11 October 2012

The story you want to write vs the story you can write

I like space opera. I don't care if it isn't fashionable to do so, because it's not "rigorous" or because it's all tropey or whatever other reasons people say space opera sucks. (That was the first google hit for that phrase.)

I love Bujold's Vorkosigan series. I love Cherryh's Alliance-Union and atevi series. I want to write stories in universes as big as those, with characters people remember and care about.

But I don't have the skill yet. I have 160,000 or so words in two related space-opera-with-mercenaries novels (one's a completed first draft, the other is around 68k on the 0.5th draft). I intend to finish making book two into a completed first draft, then going over book one for continuity changes and "oh hey I should mention...", but I don't know if I want to keep poking at them.

What I can write, apparently, because I can sell it, is historical fantasy that borders on magical realism. U8: Alexanderplatz (1989) is a story about the end of the Cold War with ghost trains in the ghost stations of Berlin. "Something There Is," coming out in the anthology Substitution Cipher in December, is about the early days of the Cold War, with a teenaged girl who can hear the voice of Berlin.

(I have a vague idea about making "Something" into a novel, going on after the end of it, but I don't know. It needs to cook more, I think.)

It's a hard realization to have, that the thing you really want to do isn't something you're very good at. Though, to be honest, writing historical fantasy set in Germany is something I also really like, and it lets me use half my college degree.

This isn't the first time I've had this realization. I dropped out of chemistry grad school, because I a) wasn't very good at it, and b) discovered that lab chemistry wasn't what I actually wanted to do with my life. So I went to pharmacy school, which I liked better. Apparently what I want to do is write, but that's not making me any income, so I'm back on the hunt for a job in my field. (20 applications in a week, and not a single bite. This economy, I tell you...)

So, for now, I'll write the stories I can, which happen to also be ones I want to write, or I wouldn't be inspired by them, and let the universe-spanning space opera wait. Hopefully not forever.

08 October 2012

Movie review: Offside

Offside, 2006. Directed by Jafar Panahi.

Iranian director Panahi is rather controversial at home, where he is currently serving a six-year jail sentence for “assembly and colluding with the intention to commit crimes against the country’s national security and propaganda against the Islamic Republic,” and is banned for making movies for twenty years.

Offside is a movie about women living in Tehran who want to watch the Iranian national team play Bahrain in the final match of the 2006 World Cup qualifiers in mid-2005. Women aren't allowed to go to stadiums, because there are men there, and these men may swear or curse in manners that will harm women's delicate sensibilities.

It starts with one girl, wearing a ball cap, loose fitting clothing, and an Iranian flag around her shoulders like a scarf, riding a bus to Azadi Stadium. She buys a ticket from a scalper and joins the queue to get in, where she is pulled aside and taken to a holding area above the outer rings of the stands, to wait for the Vice Squad to pick them up.

There are other girls and young women there, all of whom just want to watch their national team qualify for the World Cup. The film focuses on them and how they relate to each other and the Army guys guarding them. Several times, they get one of the guards to narrate the action on the pitch.

The tone is comedic, the dark humor you use when the situation you're in is so ludicrous but you can't do anything about it, because, as he says in the interview that's one of the extras on the DVD, all you can do is laugh at the absurdity.

The movie isn't much about soccer (you only see a few moments of the game, and that on a TV screen in the background), but more a social commentary on restrictions in the Islamic Republic of Iran, which is why the official censors aren't very keen on it.

I recommend this movie, even if you're not a soccer fan. If you are a soccer fan, I highly recommend it.

04 October 2012

Tech stuff

A couple years ago, I got a Samsung Captivate, and I wrote about it approvingly at the time. But it didn't age gracefully, and after 2 warranty replacements for the "randomly shuts itself down" bug, I had a friend help me root and mod it. That fixed some of the problems, but it was still laggy and slow.

So when my contract was ready to renew and I was eligible for an upgrade, I got an HTC One X. This was back in June, so I've had it 4 months now. I had to return the first one for a warranty replacement because it developed an inch-wide dead zone on the touch screen after a month, but the second one has been doing fine since mid-July.

I like the shape and texture of the screen; it's very responsive. The two biggest downsides are the camera that sticks out of the back and its overall size, which is much larger than the Captivate was. It's not as ungodly huge as the Galaxy Note, though. When I type on it, I use two thumbs like it's got a regular keyboard. It gets decent battery life, especially if it remembers to go to sleep (ie not sync and turn off the wifi) overnight.

The camera works nicely, and I've taken a couple videos with it. The one thing I wish it had was a way to use the HTC sync on my Mac. Helpfully, if you search HTC for how to install Sync on your Mac, it takes you to instructions about downloading the .dmg and installing it, but nowhere on the site is there a .dmg to download. I'm tempted to see if it'll work under WINE, but that's effort.

I also got a refurbished MacBook Air to replace my 2007 white-case MacBook, which was getting frustrating to use, in part because OSX 10.5 is no longer being supported. Also the keyboard was flaking out, and the screen was getting dim spots, and the USB ports were flaking out. As it turns out, the USB ports are on their way to complete failure soon, as I discovered on Tuesday, the day before my new Air arrived, when I tried to copy a file onto a thumb drive and it didn't pop up in the devices list. So it's just in time.

It has no CD or DVD drive, which is how it's to thin and light. Seriously, it's tiny. (It's also only an 11.6" screen vs the 13" one on the old MacBook, but I can survive. I'm getting used to Lion (10.7), though I have the code for a free update to Mountain Lion (10.8). I'm not sure there's a substantive difference between the two.

I'm liking the trackpad gestures, though I find it difficult to scroll with two fingers, because I have fingerNAILS, and I end up with weird finger cramps. So I've started using one finger from each hand to scroll, and that seems to work. I haven't worked out exactly the timing of using gestures to go back a page in Firefox, though if I try enough, it works.

So, newish phone, new-to-me computer. Yay.