November 14, 2016
I’m writing a long-form review of Arrival for Lightspeed next month and so will save the bulk of my thoughts for that. But if you love science fiction, you must see this film. It’s an heir to one of my favorite, favorite sub-genres of SF film: the intellectual, peaceful first-contact movie. The Day the Earth Stood Still (the original, naturally), Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Contact… and now this.
It successfully adapted the unadaptable short story, Ted Chiang’s “Story of Your Life.” Just go see it.
November 11, 2016
Been working on baby steps. Lending support where it’s needed and making sure my own little world keeps moving. And that means getting back to work, the to-do list, the pile of projects.
Tomorrow, Saturday, I’ll be attending the book launch party for the Colorado Springs Fiction Writers Group’s 3rd Anthology, Colorado State of Mind. They’ve reprinted one of my earlier stories, “Marrying In.” The event’s at Rosco’s Coffee House on Bijou, 5-9 pm. Here’s the Facebook Event link for more info.
And then Leonard Cohen and actor Robert Vaughn pass away and it’s just, like, enough enough enough. Stay safe, everyone.
November 9, 2016
November 7, 2016
The latest episode of my favorite show was just fine and will make many people happy. I do have some things to say about it.
The thing I liked most about this was the envisioning of a fractal/clockwork universe that unfolds according to set patterns that express a great and surreal beauty, and that magic allows one to manipulate those patterns. (And I really love how Strange’s journey through these surreal backdrops resemble Ant Man’s journey through the sub-atomic in the climactic scene of his film. It’s all one universe.) And yes, I did see it in 3-D even though I’m mostly set against it these days. (In the preview for The Great Wall, the Matt Damon Chinese monster adventure flick, the 3-D was so awful and muddy I never did a get a good look at the monsters.) I had indication that the 3-D would be mostly worth it in this one, and it was, lending a great fractal depth to the folding, spiraling, and stacking effects that make up a big part of the set pieces. Very pretty.
As for the rest, I still wish Oded Fehr has played the lead role. Not that there’s anything wrong with Cumberbatch, except for the fact that he’s in everything. But it did make this clearly yet another movie about a really special white guy who’s just so special and when the mystical masters who’ve been working at this their whole lives fail, he’ll save us, even though he’s only been doing it for maybe a year or so. And the egotistic attitude — and the fast cars, and the belittling treatment of everyone — made him too much like Tony Stark. We’ve seen all this before.
This is going to sound weird, but this was too easy. I know this is an origin story and we want to get through it quickly to get the good stuff. But really, Strange should have been waiting on the temple’s doorstep for five months, not five hours. He should have been there with a begging bowl and a beard down to his knees before he was let in for training. That’s commitment. What’s so special about him that the Ancient One immediately shows him her powers and the secrets of the universe? I know we have to move the plot along, but still. I did like that Strange wasn’t immediately able to work magic. But once he could, and once he shaved that trademark goatee, after that he’s memorizing Sanskrit and sneaking into the library and stealing ancient artifacts and back to his old ego trip. The Ancient One kept reiterating that Strange needed to let go of his ego if he wanted to be a powerful sorcerer. He never did. Sure, he has a bad moment when he actually has to kill someone. He shouts something about breaking his oath to save lives. But what about all the patients he let suffer and die because he wouldn’t take their cases, because he didn’t want to fail? There’s a section of this character arc that’s missing, I think. Rather than letting go of ego, Strange’s ego — his willingness to use forbidden magic because he’s just that good — saves the world, and I’m not sure that’s the right message here.
(Unless, of course, that really is the message the movie intended, that surrendering the ego is bunk and overweening ego is actually a good thing. I mean, the Ancient One drawing on the Dark Dimension is an act of ego. No wonder Mordo, who has faithfully followed the Ancient One’s teachings and diligently subsumed his ego throughout, is pissed off at the end. I can’t blame him. Seriously which is it, let go of ego or not?)
What makes the movie are the supporting characters, the Ancient One and Mordo, played by Tilda Swinton and Chiwetel Ejiofor, both tremendous actors who am I big big fans of. I could watch them for hours and hours. Despite my dissatisfaction with Strange’s character’s arc — and the whole cliche trope of the white guy saves everybody — these two made the movie a lot of fun.
When Iron Man 3 featured the Mandarin, it handled a potentially racist stereotype beautifully by confronting it head-on: this character is a creation built to play on white fears about the “other.” And so the movie’s Mandarin was literally a construct, an act, built to play on people’s fears. It was great. The white man who travels to the Far East to gain mystic wisdom and then wields that mystic wisdom better than the people who originated it? That’s another problematic trope that we’ve been seeing since Victorian adventure stories. And I wish the movie had found a way to confront, or at least address it, the way Iron Man 3 did. One of the friends I went to see this with suggested that maybe Chiwetel Ejiofor should have played Doctor Strange and Cumberbatch could have been Mordo. Hmm, now there’s an intriguing thought.
November 4, 2016
When I was going over the galleys for Martians Abroad a little while back, I laughed at this scene, because I always laugh at this scene, because it makes me really happy.
Trouble is, I’m not sure anyone else is going to think it’s all that funny.
But you know what? I don’t really care. Sometimes we put stuff in books because we want to, and not for any other reason.
If I tried to ask him what he was doing or how long it was going to take, he’d only get more inscrutable, so instead I asked, “How was the play?”
“What?” Charles looked up, blinking.
“The play that I didn’t get to see. How was it?”
“It was okay,” Ethan said.
Charles surprised me by looking thoughtful— pleased, even. “Not bad. It was vintage, first performed in the early days of the original theater district. About gangsters and a floating craps game. Everybody sang songs when they got emotional.”
Had Charles actually enjoyed it? I thought theater would have been beneath him. “And what is a floating craps game?”
“I think it’s a metaphor. Can we talk about that later?” He keyed in more commands and studied the handheld’s screen intently.
Book’s due out in January. Just a couple more months…
November 2, 2016
One of the ideas I’ve been noodling with lately is geeky theme dinners. Like, Harry Potter would be an excellent choice, especially if you could manage floating candles over the table. (Google brings up dozens of sites on the topic.) Lord of the Rings would also be excellent. Or an Unexpected Hobbit Party? Like this? There’s A Feast of Ice and Fire, the Game of Thrones cookbook. (Not recommended for weddings.) I would love to do something like this someday.
So I got to thinking what I would serve at an MCU-themed dinner.
Fondu, of course. And shwarma.
For Steve Rogers: meatloaf and apple pie. The meatloaf would have green chili because Steve is always up for trying new things.
I would need to comb through the movies and ID every cocktail that ends up in Tony Stark’s hand. Especially at the party at the start of Age of Ultron. I’d need to find out what dish Vision is trying to make — and getting wrong — for Wanda in Civil War.
Thor would need a Viking feast. A big roast bird, lentil stew, hearty bread. Mead.
Along with food actually served in the movies, ideally every character would have a dish to represent them, which means I’d need to figure out something for Nick Fury, Bruce, Clint, Sam, and so on. A lot of these dishes totally would not go together, but somehow we’d make it work. Much like the Avengers themselves.
Oh, and I almost forgot. Wait for it. . .wait for it. . .
October 31, 2016
Got home from the convention last night and ended up on the sofa, in pj’s, eating a bowl of chili, and that turned out to be the perfect way to unwind. I don’t know why I’m still surprised at how exhausted I get after conventions.
Which is not to say conventions aren’t fun. I like them a lot. I like catching up with people and seeing what new things are out (I picked up a copy of Connie Willis’s new novel Crosstalk). My favorite Italian restaurant (Fiocchi’s) is near the convention hotel, and I got a group to go to dinner with me.
This particular convention: I was only on three panels, but they were some of the best panels I’ve ever been on/participated in. Packed rooms, great audiences, engaged discussions. I think the best panels are ones where the panelists have conversations with each other, are super-engaged with the topic, and aren’t afraid to express their enthusiasm. Every single panelist I shared the stage with this weekend understood that being on a panel isn’t about self-promotion, holding up your own work and trying to sell it. It’s about entertaining and informing the audience. If you are entertaining and informative, audience members will want to seek out your work. (In fact, I first started reading Connie Willis after seeing her on a panel and being so impressed with her wit and enthusiasm.) But if all you can talk about is your own work — that’s actually off-putting.
In the best panels, it’s delightful getting to share in the knowledge and enthusiasm of my fellow panelists. All well-read and insightful about the topics, each bringing their own perspective to the table. It turns out, excellent writers are also excellent readers. I’m not sure anyone can be a good writer without having an ingrained love of reading — and a love of talking about what they’ve read/experienced.
And I will be forever grateful to Van Aaron Hughes for introducing me to the existence of Attar the Merman, a series of men’s adventure books written by Joe Haldeman under a pseudonym. It appears to be James Bond meets Aquaman. I am intrigued.