducked out of the game then. Lief I could tell was thinking about the same thing, who looked as if he was about to weep. Instead, he reached over and grabbed a case and began to put together a large caliber riffle.

“Sure you can,” I said. It was rather unprovoked, my skepticism. Devils advocate always made for better conversation. “We wouldn't be very human without those experiences.”

“You say that like we are, or something.”

“Our DNA is human. What we desire are the things that humans desire. Therefore, we are human.” The way he said it made him stand proud like a god. The definition was so definitive and precise. Leif took the scope and clipped it in.



“Now aim for the head this time,” I cautioned him and leaned in forward against the ridge.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Academic Theory: What is Human?

 I thought about discussing Existentialism this week, but felt maybe that I should first discuss something that preoccupied me in college when learning Early Modern literature.

Since the philosophers of Greece, in Western civilization sages and learned folk alike have discussed what kind of attributes epitomize humanity. It wasn't until the Early Modern period that the notion of a human was challenged with the introduction of the automaton, the most famous being The Turk. It was the first in a long series of inventions that made humans of the age question the nature of humanity. Inspiration, intrinsic genius, these were all things that the well educated attributed to what composed a human being. A.I., or artificial intelligence, and the defining logic intrinsic to the computer language are concepts that we often take for granted. As we grow more advanced as a species, we continually slim down the qualifications for what can be qualified as a human. In the days of the Automaton, it was a fantastic idea for the Early Moderns to contemplate a world where things non-human perpetrated the human.

This idea is the foundation of science fiction and philosophically heavy writings. A little book by Henry Mackenzie laid out a protagonist that cried so much in his emotional exploits that an "Index to Tears" was added in the 1886 edition, much to the ridicule of the book's sentimentality. I reference this text because Mackenzie attempted to relate a human character riddled with feelings and emotions, but ended up with something resembling a robot more so than a human. What are emotions when they are reduced to merely being a cathartic reaction to sensory stimuli? Like a basic computer, Mackenzie's leading man Harley is nothing more than a flesh computer processing input data and spitting output emotions. It wasn't until the Romantic period of Wordsworth, Coleridge, Lord Byron, et al, that sentimental writings were taken seriously.  

In a work of literature building off principals rooted in Western Civilization, there are many roads to take that can exhibit a character's capacity to feel and express. Asking, "How is my character human?" is a good start, because it forces you, the author, to contemplate basic needs and desires that found your protagonist. It also draws a distinction between the protagonist and the antagonist. The protagonist is the definition of human expression in the tale and the antagonist his antithesis, the "other". In H.G. Wells's The Island of Doctor Moreau, the protagonist Edward Prendick observes the blend between man and animal, thereby begging him to make the distinction of what defining characteristics determine Man and Animal. Is your character inhuman? If yes, then what characteristics make him a subversion of humanity?

Grappling with this dichotomy is what drives Early Modern Literature. As philosophy steadily deviated from divine epistemologies, from God ordained to derived observation, the answer to what makes humans intrinsically human has changed. How your book wrestles with this distinction can help add depth to the work.

For Example, I've always liked expressing my characters against inanimate objects. The implied stillness of the material, but non-human forms, amplifies the humanity of the protagonist:

A door opens, and I see light. It embraces me. The dust floats above like cinders settling around a pyre in the early twilight. A chair by the dining rooms lays still, a shadow hiding its gnarled grain. A table, a single place setting, a wick and candle stick, come together as a still life in my kitchen. As I move between them my hand fades in between the luminescent shafts of the lamp burning in the corner. I breathe life into a world without. Cabinets hiding fragments, memories of warm fondness lay dormant. They do not welcome me as I sit. And I realize that I am alone. So very alone.

See what I mean? What is human? What does it mean to be human? Is it in context with society, or is it in the intrinsic nature of being animate? Think about these distinctions and inform me how it changes your perceptions. 



SW

Friday, June 21, 2013

In Review: Man of Steel

You know, it's funny how as you get older things seems to be less of a big deal. The personality evens out until one is no longer Liberal/Conservative, Religious/Irreligious, Black/White, but just this cynically grounded, lukewarm person. If only I could be that way about Superman...

I saw Man of Steel last weekend, was enraged, and promised that today I would give you a review of the movie, so spoilers ahoy. Anyways, here it goes...

