Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Cut-Throat Business

Eighteen months ago I had two total knee replacement surgeries, and now, much too soon, I am facing another surgery, on June 7. A thyroidectomy has become necessary since the diagnosis of toxic multinodular goiter. My thyroid is toxic, apparently, because nodules of varying sizes (the largest being 15.8mm) have developed there, and they're each doing their own thing which is very confusing to the rest of the gland, so it just says "What's the use?" and stops trying. I am told, however, that it's a minor blip on the radar screen. This is now considered same-day surgery, so I won't be in the hospital very long, and I'll have a sore throat for a few days, but within a couple of weeks I should be back up to speed. That's good; I've got stuff to do and miles to go before I sleep. A needle biopsy revealed no malignancy, but that's to be expected in 95% of these cases. I kind of like singing in the church choir, and I hope I can still carry a tune and sing alto when this is over. If I've become basso profundo, however – looking on the bright side – I can sit next to Roger.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Help! The Retaters Have Overthrown King Helignat!

Those word verifications you have to interpret so you can comment on someone's blog have always fascinated me. I'm sure they are created by random selection, but to me they have great potential for writing science fiction.

Satire, as the Broadway saying goes, is what closes on Saturday night, but for seven years satire was alive and well and playing out weekly in the social commentary known as the television space fantasy, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. If you ever watched it you'll know what I mean. Those plots were either comedies or high minded allegories or parables based on stirring universal truths like "hubris will be your undoing every time." The science jargon is deliciously baffling, something like computerese, educationese, or Tim Geitner explaining the economy to a Congressional committee, only more believable, more fascinating, and less confusing. A battle scene might be accompanied by talk about forward shields, impulse speed, warp drive, plasma fields, tractor beams, warp core overload, cloaking devices, ion particles, phaser banks, photon torpedoes, spatial anomalies, reconfiguring the power grid, and Klingon warbirds. It’s yummy, campy stuff. It was all great fun, made more so by the incomparable names chosen for the characters, planets and races. I love to watch the re-runs.

First you had to understand the myth, which is essential for science fiction. There’s this space station, see, Deep Space Nine, and it’s next to the wormhole, that shortcut across the galaxy that Einstein always suspected was there. If the wormhole fell into the hostile hands of Cardassia, Romulus, or the Dominion, there would be dire consequences for all the good guys. I think of it as the Panama Canal, and the Delta Quadrant on the other side as something like Hong Kong. Also near the station is the planet Bajor, recently liberated from the occupation of Cardassia, another nearby planet whose citizens, with their exoskeletal appearance, have an insufferable superiority complex. In fact, DS9 was once Bajoran, but is now in Federation hands. That’s the United Federation of Planets – home base: earth – and who else but Terrans, those once known in 50’s sci-fi movies as earthlings, could have the savvy to run the place and keep the peace.

Here's where the names come in: Jadzia Dax, Kira Nerise, Nog, Odo, Jem Hadar, Worf, Ferengi, Klingon, Garak, Ezri Dax, Quark, and that's just the first episode. Are you having fun yet? These names, I suppose, could be interchangeable with the word verifications. All you'd have to do is capitalize them.

"Yes, Captain. The Bricsmo have landed on the planet Spushan and found friendly inhabitants. The Fibitic will supply all the Flogen we need for the squif drive in the engine. If we can just keep the Plualp from discovering the mining operation we'll be able to keep the Munder from rebelling. Then we'll go on to Cattive next week and deliver the Ismakit prince back to his parents King Shecar and Queen Hytoe."

There you have it - the plot in one paragraph. It's very reminiscent of the Lewis Carroll poem, The Jabberwocky. The meaning of his made-up words is perfectly clear if you understand what part of speech the word represents. "Brillig," for instance is obviously an adjective, as in "frabjous," the description of a beautiful day. It's also clear what a vorpal sword is, and that the "beamish" boy who came "galumphing" back was successful.

I love playing with the language this way and admire anyone who can do it believably. Although I've never written science fiction and don't intend to, I see those word verifications as a great resource for someone who does.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Walking Around with Richard Paul Evans

Last night I finished reading The Walk, by Richard Paul Evans. I met him once when I introduced him as a speaker at a League of Utah Writers conference in Park City, and I've seen him interviewed on TV here and there. He appears to be a man with many layers and complexities that even he finds amusing, as if every day is filled with self-discovery.

Whatever else he may or may not be, he is a solid storyteller, and I'm amazed at how quickly he pulls the reader in and holds attention. He does that with several effective devices. He uses the character's journal entries to tease the next chapter, which he has done in previous books as well, and it hasn't become tiresome because it isn't pretentious. His chapters are usually short, and that makes his books easy to pick up and put down when life is busy, and yet when you pick it up again, you're immediately drawn back into that compelling world he has created. He devises solid plots, believable characters and uses a "telescope" writing style – that is, he can focus on minutia when it reflects the character's state of mind and then he can pull out and look at the big picture. It's something like getting into the "zone" where the left and right sides of the brain are working together to write and revise, and creativity is pouring out of the keyboard from your fingertips. His writing is seamless, apparently effortless, and that's what tells me that he worked hard to achieve that flow of ideas and action.

Most fascinating to me is that he uses first person POV to tell his stories, and that requires becoming the character mentally and emotionally during the writing process, sort of like an actor creating a role for stage or screen. I have never written in the first person, but I think I've had a similar experience when a character comes alive in my imagination, telling me his or her story. It's like taking dictation. They tell me their story and I write it down. When the story has been told, the characters go away. Recently I had the startling experience of coming to the end of a book and saying goodbye to the characters, but they wouldn't leave. It was as if they were saying, "We have a story to tell and we choose you to tell it, so get busy." So I listened to them and wrote another book.

Evans always has his characters dealing with thought-provoking moral and religious issues, meaning his books are character and idea driven. That's what I write, and reading another author's take is very satisfying. I'd recommend The Walk, and hope the other three volumes yet to come in the series will also catch me, pull me in, and make my stay worthwhile.