Because my term paper is boring me to tears, despite my cunning opportunity to use "letting the dark side win the unmarked label is still a dubious decision on merely these grounds" --- during a coffee-date with [ profile] ms_danson of extraordinary length without even a scrap of boredom, the topic of this blog entry by Leonid Kaganov came up, so I will translate it.

Anyone who was born in the USSR has learned from babyhood that there is no insult worse than yabeda - tattletale. The tattletale is the undisputed enemy of society. Children hate tattletales and teachers do not respect them either. Even though you'd think they should like their informers. When the children grow up, this will be called by yet another word: rat, or report-writer. And that is practically a cannibal.

*unlike the majority of Russian words, yabeda is not multimorphemic and does not break down into simpler roots and affixes that clarify its semantics. 

It's 10 PM and I have not yet justified to the Creativity Gods why my existence this day should continue (yes, my religion requires daily logorrheaic sacrifice, or else tomorrow shall not come; you wondered why I blog so frequently?) so I shall do a rather difficult translation I've wanted to do for a while: Leonid Kaganov's "What Should You Call Your Book?"

What Should You Call Your Book?

Advice to a Novice SF&F Writer

There are plenty of print sources in the world that tell novice writers how and what to write, and what your plot, characters, language, images and format should be. But there isn't a single book that tells the most important thing: how to come up with a title!* Although it's definitely the title, and not the content, that ensures a book's success! If you think otherwise, try a simple experiment --- ask anyone which book is more famous: the one about the devil in the city, or about the djinn in the village? No one will give you anything coherent in reply. But if you rephrase your question --- which book is more famous, The Master and Margarita or The Bloody End of the Swamp Monster? --- then you will get a predictable answer. Thus, only those books whose talented authors came up with a brilliant title become famous. Therefore, what you're holding in your hands is a unique set of instructions to teach any novice writer the most important skill of all --- making up the right titles. For that there are ten simple rules --- pick any one. Or all of them at once.

1. The first thing that comes to mind is borrowing the ready title of a book whose success is beyond doubt. But alas, you can't take it in its entirety. Thus you should try to remake it, changing a word or two. Perhaps the reader will think that the older author had written a sequel, and will happily dive into reading your masterpiece. "Monday Begins On Tuesday." "Three Men In A Boat To Say Nothing Of The Vampire." "Hard To Be A Devil." "One Flew Over The Beastie's Nest." If no classic title comes handy, you can can slightly correct any famous proverb or saying**: "The Spacesuit Is Where The Heart Is." "It's An Ill Wind That Ends." "Early To Bed And Early To Riesling."

2. Add pathos and loudness, work on a galactic scale, and use words like "Eternity," "Infinity", "Evil," "Darkness." If possible, write them with a capital letter, so your pathos will be visible from afar. "The Emperor of Evil." "The Lord of Everything." "The Ruler of Eternity." Overall, try to make the title of your book sound like it should be said as a pronouncement with twenty exclamation points, and when the echoes die down, no one will have the courage to add or remove anything. This is tricky to do, but you should keep trying and seeking. "To Kill So As To Love." "The Tread Of A Man." "Nothing Will Come True Forever."

3. Try to use the standard, verified symbols. There aren't that many; here they are: Sword, Dragon, Dagger, Old Tavern, Galaxy, Star, Lord, Ruler, Blood, Love, Castle, Guardians, Warriors. You can come up with many titles by skillfully combining those. "The Dagger of the Dragon." "The Castle of the Sword." "The Lord of the Old Tavern." "The Sword of the Dragon." "The Warriors of the Galaxy." "The Sword of Love." "The Guardians of Daggers." "The Dagger of the Dragon..." By the way, fear not that there are already many books with such a title --- there are still more readers!

4. Beware of modest titles! No one will buy a book with a boring title like "Baby" or "The Old Ship." The brighter the title, the sooner the reader will pay attention. "Running Along Guts"; "Sperm On A Blaster" -- that's not bad, don't you think?

5. Let the reader know at once that he is about to meet the Incredible. To do that, use paradoxical phrases. Nothing is as valued as paradoxes in bestsellers' titles. Doing this is simple: take a word (such as "morning"), find its opposite ("night")  and there you have a wonderful title ready: "Night Will Fall In The Morning." Also not bad are: "The End of Infinity"; "To Die So As To Live"; "The Prisoner of Freedom"; "Noon Midnight"; "Winged Winglessness"; "The Living Dead". The idea is simple: the reader tries to figure out how this can be, but cannot solve this brainteaser. So the intrigued reader concludes that the author is no fool, but a cool philosophical dude, and the reader should definitely buy the book and figure out what the deal is.

6. The opposite approach: in your title, try to explain what the book is about as clearly as possible and to summarize the plot; the reader should know what he's buying. "The Descent of the Lord of Darkness." "To the Edge of the Galaxy for a Magical Talisman." "The Vampire Invasion of Kitege City, or how the Warrior of the Dragon's Dagger saved the daughter of the Lord of the Tavern, and later on saved all of Kitege City as well, by the end of Part 3."

