Monday, November 30, 2009

Science Fiction and Video Games

Video games and science fiction go hand in hand, since a lot of games tend to wander into the science fiction world. There are numerous games that have a basis of science fiction, but one game I want to talk about personally is Fallout 3. I believe this game does the best job at exploring a "what if" situation, and also relating heavily to science fiction.

Fallout 3 takes place in post apocalyptic Washington D.C. which is just cool by itself. The whole game takes place as if the cold war actually happened, with Russia and the U.S. dropping nukes on each other. This game did an excellent job of making the significant landmarks of Washington D.C. look irradiated and destroyed. Very cool, makes the game fun just wandering around not doing anything but site seeing. (I used to have a lot of time on my hands)

It is easy to tell the technology in the game took a different route than real life did, and sort of stopped progressing right as the bombs dropped. This is difficult to explain, but everything in the game is basically tech savvy 1950's equipment. There are laser rifles, plasma rifles, etc. but they really look like they were made in the 1950's. Fallout 3 did an awesome job of this. In this picture is a car that definitely looks like it from the 1950's. I don't know much about cars from the 50's but it looks something like a thunderbird.

The story line is also amazing, probably the reason it got game of the year. The main story line is finding your father who left the vault you were in, making you an orphan. Your mother died giving birth to your character so you've only ever had your father, and when he leaves the game begins. You get bits and pieces of his where abouts, but its up to you to really find him. That is the beauty of the game. You don't even have to follow through with the main quest if you don't want to. You could easily play for many days without even regarding the main story line... The game is that huge.

There are a number of expansions for this game too, to keep the material up to date and interesting. There have been 4 expansions, all of which probably take about 6 hours to beat. That is an extra day of play time! The expansion "Point Lookout" includes a part where you have to join a religious cult. Joining requires picking berries from this enormous tree in a swamp, and when you do so, you are sprayed with some type of drug unexpectedly. Your character than proceeds to hallucinate for about 5 minutes, and the designers did an awesome job of this. It related heavily to the story line aside from just being highly entertaining. A link to the trip can be found here.

Overall, Fallout 3 is the pinnacle of human achievement. There are MANY reasons this game got game of the year! Play it!

My experience with Fantasy

When we began our fantasy section at the beginning of the semester, i wasn't really thrilled that we would be reading LOTR. I feel that as an adult, I've become less interested in the fantasy genre than as a child. One of my favorite authors when I was younger was Roald Dahl who writes some amazing fantasy books. I also read a lot of classic books like James and the Giant Peach, and Where the Wild Things are. I could not get enough of that stuff as a kid, and reading books about fantasy really inspired me to write my some of my own stories.

I feel like as I've grown older, fantasy has not been as interesting for me. Newer fantasy works like Harry Potter have made me completely disinterested in the fantasy genre. I tried really hard to read the Harry Potter books (mostly because i had like that kind of thing before), and i could not get into it. I still enjoy the classic books that I have read that are fantasy, but i cannot get into any of the new stuff.

I'm excited to see how different directors will portray the classic fantasy books that I've loved so much. I have to wonder though, why it is that i fell out of love with fantasy as I've gotten older? I'd like to think that i have just as big as an imagination as i did when i was a kid, so what is it that makes me so disinterested in fantasy works now? I think the thing that pulls me away from fantasy now is how detailed the stories can be. I think it may be just that i don't have as much time as i would like to put into reading a fantasy novel and actually liking it. I just think that it's interesting how I could love a genre so much when i was a kid, and not like it so much now.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

One of my most favorite Science Fiction books is The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. I've read it a couple times and watched the movie (which was actually pretty good!). One of the things that I thought of recently were the science fiction inventions and creations that are introduced in this book. I think that it's interesting how some authors can create these kind of ideas in their head, and then something very similar is invented.

For example in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Ford introduces Arthur (the main character) to a type of Electronic Book. This Electronic Book happens to be the guide that Arthur needs and is used by activating a touch screen and using the book almost like google. This reminds me most of an iphone or an ipod, where you can touch the screen to interact with the different applications, and you can search the internet. It's like having a massive electronic book.

Another thing that they mention in the book is "Gesture-Controlled Devices". Instead of pushing a button or even using a touch screen, you can simply gesture at the machine and hope that it will do what you want it to do. Of course, they didn't have this perfected in the book, so there were a still bugs to work out (i.e. the fact that you had to sit very still if you didn't want to change the channel on the television). I know that there are types of cellphones where you just shake it a certain way to make it do what you want. You can even control things on your cellphone by voice now, so whose to say that someone won't figure out in the future how to simply get a machine to do what you want by making a gesture at it? I think it could be plausible, the way people in general like things to be as easy as possible for them to use.

I just think it's interesting in general how you can go back and read old science fiction stories and see inventions now that authors had the general idea of when they wrote their work.


I'm really glad that we got to read a really basic introductory book for the film part of our class. I'm also glad that we got to hear from outside sources and their experience with film. I never really about what goes into making a movie, and what certain elements go into making a viewer feel a certain emotion at a certain time.

I have seen a lot of different types of movies and documentaries, and I never once thought about how the music influences you to feel a certain way about what may be going on between the characters. I recently watched a movie entitled There Will Be Blood which is about an oil-man and his son, H.W. It starts in the early 1900s and skips ahead a lot in the first half an hour or so. There were some pretty traumatic things that happened in the beginning, but because the director didn't give you a long enough chance to get to know, or connect with the characters, you don't feel as much emotion when bad things happen to them. This particular movie used a lot of popular classical music as well instead of having music composed for the film.

I'm glad that we had a good introductory book to read for the film portion of the class because it's easy to understand and went well with the time period we had to discuss film.

Video Games

Recently, we watched the documentary "Second Skin" in class. It was a documentary about people who play video games (focusing on role playing games). Role Playing games include World of Warcraft (which i think almost everyone has heard of), and Everquest. Before we began watching the movie, I was kind of interested in seeing what type of documentary that we were going to be watching about video games. I mean, how interesting can you really make a documentary about people who play video games?

The overall message that the documentary sends is that Role Playing games can really ruin your life and that the average gamer looks like your stereotypical extreme video game player. It mostly focused on romantic relationships formed from role playing games and followed these people around who played video games almost all hours of the day. What really aggravated me about this documentary was that it portrayed people who play video games as people who have no life, and just care about their role playing game. In fact, someone in class had made the comment that it just reinforced the stereotypical gamer to them. I can see how this documentary can do that to people who don't personally know someone who likes video games.

I wasn't a big fan of this unit so much because I didn't really learn more than what I already knew about video games. It's not the most interesting topic to me, and i was really annoyed that the documentary that we watched wasn't anything positive about video games and gamers. I wish that we would have watched a documentary showing a different side to video games. Maybe how they're developed and why they're popular.


In Class we discussed where we thought television would be in the future. I think that television is trying to compete with the availability of television shows on the internet, and that in the future people will be turning to programs on the internet more to watch television than actually sitting down to watch television. Don't get me wrong, I don't think that television is going to become obsolete. I just think that a lot of people don't have the time to sit down and watch a show at a certain time.

It's hard to set an allotted time to sit down and watch a show that you may like especially if you don't have the same schedule every week. Cable companies tried to make it easier to watch the television shows that you like by offering things like TiVo and DVR so people could record their shows. If you record your show, then you can fast forward through all of the commercials - which is nice because most people hate commercials. DVR is nice and everything, but it costs extra to have it. This is another reason why I think people go to the internet to watch shows more.

Right now, it's pretty much free to watch any show you want online. If you can't find it on a free streaming site, then you can usually find it somewhere else illegally. I personally hate having to find a show to download illegally, and would much rather pay a fee to watch the shows that I would like to watch. I don't think television is ever going to go away, but I think (and hope) that eventually we can just pay a fee online to watch only the shows that we would like to watch. The cable companies have too much power and I think if networks could figure out a way to make money off of streaming their episodes online, then the popularity of watching shows on the internet will increase.

Friday, November 27, 2009

A Ring, A Compass, and... A Cat?

