The Mandalorian – so far

December 9, 2019

Star Wars is doing that thing again where they basically took an old West End Games RPG campaign and filmed it, which is great, right?

Except that I am becoming increasingly suspicious of fan service.

When the audience is getting their appreciative jolt from fan service — from recognizing the familiar, from a delightful easter egg, from confirmation of a fan theory, from getting a concentrated dose of the cosmetic stuff they love about their thing — then they may not be getting that jolt from the story. If fan service isn’t done well, then it runs the risk of letting the story and character fall completely by the wayside. The thing becomes a mummers play instead, a pageant that hits the expected notes for the sake of hitting the expected notes.

Mind you, I don’t think The Mandalorian is doing this. I’m really invested in Mando and the Child and what’s going to happen to them. I think it’s doing some really interesting things with the Star Wars world. I love seeing Gina Carano in this. I love in Episode 5 that someone finally pointed a post-colonial reading at the Tuskan Raiders and suggested that maybe someone ought to try talking to them.

But I’m also aware that this show is getting very, very close to the line of too much fan service. Avengers: Endgame did the same thing. Are we nearing Peak Fan Service? I don’t know.

You can see the line in the social media reaction to Ep. 5, which people complained about a whole lot more than previous episodes, for various reasons. I think this episode basically hit all the same notes and did a lot of the same things as all the previous episodes. But I do think the audience is maybe starting to develop resistance to the fan service. It’s like a drug — the first few doses do exactly what they’re supposed to do. That scene where a dozen Mandalorians come flying in on jet packs to save the day? Pure fan service, but it was exhilarating and exactly what everyone wanted. Trouble is, the next time that sort of thing just isn’t going to pack the same punch. Third or fourth or fifth time? Even less punch. And people start getting restless.

The trouble with fan service is if you give your audience exactly what they want, then you’ll never give them anything new. You’ll never figure out what they didn’t know they wanted.

And that is why I’m suspicious of fan service.

 

It’s that time of year again. This year with the added bonus of spending most of it feeling like I was in a hole that kept getting deeper even as I clambered furiously to get out.

I’m heading into next year like Nux screaming in his war car as he heads into battle, “What a day! What a lovely day!”  Witness me, people.

Meanwhile, just to show that this was a productive year, no matter how I felt about it:

 

Novellas

“Gremlin,” May/June 2019 Asimov’s Science Fiction. This is my generational saga about women pilots and the strange creature who looks after them. I have to confess, I’m really proud of this one.  SFWA members: I’ve posted it in the Novella 2019 category over in the Forums, if you want to read it.

Dark Divide.  Cormac & Amelia #1. I’m really proud of this one, too, for different reasons. It feels good to get more of their story out there.

Badlands Witch. Cormac & Amelia #2. Ditto.

Novelettes

“Long is the Way.” This is the Wild Cards story I co-wrote with Sage Walker, over at Tor.com May 2019

“Unraveling.” My new story for the reissued version of Wild Cards IX: Jokertown Shuffle.

Short Stories

“Sidekick” appeared in Unfettered III, ed. by Shawn Speakman. It’s a superhero story, sort of.

“Marlowe and Harry and the Disinclined Laboratory,” in the February issue of Lightspeed.

“To the Beautiful Shining Twilight,” in the Jan/Feb. issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. My first-ever appearance there, with a story I wasn’t sure would work, so I’m pretty proud of this one as well.

 

And that’s 2019.

 

Knives Out

December 2, 2019

I think what I like most about this, and part of why this film is getting such universal raves, is that it’s a throwback. It’s a really classic, traditional murder mystery. It’s a pre-CSI, ridiculous forensic technology dependent mystery. It’s an Agatha Christie, Midsomer Murders mystery with big personalities and family drama and a personable investigator from outside who arrives to comment on it all. Anyone can see the clues and piece together what happened just by looking, by listening. If you’re clever enough. I hesitate to call this “Hipster American Poirot.” But, well, there it is.

Much like we’ve been starved for uplifting superhero movies, I wonder if audiences have been starved for this.

The other reason the film’s getting raves is that there’s a lot more going on. There’s also a layer of very pointed social commentary about immigration and privilege and what kind of behavior people are willing to tolerate as long as their own status isn’t threatened. Daniel Craig’s detective, southern gentleman Benoit Blanc (Tell me he isn’t an American riff on Poirot. Go on.) is almost ridiculous (Poirot meets Columbo, just about — this film knows what it’s doing). But also like Poirot he picks the straightforward young woman amidst all the chaos to be his ally. Marta, the nurse who’s been taking care of Harlan Thrombey, whose mysterious death drives the plot, is the daughter of immigrants. She’s an outsider, too. And it’s her choices that matter in this.

