Saturday, August 31, 2013

The limits of alternate universes

Song of the day: Nothing to Prove - Geek Girls & The Double Clicks

To distract myself from the amazing fact that I am going to my first con (AlCon, Leicester, England) in just a few days on top of seeing London for the first time (sweet jesus I can't breathe.) I have been thinking about alternate universes, particularly in fiction.

So in Terry Pratchett's Night Watch, there is a conversation between the History Monk Lu-Tze and Commander Sam Vimes on the subject of Alternate Universes. For plot-relevant and spoileriffic reasons, Lu-Tze indicates the possibility that that means there must be at least one universe where Vimes, for example, has killed his wife. Vimes, of course, doesn't buy this for a second; for him it's literally impossible. And Lu-Tze says that, yes, there is no universe where Sam Vimes, as he is now would ever do such a thing. This indicates that people's choices really do matter, something which has been a running theme throughout the whole of Discworld, and that's a pretty freeing thought. Something might not make a difference historically, but it will certainly matter personally.

That brings me to the potential of fiction AUs. It seems that there are some things so deeply ingrained in a story and the characters that make them (and are made by them) that some fundamental things would not change. For example, I' pretty sure there is no universe where Samwise Gamgee does not follow Frodo on his quest, or where Elizabeth Bennett does not reject Mister Collins, because it's such a big part of their character. It's probably even stronger when it comes to interpersonal relationships; there is no Holmes without Watson, there is no Kirk without Spock.

The subject of as he is now brings up that other space/time continuities where things do in fact not go that way. But there you have to interfere a lot earlier in the timeline and essentially make them into completely different people for them to do those things in the first place. And even then that gets Jossed sometimes, as exemplified by the Mirror Verse and the reboot in Star Trek, where Kirk and Spock are very different from who they are in the original series.

I find it fascinating to try to figure out what the set-in-stone part of a character is based on this observation. Of course this can be debated back and forth, but there are probably one or two things that most people can agree on. Back to the first point, everyone who has so much as sniffed a Watch book knows the idea that it would even occur to Sam Vimes to harm his family is ludicrous, just as he would never take a bribe or not uphold the law. That's what makes him Sam Vimes.

Of course that doesn't mean that AU fics aren't lovely and give us a whole lot of potential for awesome stories - go nuts, give us more great fics to read!

Back on the subject of my trip to England (ooh, boy) I shall be cosplaying as Zee Captain!

 Just another day after the end of the world

Yes, the insane maybe-protagonist of the equally insane webcomic Romantically Apocolyptic. I am quite apprehensive, and have been working on my bad German accent (which he (she?) might not even have, but is just something that sticks with me. It's something which I am really excited about both because this will be my first cosplay and because I feel like I've been pretty successful with it. I'll post some photos and stuff from the con some other day.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Love =/= Romance?

Song of the day: Do the Hippogriff - The Weird Sisters

So here's the thing. I hate romantic comedies. Always have, always will. Even Titanic, which is not exactly comedic, does not escape my wrath; while my cousin was watching it for the fifth time and still crying, I could barely last all the way through. That was the first and only time I watched it.

It's just the fact that there never seems to be any deviation from the formula: A man and a woman meet, instantly dislike each other (not always the case, but happens disturbingly often) and would rather eat a live snake than be in the same room as each other. Then something MAGICAL happens and suddenly they can't keep their hands off each other, no real explanation given aside from sexual tension. Which, you know, is far from impossible, but unlike what TV executives want us to think, wanting to have sex with someone and loving them isn't necessarily the same thing -_- It is what my friend refers to as the 'I hate you!' 'I hate you!' 'Love me.' pattern.

Theeeen something convoluted happens (it looks like one of them is cheating but they really aren't and the other doesn't give them a chance to explain/there is some stupid misunderstanding/one of them has to leave and doesn't want to 'hurt' the person by actually admitting that they, you know, love them/they get attacked by a rouge platypus and suffer extremely selective memory loss) and they want us to think oh no tragedy how will this ever be fixed aaaand then it's easily fixed in about the last ten minutes of the movie. Done.