One of the very cool things that the His Dark Materials trilogy can do is really open up your imagination. The multiple worlds theory is one of the more interesting and applicable ideas in fantasy, spawning new ways to look at your favorite worlds. Anyone hear of the Schrödinger's cat paradox? The paradox states that every event is a branch point; for example if a cat is placed in a box for a day and dies, that only means it is dead in our universe. The cat is both alive and dead, even before the box is opened, but the "alive" and "dead" cats are in different branches of the universe, both of which are equally real, but which cannot interact with each other. So I started thinking about death in fantasy and how, according to Pullman, there a several universes in the HDM trilogy.

(rhetorical question) Is death an obstacle if the multiple worlds’ theory is used fantasy?

Contrary to the literature for LOTR, I believe Tolkien used this theory in Middle Earth. Gandalf fights the Bellrock and is mortally wounded doing so. He eventually dies of these wounds yet the “order” brings Gandalf back to life. The new White Wizard returns to fight for the fellowship and to destroy the ring. We all know of this, yet what realm does the order exist in and why does Gandalf feel like the years have passed by him? The simple explanation of this is that he spends time in heaven and then returns back a new man/wizard. But I’m gonna put a new twist on this idea. The White Wizard Gandalf might not be from the Middle Earth that the grey Wizard died in. On page 484 of the Two Towers in my book there is this quote:

“’Yes I am white now,’ said Gandalf... ‘But come now, tell me of yourselves! I have passed through fire and deep water, since we parted. I have forgotten much that I thought I knew, and learned again much that I had forgotten. I can see many things far off, but many things that are close at hand I cannot see. Tell me of yourselves!’”

Now, while there are many who read into this passage, and the passage on page 491 saying that he was “sent back naked,” believing that he was sent back from heaven to complete his job. However, what is heaven in this story but another dimension, another world that is layered upon Middle Earth? (Disregarding the Silmarillion that was published in Tolkien’s name post-humorously and was never fully described by Tolkien the way he intended, and forget about Iluvatar and the stories about his creation.) Taking into account the Schrödinger's cat paradox, this “Heaven” may just be a place where Gandalf never died. The Gandalf the White present in the Two Towers conveniently cannot remember specifics to come but knows the outcome now that he is here. He had to learn about the death of Boromir and the breaking of the fellowship from Galadriel because, in his universe with him present, Boromir may have never died and the fellowship was probably together. He may have created a crack in time and space and walked through to around the time he came close to death, knowing about multiple dimensions. This is a very “what if” scenario but nonetheless it is an enlightening experience when you think about.

Anyone else think this might be an option?

Things I generally hated about the Golden Compass movie

After reading The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman I decided to check out the movie version despite numerous warnings from other people who had also read the book. I really liked the story and since reading and re-watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy I have learned to be a little bit easier on film adaptations. I thought that I would check it out for myself. The result was a rekindled hatred in film adaptations of books. There were so many things that I hated about this movie but before I get into those I would like to point out that the film did have two redeeming qualities; Sam Elliot as Lee Scoresby and Ian McKellen as the voice of Iorek Byrnison. That being said, two well casted roles were not enough for me to like this movie.

Let's start from the beginning. The movie opens with the voice of a narrator, I am assuming Lyra's voice, that blatantly explains that there are multiple worlds and that in "her" world people's souls reside outside their bodies in the form of daemons. As soon as this voice began to speak I should have realized how bad the film was going to be but for some reason I kept watching. I don't like this narrative voice for a couple reasons. For one, the beginning is the ONLY time that it appears in the film. I think that is just seems kind of lazy or sloppy or both. If you are going to set up a film in the context of a narrative the narrative voice should probably be consistent throughout the movie. Otherwise you don't get a sense of who the narrator is and why they are speaking or telling the story. Essentially the voice becomes a tool to throw some information at the viewer. That is really what it felt like. In Pullman's novel he begins with the story in progress and allows the reader to make inferences about the world that he sets up through sensory details, interaction between characters and interesting scenes that develop the plot as well as the world. In the film it felt as if they were shoving Pullman's world down our throats both with this opening narrative voice and awkward expository dialogue throughout.

On that note I also feel that many of the transitions and major changes throughout the film seemed incredibly forced. I'm thinking of when Serafina Pekkala literally drops in from out of nowhere and decides to introduce herself to Lyra for no apparent reason. Also the scene where Lyra and Iorek go off to find the severed child then the gyptians storm in and a battle erupts. It was like they just mashed together a bunch of parts from the book without really thinking about it too much. I just kept wondering where the Gyptians came from and how they got there so fast. Quite possibly the worst transition in this movie and probably the worst transition I have seen in ANY movie was the shift from Svalbard to Bolvangar. After the battle is over Iorek just says, "And now, I will take you to Bolvangar" and immediately there is a cut to her riding him across a snow covered field. I actually had to rewind that part and watch it again because it was so unbelievably bad. In general all of these forced transitions and moments in the film made me feel as if I were being beaten over the head with the plot of Pullman's novel.

There is also the matter of one of the most fundamental changes to the plot in the film adaptation. They completely switched the events of Svalbard and Bolvangar for the sole purpose of hyping up the battle scene at the end. I felt that this switch really took away from the complexity of the events at Svalbard. In the film we didn't get any sense that Iofur Raknison (renamed Lord Rakna in the film, presumably because it sounds cooler) is trying to go against his bear nature and act more human. Moreover, we don't see that the struggle between Iorek and Iofur is really about the conflict between two ideologies that will ultimately determine the fate of the bear race. They might as well have cut the entire sequence from the movie altogether. I also found the actual battle scene between the bears pretty tame and disappointing. When Iorek knocks off the other bear's jaw I was really hoping to see his tongue flop out like it describes in the book...then Iorek doesn't even eat his heart! It seems like they tried to downplay some of the more gruesome elements of the story in an effort to make the movie appeal to a younger audience. I found this disappointing because one of the things I liked about Pullman was that he did not seem to censor or restrict himself despite the fact that he wrote for a younger audience.

Related to the issues of censorship and restriction is the ending of the movie...Lyra and Roger fly off into the sunset in Scoresby's balloon. Credits. It seems like in an effort to make the end more appealing to younger audiences they really limited the possibility of a sequel. So how does the Subtle Knife movie start? They land the balloon, Lord Asriel brutally murders Roger in an effort to tear open the fabric of reality and thousands of kids expecting another delightful romp featuring talking bears run from the movie theater screaming and crying. I don't see it happening. If they are going adapt the whole trilogy it seems like it would almost make more sense to start again by remaking The Golden Compass with the whole project in mind. I can only hope that happens because the movie version I saw butchered a story that I really liked. It would be nice to see a version come out that actually does it justice.

Project Natal

The new Microsoft project, Project Natal (pronounced Nah-tall) is one that is promising to be more groundbreaking then Nintendo's Wii. The most unique and intriguing feature, which the project is based off of is the fact that the person playing IS the controller. The youtube video below is a good preview of what Microsoft intends to accomplish.

Now as interesting and as futuristic as this seems, a few different issues come into my mind. This is a system where one can do almost anything very realistically from the comfort of their own couch. From playing simple exercises to action games to just meeting virtual characters and seeing their world, it seems that users will be creating a virtual life.

My main concern is that with all of these virtual opportunities, how addicted are players going to get? With the lives you can live through video games being so interesting and exciting I feel as if players will become attached to this system. Why wouldn't you want to live a life full of adventure vicariously through a t.v. screen? I'm definitely not against this new idea, for I would probably be one of those to get addicted. Yet I can't help but wonder what the repercussions will be in the long run.

Calvin and Hobbes: More than meets the eye

One of the very few comics that I read religiously while growing up was "Calvin and Hobbes" by Bill Waterson. This comic was more than just a mere 6-cell joke to me. Within each frame carried art, ideas, and humor that was not contained to the mind of a child. I've gone back and read the comics recently and found out there was a lot of subtleties and references that most younger readers wouldn't understand.

Who would expect this young child to know so much about life? Calvin shows throughout the series that he notices a lot of sociological and psychological issues and makes witty remarks about them. If you look at the strip posted above, it provides a clear example of Calvin's intelligence (click on it to enlarge)
Calvin is in the middle of taking a test and he's writing on his paper what many see as a flaw in the current education system. This ability to see this type of learning habit is not usual for one of Calvin's age.
Another thing I noticed is Waterson's use of speech bubbles, and font to relay information as to where the dialogue is coming from and how it is to be read. In the same comic you can see that Calvin is staring at his test, and in plain font it states the question. This way it obviously states that the dialogue is coming from the paper.

