Delving into the EU…

…the Star Wars expanded universe, that is, not the European Union.

After a lifetime of being a casual Star Wars fan, I finally decided to venture into the murky waters of non-movie Star Wars. My descent began over the summer, when I decided to read Dawn of the Jedi, the new comic book series set about 20,000 years before A New Hope. Although the story wasn’t great, it was still good, and the artwork was fantastic. I was mildly intrigued, and from there I decided to try the Clone Wars television series (which was an impulse buy, after finding the first season blu-ray for $10).

This was an excellent decision. While The Clone Wars is clearly often geared to a younger audience, it is consistently well-written and thoughtful, going well beyond lightsaber duels and space battles. At least a few times a season, the characters are faced with serious moral dilemmas (e.g., should you respect a community’s right to remain neutral and non-combative in wartime even if it endangers their very existence?)  The series consists of sets of relatively intricate and detailed story arcs that develop the characters far, far better than the infamous prequel movies. If you’ve ever felt mildly cheated by the enormous leap between Star Wars episodes 2 and 3, then The Clone Wars is an excellent investment…as long as you can get past the animation and the horribly cheesy recaps at the beginning of each episode.

From The Clone Wars, I proceeded to Timothy’s Zahn’s acclaimed Heir to the Empire trilogy. I purchased the newly published twentieth anniversary edition, a beautiful volume filled with supplemental material: appendices, a special introduction, and lots and lots of annotations. Heir is a great story, and Zahn’s characters actually (dare I say it) surpass those of the original trilogy in depth and characterization. Currently, I working my way through the second book, Dark Force Rising, which doesn’t disappoint.

The bottom line on the Star Wars EU: If you’re a science-fiction reader who enjoyed the movies, the EU has something to offer you. Simply pick carefully — for every rich and well-crafted Star Wars story there are three or four terrible, derivative works lurking in the shadows.

Literary Macabre: An Introduction to Joyce Carol Oates

JoyceCarolOates“Twenty-seven years. In America, that’s a lifetime…”

These world-weary words open “The Girl with the Blackened Eye,” a tale from Joyce Carol Oates’s I Am No One You Know, a collection of short stories.

If you have not yet read Joyce Carol Oates, you should. Period. She is one of the most unique and remarkable voices in contemporary American fiction. Her work is haunting and lyrical, stark and grotesque. Although she’s often categorized as a crime fiction/mystery writer (her works appear in nearly every edition of Best American Mystery Stories), she transcends that narrow genre. And while most of her stories involve crime of some sort, crime is never the focus. Oates writes about people, human monsters and victims, beautiful souls and broken souls.

Aside from the central role of crime in much of her fiction, Oates’s work is probably has more in common with horror than mystery. Yet again, though, her stories don’t fit neatly into that genre. Her writing is often poetic, sometimes avant-garde, and much of it would be at home in a literary magazine (thus, the title of this post, ‘Literary Macabre,’ a term I think best captures Oates’s work).

If you’re thinking about reading Oates but are unsure where to begin (she’s an astoundingly prolific author), I’d suggest beginning with her short works, many of which are beautifully haunting and perfectly crafted. One of her most well-known works, “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” is available for free on her webpage, in addition to supplementary material. Her stories also appear frequently in The Best American Mystery StoriesAlternately, her collections, such as I Am No One You Know, feature some great stories.

I’ll end this post with a handful of quotes from Joyce Carol Oates.

“We work in the dark—we do what we can—we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion, and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art.”

“Reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another’s skin, another’s voice, another’s soul.”

“My belief is that art should not be comforting; for comfort, we have mass entertainment and one another. Art should provoke, disturb, arouse our emotions, expand our sympathies in directions we may not anticipate and may not even wish.”

Photo Credit: Wiki Commons

One Lovely Blog Award

One Lovely BlogI would like to thank moreissuesthantimemagazine for nominating Shadows and Java for the One Lovely Blog Award. It is much appreciated! Please visit and read her fantastic blog.

For the One Lovely Blog Award, below I’ve listed eight (more or less) facts about myself, as well as shared five writing quotes. I’ve also nominated five other bloggers for the award. There aren’t any rules for this award so nominees are welcome to share eight facts about themselves and pass the award on.

Eight Facts

  1. I’ve been writing for six years now and have published around a dozen short stories and poems.
  2. Of those, five are (were) published in the now sadly defunct magazines MindflightsFear and Trembling, and Ray Gun Revival. So it goes.
  3. I’m a Whedonite.
  4. Last November, I (re)discovered Kurt Vonnegut, and I now am unable to to stop reading his books. It may be an addiction.
  5. Eleven is my favorite Doctor.
  6. I’m trying really, really hard to get through The Dark TowerI’m a bit stuck.
  7. I recently heard about NaNoWriMo and am stoked for November (post on this pending).
  8. Coffee: I enjoy dark roasts and some light roasts; there’s no middle ground.

Five Quotes

  1. “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” -T. S. Eliot
  2. “I am putting myself to the fullest possible use, which is all I think that any conscious entity can ever hope to do.” -HAL 9000
  3. “I thank you God for this most amazing day, for the leaping greenly spirits of trees, and for the blue dream of sky and for everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes.” -e. e. cummings
  4. “If you want to really hurt you parents…the least you can do is go into the arts. I’m not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possible can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.” – Kurt Vonnegut
  5. “You can’t wait for inspiration, you have to go after it with a club.” – Jack London

Five Nominees

A Writer’s Notepad

Read Fantasy Books

Stories by Mercilo Daviss

Tsundoku Reviews

Unbound Boxes Limping Gods

Thanks for reading!