I feel like the only way to understand why movies are what they are this day and age requires some knowledge/history of philosophy. Man of Steel is a classic product of Postmodernism. It is a deconstruction of the Superman myth. It takes what was there and presents us with a Superman that is very fundamental. He has powers, and other miraculous abilities, and on the screen he is there just being what we would expect. However the whole movie is much like watching a manikin standing in for Superman. He is physically present, but spiritually absent.

Don't get me wrong now, I loved the movie. Then again I love a lot of things. My general experience with the film was enjoyable, however there were some issues with pacing. It seemed like the film was waiting to start for the first hour and a half, not really gaining any traction until Superman is on Zod's floating lair in Earth's upper orbit. There are no scenes with Superman as "Clark Kent," mild mannered reporter. While it is teased that this will be shown in the next film, and while it is understood that this is a movie about Superman finding himself, I felt robbed of the joy to be had in the Kal-El/Clark Kent dichotomy. People always say, "Superman is boring/too perfect," that he has nothing really going on to give us a motivation to care about the growth and development of his character, but it is his duality that makes us care.

Superman from the outset wears Clark Kent as a disguise. Kal-El is what he truly is. He must carry on as a normal man, wear normal clothes, and worry about whether or not he will liquefy someone's hand if he decides to greet someone with a firm handshake. He is always at odds with his immense powers, which in the movie was dealt with intense realism and I thought it was a great touch because it is a very real problem Superman faces. That being said, Superman's primary capacity he lives out as Kal-El is one of a cultural preserver. He takes in and shelters dying lifeforms and races. He sees in life fragility and nobleness. I think a lot of people missed that Dr. Emile Hamilton was in the movie, who in the comics acts as a proxy for Superman's Kyrptonian technology. He is the touch point for Superman's interaction with humanity to make them better and more equipped for the future. When it is implied that he dies in the ship, as Kal's baby pod is flown into the doomsday weapon attacking Metropolis, I sat in the theater incredulous. "Did that just happen?" Way to throw away a great way to contextualize Superman as far as how he relates as an alien on Earth.

I suppose it's Zod's death that troubled me the most however.

After reading reviews of the film and different takes on it, I've noticed that people are generally angered by this sudden move on behalf of the filmmakers. Why they are angry, however is never really expressed beyond some cathartic reactionary impulse against seeing the defamation of their beloved hero. After a week of thinking about it, I think I have maybe found out the reason why people should be angry.

The film is a Science Fiction film. Naturally there are topics and ideas broached that deal with the advancement of mankind, and other what-ifs that contextualize who we are as a people by showing what people we could come to be. Krypton became a caste-system society, but strangely after enacting a very pro-exploration agenda, which by itself seems so exciting and in vogue. It would be like if Soviet Russia suddenly embraced entrepreneurial, capitalistic systems at the height of their power and influence. It just seems so out of character, though. (Perhaps we are Krypton, once an idealistic burgeoning nation, that no longer is capable of summoning the energy to get off the couch and change the channel.) Yet in the midst of this caste system, Kal is born all-natural as this new start for Krypton. Why? Superman should be one to inspire us. Jor-El dropped this theme in the film ("You shall give the people an ideal to strive for," etc.), but where did it go? I was expecting Superman to lovingly approach Zod graciously and say something like, "You have a choice, Zod. I had a choice, to be better," at the end of the film as they stood in the rubble of metropolis.

But rather than finding redemption, and rather than Superman being the better man, he lets the fight go where it never needed to go, and that was what really bothered me. People, and comic book fans, seem to have lost their way. They have been seduced by this notion that being a superhero is about the glamour of heroism. As in Kingdom Come, Mark Waid's triumph of comic-bookdom, we have forgotten that being Superman is about the humility one must possess in their abilities. In Alan Moore's Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow, after killing Mxy Superman says in summary, "Nobody has the right to take another life, especially Superman." And he's right! Why? Because Superman, in all his infinite power, possesses an even greater power, which is often overlooked. Superman's greatest power is his ability to discern what needs to be done, the ability to make the right choice, to sacrifice when no one can. Superman is the "Man of Tomorrow" because he represents a restoration and rediscovery of what mankind can achieve. A brave new world, not full of complacency and gluttonous indulgence, but one of discovery and reinvention. Superman inspires humanity to go the distance, to give new life to old systems that were thought decrepit and without usefulness.

 In killing Zod Superman is saying, "Yes Zod, I too agree that you have no chance of redemption, that even though you were made in a test tube to have another destiny, one determined by another, that you do not possesses the right to choose for yourself what you are capable of doing. Therefore, you deserve to die."

