Monday state of the desk

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…



some new TV

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.


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.


what I’m watching…

July 15, 2016

Saw Ghostbusters and loved it.  Had so much fun.  Now I’m skimming other peoples’ reviews and I’m a little sad that some people seem determined to hate it, and some can’t talk about it without talking about gender.  But enough about that, I have a long review to write and will discuss more there.

Previews for The Expanse season 2 are hitting the web, including pictures of Bobbie Draper.  BOBBIE DRAPER!!!  Fan favorite indeed.

I’ve started Lucifer and quite like it.  It’s got that thing that Castle did, of the flippant guy annoying the serious woman detective, and murder mysteries that are fairly straightforward because they aren’t actually the most interesting thing about the show.  And the thing that Sleepy Hollow had with the squirrely guy with the British accent and a completely different outlook, and the straightforward woman detective.  HOLLYWOOD, HAVE YOU HIT ON A FORMULA HERE, HMMMM????

In other news, I overslept this morning, and it felt great.


Monday update

July 4, 2016

Happy Independence Day, USA-ians!  The home fireworks thing has been a little out of hand this year, it feels like.  Last night was so bad Lily spent it under the bed.  At least she’s not a runner.  Me — I just have sparklers.  Tonight, we’ll be grilling, which is really enough excitement around here.

A few more things:

1. It’s the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme.  I sometimes feel like Western culture still hasn’t really processed World War I, the first industrialized war, the war that set off everything else that happened in the 20th century, like a row of dominoes.  In Britain, this astonishing living memorial made amazing use of costuming and live-action roleplaying to remember the battle.  This is the real power of theater/costuming.

2. I finished season 2 of Star Wars:  Rebels.  Well, that was a little abrupt.  I’m still a Kanan fangirl but I really want to see what happens next.

3.  Shark Week on the Discovery Channel is getting better about not being all sensationalist shark attack coverage all the time.  In fact, this year it was mostly enthusiastic scientists leaning dangerously off the sides of boats while trying to stick tags, cameras, and whatnot onto shark fins.  Kind of endearing.  And I really liked that they had shows dedicated to other species than great whites:  makos, oceanic white-tips, tigers.  In fact, in what may be a first, they even had segments on sharks I’ve seen while diving:  various species of reef sharks, and my beloved nurse sharks.  These species tend to be smaller and not aggressive, so I guess they don’t make good TV, but I really like them.  They’re very chill when you spot them underwater.  What I really want?  I’d love for Shark Week to do a segment on whale sharks, which are just really amazing and a holy grail for many divers.  I have not seen a whale shark in the wild.  Yet.

4.  This is the stage I’m at on the revision of Bannerless:


Spoiler:  I figured out how to fix it.  I helpfully cropped that bit out to not give it away.  I should be done with this thing in just a couple more days.


Star Wars: Rebels

July 1, 2016

The latest binge-watch has been Star Wars: Rebels.  I confess to being super out of date on all the animated Star Wars offerings.  I watched and very much enjoyed Tartakovsky’s Clone Wars, which I thought delved into Anakin’s darkness and ambivalence in a way the movies didn’t capture.  But then later Clone Wars series seemed to explode and expand in ways I couldn’t keep up with.  And I’ll confess I’ve never been a fan of that style of computer animation, which always seems stiff and expressionless to me.

That’s what kept me away from Rebels, until friends urged me to watch.  (Which hasn’t really happened with Clone Wars, which is telling.)  Still not a fan of that animation style.  But. . .Rebels has that same dynamic that hearkens back to my old role-playing campaigns, the same ethos that means I can’t watch the Rogue One trailer without bursting into tears.  A diverse group of people on the fringes, overcoming dark pasts, trying to do good.

It took me a few episodes, but I’m into it now.  And surprisingly, my favorite part may be how the show handles the Jedi.  (The episode that won me over is the one where Ezra visits the hidden Jedi temple and gets a message from Yoda.  Just lovely.)  The Jedi and Force users were never my favorite part of the game — I think because a lot of gamers I played with seemed to treat those characters more like D&D mages and wizards than their own thing.  Jedi in the games seemed to lack gravitas.  Rebels, on the other hand, really seems clued into the theme of these lost, scattered followers of a broken faith trying to hold on to the good parts of what they learned while overcoming what the old Jedi Order did wrong.

And that may be why Kanan is probably my favorite character.  (An aside:  I know I’m getting older because these days I relate more to the parent figures in shows than I do to the kids, and that’s a switch.  (And I think it’s really smart for a show like this to have characters kids can relate to, and ones their parents can relate to.))  If I’ve got my timing right, Kanan was a teenager when Order 66 went out.  A newly-minted Jedi Knight — or maybe not even officially a knight.  And then he lost everything, and he’s got a bad case of survivor’s guilt, and he’s trying to be a good Jedi and now he’s got this kid whom he feels obligated to train while not being at all confident of his own abilities. . .  Really good story meat here.

I’ve got about half of season 2 left to go.  So no spoilers, please!  I hear it gets kind of dark. Hmm….

Other notes:  I love that their R2 unit is actually kind of chaotic neutral.  No charming little cute droid here.  Sheesh.

That baby Ithorian in that one episode is about the most ridiculously adorable thing I’ve ever seen.

I’m really enjoying being a Star Wars fan again.