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…

working working…

February 4, 2021

Got nothing this week. Not sure if that’s a function of actually being busy or just feeling like it. I did visit my parents and grandma for pizza on the patio, and got to go riding. So yes, let’s call it actual busy.

Reminder that virtual Boskone is next week. I’m scheduled for several panels and events there. And so is the Great Backyard Bird Count. We’ll see how many juncos I can rack up.

 

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.

 

Wonder Woman 1984

January 26, 2021

Welp, I guess I can’t put this one off any longer.

There’ve been wildly divergent reactions to this one. Where do I fall?

I thought it was awful. I really hate that I thought it was awful. But it’s like at every decision branch, the filmmakers made the stupidest choice. I don’t actually want to talk about it. It was badly paced, the action scenes went on too long and looked like cartoons, and nothing made sense. A World War I pilot would not be able to get into a modern jet and fly it. Don’t tell me “you just have to shut your brain off,” because that’s not what’s going on here. This is thinking your audience is stupid and isn’t going to notice stupid. What a waste.

(Here’s the Pitch Meeting video, which is hilarious and lays out everything. )

 

QUESTLAND – June 2021

January 22, 2021

I don’t think I posted this yet:

My next novel, QUESTLAND, will be out in June 2021. This summer! Soon! Here’s the full announcement on Tor.com.

I always try to come up with a one-sentence description of my novels, because when I’m talking to people at signings and cons and book festivals and the like, one sentence is usually all I have to hold their attention. Here’s the one for this:

This is about a high-tech LARP that goes horribly, horribly wrong…

 

I took the day off yesterday to watch the Inauguration. President Biden and Vice-President Harris. It feels great.

The 2021 events calendar is off to the races, with a new round of virtual events. Here are the first couple:

I’ll be taking part in virtual Boskone next month, February 12-14.

March 19-21 is the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, also online this year.

After that, things get a little nebulous. I’ve got several late summer/early autumn events on my radar that are crossing their fingers to be in-person, but that will depend on vaccine rollout. I’m hoping things will start turning around now that there’s an administration whose motto isn’t “what plan?” and that doesn’t have a policy of belligerent neglect.

I’ve signed up with my health care provider, but given how low priority I am (Work at home? No health risks? Under 70? Yeah…) it’s going to be awhile before my turn comes up. But trust me, when it does, I am so there.

Stay safe out there, folks.

 

(I’m about halfway through season 5)

  • Still really dark. Still so much torture.
  • In fact, I’m beginning to view the entire show as horror. Structurally, it’s military adventure. But aesthetically, tonally, it’s evoking dread and discomfort, and the characters are headed toward unavoidable disaster. It’s horror. This is in addition to actual horror episodes like crazy spider-robot Maul and zombie Nightsisters.
  • For example, there’s a heartwarming storyline about a group of Jedi younglings on a mission to make their first lightsabers, and they have adventures and rescue Ahsoka from pirates – and all I can think is, “Okay, so do these cutie-pies get slaughtered by Anakin or murdered by Clone troops?” I mean, really.
  • Subtext referencing conflicts in both Vietnam and Afghanistan are making this even darker. The Umbara storyline in particular is comparable to the tones of Platoon or Apocalypse Now. I’m not even joking here. These are movies the Gen-X makers of Clone Wars would have grown up with, their model for what war stories look like. (Lucas’s model for war stories was always WWII. I think this shows in the movies he made vs. the stories that came after him.) But it goes deeper – there’s an episode where the Jedi secretly deliver rocket launchers to the insurgents on Onderon, to use against Separatist gunships, that I felt like should have been followed with a footnote explaining, “Hey kids, this really happened when the U.S. supplied weapons to insurgents in Soviet-occupied Afghanistan in the 80’s. Now let’s see how that one turned out! (Spoiler: the Taliban! It totally contributed to the rise of the Taliban! *SW: Rebels & Rogue One present crazy bitter Saw Gerrera.* Right, okay then.)
  • I have a growing conviction that Anakin didn’t just turn to the dark side – he was pushed. I mean, of course he was, by Palpatine. But…everybody around him sure didn’t help. Like, at all. It’s not just Palpatine manipulating him, it’s everyone, with the exception of Ahsoka. Gah, poor Ahsoka. This particularly comes out in the Mortis storyline, which I really liked for its mysticism and weirdness. And they’re yanking Anakin around like a fish on a line. Poor kid never had a chance.
  • The Umbara storyline is great, and really difficult. I mean, we’re watching the clones acquire PTSD in real-time. (Which, as I mentioned above, is what so many 80’s Vietnam movies were about.) But it’s a defining moment for Rex and the clones. Things can only go downhill from here!
  • My speculation on a conversation that might have happened behind the scenes:  Person A: “I think we need more women characters, we don’t have enough interesting women characters.”  Person B:  “No problem I’m on it!” *Presents the Nightsisters*   Person A: “Are…you sure you want your goth girl kink out in the open to this degree?”  Person B: “What goth girl kink?”  Person A:  “….oh. Oh sweetie…”   (The inevitable google image search tells me that Nightsister cosplay is just as popular as I thought it’d be!)

Onward, Troops. Sir yessir.

Guess what Star Wars fan decided to finally binge-watch The Clone Wars the same month there’s an actual armed insurrection and ongoing coup against her country’s government, incited by the lame-duck president? If you guessed “This one!” you’re right!

I’ve been going through a lot of boxed wine, y’all.

Anyway, here we are. Long post ahead.

Why I Didn’t Watch The Clone Wars Before This

  • I tried, when it first aired. Made it I think two or three episodes? But it was all droids and clones blowing each other up, and it was really boring. Basically, the worst bits of the prequel trilogy on repeat. (I have since learned that the first couple of seasons’ episodes are not in chronological order. This was likely a contributing factor.)
  • I really dislike that animation style. It lacks nuance and expression. It’s kind of ugly. (Now that I’m halfway through, I don’t hate it. I don’t know if the animation has smoothed out over the seasons or if I’m just getting used to it.)
  • Even fans of the show are qualified in their praise. I’ve been told to skip the first season. Or the first and second season. Or, like, everything until season four, which puts us 2/3 of the way through the series and… no one has ever told me I must watch The Clone Wars. Not like they told me I must watch Rebels.
  • I remember and loved the Genndy Tartakovsky Clone Wars series. It was beautiful and intense and why does no one talk about this anymore? Anyway, part of not watching the new series is pure petulance that the previous one seems to have been largely forgotten.

How I’m Watching 

I’m giving myself permission to skip as much as I want. I’m not using any of the online lists of best episodes or most necessary episodes. I just…skip. If there’s a bunch of people standing around talking about trade blockades, I skip. If there’s a big droid battle, I skip. Basically, if it resembles the most boring bits of the prequel trilogy, I skip. If Anakin and Padme are being particularly toxic, I skip. (After the mutual respect and support and pure joy that is Kanan and Hera’s relationship, Anakin and Padme are tough to watch.) Jar Jar Binks appears? Oh yes, I skip.

It’s nice. If you judge me on this or tell me I’m missing some kind of nuance by not watching every single minute, I will ignore you.

My Thoughts So Far

The last years of the Old Republic are a nihilistic and dystopian hellscape, the Jedi Order is moribund and useless, and deep down the show knows this but doesn’t quite know what to do with that knowledge and so trundles on as if the Jedi are heroes who can actually make a difference when we all know they can’t and that most of these characters are destined to die horribly, and soon. Darth Sidious/Palpatine is manipulating everything. We know this. Which means that nothing anyone does is ultimately going to make any difference. It’s an existential nightmare.

But it thinks it’s a Star Wars heroic adventure and that’s… odd.  There’s a point where Obi Wan and the rest just can’t seem to figure anything out. Like, they’re just dumb. They simply aren’t allowed to solve what’s really happening. It’s so frustrating.

This is Greek tragedy. I felt this during the prequel trilogy – it’s Greek tragedy full of hubris and blindness. But it keeps acting like a Star Wars heroic adventure story. I think this cognitive dissonance does find its way into the show in various ways, but that only serves to highlight that this cognitive dissonance exists.

And this is why Ahsoka and Rex and the Clones are the best characters, and so very necessary. I’m happily following them to the point of skipping everything else, because they’re the only characters who are questioning anything. They’re the only characters whose arcs aren’t pre-ordained by what happens in the movies. The clones, who are giving themselves names and differentiating tattoos, and experimenting with independence and questioning their own motivation and existence. Ahsoka, who loves the Jedi, loves Anakin, loves fighting for justice, and you can just see how that’s all going to come crashing down around her, even as early as season 3. (Meeting Ahsoka in The Mandalorian, after she has matured and survived and learned a ton and has scars, was inspired. That episode is the main reason I finally decided to give The Clone Wars a shot. I want to see where she came from.)

More Thoughts

  • It’s really dark. So much torture. Lots of graphic on-screen deaths. Way more than in the live-action films. Remember in Empire, the torture of Han happens off-screen, except for the screaming, which somehow made it worse, right?  Well, Clone Wars just shows it. Frequently. It’s really disturbing. See discussion of dystopian hellscape above.
  • The Republic, which is anti-slavery, also utilizes an army of manufactured sentient beings with no freedom. The Jedi Order uses child soldiers. (The Padawans, early Ahsoka and Caleb Dume let’s say, are what? 15, 16 tops?)
  • It’s so weird when these villains pop up, terrorists and agitators aligned with the Separatists, and every time they get cornered they have a rant about how the Jedi and Republic and out of touch and corrupt and unable to stop the conflict and…they’re not wrong? They’re actually kind of sort of right? But they’re the bad guys?
  • I hate Obi Wan Kenobi. I really do, and the thing that clinched it is the way he’s always grabbing Duchess Satine’s arm and pulling her back and telling her she’s wrong. No, just no, he’s a jerk, he’s terrible. Let her alone. I’m starting to think that man died still believing he was right and not realizing what an absolute hash the Jedi Order made of everything there at the end. Also, there’s an episode where he basically saddles Ahsoka with the responsibility of keeping Anakin in check, and I’m shouting at the TV, no, you don’t do that to a young person lower in the chain of command. That’s terrible leadership. Obi Wan is an abusive menace.
  • Super weird watching it after Rebels instead of before. I can see now there’s all kinds of things that would have been big reveals and shocks had I seen Clone Wars first:  the appearance of Rex, Hondo, the Syndulla family, etc. I guess I’m getting those big reveals in reverse. Speaking of which, creepy evil Hondo of Clone Wars is a little disconcerting after bumbling comic relief Hondo of Rebels.
  • The most interesting thing of all:  There are ways in which Rebels is purposefully deconstructing all the squicky disturbing stuff about Clone Wars. Like, Ezra Bridger insisting that the Geonoshan, who has a name, be treated as a person deserving of respect and not cannon fodder. The episode where the gang encounters an enclave of battle droids who don’t know the war is over, and the droids get to be actual characters coming to grips with what has happened to them. In The Clone Wars, everyone is trapped in this existential nightmare. In Rebels, the characters achieve agency on their journeys. Rebels asks you to question everything that came before and find your own path.
  • That Hutt mummy. There’s a Hutt mummy. The Hutt mummify their dead. WTF. It’s in the episode where Sly Snootles is conducting a torrid affair with a Hutt who talks like Truman Capote and WTF is even happening.

I was telling a friend about the increasing levels of WTF in this show. She said I ain’t seen nothing yet.

I’m scared, y’all.

 

reading 2020

January 11, 2021

According to my record I read 48 books in 2020. This includes novellas and graphic novels, of which there were quite a few. This didn’t include a lot of books I started and didn’t finish. Twelve of those were non-fiction. I’m feeling fortunate that my reading brain didn’t shut off last year like it did for many people I know. I will say that a lot of my reading was comfort reading: I think I re-read most of the Vorkosigan Saga, some Jane Austen, and some Star Wars stuff.

A lot of specifics I already talked about throughout the year, but here are my favorites:

Novels: Network Effect, the latest Murderbot book by Martha Wells, which I thought really moved the whole idea forward and took it to the next level. I can’t wait for the next book.

A Brightness Long Ago, by Guy Gavriel Kay. Re-discovering Kay through his latest couple of novels, in his re-imagined Renaissance Italy, has been so lovely. I read his books avidly through the 90’s and just kind of stopped. Glad to start up again.

The Wolf Hall trilogy by Hilary Mantel. Just masterful. Some of the best fiction I’ve ever read, full stop. It also gave me so much insight into the culture of the Tudor court, which I’ve been reading about academically for 25 years, but it’s never really come alive for me until these novels.

Star Wars: A New Dawn by John Jackson Miller tells the story of how Kanan and Hera from Rebels met. It’s adorable and it made me happy.

And in non-fiction, I’ve been recommending Jack Epps Jr.’s Screenwriting is Rewriting to every writer I know and we’re all still raving about it.

 

nothing to say

January 8, 2021

Nothing I can say that hasn’t been said already.

The reason so many of us were so upset after the 2016 election is because we saw something like this, an actual insurrection against the U.S. government, coming. Radical right elements who’ve been agitating for that shit for 30 years now saw Trump as their guy. And Trump egged them all on from the start. He needs to go, now. He needs to be held accountable.

I’m just so tired.