On Change or Something

As pretty much every publishing blog ever has reported by now, Dorchester, starting in September, is going to release ebooks followed by POD trade paperbacks rather than releasing mass market paperbacks. ¬†A lot of very serious people who know the industry very well have discussed this elsewhere and made very good points. I am not a very serious person, so I’ll make two points.

1. I, personally, am cool with this. Books are still going to be in stores, and in libraries, so I’ll still get my atavistic thrill from browsing at Borders. Also, POD and ebooks were a model I remember discussing back in my days at O’Reilly, so I think that is where things are going. Which is not to say that anyone else’s reaction is invalid, mind: I can speak only from the perspective of a new author whose book is releasing in spring. But I, myself, am fine with things.

2. Moving on to a lighter or at least less emotional topic, I’ve seen a lot of discussion, as a result of this announcement, about the advantages and disadvantages of ebooks. Ebooks are more convenient; ebooks are harder to curl up with; ebooks are more easily available; ebooks are less affordable. All good points. (I personally have no problem reading online, though I’m not buying an e-reader until either the price goes down or I go a whole year without leaving my cell phone somewhere random, because otherwise I foresee DOOM.)

The point I haven’t seen yet?

Ebooks are way easier to get away with reading at work.

Er, not that I do that. Or at least not at my current job: I like my current job. However, I’ve had jobs I liked a lot less, and I’ve also had jobs that were basically answering the phone when it rang and otherwise doing whatever I wanted as long as I looked professional. You break out a paperback while you’re at your desk, people are going to glance at you suspiciously.

But an ebook? You can read that at your desk and look like you’re scrutinizing important email or going over annual reports. Plus, if you hear the boss coming, you can switch over to an Excel spreadsheet far more easily than you could put away a hard-copy book. I’m just saying, is all.

Maybe I should find a way to market directly to millennial-generation slackers. ūüėČ

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What I Like

I’m at the end of an extremely worthwhile week of vacation: saw my family, ate a lot better than I do when I cook for myself, and am currently waiting for Netflix to finish buffering Murder on the Orient Express, for about the fifty-first time: the wireless here is notoriously temperamental (“thanks”, Verizon), and I keep getting kicked out of the movie just as Poirot confronts one or another of the passengers. Not that I find that at all annoying.

I’ve also spent a fair amount of time reading. The local library, to which I’ve been going since I was…five? Something like that…has a really good selection: they get new books in regularly, but they also aren’t in the habit of throwing or giving away the old stuff, so they have many, many wonderful books with slightly tan paper and the hard geometric-pattern covers, which makes me happy on a weird level.

So I’ve been reading a lot, and thinking about what criteria I go for with books these days, particularly fiction. This isn’t an exclusive list of stuff I’ll read–anything from a friend’s recommendation to being stuck in a bus station can get me to go outside this particular box–nor is it at all an objective statement about what’s good or not. Hey, I eat circus peanuts: my taste is maybe not the best model to follow.

One of the things I’ve noticed is that I don’t do very well with giant one-story-over-six-books plot arcs that involve a million characters and places and subplots. I just…don’t. Picked up Peter Hamilton’s Night’s Dawn trilogy: the characters were good, the setting was cool, the ideas were interesting, but everything is all over the place, the POV is constantly jumping from Person A on one planet to Person C on another, and I have no idea what’s going on. This is not to say Hamilton’s bad. I just can’t really get into him for, probably, the same reason I forget my keys once a month: holding details in my mind for any length of time is tough.

I do, however, really like Tolkien and King, both of whom write long series full of long books and a lot of POV characters, and I think there are a couple of factors contributing to that. First of all, both authors introduce a main character or group of characters first and let us have significant time with them before everyone gets split up, if they do.¬† We get two books–or one really really long book–that’s ninety percent Frodo’s POV, which means we get to see the other people through his eyes and develop relationships accordingly. The first three books about Roland et al actually feature the group coming together, and nobody really goes off separately until book 6. Both these things cut way down on the amount of effort I have to put into remembering who this character is and why I should give a damn.

It also helps to have the major problem or goal of the series laid out right up front. LotR? Sauron’s a bad guy who does bad things; our heroes want to stop him. It’s simple and it works. Dark Tower? A little weirder, but Save the Keystone of Existence is, again, a pretty firm goal. It’s not vague, as you might say.¬† Not that there isn’t room for complexity, but I like my heroes to have a pretty good idea of their ultimate goal fairly soon in the series, even if the actual steps to get there are a little fuzzy or the goal changes along the way.

I largely prefer a gradual introduction to the world, and a plot that’s pretty tightly focused on a character or a group of characters, even if what they do ends up changing the world, or saving it, or whatever.¬† Not to say that those characters have to be the centers of the actual universe: I mentioned the Epic Epicness of DT and LotR, but I’m just as happy to read a slice-of-life novel about, I don’t know, being an ordinary army nurse during an alien invasion. (Cherry Ames and the Tentacular Horrors?) I just like knowing who I’m going to be riding along with, as it were, and roughly where we’re aiming to go.

I also prefer my plots…I don’t know if “simple” is the right word here, but I’m not a giant fan of plots centered around mysteries or conspiracies. I don’t mind those elements–q.v. Christie movie above, and I read ginormous amounts of Sherlock Holmes in my youth–but I find them hard to follow. Love Steven Brust for his setting and his language; will frequently finish up one of his books wondering just what happened there.¬† I prefer adventure or slice-of-life, or political plots a la The West Wing, where intricate scheming takes a backseat to grappling with issues.

Much to the disappointment of both parents, by the way: Mom reads a jillion mysteries, and Dad’s a spy-novel man. Oh well. I never was good at math or Latin, either. ūüėČ

It almost goes without saying that I go for strong heroines. That doesn’t necessarily mean kicking-ass-and-taking-names, though I do like that, but rather being good at what they do, having interests that aren’t a guy, and being able to function on their own under normal, not-being-attacked-by-mind-flayers circumstances. Having friends of their own helps a lot too, although that also depends on the situation.¬† I want someone who might be scared of a situation, but who will at least try to deal with it anyhow; someone who won’t be a burden.

What else do I like? Oh. Sleep. I like sleep.

Karate Kid: Part II

If I can remember my original thoughts. Not only has it been a week since I saw the movie, it’s a frillion and two degrees out: thank God for my day job, which both keeps me in Popsicles and has central air. Also? Grape flavored Popsicles are actually pretty good, as opposed to the unfiltered vileness that is artificial grape flavor for most things. This is the sort of information that passes for a PSA around here: one of these days, I’ll get a little star-and-rainbow graphic for it, too.

Anyhow, I think I broke off talking about the de-aging of the kids, and how that makes the increased level of violence all the weirder. ¬†It also makes the main character’s relationship to his mom more prominent, and despite wishing there’d been a little more variety in the Leet Skills Through Mundane Chores scenes*, I did like that Mr. Han actually got on Dre’s case about the way he acted around the house. Especially as again, when I re-watch the original, Larusso was kind of a pill even in his pre-getting-beaten-up days: I think I whined less about moving cross-country when I was eight, and I was not one of your more stoic and graceful eight-year-olds. ** You’d think his mom would have pointed out that, since this was about her job, Danny Boy could shut his yap unless he liked the idea of eating Ramen three meals a day–and again, points to Dre’s mom for basically doing that.

The teacher is also younger in the remake: I may just be going by the actors’ appearance here, but Han seems somewhere between twenty and thirty years younger than Miyagi. He’s also much more of a post-nineties mentor figure…

…and here’s where I tangent into one of my pet theories. (Which totally makes the student loans worth it, Dad, yes.) Basically, if you look at 1980s-era underdog-kid-makes-good sports movies, the story and the conflict are about the kid, and the mentor doesn’t really get a lot of character development. Miyagi was and is my primary example. He’s a *cool* character, and he has layers, but he doesn’t have a lot of unresolved issues: before Daniel-san comes along, he seems perfectly happy chilling out, working on his bonsai and his house and his vintage cars. He gets drunk and sad every year or so about his wife and his son–about which more later–but I don’t get the impression that it’s something he needs to get past, or needs to be healed from: it happened a long time ago, he’s gone on to live his life.

In the 1990s, though, you got more of a troubled mentor archetype–q.v. The Mighty Ducks, in which the mentor starts out as an evil cynical evil guy whose heart must grow three sizes, plus has a whole angsty backstory with the rival coach, whereas Miyagi and Kreese appear to meet for the first time when Daniel starts having trouble–and that’s where Mr. Han seems to fall. Dude fixes up and then smashes a car every year, which doesn’t really indicate serenity or acceptance…and again, the age of the apprentice comes into play here, because Han gets crying-jag drunk in front of a twelve-year-old. Not intentionally, but it makes the scene quite a bit darker.

