ROGUE ONE review, with minimal spoilage

I still remember how I felt, coming out of STAR WARS: Episode I. Very mixed emotions. I kept telling myself that it was impossible for STAR WARS to capture me, as an adult, in the same way I had been captured as a child. I kept telling myself that it would get better—with the next two movies. Hope sprang eternal. But then . . . Episode II also let me down. And Episode III was such a colossal mess, I was forced to conclude that Lucas had laid a massive egg. No, three eggs. In a row. And nobody had taken Lucas by the lapels and screamed, “My Lord, George, do you have any idea what you’re doing?!” The man who had gifted us with STAR WARS ,had also nearly ruined STAR WARS. It was a bitter pill, which went down very gradually.

Having seen the new ROGUE ONE, I think the other prequels can be quietly swept into the memory hole.

Which is not to say ROGUE ONE is perfect—it’s not.

But my gut check on any film I see, is always: did I lose track of the clock?

If the answer is yes, I know I’ve enjoyed myself. It doesn’t happen all that often. It happened with Episode VII, though I think ROGUE ONE is actually superior to Episode VII on most levels.

I’ll try to explain why, without giving out tons of plot spoilers.

The cameos by known characters were superbly done. Especially Governor Tarkin. Amazing, how they can resurrect an actor with CGI in this manner. The technology has come even further, since they used it extensively for TRON: Legacy. It was almost like Cushing had returned in real time. Extremely crisp, and barely noticeable—so far as CGI goes. We saw just enough of the familiar faces, to impose verisimilitude on the new film’s emotional landscape.

The central villain was meaty, too. Whereas I wanted to drown Ben/Kylo in a toilet—on account of him being an emotionally unstable, whiney, butthurt little emo jerk—I thought the new main villain for ROGUE ONE was actually composed, and sympathetic. Not because he’s not bad—he is. But because you can see how the pressure cooker at the top of the Imperial pecking order breeds, and then grinds down and uses up, capable men. I didn’t root for him, but I didn’t actively root against him either. He was . . . necessary.

The overall mood of the film is most closely matched by Episode V, to which ROGUE ONE is already being favorably compared. I agree with the comparison, insomuch as ROGUE ONE cannot (by design) have a happy ending. Nevertheless, the mains were given compelling plot arcs and the acting was very nicely done. Just like in Empire Strikes Back. The chief difference being, The Force is not a center-stage player in the plot. It’s there, just not overtly at work. There are no Jedi, but they have left a long shadow across the fabric of the galaxy. This was evocative of the original films, and helped to give ROGUE ONE a level of gravitas that Episode VII occasionally lacked.

ROGUE ONE also sufficiently plugs a monstrous plot hole—from Episode IV—which has bothered many a STAR WARS fan for decades. You will know what it is, when you see it in the new film.

And of course, the space battles and planetside fighting sequences are literally spectacular. As we’ve come to expect from any decent STAR WARS outing.

My only regret, is that ROGUE ONE is a ship in a bottle. It cannot “go on” the way the other films do, because it’s sandwiched between the events of Episode III and Epiisode IV. We’re given a brilliant snapshot of the Empire at the near-zenith of its might, coupled with a Rebel Alliance being compelled to find its feet.

Now, as stated earlier, ROGUE ONE is not perfect. It’s got the usual problems the series is prone to, from a hard-science perspective, as well as the same tendency to gloss over certain necessities of fully-fleshed plot development; for the sake of action-packed plot advancement. This is Space Opera, after all. Sure, you could have probably made two ROGUE ONE films, and dialed pacing down for the sake of getting a slow-boil. But this seems to have been a decision of economy, lest ROGUE ONE steal the spotlight from the main plot core of the seven films which have gone before it. Which I don’t think ROGUE ONE was meant to do.

Rather, ROGUE ONE gives us a picture of the struggle as seen from the eyes of the “little” fighters—the men and women whose names and deeds won’t ever reach the level of a Skywalker or a Solo. Yet their actions are still vital to the Rebellion.

In final, I offer some (not always serious) observations, as well as questions:

Mads Mikkelsen gave a very dignified, tragic performance. His character reminded me of Dr. Baranovich, from Firefox.

Felicity Jones and Diego Luna played off each other believably.

Why does the Empire love death-defying vertical shafts, and improbable catwalks?

Likewise, why do the clone troops wear bulky armor that is clearly worthless against blaster fire, as well as melee weapons?

The Imperial officer corps must get otherworldly perks and benefits, since the higher you climb in the ranks, the more savage and hostile the environment becomes.

It was nice to see the Rebellion’s blemishes brought into the light—the drive for winning and surviving at all costs, can make even good people do terrible things.

The hammy droid antics were minimal. Thank goodness.

Gorgeous original X-Wing and Y-Wing battle footage. Absolutely gorgeous.

The matter of planetary shields again raises its head. We know they had one on Hoth, but it was apparently porous to landing craft. Yet, the shield in ROGUE ONE blocks everything and anything, including transmissions? Except for when the plot requires otherwise? And how come such a shield never equipped the Death Star proper? Eiither 1.0 or 2.0?

Heh. Again, the point is not whether the plot holes exist—they do. The point is that ROGUE ONE was bona-fide rip-roaring, with some substance to boot.

I think I now have to rank the entire STAR WARS franchise (from most-favorite to least-favorite) as follows:

1) Episode IV
2) Episode V
3) Episode VI
4) R1
5) Episode VII
— (I prequel redacted from personal fan canon)
— (II prequel redacted from personal fan canon)
— (III prequel redacted from personal fan canon)

😀

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The market always wins

Now that the rebooted Ghostbusters is officially being acknowledged as a red-ink bath for Sony Pictures, can we please put down the protest signs, and have a candid talk? About how all the scolding in the world, cannot force the audience to love a thing? Likewise, all the scolding in the world, cannot force the audience to hate a thing, either.

Basically, stop with the scolding. It doesn’t work. It never works.

Remember how the new Star Wars book — that was a prequel to the seventh film — scored more one-star Amazon reviews, than all of its four and five-star reviews put together? And the author proceeded to scold the audience for it? I say, lighten up, Francis! It’s not because the audience is secretly morally repugnant. It’s because you turned in a weird book, written weirdly, versus the straightforward space adventure novel everybody wanted, and were expecting. Was that your editor’s idea? For you to throw an experimental literary curveball at the Star Wars fans, then teach them to hate you — by accusing them of being horrible people?

See, here’s the thing. The market always wins. Always. Doesn’t matter how brave or bold your posturing may be. If your book, or your movie, or your album, doesn’t have enough “there” there, you can hang a million virtue-signals on the thing — dress it up like a damned social justice christmas tree — and the audience is going to give you a big, whopping, “Meh.” And it’s not because the audience is secretly homophobic or misogynistic or racist. It’s because the audience is tired of being sermonized, and cannot be commanded to vote (with its collective wallet) for something it doesn’t want to vote for.

The Ghostbusters reboot failed, not because America hates women, but because America looked at this movie and said, “Two-point-five stars; maybe three at most, if we’re in a good mood.”

The audience doesn’t care about progressive eat-your-ideological-veggies politics. The audience doesn’t care about the demographics of the actors. The audience just wants to have a good time.

Likewise, you cannot command consumers to shun a thing, if that thing has already won them over. Remember Chick-Fil-A? Bunch of Social Justice Zealots (SJZs) commanded us all to “punish” Chick-Fil-A for (insert progressive political reason here) and the response — by Americans — was to give Chick-Fil-A a record week in profits. Any way you slice it, the SJZ plan wholly and utterly backfired. Because Chick-Fil-A chicken is delicious. People have known this for years. It’s why Chick-Fil-A has exploded nationally. Check out any Chick-Fil-A franchise at lunch or dinner, and you will typically see stacks of cars lined up around the lot, sometimes more than once, with a huge crowd at the registers inside. The anti-Chick-Fil-A “punishment” maneuver merely caused those ordinarily packed lines to go out the driveway, down the street, and around the block. Because the consumers said “F*** you, you can’t make us hate good food.” The consumers are still saying it, too.

So, please, let’s pause for a moment; to consider the boots-on-ground reality. Wagging your finger at people is never, ever a winning marketing strategy. Wagging your finger at the crowds is liable to have the crowds showing you a collective finger of their own — and it ‘aint the index finger. Because people like what they like, and they don’t like what they don’t like. De gustibus. You want to freight your product with all kinds of social justice ornamentation? Fine. Just be aware of the fact that you’re putting a stone around that product’s neck. Don’t be shocked when it sinks to the bottom, never to rise. It’s not the audience’s fault. It’s your fault for thinking the audience wanted or needed you to shove your politics up their collective ass.

