Geoffrey Long
Tip of the Quill: Archives
Where did that month go?

I've just realized, much to my horror, that it's been almost a month since I've posted anything here. Yikes. Sorry about that - suffice it to say that the last couple of weeks have been even more intense than usual, and the next couple of weeks are going to be even more intense than that. My lack of posting any new content here is Not Good, since I hope I'm going to be getting at least a few new visitors to this site after the smoke has cleared from the next two weeks. Let me explain.

On Tuesday, the GAMBIT Review Committee is showing up to go over our lab's progress as we near the halfway point of our initial five-year mission. The goal here is to overwhelm them (shock and awe, shock and awe!) with our excellence, so much so that the report they generate and send back to our funders in Singapore will result in a renewal of our funding, thus making our five-year mission a ten-or-more-year mission. To say this is a Very Big Deal is a fairly large understatement. As a result, I've been up to my neck in slides for the last week or so, hammering out the big presentation that's scheduled to go down on Tuesday morning.

Unfortunately, I don't get to stay around for the whole thing. As has been reported by several websites, on Tuesday afternoon I'm boarding an international flight to Germany, where I'll be presenting a lecture on character design for transmedia franchises at the 3rd Pictoplasma Conference in Berlin, which I'm intensely excited about despite the fact that I speak no German. This should be interesting, to say the least. With a little luck I'll be able to post videoblog entries like I did on my trip to Singapore last year, and I'll post my slides and lecture notes over on my Presentations and Lectures page sometime before the end of the month. Here's the basic synopsis of my talk:

From Plot to Character to World: Some Aesthetics of Transmedia Storytelling
As transmedia franchises such as Star Wars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, LOST and Heroes increase in popularity, the ability to create characters that audiences will follow from one media form to the next becomes absolutely critical. Attendees will be shown how such carefully-crafted characters are the key to the success of such transmedia storytellers as George Lucas, Joss Whedon, J.J. Abrams, Jim Henson and Tim Kring. By drawing on the theories of Henry Jenkins, Stephen King and John Keats, this talk will examine such key aesthetics of transmedia franchises as the skillful deployment of negative capability and the shift in narrative emphasis from plot to character to world.

So I get to see a little bit of Berlin while I'm there, then I'm flying from Germany back to San Francisco, where I'll be attending the 2009 Game Developers Conference until Thursday evening, when I'm hopping another plane to come jetting back to Boston to present at the 2009 American Comparative Literature Association conference at Harvard. Here's the abstract for that talk:

From Horrorism to Terrorism: the New Weird, the New Horror and the War on Terror
On Halloween 2008, the fantasy and science fiction author Jo Walton posted an entry called "Halloween Special: Why I hate horror" to, in which she declared: "...What horror readers want is blood, right away, rivers of it, and scary stuff too, immediately, even before you care about the characters." In the comments to her post, the novelist and essayist Nick Mamatas snarkily quoted this passage with the retort, "Ah, now I know! I also look forward to future posts in which I am told what I like in a meal, and in a sexual partner."

This exchange exemplifies the current shifting perceptions within and without of the horror genre. In the foreword to his 2008 anthology Poe's Children: The New Horror, horror novelist Peter Straub describes a new current horror Renaissance led by authors such as Kelly Link, who have more in common with John Crowley and Jonathan Carroll than with the authors who made up the previous horror boom in the 1970s and 1980s. What separates these generations is a shift away from horror and towards terror, as the terms are described in John Clute's 2005 short lexicon of horror, The Darkening Garden: terror is the revelation that the characters' normal, reliable world does not always adhere to the normal, reliable rules and actually has more wondrous and threatening creatures, places and things in it than one had imagined; horror, on the other hand, is when those threatening new elements actually make good on their threats and rend the characters limb from limb. Under these criteria, terror stories are more psychological and horror is more visceral.

It doesn't take much of a leap to connect the rise of this new psychological type of terror story to the popular mindset and psychology of America (and indeed the world) after 9/11. Terrorist warfare relies on the same basic mental mechanics as terror stories - both rip away our basic assumptions of safety and rely on the negative capability of the human imagination to do the rest; arguably, both are the most effective when the actual horror (the bombs, the dismemberment) never comes. This may be why the 2000s have seen not only the rise of Straub's New Horror but also the rise of the New Weird, as described by Jeff and Ann Vandermeer in their co-edited 2007 anthology of the same name, and the rebirth of the classic Weird Tales magazine under the editorship of Stephen H. Segal. Storytellers working under the banner of either the New Horror or the New Weird frequently have much more in common with H.P. Lovecraft's cosmic horrors than with the splatterfests of the 1970s and 1980s, which includes not only authors but also filmmakers and graphic novelists as well, as evidenced by the recent popularity of Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth and Mike Mignola's Hellboy.

This paper will drill deeper into these observations, pulling examples from fiction, film and comics. It will compare the characteristics of Straub's New Horror to the Vandermeers' New Weird, examine how such shifts may have previously followed global upheavals such as WWI and WWII, and attempt to illuminate how this shift from horror to terror in art reflects the shift in the popular psyche from the fear of a shattered known to the fear of an encroaching unknown.

But wait, there's more! Later in April I'm also presenting a paper at the 6th Media in Transition Conference:

Play Chapter: Video Games and Transmedia Storytelling
Although multi-media franchises have long been common in the entertainment industry, the past two years have seen a renaissance of transmedia storytelling as authors such as Joss Whedon and J.J. Abrams have learned the advantages of linking storylines across television, feature films, video games and comic books. Recent video game chapters of transmedia franchises have included Star Wars: the Force Unleashed, LOST: Via Domus and, of course, Enter the Matrix - but compared to comic books and webisodes, video games still remain a largely underutilized component in this emerging art form. This paper will use case studies from the transmedia franchises of Star Wars, LOST, The Matrix, Hellboy, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and others to examine some of the reasons why this might be the case (including cost, market size, time to market, and the impacts of interactivity and duration) and provide some suggestions as to how game makers and storytellers alike might use new trends and technologies to close this gap.

Not only that, I'm also chairing a panel on the future of publishing at MIT6, one which will include a number of luminaries from the publishing industry that I'll announce here as soon as I get the lineup completely finalized. Right now, though, I desperately need to get back to those slides. Wish me luck!

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