Monday, March 27, 2017

Amazon Prime's "Oasis" Pilot

Ok, not bad.

Let it be noted that I am not, myself, a real fan of dystopic fiction. Post-apocalypse? Nah. Zombie infestations? Nah. Nightmare attacks on the social order? Um...too much like real life for me right now. So this Amazon Prime pilot, made in the UK and based on Michael Faber's The Book of Strange New Things, had a lot of heavy lifting to do from the very start. It's set in a a world where the bad part of town is pretty much all of town, and the outlook is bleak. But!!!

But there is a new world--a brave new world--with brave heroes signing up to populate it. A future off earth. A new heaven in the heavens.

This is the premise surrounding Ecumenical Chaplain Peter Leigh's enlistment in the colony effort. What's Ecumenical? "It means I'm Christian." It's not clear if he's even that, or how important it may be beyond providing a clear basis for his recognition of scriptural references. In any case, Peter Leigh, upon receiving a passionate request from the colony co-founder, David Morgan, is shipped up on what may prove to be a one-way trip to the New World--which is no heaven. Bleak, dry, reminiscent of Dune/Arrakis, the planet itself is only the first unsettling surprise awaiting Leigh's arrival. He soon discovers the efforts to drill for water deep beneath the wind-blown sands have been stopped; that David Morgan has disappeared into the uncharted wastes, leaving only odd, scripture based messages as clues behind him; that the colony is haunted with visions and dreams, including dreams of the dead. A mystery is set in place, in an evocative, unhappy setting, as bleak it its way as the moors of Wuthering Heights and The Hound of the Baskervilles. 

I won't give away details--that would be to rob you of the elements that overcame my own apathy. The performances are reasonably strong. The filming offers clearly defined, strong atmosphere, unsettling world-building. The underlying mystery appeals, if only because those unfamiliar with the dystopic SF genre do not know where it could go--and those familiar with the genre can imagine multiple outcomes all based on reasonably clear story-telling. Round and round and round the plot goes--where it will end is anyone's guess. But, of course, I haven't read the novel...

As I have said, I'm not all that fond of dark, dystopic SF, but as that genre goes, this proved to be worth at least the time the pilot took. One hopes to see the entire story--though I will confess, it's not my favorite of Amazon Prime's offered pilots this year. That honor goes to the entirely non-SF "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel," a dramedy about the professional birth of a female stand-up comic in 1958 that rings all kinds of bells for me. But Oasis rates second place for me in spite of its dark genre--and that ought to be an endorsement of sorts. I want to see more episodes, and I am now tempted to read the novel. I certainly do not regret seeing the pilot episode, and can only say "Go thou and do likewise."

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Temptation of the New

Ok, I admit it. I am forever and all Jonesing for new gadgets I can't afford, and probably won't even use enough to justify the purchase. I yearn for a Wacom Cintiq--drool, long for it, make puppy-dog eyes at the screen. But I'm on a budget tight enough that I occasionally still have to accept help from friends and relations to make base budget. Cintiq is on the wish-list, but off the likely-purchase list. Similarly I hunger and thirst not for righteousness, but for an MS Surface and, even hotter, the new Surface Studio. With a starter price that undershoots $3,000 by one lying, hypocritical dollar, that's so not happening.

My current new dream-boat, though, is even less likely, if only because it's less practical for me. I mean, I am a writer, and an amateur artist, and I could in theory get real professional use out of the Surface, the Cintiq, and the Studio.

Really. I might.

Stop laughing at me.

What I know I won't get income out of is the nifty new PlayTable, a specialized device intended to allow you to download and play boardgame apps. The device, about the size of a school cafeteria lunch tray, includes a touch-screen top allowing play. It's not yet clear what limits there are on available apps, or the quality of the compatible downloads. The promotional material ( makes it look like a board-gamer's wet-dream. At least to me.

And that's catch number one. I am not a board gamer, even though this product makes me fantasize that I could be! My board games of choice are checkers, Chinese checkers, and backgammon, for the love of God. I have yet to play Settlers of Catan...and that's one of the few to tempt me. I like Battleship--for about half an hour, once every ten years. I enjoy watching other people play Risk, so long as I can leave the room regularly.

I do not need a PlayTable. My kid, who loves games, may need it. I do not.

