Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Week Off for Pop Culture Cred

I recently took a long-awaited mental vacation. I am happy with my standards of quality entertainment, but they are getting tougher to maintain. It's good to relax them once in awhile, because you come back more invigorated.

The preceding was a flimsy justification for watching 2012 and reading the latest Dan Brown book.

If you have to see 2012 -- and if you really do have to, I can only assume you have made poor life choices so far -- you really must see it with as many science nerds as you can. The riffing that occurs is actually educational. I expected a lot to happen during that film, but "learning stuff" was not on the list.

If you need to borrow some science nerds, I recommend my friend Nicole. You may have to sweeten the pot to get her to sit through that movie again, but it's well worth it. If you need her address, let me know! (Hmmm... I don't recall... NoisyAstronomer doesn't read this blog, does she?)

It started innocently enough. I would be passing near her town on my way to visit my sister, so I asked if she'd like to join me for some Roland Emmerich-spawned disaster porn? Most of you, be you man, woman, child, or fetus, would react to that question by launching yourself at me and trying to beat me into unconsciousness, then phoning the authorities. And you would be right to do it. But Nicole has a trusting nature, so she went for it. (Rather, she HAD a trusting nature. I think the last of that burned away at the beginning of Hour Two.)

2012 begins by ignoring the myriad of doomsday scenarios attached to the end of the Mayan calendar, and creating a phenomenon even dumber. Here is a non-verbatim-but-representative discussion by some scientists near the beginning.

Scientist 1: "Look at all those neutrinos coming out of the sun!"
Scientist 2: "Is that bad? Neutrinos don't really interact with normal matter."
1: "These are Super Neutrinos."
2: "Oh!"
Scientists in the Audience: *spitting out popcorn* "HAHAHAHAHAHAHA! SUPER NEUTRINOS!"

These Super Neutrinos are turning the core of the planet into a liquid, see. Which means the Earth's crust will be floating on a lot of magma, totally unlike what it's doing now, and the whole place is about to be in a right dreadful state.

That setup took about 10 minutes, and we spend the rest of the movie fretting about whether John Cusack's ex-wife Amanda Peet will fall in love with him again before they all die, and whether he will give her the sandwich she so desperately needs. (If you strip out the End of the Earth stuff, Cusack has made this movie at least a dozen times already. Somewhere in all this, an iPod with "In Your Eyes" playing must have slid under the lava.)

Of course, there is a happy ending as about 500,000 people are saved (roughly 0.008% of the present population - party time!), and it turns out that Africa wasn't destroyed, even by the waves that washed over the Himalayas. I bet those people feel stupid for loading all those giraffes and elephants on the arks. You are going to miss those yaks, people.

Oh, I forgot. There were a bunch of arks.

It was a long way to drive to see this movie. I spent the time softening my brain for it by listening to an audio version of Dan Brown's book, The Lost Symbol. Let's spin the Secret Society Wheel and see who we get! ... Spinning ... Spinning ... No Whammies! ... Whew! We don't want a book about the Boy Scouts ... and the winner is... the FREEMASONS! YAAAY!

Dan Brown is one of those authors that millions of people read, but no one admits to reading. For good reason: he's a terrible writer. The frustrating thing about him is that his Robert Langdon books have a hint of a good story under them, but they are buried in howlingly awful dialog, ridiculous plot devices, and so much exposition that it seems he's writing for Clive Wearing.

Brown doesn't give us credit for basic observation either. Here is another sample paraphrased from this latest book. It's Langdon's inner monologue after he discovers a human hand lying on the floor of the U.S. Capitol, right under the dome.

The hand lay still, thumb and forefinger extended towards the top of the dome. I could tell from the large ring with the Freemason crest that this hand belonged to a freemason. I was worried for my friend Peter, the freemason, who had gone missing. Peter would also occasionally extend his index finger and thumb out like this, as though he was pointing, though I had never seen him do it towards the top of the U.S. Capitol's dome. Odd how the stranger on the phone had said that the hand would lead the way. I assume he meant this hand, the one on the floor here with the extended index finger and thumb. I do not see any other hands around here, except for those attached to the arms of the tourists. This was going to be a long night. Above my head, the top of the U.S. Capitol dome remained unmoving, as it had for many years, since it was first installed on this building, although not always above the hand of a freemason with the index finger and thumb extended upward like this...