Again, the crowds just want to have fun. I repeat: they want to have fun. Can you bring the fun? Can you make something that gets spontaneous laughter or applause, without it turning into an imitation of a Politburo session, where grown men collapse because they dare not get caught being the first one to put his hands back into his pockets? Maybe you think the Politburo sessions are an instruction manual, versus a cautionary tale?

Maybe you need to reconsider.

But wait, who am I kidding? Of course you won’t reconsider. SJZs never, ever reconsider. Smug self-righteousness is a hell of a drug. Once a person is hooked, (s)he loses all perspective, and becomes both myopic and deaf. That’s SJZism in a nutshell: myopic, and deaf.

But don’t say nobody warned you. The next time your movie or book — tricked out with all the latest virtue-signalling baubles — tanks. You spent too much time focusing on the wrapping paper, without paying enough attention to what’s inside. It’s the product itself that counts. Just like content of character counts. Remember who said that? I do. It was good advice.

More “there” there, please. Bring the “there” and you succeed, every time. “There” is what matters to the consumer, above all else.

Not what you think you’re saying with the product. Not what you think you have to say, to make people think you’re one of the Good Guys. The audience isn’t paying money to watch you check yourself out in the mirror, take selfies, and broadcast to the world that you’re wonderful.

The audience wants to be entertained.

Not educated. Not lectured. Not have their awareness raised.

Entertained.

Oh, sure, you might get some fraction of the crowd to buy in — as a political duty. And if you can be satisfied with an “audience” that supports you solely and explicitly out of obligation, knock yourself out. Just don’t be shocked when the crowds aren’t beating down your storefront door. Learn to be content with your monthly trickle from Patreon. You’ve chosen to wear your SJZ badge on your lapel. You couldn’t wait to tell the audience how much they suck. You elected confrontation as your mode of communication. The bad’s on you. Make no mistake about it. The bad’s on you.

On the gripping hand, if you’re a content producer who’s been frustrated by the fact that the SJZs keep demanding you create the way they expect you to create — otherwise you’re a horrible person who will be punished — take heart. You don’t have to do what they say. You don’t have to kiss the asses, nor the rings. Your options are open. You can have fun doing what you’re doing, and find an audience who will have fun right along with you. And if you can spin the fun up to high enough RPM, maybe you get a feedback effect, go viral, and see some real traction? It’s not a guarantee. But then again, with the market, nothing ever is. You just don’t need to load up your ruck sack with leaden social justice conceits, in a vain attempt to appease people who will never be appeased anyway — because they’re high on their own supply.

Create your stuff. Have a good time doing it. Work hard. And above all else, be gracious with the market — even on those occasional days when they throw pies at you. That’s inevitable. You cannot please all comers. But you can thank them for their time. You can thank them for making an investment. You can honor the fact that they tried you, even if you ended up not being to their taste. Maybe they will try you again?

In this way, too, the market always wins. You’re not standing at a pulpit. Pulpits are for fuggheads. You’re standing in the town square, your cart of wares arrayed for viewing. If you’re good at what you do, and enough people notice, good things will come to you. Be patient. And keep playing the long game. The market favors the long game.

Herping your derp, with Damien G. Walter

Imagine a man. A man who thinks he loves Science Fiction. He also thinks he’s a writer of same. He fancies himself being one of the Smart People in the field. He talks what he believes to be Smart People talk. He reads the Smart People blogs. He name-drops the Smart People names. He even has a home with one of the Smart People media outlets — no guessing as to how much (if anything) The Guardian pays him. He’s tremendously concerned with making sure that the Smart People see him being Smart. Because that’s the key to being an Important Guy.

And yet, when Damien G. Walter goes “Derp!” in a forest, and nobody is around to hear him . . . does he make a sound?

Let’s face it, Science Fiction and Fantasy has a surfeit of commentary. Everyone who ever dreamed of writing spec fic lit — or writing lit about spec fic lit — has established a digital outpost for himself. Could be a blog. Could be a collective “genre news” outlet. Maybe it’s simply a Twitter or Instagram account? Thus you will never, ever lack for jabbering about SF/F books, movies, and television.

Especially jabber from people suffering a paucity of actual reading depth. They don’t know speculative literature, as much as they know the conversations and Names that get circulated by the Smart People. Which lends itself perfectly to performing as a gadfly. But does not, I am afraid, gift said gadfly with the ability to make observations which make sense.

