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The strengths of prose.

More writing about stuff I’ve yet to see! —I mean, I’ve heard good things from people I don’t disrespect about The Expanse on the teevee; heck, I think the Spouse has seen some episodes, but then, she is a bit more committed to life-in-space stories than I am. (I checked; she saw the first few episodes. “It had promise,” she says.) —But life is short, there’s too much to watch as it is, and between my distrust of corporate media ever being able to do anything actually good with Workers Uniting, and the vague whiff of Detective Snapbrim’s Manpain in Space, I’ve just never bothered.

As for the books: again, short life, so much to read, life-in-space, the Walter Jon Williams is somewhere in the TBR though, so there’s that, and I’ve got all those Transhuman Space and 2300 sourcebooks under my belt. —I have read some Daniel Abraham, though, who’s one half of James S.A. Corey, who writes the Expanse books, but I read him when he was MLN Hanover, and I was trying to figure out what was happening or had happened to «urban fantasy» while I was in the kitchen, getting coffee, and though I’ll always tip my hat to him—to Abraham, that is—for the pith of “Genre is where fears pool,” I’ll always then step back with a quirked brow at where he went next with that.

But! We’re not talking about lupily dhampiric gamines in Eddi and the Fey T-shirts, and we’re not talking about stylish snapbrims in space—we’re talking about adapting a work from one medium to another, and that, well—

What was the biggest challenge when adapting your novels to the screen?

Daniel Abraham:
The books were really written to lean into the strengths of prose. They’re full of interior monologue and clarifying exposition that just don’t work on camera at all.

—it turns out I have plenty of strong opinions about that.

To say that this or that is something so strong as the strength of something so very expansive as prose is perilously close to making an essentialist argument, and while I’d never tell you not to make one of those, one really ought to state outright what the essence is of the thing in question, and the essence of prose is setting down one word after another—which has nothing in and of itself to do with either clarifying exposition, or interior monologues. —Certainly, one can exposit or monologue in prose, and, depending on the idiom, mode, and genre in which one finds oneself, and the reading protocols thereof, and the expected and unexpected audience expectations, and whether one chooses to cleave to them, or cleave them, one may well find it an easy enough thing to do. But don’t let’s kid ourselves it’s a strength of the medium.

As to whether it’s a weakness anywhere else—

—sure, sure, you say monologue and you say cinema and you immediately think voiceover and you think theatrical cut of Blade Runner and you think you’ve won the argument, but then—

—so don’t tell me it “don’t work on camera at all.”

(As for exposition, clarifying or otherwise: one is reminded that, when John M. Ford wanted to exposit some details of dilithium in his Star Trek novel, How Much For Just the Planet?, he did so by way of the narration of an educational filmstrip titled “Dilithium and You,” but that’s a prose transcription of a visual medium inside a novelization of a television show, and I’ve lost track of where we were, and anyway Paramount changed the rules after it came out so nobody could ever do that again.)

This may seem like an awful lot to unpack from an offhand comment; Abraham’s not without his point. The expectations of any audience here and now for a series of sf books such as the Expanse allow for certain techniques that an audience here and now for an sf teevee show would balk at, and the expectations that underlie such an observation, the reasons one might put forward to explain it, could be fascinating to work through—but flatly stating that this is a just-so strength of prose, and would never just-so work on camera, utterly occludes the possibility of that work (that play).

But such a conversation is well beyond the scope of a hype interview on the occasion of a fourth-season premiere, so let’s allow as how they’re maybe just speaking imprecisely, in haste, as we all have done, and move on—

Ty Franck:
It’s also given us a chance to learn how to use the strengths of TV to tell the same story in a different way. I know Daniel had a real epiphany when he realized that all the prose tricks to convey the emotional state of a scene could be replaced with a good musical score.

—yeah. Okay. Sorry. You’re on your own with this one.

  1. Jonah    Jan 4, 02:30 PM    #

    It turns out, I have thoughts about this re: Podcasts, a form which has just about decided what its genres are (at least from a commercial standpoint), but hasn’t yet worn in the wagon ruts.
    Which means you get the group of people chatting and also having a strong online presence, and quick explanations that this is “developing intimacy with the listener” as one form-of-podcast, and then you get something like Out of the Blocks, which is reminding you of the humanity of everyone, and it’s sort of immediately clear that even to the extent that “the voices I put in my head when I’m doing other activities” is in fact qualitatively different from other forms of media we consume, AND ALSO granting the premise that the qualitative difference is that you’re more open to making a human connection with the voices in your earholes, the idea that what podcasts do is help you make a strong connection with a group brand, rather than be more open to connections with people generally is entirely due to the kinds of podcasts that organizations are producing, rather than because this is an inherent strength of podcasts.

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