Monthly Archives: January 2010

Community in the City

Most of our cities are so large these days that there arises a suspicion of anyone who seems too friendly. Don’t smile at anyone on the street. Don’t answer their queries and if, like me one day, you ask if they can change a dollar into four quarters run away as if you’re stealing their soul. We are packed in tighter, in this new ecotrend of eco-density, which if anything raises frustrations and issues of not enough breathing space, but we don’t get friendlier.

Many people live in high rises and condos, or even single dwelling homes and may never get to know their neighbors. It’s more likely, if you have children that you will get to know neighbors who also have children. We might go through life, suspicious or concealed behind our apartment doors, doing no more than giving a nod to our neighbors.

I live in an area of Vancouver that is surrounded by blue collar industry. Our block is the only street with houses on both sides. One neighboring block has business buildings (foundry, fish factory, T-shirt manufacturers, stuff like that) and the other block has houses only on one side and a housing co-op. The homeowners range from those on one side of the street going from 30 years to 7 years ownership and on the other side from 7 years to a year. The house I live in and the adjacent houses are all from circa 1910. My neighbors like to garden and work on their homes.

Like me, we shop in our neighborhood, walking up to the Drive and going to local restaurants. I once in a while go drinking elsewhere but it’s best not to drive while drinking and walking up the street is easier, and cheaper than taking a taxi. We have quite a few local restaurants, a library, a bookstore, poultry market, several fresh veggie markets and coffee shops, bakeries, stationery stores, health food stores, clothing stores, etc. There are many areas in Vancouver that do not have these amenities in walking distance and people must drive or bus to them.

But in our area, this helps create a community. You see regulars in the shops and restaurant. There is a sense of knowing the denizens if not knowing them. But on our street, I can stop and talk over the fence to any one of my neighbors. We have keys to each other’s homes, should anything happen and a rescue is needed. If I don’t make it home I can call and say, pretty please will you feed the cat? We stop by at each other’s places from time to time and have a drink or watch a movie. A friend of mine who lives in a different area says that their neighbors cook outside on the boulevard in the summer and people wander up and down the street with drinks in their hand visiting each other.

In the winter, and one like we had in 2009, we end up shoveling each other’s cars out, or shoveling a walk. We can borrow cups of sugar, taste each other’s garden produce, pet and feed each other’s cats, watch out for each other’s property and generally enjoy a community camaraderie. I’ve come to not only appreciate this sense of community but desire it. It would make moving an extremely hard thing as these are my people. We might not all be bosom buddies but we get along, enjoy each other’s company and generally look out for each other.

This is community. It was what the earliest forming of “civilization” was all about: humans living together to bring strengths to the individual and pool resources, to share when times were tough and to help each other, to form a society. It’s too bad that in general our cities have become too big and too cramped, causing more and not less crime and people becoming so suspicious because the media over reports every crime until it fills every minute of your day.

But for me this community of shops and stores, of regulars in the area and of my street and the people who live there, that’s an important aspect of interacting with life. I’m not separate from but part of a whole and it’s been part of humanity has long as we’ve been civilized.

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Mutants Are Among Us

If you never read the X-Men comics (I grew up on them), then you might at least have seen or heard of the X-Men with one of the recent movies that have come out, the last one being Wolverine (and why they had to make him choose to be Canadian, from the US, as opposed to being Canadian as in the original comics, I’ll never know). In those comics, most of the mutants’ mutations give them a power, to destroy or create, or hold forces at bay.

Sure there are a few unfortunate mutants whose power drives them mad or makes them unsightly and this was portrayed in the X-Men most commonly with the Morlocks who lived underground in the sewer systems. They weren’t pretty and their mutations weren’t always useful. And of course there were those evil mutants and the government mutant hunters, out to get both sides.

Well, it may come as a surprise to many people but there are more mutants among us than we know. A mutation is a deviation from the norm. In biology it means an organism that has characteristics resulting from chromosomal alteration. In genetics it refers to any event that changes genetic structure.

So, in essence, a genetic defect is a mutation. As I learned years ago in anthropology, it is rare for a mutation to be beneficial. Eventually, if enough of a population mutates, the change becomes part of the normal physiology. And usually it’s an adaptation that increases the chances of survival (such as camouflage coloring). That’s as far as I’m going to wander into the world of genetics.

But as for mutants, not only do I know a few but I too am a mutant. Yes, I’m waiting for my spandex outfit to come from Charles Xavier, leader of the X-Men, though I fear I might be more likely to join the ranks of the Morlocks.