Consider Damien G. Walter’s assertion:

If you want to make the world a better place, you need a space to imagine what that place might look like. From George Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984, way back to Thomas More’s Utopia and even further,

It’s been said before, by better men than me. But somebody really needs to remind 21st century Western progressives that Orwell was writing cautionary tales, not instruction manuals. 1984 remains a chillingly current examination of the power of the tyrannical mindset. Reading 1984, one is reminded of this observation, by C.S. Lewis, “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

Nobody — and I mean absolutely nobody — should want to live in the world of 1984.

Just as nobody should want to endure a society akin to the allegory of Animal Farm — which is, in fact, a dire criticism of the collectivist state, and the eventual degeneracy of both leadership and conditions, in any environment that goes down the Marxist path.

Now, being very much a moral busybody, and a Socialist, Damien G. Walter might like the fact that his iteration of busybodiness is in vogue. Our entertainment spaces presently endure a locust-like plague of activists and haranguers, all eager to wag their fingers and scold us for being Wrongfans of Wrongfun. Maybe Damien sees himself among the Great Minds who will remain safely on the other side of the glass — from us common proles? Damien, the Outer Party man who is desperately playing at being Inner Party.

Or maybe Damien hasn’t read any Orwell at all? He just knows the name, and he knows two of Orwell’s enduring titles, and he drops them into his article — hoping that if he salts his bland mashed-potato progressive lit observations with enough Smart People sign posts, he will himself be magically transformed into the picture of a Smart Person.

Consider the fact that Damien G. Walter praises Samuel Delaney — infamous author of Hogg — while condemning John Norman’s Gor novels as being, “little more than misogynistic S&M fantasies.”

Better check yourself, Damien. Apparently some misogynistic S&M fantasies are more hip than others. Or must we simply assume that depraved sadism and sexual perversion (in literature) is cool when the Smart People do it?

Probably the latter. Natch. Got it.

Moving on, we’re treated to explosive diarrhetic diatribes against Military Science Fiction et al:

During it’s Golden Age sci-fi became deeply associated with the values of the American dream. As those values have unwound America’s conservatives have retreated to sci-fi as a safe space to indulge their nationalist military fantasies. Amazon’s Author Rank for science fiction is packed with military SF novels, most of them repeating the same themes of Earth under attack by aliens, through to full fledged survivalist “prepper” fantasies, most self published and appealing to a small but committed audience of Donald Trump supporting SF readers. Given their aggressive, paranoid tendencies it’s hardly surprising these fans are fighting an imaginary war against the other tribes of sci-fi by protesting the Hugo awards.

Setting aside the fact that values cannot “unwind” in the manner described — situations can unwind, without question, but this is why it’s a good idea to have and know your values; so that they carry you through those times when all others about you lose their minds — Damien seems to be claiming that he can read both hearts and minds. Everyone who reads Mil-SF is a Donald Trump supporter? Is that why Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson’s prospects got a colossal shot in the arm, the moment the Republican Party blundered into ensuring Hillary Clinton’s election, by putting ultimate-RINO Donald Trump at the top of their platform? Those “Donald Trump fans”?

Methinks Damien not only doesn’t know any Donald Trump voters, he doesn’t really know many Mil-SF readers (or authors) either.

Now, he’s close about one thing. There is a rhetorical war going on in SF/F right now. Mostly it’s about fans and authors and publishers who like to have fun, fending off the busybodies talked about earlier in this article: the moral and intellectual scolds who come to tell us all we’re Wrongfans having Wrongfun. Of which Damien G. Walter is a tedious, but perfect, example. But this rhetorical war stretches across the entirety of the field, and is not limited to Mil-SF. Much as World War Two was not limited to North Africa, or the Pacific. This rhetorical war is about style, and taste, and belonging, and recognition, and whether or not SF/F as a coherent form of literature is even going to survive the next twenty years — when there is no “center” to hold it all together.

The rest is merely Damien G. Walter performing a chicken-cluck dance, wherein he demonstrates (again, for the sake of trying to appear like one of the Smart People) his distaste for the un-progressive purveyors of “nationalist military fantasies.”

Does Star Trek fall into this category? For Damien? It’s hard to determine. After all, if 1984 is a progressive fantasy that somehow shines a light on the desirable future of mankind, surely Star Trek — with its regimented space navy, forever defending the Federation (and especially Earth) against alien invaders of all varieties — qualifies, under Damien’s “nationalist military fantasy” criteria.

I mean, my God, Gene Roddenberry flew bomber missions in World War Two! It doesn’t get more nationalist or military than that.

And here we all thought Star Trek was trying to portray a positive future. P’shaw!

But wait, isn’t Grandpa Heinlein also a purveyor of nationalism and military fantasies? Damien praised Grandpa Heinlein, earlier in the article. Probably because progressives love to draft dead conservatives, much as Teresa Nielsen-Hayden used Jim Baen’s corpse as her socket puppet — when it suited her.

But wait, Damien not only reads minds, he can tell the future too:

With Charlie Jane Anders All The Birds In The Sky and Daniel Jose Older’s Shadowshaper among a wave of recent titles presenting challenging visions and re-imaginings of our reality, progressive fantasy seems more and more like the future of sci-fi.

This is a common conceit of all Leftist rhetoric — that history is a more or less straight line trending forever in whatever direction Leftists are infatuated with this decade. Considering that Damien put 1984 among these supposed positive re-imaginings of reality, it’s a bit tough to discern the “win” Damien is prognosticating for the field. Again, 1984 is a cautionary tale. And Animal Farm even moreso. If the progressives are re-imagining our reality in positive ways, the citation of Orwell seems oxymoronic at best. Or maybe totalitarian hell-holes are a desirable end state? Certainly Venezuela qualifies, as a perfect example of the inevitable outcome — when men of Damien’s flavor are given access to the levers of power.

Is Venezuela the kind of “positive re-imagining” the Smart People (to whose ranks Damien aspires) have in mind?

We don’t really know. Damien spends so much time salting his bland mashed-potato article — namesy nameses, droppsy woo! — it’s tough to grasp what his actual opinion of the cited contents may be. Again, one senses that Damien has not read any of it. He’s merely scanned the Smart People conversations, and believes that recursively regurgitating other peoples’ shit, itself substitutes for cogent commentary.

And if he thinks YA “adventurous coming of age tales” can’t hold the attention of older readers, there’s this little series called Harry Potter that’s worth noting. Damien might want to jump on that one. He even talked up J.K. Rowling, among the commercial fictioneers. Harry Potter has only blazed an eight-lane interstate through the heart of the Science Fiction ghetto, demonstrating conclusively that not only will adults flock to a solidly imaginative and evocative YA universe, they will drive that universe to the top of the charts.

Of course, every stopped clock is right twice a day. Damien got this one on the nose: Lit Fic dilettantism does breed some dull books. Mostly because Lit Fic dilettantes don’t actually read much SF/F, and mistakenly believe that it’s “easy” to write and come up with original, or at least interesting, SF/F-ish works — while still thudding us in the face with the usual Lit-sy navel-gazing, angst, ennui, and nihilism. Putting my finger to the wind, I get the sense that many SF/F readers love SF/F precisely because it’s not pretentiously MFA’d to the nth degree.

And lots of SF/F authors want the approval of the “proper” Lit Fic scene?

I’d rather have a root canal, sans anesthetic.

Again, it’s tough to tease out actual analysis, when the bulk of Damien’s doggerel seems to involve mistaking bling-wordsieness, for substance. A common enough malady among those with nothing interesting to say, but for whom the pretense of meaning is paramount. Are there tribes in SF/F? Without question. Do they look anything like the fat-crayon scribble pictures Damien has gifted us with?

I was talking about this over two years ago.

Draw your own conclusions. You will undoubtedly do better than Damien.

Panel: how to protect science fiction awards from Bad People™

MODERATOR: My friends, it is with deep regret that I must come before you — the Peoples Republic of Science Fiction — to announce that Bad People™ have come into our country, and they are seriously messing up our awards.

AUDIENCE: (gasps, shouts of outrage)

MODERATOR: (bats hands down toward the floor, in a plea for silence) I know, I didn’t want to believe it either. For many decades now, the Peoples Republic of Science Fiction has been a bastion of inclusiveness and tolerance, because as every caucasian progressive over the age of 45 knows, the way you demonstrate your diversity to the public, is to occasionally welcome in an Asian person — who has identical politics to caucasian progressives over the age of 45.

AUDIENCE: (cheers, applause)

MODERATOR: Yes, yes, we know we’re wonderful, don’t we? Well, friends, it’s time for us to take a stand. The forces of Badthinkery® are upon us. Our Hugo award — silvery, phallic, entirely sausage-like — is being invaded by Bad People™ intent on inflicting their Badthinkery® on our beloved field.