Ramblings about Robots (Or, I, Robot and the Movies)

Asimov’s I, Robot was the very first ‘real’ science fiction book I read as a kid. Although the I_Robot_-_Runaroundintricacies of the novel were undoubtedly lost to the eight-year-old me (a recent reread revealed what a truly ingenious book it actually is, but I’ll get to that later), Asimov’s stories captivated me. With the Harry Potter books, I, Robot and Robot Visions were books that I continuously reread, books that shaped what I read and how I write today.

When, in 2004, I, Robot (the film) was released, I was excited — and then promptly disappointed.  Alex Proyas’s vision couldn’t have been further from Asimov’s, which managed to be engaging even without exploding cars, gunfights, and people dangling from tall buildings (imagine that!).

When I thought about it, though, I wasn’t terribly surprised that Proyas decided not to faithfully adapt I, Robot. Here’s why: Asimov’s book is not a conventional story. It isn’t a novel, and it doesn’t tell a story about characters. It’s a collection of short stories that revolve around the Three Laws of Robotics, around dilemmas that develop from the subtle flaws and nuisances of these laws. This is what simultaneously makes I, Robot such an ingenious book (I mean, how does one make that into an engaging story?) and such infertile ground for a screenplay.

Instead of tackling the whole book, Proyas adapted just one story (“Lost Little Robot”). Of course, he still distorted it almost beyond recognition, but at least he had the right idea when he decided to break off a smaller portion of Asimov’s sweeping, nontraditional tale.

But enough about Proyas and Twentieth Century Fox’s bastardization of “Lost Little Robot.” The real reason I’m writing this review (rant) is because I want to talk about another, less well-known, adaptation of I, Robot.

In 1977, with the blessing of Asimov, Harlan Ellison tried his hand at writing an I, Robot screenplay. This screenplay was never quite made into a movie (there should be a good verb for that, something other than filmed…perhaps cinemized?), but it was eventually printed as a book with some lovely artwork by Mark Zug.

Earlier this year, a friend suggested that I read Ellison’s screenplay, which I hadn’t known existed. My initial delight quickly dissipated, however, when I realized that Ellison had fallen into the trap that even Proyas was wise enough to avoid — he tried to tackle the entire scope of Asimov’s book.

Granted, Ellison didn’t attempt to adapt every story in I, Robot. In fact, he seemed to be aware of the issues involved with the adaptation and clearly works to address these. Still, the screenplay probably wouldn’t make a good movie (although it would be far more intelligent and elegant than other attempts have been).

But I’m getting ahead of myself a bit. Ellison’s screenplay is still a worthwhile read, and it’s interesting how he attempts to reshape the book, crafting his screenplay by expanding and focusing upon two of Asimov’characters: Susan Calvin and Robert Bratenahl (who?).

Susan Calvin is a logical choice for a lead character (and you could cast Meryl Streep for the role!), and Ellison’s expansion of her story is mostly good, but sometimes her inclusion in the stories from I, Robot feels…odd. For instance, Ellison places her into “Runaround,” begging the question why do they need the world’s leading Robopsychologist on a two-man-one-robot mining operation on Mercury? I do, however, appreciate her substitution for Gloria in “Robbie” because it explains her bond with and interest in robots (Asimov actually does include Calvin in the story with a cameo-type appearance, but Ellison’s change makes a lot of sense).

The central issue I have with Ellison’s screenplay is the choice of Bratenahl as the protagonist. Bratenahl is the reporter who loosely ties together the stories in Asimov’s book. He is the narrator, recalling an interview with Susan Calvin at the end of her career. Ellison builds him into an actual character, but he fails to give him depth or make him interesting. He’s just the standard obsessed reporter character, nothing unique or interesting.

Bratenahl, combined with the at times sprawling and disjointed feel of the screenplay, would undoubtedly make for a strange, probably un-engaging movie.

So, is it actually possible to successfully adapt I, Robot?

I think that it is, although it’s probably too challenging to squeeze all of the book into a 2-3 bicentennial_man_ver2hour film. Instead, filmmakers should follow Proyas’s lead and pick a single story to adapt. This way, Asimov’s characters can be used without having to (re)create a character who spans all of the tales. This has actually been done with one of Asimov’s short stories. The Bicentennial Man (1999) is a fairly faithful adaptation of a tale from Robot Visions. It’s main drawback? The face (and voice) of Robin Williams on a robot is, well, off-putting. Still, it’s a far better representation of Asimov’s universe than other films have been.

I’ll end these ramblings with a I, Robot film idea that I would love to see: Miyazaki directing an animated adaptation of “Robbie.” If only…

Steering the Craft, Day Five

Toclockday’s exercise is part one of three focusing on repetition. Le Guin points out that repetition is a double-edged sword in writing. Careless repetition of unimportant words and phrases often leads to poor, difficult to read writing, which is why so many English teachers train their students to strike repetition from their writing. At the same time, repetition can also a powerful tool for emphasis and can create unifying thread through works.

Le Guin’s first repetition exercise focuses on the repetition of individual words. For the following paragraph, I chose two words that I wanted emphasized throughout the piece and repeated them both three times in the paragraph.

He was losing time, he realized. There were moments when he would stop somewhere – the aisle of the grocery store, the bike path, his own driveway – and realize that he had no idea how he had gotten there or what he was doing. For a while he excused these moments of confusion, when they were infrequent and involved brief periods of time, but as the lost minutes gathered into hours and then snowballed into missing days, he grew worried. He began to feel as if his life was a poorly directed film, skipping between loosely connected scenes, filled with lost plots threads and sudden, gaping transitions. Whenever he grasped some sense in the jumble of broken time, nameless faces, and meaningless action, the film would rush ahead, and he’d be lost again.