I actually have several mutations. The major one, that we found out about when I was in the hospital at age 9 with a kidney infection, was that I have four normal, perfectly formed kidneys. They call it a duplex system.  The benefits: well obviously if one goes down I have others to spare, and I can filter more impurities. I think I can filter booze more but I have still managed to get drunk. And for anyone saying, why don’t you donate a kidney, I have a few reasons. I do not handle anesthetic well and every time I’ve had to go under it gets worse. As well a kidney operation is a pretty major surgery and with the rate that Canadian hospitals are infecting people with residual germs and bacteria, I am truly afraid to go into a hospital.

I also have an extra rib, which is quite useless and in fact can cause me pain. If I’m driving for three hours or more the rib will tend to push against my soft tissue and make it sore. It can even happen if I’m sitting in bed and have not positioned myself right. My last mutation is that I have an extra ankle bone in each foot. My podiatrist says that really it’s bones that didn’t fuse when I was a child. They have no benefit or detriment that I can determine.

So, those ares my mutations but I’m not the only one. My sister was thought to have three kidneys but it’s three ureters that she has. I have another friend with five kidneys and I work with someone who has an extra bone in her foot. My landlady has extra muscles in her foot and she was once a dancer. The thing is, we often don’t find out about our mutations unless we injure ourselves or are sick and tests are done. So who knows, you could be a mutant too.

Tom Cruise is a mutant. Yes, we all knew that but he has a physical deformity that in worst cases cause the brain, during development, to not separate into two lobes. Cruise’s is fairly mnor but if you look at his smile you’ll notice he has only one front tooth. It’s called holoprosencephaly if you want to look it up.

As to mutations that give us special abilities, I’d gladly trade in the rib for levitation or controlling the elements. Even if my rib was Adam’s Rib, maybe I could detect all liars and then get a job in the courts. But nah, I’m stuck with the super filtering system of the kidneys and just a pain in my rib from time to time. Maybe in the future, as we mutate to adapt to our polluted, additive laden environment, we’ll get real powers, but I’m not holding my breath.

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Booty and Buying Jeans

I’m one of those gals with booty, as they like to call it. Or a bigger ass than is the norm. However, I must really wonder what the norm is. We often think we’re the only ones with an issue or a problem, but mention it and it turns out it’s common for a lot of people.

Like booty. My hips and waist have quite a difference in ratio. First I must get them over my hyper developed calves, (not the ones mooing in the fields), then over the larger than average thighs and hips to the smaller than average waist. Should I get them all the way up, I usually have enough room in the waistline to cart a baby around. Suffice to say it’s extremely hard to find any pants and I revert to skirts more often than not. Yoga pants are fine because they stretch.

You would think that pants that fit below the waistline would make it easier because there is less disparity between upper hip and lower hip. But oh no, this is not so. Often when I try those pants on they give me plumber’s crack and that ain’t attractive on anyone. Now it’s easy to think that I am some misshapen creation but when I’ve talked with other female friends who I wouldn’t consider overweight at all and some even very skinny it turns out most of them have the same problem.

They say they can’t get them over their thighs or if they get them over their hips, they gap in the back. These slim women, like me, cannot find pants to fit. Interestingly, tall women can’t ever find pants or shirts long enough. Now if you are of genetic Asian heritage your waist to hip ratio on average will be less than those of European or African heritage. You’ll have to ask an anthropologist for the difference in people’s physiologies because there are books written about the subject.

But suffice to say, for the average North American woman (that’s you and me and not all the anorexic models) we come in a variety of sizes. I remember being at a new year’s party once and we got talking about clothes and the whole booty problem. When I looked around the room, all these beautiful women had what many would call a slightly bigger than average butt. The media goes on about J-Lo’s booty and I can’t see anything wrong with it except that it looks like a nice curvy butt.

Media and fashion, the bane of every normally sized person. And just who is it that the fashion industry makes all those clothes for anyway? Sure there are “average” size people, according to those sizes but many of us are curvier. I went shopping last week for a new pair of jeans. I hate shopping for pants because it’s trying on size after size, often with no luck in getting anything even up to the hips, and by the end you feel fat. My jeans are always pretty near to skin-tight because if I go for a larger size, it’s far far too large for my waist. So I’m always wedging myself in.

Last week’s excursion saw me in about seven different stores; Sears, Bootlegger, Stitches, Le Chateau, Suzy Shier, American Eagle, Zellers even. In some there were not enough jeans to try on, as in the legs were too skinny or the sizes too small to even start the laborious process of struggling into fabric and getting overheated. Stitches seemed to have nothing but 00, 1 and 3 sizes. Zero isn’t a size and it certainly wasn’t even ten years ago, but hello, anorexia. However, this told me that Stitches was catering mostly to the tweens, the young kids before hormones wop them and give them breasts and leg hair and shape.

After negating several stores just for sheer similarity in jean sizes and one place that had $98 pairs (I won’t pay over $50 for just jeans), I tried on about 40 pairs of jeans. I developed a system for measuring the narrowest part, the knee, and if it wasn’t as wide as my hand I didn’t even take the pair in to try. Of those 40 a few only got as far as myknees. Most of the others I pulled all the way on, a few with jumping about, and did them up. But between plumber’s crack and gapitis none worked. I think there was one pair but they didn’t look good. There”s no point buying something that fits if it doesn’t look good on you and you end up not wearing it.

Tired and hot, I gave up and headed out of the mall. But I happened to pass Mark’s Work Wearhouse. I think of them as work clothes, overalls, muckin’ huge boots, that sort of thing. But what the heck, I went in. Not only did I find pants that fit I found that they had four styles: contemporary, classic, modern and curvy. Contemporary fits slightly below the natural waistline; classic fits at the waistline, modern fits below and curvy fits below but designed not to gap.  They didn’t have a lot of the curvy style in but they fit me and they didn’t gap. I ended up finding the only one left of another style with a modern waistline, and they were on sale. Thank the gods for curvy and recognizing that there are those of us who have hips.

Many of my friends, when I posted my yippee on Facebook, wanted to know where I found them. Stores that decide to cater to more than boy-hipped girls would probably find their sales going up as many girls with booty would worship there.

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Writing: Passive Language

I’m looking at a story for a friend right now and I’m reminded of a couple of things that new writers often do. One is using passive language. Passive language slows down action and in general creates lag in the plot. It might be best used when talking in the past. Stories are most often written in past tense but this does not mean that it is the past as far as the action goes.

Confusing? Yes. The modern convention is to write what is called past simple tense, such as, “He tossed the ball and caught it.” Present tense is, “He tosses the ball and catches it.” There are finer points with past and present tense and variations but the most common past tense for storytelling is simple past. Once we get into the other forms (He had tossed the ball… or He had been tossing the ball) we start to move away from the most direct route for action to occur.

Pacing is a difficult and important aspect to any story, whether you’re reading it on the page or watching it on the screen. Too slow and the reader/audience becomes bored. Too fast and it can get confusing. Being too fast in a written story is not so much an issue unless actions happen so quickly that they are not described adequately for the reader to envision them or they skip crucial elements of action.

But the story must flow and move along. Passive language is not that suitable for actions. Words that bring about the slowing of action, where it no longer seems immediate, are past progressive and past progressive simple. These words are had/has/have been, was/were and gerunds, the words that end in “ing.” He tossed the ball,” is more immediate than “He had tossed ball,” or “He had been tossing the ball,” or “He was tossing the ball.” However, in writing there is a place for all of these versions of past tense. The last example is used when the action is still happening while some other event occurs. “He was tossing the ball when the van hit him.”

The best rule of thumb for new writers is to look at a sentence and see if it can work without the had/have and gerunds. In most cases it will make a tighter, better flowing story where the action seems immediate and intense.

Another example: “He was thinking that he had to drive through the tunnel so his evading techniques would confuse them.” A pretty bad sentence (none of these examples are from my friend’s story BTW). “He was thinking” is very passive and not needed. If you’re in the point of view of the character you’re going to know it is his thoughts. A better choice would be “He drove through the tunnel hoping to evade and confuse his pursuers.” Hoping is a gerund but it’s needed in this instance.

Without actually understanding the full use of the different past tenses, a person can just use the simple exercise of looking for every word that ends in “ing” and seeing if it can be rewritten otherwise: he was walking=he walked, they were screamed=they screamed, I was laughing at him=I laughed at him. It can make a story just that much better with a bit of slashing.

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RCMP & Police Vie For Worst Enforcers

It seems in BC that both police forces, the municipal police and the RCMP, have not yet learned a lesson on justice and temperance. They still continue to see how badly they can tarnish their reputation.

I actually feel sorry for all the good cops out there and I still believe they are a majority, but it looks pretty bad when police brutality and general thuggery seems to be worse than what the criminals are doing. The latest took place in Vancouver last week. Police were called to a home about a domestic disturbance and when the man open the door they pummeled him. There are so many errors in what happened that it should be embarrassing for the police force and have them re-examine their training of officers.

First, the plainclothes policemen went to the wrong door. It was another suite in the house. Second, when they encountered a man, Yao Wei Wu, who didn’t speak much English they didn’t check their facts or name. They pulled him outside and bludgeoned him. Third, the statement released initially said that the man resisted arrest and slammed the door on him. And that he received “minor injuries.” Right, minor injuries with his eye swollen shut and bones broken in his face. PoliceBeatAnotherInnocent.

Does anyone see a problem here? Even if the police had got the right door, they decided to beat and ask questions later. They’re supposed to make arrests and not escalate situations but here we go with them yet again feeling they can beat up anyone they see, whether criminal or not. And look at the police statement. Blatant lying. I think we’d get more honesty from the mafia at this point.

