Friday, 13 May 2011

Just a quick note - I'm in the middle of finals week. (Hence the lack of posts) Posts resume next week.
The Rabid Lit Major

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Film Faves - Leonardo DiCaprio was actually naked the whole time.

Rabid Lit Major
Mood: Barely awake...may need to cheat on my less-caffeine resolution
Reading: the comics of Lucy Knisley whom my sister Hillary introduced to me yesterday and I am finding insightful, funny and poignant.

When I was in my junior year of high school I was nominated to represent my school in theater at Missouri Fine Arts Academy. I sent in a video of myself performing a Shakespearian monologue and a passage from a Meg Cabot book. Surprisingly, this earned me a spot in the summer program and I spent a joyous month in a hyperactive haze as I learned how to direct, act for the screen and how to properly audition for a musical.

Aside from the discipline-focused courses (theater in my case) us MoFFA attendees were expected to attend I.D. or "Interdisciplinary" classes. Essentially, every class day, they split the whole camp into five-or-so large classes of about twenty each...combining kids from all the different fine arts categories. (Dance, Voice, Musical Instruments, Art/Sculpting, and area) Each of these five (or so) mixed classes had a "landscape" name - to my recollection these were something like River, Mountain, Ocean, Field and my group: Cave.

The theme was "artist's landscape" and we were told that the point of the I.D. class was for us to learn from each other and, over the course of the month, put together a giant presentation centering on our group's name that explained to the other groups what we thought the "artist's landscape" meant.

Yeah. It was pretty stupid.

It didn't help that, as much as we liked each other, our group fought like crazy. In the same way that voices in a cave echo off the walls and create a cacophony through which comprehension is impossible, the cave group was so full of strong, creative personalities that we could not hear each other over our own opinions.

What this meant, of course, is that every class period we argued until our faces were blue, eventually compromised enough to think of an idea for the presentation, worked our asses off to get it started...and at the end of the class, during the reflection session, realized that the compromises had created a concept that nobody liked and scrapped it entirely.


What was worse was that our friends in the other I.D. groups all seemed excited about their projects. We would hear snippets at lunch: "Oh yeah! We finished choreographing our second dance number and put finishing touches on our original composition while the art kids painted the set" and our only response was an awkward "We still haven't started yet."

You're probably wondering where the hell I'm going with this. I promise there's a point.

The day before we were supposed to present our projects arrived and we still had nothing. Nada. Zip. We stood around a big table, our teachers looking on vaguely amused and calmly reminding us that we had to present something tomorrow.

We sat in frustrated, terrified silence for ten minutes until one of us spoke up:

"I think we should B.S. it."

We all thought the "artist's landscape" thing was stupid. Let's face it: it kind of was. So we decided to take the modern art route and make something so vague and simple that people would simply assume that, because we called it "art", it must have some deep and impressive meaning to us artists that they, the audience, could never comprehend.

This was our project: we stole a chair and had a couple photography kids take random pictures of it all around campus. At a desk. In an elevator. With some ballet shoes on it. In a tree. With a bra. (You need at least one risque element in modern art after all.) When it came time to present our project, we sat in the audience with everyone else. In the dark. We waited for people to ask what the hell was going on and added our own questions: purposefully ridiculous. "If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to see it...could it fly instead?" When we got others playing along and distracted, one of the group members snuck the chair onstage unseen. When the din hit its peak, we put a spotlight on that empty chair. The room went silent. After a full, hugely awkward, completely silent minute gazing at the chair, the projector screen lit up with the slideshow of pictures. The final picture showed a view of the chair from behind, looking out on the empty audience (a picture of the theater we'd taken before anyone had arrived.)

After the presentations, we gathered in classrooms to discuss. The other presentations had been elaborate. They frankly discussed what it meant to be an artist. They used dance and music and painting to express their joy and creativity. They were elaborate. They were impressive. Extreme amounts of effort went into them.

When asked which group had captured the "artist's landscape" best, the near-unanimous answer was "the cave group". Students and teachers alike praised our grasp of the intricacies of the creative soul: the anguish and the ecstasy of imagination. They applauded our minimalist approach and felt ours was the most "sincere" performance.

At one point I glanced back at my own I.D. teachers and saw them biting their fists in an effort to keep from laughing.

Essentially, we allowed our fellow artists to prove our assumption that they were dumb enough and egocentric enough to make our project seem more clever than it was completely correct.

Christopher Nolan would have fit in well in the cave group.

Caution: If you still want to see this film and are excited by the huge twist you've heard everyone applaud, stop reading now. Either I will ruin it for you by spilling the huge secret, or I will ruin it for you by revealing that the huge secret was stupid. Either way: spoilers ahead.

Film: Inception (2010)
Starring: Leonardo diCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page (aka Juno-chick)
Screenplay by: Christopher Nolan
Accolades: 4 Academy Awards (Cinematography, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Visual Effects) 4 Academy Award Nominations (Art Direction, Original Score, Picture of the Year, Screenplay) and a huge amount of fan hype.

Yesterday I spoke of how I liked the ambiguous ending of Labyrinth and how you could never be sure whether she had dreamed the whole thing or not. Why, then, did I find the ending of Inception incredibly idiotic and vaguely insulting?

I was super-excited to see Inception from the very first trailer. The maze-like text of the title sent frissons of bracing terror through me and left me drooling to see it. The snippets of action and mind-bending graphics looked incredible.

It came out. Friends of mine left the theater talking about how awesome it was. How the end was such a mental mind-f*** and how much I'd loved it. The excitement grew.

Then another friend told me "Eh, the ending was lame."

She was the nay-saying needle in a glowing-review haystack. I chose to believe she was being contrary and maintained my excitement, now more determined to like it to prove her wrong.

I will apologize to her now for my lack of faith in her assertion.

So, the plot of Inception is something like that television gimmick "Picture in Picture". There exists some kind of ability/technology/mystical-devil-summoning-process which allows people to enter other people's minds through their dreams in the most complicated form of intellectual property theft ever invented. It's probably every copyright lawyer's nightmare, (Grandma? Grandpa?) and will likely spark some truly absurd conspiracy theories in all of the hundreds of drunks who have ever said: "He's making money off of that?! I came up with that idea years ago but the man kept me down!"

At some point, someone comes up with the logical idea that if you can steal an idea from somebody's mind you can probably plant an idea there as well. Which isn't creepy at all, as I'm sure every sci-fi character that's ever been brainwashed by an evil government can tell you.


So I'm watching the film, and admittedly the visuals were awesome. I mean really, truly, awesome. I only had three major issues with the main portion of the film.

1. Not enough of Ellen Page being Ellen Page. In fact, not enough Ellen Page period. We get one really awesome scene where she bends reality like a kid with a never ending supply of play-doh in every color of the rainbow and then she just fades into the (sometimes inverted) background. There's two issues with this: First of all, in every other film she's been in, Page has been charming and quirky and vibrant. She was boring here. Her character had no opportunity to shine. Secondly, the assertion that they "needed" an architect was never really proven. Her input in the plot seemed minimal, other than feeding Leo's angst. I wanted some elaborate scenes dreamt up by her mind that really impeded everyone creating an excellent plot-point. Instead, it seemed the only reason they needed an architect was to emphasize that Leo's character couldn't be one. Because of his angst. Angst. Angst. Angst. Angst.

2. IT WAS ALL ABOUT LEO. Boring. The whole film was set up so his character could whine about his miserable existence and his wife. Which would be cool...if we hadn't been promised a film about really cool mind-blowing sci-fi and instead were treated to an angst-ridden plot about trust and relationships and guilt with very little actual delving into the sci-fi parts. The sci-fi makes a pretty background, but it really is just the background. Think back: was any of the really awesome technology really explored: implications, history, impact, function etc.? Or was it briefly skimmed over so we get the premise and then used to make everyone feel high and get distracted from the fact that nothing was actually being answered?

3. I literally spent the entire film...the entire film...muttering under my breath "Please don't let the ending be that it was all a dream. Please don't let the ending be that it was all a dream. Please don't let the ending be that it was all a dream." Why? BECAUSE IT WAS BLOODY OBVIOUS. The "real" world held absolutely no element of realism. They weren't even really trying to trick us. At no point did the real world hold a single feeling of realism. There is foreshadowing, and there is being beaten over the head with a baseball bat labeled "TWIST ENDING" until the phrase shows up backwards in bruises all over face. Among all of the other hints, here's the biggest: everyone takes the whole concept of mind-rape in stride. Seriously? It's obvious it's not really a well-known thing. Leo has to explain the concept to Page. She gets over the shock of the most intrusive idea ever pretty freaking quickly.

But here's the really big problem I had: for such a huge, creative's been done. A lot. And better. More subtly and with more point.

Places the ending of Inception was handled with more dexterity
Abres Los Ojos (NOT Vanilla Sky)
House M.D.
Scrooge McDuck
Thousands of cartoons searching for a cheap gimmick.

Essentially, I think that the ending of Inception is like the Emperor's New Clothes. We've been told it's clever. We've been told it's brilliant. We are too afraid, therefore, to admit that we don't get it. Meanwhile Christopher Nolan is laughing all the way to the bank, because he knows there was nothing to get in the first place. He distracted us with shiny special effects (nothing up my sleeve!) so we didn't notice him setting up the magnets that make the damn top spin.

Summation: Totally deserved the Academy Awards it idea why it was ever nominated for writing or best picture.

You spin me right round, baby.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Film Faves - Fantasy Films FTW

Rabid Lit Major:
Mood: Hungry and unfocused
Watching: Q.I., a fabulous BBC show that's like "Whose Line is it Anyway" but educational. Essentially, Stephen Fry sets 4 comedians at a table, quizzes them on obscure trivia, and awards them more points for "interesting" answers than correct answers.

First, a plea: do not get mad at me for the long delay. I did not have access to a computer during the interim since my last post. Many apologies.