Superman can't be Superman if he cannot possess the ability to inspire. Otherwise he's just another meat-bag in a line of meat-bags in the DC universe.

Also, why would David Goyer go through the painstaking effort to make Batman unable to kill and stress that moral fiber, even making a whole introductory movie about it, just to throw it out in Superman's film debut. Perhaps this is just a play on Alan Moore's allowance for the character in Superman's final serialized exploit. Rather than ending with death, Goyer begins with it.

I've said it and I'll say it again. We lost something June 14th, at great cost.

And the world will come to regret that they did to Superman. We all will.



SW

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Adventures of Reynard Olfsson (Part 3)

“Hamburg... Bremen... Cologne... Frankfurt... and Strasbourg.”

“What?” I perked my head up, from the steering column. Leif busily leafed through a map chewing on the bit of an old Cigar he found. The tobacco was stale. Even I could tell by the smoke. It wasn't aromatic in the slightest, and tasted like a pungent coal in my mouth. Since entering Danmark we salvaged a small vehicle, good enough for driving a good while. Lief converted it into an open top, with his hands. It was enough to get the smoke out.

“That's our travel plan,” he added, keeping his eyes on the map. “Each city has food, preserves, and some trading.”

“Are any of them modern?”

“No... Lyon. Madrid. That's all before Cagliari.”

“Isn't that something,” I murmured quietly. I always wanted to got there.

In the wastes of the fledgling world there were still places I could go to be “modern.” They were the first to recover after the event. Subsistence farming and fishing communities were the first to recover. The people there still knew how to till the land, make due with what they had. Sadly the developed worlds were far too developed to keep afloat. First there was mass panic, then rioting, then death, and then, finally, silence.

Silence for a hundred years.

“Tell me about your sister,” I said as Lief grew quiet. Sitting calmly in his seat, he lifted his eye and looked over at me. It was hard to tell if he was disturbed by my question. Knowing my luck, my prying was not the first of it's kind. I could tell he was somewhat irritated however.

“She has a vagina, occasionally possesses the wit a stamina to bear offspring...” he said routinely, then looked back into the paper.

“Just making conversation,” I admitted. I didn't feel like prying, though I felt as if it was already too late for that.

I looked up at the pass ahead. It would be another 100 kilometers before we reached Hamburg, according to the rusted remnants of an old sign. They made quite the effort on behalf of the cities to clean up the roads of the dead and the heaps of autos that had long decayed on the autobahn when the cities began to rise again. They called it a stimulus, but the mass graves didn't make me particularly stimulated. After a few hours of only seeing flat ground I had begun to miss Norway. There was always something to look out and see in the window. Here there were cows and sheep, occasionally a goat. By now I had lost count.

“One, two, three...”

“Her name is Mær,” Leif said in still quiet voice. “She isn't technically my sister, but her DNA closely matched mine when I looked at the registry in Cologne. She is probably my descendant. Somewhere long ago my father, her great something of a grandfather, spilled his blood on a slide to make me.”

If she isn't even your real sister, then why are you going to try and find her?”

Leif pushed leaned forwards pushing the map back into the compartment in front of him and sealed it. Then, leaning back into the chair, he laid up his feet out the left hand side of the auto and folded his arms thoughtfully. I nearly thought he hadn't considered it, by the way he looked.

Closure, or togetherness. One of the two,” he said. He let out a long sigh. “Frankly I'm not sure which.”


Monday, June 17, 2013

Academic Theory: Western Themes and Philosophy

Last week was a whirlwind that I'm still trying to recover from. I saw Man of Steel, that bullshit, and feel more betrayed and outraged than I have ever felt before. Nothing lasts in postmodern climates, kiddos. Lesson learned. Stay tuned for Friday's post, where I'll have my full review of the movie up. There will be spoilers.

I did last week's post more or less on a whim. It's been like trying to pull teeth to figure out what I can write about, but I thought last week was a winner. It's important to know certain aspects about philosophy, because, like history, so much of literary cannon is caught up in the ideals that have spanned the Age of Men. This week is about the western heavy hitters.

I would say that the two most influential, monolithic branches of Western Philosophy are Platonic and Aristotelian. Each comes from two philosophers (Plato and Aristotle, respectively) that were back to back. Aristotle learned from Plato all he had to know and, of course, completely disagreed. This is common in philosophy. People rarely agree with their former cohorts in this game. That being said...

