Larger Than Life?

We all know about the wonderful worlds of DC™ and Marvel™ comics, with their plethora of superheroes.  I certainly used to love getting the comics when I was a kid, especially the genuine US-printed ones, with all that colour!  I had my favourites, and there were some I didn’t like.  I was a total fan of the X-men (Wolverine Rules!) but The Amazing Spider-Man bored me silly with all his teen angst.  If I’d ever demonstrated an ability to draw people, I would certainly have had a go at creating my own comic.  The superhero was just so coolBut, did the superhero originate in the comics?  The simple answer is a categorical No.

Whenever an author has created characters of anything like heroic proportions, they have been something more than real heroes.  They have been faster to heal, quicker in mind and/or body, just plain superiorSherlock Holmes has a superior intellect.  Jason (of Argonauts fame) was favoured by both a goddess and a witch, letting him achieve fantastic feats.  Sinbad was larger than life, with luck that defies explanation.  Tarzan was honed to superhuman perfection of body and senses.  Literature down through the ages is littered with superheroes.  And we’re still doing it!

The current trend for vampire stories is evidence of our need for something superior in a character.  The original, Count Dracula, wasn’t good, and it was quite clear that he, and those that followed, were undeniably evil.  And then Joss Whedon created Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in the TV series of which, the idea of a vampire with a soul was born, in the form of Angel.  A new kind of hero was created.  That which had been evil suddenly underwent a transformation.  And an eager audience (not all of them teenagers) were desperate for more.  Soon, ‘good’ vampires were popping up all over, particularly in “YA Paranormal” fiction, but also bleeding over into the world of movies and television.  A dark, brooding superhero type was let loose.

Older types of superhero still appear, of course.  The extra-intelligent individuals.  Those with psychic powers, natural or engendered.  Action heroes who can defeat small armies.  And the comic books are still there, in greater numbers than ever.  Naturally, the superheroes are balanced by supervillains, but we all know who will win the day.  Even when the supervillain is the ‘star’, there’s no certainty that they will actually do evil, or that they don’t have a ‘good’ nemesis.  Basically, the formula remains.

I wonder if this will ever change?  Somehow, I doubt it.  Personally, I’m glad about that.

~ Steve

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A Question of Format

Well, it’s been a little while since I got my kobo mini eReader, and I’ve spent a fair amount of time either reading or trying to organise its contents.  Having shelves is useful but I’ve discovered that there are definite failings, though I’m not sure that they’re unique to the kobo.

I like to have the best metadata (information about the ebook) possible, and the nicest covers I can find, for all the ebooks I’ve got.  Neither the kobo desktop app nor Adobe Digital Editions allow the metadata to be altered from within them, any more than the eReader does.  As a consequence, I’ve been using Calibre to perform the task, and also to keep a track of my full library.  It’s a very useful tool for such activities as updating metadata, converting formats and maintaining a database of contents, including moving books to and from the kobo.  Unfortunately, problems are thrown up very early on!

First, and perhaps the most frustrating, is that when you obtain an ebook through the kobo store, adding it to your library but not actually downloading it, a “virtual book” record is created on the eReader.  This shows up in Calibre as being a book but is in reality just a pointer – you can’t save the book to your Calibre library or to disk!  The first ebook I opted to read on the kobo was The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, which I added to my library on the kobo site.  All was well, until I discovered that I didn’t actually have the ebook – just that pointer.  Naturally, I downloaded it then, from the kobo store.  The metadata was very poor and the cover was transformed into something of no interest.  Naturally, I updated the data in Calibre, though I first had to copy the ebook to disk and add it to my Calibre-kobo library.  To get the information back onto the kobo, I then had to copy it back to the mini, which left me with two copies!  Deleting the original, uninformative version was the obvious thing to do – until I ran the Synch process – which proceeded to reinstate the version on the kobo store.  I had to delete it from “My Library” at the store to avoid duplication on the eReader.  What’s more, I lost annotations and bookmarks in the process.  Updating metadata leaves much to be desired!

Next, there’s an issue with the way ebooks are rendered.  Pages don’t flow properly.  I constantly encounter situations where large areas of the screen are empty – with fragments of text which are completed on moving forward in the ebook.  Also, bookmarks don’t work!  Periodically, a muddled piece of text is displayed, where a page number collides with a word, at the right edge of the screen.  Putting the eReader to sleep, or powering off, causes a complication in that the automatic bookmark, which is supposed to remember where you got to, restores you to an earlier position in the ebook because the page numbers don’t equate to the number of actual screen pages you’ve read.  This has happened in both PDF and ePub versions.  I don’t know whether it’s a question of the kobo getting it wrong, or the publisher/author!