Okey-dokey. Let's dive into my film extravaganza (which, now that I think about it, I should have done during Oscars week...) where I will be reviewing films, and explaining the literary reasons they are either awful or awesome.

I'm going to ease into this with two films that are complete classics...if your definition of classic is similar to mine and allows for cult-classic 80s films. Which...why wouldn't it?

The two films which I shall be reviewing are impressive in their handling of classic fantasy novel themes. Where they differ is that one focuses on fairy-tale elements and the other on mythology elements...but both take these themes and make something completely new and unexpected.

So, without further ado: let's jump in. We'll go chronologically. Age before beauty as they say...

Film: Labyrinth (1986)
Starring: David Bowie, Jennifer Connelly, and the genius creations of Jim Henson.
Screenplay: Terry Jones, of Monty Python fame.

So what happens when you take Monty Python cleverness, mix in a bunch of creepy puppets, dump them in a fantasy scene, and have David Bowie star in it and write/perform the entire soundtrack? A set with glitter dumped all over it.

I love this film. My mom was forced to rent it an absurd number of times when I was quite young...which probably explains a lot. Viewing it again as an adult I am struck by how dark it is and how impressively the fantasy elements are woven in. The plot, on the surface, is fairly simple. An imaginative and overly-dramatic teenage girl, angry that she has to babysit her baby half-brother, makes up a story in which the King of the Goblins will take him away if she simply wishes for it. When he actually shows up and takes the baby away, she is struck with remorse and asks for the chance to save the baby. He then gives her 13 hours to solve a huge labyrinth and take the baby back before he turns him into a goblin.

Then you watch the film and you wonder what in the world just happened.

For all the silliness, from the hard-to-look-away-from bulge in David Bowie's tights (yes, tights) and the manic goblins (Jim Henson puppets all) and all of the crazy obstacles (the MC Escher scene had to be the coolest set ever) it's actually a brilliantly written film under all of the glitter. There are four major reasons for this.

1. Mythology elements

If you have ever studied mythology you will be impressed by the little jokes put in the film. The classic riddle where there are two doors, one which always lies and one which always tells the truth, makes a grand appearance. The trippy peach-dream scene is a nice reference to the legends surrounding eating fay food in the land of fairies...which in many legends causes the person who eats it to lose their memories of the real world and lose track of time. The overarching plot of the Goblin King is a variation on Changeling myths. All-in-all it shows that there was some serious thought put into making this seem like a classic story book which helps create....

2. The Ambiguous Ending

Tomorrow, I'm going to talk about "Inception" and how it completely botches its attempt at this. "Labyrinth", however, has this down to a science. The whole story begins with Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) by a lake looking like a medieval princess and speaking in beautiful prose. It isn't until she flubs her lines and pulls out a play that you realize she's playing a game in the park, further highlighted by her realizing the time and hitching up her dress to run to run, revealing the jeans beneath. As you watch the film, you begin to realize that all of the characters and situations she's running into not only echo the themes in the play she'd been reading (called "Labyrinth" of course) but also look like objects from her room. Hoggle looks like a bookend she had. Sir Didymus looks like on of her stuffed animals and rides "Ambrosius" who looks just like her dog "Merlin". Ludo is reminiscent of the "Wild Things" from the Maurice Sendak book on her bookshelf. The MC Escher stairs print on her wall makes a reappearance in the climatic scene. Her music box features a spinning girl in the same ballgown she wears in the peach scene. Heck! She even has a Labyrinth game. There are tons more of these details, but what it boils down to is the vague feeling that the whole thing had been a dream. (The constant references made to dreaming and dreams don't help much here.) The only problem is: it's never confirmed. Even after she "wakes up", she reunites with all of her friends for a party in her room. Regardless of whether it was real or not, the salient point is that she's completely changed by the end of it: she no longer resents her brother or her new stepmother, nor is she as zealously obsessed with her things.

3. Dark horror elements that subtly teach a lesson

You all know how I feel about subtlety in morals. It was the core of my Avatar vs. Monster's Inc. post. One of the most brilliant moments in the script was the junkyard scene. Sarah is shown into a perfect likeness of her room by this freaky junkyard creature...a little old woman puppet who's dwarfed by the large pile of junk she's accumulated on her back. She brings a dazed Sarah to this room and starts handing her her treasured belongings - beginning with the teddy bear that was given to her brother Toby which prompted her to wish him away. As the junk lady hands Sarah the items she mumbles about how Sarah needs these things, how she never wanted to lose them and always emphasizes how they are hers, Sarah's. As this continues, you slowly realize that the items are piling up on Sarah as she clings to them...and she begins to look more and more like the junk lady. It isn't until she exclaims that it's all junk and that what she really needs is to save her brother that the illusion crumbles away revealing the junkyard again. It's terrifying...and subtly warns against holding objects in higher regard than people.

4. Musical numbers

Ok ok. It's not really a literary thing. I just like films with musical numbers. Plus: it's David Bowie. (Although I heard that he's embarrassed by this film...can't imagine why. Maybe it's the tights?)

Wow this is going long. Moving on to film number two.

Film: Princess Bride (1987)
Starring: Cary Elwes, Robin Wright, Mandy Patinkin, Chris Serandon, Andre the Giant, Billy Crystal, Christopher Guest, Fred Savage...
Screenplay: William Goldman, also known for "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"

I don't think I need to tell you that this film is great. It's quirky beyond all reason and the fact that it's written by the same guy who wrote the book means that it holds all of the quality of a novel. I will however give you the main reasons you like it so much.

1. Frame Story

A good portion of the charm derived from "Princess Bride" is the framework. Rather than a straight up fantasy film, it's delivered as though it is, in fact, a storybook. The movie begins with contemporary Fred Savage as a sick kid home from school being read a book by his grandpa. The film is peppered with interruptions as the kid and the grandfather interact. The kid whines about kissing, the Grandfather interjects his own comments...they even argue about how a story is supposed to go...

2. Avoidance of cliches.

I was going to warn about spoilers here but honestly, if you haven't seen this film you should be watching it instead of reading my blogpost. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that I consider it one of the greatest films ever. One of the great interruption moments with the grandfather and kid is when Westley, the hero, dies. The kid immediately interrupts, exclaiming that he can't be dead. The grandfather tries to continue with the story but the kid gets upset. He wants to know who kills the evil Prince Humperdink. When the grandfather tells him that Humperdink lives, the kid exclaims: "You mean he wins?! Jesus, Grandpa, what'dya read this to me for?" This perfectly highlights why it's so brilliant. While you get all of the elements of a classic fairy tale: the most beautiful princess in the world, daring sword fights, revenge plots, magical cures, kindly giants etc. etc. etc. it's amazing how much it defies convention. I won't go into too much detail here, but consider this. For all of the action and humor of the film, the big climatic scene, when the hero and antagonist face each other for the final time, has no huge chase, dramatic battle or brilliant self sacrifice.

The hero simply taunts the antagonist who then surrenders without a fight, allows himself to be tied up, and the heros simply leave.

There is literally no climatic battle between Westley and Humperdink. The turning point, the resolution of the whole plot, is full contained in the line "Drop. Your. Sword."

THAT is brilliant.

All right. I think this blog is plenty long enough. Tomorrow I'll explain why you should be very offended by Christopher Nolan. In the mean time, a small grammar lesson for you.


People are frequently confused by grammar rules...which is not surprising at all because for every grammar rule that exists there also exists at least one exception to throw you off. The combination of languages and roots that make up the English language make it particularly incomprehensible and often properly written sentences and words will look completely ridiculous. Generally, the best advice is simply to read whatever you've written out loud. If it sounds off, it probably is. There are, however, fiddly little rules that will always throw you off for the simple reason that nobody ever explained them to you. So here we go, the first of my little grammar lessons.

Possessives and apostrophes constitute some of the most frequent grammar violations. There is actually a fairly simple set of rules when it comes to using an apostrophe to denote possession. The issue is that most have never learned it and even those of us who have get confused because it sometimes looks so silly.

So here we go. A step-by-step process to knowing where to put your apostrophe.

1. Which word should the apostrophe go on? Look at the sentence. The apostrophe belongs on whichever word possesses the object in question, regardless of where it is in the sentence. What object belongs to someone...who does it belong to? The apostrophe goes on the latter.

2. Is this word plural or singular? If it's singular, regardless of whether it ends in an s or not, it gets an 's. This means that when you are referring to an ABC book belonging to Dr. Seuss, it's still "Dr. Seuss's ABC book" even though the "ss's" looks absurd.

3. If the word is plural and ends in an "s" it gets just the apostrophe. If it's plural and doesn't end in an "s" then it get's the "'s" just like the singular words.

In summation, there are cupcakes belonging to your parents, cupcakes belonging to many people, cupcakes belonging to everyone and cupcakes belonging to the class.

1. The people who possess the cupcakes are "parents", "people", "everyone", and the "class".
2. "everyone" and "class" are singular nouns. (They really are. You can't have multiple "everyones" and there is only one class mentioned, even if there are multiple people in the class. It would only be plural if it was "classes".
3. "parents" and "people" are, however, plurals of "parent" and "person" respectively.

So...Here are the cupcakes: my parents' cupcakes, many people's cupcakes, everyone's cupcakes, and the class's cupcakes.


Never use "'s" when creating a plural. Ever. It looks ridiculous. If I see a cupcake's in the previous sentence, it should be followed by the sprinkles that belong to that cupcake (cupcake's sprinkles) or it should be a contraction of "cupcake is" as in "This cupcake's great!"

Major exception: "its" is the possessive form of "it". "it's" is the contraction of "it is". To borrow from Lemony Snicket: Each boat has its own sail. I imagine this is to avoid confusion between possessive its and contraction it's...but let's be honest: It's much more confusing when "its" is its plural form considering that "it's" actually fits in the rules.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Lesson for the day.