At first, I wasn't quite sure why I disliked romantic comedies so much (a lot of genres are formulaic and that's often even a part of the charm). I thought that romance just couldn't carry a whole story by itself because it focused too hard on just those two (or more) people involved, but that couldn't be it because a lot of stories do that with no romantic intent involved. Then I thought it was just because I'm not a particularly romantic person (or so they tell me) or at least not traditionally so, and that's probably a part of it. That and western culture tends to... well, I don't want to say 'overvalue' romantic relationships, but that's essentially what I mean, at the cost of familial and platonic relationships (which are just as important as romantic ones.)

I was even under the impression that my aversion extended all over the romance genre, up until I read Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. And that's when I realized that this story is essentially the formula of romantic comedies before it became a formula, only done right.

So let's do this as a case study:

Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy meet, and their first impressions of each other are not very flattering (and for a good reason.) They assume that they know all there is to know about each other from those brief glimpses, and continue to happily despise each other for some time. Their Pride (Darcy) and Prejudice (Elizabeth) prevent them from realizing their mistakes.

Then, starting first and foremost with Darcy, they began to understand that their first impressions were erroneous, limited and incomplete (as most first impressions are). As he has, in the words of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries all 'the social skills of an agoraphobic lobster,' he is able to see her as she really is, but she is unable to see him, due to the aforementioned lack of social skills and also her prevailing prejudice.

It is only after he confesses her love to her (a scene which I love not just because of the excellent writing but also because of how she rejects him, which of course made perfect sense given what she knows of him so far) that she later gets the opportunity to see him as anything else but prideful, snobbish and lacking in empathy. This is primarily through his actions towards others, unrelated to her. She now knows that he is in fact a good man, if an awkward and slightly bad-tempered one. Then she begins to love him, as he loves her, and by acknowledging their mistakes and learning from them, they both become better people.

On top of that, a huge part of the charm is that it's not just a love story in the romantic sense of the word, but a love story about the whole of the Bennett family (in a familial way - not the creepy incestuous kind of way). You get invested not just in the leads, but also in the other characters and their trials and tribulations.

(And I will always love Jane Austen for writing Darcy as a genuinely good man that respects Lizzie's boundaries. Even after he confesses his love to her and she almost cruelly rejects him he doesn't bring it up again, up until the moment when he has reason to believe he does have a chance with her. And even then he promises never to bring it up again if her feelings towards him remain unchanged. And this is in 18t/19th century England, people! Contemporary so-called 'friendzoned' men could learn from this.)

And that brings me to the conclusion that romantic comedies are in fact not about love. They are about what society wants love to be - a whole lot less complicated and much more dramatic than real life tends to be. But think of the stories that could be made (that are being and have been made) if romantic comedies contained anything close to resembling real people.

Well, that's my two cents on the subject. Now excuse me while I go and explode from feels at all the new Spirk fic materializing on the internet.

P.s. Jane Austen will make it to the UK 10 pound note! Huzzah!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

I shall henceforth be known as the Baron of Bucharest

Song of the day: Jazz me Blues - The Original Dixieland Jazz Band

My evening could be summed up a little something like this

Well, really it was a restaurant, and about a week ago (I'm a lazy blogger). And it was five Muslims, not just one (which makes the Catholic Europa and me the atheist) Take that, xenophobic societal expectations!

Yes, I have arrived back from Romania (Transylvania, really. Or TRANSylVAnia!!1!) And it was unimaginably lovely in every respect; lovely nature, lovely architecture, lovely weather, lovely food (though with a distressing lack of sauce) and most of all, lovely people. Without them, the whole trip would have been nothing in comparison (but, lets face it, still pretty damn awesome). Amazingly enough the only people I didn't absolutely love were my own countrypeople (excluding Europa. Sssh, don't tell her) and that's because I'm not supposed to; I know what we're like. Well, that and the fact that Icelanders are notorious for getting outrageously swazzled every time they step outside their territory. Not pretty, a fall-down-drunk Icelandic tourist on a foreign airport (especially because they've generally got enough practice still to be standing, despite being fall-down-drunk.)

But it's my country; I'm supposed to grumble about it. It's a sign of patriotism.