AUDIENCE: (more gasps, more shouts of outrage)

MODERATOR: It’s true. We can’t deny it any longer. The Bad People™ couldn’t leave well enough alone. I mean, aren’t they satisfied, clinging like they do to their God, their guns, and their Megyn Kelly? Why did they have to come after us poor, innocent, dafodil-scented Fans in our beloved little nation of Trufandom?

AUDIENCE: (wailing, tears, gnashing of teeth)

MODERATOR: I know, friends, I know. It’s beyond horrible. For how many years has our beloved little country been a bastion of light amidst the cultural darkness of the mundanes — those nasty outsiders who have lives, and jobs, and families, and who haven’t been going to Worldcon (like it’s a religious duty) since they were teenagers?

AUDIENCE: Throw them out! Throw them out!!

MODERATOR: Yes, well, I think it has come to that, friends. Indeed. The Bad People™ have pushed us too far. Drastic times call for drastic measures. We must find a way to purge our Peoples Republic of Science Fiction of Badthinkness© perpetrated by Bad People™ who do not share our tolerant, inclusive values, which stand for never tolerating anyone who might be a Republican, a Tea Partier, a Baen fan, or a Wheel of Time reader.

AUDIENCE: (wild cheering)

MODERATOR: We will cast out the Unfans™ and their Unfannishness®!

AUDIENCE: (more wild cheering)

MODERATOR: We will make the Hugos a juried award, and end this hideous pox upon our beloved genre!

AUDIENCE: (titanic, wild cheering — with a few boos)

GRUMPY OLD FAT RICH FAMOUS AUTHOR: *ahem*

MODERATOR: Oh, pardon me, our Guest of Honor would like to add a few words. Yes, please, the floor is yours, sir.

GRUMPY OLD FAT RICH FAMOUS AUTHOR: Back when I didn’t have two nickels to rub together, the Hugos represented something special in this field. They were the yearly culmination of the collective Fannish spirit. Our communal celebration of what is best in this genre. We did this together — the many, come to unite as one.

AUDIENCE: (tepid applause, some straining forward in their seats, not quite sure where this is going)

GRUMPY OLD FAT RICH FAMOUS AUTHOR: Now, it’s all well and good to get rid of the Bad People™ because Lord knows I’m as sick of them as you all are.

AUDIENCE: (a spontaneous roar of agreement)

GRUMPY OLD FAT RICH FAMOUS AUTHOR: Our genre has never, ever been about Bad People™ nor should we ever be forced to tolerate the intolerant, who of course were never real Fans in the true meaning of Fannishness anyway, because we say so.

AUDIENCE: (collective orgasm of hearty ascent)

GRUMPY OLD FAT RICH FAMOUS AUTHOR: But this has to be done very politic-like. Why do you think all the great Socialist reformers of the past hundred years, have always staged elections? It didn’t matter if they were at the pinnacle of a one-party system, and gave themselves titles like “President.” What mattered is that their subjects — excuse me, citizens — were able to vote. That is the basis of the Republic — allowing people to pretend that there is actual democracy happening.

AUDIENCE: (murmurs, a few shouts, some scattered golf claps)

MODERATOR: (coughs nervously) But, sir, how are we to preserve and protect our glorious accolades?

SHRIMPY FAMOUS-ON-THE-INTERNET AUTHOR: I know nobody included me in this conversation, but I am going to include myself anyway, because everybody knows it’s all about me, in the end — me, me, and me. In fact, the only reason the Bad People™ exist at all, is because they are out to get me. That’s why there’s trouble in the Peoples Republic of Science Fiction. There are individuals who don’t like me, and have decided to get militant about it.

MODERATOR: (fawning over Shrimpy Famous-On-The-Internet Author) Well, please, by all means, have my chair! We would love to hear more.

AUDIENCE: (cheers, laughter)

SHRIMPY FAMOUS-ON-THE-INTERNET AUTHOR: I agree one hundred percent with my lovely and esteemed colleague, who is wealthier and more famous than me, so I will suck up to him at every opportunity — just like I do with that rock star Sandman guy. We of the pure and true fold, don’t need to tolerate the intolerant. Diversity means ensuring that a rainbow spectrum of ethnicities, genders, and sexualities — who all vote the same in national politics, have the same ideas on economics, and also literary taste — are afforded the opportunity to come celebrate with us, this most wonderful thing we call Science Fiction and Fantasy.