And, yet, every so often new technology comes out that's so obviously appealing. A console with all your favorite board games loaded up and ready to go! One that provides pretty, zoomy graphics and animation, that lets you move pieces around, that is eye-candy. Of course I want it--just the way I knew from the moment I found I could load digital books on my first tiny PDA I knew that I wanted a digital library: that it had to happen because it was a lust just waiting to be satisfied. I look at the PlayTable and my gut says it's desire in a box, for an almost endurable starting price of one hypocritical dollar less than $600.00.

(Do I have a grudge against companies which use $599.00 to somehow convince you you're paying less than $600.00? Why, yes. Yes, I do...)

I never know how to stop these longings--for the shiny Surface Studio or for the nifty-keen PlayTable. They offer the combination of novelty, convenient access to desirable pastimes, and elegant presentation, and I am lost. My only hope is that the lack of funds that prevents me from buying will also prevent me from investing in tech that fails to satisfy--and that time will bring similar tech at lower prices, to someday satisfy my lust. After all--Kindle and Nook became real things, and now every tablet out there lets me read premium lit at wholesale prices. So--hope springs eternal. Almost as eternal as temptation.

Monday, March 20, 2017

New Publishing

Today I discovered, serendipitously, that one of my favorite authors has a line of fantasy novellas out which I had not even heard of, set in one of my favorite of her fantasy worlds. Lois McMaster Bujold has four novellas set in her Five-Gods world, which was first presented through three novels: The Curse of Chalion, Paladin of Souls, and The Hallowed Hunt. The new series, seeming to be a nice mystery-fantasy genre blend, features a mage-detective named Penric. I went on a minor spending spree, made affordable by the prices of digital material independently published. I am now looking forward like mad to burrowing into the set.

The first Bujold novella of a 4-book series.
The discovery was serendipitous as I am in the middle of attempting to assemble a Patreon account for my own works--a bold venture, though I increasingly wonder why I have not attempted it before. Many years ago, when the Kindle was mere promo from Amazon and people were swearing that there was no practical way to distribute digital reading material, I was out proselytizing what to me was the absolute certainty that digital was soon going to hit its stride and change the world. I got brushed off repeatedly by people who knew better, and have been laughing ever since, while making such living as I manage working in that realm.

My argument then, as now, is that digital publishing, by removing the physical constraints of book sales, offers all players a brilliant new playing field. A digital book takes up no real space, needs no real world storage, can be delivered in the blink of an eye anywhere the internet itself runs. The production costs approach near-zero if you start with the assumption that you were either going to write that book anyway, or that you already had done so. It's harder to protect your rights, but it theoretically should be easier to protect your payments, either by self-publishing or by demanding automatic bookkeeping reports, sale by sale and book by book. An author's midlist now need not ever go out of print in any practical sense. Combined with print-on-demand and backed with a wide range of crowdsourcing schema, an author is no longer at the mercy of an often rigid, predictable publishing industry.

Digital publishing and digital distribution of hobby writing have changed the very nature of writing, creating opportunities and at the same time presenting crippling challenges. If publication is near-free for everyone, quality control is almost destroyed. Brilliant hobby writers flourish, offering free material for the honest joy of being read. Dreadful, incompetent "professionals" charge unpredictable and often overblown prices for badly written, badly edited nightmare material. A range of professional digital publishers, from reliable houses to horror-story versions of the old vanity press abound, and sorting them out remains a problem. As for the difficulty of promotion in this environment? Consider that an author I love and follow was able to get four books I definitely want to read into digital print, and I only found out about it as the result of a side search that showed me related of which rang alarms for me.

To me this is a time of great excitement. When a novelist--even a noobie, unfledged novelist--can fund and promote a book through Kickstarter, or develop their own brand using a Patreon page, or find a digital publisher online, without the difficulty of going through the old pro publishing gatekeepers, then all bets are off. In time, creativity will win out. Genres will mutate, forms will alter, literary assumptions will be challenged...and that's the stuff of fantasy and science fiction itself.

One of the hardest things facing science fiction and fantasy writers in this era is trying to keep even remotely up with the wonders unfolding around us. We are facing changes so profound that our minds can't predict what comes next, or what it will mean to "the human condition." What does it mean when we all have voices? When every one of us has the hope of being heard--and millions of competitors shouting to compete against?

The changes generated in the late 1800s and early 1900s have only come to full flower now, when we register what industry, travel, and modern medicine made possible. Much of our society's current turmoil is rooted in the results generated by the changes modern science and technology made not only possible, but inevitable. We struggle with impermanent communities, fragile families no longer bound by bitter necessity, biological freedom from what were once eternal norms--illness, unwanted pregnancy, high infant mortality. A look at today's newspapers shows the long-term effect of shifts that began between two and three hundred years ago. The culture shock is profound.

