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Squid's Journal
My God, It's Full of Sarcasm
Severely Beating Men Dressed like Fetish Bats is All that Keeps Me Sane 
19th-May-2008 06:41 pm
It turns out it's incredibly hard to turn this into a comfortable-to-read webpage, so I have done the unthinkable: I have gone back on a color scheme. Further tweaking may follow, such as when I decide I hate this khaki-green color. I can feel it approaching. I still think the original is a better piece of art, but it's not suited for what I wanted to do with it (I hated the grey-cyan colors I was coming up with for the background of the text area even more than I'm eventually going to hate the current colors, orange would have been worse and a greyscale color would have been Just Wrong).

Also, I've gotten a paid account; you may see some strange things in the comments sections of my posts (and my friendspage, those of you who look at it) until I've finished adjusting the CSS.

ibnfirnas, aquaeri, Graydon: Thank you for the suggestions; I have much processing to do before I can say more on the subject. I have solved a couple of tangentially related problems in the WIP in the ... incredibly short week since my last post:

1. The action takes place not on Earth, or another planet per se, but on the moon of a gas giant with a ring system that pelts the moon with stuff, either constantly or seasonally. I knew there was a perpetual, stuff-throwing lightshow in the sky, so this ties things up neatly. Its inhabitants may call the moon Earth; I know that they call the planet in the sky Heaven and that it is of substantial religious significance. (If it has other moons they will be of significance also, but I haven't worked out the details.) I will be employing a lot of English in this thing, in part because I finally realized what a chore making up words is -- which is a strange thing for a conlanger to say, but you don't come here for the sense. This probably means that I'm going to spend a lot of time finding out things like what the tides are like on the moon of a gas giant, which is never going to be relevant because I expect all the action to happen well inland.

2. Wakefield is not an adopted name. Members of population D have ethnically British surnames (and don't look particularly ethnically British). Bs have probably-French names and I am vacillating between Norse and Japanese names for population C. The latter suggests (but does not mandate, see above about population D not looking British) the nearly irresistable working title A World Without Blonds. The roadsigns are printed in population D's language; they were a major power until population A changed the laws of physics, declared them heretics, crushed them, conquered what remained of their cities one by one, and repurposed their mages'-anthills.

There is another can of worms here, but, well, I'm opening it. Wakefield will be changing the laws of physics back. (Somehow.) Population D's mageocracy was founded on the denial of free will to things (the stuff that falls from the sky) that have the potential for it but, at the time that the decision to deny them free will is made, do not have it and are unlikely to develop it without someone deciding to give it to them. The official population A line is that this is slavery and evil and this is why D had to go: everything that can have free will must. I don't know whether they're right; I don't know whether it's possible for me to determine whether they're right; there's no analagous situation in the real world. If I had to point to a group of bad guys in the setting it would be population A, and they secretly violate their own rules all the time (in fact their numbers would be much smaller if they didn't, and the expansion of their empire would be much slower), but that doesn't necessarily make them wrong. I've known from the start that I was going to have to deal with this issue, but this circular thing where the person who makes a D-style mageocracy possible again is a member of D who has been working for members of A most of his life I did not expect. Because I am kind of dim; now that it's come to me it seems like, if anything, an incredibly predictable route to take.

The commodity-as-person-as-commodity themes here were the final nail in the coffin of Life on Earth, which also concerned itself with the subject in a less morally ambiguous way. I find this sad, and also worrisome.

I've always been interested in the themes that recur in a given author's work, and my interest crystallized a year or so ago when I went on a Warren Ellis binge and read Iron Man: Extremis, Stormwatch¹, The Authority, the Ultimate Galactus Trilogy, Planetary, Desolation Jones, all then-existing back issues of Fell, and Ocean in rapid succession (not necessarily in that order toward the beginning), having previously read little or no Ellis.² Somewhere in Ultimate Nightmare, Falcon has a conversation with Captain America³ about psychotropic drugs as tools for accessing the underlying machinery (his metaphor) of the mind, the body and the universe, and I was disoriented because there is a basically identical conversation between Tony, someone (Pepper?), and a retired engineer/the Michael Caan character from Children of Men with less hair and more beard in Extremis. In issue #3 of Planetary, the Drummer talks about magic as cheat codes for reality, and in #21 Snow consults a woman with green tentacle hair who uses psychotropics to get him into the back rooms of the universe.