Part of the difference is likely, as I mentioned above, that Han is supposed to be a younger and more emotional man, whose loss is more recent, and whose dead son is a much more direct parallel to his apprentice…and then there’s the guilt. Miyagi’s wife and son died while he was away, and he might feel some guilt about that (or some quite understandable anger at the U.S. government because they died in an internment camp while he was serving his country***); Han was, if not totally, at least partially responsible for the accident that killed his family.

I don’t know how I feel about that, honestly. In the abstract ¬†liked the relationship in the original film a little better: having grown up on “teacher learns from his students” and “someone’s heart grows three sizes today,” I found it a refreshing change to have Miyagi’s life be enhanced by Daniel’s presence but not incomplete without it, and to not come off like either one of them was looking for a replacement father or son. (At least, not to me. Wiki says otherwise, I guess.) Also, showing characters who are sad about something without it being a giant trauma in their current life is really rare and cool.

On the other hand, the “I hope it was important” line was heartbreaking, and the accident itself tied into the theme of self-control. Plus? There was a very nice little scriptwriting trick there, because when we get the first look at Mr. Han’s place and see the car, those of us who watched the original movie were anticipating either the wax-on-wax-off scene or at least a humorous shout-out to it. Instead, it’s a foreshadowing trick for one of the saddest moments in the film. Well played.

*I saw the original enough times at a young enough age that I’m still secretly disappointed when painting a wall or washing the floor fails to turn me into a total badass.

**Also, I was terrified of moving to California, being under the impression–via that one episode of Ducktales–that earthquakes were a constant and fatal danger there, and involved giant cracks opening up in the earth and swallowing you. Meanwhile, I lived out there for ten years and never felt a thing.

***It strikes me that there could be a lot of interesting racial and military subtext in the original Karate Kid movie, what with Miyagi’s background, the picture of Kreese in army gear, etc. (Also, as a friend of mine observed: it’s a film about karate with one Asian character. Dude.) ¬†I’m really not qualified to analyze it at any coherent level, though.

But I Caught a Crane Kick to the Face: Overthinking the New “Karate Kid”

Spoilers and all. Not so much for the end: um, the evil guy sweeps the leg, the hero does the secret cool technique he’s been wanting to do all movie and wins the champeenship. If you don’t know that by now, well, you have my apologies and you can pass them on to the bats in the cave where you’ve clearly spent the last twenty-odd years.

Okay, so, first off, I liked it, which was a relief. I’m not opposed to remakes or reinterpretations–um, obviously–and I think that we could, as an Internet, really stand to get past the immediate hand-flapping and pearl-clutching and general OH MY GOD THEY’RE REBOOTING A FRANCHISE THE END TIMES ARE UPON US HEAD FOR THE HILLS OTAKU AND CHILDREN FIRST that goes on every single time that someone decides to put a different spin on an existing property.

And now I’ve got to tangent a bit on how really really annoying that attitude is. Seriously. For one thing, Hollywood–most prominently–has been doing this for the last, oh, fifteen years at least. Sometimes the results are damn good (Iron Man, Buffy the TV show); sometimes they’re extremely bad ( Clash of the Titans, Catwoman, I am looking at you: feel free to slink away in shame); the remake-ness doesn’t seem to be a factor. For another…people in general have been doing this for just about ever. If I have to go into the evolution of fairy tales and the Arthurian myth cycle and so forth, I will become very cranky, so, for a third thing, shut up, and also shut up.

Which isn’t to say that remakes don’t have their pitfalls: excessive dark grittification, as in Clash, or getting too wrapped up in your own arch knowing-ness about the source material and forgetting to tell the damn story already, or trying too hard to reach the Hip Phat Fresh Groovy Youth of Today, which is what I was particularly worried about in this case, because I don’t really need to see two hours of “talk to the hand” or jokes about Hannah Montana or whatever. (If that’s what kids these days do. I don’t know. I’m old.)

My cynicism was totally off-base, and this makes me happy. Karate Kid 2010 has some pop-culture references, of course–uh duh, it’s set in the real world–but it’s not blatant or self-conscious about that. Certainly it doesn’t come off any more Totally Radical¬†than the original did in all its eighties-tasticness. It was cute, and sweet, and I actually preferred the pre-teen romance plot in this one to Larusso’s Brooding Vaguely Class-Based and Definitely Passive-Aggressively Annoying Rage in the original. Maybe once you subtract four years from your hero, you can also make him not be a pissy little stalker where romance is concerned. I rewatched the Golf ‘N’ Stuff scene for, um, research purposes just now, and I’m totally rooting for Alli’s friends and also sort of regretful that she didn’t punch Danny too. (Also: Golf ‘N’ Stuff! I saw about a thousand commercials for that in my youth. Hee.)

Actually, the gender stuff in the remake was pretty well improved overall. Still fails the Bechdel–which, in fairness, is harder not to do when the whole thing is from the tight POV of a male protagonist–but Mom is reasonably cool, there’s a quietly strong female principal, and the love interest actually has some sort of life and ambitions of her own. I would still kill for a remake with women in some of the lead roles (I know, Next Karate Kid, and it sucked, but that doesn’t mean a female student can’t work*, and a female eighty-year-old mentor would be severely badass), and though I know tournament sparring is generally separated by gender, there’s no reason why there can’t be girls among the class members or female teachers, but things in this movie are definitely better. As they should be, you know, since it’s fifteen or so years later.

The fact that the kids are, well, kids had some interesting effects too. The plotline itself didn’t change much, but, for example, the scene where Mentor Guy rescues Our Hero? In 1985, Miyagi comes in punching, there’s a few roundhouses to the gut, and someone gets kicked in what Hell Comes to Frogtown causes me to occasionally call “the government property”. 2010, Mr. Han mostly gets out of the bullies’ way, shoves them into each other, and administers the occasional joint lock–which can totally break bones, but which doesn’t have the visual impact of a punch. He starts to hit one of them, *once*: he stops himself, and it’s A Moment.

Because, well, a sixty-year-old guy going to town on a bunch of teenage punks is made of solid win. (Especially a short sixty-year-old: the visuals of the rescue scene are pretty impressive.) A forty-year-old beating on kids whose voices haven’t changed yet? Not so cool. (Not that Larusso’s voice gives the impression that the Puberty Fairy’s been really generous to him, mind. Er, sorry, Ralph Macchio….twenty-two? Seriously? Whoa.)¬† Jackie Chan being a lot younger than Pat Morita wouldn’t help with that, but largely…dude, they’re twelve, and the movie knows that.

Which also means that Not!Cobra Kai is now a whole lot creepier than the original was.

I mean, Original Flavor Evil Sensei–Kreese? He has a name? Thanks, Wikipedia, but I’m going to go with my nonclemature–was a bully, and an asshat, and possibly a racist (unless I’m conflating him with the drunken rednecks who get their Bud Lite sliced by Miyagi). He’s also a lot sketchier when viewed from the twenty-first century and by someone closer to his age, because you wonder why exactly dude gives so much of a damn about instilling pseudo-Nietzchean-law-of-the-jungle views in, um, high school boys, and then you start suspecting that, when not at the Cobra Kai dojo, he spends a lot of time in his basement surrounded by canned food, back issues of Soldier of Fortune, and like forty-three guns. Each of which he’s given a female name.

But, and it really does not speak well of a person when I have to type this sentence, at least he’s dealing with high school boys, and the physical brutality in the Original Flavor Cobra Kai training scene is…well, it’s a harsh takedown, but it is a takedown:¬† student hits the ground, Evil Sensei Guy does a finishing move, it’s done, and it was in response to a black-belt student not paying attention. Unfortunately Merciful Student just gets yelled at. (And..okay, Evil Sensei Guy’s flagrant Issues aside, and I only know from my own experience, but I was always taught that you are kind of supposed to deliver a finishing move after a throw: not full-strength, and not because you’re trying to be Manly Killer of Manliness, but because it’s sloppy otherwise.) The no-mercy thing is beyond no good, but as far as the actions go?¬† Not actually the worst things ever.** OFCK students are high-school juniors and seniors, they’re at least somewhat on par with the guy.

Karate Kid 2010’s Evil Sensei–who I will refer to from now on as Shang Tsung, and if you’ve seen the movie, you know why–pretty much starts his role in the movie by slapping a twelve-year-old in the face. Because the new movie combines the two scenes above, he is, in fact, slapping a twelve-year-old in the face for showing mercy to a fallen opponent. Shang Tsung disappears for a while after that, only to reappear at the tournament, where he tells Evil Student Guy to “break his leg”. Not sweep. Break. Also something about “I don’t want him beaten; I want him broken.” Given the evidence, I strongly suspect that, after his student’s ignominious defeat, this guy drowns his sorrows with a tall cold glass of baby.

