Friday, 19 December 2014

When Stus Stalk Sues

Who in the world are Rina and Randa, and why is their Response Centre an unfileable number?

Okay, so the console network confirms that they're two of our newer Assassins, though it doesn't shed any light on that RC number. Nor, sadly, does it explain why a mission report from theirs is stuck to my ceiling, but I've learnt not to ask.

Mission: When Stus Stalk Sues
Agents: Rina Dives & Randa Roan, DMS
Continuum: Harry Potter

I get the impression from the agents' report that they expect me to have read their previous missions (which shows an astonishing lack of understanding of just how busy I am - do they think I'm made of time?) (Yes, I suppose it's just possible I'm not their target audience, but frankly, I've given up expecting such sanity). Fortunately, though, they haven't relied on it - while the discussions of a 'tree-gunk free' bow and the inadvisability of bleeprin are incomprehensible, they're also brief. The agents haven't gone in for the recent fashion of writing ten pages of pre-mission spiel, either - they simply get on with it. I approve of the professionalism; we could do with some of that here in DOGA about now.

I am, generally, impressed by the agents' knowledge. They recognise wilver on sight from its description - 'white silvery' - and frequently cite what might be called 'PPC trivia' such as the Department of Redundancy Department. It's refreshing to see someone who knows what they're doing.

The writer (whichever of the two it is) does fall foul of one of Agent Soul's pet peeves - attaching actions to the wrong person:

"Holy cliché overload!" Rina yelled. Randa glanced at her. 

"Was the shouting really necessary?" she demanded.

As Agent Soul would point out (loudly and with vigour), Randa's glance should really have been placed at the beginning of the second line, not the end of the first. Similarly there are some extra line breaks which really didn't need to happen.

That said, the interaction between the agents feels... natural, really. They bicker a little, but don't outright fight in front of their targets. Sometimes they disagree, sometimes they agree, depending on the subject. In general, it feels like they genuinely wrote down their conversations, rather than engaging in the editing common to agents' reports.

Agents Dives and Roan (can I call them R&R, or is that too casual? Yes, I think it is) have fallen prey to the modern trend of writing 'MST reports' - mission reports that include practically every other line of the badfic. It's a regrettable habit, particularly among agents who are actually capable of writing the story's actions themselves (as this pair seem to be); unfortunately, it's a habit that is proving hard to shake for the PPC at large.

Overall, this was an enjoyable read (insofar as that is possible). The agents comparisons between the badfic and Twilight were not unwarranted - and they did an excellent job of highlighting the scenes that formed the basis of the similarity - and there was a certain satisfaction in seeing the Mary-Sue and her stalker killed. So as far as unwanted reading goes, this was relatively benign.

In conclusion: lavender.

Yes, I only said that to see if I can get a reaction out of Agent Rina.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Arrow Through the Heart




Would whoever that is, please stop throwing things at my door? I have a headache.


Apparently not. Fine, I'll go see what they want.


Okay, so apparently they wanted me to open the door so that they could throw two bundles of paper at my head and then run away hissing with delight. Yes, hissing: the agent in question was some sort of giant bird, or maybe a small dinosaur. This place gets stranger every day.

As to why they decided to assault me with mission reports: I haven't the faintest idea. But I suppose I'll give them a read. I just hope Agents Silver and Anna didn't have anything to do with sending them my way, or else I shall be very annoyed.

Mission: Arrow Through the Heart
Agents: Silver Leonne, Anna
Continuum: Lord of the Rings

The archivist in me... wait, that's all of me. So: I squirm in horror at the formatting of this report. The agents have peppered it with entirely random line-spacing; single, double, or occasionally triple, they simply don't care. They've also indented every paragraph, which is total overkill. There are two ways to format a piece of writing: either indent and only single-space the paragraphs, or don't indent and leave a blank line between paragraphs. The latter is vastly preferred for electronic writing, the former for print.

And while I'm on the subject, there are a few instances of dialogue tags beginning with capital letters, and an absolute profusion of ellipses in the opening scenes. If... every sentence... has an ellipsis... you start to sound like... Captain Kirk.