Let’s add to that the three off-duty cops who beat up and robbed a newspaper delivery man (also not white). Let’s look at the four hulking RCMP officers who tasered Dziekanski to death. Let’s look at the RCMP officer in northern BC who shot a man in the back of the head in self defence. Let’s look at any person who runs from the police who is unarmed. They’re not even tasered now; they’re shot. And they’re not shot in the foot or arm to disarm them. They’re shot in the head and the gut and any place else that will make sure they can’t bring an accusation against the police. ManShotinStomach.

It used to be that police were trained to subdue and to not shoot to kill unless their lives were immediately threatened with something like returned gunfire, not by staplers and matte knives. Now they just aim to kill. How man of the cases where a person was killed in police custody has ended up with an investigating inditing the police of wrongdoing? None of the ones I’ve mentioned here. Except well maybe the taser inquiry but all those RCMP are still working and none were even reprimanded.

If you are a criminal out there, here is how crime pays. Become a police officer. They’ll even give you a gun. Beat up or shoot people without asking any questions. Jump to conclusions and then just lie through your teeth. The police force will support you and even if you’re investigated you might get a monetary slap on the hand. Otherwise, you’ll be more successful in your crime than if you stayed on the “wrong side of the law.”

For anyone coming to Vancouver during Stalag 2010, sorry I mean the Olympics, you better be polite. Don’t wave at the police. They might take you for a terrorist. Don’t yell, don’t scream, and don’t call for help. Because you might find yourself beaten before they figure out you’re the victim. I’d like to believe that only the good cops will be on the streets and they are the majority but pray that no matter what you don’t get a bad one because the law will not be on your side.

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Writing: Canada Protests the Google Book Settlement

IFf you’re a Canadian author or copyright holder, you might be interested in the following in regards to your published or future published works. Writer Katherine Gordon was on CBC and you can hear the interview here if you’re interested: www.cbc.ca/onthecoast/

Following is a letter put together by some Canadian authors and if you’re at all worried about Google trying to grab everything in regards to copyright, then you might want to get your name on these petitions.  

Fellow authors and copyright holders:

Many of you are already familiar with the Google Book Settlement, and its dangers for Canadian copyrights. For those of you who are not, we suggest you skim through a highly readable statement by the U.S. National Writers Union, which flatly opposes it.   http://www.nwubook.org/NWU-GBS2-FAQ.html

We are a group of concerned Canadian authors who would like to protest this settlement in as effective a way as possible.  Accordingly, we have written a protest letter, which we hope will gather names, including yours.  Then we intend to release the letter to the media, to politicians, and anywhere else that might conceivably have an effect.

A court in New York City will soon be deciding whether to approve or reject this settlement.  We hope the judge rejects it.

For those of you who have considered opting out, the deadline is January 28.  This is also the deadline for any submissions to the court.

We have very little time left to influence the debate.  If you would like to respond, please do so as quickly as you are able.

To add your name to this petition, please email your name to: dvbolt@aol.com

(Your email will NOT appear on the petition.)

JOIN OUR FACEBOOK PAGE:

http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=227930255753

LETTER IN PROTEST OF THE GOOGLE BOOK SETTLEMENT

The following Canadian authors and copyright holders wish to protest the Google Book Settlement.  Even in its revised form, it is an assault on international copyright law and has distorted class action law for the benefit of a predatory corporation.

New Zealand, Ireland, South Africa and India – all countries with English-language presses similar to Canada’s — have been exempted from the settlement because they protested vigorously against it.  We wish to protest just as loudly.  The Governments of France and Germany protested that illegal digitization of books amounted to theft of a cultural heritage.  We agree, and believe that Canada’s heritage of Cultural nationalism should be applied to the Google settlement.  All of Europe is now exempt, and so should Canada be.

We believe that Canadian Copyrights should be subject to Canadian courts, as well as to the Berne Convention.  We believe that Canadians should not lose control over their works because they fail to sign up in a registry in another country; and, further, that the opt-out (rather than the time-honoured opt-in) clause serves to co-opt many copyright holders who do not have the the time or inclination to study this complicated settlement.   Also, the deadline for opting out insults common sense and benefits only Google.

The director of the US Copyright Office has said “no factors have been demonstrated that would justify creating a system akin to a compulsory license for Google – and only Google – to digitize books for an indefinite period of time.”  She has called it “an end-run around copyright law”.  We agree.

The US Department of Justice sees no reason why Google should not negotiate with authors and publishers individually, just like anyone else who wants to purchase copyright licences.  We agree.

The Google Settlement was negotiated by the Authors Guild of the U.S.  But other U.S. groups — the National Writers Union, the American Society of  Journalists and Authors, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers — are all unequivocally opposed to it.  We do not accept that the Authors Guild speaks for us and join the above organizations in demanding that the settlement be rejected.