One more in depth feeling that I recieve from Waterson is how alone Calvin is. Usually comics are not spent on a person who is constanly by himself, but this comic is different. Besides his parents and his stuffed tiger, there is only one or two other people ever in the strips. The rest is just Calvin using his imagination, or making observations.

This is why I still can appreciate Calvin and Hobbes as a comic strip. It's a shame that no more are made, but the ones that were will always hold a place on my bookshelf.

Villarejo vs. Armitt, Film vs. Fantasy

After reading both of these novels, I realized how much more I could relate to Villarejo’s, The Basics- Film Studies. Not only do I find myself watching more movies than readings fantasy novels, but I also found the aspects behind it to be a lot more interesting. Armitt did state a lot of facts. However, I feel that Villarejo did a much better job backing up these facts with specific examples. You could tell she was well informed about the topic she was discussing. I’d have to say I was much more impressed with her writing and even though the beginning was very dry and boring, it was a lot easier for me to read.

One of the things that really stood out to me was how she bolded certain terms she was discussing. The definitions of these terms also helped me to understand it a little better. I also liked how she compared the structure of film and language. It is composed of fundamental units, called shots, which rely upon edits to join shots together into larger strings called sequences, just as words become sentences. Many films depend on cinematic conventions (rules), a form of film grammar that’s evolved overtime.

One of the things I didn’t like was how quickly she discussed her topics. I would have liked to see her go into a little more depth to give us, readers a better understanding of each chapter.

Overall, this book would not be one of my top choices to read, but I’d highly recommend it over Fantasy Fiction, by Armitt anyday.

Video Games

I never really got into Video Games partly because my mom is totally against video games therefore when I was younger they weren't in my house or really apart of my life for that matter. The only time i was ever exposed to video games was when i went to my friends house and they would be playing Xbox or playstation or whatever was popular at that time. I never played because the controlers were intimidating and confusing to me who has never played, plus i was terrible at it, having no idea what i was doing or what the point of it was. To this day i dont play video games all though when i go to friends i understand the wii, and guitar hero which i do play, not well but i play.

After watching Second Skin i dont think that video games are a healthy way to spend your time, unless you are aware of how much time you do spend playing them because they suck you right in, and will take over your life. I'm not into the whole shooting killing people i am one of those people that think the violence in video games is over the top, and parents should take the ratings on them much more seriously, but that is more the parents fault then the video game makers. Second skin i thought was pretty pointless unless you were trying to promote anti-video games which i dont think it was ment to do. it really pointed out the worst, and wierdness in people. and how it really takes over peoples lives. i could understand playing a little now and then but the people on the movie were addictded. I think that movie totally defeated its purpose of being made.


With the rising of the internet everyone has been wondering whats going to happen with TV. In class we discussed whether or not the TV is going to stay around or eventually die. I belive that it could go either way. The TV has been around a lot longer then the internet and it is still growing, now that you can pause, rewind, fast forward, record etc. the TV is much more pleasureable you can always find something on with demand, no one likes commericals so you can just skip right through them, and if you have something else going its very simple to just record your show and watch it later. On the other hand you still have to buy the equpiment to do this and hook it up to the TV. When instead you can just go online and watch the TV show you missed.

Computers are growing you can watch full TV shows on the internet, and the screens are being made larger for this very reason too. Movies a simple DVD you can pop right into the computer and watch it without hassling with the remote. This is sensible for newer gentertaions but older generations who don't know how to use a computer having no TV just doesn't make sense. The other problem with watching TV shows online is that its not so demand you have to wait a day or two after it airs in order to watch it online.

TV's are stuggling hard to beat the internet watching generation by making TV screens massive, and even now you can projectors in your home just like at a movie theatre almost and the way the television is evolving it might just be possible that it will make it through the internet generation just like radio is making due.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Is Donaldson's Chronicles of Thomas Covenant worth the paper it's printed on?

It's no big secret that I am not a fan of Stephen Donaldson. I do not really consider him a major author and if could go back in time and stop myself from reading the Chronicles of Thomas covenant I probably would. What I am wondering is if this series has any redeeming qualities whatsoever or if the world would just be a better place without it.

One thing that I can see the author was trying to achieve was to defy the conventions of fantasy by making the main character a kind of anti-hero. So we get Thomas Covenant, a cynical leper who is constantly complaining and doubting the fantasy world that he finds himself in. This is a somewhat interesting concept and in the very beginning of the first book of the series I was actually intrigued but as the story wore on the combination of Covenant's character and Donaldson's narrative style killed my interest.

Why Donaldson chose to narrate an epic fantasy with an annoying anti-hero protagonist in a close third person perspective? I can't say for sure. Why no one read an initial draft of his manuscript and told him he might want to rethink the perspective? Perhaps an even bigger mystery. I think that in using a limited third person perspecive, Donaldson was trying to highlight Covenant's internal conflict in his constant doubt in the Land's existance. In my opinion the ends did not justify the means with this choice and for a number of reasons.

First and foremost that conflict was not all that compelling to me in the first place. I think that it is warrented for Covenant to doubt the Land at first based on his history with the leprosarium and the way that he has had to train himself to become incredibly grounded in reality. After a while though Covenant's constant doubt in the Land just got annoying to me. Even if he believed it was a dream why not just run with it? Moreover it seemed that with the close third person perspective, Donaldson was attempting to extend this disbelief to the reader as well as the character which for me just did not work. The willing suspension of disbelief by the reader is not just a conventino of fantasy but a convention of all fiction. I think that for the most part to subvert this convention is to write bad fiction. The "it was all just a dream after all" ending is a cliché so I don't see why leading the reader to believe that might be coming is a good thing. I would have rather seen Donaldson construct a compelling world that I could become invested in rather than have him constantly try to make me doubt the world that he did present.

Another complication that arose from the close third person narratative style is the way that exposition is handled. The world building element of fantasy fiction requires a great deal of exposition and the use of limited third person perspective only allows the author to deliver that information through things that the main character observes. One way that Donaldson deals with this problem is to jam as much exposition into dialogue as possible. The result is that characters use unnatural voices to essentially talk at the reader and provide them a comprehensive history of the Land. What Donaldson can't force into exposition he deals with through Thomas Covenant's uncanny perceptions of the world around him. To some extent this may be warrented as Covenant is a former writer but I think that the inferences that the narrator makes through Covenant become excessive to the point where it takes the reader out of the story.

So is the seires worth the paper it's printed on? Maybe I'll give it that but it's definately not worth the ink. That stuff is expensive.

Streets Paved in Gold..The Stuff Fantasy is Made Of

American pop culture has evolved in many strange and unique ways over the years. From hula hoops to pet rocks, Jane Fonda to Tae-bo, fads come into favor as quickly as they burn out. One thing that stays popular year after year are fantasy novels.

From vampires to magic and everything in between, fantasy writing is one of the few genres that can appeal to virtually every person. All you need is a subject you enjoy and the ability to suspend your disbelief and you are on your way to enjoying all the worlds of fantasy.

If you can dream it up, you could create a fantasy novel about it. Grab any New York Times bestseller list from any week over the past ten years, and you will find at least one fantasy novel listed. With all the rigors and stresses of day to day life, being able to take some time away and immerse yourself into a fun and exciting world brings joy and comfort to millions every day.

So what is it about fantasy novels that allows them to maintain their popularity year after year? While there are as many answers as fantasy fans, the universal trait common among all fantasy novels is great storytelling. As a writer, if you are going to create an entirely new world, one that can have a few or many physical laws that do not apply in the real world, you have to be able to be able to convey those laws in words alone. All of the greatest, epic fantasy works do a great job of conveying unusual concepts while not losing track of the flow of the story. Robert Jordan was one of the masters of this. Being able to describe a group of characters who have the ability to control the basic elements (air, fire, earth, water, and spirit) and still being able to move the story along without losing many readers, creates a world that is far enough of a departure from reality to allow the reader to be whisked away and leave their cares alone. Anne Rice created her supernatural world of vampires which introduced an entire generation to the underside of society and the dark corners of the human soul. David Eddings successfully combined fictional theology with his "the will and the word" to create a world that was both pure fantasy while still grounded in reality. Anne McCaffery brought us a new insight into humanity on the backs of dragons.

