Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Project Notebook Search #1

Now that I'm writing Spanner (and its side stories), it's past time for me to start searching the nearly two decades' worth of notes I wrote into fourteen Project Notebooks. I'll start by delving into the massive Notebook #13. I called it "The Production Notebook", but by the time I switched to #14 in 2007 (after I'd already started NaNoWriMo and shortly before I switched my attention to the Spanner prequel Bad Company), I'd failed yet again to teach myself how to draw comics, like a New Year's resolution that fails over and over but continues to haunt you. Anyway, I'm gleaning from the notes in Project Notebook #13. (Note: If my Project Notebook entries resemble blog posts like in this very blog, consider the Notebooks the private-journal predecessor to "Spanner's World".)

March 14, 2004: The Digital Strategy
"Cyberpunk in Revolution Mode": — Long before I ever watched The Matrix, I was connecting the cyberpunk subgenre and method to the idea of revolution. Most cyberpunk stories are "futur noir", or hard-boiled crime novels set in the run-down future rather than in the run-down present day. The pivotal scientific influence on my worldview, however, happens to be Ilya Prigogine's 1984 book Order out of Chaos, which introduced to the world his theory of the self-organization of complex systems through dissipative structures. Rereading Order out of Chaos in the early '90s, after I'd read Crane Brinton's The Anatomy of Revolution and Norman Spinrad's Agent of Chaos, the connection was obvious. How could so many of the cyberpunks miss this (with the possible exception of John Shirley in his seminal magnum opus Eclipse/A Song Called Youth, plus a couple others I don't remember offhand)? Most of them fixated on the "hacker noir" cliché, that's how. Nihilism was a dead horse begging to be whipped. I vowed to turn the whole subgenre upside down.

"Future Western": Like I said, most cyberpunk derives from hard-boiled crime fiction. You can draw a direct line between Raymond Chandler and William Gibson. And hard-boiled fiction was originally an update of the western into gothicized contemporary mystery: some hard-boiled crime writers started in pulp westerns (Elmore Leonard is a later example), Dashiell Hammett' first novel Red Harvest, set in a thinly disguised Butte, Montana (where he had worked as a Pinkerton detective/enforcer), forms a crucial link between the genres. Both western and hard-boiled mystery influenced the samurai film: samurai fiction is Japan's counterpart to western and is hard-boiled by its very nature. Future western: Gibson, stuck out in Vancouver (then, like nearby Seattle, a provincial backwater town), had never heard the word "hacker", so he called his hackers "cowboys". What's the handle the hero goes by in Walter Jon Williams' HardWired? Why, "Cowboy", of course! And Cowboy sees himself in the tradition of the Pony Express; the western link is explicit, making HardWired as explicitly Future Western as, say, Trigun. I would later vow to upend the classic western tropes and the ideology behind them. Spanner would not be Future Western, but the negation of the western. The old frontier is closed forever.

Note: I wrote this entry (and started Project Notebook #13) a full decade before the 2014 start time of Spanner.

March 18, 2004 — I realized that despite the incomplete nature of my skill, my drawing style had transformed exactly the same way those of Masamune Shirow, Masaoki Kanzaki, and Haruhiko Mikimoto had. In 1993-4, I was learning the "old style" method of drawing manga, the way it was done in the '70s and '80s. Now I was "new style". Every single drawing I've ever posted is "new style". CLAMP were a crucial influence on that.

April 18, 2004: The Perfect Look — In my "new-style" style, I draw sweet-faced, sleek-bodied beauties. Almost all my female characters are that way, and so even are my male characters Rob Shelley, Connor Blair, and Cory Belmont.

May 26, 2004 — By then I had gotten really, really annoyed with the Objectivists, of which I considered myself to be a closet member until 9/11. Then both the Ayn Rand Institute and the Objectivist Center started getting really jingoistic and converging with the ruling imperial ideology of neoconservatism. Since I was a libertarian who still insists that war and empire are the ultimate (and most wasteful) government programs, I took offense. Today, it's gotten much worse: Objectivism is being assimilated by religious conservatism, thanks in large part to one Glenn Beck.

The Way-Cool Factor: By that time, Hong Kong had lost it (having been assimilated by Communist corporatist China in 1997), and Infernal Affairs and its sequels would be HK's last hurrah. I assumed that Japan was gaining a lock on Way Cool with its manga and anime. I didn't know then that Korea had already picked up where Hong Kong left off (and in 1997, even), nor did I have the PlayStation 2 to experience the Grand Theft Auto games on. The Way-Cool Factor is itself a theme in Spanner. I thought I'd be capturing it in comic-book imagery, but then I still thought I'd be able to finish my drawing self-instruction and didn't know that, thanks to NaNoWriMo, I'd be capturing it in words instead. Looking back, I realize that words are easier; the way I draw my characters may be too pretty. On a different note, it's been acknowledged since the days of the original cyberpunk canon that Tokyo is the cyberpunk city. Why else would Gibson start Neuromancer in Chiba?

June 25, 2004 — I decided I wasn't an Objectivist anymore after all. After having read Chris Matthew Sciabarra in the late '90s, starting on the now defunct website The Daily Objectivist, I had become too dialectical for Rand's rationalism. I had outgrown Rand and was on the verge of breaking out of the Randian matrix entirely. There's still the influence even today, but now it's just an influence, part of my background.

September 1, 2004: Who Is Spanner? — An entry on the character herself. Actually, I was thinking of "Spanner" not as a single character (main character Shira Thomas) but as an organization, roughly modelled on Doc Savage's Fabulous Five, that developed out of earlier similar groups and would later take its current form as a bounty hunter team called the "Slasher Hunters". (In an different Notebook entry, I decided to make Doc Savage himself the father of Shira's grandfather, Judge Philip D. Reston — and a Wikipedia search therefore places Shira and her mother's family squarely within the "Wold Newton" crossover universe assembled by Philip José Farmer, a genealogist as well as science fiction writer. Could Spanner really be about the ethical and political implications surrounding Farmer's "Wold Newton family" idea, with the Richter-Thomases and the Beckets taking opposite sides of the controversy? So what is the controversy? Whether the superior [e.g., the Richter-Thomases] should raise the masses to their own level, or rule over them [like the Beckets] as a race of gods. I'll get deeper into this in future entries...)

Conclusion: Leafing through old Project Notebook entries, I'm likely to stumble across ideas I've forgotten, some of which I was huge into back then. I'll revive or abandon them as the story requires. Meanwhile, while I'm searching old Notebook entries, I ought to take a look at the index cards I've written scenes on and see which ones I can revive...

Back to Spanner’s World...

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