Rabid Lit Major
Mood: Chipper
Watching: Mentalist
Reason I love it: 1. Simon Baker's adorable, even without his Australian accent. His eyes twinkle. Also, this week, MORENA BACCARIN GUEST STARS! (For those of you who did NOT watch Firefly after I told you to...shame on you...Morena Baccarin plays Inara Serra)

Ok, so I was talking about Ferris Bueller's Day Off with a friend, and it occurred to me that most people probably think that Ferris Bueller is the protagonist of the story.


So here is your quick lesson for the day.

The protagonist of the story is not necessarily the title character, or the hero, or even the character we see the most. These are all false assumptions. The protagonist...the main character...of a story is the character who is changed by the events of that story.

Cameron Frye is the main character of "Ferris Bueller's Day Off". Not Ferris Bueller.

I'm completely serious. Take a moment and really think about the film. Whenever you look at a story, you have to ask yourself what is so special about these events that we start the story here? What is the point of what Ferris does? If it was simply supposed to be about sipping school, then why this day? He's already skipped nine times. There is something special about this day. Now think about the climax of the film. The most dramatic occurrence of the film was easily the destruction of the Ferrari 250. This is definitely the climax, because it is the action that marks a shift in the story and sparks the resolution. It is at this point that Cameron has his catharsis and overcomes his neurotic nature, ready to take a stand.

Everything Ferris does is centered around Cameron. At every point he is involving him, breaking the fourth wall to talk about how worried he is about him, and asking him to have a good time.

Because I love metaphors, I will put it in another way.

Cameron Frye is Bilbo Baggins. Ferris Bueller is Gandalf the Grey.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

A story I wrote a few years ago...

I feel like, as a blogger who writes about writing, it is only fair that I post a bit of my own writing for you to criticize as you see fit. This story was published in my college's literary magazine and I am decently proud of it. I'm not sure how well this will work as a blog post, considering that it involves footnotes, but we'll see how it goes.


The fault lay with seven year old boy who had been told one too many times that he looked exactly like his father…though he would never know it. Also unwittingly sharing the blame were a recently deceased professor of mythology, a conservative germ-phobic heiress and, last but not least, a maternal but tragically barren woman. However, since the last is arguably the victim of this story, by virtue of the fact that she suffered the most from this chain of events, she can be excused from her portion of the guilt.*

It was several months into the school year before Miss Haney, who taught second grade at Mason County Elementary, discovered that Titania Adams believed herself to be a changeling. Titania, or Taney as her friends called her, had already by this time convinced the entire second grade of her magical heritage.

“It’s really a shame,” Taney would say to her audience. “The poor human child whose place I took can never come back, even now that we know she was taken. It’s too late. She would have tasted fae food long ago, and once you have you can never return.”

Her peers crowded around her at every recess, listening intently to her expound on the intricacies of the fairy realm and its tenuous link to the mortal one. Time she did not spend answering their questions was instead spent meandering wide eyed through grassy area bordering the playground, nimbly avoiding errant dodgeballs and collecting cobwebs from the chain link fence that surrounded the school. Eventually, the students ignored her odd ways, putting it off as a “changeling thing”. When one child dutifully explained this to Ms. Haney’s queries as to why Taney had gone off alone, she immediately notified the school counselor.

The decision to contact Mrs. Adams was made when the counselor Mr. Dukes looked “changeling” up on Wikipedia** to see what it was that Taney was claiming to be. The moment it was discovered that Miss Adams’s delusion was rooted in mythology alarm bells went off in his mind.

Taney Adams’s father had been a well-beloved figure in the community: a professor of mythology at the local college. His Titania had been the apple of his eye and he’d loved to tell her fairy tales. Real ones, not the watered-down Disney version that filled most children’s bedtimes. Darker stories that were at once more terrifying and infinitely more satisfying. She used to tell these, in turn, to her classmates, earning her eager audiences and many friends. Only now, she wasn’t telling them as stories and Mr. Dukes’ psychology textbook told him that Taney’s delusion was a form of repression and as such was a plea for help.

Dr. Adams had passed away six months ago.

He’d suffered a sudden heart attack – a genetic defect exacerbated by years of drinking from snifters of brandy that he fancied matched his tweed suits and the leather chairs, roaring fireplace and gleaming wood of his home library. In the couple months before school started back up again Mrs. Adams, through the haze of her own grief, tried to help her Taney with hers but never felt she really connected to the daughter who had always been a daddy’s girl. Feeling she hadn’t gotten anywhere, she had apprised the school counselor of the situation, placing Taney on the “watch list”. And now, he felt, they needed to talk.

And so, dear readers, the next week found Mrs. Adams lowering herself cautiously into the chair across the desk from Mr. Dukes. Torn between bitter defensiveness at the idea of a stranger telling her how to raise her daughter and overwhelming worry that she truly was failing as a mom. The counselor steepled his fingers and began to preach, and the defensiveness came to the forefront, tinged with a hint of righteousness. He spoke of grief and coping mechanisms, what’s healthy and unhealthy. He walked her through something that sounded ridiculously like a how-to procedural guide on ‘dealing with loss.’ She knew something about that. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. As if this cheery twenty-something knew a goddamn thing about what she and her daughter were going through! Huh, she thought with a smirk, I must be in the anger stage. She nodded when he paused and gave her a searching look.

The counselor spoke about many things. Trauma, she’d like to inflict some blunt trauma to that over-educated skull, group therapy, as if listening to other people’s problems would make her feel better, church, and heaven knew that was the most depressing idea of the lot!

Finally, towards the end of the painful affair, he gave her one piece of advice that should have been obvious it was so exceedingly simple. Any moron on the street, she figured, could have divined that piece of advice. And that’s why I know it’s the one piece of USEFUL advice he’s given me.

“Of course, you could always try talking to her,” he slipped in, grudgingly it seemed, amidst fervent rants about weekly meetings and the pros and cons of child-friendly medication.

So, that night, Mrs. Adams cooked Taney’s favorite foods and rented “The Princess Bride” and, thus armed, prepared to confront her daughter on her strange behavior. Mrs. Adams munched on the fish sticks and macaroni and cheese while her daughter chattered happily about her day, the promise of hot fudge brownie sundaes evident in the warm smell in the air. At a break in the spirited monologue she began.

“Taney…what’s a changeling?”

Taney took a deep gulp of milk and swiped her mouth with her sleeve. Mrs. Adams decided now was not the time to correct table manners as the girl turned wide eyes to her mother.

“It’s a magical creature that’s been switched with a human child,” Taney explained. “It can be a troll or a fairy or anything magical really…even a piece of enchanted wood, though they look like they get sick and die real early, before they’re growed.”


“Grown,” Taney agreed. “The fairies swap ‘em with a real kid see, and then raise the human kid as their own and the human family never finds out! Not ‘less they see the signs of course.” Taney lowered her eyes here. “I’m sorry Mom, I know it’s a shock, but what’s happened has happened right?”

“I’m not following, Taney.”

“Well, you’re asking these questions ‘cause you figured out I’m a changeling, right? I promise I didn’t know ‘til a coupla months ago.”

Mrs. Adams took a deep breath and sent up a prayer that she would NOT screw this up. “And why do you think you’re a changeling, Taney? Do…do you feel like you don’t fit in?”

“Hm? Oh, nothing like that. Well, for one thing, changelings don’t like to wear shoes. And I’m ALWAYS taking my shoes off to run in the grass.”

“I do that too, Taney. So did your father. Are we changelings?”


There was silence for a few moments, interrupted by the timer on the brownies going off. Mrs. Adams got up to take them out, and quickly returned to where Taney was happily dipping her fish stick in ketchup.

“The brownies done, Mom?”

“Hm? Yes…but they need to cool a little before we cut them. Besides you haven’t finished your dinner.” Taney grinned and popped the last bite of fish stick in her mouth. Mrs. Adams chuckled, but sobered up immediately. “Now, Taney, back on the changeling thing. Surely the fact that you like to go barefoot wasn’t the only thing?”


“Well? Where did you get such a silly idea?”

“Jimmy Hudgens,” Taney said, naming a boy from her class.

Well that was a shock. She’d been expecting some kind of deep emotional feeling of abandonment, or at the very least some goofy television show. “James Hudgens told you that you were a changeling?” she echoed faintly.

“No. Jimmy says everyone always tells him how much he looks like his dad and how it annoys him. I asked him why people think that and he said that kids are s’posed to look like their parents.

“I wasn’t sure Jimmy was right, so I emailed the science professor at Daddy’s old college during computer class at school and asked him why kids look like their parents. He told me that there are these things called genes, but not the kind you wear, that decide height and hair color and eye color and all that stuff and that you get them from your mommy and daddy.

“I figured it out from there. See…fairies think that blonde hair and blue eyes are the prettiest, so they take babies that look like that. Fairy babies look like the forest, so they have brown hair and green eyes like me.” She grinned, the aforementioned green eyes sparkling. “I never realized how different I look from you and Papa! Neither of you have brown hair or green eyes…you both have blond hair and blue eyes, just like fairies like. I’m also tons shorter than you were at my age.” The Adams family lived in Mrs. Adams’ old house, which she’d bought from her parents when they moved to Florida. Her growth chart sat next to Taney’s on the molding of the kitchen doorway. “Anyways, I figured out from his email that I can’t possibly be your real daughter.”

Mrs. Adams’ heart pounded, her hand flickering to her abdomen as she remembered the miscarriage and the countless doctors' appointments and the disappointment of finding out she’d never have children. She remembered the decision her and her husband made to adopt, the endless meetings with orphanages and teenaged mothers, the hours of arguing about the best way to tell Taney when she was old enough. Silently, she cursed the school’s progressive computer class and decided she’d have a stern talk with this “science professor”.