Given enough time, every person can get bogged down with their routine in such a way that it seems mundane. Fantasy novels give them an escape. A chance to dream like a child again. A chance to imagine themselves as a cast member in the theatre of the mind that a great fantasy novel creates. For this reason, as long as there are books to be written, fantasy is a genre that will be at the forefront of the publishing world, because America was built on fantastical dreams.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Flash Forward a Science Fiction TV series?

While viewing the previous posts on the SF blogger, I saw that someone had mentioned Lost being a science fiction TV series. As I was reading that particular blog post, I began thinking about the new TV series called "Flash Forward". For those of you who have not seen this TV show or haven't heard anything about it, here is a little background information for you:

So basically, a mysterious event causes everyone on the planet to simultaneously lose consciousness for 137 seconds. During these 137 seconds, everyone on the planet sees what appears to be visions of their lives approximately six months in the future. After the loss of consciousness, LA FBI agents begin the process of determining what happened, why it happened, and whether it will happen again.
The team investigates a number of events related to the flashforward, including "Suspect Zero", who did not lose consciousness during the event, the sinister "D. Gibbons", and a similar mass loss of consciousness in Somalia in 1991. This is a general summary of the TV series as to date, but I don't want to give too much information away because I RECOMMEND this show and you should all watch it!

Anyways, after beginning to watch this TV series, I started researching about whether or not the TV series can be considered Science Fiction. The TV series is originally based off the Science Fiction novel "Flash Forward" by Robert J. Sawyer. This novel is set in a fictionalized and overly futuristic year 2009. At CERN (The European Organization for Nuclear Research), the Large Hadron Collider accelerator (the ALICE experiment) is performing a run to search for the Higgs boson. The experiment takes a unique effect: the entire human race also loses consciousness for about two minutes. During this time, nearly everyone sees themselves in the future (by about 21 years). The flashforward that takes place in the book and the flashforward that takes place in the TV series do differ. However, they are fairly similar in regards to the massive loss of consciousness that resulted in deaths, accidents, and also the futuristic flashforwards that everyone on the planet sees (these occur in both the book and the TV series).

I think that there are a few reasons in which Flash Forward (the TV series) can be included in the science fiction genre. Although this particular show does differ from the science experiment taking place in Robert Sawyer's book, it does represent some of the conventions that shape the science fiction genre.

I think that when people see the future, either by traveling to it or even just viewing it in general, it can somehow be tied to science fiction. As technology becomes stronger and more determined, will it be possible for people to actually see into their future? Wouldn't that be interesting. But anyways, I think that another example of the show being science fiction is the idea of time travel. Although the characters are not traveling back into time or embarking on an actual travel to say- the moon, the characters and everyone on the planet experiences a time travel six months ahead of the current time in 2009.

I was most curious to write on this TV show because I was wondering if anyone had similar feelings. Does anyone else think that this show can be classified as science fiction? I think it can.

As I touched upon earlier, I think the one aspect of the TV show that really jumped out at me as being science fiction was the idea of time travel; the time travel that exists during the massive blackout that the entire planet undergoes. I think that show definitely sells the fiction part of the genre. Of course it is not probable that everyone on the planet is going to black out at the same time and see their future, but hey you never know. The science aspect of the show can be possible correlated to the ongoing investigation that the FBI has initiated. I guess a lot of the investigation is science driven-In example, fingerprinting, tapping phone lines, etc. All of these things would not be able to be done without the science that has been previously created and experimented on. Another example, technology. I think that technology has a lot to do with the science fiction genre. This show is filled with technological aspects of the 21st century.

Control vs Conditioning in Video Games

In considering the ways in which the process of playing video games is different from other forms of entertainment media it seems at first that video games offer the user more freedom and control. Reading or watching TV and movies could be seen as more passive because the reader or viewer must simply watch events unfold without being able to influence them in any way. Video games seem to offer the user at least some input as they are allowed to control the characters and influence the events that occur.

How much control and freedom do video games really offer users though? It seems that at least with a lot of action and platform games the user is being given a series of choices that result in positive and negative stimuli. Certain actions kill the character while others advance them further. As the game progresses the user learns to avoid the negative stimuli and eventually is able to play the game the correct way and advance the character through the entire game. In this way rather than offering users freedom to influence the outcome of the game it is really conditioning them to play the game the right way. To me it seems debatable whether the act of being conditioned could be considered a more active process than watching the events of a plot unfold in a book, TV show, or movie.

I will say that I think some video games do offer the user more choices and freedom and are more difficult to see as simply a conditioning process. Process oriented games like the Sims allow users to make various choices with no real predetermined goals in order to just see how the choices play out. Similarly games like Fable allow users to really set up and achieve their own goals and decide which directions to take the plot and how to develop the character in terms 0f appearance, actions, and abilities.

It is somewhat difficult for me to make a value judgement on video games. While it seems that games which offer the user more freedom rather than conditioning them would be preferable these games also tend to lack concrete goals and objectives to achieve. While a game might just be conditioning you, it does feel good when you finally get it right and overcome increasingly difficult obstacles. You can argue that this process might not be as active as it seems but I do not think that neccessarily makes these types of games any less valuable or enjoyable than other games.

Science fiction meets fantasy fiction?

The book The Journey to the Center of the Earth has seemed to stick out to me as merging science fiction with fantasy fiction. There are many scenarios and situations in the book that can be viewed in both lights to me. While some of it is a definite stretch of science and the laws and theories it has created, the rest is purely based out of the imagination.

For example, it is clear that Jules Verne has done his research in knowing the different rock layers of earth, as he uses them to portray the different time periods in his story. Also the story contains ideas such as translating old languages like Latin, which is completely possible within the realms of knowledge. In these aspects, the book is clearly a science fiction book, but there are also factors that throw a wrench into the gears.

As the travelers go through each geological layer, they encounter the living creatures of that time. This is about as possible as there being a middle-earth. To use a logical worldly explaination to justify seperate worlds at seperate rock layers is proposterous. This is where I believe that the book has a touch of fantasy.

We all know that science fiction is simply defined as a genre where the imaginary elements in the story are very much possible within scientific boundries. Fantasy fiction, on the other hand, is a genre where the plot is based on no factual information, in most cases creating its own laws and sciences, very loosly based on our own. This is why I find it strange that a book should merge these 2 ideas. Yet, it seems apparent that this novel has done so. This is just my thought though. What do you think? Is this story from 1864 one of the early mergers between science and fantasy?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Television will last forever

In the issue of Death vs. Revolution with TV, I think television will exist for as long as human kind does. I don’t think it would or ever could die because I don’t think us, viewers would let it. We’re too dependent on it. We use it to watch our favorite comedy shows, chick flicks, the news (which is much easier than reading the paper), etc. It continually changes and advances just like any form of technology.

Take cell phones for example. Companies are always thinking of new, “better” models or designs to attract us consumers. My first phone did the basic – calling and texting. My second phone was a step higher than that. It actually took pictures. When I got my razor, I learned that it could play music on top of everything else! Now, I have a phone with a touch screen. As time goes on, of course technology becomes more advanced. But the main purpose for all of the different cell phones out there is to contact someone. It’s the same with TV. The first televisions made in black and white did the same job as the HD TV’s do today. Its main purpose is to provide entertainment.

Years from now, television screens may not physically look exactly like they do today, but I think the same concept of TV will be the same. We may even be able to purchase only the channels we want. As our needs and wants change, so will television itself. Technology continues to change and will keep changing forever.

Stephen King's The Stand Graphic adaptation

Over the summer I took a Graphic Literature course online and for my final project I did a comparison between Stephen King's novel The Stand and a graphic novel adaptation of the first few chapters. One of the main things that I focused on was how each work uses different conventions unique to their respective media in order to achieve the common goals of the horror genre in general.