Ellis also does a lot of superhero pastiche, and sometimes self-pastiche: there are at least two Ellis-created analogues of Superman, Wonder Woman and the Green Lantern in the Wildstorm multiverse, three of Superman if you count the very brief appearance by the tentacly Lovecraft-influenced analogues of the Authority that appear very briefly in Planetary/Authority: Ruling the World, and another analogue of the Authority in the Marvel universe from Ellis' run on the X-Man; and it's probably cheating to talk about Planetary at all, but in the course of its run he parodies/pays homage to/examines the Fantastic Four, DC's Captain Marvel, Nick Fury, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Green Lantern, the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Doc Savage, the Shadow, Tarzan, Swamp Thing, Watchmen, Hellblazer, Sandman, '70s Japanese giant monster films, '40s American giant monster films, John Woo films, The Matrix, Australian aboriginal myth, and a bunch of other stuff I can't easily condense here or don't remember from a quick glance over a cover gallery.4 He does this so often I sometimes forget Squadron Supreme is actually written by J. Michael Straczynski. And that the Under New Management arc of The Authority and the This Is Just Like Under New Management Only Nice To Look At Because That Ass Quitely Isn't Drawing It arc of The Ultimates are by Millar. Okay, so it's not just Ellis. He does a similar thing with Fell, but the grist for the Fell mill is weird true crime stories instead of SF and SF-adjacent media.

I love Ellis. Planetary is my favorite comic, and it is very unusual for me to unreservedly declare something my favorite example of an entire category of media (ask me what my favorite book is the next time you have half an hour to kill); few things on any medium have set my brain on fire like Planetary does. Links to webcomics have always been my preferred method of emotional expression, so I refer you to the journey Tycho takes here. That happened to me when I read the third issue.

Uh, what was I talking about?

I love Ellis, but his flaws are many, and I look at his tendency to retread the same ground a lot as something I must indulge rather than a selling point. The same two or three characters seem to show up over and over -- I don't mean to for a moment impugn Ellis' Tony Stark or Mahr-Vell or Nick Fury, nor, say, Emily Crowe from Desolation Jones or the Drummer from Planetary, both of whom I adore, but I've seen him write enough gruff chain-smoking investigators and sardonic, put-upon black men to know that he's not always exactly stretching his legs. Planetary is kind of a sublime expression of the rut he's in, or perhaps bears a Plato's-Cave-metaphor relationship to the rest of his work.

On the other hand, there's Octavia Butler. I haven't read as much of Butler as I would like to have -- I think she is brilliant; among other considerations, I prize a writer who can genuinely disquiet me -- and I haven't read any of it very recently, so I'm not going to do a point-by-point, but what I've read of her has dealt extensively with the subjects of motherhood and captivity, and I know of a counterexample but I have the impression that the majority of her protagonists are black or mixed-ethnicity women. This feels unnameably more legitimate to me than what Ellis does, and I don't know why, if it's the subject matter or something about her approach or just the fact that she's the better writer. (It could also be that Butler is not to be trifled with and that I'm pretty sure she could kill me from beyond the grave if she so chose.)

(There's also Tim Powers, who I like to joke only writes novels about men who kill their fathers and have sex with their sisters. That's not fair: it only really happens in Last Call, and kind of, if you squint, in Expiration Date, and what happens in The Stress of Her Regard doesn't count. The first two are linked in a way I don't fully understand because I haven't read Earthquake Weather; I think there's a deliberate thematic tie there, though, not some Art Frahm-style tipping of the psychological hand. Now that I think about it, though, a hell of a lot of his protagonists are bereaved.)

The pony hidden in all this shit is that I don't want to be that guy jerks like me snicker at behind their hands on the internet because he can only write one thing. (Not wanting to be various kinds of 'that guy' is a major force in the still-ongoing development of my personality.) I put a lot of work into Life on Earth, and a lot of it was good work: good prose, good gags, good worldbuilding, good characters. There are also terrible problems there that would only be fixed by a ground-up rewrite. I could not see this current thing coming when I was working on Life and I can't see the next thing, whatever that might be, coming right now; I don't know if the themes I am seeing recur now are going to show up again, or if this recurrence is because they're lying unused in the back of my mind and, being important to me (I've never given this thought before, and only now developed a theory as to why), demand to be addressed. I don't know whether, if I finish this thing, they will crop up again in the next one. I'm not Octavia Butler, and I don't believe I can pull that off.

I may come back to Life on Earth when I have the fortitude to give it the treatment it deserves. Until then, I'm sticking a fork in it. See you later, guys.

In conclusion, I need to read Ultimate Secret again. Dude, I love Mahr-Vell. I love him like a crazy man loves alien turncoats.

¹ The good parts. #1 was so excrable, so painfully early-90s Wildstorm, I just skipped to the beginning of Ellis' run at, I think, #36.

² I think I read some of his run on The X-Man as it was published. This doesn't count (though none of those links refer to issues written by Ellis). Jesus, I hate Skroce's pencils. I still have not read Transmetropolitan. I'll get around to it.

³ Or someone. I don't have the books on hand to verify, but Falcon was alone with Cap in one of the abandoned underground military research bases the Ultimate universe is rotten with for most of the miniseries.

4 I'm making out with John Cassaday in my mind right now.
20th-May-2008 02:39 am (UTC)
The theme I seem to keep coming back to in approximately everything is the experience of the outsider looking in. ("Write what you know!")

The Devil's Due I started to write and didn't get far in because I realised after about five rewrites of one scene that I wasn't a good enough writer to do Mikel. So I let it sit for five and a few years ....
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