Not!Cobra Kai turns the violence up to eleven in general. Not that anyone’s running around with a chainsaw or anything, but…okay, Johnny’s got a temper, he’s a bully, he goes a little psycho on Danny after the dance, and his moves against non-Danny people in the tournament seem quick and dirty enough to be just this side of legal. But he doesn’t go out of his way to hurt any of his opponents once they’re out: he wants to win, he wants to win decisively, and he’s not kind. Cheng, on the other hand, is clearly going for his Junior Psychopath Badge: guy has to be pulled off one of his fallen opponents, at which point he starts attacking the ref…and he’s twelve. Creepy.

(The reconciliation scene with him and Dre was a little off because of that. Yeah, dude, I’m glad that you’re conceding gracefully to the guy who kicked your ass and all, but what about the other ten kids who’re leaving this tournament with compound fractures thanks to you?)

And I’ve clearly rambled about this for a while. More rambling coming in Part II: Student-Teacher Interactions, Martial Arts Prowess Through Mundane Chores, and Yay Snakes!

I am sorely disappointed in one aspect, though, and that is that nobody, in a remake of the Karate Kid in which Will Smith played a major part, thought to remix “You’re The Best”. Come on, people! Must you crush my dreams?

*It might have worked *better* if they’d given her a reason for learning karate other than being Surly Emo Delinquent kid–what, girls can’t seek out training?–and not made so much of her being ZOMG A GIRL. Daniel-san gets to win a tournament and she…goes to a dance? I don’t object to dances, but…shut up, Mark Lee.

**I understand that Evil Sensei Guy begins Karate Kid II by beating up Johnny, or trying to, though. Haven’t seen the movie.

Genre, Part II

After a brief break to discuss some dudes who may or may not be made of iron, more on genre!

This is the touchier bit,¬†so I should note beforehand that I’ll be away for the weekend. If I don’t respond, it’s not because I hate you and your cat, but rather because I’m in New Hampshire being attacked by friends of mine dressed up as zombies–yes, I LARP, I’m a geek like that–and also by some truly frightening mosquitoes. (Last time, I lost three pounds, and I think it was all blood.) I mean, hopefully¬†I will handle this with tact and¬†diplomacy,¬†but¬†you never know, with me.

The thing is, I find genre pretty damn useful, because I know my tastes and will cheerfully indulge them. I like some sort of fantasy or supernatural element; I like historical settings; I do not like Downer Endings (thank you, TV Tropes).¬† Sometimes, I can go off of already existing authors or friends’ recommendations to get all of the above*, but I read fast, people only publish so many books a year, and sometimes I’m standing in a train station looking for reading material and need some guidelines.

Yes, sometimes a recommendation or whatever will take me outside my preferences*, and that’s good. But Earth really is full of things, as the King of All Cosmos reminds us, life is short, and the MBTA is not known for its patience, so having a smaller category in which to look is a good thing. Honestly, so is anything that increases the chances of me reading more of what I like.

Except, and here’s the touchy part, that genre as a concept carries with it¬†a lot of baggage, particularly certain genres. Which is not to say that life as a genre reader or writer is sooo hard and nobody understands me, blah blah annoying use of the word “mundanes” blah blah, because that sort of thing also bugs me, but I do write for two categories–romance and fantasy–that get a fair amount of sniffiness from time to time, and it bugs, and I have at times responded to “Why don’t you try writing something that’s not fantasy?” with “Why don’t you try BITING ME? It’s fun!”** So I am not exactly a detached and impartial observer here.

I’m more cranky, honestly. Because genre does not and never has correlated to quality, and people have all kinds of different factors involved in their choices of media, and much as I’m actually quite judgmental personally, I think that we could all do with a little less conflation of “stuff I like” with “stuff that’s good”. (And even of “stuff that’s good” with “stuff that people ‘should’ be reading”: there is a place in life for the mental equivalent of circus peanuts.) And yes, there are books with let-us-say-“problematic”-because-this-is-my-tactful-blog approaches to race, sex, sexuality, etc, and there are or were standards in the industry that did not help in that regard, and these are topics that can and should be discussed and acknowledged. It’s also¬†fine to think and say that a work is bad, of course***, or¬†to not personally care for a particular style of music or literature or TV.

