January 9, 2017
One week until MARTIANS ABROAD! Don’t forget to check the “conventions and signings” link on the right for where I’ll be over the next couple of weeks. I also started a Goodreads List of some of the books I used for research, as well as other books about exploring space, in case you’re looking for some sweet sweet science.
Last week I read Well-Schooled in Murder by Elizabeth George. This week I’m reading Julia Child’s memoir, My Life in France.
I caught some of the 2003 Daredevil movie on TV last night, and it’s kind of shocking just how much the basic mode of superhero movies has changed over the last decade. That thing had a voice over I’d forgotten about. A lot of cheesy cinematography. A lot of assuming the audience isn’t going to get it so we’d better dumb it down. And Colin Farrell as Bullseye? I had totally forgotten about that.
So is anyone watching Versailles? I’ve seen the first few episodes and I’m intrigued, but I’m not quite convinced it’s entirely good. If I was going to be flippant I’d say it was The Tudors in France, and I’m wondering if I’m enjoying this more simply because I don’t know the history the way I know Tudor history and so can’t get distracted and offended. It’s definitely of the Game of Thrones sexy sexy, naked women everywhere, court politics mode of TV. But it also has a few characters who entirely defy stereotypes. The brother, for one. The lady doctor is completely charming me — I want a show all about her. But mostly the aesthetics are amazing. There’s a theme about Louis’ vision for Versailles, and the dream-like nature of the project. He literally has dreams and visions about it, and sometimes memories intrude. There’s a fantastic ambient score underlying the whole thing, adding to the not-quite-real mood, and lots of beautiful, deep shots of gardens, rooms, crowds of people. It’s quite lovely. But in the end, is it really just The Tudors in France? (Sorry, Francophiles. Maybe The Tudors is Versailles in England?)
January 2, 2017
Happy New Year! You should know I made blood sacrifice to ensure a good year. i.e. I sliced my fingers cutting limes at the New Year’s Eve party. It’s fine, except sliced fingertips plus typing = ouch. I also successfully sabred a champagne bottle with my rapier. Not very well, mind you, but I did it.
Meanwhile, I’ve caught up on some viewing.
In this month’s Lightspeed, I briefly review Moana, Rogue One, and Passengers.
Here’s the short version of my review of Passengers: This film miserably fails its premise. It could have been a good middling Hollywood SF adventure romance. If they both woke up at the same time, and by accident. But he wakes up first, then purposefully sabotages her hibernation pod. So it turns into a movie about how this stalker and kidnapper really isn’t such a bad guy once you get to know him. Big side eye, there. I have a lot more to say, in the full review.
Legends of Tomorrow: I watched the first couple of episodes of this season to get the Justice Society glimpse, and my speculation was correct. My longed-for Starman reference appeared here. Well, not exactly. I mean, my Starman is Jack Knight and the mid-90’s run. This was Stargirl, a more recent incarnation. But I believe that is Jack’s cosmic rod she was using (or what will become Jack’s, in 50 years…) And it was kind of fun to get what is essentially her Bombshells version, sort of. (Bombshells: a graphic novel excuse to draw all the DC heroines and villains as 40’s pinups, but they have excellent adventures and it’s a lot of fun.)
And Rogue One was better on the second viewing. I liked seeing the setup, that we do get a pretty good introduction to each member of our gang before they finally all end up on a ship together, bonded by chance and circumstance. Classic gaming setup.
Those last five minutes are still a kick in the teeth. The whole last battle, really, (The hammerhead corvette, OMG. “Are they doing what I think they’re doing?” Yes, yes they are.) but once you understand what’s happening when that disk gets passed hand to hand and finally ends up on the blockade runner, and you know exactly what happens next — that’s how you do a prequel. A brilliant bit of fan service, there.
November 16, 2016
First off, if like me you’re wanting to be pro-active about the U.S. political situation, here is A List of Pro-Woman, Pro-Earth, Pro-Immigrant, Anti-Bigotry Organizations that Need Your Support.
And now for some superheroics.
Legends of Tomorrow almost got me back with the promise of a proto-Justice Society, World War II, punching Hitler trip. Almost.
Supergirl: Oh, my. Off to such a good start and now it’s back to sucking. The Clark Kent/Superman appearance was adorable and awesome. I love the idea of Earth as a kind of Casablanca/Rick’s Place where aliens from all over wash up on, or come here to lay low. But man, they’re taking some wrong turns. The Alex comes out storyline should have been delightful and was just cringe worthy. And James Olson does not need to be a masked hero, dammit. I swear, vigilante-ism is a freaking disease in these shows. I keep watching because I love Melissa Benoist and the character’s ethos. We’ll see how long that lasts.
Arrow: Wut? I don’t even. We had a perfectly good team, and we flushed it for the most generic bunch of random kids? The J.V. team, indeed. So not interested. At this point I just want to see flashback Ollie get back to the island and have the whole thing come full circle to the premier. I’m watching the increasing length of his hair with great anticipation and joy.
Flash: Still my favorite. Still earnest as all get out, and still just throwing stuff against the wall to see what sticks. Also: THERE IS A STEAMPUNK ALTERNATE EARTH.
My favorite post-election one-line post: DAMN YOU, BARRY ALLEN!!!
October 17, 2016
This Halloween my niece wants to be Mary Poppins, so I’m making the outer layer of her costume (hat, coat, etc.). I actually found a parrot-head umbrella so I won’t be embarking on adventures in Sculpey this time around. But the coat. Heh. I can tell I’m a real costumer now because I looked for a coat and couldn’t find anything that worked. I hit up thrift stores. I searched online. And all the coats for little girls were too frilly, too cute, or too pink. I needed a nice somber, tailored, governess’s coat, right? I checked “how to make a Mary Poppins costume” websites and they’re all like, “Just take a jacket out of your closet!” But they don’t look right. So I made one from scratch, and I’m quite pleased with it. All I have left are buttons and buttonholes, and then it goes off to the kid. I’ll show you when I get pictures of the complete ensemble.
Mr. Robot, second season: I’m through episode 8. This show. THIS SHOW. Taking unreliable narrators to a whole new level. It’s kicking my ass and I’m loving it so much, and it’s still so cyberpunk, without being actual cyberpunk. I am all amazement.
I have a story to wrap up and send to an editor, another to revise and send back, a new novel to start, a critique to finish up. I bet I can get it all done this week and I’ll feel so accomplished. Oh yes. Must hang on to that feeling, it doesn’t come around very often…
October 3, 2016
A new TV season is starting. Time to sort through it and pick what I’m going to follow for the next few months. I’m already behind.
Luke Cage: I’ve still got a couple of episodes to watch on this. For the most part, I think it’s great. Brilliant, even. One of the most visually well put together TV shows I’ve seen in a long time, and the music is to die for. It all comes together to convey a powerful sense of place and mood. Lots of great women characters as well. But I’m finding it has the same problem as Jessica Jones: the muddy middle. About episodes 7 – 11 feel like they’re spinning wheels and treading in circles, and the characters have to be a little bit dumb to make it work. I’m sure the last couple of episodes will pick up, but there’s a bit of a slog to get there. Hey Netflix, maybe these things ought to be 8 episodes long instead of 13?
Westworld: A series “reimagining” of the 1973 movie, which inexplicably I don’t think I’ve seen. Only one episode so far, and it too is very stylish and visually intriguing. And so many horses, which is always a plus in my book, but I know terrible things are about to happen to them, because this is very, very violent. They’re just robots so we can shoot as many of them as we want, right?! The show reminded me a lot of Ex Machina in the themes it’s presenting: what does machine intelligence look like, when does a robot become sentient and can you tell, and if a robot appears human enough, is it reasonable to continue to treat it differently than a human being? Good science fiction so far, but I’ll be interested to see if they can maintain this, and if they have a story that’s actually going to go somewhere.
August 31, 2016
I’m that one person who’s going to be a curmudgeon about Stranger Things.
I think the thing runs about three episodes too long. There’s maybe 7 pounds of story poured into a 10 pound bag. There’s some good stuff, for sure (Winona Ryder acting circles around just about everyone else, for one). But there’s a lot of repetition, a lot of dragging, a lot of places where I laughed instead of being scared (seriously, you hook a tow-cable up to a guy we’ve never seen before and then send him into the dimensional rift, that tow cable’s gonna be coming back with nothing attached to it in just a couple minutes), and a lot of me being just plain frustrated by characters acting according to a checklist and not like believable characters. I confess my expectations were likely unduly raised by the enthusiastic online reaction to the show. And just didn’t feel that.
Some background. I learned RPG gaming at the University of York with a very talented group that did things like entirely make up their own games and play without systems, using only percentage dice and common sense and good storytelling. One of the first games I played there was part of a one-off intro day of gaming. The game was original, we were allowed to pick our own characters (I believe from a list of choices), with the stipulation that the game was going to be fun and goofy. I was a North Pole Elf, for example. High points in construction, engineering, and speed.
One of the other players chose Stephen King Child Protagonist. This was oh-so-clever, because it pretty much assured he would live to the end of the game, and he could reasonably argue to acquire any number of arcane abilities over the course of events. I don’t actually remember very much of what happened except that it was fast-paced and hilarious and skewered a bunch of the tropes we had all grown up with.
We played this game in 1993. That the phrase “Stephen King Child Protagonist” could be uttered twenty three years ago and everyone knew exactly what that entailed means that the territory Stranger Things is covering is not only not new, it’s entirely familiar. In fact, the show depends on it.
I question if the enormously positive response is not necessarily to the quality of the story but to the recognition of the familiar. The validation of speaking and understanding a specific language — of past genre tropes and accoutrements, in this case. So much of the point of allusion and referencing in pop culture is about that marvelous moment of recognition, of feeling part of the culture described by the piece.
It’s very nice to feel part of the club. But is the show good? I mean, what is Stranger Things about? Is it maybe actually about “let’s make a perfect replica of a 1980’s Stephen King/Spielberg/kid-centric adventure story using modern production values?” That’s not a story, that’s historical re-enactment.
Because by god that Trapper Keeper in the locker was front and center on that one shot, to make sure we didn’t miss it. (Yes, I once owned a Trapper Keeper. It was gray with kittens on it.) An actual thought I had during Ep. 7: “I swear to god if those bicycles start flying I am rage quitting this right here.” The bikes did not fly, which maybe means the creators knew exactly how far they could push their conceit before crossing too far into pastiche.
And why doesn’t the show seem to care much about Barb? Well, because she’s a trope. She’s meant to be an inversion of that 80’s slasher movie thing where the girl who has sex gets killed by the monster/slasher/whatever. But in this case, the girl who has sex, Nancy, lives; and the plain-Jane good-girl friend is violently killed.
And then the show forgets about her because she’s already served her purpose. The show’s creators are apparently startled that people really like Barb and are really upset that no one in town, not the chief of police, not Barb’s mother — and Nancy only tangentially, as an aside, like “Oh yeah I guess I need to be sad about that” — seems to care that Barb is gone. Meanwhile, the school is having assemblies and funerals and Feelings Galore for Will. It’s a failure of realism. It’s a failure of common sense. (There are quite a few of these throughout.) You know what would have fixed that arc for me? A thirty second scene: Joyce brings back Barb’s glasses or a scrap of her shirt, presses them into Nancy’s hand and says a sincere, heartfelt, “I’m sorry.” That’s it.
(If I were going to be uncharitable and paranoid, I would say Barb gets forgotten because she has no connection to any of the men in the story. Because as strong and interesting as the women characters are, they are all of them defined by their relationships to the men around them. Barb just has Nancy, and Nancy doesn’t have enough agency to do much about Barb, because her arc is all about what boy she likes, amirite? Seriously, the scene where Nancy actually does go looking for Barb is mainly about her spending time with Jonathan, and then setting up the scene where Steve thinks she’s cheating on him. But thinking that would be uncharitable and paranoid, wouldn’t it?)
So is Stranger Things good, or is it familiar? Your mileage may vary. But thank god those damned bicycles didn’t fly.
July 20, 2016
I caught up on a couple of classics recently.
Movie: The African Queen. That was not what I was expecting. I think all I really knew about this was the clips that always get shown of Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart motoring down the river and being curmudgeonly. (And that the actual boiler from the boat is on display in the lobby of the place I stay at when I go diving in Key Largo. I can’t explain it.) I guess I expected ninety minutes or so of banter and curmudgeonly-ness. Turns out, this is a straight-up romance. The two characters fall madly in love pretty early on and spend the rest of the film cooing at each other like teenagers. Which was a little weird, with those two particular gruff craggy actors. And then the last fifteen minutes of the film is blowing up Germans. Which I was also not expecting. This is the first time I’ve ever watched a classic film and sort of wished someone would remake it with modern sensibilities and without the rather drippy conventions of 1950’s romance movies.
Book: On the Beach by Nevil Shute. I’ve known about this post-apocalyptic classic forever, and finally just now read it. It’s great, and it hit me hard. Once again, mostly because of my own weird history. So, when my dad was flying B-52’s in the early 80’s, I really worried about him. If the bombs fell I knew I was just dead, that wasn’t an issue. But if Dad was out flying on a mission when the bombs fell — which was pretty much exactly what his job was, to get his plane in the air before the base got hit — what would happen to him? Where would he go? I know they had protocols, they had emergency bases and mid-air refueling and theoretically he would go there and do whatever. But his home would be gone. Everything would be gone, and I thought up these horrifying images of him just flying around above a blasted nuclear wasteland until his fuel ran out. (I’m still coming to understand that those years were maybe a little more stressful than I realized at the time.)
So, anyway, one of the main characters in On the Beach is an American military officer whose submarine is deployed when the bombs drop, and he’s caught away from home. He ends up in Australia, waiting for the radiation fallout to kill everyone, and he knows his family back home (wife, son and daughter, just like our family!) is dead but he just keeps functioning because he has to. It wasn’t until the second to the last chapter that I thought, “That’s my dad.” But boy, when I did, I had to take a break from the book for a few minutes. It happens every now and then, that I’ll be reading or watching something about war or the military, going along just fine, and then suddenly think “That’s my dad,” and it kicks me in the head just about every time. I love my dad and it’s just really hard thinking of him in those difficult situations, even if they never happened. Imagination is a funny thing. I’m really glad I didn’t read this as a teenager.
The rest of the book, I loved the Australian perspective on the Cold War, that Australia wasn’t going to be dropping nukes itself but would absolutely suffer from radiation and fallout from any kind of nuclear exchange. It strikes me that this is a big part of the backdrop of the Mad Max movies as well — dealing with a situation they had no part in making.