The Last of the Newsgroup

I got tired of doling them out roughly once a day, and just transferred the dozen or so remaining progress reports from my old SFF Net newsgroup to the Serial Box, my other blog.

If you look through that list, you’ll see that I’ll never need another story idea as long as I live. (I’ll undoubtedly generate lots of them anyway, though.) People who think ideas are really important for writers, take note: Ideas are cheap. Originality isn’t necessary, either.

My biggest problem is finding the time to write the damned things.

Anyway, this means that sff.people.lwe is really, truly gone for good. Sigh.

Play It Again, Sam

From a newsgroup post dated August 9, 2013 (exactly four years ago!):

I’m listening to the soundtrack of the movie version of “Tommy.”

That was a spectacularly bad movie. Listening to this I’m reminded over and over of all the places it went off the rails, all the wrong choices they made, from casting to setting to pacing.

But you know, it didn’t have to be. I don’t think the story is unfilmable. They just did it wrong.

Yeah, the original WW1-to-1930s setting has very serious problems, but 1945-1960s doesn’t work much better. Aging Tommy at the time of the murder from three or four to six wasn’t an improvement — by six most kids are a little more resilient. It was apparently done entirely to preserve the rhyme scheme in “1921”/”1951.”

Oliver Reed was miscast. Ann-Margret… well, better, but still not great. Tina Turner sounds like brilliant casting as the Acid Queen, but in fact she was pretty bad.

The most disappointing thing to me, when I saw it, was the visuals. I mean, here you have something kinetic and visual at the center of the story — pinball — and you do nothing with it! Elton John looked totally stupid on stilts, and when they show him playing he’s terrible at pinball, draining every ball instantly.

Ken Russell was not the right director, to put it mildly.

Someone should remake it. Seriously. With modern CGI you could do a fine job on the surrealistic parts, show things from Tommy’s warped point of view. Move it to a contemporary setting. Have Captain Walker lost in Iraq or Afghanistan or somewhere in Africa; you don’t need to get specific. And modern mass media make a pinball (or videogame) cult more plausible — he’d be all over YouTube.

It could be cool.

Stuff I Know Better Than to Post

From a newsgroup post dated May 23, 2013:

I hesitated about reposting this, and I apologize, but…

So I saw a link to an article entitled, “What Gay-Bashers Can Learn from Baseball Players,” and my thought as to what gay bashers can learn from baseball players was, “Choke up on the bat, so you get more concentrated power at the point of impact…”

Note: I have, once or twice, come up with even more appalling reactions to posts, reactions that I successfully resisted putting online anywhere. This is, I think, the most vile I ever put in print.

A Weirdness of Beards

From a newsgroup post dated February 17, 2011:

I have a beard, as anyone who’s met me or seen my picture probably knows. I’ve had it a long, long time.

I started out with just a mustache — and when I say “started out,” I mean I have literally never shaved my upper lip (though it was once, and only once, shaved for me), so by the time I graduated from high school I had a mustache.

That was 1972.

I got kicked out of Princeton in February, 1974, and that was when I grew a beard — a Van Dyke.

Then when I dropped out in 1977, I stopped shaving entirely and grew a full beard. I eventually started shaving again when my neck got excessively fuzzy, but I still have a full beard, and except for two brief interruptions I’ve had it since 1977.

I used to have long hair. I started growing it out in 1969. It got cut back somewhat a couple of times, but basically stayed long until 1984, when I cut it for my youngest sister’s wedding, and so Kyrith, who was then a baby, would stop grabbing and pulling it.

I kept it short for a few years, and honestly, I don’t remember exactly when I grew it back out, but it was long (below my shoulders) through most of the 1990s and well into the 21st century. In 2008, though — I think it was 2008, might have been a year or two earlier — I saw a picture of the back of my head and realized I had a bald spot, and that, combined with the long hair, had me looking uncomfortably like Riff Raff from “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” So that October I cut it short, and it’s been fairly short ever since.

There were other variations along the way, such as color, but we won’t go into that right now — the basics, long hair and full beard, were pretty much as described above.

And here’s the weird thing: People don’t see this.

The first time I encountered this was when I was readmitted to Princeton in the fall of 1975. People who hadn’t seen me since February of ’74 got to see me with my new beard.

Some people didn’t notice. Some saw that there was something different about me, but couldn’t place it exactly. The strangest was the girl who exclaimed, “You cut your hair!”

I pointed out that no, I hadn’t, my hair was still halfway down my back, but I’d grown a beard. She stared and said, “Didn’t you always have a beard?”

I never did convince her that I hadn’t.