Horror fiction in general tends to work towards the goal of somehow shocking or disturbing the reader. In the novel version of The Stand, one way that King achieves this through his prose is through the use of the grotesque simile. In describing the first real plague victims in the book he states that a character “opened the driver’s side door and the man behind the wheel spilled out like an old laundry sack.” This passage has the effect of forcing the reader to combine drastically dissimilar images in order to form a clear and disturbing picture of what is going on. It is an interesting process because in prose the reader must take the words on the page and use them to put together a mental picture for themselves. Devices like the grotesque simile help this process along but ultimately it is the reader who renders the images in their head and ultimately scares or disturbs themselves.

Unlike prose, the graphic medium can essentially assault the reader with disturbing images that they might not be expecting. Here is an image from the graphic novel Captain Tripps depicting the same scene described by the simile above:

Pretty shocking right? In the graphic novel this illustration takes up a full page so as soon as you turn to it it just kind of hits you. While good prose can make a reader scare themselves the graphic medium has the distinct advantage of using unexpected images that readers may not have been able to imagine to literally startle and disturb. If anybody is interested in this kind of thing and would like to check out more just reply to this and let me know. I'd be happy to post the full project.

The Control of Video Games

America is all about freedom and subsequently control and power. There is no such thing as complete freedom and there never will be. Media is no exception. Television and film give us limited freedom. We can choose to watch a comedy movie instead of a horror, but generally we can't decide what the content of a movie or a television show will be.

In the past two decades video games have risen to the top tier of entertainment. Everyone I know has at least one gaming system and most Americans have computers which allow gameplay on the internet as well as PC games. Humans like to be in control or feel as if they are, even if it is a character in a video game. If I want to shoot someone just to take their money on Grand Theft Auto, I can. There are a few different results that can come from this, which were programmed into the game therefore giving me no control over, but how I have the character react to the consequences is up to me.

When I was little all I wanted to do was watch my sister and cousins play video games. When I was between the ages of about 4-10 I mostly watched them rather than play. I knew how to play and I would every once in awhile, but mostly I was too young to get very far. As I got older I wasn't as comfortable watching and I would irritate my sister by being a sort of "back-seat driver." I would tell her go over there or jump here. I was growing up and I wanted more control over what I was seeing. Needless to say, my sister and I are still avid video gamers now (as much as we can be on a limited budget and working our way through college).

Video games can be an escape into a world where we are something better than ourselves. Who wouldn't love to explode a gas station without consequences in Grand Theft Auto, kill hordes of zombies in Resident Evil, or create and live the perfect life in The Sims (PC version). I can see how easy it would be to get lost in these non-existant (and sometimes fantastical) worlds. Yes, there are limits to what a certain game is programmed to do and content is created by someone else, but there's a level of control in video games that's unavailable in other forms of media (and life itself). However, there are books and movies starting to profit off of the idea of audience control. Choose your own adventure books are a great example and Final Destination 3 on DVD follows the same sort of idea. The movie can be watched in it's intended progression and conclusion or you can click on the choose your path version on the DVD menu. In this version of the film there are places where it will stop and ask which way you would prefer to go or which action should be taken providing many different paths through the movie. While this is more time-consuming and expensive for the filmmakers (more scenes need to be made and a lot more editing needs to be done), it gives the audience control that they want and if you give the people what they want the profits will follow.

In video games we aren't just along for the ride (keeping our hands and feet in the vehicle at all times) we make the ride and navigate our way through it. So who knows where video games will lead us, maybe all movies will function like Final Destination 3. We'll just have to wait and see.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

How Lord of the Rings changed my views on film adaptation

When it comes to film adaptations, I've always been the kind of person who insists on reading the book first. I then proceed to talk through the entire movie, complaining that they've either butchered what I thought was a great story or taken something I hated to begin with and somehow made it even worse. I did it through The Stand, I did it through Queen of the Damned, and good God did I do it through the Golden Compass (but that's another post entirely).

The Lord of the Rings trilogy has allowed me to be a little more open minded when it comes to film adaptations of books. I actually saw all the movies before reading the trilogy. When I finally did read the books I discovered that two major changes were made that have allowed me to see that change is not always a bad thing when making a movie from a book.

The first of the two changes is in Fellowship of the Ring. When I read the novels I got about half way through Fellowship and realized that I was only about 15 minutes into the movie as far as plot progression goes. In the film adaptation they cut out a lot of the journeying between Bag End and Bree which for better or worse included cutting out Tom Bombadil and the scene with the barrow wights. I think that this worked well to keep the plot of the movie going a little quicker and keep viewers more interested. I also enjoyed it because although I had seen the movies before reading the books there were still some things in it that surprised me. This includes the scenes that were cut from the Fellowship movie as well as the Scouring of the Shire in Return of the King which is probably one of my favorite parts of the entire series.

The second major change occurred in Two Towers. The novel is divided into two books. One deals with Merry, Pippin, Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli and all of the events that occur in the West. This includes that battle of Helm's Deep and the Fall of Isengard. The second book shifts over to Frodo and Sam and shows what happened to them in the East while all the other events took place in the West. The movie took these Two stories and wove them together, frequently shifting back and forth throughout. This helps to keep the viewer interested in both stories and to maintain the fast pace of the story in general. When reading the book it seemed that book one was very fast paced and book two, while interesting, seemed to slow down which seems a little bit illogical. Seeing the way that certain changes that are made in film adaptations can enhance and improve stories has really changed the way I watch movies that were based on books. Now I try to view them a little bit more critically and instead of just complaining that changes were made I try to ask myself why those specific changes were made and what effect they have on the work as a whole.

Is Lost considered Science Fiction

Recently the Sci-Fi channel (which is now the SyFy channel, not a fan of the name change) started playing old episodes of Lost. This has got me thinking about whether or not Lost can really be considered Science Fiction. For anyone not familiar with the show, it is basically about a group of people with interconnected back stories whose plane crashes on a mysterious island where strange things happen. A crippled man is healed and can walk, people start seeing their dead relatives, and an unseen group of apparently indigenous people abduct some of the survivors. If you haven't seen it and are thinking about getting into it you should be careful. It's like the crack of TV shows.

What seems to happen frequently in Lost is that something fantastic and seemingly unexplainable will happen and characters have different views as to whether to try and interpret things rationally or believe that there is some sort of supernatural force at work. Consequently it is also largely up to the viewer to decide what they believe about what is going on. As the plot progresses, some of the fantastic things are explained rationally and scientifically while others are left up in the air and still other mysteries are introduced.

The author of another blog post I read ultimately decided that we will not be able to categorize Lost into a genre until the series is over and we know the true explanations of all of the mysteries that have been introduced. Check it out here. I can see how this conclusion makes sense. If all things are explained rationally then the series is science fiction but if it turns out that Locke was right all along and there is a supernatural/magical element then the series is fantasy.

As good as that sounds I have a problem with the idea that the genre of a work is contingent upon the ending. Suppose for some reason the producers of Lost decide not to air the last season and destroy all the evidence that it was ever produced. How would we categorize Lost then based only on what we have if we were never going to know the ending? I think that we need a better method for placing a work into a genre where we do not have to wait until the end in order to know what we are watching or reading.

I think in order to place a work in a genre we need to take a look at what is essential to the work itself. What ultimately drives the work and makes it interesting for readers or viewers? I think that in works of Science Fiction it is the explanations and ramifications of various non-existent but plausible technologies. In fantasy it is the creation of an alternate world or the introduction of a magical element to our own world. The more interesting, original, and imaginative the world or element is the better.

Though Lost does both of those things to some degree I think there are two things that are really essential to the series. One is the mysteries themselves. Regardless of the explanations and answers the introduction of fantastic and mysterious elements keeps people watching (makes it the crack of TV shows). Because of this I would classify Lost as a mystery.

The second thing essential to Lost is the intricate web of character's back stories. Each character seems to be on a kind of journey in life with the ultimate goal of redemption. The culminating point of all of these interlocking journeys is the island. Because the back stories follow this kind of pattern and also because of the grand scale of the series in general,I would classify Lost as an epic. So though Lost contains both elements of Fantasy and Science Fiction I ultimately think that the best genre classification I can give it would be Epic Mystery.

As far as where the series is going and what the answers are going to be...I have no idea but there will be hell to pay if I am disappointed.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Road Less Traveled

The new movie based on a book by illusive artist Cormac McCarthy is quite atypical of his previous work, yet may interest a broader audience. The Road is an apocalyptical Sci-Fi movie,which is quite a departure from The Border Trilogy. The novel eventually earned McCarthy a Pulitzer prize.

