Sunday, September 17, 2006

JED's Immigrant

Link to the Original Story: Immigrant - JED

So let me explain a little about what happened here. I liked my last story so much that I thought it would be fun to continue in that world. I figured I could open it out a little more, drop in on the life of an interesting character and see the setting through their eyes. I chose Einstein immigrating to Africa, thinking to myself "Wow, that'll be an interesting juxtaposition of old world genius and 3rd world potential! It'll give me a chance to tell an interesting tale, showing how things could have gone differently, and exploring the underlying similarity of humanity!" Meh. Turns out, not so much.

I do not like this story. It's boring. It's overly reflective. Nothing, and I mean nothing, happens. This is a trap that I find myself falling into more and more often. I end up being drawn into a world, and dawdling in its philosophical side, while forgetting that any good story (even a bad story) should have a plot. And so I try to tack one on at the last minute, but it doesn't work. I really need to focus on expanding the action, while retaining the deeper metaphor. So for instance, had I this to do over again, maybe I'd take it as a diary from Einstein's life in Africa. I could show select entries describing what he'd done, how he'd done it, dealing with how he comes to grips with himself, and the "dark continent." But that wouldn't be enough. There also needs to be some running device to provide an action with which he can struggle. Maybe it would be good if he became a Nazi hunter, all Mossad style. Or developed some sort of supertech device to hunt down and kill them. Or for a slightly less comic-booky feel, maybe he could have to deal with an ex-Nazi neighbor. Anything so long as something is happening! Also I think the descriptives and narrative fail completely. The whole story reminds me of a diet coke that's been opened and left in the sun for three hours - flat, bland and slightly nauseating.

Um, yeah, what he said. I don't think this story is that bad, but I do think it has most of the weaknesses JED points out above. Basically, when we talked about changed history, JED described his awesome idea about Africa becoming the new center of the world after WWII, and this is the beginning of that. But there really isn't that much to it. It's a good start, but what I really wanted was to learn what happens after Einstein gets there. All of those options JED outlined sound pretty awesome, so I guess I don't have anything to suggest other than those.

Outside the confines of this story alone, I will note my agreement that JED has a tendency to occasionally write passive pieces; it's not a universal problem, there's plenty of action in plenty of his stories, but I think it would be better to steer away from that. It's a difficult line to tread within the confines of the Game, because our goal here is to improve our writing, not to create polished pieces, and the reflective pieces are really a part of world-building which, if you hadn't noticed, JED really excels at. His reflective pieces tend to set the stage, then call it a night, and in the Game, that's not verboten at all; anything that intrigues you, that helps you grow as a writer is encouraged. I would like to see the finished production sometime, though.

JP's Immigrant

Link to Original Story: Immigrant - JP

This story is supposed to have a poetic, sing-songy air to it inspired by The Song of Hiawatha, but I’m not sure I pulled it off. It’s definitely a weird story, but it was fun to write. I like the idea of a folktale that’s been corrupted and converted, and shows in its very telling that it isn’t itself. And of course, that’s the whole point; it’s very circular. I had just finished reading House of Leaves when I wrote this, and I’m sure that influenced the final footnote if not the whole thing, but I had to exorcise that style out of my system somehow. I thought it turned out pretty well, but I don’t think JED liked it that much... it’s probably much more poetic in my head than in real life.

Since I'm dishing out harshness today, allow me to turn my scathing Sauronian eye to JP's work. In a nutshell: I didn't like it. I think I see what he was trying to do here, and I can appreciate the general theme of cycling immigration, how one people flow into another, and back out again. I even dig the Chinese cum Native American world in which he set it. It's a nifty idea. But his execution just doesn't cut it on this one. The "grandfather tales" style narration clutters the theme and makes it hard to tell what the hell is going on. The complexity of the world is confusing rather than clarifying, annoying rather than engrossing. I kept getting stuck on the details of mountain versus plain, and when I felt there was a gap in the setting I'd get stuck trying to figure that out, rather than ignore it for the greater picture. The story arc was a distraction to me, when it was intended to be the centerpiece. In general, I think this was an over-ambitious attempt to cram a deep metaphorical piece into an elaborate, but underdeveloped world, using a highly specialized narrative voice that doesn't fit the tale. I give the young feller props for imagination and the size of his vision, but this time it just didn't work out. I say this in all good humor, because I can promise that in some of his upcoming stories it works out awesomely.

