Sunday, January 12, 2014

Experiments in Narrative

I've been working on novels for the last few years. None of them have shown up in publication at this point. I have a tendency not to submit them.

That said, I've been trying my hand at a different sort of narrative style.

Modern fiction is largely built around the concept of following a particular character or group of characters through a strong prose narrative. It's the style of Mark Twain in Huckleberry Finn, Rudyard Kipling in Kim up to and including most modern writers whether in-genre or out. Even something as out there as Reif Larsen's The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet, while having a wonderful collection of diversions and ruminations, still follows essentially one or two characters closely.

There are other paths through narrative.

Back in college I became enamored of the experiments of various writers of the first half of the twentieth century. It was fascinating reading what with Faulkner's exploding prose and Hemingway's oddly detached perspective. But the writer that really attracted my interest was John Dos Passos.

Dos Passos had a fascinating technique. He used as many points of view as he needed to peer into the works of what he wanted to observe. Some points of view were intimate with a character. Some were more clinical and observational-- his "camera eye" sections of USA Trilogy. Some were bits of publications, headlines, newspapers, etc. John Brunner appropriated this technique in Stand on Zanzibar.

Dos Passos and Brunner both used this mosaic approach for cultural examination. Dos Passos was interested in America and used it to dissect what he thought was going on. Brunner was concerned with the possible consequences of overpopulation and used the technique to demonstrate it to the reader. In both cases it's a fly's eye approach: many different images integrated by the reader into a whole.

I like that. I like the sense of creating a work composed of different parts where the story is not visible to the characters and only apparent to the reader.

I've been trying to adapt this technique for my own use and the effort lies in the debris of unpublished novels.

I dropped my last novel attempt into the workshop last August and a novella attempt a week ago. One of the workshop members-- who shall remain nameless to protect the guilty-- asked what it was that I so liked about this technique? I had some kind of glib answer but it wasn't right and I kept thinking about it ever since.

The best analogy for me is music. If you go back and listen to a Bach fugue, there are a lot of moving parts. The pieces come together and go their separate ways. Sometimes it seems like two these are hard at work at opposite sides of the room with only the wispy threads of rhythm holding them together. Then, they nod to one another. One bit seems to (not quite!) meet another and in the next measure they're connected and finally come together in a wholly unexpected way to climax the piece.

Mahler is another composer where this happens. Beethoven doesn't work the same way. I get the sense in Beethoven's work that I'm a traveler on a complex path. In Mahler or Bach, there are many separate travelers that happen to sometimes converge in glorious harmony.

In Dos Passos I get the same feeling. It's a different feeling from the personal character narrative. Not that the personal narrative isn't powerful. I'll carry the last scene between Kim and the Lama to the day I die and it wouldn't be such a bad image to go out on.

But the mosaic narrative has its own beauty and power. And one of these days I'll get it right.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Webcomics of Interest

Since it's the new year, let's address some new webcomics.

Most of these are new to me. Some I have been following a bit and still get a kick out of. Some haven't been updating as much as I would like and I'm hoping that sending some traffic their way will do them some good. All of them are terrific.

Of a curious note, many of these involve college life or are in the form of children's book illustrations. Not sure why that attracts me this year.

The Red Calaveras: The Red Calaveras are a punk band selected by the galaxy to save them from crappy bland and boring music. To manage this, the Calaveras brothers must negotiate blue monster-girls, Iowa Mennonite Vampires and the Pool of Ultimate Man Beauty. BTW: a calavera is a skull figure used in the Mexican Day of the Dead holiday. Often they're made of sugar and eaten. You're welcome.

The Lonely Moon: Violet is an eight year old girl lives on a fairly high tech planet and gets in trouble. She gets into trouble in a variety of ways, creating a giant robot that closed all of the empire's toilets for example, and since she is unrepentant she is exiled to Tartarus, a nearby inhabitable moon where she is taken up by the Hartley family.

Okay. It sounds simple. But it's more of a prose story combined with a comic. It feels like a children's story but, like any such story worth its salt, there are darker and more twisted layers beneath. Lots of fun.

933 Dollars: Consider the following questions: "What does a girl, a guy, a chameleon, mad scientists and lust for world power have in common?" Answer: 933 Dollars.