Platonic Philosophy

Plato's primary idea is based on understanding the absolute. This idea, the absolute, dominated his thinking, and endured into the future as the lens by which many theologians would frame their words, most famously expressed through St Augustan. The divine, the perfected reality that exists beyond, directs our thinking, that by understanding first that this perfect reality hangs over us we can then move forward and understand the world. For example Plato might understand it this way:
"I understand God (the Divine), therefore I can understand the world."
How this translates into literature, would be in how a character expresses their idealism. If you were writing a superhero book, or a book about a "good" man, they would conceive of and live in their world not in light of how they experience the world but they would perform basic actions rooted in some principal. Perhaps you have a character who is a lawyer, who knows that Justice is absolute. Everything encompassing that ideology is formative in his/her thinking. If someone stole from them in the book, this lawyer would pursue right justice. Big or small, the crime would be punished, and the punishment would fit the crime. You can even play with this theme by having the lawyer character break out of his/her philosophical limits by not punishing to the full weight of the crime.  It's up to you how you want to play with that theme.

Aristotelian Philosophy

Conversely, the opposite of Platonism finds itself in Aristotle's words. He was the student of Plato but had vast disagreements on the subject of the Divine, and how to understand it. The risk of seeing the world through the lens of an absolute divine is that it risks generalizing and speculation. Nothing then is truly grounded in reality. Like our lawyer character introduced before, anyone adhering to or taking this ideology seriously would never be able to relate to anyone because there is no point in grounding oneself in the physical, when it is all about the spiritual. The divine should then be understood in the forms of matter. Aristotle would understand the world in this way:
"I understand the world, therefore I can understand the quality of God (the Divine)."
In literature, this philosophy can be expressed in a multitude of ways. This is because the character, can posses a large range of dynamic attitudes towards the world. He can be naive, or realistic, rich or poor. He is not limited to idealism, but can be flawed. (Perhaps this is why this philosophy became the foundation (ironically) for the Enlightenment in Europe.) The philosophy can produce a character who sees the poverty and crime of his/her world, which produces his/her cynicism. The world looks so drab and poor and awful, therefore, if there even is a god, he must be capricious, unkind, and murderous. The converse can also be true. You could have a very wealthy character that construes the world isn't that bad because of the comfort their wealth ensures them. Play with these expectations and there will be lots to work with. These kinds of characters will let the world change the way they perceive it by the consequences of circumstance. They are very human and fragile.

That is the gist though of what I'm saying. Take it into account the next time you read a story. Ask yourself, "what kind of character is this?" Make it your exercise this week. Let me know how it goes!



SW
 

Friday, June 14, 2013

Cold Turkey

With the abundant saturation of cross promotion in entertainment it's easy to get attached to a variety of movements from within the sphere. It's like having some vicarious feeding tube that nourishes the soul until it's finally disconnected at the cathartic fulfillment upon experiencing the media product in question. But lawdy! I can't get enough of the cast interviews and promo material!

Man of Steel is one of those things. You have all these unmistakable qualifying factors for success: Zack Snyder, Christopher Nolan, and David Goyer. How could it not be good? I haven't seen the film, but something has been robbed of me via websites like Rotten Tomatoes and the milieu of salacious rumor authorities. My friend however since the point of Superman's conception has never seen a trailer, promotional photo, or even an article relating to the film's anticipating turnout. He's gone in Cold Turkey. Imagine that.

There was a time when that was all one can do. I vaguely remember the trailers from the 90s when I was still a wee child, but they weren't like the one's from This is the End. Don't get wrong, I loved the movie, but that trailer contains 90% of the funny.

But then we have this.

That was the trailer for The 5th Element. Sweet Jesus! There's no dialogue or anything. It's just some house music being looped over world-building visuals and tantalizing questions. The internet was still around, but definitely not in the power that it is now.

I guess it's my fault. Now I'm going in with low expectations. Now I'm going in with inflated skepticism. Now it's all up to Zack to make me not hate what he's trying to do. I envy my friend's devotion to cinema. Working in the movie industry probably leaves one with so much over exposure that it takes preventative measures to still enjoy movies. I imagine that the same goes for being a chef while also being constantly disappointed when going out to eat with friends at restaurants.

Nevertheless, the public has never been very friendly towards Zack's work. I will not defend the dog shit that was Sucker Punch. (That was just too much.) All his movies are worthily constructed. Watchmen carried all the depth and sophistication of the original work save for a few major flaws in the plot towards the end, but I liked that movie! Maybe I'm just a fanboy, but I will choose to love Superman going in. He's our only hope for a Justice League movie, dammit!