Then at my sister’s wedding in 1984, nobody noticed that I had cut my hair, that it was at least eight inches shorter than before. I mean, nobody noticed. No one. When I finally mentioned it to someone, he asked, “Didn’t you cut it back in 1972?”

He’d seen me several times between 1972 and 1984. It was long every time.

I mentioned two interruptions in my beard. One of them was when I sold my beard to Gillette, for research, and there aren’t any odd stories about that, but the other one, well, one morning I just decided to experiment, and shaved half of it off, trimming it back down to the old Van Dyke.

No one noticed. It was like the wedding, except that this time even my own kids didn’t notice anything. So I grew the full beard back, because why bother maintaining the trim if nobody notices?

And I bring this all up now because at Capricon this past weekend, someone I hadn’t seen for a few years saw me and exclaimed, “You grew a beard!”

She had never, ever seen me without a full beard. The actual difference was that I’d cut my hair since she last saw me. Well, that, and I’ve gone mostly gray.

But she saw a difference, and somehow that became I’d grown a beard.

I find this phenomenon baffling.

The Decline of Civilizations

From a newsgroup post dated April 23, 2009:

Over on rec.arts.sf.written there’s currently a discussion (in a monster thread entitled “Socialism in SF” that’s 90% crap) about the decline of the West as evidenced by the sorry state of the fine arts.

That’s a subject I find interesting, even though I think 90% of everything everyone says on the subject is wrong — not the alleged sorry state of the fine arts, but what it says about the state of our civilization.

I’m trying to give shape here to a bunch of complicated and conflicting ideas on the subject, and I’m not finding the words. Instead, let me ask everyone out there for opinions:

Are the fine arts in a state of decline?

Does it matter that opera and ballet are now largely the province of a tiny faction of old-fashioned elitists, given that we have movies and other new media?

Does it mean anything for the health of civilization as a whole if the arts are in a state of decline?

Does it mean anything for the health of civilization as a whole if people think the arts are in a state of decline?

Feel free to bring up historical examples like Ming pottery and Byzantine literary forms.

==

This did not yield any discussion. I suppose I misjudged my audience.

Opening Pandora’s Box

A newsgroup post from October 15, 2008, complaining about Pandora Internet Radio. This was, in fact, why I stopped using it:

Okay, I’ve started several stations now, and they all seem to keep drifting in the same direction. I know what I want, and Pandora generally seems to start off with it, then gradually go off course. No matter what I choose as my starting point, the music keeps getting slower.

I mean, I picked “Ooh La La” by Goldfrapp to try to get fast techno, and instead, while I’m getting more Goldfrapp, it’s all her slower songs. (“Crystalline Green” is playing right now.) I got “#1 Crush” by Garbage, which is a cool song, but what do I have to do to not get stuff that’s so slow?

I hate to thumbs-down songs I actually like, but I may start doing exactly that.

Life of A Salesman

From a newsgroup post dated October 17, 2007:

Elsewhere there’s a discussion of a very annoyingly condescending salesclerk someone dealt with recently; I remarked there that such salespeople are fools, because you sell more stuff with flattery than condescension.

Which reminded me of an incident, lo these many years ago, which I didn’t post there because it wasn’t relevant, so I’m posting it here. Not that it’s relevant here, either, but it’s my newsgroup, so I can post it anyway.

I was in the audio department somewhere, I think at Circuit City, considering whether to replace all or part of the stereo system I bought back in 1973. I was chatting with a salesman, who was doing a pretty good job of ingratiating himself without being pushy or condescending, and I had explained that I maybe wanted to upgrade my twenty-year-old system.

He asked what I had.

“A Sansui 661 receiver,” I said.

He nodded. “A decent unit in its day,” he said, “but you can do better. What have you got for speakers?”

“MicroAcoustic FRM-1s,” I said.

“Well, you aren’t going to replace those,” he said. “There isn’t anything better.”

Whereupon he managed to flatter me immensely, and impress me with his knowledge, at the same time he lost the sale. He was the first salesman I’d met since 1975 who’d ever heard of the MicroAcoustic FRM-1, and if he said that no one had improved on it, I believed him, so I didn’t buy new speakers.

I did spend a pleasant half-hour chatting about audio equipment with him, though.

Trailer Park

(All new!)

So we saw “The Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 2” Monday afternoon (and had a lovely time, thanks). It has long been my custom to assess the trailers accompanying any movie we see in the theater, so here we go:

There were eight trailers. This is excessive. It hasn’t been that long since five was the norm.

“Transformers: The Last Knight” looks big and loud and stupid. I am so not interested.

The remake of “The Mummy” does not look very promising, either. Both these first two trailers were so loud that I was beginning to worry the whole feature would be unpleasant and ear-tiring, but fortunately that did not turn out to be the case.