JP's Changed History

Link to Original Story: Changed History - JP

I gained a whole new respect for alt-history this week, which is not a genre I ever considered much about. The sheer amount of possibilities you have to account for, and cause-and-effect linkages you have to keep track of, is staggering. Of course, that’s what makes it so cool, watching the butterfly effect change everything. There ultimately comes a point where you get to let go of our world, and realize that you’re really traveling in a different world, and that’s where the fun really begins. This idea began as a “what-if” about the Mormons succeeding in their early bid to take over the nation. Then I remembered that Aaron Burr had tried to make his own country, and everything came from there. I think the bulk of this story is in the off-camera notes I made, which is unfortunate, and if anyone ever asks, I'll post those. I liked the Presidential Address style. And no, I couldn’t help myself from making Gore president.

This isn't one of my favorites, but I do have to say that I dig this story. Not for its presentation, which, as a political speech, is a bit dry, and a little confusing, but instead for the lovely intricacy of the world history that JP has revealed. He obviously did some research on this one. And I do think he artfully reveals that history through the context of the speech, without having that "why am I recapping something everyone here should already know" problem. I guess I don't have too much more to say, except that I'd love to see him come back and actually set some stories in this world. Wouldn't you love to know about soldiers on the front lines, or the survivors of the Japanese Exile? The political differences at play between ambassadors of Empire Republica and the New Union? Labor issues or housewives or cops or farmers? The daily lives of these people could be an excellent backdrop for commentary on modern political impacts. Or something. Plus it would be fun to read. On a final note, to anyone reading this I have to give you fair warning about some of JPs upcoming stories. They kick SERIOUS butt. This kid is going places, fast. And if we're lucky he'll take us all along for the ride.

JED's Changed History

Link to the Original Story: Changed History - JED

Yes, I know it's mine, and yes I know it's not exactly "1984," but I like this lil' ole story nonetheless. So the pitch for this one was to write a story dealing with an alternate history, based on one thing that had gone differently, of an item currently in the news. The item I picked up in the news was the great immigration debate. The thing I changed in history was that the US hadn't accepted European refugees as readily during the early stages of WWII. It was really fun following a (admittedly highly speculative) chain of events leading from this to Germany getting the atomic bomb first, to the bombing of Europe, to negotiated detante with Japan, to American isolationism, to the submerssion of pop culture within 1960s style paranoia, to a single training camp for what is basically the US National Gaurd. Of course, this also gave me a wonderful opportunity to express my political philosophies, something that I don't think I've had a chance to do up until now. I'll let the stories high horse speak pretty much for itself, but I will say that I strong-handedly make the case that the loss of freedoms is no way to protect freedom. And freedom is the essence of the good 'ole US of A, at least as I see it.

As for the story itself, this was a fun narrator to explore. He was a little cliched maybe, but I tried to play up his own fear and insecurity and guilt as an antidote to being swamped by his rabid revolutionary ideology. I also find very appealing the notion that the American spirit lives on, no matter how badly it is crushed or smothered by fearmongers. Lets hope thats true.

I think it's interesting how we both managed to have a major focus on the development and use of the atomic bomb, even though in my story that had little to do with the events surrounding its creation or use at its base. Retracing the steps of history, and then seeing a different retracing through JED's story, definitely hammers home how precariously close we have been to nuclear holocaust, and this from someone who has never been a big anti-nukes hippie.

Overall, I enjoyed this story, and I find JED's treatments of history interesting. There is something of the cliche in here, and the idea of a dystopian future where freedom is twisted into a tool of repression is, well, regretfully close to home these days, but still powerful. As with JED on mine, I found this story far more interesting for the world it represents than for the story itself, but it was a good story nonetheless.