McCarthy recently gave and extremely rare interview (he's one of those hermit writers like Pynchon) regarding this most recent movie to the Wall Street Journal of all things..

All The Pretty Horses, the first in the Border Trilogy was also made into a film, albeit a crappy one. It was actually so crappy that a professor teaching a class on McCarthy chose to just not have class on the day it was to be shown. It's Southern Gothic about two young cowboys who head down to Mexico looking for work as ranch hands (of course). They find work at a ranch where the bosses daughter is beautiful and the rest is pretty predictable.

His other novels outside the Border Trilogy take and extreme turn as well. Blood Meridian is a completely gory Western based on the non-fitional Clanton Gang. It is not only historically mostly historically accurate with exception being the some of the characters, is saturated with violence complete with skinned Comanche babies hanging from trees. Seriously..I'm not exaggerating, I'm actually just skimming the surface. Interestingly Blood Meridian is now considered one of the acclaimed novels of the 20th century keeping company with Don Delilo's Underworld, Toni Morrison's Beloved and John Updike's four novels about Rabbit Angstrom.

McCarthy's ninth novel No Country For Old Men was made into a movie by The Coen brothers and is more of a crime thriller film set in more recent times. Maybe it was the genre change, or maybe it was The Coen Brothers, but this film was a success winning two Golden Globes and four Academy awards, one of which was awarded to the Coen Brothers themselves for Best Director.

I'm interested to see how well The Road is received. Even though I was emotionally scarred by reading Blood Meridian and Mr. McCarthy haunts my dreams to this day, it's like a train wreck. I haven't been to the movies in at least five years, but I'm going to make a special effort to see this one.

An Attempt to Discuss Both Sides of the Infamous "Thomas Covenant" Series by Stephen Donaldson

In this post I will attempt to address the positive and negative aspects to the infamous “Thomas Covenant” trilogy by Stephen Donaldson. Let me begin with the lighter side. First, I will gladly attribute credit to Donaldson for his attempt to challenge the expectations of the Fantasy genre and to bring something new to readers. Thomas Covenant is a loathsome, contemptible main character with no redeeming qualities for the entire first book, and who does not become much better in the following two. For Fantasy readers, especially in the late 1970’s when nothing close had been attempted in that genre at that point (at least to my knowledge), this must have been a difficult beginning to a trilogy to work through. Although I am sure that some people enjoyed the challenge with hopes for a good work to come out of it altogether. If one attempts to understand the psychological struggle which Covenant is going through (a failed marriage, a social outcast, and severe leprosy) then it may be fair to say that the beginning does stand out as an intriguing plot. It gives the story a lot of room for growth and much potential as far as what it could develop into. There is anticipation for redemption, hope for awesome world-building and other characters which influence the character to become more “heroic” or at least balance out his pessimism. I almost had the feeling that this was going to happen, since despite having to be pushed and pulled, Covenant does begin to help the land in a way (or at least gives them hope with the ring and Berek Half-hand prophecy). To summarize: Donaldson, you had an interesting starting point in this work with considerable potential, but unfortunately it was not developed well from there and flopped in my opinion. Here begins the negative aspects.

All of this certainly could have worked out favorably if Donaldson had not gone too far in illustrating Covenant’s misery and angst. To have a character such as Covenant begin the story as lowly as he is, and have him become progressively better (not even completely redeemed, but at least become the controversial anti-hero) would have made it more appealing. Unfortunately, that did not happen. In addition to placing excessive emphasis on the controversial Covenant, Donaldson did not balance the repelling character through other aspects of the work. For example, the Land had considerable prospects to become a well-developed, engaging world, but there simply was not enough creative effort put into the development. The writing style was not my cup of tea, so to speak, either. It seems that Donaldson was attempting to flex the muscles of his English degrees a bit too much. I am much more of a fan of the slow, simple yet captivating prose of Tolkien.

As I mentioned in one of my posts on the discussion board, I believe that the most charitable review of the Thomas Covenant series would be to evaluate all of the trilogies as a whole rather than the first part. It would be quite the accomplishment to create a character that takes up to the third trilogy to finally assume a more “heroic” role. Personally, I would not want to work through an entire trilogy without enjoying it and then continue to the other works, but if I was forced to and to my surprise Covenant became redeemed in the last trilogy, I might have somewhat of an understanding of Donaldson’s intent in this work (I hope).


Coogan vs. Delany

I thought the writing styles between Coogan and Delany were quite interesting, when reading the essays in the Comic Book genre. Coogan used definitional criticism in his work (and defined a superhero), which gave the readers information about the subject to get a better understanding of it. Meanwhile, Delany opposed this concept. He doesn't feel that it is necessary to define the subject that you're looking at because the audience/readers can recognize it without actually defining it.

In a way, I agree with Delany about being able to recognize a subject, such a superhero, without actually giving a definition of what it is. However, I also agree with Coogan. For example, if you need to see a doctor because you're sick and don't know anything about them or their office, you're not going to feel comfortable going there. It's the same as in a novel or an essay. The reader is going to be slightly confused as to what's going on without being given a brief background of the setting and characters.

Someone's definition of a word, like "superhero," may also be slightly or completely different than another person's definition of the same word. Therefore, we sometimes need to identify what the term/subject is so the whole audience has the same understanding. For instance, with Delany's idea, you know that the subject is a car, but without Coogan's idea of definitional criticism, you don't know the origin of the car. Is it a Dodge, a Ford, or a Chevy? Is it red, black, white, etc.? Without giving the reader a specific definition, we sometimes aren't able to understand the entire concept of the subject. I can see where both of these writers are coming from, but for me, I think Coogan's essay holds more truth.

The Televison will me revolutionized! Really?

I am not sure of other people's TV habits, but I know mine currently is little to non-existent. The only time I actually watch a program on a TV is when I am at my boyfriend's house. I personally do not have the time to invest in new programs nor the money to pay for cable or satellite providers. However, for the people that TV is a must in daily life, they choose to get programming in other forms- usually in other forms of technology such as streaming shows on the Internet or through their cellphone. Another way device producing companies fit their product to their comsumer, or, shall we say, tell the consumer that these devices, applications and add-ons are needed for them to make it through their day.

Will these new forms of technology affect the way programming to produced? On the theatrical aspect, I would say no, at least not directly. Whether the TV program is broadcast on a TV screen or computer screen, the scenes are filled and then produced. They do not film specifically for each medium. Where one will see a lot of change is in advertising. The type of ad and where and how it is distributed determines the value and the priced pay for that ad. This is where the sliding downhill begins. If Revenue collected from advertising decreases, job cuts will eventually be made throughout a company, leading to less people doing more work which causes less efficiency and creativity, especially if it is the material producers who are downsized which in the end leads to less entertaining TV with less people watching it so the prices keep going down. It's a harsh repeating circle.

This is why reality TV is so popular with production companies, probably not with writers, but with the big wigs for make all the money because they don't have any or very few actors and writers, build massive sets and always have that one person who loves the show and continues to watch week after week.

All in all, it is money that is the driving force of television programming. Many say that they have to listen to the consumer because if they don't produce programming the consumer likes, they won't watch. I'm sorry, but that is not true. There will also be people that watch. The TV companies , the music industry and the film industry tell you what you want to watch. One vampire book comes out and they say you now need more books and movies and tv shows about vampires and people eat it up. This will continue to happen until people get burned out on it; it's called a fad and companies will be the dead horse as long as they can.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Fantasy and science fiction

I don't read much fantasy books, unless like the Twilight Saga count. Which could be debatable in that vampires are not real and that they are mythical creatures, same as the wolves that are in the book. Fantasy even though is not as popular as other genres it is defiantly on the rise with the popularity of "Harry Potter" and "Twilight". The making of these movies is also very helpful, fantasy movies are on the rise.
Fantasy i have found after reading "Lord of the Rings" is a great way to use the imagination because fantasy isn't always something one can relate to in everyday life. Reading it one must really keep an open mind to new thoughts and idea's. I think that maybe the rise of fantasy is a reflection of how American culture is becoming more open to new idea's, especially with the fall of the economy more people are being open to what could help, and at the same time seeking a place to get away from reality which is what fantasy allows.
With Fantasy also comes science fiction there is a very fine line i believe between fantasy and science fiction and the only differences i find that science fiction has more of a possibility to happen. Realistically vampires and wolves are not going to eventually live among us, same with elves and hobbits, categorizes that as fantasy but with science fiction their could be life on other planets, it is possible to make up a language and have all these cures of illnesses, i categorize that as science fiction. Both are not as popular but on the rise in popular american culture.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Donaldson: The Anti-Major Author

I was putting off the blog post for Donaldson because I really didn't know what the hell to write about. I will admit that I've read a majority of the series but only finished one book, and only because I put all of my concentration and force into doing so. I found nothing but contempt for the author's Covenant trilogy, so I guess my blog post can be nothing more than a strict criticism of the series.

