March 11, 2015
March 9, 2015
First off, I decided not to go see Chappie. I should, because this is exactly the sort of meaty idea-driven SF I keep saying I like. But this is by the director of Elysium as well as District 9, and Elysium just drove me so bananas, and I find I don’t have the patience for that kind of bad anymore. I used to think it was really useful picking apart failed movies to see exactly what went wrong, but you know what? I’ve done that. I’m done.
I waited for the reviews on this one before I made my decision — and the reviews have not been good. Moreover, the reviews have indicated that the movie fails in many of the same ways Elysium failed: big ideas with a lack of focus and a plot going in five directions at once, with caricatures rather than characters. So yeah. Maybe if someone was paying me I’d go, and that’s the first time I’ve ever thought that while deciding whether to see a movie. Moving on…
I have to confess I bounced off this one a little bit. It might have been high expectations — everyone’s been raving about it, particularly the action and fight choreography. But you know, with the shaky cam it’s really hard to tell how good the action is. Down with shaky cam! **SPOILERS FOLLOW**
It’s nicely done with a competent plot that we’ve all seen before, part Harry Potter and part Luke Skywalker in a James Bond universe. So yeah, a mite predictable but I love Colin Firth so that’s okay. Except they jump out of the airplane and I know something’s going to go wrong with the parachutes because that’s what happens in these things.
It’s also a cartoon, with people getting cut in half but no guts falling out, and peoples’ heads exploding with actual animated mushroom clouds. Except I kept forgetting it was meant to be a cartoon because there’s some serious stuff in here too. The best way I can think to describe it is it keeps going back and forth between being a parody of James Bond movies, and an homage. Which some actual Bond movies do, granted. But I think it was trying to have it both ways, and I got confused.
Another confession: I thought the violence was too much. I would have been happy with PG-13 levels. This was R. But like I said, it’s a cartoon, so we’re supposed to laugh at it? Like, we’re allowed to laugh at Galahad murdering a church full of people because they were, you know, bigoted rednecks? And we can laugh at all the politicians heads exploding because a) politicians and b) anyone stupid enough to let an evil genius implant a chip in their head deserves what they get?
This movie has a weird, dubious morality to it, carefully mocking the people who die violently so we can enjoy the artistry of the violence. But then we’re left with Exy’s mother breaking down the bathroom door so she can murder her baby, and that’s not funny at all. Exy keeps saying he saved the world — but he didn’t, because the governments of every country on Earth have been destroyed and millions of people have presumably died or been injured in a global mind-control scheme. The story starts out with a traditional riff about how the lower class bloke is just as good if not better than the upper class kids and maybe this institution founded by a bunch of Victorian aristocrats who made their fortunes via global colonialism isn’t such a great thing after all, but that all goes away as these things always go away: it isn’t that we want to overturn the system; no, what we want is for our hero to earn his way to the top of the system.
Anyway, I’ve already spent way too much time thinking about this, so I’m going to stop, except for one more thing:
So there’s a joke about secret agent tryouts. The trainers hand the candidates guns and tell them to walk into a room and kill the person inside. The first comes out in tears. “It’s my mother, I can’t do it!” And the second walks into the room and comes back out crying, “It’s my brother, I can’t do it!” And then the third candidate goes into her room, and the trainers hear a gunshot. Then a lot of terrible noise. And the candidate walks out and says, “Yeah, so the gun was loaded with blanks so I had to beat my husband to death.”
I thought about that joke during the movie, and it made me wonder yet again what the point of that test is supposed to be. They obviously don’t want the candidates to actually kill their dogs. But they reward the one who pulls the trigger. So what quality are they advocating here? The hardness that will allow the candidates to kill their loved ones if they have to? Or the bitterness at knowing the institution they work for happily lies to them?
Or as one of my friends said: “They reward the candidate who actually checks to see if the gun is loaded and what with, which is what you should always do when someone hands you a gun.”
March 6, 2015
I just realized: I have three new short stories coming out this month! This amuses me because once again these are stories written over the course of the last year and a half or so, for different publications, and they all happen to be coming out within a week or so of each other. These things really do come in avalanches!
Now Available: Operation Arcana, tales of military fantasy edited by John Joseph Adams. This has my story “Sealskin,” about a half-selkie Navy SEAL, not even kidding. Astute readers have been asking if this is a sequel to another story I have about a selkie, “The Temptation of Robin Green.” And the answer is yes, it is a sequel. I hope you enjoy it. And here’s yet another world I could definitely write more about.
Next up, March 10: The Doll Collection, a horror anthology edited by Ellen Datlow. My story here is called “Goodness and Kindness,” and it’s about Kewpie dolls. A peek behind the curtains: this is the first story I’ve sold to Ellen after 20 years of trying. I’m pretty sure I sent a story or two to her when she was still editing fiction at Omni. So, this is something of a milestone. And I pretty much got in because I know way too much about Kewpie dolls — my grandmother is an avid collector.
And third, March 17: My story “Sun, Stone, Spear” will appear at Beneath Ceaseless Skies. This story is a direct result of my trip to Ireland last summer, and I’m very pleased that some of my burgeoning obsessions and research from then resulted in a viable story — and maybe even more viable stories in the future. Let’s make “neolithic fantasy” a thing, everybody!
March 4, 2015
I’m not a big fan of cold, but I do like snow (which is one of the many reasons why I stay in Colorado). One of the things I like about snow: the way it sometimes partially melts and then re-freezes in really cool ways. Like, half-melting through the slats in the pergola over the back porch.
It’s like a giant snow fungus, isn’t it?
What can you do in the snowy season but stay in and watch movies?
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
Nebbish middle-aged dude teams up with his flighty neighbor to a) find his lost love and b) get flighty neighbor back to England before the world is destroyed by a giant asteroid. This is the kind of movie you can sit around arguing about whether or not it’s science fiction. Either way, it was pretty well done.
SPOILERS! Because I am going to fix the ending for you.
I didn’t want to like this, dripping as it is with Manic Pixie Dreamgirl, but it got me. The scene where he puts her on the airplane? I sobbed like a freaking baby. He spends the whole movie saying he knows a guy with a plane to get her home, and when you realize who has the plane and the emotional hurdle Dodge had to clear to get to that point — oh, it’s just a great moment.
I would have ended the movie with Dodge lying on the floor of Penny’s apartment, listening to her records, smiling.
Instead, the movie goes the ultra cliche romantic route, and she comes back, which to my thinking completely undermines the power of the scene at the airplane. It may also completely undermine the emotional arc of the entire movie, during which both characters admit they don’t know how to be alone and have gotten into really bad relationships because they’re scared of being alone. And here they are doing it again, because the only reason this relationship isn’t going to go bad is that the frakking world is over. But anyway. Still not a fan of ultra cliche romance I guess.
The movie also got me thinking about what I would do if the world was ending in a week. And I realized: I would stop writing. (Now, if I got some kind of terminal diagnosis I would probably keep writing for as long as I could, because someone will still be there to read it. End of the world? Not so much.) I’d make a nice dinner for my friends. I would read The Blue Sword one more time, and watch Star Wars and Labyrinth one more time. I would go birdwatching at Walden Ponds for a day, and listen to a lot of music. I would go hug TinyHorse, and all the other horses too. I would buy a $100 bottle of wine and drink it very slowly. I would call my niece. And then I’d probably do whatever my mom wanted me to do, because, you know, mom.
March 2, 2015
I listen to a lot of classical music on the radio, and my current station is pretty stodgy — I judge a classical station’s stodginess by how frequently they play John Williams movie scores, and this one doesn’t play any at all.
But they played the theme song to the original Star Trek to announce Leonard Nimoy’s passing. And they kept playing it throughout the day, on the hour. It was like the geek version of church bells tolling.
That’s a measure of the impact Nimoy had — particularly in his role as Spock. Even non-geeks, even the most mainstream outlets imaginable, even places I didn’t expect an acknowledgement at all, marked the news. Everyone understands how important that character is as a model, as a symbol. As Scalzi said: Every geek just lost their favorite grandparent.
I don’t think I realized how far-reaching Nimoy and Spock’s influence really reached, and I just keep thinking, what a life. What a profound and meaningful life.
February 27, 2015
I spent a lot of Boskone joking that I was kind of enjoying the massive amounts of snow because Colorado had had a light winter so far. Well, we’re now on track in my area for having one of our snowiest Februarys on record — we’ve had three major snowfalls in the last week. And I’m patting myself on the back for successfully bringing snow back from Boston with me.
I’m having a busy kind of distracted ADD sort of week (cleaning, revising, finishing a draft, generally bouncing between too many things at once), so in lieu of a more in-depth blog post (and worrying about whether I should do more manifesto and less geek-tastic type posts? Hm? There’ve been a lot of manifestos out there in SF&F blog land lately. So maybe not), here’s another piece from my Big Fat Crafting Holiday Season:
This is a lacey pattern I got off Ravelry. You can find it here. I’ve probably knitted four or five of these. It’s relatively simple but deeply satisfying, when that beautiful leafy pattern starts to come through.
A gave this to my grandmother. It’s her color, and that’s exactly what she said when she opened it, “It’s my color!” I love it when I can zero in on a perfect gift like that.
February 25, 2015
1. Logistics are not a substitute for plot.
2. If your viewpoint character has a deep dark secret, do not keep that secret from the reader for two thirds of the book. (“She had a secret. It really was a terrible secret. Unmentionable, really. No — it’s really terrible! It did not even bear thinking on, so she didn’t. Just that, you know, she had a secret.”) If you do, the reader will be reading to discover the secret, and not to see what happens to the character, and by the time you finally reveal that damned stupid secret, your reader’s reaction will likely be, “That’s it? That’s the big secret? Seriously?” and to throw the book across the room. (Drawback of e-books — unable to throw book across room.) Instead, state the secret up front and show us how it informs the main character’s actions and thoughts. The revelation of the secret to the other characters will be the big climactic moment, not the revelation to the reader.
3. If in the first book of a series you establish that one of the main characters becomes something of a father figure to the other main character, then in the second book you should probably make sure those two characters interact at some point, instead of purposefully keeping them apart because you think that having them actually talk about stuff will derail the plot in which the second character does something stupid that the former character might presumably talk her out of. Don’t jettison an entire prior book’s worth of characterization just to make the plot easier for you to handwave into existence.