Somewhere, about fifty miles away, a thirty year old man grading midterm essays on hereditary diseases sneezed three times in quick succession.

Mrs. Adams floundered as she stared at her daughter, who was humming as she stirred her Mac & Cheese. She and her husband had planned to tell Taney she was adopted when she hit middle school and not a minute before. They figured she was too young to deal with the idea of not being their ‘real’ daughter, let alone the emotional upheaval of knowing your own mother didn’t want you.

Taney’s biological mom had not been a teenager, like most mothers putting their children up for adoption at birth. She had been extremely wealthy, inheriting millions from her father’s investments. She liked things sterile and had an aversion to anything germ-ridden. It was amazing, even with the aid of classy gin martinis...the only thing she liked dirty, that she had been able to stomach sex even the one time it took to get pregnant and she was certainly not going to deal with a baby! Just the thought of dirty diapers, jaundice, colic and other squicky things made her hyperventilate.

Mrs. Adams shook herself out of her musings and tried to think of the best way to tell her daughter. “Taney... Your mother…well…she couldn’t, uh, care for you. So she asked me and Daddy to keep you and love you so you could be happy.” She winced at the half-lie. “You know what “adopted” means, right?”

“Sure,” said Taney, seemingly uninterested.

“Taney…” Mrs. Adams started cautiously, “You know that saying ‘If you hear hooves outside it may be zebras, but it’s probably just horses?’”

Taney rolled her eyes “Of course, Mom, it was Dad’s favorite. Just because something weird might be true, it’s more likely something totally normal. But don’t you remember what he always said after?”

Mrs. Adams smiled fondly and spoke in time with her daughter, “But zebras are just so much more interesting.”

“Exactly. I know what ‘adopted’ means, Mommy.”

As they got to work divvying up the brownies and ice cream, Mrs. Adams made one more stab at making sure her daughter was alright.

“Now that you’re older, Taney, I bet your real Mom would like to meet you. We’d have to clean you up real nice but…” She trailed off, anxious for some reason at the idea of Taney meeting her real mom.

Her daughter didn’t look up from where she was squeezing chocolate syrup into perfect criss-crossing patterns on her sundae. “Hm. Maybe someday. I’m sure the fae world is amazing, but once you go there you can’t come back. As long as you’re ok with me being a changeling, it doesn’t bother me any.”

“Taney, she lives in Chicago.”

“Zebras, Mommy. I’m just sad for the human girl who never got to live here.” At this she looked up. “The fae are classically cold you know. At least she has Daddy to keep her company now. I’m sure once he found out he couldn’t stay here anymore, he went straight there. Even if he didn’t know about her, he wouldn’t pass up a chance to see the fae world. It’s supposed to be beautiful.”

Her mother truly couldn’t think of anything to say to that, so the Adams girls just curled up on the sofa with their sundaes and started the movie. As the boy on the screen complained about getting his cheeks pinched, Taney commented, “I think I’m going to try out for Theater in the Park this summer. They’re doing “Midsummer Night’s Dream” this year…maybe I’ll get to play my namesake?”

Mrs. Adams smiled around a large bite of warm brownie and nodded.

*Others may argue that the professor, being dead, (and well before the events took place) may also be excused from the blame. However, it is this author’s humble opinion that the dead can carry blame just as well as – if not better than – the living.
** The poor teacher spent a good five minutes reading the article on the Clint Eastwood movie of the same name before figuring out he had the wrong article.

A Small Selection of Rants

Rabid Lit Major
Mood - tired and sore but pretty happy...damn you, Liz! (Liz would be my friend who coaches me through legs hate me and I hate her.) (Not really.)

Reading - "A Study in Scarlet" by Arthur Conan Doyle
Excerpt - "I have noticed such a dreamy, vacant expression in his eyes, that I might have suspected him of being addicted to the use of some narcotic, had not the temperance and cleanliness of his whole life forbidden such a notion" (Anyone who knows anything about Sherlock Holmes will enjoy the irony of this line.)

Ok, that's enough of that. Today, I wanted to look productive but also felt like being lazy. My solution is to put up two posts, one consisting purely of rants and the other an original piece that I already have saved on my computer.

To clarify really quick - An editorial is an opinion piece, usually for the news media (making it written by an "editor", hence the name.) A rant is the same thing, but without the pretension of being a legitimate piece of news and therefore holds more freedom to be generally angry and fewer requirements to justify the opinions. Lack of an employer breathing down my neck also means that my rants can be as long or as short as I like.

However, as with all editorials, I will preface these with a disclaimer.

These rants are works of opinion and do not reflect the views of everyone here at "Rabid Lit Major" (Some of the voices in my head disagree. And yes, I know I'm crazy, but some of the voices don't so keep it down, ok?) If you are offended by anything said in this rant, or if you wish to agree/disagree, feel free to write in the comments box. I do ask, however, that profanity be kept to a minimum because my blog is open to the public and not flagged for offensive material.

"Cool" language
Here is something that has always bothered me: why is it "cool" to sound like an idiot? I went to school in white-and-wealthy suburbia. 98% of the student body fell in the upper-middle class range. Our school was ranked one of the best public schools in the state. So why in the world did so many kids speak in rough slang and with terrible grammar? My brother goes there now and even he will pretend not to understand me when I use words exceeding three syllables and will ignore me until I rephrase the sentence in smaller words. (I know for a fact he knows what the larger words mean.) I think back to high school and I remember standing in the lunch line every day listening to some kid behind me saying things like "It ain't a big deal so I wish she'd get off my a** and sh** because I don't give f*** what she thinks 'cause she don't know what it's like" and all I can think is "Your dad is a lawyer and you are in a school that offers college-level English courses...who do you think you are fooling?"

And while we're on the subject...
Whose bright idea was it to use "gay" as synonymous with "stupid"? If I alienate readers with this post then they are the the kind of readers I want as far away from my blog as is virtually possible. As you will see from my later post, I think discrimination based on sexuality is one of the most misguided prejudices in the universe. As for the use of "gay" as an insulting term to describe something completely unrelated to sexuality as stupid...beyond exposing yourself as pathetically small-minded, you are also wasting an opportunity to use one of many much more kickass insults. I am a fan of "troglodyte", personally.

Speaking of gay...

I have this theory that the song "I Think We're Alone Now" is about a homosexual couple. If you are more familiar with the Tiffany cover from the 80s, you should know that it was originally released in 1967 by Tommy James and the Shondells and was written by a man. Now the song talks about how the two people in question are allowed to be friends but a romantic relationship would be forbidden. A close listener would also notice that no gender-markers are used in the song. In the sixties, who would be allowed to be friends but not lovers? A bi-racial couple probably wouldn't be allowed to be friends in the first place. If the parents/friends/etc cared enough about differing social classes to ban a relationship a friendship would likely be banned as well. Two boys being friends? Not a big deal. Just saying.

And while we're on the subject of music...

As you all know, I'm a big fan of clever lyrics in songs. However, a song does not have to have a deeper meaning to be good. Nor does it need to have exemplary musical technique or be avant-garde or...whatever. Sometimes a song can simply be fun. This is ok and is not something that is to be looked down on. This applies to movies as well. Just because I think a movie is stupid doesn't mean I didn't enjoy it. Did I think "Predators" was a clever movie? Considering that I predicted the order the characters would die in based on their race and personality within five minutes of being introduced to them, the short answer is "no." Did I enjoy two hours of mindless violence and explosions and drooling a bit over Adrian Brody, who I think is very attractive? Absolutely.

How did I do it?

There are eight characters in "Predators" (not counting the Predators and the Laurence Fishburne cameo). Boiling them down to racist profiling, they are as follows: Hispanic guy, Black guy, Russian guy, White-trash-convict guy, Japanese Guy, Doctor guy, Love interest, and Protagonist. This is, by the way, the order they die in. Do I consider this a spoiler? No. Why? I told my brother that would be the order they died in the moment they were all introduced...five minutes into the film. When he asked me after the film how I managed to predict it so exactly, I told him this:
Action movies are typically very racist...mostly because nobody cares enough to take them to task about it. Unless the token black man is the protagonist, he will die first. The only exception to this rule is if there's an Hispanic guy, especially a non-comedic one. Therefore, the first two deaths are Hispanic-guy followed by Black-guy. Protagonist must either survive or die last. Love-interest must either survive or die right before Protagonist in order to make him angry. Doctor-guy is the only truly "nice" guy of the group and seems he has to turn out to be more evil than the rest and turn on them in the climax. He has to die right at the end for the full impact...probably by attacking Love-Interest. That makes the last three to die Doctor-guy, Love-Interest, Protagonist. This leaves us Russian-guy, White-trash-convict-guy and Japanese-guy. Of these, Japanese guy has to die last because he will probably find a samurai sword at some point and have an awesome sword fight that needs to be highlighted. Between Russian and Convict, convict had to die later because he was unarmed and it would make no sense for him to survive so long. By action-film law he therefore has to survive a stupid amount of time. I had all of this pegged in five minutes. It all happened. Even the finding of the random samurai sword.

Oh Japan...

Don't get me wrong, I kind of enjoy anime and manga. I have a huge respect for all styles of comic-books and will defy anyone who tries to claim they are not a valid form of literature. What throws me off is when otherwise-American authors create manga-versions of their work. Did the sequel to "Avalon High" really need to be a Japanese-style comic, Meg Cabot? How does that make sense? Maybe if the story had been in any way Japan-related...such as when Kill Bill took a break from live-action to give O-Ren's backstory in anime-style...but it isn't. More and more authors are jumping on this bandwagon and it's simply puzzling to me.

Speaking of novels I've seen adapted to manga...

Here's the thing Twilight-fans: I didn't hate the first book. I read it with an open-mind, having been told how excellent it was, and came away with the general opinion that it was ok. Was it mechanically well-written? No. Was it original? No. Did the story change my life? No. Did the characters inspire empathy or lust in me? No. On the other hand... Was I particularly bothered that general vampire-lore was ignored? Not really. Did I find it to be a decently cute young-adult romance? Absolutely. The first spark of dislike that Twilight inspired in me was mid-way through the second book when I realized that Bella was totally serious when she thought it was worth the risk of dying in a horrific way to hear the voice of the boyfriend that left her. Seriously? Your boyfriend leaves you, you have a delusion that you can hear his voice telling you not to hurt yourself whenever you do something dangerous, so you decide to ride down a street as fast as you can on a motorcycle without a helmet? When I realized she wasn't going to run into a tree and die a mangled bloody mess, as would have served her right, I put the book down and did not feel a hint of regret for not picking it up again. Bella is a boring, weak and pathetic character who is inspiring an entire generation of girls to hang all of their self-worth on their boyfriends and find over-protectiveness and stalking to be appealing traits in a romantic partner.

So there you go. Rants. Enjoy.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Firefly Week - Symbolism, conclusions, and a sneak preview

Rabid Lit Major
Mood - about to keel over

Watching - "Radamisto"

Excerpt - None...I haven't seen it yet. If you live anywhere near Liberty, Missouri (That would be most of you. My followers as yet do not extend much beyond my immediate circle of friends and family.) you should all come up to William Jewell tonight at 7:30 to see it with me. I'm good friends with many of the players, and I can tell you now that they are extremely talented. It promises to be a great show. If you are one of those players, I will see you there: break a leg!

Honestly, everyone, I don't know that I'm up to creating a post to my usual standards for length and in-depth-ness. I'm not even capable of coming up with a better word than "in-depth-ness". I had a hard-core week: a lovely combination of a broken-down car necessitating a lot of driving back and forth to give/receive rides, a rather large paper being due, my normal load of payed work and school work, and a host of other small duties.

I will, therefore, be brief...and I apologize for any lack you feel.

The use of symbolism is important in literature. In some cases, it can add layers of meaning. In others, it can create a subconscious feeling. Whedon uses all forms of symbolism. One of the best examples I can offer is in the color schemes. If you watch the DVD extra that gives you a tour of the ship, you'll hear how he purposefully made the colors of the rooms transition from cool blues and greys to warm oranges and reds. Colors carry a lot of subconscious weight. In advertisement, color theory is heavily used to evoke certain feelings from us. Yellow, for example, evokes hunger. Now think of how many fast food chains utilize yellow in their color schemes. To prove the subconscious impact, now think of how many kitchens you've seen that use yellow.

The costumes of the characters follow this pattern. Inara wears sensuous silks in reds, peach, copper etc. Kaylee's look is similarly warm in color, but has a more bright tone - evoking sensuality and cheer. Jayne's clothes are reminiscent of camouflage colors but shot with bright oranges and reds: militaristic and violent. Mal and Zoe wear brown shades, not only to honor their cause but as a symbol of humility and simplicity...and note! Zoe's shades tend to be slightly more lustrous and sensual. River typically wears busy patterns and floaty fabrics, indicative of her scattered mind.

Etc. etc. etc.

Did I mention this post wasn't going to be very thorough? I think I've given you an idea.

So! Conclusions for Firefly week: It's a brilliantly written show. Give it a chance if you haven't yet, I promise you you will not be disappointed.

Aaaaand I think I promised a preview in the title. So here we go:

In the next couple of weeks, look forward to some nice random posts. I plan to do a film review. I may explain to you all why sometimes I root for the villain no matter how evil he is. If I can convince him, I'd like to do a he said/she said style post with my brother on what comedy entails, (which in a very meta way will probably be pretty funny). Who knows, I may even post a bit of my original writing.

I hope you're looking forward to it. Once again, best wishes to the "Radamisto" cast. And that's it. I give up. I'm hungry and tired and I still have so much to do tonight. Wish me luck!

*Note - I apologize for any careless errors. I will regret it if my writing is less than clear...but not enough to change it. Too tired.

Oh! And a Happy April Fool's Day. Watch out for pranks.

Thursday, 31 March 2011

Firefly Week - I like "quirky"...quirky's cool.

Rabid Lit Major
Mood - geekier than usual

Watching - Firefly, of course

Excerpt - "I aim to misbehave."

Reason - Today is "Unification Day", a Facebook-organized protest in which Browncoats wear brown coats to show their support of the well as their general displeasure at its cancellation. See my previous post for a picture of my own coat. :)

Alrighty then...on to today's reason that this is one of the greatest shows ever.

From the very beginning, "Firefly" shows that it is not a cliche. I mean, come's a space western. That's not a very big group...I can only think of "Cowboy Bebop" and Steve Miller Band's "The Joker" ...some people call me the space cowboy...when I try to come up with others.

There's the utter lack of a classic sci-fi future look. The costuming remains fairly traditional and practical, in both the rich core-bred and poor rim-bred. Joss seems to have taken into account that fashion tends to work in a cyclical fashion...things come back into style all the time. You see little details are different. Odd fabrics or combinations...yet, at the core, the clothing remains logical and there isn't an inch of shiny plastic or neon color pallets to be found. The weaponry is a mixture of classic gunpowder and futuristic lasers...and the lasers function logically. (I love that one episode features a laser-gun running out of batteries and that even high-tech weaponry require oxygen to function properly.)

Futuristic technology exists, but it is taken into account that people wouldn't necessarily afford it. There's clear evidence of slowly progressing social norms...both positive and negative: a higher view of homosexuality and sexuality in general as normal, an increase in social class even see that indications that some are more conservative than others, such as Mal's disdain for Inara's otherwise respected profession.

It's also refreshing that a show taking place entirely in entirely different galaxy even...shows no indication of their being alien life. Not that I mind aliens or think they're's just different.

The characters defy cliche as well. No one character can be boiled down to one stereotype. They are entirely complex and more like real people. Kaylee is a prime example. In spite of acting innocent and being the bright-and-sunshiny character she is anything but naive. She's incredibly socially adept, very self-confident and is not shy at all when it comes to sex. I still die laughing at her cheerful call out to Inara to "Have good sex!", using the same tone as "Have a nice day!" She's also a female mechanic...who is NOT Asian.

Let's also note that neither of the black characters is the comic relief, have a background that involves race-specific enslavement or prejudice, or indeed have their race mentioned at all. Simon, the rich boy on the run, does not look down on his privileged life or present rebellious attitudes...but instead displays a logical amount of prejudice for a theoretically open-minded character who had never truly been exposed to those in a different social class.

Of course there are some classic elements...especially the dystopian ones. (Evil, corporate government, illegal and immoral experimentation for money and power etc. etc.) However, the details that go into the writing defy the cliche at every turn...and I love it.

Today wraps up Firefly month, tomorrow wraps up Firefly week...if you haven't seen the show I hope you will and that I had a small part in that. You can't stop the signal...even if the show never returns the fans will forever hope: what better testament to good writing is there?

Firefly Week - Second-viewing love

Rabid Lit Major -
Mood - torn...I'm irritated that the fire alarm in my building went off at 5am, but I'm thrilled by how wonderful the "Castle" episode I just watched is.

Watching - "Castle"...starring the lovely Nathan Fillion, which makes it very topical. (Obviously, posting every day that I'm still reading the Fry autobiography is silly.)

Excerpt - They make references to "Firefly" constantly in the's a good example. (After Nathan Fillion as Rick Castle walks out in his Malcolm Reynolds costume.)

His Daughter: (laughing) Hey.
Castle: Hey. I was just trying on my...Halloween costume.
Daughter: What exactly are you supposed to be?
Castle: Space cowboy.
Daughter: Ok, A: there are no cows in space. B: didn't you wear that like five years ago?
Castle: So?
Daughter: So, don't you think you should move on?
Castle: I like it.

What a wonderful tie-in, eh? Let's latch on to that transition and move on...

I'm a little worried about today's post. You see, I wanted to write about the masterful grasp of foreshadowing in the show. It is a thing of beauty when a writer can literally state what is going to happen in a way that we don't even notice it.

I could give you so many examples! Whedon does it beautifully...sometimes boldly stating what's going to happen, sometimes couching it in cryptic terms...and I can't tell you any of them. Really, I can't. Those would be spoilers. I don't want to ruin it for you.

The only thing I can say is: take my word for's well done. If you've only watched the series once, go back and watch it again and pay attention. You will notice all kinds of hints to later episodes...big hints. It's amazing. A lot of River's babbling, if you take the time to unravel the aphasia-like speech and analyze the various metaphors, is incredibly significant. And she's not the only one who makes surprisingly prophetic statements. There's a line of Kaylee's early in the series that is some of the most blatant foreshadowing I've ever seen...and you completely miss its significance until you watch it again.

Already I fear I've said too much.

Let's try this: Yesterday I gave a quick run-through of the I'll give you the main cast of characters, because I suddenly realize that I've mentioned several character names without explaining who they are...which is a baaaaaad mistake for a lit major to make. After, I'll try to give a rundown of how Joss Whedon uses foreshadowing and why it enhances the experience.

Serenity - a "Firefly" class spaceship, named after the battle of Serenity Valley, which was the turning point in the war which secured victory for the Alliance.

Malcolm Reynolds - captain of Serenity and veteran of the war. At times roguishly charming, at others intense and jaded, he still wears the brown coat he wore as an Independent and clearly is still very affected by the war even six years later. Since the war, he has carved out a living as a smuggler and thief.

Zoe Washburne - second in command and old army buddy of Malcolm, having served under him in the same unit. Generally cold and sarcastic, she loosens up around her husband.

Hoban "Wash" Washburne - pilot of Serenity and husband of Zoe. He's a great pilot and extremely goofy. (The first time you see him, he's playing with plastic dinosaurs.)

