Lenny Bailes (jroe) Tue 23 Oct 01 09:43
Hi Mike I'm thinking about a connection between Cloudhunter and Mr. Patrise in The Last Hot Time and Odin in Neil's American Gods. (I see Neil's Odin as a kind of shifty combination of the two of them.) Maybe it's just the fierce white-haired elf thing. For a long time, I've been thinking about changes in our perception of the elf paradigm, from the willowy forest-singers in Tolkien to the punk-wise faeries in the tradition started by Emma Bull. I suppose there may be some roots in Tolkien's Noldor for the modern elves, but I sometimes miss the gentle majesty of the LOTR greenwood musicians. (Still think you might want to catch the "Doc Hollywood" flick for an interesting parallelism with "The Last Hot Time." Both protagonists are doctors who wind up choosing between the Virtuous Woman and the Sexy One.)
double-axled haywains and Harpo Marx going honk-honk (lioness) Tue 23 Oct 01 13:27
And maybe you should 'splain how come you get addressed as Dr. Mike.
Patrick Nielsen Hayden (pnh) Tue 23 Oct 01 14:33
Talk, if you would, a little about game design. Does the work feel like the work of making fiction, or is it more schematic? Or less? Do you wind up with the same sort of results one didn't expect upon starting the project?
John M. Ford (johnmford) Tue 23 Oct 01 17:29
"Dr. Mike" is Elise's doing, really. She came up with the idea of the act for a long-ago Minicon. The act, for those who haven't seen it, involves an Expert and an Audience. The Expert answers questions from the Audience on scientific topics, with "topics," "scientific," and "answer" all being quite loosely defined in this context. There's usually a blackboard and occasionally props and once in a while someone falls into the orchestra pit to illustrate Keplerian mechanics. Game design has two connected, but very different, branches -- actually creating game rules and mechanics, and background material (mostly for role-playing games). Rule mechanics are like architectural plotting: you can't leave anything to suggestion and hand-waving. A plot, however, only has to work/make logical sense for the purposes of the story, and the author is allowed to have events occur in a relatively felicitous way. A game is supposed to happen differently every time, so all sorts of contigencies have to be provided for. This means thinking in advance about what might happen if the players did things that are possible though not necessarily optimal, or even sensible. Many rules are written in response to the prospect of anarchy. In the Sixties, when "adult games" became popular (the sort one found at Brentano's in bookshelf-style boxes, from companies nobody'd ever heard of before or since) there was an idea that Rules were Bad, Establishment-type things, and games ought to do without them. Didn't work that well. Will Wright, who created Sim City and its offspring, drew the difference between "play," which is essentially free-form and can change aat the whim of the player(s), and "games," which operate inside rule systems that everyone agrees not to break, though they may choose to pull them out of shape now and then. Backgrounding is not too different from creating a story background. The main difference, again, is that role-players can and do and often really get a buzz from going places and doing things that would never occur to your typical self-respecting fictional character. If Frodo and Sam had been role-players, they would have hired the Balrog to walk point for them and served up Gollum on weybread with a little kingsfoil pesto. There's less surprise than in a book, mainly (I think) because you aren't writing the protagonists. It's necessary to give them motivations. One of the signs of a mediocre game adventure is that no compelling reason for the players to act is offered, other than "Well, if you -don't- go into the Certain Death Box, we might as well turn the chairs around and watch Scooby-Doo reruns." Role-players will also run amok (sometimes several moks at once) to a degree not possible in rules-and-pieces games. And this tendency isn't by any means wrong; the players' decisions -have to- count for more than the canned plot and the dice rolls (especially the damn dice rolls). As one of my adventures advises, "Let them break things; what the heck, they're paid for." Though there are often the same little epiphanies when one realizes that, hey, if -this- happens, and they meet -that- person, then -this- becomes possible. One doesn't want to be too blatant about getting people to do X, Y, and therefore B-sub-two, but if the resulting scene is rewarding enough, a certain amount of noodging will generally be forgiven. What is the purpose of a plot, after all, except to bring in fine things? I've been operating role-play games since the present form existed, but I'm not a very good -player,- because I'm always thinking in terms of what I'd have waiting beyond the dread portal, the motivation I'd give the neurotic lamia ("This snake makes me look fat, doesn't it?"), and so on.
