Thursday Quotable: Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon

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Shared pain is lessened; shared joy, increased — thus do we refute entropy.

— Callahan’s Law from The Callahan Chronicals by Spider Robinson

It’s a difficult line to walk between gloriously corny, and heart-wrenchingly tragic, but Spider Robinson can walk it. In his Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon series, Spider spins the tale of a group of misfit barflies, who have come together across time, space, and alternate dimensions to share their stories of woe, and find solace in each other’s company. They also perpetrate the sort of puns that are rotten enough to get you banned from any reputable establishment. It’s a game, a sort of one-upmanship to see who can elicit the longest, deepest groan.

Among the patrons are Jake Stonebender, a folk singer whose wife and child died because he decided to save some money fixing his own brakes, Pyotr, a vampire designated driver who feeds on the bar patrons so that he gets drunk, and the patrons wake up with no hangovers, and Mickey Finn, a humanoid alien who was supposed to destroy the Earth, but then, with help from his newfound friends, didn’t. The owner of the bar himself, Mike Callahan, has his own secrets, but I won’t spoil those for you. Just don’t cause any trouble, or Mike will tell Fast Eddie to knock you out with his black jack. There’s a reason they call him Fast Eddie, and it ain’t just the way he tickles the ivories on the piano.

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If I’ve conflated any of the book’s plot with the plot of the 1997 point n’ click adventure game, my apologies, but the game is so well written and acted (not to mention beautifully illustrated) that I consider it to be canonical in the series. It exists in that category of video games that I wish I could play again for the first time. In my opinion, this may be the best jumping on point for the series, and if you play it, you’ll be nothing less than transported. The environments are fully immersive, providing a panoramic tableau of rich, detailed animation, as you see in the screenshot above. And yes, you can interact with all of those characters, and they all have something snarky, witty, punny, or heartfelt to say.

And that’s the core of the Callahan Chronicals. Life is a tragic comedy in the Callahan verse, just as it is in ours. But in Callahan’s Saloon, they recognize the beauty and fragility of life in ways that only an alien’s perspective could imagine. So what does Spider mean when he writes “Shared pain is lessened; shared joy, increased — thus do we refute entropy”?

I think he means the same sort of thing that comedian Patton Oswalt does when he says, quoting his late wife, Michelle McNamara: “It’s chaos; be kind.” The world is full of hostile forces that, ultimately, will kill everyone you ever loved, and destroy everything you’ve ever known. Our only antidote is kindness, humor, and listening to each other.

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Thursday Quotable: John Roy Stand-up

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Pictured: Good looking, strong people

But what’s weird to me is that when nerds create fantasy worlds — and we are the only people that do — we create fantasy worlds where we would die in minutes. It doesn’t make sense. It takes a long time to write a book, and a fantasy world can be anything you want it to be. Why make up a world where the good-looking, strong people win again?

John Roy, Comedian

Is this cheating? It’s cheating, isn’t it…

Anyway, it’s a quote, albeit one from a stand-up routine rather than a book I’m reading. And it made me think. So, good enough.

Of course, you and I know that the reason the good looking smart people win is that it is a fantasy, and part of that form of escapism is imagining you are someone good looking and strong enough to win. But John Roy has a point. Why does it have to be that way?

In George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels, it’s not always the good looking, strong people who win. Usually it’s simply the most vicious, or underhanded. This lends a verisimilitude to his work that makes it more immersive. Because it is so believable, we are better able to embrace the fantasy elements, like dragons and elves, when they do appear. And we’re more likely to root for the ugly, good-hearted characters like Brienne, Tyrion or Arya (whom I’ll remind you had the nickname “horse face”) because of the contrast they provide with the overall mean-spiritedness of the rest of the characters.

Thursday Quotable: A Clash of Kings

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Only a fool humbles himself when the world is so full of men eager to do that job for him

— A Clash of Kings, George R.R. Martin (Theon Greyjoy)

Oh, Theon, how the mighty have fallen… I’m on a reread of this book, and knowing what I know from the show and the books that I have read, this is an excellent foreshadowing of events to come, as well as an excellent summation of Theon’s character.