If  the settlement is not rejected, we see no reason to trust in the future.  The Google Corporation has behaved in an illegal and predatory fashion in the past and will likely go on behaving in this way.

We join with the writers’ and publishers’ groups, as well as with the foreign law courts and governments, who reject the settlement in its entirety.

Sarah Sheard

Kim Goldberg

Katherine Gordon

Mona Fertig

Patricia Robertson

MORE info:

http://blog.sarahsheard.com/2010/01/calling-canadian-writers-join-our-anti-google-petition/

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Writing: Anyone Can Write

Yes, anyone can write, just as anyone can paint or dance or sing. Whether they do it well or not is another story. Some people are born with a certain talent, an ability that is more natural to them than to others. But even they must practice and hone their art or skills. People without that inborn talent have to work harder but it doesn’t mean they are inferior to those with the inherent skills. And then again, much is subjective. A person being a great painter may only be because that style has become popular and taken on a life of its own. The painter may know nothing of color, hue and shade but either captured the eye and heart of the public or has been built up as the next best thing to sliced bread. Take Twiggy, the supermodel of the sixties. She was a skinny rail of a kid but the fashion world hyped her until anorexia was the new style for models and fashion.

But back to writing. The advent of computers made it possible for everyone to write. It is far faster than a typewriter and even moreso than pen and paper. Corrections are almost instantaneous. Then along came the worldwide web on top of computers and suddenly we could send anything anywhere. The advent of blogs in recent years is an example of how far reaching our thoughts can be…if anyone reads them.

Which means, just because you can hit the keypad and form words does not mean you know how to write. Writing, like any other skill, takes practice and skill. It takes work.

There are many magazines that pay anywhere from high professional levels to very little, to nothing at all. The payment of the latter is often only exposure and maybe a free copy of said magazine (unless it’s electronic; then you get to bookmark it). I don’t at this point run my own magazine but I do not believe in paying authors nothing and would never do a magazine unless I could pay even a pittance. But it is up for each person to choose, and some authors are so hungry to see their works  in print that they do not care if they’re paid. So be it.

Now the process of submission and acceptance is different for various magazines. Most ask for contact details and choose your story based on merit. However, most of us know that if you are a “name,” someone who has published a fair amount, you are more likely to sell your story than the lesser names. This doesn’t necessarily mean the story is better, and I have found often that a name can write a mediocre tale and sell it whereas we little people must write a stellar story to get past the barrier. And that barrier? Names sell magazines, and publishers will go for a name over a great story most of the time. Simple economics.

Contests and a few magazines or anthologies run a bit differently. They will ask that the stories be submitted anonymously and the story/poem is judged on merit. Some big name authors may not like this because they have to try harder against relative unknowns. But overall a big name writer is famous for a reason and their writing will often rise to the top no matter what.  Writers of a certain notoriety don’t enter contests because they’ve already made their name and make more money than a mere contest could give. Such awards/prizes like the Giller are different because the work  by others.

So I found it interesting that British author Susan Hill (who I have never read so can’t speak to her works) was furious at being asked to submit a work anonymously to a Fringe Festival. Her rant is here: amateurs aren’t as good.

She feels that writing has been democratized and made egalitarian so talent doesn’t matter. Sure, a writer’s fame or ability should be acknowledged and it is, through sales. “But,” Susan feels, “in the mad world of those with well-meaning but lunatic desires for egalitarianism in absolutely everything my fifty years writing 43 books, learning my trade and re-learning it, practising my craft, hoping to improve, reading the best to learn from them,  putting out words in a careful order every day of my life, working with the talent I was given by God – none of that matters a jot.”

I actually wonder what the context of the Fringe Festival venue was meant to impart. I can see how she, as a professional, might refuse if there is no pay but she doesn’t say whether it’s to give a sample of writers great and small, or whatever. And wow, the talent god gave her. I guess we who god did not favor should just butt out and sit back to watch the god-given.

Although she has a valid point about professionals being paid and recognized, I wonder truly at her outrage. Is it ego getting in the way? As I’ve said, the proof of the pudding will show in the pieces. (Who is that B&W picture of anyway? Surely not Susan Hill but maybe one of the dead white writing heroes of yesteryear?) But she says you can’t get a column if a reader doesn’t choose you and the internet is as great a leveler as a publisher or an editor. So why the fury?

She talks about marginalized writers and says, “It matters because some people do some things better than others do – those who have learned and been trained, as well as who have talent.” But she forgets one very important point. We all started at ground zero, placing our first words on paper (computer screen). We are not released fully talented, like Athena bursting forth fully formed from Zeus’s head.

Amateurs become professionals and bad writers become good writers. Is Susan Hill afraid of the competition from the up and comings, worried that she’ll be ousted from the nest of her contemporary cronies? Even if she’s not a great writer, I doubt she needs to worry with 43 novels under her belt. She should  set about mentoring a few of these unknowns if she’s not afraid and stop being furious about a Fringe Festival play/event. It’s not like she was printed anonymously in a magazine.

I can also say that having been a Nemonymous author http://weirdmonger.blog-city.com/baffles_and_fables.htm, an anthology where the stories were printed without the author names attributed to the story but listed at the back, that I didn’t feel any slight at all. I had no fury that those better or worse than me were getting more due. It is what it is and the cream will rise to the top.

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Writing: Prix Aurora Awards

In speculative fiction (horror, fantasy, SF, crossgenre, etc.) in Canada there are several awards. One is the Prix Aurora Award, voted on by anyone who is Canadian, to choose the best in short and long fiction, art as well as fan achievements. There are awards for English and French works.

The award categories are under revision and the site is being updated but for this year these are the categories:

  • Best Long Form (English & French)
  • Best Short Form (English & French)
  • Best Work in English & French, Other
  • Artistic Achievement
  • Fan Achievement  (Fanzine)
  • Fan Achievement (Organizational)
  • Fan Achievement (Other)

Long form constitutes any novels over 40,000 words. Short form includes novellas, novelettes, short stories and flash fiction, basically anything under 40,000 words. Other Work is an unfortunate category that will be split up in the future. It includes magazines, poems, graphic novels, screenplays, etc. The rest is self-explanatory.

Anyone who is Canadian can nominate a work. This first step has a mail-in deadline of February 5th, or an email deadline of February 15th. Works nominated are tallied and the top 5 go on the Aurora ballot. People can then pay to vote for the shortlisted works. The awards are given out at Canvention in May so voting will be some time before then once the works have been tabulated.

If you would like to nominate Canadian works published in 2009, you can go to:  http://www.prixaurorawards.ca/ or to AuroraNominationForm. I have three pieces eligible. Two poems, “The Drowning Ones” in OnSpec #77, “Finding Dionysus” published in Barton College’s Crucible magazine,  and the story “The Boy Who Bled Rubies” published in Don Juan and Men.  If anyone would like to read my pieces, to decide if you want to nominate (not that that would mean I get on the ballot) you can comment here I’ll send you the file.

Some but not all of Canadian authors’ works are listed on the Canadian SF Database (because each author enters their work they may be listed in different ways or not yet listed). The works go by year. http://www.canadiansf.com/ So that’s it, go and nominate some Canadian works of speculative fiction for the Prix Aurora Award.

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Movie Review: Avatar and a Comparison II

See Jan. 18 for Part I of this review.

Now a story or movie being derivative is not necessarily a bad thing. All stories build on those that have gone before, going back to the oldest tale ever told around a fire about heroes or how the world was made. Nothing is truly original. However, being cliché and stereotypical, done to death is a big problem.

Several people have compared Avatar to Dances With Wolves and Ferngully. I just watched Ferngully to see the comparison and it is pretty close. Avatar’s plot was unfortunately, extremely cliché. I found I was getting irritated at points because of the overused, predictable and shallow storyline. Humans want the resources (land, ore, food, etc.) and must get the indigenes out of their way. The indigenous people resist because this is their way of life and spirituality. The big bad corporation doesn’t care. They see only resources and money. The military thugs are the brawn behind the corporation and never seem to have anything more than vengeful tactics. There’s always that one guy that makes it his mission, who’s hard to kill, who’s vengeful, hateful, and stands in the way of decency and empathy.

There is the guy that goes native, who suddenly starts to see the world through indigenous eyes, and of course falls in love with the most desirable local gal. But the local gal is promised to the big tough warrior of the tribe who justifiably sees new guy as a threat. A power struggle ensues and the two guys establish the pecking order while the new guy gets the girl. Evil corporation and army thug move in, uncaring, and rape the land/people. In this case they want this rich mineral called unobtainium. Oh puhleeze. It could just as well be moremoneyium, hard togettium, makeusrichium. It’s as original as Darth Sidious. But the plot… New guy shows the locals how to come together and defeat the bad guys. Often he is better than any of the locals could be and gains their respect. It’s so cliché that it is absolutely Ferngully though the corporation is mostly missing in that (but logging is the bad guy) and the new guy doesn’t really get the girl in the end.

Here are a few ways in which Avatar could have been different. Jake Sully might not have been a stooge for the army to begin with. That he’s absolutely untrained and getting to use a very expensive avatar that only experienced xenozoologists, xenoanthropologists, xenobotanists, etc. are using is completely unlikely in any context. Security detail; why do they need it now? Not likely. They are there not only to study the people but to try to work with them. I do find it hard to believe that in this future anybody would be allowed to rape and pillage any new culture they found without some sort of analysis and diplomacy brought in first. We’re talking whole new worlds here.

The military and corporate guys calling the Na’vi savages and monkeys is such an obvious play on the audience’s emotions that it annoyed me. Jake might have fallen for Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver and one of the few characters that’s not totally predictable) who spurns him. He might not have got the local girl who still goes with her warrior guy. It would have been really nice if Tsu Tey, the warrior leader, was the one who tames the toruk, but asks for Jake’s help. The Na’vi aren’t stupid and know their planet better than anyone else (something that Jake seems to have to tell his people and us, to liken it to the resistance of Afghani rebels on their own turf). They should be able to figure out that they can toss spears and arrows into whirling blades themselves, as well as knowing shooting at metal is a waste of their arrows. Thankfully the women can be warriors too in this.

Maybe Jake dies at the end, sacrificing himself for what he now knows is real and good. It just would have been better not to have him be the hero of his adopted people. But then the outsider story is also a very common one.  Hello, Dances With Wolves. And the evil corporation, who of course somehow never sends in negotiators to find a way to mine the ore without even having to move the people is so thin it drove me nuts. Just how many movies have I seen now with the military guys just being unthinking thugs with no diplomacy? Oh yeah, remember District 9? Evil corporation and military thugs. So two-dimensional. Sigh.

Now I’m going to compare Avatar to “Finisterra,” a novelette by David Moles (http://www.chrononaut.org/) which appeared in Fantasy & Science Fiction Dec. 2007. “Finisterra” won the 2008 Sturgeon award for best short fiction and was nominated for a Hugo award and it has stuck with me enough after two years because it was memorable and different.

“Finisterra” like Avatar is not so much a tale about white man’s guilt (as has been argued about Avatar) as it is one about humans plundering a planet or nature and killing things to take resources, something that is still happening on Earth today. We are losing species of flora and fauna at an alarming rate and killing our planet (fewer trees, more ozone) to the detriment of ourselves.

Finisterra takes place in a future where women don’t have a lot of rights in the Muslim controlled sectors and our main character, a minority Christian, is a husbandless woman who must try to survive where she can. She takes an illegal job, as an aeronautical engineer (already a job women aren’t allowed to practice) on the planet Sky. She sees the “continents” Encantada and Finisterra (the main languages at this time are Arabic and Spanish), which are floating bio-masses, both animal and land that travel in the breathable atmosphere around a poisonous gas giant. Finisterra is as big as North America, peopled, like Australia was, with refugees and criminals who are now in their sixth generation.

Soil, trees and fauna accrete to the zaratan, the monstrous whalelike creatures, which are being poached for bones and skin, killing off a whole ecosystem. Bianca is a small figure, not a hero, not living in an idyllic world, who must make or be forced into a moral decision. Her world/universe is not completely saved afterwards, and the struggles will continue but maybe it’s marginally better. Moles managed to relate this far future story to several items of import in our world today. Religion and the limiting of people’s rights/jobs/professions, religious bias of one religion over another, poachers and pirates, laws that don’t work, destroying an ecosystem for the sake of profit, and the common man/woman–what can one person truly do against a whole system?

Avatar is a hero tale, in some ways as old as those of Hercules and Gilgamesh. “Finisterra” is about you and me, people who can’t always be heroes, who must struggle to survive. And yet it touches on our fears of religious zealotry. It touches on those images of slaughtering whales, but not even for the whole animal. It touches on destroying something that can change life for thousands of people. Avatar touches on the latter as well and in that sense it is a message we need to hear again and again, but it’s truly our governments and our corporations who need to hear it and I don’t think they will, or they will choose to ignore it. But maybe as people move into positions of power, they will remember these tales.

It’s taken me a while to realize the true brilliance of David Moles’ story because of these delicate interweavings, messages for people of this age yet about of the future too, without hitting us over the head. (Would that I could learn this so well for my own writing. I doff my hat to you, David.) Avatar, by becoming so simplistic in plot and culture does hit us over the head. The evilness is premeditated and yet often such evils are more complicated than just “I’m evil, bwahahahaha.” Events happen for misguided, often good reasons and sometimes cascade out of control. I would have liked to see more depth all around to Avatar’s story.

If Avatar wins best screenplay in the Oscars it will be because people were dazzled by the very cool smoke and mirrors, as seems to have happened in the Golden Globes. So it goes. I see that there will be another Avatar in 2012. Cameron would have done better to have hired David Moles or his like to write the script, and if not that, at least someone to look it over and slash the clichés fom it. Let’s hope he does that for the second movie.

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Movie Review: Avatar and a Comparison I

Well, I’m late out of the gate in seeing Avatar but I’m going to review it anyway. Some of this will have already been said and some not yet. I’ll look at elements of plot and Avatar sadly lacks originality there, and I’ll compare it to some stories and novels, specifically David Moles’ “Finisterra.” And yes there will be spoilers in this review.

First, what worked. It’s been a while since Final Fantasy came out and comparing these two movies is like comparing a hand beater to electric beaters. Where Final Fantasy’s textures and characters were definitely still on the animated cartoon side, Avatar has gone leaps and bounds, combining human actor shots with those of the Na’vi, and the completely CGI world. Textures such as skin and hair are realistic and seamless. Although hugely expensive, this paves the way for any story to be told. Where Lord of the Rings took us with made up but real sets, Avatar expands upon, and there is not tale, no matter how fantastical, that now cannot be told.

The world of Pandora, the human name for it, is on a large scale. Trees are of insurmountable heights. Phosphorescence gives the forest a natural night time luminescence. Creatures are sleek and deadly or light and airy. The flora is beautiful and ethereal and the Na’vi live within it and are part of it. They connect and feel their world in a very real way for they have within their hair fibril strands that can connect to, in a physical way, a few other species and the mother tree/goddess itself. There are mountains that float; that physical anomaly with gravity isn’t explained but I”m willing to let it pass. After all, the Na’vi are very tall, which could be the result of a lower gravity planet, but if that’s the case the humans on the ground should be bounding along like they’re on the moon. Hmmm.

But worldbuilding is extremely difficult. One must create everything from geography and atmosphere, to flora, fauna and cultures. It’s a lot of work, even for a god.

The animals are, well, they’re kinda Earth derivative. When the Na’vi riders appear on animals they are very horselike, down to stylized crests or manes. Why these beasts couldn’t be hippolike or serpentine or some sort of other looking beast, I’m not sure. And then there are the wolflike creatures that attack in the night, because wolves are part of the wanderer in the woods psyche; and the rhino hammerheads, all just a little bit too like Earth animals. But there are the toruk and banshees that the Na’vi tame and ride. These are like dragons and pterodactyls mixed together.

The horse creatures and the banshees can be telepathically controlled by the fibrils in the Na’vi’s hair and in long antenna/hornlike extensions on these animals. Why the Na’vi’s fibrils aren’t in their tails (which seem somewhat prehensile though they never use them this way) is weird and though I suppose these fibrils are closer to the neural network of the brain by being in the hair, it seems an unlikely spot. Even a navel seems more likely. This telepathic bonding (which one person in my writers group has likened more to psychological rape) is very similar to Anne McCaffery’s dragonriders of Pern, a SF series where  riders telepathically bond for life with a dragon. However, this is not an equal bonding but more like breaking in a horse, because when they bond with the banshees, these creatures seem to lose all ability to fly naturally without being directed by the Na’vi. Where’s the sense in taking away a creature’s natural instincts? It’s now like driving a car.

There are a few incongruous physiological aspects to some of the animals of Pandora, which seem to be mostly to make them look different but without thought being given as to why they would have this physiological difference.  The large animals seem to be six legged and yet the Na’vi only have four limbs, as do the monkey creatures. All larger species and mammals on Earth have four limbs (even whales with the tail being vestigial feet) and it seems evolutionarily sound that if the Na’vi developed with four limbs that the animals would too. I can’t quite see the benefit of an extra set of limbs for these creatures. As well, they are so powerful, the rhino hammerheads and the panther beasts, that they can tear apart or smash through giant trees in pursuit of their quarry. If this was the case the forest would look much more like a war zone than it does.

The toruk has four eyes, a smaller set behind the first two. What is the purpose of a second set of eyes set in almost the same place? They don’t see differently, or on a different spectrum and I can’t see why evolution would burden them with this extra set. No wonder they’re so cranky. The banshees and the horse creatures also have blowholes in their chests as opposed to nostrils on their heads. Why? What purpose would this serve? Fish have gills but they’re still near the head. Whales have blowholes on the top of their heads because they submerge themselves, and hippos have giant, high placed nostrils for the same reason. But blowholes in your chest when you’re a land animal? Nah. Weirdness for weirdness sake. Cameron was probably quite busy designing this but more thought could have gone into the evolutionary detail of this planet without just making it look odd to us.

So, onto the Na’vi. They are beautiful, long-limbed, probably about 9 feet tall and in touch with the world around them. They live in an idyllic culture, at one with themselves and their land. Too idyllic. The only threat are the outsiders and no society is ever that perfect. They are the quintessential noble savage, a trope often overused in stories. A blend of North American Indians and African tribal peoples, they even dress and hunt the same way. And even though they are blue with light black striping, they certainly resemble plains Indians. But they have mobile ears and tails, as well as large eyes and a catlike (tiger maybe) grace. So yes, they also resemble Tolkien’s elves of Lothlorien. Elves in space. They have a spiritual tree that holds Eywa, their goddess. This is similar to the Yggdrasil or the World Tree of Norse myth. World trees are common in many stories and are a natural extension of seeing the Earth as alive and aware on some level.

Continued tomorrow.

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