Cobra Kai

September 21, 2020

I have watched the first two seasons of Cobra Kai, the thirty -years after the fact sequel to the iconic 80’s movie The Karate Kid.

I loved it. This surprised me, given my vocal suspicion of movies and TV shows that rely on nostalgia to generate audience interest, and this show is all nostalgia, to the point where if you haven’t seen The Karate Kid, there’s really no point to it. So what’s the difference? I think Cobra Kai takes that nostalgia a step further and actually deconstructs it, forcing a reassessment of the original thing. It’s a neat trick.

Remember that Trapper Keeper cameo that annoyed me in Stranger Things? There’s a Trapper Keeper reference in the last episode of the second season of Cobra Kai, and the teenager in the scene says, “I don’t know what that is.” Yes, the show is saying, we remember the 80’s. We even remember them fondly. But that was thirty years ago and your worldview needs to move on. Johnny has not moved on, and it makes him ridiculous. It’s aware of its references in a way that I didn’t think Stranger Things accomplished.

Within a couple of episodes it becomes clear:  Johnny is dumb, and Daniel is shallow. Johnny decided at some point that intelligence was the same as weakness and so avoided it. Daniel is focused on his image and all his reactions are based on how something will make him look. “Car salesman” is usually Hollywood shorthand for, if not the outright villain, then vanity and greed. What a bold move, making the previous hero of the franchise a car salesman. Now, it’s a little more complicated than that, of course. But still, this is one of those decisions I really admired in the show.

Necessarily, Cobra Kai asks you to go back to the original movie with this assessment. And it holds. Johnny is dumb, Daniel is shallow. (And yes, I’ve seen the YouTube analysis that claims that Daniel is the true bully of The Karate Kid. In fact, I know the guy who made it. I played accordion on a music track he used in a film school project. I sure hope he’s racking in the $ from all these new views. And holy cow Ralph Macchio and William Zabka look like freaking babies. I’m old.) These are two men who learned entirely the wrong lessons from their defining high school moment, and it’s kind of sad watching them flail. But also, they very much bring this on themselves.  The show is a judgment of cheesy 80’s ideals of heroism and depictions of villainy, and also teen movies in general. How often were 80’s heroes actually vain and selfish? And how often were the villains just dumb?

This show makes you go back and reassess every 80’s movie trope you thought you loved. It’s pure soap opera and very self aware. I laughed in every episode. There’s this knife edge between earnest and cheesiness, and the show frequently falls off on one side or the other. But I think that every moment is the result of intentional decisions. It’s really smart and really dumb at the same time, but since every dumb moment is so well thought out it swings back around into smart.

There’s a sequel to Top Gun in the works, I’m to understand. Yet another 80’s paean to action where the hero is actually vain and selfish rather than heroic (to be fair, the original film did a good job of pointing this out). I’m now very curious what direction it’s going to take. Will it be in earnest or will it make us reassess the original? One can hope for the latter, because Top Gun is also chock-full of those earnest 80’s tropes, and I’m not sure pure nostalgia will carry a sequel.

I remember when Cobra Kai first aired, hearing an interview with Ralph Macchio. He said people have been pitching Karate Kid sequels for decades, and he always turned them down. They didn’t offer a good reason to go back and revisit those characters. But this one, he said yes to, and at least for me, it’s pretty clear why:  This had something new to say about 1) the original movie, 2) these characters, 3) the very idea of relying on nostalgia in storytelling.

 

 

I’ve got a bookstore event scheduled! Hurrah!

It’s online, but still.

October 9, 7 pm MT, Kevin Hearne and I will be hosted by Book Bar, chatting about our new books. Kevin and I have done joint events before and always have a fun time. It’s actually pretty cool that this time, attendance will not be limited by geography. Onward ho, into the future!

Click here to sign up.

 

Here I am reading from the first story Kitty’s Mix Tape:  “Kitty Walks on By, Calls Your Name.”

I’m still giggling that no one made me change that title.

The book is due out in October in print, ebook, and audio. Click for more info.

 

Avatar: The Legend of Korra

September 10, 2020

I have to be honest:  I had a rough time with The Legend of Korra.

It’s just so dark.

The world of Avatar is really wonderful. It’s rich in worldbuilding, a fascinating magic system adaptable to all kinds of stories, and the arcs of all these young characters developing their powers and learning to work together is just great. I was interested in some of the extrapolation of Korra, envisioning a stylish steampunk world.

But it’s also a world filled with megalomaniacal psychopaths. Like, Aang ended the Hundred Year War and brought peace and all that. . . and the subsequent generation apparently spawned, like, all the psychopaths. (Particularly the Northern Water Tribe, what is up with them?) And not just the big bad(s) of each season, but a whole slew of minor psychopaths as well, like Varrick and the Earth Queen.

Sure, I’m fully aware stories need antagonists. But in Korra the antagonists seem particularly bent on destroying the entire fabric of the reality they live in. It takes some Spirit-world ex machina to keep things from completely unraveling. It’s the escalation problem:  the next obstacle has to be even more horrifying and more difficult than the one before. By the end, there’s almost nothing left to save.

This has all led me to question the philosophical underpinnings of the entire Avatar world:
  • Only the Avatar can master all four elements and bring balance to the world.
  • The Avatar is always reborn after death.
  • There is never not an Avatar. The Avatar must always work to bring balance to the world.
  • Therefore, the world is never in balance. Or whatever balance it achieves does not survive the Avatar’s death and rebirth.
  • The Avatar’s rebirth, by definition, puts the world out of balance.
  • The quest can never truly be achieved.
  • That is the true balance.

battening down the hatches

September 7, 2020

Colorado’s getting hit with a big ol’ round of Jumanji 2020 this week.

A massive wildfire flared up about forty miles northwest of my house yesterday. I have a fine layer of ash and burned pine needles all over my yard today. I need to walk around and see what needs cleaning up.

This summer has felt very long, and it’s about to come to a screeching halt. Tonight, we have a winter storm warning. The forecast is calling for a 50 degree drop in temperature overnight and six inches of snow tomorrow. I definitely need to batten down the hatches.

Speaking of which, last week I was interviewed for this Denver Post article on why Colorado is the setting for so many apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic stories. In the interview I forgot to mention the weather.

So yeah. I’m a little tired this week. Still, I’ve been feeling a lot of gratitude that I have a safe place to stay and friends and family looking out for me. And my work has been a comfort.

Just gotta keep going.

 

The Locksley Chronicles

September 3, 2020

Here they are, both together! Isn’t that a good looking set of books? The picture even gets the metallic sheen on the covers!

 

Available in print, e-book, and audio!

The Ghosts of Sherwood

The Heirs of Locksley

Audible

 

link roundup

August 31, 2020

Lots to share this morning:

“Dirt and Destiny: A Regency Tale.” I posted this to Curious Fiction — never before published! I wrote this a long time ago and read it out loud at a couple of events, but it’s never seen print. Until now! What happens when you cross Jane Austen with Robert E. Howard? And why has no one asked this question before? If you feel like contributing to my Irish whiskey fund, please consider adding to the tip jar!

“The Hunstman and the Beast.” My genderflipped retelling of Beauty and the Beast is reprinted at Lightspeed Magazine.

Also at Lightspeed this month is my long review of the Amazon TV series “Upload,” which I liked a whole lot.

Over at Tor.com I write a bit about my current pile of reading.

You have four days left to get in on the Kickstarter for Uncanny Magazine Year Seven — which will include a story by me!

And… Wild Cards XI: Dealer’s Choice is back in print after thirty years, with a new cover. I love these Michael Komarck covers so much…

trying something new

August 26, 2020

Trying something new on my revising/rewriting process. I just read Screenwriting is Rewriting by Jack Epps, Jr. and it gave me a ton to think about. Not just for the screenplay I’m working on, but for the novel I need to revise — I think a lot of the lessons about character and story are applicable. Highly recommend the read, especially for people with finished rough drafts that they know aren’t quite right but they’re feeling stuck on. This step is all about digging out the heart of the story and making it clear for your audience/reader. If you’ve been getting “this is nicely written but just didn’t grab me” kinds of rejections, this might be useful as well.

I’ve never used index cards or sticky notes in my process before. I brainstorm and make outlines — multiple outlines, usually. And those are effective (21 published novels, clearly I’m doing okay on this whole gig…) But I’m curious what happens if I try something different, if I can use this method — making notes in a way that can be easily rearranged and visualized — to clarify my story.

So, lets crack open some index cards and go mining for insights.

 

Wild Nights with Emily

August 24, 2020

This is a movie imagining the intense romantic relationship that might have (probably) existed between poet Emily Dickinson and her sister-in-law Susan. It’s good and fun and biographically accurate for the most part.

But my favorite thing about it is that the worst professor I ever had in six and a half years of higher education, who was an expert in Emily Dickinson, probably hates everything about this movie. This makes me happy.

Let me explain.

In the last year of my master’s degree, I took an entire seminar on Emily Dickinson from this professor, who announced on the first day of class that she would not let anyone else talk, because we couldn’t possibly know as much about Emily as she did so what was the point? This was a 5000 level graduate seminar, where basically the entire point is for students to discuss concepts and come up with their own ideas. So her contempt for us was…a tad frustrating. Especially when she’d spend the first twenty minutes of every class telling stories about her cats. I have many more terrible stories about this class, too many, so I’ll just close by saying that on the last day of the seminar she made us watch her perform the one-woman play she had written about Emily Dickinson running away to live in a relationship with Helen Hunt Jackson in Boulder. I’m not making this up.

Two good things came out this experience:  I wrote “In Time,” because I was so frustrated that no one ever wants to talk about how Dickinson was a dog person, not a cat person. And I came to love Dickinson and her work, and am convinced she would have despised this professor.

This movie is filled with true things about Emily, her weird sense of humor, her ambitions, her relationships, and so on. It specifically dismantles the myths about her — like the one about how she never published, that she was a recluse — that were purposefully propagated after her death by family members and others who were embarrassed by the truth and wanted to market Emily as a genteel retiring New England poetess.

And the film has a massive, massive burn against Helen Hunt Jackson. I laughed so hard, you guys. Mostly thinking about how appalled that professor would be, watching this.

Good. She never deserved Emily.

 

Worlcon Masquerade

August 19, 2020

Hey! I just realized I never talked about the Worldcon Masquerade! Like the rest of Worldcon, it went virtual. Which meant I could actually enter it. Usually, I’m so over scheduled at Worldcon that I don’t even consider taking out the chunk of hours it would to participate. Never mind packing costumes across the country and world. But this year, the organizers requested videos, prepared ahead of time.

So I went for it.

I entered in the Journeyman category. This was my very first masquerade, but I have so much experience, the judges and I agreed I should probably enter in the more advanced category. And I won the category!  You know what this means? I’m going to have to figure out how to do this again.

Here’s my video: