Saturday, February 25, 2012

Playlist of Movie Muses

While it's great to have a playlist of music to get your brainstorming or writing juices going, I've recently fallen in love with creating playlists of movie trailers.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Color of Magic

It was the King Color, of which all the lesser colors are merely partial and wishy-washy reflections. It was octarine, the color of magic. It was alive and glowing and vibrant and it was the undisputed pigment of the imagination, because wherever it appeared it was a sign that mere matter was a servant of the powers of the magical mind. It was enchantment itself.

But Rincewind always thought it looked like a sort of greenish purple.
--The Color of Magic

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Writing Music

Touring through Fantasy Books

Excerpts from The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones

APOSTROPHES: Few names in Fantasyland are considered complete unless they are interrupted by an apostrophe somewhere in the middle (as in Gna'ash). The only names usually exempt from apostrophes, apart from those of most wizards, heroes, and companions on the Tour, are those of some countries. No one knows the reasons for this. Nor does anyone really know how an apostrophe should be pronounced, though there are theories.

APPRENTICES: Are people who are training for a trade or skill, which means they are usually quite young and bad at what they do. Most of the time they are like nurses during an operation being there only to hand the master his tools. They seem to have to do this for a good many years before they get to do anything interesting, and it is therefore not surprising that some of them get restless and either try to do the interesting stuff themselves or simply run away and join the Tour. The Rules state that if an Apprentice tries to do the interesting stuff on his/her own it will blow up in her/his face. If she/he runs away, she/he will learn all sorts of things very quickly and also probably prove to be the missing heir to a kingdom.

ARMY: There are strict rules about this. Only bad kings and the dark lord are allowed to raise an Army at the start of a Tour. This will always be vast in numbers. It will trample over everything and devastate the country as it marchces, and will get bigger and worse as the Tour goes on. This Army will also use magic in unfair ways. The Good are allowed to raise an to combat the bad one only when it is almost too late, and the Good will somehow avoid either trampling crops or eating off the countryside--probably because the Army of the Dark Lord has eaten it all already. The Rules also state that the two Armies are very evenly matched, although the Good Army is only about half the size of the other one. Do not worry, however, if you find your side apparently defeated. Your Army may be killed down to the last man, but Good will triumph all the same.

AVERAGE FOLK: Are any people inhabiting the continent who are not specifically mentioned in the list of peoples. They are not precisely normal all the same. Those who are not assassines, beggars, or thieves will be innkeepers, merchants or peasants, and therefore busy tyring to either rob you, rub you out, or cheat you. The rest will be fully occupied being taxed out of existence or dealing with a variety of magical nuisances. Otherwise they are rather like you, give or take a few hideous sores, gnarled hands, and suspicious scowls. Do not expect sympathy or help from any of them.

Book Review

Jane Austen meets The Prestige . . .

Somehow, even after reading through all 782 pages of this book, I still forget what the actual title is. And when I do remember it, I always add "The Strange Case of . . ." at the front. Perhaps because at times the protagonists seem closely related to Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, given that they all come from the same gaslamp-burning family.

This is one of the fattest books I've ever read. Not since The Host have I wondered how a book got through the publishers without a squeeze and a trim. Not to say that a pillowy book is a bad thing. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (I had to double check the title again) is a slow burn from the start, announcing in the first chapter that it is heavy on bumbling charm and airy on plot. As a result, there is a lot of page puff. Much of this puffiness is quite flavorful, and if you read it as slowly as its own pacing, the misted-alley atmosphere and Dickensian wit is easy to savor on the tongue.

This is a curl-up-on-rainy-afternoons read. You almost feel obligated to brew a cup of chocolate before dipping in. I say dip because there's not enough depth in this book for a dive. And while I truly enjoyed the candy-creamed cleverness and drily foppish humor, I wish the story could've used its witty premise as a launching pad for something greater rather than an amusement to eternally chuckle at.

Clarke's world-building is a delicious blend of absurdity and restraint. Placing magicians in a Jane Austen society is nothing short of brilliant and provides countless opportunities to explore the ettiquette and social obligations of a practical magician. It becomes hilarious when you realize most of the characters are more concerned with social decorum and scandalous reputations rather than evil forces and underworld kingdoms. The magic is witty and often humorous (one magician does a spell that makes the published works of his rival disappear--preventing him from becoming a best-selling author). But the magic never really takes on a life of its own, remaining politely decorative rather than destructively organic.

And therein lies the main problem. The conflict of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is not threatening enough. It is too underdevloped and restrained to pose any real danger to the protagonists, and when it finally does, it's too little too late. While the idea of a fairy trickster holding souls captive in an enchanted mirrorland sounds intriguing, it's portrayed as no more threatening than an obnoxious neighbor interrupting poker night. Inconvenience and annoyance ensues rather than destruction.

About halfway through the book, disappointment struck when I finally understood that nothing THAT bad was ever going to happen.

But even if the skeletal plot doesn't carry all 782 pages, some of the characters do. Mr. Norrell, Duke Wellington, Childermass, and the Gentleman are marvelously developed with delightful interactions personality flaws that you wish never end. And while Jonathan Strange remains uninteresting until he purposefully drives himself mad, he's a competent blank slate for the colorful characters to bounce off of.

But characterization is a mixed bag when you consider the horrifically one-noted Stephen Black--a character so dull that you wonder why so much page time and plot twisting is dedicated to him--as well as the nonexistent personalities of every female character, spellbound or lucid.

Yet while it meanders through the uneventful subplots of too many secondary characters, the book still succeeds with what its primary focus was in the first place: gray-skyed atmosphere, brainblowing imagery, and bumbling British humor. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell's magic sparkles in small moments, rather than the book as a whole.

Highlight: A cameo made by Lord Byron
Lowlight: The Raven King

Grade: B

Friday, February 17, 2012

Curiouser and Curiouser

Have you ever hated a book but then loved everything it inspired?

And of course that scene from Dogma . . .