AUDIENCE: (massive, outlandish, squeeing approval)

SHRIMPY FAMOUS-ON-THE-INTERNET AUTHOR: But we have to be careful about how we go about ensuring that the Baen people, the FOX News viewers, the homophobes — did I tell you this hour how much I love and adore all gay people, for all time, everywhere? Because I, like, totally do! — and the transphobes, islamophobes, and other assorted Heinlein devotees, are kept out of the awards process. Do it too bluntly, and we risk sacrificing the public face of the field. We have to be sure we can say to the world — with straight faces — that Science Fiction and Fantasy is still a field that celebrates all ideas. Even though we want to make damned sure that SF/F’s power people and core literary prizes remain firmly on the side of the right ideas. Progressive ideas. For all definitions of Progressive which include, “Whatever Jon Stewart is being cute about this week.”

AUDIENCE: (murmuring wonderment at the great man’s epic intellect)

MODERATOR: (crying) My God, that was so beautiful . . . (reaches for tissue)

GRUMPY OLD FAT RICH FAMOUS AUTHOR: (steeples fingers) We’re kind of stating the obvious at this point. So, since we agree that we can’t be direct in addressing the problem of Bad People™ meddling in our business, what’s your proposal?

EDITOR TO THE SHRIMPY FAMOUS-ON-THE-INTERNET AUTHOR: (clears throat) Actually, it’s not his proposal, it’s mine. Because when it comes right down to it, we all know you writers would sell your souls for the right offer; from my house specifically. I can make or break any of you, any time I want. Same goes for people like that chump moderator over there, licking the hand of the caterer who’s putting out the lavish spread of food and treats — a spread my company is of course paying for, because the best way to win the hearts and minds of Fandom, is to give them free shit. Anyway, you all will rubber stamp whatever I want, in the end — just like when we split the editor category — so I’ll have my wife draft something on our blog later in the week. We can assume it will pass with flying colors at the business meeting, right?

MODERATOR: (in between mouthfuls) Weeth willth maketh thure of it, thir! (grabs more food)

EDITOR TO THE SHRIMPY FAMOUS-ON-THE-INTERNET AUTHOR: Splendid. Just make sure to get that business meeting packed with our guys. Shouldn’t be hard. Nobody but Trufans gives a crap about the business meeting anyway. There won’t be enough Bad People™ there to override or overrule whatever we decide to adopt. Then we need to be doubly sure that we pack successive business meetings, to lock it in. We’re progressives, dammit. We know more about bending bureaucracy to our will, and instituting rules that suit our agenda, than anybody else! The Bad People™ think this genre is about having fun? HAH! Pathetic fools. This genre is about making sure people know who is in charge! That the right authors and the right publishers are rewarded for creating the right product that affirms the right politics and ideas! We’ll have those Bad People™ shut out very quickly. It won’t be hard. Most of them have jobs and lives that prevent them from focusing on this field full-time, like a proper Trufan should. They will get discouraged, and move on to other things.

SHRIMPY FAMOUS-ON-THE-INTERNET AUTHOR: But what about that one guy who, like, totally hates me personally? He’s not going to quit, and he actually has fans who do what he says!

EDITOR TO THE SHRIMPY FAMOUS-ON-THE-INTERNET AUTHOR: Which guy that hates you personally? They are legion. With more springing up all the time.

SHRIMPY FAMOUS-ON-THE-INTERNET AUTHOR: you know, he’s short, brags a lot, has a gargantuan ego, and thinks he’s the center of attention, even when he’s not.

MODERATOR: (stares)

AUDIENCE: (stares)

GRUMPY OLD FAT RICH FAMOUS AUTHOR: (stares)

SHRIMPY FAMOUS-ON-THE-INTERNET AUTHOR: What?

EDITOR TO THE SHRIMPY FAMOUS-ON-THE-INTERNET AUTHOR: Look, are we about done here? I have more important things to do than come be on a panel in front of a bunch of little people. (begins to tap rapidly at cell phone . . .)

MODERATOR: (with chicken salad on his cheek and collar) Absolutely, no problem! Uhhh, we’ll just keep an eye on your wife’s blog. Whatever she sends out, we’ll make sure it’s all done up formal and everything, for the meeting. Perfect. That solves that.

