May 20, 2013
I finished, and I wore it:
What did I learn? Paintings can do things real clothes can’t, like have skintight sleeves. Artists painting a gown never have to figure out how the gown actually gets put on. So there’s always going to be some compromises, constructing a gown based on a painting. This was never going to look exactly like the painting — because I’m not built like a Botticelli sylph. (Wearing a corset would have got me a little closer to that.) Oddly enough, what this means is the gown ended up looking more historical — more like, say, a sixteenth century Italian gown — and less like a fantasy gown than the painting. This means I will wear it to SCA events with impunity. Of course there are things I would do differently, but all in all I’m quite pleased with how it came out — it fits, it looks impressive, it got many compliments.
Costume Con was great. It’s the first con I’ve been to in ages where I wasn’t working. I went to panels! I wandered about aimlessly and talked to whomever I ran into! I shopped! Saturday was the SF&F masquerade — it was the first masquerade I’ve ever been to where master class entries outnumbered the journeymen and novice entries. I was inspired through the whole day.
And rather than decide this was as big a project as I ever want to tackle and I’m done with ambitious dressmaking… I bought a pattern for a Regency gown. Because of course I did.
May 3, 2013
May the Fourth be with you!
One of the nerdiest debates you can get involved in is about what order you should watch the Star Wars movies. Release order, episode order (decried because it ruins the surprise of who Luke’s father is), or no prequels at all. Then there are some more creative reorderings. Last weekend a group of us sat down to test out the highly-regarded Machete Order. (This link goes to a long post, but it’s worth it if you have any interest at all in reading a well-articulated discussion about Star Wars and the joys and problems of its film incarnations.)
Machete Order is this: Episodes IV, V, II, III, VI.
Shocking, the first time you see it, isn’t it? You watch IV and V, then break for a huge flashback about how everything got this way, then get the grand finale. And you skip Episode I entirely. For an orthodox fan like myself, skipping Episode I has the great benefits of leaving out Qui Gon, who doesn’t really have an impact on the rest of the story; leaving out midichlorians, which fill so many of us with a burning rage; skipping most of Jar Jar, because of course; and leaving out 8-year old Anakin, which means you don’t spend the rest of the movies trying to ignore the fact that Padme started out as Anakin’s babysitter and there’s this faint inappropriateness about their entire relationship. So we all totally wanted to give this a try, coming to it with as clear and open minds as we could manage. How did it go?
My biggest conclusion? You don’t even need Episode II. Just slide straight into Episode III and save yourself a couple of hours. I’ll get to that in a second, after a couple of other thoughts.
It was the hardest thing in the world, not immediately putting on Return of the Jedi after Empire. I had to physically restrain myself from reaching for the Jedi DVD rather than Attack of the Clones. I’ve gotten to a point where IV, V, and VI all feel like one movie to me. Breaking that habit was hard.
It’s so interesting to me as a writer that Episode I really is superfluous. It’s a prologue and little more. Darth Maul never gets mentioned again, Qui Gon barely gets mentioned again. Pretty much nothing that happens has an impact on the rest of the series, except it moves a few pieces around to get them into position for later events. Why not just start with those pieces in the right place to begin with?
Turns out, the same is true of Attack of the Clones. I hadn’t seen this in ten years so coming to it fresh was interesting, because I got to really study it this time. And it’s also just moving pieces around, and nothing the characters do has an impact on the later story. The best thing in it is the giant Jedi battle — but that gets drowned out by the giant, messy droid v. clone trooper battle that happens right after. Sound and fury, man — you know the rest of the quote. Also, the Anakin/Padme relationship is totally creepy in this one. He’s a clingy stalker kid — and then she just decides to fall in love with him for no particular reason. WTF?
Revenge of the Sith pretty much reiterates everything that happened in Attack of the Clones. Separatists, check. Droid army, check. Clone army, check. Conspiracy, check. Anakin filled with ambition and rage, check. But if you start with Revenge of the Sith, you don’t have to try to forget about how creepy the Anakin/Padme thing has been up until now. They’re just two people in love and you buy it and it’s great. Also, the battle above Coruscant really is one of the most impressive set pieces in the series. Think about the cliffhanger of Empire, flowing into that — ooh, yeah. It says, “You thought the war between the Rebel Alliance and Empire was bad? This is what the war to try to save the Republic looked like.”