Now, who are these agents? They're taking on a Mary-Sue, which presumably makes them DMS or Floaters. They seem to be relatively new - 'we've got a mission already', says Anna early on. They may also have known each other before joining the PPC - one of those teams of friends who cropped up a lot a decade or so back. They are moderately well-trained, have decent canon knowledge, and engage in banter. I think there must be a secret volume of the Manual devoted to entertaining and mildly antagonistic banter with your partner, so many agents make use of it. Or maybe, as I'm certain I've theorised before, they spice things up a little for their reports to make themselves sound more interesting.

Be that as it may. Silver and Anna do a good job of portraying the difficulties of working in a badfic. They have to deal with a Sue almost noticing their CAD, with sudden POV shifts - which apparently caused Anna to pass out, and forced Silver to drag her around for a while - with seeing their favourite characters thrown wildly OOC. They also do an excellent job at showing me their relief and reactions to the relative canonicity of the Council of Elrond. In fact, the agents' description of themselves is excellent throughout.

Far less so, unfortunately, is their description of their mission. There is very little paraphrasing of the badfic to let me know what the agents are doing in response to it, and the quotes from the fic are often bracketed by the agents simply ignoring it. I find it hard to belive Silver and Anna simply wandered through the fic paying no attention to the events going on around them; they might find their cause well served by mentioning it occasionally. As things stand, I'm afraid they devolve somewhat into talking heads - no, that isn't fair. They do interact with the world around them. They just don't connect that to the badfic.

They also have something of a problem with dramatic writing. The sequence where Enelya shoots an orc and Silver shoots Enelya is clearly intended to be dramatic, but as it stands, it's simple description. 'See Spot run. Shoot, Enelya, shoot.' The agents should rather have played to their strengths - describing their own reactions. If Anna is as new as she seems, I suspect she would have panicked when the orc appeared, and possibly even fumbled the stone. Was she surprised to see Silver getting undressed in the middle of a mission? There's probably a page or so in this scene, but it's rendered as four single-line, misformatted paragraphs. The wasted potential makes me sad.

(I also wonder at the need to list the entire charge list at the end of the mission when it's already included less than a page previously, but maybe that's just me)

I'll close by pointing out something that really appeals to me: these agents seem to notice every single punctuation and tense error. Fantastic! Often, reports gloss over the effects of sudden shifts to the present tense - and don't even mention Dafydd's ridiculous claim that his modified CAD could magically fix it - but Silver and Anna show their suffering brilliantly. Well done, ladies.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Legendary Illogic

This keeps happening to me. I asked the DMSE&R for the latest research on the depths of Suvian illogic; instead, I received a mission report entitled 'Legendary Illogic'. One of these days, I will accidentally talk to someone competent, and I won't know what to do with myself.

Anyway. Since I'm here, I suppose I should look this thing over.

Mission: Legendary Illogic
Agents: Tera, Ari, Sergio Turbo, Nikki Cherryflower, Corolla
Continuua: Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, Harry Potter

This report was written by two teams of agents, and it shows. The early narration in particular jumps between them, with 'in the meantime's and 'Back in RC #97!'. Exclamation marks in the narrative  - not a good sign.

There are also formatting inconsistencies: one team single-space their paragraphs, the other double-space them. The latter is preferred in digital documents, particularly - as in this case - when the paragraphs are not indented.

I'm really trying not get hung up on the formatting, but the archivist in me - wait, that's all of me - is screaming. After the mission starts, the narrative tries to hybridise the two styles, resulting in single-spaced blocks of about five paragraphs, separated from each other by an empty line. It's as distracting as a misfiled document. The fact that the team from RC #1587 have immense difficulty remembering that the terminal punctuation in a spoken line with a following dialogue tag should be a comma, not a full stop, just makes it worse. "Like this," I'll clarify.

All right. I've gone away, made a cup of tea, let it brew a little too long, thrown it away, made a second, and drunk it. I'm finally ready to comment on the actual writing, not the peripherals.

(But, a parenthetical translation? Don't we charge for those?)

Five agents is a lot to keep track of. In the pre-mission sections, Tera and Ari are the easiest to distinguish - Tera speaks in italics, while Ari is... rather energetic. The next easiest to spot is probably Nikki - she betrays her newness nearly every time she talks. As for Sergio and Corolla... well, Sergio has definitely found his place in a teaching role. He speaks compound lines like this:

“Yeah. This is going to be difficult. I am definitely not looking forward to engaging Not-exclamation-mark-Nanoha in combat. Alright, are we all ready? The sooner we go, the sooner it will be over.”

That is a clear sign of someone who is either a natural teacher - or who's writing a report and forgot what everyone else said. I'm going with the former, and assuming the sometimes-strange feel of his words is a result of his not being a native speaker. 'She wouldn’t have been able to even exit it by herself' is a valid sentence, but 'she wouldn't even have been able...' is more natural-sounding.

Why am I explaining that? I think he's infected me.

It's interesting to watch the agents interact with each other. I assume that, like every other PPC agent ever recruited, these people bicker and argue amongst themselves on the course of their normal missions. However, in the company of strangers, they seem to prefer arguing with their temporary partners, not their permanent ones:

Ari hit herself in the head with her hardbound copy of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. “No--” thump “--she--” thwack “--did not--” smack “--have a lot of magical energy. In fact--” book-to-face “-- she could barely do any magic. She hadn’t recovered completely when she was 19. Ow...”

“Easy there.” Sergio advised, “Exorcising yourself isn’t going to help.”

(Yes, I had to add the empty line. Of course I did)

I like this. It's nice to see that agents from different departments can work together well - and it's also nice to see the subtle, almost understated camaraderie that grows up in a permanent team. The report has an undercurrent of 'I may argue with you, but not when these people are here' that I appreciate.

It's also well-written for someone unfamiliar with the canons. I don't know whether the agents actually talked to each other endlessly about the intricacies of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha - though it's certainly possible, since they don't know each other - but having them do so on the page means I can follow along despite never having heard of it.

Ari flicked her hand. The Book of Dawn appeared, and immediately flipped open to a pair of blank pages. 

“What’s that?” asked Nikki, watching with some trepidation as tiny motes of light came from around them and slowly touched the pages of the book. To her surprise, after a few moments, a few words began to fade into view on it.

“Oh, you’ll see!” said Corolla, while Ari made an expression probably intended to be a mysterious smile, but came out looking rather deranged.

The idea of agents keeping secrets from each other - in the case of the Book of Dawn, for little reason beyond whimsy - is strangely enthralling. It also makes for excellent storytelling: I wanted to know what was going on with the book as much as Nikki (still in her 'inexperienced' role, I see) did.

And then the world breaks. The moment where this happens is extremely well-written; I absolutely felt the horror the agents were going through. Which makes it all the worse when nothing comes of it. It's a massive, magical Chekhov's gun which never gets fired.

Unlike, I'm pleased to say, the Book of Dawn. The idea that the agents are making use of the rules of canon, and their own personal statuses, to up their power level, is entertaining at the least, and the actual transition is well written. In fact, the Ari-and-Corolla scene where they're chasing Alicia is probably my favourite part of the mission report. The agents work well together, and the fact that Alicia's eyes were the wrong colour because of contact lenses is highly amusing.

Ultimately, the main flaw in this mission report - viewed as a story, not as a reflection of actual events - is that the agents were simply too competent. Ari and Corolla defeated Death Eaters, Alicia, and Voldemort without breaking a sweat. The team neuralysed the whole school by convincing Dumbledore to call a meeting, and did so easily. The creature Winter was defeated by... well, luck. Even Ari and Corolla's promised exhaustion after de-Unisoning takes place after the mission, rather than threatening the course of it. There was no challenge, no point where it seemed everything would go wrong.

Don't misunderstand me - that's a definite positive for PPC agents; the Floating Hyacinth and the Lichen should be pleased with them. But as a narrative, as a story - it lacks conflict, and thus is not as interesting to read as it should be.

-T. Ryan, Dept. of Personnel, DOGA Archivist