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the grey area
The Grey Area - letters to The ZONE                                                           email: editor@zone-sf.com
Pigasus Press, 13 Hazely Combe, Arreton, Isle of Wight, PO30 3AJ, England
selected correspondence and comments received...

November 2003
I am myself a teenager and don't agree with your comments on the movie Queen Of The Damned; the sequel to Interview With The Vampire. I enjoyed it very much and I think that although the actors' performances may not have been carried out exactly to script they developed their own individual characters. Which is why the movie was such a great success with my friends and I.
   I read a negative comment about the actors' performances compared to the ones of those in the first movie and I just didn't think it fair to do so as everyone is different. I respect that you have your own opinion but this is more than just my own opinion which is why I have decided to write.
- Jess Armstrong

Gee, Mr Jennings. It's too bad you don't like Enterprise. You seem to feel that Scott Bakula playing an everyman is a bumbling stumbling idiot type. I think that's how things work in real life...
   I think Bakula is doing a great job of playing someone not sure of himself, who lacks the phoney confidence of a Hollywood Captain Kirk. You like to talk the talk Mr Jennings, maybe you should try walking the walk and try writing. Most SF today stinks. It was better when J. Campbell was editor of Analog.
- Janoshek

September 2003
..intrigued by the review of Cosmic Odyssey - Starlin is one of my favourite superhero writers. You can keep your grim and gritty, give me cosmic everytime! I hadn't heard of this, and thought he worked more or less entirely for Marvel (Adam Warlock, Infinity Gauntlet), but if you think about it Thanatos is just Darkseid in drag. I really enjoyed his recent Marvel Universe: The End series.
- Patrick Hudson

July 2003
Read the review of Ted Chiang's book with interest: I think I'll definiely be picking this one up in the near future. His story (Hell Is The Absence Of God) in Silverberg's Fantasy: The Best Of 2001 was one of the best things I read all year.
- Patrick Hudson

May 2003
The novel is dead, they tell us. Of course this has been refuted, rejected, decried. Orson Scott Card has said, "Who are these people? The novel will dance at their funerals," but the underlying concept remains. Novels are not selling so well. Of more specific interest to the filk, speculative fiction is not selling so well.    Publishers are growing cautious about commissioning new product in the face of flat sales and a crowded market place. They claim greater competition from new media alternatives is restricting their ability to capture the attention and the dollars of an increasingly fickle public. Book shelf lives are diminishing. No longer can publishers invest in developing a new author over three or four books. No longer can they rely on back catalogue sales to recoup costs once the author does break into the big time. Older books are crowded off the shelves by newer product. The speculative fiction market has become too crowded, too hectic, and too hard.
   But I wonder. Could the problems with the SF novel be more to do with the content than the format? Consider the target market. Who are we, the fanboys who drive this genre? We're easy enough to find. Go to any comic or gaming convention and you can find us in our under-washed and overweight hundreds - nay thousands. We are the bitter, the rejected, the unconfident; the intelligent sociophobes of the cities. We have good disposable income and it's not hard to get us to part with our cash. We've made millionaires of Marshall Mathers, Todd McFarlene, Steve Jackson and George Lucas. Garth Ennis and Warren Ellis are also doing nicely out of our paycheques too, thank you, to name but a few.
   So what is it that separates our lavish spending on other entertainments from our meagre spending on novels if it's not the format? Review the other cuts of our culture and what underlying theme emerges? We listen to music from Eminem to Linkin Park, from Marilyn Manson to System of a Down. For us long-tooths, I'll add Iron Maiden and AC-DC. We buy comic books featuring characters like Wolverine, Spawn, Pitt and the reverend Jesse Custer. Away from the computer we play AD&D, Gorka Morka, Warhammer 40K and at the computer, well, we vanish into the worlds of Quake, Age of Empires and Max Payne. At the console or the arcade its all about FFX, DOA, Tekken or Time Crisis. Our movies (when they're not live versions of our comics) include titles like Battle Royale, The Matrix, Mad Max and XXX. And that's not even mentioning the manga. The unifying theme? Violence. Not confrontation. Not conflict. Not even just combat, but violence - the kind of action that tears into your mind, carrying you and your pain away in a glorious uplifting rush. It happens at speed. It hits close to the bone. It rips and it tears. It's wet, dammit. And we fanboys love it. We live for our vicarious viciousness. We are soft-wired and hard-coded to appreciate, to crave, generous amounts of biff. It's an angst thing, a testosterone thing, a guy thing.
   We are the hardcore, hard spending fans of the brands of escapist literature currently labelled 'speculative fiction.' And what are the publishing houses serving us? Robert Jordan's soap opera with swords, Robin Hobb's angst ridden treatise on self-doubt, Katherine Kerr's over-detailed descriptions, China Meilville's critically acclaimed and non-selling baroque dreams, John Courtenay Grimwood's apologetic tone whenever the plot calls for a little claret, the bloated dross of Terry Goodkind, the meanderings of Neil Gaiman. And, spirit of Chow Yun-fat help us now, the works of Celia Dart-Thornton.
   Sure these authors have conflict, but where is the central driving passion? Where's the blood, the soul burning pain, the explosion of dark emotion? Where's darling Alex's ultra-violence? Where, quite simply, are their balls? While strong themes of violence have become the norm, have added punch and verve to the storylines presented in other media, our chosen brand of literature has failed to keep pace. The balance of our entertainments (ranging from neo-anime to the nightly news) has conditioned us to expect a certain level of violence, and SF novels, in fact novels as a whole, have fallen behind this curve.
   I'm not judging this trend. I'm not damning or condoning it. I'm just highlighting it as a consideration for any writer who wants to be successful in today's mass market. And for any publisher who wants to achieve good profits.
- C. & G. Myhill