Leanne moves to art college. She can't find a place to stay. She ends up finding a flat that costs $933/month. Her flatmate is Sean who dropped out of college and Cuba, a chameleon left behind by Sean's former roommate. Cuba is intelligent and something of a mystery. People want him and are willing to kill to get him. It gets crazier from there.

Explosive Crash Dummy: Again, exploiting the roommate paradigm. Here's a quote: "Val is an orphan who lives with a mysterious, musically talented girl, a girl who escaped a ninja-nation during a civil war and her half-alien sister." If that doesn't get your interest you're not breathing.

Ignition Zero: Hauntings. Goddesses. Neat artwork. Young kids in college. The hero's glory.

Hm. Roommates and colleges. There's a trend developing here. I wonder if I spent 2013 reclaiming my lost youth. Oh, I found it all right. But I lost the pawn ticket.

Marry Me: I've been following Marry Me since it started it. The premise is that a pop star who is bored with her life impulsively marries someone from the audience. What makes it interesting is the pop star is actually a good and legitimate person and the man she ends up marrying is the right one for her. That was the story, then. Now it's opened up again and the wedding is on. Here's an example quote: "Don't blame me! Blame the God who made me! I see a cake, I must destroy it! It's a medical condition!" Now, go have fun.

Monster Pop: is another of the current crop of comics drawn in a sort of faux children's book way but actually has some meat to its bones. George is a cyclopean woman going to college. (Oh, Jeez. It really is an obsession.) Amity is an integrated school where monsters and humans matriculate together. She dates and has race problems. Also, not so clear on her own sexual identity.

Paranatural: Oh, thank God. It's not about college. Max is twelve years old and has supernatural abilities. He is recruited by the Activity Club. They fight evil. Think Calvin and Hobbes but pissed off. Really pissed off.

Blindsprings: I really don't know where this one is going. It is very new-- just this last Halloween. Girl has a mysterious contract regarding her sister and being locked in a forest. Artwork is a sort of corrupted Disney.

Plume: Western paranatural. Girl loses father but gains father's guardian "spirit." Again, a very new comic. We'll have to see where it's going. No college or school of any kind.

Rigby the Barbarian: Rigby's an archeologist working on a dig. She finds a magic sword that drops her into a world where she may well be a Person of Prophecy. Except they weren't expecting a woman. Rigby wasn't expecting dinosaurs. So they're even.

Shotgun Shuffle: Ellie Buckingham and Quinn Nicks reluctantly live together. Ellie has been cast out of her parents house because she is essentially too lazy to get a job. To support herself she gets a collection of intensely crappy jobs. This is complicated by the fact that Ellie is one of seven sisters, each of which is more motivated than she is. I especially like Mister Fatty McFatFat, Ellie's very large cat. Probably "composed of several smaller cats."

Skullkickers: Big bald guy with big gun teams with pugnacious dwarf that likes to kill people with his axe. Just another day of mindless violence. Quote just prior to a fight: "It's come to my attention that one or both of you have been caught singing 'He interrupted me in the loo.' A clear violation of Bard's Guild Policy."

Solstoria: Magic is toxic and spreading. Against this environment Samantha and Lawrence are siblings. Lawrence attempts to learn magic. He disappears. Samantha attempts to become a knight and search for her brother.

String Theory: It's around 2057. Things went south after the Cuban Missile Crisis and there is still a Cold War. Some parts of the world are uninhabitable. Herville Stein is a scientist and pretty much dysfunctional. He cares little for people and has a heart of the size of a walnut. One of his experiments goes bad and he ends up in prison. String Theory is his journey. Stein is not likable. He's unpleasant and very, very smart. But there's a compelling mystery about him that's worth the effort.

Vibe: Voo doo superheroes. Need I say more?

Within a Mile of Home: Jinjo lives on a floating city. He falls off and ends up with Frim, an alchemist. Frim is trying to make a living. Jinjo is trying to get home.

Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality: HPMOR is not a comic but I'm always willing to promote it. Imagine Harry Potter with the mind of a scientist and raised not by misanthropic idiots but by loving parents. Then he gets tagged for Hogwarts.