SW

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Adventures of Reynard Olfsson (Part 2)

Maybe half a year ago I was lounging around in some dive bar feeling sorry for myself, when I looked up and met another man. He was a soldier, prewar and fully stocked. I wasn't going back down that road again. Besides, he was a co-worker. Work relationships never work.

Our query was some old mining equipment. I've found my fair share of fragments that could be dated to prewar times, but whole and preserved pieces was something different entirely. I was only there for the constructs though. A construct was always a find no matter what. They are emitters that create cascades of pliable hard light scaffolding. Each are multipurpose, and can be used for anything. If I could get my hands on one of those, I could do anything.

Today was a special day though. We were entering Danmark, which was a big achievement. Of all the old governments theirs was the only one still self contained and preserved, at least the only one I was aware of. It was hard to get into a country that still had borders. They were so conventional in the old world. Now, one could be fortunate to find a country that even knew what a border was.

“How much longer until we reach the tunnel?”

Leif Asvaldsson turned back to look at me. His dim eye was sleepy. We had been rowing most of the day, and my arms felt numb at the tips from the cold water. Leif heaved a sigh and looked on ahead.

“Mmm...” he raised his monocular to the working eye and squinted. “Two hundred meters to the beach. Another thirty kilometers after that.”

“You know, you strike me as someone who doesn't go out to find articles like this for the sake of charity.” Leif shrugged as he rowed, rolling his shoulders back. He looked occupied with something else. I couldn't help feel he was hiding something from me.

“Something has been following us...” His voice contained hints of irritation. Another disconcerting look made me wonder if he was growing delirious from the rowing.

“Beg your pardon? Where? There's nothing here but water.”

“Underneath...” Leif's body slumped under the weight of another stride, stifling his words. “Something... big.”

This was bad.

From my pocket I took out a camera. It was a flex tip, something that I discovered in a dig a few years back. So far it had come in handy several times. Wens wanted to toss it! He would want to toss it. When the piece was located I had the inclination to sell it, but I thought I'd keep it around. Putting it underwater I calibrated without difficulty to the water's depth, coolness, and salts. What I saw was startling, though unexpected.

“It's a shark.”

“What?”

“It's a big fish that lives in the ocean that eats people...”

“I know what a shark is!” Leif shouted in panic. “Oh Jesus... how far away is it?”

It was right underneath us, actually. I didn't want to worry him though.

“Thirty meters out... I wouldn't worry. It looks to me like a smooth hammerhead. As long as the boat doesn't sink we'll be fine”

Leif paddled faster then, like a madman. The shore was near, as I could see it. From where we were the land looked placid, even welcoming. It would be violent there as most of the lands were now. Only in the sea were things mostly the same. Then again water never changes.

The waves under me, churning rhythmically, endlessly, kept my mind at ease. It had been a considerable time since I had slept. Naturally I went out, but it didn't last. I felt the lurch of the boat slide forward up the beach, followed by Leif's heaving pull up the rest. I was impressed. He really was much stronger than I anticipated.

“Can I ask you something,” I said, pulling out my pack from the boat. Leif lifted his eyes, tying off the boat pensively. He kept to himself primarily. This was business after all.

“If you want to know how fast I can run, it's 44miles per hour.”

“That's not what I... really? Wow.” No, I was actually impressed. The things people can do under a microscope!

“I know right,” he admitted, scooping up the pack in his hands off the ground. “The times I've been asked, you could hardly believe it actually. “I once had to flee a troupe of collectors. You should have seen the looks on their faces.”

“Really? Well, no. That's not what I wanted to know.”

“Then spit it out Reynard,” he grumbled. I think he was hoping that would be enough to deflect my questions.

“Well,” I began, “Why did you come to find me? And what business does a prewar soldier have looking for mining equipment?”

I waited for a few moments, hoping that he would have something to say. He never replied. Silently, he walked up the beach his eyes forward, taking in the emerald sea of grass before him. There was a road. You could see it still, were you to look hard enough. It was hidden underneath a bed of flowers stretching to the horizon.

“Maybe I Should be honest with you Reynard,” he admitted, bending down to pull out of his pack a GPS tracker. “I'm not looking for mining equipment.”

I wasn't surprised, really. This wasn't the first time I was lead astray. The last time I had to deal with something like this was when a pair of polsk explorers asked me to cover the entire Jutland with beacons to trap seals. They ended up being collectors eventually, and I nearly escaped with my life. That was too close for comfort.