Our class has covered the basics on Stephen Donaldson's flaws and beaten them to death for about 12 classes straight. None of the three books had gotten much of a positive feedback other than a few symbols (such as the Vietnam allegories and possibly AIDS through Covenant's lepracy), and even that seemed to be reasoning to fish for compliments on the trilogy. We kept being questioned "Is Donaldson a major author?" I think it's a universal "no!" Here's why.

I think one criteria for a major author is to have some sort of staying power, at least for half a century. A class of about 30 English majors (a title that somewhat suggests that the students have some sort of background on at least knowing the names of the most influential authors) did not recognize Donaldson's name. That might not mean anything to some, but one would think that if someone was going down in the history books as a major contributor to contemporary literature or literature as a whole that someone, anyone, besides Dr. Simon had at least heard the name before enrolling into the class. Especially if the author's major trilogy is only a mere thirty years old and the author is still among us. Strike one.

Another criteria would be that the writing is at least inspiring, if not influential to future authors for years to come. Donaldson's prose consisted of bloated description and dialog that seemed like it was written by a fifteen year old writing D&D fanfic. I honestly want to travel back in time to the 70s so I can see whether or not anyone of that era muttered the word "Hellfire" once. Something tells me I won't find it. If anything, Donaldson inspires the future writers of literature to become the complete opposite of his work. Strike two.

One other criteria of a major author is for there to be seemingly countless discussions among scholars and literature fans alike, be it intellectual conversations or just general excited opinion on plot or narrative. I can say that Dr. Simon was a trooper throughout the three or four weeks we took on Donaldson. The only conversation we had was negative, if we had anything to say at all. It felt like he was pulling at our hair just to get us to say anything, and even had to have us admit to not reading as a legitimate discussion contribution. Honestly, does that seem like the work of a major author would be so brutal as to have a 30 person class have to admit to not reading just to have a discussion continue?

Strike Three Donaldson and your Thomas Covenant trilogy. You're out.

New Age of Television

We have already discussed in class to some extent the potential future of television. Some people think that it will eventually be viewable on demand in some form. One of the ideas was that suggested was people being able to pick specific channels they wanted to watch and then just pay for those. Another idea was that you could eventually order specific shows you wanted and only pay for what you actually watched instead of a monthly bill for everything.

The other direction the conversation took by some people was that you would eventually be watching television on your computer via the internet and the television companies, or at least the service providers would be cut out of the proposition. That the internet would either replace the television completely or that it would do the same thing that television did to radio. Relegate it to a secondary position as a form of entertainment for the majority of Americans.

I argued something a little different. I suggested that there would be a marriage between the technologies of television and the internet. It's something that is already taking place and which recent evidence and events have suggested will happen soon. You can see that the networks have already started showing some of their shows on their websites online. In return for watching several minutes of commercials per episode you can watch shows like "The Office" online for free.

And just a couple days ago USA Today had an article about the next wave of television technology. Most of the major television companies already have plans to start producing televisions that you can hook up to the internet to watch shows on the television through your internet connection. They are evidently trying to keep this process as simple as possible in order to not scare away people who are computer incompetent.

I think eventually the networks will embrace this new possibility and start offering their programs through internet connections to televisions. And the television service providers will be forced to adapt to the new method of broadcasting or be forced out of the equation. In terms of technology being combined there is plenty of evidence from items in the past. Like palm pilots and phones and mp3 players being combined into a device that does all three but is called a cell phone. And even now it is happening with cell phones and camera's. As of yet i don't think there are any camera phones so good at taking pictures that they will replace camera's. But we are getting closer to that day. It is only a matter of time for television to be adapted by the internet.

The Ken Burns Revolution: Television and Film

A major omission of both Lotz's and Villarejo's textbooks on television and film is the failure to mention the noted documentarian Ken Burns. Ken Burns is one of the few filmmakers left who actually shoot their footage on celluloid, and edit it manually. I will discuss about some of his best works and talk about how he has revolutionized both film and telelvision.

Ken Burns, started out working by producing 1-2 hour films, made for PBS, back in the early 1980s. By the mid-1980s, one of his films, "The Statue of Liberty," was nominated for an Academy Award. It was at this same time he premiered his "Huey Long" film in theatres. Ken Burns was still an unknown in the film and television world, but that would all change by 1990. During that year, Burns aired his first serious work, "The Civil War," which ran at an 11 hour running time. Although broken up into five segments, it reached 40 million viewers, unheard of for public television. To this day, it has remained his best and critically acclaimed work. Instead of using old film footage of recreated Civil War battles by actors, Burns used various camera movements to bring old paintings and photographs from the Civil War to life. One of his camera movements is named the "Ken Burns Effect," in which various panning and scanning movements are used to bring life to still images.

Since 1990, Ken Burns has produced several documentary epics, such as "Baseball," "Jazz," "The War," and "The National Parks." While watching a behind the scenes documentary on Ken Burns' films, he has a small production company based out of Walpole, New Hampshire, with a staff of about 10 to 12 people. Everything from the research aspect to the editing aspect is done with minimal use of computers. The footage is shot on actual celluoid film, left to develop and dry, and editied by hand. Even sound effects and voice-overs are preserved on magnetic tape. This by no means indicates that Burns is not with the times. He makes most of his money with licensing fees and lending his name to no more than 25 compact discs made for his "Jazz" film, all containing digitally remastered vintage recordings.

Although Ken Burns does not air his films on commercial television or in theatres, he makes notices to public television as being the best place for his works. I agree, because channels such as Discovery and TLC have lost most of their identity where education is concerned, turning into pop culture stations. PBS has and still hasn't lost its identity over the past 40-odd years with educational programming. I myself couldn't see Burns premiering his films on TLC, with 5-10 minute commercial breaks. He has built a credibility and identity with public television. Credit must go where credit is due.

Just as a sidenote to wrap things up, Ken Burns and all his films can be accessed at his company's website: Florentine Films. YouTube has many videos of his works. I used a segment of his film "Jazz" for one of my classes. And last but not least, a picture of Burns is at the top of this post. I didn't know what he looked like until 2004, when I saw that behind the scenes documentary at that time.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Post Network Era-Death of Television?

Lotz's claims are interestingly similar to that of my own way of thinking. She speaks of this new, progressive television era which demands consumers to swallow up propaganda on sources other than cable network. The progression is in other stronger media like that of the internet; such as the phenomena of youtube, that most Americans are knowledgable about and use frequently in their daily culture.

Places like, or, and netfliz, among other things, provide people with the means of continuing on with their daily fast-paced schedules. This is an era of the need for convience and apathy within it. It is to my belief that Americans hold a certain type of an ego that all things are better left done on one's own time and that alone. An egotistical personality is found in many Americans. It is easier for people to be served online or via netflix, which ships personalized orders to individuals. The more privatized elements are for people, the more people buy into being able to stamp their name with favorites.

Moreover, with the decaying economy, people at work are not viewing as much television as they have done in past generations-especially since television has long since been a booming phenomenon. There is much diffusion. Historically, television has been known as a symbol of unity. For instance, even still, the superbowl is popular in today's culture.

Today, television and internet are being integrated into one dimension. Subsumption and incorporation methods are being practiced here. However, television lifespan vs. computer lifespan shows the people that televisions are produced to last longer than computers, often times. Then again, technology is now making appliances to break faster so that people will continue on with consumerism and buy into the new technology or mass media.