However, genres–of music, of books, of whatever–are great big categories, they say nothing about the writing or composing¬†ability of someone working in them or the mental state of someone who prefers them, and making statements like “meh, rap sucks” or “horror is not good literature” shows the person behind them in a worse light than whatever it is they’re complaining about.

¬†*It depends on the factor: it’s relatively common for me to read modern or original world fantasy, reasonably so for me to read non-supernatural historical books, but I almost never go for anything that’s depressing.

**Okay, I didn’t actually do that, because we didn’t get to reply to comments in creative writing class, and that…was probably why. Because I would also have gone on to ask why the person in question didn’t write about something other than angsty teenagers being angsty, and frankly, our discussions devolved into back-and-forth sniping half the time¬†anyhow, and the TA didn’t really need more. Poor TA. Poor, kind of cute, TA.

***Although there’s a time and a place. I¬†had a blind date¬†once who–after monologuing for an hour about his favorite TV show–asked me what I liked. I said, among other things, The West Wing, and he promptly looked at me like I’d just suggested eating three-day-old egg salad. “I hate that show! Everyone’s too witty and bright–it’s so unrealistic!”

Rather than giving the obvious snarky answer, I tried to get my English Major on and said that I rather liked a more stylistic approach to dialogue, at times, but that certainly TWW probably wasn’t what you’d be looking for if Gritty Realism was your thing.

To which he huffed back “Well, people just don’t talk that way!”

And I suddenly realized that, while I’d had a truly lovely time, I had to work early the next morning, what a shame, have this firm handshake, goodbye.

We Interrupt the Genre Discussion for Iron Man 2: Metallic Boogaloo?

Spoilers, uh duh.

I liked it, first of all. Not High Art, but really, I had quite enough of that in college: these days, I want something fun to accompany an entire box of Junior Mints. (Which: Harvard AMC, while I’m usually not one to complain about AC in theatres being set below the usual “unmoving cold of deep space” notch, yours needs to be cranked up a bit, because I had less Junior Mints and more melty-blobby-mint-thing by the end of the movie, and, being in a crowded theatre, could not amuse myself and those around me by yelling “MIIIINTSUOOOOOO!”*)

Diversions into sugar and creepy anime aside, Iron Man filled its purpose admirably. It was shiny, it went “woosh”, it had some pretty damn cool character moments. It also had two major female characters, neither of whom was or turned evil, and I appreciate that. It’s kind of sad that I have to appreciate that, but there we are. It also didn’t get hung up on the action-y bits of the action scenes: I’m not averse to those, but I find that many movies drag them on a little long, like, yes, they’re throwing each other into things, and other things are exploding, woo, get on with it. Iron Man gets on with it, and includes witty banter, which keeps my attention.

Also a surly Russian with electric whips. That is, I have to say, what they call a “strong visual.”

There were a couple things I wasn’t thrilled about: Tony’s Daddy Issues seemed to come out of nowhere and get resolved in about fifteen minutes, and I don’t get why Papa Stark** had to get all Da Vinci Code about the structure of, um…Starkium? Tonium?…rather than putting it in a diary and putting that diary in a locked safe: I mean, he trusted the rest of his secret plans to SHIELD, and what if Tony hadn’t been that on the ball? (And, indeed, how do you know that he’s going to be a) smart enough to figure this out, and b) moral enough to use it well, when the kid is seven, Starktriarch? You were one of those wicked obnoxious parents, weren’t you?)

Also, above-mentioned pleasure at having two female characters–okaaay, that sounds dirtier than I meant it–aside, I could really have lived without seeing another iteration of I Don’t Want Him, But I Do, But I’m Not Admitting It, But I’m Going To Semi-Catfight With Every Girl He Digs. Jealousy is, I admit, a pet peeve of mine–especially excessive snippy jealousy over someone you have decided not to get involved with, ugh–but really? Really? Dear writers of everything ever: it is possible for two women to be kind of into the same guy, and know this, and still get along perfectly well. Do not make me give anecdotes.

By and large, though, I liked it: I liked the snarky computer voice, and the shiny tech stuff, and the contrast between Rhodes and Tony. And I totally froze up at the bit with the evil drone guy and the kid, and then went “awww”, because I’m kind of a sucker. Plus, I felt sort of sorry for Justin Hammer at the beginning, and then I rapidly stopped feeling sorry for him, because he had such a smarmy everything-wrong-with-corporate-America vibe–like, he reminded me of one of my right-out-of-college bosses, the one who confused “editorial assistant” with “personal slave” and yelled at everyone and often didn’t wear pants and ended up hastily moving to Canada***–that I was really glad to see him get humiliated and then incarcerated.

And we all learned a very special lesson about not making deals with shady Russian convicts.

*”HEEERSHEDAAAAAAA!”

**Or “the Starktriarch”, as I like to call him.

***Yep.

Okay, So, Genre: Part I

In which I will try to avoid the more touchy aspects of this discussion. Not that I mind talking about them–Lord, no–but the post that got me thinking about genre specifically got me thinking about the way it functions, and the types of genre–the, um, genres of genre? Metagenres?–and how they can be pulled apart and stuck together like so many Legos. This is hard to do when I’m also ranting.

This post is, therefore,¬†from¬†Weird Theoretical Izzy. Ranty Izzy will show up in Part II: Shut Up, Harold Bloom. Also, I have no particular emotional attachment to anything I say here: this is not a thesis I’ve spent years working out, but rather the same sort of random-observation-esque¬†thought¬†as my desire to write a paper comparing the different narrative functions of¬†Evil Cobra Kai Sensei and Evil, Um, Hawks?¬†Coach from Mighty Ducks.

Right.

The English language being what it is, “genre” gets used¬†in a number of ways, and in a number of levels of granularity.¬†But if we¬†start out with the way libraries and bookstores generally categorize fiction, I think we end up with basically three metagenres.

1. Genre by plot element: romance, mystery, thriller.¬†¬†I will note–and emphasize, especially¬†as I write in¬†one of these–that this¬†isn’t “all plots are the same”: it’s that¬†all plots in¬†one of these genres share some core element.¬†Romance¬†novels are *primarily* about¬†people¬†falling for each other, or falling for each other again. Mystery¬†novels are *primarily* about someone figuring out, um, a mystery, usually involving someone getting killed or at least someone’s priceless thirteenth-century¬†candlesticks getting stolen. Thrillers are¬†primarily about¬†action, and often conspiracies and stolen nuclear weapons.¬†

Horror also goes here, I think, but it’s weirder and more nebulous: “very bad things happen to some people”.

¬†2. Genre by setting element: fantasy, science fiction, Western. Like with plots…well, really. Lord of the Rings is not the same setting as The Dresden Files, duh, move on. I think this is the most straightforward of the categories in some ways: with the exception of some things like magical realism and the¬†Great Science Fiction Vs. Fantasy Debate of Just Kill Me Now, either the work has certain elements or it doesn’t. Except…well, more on that below.

Historicals are weird. Historicals seem like they’re genre-by-setting, except they generally get put in the non-genre-fiction class unless they’re *also* romance or mystery or whatever. If I had to bet money, I’d say that this is largely because the line between “historical fiction” and “fiction that happened to be written back then” is one a lot of people don’t want to bother drawing, which is understandable.

3.¬† Genre by audience: YA, “chick lit”. (Yeah, the most prominent audience distinction categories are women and kids: those of you playing at home can draw your own conclusions in re: sexism.)¬†This¬†is the¬†*least* straightforward.¬†YA protagonists tend to be eighteenish or younger, and that’s the one thing I can say with any certainty about the books–but so do a fair number of protagonists in fantasy, at least at the start. And “chick lit”¬†often involves romance,¬†as far as I can tell, but it’s not necessarily the main element.

Of course, all of these have subcategories–“cyberpunk” is a distinct genre, but it’s going in with the science fiction unless you’re in a specialty bookstore, etc–and, perhaps more importantly, all of them cross over. You can, and often do, have historical mysteries; the only science fiction Western I can think of off the top of my head is Firefly, which isn’t written, but I’m sure there are books out there; I personally write paranormal romance, urban and straight fantasy, and…Aftermath, which I’ve been prone to describe as post-apocalyptic romantic angst.

It seems, and I could be wrong, like audience takes first priority in the sorting process, then plot, and finally setting: I’ve picked up a lot of books in the YA section of my library, because many of them are actually fantasy romances, or historical thrillers, or whatever, just with younger characters.¬† I mean: Harry Potter.

The cross-pollination seems like something to be aware of, as a reader, if only because it¬†opens up other sections of the bookstore to browse in. Whether that’s a good thing or not…depends on how many trains you want to miss, I guess.