“Then what am I here for?” My voice became shrill, indignant, a good cover so that he wouldn't turn around to see me pulling out a stun wand.

“I'm looking for a girl,” he said, “my sister.”

Intriguing. I slid the wand slowly back into the pouch lining the inner warmth of my jacket.

“And why do you need an archeologist to find your sister?”

“You've been to France, right?”

I have, but that was 200 years ago.

“Oh, France huh?” Were was that stun wand?

“All I need is a translator,” he said calmly, turning around to find me tearing through my jacket, “and a good pair of hands. I last heard of her staying with a small tribe of nomads that traveled the Rhineland. That is where we will check first. How good is your French?”

“Eh, well, so-so I guess,” I lied. He looked at me blankly after a few moments, and rubbed his eyes with irritation. As if he had planned on doing so, he quickly withdrew a pouch from his pack and tossed me a brown, heavy burlap bag. Opening it quickly I stared at a pile of gold coins, prewar bullion with little corrosion.

“How good is it now?” he said flatly.


“Quand partons-nous?”

Monday, June 10, 2013

Academic Theory: How Philosophy Matters in Writing

I was thinking about it it other day and I realized that it has been quite some time since I've done any academic theory classes. Today I figured I would do a short lesson on literature philosophy.

If you have never taken a philosophy class before, you might not realize how important certain movements in philosophy are for writing. As a general rule they go hand in hand, and expanding one's understanding of philosophical values and concepts can greatly help. Think about it like this. All books are trying to make a point. From the highest accolades of literature to the dumbest bullshit that comes off the press, the books being placed into the hands of the reader are preaching something (to put it crudely, though even that kind of association shares a lot of meanings). Heart of Darkness is about the folly of colonial expansion into the Belgian Congo, and the horrible acts of evil perpetrated by the colonists upon the indigenous people there. It fights the notion that we as humans are inwardly good and capable of humanitarian acts. No, at the heart of it, it's all darkness. I could also introduce the Twilight books, which are garbage, and any human being caught enjoying them should highly consider their taste in literature and men. Those books have a surface level philosophy catering to the distinctions between familial bonds and the desires of the individual. It's a very simple, overdone, trite dichotomy.

So where I thought I would start in all this is set a foundation for all of you first, and perhaps continue this series outward, further delineating the movements as they develop.

There are two primary branches of philosophy: Eastern Philosophy and Western Philosophy.

Eastern Philosophy 

You'll find that Eastern Philosophy shares a general association with people of the east, primarily the continent of Asia, but really it's anything that concerns lands east of Palestine. Technically Jewish thought is corralled into the framework of eastern philosophies, even though Judaism concerns a monotheistic deity, which is an idea more typically discussed in Western cultures through the advent of Christianity. The big idea with Eastern philosophy is understanding that in these cultures value is placed on the group and not the individual. This can be seen in Hindu and Buddhist thought, where the individual's goal is to ascend to a higher plane of consciousness that strips them of all their personality. In Japanese culture, the good of the family far outweighs the desire of the individual. In modern Japanese works like Kokoro and A Personal Matter, the primary protagonists are demonized for embracing western values like personal agency and entrepreneurial thought.

When you are writing a book, if you understand these themes and basic constructs, it supplies a great amount of material to work with. You can play with these themes, like have a protagonist that is slowly pulled away from the family by a western minded person. Conversely you could create an antagonist who is attempting to destroy the individualism of a certain group of people. These are all incredibly surface level ideas. What I am trying to get across is that manipulating these basic philosophies will create interesting premises and ideas in your literature.

Western Philosophy

Generally the opposite of Eastern Philosophy is Western Philosophy, though that is a risky dichotomy to establish. Suffice to say, if in Eastern thought one finds writings bolstering the power of the group and the order of civilization, Western thought will promote the power in the individual to change society or tear it down. "Western Civilization" represents the catch all cultural milieu that embodies European cultures and the USA. This goes all the way back to Plato and Aristotle's theories of knowledge, and how one conceives the world. Regardless of which side you pick, at the end of the day what is going on is that a person is choosing for himself/herself how to picture the world.

Books written from a perspective of individualism are intriguing but can risk becoming too bogged down in egotism. Any young person's book that is considered coming of age is more or less guilty of this tragedy. However you can play with the themes of Western literature by making stories about people understanding their own existence through their actions. This is called Existentialist literature, and was arguably started by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Notes From the Underground is a cool  book that expounds on this style of literature.