The very worst thing about just watching Revenge of the Sith: Padme does absolutely nothing in this movie but sit in her room and brush her hair. Seriously. It’s so frakking aggravating.
My second biggest conclusion is the prequel movies suffer from being watched in close proximity to the originals (in my humble opinion). Take the big battle on Geonosis at the end of Clones. Compare that to the Battle of Hoth. The Battle of Hoth has story — impossible odds, damn scary walkers. You see the faces of the people involved, the desperation of the Rebel soldiers holding the line, the grim satisfaction of General Veers in the AT-AT. Compared to that, Geonosis is little more than someone smashing a bunch of toys together. The charm of Han and Leia bantering in Empire versus Anakin creeping on Padme all the way through Clones. The fact that the prequels have so many scenes of people sitting around talking. A measurable percentage of these movies is people sitting around explaining the plot. Near as I can figure, the original trilogy has maybe 4 “sitting and talking” scenes — three of them briefings before battles, plus the scenes in the Death Star in Ep. IV, which don’t really count because Vader gets to Force choke someone, which is ever so exciting, isn’t it? Putting these movies in such close proximity only highlights the weaknesses of the prequels, I’m afraid.
The best part of Machete Order is seeing the creation of Vader in Ep. III, then the opening scene in Ep. VI with Vader marching down the ramp of the Imperial shuttle. It’s striking, chilling, and very cool.
So there we are. Carrie Version: IV, V, III, VI. If you’re an orthodox fan who wants some kind of prequel experience without being driven insane by all the things in the prequels that piss you off, this gives you just enough of the whole Anakin/Padme relationship and formation of the Empire and death of the Jedi order to fill in the backstory of the original trilogy.
April 24, 2013
A friend of mine recently dug up some old Dr. Pepper commercials from the 80′s, and they’re glorious. They take place in horrid post-apocalyptic futures where a cowboy Mad Max hero travels around dispensing the glory of Dr. Pepper. The “Cola Wars” are depicted as having actually destroyed the planet, and all the tropes of the 1980′s post apocalyptic roadtrip movie are there. Via YouTube, here’s “1984,” and here’s “After the Cola Wars.”
This got me thinking, and not just the curmudgeonly, “Wow, they don’t make ‘em like that anymore.” (A commercial with references to Metropolis? Inconceivable!) Right now, the post-apocalyptic future seems to be experiencing another round of popularity, in fiction and in movies. But it’s quite different from that classic 1980′s blasted dystopian landscape. Look at Wall-E, the frame story in Cloud Atlas, and two of this summer’s films: Oblivion and After Earth. All these depict an abandoned Earth that can only be visited by shining, polished people in glowing white skinsuits, who use supersleek technology and now live off-world. A sterile, utopian future returning to an ugly past. (The backstory to these always seems to tell us that Earth has been destroyed, that a shattered climate required people to move offworld. But with the exception of Wall-E, the Earths depicted actually seem quite lush and overflowing with life. Just not civilization.)
What I can’t decide is if this is a more positive or more pessimistic view of humanity than the 1980′s post-apocalypse. Is it a gesture of optimism to believe that we will develop the capability to move off the planet someday? Or a gesture of pessimism that we are obviously destined to frak things up so badly that not even Mad Max will be able to survive here?
See, the 1980′s post-apocalyptic movies are about survival. No matter what, something will survive, and there will still be heroes. In the current batch of future-apocalypse movies — all we can do is run away.
I think this may be a function of the types of apocalypses serving as the backdrop for the story. The 1980′s apocalypse is almost always nuclear. It’s a one-and-done blasting of the Earth as we know it, with no time to prepare and no second chance. The current round of apocalypses are environmental — a slow decay, creeping climate change. Lots of time to prepare. And apparently, according to these stories, it’s easier to found a space-based human civilization than it is to fix the problems we’ve seen coming for years. I guess that’s what I find so depressing about it. I want to shout at these characters, “You live in space, and you can’t come up with the technology to fix things?“ But Earth isn’t home anymore — it’s the antagonist.
It feels like an abrogation of responsibility. The environmental apocalypse may be decades slower than nuclear war, we may see it coming — but apparently, it’s just as inexorable and catastrophic. It’s also an example of the kind of conservative, narrow-minded thinking that people are always surprised to find in science fiction, which has a reputation of being so forward and future-minded, but which often serves to show us the worst of all possible outcomes, and the worst of all possible human behaviors.
April 22, 2013
I’m back from Starfest! Thanks again to the folks at Horrorfest for inviting me, and to Ron and Nina for selling books, and for everyone who came out to visit. A lot going on, a lot on my mind. Some of the highlights:
Horrorfest ran a “Face Off” style makeup competition — four competitors, one theme, 2 hours, go! This is their second year doing it, and it’s hugely successful. My favorite thing about it is the constant messaging from the hosts: you can do this, anyone can learn to to this, this is accessible. Yay, art!
I got to see Ben Browder’s Q&A. I hardly ever get to go to these because I’m either cross scheduled, or the event room gets too crowded. He was excellent, personable and engaging, and a true geek. He told stories of his very young children coming to the set of Farscape and “talking” with Rigel. He also said that this con is the closest he’s ever seen to DragonCon, at a smaller scale. I’ve only been to DragonCon once, but I concur.
The ratio of people in costumes to not just keeps going up. At one point on Saturday, I think half the people I saw were in some kind of costume. I love this.
I haven’t really heard anything that’s inspiring me to run out and see Oblivion, alas.
I signed lots of books and talked to lots of folks about books. Met both new fans and old. Hooray!
I was gifted a magnificent KNOB DJ setup, including vintage microphone and “London Calling” on vinyl, by the talented and generous Zoo. Pictures later when I’ve gotten myself better sorted than I am now. (Still catching up on sleep and work stuff.)
And now, onward!
April 10, 2013
When I’m in Albuquerque, I usually stay with my friends at the House of Franck, and we usually watch a few movies while drinking too much. This past weekend, fortified by takeout pizza and leftover shwarma, we had a truly epic movie-watching streak: ten movies, mostly horror, mostly obscure, indie, or just plain bad. Here they are, in order of viewing.
Slither. I don’t know why it took me this long to realize that there’s an entire genre that is “alien/mutant/rapidly reproducing monster thing invades small hick town.” The attraction of the genre is watching rednecks blow shit up with shotguns. I think early exposure the Critters movies may have spoiled me on these forever. At least this one has Nathan Fillion in it.
Nazis at the Center of the Earth. The only reason we watched this is that a guy I went to high school with has a minor part in it. It’s an Asylum Film. I will say no more about it.
An aside: What watching these two movies in proximity did was give us a chance to talk about good cheesy movies versus bad cheesy movies. And it seems to be in the acting and writing. The plot of Slither is the same plot as some 75% of Asylum movies, but it’s so much more watchable because it’s kind of clever and Fillion and Elizabeth Banks are so charming and there’s a whole bunch of great character actors shouldering the thing. Then there’s the Nazi movie which is full of generically pretty 20-somethings who fail to convince me they are serious scientists at an Antarctic research station. Worst. Acting. Ever. Also, I now want to write the story about the survivors five years after their hick town is overrun with slimy aliens.
Cast a Deadly Spell. It’s been twenty years since I’d seen this cult classic and I’m happy to report it’s even better than I remember. All the noir banter is spot-on and the magic just works. 1940′s gangsters duking it out for the Necronomicon, with P.I. Phil Lovecraft caught in the middle. It’s just splendid. And do keep your eyes open for Clancy Brown and Julianne Moore.
John Dies at the End. Also vaguely Lovecraftian. I hesitate to say it’s any good, but it’s certainly interesting. I guess it’s been described as a new Naked Lunch, and that’s about right. Also, it’s so bizarre that Ty said I wouldn’t be able to predict anything that happened. But I did, at least that one thing. I don’t know what that says about me.
Another aside: What watching these two movies did was make me think about how much is actually possible within the genre of urban fantasy if you expand the boundaries to fit things like Lovecraftian noir and interdimensional surrealism. There’s no reason to limit it to Underworld clones. Moving on.
Stingray Sam. This is written and directed by the same guy who did The American Astronaut, which is about my favorite super weird science fiction movie of all time, so I was inclined to like this immensely. It’s about a lounge singer on Mars whose dark past of robbing banks with the Quasar Kid comes back to haunt him. And it’s a musical.
Terminal Force aka Galaxis. This is a very bad space opera thingy starring Brigitte Nielson. It’s also a bad rip off of Terminator with a little bit of Lethal Weapon and He Man thrown in. It confused us mightily, because there’s actually some good acting in here. I fell totally in love with the valiant space leader who single-handedly carried the entire opening scene. Then he got killed. Then Brigitte Nielson goes to Earth looking for a crystal thing, and there are these two cops trailing after her wake of destruction, and it’s like they’re in a totally different movie because they’re actually good and funny and interesting — one of them is played by Cindy Morgan, who was Lori in Tron. But then she gets killed and the movie’s will to live dies with her. Mostly, we were just wondering what kind of favor the filmmakers called in to get Sam Raimi to play random bridge officer dude in the opening scenes.
Interzone. This is a very very bad post-apocalyptic road trip movie, I’m talking bottom of the barrel, probably done by the same folks who did Land of Doom. They kept telling us it was a radiation-drenched post-apocalyptic landscape, but there was lots of lush vegetation and forests and plentiful bananas to eat and stuff, so I mostly just started thinking of it as the Hyperborian Age with motorcycles and machine guns. There is also a famous female body builder playing the villain and the film’s one sex scene is actually just her silhouette posing behind a lighted backdrop. Really, the film was hilarious enough — on purpose, even! — to make it worthwhile. The shirtless dancing boy won me over. So did the following bit of dialog: Guy: “How long have we known each other?” Girl: “Oh, forty-eight hours.” Guy: “It seems like just yesterday.”
Dragon Crusaders. The best Asylum film I’ve ever seen. I know that’s damning with faint praise, but seriously — I would watch this again. I’m not even joking. About ten minutes in we realized this is based on someone’s Dungeons and Dragons campaign. Which means it falls firmly into the category of “a million times better than the actual Dungeons and Dragons movie.” Plus, this introduced me to Cecily Fay, a super badass martial artist and stuntwoman who plays the Halfling ranger. (They didn’t actually call her a Halfling ranger, but that’s totally what her character is.) Also, there’s a whole troop of scruffy knights on Andalusian horses. This movie had my number. (I also totally blew Ty’s mind when I suggested that Cecily Fay and Zoe Bell should do a girl version of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. Isn’t there some kind of petition we could sign to make this happen?)
Nirvana. Worst one of the bunch. Ty’s still mad at me for making him watch the whole thing. It’s a cyberpunk movie starring Christopher Lambert that would have looked great in 1986. Too bad it came out in 1997. Lambert is the most unconvincing cyberpunk protagonist imaginable. At one point I said, “Geez, if anybody says ‘black ice’ here I’m taking a drink.” They didn’t, but I took a drink anyway.
The Descent. A bunch of people have been telling me for years to watch this and I finally did. Still not a fan of this kind of horror in general, but one thing I will say about this one: it’s a completely genderless movie. You could swap out all the genders of all the characters and it’s still the same movie. I love that, and wish Hollywood would take notes. I still don’t forgive Neil Marshall for Doomsday, though.
April 1, 2013
AnomalyCon was a good time — so glad I finally got to this one in its third year! I didn’t get any good pictures myself, so I’ll direct you to this gallery, featuring my friend Jeff’s “Warehouse 12″ outfit. I had a great time getting to gossip with Gail Carriger and S.J. Chambers, co-author of the amazing Steampunk Bible. I had a most triumphant reading — no one else wanted to do a Sunday morning reading, so I volunteered for the slot. We moved from the bar, where it was scheduled, because there was some kind of Easter brunch going on, to the hotel’s fireside lobby, where I had a dozen or so people gathered around me, storytime-like. We had a calm, relaxing gathering on a quiet Sunday morning, and avoided all of the noise/logistic problems that I heard going on with every other reading that weekend. We win!
Sunday night, I hied myself, along with some friends, to the Church nightclub for Dr. Krishna’s Maniacal Steampunk Ball. And what a lovely time, seeing everyone dressed to the nines and finally getting to see Voltaire perform in person. I realized something, last night: I think one of the reasons I love steampunk gatherings, especially steampunk balls and masquerades, is because it harkens back to a time when people got dressed up to go out. I like going to the symphony, but these days you’ll see people wearing jeans to the theater and to plays and all, and that’s just not right, I think. It’s special. You should dress up. You should step out of your mundane life and make an event of it. The people who go to steampunk balls understand this! Here’s the photo gallery from the ball.
Also, there was the male burlesque act inspired by Clockwork Orange, which really needed to be seen to be believed.
February 22, 2013
This week, I started cutting fabric on what’s going to be my big costuming project for this year. It’s great, because once I start cutting fabric, I’m committed, momentum sets in, and I’ll usually work at it consistently until it’s done. So yeah — committed now! Which is good, because I’ve set myself a deadline: Costume Con 31, which is in Denver this year. I’ve never been to a Costume Con, but having it be local seems like too good of an opportunity to pass up. And it seems like a good place to show off the results of what’s probably going to be a lot of work.
This is the gown I’m making:
Patricia McKillip has been one of my favorite authors for awhile (Ombria in Shadow is very, very good, lots of magic and political intrigue). And I’ve tremendously admired Kinuko Craft’s illustrations for her last dozen or so books. They’re perfect for McKillip’s writing, so magical and lush and luminous. Most of these books feature a woman in a beautiful gown, and I’ve been thinking for a long time: a want to make one of those gowns. This is the one I’ve picked.
I’ve also wanted to make a replica costume for awhile — a costume that actually reproduces another artist’s work, rather than just being something I throw together because I think it looks good. So, those are my two goals with this one. I’m daunted. The more I look at the picture the more individual elements I see that I’m going to have to work in — four different fabrics on the sleeve alone, beading on the sleeve cuffs, all the trim on the bodice, etc. It would be really easy to decide I couldn’t handle it. But last summer when I was in L.A. I went shopping in the fashion district with friends, and I vowed: If we could find the fabric to match the gown, I’d commit to making it. Well, we found this:
So yeah. Kind of had to do it.
And here we are. I’ve pieced together a pattern from a couple of different dress patterns: an early Tudor pattern for the bodice and bell sleeves, a Regency/empire pattern for the cap sleeves. I have a big cartridge pleated skirt I acquired at an SCA giveaway years ago that I’ll be using as a model to make the skirt for this. Another great thing about the SCA: I know a metal worker/jeweler who is going to help me with the brooches.
I’m excited, because I feel like I’m far enough along in my sewing/costuming that I actually even know where to start with something like this — picking and choosing pattern pieces, cobbling them together, etc. And then the deadline of the convention. It’s like I keep saying — deadlines are great, especially the ones I set for myself, because it means I actually get things done.
I’ll report back when I’ve made more progress.
January 21, 2013
I’ve been playing Artemis. It was inevitable, as I have a bunch of friends who love Star Trek, who can also at the drop of a hat pull out enough laptops for everyone to get their own station.
This is, as the label says, a Spaceship Bridge Simulator, played on a local network. Someone plays Helm, someone different plays Weapons, someone else plays Science Officer, Engineer, Comm, and the Captain tells them all where to go. Each station has a computer display, and they all have to work together to get the job done. I’m not normally much of a computer game player, but this one’s very social and cooperative, which makes it a lot of fun. We usually have beer and hard cider on hand. This is what we did for the New Year’s Eve party. And don’t let anyone tell you Comm isn’t necessary — I got something like 30% of our enemies to surrender when I was on Comm. (If you’re on Facebook and saw my post asking about which ear a Bajoran earring goes on…yes, I did wear a Bajoran earring to the game. Don’t judge me.)
