And Then the Murders Began

The “And then the murders began” game has been going around Facebook recently. That’s where you take a book (although Mom and I have successfully done it with articles, instructions, and catalog copy), read the first sentence and add, “and then the murders began”.

It does little for A Wrinkle in TimePattern Recognition, or The Diamond Age. But check out what happens to Hamlet on the Holodeck:

The birth of a new medium of communication is both exhilarating and frightening…

…and then the murders began

This may be shooting fish in a barrel, given that it’s a book on the birth and rise of cyberdrama, but doesn’t that just sound like a fantastic cyberpunk opening?

Maybe it’s just me. 😛


Ordering Movies For Future Generations

I finally got to see Rogue One recently, and it got me thinking. I was an infant when Star Wars was released, so I only know a world where the Star Wars movies exist out of order. If you’re unfamiliar with the current state of things, storyline-wise, Rogue One tucks neatly in between the original trilogy and the prequel trilogy.) Between the prequel trilogy being released second, and trying to catch up with Clone Wars (I did finally do it. Someday, I’ll even get to Rebels.) it doesn’t even faze me.

There are people who see the prequel trilogy before the original trilogy. Because that’s where we are in the collecting of Star Wars movies. And there will be kids who will start with The Phantom Menace, knowing that they’re in for a nine-movie ride, more if they choose to keep Rogue One and any other spin-offs in the marathon.

It won’t always be this way. It’s already not always this way. Those who, like me, grew up with the movies not taking place in order are asking themselves how best to introduce their own children to the Star Wars universe. It’s not uncommon to see social media posts asking for people’s opinion on this matter. No one seems to have a solid answer to the question (beyond, “Is Jar Jar Binks really what you want your child’s first Star Wars experience to be?”), so there are now people who watched the movies in numerical order (or machete order in some cases).

You can already tell the kids who watch the movies in chronological number, because they can’t understand why the movie quality degrades so severely between the prequel trilogy and the original trilogy, and then you get to explain to them they have things a little backwards and the original trilogy was cutting edge at its time. (Please don’t ask how many times I had this conversation while I was teaching. I stopped counting after about a hundred.)

Star Trek has a similar problem, although theirs seems to be more wrapped up in keeping track of the development of alien races. “Day of the Dove”-era Klingons were not in Star Trek VI because the producers wanted Worf’s grandfather to look more like Worf than Kang. And with “The Last Outpost” in mind, I quit watching Enterprise when the (DS9-era) Ferengi waltzed in. Continuity and the world bible be hanged, apparently!

But it also brings to mind The Chronicles of Narnia, all published before I was born. I swiped my mother’s boxed set, arranged in order of publication, and read them when I was in college. My best friend at the time had just been given an omnibus that had recently been published, and contained the books in the order they happen. We couldn’t even discuss the books because we kept trying to work by book number instead of title, and we eventually gave up.

Of course, I had the luxury of reading The Dark Elf Trilogy before I read Icewind Dale, so what do I know?

Reading Fan Fiction May Be Hazardous to Your Health

As much as I complain about tag abuse on AO3, tonight I may have found the best tags ever. A Yu-Gi-Oh fanfic bore the tags “Allergen warning: Contains milk” and “May not be appropriate for those with a lactose intolerance”.

As I am lactose intolerant (a side effect of that oh-so-lovely hypoglycemia), I appreciated the warning.

But I skimmed the description, which ended with “Cheese inside”. And then I was torn. I refuse to let lactose intolerance take cheese or yogurt away from me. (I take a pill to eat ice cream…and I’ve just realized that’s probably why I haven’t felt well all evening. Heh. Oops.)

I ended up skimming on, but still. That might just be the best use of tags and description I’ve ever seen on a fanfic, and is certainly far less disconcerting than some of the trigger warnings I’ve seen.

Considering Portal Science Fiction

Earlier this month, Writing Excuses set a prompt to take one big idea from two favorite books, and mash them up into something new. What quickly came to mind was the locative art in Pattern Recognition and tessering in A Wrinkle in Time. And then the question became: How does anyone do anything with those?

As I sat there thinking about this over breakfast, I realized that in a way they’re kind of the same thing. Sort of. We have locative art today. Artists and performers are doing some pretty impressive things with it. We just call it augmented reality. Have the appropriate app on your phone or tablet. Go to the designated place (at the designated time, if necessary). Look around through the app to see the art or performance that’s been installed there to experience it. It’s not really there, and is only visible through the tool…like looking into another world through some sort of portal (if you’re into science fiction and fantasy…).

Tessering is a child’s primer to quantum mechanics. I’d been obsessed with the ant in A Wrinkle in Time for eight years before I read the Shiva paradox. And the moment I read that, I knew I was looking at a variation of the ant crossing the skirt hem. (Not bad for a fifteen year old drama queen. *wink*) In the books, tessering is moving across space and time by folding both as necessary to allow you to take the fewest steps. You’re moving across planets and planes as simply as one would cross a room (barring two-dimensional and frozen planets. Always take along Aunt Beast!)