March 2003
Being both a lifelong Tolkien addict, and a professional screenwriter, I read Simeon Shoul's essay on the cinematic Two Towers with great interest - not least because I share some of his concerns about the adaptation.
   We should, of course, bear in mind that what we've seen so far might not be Jackson's vision in its entirety. Rumours about disagreements between the production executives and the director over a final cut are hardly unusual, but those surrounding The Two Towers hinted at serious and severe conflicts over fundamental storytelling issues. We'll probably never know the truth, but it will be particularly interesting to see what additional material the recently announced extended cut for DVD contains...
   Talking of missing material, Shoul and Jackson apparently agree over one thing. Apparently, scenes were filmed showing Arwen arriving at Helm's Deep in time to help raise the siege, having abandoned her people, and pledging herself to Aragorn's cause. This leaves Jackson in an interesting situation - if everything he shot for ROTK shows Arwen fighting alongside Aragorn, assuming her arrival in T2T; then he's going to have to shoehorn her in at some point very early in the third film...
   As regards Jackson's treatment of Faramir, I've already had my say (in my review of T2T). It's a huge mistake that's bound to detract from great chunks of ROTK, weaken Aragorn, who parallels him in so many ways, and endanger the unexpected, delicate romance that essentially rewards him for years of faithfully clinging to what's right.
   Theoden, however, is another matter. Yes, as Shoul observes, he is simplified and weakened, and this is unfortunate. Unfortunately, Jackson is simply running out of time. He doesn't have the page space that Tolkien has to develop Aragorn as a strong leader of strong warriors - and his easiest option is to make him appear strong by contrasting him with well meaning but weak companions. Thus Theoden, thus Legolas' entirely out of character moment of fear before the battle, thus the over-emphasised reluctance of the elves to become involved in the war. It's crude, but film is often a crude medium, a medium of broad strokes and bold emotions - which is both its weakness, and greatest strength.
   Lastly, I really must disagree with Shoul's assertion that "The viewers are, or want to be, involved in the trials and travails of the heroes. Not the spear-carriers, or the (I'm sorry) human scenery." When I think of The Lord Of The Rings, entirely minor characters (Haldir, Beregond, Barliman Butterbur even) spring to mind just as vividly and powerfully as the apparent heroes. There are no spear carriers in Tolkien: as in the Norse hero sagas that inspired him, every character who crosses the page is a vital part of the narrative with a mind and a heart of their own, and a real part to play in stirring the reader's emotions.
   No film version of any book will ever please anyone - still less any version of so rich a complex a book as this. But Tolkien quite consciously set out to create not fiction, but mythology, and the true power of myth is that it can be told and retold to suit the teller and the audience while still retaining its essential power. As the theatre practitioner John Barton observed of Shakespeare, a bad staging doesn't erase the original text. It's still there, waiting to be rediscovered - and thanks to Jackson's brave and mostly successful version, a whole generation will hopefully do so.
- Debbie Moon

February 2003
I especially enjoyed the review of Art Of Rowena by Paul Higson. It's rare that these books are reviewed at all and Higson's perceptive assessment provided real food for thought. The review of Two Towers was also very interesting.
- Patrick Hudson

January 2003
The Two Towers, the second Lord Of The Rings film, again shows clearer than the book, the dangers of ultimate power, ultimate control, but instead of it being "if I ruled the world" and had ultimate power, I could eliminate all danger of things changing and threatening the present paradigm - this time it's the effect such possessiveness has on the individual's character.
   Addiction blinds us - whether it's substance abuse, power or wealth (it is all absorbing and has no boundaries). Gollum is the end result of a habit that knows no end and drives a hobbit insane (how much is too much? How little is not enough? These are the twin questions that preoccupy any addict). This is why 'the One Ring' is all absorbing, all-powerful and destroys all who get pulled into its forcefield of nothingness. It hypnotises its subjects and therefore destroys them and their consciousness, and this is Tolkien's underlying message - that war is really an addiction to death (suicide) and that this mentality won't countenance resistance, so it tries to destroy all opposition to its will: That is, that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely (Hitler and all those that came after). Only Sam Gamgee seems immune because he has no imagination - that is, he cannot see where it will take him. Frodo can, but his innocence and sense of good, sense of loyalty and justice keep him on the path of righteousness most of the time, because he can see where that will lead him and the world (home again but the victim of an internal struggle, an external war, who will never be the same again - Tolkien himself).
   Fear turns our attention inwards, so that we're not only blind to outside reality but stuck in a time warp of habit that shuts out all change, all awareness - hence Sauron's return, wanting the same thing that got him banished in the first place. What we're addicted to we hold onto because we see it as valuable ("My Precious"). What we see as valueless, we let go of and therefore are not addicted to. This is the contradictory nature of reality - we kill what we hold most dear, even though this is not our intention and allow to live and grow (give breathing space to) that we don't think much of or about: Peace is nothing, war is everything or as they say in Zen "Nothing's important and everything isn't."
- Tony Sandy, Glasgow


Previous letters pages - 2002  2001  The ZONE #9

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