Wednesday, 7 June 2017

With Apologies to Nancy Drew

Another Pocket Rocket Launches into Spaaace!

I planned to have this one out in May, but life, as she so often does, had other plans. Never fear, the next Space Princess Pocket Rocket freebie is here for a limited time. The Secret of Buxton Beach is finally live on Smashwords*!

(* Update: The Pocket Rocket freebies have now expired, but you can check out an edited and updated form of this adventure in the forthcoming Pocket Rockets collection. Look for a new post about its release soon!)

One more freebie is yet to come, over on Stories Online and very soon -- I promise! -- so keep an eye out. In the meantime, let's have a little fireside chat about Nancy Drew, Naomi Bell, the Iron Chef, Star Trek, and some YouTube D&D fan-fiction courtesy of those magnificent bastards at Penny Arcade. A rich harvest indeed awaits you below the jump!

Cyrano Gives Mad Props to Carolyn Keene

I'm not going to lie to you, dear readers. When I hit on the idea of combining the spunky sleuthing spirit of a Nancy Drew mystery with the hardcore triple-X retro-SF flavour of Space Princess, I had no idea what I was letting myself in for. It wasn't nearly as easy as I had foolhardily convinced myself it would be, and I can tell you this exercise gave me fresh respect for Nancy's creator, Mildred Wirt a.k.a. the original "Carolyn Keene." Whether or not I captured any part of that spirit, it was fun to write and I can tell you that our Pocket Rocket adventure starring the wonderful Naomi Bell is darned good sexy fun in its own right. Perhaps you'll check it out and let me know, remember that it's free only for a limited time.

The Secret of Buxton Beach centres on the adventures of a fresh-faced Bell at the age of eighteen. It's four years before she has her doctorate and eight years before she finally gets out of the research labs and has a chance to practice medicine at its sexiest aboard the S.S. Ecstasy, as we see in Season One of Space Princess.

At the outset of Secret she's a naive girl fresh from a pious Tribulationist upbringing, destined to practice medicine for charity, to whom just the act of wearing a bikini is pretty outrageous; and she's about to undergo her awakening and find her true vocation. Along with her best friends from Vallentyne Collegiate -- with whom she forms Team Vallentyne, the beach volleyball powerhouse of her high school -- she finds herself immersed in a torrid episode of mystery, corruption and deadly, depraved alien menace with the fate of Earth itself in the balance.

Now, let's get to it. Why did Nancy Drew suggest herself as a story model to a pervy dude who writes pornoriffic adventures for bikini girls of the retro-future? Well, it may not be for the reasons you're thinking. I owe this tale first to Naomi herself, who even as a youthful innocent -- before growing into the fiery, confident and open-hearted heroine she is in the main Space Princess adventures -- strikes me as the kind of character who would love Nancy Drew and wouldn't shrink from solving a mystery or two of her own. Beyond that, there are the following inspirations.

Mulholland Drive.
She's as sweet as a sugar high.
David Lynch's show-that-never-was-which-became-a-movie has to hold a record for Nancy Drew comparisons on account of its first act, in which Naomi Watts' Betty embarks on a mysterious sleuthing journey into the underbelly of Hollywood. This, to put it mildly, does not come to any sort of Nancy Drew-like conclusion, but it was in fact the most direct source of inspiration for The Secret of Buxton Beach.

You see bright-eyed Betty, there? Straight off the bus, full of promise, ready for adventure? That's Naomi Bell, kinda, if she was wearing a bikini. Thankfully, things work out... a little better for Bell.

Velma Dinkley.
Nancy Drew is also the apparent inspiration of Scooby Doo sleuth Velma Dinkley, who in her turn inspires the character of Lena Phillips in The Secret of Buxton Beach. There's just something irresistible about a girl with glasses, don't you think?

Sexy Velmas are everything.
(More to the point, both Velma and Lena are the chief intellectuals of their respective gangs and both turn out to be indispensable to solving the mystery. Although Lena's route to this role is a bit more unorthodox.)

Cherry Ames.
Finally, the idea of casting the doctor-to-be as a girl sleuth is owed in part to nurse-slash-sleuth heroine Cherry Ames, one of the most famous among the legion of female detectives for whom Nancy Drew paved the way.

So, there you have it. I hope you enjoy The Secret of Buxton Beach. If you find yourself in the mood to check out the less pervy part of the source code, some of Nancy Drew's original adventures are available online, with a little digging.

Chairman Kaga, Captain Kirk, and Character Drift

I'm two-thirds of the way through a Pocket Rocket for everybody's favourite catgirl -- or at least my favourite -- Nuku Vitani. As I write it, I find myself thinking about something I'm going to call Character Drift. Let me take you on a little journey, here.

I was most recently put in mind of this topic when I heard there's going to be a new Iron Chef show. (Helmed by Alton Brown which I am told is super-exciting to food nerds, so if you're a food nerd, there you go.) Now, I loved Iron Chef in the Nineties. Not because I'm a food nerd so much as that I love the ever-living fugu out of Chairman Kaga, the fictional eccentric billionaire who supposedly sponsored Kitchen Stadium and recruited his own stable of culinary samurai.