Jayne Cobb - the "public relations specialist" of Serenity...which is a polite way of saying mercenary. He states clearly that he was never involved in the war. He's big, undereducated, crass, and violent. (And, believe it or not, is one of my favorite characters.)

Kaywinnit Lee "Kaylee" Frye - super-chipper genius mechanic of Serenity. Kaylee is obnoxiously cheerful and kind, which contrasts nicely with a bold attitude and a complete lack of shyness when it comes to sex. She has a thing for Simon.

Simon Tam - the ship's medic and a current fugitive of the Alliance. Born in the core, he's a lot prissier than the rest of the crew, who were all born in the rim. His family was extremely rich and he himself is highly educated. He became wanted when he broke his sister out of a government facility.

River Tam - sister to Simon and fugitive of the Alliance. According to Simon, she was a super-genius as a child and was sent to a government "academy" to learn. She started sending him coded messages claiming they were hurting her, which prompted him to break her out. Whatever happened to her there, she is now mentally unstable, tends to speak in riddles and has violent episodes.

Shepherd Book - a preacher who accidentally falls in with the group at the same time as the Tams. He attempts to be the voice of morality in the den of thieves.

Inara Serra - a "companion" who rents one of the shuttles on Serenity. Companions in the Firefly 'verse are like courtesans: highly respected, legal prostitutes whose job description seems to be more along the lines of sexual therapy. She's extremely businesslike and is always trading barbs with the captain in some of the most painful sexual tension I've ever seen in a TV series.

And with that out of the way, I'll return to the main point of today's post: foreshadowing.

So far I've managed to do this without spoilers, (the character descriptions only hold info you can glean from the first episode), and I will endeavor to keep it that way.

Joss Whedon's use of foreshadowing is brilliant. The true mark of a truly good piece of foreshadowing is that it alludes plainly to something that happens later while being completely unobtrusive. If done correctly, the people who actively look for these things will notice it and will either appreciate the joke or be able to predict what will happen and amaze their friends. The people who prefer to take everything in in a relaxed way, however, should notice noting whatsoever and be spared any spoilers.

Joss's use is completely masterful. He employs two major techniques for his foreshadowing. One involves characters saying something off-hand that turns out to be significant later on. The other involves letting River...who speaks in crazy, twisted riddles, tell the viewers EXACTLY what's going to happen, but mired in a web of crazy allusions and metaphor.

What's really impressive about all of this is that Joss does not waste one iota of dialogue. Every scene, every line has a great deal of importance. There are no throw-away bits. He uses every second of screen-time given to him. If a scene doesn't seem to reveal anything new about the plot or character, you should probably look closer.

As always, check out HNBF's facebook page! Oh! And today is "Unification Day"...a bunch of us Firefly fans are wearing our brown coats in support of the show. Check out my sweet coat and my homemade "Fruity Oaty Bars" shirt.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Firefly Week - Science fact in science fiction

Rabid Lit Major
Mood - Giddy

Book - Same book...I'm more excited that I'm buying "Tangled" today. If you haven't figured out my love of Disney by now...

Excerpt - (song from Tangled) "Seven AM: the usual morning lineup. Start on the chores and sweep 'til the floor's all clean. Polish and wax, do laundry, and mop and shine up. Sweep again...and by then it'"

Moving on.

Let's start off with a new literature rule, shall we?

Literature Rule 3
Those who write fiction should pay even more attention to realism than those who write non-fiction.

I believe I may have stated this before, but it bears repeating: writing fiction does not give you the right to avoid research. Quite the opposite in fact. Writing fiction constitutes a delicate balance between the fantastical and the realistic. Fiction, good fiction anyway, should always use the fantastic to accentuate and emphasize truth. At the very least, fiction should provide an escape to the reader...a new world to get lost in.

The more fantastic the story, the more the writer needs to make sure it conforms to rules.

This is for a very good reason: the fourth wall. For those unfamiliar with the term, the fourth wall is the wall between the audience and the work. "Breaking" the fourth wall occurs when the suspension of disbelief is destroyed and can be put to good use. (A good example is in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" whenever Matthew Broderick speaks directly to the camera, temporarily destroying the illusion that these are real people living out their life unaware they are in a movie.)

Despite some creative, deliberate breaking of the fourth wall, it does exist for a reason. As a writer, you want to immerse the audience in your work. You want them invested. You want them to feel for your characters, as if they were real people. You want them to gasp in genuine shock when Darth Vader reveals he's Luke's father.

This will not happen if, the entire time, the audience is thinking "these are just characters, it's not real."

To make the audience forget the falsity of the story, it is important to maintain enough realism to not throw them out of the story and say "Wait a second...that didn't make sense."

Hence, the reason realism is important.

(Brie...Brie? This is a post about Firefly. Get to the point?)

Right. Right. Sorry.

Joss Whedon, writer of Firefly, agrees with me on this topic. This is clear in his careful adherence to science fact within science fiction.

The show takes place in the future. General premise is that humankind left "Earth That Was" due, presumably, to overpopulation and exhaustion of resources. We now live in a new solar system full of terraformed planets made to simulate Earth. This was ages ago. When we catch up to our characters it is six years after a war between the "Alliance" and the "Browncoats/Independents". As their names suggest, the war was between those who wanted to Unite the various planets under a central government and those who wanted to remain independent.

Those of you who have heard of Firefly may have heard it described as a "space western". If this seems like a weird genre to you, let me explain. Joss Whedon put a lot of thought into what would happen if we were to "move" to a new galaxy. The "central" planets of the system, those close to the governmental center (yes, the Alliance won) look like a classic sci-fi world. Shiny metal, gleaming towers, wealth and technology. The "rim" planets, however, are rough. The people are obviously poor and as a result of their lack of resources, they function more like old Western towns than cities of the future.

Another logical leap he made when constructing the politics of his world is in the language and culture of these worlds. While many cultures are seen and represented, the two that seem to have held on are China and America. Everyone in the world speaks both English and Mandarin fluently. This, aside from being a logical leap given that they are the two most spoken languages, was a choice based in practicality. It's a gritty show, obviously meant for adults, but it aired on Fox. So while it seems weird for the characters not to curse, they simply would not be able to per television standards. So the solution was to have all of the cursing in Mandarin. It gets the point across and avoids the censors. However, I still give Whedon huge bonus points for taking into account that just because it's an American show, not everyone in the world speaks English.

Then there's the science. Due to the rugged Western feel, tech is pretty low key. You see small nods to it here and there. Guns represented are a mixture between ammo-and-gunpowder and laser weaponry. Hovercraft and spaceships are common for transport between worlds, but on-world tends to be dominated by trains and horses. One of the little details I love is that you still see duct tape used as a universal repair tool.

However what's really impressive is that Whedon does not sacrifice scientific facts in his writing. Much of the show takes place in space...and space in "Firefly" actually does function as a vacuum. Whenever the characters are "in the black" and not in the ship, there is complete silence aside from their communicators. In one episode, there is a fire in the ship which they get rid of by sealing off the areas on fire and opening up the air lock. As the oxygen rushes out, so does the fire...which dissipates the moment there is no air to burn. Even the design of the ship is carefully thought out to make its movements logical.

No sound here.

These are not things that most people notice...that's the idea. If you notice them, they grab your attention away from the story. They are logical and would work in the real world, so we file them away as "normal" and ignore them. That is a sign of a well-constructed fictional world.

HNBF note - One of the many wonderful charities supported by Nathan Fillion is "Kids Need to Read"...who can't get behind that? Join the fine folks at Help Nathan Buy Firefly in supporting the charity and showing that Browncoats care!

Monday, 28 March 2011

Browncoat Love

Before I launch into the post I have a few quick notes.

First, I am very sorry for the intermittent posting. As stated before, I have less computer access than I am accustomed to. I will do my best to post at least two or three times a week.

Second, I have decided that, as this is a literature blog, I should start posting a bit about what I'm reading currently. This is also because it is my literature blog, and therefore it should center around me anyway.

So! Here we go.

Rabid Lit Major:
Mood - sleepy but cheerful

Current book - "The Fry Chronicles - an autobiography" by Stephen Fry

Book excerpt -
"If a thing can be said in ten words, I may be relied upon to take a hundred to say it. I ought to apologize for that. I ought to go back and ruthlessly prune, pare and extirpate excess growth, but I will not. I like words - strike that, I love words - and while I am fond of the condensed and economical use of them in poetry, song lyrics, in Twitter, in good journalism and smart advertising, I love the luxuriant profusion and mad scatter of them too. After all, as you will already have noticed, I am the kind of person who writes things like 'I shall append a superscribed obelus thus'. If my manner of writing is a self-indulgence that has you grinding your teeth then I am sorry, but I am too old a dog to be taught to bark new tunes."

Additional note - I don't care if that excerpt was ridiculously long...I love words too.

Additional additional note - Thanks to my wonderful boyfriend for buying me this book. <3 Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming. Those of you who are facebook friends with me have likely already realized that I am a huge browncoat. Browncoat - n. - 1. Slang term for the rebel army in the short-lived television show Firefly, in reference to the brown coats worn by members of the army. 2. A person who is a fan/obsessive of said short-lived science-fiction show.

(Hint: I fall in the realm of the second definition.)

If you are already a browncoat, you can skip this part. If you're confused…here's an explanation.

Joss Whedon's space-western epic aired in 2002 on Fox. It lasted one season before it was cancelled due, according to Fox, to low ratings. Fans contend that had the episodes been aired in a regular time slot, and in order, the ratings would have been much higher. Regardless of whether this is true, when the show came out on DVD it sparked a huge fan following. Enough interest was generated that a feature film sequel, Serenity, was successfully pitched, produced and hit theaters. However, rather than satisfy fans, the sequel merely sparked hope that the show could be resuscitated…and nine years later the hope remains strong.

The reason my obsession has been particularly visible lately is part of a giant awareness-raising campaign sparked by the show's lead actor - Nathan Fillion. In an interview, the actor made an offhand comment about wishing he could just buy the rights and start the show up again. The fans immediately rallied behind the idea, pledging money and creating press-garnering stunts.

Now…I suspect that Fillion was not 100% serious. (Although, having been a geek icon so long he really ought to know better.) It does not change the fact that this simple statement had…impressive results.

At time of writing, the group has ceased collecting pledges from hopeful fans due to a request by Fillion. However, its supporting facebook group still holds an astounding 117,000+ members (including myself), people all over the world have changed their facebook profile pictures to firefly characters for the month (including myself), and many plan to end this month by wearing a brown coat to show their loyalty (including myself).

By the way, if you are interested, the group is now collecting donations for various charities supported by Fillion. The pledges were discontinued because Fillion didn't want to create a ruckus without promise of results. However, the fundraising continues in hopes that we can raise awareness of the show and support some good causes along the way. You can reach their facebook page here:

Help Nathan Buy Firefly

So why the hubbub? What's so impressive about this specific show that the followers are…dare I say…rabid?

Who better than the Rabid Lit Major to analyze the show's literary merits to solve the mystery of Firefly's appeal?

(That was rhetorical. Please keep your answers to yourself.)

All this week, I will be analyzing the show, explaining what makes it so great, and hopefully I'll win a few converts to the Browncoat ranks. Will it help Nathan to buy Firefly? Likely not. But if I can introduce more people to one of the best written shows of all time, drum up a little bit of press, and talk about a subject dear to my heart…then I'll be happy.

So what literary areas does the show excel in?

1. Realistic fiction in a fictional reality
2. A masterful grasp of foreshadowing
3. Avoidance of cliches
4. Symbolism

It also has a wickedly excellent, and largely attractive, cast.


Friday, 25 March 2011

Game Week 3: Dungeons and Dragons

There's a game that actually improves your abilities as a writer immensely...and it's not Scrabble. Nor does it have a Mensa sticker or proudly exclaim that it's "educational."

In fact, it in no way advertises its helpfulness in this field. However, the sheer number of successful people who played this game in their youth speaks for itself.

Yes, yes. I'm that much of a geek. Dungeons and Dragons is a recent love of mine. I always wanted to get into it, but it seemed like such a...time investment. And it is. Getting started in a game is enough to deter most people from playing...setting up a character and learning the mechanics is frustrating. It took me several sessions to get the hang of the fighting and when to roll dice and which dice to roll. During that time, the game was frustrating and difficult. I wasn't really having a ton of fun and I was so busy with the rules I wasn't getting into my character properly.

Once I had the mechanics down though? Just trust me on this...if you stick with it through the learning curve, you will have a great time.

I'm off topic though. You didn't come here to have me tell you to play this game - you came here to see what literary merit the game has.

I have always thought that there is no way I could be a teacher, because my method of teaching would be totally bizarre. My students would watch the BeeGees's "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" in order to teach them the concept of deus ex machina.

I would totally make a creative writing class play Dungeons and Dragons.

I'm not kidding.

(Now tell me I should be a teacher. Parents would riot.)

It would work. I believe this fully. I just don't think the people in charge of curriculums would give me a chance to explain. You, my captive audience, have no choice. ( do. But I assume that, if you're still reading, you're willing to hear it anyway.)

Here's why my students would be forced to spend each class period making perception checks and my budget would include an invoice for 20-sided dice.

Dungeons and Dragons is literally creative story-telling by committee...and possibly the greatest exercise ever for enforcing character-driven plots.

For those of you whose knowledge of D&D is limited to, as a comedic animation put it "a shit ton of rules and a lot of funny shaped dice"...a bunch of nerds in their parents' basement eating Cheetos and drinking Mountain Dew and never having girlfriends...and dressed up in silly medieval outfits holding foam swords...let me explain it to you.

First of all, most of the stereotypes, whether they've been true in the past or not, are pretty much untrue or exaggerated. My group has two girls, (including myself). Our DM (Dungeon Master...I'll explain later) hosts the games in his own apartment. Sometimes there's mountain dew...but typically we go out to eat as a group and sometimes we have alcohol (depending on the age of the players and who's driving). All of us have had a significant other at some point, whether we're currently attached or not. And the dressing up and foam weapon thing? Completely incorrect, that's a different thing altogether. That's called "LARP" or Live Action Role Play. It's a small subset of D&D, which is a table-top role playing game, that combines the game with theater. I've never played, but imagine that it's vaguely similar to working at RenFest.

Ok, that's out of the way. Here's how you actually play.

The best way to explain D&D, which just proves my point, is that you are writing a story. It's not a competitive game. There's no "winning" or "losing" the game.

Gameplay breaks down into two roles: you are either the DM in charge of the plot, or you are a player in charge of a character.

To begin a game, the DM prepares a basic story construct. The DM decides what the world looks like, how it works, generally what's going to happen and what has been happening...Meanwhile, the players create characters.

Everyone who writes a story should make a D&D character. You don't simply come up with a name and looks. You have to decide all of the backstory of your character and ok it with the DM to make sure it fits the world he's created. You have to decide what your character's strengths are. Are they highly intelligent but a little naive? Strong and intimidating but not very charming? No character can be perfect...and your abilities have to match your backstory. If your character grew up studying extensively but didn't interact with other kids much, your "charisma" points are going to be low while your "intelligence" points will be high. Which means if you need to lie convincingly, you're not going to do well...but if you need to remember some random bit of history you'll do just fine.

If you decide that you character is really big, they'll be stronger but they'll also be slower.

If your character has distinctive looks, they will have trouble being inconspicuous.

EVERY decision you make has to make sense, and will have logical consequences.

Game play simply involves the DM relaying the story in the guise of narrator and the minor characters. The players, however, are responsible for the individual decisions of their characters.

Sometimes, this has unintended consequences that the DM was not expecting.

I will give you an example from the game I currently play.

My group was hired by the government to investigate a mysterious group that had been causing some trouble. Our investigations led us to leave the city...which we had not been authorized to do. When events led us to return to the city we had warrants out for our arrest. We fell into a trap and were captured by bounty hunters.

This is where things get interesting.

We have in our group a character played by my good friend Alex. Alex's character is a changeling who, while being useless in a fight, is an incredible liar. He has impressive magical abilities and a great deal of when he lies he not only makes them believe him, it makes them believe him passionately. As with all skills, this depends on the roll of a this case a 20-sided one. The idea is that you have a certain amount of natural and trained ability in something...which creates a "modifier". However, any endeavor also depends on your luck and the ability of others to resist you. Now Pique (Alex's character) has a ridiculously high "bluff" modifier...something like +20. The bounty hunters had an unfortunately average ability to sense the motives of others...such as when they are lying, (a stat known as "passive insight"). Alex then made the situation even more interesting by rolling really well.

What was the result?

"Pique" decided to distract the bounty hunters by getting them interested in a "new" God, (something we'd been investigating at the time and therefore was fresh in his mind.) However, he lied so well that he not only got them to let us go...he started a new religion.

Which meant that the next time we entered the city (a few months later in game time) the religion that he had started had become a major force and the followers hailed him as a prophet and offered us all kinds of aid.

The DM did not create that story line...Alex did through his decisions.

That is the essence of a character-driven story. I prefer character-driven stories over plot-driven stories any day...and you probably do as well. In a character driven story, the events unfold based on the decisions of a character. In order for this to work, the character has to be well-written and function like a real person. They make decisions that are logical given the knowledge, background and personality of the character. An impulsive character will act impulsively. A character that does not know he's walking into a trap will continue doing so regardless of what the reader and author know, etc. etc. etc.

An event-driven plot, however, will force a character into the sequence of events the author has already come up with. This is not a bad thing necessarily. As long as the character reacts in a logical way based on the events and it still works then it's perfectly fine.

There are downsides to each style. Character-driven plots have more chance of derailing on the author as the character reacts to events in a way the author doesn't expect and makes the ending impossible or boring...necessitating a re-write. (e.g. a timid character may decide to stay at home and do nothing in reaction to scary things happening...and therefore not be in the right place for the plot to continue and completely throw the author off as they try to think of a legitimate reason to place the character back in harm's reach.) Event-driven plots, on the other hand, have a much higher chance of deus ex machina style events...plot points that come out of nowhere for no clear reason for the sole purpose of moving the plot along.

Between the two, I prefer character-driven plots because they force the author to rewrite the story until it logically works rather than taking a shortcut.

Playing D&D is literally practice in creating character-driven plots in game form. It's wonderful.

So, yes...if I was a creative writing teacher my poor students would be forced to play.

They would also have a required unit on grammar and sentence diagramming, know the difference between intransitive and transitive verbs (or know my wrath) and would suffer dire consequences for mixing up your/you're.

They would hate me.

This is my D&D group, minus the DM who is taking the picture. You may notice that we are all having an awesome time. You may also notice that we are huge dorks.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Bonus Post - to make up for Radio Week's demise

Just a quickie post to give you something to think about.

Have you ever listened to older songs and realized that modern songs are ripping them off?

Ok, stupid question. Let me be more specific.

Have you ever listened to older songs and realize that there is a modern song that has the same plot and theme, it's just a little less...subtle? I'm not talking about literally ripping off...sampling, covering or outright stealing of lyrics or riffs. I'm just talking about perfectly innocent coincidence. It's just weird to realize clean-cut older songs are talking about the exact same thing as modern obscene songs. It makes you want to take the modern music industry by the shoulders, shake them roughly, and remind them what metaphors and euphemisms are for.

So, I have two examples for your enjoyment. Listen to the lyrics, compare, and be amazed.

