January 19th, 2010

A Birthday

Creature and Character

I was on half of this.  (The shuttle bus didn't deliver me before then.)  It's about how a character's being non-human should affect its character

I arrived as they were talking about vampires, and after a bit, I and another panelist were given the chance to introduce ourselves.  So I gave my story about how I used to write with Tolkienesque races and one day devised a question -- "Is this elf necessary?" -- that suddenly transformed my fantasies into humans-only.  And while I have written non-human characters since then, they have been much less -- human.  And I told about a tribe in South America that had three numbers, "one" "two" "many", and practiced infanticide.  When the anthropologist said they killed more girls than boys, they contradicted him; they killed many of both.  Whereupon other panelists riffed on the notion of not being human for a bit. 

And then about how being not human makes it feasible for them to evil and cool -- to which I objected that you can do that with humans to, a lot of fanfic writers are madly in love with Draco Malfoy, who isn't even very impressively evil. 

And we talked about point of view and how it can make your character more human.  OTOH, that can be problematic for a human, too.  There are Sherlock Holmes stories told from his point of view -- considerably worse than the Watson ones, because we know real humans have hesitancies and doubts that don't show, and Holmes doesn't, because it would dent his rational persona.  And there's a Jeeves story from his point of view, where the weakness is that he has to have motives, and he's much more impressive cooly pulling off his plans without a care in the world.
A Birthday

Faeries of Color: Tales of the Fae beyond Europe

I was in the audience for this one.

The description was about fairy tales -- alas no one brought up that in fact, even Western European fairy tales very, very, very seldom involve fairies.  One panelist even said that animals appear in non-western fairy tales where fairies would appear in western ones, and alas, being in the audience, I didn't get a chance to point out that even in western ones, it's usually a talking animal.  And another panelist spoke of the commonly known fairy tales as if they were English when most are French (from Perrault) or German (from Grimm).

But what they did talk about was stuff -- well, one panelist had a nice graphic.  You have the folktales, which is stuff like the story about how your great-grandfather saw a demon.  (Esther Friesner told that one, not quite as her father told her, she admitted that she interpolated the twilight herself on the spot.)   The use of tales.  The necessity of research into the primary source.

How "Little Red Riding Hood" is literary; there are folklore variants that we think Perrault used, because while they were collected later, none of them involve the red hat.

One panelist talked about how she used an African tale of how baboons had taught a man to use a certain script and she wondered how readers would react.  I told her.  Because I had written stories based on some of the more obscure European tales and many writers in my writing group gushed over the striking originality of the plot, which is very frustrating because no one recognizes what you actually did.  (Esther Friesner expressed herself of the opinion that the writers in the group ought to read more.  I don't know; they were, after all, rather obscure.)
A Birthday

SF/Fantasy in the Underworld

I was in the audience for this one.

Touched on it as the place of the dead, the place of demons, the dangerous place of great knowledge where you must quest.

One writer explained how a first reader told her she had to send her characteres into the Underworld and dang if that wasn't just what the novel needed.

One brought up Liz William's Inspector Chen series where Inspector Chen has a partner who was a demon, and had worked for Hell's Vice Squad and consequently has to remind himself that on earth, the Vice Squad has a rather different purpose.

One panelist explained the "Lyke Wake Dirge" as a journey to the Afterlife, and despite its refrain "And Christ receive your soul" said it wasn't very Christian.  (I differ a bit:  it tells you how to escape the perils, and its recommendations are exactly those of the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats:  alms-giving.)

One audience member recommended Groundhog Day as being trapped in an Underworld, and a panelist thanked him because people keep recommending it to her as a romantic comedy, but knowing its a story about being trapped in the Underworld is just the spur to get her to watch it.

Someone in the audience told about a twentieth century novel that used Hell for social satire and asked when it was switched from being serious; whereupon someone told him about The Frogs which is an ancient play using Hades to satirize that era's play-writing, and all the panelists agreed that it was used for satire probably from day one.
A Birthday

Kick-Ass Moms

I was on this one.

During the introductions, I gave my own favorite one.  Kazumi Kato from Order of the Stick.  Eight-months-pregnant, attacked by ninja who knock out her husband, she drinks a magic potion (she is, after all, a D&D character) and leaps to the attack:
"I'm a goddamn baby-making, life-taking MACHINE! Why should I care how many people I have to kill? I can just make MORE in my TUMMY!"
Cordelia Vorkosigan came up, quickly; I hit on the advantages of authority and guns, which help mothers be kick-ass without the upper-body strength.

And I pointed out an obvious reason for childless female protagonists:  because the unencumbered character is simplest.  If the family relationship are not an integral part of the story, aesthetically, it's best to leave them out.  Which means for characters of both sexes not only no children, but no spouse, no siblings, and no parents.  Because if they are not integral to the story, they are unaesthetic clutter.

One audience member commented that while he would not have described himself as encumbered after his son's birth, on hearing it, it's very apt; so much of his life is focused on his son; he works, but it's to support his family.  Discussing on how the importance of children to fathers is underplayed.

How Kick-Ass Moms are often rescuing their children, which helps eliminate two issues:  who's looking after the children, and (the less frequently but more serious problem) why is she endangering her child?  How an orphan hero prevents a Kick-Ass Mom from coming to his rescue; even Kick-Ass Mom usually is excused from duty by being dead.  (Though if you read just about any variant of Cinderella but Perrault's, she's not helped by a fairy godmother; she's helped by her mother's ghost, which is embodied in the tree on her grave.)

Bad mothers as kick-ass -- they technically fall under the description even if they neglect their children.