Archive for December, 2008

Dee Dee Dee Silence WAAARGH

31 Dec

It is a goal of most forms of media to evoke some sort of emotion. Comedies evoke laughter, tragedies sadness, documentaries a variety of emotions ranging from shock to amazement to rage. Of all these reactions, the most difficult to produce is fear.

Horror is tricky to pull off. In the end, the audience is very physically divorced from whatever it is they’re reading, watching, or listening to. An atmosphere must be created, one of constant uneasiness, a sort of dread of what is to come. Not surprisingly, many of the greatest horror novels films have been extremely subtle, using small details and vague implications to make the reader always wait for the other shoe to drop.

Not surprisingly, the average horror movie says, “Screw that, every couple minutes we play a musical spike so loud the viewers ears bleed and have something nasty jump out.”

It’s easy to see what they’re doing here. They see successful terror as being produced when the viewer is afraid something horrible is going to happen, and this is pretty much true. And so, they make it clear that at any time, they’re going to start a beat-down assault of the viewer’s senses.

When executed well, this creates what can best be described as horror-like product.

The subtle distinction is that in true horror, the viewer awaits something horrible happening, not just something violent happening. When you’re on the edge of your seat because you feel as if the protagonist is in dire danger, and some unspeakable creature is lurking, unseen and unknowable, with the ability to render them into a pile of leaky meat, that can be scary. When you’re on the edge of your seat because something startling happens every so often, that’s more like Chinese Water torture; suspenseful, sure, but not much fun. In fact, even that comparison falls apart: unlike the torture, the movie is unlikely to stick with you after you leave.

What’s worse is that most films of these kinds are not, in fact, executed well. Their only gimmick is that occasionally, they present some sudden and disturbing blast of sensation that takes you by surprise. Often, hamstrung by their own conventions, even this proves impossible.

In almost every one of these films, there’s a certain pattern. The protagonist starts to investigate something, the music builds, the music builds, the protagonist gets closer, the music builds…nothing there. The music stops. The protagonist takes a deep breath HWOAAARGHGODTHEREITIS! It’s gotten to the point where as soon as the music starts building, you can already predict the events of the next twenty seconds. Ideally, this would create a palpable atmosphere of dread expectation. Unfortunately, due to the ham-handedness this kind of film usually has, this is entirely absent. The audial/visual drubbing you’re about to receive is an irritation, nothing more.

I’m not saying this is something that’s afflicted all horror movies; I don’t have enough of a background in horror movies to make that claim. I was just sharing a half-thought-out, slightly rambled observation: films that build atmosphere around subtle environmental factors are scarier than films that depend on jumping out and yelling “boo!”

Tune in next week for the startling revelation that films with color in them are more colorful than black and white films.


Steampunk Tales, Episode 2

29 Dec

On Justice

Outreach Agent Josiah Faulkner stalked warily through the field of rocks, Maultry Bolt-Action pointed straight ahead. The fugitive was wounded, and had thrown away his weapon, but Faulkner had not gotten to his position by lacking cautiousness. It was possible that the fugitive had another pistol in his belt, or had acquired accomplices during that day about a week ago when Faulkner had lost him in the Bertrand Court Airship Station. Faulkner was a very good shot, but that was worthless if his rifle was pointed towards the dust.

Even as he rounded the boulder where he had seen the fugitive drop, he let his rifle precede him. It wasn’t until he had his firearm fully to bear that he saw his quarry for the first time.

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World Creation 6: SteamKultur

28 Dec

In today’s World Creation post, I’d like to look at the culture of the average citizen.
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The Week to Come

27 Dec

Well folks, it’s that special time again where we shunt aside the shortcomings of the past in a bold attempt to hype up the failures of the future. That’s right, it’s time to look at the Week to Come.

This week, we have:

  • World Creation 6: High Culture, Low Morals
  • Postcards from Steampunkia
  • The Horror, The Horror
  • Vote Technologist Party 2012

Fun Fact for the Week: Everyone and everything you’ve ever known is probably not a lie.


Pretty Pictures: Of Fake Bands and Candescent Hexers

25 Dec

For today’s Pretty Picture, I share a set of fake CD covers I did for a sort of running joke/project with a friend. The subject was a fake band, known alternately as the A&P Band, The Flaming Warlocks, and Ketchup and Also Ketchup. The band consists of the American guitarist-drummer pair A and P, both of which sport inexplicable British accents and are more than partially detached from reality. The band has released 9 different albums under 9 different record labels, and sold a total of three CDS: one copy of their first album to A’s parents, who filed the papers to disown him the next afternoon, one copy of their third album to their new agent, who committed suicide, and one copy to a homeless man–sold in exchange for a coupon for beef jerky, and they were forced to throw in a free egg to sweeten the deal. The man, who was clearly starving, disappeared into an alley for a few minutes with a grungy CD player. The homeless man later returned and threw the egg at them.

A&P have had 12 breakup tours and 13 reunion tours. The mismatched numbers are the result of a scheduling mishap. Most of these tours have consisted of gigs in restrooms, bus stops, and pretty much anywhere where they can loiter for extended periods of time without invoking the wrath of “the fuzz”.

I’ve drawn a total of 6 album covers, all of which are below:

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Christmas is Fine and Dandy

24 Dec

I’d like to set cynicism and sarcasm alike aside in this post, because now is not the time for those things. I have a message of optimism, and I’d like to share it with you, whether you agree or not.