John M. Ford (johnmford) Tue 23 Oct 01 17:41
Lenny -- there's a virtuous woman in that book? She must be really nervous. The Elf Thing, I would guess, involves using "elf" in an extremely generic sense for The Magic People, humans with whatever special extra characteristics the story requires. You know, Vulcans. It wouldn't even have to be magic -- a specific example doesn't come to mind, but I'm sure somebody's done Elves without any "magic powers" at all, as a branch species, like H. Neandertalensis, that didn't make it (or got shuffled back into the gene deck, to emerge here and there in an ear or a hair color or a taste for Giacometti).
Jef Poskanzer (jef) Tue 23 Oct 01 22:13
Or a penchant for wearing swans to the Oscars.
Linda Castellani (castle) Wed 24 Oct 01 01:10
She's an Elf! That explains everything!
Linda Castellani (castle) Wed 24 Oct 01 01:10
E-mail from Kathy Li: Ah... the Zombies of 1812. Well, that explains the low American casualties (you don't count 'em twice if they started out dead). Are there any invisible-catch partners you want to work with that you haven't yet? You mentioned in Topic 115 about writing more "old stories in stylized modern drag" along the lines of "Here to Get My Baby Out of Jail" and "Dateline: Colonus" (and I would add "Troy: The Movie" and "The Lost Dialogue"). Would you care to elaborate about which old stories and what styles of modern drag are suggesting themselves as candidates? --Kathy
John M. Ford (johnmford) Wed 24 Oct 01 09:04
Kathy -- I can't elaborate on that, because I don't know. The connnection, or synergy, or duct tape, or whatever it is of myth and modern framework just sort of arrives. That doesn't mean the story appears full-blown, but it's not an issue of "let's do Apollo and Marsyas," and hunting around for the transformational equation. (It could be "The Devil Went Down to Georgia," but it probably won't) Some of my poetry is that way -- with the holiday cards, it often takes longer to decide what they should be about than to write them.
Rachel Brown (jonl) Wed 24 Oct 01 14:59
Email from Rachel Brown: Regarding elves without magic, if I recall correctly, Mary Gentle's novel "Rats and Gargoyles" had a very interesting variant filling the fantasy ecological niche more commonly filled by elves: glamorous, exotic, sophisticated humanoids, generally seen wearing cloaks and rapiers, and lording it over the lowly humans. They were bipedal, human-sized rats. (Actually, again if I recall correctly, Rats.) I also have a question for Mike, of the plaintive, did-I-miss-something variety I often have when reading his novels. The answer, if I get one, will probably involve a plot spoiler for "The Last Hot Time." What was Kitsune's motivation? Rachel Brown
John M. Ford (johnmford) Thu 25 Oct 01 16:10
Well, Rachel's question is definitely a plot point, so it will follow as hidden. Enter at y'r own risk.
John M. Ford (johnmford) Thu 25 Oct 01 16:12
Kate French (jonl) Thu 25 Oct 01 21:10
Email from Kate French: What was the relationship beween Cloudhunter and Whisper. They seemed to know each other, from previous encounters, one guesses. Were they adversaries back in the Elflands? Kate French
John M. Ford (johnmford) Thu 25 Oct 01 21:30
Kate -- they were certainly aware of each other; the number of Ellylon in the more-or-less mundane world isn't that large. Whether they'd ever met before I couldn't say. I -would- say that they had rather definite opinions of each other, but one don't have to be personally acquainted for that.
Linda Castellani (castle) Fri 26 Oct 01 11:31
E-mail from Kate French: There were lots of hanging threads in this book...any chance for a sequel? ( I really hope you say yes. ) Kate French
John M. Ford (johnmford) Fri 26 Oct 01 12:48
Kate -- chance, yes. Immediate plans, or anything like an outline or proposal, no. If I sent in a proposal, the interviewer would doubtless look absently into space, turning a guitar pick over and over in his fingers until the moon turned the color of red raspberry Jell-O (Roy Cohn's favorite).
Gail Williams (gail) Fri 26 Oct 01 21:09
John, I have only thumbed through the book so far -- probably a bad habit in a reader -- but I noted that you not only include Elves and Chicago gangsters, but LSD in this recombinant history. That struck me as somewhat extraordinary... I wanted to ask why LSD if you have magic, but it occurs to me that the difference between altered states of consciousness and altered rules of how things work (if that is good shorthand for magic) might be more to the point. So how'd the acid get into the story?
John M. Ford (johnmford) Fri 26 Oct 01 21:38
Gail -- well, this isn't a plot point, so we'll state it here. There isn't any LSD in the story. Lucius (a newspaper columnist) refers in one of his essays to Lake Shore Drive, and makes a joke about what he refers to as a "drug of whoopee." As for the coexistence of hallucinogens and magic, reading the book will explain that. This genuinely isn't meant unkindly, but it's not a meaningful question in the book's universe.
Gail Williams (gail) Fri 26 Oct 01 21:54
OK, it just caught my eye.
Linda Castellani (castle) Sat 27 Oct 01 01:14
E-mail from Kate Nepveu: Hello, A few, rather random, questions and comments for you. I'm curious about people's reactions to _The Last Hot Time_ (which I adored, btw); has it tended to turn on what people think of Doc's secret (trying to avoid spoilers)? I've heard some people say, "That was all?", which I think might have been caused by forgetting whose head we're inside. Also, something that puzzled me about _The Last Hot Time_--can you say why the description of Lt. Linn was so different than in the Borderlands books? (This may get into the relationship between _tLHT_ and the Borderlands books, which I don't know if you want to discuss.) (Okay, that wasn't the only puzzling thing, but I don't think I really *want* to know what Doc's reflection was...) On the short story front--thought you might be amused to know that I've managed to make three or four people buy copies of _From the End of the Twentieth Century_ simply by handing them copies in the bookstore, open to "Scrabble with God." Also, I love the magic-realist Regency western; I'm reminded, in a roundabout way, of Teresa's story of the font symbols in her office being turned into alien pictographs (doubtless I'm mangling some of this). Don't suppose we might see that published in a collection or anything? Best, Kate
John M. Ford (johnmford) Sat 27 Oct 01 11:49
Kate -- you have it right; it's not that his, uhm, crotchet is so awful in an absolute sense (especially not in the Levee), it's that it's awful to -him.- It isn't even meant to be particularly "secret," it's just that he can't let himself even think about it. Linn I can't really say much about. Sorry. To explain about the "translation:" Teresa had a printout of all the Carta symbols (cartographic dingbat font), and I wrote a "translation" as if they were some kind of phrasebook. My version was handwritten; Teresa set one in type. It was printed in the Boskone program book, though I don't suppose that counts as general publication. It might show up somewhere else; Tor will be doing another collection, as soon as some intermediate things get out of the way.
Patrick Nielsen Hayden (pnh) Sun 28 Oct 01 13:26
My apologies for being gone the last few days; life intervened. A lot of writers have taken Hollywood's shilling and written novels set in universes not their own -- movie novelizations, Star Wars novels, and the like. Sometimes the result are dire; sometimes they're at least entertaining. Sometimes (not often) there's a happy synergy between the needs of the movie or TV milieu and the particular strengths of the writer at hand. And then there are John M. Ford's two "Star Trek" novels, THE FINAL REFLECTION and HOW MUCH FOR JUST THE PLANET? -- quite possibly two of the oddest and most challenging books ever published under the aegis of a TV tie-in line. How did this happen? Why did you take the gig? How did you get away with it, and how did Paramount react? And what advice would you give to a talented young writer facing the same temptations?
John M. Ford (johnmford) Sun 28 Oct 01 17:01
The Star Trek saga, a highly condensed version. The first book was written because David Hartwell asked for it. David was, at the time, editor at Pocket/Timescape, whose corporate parent Gulf & Western (which owned Paramount, and would later adopt that name) had decided to start a Trek publishing line. (There had been earlier Trek novels from other publishers, before S&S/Pocket's acquistion by G&W. The launch of the line correlated with the release of the first feature film. Anyway, David was asking midlist SF writers if they were interested in doing Treks. Vonda McIntyre came on this way, as did Greg Bear and Diane Duane, among others. I did it because it sounded interesting. The deal wasn't outstanding -- the contract was spectacularly awful, and the royalty small -- but it was money, and there was the potential of large sales (which did, of course, happen). The conceptual source of REFLECTION was David McDanial's THE DAGGER AFFAIR, a Man From UNCLE novel written for Terry Carr at Ace decades previous. The book, which is still semi-legendary among fans of the show (like me), was mainly about the inner workings of THRUSH, the principal bad guys in the series. (All those of you who know all this stuff backwards, forgive me -- that was a long time ago for some people.) It was a side of the UNCLE universe we hadn't seen in any detail, essentially all new material. And, typically for McDaniel, it was full of in-jokes and references -- particulary to Conan Doyle -- and a splendid sense of humor. (McDaniel, who wrote fiction under his real name, was better known in fandom as "Ted Johnstone." He's a whole -other- story, which would be better told by others closer to him.) This was 1982, and there wasn't much in the way of reference material then. There was the original series, the movie (just released) which gave us about five minutes of Klingons -- with the horseshoe-crab skullcaps, and a few words guttural language -- and Rick Sternbach and Mike Okuda's SPACEFLIGHT CHRONOLOGY, which had a fair amount of background detail not available elsewhere. I'm aware there was a vast of fan fiction, but I had (and have) read almost none of it, and anything derived from that came to me through some other source. I don't know where the idea of setting it in the "past" (roughly 40 years before the series) came from, but once it arrived it was obvious that there were far more interesting possibilities in a first-contact book than in one set against the crypto-Cold War of the show. There were going to be battle scenes, but it wasn't going to be a military story. How did I get away with it? I suppose because nobody at Paramount had ever imagined they'd see such a thing. By the time they actually saw the manuscript, things were quite far along. David had also moved on. Someone from Paramount asked his successor, Mimi Panitch, what he was supposed to do with this thing, and Mimi said "Leave it alone." Being acquainted with Mimi, would Ghod I be a fly on de wall fe see dat. The Powers That immediately announced that no novel could ever again be set out of series continuity (there actually were one or two, but they were -extremely- What The Studio Wanted Done). Later the ruleset would get comically restrictive, but the only relevance of that to me is to partly explain why I'll never do another one. PLANET was sold about half a year after REFLECTION came out, and then took a couple of years and two more editors to write. It was always intended as a comedy, with much the central conceit of the final book (which I won't give away here). The music came later, as did the type and level of comedy. The editor by then, who will not be named, lacked the editorial abililty to sell newspapes on streetcorners. He hated and feared the book (that is, he was afraid he would lose his job over it), and tried his best to sabotage it. It got through because he was given to understand that this was the novel he was going to get. It made the NY Times bestseller list, despite being released the same week as the novelization of the New Series pilot (which was probably part of the sabotage effort). PLANET was two slots higher. It might have stayed on the list for a second week, had not Maxwell Perkins's Doorstop told his bosses to cut the print run lest they end up with a jillion remainders. The chains ran out. Yes, it drew hate mail. If you're not actually in the business, you'd be surprised at what draws hate mail. As far as advice, I've been asked that a lot, and it's always the same: do not under any circumstances do a licensed project as your first novel. If you have the chops to write a Trek, or role-play, or anything-else novel of any merit, you are good enough to create your own franchise and will have the satisfaction of knowing that it's yours and any success is your property, not the result of a brand name. A few books along, when you have your own reputation, it becomes a more personal choice, that nobody else can really make. Though my two credits' worth is that it ought to be something that attracts you, that you think has interesting prospects for creative work, that will have some of you in it. It helps a lot if the editor is a real editor, not someone hired for his or her mail-opening and boss-coddling abilities. Not that it would hurt if the money were outrageously good, though it often isn't.
John M. Ford (johnmford) Sun 28 Oct 01 17:02
Really, that -was- the "highly condensed version."
Jef Poskanzer (jef) Sun 28 Oct 01 17:16
I still re-read Final Reflection occasionally. Quite a good book.
Members: Enter the conference to participate