June 2022 update!

June 3, 2022

Reminder that this is cross-posted from my Patreon Writing Symposium.

Summer! Summer is here! I’ve got trips planned! I’m doing things!

  • This month’s Lesson will be: Character (and also Plot). July’s Lesson will probably be Plot (and also Character). Maybe the two central components of fiction. Endless ink has been spilled on them. Entire books. Spoiler: Turns out they’re the same thing. I’m going to talk about that, from both sides.
  • What’s my current writing look like: If you’ll remember in our last episode, I set aside the novel I said I was going to finish in April. Instead, in May, I wrote a novella and a short story and got them both out the door. Wuf, that felt good. I think I needed to finish something and clear some brain space. Now, I have two novel drafts I’m going to be noodling around with: the one I said I was going to finish, and the one I wrote over the winter that I don’t know WTF I’m going to do with. Agent likes the first couple of chapters but the whole thing needs work. So here’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to read over both manuscripts, outline what I have, and figure out what’s missing and what they need to make the stories feel complete. This is tough, grueling, tedious work that I’m not looking forward to. But both projects are close enough to finished that I know I’ll feel better getting them done.  This is the hard slog: not just writing, but writing work that other people will want to read. It’s that last bit that’s the challenge.
  • I got a lifer bird last week: black-chinned hummingbirds! Two males, fighting like they were in West Side Story.
  • Moon Knight. Well, that didn’t make a whole lot of sense. Oscar Isaac is lovely, of course. But by the end I kind of just didn’t care. Except my history/archeology buff friends and I were appalled at them putting packing tape on 3000 year old papyrus. Completely appalled. 
  • I still haven’t been to see the new Dr. Strange movie. 
  • But I finally caught up on a slew of animated films:  Encanto, Luca,  and Turning Red, which I feel not enough has been said about how it’s actually a kaiju story? That was my favorite part.
  • And now, Obi-Wan Kenobi. I love it. I love how they’re capturing the aesthetic of the animated series in live action. I love seeing new planets and people. I love what I’ve been calling Executive Dysfunction Kenobi. He isn’t just in hiding—he’s frozen. He’s paralyzed. He fucked up and he knows it and he’s going to have to deal with it somehow. So, so good. I love this idea depicted both here and with Luke-in-exile in The Last Jedi that the Jedi of this era bought into their own myth so hard that they simply don’t know what to do with failure and freeze up. Run away. This is in contrast to Jedi like Ahsoka, Kanan Jarrus, and Ezra from the animated shows, who didn’t have the support of the order and learned to make do without it and find their own ways. (I know Luke is a young, post-Clone Wars Jedi. But his teachers were Ben and Yoda, who maybe gave him an unrealistic picture of what he was supposed to be.) And don’t even get me started on young Leia. She’s everything

Why yes, I am Star Wars’s target audience, apparently. 

Now let’s see what we can do about having a good month, for whatever values of good work for us. 

Reminder: the new Cormac and Amelia novella, CHARMED WATERS, is out tomorrow!

I’ve been traveling again. Jumping in with both feet, and it’s been strange. Like, 85% normal and the last 15% is masks and atrocious bureaucratic hoops and paranoia. I’m really out of practice at this under the best circumstances. But I’m also glad to be doing it, not because it’s getting back to normal, but because it’s an attempt to approach the world on the terms of this new normal.

My next trip is going to be to Washington D.C. for Worldcon. Which is not usually in December, mind you, but is an attempt at scheduling around everything. Hey, you remember back last spring when we thought everything was going to settle down by now? Yeah, good times.

And a quick TV update. Only Murders in the Building was fun, a bit of a contemporary comedy intersecting with the obsession over true crime stories. Mostly it was really lovely seeing Steve Martin do his thing in something new.

Foundation. Oof. Y’all, I really wanted to like this. It’s awfully pretty. It’s been so long since I read the books I don’t really care about how good of an adaptation it is, I just wanted the show to be intriguing and interesting…and watchable. It is none of these. Disjointed, repetitive, and mostly going for sensationalism rather than a coherent story. I made it through episode 5, then bailed, and I’m sorry for that.

Next up: Hawkeye and the live-action Cowboy Bebop.

Olympics and Loki

July 26, 2021

I mean, not the Olympics and Loki together, though I would pay good money to see that.

I had meant to post something last week and totally didn’t. I’m going through a bit of a phase shift, mood wise and functionality wise, and it’s been kind of marvelous and I’m still assessing it. I’m not totally sure it’s pandemic related — life creeping a little back toward normal. Rather, I cleared a couple of big things off my plate and my mind and it’s felt great. As a result, productivity has ramped up — I weeded my yard for the first time all summer, plus gotten a bunch of other stuff done.

