"Why would a penguin wearing a fez riding a shark be any more surprising?"
Mostly because of the fez. You'd both have to get a) a penguin willing to use a human artifact and b) a fez or, more likely, an Indonesian pitji hat (like Sukarno used to wear) south enough for a penguin to encounter it. Penguins and sharks overlap fairly readily; sharks and fezzes/pitji overlap. Fezzes and penguins? Not so much.
OTOH, having been born in Boston and remembering a number of reports of weather like you describe, I'd guesstimate any given point in the Boston area getting that kind of weather in a 30-50 year timeframe. That beats, "really, really unlikely ever," by a reasonable amount.
Edited at 2010-07-13 02:48 am (UTC)
I find the idea of a fez wearing penguin to be mundane, all told. There's a long history of humans making animals wear fezzes (and other articles of clothing) for their amusement.
The crossover of a penguin and a locale to supply the hats is not necessary. All it takes is one human bringing one hat into the penguin's habitat, which is hardly a stretch of the imagination.
Similarly, the same could be accomplished by bringing one penguin into an environment with fez-access. This has happened quite a lot over the course of history, with zoos and aquariums.
The shark riding bit... as you say, sharks and penguins co-habiting a locale is common. To be riding is a stretch... I suspect that a penguin merely being on shark-back for a moment, and thus appearing to be deliberately riding, would be sufficient for our purposes, and thus is plausible.
This is all irrelevant though. Under standard fiction guidelines, events that significantly affect the protagonist, yet are beyond his control require purpose...
Otherwise, such a phenomenon will be referred to as an ass-pull.
If a piece of fiction were to posit xiphias
as the protagonist and had chronicled his journey in getting this job, then the freak storm would be considered an ass pull. It comes out of nowhere, serves no purpose but to frustrate the protag, and is meaningless in the greater narrative.
Therein lies the key. It serves no purpose.
It frustrates the protag, but it is not conflict. Merely "sucks to be you".
It is, in the end, bad storytelling.
Hence fiction "having to make sense".
Good fiction has to tell a good story.
Reality does not.
Therefore, random meaningless disasters like that flood make for bad stories.
This is acceptable for the news, but not for professional fiction.
"Good fiction has to tell a good story."
Again, respectfully, that's true for genre fiction (sf, mystery, romance), but not so true for literary fiction. If anything, one of the reasons literary types look down upon genre fiction is because of the focus on "good stories."
I'm not saying that's good or bad. I'm only saying it's observationally not accurate."Therefore, random meaningless disasters like that flood make for bad stories.
This is acceptable for the news, but not for professional fiction."
And, again, I would disagree strongly. I've written about this before
-- journalism is absolutely constrained by narrative structure. Consider how the root level unit in journalism is called a "story." There's a reason for that. Also, there's a reason most journalism schools cleave off the English department, and not the History department.
Take your hypothetical of "random meaningless disasters." Journalists love
that sort of thing, because you can usually use one of two story arcs:
* Tragic death(s) before their time.
* Overcoming great obstacles in the recovery.
It is, in fact, "good"
news that gets underreported. Not because it doesn't happen, nor because it's unimportant, but because it's "boring." If journalism didn't use narrative structure, that would rarely be a criterion. "Just the facts."
In fact, as I've also written before
, this is why the recently publicized Russian spy ring may well have had more value than most coverage has given it credit. Because one use of it would have been as a control group to serve as a reality check against both press and entertainment "stories" about America. Frankly, we
could use just such a reality check from time to time.
Also, distinguishing "literary" fiction is both silly and wrong. "Literary" means "pertaining to or of the nature of books and writings". All writings are literary. Any other usage is arbitrary redefinition of a word to promote elitism. This is held up by the fact that nobody can clearly and unambiguously define the term as it's used.
What's even more interesting in your claim of "literary vs genre" is that Watchmen has classed as literary fiction by many... even though it is also clearly genre fiction and a graphic novel to boot.
Finally, your "angles" on the reporting are human interest stories, not news reporting. There is a distinct difference between human interest and factual reporting.
To have unbiased reporting (something held up as a value), you can't add a human interest spin, as that's an inherent bias.http://www.cbc.ca/canada/british-columbia/story/2010/07/14/salad-recall-ecoli.html
Look. News story. There's no "story arc" here, just a recitation of facts.
"Any other usage is arbitrary redefinition of a word to promote elitism. This is held up by the fact that nobody can clearly and unambiguously define the term as it's used."
I agree with the egalitarianism you appear to aspire to here. The problem is, neither your aspirations nor my agreement make one whit of difference against the world as it observationally is.
"Watchmen has classed as literary fiction by many... even though it is also clearly genre fiction and a graphic novel to boot."
Indeed? "Citation needed," as the Wikipedia kids say.
"Look. News story. There's no "story arc" here, just a recitation of facts."
Quite admirable. Now all you have to do is show it's representative, and not a hand-picked exception. It's almost as if one can assert an editorial point-of-view through a considered selection of which sources to relay, and which to ignore. Huh.
I can't help but wonder - has this part of the discussion yet jumped the fez-penguin-wearing shark?
"I can't help but wonder..."
That's a double-negative. You probably mean, "I can't help wondering..."
"(H)as this part of the discussion yet jumped the fez-penguin-wearing shark?"
As a friend of mine tweeted of an overheard comment at SDCC, "That's not jumping the shark, that's shooting it to the moon."
2010-07-16 07:55 pm (UTC)
you omitted a necessary step
Again, respectfully, that's true for genre fiction (sf, mystery, romance), but not so true for literary fiction. If anything, one of the reasons literary types look down upon genre fiction is because of the focus on "good stories.
Where's the step wherein you prove that any of this literary fiction is any good?
2010-07-16 08:19 pm (UTC)
Re: you omitted a necessary step
First, we're talking about literary fashions, so I won't be able to "prove" anything.
Secondly, the Golden Rule applies. Or rather, the empathy implied in it. That is, from the standpoint of many writers and critics, how would I show to them that genre fiction is any good? By their standards, it's trite and formulaic.
I can remember Orson Scott Card talking once at a con about how he'd starting taking a mainstream literary writing seminar, and was getting killed in the crits. Some brave little fan said, "Just tell them you've won the Hugo!" Card looked them over sadly, and said, "They'd then ask what other prizes I'd gotten from Cracker Jack boxes."
I respect your tastes. Yours and mine may well overlap. But to then say they're the only ones that exist, or are valid... I'm a bit more modest than that.
2010-07-17 01:50 am (UTC)
Re: you omitted a necessary step
1. No, we're talking about art.
2. The Golden Rule in this case is: argumentum ad misericordiam is a logical fallacy, and therefore should not be invoked, just as you would not want it invoked on you.
2010-07-17 03:53 am (UTC)
Re: you omitted a necessary step
1. That's a distinction without a difference. All art is fashion, or, the acceptance of all art is prey to the whims of fashion. The same with fiction.
2. I wasn't relating the Card anecdote as pitiable, rather as a hardheaded assessment of the environment. "Rain is wet," would be similar. Attaching a normative evaluation that one is to be pitied because one is wet is bringing your own outlook into things.
Strike the paragraph on Card if you wish. "(F)rom the standpoint of many writers and critics, how would I show to them that genre fiction is any good? By their standards, it's trite and formulaic." That still stands as a challenge.
When the list of Hugo, Nebula, or Edgar award winners overlaps with the list of Man Booker, Nobel, or Pulitzer award winners on a consistent basis, it might be tenable to suggest there's one single set of standards. If not, then not. (Chabon is promising, but a solitary outlier so far.)
2011-07-01 03:27 pm (UTC)
Wonderful explanaiton of facts available here.
"There's a long history of humans making animals wear fezzes (and other articles of clothing) for their amusement."
Right. I'm reminded of Asimov telling about Campbell's skepticism over SF mysteries (quoted here
):"[John] Campbell had often said that a science fiction mystery story was a contradiction in terms; that advances in technology could be used to get detectives out of their difficulties unfairly, and that the readers would therefore be cheated. I sat down to write a story that would be a classic mystery and that would not cheat the reader — and yet would be a true science-fiction story. The result was The Caves of Steel."
In a similar way, having an animal obey human training isn't terribly "strange" -- it's just a way "to get (subjects) out of their difficulties unfairly." To be "strange," it'd presumably have to happen spontaneously in the wild.
If one could plausibly get penguins up north enough to be in reach of one of the oceanic garbage patches
, that'd be one thing. But, alas...
It still remains that fiction is always stranger than truth. "Strangeness" is a human artifact, as is fiction, and both are derived from human expectations and imagination. The rest of the universe simply doesn't give a damn.
Actually RL has provided the answer to that ... apparently, penguins use water temp to navigate -- in one current till they hit the hit another current with a different temp. Well, a bunch of penguins have been bypassing that turn-back point and swimming all the way to Brazil, near the equator. ( http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/10/02/AR2008100204225.html
) So really, how much machination would it take to get a penguin to a garbage patch, or north enough to run into a [GASP!] Previously-Unknown-Garbage-Patch [/GASP!] The real difficulty, it seems, would be the penguin still having the strength to hold onto the shark to ride it, since some haven't had the strength to breathe
Now you're sliding into Brin's Dogma of Otherness territory. Being contrary for the sake of being contrary.
Not really; just pointing out that with every solution comes additional opportunities to problem-solve.
The article outlined the exhaustion and other health issues the penguins had in swimming so far past their usual territory, so any writer with any skillz would know that to avoid the worst of the health problems, so the penguin can hold onto the shark for his ride, don't make him swim so far. Ergo, find a garbage patch closer to the penguin's normal habitat. Or if there isn't already a garbage patch where you need it, invent it -- invent a boat/ship that you put in the right place and invent a crewman dumping the ship's garbage overboard. Or get really creative and make the garbage patch out of the flotsam of the boat's sinking, or a plane's water crash-landing.
The real problem is finding a shark that's going to let a penguin ride it (or grab on, or whatever) without turning said penguin into a tasty snack.
There's always whale sharks.
Unfairly? Are you kidding me?
Using something that has been common and standard around the world for decades is "unfairly getting subjects out of their difficulties?"
And with mysteries? Are you saying that fingerprinting is unfair in detective fiction? Or telephones? These are all elements of a "classic mystery".
Meanwhile, training animals has been around for countless millenia, and dressing them up in human clothing has been around for well over a century.
So why is it that using thousand-year-old techniques is "unfair" but using 100 year old technology (fingerprint registries, telephones, automobiles) is not "unfair"? Especially considering that mysteries go back over a thousand years (see "The Three Apples" from 1001 Nights, dated to 9th century).
One does not need science fiction to be "unfair" in a mystery. The greeks came up with the deus ex, and it can be used in any setting in any time frame.
"Bob walked into the Starbucks. After waiting in line for 2 minutes, he ordered a Grande Americano. Taking his coffee, he left for work."
Pure fiction, not even remotely strange.
"Unfairly? Are you kidding me?"
If I wasn't before, your use of "No, it isn't!" surely increases the temptation to.
But no... I wasn't kidding, then, or as I continue. (Other than a low-level humorousness that pervades much of my writing. But hey.)
In re your next points, no, using something "common and standard around the world for decades" isn't unfairly getting subjects out of their difficulties. Campbell's point, though, was that sf has the ability to use plot elements that do. The probability of knowing a suspect is lying is greatly enhanced if the questioner is a telepath, for example. Alfred Bester wrote The Demolished Man
specifically to address that hypothetical.
The trick is, establishing
something is "common and standard around the world for decades," and is therefore something a criminal can account for and counteract against -- that takes time in the narrative."Meanwhile, training animals has been around for countless millenia, and dressing them up in human clothing has been around for well over a century."
Yup. However, for most populations of animals, the probability any randomly encountered specimen is going to be one of the ones that's been trained is very small.
Did you know that the Russian composer Aram Khachaturian
once described his "Sabre Dance" as no more than a button on the shirt on the body of his work? No? You're not alone. Suppose I mentioned a scenario that involved a shirt button, but I didn't tell you until later it was that
metaphorical button. Would that be fair? Or likely? I mean, it's possible
at all times, yes, because Khachaturian did mention such a thing.
But it's not the way to bet."Pure fiction, not even remotely strange."
Really? Then please cite an example of another species (of the millions available) constructing such a narrative.Edited at 2010-07-14 09:27 pm (UTC)