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Wednesday
Jun 20, 2007

Bad Idea Jeans, er, I Mean, Screenwriting Books posted by kza

Here’s the title of a screenwriting book aimed at young people:

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Here’s the opening line:

“Who wants to be a millionaire? If you answered “I do!” this could be the book for you.”

Um, yeah.

No need for a love of film, or of craft, or anything like that. It’s all about the benjamins, baby.

(do people still say that?)

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Friday
Feb 03, 2006

Re:[2] Reading List: Alfred Bester posted by Martin

I am shocked that nobody has ever made these books that Shockah lent me into movies. But then again, neither was Neuromancer which always seemed like a shoe-in to me. The difference here is that Gibson wrote 20 years ago, and Bester was writing 60 years ago. Neuromancer, as prescient, important and influential as it was, will probably never be made now. The reality of the Internet trumps some of the concepts that were so mind blowing in the 1980s. By the same token, I suspect that books like Snow Crash will never be made for similar reasons (of technologies to come). But Bester’s work is much less about specific technologies, and more about human conditions. Or, when there are technologies, they are either natural extensions of reasonable ’50s technologies, or they are fantastical human technologies, such as teleportation (the conceit of this book), or telepathy (the conceit of The Demolished Man, and this book as well). Whether by plan or luck, Bester picked items that age gracefully.

He inhabits his characters with one track minds. The death of a rival, revenge. They are human emotions, set amongst supposedly grander times. But the times in The Stars My Destination are hardly utopian, unlike Demolished Man. It takes place during a war time, although it’s not about the war. It is a time of oppression of religion, and fanatical privacy, due to the fact that anybody can “jaunt” (teleport) nearly anywhere instantaneously.

Of the two books, I think I actually liked this one more. It’s richer, more complex and deeper into the characters than The Demolished Man. It feels more carefully drawn to me—less frenetic, but more measured. The ending is less gotcha, and more of a natural extension of the character.

Especially noteworthy are the worlds created—the Scientists cult that lives on resurrected space ships and have fierce tattoos (including gender symbols) on their faces.

And of course, our bully Gully—a driven, divisive and cruel lead character. Driven by a singular desire, and only briefly having passions beyond it, his actions and disregard for anything but his goal are maddening and, often, shocking.

Anybody out there know if this was partial inspiration for Burning Man?

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Thursday
Jan 26, 2006

Re: Reading List: Alfred Bester (The Demolished Man) posted by Martin


In 1951 The Catcher in the Rye was published. James Stewart, Spencer Tracey, William Holden and Louis Calhern lost out on the Best Actor Oscar to Jose Ferrer, winning for Cyarno de Bergerac [note: a story in the public domain]. Seoul fell to communists. The Rosenbergs were sentenced to death for treason. The first color television was introduced into the states, and the UNIVAC I mainframe computer was announced—the next year it became famous for successfully predicting the outcome of the US presidential election. Johnnie Ray released “Cry,” possibly the first rock n’ roll record. Leo Fender patented his Fender Esquire (later Telecaster) guitar, and Alfred Bester’s novel The Demolished Man was published.

Why the history lesson? Whenever I look at a historical event—like the publishing of a book—I like to put it into context. All of the events I mentioned, when I think about them, firmly place me in the beginning of the 50s. You can see the decade unfurling in front of you—cold war, literature, music. But Bester kind of existed outside of time, it would seem. Reading this novel gives you very few clues to it’s publishing date.

Shockah lent me the two Alfred Bester books he talked about recently since I had never read them, and I was terrifically impressed. This may be old hat to some of you—Oh, sure, Bester. I covered him in Sci-Fi 101—but everybody has gaps in their knowledge in some ways, and obviously Bester was mine.

What Bester does so magnificiently is to capture language. His multiple written puns for names, as mentioned by Shockah, include @kins, ¼mane, Wyg&. His conceits—that there are people who can read each others thoughts—are not clumsy concepts, but deeply thought out systems that take into account humans and how we departmentalize and organize.

So his psychics have a rigidly hierarchical society, with different grades depending on talent and ability. The higher abilities have tremendous wealth and power—so, necessarily, politics plays a large roll in their choices and actions. He never loses site of the human frailties within these bureaucracies.

Like Shockah I don’t want to give anything away, but again I would like to impress how this is a novel that it is nearly impossible to place the time period that it was written. Only one thing gives it away, and that is the way that Bester handled his women. They are extensions of 50s women, and carry the cultural assumptions from that period—and not women who had gone through the three decades that followed, with the huge cultural shifts that happened. Even some characters sexual liberation was born out of a society of subordinate social roles, and not out of an independence movement, and the social gains and complexities that arose from it. This is a quibble insomuch as the women didn’t read as well to me, but I’m not implying that Bester should have known better—and this is only a minor point in an otherwise brilliant book. Only one female character didn’t read like that to me—Wyg&, who seemed much more contemporary.

So for those of you, like me, who have somehow missed this book—you get both of us pitching it with high recommendations. It’ll keep you guessing, and wanting to set aside everything else so you can read it.