It's a crude beginning but I hope you see the two divergent paths, one going towards Athens and the individual, and the other going towards Sri Lanka, to lose the individual wants of the soul. Taking both ideas and playing with them in your books is where to start. How well you do at this determines how good the book will be.



SW

Friday, June 7, 2013

What I Am Capable of in Peace Time, and ER Visit

I find it a novel experience to be now finished with Spirit of Orn, at least with the major writing sections. It's like I have this hole in my life that I can fill with sundry things like my neglected hobbies and Bioshock: Infinite. This week I have spent most of my free time inundating myself with Man of Steel propaganda. After so much time the wait is finally over!

I've had my fair share of illuminating and educational experiences this week, one of which learned me some very practical skills of deduction. When one works out at the gym it is assumed that at the onset of sudden fatigue, tingling, and nausea something cataclysmic is being undertaken in the body. For me it was dehydration. The kindly staff called the paramedics, which I kindly accepted. I did turn down the ambulance ride however. Even with insurance I have heard them costing as much as $3000. Of course it was only after this that I learned my company's health package was now offering $200 rides. Good to know.

All things considered it's been quite the week.

Today my artist that I am contracting to illustrate Spirit of Orn is stopping by. In my apartment I have a plethora of comic books, photographs, and internet tabs at the ready for his perusal into my creative subconsciousness. It's very difficult for me to relate exactly what I want in my mind. It's just so expansive and bombastic that ultimately I just confuse the artists and musicians that I desperately cling to. "Understand me!" I shout at them.

Generally that works, sometimes...

I am on the cusp of some exciting ventures these days, one of them being a teaching English in Japan program. It's weird because, in doing something like that I must weigh my options. If I do something like that I must be certain that I am prepared to spend and inordinate time away from my close friends and family. The novelty of the experience as well as the gratuitous compensation is my primary goal. There are loans to be paid off (not mine of course), and this I find would be the ticket to doing so in a short period of time. I also would be able to save up money to go to graduate school. It's something that I should probably think over. If any of you have done something comparable, please inform me. I am curious to get a good vantage point of these experiences from all angles.



SW

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Adventures of Reynard Olfsson

“What'll it be champ?”

“Vodka. Make it special for me... champ. Oh God...”

Three years of this, wandering from place to place. Ever since Wens took off I had been alone. I told myself the breakup was going to be a piece of cake. What can two men fight about? Plenty of things apparently. Good riddance, I thought. I'm never going back down that road again.

How did I end up in a bar? How do we all end up in a bar? I'm a walking cliche. I just don't want to be here anymore, in this world.

Some have figured it out before. It takes a while. Eventually the talk comes up; “Hey Reynard, why are you not aging.” I chalk it up to their poor eyesight and the next day I'm gone. American, French, Norwegian, British, I've been them all. After a while you long for someone to accuse you of being a witch; get it over with. It's the digs that keep me going. I'm an archeologist by charity, the only one with the sense left to culturally reclaim the world that once was. Beyond that, what else is there to do?

I took the cold glass and thanked the stingy bartender. It was half full, but the vodka was premium, maybe prewar. I don't think Vodka can outlast the elements that long, but I wasn't going to complain. You can tell a Vodka is good when it goes down like water. This was good. I've had worse, some so bad it made me feel like I was drinking isopropyl. (That time I was drunk, though. Shame on me.)

“So when you came here eighty years ago I thought I recognized you,” the man said, swooping in from beside me. “You know, back when they had the fireplace?”

Oh yeah, I thought. That was a nice fireplace...

“Don't know what you're talking about,” I deflected. “I think you ought to tone it down on the drinks.” I didn't make eye contact. That's how you commit to the crazy.

“Well I imagined that you wanted someone to talk to,” he said sadly, getting up from the seat. “But I guess I'll just have to wait for another immortal to come skulking in here.”

Okay, maybe he isn't crazy.

Looking up from my pitiful drink I saw the eye of a man. He only had one eye. The other was fake or a cybernetic implant. I could tell by the glassy fog across the iris. By his build I gathered that he was a mercenary. Maybe a prewar supersoldier. They were in fashion like khaki shorts in the summer before everything went down. Why one was standing before me now seemed a one-in-a-million. They should all be dead.

“You should all be dead,” I said. Then I kicked myself.