The cast is phenomenal. That’s the main reason I went to see this. But what holds the movie up is the classic mystery structure, which comforts us that the truth is knowable and justice is possible.

 

snowpocalypse part 2!

November 27, 2019

Final snow count for my area:  13″.  Just enough to shut everything down and throw a monkey wrench in the week, but not enough to be record setting or break the top count of Colorado snowfalls. (For me, that’s still Oct 1997 when I lived in Palmer Lake, which got 52″ in one storm. That was something.)

I really hope I don’t have to run to the store today. We lost a shopping day, two days before Thanksgiving. Grocery stores today are going to be a nightmare.

*stays home, sips cocoa*

snowpocalypse!

November 25, 2019

We’re due to get 18″ of snow overnight, so the area is in full-on snowpocalypse mode. Combine this with the usual Thanksgiving prep madness, and shopping for basics is kind of a no-go. Seriously, I almost had to duke it out with a woman for the last cans of kidney-health formula prescription dog food. Then she said she has a Great Dane and I’m all, here, have it all, Lily just needs, you know, a can or two.

So, I think Lily and I are set. We’ll see.

Meanwhile, here’s the long version of my very angry review of Ad Astra for Lightspeed. I really only get this angry when a film thinks it’s smart, and is so proud of how smart it is, when in fact it is dumber than a sack of bricks.

Rapid space baboons. Really.

 

books everywhere

November 20, 2019

I’ve got a bunch of books on my coffee table at any given moment. Just stuff I’m going over and want to have on hand. Or stuff I want to go over, or keep meaning to look at, and so on. This is also a pretty good snapshot of what’s happening in my brain most of the time. Which is why I’m usually distracted by five or ten or twenty different things. I don’t really mind so much. I usually manage to get stuff done, and I’m never bored.

Here’s what’s currently on my coffee table:

Marvelocity, Alex Ross. My favorite comic artist’s retrospective of his work with Marvel heroes, plus talk about his journey as an artist.

The Company They Keep, Diana Pavlac Glyer.  An academic examination of collaboration between the various members of the Inklings.

Jane Austen In Style, Susan Watkins. Survey of the fashion, culture, and manners of the English Regency period. (Yes, I want to write more Regency werewolf stories.)

Lord of the Rings Location Guidebook, Ian Brodie. For possible New Zealand trip.

Respect the Spindle, Abby Franquemont. Because I’m trying to actually learn more about spinning rather than just doing it.

Handspindles, Bette Hochberg. Ditto.

The Book of Kells. The guidebook from the Trinity Library exhibit, just because.

Celtic Heritage, Alwyn Rees and Brinley Rees. Still in absorbing mode from various early Ireland research.

Early Celtic Art in Ireland, Eammon P. Kelly. Ditto.

This will probably all change in a couple of months.

 

 

Harriet

November 18, 2019

If America had saints, Harriet Tubman would be one of the foremost among them.

The film Harriet reminded me of a storybook I had about her when I was little, which means I think her story was probably where I first learned about slavery. That book is also where I learned about the North Star, moss on the trees, the Underground Railroad, all of it. It’s primarily a story about heroism and courage, so it took a little more time, and the work of Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, and so on, to get the full horrific story of slavery. But my first education came from Tubman’s story of resistance. And why haven’t there been more movies and TV shows about her? I mean really.

The film is pretty good. It’s uneven, I think. Some of that may be that it’s not quite the film I wanted — but it hints at a movie I really would have liked to see. Mostly, this is serious literary biopic, with all that that entails. And this is where I think it’s maybe a little bit cliche. All the scenes you expect, the heartfelt serious character moments, the standard 19th century serious historical score. This part of the film drags a bit.

But then there’s an action montage of Tubman’s activities with the Underground Railroad, with Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman” playing over it. This segment is incredible, high energy, engaging, inspiring. I found myself wishing the film had done more of this, using modern music as a backdrop, going for a more impressionistic feel. Going for action and tension and immediacy. The story mostly focuses on Harriet, her emotions, her visions, her connections with her family, which were all important of course. But what if the movie as a whole had been framed as action/adventure rather than literary biopic?

I wanted the film to be more political. There’s a scene where Frederick Douglass is standing in the room. Like, that is clearly Frederick Douglass! But there’s no dialog from him, no interaction. He’s practically set dressing. I wanted more with the Underground Railroad. Harriet’s Civil War activities — she was a spy and personally led an expedition across enemy lines to free slaves — got all of about three minutes at the end of the film when really, that could have been its own movie. Those bits of engagement, where Harriet is out kicking ass like some action hero — because she freaking was one! — were the best, and I wanted more of that.

I’m glad I saw the film. But now I want a 20 episode TV show about Harriet during the war.

My historical re-enactment friends all agree the costumes were very good. Like, they got the fabric and drape right? And that’s hard to do.