cloying moppets

November 24, 2020

I’ve been thinking about cloying moppets recently. This is my label for the child characters that frequently show up in action-adventure/genre films, usually as an overly-sentimental way to force the audience’s sympathy or make our hard-bitten heroes learn the True Meaning of Family or whatever. The presence of a cloying moppet doesn’t automatically mean the story will become saccharine and intolerable, but often it does. If not handled well, the trope is manipulative — it’s there for the reaction it hopes to evoke in the audience, not because it makes sense for the story.

Two of the most egregious examples I’ve reviewed here are in Elysium and Terminator: Salvation. In those, the moppets possess hilariously unrealistic levels of cuteness and feel shoe-horned in. It’s as if the makers didn’t trust their stories enough and felt there needed to be an extra emotional string to tug on. Newt in Aliens may be the ur-model of cloying moppet, but I think that one works because she’s frequently the smartest one in the room, and Ripley’s bond with her isn’t forced — Ripley immediately goes into mama bear mode with her, which is realistic and understandable, versus the stories where some wide-eyed waif has to win over a muscle-bound brute. I loved what Iron Man 3 did with the trope, which was have the characters deconstruct the trope even as they’re playing it out (and also age up the kid, Harley, so he’s barely a moppet at all). Laura in Logan is definitely a cloying moppet, but there’s a lot of interesting story around her and she isn’t the reason I dislike that film, which I think is two hours of missed opportunities.

Which brings me to this awkward realization: Baby Groot and Baby Yoda are cloying moppets.

They’re designed to be adorable, with their gigantic shiny black eyes. A merchandiser’s dream, really. Part of the adorableness is how incongruous they are against the back drops of their dangerous worlds, alongside characters who in normal circumstances no one would ever trust with a small child. Gah, cloying moppet is one of my least favorite tropes, how can these two versions of it be so amazing! Is it just because they’re not human, so I’m able to think of them more as like, puppies, not actually in need of more developed characterization? Except I don’t think that’s it.

There’s something they have, that Newt has, that the good versions of this trope have and the bad versions don’t, and that’s agency. They make decisions. They impact the story their own actions, and not simply by forcing character development on the protagonist.

That’s what it all keeps coming back to, isn’t it? Make good characters, and then make sure those characters have an impact on the story they’re in.


state of the desk, again

November 20, 2020

Another update on the big pile of rough drafts I dumped on myself in August:

  • Two of the short stories have sold. The third is back to an editor after a request for a revision and I’m waiting to hear the verdict.
  • The novel is revised and with my agent.
  • The screenplay is still resting. I might be ready to look at it again soon.
  • I haven’t touched the novella yet, but that may be next on the list.

Progress, slow but noticeable.

I wrote a new short story this week. And I’ve started a new novel, but I’m doing this one a little different: it’s for fun. (I mean, they’re all for fun — I really enjoy writing things. But this one doesn’t have a deadline and I haven’t really told anyone about it and it’s outside of my usual list of things I’m working on.) I’m poking at it when I feel like it. I’m just seeing what happens. Just about everything I’ve done with it so far has been on my tablet, away from my desk, and I’m having a really good time not writing it at my desk computer. We’ll see what happens.

It’s, like, writing vacation.


side project!

November 17, 2020

One of the side projects I got to work on recently: I was asked to write the introduction for a new limited edition of Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly, published by Suntup Editions, with art by Vanessa Lemen. This is going to be a really good-looking book, I think.

I’m not going to lie, I usually post about stuff I do because I want you to go buy it. In this case, though, the edition appears to be already sold out.

I love getting to do cool things like this. In the SF&F writing community, people often talk about whether there’s any tangible benefit from winning awards besides the shiny of the award, and I usually argue that there is, and this is a good example — an opportunity like this is a direct result of winning the Philip K. Dick Award a couple of years back. 


Here’s your infrequent reminder that I put out an infrequent e-newsletter, and I decided that it was a good idea to publish one in the direct aftermath of the most important presidential election of my lifetime. Because in 2020, timing is a fool’s game.

You can see it here, and subscribe if you like.

I’m told that e-newsletters are one of the most important and effective marketing tools a writer can use, but I haven’t really figured out how to make it all work yet. It is a nice way to consolidate news, and this one is a pretty good summary of the work I did in 2020. Enjoy!




November 9, 2020

Last week lasted ten years and I stayed off the internet for a good part of it, especially Tuesday night when everyone on social media was losing their minds.

But it was a good week, as it turns out. Biden and Harris won and it’s going to feel so good to get some sanity back. Like so many others I let out a breath I might have been holding for four years. We still have a lot of work to do — as a country we’re still on the edge. But we’ve maybe got our balance back and are no longer windmilling our arms trying not to fall over.

Also, the U.S. has elected its first woman vice president, and that still hasn’t really sunk in. Might not until January. I can’t wait.

Halloween 2020

November 2, 2020

Here’s the costume I made for my niece this year:

Oh my goodness, it turned out great if I do say so myself! My brother 3-D printed the tricorder.

The challenge this year was sizing. I was able to borrow a Next Generation uniform pattern from a friend of mine — an adult, male Next Generation uniform pattern. Hmm.

The trick was taking one of Em’s shirts that fit the way we wanted the uniform to fit and using that to resize pattern pieces. That’s a technique I’m going to be using again, I’m sure.

Another successful costume creation in the books! And I might have enough fabric left over to make one for myself…


Halloween 2020

October 30, 2020

Halloween is not cancelled. A lot of traditional events may be, but the holiday will happen regardless.

My niece Emery has chosen the form she will take this year. As usual, I made the costume. I’m anxiously awaiting pictures.

We’re all very excited.


I’ve finally watched Mr. Robot season 4, which wraps up the show. Streaming on-demand TV means never being on time with my commentary.

I started watching Mr. Robot and Legion around the same time, and was struck by how both of them subvert the genres in which they’re located. Legion, a superhero show, takes the “superheroes are mentally unstable” trope and goes literal with it, with a main character struggling with a diagnosed mental illness, how that intersects with his powers, and how that changes how people interact with him. The series is about that illness and how it doesn’t excuse the terrible things David does.

So it turns out Mr. Robot is kind of the same? One of the things I love about the show is how it subverts the cyberpunk/hacker genre, repurposing it into a form that isn’t actually science fiction at all. I’ve had a few people tell me it isn’t cyberpunk—there’s no robots or jacking in or bio-cybernetics. But it leans so hard on just about every other cyberpunk trope:  punk hackers, ubiquitous mega-corps, mysterious Asian antagonist, and global consequences. (From the start, White Rose struck me as a character straight out of a William Gibson story.) As the show progresses, we learn more and more about Elliot and how much he’s affected by his profound mental illnesses.

Spoilers below.

In the fourth season there’s a bombshell, then another one, and the show goes full scifi – that is, if what White Rose is proposing is actually possible. Parallel worlds, in which the things that have gone wrong in this one haven’t.  (There’s a Season 2 episode of Legion that does this exact thing, showing us all the parallel realities in which David’s life went differently, sometimes much better, sometimes much worse.) But in Mr. Robot, I think that’s. . .not what actually happens. I think White Rose’s plan to hack reality is delusional. I think the show is, ultimately, about Elliot’s mental health and how to repair it, much like Legion is about David’s.

I’m still just absolutely fascinated that both shows tackle their respective genres by, essentially, making those genres metaphors for mental health and healing.

I’m not sure Mr. Robot season 4 was totally successful. Aesthetically, atmospherically, it’s brilliant. I give it points for ambition and I love how Darlene comes out of this as the driving force and center of stability for the story. But I’m not totally sure it gave us the story it was promising us earlier in show, and the systematic way it eliminated characters in order to wrap things up was a bit contrived. The hacker scenes all are nearly perfect examples of the genre, but I started losing patience with the interpersonal drama. And watching a character with debilitating insomnia (Dominique) just makes me tired.

I will say—Mr. Robot gave us a reasonably satisfying end to the story, and I always appreciate that. And any show that gets me thinking on this level is my cup of tea.

recent posts

October 22, 2020

I’ve done a number of posts for other sites promoting Kitty’s Mix-Tape and other sundry items. Here are some of them:

At John Scalzi’s blog I talk about The Big Idea behind the new collection.

At Mary Robinette Kowal’s site, I reveal My Favorite Bit about it.

And finally, over at the Official Wild Cards Site, I describe how I research writing historical fiction. I’m currently working on a story for Wild Cards set in 1961 (project to be announced), so this was a timely piece.



Mesa Verde

October 20, 2020

From a hike I did at Mesa Verde National Park: