Monday, 25 October 2021

There can be only one - except for sequels and spin-offs, of course

Something of a family tradition now, Saturday night is popcorn movie night with each of us taking turns to choose.

Recently my choices have been relative clunkers, with Primer too gnomic for the beer-and-pizza vibe, and the well-reviewed Vast of Night turning out to be dreadful - incomprehensible verbiage, insufficient story that stalls on the start line and doesn't even inch forward for twenty-odd minutes, and nobody minding that the switchboard girl saw her duties as optional, as opposed to the traditional radio operator going down with the ship - unless you're on the SS Californian, of course.  Oh, and a long distance call in response to an item on a local radio station, which nobody even comments on.  That's now three and a half hours of my life you own me, Kermode - for that and White Lightnin'.

So, to remind myself what a crowd-pleaser looks like, I re-watched Highlander.

Highlander is a film I don't think I've seen for thirty years plus, and then I only saw it once, twice at a push.  There were vast amounts I’d forgotten, from Celia Imrie as the acidic girlfriend to the fact that most of it takes place in modern-day New York and the Highlands are but secondary backstory.  Actually, I probably would have dredged that last bit up had I thought about it.  But not Celia Imrie.

But what stuck in my mind from my teenage viewing, as much as the accents, is the Highlander rulebook.  Here is a race of immortals born of mortals—or, possibly, individuals who were born mortal who somehow became immortal, if that constitutes a material difference—who are destined to come together at the Gathering to fight until there is only one left.

Why?

The lack of explanation left me puzzled then, and even more puzzled now.  Says who?  Who's making this stuff up? Why does nobody ask why?  Why doesn’t Connor McCloud just laugh.  Even the soldiers roped in to carry out the so-called Captain Kopenick's bank robbery or the volunteers Stanley Milgram asked to turn the voltage up can claim to have been mesmerised by the power of a white coat or uniform. But this just falls into the category of if someone asked you to jump off a cliff, would you do it?

If the other immortals had managed to take out the Kurgan early doors - and remember, the only excuse for Ramirez giving somebody he’ll have to fight and kill if he is to be ‘the One’ a heads-up is that it’s to his potential advantage, that immortals have some notion of alliance - would they have circled each other with their claymores and broadswords until somebody wondered why:

“Because there can be only One!”

“Says who?”

“Yeah.  Says who?  We’ve never had an issue with each other up to now.”

“Why don’t we get a camper van, you know, travel around and solve mysteries.”

“I thought maybe a deli serving coffee and panini.  Or a little restaurant.  Ethnic.” 

There are plenty of shit rulebooks in storytelling.  It’s just that most attempt some kind of disguise. But not Highlander.  It just blurts it out, in the Scottish tones of Sean Connery’s Egyptian immortal.  It’s the fore-knowledge that gets me.  Immortals fight to the last man standing, not because only one can claim sole inheritance or kingship, or the others are a mortal threat, or reducing their number to one somehow enables some greater good, but because it's what they do.  Ice cream melts, seagulls shit on my newly cleaned car, and immortals fight to the last.  It's just how the world is.  Roll with it.

Maybe there is some priest class with a convincing motivating backstory (I haven’t seen any of the sequels, prequels or spin-offs; I’m dealing with the original alone) and maybe Connor McLeod is somehow late to the party and just getting what’s necessary. But if McLeod is late to the party, who says more immortals can't be born or found?  Maybe you're the One for a bit, but there’s a new immortal just born in Outer Mongolia.  How does no longer being the One feel?  What difference does it make?  I’m guessing none whatsoever.

There’s something unusual, possibly unique, story-wise, going on in Highlander and I wonder how many people have noticed.  I looked it up on TVTropes - one of my favourite websites, by the way - and there isn't a sniff of recognition.  They can't have not noticed?  Can they?  My guess is it's almost too large to credit.

It’s the ultimate what’s my motivation?  The pay-check?  It’s in the script?  Did the writers simply spend a morning scratching their arses as they tried and failed to finagle a convincing explanation as to why the world was this way, only to declare what’s it matter? let’s go to lunch?

Which all leaves me wondering, is Highlander the ultimate bad writing metaphor?  What motivates the characters?  Answer: absolutely nothing; they’re just following a script.  They say things and do things because that’s what the little black squiggles on the white page tell them to do.  And the writers have decided they must come together and fight to the death for no better of more meaningful a reason than it’s cool.

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2084 - The Meschera Bandwidth

2084. The world remains at war.

In the Eurasian desert, twenty-year old Adnan emerges from a coma with memories of a strictly ordered city of steel and glass, and a woman he loved.

The city is the Dome, and the woman... is Adnan's secret to keep.

Adnan learns what the Dome is, and what his role really was within it. He learns why everybody fears the Sickness more than the troopers. And he learns why he is the only one who can stop the war.

Persuaded to re-enter the Dome to implant a virus that will bring the war machine to its knees, the resistance think that Adnan is returning to free the many - but really he wants to free the one.

24 0s & a 2

Twenty-four slipstream stories.  Frequently absurd, often minimifidian, occasionally heroic.

Saturday, 2 October 2021

Never finished finishing school

Not doing the last button up on a waistcoat.  Never drinking when it's you being toasted.  Not acting like an American tourist.  Etiquette is difficult, isn't it?

I've blogged previously about the etiquette of simultaneous submissions.  Re-reading the 45-year old me, I clearly still had some sense of honour left as I meant what I said about observing publishers' rules.  Standards have slipped - or my approach has become more pragmatic, depending on your point of view - since then.  Too many submissions either not responded to or getting stuck for too long.  Too many publishers offering next to nothing but still wanting exclusivity without commitment.  I've become more militant in my view that 'no sim subs' is an unreasonable rule.  Christ, even the New Yorker allows sim subs.

So, I now divide the world into those whose 'no sim subs' rule I observe - pro and semi-pro markets; those who respond in a reasonable timescale (say, a month); those who I know are business-like - and the rest.  And with the rest, I'm prepared for the embarrassment of having to withdraw (my submission) before you finish (my submission), leaving you confused as to how there was ever another suitor.  I've pretty much adopted that strategy since writing that earlier blog posting, which had the effect of crystallising my thinking.  And you know what, I've never been left embarrassed.

But I have encountered a variation on the problem: how quickly to withdraw a story from markets which allow sim subs when that story has been accepted elsewhere.

My story Arlecchino is forthcoming in 'The Dead Inside' from Dark Dispatch.  Obviously delighted that they've taken this little clown-related nugget - go buy it when it's out.  But when the email arrived about a month ago, the story was still with two other publishers, including one that would pay more.  I've had too many acceptances turn out to have all the substance of a mirage, including two with the same publisher this year.  An acceptance isn't the same as seeing it in print, or getting paid.  Reading submissions and sending out acceptance emails is a lot easier than getting a publication together, and too often events get in the way or the process gets too difficult or costly for amateur outfits.  Counting chickens, and all that. 

Of course, I withdrew the story the same morning from the other venues.  But unthinkingly, the compliant actions of my forelock-tugging side.  As soon as I pressed send I wondered whether I should have waited for the contract, even waited for payment or a point of no return.  (I've even been farcically over-eager previously: I misread an email from newmthys.com telling me that a story had been accepted for further consideration and withdrew it from other markets - it's still being chewed over, and I'll feel a fool if it comes back to me).

Perhaps next time I'm faced with the same situation I'll find that writing this post has, again, crystallised my thinking... and I'll adopt a less na├»ve strategy.

#

Click on the images or search for these on Amazon.
You're here, so surely you know how to do that?


2084 - The Meschera Bandwidth

2084. The world remains at war.

In the Eurasian desert, twenty-year old Adnan emerges from a coma with memories of a strictly ordered city of steel and glass, and a woman he loved.

The city is the Dome, and the woman... is Adnan's secret to keep.

Adnan learns what the Dome is, and what his role really was within it. He learns why everybody fears the Sickness more than the troopers. And he learns why he is the only one who can stop the war.

Persuaded to re-enter the Dome to implant a virus that will bring the war machine to its knees, the resistance think that Adnan is returning to free the many - but really he wants to free the one.

24 0s & a 2

Twenty-four slipstream stories.  Frequently absurd, often minimifidian, occasionally heroic.