However, we have decided that in most circumstances this isn’t a Star Trek bridge simulator. It’s a Galaxy Quest bridge simulator. Never give up! Never surrender!
Here’s a video of what playing the game looks like:
I love this, because the crews I’ve been playing on are so much better. We generally remember to put our shields up before we get shot at.
During yesterday afternoon’s session, I got my first story idea from playing Artemis. We’ll see if it grows into an actual story.
January 9, 2013
My niece Emmy turns one today. One of my jobs as Emmy’s bohemian aunt is to make things for her. Especially when her parents find pictures of cool baby things online. They send links to me and say, “Hey, you should do this.” Last fall Deb put in a request, and I complied, so this is what Emmy’s getting for her birthday:
You’ve probably seen fancier versions of this out and about online. I didn’t make a super-fancy version because Emmy is one and will outgrow it in approximately three minutes, at her current rate of growth. I did, however, make this as super-adjustable as I could, with an extendable elastic waist and a larger-than-needed T-shirt size, with the idea that she should be able to still get into it around Halloween time.
I’m hoping to have pictures of her wearing this soon.
December 19, 2012
Observing people’s reactions to The Hobbit around and about this here Internet, it’s pretty clear that many people have a deep, personal, and powerful relationship to the book. Their parents read it to them when they were small. It’s the book that brought them to fantasy. I’ve gotten to wondering how unusual — or not — my own relationship to the book is. Because to be honest, I’m not a fan. I recognize it’s a classic, it’s a fine novel certainly. But I don’t have any kind of deep personal relationship with it.
My parents are strict science fictionist. Growing up, we got lots of Star Trek and the Heinlein juveniles, but not a lot of fantasy. They never read The Hobbit to us. Actually, I’m not sure if they’ve even read The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings, even though Mom and Dad are both avid readers. (Mom, want to chime in?) They’re just not fantasy readers — pretty much the only fantasy they read is mine. All the fantasy I’ve read, I did on my own, and it was Ray Bradbury and Robin McKinley who made me love fantasy.
What this means is my first introductions to Tolkien were the Bass-Rankin animated Hobbit and Ralph Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings. What this means is that I really hated The Hobbit. The Bass-Rankin film? Couldn’t stand it. Hobbits were these weird apple-headed creatures who were kinda boring and obsessive — like that creepy neighbor down the street — and the songs were twee. I really wanted to like it. But gah. No. Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings, however, intrigued the hell out of me. I mean, it had ELVES. (Don’t judge me, please.)
When I finally picked up The Hobbit, I had a really hard time getting through it. It was all creepy apple-headed people and twee songs. But Lord of the Rings…ah yes. Elves. Except I really wanted to skip all the chapters with Hobbits in them so I could go back to reading about Elves. (Again, don’t judge me.) And what does all this mean? When I discovered The Silmarillion, it became my favorite Tolkien book because it was all Elves and no Hobbits.
I will be forever grateful to Peter Jackson for rehabilitating my mental image of Hobbits and making them awesome. I’m now able to go back to the books and read them for what they are, rather than imprinting on whatever horrible images the Bass-Rankin film managed to shove into my brain without meaning to.
I’ve only read the whole shebang twice — once as a teenager, and again starting ten years ago so I could compare to the movies. My take on them was quite a bit different. As a teenager, I read them and wanted to be an elf. (It’s really hard being a teenage girl, but elves are automatically awesome. Therefore, if I were an elf, I would be awesome. Just trying to explain my teenage reasoning on the matter.) Years later, I read them and thought, “These people are all going to need therapy.” (And then I immediately wrote “Strife Lingers in Memory,” now available in John Joseph Adam’s anthology Epic. End commercial plug.)
Lots of people for whom The Hobbit has been their favorite book since they were wee sproglings, who re-read it all every year, are awfully emotional about the movie. On the one hand, I’m grateful to be able to experience the movie without the emotional investment. On the other hand — how wonderful, to have a book mean so much. And this book means so much to so many people, it’s amazing, really.
I imagine if a movie ever gets made of The Blue Sword I’ll know what the true Hobbit fans are going through right now.