Tolkien and Zelazny

Zelazny wanted to be a poet and when he gave up on that became a short fiction author and later novelist. Tolkien likewise spent a lot of time in verse but achieved fame for prose.

I’ve been thinking about situations where there is no shelter. Conflict that cannot be avoided is one. They range from serious to trivial, and for fear of being melodramatic, I’m including getting out of bed to shower on an especially cold day. Laundry. The struggle never ends, unless I do laundry naked, and my building only has one laundry room for all the apartments. It’s also snowing.

I’m not saying I wouldn’t do it. I’m just saying there’s no shelter, because the outdoor walk between my door and the laundry room would be brutal. And I’d just wind up making more laundry anyway.

But situations with no shelter. Where an ordeal comes and cannot be avoided. We tend to think that our suffering could be avoided if only, but that is often not the case. The Romanian mythic cycle has an interesting take on the afterlife. It’s misery and unavoidable. Not much of that is passed on.


Never watch movies based on books or comics you loved as a kid. You may not be able to judge whether or not the movie is bad because you’re judging how closely it resembles the stories you told yourself as a kid, reading at night.

On an extremely related note, I watched the Battle Angel movie. Spoilers abound.

Let’s start off with the anime eyes, because they didn’t bother me as much as I expected. Alita was alien, a robot, but an accessible robot. I got her cybernetic nature and the sharp distinction between hardbodies and humans. The eyes as a part of that worked. Her whole character might have been animated via CGI, but as a result, the eyes didn’t stick out. Part of this was the fundamental nature of the character. She was a cyborg. As such, the fact that she was kinda creepy worked, and as did the machine nudity. At a couple of points she walks around naked, but it’s like seeing your phone out of its case. One doesn’t think, “boobs!” One thinks, “That there is a contraption.” I really expected to take issue with the eyes and didn’t.

The movie stretched for bloat like a fat man reaches for cupcakes. It went out of its way to add more material that didn’t need to be there. In the books, the first book is about Alita waking up, learning about the Scrapyard (Iron City in the movie; I’m going to get to that), and doing some bounty hunting. To this the movie added some bits, but not the good bits, of Motorball. It also added Evangeline Lily Jennifer Connelly. These additions did not work. JC didn’t need to be there. Her character didn’t work. Motorball really didn’t need to be there. It didn’t work. There’s one serious race and that race is absurd, makes no sense. The movie goes off the rails figuratively as the scene exits the arena. Why did any of this happen? No idea. The movie Hobbitted hard.

In addition the movie can’t seem to figure out which naming convention it follows, and this is where my lead-in really dominates. Alita is named Alita, not Gally. But Tiphares is Zalem and the Scrapyard is Iron City (but not Scrap Iron City). This was part of the fundamental lack of confidence that marred the movie, muddling the plot and characters. I got the feeling the writers either fought this out between them and stuck compromises that we, as viewers, did not understand nor agree with, or that it had been revised until the inherent soul of the movie was lost long ago.

But there were good parts there. The largely allegorical story of a girl learning who she is was there. She starts out as a head given form by Ido, a parent. Then she’s in a cute body her father dresses up. He refuses to give her an adult body but gives in, and the character learns who she is through herself, and that she has powers. It’s simple and moderately didactic, but the metaphor plays out in the background, so it works. Much like the eyes, the parts of it I thought I’d hate I didn’t.

Ultimately a fantastic manga became a good movie. It’s not great. It needs chainsaw editing. But it’s not bad. On two hands, one thumb up.


You can do it! Ideas fall out of moving cursors like twigs from fast moving streams. Don’t wait for the idea to come. Type, and get yourself going. Ideas will come on their own.


Geese are basically evil, murdering snow chickens. They are worthless animals.

Everyone read Akira.


For Mortal Man

BC was lovely. I found a small cabin on the Koutenay Lake on Air BnB and went up to get away from the noise in my apartment. Things are not good here. The cabin was wonderful, and I had some time to do some detached thnking.

My problem is I’m not working hard enough, because I’m focused on working right. This is half of true. Working smarter not harder is definitely a good idea, but the other half is that if you don’t know what a smarter way to work is and you stop working to look for it, you aren’t getting anything done.

I have an issue where I stop writing entirely until I figure out a problem or plot hole, and while that makes sense, it also doesn’t get anything done. I’m going to move past that, and I’m going to do it by writing something that doesn’t have to be right. I’m talking of course about fanfic. I’m going to write something big, dumb, and fun, and I’m doing it just to keep the fingers moving. There will be no pauses. Other stuff can be worked on as well, and hopefully will, but the keys are going to keep clicking. You can find Nine for Mortal Men Doomed to Die here at AO3. And BTW, I know there’s a comma after men, but I don’t like commas in titles.

Finished the Akira cycle again, and it’s amazing. Going to hit Brian Sanderson’s The Way of Kings for my next fun book and Robins’s The Story of the Lamp for my vegetables book. Robins was a product of his time, but there’s good information there.


Drove to British Colombia. It’s ~1200 miles (multiply by 1.6 for km, you have a calculator in your hand), and snowing in Wyoming and Montana.

First of all, Montana is awesome. Wyoming might be, but it was snowing like crazy and I couldn’t tell. But MT was awesome. I use that word correctly. I would drive along and see thousands of feet of mountain rising in the distance, topping out in clouds. But above the cloud layer would be holes, and you could see peaks! So mountain, cloud, mountain. Delightful.


So I’m getting pretty squirrelly down here. I want to ride up to Alberta or BC, but I’m mindful that a bike trip in winter can become terrible quite easily.

The age-old problem is always tires. If I put trail tires on, the bike wobbles at highway speeds. Highway tires are nightmarish on trails. I’ve got Pirelli Trail Scorpions on now, which are ~90% street, and they’re great for highways and a little bit of gravel. Add any snow, or even some rain on unpaved roads, and the Pirellis don’t like it at all. I was up in Rocky Mountain National Park a few days ago during flurries, and the bike struggled with gravel. Less than an inch of snow lay on the ground.

So, says brain, drive.

Yes, that is the smart answer. Yes, it’s wise to drive in winter. Yes, the car on snow tires handles just about anything the bike can (in snow). Yes, driving would be the smarter course.

But I don’t wanna drive. I wanna ride.


The cresset or fire basket was a lighting apparatus of the Middle Ages, used in Europe. In its most simple form it was a fire in a basket, the basket being metal or pottery, that was carried around like a torch. It was reusable and refuelable, advantages over torches, and simple to make. Larger versions functioned as streetlights, but these weren’t streetlights as we consider streetlights now.

The street light as we think of them in the usage we’re familiar with came about with gas. Cressets were much simpler and cruder. While a single human could tend a number of gas streetlights, a cresset tender had to haul wood shavings and blocks up the pole and feed them to the flame. Ladders were often just rungs stuck to the side of the pole or carved.

Poles were used of any height that a ladder could reach so probably taller than a human or at least lifted above human head high, but not too difficult to access. Atop these poles metal or pottery baskets stood, perforated on all sides except the bottom so light could escape. Sappy, resinous wood and dry were used together, the sappy wood providing a liquid fuel not totally unlike wax. The dry wood burned somewhat like a wick. A tender would collect shavings or scraps of both and dump the fuel into the cresset from time to time. Hanging cressets operated functionally the same way. The baskets were simply put on chains, and those hung from the pole either itself or via a crossbar.

Cressets as carried lighting structures hung from chains on poles, but the poles were man portable instead of being emplaced. They were used as late as the eighteenth century because for all their crudeness, they worked well and had few pieces to break. Cressets were the bicycles of early lighting. Coal cressets remained in use into the nineteenth century and the fire-devil is still used today.


People who tell you never to use the passive voice are wrong.

There are uses to the passive voice and several problems. Starting with the advantages, the first and most important one is that it helps the writer control the subject.

A) Bob had been murdered.

B) Someone had murdered Bob.

The first has Bob as the subject. Bob’s widow or his mother probably aren’t thinking about the murderer. Likewise, if A or B is a narrative sentence and the murderer is unknown, putting the murderer as the subject of the sentence is both unnecessary and redundant. The verb murder implies a murderer, and the word someone contains the least information possible. So by saying ‘Someone had murdered Bob’ the author has accomplished redundancy and uselessness together in one sentence. There was no redeeming value in brevity either.

That’s the second point of use in the passive voice. Sometimes it allows for greater brevity.

C) Alice was adopted.

D) Alice’s parents had adopted her.

You don’t need the parents because if someone gets adopted, it’s implicit that they were adopted by their parents. That’s how adoption works.

Furthermore, if the narrative is about Alice and the consequences she faces as being adopted, C makes her the subject as in A above. D meanwhile moves the focus to the parents. If the narrative is about the parents, good. Use D. If the narrative is about Alice and her adoption isn’t the focus, but rather the effects that adoption had on her, use C.

The passive voice also allows for focus on the attribute the action having been done and not the action itself. Suppose you’ve got a supernatural mystery, and murdered victims can’t move on until they find out who did it. Murdered Bob is going to be affected by the murder for the rest of the book, or at least his arc. The murder itself may be over and done quickly. If Alice is a young child, the aspect of being adopted is huge to her worldview. She’s different from her siblings. Her parents might love her different. She might not really be in the family. These matters are huge, and if those matters are the crux of Alice’s narrative, they matter. If Alice was adopted before she can remember and has never met her biological parents, the adoption itself might rarely enter her mind. Her status as one who is adopted, not a real kid but an adopted one (I’ve heard this used like this), may affect her worldview and identity in fundamental ways.

In character, it is sometimes used to escape responsibility.

E) I hurt Jane’s feelings.

But in passive voice, the I can be removed.

F) Jane’s feelings were hurt.

If the speaker doesn’t want to take responsibility for hurting Jane’s feelings, the passive voice is a good way to say that because it takes the speaker out of the sentence.


The disadvantages of the passive voice are a lack of intensity and that it’s usually more wordy to convey the same information.

G) The tree had been knocked down by lightning.

H) Lightning knocked the tree down.

G is a boring sentence. It lacks immediacy and tension. H is an action. If the lightning storm is going on in the narrative, the author probably wants the reader to care about said lightning storm, and therefore the more interesting sentence is H.

Likewise for the same information conveyed, the passive voice usually requires more words.

I) Jane shot Beth with the gun.

J) Beth had been shot by Jane with the gun.

I is clearly shorter and conveys exactly the same information. If the action is meant to be important, I has more impact. If the action is not meant to be important, I gets the information out there faster so the narrative can move on to something that is important.

Most of a narrative isn’t shocking detail or character description/exposition but rather plot. Events are occurring or characters are talking and thinking. In those cases the narrative is usually served by making the flow quick and snappy, getting to the exciting bits and making getting there as interesting as possible. Thus most of the time the active voice is a better choice. But a lot of people say never use the passive voice, and this is wrong. If there was never an excuse to use the passive voice, it wouldn’t exist.

There’s another set of uses in instructions and general nonfiction that flows from the subject discretion of the first point.

Step 1: Turn the knob to the left.

Step 2: The knob should be fully turned to the left.

By keeping the sentence structure and the subjects/objects unchanged a reader doing a complex task may find reading the instructions easier. This comes up a lot in product manuals, but it’s not really connected to writing fiction.