Then I ask myself what shock is still to come, as our genes are unlocked, our ability to communicate with the world made very close to being both free and easy, our medicine so advanced we can imagine almost anything without being too extreme: chimeral bodies, ageless bodies, selective health.

As in the world of new publishing, all bets are off, and anyone's guess may prove good. We live in interesting times.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Norse Mythology--Neil Gaiman

Woot! Squee!  See the fangirl dance--dance, fangirl, dance!

Yes. I am rejoicing. I have bought Neil Gaiman's latest, Norse Mythology. I picked up both the digital ebook and the audiobook, and I am very happy I splurged some of my precious ebook credits to get the audio. Some things really do qualify as added value in my word, and to hear Gaiman's expressive, focused reading of his own work is right up there. He not only knows what he wrote, and what he meant it to convey--he's enough of a performer to then get that meaning across in his reading. It's not always so: I've heard readings by authors who may have known the mood, tone, and meaning they were aiming for, but who could no more perform that in a reading than they could whup Fred Astaire on the dance floor.

Gaiman's nimble and fleet. If he were a dancer he'd be bubbly and clever as Astaire, cool as Michael Jackson was in his time, and solid and intense and amused as Gene Kelly.

So--what's Norse Mythology like?

Wonderful, not least because it brings back a lost art--the more or less straight retelling of ancient stories in a modern voice. For the past twenty and more years, the fashion has been for a sort of "Fractured Fairytale" aesthetic in any kind of myth or fantasy-related context. Much, if not all of modern fantasy writing is about showing how you can break the mold. Think of my comments a few weeks back regarding the modern retelling of the Oz stories in Emerald City, where the creators are turning themselves and their source material into pretzels to make everything old new again. And, yes--I liked it. I continue to like it. There's nothing wrong with it....except that for ages its seemed like no one attempted to retell the old material with a straight face. And, yet...

Gaiman, in his introduction, comments on when he himself first encountered the Norse myths: first through comic books and then through a popular retelling aimed at a common audience of children and adults. That's the sort of encounter many of us had with myths of all cultures. It's a good choice: it allows people of all ages and levels of interest to get a first solid, sensible synopsis, without in any way standing in the way of expanding and deepening that information if you choose.

Perhaps it's the current cultural polarization thing: mythology for the common person is sure to set alarms ringing for many Right Thoughts gatekeepers, and to set off just as many in the sacred halls of American Christian orthodoxy. Between the people concerned about incipient signs of imperialism in retellings and those fearing demonic possession of their children by the devils of ancient heathen myths, there's only a narrow window left. And, yet...

Gaiman's doing a spot-on job. His patient, intelligent voice lays out great swaths of exposition with energy but not hyper edge, knowing perfectly well what's best explained and what's best dramatized. His characters, the Norse Gods, are plausible, but powerful. He's done his homework--indeed, he assures us he spent his time with good translations of the various source materials, rather than with re-reading of previous re-tellers of the old stories. Like those older storytellers, he has gone back to the original material, and his interpretation is his own: no more than a second-hand reinventing, rather than a muddle of fourth- and fifth- and sixth-hand reports.

He's given me a stronger appreciation for Odin--a God whose primacy never made much sense to me. (But, nu, most Heads of Pantheon make limited sense to me, so...sue me.) His handling of Loki is careful and neither too sympathetic nor too accusatory. I want to re-listen to think about how he handles his female characters, but so far I'm quite happy.

Odin, by Georg von Rosen, public domain, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

I may come back to this, perhaps after I read the text as well as listen to the audio. In the meantime, though, I would heartily recommend this book for your own shelves, or for any kid, male or female, whose reading skills are good enough to manage Harry Potter--at least, Harry Potter from, say, Azkaban on

Saturday, February 25, 2017


The protagonist as a thinking woman.

When I read the reviews of the recent remake of Ghostbusters, with a female cast, I paused, considering the number of women shaken and delighted by the rare experience of seeing a slapstick adventure world through female eyes. It's one of those things I argue with myself over: how much does it mean, to receive art that reflects your life, your gender, your ethnicity, your gaze. When my daughter and I watched Ghostbusters together, I had to admit: it matters. I have lived much of my life transposing fiction. Or, perhaps more accurately, I have lived my life transposing my mind to match the POV of the fiction I have enjoyed. I am old enough that most of my life, and almost all of my early life, offered me few, if any, female protagonists, and those I experienced were seldom presented as having the kind of significance that male protagonists had, even in comedy. Even in the lightest of light literature.

So, yes. It was way cool to watch a show with my daughter and see the world through our eyes: through eyes that can't really help but see our female selves as having importance and meaning.

I found this even more true watching Arrival, though other than being a movie in the imaginative genres, with a female protagonist, it's not much alike at all. Louise Banks, played by Amy Adams, is sober--almost to the shattering point. The movie itself is haunted and haunting, wrapped in atmosphere and doom as much as any Gothic novel could be: no slapstick comedy here, though there are rare and shining moments of laughter.

The mystery at the heart of Arrival is not that difficult or obscure, if you've grown up on speculative fiction. I worked out the right possible resolution fairly early...and, as a result, experienced the movie in the odd mode of being as fore-sighted and complexly aware as the heroine, and as adrift in the time frame. The thing is, only the young and the unsophisticated will fail to work out the hook at some point--that's not a concern with most movies in any case. The hook works, the mystery is valid, the resolutions interesting--and the role of a woman in the lead is powerful, at least to me, as a woman and a mother.

If you could know how everything in your whole life would work out, from now to the end--would you do it anyway? Even the bits that will hurt? Even the losses that seem unendurable?

Does that change if your sense of time itself changes? If present and past stop meaning the same thing? If both the joy and the pain are palindromes? If the child of your womb is both born and unborn forever for you?

I have seen similar thematic material handled using male protagonists. Never in the same story, never with quite the same emotional licks and chops...and yet, I could easily go through Arrival and point out familiar tropes, well-used cliches, haunting children clinging to their fathers' souls. I find that, for me, it mattered to see this entire story--all the story--with a woman in the lead for a change. A mother in the lead.

That does not and should not mean that all stories should be given to women from now on. It means that it mattered to me, as a woman, to see Louise Banks as a linguist, as a professional, as a hero, struggle through the story in female form, being brilliant and remarkable and womanly--and because she was a woman, I found her own choices resonant and uniquely powerful.

The solitude of the thinking protagonist...human, and alone.
Maybe it's because for once I did not have to transpose--to throw my mind into the model of a "male identity" that I have used all my life to tag along with the Hardy Boys and Harry Potter. It is enough to make me wonder what all the male protagonist stories feel like to the men who watch them, never having to transpose--to set their sex aside to share the hero's path. It must be interesting. It must be haunting. It must be magic.

So--for me, Arrival was magic. I admired the leading character, and I reveled in the strange, brooding story, and I came away feeling that the story had proved its worth. I don't know if you will--regardless of your sex, or age, or prior experience. I know the story is well-built, the film standards reasonably high, and the themes work out over the expanse of the story, but I can't really say if you will find it "good." All I can say is I liked it, and I loved the heroine--perhaps the very first of the classic SF breed of pure thinkers solving the universe one insight at a time, without a single zap-gun ever drawn.

Saturday, February 18, 2017


First, another apology: plumbing adventures occupied much of yesterday and today, along with sleep and sore muscles. New knowledge: automatic power plumbing snakes are freepin' heavy, and VERY hard for two out-of-shape women to try to hoist into and out of the basement. The Child and I are now very achy. I am managing my once-per-week article, but seeming to have trouble being reliable about Fridays.

Meanwhile, the column...

You know a genre has reached near maximum load when the spoofs begin. In this case, NBC's new sit-com, Powerless, set in the DC 'verse, stands as proof--a mainstream company hopes to get a step up in the ever-uncertain realm of the sit-com by allying with the surging genre of comic-based video. It makes sense: the spoof, goof-ball, and dark-satire titles within both the comic world and the movies have at least held their own, providing audience support for visions as different as The Watchmen to Deadpool to The Lego Movie and Megamind movies. Popular culture "gets" the core assumptions of superhero universes--and also knows the ironic potential involved in those assumptions. A sit-com based on the superhero universe could fly faster than a speeding bullet.

Unfortunately at three episodes in, I would argue that Powerless lives up to its name. You can shout "Up, up, and away" all day, but if there's no lift, there's no laughs. For me that was the key problem with Powerless. That's a shame. Comedy is the red-haired step-child of the arts--far too often honored with back-handed compliments and high-brow scorn. Limp, lifeless comedy only confirms existing bias against the form--and limp and lifeless covers the problems with the new show.

My first concern is the material itself. Spoof material demands precision and awareness. You not only have to build your jokes around the core assumptions of the genre you're spoofing, you have to prove you understand that genre--what makes it work in the parent genre, and what makes it fail anywhere else. What makes it funny when you move even a little from home ground. The popular comic-based movies have, in fact, made great use of comedy to lampshade the more ridiculous elements of traditional comic reality, using smart-talking, quipping superheroes to invite the audience to laugh with them at silly costumes, arcane technobabble, and alliterative mumbo-jumbo, rather than laughing at them. When the characters say for you what the audience is already half-way to thinking, you've got laughs--and affection. It works.

But you have to know that material cold to pull it off. Generic humor tricked out in a silly cape won't do the trick. Powerless primarily a spoof of bad office drama, rather than a spoof of superhero drama. The key relationships, the key conflicts, the key humor, all hang on to the office setting more than the superhero elements. Those elements, when they do appear, come in the form of fairly lame gags--as, for example, the rubble-proof umbrella the team develops in the second episode. It's funny-once, at best, worthy of one quick passing joke. Instead the writers tried to squeeze more like five jokes out of one umbrella, and failed.

Further, they are building jokes based on "knowledge" of the superhero world that's bogus. There's no good reason for natives of Atlantis to favor Brendan Fraser movies the way the French love Jerry Lewis. There's no reason they would not--but--what part of traditional DC mythos suggests that natives of Atlantis even watch movies in the first place? Far too many of the jokes have that sort of tenuous feel of gluing the ridiculous to the traditional and hoping it will be funny. It isn't particularly.

The timing only exaggerates the problem. By my own guess, they need three to five more minutes of material in each show, so the actors and the film editor can't build in those horrifying laugh-line pauses that slow the beat and leave room for you to realize you're not laughing. The stories plod along, with those horrible lags and lulls, seldom getting much value out of either the superhero venue or out of the office venue.

The actors are trying--hard. You can see the effort in their eyes...poor bubehs.

What's sad is that this could be a much better show with clever writers who love the genre. An engineering firm devising safety devices for living in a superhero world could be such a superb venue for over-the-top technology, accidental hero and villain generation, employees who waver between minion and mad scientist status, and more. Instead it feels like a faded, wrung-out version of a million bad-boss comedies over the decades.

I wish I could comment on the ability of the actors, but there's a point at which I absolve all performers of leaden work. The team they've cast, including Vanessa Hudgens in the lead as engineering manager Emily Locke, and Alan Tudyk as Van Wayne, cousin of Bruce Wayne, gives it a good, professional shot, but they are carrying the burden of terribly weak writing and terribly slow editing.

This show could improve. It's a shame it's as weak an offering as it is--better thought out, with stronger writers who honestly love both the superhero genre and the sit-com, it could be a treasure. Right now, I have to say it's not.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Trimming the Tropiary

First, let me apologize--the storm has somehow thrown me off kilter in terms of schedule. I got stuck in Wednesday and failed to notice Friday had come--and gone. So here, belatedly, is an essay on genre tropes.

Twelve years ago, in 2004, TV Tropes was first launched into the world of the internet, and since then it's been altering and educating audiences around the world, encouraging analytical thinking and ironic commentary in all areas of public media. TV Tropes was to fiction what Aarne-Thompson fairy tale classification was for the folk and fairy-tale genres: a way of classifying and discussing the taxonomy of fiction, calling out recurring patterns and recognizable motifs. For a time it seemed to honestly set the online fan discussion world on fire, and it continues to have a steady effect on how fans understand and evaluate fiction.

A Dragon Topiary

Fans have become familiar with entire ranges of patterns, drawn from all sources and with roots as old as written records of story-telling or as recent as reality shows. Fans have become more and more familiar with the building blocks of fiction, calling out patterns such as the deus ex machina to the modern Mary Sue and Marty Stu. 

The upside is a refreshing new common recognition that literature is made of recurring patterns, and that these patterns are shared across the broad range of story telling. Fans seem far more aware these days that stories depend on structure and on structural elements: that an orphaned child almost cries out for a wicked step-family, a supernatural challenge, and a happy ending, and an old soldier on the road cries out for a wealthy heiress in need of a clever trickster of a husband. On the other hand, TV Tropes seems to have also brought about a certain level of both misunderstood tropes, and just as bad, a generation of people who have mistakenly understood the message to be that writers who use tropes are not creative or original. Both problems have bearing on how fans parse fiction and what they expect--and sometimes the news is bad.