Evetually, it occurs to Langdon to look where the fingers are pointing (i.e., "up" or "towards the dome") where he is reminded of some other piece of arcane knowledge that he explains in excruciating detail. Also, those of you who have read The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons might be interested to know that there is a mysterious stranger (with a dark past and a secret he wants to keep) working against Langdon, who is aided by a beautiful woman that also happens to be a leading expert in a ridiculously obscure science... a science that will come in very handy before the end.

After these twin experiences, my brain is relaxed and as razor sharp as ever. I am ready for some deep thoughts and highbrow entertainment!

Who wants to come see New Moon with me this weekend?

Friday, November 6, 2009

Must... keep... writing...

So I've been awful about posting lately. I feel terrible about it. I am very fond of all six of my regular readers, and I don't want them to abandon me for Phil's blog. (Don't do it, Artful Dodger! It will only encourage him!)

Unfortunately, it's probably going to keep up at least through Thanksgiving, because I find myself wrapped up in NaNoWriMo - National Novel Writing Month. The thousands of us doing this are supposed to complete a 50,000-word novel by the end of November -- roughly the equivalent of 175 pages in a real book.

Edited to add: If you're also doing NaNoWriMo, please add me as a writing buddy. My nick there, like most everywhere else, is "phlebas."

I started writing on Nov. 2, and after four days I'm just over 13,000 words, so it's moving along better than I expected. I believe it is already the third longest work of pornography featuring ocelots, horny priests, and a traveling production of Oliver! If I get to 50,000, it'll be the second longest. I cannot compete with the seminal (ha ha!) work in the genre: Saint Humberto the Sniffly wrote his eight-volume masterpiece Eu Estou Revendo a Situação Santamente do Ocelot (or I Am Reviewing the Holy Ocelot Situation) in 1963.

But 13,000 is respectable for less than a week. Good thing, too. I'll lose about four days at Thanksgiving for l-tryptophan poisoning and the Alabama/Auburn game. I think we should move this to March when there's nothing going on but St. Patrick's Day, hockey, and frakkin' basketball.

It's a great deal of fun, too. I've learned that not all of the novelists in the world are schizophrenic nutjobs when talking about their own works. For example, fiction writers often say things like "I had no idea my character was going to do that! I am as surprised as you are! I thought this one thing was going to happen, and this other person just strolled in and did this!" To most of the non-novelist world, this sounds fatuous, at best. (Insane, at worst.) Especially if that writer uses so many impersonal pronouns.

But I get it now. If you have your characters fully realized, at least in your head, and you drop them in a situation, you might intend to get to a specific outcome. But sometimes if you stay true to your characters, you can't get them there. You either have to change the initial situation or roll with the new outcome. Or you could completely insult your readers and not worry about it, but I can't imagine selling millions of copies of a book that awful.

This happened to me just yesterday. I got to the end of the scene, thinking "what the hell am I going to do now?" This particular scene would change my protagonist's motivation completely. See, when a priest loves an ocelot very much, he sometimes dresses as Fagin and [SPOILER ALERT]. I'm keeping the new scene, because I like this set of motives better, but I'll pay for it with some tricky emotional scenes down the line.

I am enjoying this, but I understand why some people write science books with plenty of pictures. (In an unrelated question, do all of you have a copy of Death from the Skies! yet?)

Stay tuned! I'll be back!

P.S. In CPAP news: I hate my damn CPAP. I have yet to get a full night's sleep, and I've had the stupid thing for almost a month. I had to take a few days off from it because I needed the rest, and then I had a head cold. Sneezing in a mask would be like a SCUBA diver barfing into his respirator. I've got another week, and maybe I can ditch it.

This has been this week's edition of Sinus Digest.