Stepping away from tessering into the greater realm of quantum mechanics, you eventually get to the mathematical theories that are enabling physicists to seriously consider the nature and reality of shifted planes in the same space (which is murder on the whole “two separate instances of matter cannot occupy the same space at the same time” thing). So, while you may not be tessering when you engage in augmented reality because you aren’t literally going somewhere, you are experiencing a shifted plane of sorts, an alternate reality.

It’s not a mashup. It’s a weak rationalization at best.

What’s really funny is that I’m now thinking about the fact The Chronicles of Amber is on my list of favorite books. Tessering. Walking to/from Amber into the Shadows. Really not different. Seriously, how long have I been obsessed with portal stories?

What’s even funnier? Portal stories are typically a fantasy thing. But so many of my favorite portal stories are science fiction, and don’t necessarily directly involve a portal, just the idea of long-distance travel in short time.

Something to keep in mind…

Transparent Notetaking

I’m currently reading an older book I checked out from the public library that doesn’t appear to have come from someone’s personal library, but it has been marked up by a previous reader who did not then erase the marks before turning it in. I’ve seen this before in other nonfiction books, and it’s historically annoyed me. (I use tiny paperclips to mark up books, and then type up everything into my notes and remove the paperclips before I turn the book back in.)

This time, though, I’m kind of passing judgement on the person’s notes. I’m looking at their coding, and thinking, I would never have highlighted that. It’s just not important. Their notes, barely legible, leave me wondering what kind of student they were.

But at the same time, I’m getting a glimpse into how this person thinks, even if it makes no sense to me whatsoever. You don’t really get that very often…unless you borrow class notes from someone. You can almost put together your own narrative of who this other person is. What are they like (or were they like at the time they read this book)? Why did they read this book? Where were they planning to make use of the information they highlighted? (Given how little sense I’m making of their coding and their notes, I haven’t been able to get too far in answering my questions yet. Perhaps that will change by the time I finish reading the book.)

Not that I’m suddenly going to start leaving tiny paperclips in library books. (I simply don’t have enough to be so irresponsible with them.) Nor am I going to start marking up library books I read. I prefer to be a little mysterious.

A Collection of Meaningful Glyphs

I was forced to sit through the cartoon Viva Pinata a few years ago. (Hey, the requester was cute. What was I supposed to do?) Despite assurances that the last 32 episodes would be less brain cell-killing than the first five, I found myself trying to decide just how badly I wanted to stay on this guy’s good side…right up until I noticed something interesting: I was starting to count how many times I saw a pinata with either a newspaper or a book in his hand. The pinatas’ written language was this bizarre boxy set of shapes, but it made total sense to them and my inner teacher could see how it might encourage kids who didn’t read to give reading a shot.

It wasn’t the first time I’d thought about language as a bunch of nonsensical shapes. When it first really started sinking in as a teenager that there were people older than me who couldn’t read, I started wondering what my books must look like to them. I failed at trying to put myself in their shoes because I could read and couldn’t convince my brain otherwise. It understood that those letters had meanings, and that arrangements of letters had meanings, and it wasn’t keen on forgetting that knowledge for even a few minutes.

I have been fascinated by alphabets for as long as I can remember. I was constantly trying to learn to recognize them when I was a kid. I didn’t get very far, and I was never able to make the connection that what I was doing was like what someone goes through when learning to read English until I started making friends who write quite a bit in their own language. What makes perfect sense to them is to me a collection of symbols that has no meaning to me whatsoever. It’s like staring at a pinata newspaper.

Written language is a collection of symbols that has meaning to us only when we learn what meanings have been associated with each glyph. Until then, we’re just as lost to translate as someone who is illiterate in their own native language. It really makes you think…

When It May Be Time To Move On

I’m currently working on a couple of projects that have encouraged me to start reading through both my physical and digital libraries, looking for information. One book in, I realized I needed to be reading not only for information, but also to determine if I even still needed the book in my collection any more. (See? The curator does live!)

In its current form, this problem stems from the fact that I’ve been teaching for seventeen years, and I have quite a few books on teaching. The first book I picked off my shelves was one I had to read for one of my teacher prep classes. Thirteen years ago, it might have been useful. Now it’s next to my bag, waiting to be offered to a fellow teacher trying to land her first classroom. Then, I started going through my digital books on teaching, and found myself wondering why I’d kept them. For the most part, they’re all things I knew before I got my teaching certificate (at which point I’d been teaching for five years). To make matters worse, I generally find anything written for current and future teaching professionals absolutely insipid. Delete.

It’s been hard to just sit down and read through all of these books, too. You hand me a book on game design, simulations, or using games to teach, and I’ll devour it. You hand me a book on animation, and I’ll devour it. You hand me a book on teaching…and the girl who supports ongoing professional development will poke at it, hide it, fail at even skimming it, and otherwise mimic her high school students faced with a class text they can’t stand. At first, I thought it might have to do with the fact I feel like I’m reading the same thing over, or I’m reading what I already know and do.