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” was the first trailer that was not just a barrage of noise and CGI. It had moments of character, bits of humor, and generally lots of stuff to indicate that the film is not just a noisefest and lightshow. I expect to see and enjoy this one.

“Alien: Covenant”… I dunno. It looks better than the last couple of Alien movies, but that’s saying depressingly little. I think I’ll pass.

“Dunkirk”: It’s a war movie. It looks as if it’s a well-made one, with some good characters, but I’m not much on war movies these days (with exceptions for superhero war movies). If the word of mouth sings enough hosannas, I might check it out.

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” looks pretty good, and I still plan on seeing every feature in the series. It would take a real stinker to make me stop. The three prequels were building up a significant amount of suckage, but the Disney takeover has cleansed my palate and renewed my enthusiasm.

The trailer for “Thor: Ragnarok” has a little more CGI than I really wanted, but the line “I know him from work!” sold me — I wanna see it. In general, the Thor series has not been at the top of my Marvel list (not that they suck, they just aren’t as good as some of the others), but this one has promise.

And finally, the next Pirates of the Caribbean film — does it even have a definite title yet? — capped off the previews. I regret to say that even though I loved the first one and it’s always a delight to watch Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow, I think the series has outlasted its sell-by date. Zombie sharks are one of those ideas that sounds great in a late-night conversation but should probably not actually be used.

All in all, it was a very loud set of trailers.

Those Who Can

From a newsgroup post dated April 10, 2007:

Down in another newsgroup a couple of people posted pitches for their unpublished novels. I wasn’t impressed — in fact, I thought both were pretty lame, though the novels might not be.

I should have just let it go, but I didn’t — I rewrote ’em both.

I pretended this was an educational effort, but I’m pretty sure I was just showing off.

The thing is, though, that the reason I bothered to do it was that it was so easy. I mean, both pitches contained, as originally written, all the elements needed to make a good pitch — plot, setting, character — but they didn’t make it sound interesting.

One of them spent too long explaining how a disaster happened, when the novel is about the after-effects of the disaster. Who cares why it happened? The cool stuff is what the survivors have to do afterward!

The other had long unpronounceable names all over it, when what matters is the romantic triangle of a mad lord, his loyal henchman, and the courtesan secretly plotting the lord’s overthrow.

They could both be great stories — but alas, I’ll bet they aren’t. It’s a shame.

And it demonstrates a couple of things:

That it’s not the idea that matters, it’s the execution.*

Why I stopped trying to teach writing — it’s too frustrating, seeing all this potential that’s never going to be properly used. That romantic triangle could be a classic, done right, but the odds that it’s done right are mighty slim.

Feist’s Corollary: There is no idea so brilliant or original that a sufficiently untalented writer can’t fuck it up.**

==

* My great-great grandfather was born on an estate in Maine named Execution. It’s kind of a family mystery why anyone would name a house that, but it almost certainly has something to do with the concept that it’s the execution that matters.

The house is now a hole in the ground in the middle of a forest; the only part of the estate that hasn’t gone back to wilderness is the family burial plot, which is maintained by veterans’ groups because there’s a Revolutionary War hero buried there. They consistently put the Memorial Day flag and flowers on the wrong grave, though — there were lots of Goodwins with the same few names. So much for execution.

** This corollary to Watt-Evans’ Law is the only time I have ever seen Ray Feist use the word “fuck.” I think I cleaned it up for the version on my webpage, but this is the original.

Stupid Little Things That Annoy Me More than They Should

From a newsgroup post dated October 24, 2006:

I like Frito-Lay’s “Wavy Lay’s” potato chips. I eat them a lot. For years, I’ve gone (with the help of Julie and the kids) through maybe three or four 11.5 oz. bags a week — I keep an open bag on my desk and nibble on them off and on. (Now you know how I got so fat.)

I deliberately bought the 11.5 oz. size because the larger “Family Size” (which I think is about a pound) was too big — by the time we finished a bag, the last few chips would be soggy, and who wants soggy potato chips?

Last week Frito-Lay did something that I’m sure they thought would be wildly popular with consumers — they changed their standard medium-sized bag from 11.5 oz. to 13.75 oz., for the same price.

But 13.75 ounces is too much. The last few chips get soggy.

So yes, I’m seriously annoyed that they made my favorite food cheaper.

I know it’s perverse of me; I don’t care. 11.5 ounces was just exactly right. 13.75 is too much.

But it didn’t last. They currently sell three sizes — Regular, Family Size, and Party Size. Family Size is 10 ounces, which is a good size.