“Dead? Maybe.” He slowly came back to take his seat. Raising his hand he grabbed the barkeep's attention. “Something sparkling an alcoholic. Atta-boy champ!”

“When the creatures released their EMP there was nothing left for us to do,” I said mournfully, “I was released from my pod. The others weren't very lucky. They had never entered into the maturation phase.”

“It's a shitty way to go,” the soldier agreed, nodding kindly when the barkeep slid the beer down towards him at the end of a stunted pool cue.

“And why should I suppose you are here? You're not a collector are you?”

“No, god no. I've run into quite a few myself. Most of them I can intimidate, scare them off. The others... well. I took care of them.”

I had never killed a man before to protect my secret. Then again, a man has never come to me asking what pod I came out of. That's the first question they always ask. It's a litmus test. If you answer them they bag and tag you faster than you can blink. After that you are either dissected, or sealed away in a viewing chamber like a pet. I don't like collectors, and I generally avoid them when I can. They are always so obvious. Nobody comes into dive bars with a posse anymore.

“Well, I need to get going,” I lied after a few moments of silence. “I was kind of on a schedule.”

“Mmm, well I won't stop you,” he said reluctantly, “Even though I might have a job for you.”

“A job?” My ears perked up. A good job can pass time, and I was always willing to pass more of it. It's something that immortals jones for. “What kind of job are we talking about?”

“A dig,” replied the soldier, “for some old world tech. I'm looking for mining equipment, and maybe some military grade constructs.”

“That's a tall order.” It was. “What makes you think that I have what it takes though?”

The man smiled, downing the whole drought of beer.

“I've heard stories about the great Reynard Olfsson, the man of many hats. I'll need someone like that on my team. We are going south, to Danmark.”

“I'll need my things, I suppose.” I had most of them outside in my pack. The soldier looked generous though, possibly desperate for my help. So I forced a helpless smile. It couldn't hurt.

“Tool are included,” he said without a second thought.

Jackpot.

“So where do we go from here?” I asked. “I'll want to read some data sheets on the project.”

“You will,” he confirmed, pulling from his hand a prewar construct engine. “Let that be incentive for now. Until then, welcome aboard.”


“Welcome aboard.”   

Monday, June 3, 2013

The Difference Between Multitasking and Time Management

I once talked about time management, which is one of the more helpful lessons one can learn if they are an author, however stopping here would only be half the story. It takes a skill in multitasking as well. The distinction between the two is important to understand.

I am very skilled at time management, and I find it easy to schedule projects into my daily routine, however I lack the skill to collectively focus on more than one project if I have that going on in the background. Being a writer you will discover very quickly that to be successful one has to open themselves up to a multitude of projects. For instance, fight now I am finishing Spirit of Orn up, during which I am also writing a graphic novel, a screenplay, and a non-fiction book. Doing them all together is the key.

So help visualize carrying out multiple projects I want you to visualize your time in school. Try to remember what helped you be a successful student. Did you have a great planner? Or were you just excellent at paying mind to small details? My theory is that multitasking a stream of projects can be possible by creating a cognitive link between the project and an activity. Imagine being back in history class and then going on to math. How does the brain differentiate between those two disparate kinds of knowledge? Generally it's because of the activities your are associating with each class.

Translating that over to writing, and going back to my project workload, the ability to multitask is not so bad because I have done the same thing to my workflow. On Sequart I gather my notes purely by recording them into an orange binder. But whenever I work on a book, I input my notes on a computer while referencing physical, printed books. In my time writing graphic novels I write into two larger paper pads, one a grid to draw mock-up panels and the other to record dialogue. I have tried to differentiate substantially between each process to limit the amount of time it takes at the start of the day to "re-enter" that frame of mine in which I was chronicling my stories.

Neil Gaiman does something rather similar. He wrote Stardust on paper into a notebook, and it helped him slow his narrative pacing and create the ambiance of the fairly tale. American Gods he wrote on a typewritter to elicit the early 20th century feel of journalism that the story leverages. The other books he wrote on the Word processor. It's good to diversify, so experiment!

I hope you all enjoyed my story The Rod and the Mackerel. I was looking back on it's reception these past few weeks and I have been pleasantly surprised at how well it was received. I'm still brainstorming for Wednesday however. I'll cook up something nice for you all!

In the realm of comic books, me and Phil are going to meet together soon to do some final concept work as well as film an information video for the comic. It'll be an exciting thing to take a swing at! There's more to come on that though.




SW