Example One: The Foundations' "Build Me Up Buttercup" and The Offsprings' "Self-Esteem". Two songs about a man who is pathetically devoted to a girl who manipulates and uses him. Note how both songs reference waiting for phone calls and being stood up for dates. The latter is particularly funny because it shows how much times have Build Me Up Buttercup they make plans for 10. In Self Esteem, they make plans for "night" and he waits for her until 2am.

Example Two: Cole Porter's "Let's Misbehave" and Bloodhound Gang's "Bad Touch (Discovery Channel)". Two songs about ignoring social niceties and just having sex. Note how both songs justify the idea by claiming that humans are mammals and that makes it natural. Also note that the Discovery Channel song is extremely (amusingly) disgusting and should be considered NSFW.

I was going to make a pun about there being nothing new under the sung...but figured that I'd get the gong for it.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Game Week 2: Portal

Sorry folks! I have limited computer access for the foreseeable future. Will update regularly, just probably not daily. To make up for's an absurdly long post. more video game post and then we'll move on to other games.

"Portal" is a short video game produced by Valve available on the XBox360 and for the computer. You play a woman named Chel (although how I know that is beyond me, as she remains unnamed throughout the game) who is testing out a new technology in a science facility.

It is also one of the funniest games I have ever played. The grasp of dystopian themes, horror elements, and dark humor is absurdly impressive for such a limited game.

So what about Portal gives it such strong elements? As always, we turn to the world of literary analysis. The game employs several writing strategies employed by the greatest books.

First, let's look at the horror elements they implement.

Bleak settings are creepy.

Portal is by no means "basic" in the way Pac-Man is basic. The graphics are everything you could hope for in this effects-glutted modern society. They should be - there is not much to the game. The walls are almost uniformly white and flat. The lighting is florescent and corporate. All of the tech looks like it was developed by Apple - smooth, curved and white. It is the epitome of the science lab.

It's sterile and cold and wonderfully chilling. The first time you see blood smeared on the walls, the bright redness of it after the unending white and grey is that much more striking.

The other thing about the setting that strikes a chord is that it's mostly empty. There are the few necessary devices that make each level playable, but for the most part you are dealing with large rooms with high ceilings that are mostly empty. As humans, we like to fill our space with stuff. We buy silly nicknacks, collect things, and hang art on the walls to inject personality into a space and feel comfortable. Rooms devoid of these things, like college classrooms, are vaguely unsettling to us. This is why waiting rooms in Doctor's offices have ugly art pieces and boring magazines...the clutter is comforting.

Starkness + loneliness = discomfort and anxiety.


There is a book called "The Haunting". I think it was made into a movie but I don't particularly care. The reason I bring it up here is because there was one thing in the book that truly made me scared while I read it: the description of the house. As the characters walk through it the first time, they realize it's all built on angles that are off by only one or two degrees. They're close enough to the standard 45 and 90 degree angles that you don't notice on a conscious level...but as you turn corners, they throw you off just enough that when you look out a window the view is completely wrong based on your orientation. You've made a certain number of right turns and are expecting to see the front lawn and instead you see the side driveway. This, believe it or not, set the tone for the book and was scarier than all the gore and psychological torment that followed...combined.

Most films and art implement this basic strategy. If a scene is meant to freak you out, nine times out of ten you will notice that your point of view is skewed...either by viewing from below or above or by having the screen off kilter.

The story of "Portal" is similarly designed to keep you on your toes at all times. You are never fully aware of where you are, how you got there, what your purpose is or any other basic information.

You begin the game "waking up" in a small space with no doors. A quick glance around reveals a radio that plays one song, a toilet, and a pod thing in which you were apparently sleeping. The tone is set immediately. You are alone, you are trapped, and you have no idea how you got there. Many of the rooms in the game are similar. Since you are working with portals (essentially wormholes that connect to each other) many rooms are impossible to escape from without this physics-defying technology.

At every level you are alone except for the voice of GLaDOS, a computer that guides you through the game and an awesome character. But more on her later. Sometimes, empty boardrooms can be seen or entered. You gain the impression that you are not the only one who has tested this tech through comments made by GLaDOS, usually through the fact that most of her comments to you sound like form letters.

"You [subject name here] must be the pride of [subject hometown here]"

Yet you never encounter these other testers until you reach the level where laser turrets are introduced. When the threat of death is introduced to the game, you suddenly start finding these bright red bloody handprints. Follow them, you may find a cubbyhole marked by a bloody scrawled "help". In these cubbies you see these mad scrawlings and pictures indicating death and torture. It is, frankly, hilarious.

This is where the famous "the cake is a lie" quote comes from. Through the game, GLaDOS makes reference to "cake" being a reward for completing all of the tests. "Cake and grief counseling will be available." One of the cubbies simply has the line "the cake is a lie" scrawled over and over and over again on the walls.

It's jarring, it's freaky, and I love it.

Knowing it all is boring.

You know what kind of movies and books I really, truly love and never can seem to find?

The ones that don't answer all of your questions.

I'm not talking about major plot points remaining unresolved. You should always resolve the issues you raise in a story. (Apologies to fabulous tv series who are unjustly cancelled before they can address these issues. Next week will be all about you.) Deus ex machina? Not ok. Unexplained plot advance or character development? Bad.

(Science fiction authors, you are the most guilty of this. I'm happy for you that you've worked out how, exactly, your faster-than-light-speed drive works. Interrupting the plot to explain it for 5 pages is not ok.)

Minor characters should have back story. As an author, you should know why a character behaves the way they do. However, unless it's important to your reader to know, you should not insert it.

Ugh...this is getting way too long winded. I'll simplify.

There are two bad extremes and one happy medium in story telling when it comes to minor plot elements. Imagine you are an author. The protagonist of your story was betrayed by his estranged sister.

Extreme one: The sister did this because you needed a betrayal to move the plot along. You, the author, have no idea what her motivations are but it moves the plot. Problem: this will feel stilted, your reader will be confused, dissatisfaction follows etc.

Extreme two: The sister did this because of a complex series of circumstances...such as growing up resenting her missing brother and being seduced by the guy chasing him or whatever. Problem: If you explain all of this, even though the protagonist would have no knowledge of the circumstances and the book has until this point been in the third person limited. The plot screeches to a halt, the reader becomes bored and ultimately forgets what was happening before this tangent.

Happy medium: Same as above, except you, the author, know these motivations but do not share. It will make your writing of the sister more natural and the readers will notice. If you feel the urge to tell her story, you can do so in a sequel or a side book. (J.R.R. Tolkien is a good muse for this.)

Portal does this brilliantly. There are many things that are left unexplained. Winning the game, of course, comes with resolution of Chel's (I really have no idea how I know your character's name.) immediate problems.

Things that are not explained within the game:
Where all the scientists are
Who "Black Mesa" is...other than a rival company
Why Chel was there to begin with

Now...I think some of this is explained in the game "Half Life" which Portal was sold with. I'm fairly certain there is a company called Black Mesa anyway. I don't know. The missing scientists, however, are definitely a mystery. Did GLaDOS kill them?

Not knowing is much creepier and satisfying. It fires up my imagination. More importantly, it keeps me immersed in the story by not breaking the fourth wall. There is no way my character would know, so she doesn't.

And last but not least...

Dark Humor

I can not rave enough about how awesome a character GLaDOS is. She is the mainframe computer for the laboratories and guides you, more or less, through the game. Obviously inhuman, incapable of lying subtly, and utterly insane, her bits of speech are great.

This is good, because Chel doesn't talk at all, and the only other voices in the game are the turrets which talk in childlike voices asking where you are before shooting you.

All of GLaDOS's dialogue is stuffed with dark, dark humor. Here are a few of my favorite examples.

Please note that we have added a consequence for failure. Any contact with the chamber floor will result in an unsatisfactory mark on your official testing record, followed by death.

Did you know you can donate one or all of your vital organs to the Aperture Science Self Esteem Fund for Girls? It's true!

Remember, the Aperture Science Bring Your Daughter to Work Day is the perfect time to have her tested.

As part of an optional test protocol, we are pleased to present an amusing fact: The device is now more valuable than the organs and combined incomes of everyone in *subject hometown here.*

Do you think I'm trying to trick you with reverse psychology? I mean, seriously, now.

We are pleased that you made it through the final challenge where we pretended we were going to murder you. We are very very happy for your success. We are throwing a party in honor of your tremendous success. Place the device on the ground, then lie on your stomach with your arms at your sides. A party associate will arrive shortly to collect you for your party. Make no further attempt to leave the testing area. Assume the Party Escort Submission Position, or you will miss the party.

Do I need to explain further?

The best part of the game by far is a level in which you are given a "companion cube". It's simply a heavy block of metal with a heart drawn on it. You use it to block deadly energy balls and weigh down buttons. However, throughout the level, GLaDOS makes weird comments about how it can not talk...but if it does you should ignore what it says.

Throughout the level it talks about how the cube is loyal to you and will be happy to do anything for you etc. etc. After not having met anyone throughout the entire game, these statements slowly start to freak you out. You imagine the cube is alive. That it somehow contains a human brain and heart or something along those lines. You at least get the impression that it is sentient and can feel pain. It never shows any indication of this. It is a box with a heart drawn on it.

At the end of the level, in order to move on, you have to throw it in an incinerator. There is no way around this without a cheat code. I literally spent 30 minutes trying to figure out a way around this. It was emotionally agitating. I was distraught over destroying a cube of metal, in a video game. That is a sign of good writing.

It probably didn't help that instead of saying "incinerating" or "destroying", GLaDOS called it "euthanizing".

Finally, there is the ending credits song. It was written by Jonathan Coulton, a geek rocker whose music is excellent. You should check him out if you've never heard of him. I like the song about taking pills for everything and "Code Monkey".

Jonathan Coulton's website - some MP3s are free to download!

He wrote "Still Alive" specifically for portal. It is sung by GLaDOS and is in the style of a report on the the events of the game addressed to Chel.

It's insane and excellent and the perfect I'm going to end my post with it.