Commercialism and secularism are not, in any way, shape, or form, killing Christmas. No outside force has and no outside force can remove whatever joy or peace you associate the holiday with. (If you celebrate the holiday, and I admit that this post might not be terribly interesting if you don’t)

Every year, around this time, I see a lot of bitterness towards forces that are destroying the holiday spirit. In North Carolina, the finger of blame was pointed at secularism in our cities and stores. In other places, the mob calls for the head of capitalism on a festive platter, bemoaning the fact that it has drained the life from their pleasant, spiritual holiday. Alternately, frenzied celebrants claim that the stress of buying gifts has completely sabotaged the enjoyment of the season for them.

I believe that these feelings of resentment are, for the most part, completely blown out of proportion. External forces can only do so much to sabotage your Christmas; much of it is a very personal celebration, one that lives or dies based on your initiative alone.

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Steampunk Tales

23 Dec

This is part of a weekly series that fleshes out the finer points of the world I’m creating with snippets of fiction. Enjoy, or not.

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World Creation 5: The Magic Fades

22 Dec

When we last left off the World Creation series, I was unable to decide whether or not I should include magic in my setting. Understandably, this confused some readers. I do, as some commented, have advanced technology—why would I need magic? Aren’t they equivalent?

Well, not entirely.

I present the cases for and against magic below.


1.) There are limits to the plausibility of magical technology. Airships fly, robots have the semblance of sapience, and factories produce goods of near-handcrafted quality. All of this is wondrous, of course, but hardly impossible with the creative application of a spanner wrench, even in our world. However, white light knitting wounds instantly, precious materials being whisked from thin air, illusions fooling the senses perfectly—none of these things are really all that plausible in a no-magic setting. If I want to do any of those things, as is I’m screwed.

2.) Magic can add flavor. Magic can lend a certain feel to a world: the audience relishes the break not just from the ordinary, but from the possible. This is more or less the primal reason that storytellers, since the dawn of time, have felt compelled to include the magical and mysterious in their worlds.

3.) Magic can solve problems. There’s nothing worse than an author using magic to resolve some giant cliffhanger where no clear option presents itself. The Deus Ex Machina as a passable solution to a conflict died out with the Greek theater that spawned it—authors always have and always will be lazy in this fashion, but the audience has long since stopped tolerating it. However, small loose ends that would take too much time or be too complicated to realistically resolve can be tidied up with magic without provoking reader outrage.


1.) It might damage the verisimilitude of the setting. The impression I want to carry off is definitely that this world is a world that works—events and setting played believably off each other until we get a global situation that the reader accepts as making perfect sense. While the reader can, to a certain extent, accept magic as just another fixture of a world not our own, I worry that some of the credibility of the setting will be drained away by the existence of forces that patently don’t exist. As much as possible, I want the reader to forget that the events that take place are set in an entirely fictional world.

2.) I would need to be very careful about how powerful magic is. I would want magic to take a secondary role, sort of a backseat to technology, and that would be difficult to balance out. I would need magic that was effective enough to justify its existence, but not enough to be more useful than technology. After all, if moderately powerful magic was available in any capacity, it would probably significantly limit the spread of technology. There’s no point slaving away to find a way to transmit materials when one can teleport with a snap of the fingers, no reason to create artillery when mages with fireballs can be found in every part of the world, no purpose served by robots that golems cannot fulfill. Necessity is the mother of invention; if the needs of society are filled by an extant, there’s little point in inventing redundant ones. The alternative is weak, worthless magic, and that would be little more than a distraction.

3.) Magic immediately invites comparison to other fantasy stories. Now, some of the best novels ever written have had magic in them, and I’m certainly not saying that the fantasy genre is one that I don’t want to be associated with. However, this particular world is definitely in a whole different genre than, say, Lord of the Rings. Overall, I’m afraid adding magic would cause readers to view it a context it’s not supposed to be viewed in—a magic-less world communicates the vagaries of the setting better.

Overall, I think the no magic camp wins out, here. While magic can be good in a setting, I can’t think of anything I’d want to accomplish that would necessitate its usage, and unless it’s an integral part of the setting it’s just going to be distracting.

Science, you have won another victory.

(There’s probably going to be a few typos in this post, since I am absolutely exhausted at this point tonight. I’ll probably go back and revise this thing later, as well as linking to the other parts in the series.)

EDIT: Okay, yeah, there were some serious glitches in the first part. Now fixed.


The Week to Come

20 Dec

By court order, I may no longer perpetuate the traitorous notion that Monday is the first day of the week. From this day forth, all The Week to Come posts will go up on Sunday.

Let’s take a look at what pestilence-bearing mice stir in the night this week:

  • World Creation 5: The Magic Question
  • Postcards from Steampunkia
  • Why The Grinch Hasn’t Stolen Christmas
  • Pretty Pictures: This Time Not Totally Red for Once

Fun Fact for the Week: Fun Fact: Rutskarn is not now, and has never been, a member of the Communist Party. He has, in fact, slain 4 Communists with his bare hands—5 if you count an American flag, improvised into a garrote, to be “unarmed”.

I’d like to give a shoutout to all the traffic coming in from The Playground—tabletop gamer for life, yo.

(I refuse to use a number instead of a letter there on religious grounds.)


Of Romantic Subplots, Hayden Christensen, and Pretty Pictures.

18 Dec

In many cases, art is a way of studying humanity. Like butterfly collectors mounting colorful curiosities on corkboard, writers and filmmakers often use their craft as a way of demonstrating core qualities or common experiences among human beings, examining our strengths and flaws, our tendencies and our exceptions. Even seemingly shallow works often engage in this, albeit on a simplistic level.

This is a very flowery way of leading up to my main point, which is that if I see another obligatory, shoehorned romantic subplot that is poorly executed and utterly purposeless, I’m going to bolt a television playing “The Love Boat” to the writer’s skull and lock them in a disused meat freezer.

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