I felt so good about my productivity that I spent all weekend in my pj’s watching the Olympics and didn’t even feel guilty about it.

Longtime blog readers will know how much I love the Olympics, even knowing how much of a political and logistical trashfire they can be. I love the spirit and multiculturalism of it all.

But I gotta tell you, it’s weird this year. There’s a vague sense of impending disaster that might be misplaced but is still there. The lack of cheering crowds is surreal. The coverage is including stories of horrifically difficult training situations, given the lockdowns of the last year. Everybody looks just a little bit extra tired. Or maybe that’s me, projecting.

Anyway. I just want everyone to stay healthy.

Current TV: “Loki” and “The Bad Batch,” which continues “The Clone Wars'” tradition of giving us a kids’ show about incipient fascism. Timely, I suppose. I wasn’t emotionally prepared for two whole episodes about kid Hera, though. Oof, right in the feels, as they say.

Of course I really enjoyed “Loki,” for the most part. Weird and crazy and complicated and different. I loved every single actor and watching them play off each other. Right up until the last episode, in which the characters literally sat in chairs and explained the plot to each other. That…wasn’t good. It was like having a good run and then crashing into a wall, and I’m not knowledgable enough about the comics to be excited about Kang. My friend played me this to get me up to speed, so now I pass it along to you.

But I’ll forgive them because they gave us Alligator Loki, the hero we truly deserve in these trying times.

April update

April 20, 2021

We got six inches of snow last night. We’re getting slammed with spring snow this year and I kind of love it. Springtime proper is going to feel that much better when it finally lands.

I’m watching “For All Mankind” and “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” as they come out. “For All Mankind” is completely brilliant and has left me in tears nearly every episode. “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” is…frustrating me, for various reasons. One more episode left in each series, I think.

Apart from that, new TV is exhausting me, so I did something a little crazy and started “Stargate SG-1” from the beginning. Now, I’ve seen lots of episodes of this over the years, it’s one of those shows in eternal syndication. But I’ve always seen them completely out of order and out of context. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen any of the first season episodes until now. It’s kind of a trip. Like, there actually is a cohesive story here? Who knew.

Mostly my observation about it at this point is it’s very, very earnest. Also, SF fans really like shows with uniforms, don’t they?

Two weeks post vax I went on an outing to celebrate, to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Sue the T-rex is visiting and I wanted to say hi.

Now I want to go re-read all my Dinotopia books.

In the interest of getting more data points out there, I had a pretty noticeable reaction to the J&J vaccine last week. It started about 4-5 hours after getting the shot, like a pretty sudden onset of flu symptoms. You know how on day 5 of being sick, you start to feel better but you’re still all wrung out and your whole body feels like it’s been beaten up and you have no energy? That’s what I had. Lasted for maybe a day and a half, then I was fine. No pain or soreness at the injection site. Anecdotally, I’m hearing about a huge range of reactions, from “nothing at all” to “in bed for three days.” I landed in the middle. An odd and interesting experience. It was weirdly kind of nice to have a reason to just go to bed and not worry about things for a little while.

Meanwhile, it’s been a pretty good week. Spring has sprung, my crocus came up late but they did come up, and we’re due for another spring snow which will be fun.

And I’m working on stuff. I’ve got a whole bunch of new thoughts about the War of 1812, how it seems to have been mostly organized by really incompetent people and it might have gone very differently if that had not been the case. This reading has me thinking about the Star Trek vs. the Expanse models of space battles.

Also, I made chicken pineapple curry last night and it was REALLY GOOD.

thoughts for the day

March 31, 2021

I’m sure I’ve posted this quote before, but it’s still good, and still helpful, after this past year. It’s from Babylon 5, from Marcus, who got a lot of good lines.

“You know, I used to think it was awful that life was so unfair. Then I thought, wouldn’t it be much worse if life were fair, and all the terrible things that happen to us come because we actually deserve them? So, now I take great comfort in the general hostility and unfairness of the universe.”

In other old SF series news, I’ve been watching original Trek for the first time in a while, and I find I love it. I’ve gone back and forth on it over the years, but right now I’m really appreciating its earnestness and the solidity of its stories, which don’t devolve into technobabble the way Next Gen often does.

I also realize that I’m hyper-emotional about everything these days and so this time at the end of “The Menagerie” when Kirk asks Pike if he wants to go back to the planet and he beeps yes I just started bawling. This is is an episode I’ve seen a dozen times. And this time… I dunno, y’all. Loved it.

Also, reading about naval warfare in the War of 1812 and realizing that all the starship battles in Star Trek use that model is kind of nuts.

Lots of thoughts over here today. Just gonna sit with my tea awhile and ponder.

I promised a friend a list of episodes to watch if he wanted some kind of Clone Wars Experience. Here it is. With A LOT of excessive commentary because I think I might have mentioned that Star Wars is the rabbit hole that has been keeping me sane (???) as the pandemic wall has been threatening to crush me this last month or so. I have so many thoughts.

Note: This is a list of episodes I liked and thought were interesting. It’s not “essential” episodes, episodes that tie in to the live-action stories, or anything like that. It’s episodes that I thought were just good stories.

I also swear a lot because I guess I have Opinions and Things.

There are some glaring omissions on this list. Pretty much everything involving Mandalore bugged me, I think because Satine is such an obviously doomed character and that was frustrating. I skipped most of the baby Boba Fett episodes, because once again they had an inevitability to them that wasn’t interesting to me. This list doesn’t include very many big battle episodes. I found them grim. After this last year, I think I’m feeling fragile and I want stories of love and community and there’s precious little of that in this show.

So yeah, it might be that I just picked a really bad year to watch The Clone Wars for the first time and I might have felt differently five years ago or five years from now. Isn’t that funny?

Another note: As I was putting this together I got out the chronological list, as recommended, to see how screwed up the timeline of the first three seasons is, and holy shit it’s a mess. Wow. So here we are.

And I watched the movie which has a lot of what I don’t like about the series: endless noisy battles. But it’s also when Ahsoka and Anakin meet which is kind of important. And Jabba the Hutt has a son? Like, a little baby slug? WTF? Why? WHAT HAPPENED TO STINKY THE HUTT WHERE IS HE IN CANON WHAT HAPPENED TO HIM WTF AND DOES HE WANT REVENGE ON LEIA FOR KILLING HIS FATHER YOU SEE THIS IS THE SORT OF CAN OF WORMS YOU OPEN UP WHEN YOU DO THIS KIND OF SHIT.

Apropos of nothing, has there ever been a Hutt Jedi? Hmm…

Looking at my notes, there are lots and lots of relevant episodes. We meet Hera Syndulla’s father, Saw Gerrera, see the Darksabre for the first time, etc etc. Just lots of stuff that comes back later. I don’t know if it makes those episodes good stories, but it does show that everything ties together. I left a bunch of those, that are mostly interesting for the callbacks, off my list. My list will give you a story about Rex, the Clones, and Ahsoka, and how badly the Old Republic screwed them over.

1.5: Rookies. We meet some individual Clones who are going to be important later. Rex, Cody, and Fives. Argh, this makes that malfunctioning chip storyline EVEN WORSE. I think the heart of the show is the ambivalence of the clones. They are sentient beings deserving of rights. They are slaves. The Republic never actually tries to reconcile this.

2.10: The Deserter. Rex meets a Clone trooper who deserted years ago and took up life as a farmer and started a family. It shows Rex that he has a choice, that other lives are possible. This is the episode that made me keep watching the show, because it gave Rex a character arc and made the clones compelling.

2.11: Lightsaber Lost. Baby Ahsoka has an adventure. A keen stand-alone story.

2.13: Voyage of Temptation. But only the last ten minutes. Like, start it at minute 18:00. This is a Kenobi/Satine story, which as I mentioned in a previous post drive me batty because Kenobi is kind of terrible. But this last bit may be the most iconic Anakin Skywalker moment in all of Star Wars canon.

3.1: Clone Cadets. I loved it, I love them. But then, it’s part of the Clone trooper story which I think is one of the strongest threads of the series.

3.2: ARC Troopers. Ditto.

3.15-17: The Mortis storyline. This ties in a bunch of stuff and is super spooky. Does the animation style change? Or am I just getting used to it? This really blows up Jedi lore in a way I found fascinating. This is also the storyline that convinced me that Anakin never had a chance, everyone is just screwing around with him. Also hugely important for Rebels, weirdly enough.

3.09: The Hunt for Ziro. This is a Hutt-centric episode that is so full of WTF-ery that I hardly knew how to deal with it. Hutt mummies, y’all.

4.7-10: The Umbara storyline. AKA Clone Platoon. Clone centric, really rough going. But it’s critical not just for the Clones, but for the fall of Jedi. The Jedi of the Old Republic are corrupt. It explains everything.