Then, I thought maybe it was a sign. I mean, I don’t subscribe to education blogs unless they have something to do with education reform or games. I don’t follow educators on Twitter unless they have something to say about educational reform or games. While I don’t mind discussing established educational theory and practice at work, it’s not something I really think about on my own. I’m sure if you looked through this blog, you’d have a hard time finding anything more on established educational theory and practice than a few posts on Constructivism, my favorite educational theory.

But one doesn’t have to be a “traditional” teacher to appreciate and apply Constructivism. And one doesn’t have to be a “traditional” teacher to discuss established educational theory and practice. (I know this because I have had a strange professional relationship with education and teaching my entire adult life.) And maybe this unconventional teacher is subconsciously realizing that she doesn’t give a fig for what’s been done. She’s looking at how to help improve the situation. That’s why she follows those who work with or discuss educational reform and games. That’s why she looks at informal learning in daily life.

It’s like this giant neon sign has turned on that says, “You’re heading in the right direction. Don’t look back.”

The Family Archivist

I feel like I’ve spent so much of my life trying to either organize or catalog things. Really, I don’t think it became a real obsession for me until high school. I worked in the school’s library for two semesters. I filed cards into their proper place in the card catalog. I filed away magazines into the archives. I shelved books. During school breaks, I catalogued my parents’ movie collection, filling in gaps in the Rolodex where Mom kept an alphabetized record of the movies. I added the movie’s location in the collection and a description roughly cut out of the newspaper. I even went  so far as to keep detailed, organized notes on all of the Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes. It was fun for me.

At least, I assume it was fun for me, as I constantly reorganized my tiny movies and music collections throughout both my undergraduate work and my graduate work (which was ironically done in a museum, where I did classwork on developing databases and managing collections) for no reason other than I didn’t like the current organization scheme.

Over the weekend, I wrapped up several small projects that I’ve been working on for several months now. I finally finished adding all of the metadata and tags to my goodreads collection. I finished tagging my personal journal. I finished tagging my bookmarks, removing just over a third of them in the process. I finished tagging my Flickr account. Most inportantly, I actually tagged my Springpad account.

Can you tell I, the woman who’s grown up organizing and cataloging, got tired of not being able to find what I needed when I needed? It’s all in much better shape now, and I think I’m now ready to move on to projects that will rely on these newly-organized tools. Or maybe I just suffer from a pretty severe case of OC.

Except I don’t. Sort of. Today at work, I was asked if I thought the boxes we store archived files in needed to be alphabetized to make life easier. These are tiny boxes. We rarely need to fish out files from these boxes. If the folders were staggered to begin with, then it’s incredibly quick and easy to find the file we need. (I know. I’ve been through some of those boxes more times than I can count.) I told her it would just create busy work that none of us has time for.

Yes, I encouraged a lack of complete organization. Maybe there’s hope for me yet!

Who Should Be Gatekeeping?

Not that I’m anywhere near being ready to have to make this decision, but I’ve often debated between querying my writing or just self-publishing it. Part of it is just the nerves that come with putting something very dear to you out where people can judge it. Part of it is listening to agents, editors, publishers, and writers who’ve already faced and made the decision. Part of it is listening to, “The sky is falling,” rhetoric from people both inside and outside the publishing industry.

Self-publishing has made small waves, with authors occasionally winning traditional contracts for successful self-publishing efforts. e-Books are making larger waves, in part because both traditional and self-publishers can create e-Books. It’s sort of fascinating to watch things play out.

But it does have me wondering: Who really should have the say on what’s going to be worth reading? We’ve always assumed it’s the publishing houses, because they’re supposedly trained or experienced enough to serve as the “best choice”. And agents, editors, and writers often share their thoughts on the published books they’ve been reading, so it’s safe to assume they’re probably in the larger group of us who read.

But they’re a section of it, and publishing houses have a history of passing on manuscripts that have later turned out to be The Next Big Deal. It’s a hazard of calculated risk-taking, I guess. It’s more that they’re making the decision of what they’d be willing to take on the production cost for. Self-publishers make the decision that they’re willing to take on the production cost for their own manuscripts. To me, that’s the real difference between the two.

But when it comes down to what’s going to be read, it seems like it’s the readers themselves who ultimately make that choice. Regardless of the publishing source. Regardless of the format. Readers will read what they want to read how they want to read it.

So, who really should be deciding what’s publishable?

Book Review- Un Lun Dun

Un Lun Dun is set in the city of Un Lun Dun, which mirrors London. Things are named based on what the Un Lun Dun residents hear London residents say in a manner completely reminiscent of Piers Anthony’s pun-filled Xanth. Through a case of mistaken identity, a Londoner and her friend are chased into Un Lun Dun by an umbrella, only to discover that one girl is expected to rescue Un Lun Dun from the Smog that is becoming a bigger threat to the abcity.

I had been warned when the book was recommended to me that it was strongly reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland, but I saw so many fantasy movies and books in it. It was a quick read, entertaining at times, preachy at others. Deeba was a great protagonist, stronger than the characters I could see reflected in her.

For those who enjoy mirror worlds and quests, this a great way to kill an afternoon.