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Thursday
Jan 12, 2006

Reading List: Alfred Bester posted by kza


“Reading List” is a new feature I just made up because I need to get my Spitball! quota out of the way. Whether or not it’s a continuing feature is up to time and tide. Also, the link to the forum will take you to the “Books” section of the forum, because, well, that makes sense.

Alfred Bester (1913 - 1987) was a SF writer, best known for two seminal novels, The Demolished Man and The Stars, My Destination. Check out the Wikipedia entry for more info cuz the Shockah aint about no biographical sketches. Instead, Reading List is about how these books might inform The Screenplay.

The Demolished Man takes place in a world where the police force is made up mainly of telepaths, and they’re powerful enough that they can tell when someone’s going to commit a crime, and can stop them before they do it. (Yeah, it’s kinda like Minority Report but with telepathy instead of precognition.) Anyway, the plot is about a billionaire businessman who decides to murder his closest rival, and the steps he takes to get away with it and not get caught by the lead telepathic detective. (Supposedly the guy who did Chopper was going to do a film version; I don’t know what happened to it, but I saw it in my head with Michael Douglas and Denzel Washington in the leads. Of course, that would be hideous typecasting.)

The Stars, My Destination is about Gully Foyle, a grunt on a spaceship who survives the destruction of the ship when everyone else dies, and vows revenge on the passing spaceship that neglects to pick him up. Like everyone says, it’s basically a riff on The Count of Monte Cristo, as this illiterate, violent man remakes himself into faux-royalty in order to get closer to his object of revenge. (It’d be perfect for Ving Rhames or that guy who played Kingpin in Daredevil. Or even the Rock, come to think of it. But not Vin; he’s played out. Sorry, Vin.) Oh, did I mention that, along the way, he ends up on a Prison Planet?

Well, I don’t recall the whole planet being a prison, but it’s an interesting idea for one: it’s a huge cavern network without any lights whatsoever, so the prisoners are functionally blind. And naked, as well. (Wait, maybe that’s why Vin would’t be such a great choice — too much like that Riddick guy.) I don’t remember how he gets out (I remember he has help from a woman prisoner — it’s coed), but that’s kinda what both these Bester books are like — impossible situations that could only exist in their SF worlds, and the remarkably clever solutions the protagonists devise to solve them. (How do you keep a telepath from learning you want to murder someone? Does “Peanut Butter Jelly Time” mean anything to you?)

So now I’m realizing that it’s pretty damn hard to talk about these books in any detail without spoiling them, and they’re too good to spoil. One thing, tho, that might be worth stealing being inspired by: Bester’s visual imagination. Well, thing is, I don’t remember a whole lot of expository description in his books, but I’m left with a definite look in my head. It’s kinda Gilliamish, like maybe if Gilliam did Dune. Slightly comic-booky, with vibrant primary colors and basic geometric shapes — ah! I just realized the look it makes me think of: Moebius. Anyway, for the time being, that’s the visual sensibility I think I’ll be bringing to Prison Planet. No doubt it will evolve into something else, but that’s what I’m starting with. Oh, another thing possibly worth stealing borrowing: The style of his names. Some examples: Gully Foyle. @kins. Peter Y’ang-Yeovil. Presteign of Presteign. Robin Wednesbury. Keno Quizzard. It’s like a cross between Dickens and Vonnegut.

Anyway, that’s my Public Service Reading Announcement for the day, from a guy who reads like maybe five books a year. Look for my next Reading List installment in about a month — it’ll probably be Alistair Horne’s book about the Paris Commune. That could provide a lot of interesting inspiration!

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What is Spitball!?

Spitball! is two guys collaborating to write about writing and collaboration. We're writing partners who have worked together since 2000, and placed in the top 100 in the last Project Greenlight for our script YELLOW.

Currently, we are both working on multiple screenplay, short story, and novel ideas independently and together, and collaborate on this blog.

What Spitball! used to be

Spitball! started as an attempt to collaborate on a screenplay online in real time. From January 2006 to July 2007 we worked on an interactive process to decide the story we were going to make. A full postmortem is coming, but you can find the find all the posts by looking in the category Original Version.

During this period, we affected the personalities of two of the most famous spitball pitchers from the early 20th Century. Look at our brief bios for more info about this, and so as not to be confused as to who is talking when.

We rebooted the franchise in early 2009 in its current form.


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Kent M. Beeson

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Kent M. Beeson (aka Urban Shockah) is a stay-at-home dad and stay-at-home writer, living in Seattle, WA with his wife, 2 year old daughter and an insane cat. In 2007, he was a contributor to the film blog ScreenGrab, where he presciently suggested Jackie Earle Haley to play Rorschach in the Watchmen movie, and in 2008, he wrote a film column for the comic-book site ComiXology called The Watchman. (He's a big fan of the book, if you couldn't tell.) In 2009, he gave up the thrill of freelance writing to focus on screenplays and novels, although he sometimes posts to his blog This Can't End Well, which a continuation of his first blog, he loved him some movies. He's a Pisces, and his favorite movie of all time is Jaws. Coincidence? I think not.

Martin McClellan

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Martin (aka Burley Grymz) is a designer and writer. He occasionally blogs at his beloved Hellbox, and keeps a longer ostensibly more interesting bio over here at his eponymous website. You can also find him on Twitter.