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Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight, Me Hating to Love it, and People Who Love to Hate It

June 15, 2009 Leave a comment

For those of you living in caves (the entrances to which are buried under moss-covered rocks at the bottom of the deepest abyss in the ocean), Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight is huge. Four books, with a fifth on the way; one movie so far, with the second coming out in November and the rest of the books sure to hit the silver screen eventually.

What I Think of Twilight

I do believe that the Twilight books are badly written. I could go on about that in detail for a while, but I’m pretty sure the antiTwilites have all the problems with it covered, if you’re interested. Instead, I’ll sum it up through comparison to fan fiction.

About 95% of fan fiction is pure crap — the authors didn’t even care enough about their own work to put it through a spell check or ask someone to read and critique it or anything along those lines. Many of these are Mary Sue stories. Most of them involve sex. They have bad plots and little to no character development (or they develop the character in a way totally out of line with the original story). Anyone who knows what good writing is should avoid reading them. The authors should have kept these stories to themselves, for everyone else’s sakes.

About 4% of fan fiction is decent. The author used a spell cheque, through they probably didn’t bother going true their story to make share that the words it supplies were grammatically correction. (Yes, I’ve seen some that bad.) They did get a few people to read it, though most of the people who read it were probably other fan fiction writers whose writing  skills were on par with or below their own. These usually have better plots than their 95% counterparts, but still have little to no (or bad) character development. And while the writing isn’t horrible, it’s probably full of cliched phrases and fails to display a varied vocabulary on the author’s part. This class of fan fiction is less likely to contain explicit sex scenes, though they are not, of course, unheard of. They can be worth reading if you’re bored, but not if you have anything better to do.

If you can slog through the first 99% to the light at the end of the sewage, the last 1% is worth reading. The writing may not be on a professional level. There are likely some flaws. Overall, however, the story is good, the characters are interesting and unabused, and your life may actually be enriched in some fashion by reading it. Some are downright fantastic.

When I first read the Twilight series, it felt to me like it belonged in that decent 4% of fan fiction — or would have, if it had not been an original setting. I kept wondering how Meyer’s editor kept his or her job, what with letting the same exact descriptions be used throughout the entire series. How many times did Meyer get away with calling Edward’s face “perfect” without ever mentioning, say… the shape of his nose, or whether or not his lips were thin or full? I’m fairly certain the four books could have been cut down to two. And while the switch to Jacob’s perspective in the middle of Breaking Dawn was a nice storytelling element, it was kind of jarring. After all, the first three books were told entirely from Bella’s perspective.

All in all, they’re kind of like romance novels without any explicit sex scenes in them (and it occurs to me now that that might be how so many of the problems got past Meyer’s editor). So I can’t recommend them to most males. They’re not so horrible as to be unreadable, though they did inspire facepalms in me on multiple occasions.

But…

In spite of my objective belief that they’re poorly written, I really do like them. It may be Meyer’s Mary Sue fantasy, but as a friend of mine pointed out, it’s a nice escape. I found the books hard to put down once I started reading them, in spite of all the flaws. I have read them twice now, shameful as that is.

There is one thing I actively like about the Twilight series, from my objective point of view, which is the fact that Meyer took liberties with vampire lore.

For a while now I’ve been dissatisfied with the fact that everyone uses traditional fantasy elements the same way every time. Elves are always tall, delicate-looking, pointy-eared, forest-dwelling archers (unless they’re from the splinter race of evil elves); dwarves are short, stocky, bearded, drunken warriors who live under mountains; etcetera. Authors veer away from the standard path by a little bit to personalize their mythical creatures, but if you see the word “dwarf” in a book, you already have some idea of what you’re gonna get.

Now, there’s something to be said for this. Familiarity with the mythical creatures helps the reader comprehend the dynamics of the story faster because they have less new information to take in. And working creatively within limits is a good thing for an author to be able to do.

Take the book I Am Legend, for instance. Robert Neville, the main character,  spends a good chunk of his lonely existence trying to understand vampirism. Why do crosses drive them away, when vampirism is caused by a bacteria? Hey, it doesn’t work on this dude who was a Jew before he cauth the disease. Torah? Excellent, works like a charm. Must be psychological.

Meyer manipulated vampire lore by establishing the idea that human imagination and mistaken impressions had warped the truth about vampires. This is entirely plausible. For example, her vampires don’t have fangs… but since tales have a way of growing taller from telling to telling, it’s easy to believe that vampires acquired fangs in myth somewhere along the line. This friend of a neighbor of my brother in the town across the lake heard from his uncle that his grandfather got attacked by a blood-sucking creature with fangs… like THIS!