Take, for example, the previously mentioned deus ex machina. The term comes from Greek theater, and refers to the portion of a play in which the Gods descend from above, hoisted on giant pulleys and levers, to resolve the story, make the moral pronouncements, and basically serve as the "fat woman" without whom the opera can't end. Over time the term came to mean a way of resolving a story that's not specifically accounted for in the set-up and construction of a narrative. It means an out-of-the-blue resolution, unachored and ungrounded, imposed without preparation in terms of logic or emotional arc. It's the opposite of the oft-cited Chekhov's Gun, used to describe something used at a critical point in a story which is established far earlier in the narrative. The playwright Chekhov argued that prominent features of a story should also be necessary--if they were not necessary they should not be featured. If you featured a gun in act one, it should be shot at some point--and that shooting should matter. Otherwise there should be no gun.

In ancient times a deus ex machina was not seen as unsupported--a gun appearing out of nowhere to be fired without preparation. Greek theater was originally religious ritual, the Gods seen as not only present everywhere, but the presumed context of the play. Their appearance did not need preparation within the internal structure of the script because they were already established in the external structure of the culture. In time, however, the Gods were no longer presumed--and the establishment of major resolving elements with a script did come to be presumed and expected. Gods of the Machine came to look a bit silly--and Chekhov's Guns became the gold standard of efficiently set-up narrative. It's a wonderful thing to have modern fans aware of the paired ideas. 

Nice, clear Figment topiary, Epcot Center

It's less wonderful, though, when fans, reading quickly, lightly, and often with very little actual literary training prior to finding TV Tropes, are mistaken in the nature and meaning and context of what they have learned. TV Tropes, wonderful as it is, is like all of the internet--read and cherished by everyone at large, including the usual selection of idjits, boobs, and inexperienced Trope mavens who exhibit more enthusiasm than comprehension. So it comes to pass that one finds quite a lot of fans talking about deus ex machina as though anything they failed to spot--any resolution that surprised them--qualified for the term. Or go looking for Chekhov's guns as though there were never an excuse for a true structural case of something utterly unexpected and untelegraphed. 

Both mistakes are wrong. A deus ex machina is always a resolution created by what is essentially imposed force. Like a studio borrowing the US cavalry horses and riders from one film to wrap up the conclusion of a cheap rom-com. So long as the resolution is drawn from existing elements presumed in the story, and legitimately deployed, you are not dealing with deus ex machina. Gandalf showing up at the Battle of Hornburg backed up by the remaining Rohirrim is not deus ex machina because, while you may have missed the various cues that allow the last-hour rescue to surprise and delight you, they are there--you can track back and determine enough to accept that the forces were there, Gandalf had gone to fetch them. One of the real frustrations of my fan-reading life over the past decade or so has become the false claim of deus ex machina by someone who simply failed to catch the clues, and who is disgruntled at having been surprised--and who chose to blaspheme the author by trying to suggest that surprising the viewer meant the author didn't play fair or do it right. Here's the thing--often the best author is the one who shows only enough to justify an outcome, while still permitting it to be a surprise. If you come away having been fooled, that's often to the writer's credit, not to his shame.

Similarly readers go on Chekhov's gun searches so intense you'd think every trivial element of a narrative had to lead to some great and meaningful reprise. It's an easy inference to draw from Chekhov's own comment:

"One must never place a loaded rifle on the stage if it isn't going to go off. It's wrong to make promises you don't mean to keep." Chekhov, letter to Aleksandr Semenovich Lazarev (pseudonym of A. S. Gruzinsky), 1 November 1889.

Taken too literally, the mention of shoes should inherently lead to an important shoe-denouement, and the discussion of a blonde woman's hair should lead to some vital conclusion in a hair salon. The truth is more difficult: even repeatedly recurring elements need not be used in a vital manner. Blonde women may be more important for their role in setting tone and style than they are for bringing about clearly derived blonde events. Some recurring patterns are like good wall paper--merely there to fill blank walls and add texture and visual appeal to an otherwise drab stage set. A single freestanding movie or novel can seldom carry more than two or three Chekhov's guns...nor would the author wish it to, unless the author were playing a sort of literary joke, offering a punch line to an audience prepared to giggle at the absurdity of waiting for Godot over and over again. 

That's the contradictory nature of having the wonderful TV Tropes site out there--it's done more to educate fans in ways of analyzing narrative than any other popular source I can think of in my lifetime...but it's also brought in a lot of people who are losing track of the precision of the terms and tropes they use. In a garden of tropes with crisp, sharp meanings, they've gotten a bit lax in their pruning style, and the tropiary is a big shaggy and hard to understand as the precision is lost.