4.21: Brothers. The return of Maul. This is on the list just because it’s so completely horrifying. “Ah, so it began without me” is the creepiest line ever.

5.8-9: Bound for Rescue/A Necessary Bond. Hondo is totally creepy here.

5.12: Missing in Action. A Clone with amnesia. It’s one of the supreme disconnects of the Old Republic, that it relied on what is essentially slave labor. The show keeps emphasizing the humanity of the Clones, which means the whole system is based on an irreconcilable paradox. The “heroes” of the story, Anakin and Obi Wan, never confront this.

5.17-20: The Jedi Council fucks over Ahsoka Tano. Yeah, after this whole storyline, just fuck ‘em. Ahsoka’s the best and the Jedi Order can just burn to the ground. (I have strong feelings about this.)

6.1-4: This is the storyline that foreshadows Order 66. A Clone’s chip malfunctions. This is horrifying and terrible and a good story.

7.1: The Bad Batch. Basically Clone Wars meets GI Joe and I’m not even joking. (One of my favorite aspects of this show is watching the Clones explore individuality, with names, tattoos, unique identities, etc. They’re so hyper aware of it, which makes it that much more tragic.)

7.09: Old Friends Not Forgotten. As a result of binging I don’t actually remember what happens in this specific episode but my note with it says, “They’re just fucking with us now.”

7.10-12: Aaaaand this is what it’s all been leading to. This is where it all hits, and I have to admire them because they just went there. These episodes happen simultaneously with Episode III, and we see Order 66 from the point of view of the Clones, whom we’ve been invited to sympathize deeply with the entire show. It’s as gut-wrenching as you’d think. It’s Ahsoka and Rex just dealing with it and they’re magnificent and heartbreaking, and Anakin and Obi Wan are clueless. The great Jedi Knights went through this whole war with their heads so far up their asses they never figured it out. And that last goddamn scene. Geezus.

I’ve seen a couple of commentators claim you just need to watch the last four episodes, but I think you need a bunch of the Clone episodes, and you need to see Ahsoka’s journey of disillusionment, for those last four episodes to have an impact. That’s the arc that forms the spine of this show.

 

Dickinson (TV show)

March 12, 2021

I watched both seasons of “Dickinson,” the anachronistic and surreal Apple TV show about Emily Dickinson. It’s wildly uneven, by turns brilliant and awkwardly heavy handed. It’s one of those period shows where someone starts coughing in one episode and dies in the next. Hailee Steinfeld is great in it. It’s got some interesting things to say about being an artist, and how one gets emotional support as an artist.

But I judge everything Emily Dickinson-related by whether it mentions Carlo, Emily’s big Newfoundland dog who was her beloved companion for her entire young adulthood. The very good film from a couple years ago, “Wild Nights with Emily,” gets a pass because it takes place after Carlo died.

This show, which takes place exactly during the time when Carlo was in his prime, makes no mention of Carlo. It seems like a big missed opportunity, given all the other weird imaginative stuff that happens in the show. I can picture this big lunk of a dog offering Emily advice and saying “I told you so” when she doesn’t take it.

There are entire biographies of Emily Dickinson that barely mention Carlo, and I don’t understand why not. He was important. The time in her life when Dickinson became reclusive coincides with Carlo’s death. Dog people understand this, how having a dog at your side can make you brave and adventuresome when you might not be otherwise, and what a blow losing that can be. I wonder if there aren’t enough dog people studying Dickinson. Dickinson scholars are cat people, and so they don’t understand.

Here’s the story I wrote about Emily and Carlo, that I don’t think I’ll be able to read now that my own dog Lily is gone.

 

TV catch up

February 9, 2021

I was interviewed by the “Drinking With Authors” podcast! Links to the two segments can be found here and here.

I don’t even know what TV I’m watching anymore. It’s all a blur. It’s February, and I’m hitting my “can’t get warm” winter wall, on top of the pandemic wall that I’ve been bouncing off of over and over again since November. You know, I can’t actually remember November. I’ve read articles that talk about Pandemic Wall like it’s something you hit and get over or hit and stop at. I just keeping hitting it like a ping pong ball. It sucks.

I’m writing a lot, but I’m worried that everything I’m writing is going to turn out awful, like what happened with the novella I wrote over the summer.

Actually, truthfully, there’s been some awfully good TV to watch and it’s been making me happy. My deep dive into The Clone Wars ate my brain for awhile, but it’s probably time to talk about other things.