7. If you don't have enough words, don't be shy about making up new ones or using incomprehensible pretty ones. Remember that the cleverer the words used, the greater the reader's respect. "The Suspensitory of Macroleums." "The Clearance of the Lady of Ichtym." "Stylemount, Reignant of Liviruses."

8. A good idea is to title a book with one word but a very clever one. It shouldn't have any relation to the plot, nor should it even be mentioned --- let the reader be convinced of his own lack of mental acuity and flip through the book again and again searching for secret philosophical meaning. Where should you find such a word? Leaf through some PhD theses in physics or medicine --- the word should be so pithy that the reader should have a hard time pronouncing, much less remembering it: "Premorbid." "Lactation." "Adsorbent." "Promiscuity." "Meteorism." "Commutation." "Charisma."***

9. "Chronicles of" or "World of" --- the first half of the title is ready. These magical words paralyze the will of a certain type of reader and force them to buy any book without even glancing inside it. You don't even need examples here, just write any other word or combination of letters after "Chronicles of" or "World of" and admire the result. One can also use "Guardians of" or "Daggers of" here, but that is somewhat less effective.

10. And finally, for those for whom the above tips were too complicated, I offer a list of utterly simple templates for constructing pretty decent titles:

"The Doing of the Something" ("The Conquering of Abracadabra"; "The Bridling of the Sorcerer";  "The Writing of a Megabyte"; "The Siege of the Publishing House")

"To Do A Something" ("To Love A Dragon"; "To Forget A Name"; "To Kill A Shadow"; "To Submit A Little Novel"; "To Receive A Nice Royalty Check")

"The Dudes of Something" ("The Demons of the Underground"; "The Vugluskrs of Black Valley"; "The Geniuses of the Bookshelf")

"Those Done Up By Some Method" ("The Condemned To Life"; "Those Bound By The Sorcerer"; "The Doomed To See Themselves In Templates"; "Those Covered By This List"; "The Insulted With The Best of Intentions")

"Last Name, Profession" ("Ityr, the Innkeeper's Apprentice"; "Gardnerella, the Sorceress of Middle-Earth"; "Joe Blow, the WorldCon Laureate")

"In The Sign Of The Something" ("Under The Banner of the Sheepricorn"; "In The Name of the Wolf"; "In The Preface of the Master")

"The Something and the Other Something" ("The Demiurge and the Gray Pony"; "Kadum and the Sword of Emptiness"; "Akakiy and the Guanoid"; "The Prose Genius and the Bastard Copy Editor")

"Date of the Something" ("Hour of the Colossus"; "Year of Unsand"; "Day of Pohel the Scientist"***; "Month of Sales"; "Day of Paychecks")

"Doer of the Thingy" ("The Victor of Badmin-Ton"; "Spellcaster of Skeletons"; "Scribbler of Drivel")

"Thingy of the Doer" ("The Talisman of the Ammonia Lord"; "Tread of the Beastosaur"; "The Fecaloid of Dr. McManiac"; "The Debut of the Drinking Buddy"; "The Member of the Writers' Guild")

"The Adjective Noun" ("The Emerald Gates"; "The Most Secret Gift"; "The Hardcover Binding"; "The Hyped Serial")

"The Noun That Is Adjective" ("The Gift That Is Most Secret"; "The Ideas That Are Standard"; "The Fantasy Writers That Are Crappy")

November 6, 2002
Translator's Footnotes:
*I strongly suspect that this may be true if limited to the Russian-text world as of 2002, but that would be nitpicking.
**Here is the one point when the translator took liberties and substituted English-language proverbs or sayings for Russian ones.
***"Commutation", "Charisma", and "Day of Pohel the Scientist" are titles of Kaganov's own published works.

I have long thought that "Three Men In A Boat To Say Nothing of the Vampire" is the perfect alternate title to Peter Watts' Blindsight.
Okay, I need to translate and post this, because I have been guilty of some of those sins, and reminding myself of this article works like reminding myself of how aliens could very easily not be intelligent. The author of both articles is the same, Leonid Kaganov,; this article is taken from this blog entry.

The Techniques and Practice of Enlightenment

I've known people who

1) Were completely cured.
2) Gained harmony in their soul and confidence in tomorrow's day.
3) Changed their life for the better for the rest of their lives.
4) Helped their loved ones and the people around them change.
5) Found the Truth.

They were helped by a Teaching --- the truest in this world. They perceived it, accepted it, and practice it the rest of their lives. You ask what is this Teaching, that so awesomely helps you gain harmony and get on the true path? First of all, know one thing --- exactly this minor detail is unimportant, any teaching will work. This may be

1) Religion: Buddhism, Christianity, the Church of Christ, the Church of United Munits*, Judaism, Islam, Dianetics, paganism, or the school of the folk healer Porfiriy Ivanov.
2) Eastern martial arts: karate, Wushu, aikido, yoga, mountain-hill wrestling*, the Nanai Boys' fighting style**
3) Clubs and movements: indie songwriting, hippie communes, kayaking clubs, aquarium fish clubs, beekeepers' clubs, UFO contact clubs, the brotherhood of demobilized border guards, or the political party "The One Union of Insulted Forces"
4) Business: (multilevel marketing with trade fairs, seminars, and its own ideology)
5) Psychological sects: group-therapy training, seminars on the removal of complexes, NLP, "Prologues", holotropic breathing***
6) Other.

And second of all, there is no reason for envy --- despite the assertions of "healing" and "spiritual rebirth", these people look sick because

1) Their personality, health, and cognitive capabilities haven't changed in the slightest. Their new habit of burning incense, tearing at a guitar, or dividing people into "auditories" and "visuals" is purely an external touch.
2) One hasn't noticed that they've become freer, more relaxed, and broader in their thinking. On the contrary, despite their loud assertions, they give the impression of wild people, separated from the world, full of complexes and madnesses, because they are incapable of talking about anything but their Teaching, and "the breadth of their views" is expressed through the longing to tag everything with labels "good" and "bad."
3) They are constantly digging at the people who surround them, trying to download their idea into them.

This illness is called fanaticism. Despite misconceptions, it isn't transferred through conversations and proselytizing. Also, it doesn't strike people of any particular age, profession, or intelligence level. There are no methods to "lure" a fully sane, healthy person into the "cult." Fanaticism claims as victims people who are weakened, disappointed, those who have lost the earth under their feet and their place in life. Those who come to fanaticism may be insecure people, such as "teenagers thinking about Life", or those who have suffered a life shock --- those who have lost loved ones, gotten a mental illness, survived a catastrophe. It's important to remember: the human psyche is so constructed that any healthy person who finds himself in such a life situation that he has no real powers to change anything, will unconsciously turn to unreal powers, and in that moment he is particularly disposed to take on a fortunately-encountered religious or philosophical idea. Because of this, religious and political proselytizers love hanging around hospitals and disaster areas so much --- here the chances are high that they'll conscript those who had lost their life's direction and self-control.

How to treat this disease? There is no universal cure; one can merely alleviate the most annoying symptoms. Convince the patient to stop burning incense in the apartment, to do a little less promoting of his ultra-centrist bloc to his Communist neighbour, to not sacrifice black chickens in his office, to wait a little about leaving university and to stop destroying the NLP templates of a customer with out-of-place predicate words. It is categorically forbidden to prove to the patient that he is deluded and there are other points of view (religions, seminars, parties, soccer teams, armed forces) --- his faith will only strengthen as a result of such arguments.

Is there any prevention of this disease? Yes. One should lead a healthy lifestyle, not distance yourself from society, not go crazy about nonsense, and train your own wisdom, tolerance, and healthy curiosity towards different viewpoints and beliefs. Upon discovering fanaticism symptoms in yourself --- immediately consult your common sense.

You are already sick with fanaticism if you believe that

1) Our Teacher is a great Master; he can do anything! And his Teacher, well... Somewhere far away there are Masters who can work inhuman miracles. Chop a tank in half with the palm of their hands. Read people's thoughts by looking into their eyes. Drink a bucket of vodka. Become millionaires by opening a commercial beach in Antarctica. If I spend enough time and energy, I too may be a Master. Although not such a cool one --- it's not given to all.

2) I also used to be a cripple like yourselves! I also used to suffer from illnesses, disasters, and loneliness! But ever since I've become interested in...

3) O ye blind ones who had not seen the Way! O ye suffering and troubled! And unsuspecting of this! O ye vermin who waste out your life on trifles! We aren't like that! All other teachings are wrong! In the worst-case scenario, they say the same thing, only with different words and in a more complicated way.

4) Especially deeply deluded are our neighbouring schools. Feel the difference! Karatekas are dumb robots. Social-centrists are thieves and criminals. Folk DJs are moral cripples and sellouts to pop. Development Training is just a money scam. The Church of the Coming are dirty cultists.

5) You will be severely punished for your deafness. You will not receive Life Eternal. You will not master Hand-to-Hand Combat. You will not learn to Self-Realize and to Make Decisions. You will not see the dawn on the slopes of Tiang Shang. You will not be Healed. You will not open your own Business. Or your own Third Eye. You will never know Life As It Really Is.

6) The main principles of the Teaching are applicable everywhere. Driving a car using the techniques of NLP helps avoid traffic jams. Teeth that are brushed with a prayer look whiter. And if the physics prof on the exams does kind of a verbal throw, one must react with a verbal parry --- and an A will be guaranteed. It's tested and true!

7) Wake me up at three in the night and ask me who I am? You won't hear my name in response! I will answer without a heartbeat's thought! I am a fighter! I am a Taoist! I am a former paratrooper! I am a practitioner! I am an indie songwriter! I am a hippie! I am a businessman!

8) Humanity has reached a dead end; that is clear to all. If everyone understood the Truth and became like us, life would be so awesome on this planet!

9) Let anyone, just once, open our Book (see our Class, listen to our Songs) and he will understand everything! Try it! You don't want to even try it? Why?

10) Hey, you, passing by on the street! You know what your problem is?
Translator's footnotes:
* - Google reveals only one mention of this, this article, so it may be fictional.

** - a modern Russian idiom, roughly equivalent to "shadow-boxing."
*** - a modern Russian idiom, a catch-all derogatory term for esoteric New Age practices.


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