19 July 2010

Go See This: Inception

Once Zhuangzi dreamt he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and fluttering around, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn't know he was Zhuangzi. Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakable Zhuangzi. But he didn't know if he was Zhuangzi who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was Zhuangzi. Between Zhuangzi and a butterfly there must be some distinction! This is called the Transformation of Things.

Basically, I don't have much to say about Inception that Roger Ebert didn't say already. I'll just add that it's been a crappy summer for movies, and people, if you want to have your brain massaged, stretched, and messed with in a most delightful way, this is your chance. It's really, really nice to know there are people making films who don't think we're all dumb.

18 July 2010

Read This: Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban

One of the worst parts of being a grad student in English literature was slowly coming to look upon the act of reading as a chore. When you have to read, process, and produce gobs of insight in short order, it can really crush the enjoyment factor right out of you.

One of the best parts of being a grad student was having great professors who had incredible taste in literature. One of these, a very nice man who ran a course called "Modern and Postmodern Novel," introduced me to Riddley Walker.

Now that the emotional dents caused by grad school have started to smooth themselves out, I've been going back over my bookshelf and picking up things I remember thinking were cool back in the day. I just finished re-reading Riddley Walker, and let me tell you, it's everything I remembered and more.

Riddley Walker is basically post-apocalyptic fiction meets Tom Sawyer. It's 2300 years after some kind of man-made catastrophe, probably nuclear in nature, has plunged humanity, or at least England, into a new dark ages. Riddley Walker has just turned twelve, which makes him a man by his culture's standards. Through a series of happenstances, he finds himself running away from his semi-nomadic group and heading off for adventure with a pack of wild dogs and a boy his age called "the Ardship of Cambry." Hilarity, heartbreak, explosions, and an encounter with Mr. Punch ensue.

The thing that makes Riddley Walker both challenging and fascinating to read is the language. Reading page one of this book is like cracking open The Canterbury Tales for the first time. Your brain processes it at first as "foreign language: cannot read." By the time you're done page one, you're sort of getting it, but the language continues to be surprising and amazing through the entire book.

Here's what I mean:

Where they are theyre up side down in the groun. Like youwl see a picter of your self up side down in the water theres a stoan self of your self in the groun and walking foot to foot with you. You put your foot down and theywl put ther foot up and touching yours. Walking with you every step of teh way yet youwl never see them.

Theywl stay unner the groun longs youre on top of it. Comes your time to ly down for ever then the stoan man comes to the top of the groun they think theywl stan up then. They cant do it tho. Onlyes strenth they had ben when you ben a live. Theyre lying on the groun trying to talk only theres no soun theres grean vines and leaves growing out of ther mouf....them stoans ben trying to talk only they never wil theyre jus only your earf stoans your unner walkers. Trying ot be men only cant talk. They had earf for sky wylst you had air.

My spellcheck went crazy while I was typing that.

The entire book is full of the tragedy of everything Riddley's world has lost, as well as the natural energy and hope associated with change - change that Riddley himself helps to perpetuate. It's everything that great science fiction should be: rigorously imagined, and fired with the passions of its characters. There's enough difference between Riddley's language and ours that Hoban gets to sneak in some concepts not fully imaginable to most people today, but obviously real and true in Riddley's world.

12 July 2010

Statistics Obsession

In the original Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, I always loved the scene set in the amazing garden-o-candy. No, not because of "Pure Imagination." Everyone loves that song, sure. Alongside "Rainbow Connection" from the Muppet Movie, it expresses a major sentiment of my youth, rah bah bah.

I like the garden-o-candy scene because of the moment when Augustus Gloop is stuck in the uptake tube from the chocolate river. Willy Wonka looks on eagerly and says:

The suspense is terrible...I hope it lasts.*

Ripping off Oscar Wilde, of course, like all clever people do if they want to seem even more clever.

Here's the thing. I've become very caught up with Duotrope statistics.

Duotrope tells you so much about a magazine. Their average return time on manuscript submissions is among the most useful information they track. But they also list average return times on rejections and acceptances, as well as my favourite stats right now: most recent response received on a manuscript, and the date the writer originally submitted that manuscript.

The reason why I'm all caught up in these stats is that I've got two stories out right now. One of them has been out for a full three weeks longer than the most recent manuscript returned by the magazine I sent it to. And the other's been kept back a few days longer than some of the manuscripts sent in around the same time as I sent mine. Both of these markets keep the pieces they tend to accept longer than those they're rejecting. Can you see where I'm going with this?

It's likely, given how things are playing out, that both of these stories have been held back so editorial can take another look at them. I think I can be fairly certain of that, and hey, that's awesome. And maybe, just maybe, I've got a shot at getting them accepted.

I'm bugging every time I open my email. I am trying not to get my hopes up, but after a whole heck of a lot of hard writing and editing, my hopes are quite in need of getting up.

Say it with me now:

The suspense is terrible. I hope it lasts.

*This is the version I remember. It might have been some variation on this turn of phrase. I'll straighten it out the next time I watch the movie. It's been too long, anyhow.