There are SPOILERS below:

The Expanse season 5. We all know I’m tremendously biased in favor of The Expanse, but I truly believe this continues to be one of the best space SF TV shows of all time. It just has so many moving parts, so many well-drawn characters, and a story that encompasses science, politics, relationships, all of it. This season was particularly stressful and rewarding for folks who’ve read the books…right down to the last five minutes of the finale. If you haven’t read the books…you have no idea what’s about to land on you.

The Mandalorian. I loved it even better than season 1, and it’s weird, because season 2 leans even harder on the fan service, which I’m always suspicious of, but it also used it to go epic? Katee Sackoff is amazing, and it’s Rosario Dawson’s portrayal of Ahsoka that finally got me to watch The Clone Wars. As for the big reveal… fan service, y’all. I confess I wasn’t completely blown over by that reveal, mostly because I was looking for all the ways this could have just straight-up turned into a live-action Rebels sequel. Ahsoka and Luke aren’t the only Jedi running around, you know. Maybe later…

WandaVision. I love this. Love it. I know we still have a couple of episodes left and it could still botch the landing. But what it’s doing so far is amazing and different and wonderful and terribly, terribly sad. And no, the first couple of episodes aren’t slow, they’re absolutely necessary to build the creeping, awful tension. They’re a commentary on American mythologies of domestic happiness, embodied in sitcoms, and how Wanda’s version of it reveal the cracks in her own psyche. The opening of episode 4, portraying the true magnitude of undoing the Snap (“They’ve all come back, we don’t have the capacity!”) — I mean, there I was, sitting down with my pizza thinking I was going to get another sweet sitcom pastiche and thirty seconds later I had to hit pause so I could put myself back together and dry the tears from my food. This is a story about grief. It’s got everything I love about the MCU and it’s breaking my heart like nothing in the MCU ever has.

Onward…

First off, the important bit: it’s my birthday. Woohoo!

I will now summarize the entirety of The Clone Wars in one sentence:

“A strange game; the only winning move is not to play.”

I explain:

The tragedy of the prequel films is Anakin’s fall to the dark side, which has this Greek tragedy air to it because it’s pre-ordained by the original trilogy.

The tragedy of The Clone Wars is that it turns out Anakin’s fall wasn’t inevitable because Ahsoka Tano showed him a way out – you just walk away – and he didn’t take it. I think he thought about it. But he didn’t do it. The whole show then becomes about a set of characters who are so entrenched in moribund organizations that they sacrifice their own sense of self, and their principles, trying to stay loyal to them. But the show also present the alternative:  just walk away.

I know there’s a fan canon out there:  if Ahsoka had been able to get that last message to Anakin, had been able to talk to him, he wouldn’t have turned. I’m not at all comfortable with putting that responsibility on Ahsoka. It wasn’t her job to keep him from turning. He was already questioning the Council when she showed him a way out. That he didn’t follow her example is on him. In the end, he wanted the power that came with being on the Council, with having Palpatine’s confidence. He couldn’t let that go the way Ahsoka could.

The Clone Wars is horror. This is a story about people caught in a conflict they can’t escape, subject to shadowy forces they can’t defeat. In the case of the clones, this lurking evil has been physically implanted in their bodies without their knowledge. When one of them discovers the truth and tries to raise the alarm, he’s destroyed. Nobody has agency. All actions are futile. It’s a nightmare.

If the whole thing is horror, then Ahsoka is the Final Girl. The one who lives. Now, I know technically she’s not really the last one standing. Lots of people survive, from Rex to Bo-Katan to Obi-Wan and yes, Anakin. But I’d argue Ahsoka comes out of the war with the clearest vision of who she is and what they suffered. She’s the one who claims agency and thus steps out of the existential nightmare.

(She’s actually not the only one:  the first episode that made me sit up and take notice, that really piqued my interest, is 2.10: “The Deserter,” when Rex meets a clone trooper who deserted and made a life for himself as a farmer. It’s the beginning of Rex’s storyline, and another bit of supporting evidence for my thesis:  the only winning move is not to play.)

Several episodes of Rebels now become an epilogue to The Clone Wars. It’s in Rebels where Ahsoka learns what really happened to Anakin (and vice versa). Ahsoka and Rex’s reunion is that much more poignant, after everything they went through.

So yes, there’s a great story in The Clone Wars. But it’s buried, and you have to pick it out from lots of noise. Did we really need entire episodes dedicated to banking interest rates? Ah well.

I’m still working up my list of favorite episodes.