At last, the televison revolution is rapidly changing with new devlopments. This integrative model is good for creativity. Additionally, it is good for democratic values. It allows for more human choice. In this effect, increased freedom is expressed for the people who consume mass media. This revolution is profitable and powerful. Conglomerates like network holders and production studios will benefit. New corporate players will arrive.

Yet again, there are catch 22s here. With this sort of dimensional model comes an overload of choice for consumers. While vertical integration enables new changes and gives other things a chance it can over-monopolize corporations and become a profitized mess. Quality versus profits. How much is too much? Big monopolies should not swallow all the little things.

There is a following debate. Should Americans be more trusting of international conglomerates to compete globally? Should we step over our boundaries and change landscapes? There is the culturally optimistic debate and the Americanized corporation/mergers debate. I believe Americans will continue to form monopolized corporations and bind themselves to them. At the same time, American corporations will keep an eye out for cultural idealism.

At last, in my opinion, television will not die out, but instead continue to expand into inventive ways. Technology is allowing for more options and more efficient accessibility. Fragmentation is easier with options. There is a sense of overload in network for people, but it is need to gain consumer ratings of interest, so television won't downfall. If consumers don't like the product, then they won't buy into it. Decisions of individuals affect these industries so corporations will give people what they need. As long as consumer's needs are being met, the industry will not fail.

Life is about experiencing reality in the real. What is new and upcoming? Many things. I am pulling for a young, independent directors film channel. I'd like to see more independent film and underground artists making their way into network television.

Graphic Literature and Gaming in American Society

Passive Linear/-----------------------------------------------Video Games
I do believe there is a sort of distinction of contrast between these two catagorial pieces. Graphic literature, is of course much less physically interactive than a video game. Video games are active, hands on, and more open-ended in viewer/player interaction. The more involved a viewer is, the more likely the fantastic depths of another 'world' is likely to be played out.

The more realistic another world is, the more involved a viewer is, in the fantastic. Thus, there are more video game "addicts", than graphic literature "addicts." Additionally, video gamers have much more control over the outcome of events. It may take hours to reach different levels of height with a player's imaginary character. In comparison to film, or books, the interaction is much more physical.

However, with film and literature, the interactions can be more analytical, intellectual, or mentally challenging, as well. For instance, a reader may have to solve a mental puzzle in the novelistic world surrounding them, which cannot always be done in video gaming.

Essentially, there is a push/pull notion with both of these forces. I would not be ready to state that I believe one of the categories is more developed than the other. For, both dimensions are being recreated and recreated again.

On another note, culture varies. When one continues on looking at ontological and longetudinal studies to retain or gain knowledge of these assests of popularized elements in societies, one notices that elements are continuously changing. Techonology increases with demand. Consumers want more and more. There are threads that emerge between both works within distinctions. At last, video games being produced, are being multiplied to fit many different assets: educationally, interactively, in child development, and job training tools, among other things.

Are synthetic worlds becoming so much more preferred to reality that people are finding salvation in them? It appears so. There is much controversy over whether or not this is healthy. People seem to be losing touch of themselves and realism.

Is discovering a synthetic world in large quantites a social movement so to speak? I think it is in many ways. It's more for people. It gives people a sense of escapism to find determination, height, freedom, a place to go to gain milestones, to gain a sense of involvement, and even a sense of belonging. However, there is a real lack of consciousness in such practice.

Moreover, guilds speak as a notion of virtual, tight communities for gamers. Real relationships can be formed here. Some people feel that it is more safe to get more intimate online than in real life scenarios.

Where does this need for escapism come from? It could stem from a number of things. One of the most significant of areas for Americans is this nameless, corporate American workplace. People want to break away and pronounce themselves as distinguished in a virtual world. It is easier than doing it in the real world. What are the depths of reality shaping up to be for people at present? Those who are feeling alienated in life find virtual worlds appealing and easier to serve a sort of community, but how can people live in a world of falsity?

Corporate sellers use strategies like sex in overdramatization in gaming to attract buyers. Excessive gaming and addiction in this culture will continue to grow. Games like World of Warcraft can make as much as an estimated 96 million dollars in one day, when a new game comes out. Billions of dollars are spent on games. Demoralization and addiction occur in culture. Is this right?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Television and Video Games

I am of the opinion that playing video games is better than watching television. When you watch television youare sitting and watching the screen without interacting at all. When you play video games at least you are doing something more than just watching. You are actually thinking because you are in control of what is happening. Depending on the game you might actually be thinking quite hard if you are for example trying to solve a puzzle. Or coming up with a strategy to accomplish a certain goal in the game.

When you are watching television you may be thinking but only to the extent of understanding the plot. Where as in a video game you need to understand the plot and control and navigate the game skillfully enough to not lose. Although i don't think all games fit into the category i am talking about. Simple games like Warblade that have you performing nearly mindless repetitive tasks may require you to interact but not very much. But in many more complex games puzzle solving is a major aspect of the game and requires you to actually use your brain to solve the puzzle.

There are television shows that require you to think more, like game shows if you are competing with the contestants from your couch. But the majority of shows simply require that you watch in order to understand what is going on. I know that i personally feel much more engaged when i'm playing a game and actually need to think in order to proceed.


Quite possibly the worst Trilogy ever!!! Maybe not quite the worst but it is a great example of a poorly written story. Stephen Donaldson’s lack of creativity (Kevin, the land, etc…), lack of world building (the land), and lack of character development (just because there’s different races doesn’t mean a thing), as well as annoying repetitive phrases (it was as if… or Hellfire!) leaves the reader annoyed and irritated once they have finished reading this excuse for literature.
The Thomas Covenant Unbeliever series could quite possibly be an amazing story, one that would engage the reader from beginning to end, if perhaps it was written by someone other than Donaldson; anyone other than Donaldson! Donaldson’s idea of an outcast from our world being able to be transported to a world that is so full of life and magic, a place where this outcast is revered as a supreme being that has the power to save this land and its inhabitants, is a great idea. However Donaldson’s flaws and shortcomings as a writer cause this story to fall flat on its face. There are four main crimes that Donaldson is constantly committing while writing this story. The first of which is his total lack of creativity.
While reading this story I immediately found that rather than focusing on the plot and storyline, I was distracted by Donaldson’s attempts at being creative. Kevin? The Land? Lepers? What is this guy doing? The main bad guy is called Kevin. Need I say more? While the main bad guy is Kevin, Donaldson uses words that require an appendix at the back of the book to understand, but Donaldson could not come up with a better more powerful name for the bad guy other than Kevin? What about this world that Covenant is transported to? It is simply referred to as “the Land”. Come on, you need to be more creative than that.
This brings us to the second crime that Donaldson commits: World building, or lack thereof. Donaldson’s world comes off as being flat and boring. Sure this world is full of magic and life and it is a place where the inhabitants have a deep understanding of the world, but Donaldson fails at developing it to its fullest potential. The majority of this story takes place in a select area of this land. It isn’t until the story climax’s that the action and plotlines explore other areas of the map.
The third crime is that of character building… Donaldson’s main character, Thomas Covenant, could not be hated by the reader anymore if Donaldson tried. Covenant is not even an antihero; he is just a terrible person. He has no redeeming qualities about him until it is too late for the reader. I do not even want to read to the end to find out if everything works out for Covenant; I just want him to die so the story ends. Also all of the minor characters are all so flat! The bloodguard? This could be a great set of characters but they’re not. Donaldson fails miserably at creating characters that the reader feels any sort of sympathy for.
The last (and perhaps the worst) crime that Donaldson is accused of is this: repetitive and annoying phrases and words. I cannot explain how ridiculously irritating it is to begin ever paragraph with this phrase “it was as if yada yada yada” or “the land was like a yada yada yada”, and then end every line with this word, this one teeth grinding, nails on a chalkboard word, makes me want to retch word: “Hellfire!” Donaldson cannot even come up with a creative way to swear. These and other repetitive actions that occur loose the reader.
For all of these crimes that Donaldson has committed, I say that immediately seize his quill and destroy it. For the sake of the fantasy genre this man needs to be stopped! Halt and desist immediately Stephen Donaldson. If he continues he will inevitably bring about the end of this genre.