I was less interested in the original Iron Chef's successor shows, and I'll show you why. Here is Chairman Kaga doing a bunch of introductions for the various episodes' theme ingredients.

And here is his "nephew" on Iron Chef America trying to do much the same schtick.

Notice the difference? This is what I'm calling Character Drift, albeit a really small example of it. The original Chairman Kaga relied most often on contrast as his dramatic technique. He would invariably start out with a dramatic cry, "The theme ingredient is..." and most times would then deliver, in very restrained and sometimes almost playful tones, the name of the actual ingredient. Only very rarely, on memorable occasions, would he actually yell the name of the theme ingredient.

But those special occasions were what Western audiences most remembered. And so when it comes time to deliver the knock-off character for Iron Chef America, he's almost always yelling! and only rarely doing the dramatic contrast that made Chairman Kaga's style so effective. The different styles illustrate different basic assumptions: the original Kaga, no matter how absurd, was played "straight." His nephew is being played for laughs (you can actually see Mark Dascascos fighting not to crack up from time to time); it's a wankeriffic "look at this wacky Japanese stuff we're doing!" approach. And it's not funny enough to be worth it.

Chairman Kaga is not the first victim of this phenomenon, if victim is the right word. Characters get reinvented for different audiences and times and places, that's just the way it works. But all reinventions are not created equal. And sometimes perceptions just... drift. Mistaken impressions get codified and fed back into a character until what started out as the humbug of faulty memory winds up actually in canon. There is no better example of this than Star Trek's Captain Kirk, whose Kirk Drift gets an excellent dissection by Erin Horakova here:

There is no other way to put this: essentially everything about Popular Consciousness Kirk is bullshit. Kirk, as received through mass culture memory and reflected in its productive imaginary (and subsequent franchise output, including the reboot movies), has little or no basis in Shatner’s performance and the television show as aired. Macho, brash Kirk is a mass hallucination.

That hair, though. Amirite?
Horakova's article goes on at length about how most of what we "know" about Kirk is effectively retcon and revisionism made to order for a more toxic and fragile masculinity of later eras, and various other social forces. There simply is no Kirk-the-womaniser in the actual source material, no Kirk-and-the-green-women, no Kirk-the-rash-maverick and so on. She's right and states the case more comprehensively than anyone I've ever seen, it's a brilliant essay. Go forth and read it.

(There's probably a similar essay waiting to be written about why modern versions of Sherlock Holmes apparently always have to be twitchy and mentally ill. Maybe I'll tackle that one.)

Such weighty social issues aren't so much germane to quasi-parodic porn like Space Princess, except that I find myself chewing at the question at a much smaller scale: can writers inflict Drift on themselves and characters they created? The answer almost certainly is yes, and it's something I try be conscious of as I work.

But working away I am, both at Nuku's story and at Season Two of Space Princess! Thanks to those of you who bought into Season One and made a second season possible. It is going to be bonkers, I promise you... and hopefully Character Drift free. I really went into all this so that you have some idea how ridiculously hard I'm thinking about the porn I'm delivering for you.

Rosie Fuuuucks

Okay, so, I have this thing I love for reasons I can't quite explain. It's watching Jerry Holkins of Penny Arcade fame play D&D with people. My own D&D days are long behind me--never touched the stuff after I hit high school--but I remember them fondly and I'm fascinated by the way this geeky game has become a platform for YouTube improv comedy. I love HarmonQuest for similar reasons, but I always have a weakness for geekery that takes itself a little more seriously, even while it's cracking jokes, and for this the leading purveyor has become Holkins' Acquisitions Inc. "C" Team broadcasts.

Alann Cabang's Rosie Beestinger fanart.
Just about everything about the "C" Team is gold. The deep structure of character motivations and background exhibited by Walnut Dankgrass, the team druid, is matched only by the sheer glee with which her player Amy Falcone ships her with a briefly-encountered bard from another party. Kris Straub is understated surrealist humour incarnate, playing a grimdark drow to whom all the funniest things seem to happen. Ryan whatshisname* playing a narcissistic dragon-born paladin might be new to D&D but he's got comedic chops for days. And Rosie Beestinger, Kate Welch's ass-whooping hundred-and-twenty-year-old halfling monk, is perhaps the best character concept of all time. I'm not even going into the guest stars. The fanart. The animations.

I'm mentioning the "C" Team here because, per rule 34, it has swiftly acquired porn relevance. There is now a slashfic site dedicated to them -- featuring both Walnut and Rosie so far -- and whoever's writing there is good. Realsies. If you didn't know you wanted to read about elderly halflings getting their freak on, or surreal dream sequences about the repressed Sapphic desires of certain elf druids, all I can tell you is go thither and be amazed.

* It's a joke, see. Cuz Jerry keeps pretending to forget Ryan's name. I, on the other hand, flawlessly recollect Ryan's names. Both of them. Like, all the time. I do that shit on the regular.

Allow Me to Play You Out

This is the girl.

See you soon, dear readers!

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