Now, not all of the changes she made were good ones. I still don’t think vampires shouldn’t glitter in sunlight, and the final result of all her manipulation is that the vampires are nigh invincible. Edward even comments to Bella at some point in the story that vampires are so overpowered it’s ridiculous. I’m glad she acknowledged it herself in that fashion, but still… she shouldn’t have to, ’cause it shouldn’t be that way.

The Movie, On the Other Hand

It sucks. I’ve never been sorrier to watch any film in my life. Even if I weren’t comparing it to the books, it’s just bad. Do yourself a favor and never watch it.

The Great Twilight Internet War

If you’re given to random browsing on the internet, you’ve surely encountered either the legions of gushing Twilight fan girls or the raging antiTwilite army. (Or both.) The former seem like pretty standard fan girls, immune to logic. The latter may as well be frothing at the mouth in their zealous denunciations.

Watching them throw words at each other is like watching two male goats butting heads over a female goat which will be dead by the time there’s a victor to claim her. So much ferocity and expenditure of energy to so little purpose. I used to moderate some video game forums; I’ve seen enough fan boy arguments to know that true fans (or haters) cannot be swayed by logic. Both sides are too emotionally invested in their positions. This is true of the Twilight lovers and the antiTwilites alike, and they go to ridiculous extremes to try to conscript people to join their side of the argument.

Take, for example, this list of 100 Reasons Twilight Sucks. Some of them are completely valid. Some of the reasons are duplicates. Some of the reasons aren’t necessarily bad — in my experience, Stephen King tends to use established names. And the original Star Wars trilogy, a set of sci-fi classics, uses cliches right and left. The writer of this list tried too hard; the list is unimpressive, and he looks like a fool. He should’ve kept it to twenty or fewer.

The Twilight fans, on the other hand, seeking a way to exalt their beloved series, have dubbed it better than the Harry Potter series. I don’t know what they’re smoking, and I don’t want any. Harry Potter goes through everything from puberty to torture on his epic quest to save the world. Rowling introduces new and useful things (and spells) in every book and sees to it that every new and useful thing gets used and then used again three books later — and not always by the good guys. The main character isn’t the only one to get development, and no one is invincible (which is a plus, really).

In short, their whole war is retarded. Give it up, people, seriously. Enjoy it or don’t, and quit polluting our internets.

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Work in Progress: Final Fantasy Tissue Box Cover

June 13, 2009 Leave a comment

In the process of working my way up in difficulty to the needlepoint projects I daydream about, I am making a tissue box cover. I’m pretty sure everyone who’s ever done plastic canvas needlepoint has done at least one of these, and by the time I finish this project I will be no exception. Mine is a simple display of characters from the original Final Fantasy for the NES. The order in which they appear on the box is semi-inspired by 8-bit Theater. I’ve got the fighter and black mage on one long side of the cover, with the white mage and monk on the other long side. The thief and the red mage each have a panel of their own. The final product will have physical and magical damage dealers alternating all the way around the box.

Clicking on any of the images will take you to a web album with more and larger pictures.

Getting Into Plastic Canvas, Part 2 – Testing Things

June 13, 2009 Leave a comment

In my previous post on plastic canvas needlepoint, I talked a bit about what it is and what people have done with it. In this post, I chronicle the embarkation of my journey toward understanding what all can be done with it, and how. Larger versions of all pictures can be found here.

How the Internets Have Failed Me

For the most part, the coolest things I’ve seen don’t seem truly inspired.  I don’t mean to dis them here… they’re really quite nifty. And a small percentage are downright fantastic.

But here we sit on all the possibilities of three-dimensional stitch work, and people make plain boxes. Some of the boxes are very nice. Some incorporate a little bit of extra three-dimensional-ness in the form of sewing one or more flat, decorational panels to the outside. The bulk of them are just plain ol’ squares.

So far, having been doing this for about two weeks now, I’ve mostly stuck to boxy things myself. One has to start somewhere, after all, and learning the ropes on simple shapes has proven very effective. I, however, have a couple of projects in mind which will require complex shapes and techniques to be successful. I therefore spent most of this morning trying some things out.

Whipstitching Two Pieces Together Along a Custom Curve

In addition to your basic sheets of plastic grid, here are a number of specially-shaped forms available for plastic canvas work – diamonds, circles, triangles, etc. (And apparently if you go overseas they have a wider variety of fancy forms available — hemispheres, pre-made bags, and the like.) The first big project I have in mind, however, will require shapes that have a combination of long and arced sides to be whipstitched together. I needed some idea of how to go about it and what the final product would look like.

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This is not particularly new or special. It was a good experience for me, but about the only thing I learned was not to be afraid of using the same hole on one piece of mesh for two different stitches on the other one. The side of the curved-over piece which isn’t whipstitched to another piece of mesh refuses to hold its curve perfectly, as I’m sure you can imagine. It’d be fine if I’d whipstitched it to another piece.