None of these problems are truly critical, but they are niggles which cause some annoyance.  Interestingly, the pagination/bookmarking worked perfectly for the Sherlock Holmes ebook when it was just a virtual book!  It was only after I switched to a genuine copy of it that the pagination/bookmarking errors started.  It’s not a good advertisement for ebooks.  I’ve also discovered a problem with the Facebook connectivity function – which may be a consequence of using different email addresses for my Facebook and my kobo accounts – I’m still investigating that.

I hope that these problems can be addressed and solutions found.

~ Steve

Character Assassination

Creating characters is a tough job.  I’ve also discussed where they might find their seed in a previous post.  I can’t be alone, as a writer, in cherishing some of the characters I’ve created.  That applies as much to villains as heroes.  I know I can’t be alone.  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, that great master of the ultimate in detective, forensics slanted, crime stories had both his Sherlock Holmes and his Professor Moriarty.  Both lived through numerous clashes, until the final showdown.

The problem is, however, that we can’t live through those cherished characters alone.  At some point we must make a decision to either simply abandon them, leaving the end of their story untold in effect, or we must kill them.  The lucky ones may be fortunate enough to die of old age, but the majority tend to meet less happy ends.  If their end must be violent, then will it be in some final act of heroism?  Or will it be some senseless calamity, like being killed in a traffic accident?  Whatever end they meet, the task of writing it is far, far harder than the process of creation.

A problem with assassinating characters is that we may be doing something that our readers find deplorable. If our characters have found their way into the hearts of others, we’re risking a great deal by ending them.  We may even alienate some of our readers, driving them away from anything else we may write.  Unfortunately, we must be Angels of Death regardless.  We are fortunate, in one respect, in that we may leave enough gaps to permit us to return to the same characters at some future date, plugging in new episodes in their lives, or writing a prequel or two – but only if we were less than thorough in chronicling the life of the character.  But there will still be some who may never forgive our murder of a favourite character.

It occurred to me, a little while ago, that it’s quite possible that writers have, collectively, killed more people than all the wars, famines, volcanic eruptions and other disasters have in the history of humanity!  Some writers, indeed, have killed off billions in world cataclysms, so I’m confident that we are truly ruthless in the pursuit of our craft.  And yet, we can still agonise over the deaths of individual characters.  We are, undoubtedly, a very strange breed!

~ Steve

A Character More Famous…

I’ve been wondering.  What happens when a character becomes more famous than the author who created them?  There is a sense of the author losing ownership of that character, as they become a household name.  Sherlock Holmes is a prime example.  Holmes is legendary, and has long since been taken far beyond the original works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  That’s not a huge problem, as such, as Doyle is long dead.  What about similar famous characters, however, where the author is still alive?

Recent years has seen a massive growth in “fan fiction“.  Some of this leaves much to be desired, in quality or originality terms, but some is excellently written.  There is also a great deal of artwork based on the personal conceptions of characters and locales by artists who have become fans of literary characters.  Then, of course, there’s film and TV, where the famed characters are brought to life on the screen, big or small.  All are tributes to the author, in the sense that they have created a character who has captivated a very large audience.

It has to be said that many famous characters are more abused than used by people other than the original author.  It must be intensely disheartening to see a carefully crafted story being altered to fit the mediums of film and TV, even if the author is involved in the production to some degree.  From what I’ve seen of some productions, it would be a serious mistake to assume that the presence of the author’s name in the credits guarantees that they have been able to adequately protect their creation.

I guess most writers would be delighted to create a character who gains fame beyond all expectation.  I wonder, though, if we could resist the potential profit in allowing our creations to be remade for film or TV?  Would we even want to?  Do we, in some sense, give ownership of our characters to our readers?  By creating such a popular character, we provide our readers with a new person in their lives, somebody who really matters to them.  It’s not unlike soap operas which involve some viewers do strongly that the death of a character causes genuine grief.  People have been known to send tokens of that grief.  Equally, some such deaths have caused real anger amongst the fans of the programme, even to the point of the producers being forced to contrive the reinstatement of the character!

As an author, I would probably feel genuinely honoured to have a character achieve such fame.  I would be less happy, I suspect, to have that character taken over by all and sundry.

~ Steve