Sunday, July 18, 2010

Sunday Morning Coffee: "Television Man"; Tony Judt, Matthew Cheney, Jeff Spock

[The Talking Heads, "Television Man," from Little Creatures, 1985]

Wake up Canary, wake up! Dawn is upon us, words there are to sing...

We enjoyed three good short musings this week on language, its challenges, possibilities and limits:

Tony Judt has a beautiful essay, "Words," in the current New York Review of Books . He defends rhetorical style and worries about the corrosive effects of inarticulacy. "When words lose their integrity so do the ideas they express," Judt writes. "If we privilege personal expression over formal convention, then we are privatizing language no less than we have privatized so much else. [...] The wealth of words in which I was raised were a public space in their own right...If words fall into disrepair, what will substitute?"

Matthew Cheney, writing as The Mumpsimus, consistently offers some of the most incisive (yet warm-hearted) commentary on speculative fiction and movies. His report on Readercon earlier this month includes this meditation:

"I'm [i.e., Cheney] not very good at inserting myself into conversations, so I did a lot of observing during the panel, piping up only to offer a sort of counter viewpoint from Gary's [i.e., Gary Wolfe] -- where Gary was in some ways agreeing with Paul Witcover's assertion that writers like T.C. Boyle are just using science fiction as "a trip to the playground". I was hoping we'd be able to discuss this idea a bit more, but time didn't allow it. Had it, I suppose I would have tried to say that to me the resentment of writers not routinely identified with the marketing category of "science fiction" or the community of fans, writers, and publishers that congregates under the SF umbrella -- the resentment of these writers for using the props, tropes, and moves of SF is unappealing to me for a few reasons. It's a clubhouse mentality, one that lets folks inside the clubhouse determine what the secret password is and if anybody standing outside has the right pronunciation of that password. It is, in other words, a purity test: are the intentions in your soul the right ones, the approved ones?"

Read the rest of Cheney's Readercon notes here.

Jeff Spock, a leading digital game designer, suggests some solutions to the challenge of telling stories in the very short form of the "casual game," in "Short Games, Long Stories" (originally in the International Game Developers Association newsletter, reposted to Gamasutra last week).

Spock writes:

"Basically, I [i.e., Spock] recommend (against my better instincts) using traditional story structures and stereotypical characters in order to simplify the player's task of digesting the plot. The analogy that I used in the article, and that I really like, is the "gutter" in comic strips. That white space between two panels has nothing in it, but the human imagination fills in everything that could have been written there. In much the same way, all you need to do to create a story is to suggest where you are in the story arc and what the characters are thinking; there is no need to be more explicit than that. The player's imagination is more than capable of connecting the links and filling in the details."

Read the rest of Spock's suggestions here.

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