After having spent eight days at Cristuru Secuiesc (where it almost took all my time just to learn to say that) we arrived back in Bucharest (where we had spent one day before moving on, and got seriously lost at least three times) and proceeded to get lost again some astounding four times more. Urban planning? Not really a thing in that city.

And I loved it. I didn't think you could fall in love with a place in less than four days, but apparently you can. I loved the strangely often fried food, I hated (but still kinda loved) the searing heat, how (in the words of Europa) it always felt like you were on your way out of a sauna but never actually made it out. I loved the total unnecessity (not a word but the best I can come up with) of blankets while sleeping (or pajamas, for that matter). I loved the totally weird architecture, where you'd just be walking down the road and then BAM suddenly there is this palace-like gorgeous thing next to you and it looks totally run down which somehow makes it even more beautiful. I love the total lack of tourists. I love the public spaces, the insane traffic, the fact that there are almost six times as many people living in that one city than in my entire country. I will declare my life successful should I ever make it back to București, România.

It's strange that a place I had almost no knowledge of previously would become so voluminous in my mind. I mean, the extend of my former connection to it was that my grandfather was sometimes called 'the Baron of Bucharest' (the joke being that he was a graveyard keeper and in Icelandic the literal translation of Búkarest would be 'a place where corpses rest.' Yeah, my family is morbid.)

But yeah, there we were, me and Europa and our five friends from Turkey (Alliteration!) the only ones attending the project left in the country. We had decided to stick together while we were still there (and as formerly mentioned we got lost quite a lot) and had a really grand time; visited a bunch of museums, restaurants, shops and landmarks. But most of all I remember talking about everything and nothing, and learning how that the more we seemed different due to our cultures, the more I realized we were the same. Like, intellectually I am aware of all the biased or just untrue crap media and society pours into our brains on everything different, but fully realizing it is a whole different pack of lemmings. And it was a great thing to have happen to me, good for my social and mental health. It, to quote a certain YA author, let me imagine people more complexly (which will come in handy while writing, I imagine.) It is probably what I appreciate the most about this trip, retrospectively.

I'll probably write more on our various exploits when I can be arsed, since it seems I will have plenty of time (stupid economy...) Don't cheer all at once.


Friday, June 28, 2013

Operation Vampire Hunt and predicting the future

Song of the day: Þjóðvegur 66 (Road 66) - KK

Today started out pretty good, and promises to get better. DOMA got overruled, I had a croissant for breakfast, and oh, yeah. I'm going to Romania tonight.

That's right, who's going vampire hunting? This guy.

So this might for the time being turn into a travel blog (exciting, isn't it.) and document my discoveries and trials at a course/convention on youth unemployment. After that, me and my friend who shall henceforth be known as The Queen of the Flying Tigers (at her request; I'll think of something shorter) will frolic about the country, and among other things visit Castle Bran; one of the several places linked for marketing purposes  to the disturbing individual known is pop culture as Count Dracula. Full name Vlad 'The Impaler' Dracul III.

We will be staying at a location in Transylvania, and this will cause me quite a bit of distress for the reason that after watching that awful Sandler flick Hotel Transylvania, I am utterly incapable of pronouncing it normally. Instead it will sound like I am being injected with a syringe full of clichéd stereotypical accents while being electroshocked at the same time and it goes something like 'TRANSilVANia!!!'

I will therefore resist all and any impulse to ever say the name. This may prove difficult.

From what I've seen, the temperature in Romania at the moment and for the foreseeable future will be hanging somewhere around 30 degrees Centigrade. This, of course, means that my brain is going to melt and I am going to DIE. Because, you see, here in this particular part of the northern hemisphere, we call it summer when the temperature rises over ten degrees, and 17 degrees for any amount of time is considered a heat wave. We do occasionally get something like 24 degree, at which point we stop wearing clothes at all and sleep outside. But I exaggerate (only a little bit:)

I'm not even going to get a tan, because I don't get tans; I get slightly weathered, or in extreme cases bleached, rather like a piece of driftwood on a foreign beach. And if I don't wear sunscreen at, like, strength 30-50, I'll burn so badly I won't be able to move. But I shall prevail; I have churches and museums and weird shops to see and people to meet! I even intend to wear my Pizza John shirt as much as I can in the vain hope that I will meet other Nerdfighters, and that they won't be discouraged from talking to the maniac with the giant map getting lost as soon as she steps outside her hostel in midtown Bucharest.

It's odd, though, how things turn out. I didn't ever expect going to Romania of all places; I don't even know anyone who's gone there, but I immediately got excited when the Queen (let's just call her Europa. For the moon/continent, not the mythological figure. Though I could of course make some nasty and uncalled for joke regarding her love of animals) told me about the project and since we could both afford it we thought why not? Although when looking at the photos she was a tad discouraged by the fact that the architecture looked very similar to Poland, from whence she originally hails. But we think it will still be different enough to be very interesting and worth visiting. It will be an adventure.

So I'll try to upload some pictures of interesting things and some interesting facts/happenstances as well once we've began our journey.

Now all I need is Rafiki to shower us with pieces of wisdom and make us get lost and we're set.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Fiction is strange, but reality needn't make sense

Song of the day: Combine Harvester - The Wurzels

So right now I really should be working on the Harry Potter fanfic which seems determined to overtake my life, but I have got to get today's happenings out of my system or I might actually go a bit barmy.

Sometimes, working at a grocery store is kinda boring. There are the bad days, where you end up with that person that's always late and can only be persuaded into doing something with a forklift, and the good days, where there is just the right amount of customers for you to actually get a chance to eat your lunch. And then there are days that are just... weird.

For example last week, when over two days I met two elderly men who both happened to be missing their left thumb. And yesterday when the local vicar paid for his 198 krónu Diet Coke entirely in ones and fives (which takes ages to count and the UK/US equivalent is probably someone paying entirely in pennies.) And that time when some woman threatened to stop doing business with us because we were out of her preferred brand of butter.

And today, when a seventy year old man in a leather jacket and a Mohawk bought a pineapple, talked to me about mathematics, in which he concluded that the only numbers in existence were 1-9, and that Darwin's theory of Evolution was the equivalent of 0. Then he tried to get me to convert to Christianity on the basis that school books were constantly being rewritten but not the Bible (hah.) so the good book had therefore to be correct. He was even carrying a Bible with him. To the grocery store!

And then he swept off. I don't think I can emphasize enough just how strange he was. It was impossible not to be drawn in by what he was saying (especially the math), and then suddenly he just vanished with barely a ktnxbi.

Here, have an alien Marmoset. It makes just as much sense as anthing
else in this post. I am told it comes in peace. 

After sitting dazed for a few minutes, I went back to work, but when the store was conveniently empty, I nearly had a stroke from laughing too hard (note that this wasn't as commentary on anything that he said, but just on the sheer weirdness of something so odd happening.)

Then my mum dropped by, surprised to see me nearly catatonic, but her confusion cleared when she saw the piece of paper he had scribbled on. 'Oh, you've met the Zero-man.'

And it turns out he had had that exact same conversation with her a few weeks earlier, but apart from that, neither of us had ever seen him before. Which makes all this even stranger, because our town is pretty small (only about 13,000 people live here), and I can assure you would not miss a person like that.

Then there is his really weird Darwin argument. So his point the entire time (when we were still in the less surreal territories of math) was the importance of zero... But then he turns right around and asks me if I 'believe' in the Theory of Evolution, with the implication that it is but a toerag and I should get me some 2 Corinthians 5:7.


I am going to submerge myself in wizarding trivia, and by the time I resurface, the world had better make sense again. Well... at least more sense than it does right now.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Interests of genius and Cardassians.

Song of the day: Þessir menn, by Valdimar. Dat bass.

Yesterday, I had a great time helping my twelve year old niece with her Religious Studies homework. Granted, this was not because the subject was so eloquently expressed, but because we share the view that the Icelandic education system doesn't have half an idea what the Funk&Wagnalls it is doing. To whit; the current subject they were tackling was Hinduism, which you'll have to agree is at the very least interesting (religions involving gods with animal heads generally are), the stories of which count as many of my favourites in religious dogma. Yet somehow they writer of the textbook managed to strip the subject down to its barest facts, shredding it of all fascination and wonder, leaving you feeling like you had just eaten a particularly bad bowl of cereal (the kind that taste like paper-mache.)

It was honestly amazing, and not in a good way. Which led us into the discussion that its disgustingly difficult to learn things that are boring, and why making the subjects so still seems to be the pinnacle of achievement to which all school book writers aspire. I mean, it's hell of a lot more easy to learn things that you find fascinating, which is why people tend to start specializing (or at least doing better at some subjects than others) from an early age, in the things they like. While I will be going to study archeology at university because I love it to bits, I would never subject some of my friends to it because frankly it would bore them to tears and they just wouldn't be able to learn it because they wouldn't want to in the first place. It's ultimately what makes a genius, I think. After all, what is a genius but a person that is really, really interested in something? Sure, intelligence helps, but it's not going to do you any good if you just don't care about anything.

My niece really is marvelous, though. She's very clever to the point that she finishes her finals exams on ten minutes and gets 10/10 (in the subjects she likes, of course), and even then, some of her teachers give her crap about it because they're always certain that she just hasn't studied at all and has flunked the whole thing, even though she has turned in consistently good work over the whole year. I had been a bit on the fence about it I should have her inherit my pocket watch (since it has an S engraved in it and both our names begin with that letter) because while she shares my love of Star Trek, she also follows the exploits of that Kim Cardassian chick.

What, it's spelled 'Kardashian'? Whatever, I'm still doing this joke.

But it was all decided on the moment when a discussion of avatars lead into another on James Cameron's Avatar and she somehow managed to explain the concept to herself using the film, an eraser, a sheet of paper and a pen as props. I have no idea how I would replicate the effect in written word, but trust me, it was cosmic. She is definitely getting my stuff when I die. Well, at least some of it.

I may possibly be doing a post on when I went to see Star Trek: Into Darkness. Not to get graphic or anything, but... There will be a LOT of sporfling and squeeing.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Not all there is to it?

Song of the day: Pieces by Red (Instrumental).

So it has been brought to my attention (by myself and also my sociology textbook) that I grossly oversimplified the weirdness formula, which looked at first a little something like this: AW/JW = W%

Number of people that have said weird trait/the number of people not possessing that weird trait. I.e. attributed weird/judging of weird

But thinking in terms of 'amount of people judging' versus 'amount of people judged' just isn't good enough. This becomes apparent when it's made clear that the term 'minority'  seldom has anything to do with the size of the group in question. Arguments have been made, for example, of women counting as a minority as as they have generally had to deal with a crapload of oppression throughout history, even though we make up roughly 50% of the human race.

You could also take the Marxist approach; that the ruling class defines what is socially acceptable and thus what is considered weird. There is also the basis of H.S. Becker's Labeling Theory, which argues that a deviancy doesn't become one unless there is someone to observe it and label it as such (which gives rise to the argument that in such circumstances, someone does have to observe the tree falling in the forest for it to count.)

 Which, as argued by Terry Pratchett, does make a sound when it falls; after all, there is always something in the forest to hear it, even if it isn't human. Why would a forest be there if there is no life?

Although to me that doesn't seem quite all there is to it. Of course no-one can consider you weird for wearing socks on your elbows (which is amazingly comfortable, by the way) if you only do so in your own home, because then they don't know about it. But it seems to be only one facet of the formula.

But then there is finding out what makes one thing 'weird' and not another. As noted before there is the 'majority rules' as in if a lot of people do this it's normal but a fewer people do that it might not be. But that was the failing of the original formula. Too simple.

How do you make 'weird' and 'the norm' a mathematical constant? How do you make deviancy a measurable entity? Although I find math along the lines of the Fibonacci spiral to be ridiculously beautiful, I'm still not very good at figuring out numbers. Anyone out there with something to add? A brilliant brain of mathematics or sociology or just someone curious to see how this goes? I suspect this could make an interesting thought experiment.

Meanwhile, back to my fic writing. Peace!