Joining the Edges of Two Sheets of Plastic Canvas in a 2D Manner

Sheets of plastic canvas only come so big. This could be a problem for a couple of projects I’d like to do. Whipstitching is what I did above to bind the two pieces of canvas together. My goal with this experiment was to see if I could whipstitch two pieces of canvas together, flat and seamless, to make a single-looking, larger piece.

This test came in two parts really, each with a subdivision of its own. Part one was about joining straight canvas edges together, and part two was about trying to join a stair-stepped edge together.

In part 1A, I worked with binding the straight edges of two different pieces of canvas together. The pink one was a 2×35 strip I had laying around from my earliest foray into plastic canvas. I tried looping it around to join the end, but (partly due to the stress of the mesh, which was a particularly stiff variety, trying to stay straight) it put too much strain on the yarn I was binding it with. It would only hold its seamless look while I held it with both hands — I couldn’t even get it to stay in place long enough to photograph it.

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Part 1B was an attempt to join two blue rectangles along straight edges. This went reasonably well, until I got to finishing the edge with the overcast stitch. Where the two pieces of canvas came together, the yarn wanted to slip between them instead of staying over them. I was able to avoid that some by going over the spot multiple times.

The real problem with this was that I had trouble keeping one of the two rectangles from moving upwards, shifting out of place. I was able to fix that by inserting my needle under a row of stitches across the backs of both pieces. I couldn’t leave the needle there indefinitely, of course; I’d have to find some kind of pin to leave there permanently for this solution to really work. On the plus side, that would help keep the pieces from folding and/or flopping around — the overall stability is increased.

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In part two, I looked at joining two pieces along a stair-stepped edge, to try to take care of the stability problems without having to resort to permanent pins inserted in the back. Part 2A was a major flop simply because the stitches ran with the edge instead of against it. There was no way to join the pieces seamlessly because there was no place to put more stitches going in the same direction.

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Part 2B, however, went quite well. As I’d hoped, the finished product was much more stable. I made my job easier to start with by shoving a couple of needles through the back to stabilize it while I worked, and when I took them out at the end had no stability problems. The seam isn’t as sturdy as a solid sheet of mesh, of course, but it’s not unsturdy like the joined straight edges above.

The third picture does a great job of showing the flaws here, though. Under the right (wrong?) lighting conditions, a slight height difference is noticeable, making the seam apparent. It also suffers the same sort of overcast stitching problems the straight-edge join had.

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Things to Try Next

  1. Again trying to join two stair-stepped pieces together with the stitches running along the edge. Inability to do that is a serious flaw. If I leave more of the canvas unstitched, I could conceivably overlap the stair-stepped edges more. If it works as I anticipate, it would leave a definite ridge, so it would have to be used judiciously and incorporated into the decoration by design.
  2. Making a two-dimensional object stick straight up from another piece of mesh. I’d have to find a way to prop it up somehow — there would be a definite right and wrong side to it, too. Probably only good for decorative sculpting. Necessary for a project I have in mind.
  3. Using a piece of mesh on top of a piece of mesh to force a more three-dimensional look under certain lines. This idea is inspired by puff machine embroidery.

Getting Into Plastic Canvas, Part 1

June 13, 2009 4 comments

I’ve been interested in plastic canvas needlework for some years now. I never got into it because I never had sufficient motivation for doing so. Now I find myself with a fantastic idea for a halloween costume, with plastic canvas contruction being the most accessible and cheapest option for creating a necessary prop for my costume.

What is this plastic canvas thing you speak of?

For those who don’t know, plastic canvas needlepoint is almost exactly like doing needlepoint embroidery on fabric. The only real difference is that instead of doing your embroidery on cloth in thread or fine yarn, you do it on a plastic mesh in the kind of yarn you’d crochet or knit with. The best part about plastic canvas is that you can make three-dimensional objects with it. If you’ve seen any kind of finished plastic canvas work, it was probably a tissue box cover.

One doesn’t have to use yarn, either — any ribbon or cord that will go through the holes in the mesh will work. Using things besides yarn, in fact, seems to be the new trend in plastic canvas artistry (as does making anything but tissue box covers). The best examples I’ve seen were found by the folks over at CraftyPod. They’ve encountered some Japanese plastic canvas books with nifty ideas in them. They also came across someone who makes the darndest decorative pieces.

The possibilities for plastic canvas may be limited, but there are far more possibilities than there are restrictions. And if you take advantage of Google’s image search, you’ll find some really cool things people have made with it. Here are a few of my personal favorites: