April 17, 2013
It’s been kind of a rough few days, watching too much of the news and feeling wobbly and heartsick over it. Monday is my regular dinner and Castle watching party, and I was intensely grateful for the company, good food (fettuccini quattro formaggi, with homemade fettucini), and lots of wine. Lots of wine. And a foot of snow. A good few days to stay in and get some work done.
Last night, I caught Defiance, SyFy’s latest highly anticipated original series. The short version: 1 part Star Trek, 1 part Mad Max, and 1 part Firefly, right down to the scruffy rogue who was a veteran in the war but would rather not talk about it. I loved a couple of things about it: the setup; the worldbuilding, which has a pretty hardcore SF feel and I don’t get that very often from TV SF; and the characters of Amanda and Kenya, two very different community leaders and sisters who love each other. More of them, please, but only if it doesn’t turn into a ridiculous love triangle with the scruffy rogue, which I’m deeply afraid the show is setting up. Ugh. Also, appearances by Captain Power alums Peter MacNeil and Graham Greene. I always love seeing them.
Unfortunately, a lot of the show frustrated me. They spent all this time and energy on the world and background, then threw the most familiar, predictable story on top of it. They’re going to have to come up with some better stories and characters, far less cliche ridden than what they gave us. Every trope in the thing, front to back, was exhaustingly predictable. (Kind elderly sheriff gets killed? Check. The Rogue with a Heart of Gold gets offered the badge at the end? Check. ”I ain’t in it for you, sweetheart, and I ain’t in it for your rebellion…” Check. The Battle of Helms Deep? Check.) Deftly using classic tropes is one thing. But this show never gets past the top drawer. Very tiresome.
I could wish for the aliens to be a bit more alien. So, the goth alien nightclub? (Yes, there’s an alien race I’m just going to call the Goth aliens.) I think the dancing was supposed to be alien-looking, but I’ve actually seen people at goth clubs dancing like that. So that was hilarious to me. Also, there is apparently a race of Steampunk aliens — no lie, one of them was wearing a top hat with goggles on it. All I can think is, Holy crap guys, really? You couldn’t come up with something better than that? Because aliens arrived and immediately thought, “Hey steampunk, that’s cool!” I mean, I can’t blame them. But really? That’s not thoughtful SF, that’s designing your show based on what the Wall Street Journal says is the next big thing.
So yeah. I’m not sold yet. I’ll give it a couple more chances, but it’s going to have to work superhard to win me over.
(By contrast, I recently re-watched the rebooted Battlestar Galactica miniseries. It’s absolutely riveting. The two opening scenes — the first on the meeting station, with the lone official waiting for…something, and the second that has the long cut of Starbuck jogging on the decks while a million things are going on around her — are so brilliant, so original, so good and delivering information while staying interesting, introducing every character, so full of life…yeah, that’s what I want. That’s the bar these shows have to clear. No wonder so few of them do.)
I’ve only seen one episode of the new season of Doctor Who. ”The people, they’re trapped in the WiFi!” Is that supposed to be a metaphor?
March 18, 2013
This weekend I had the very fine time of visiting with friends, on two different occasions, whom I haven’t seen in years. They moved away, and e-mail and social media only go so far. Sitting down for drinks or gathering around a table full of friends and food and fine conversation really don’t have an online substitute.
Started the third season of Justified. Still loving it. The dialog still pops like firecrackers, and I’ve just now noticed how many scenes are blocked like it’s a stage play — i.e. there’s a powerful awareness of where the audience is sitting, where the audience’s gaze is, and the action is engaged with that gaze. Love it.
And Neal McDonough is the big baddy this season! Yay!
March 13, 2013
So I just realized something.
I’ve been re-watching the G.I. Joe cartoon on Hub for the last year or so, and I suddenly noticed that there are no nuclear weapons in this show. There are plenty of other mechanisms of mass destruction (Cold Slither FTW!), but most of them are completely outlandish, and they’re not total nuclear war. Heck, they even have Russian good guys in the Oktober Guard. The U.S.S.R. isn’t the bad guy — they’re as much Cobra’s victims as everyone else.
For a show that aired in the mid-1980′s, this is astonishing.
Some historical perspective: this was the stretch of time when the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist’s Doomsday Clock was moved to three minute until midnight — the closest to midnight it’s ever been since the U.S. detonated its first hydrogen bomb in 1953. The idea of all-out nuclear war was everywhere. I think it’s easy for us, thirty years later, to forget just how pervasive it was. It wasn’t just in movies like Red Dawn, War Games, Mad Max, The Day After, etc. etc. It was on TV every single day. It was in sitcoms. I’ll never forget this episode of Silver Spoons where Ricky dreams that he’s president, and he’s talking on the “hot line” to Russia, and he says, “Walk to the edge of a cliff, Yuri — and drop off!” (This was considered funny in 1983. I can’t explain it. But yes, he causes nuclear war in his dream and wakes up vowing to be a better person . Or something. I don’t know, that’s the only thing I remember from the entire show.)
This was the stretch of time when my dad was stationed at Grand Forks AFB, commanding a B-52 crew. 1982-1985, I was 10-13 years old — pretty formative years. I joke now that Dad’s job was flying to Russia and dropping a bunch of nukes when Reagan pushed the button.
So this was the water I was swimming in when I was 10-13. The threat of nuclear war was everywhere, and if it happened, my Dad was going to be part of it. At the time, this was just life. Lately, this idea has completely traumatized me and I’ve been trying to figure out. (A couple years ago, a reader at a signing pointed out that I killed my main characters’ fathers in three books in a row. “Yeah,” I said. “I’m working out some suppressed childhood trauma.” I pointed out that in all three cases the father was a public servant who sacrificed himself to save others. Definitely something going on there, but I think I’ve got a handle on it now. No more killing my main characters’ fathers. And if you’ve ever sat in English class wondering if authors realize all the stuff they put in their books — well, sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t.)
Now, the comics have plenty of nuclear bombs and nuclear threats and lots of exciting last minute disarming scenes, just like you’d expect. But that came later for me. The cartoon? Totally nuclear war free. It exists in an alternate reality where the Cold War with Russia was never that important because they had Cobra instead. For a kid whose dad had an role to play in any actual nuclear war that was going to happen, G.I. Joe felt very, very safe.
Since then, I’ve come to admire the franchise for its surprisingly effective characterization (Low Light in the cartoon? That dude is creepy, but I’d totally trust him to watch my back in a firefight), and for the way it balances its earnestness with its total absurdity. But I’m thinking there’s probably a part of me that will always treat G.I. Joe like a big fuzzy security blanket.
March 6, 2013
When someone asks, “What’s the concept behind your work?” be able to give a solid, specific answer. Because if all you can say is, “I don’t know,” it will show. It means your work probably looks like mush.
If you hear yourself say, “maybe they won’t notice this,” stop and fix it right now, because they will notice.
If a pro gives you advice it behooves you to listen.
If you’re working to guidelines… for goodness sakes follow the guidelines.
Know your genre. Then do something crazy with it. Your work should be recognizable for what it is, but you don’t want to remind people of every other thing like it they’ve seen.
Precision and skill trump wishful thinking.
Practice good time management. Planning matters.
Passion and beauty also matter.
Go big or go home.
January 18, 2013
“Wibbly wobbly, timey wimey,” was meant to be a funny line, not a plot ethos.
Still don’t like the current Doctor. He’s whiney, clingy, and manic without depth. Like that guy who tries so hard to be aggressively different just to be different and everybody kind of cringes when he walks into a room. My favorite episode of the last couple of years was “A Town Called Mercy,” but I spent the whole thing wishing it was David Tennant’s Doctor.
And when was the last time I was really scared by an episode? I don’t actually remember. I just keep getting annoyed. Sure, the Weeping Angels were scary in “Blink,” but when you keep using the Weeping Angels and change the rules every time they show up (Now they possess statues? What? And you realize the last time the Statue of Liberty got possessed and walked around town was Ghostbusters 2, and we all know how well that turned out.) they’re not all that scary anymore, you know?
“Asylum of the Daleks” was pretty darned scary, I’ll confess. And it turns out everyone liked that one character so much that she’s coming back! There’s some big mystery about her! Or something! I don’t really care! Because, “Hey, everybody really liked this little bit, why don’t we now use that bit over and over again until the audience is entirely sick of it” is not a foundation for good storytelling. On a show like Doctor Who you’ve got the entire universe and all of time to draw stories from. Why not use it?
I will keep watching, because the show still pulls out gems like “Vincent and the Doctor.” I’m waiting. . .
Wait a minute, isn’t Rory still an immortal centurion or did that go away and I missed it?
I’m almost done with the second season, and it’s genius. I’ve decided the thing I like best about it is the worldbuilding. This story takes place in a decadent, decaying universe. The most admirable character on the show is a zombified assassin. We have stunted bureaucracies with the gravity of black holes, crumbling religious orders, poverty-stricken and ignorant communities on the verge of collapse — and absolutely no higher purpose available for anyone. There ends up being a lot of focus on food and sex. Often at the same time. (Hello, Lyekka!) It’s a space opera with very little metal. It’s a universe that’s full of inhabited worlds, and simultaneously empty of people, indicated by planets-full of deserted cities and dozens of abandoned space stations, and a clinging population of people who’ve edged into madness. The main characters want to save the universe, not to save the universe, but to save their own skins.
This is all what keeps me watching. Individual episodes are really weird and discomfiting. But taken as a whole, the show is cohesive, and compelling. This is a world that someone actually thought about. It may have started with “Let’s make a science fiction show that’s as pornographic as possible without ending up on Skinemax,” but they actually thought about the implications of the world that kind of show would have to take place in.
The show has earned my trust. Toward the end of the second season are two episodes, “The Net” and “The Web.” These are the same episode. Same footage, same story, the same. I almost flipped back to the menu to make sure I hadn’t accidentally set the previous episode going again. The second one includes some extra footage and details from the villain’s point of view, since after the first episode we know who the villain is. It’s a fascinating experiment — I’m not sure it’s entirely successful in illuminating the world or characters. But hell, not every experiment has to be a success to be worthwhile. I was totally willing to let them run with it.
And then came the musical episode “Brigadoom.” Big sparkly hearts, guys.
Next up is season 2 of Justified.
November 12, 2012
I’m a little bit amazed at how much TV I’m not watching at the moment. So many genre shows are on — and successful — right now, and I’m not watching any of them. Not Grimm, not Once Upon a Time, or The Walking Dead, or 666 Park Avenue, or American Horror Story. I haven’t tried Revolutions and I’ve not heard anything about it that would make me want to. I saw a preview for an episode of Last Resort where everybody gets infected with some kind of mad-making disease and thought, Wow, they’re having to do The Naked Time already? So yeah, just not all that excited about TV right now. I haven’t even caught up on this season’s Doctor Who. Because I’m still not real crazy about Matt Smith’s Doctor. Sorry.
There are exceptions.
Arrow. I didn’t expect to like this, but I’m finding it adorably charming. Superhero action and family drama. Likable characters and relationships. At least one plot twist that surprised even me. I know, right? In fact, a couple of episodes ago I couldn’t stop giggling because I just kept thinking, “OMG, this is like something I would write!”
Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome. Right now, it’s a web show, but I think it might migrate to SyFy in the future. I haven’t been bothered to dig up the info. But holy cow, I loved this with big big big floaty hearts. Military SF, the way BSG was so good at at the start. And we get to see Galactica in her prime, her decks filled with personnel, racks and racks of Vipers at the ready, a whole fleet of ships around her. Wow. And then young Adama does a walk-around and checklist on his Raptor, which I don’t think I’ve ever seen on a science fiction show. Pure love.
Castle. Still watching. The SF convention episode last week was just darling. It appears the series will survive Beckett and Castle hooking up. Huzzah!
And on DVD:
Justified. This was one I would never have watched if a friend hadn’t handed me the DVD set and made me watch. Really well written, intriguing characters. Good stuff. And now I can tell people that Boyd Crowder is the kind of guy Cormac was hanging out with he was 19 or so.
Lexx. I’m in the second season and still super impressed with just how off the rails this thing is. It’s crazy. And it successfully embraces and utilizes the crazy. I was a really long way into it before I realized: this is a space opera with hardly any metal in it. How cool is that?
October 17, 2012
Yes, it does exist, I think, and no, I did not watch the debate last night.
Instead, I’ve been quite immensely pleased with SyFy’s creative competitions. This season’s group on Face Off is fantastic, I think. Friendly, good work ethic, professional. They packed all the drama into the first episode when the narcissistic asshole walked off, and it’s been supportive group hugs ever since. (Aside: something very similar happened at a writing workshop I was at once, and it was spooky seeing the same dynamic play out here. Turns out, there’s a certain kind of self-important personality who, when confronted with and criticized by authority, simply cannot handle it and turns tail. Just fascinating.)
Hot Set is kind of a hot mess, mostly because my brother’s a set designer and I’ve spent every episode thinking, “This would drive Rob absolutely batshit insane.” But like Face Off, the show still offers some good creative lessons. Especially last night. Word of advice: If you ever hear yourself saying, “I just have to hope they won’t notice that,” or “Surely no one will notice that,” that thing will be your downfall and you must stop whatever you’re doing and fix that right now. This is true of building sets, writing books, designing costumes, anything.
Back to Face Off, I’m so glad Nicole got a second chance, because I don’t think she should have been booted off in the first place, and then because of what she said last night when Glen asked her why she thought she was doing so much better now than before — she’s won the last two challenges. And she said, basically, that before she was rejected, she kept trying to do what she thought the judges wanted, but now she was doing what she wanted. I actually shouted at the screen, “YES!” With her second chance, she has nothing to lose and she’s putting her heart into it. This is also true of any creative endeavor: you have to create from your heart, do what you want, create as if you have nothing to lose. This is what will separate you from the crowd.
And switching gears entirely: I watched live online (barring the twenty second delay for the possibility of utter disaster) as Felix Baumgartner set the altitude record for parachuting, at 128,000 ft. Breaking Joseph Kittinger’s record of 102,o00 ft, set in 1960, which I wrote about in a short story. There’ve been a handful of attempts to break this record over the last ten years or so, and this was the first not only to succeed, but to even get off the ground, literally, so I was happy to get to see it. But I really hate the jokes going around about how “an energy drink has a better space program” than the US now. Because really, NASA’s got exploratory probes in every corner of the galaxy, we’re doing complex mineral analysis on Mars, we’ve mapped Mercury, we’ve got satellites entering interstellar space. The U.S. space program is doing more and learning more than it ever has before, and that rocks.
October 3, 2012
I know this is going to be shocking. You may even faint when I reveal this terrifying truth. Please, sit down and prepare so you will not hurt yourself when I tell you that:
I haven’t yet seen any of this season’s Doctor Who or Castle.
I know, right? But the last few weeks have been filled with visits from far-away friends, outings, and celebrations of various sorts, which has disrupted the usual TV watching in my house. And you know what? That’s just fine. Friends and celebrations are better than TV. Plenty of time to catch up on shows later.
October 1, 2012
Some incidents this weekend prompted the observation that about three quarters of appearing smart is just a matter of paying attention. Making observations. Being able to draw appropriate conclusions from those observations. Remembering observations that you’ve made before and being able to apply those conclusions to new situations.
I came home last night after a fairly rowdy evening and sat down with a glass of wine in front of the TV to decompress for a few minutes before heading to bed. I landed on a show on Discovery, which looked like one of these typical documentary things featuring interviews with scientists and fairly crappy CGI “dramatic re-enactments.” The topic: mermaids, and do they exist? The show was adamant that it had the physical evidence and eyewitness accounts to prove the answer was yes.
Within five minutes I had a web browser open and searched for the title of this thing. The second article to come up on it: Snopes, and my instincts were correct. This thing is pure fantasy, front to back. The physical evidence — skull fragments, cave paintings — was completely made up.
I felt inexplicably furious at this. Because the show had no disclaimers, no title cards, nothing indicating that this was anything but an in-good-faith documentary on an admittedly fringe topic (see info on aquatic apes). They’ve run documentaries on Bigfoot that are exactly this earnest. So what pinged me? Those so-called NOAA scientists interviewed on the show — they didn’t act like scientists, they acted like actors. Watch a show with real scientists on it — like The Universe or even Monster Quest. When they talk, they use their hands, they get excited, and they really do look kind of nerdy, like they might be used to lecturing but certainly not in front of a TV camera. The ones on the mermaid show — too polished, and too angst ridden. Too rigged. Not to mention the supposed mermaid home videos that used the same CGI mermaid cut and pasted in each one… You know, you really can’t call it a “dramatic re-enactment” if it didn’t happen in the first place. (Not to mention the conspiracy plot they put forward was very Hollywood.)
So why did I get so enraged about a fake documentary? Because of how many people out there now believe that the government really is covering up physical evidence of mermaids. Probably some of the same people who believe that stories in The Onion are real. At this point, it’s not opinion, it’s willful ignorance.
I’ll admit that I’m rigged for skepticism when it comes to things like “documentaries” on mermaids and Bigfoot. But it’s skepticism that comes from paying attention to that little niggling voice in the back of my head saying, “This doesn’t sound right. This doesn’t look right.” I’ve been watching documentaries with scientist interviews my whole freaking life — I know what an interview with a scientist generally looks like. And this didn’t look right.
It’s so important to simply pay attention.
September 10, 2012
Today’s XKCD sums up how I’ve been feeling lately. Only in my mind it’s juggling balls, and they’re all falling toward me, and I have to catch them. My to do list right now is a lot of a little things, and I don’t have to do them all immediately. But I have to do them. I’m working on the “little bit at a time” philosophy. I just have to do a few things a day, but I have to do something.
One of the things I did this weekend was bag up some clothes for donation. Especially the oversize sweaters and T-shirts and things that I loved in college, but I’ve really been avoiding the oversized clothes thing and they need to go. It still gets emotional — I’m one of those people who puts sentimental value on things. Which makes it all the more important that I actually let things go. But this batch includes a shirt I bought when I was a student in the UK, a T-shirt from an ex-boyfriend that I never wear, and other shirts that were gifts but that I’ll never wear. Yeah, they need to go.
Anybody remember Lexx? Crazy SF TV show, contemporary with Farscape, but really really strange, most notable for the rather shockingly phallic space ship? I never really watched it, but I remember being intrigued by the couple of episodes I managed to catch. Like the one with the musical theater planet, in which all the dialog was sung (and this was before the Buffy musical episode, if I recall). Well, Target had the first two seasons on sale for $4 each, and I’m a sucker for Target’s DVD sales, so I got it, and watched the first few episodes, and I have to confess, I really loved it. Completely, off the rails crazy. Like Dune filtered through an Adam Ant video. Low production values and held together with twine and good intentions, but I have to appreciate anything with that kind of whacked out imagination. Space pirates, brains in jars, a hideous dystopia — and Barry Bostwick in a sequined loincloth? Bwah!