October 22, 2014
We truly live in an age of riches, don’t we? At least on TV. I can’t keep up with it all, but here’s what I’m trying to keep up with.
Castle: Well, that’s a strange little storyline they’ve picked up with the season cliffhanger. I’m glad they’re pretty much ignoring it for now and going back to fun one-off episodes. This may not be my favorite show anymore, but I’m still enjoying it and the characters, and it hasn’t actively pissed me off yet, and I’m starting to wonder when that’s going to happen.
Arrow: Still love it, but they’re not giving us a break, are they?
The Flash: It’s just so goofy and earnest I kind of love it. One thing I’m really liking: setting Barry up as this very young, naive hero with two mentor/father figures who know who and what he is, who are protective of him (for different reasons) and at odds with each other. I’m liking that dynamic. They’ve also nailed the look and attitude. Sometimes, voice overs work.
Sleepy Hollow: I’m just along for the giant WTF ride.
Agents of SHIELD: Yeah, the standard for superhero TV seems to be “Just throw everything at the viewer all the time yay!” and that’s okay with me. I’m loving Kyle MacLachlan’s character, and loving that he’s on the show at all. Adrienne Palicki has given us a hint of what that Wonder Woman TV show that failed to launch a few years ago might have been like if the people making it had known what they were doing. I’m really liking her (and not just because she was also Lady Jaye in the last GI Joe movie). In an alternate world, the makers of Arrow worked on Wonder Woman instead. And now I’m sad about the whole thing all over again.
Face Off: Still watching, it’s always pleasant watching good art, but this season has been low key and kind of predictable. I will love it if the former cake decorator wins.
What I’m not watching, not caught up on:
Doctor Who: I keep telling myself I want to watch this, then keep not watching it. I know I saw the first episode with the new Doctor. I can’t actually remember anything about it. Oh — dinosaurs, right? I think what I remember about it is that I really want a show starring Madame Vastra and Jenny.
Justified: Fifth season is spun up and ready to go. No spoilers!
Penny Dreadful: This is out on DVD now, and it’s the one I really want to see. Victorian Gothic, with literary references? This should be called “Carrie, Here Is Your Show!”
October 20, 2014
This is the front stone of the neolithic passage tomb at Newgrange:
I saw it, and felt like I was looking at one of the greatest pieces of artwork in the world. Perfect abstraction 5000 years before actual abstract art became a thing. (I usually try to take pictures of things without people in them, but I’m glad now that people ended up in this one so you can see the scale of it.)
The tours I took in Ireland were good because they put a lot of history in context for me — especially prehistory, because I kind of had no idea. Newgrange is old. Older than Stonehenge. I kept thinking about the level of organization and sophistication required for a society to be able to put these things together, and it blew my mind, because I realized that there are thousands of tombs, forts, stone circles, and monuments scattered over Britain and Ireland, and that this extensive culture existed to support all that — some 3000 years before the Celts came along. Everyone thinks of the the Celts when they think of Ireland. But there was so much more going on before then.
Yeah, I kind of got obsessed. And yeah, I wrote a story already. We’ll see what more comes out of this obsession.
Hey! So it turns out the first of the string of Wild Cards stories I have coming out went live this week! “Nuestra Señora de la Esperanza” is up at Tor.com. Check it out! I’ve been wanting to do this topic for a while now: deal with the Wild Card virus being passed along through the DNA of victims — people who’ve inherited the virus rather than been newly infected, and what it looks like to have a family with a Wild Cards heritage. (Very rare, granted, given the fatality rate. But still, it happens.)
In other news: I made part of my niece’s Halloween costume this year:
I’m thinking back to when my Mom made me a Wonder Woman costume when I was about 5, and it was all felt because that’s what was available. Now, we’ve got gold lamé, sparkly stickers, all kinds of fancy fancy things to make costumes with. I’m wondering how much of the cosplay revolution is due to the availability of great materials — or if cosplay is driving the availability of great materials? I don’t know.
Speaking of cosplay, I’m making a Thing that I hope to have finished by Mile Hi Con next week. I decided to try to adapt an existing pattern, and it’s kind of kicking my ass — it’s just ever so slightly beyond my skill set. Which I guess is good, because I’m learning something. We’ll see if I can figure it out this weekend. If I can just get the collar to work, the rest will be cake. *rolls up sleeves*
October 6, 2014
Back in the dark ages, the mid to late 80’s, there was something of a revolution in comics and the depiction of superheroes. Watchmen came out, along with The Dark Knight, and even Wild Cards, which all posited variations of the same idea: if real people in the real world really had superpowers and/or donned costumes to fight crime, they would be neurotic at best, psychopathic at worst, and definitely some level of flat-out crazy. These stories were dark, nihilistic and–everyone said, comparing them to the 50 years of gee-whiz adventure that had come before–more realistic.
In hindsight, politically and sociologically the 80’s were just awful, weren’t they?
Along with this new embracing of “gritty” realism came a rejection of anything that was too nice, too idealistic. It was seen as immature, and the expression of idealism was considered naive, a glossing over of harsh worldly realities. Yeah, I blame the 80’s. For twenty years, a lot of storytelling seemed to get darker and more cynical. Robin died. Superman died. Everybody died, and came back so they could die again. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire made unrelenting terribleness in epic fantasy mainstream. The term “grimdark” came into use, with much gleeful rubbing of hands.
A few years ago, I read Erikson’s Deadhouse Gates. Now, Erikson does grimdark with the best of them — this book features a mass exodus of refugees who are being harried by an enemy, people are dying by the thousands, and when they finally reach the city, the gates are barred, and the survivors are all crucified by the side of the road. The story ends with a group of characters searching for one man among the survivors. Two other characters, immortal travelers, chance upon them when they have just found a dying dog. Now, this dog and his pack have been running around the whole book providing a bit of comic relief through all the terribleness (no, really). And now he’s dying no!!!!!! One of the immortals has a healing potion, and a discussion ensues: Should we use it on the dog? Probably not. The dog’s probably too far gone, better not waste it. So the immortals walk away.
And then they turn around, go back, and give the healing potion to the dog, who survives and has many more adventures throughout the series.
I absolutely fell in love with Erikson’s Malazan series in that moment. They saved the dog. For no other reason than it was a good thing to do. The Malazan series has some of the most brutal fantasy writing I’ve ever read, but it’s also filled with Save the Dog moments. Characters who dearly love each other, without cynicism. I need that. Since the 80’s, so much SF&F and comics and superhero stories seemed to be about putting good people in awful situations and seeing how horrible they can be to each other, and how unrelentingly bad the world can be. (And I was really into that for a time — I mean, I read all of Wild Cards, which got just as brutal as the rest.) Those moments of idealism stand out like spotlights in the night.
I think it’s starting to change. Saving things, unsarcastic idealistic characters — good people doing good — are coming back. As Daniel Abraham has explained, when “dark and gritty” becomes the norm, it’s no longer shocking, it’s no longer radical. So what then becomes shocking and radical? Idealism. Optimism.
My favorite comic to date is Warren Ellis’s Planetary, which is explicitly about saving things. Captain America was not supposed to work. Some people insisted that modern audiences would never buy the lawful good, earnest, idealism of that classic character. And yet, it’s one of the best, most popular superhero movies of the last 20 years. The whole Avengers sequence is filled with uncynical heroism — and I think people have been starved for that. Guardians of the Galaxy — the climactic moment involves all the main characters saving the world by coming together and holding hands. And no one’s complaining.
I really like stories about people coming together for the greater good, disparate folk who have a common cause and rise to meet great challenges. Who save things. Turns out, I’ve always liked that kind of story: Star Wars, G.I. Joe, Captain Power. Some would like to see this kind of story as childish — the people making the DC movies, for example. Grimdark isn’t going to go away.
But what I think it would be helpful to recognize is that grim and gritty isn’t any more realistic than idealism. It’s a choice. Sure, Wild Cards can get really dark — but I’ve chosen to write Wild Cards stories about friendship. My upcoming story in Lowball is an outright comedy. Terrible things happen in the world. Really great things happen, too. When someone tries to tell me that grim is more realistic because people are generally awful, I point them to stories like this: during the Waldo Canyon Fire in Colorado Springs, firefighters stopped to save one homeowner’s chickens. They saved the chickens, for no other reason than it was a good thing to do.
We makers of fiction, we’re not doing realism. We’re making choices. And I know what kind of world I’d rather be spending my spare time in.
September 12, 2014
This was a panel at Shamrokon — specifically, we talked about space opera and whether it was possible to have space opera that didn’t involve war or violence. We got a bit into the semantics of it all — like, “peaceful space opera” and “anti-war space opera” are not the same thing, because there’s quite of a bit of anti-war space opera — Haldeman’s Forever War and Bujold’s Vorkosigan series — that still focuses on war. And does “peaceful” specifically mean “lacking in violence,” or specifically lacking in person-on-person violence? For example, can a story focusing on a violent natural disaster be considered “peaceful” or are we specifically looking for stories that don’t rely on violence or trauma at all?
It’s a bit of a rabbit hole, trying to define this sort of thing.
Arguably the best part of the panel is when everyone, panelists and audiences, just started tossing out favorite books, authors and reading suggestions. I wrote a some down and am now posting it at the request of some of the panel attendees. A lot of the suggestions are classic older works, many of which I haven’t read, which is why I wrote them down. I don’t think I got everything, so if y’all want to add more, feel free.
Arthur C. Clarke (The Songs of Distant Earth and Fountains of Paradise were my picks)
“The Machine Stops” by E.M. Forster
Solar Clipper books by Nathan Lowell
Naked to the Stars by Gordon Dickson
The Way Station by Clifford D. Simak (All Simak’s work, some people argued.)
Soviet-era SF: Several people mentioned that Soviet SF of the 60’s and 70’s reads quite different that U.S. SF and isn’t as focused on war. Like, first contact stories tend to be about everyone being happy to meet each other and good things coming out of it. (I remember getting hold of an anthology of 70’s Soviet SF stories and reading that kind of story there.) We didn’t talk about Stanislaw Lem specifically, but probably should have.
Someone recommended a book that I think was called At Auberly Fair, but alas I didn’t write down the author and haven’t been able to find any sign of it online, so I’m not sure I got this title right. Can anyone verify?
Also mentioned: Andre Norton, Anne McCaffrey, C.J. Cherryh, James White, and my own list includes Douglas Adams and Iain M. Banks.
Space opera is experiencing quite a nice resurgence right now, but the books all seem to be war stories. Who are some more recent authors and novels that deal with space and space opera without telling war stories? (I suddenly think of Andy Weir’s The Martian, a new novel that was recommended to me by like five different people last month.)
What a lot of these suggestions have in common is they’re about building things or exploring places. The ideal of Star Trek’s Federation (but even Star Trek told a lot of war stories, what with the Borg and Dominion and such). They’re a bit utopian. And I think we all agreed that this is a good thing that we’d like to see more of.
August 29, 2014
I’ve been working on this project all summer, which is kind of cool, since it turned out to be a pretty busy summer I could just sit back and pick this up and do a few rows without having to think about it.
It’s a scarf made of lace weight alpaca, in a cool spirally curly pattern that looks like a sea creature. I’m just going to keep going ’til the yarn runs out.
August 25, 2014
I recently saw someone on FB post a picture of her sewing space rather than her writing space, and I decided I wanted to do the same thing. Especially since it’s relatively clean and organized right now. (I had company, see.) When I moved, I was able to set up a designated sewing/craft area in the basement, and I just love it. I love not having to clean up projects in the middle of working on them, like I did when I was sewing in my office or on the kitchen table. Now, I can just drop everything and come back later.
The sewing machine is my mother’s. I just sort of took it and never gave it back. (I let her borrow it whenever she wants…) It’s a Kenmore, I think 30 years old at this point and still getting the job done. I’ve got my eye on a serger, though. I think that would be fun to have. Maybe for Christmas.
And yes, that is a picture of a dragon riding horse on the wall. Just because.