Thanks to J.W. Martin, and Bookshelf Fantasies for recommending this prompt.

Thursday Quotable: Danse Macabre

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“I think that writers are made, not born or created out of dreams of childhood trauma—that becoming a writer (or a painter, actor, director, dancer, and so on) is a direct result of conscious will. Of course there has to be some talent involved, but talent is a dreadfully cheap commodity, cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work and study; a constant process of honing. Talent is a dull knife that will cut nothing unless it is wielded with great force—a force so great the knife is not really cutting at all but bludgeoning and breaking (and after two or three of these gargantuan swipes it may succeed in breaking itself…which may be what happened to such disparate writers as Ross Lockridge and Robert E. Howard). Discipline and constant work are the whetstones upon which the dull knife of talent is honed until it becomes sharp enough, hopefully, to cut through even the toughest meat and gristle. No writer, painter, or actor—no artist—is ever handed a sharp knife (although a few are handed almighty big ones; the name we give to the artist with the big knife is “genius”), and we hone with varying degrees of zeal and aptitude.”

― Stephen King, Danse Macabre

Can you write, if you weren’t given the tools? If not born with knife in hand (sorry, Mom…), can you find one, somewhere out there, buried under autumn leaves? Or maybe you have to learn to disarm someone who does have a knife, pry it from their stiff fingers and claim it for your own. See, that’s what happens when you extend a metaphor too far.

In the book, King points out that he’s not a great guitar player, no matter how many years he’s been at it. I can sympathize. I can barely keep a rhythm; perhaps it’s something inherent in the writer’s brain that they can only follow the beat of the sounds inside their own heads? The point is that some people weren’t born with talent, in one area or another. The trick is to find what you’re talented at, plunge your face in, and eat the whole damn thing, heart and all.

The book is great, filled with all the candid, black humor that you’d expect if you’ve read On Writing, a more directly applicable piece of nonfiction for the aspiring author. It’s also a brilliant meditation on the horror genre in film, although I’ve learned that King’s taste in movies and my own deviate beyond his distaste for Kubrick’s The Shining, which I think is one of the greatest films to have been put to celluloid. Put it on your shelf, Constant Reader, and take it down some dark night when the tree branches scratch at the window panes.

via Bookshelf Fantasies

 

Thursday Quotable: Haunted

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These four provinces also correspond to four prime areas of cultural anxiety in the Western world from the eighteenth century to the present. In other words, these are the monsters of modernity, each commanding a particular area of fear, even while some of its characteristics overlap with others. They are the monster from nature (like King Kong), the created monster (like Frankenstein), the monster from within (like Mr. Hyde), and the monster from the past (like Dracula). From these, virtually all varieties of the monstrous flow.

— Haunted, Leo Braudy

Haunted is a taxonomy of monsters, as well as something of a history of fear. Horror writers take note: this is your field guide for monsters. No, it won’t give you stat blocks for each and every monster from story and folklore, like a DnD Monster Manual, but it will teach you how to understand the dark recesses of human imagination where monsters live, putting them in context of society and religion.

Also discussed, though not entirely monstrous themselves, are the witch, the ghost, and the detective archetypes. I’ve only found one glaring mistake in the book, a reference to Michael Myers’ “hockey mask”, alone enough to scrape at the nerves of any horror movie fan, but I’ll chalk it up to an oversight in editing rather than genuine ignorance. Other than this, Braudy is dead on and keenly insightful.

via Bookshelf Fantasies

Thursday Quotable: Zen in the Art of Writing

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Time enough to think and cut and rewrite tomorrow. But today — explode — fly apart — disintegrate! The other six or seven drafts are going to be pure torture. So why not enjoy the first draft, in the hope that your joy will seek and find others in the world who, reading your story, will catch fire too?

— Zen in the Art of Writing, Ray Bradbury

Here’s hoping day 2 of NaNoWriMo is going well for all you writers out there. I, myself, am elbows deep in ink, and have never been so in love with the craft as I have been this month. Don’t worry. I know it won’t last. But right now, I’m exploding, and I hope you are too.

via Bookshelf Fantasies