16 July 2002
It's too loud.
What's too loud? Everything. Last night was another "shrieking girls in the courtyard" night, and once again, I was tired enough not to feel competent to go out and talk to them or call security, awake enough that I couldn't just sleep through it. So I shut the window, and that was okay, but I could still hear them. (Why was that okay? Because it is not only too cool to need AC, it's too cool to have windows open if I'm not wearing flannel. Stupid Northern California. The high today -- ten days before my birthday -- is supposed to be 61 F. I sigh.) (And I realized in e-mail conversation on that-day-ending-in-y that not all of you may know why we're still here if we don't like it. Mark is finishing off his PhD at Stanford. Should be done in December, June at the latest. I don't talk about it much: it's not my PhD. But there is a good reason for us to still be here.)
And continuing in the category of Too Loud, Mark and I went to see "Minority Report" yesterday. Too Loud. Way Too Loud. And the eye stuff -- the eye stuff was worse than a Tim Powers novel. Ewwww. There were some interesting points, but it struck me that the whole thing was a bit foolishly black-and-white. One of the major questions throughout the entire movie was, does precognitive recognition prosecute people who might turn out to be innocent? The answer to that seemed obvious to me: don't prosecute. If they'd been arguing that it violated people's civil rights to have government officials raining glass down upon them, breaking into homes where no crime had been committed, well, okay. But they were just asking whether some of the people who were "put away" for murders they were going to commit were actually murderers. So if they had stopped the potential murders but had either prosecuted for other crimes (assault, for example, if it had already started), or else had tried to work in some nonviolent methods of conflict resolution, they'd still have prevented the murders, but without the question of whether they'd be locking up innocents. I suppose that's not a Hollywood, all-or-nothing question, though.
I had a very odd complaint with this movie: the drug use. The main character, we find out early on, uses an inhalant drug called Clarity. Problem is, we don't have Clarity in our world. We don't know what it does. When an actor is seen with a gin bottle, a joint, lines of cocaine, whatever, we know what those drugs are and what they do. It's best if the actor plays it subtle, doesn't make a big show of slurring and falling over everything, lengthening every vowel and adding "Whoa, duuuuuude" to each sentence, whatever. He doesn't have to and shouldn't. We already know what's going on. But the extremely subtle approach doesn't really work with an unfamiliar, fictional drug. Cruise's character was melancholy before and after taking his Clarity. Is it an upper, a downer, a memory enhancer, a memory negater? Does it have side effects, after-effects? We don't know, but the character's drug use is part of the plot. So we need to know.
Usually my complaint about drug-using SF characters is totally different. Usually, I roll my eyes at the appearance of whatever drugs in SF, because unless the author is quite skilled, it looks to me like, "Look how hip and cool I am! Look how gritty and real this book is! Look how unafraid I am to see the seamier side of human existence!" And also it's a cheap shortcut when it comes to character flaws. People will say, "Oh, Bob is an alcoholic!" and just let it stand at that, as if all alcoholics were identically flawed. Or they'll need to show that Bob is having a very tough emotional moment, and then we get to watch him drink, hurrah, or else listen to him pour out exactly what's wrong in great detail. Hurrah again. I'm not saying there's no way to do this well. I'm just saying that there appear to be lots of ways of doing it badly.
Frankly, for those of us who haven't had experience with drugs, it seems like a cop-out. Sure, addictive behavior is a unique type of darkness in the human psyche, and I don't think it should be off limits. But I also think that it's easy to put yourself at arm's length and look at other people's darkness, other people's flaws. It's the same complaint as I have with some Christians who are always on about homosexuality because it's the sin they're positively sure they don't practice. Other people's darkness and other people's sins are much easier than our own. Much less interesting, too.
On the other side of things, I've seen enough recovering alcoholics write about alcoholism to feel that they sometimes get too autobiographical, and after two books whose main characters act exactly the same -- well, they'd better have other interesting features, is all.
Anyway. There was a kid in the theatre with us, and I don't know what his dad was thinking. (Well, besides "I want to see this movie.") He was already jumping at the "Signs" preview. He kept jumping and spilling his Skittles throughout the movie, whenever anything gross or startling happened. I'm always disturbed when I see kids at movies when I'm not sure I'm old enough for those movies.
So...a rejection from a magazine yesterday, and another from the agent who asked for the Reprogramming synopsis. I really hate synopses. It's so hard to tell whether I have a book they're not interested in representing or a synopsis they're not interested in representing. Or if they had a bad day or a family problem or something...but those factors can come up when you're submitting short stories and whole novels, too. The frustrating thing about synopses -- and I'm sure I've said this before -- is that they test not how interesting your book is, but how interesting your writing about your book is. And there aren't workshops for that.
I didn't really get a flood of response letters with the postal rate increase. Ah well. Thanks to The Third Alternative, I'm still hearing back on a regular basis. If they don't want more slush, they shouldn't ask for more slush.... (I'm not trying to flood the market, and it looks like Mr. U.S. Editor Edwards is capable of keeping up with short response times. But as long as they have short response times, I have many stories they haven't yet seen.)
Ah well. I started Bruno Bettelheim's The Uses of Enchantment yesterday. I'll keep reading it for research, but wow, do I hate this book. A lot. I started reading Salman Rushdie's The Ground Beneath Her Feet, too, and I'll use that as relief from the Bettelheim, I think. (Although I will still have the Scott/Rushdie Problem.) Other than that, we're just wild and crazy around here. I will be writing my wild and crazy book, probably cleaning my wild and crazy kitchen, perhaps even doing some wild and crazy laundry.
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