GRUMPY OLD FAT RICH FAMOUS AUTHOR: (frowning) I’m not sure, now that I am really thinking about it. I mean, obviously we have to do something. But what if we go too far? What if we end up excluding a bunch of people who shouldn’t be excluded? I mean, how do we tell for real who the Trufans are, versus the Bad People™? In the end, no genre award matters unless it has the blessing of our people. Make it too hard for them to nominate and vote, and we wind up driving them away too.

EDITOR TO THE SHRIMPY FAMOUS-ON-THE-INTERNET AUTHOR: You’re familiar with Arnaud Amalric?

GRUMPY OLD FAT RICH FAMOUS AUTHOR: Of course.

EDITOR TO THE SHRIMPY FAMOUS-ON-THE-INTERNET AUTHOR: Same thing here.

GRUMPY OLD FAT RICH FAMOUS AUTHOR: (frown deepens)

MODERATOR: (quickly gets the roaming mic into his hands) Okay, well, this has been a rousing and illuminating session, friends. I just want to say again how proud I am to call all of you my comrades. The Peoples Republic of Science Fiction will not only survive this latest onslaught by Bad People™ engaging in Badthinkery®, it will thrive like never before. In fact, we will emerge from this crisis stronger than ever! A purer, more correct Fandom! More inclusive of people who think and talk and act just like we do! Is that not a thing to cherish and celebrate? I tell you, friends, this is surely a golden age for us. The Bad People™ will be buried by history. As they always have been.

AUDIENCE: (wild applause, hooting and fist-pumping)

GRUMPY OLD FAT RICH FAMOUS AUTHOR: (frown continues to deepen)

MODERATOR: For those interested in staying until the next panel, stick around. In five minutes we’re going to hear from four old white people — and, I am told, one angry not-white, possibly genderqueer person — about how Science Fiction and Fantasy have together been a Nazi literary hell-hole of racial, sexual, and gender oppression. Doesn’t that sound like fun?

AUDIENCE: (hoverounds begin to queue for the exit — it’s a big queue!)

SHRIMPY FAMOUS-ON-THE-INTERNET AUTHOR: Just so everybody knows, I love this next panel coming up. In fact, I am going to invite myself onto that panel too. Because I think we should all care about how privileged we all are, and how this privilege makes us bad. Well, except for me. I am awesome, because I just said that. Did everyone hear me say it? I said it. You back there, recording this on your phone? Post that shit to Twitter. Do it. Because I’m wonderful, and the world needs to know.

The Martian and Mad Max

Two spectacular movies were released in 2015. Both of them were set in the future. Both of them focused on a single man desperately trying to survive in the face of overwhelmingly negative odds. One of these futures was depressingly bleak, populated with violent, deranged maniacs. The other future was incredibly positive, where human beings worked together, and put substantial amounts of hardware — not to mention astronauts — on another planet.

One of these futures would be a delight to live in — the conquering of the solar system, by a planet Earth which has somehow managed to overcome its problems, enough to reach for the stars.

The other future would be a literal hell — civilization has fallen, tribal war is the new normal, and human beings have regressed to a state of endlessly cruel barbarity.

Guess which future the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) voted as their favorite?

Now, anyone who knows anything about the field of Science Fiction and Fantasy (SF/F) shouldn’t be surprised — no, not even a little bit — that Mad Max: Fury Road was the top pick of SF/F’s so-called professional body, for professionals. The fans of Andy Weir’s book-to-movie hit The Martian gave it a valiant try, but SFWA isn’t about Hugo Gernsback’s “scientifiction” anymore, as much as SFWA is about soft science majors (lit and humanities degrees) using SF/F as a tool to critically examine and vivisect 21st century Western society.

Did I mention that The Martian had a world-wide take of $630 million dollars, while Mad Max took in just $378 million by comparison?

Clearly, audiences across the globe had a much greater preference for the science fiction movie that focused on actual science being employed in a setting where science — and mankind — are making miracles happen.

But the professional body of Science Fiction and Fantasy writers liked their bleak future better. The future where a despotic madman keeps women as breeding and food stock, while the young men all die very bloodily, and too early; before the lymphoma and blood cancers (from the nuclear fallout, naturally) can kill them slow.

I saw both films, and I liked both films a lot. As a huge fan of the second, original Mad Max installment — known to United States audiences as The Road Warrior — I put Fury Road second on my list (all time) of Mad Max movies. It wasn’t quite as good as Mad Max 2 (the title by which the world knows The Road Warrior) but it showed us just what kind of insane, pyrotechnic brilliance director George Miller is capable of producing, when equipped with modern technology, and a modern budget. Fury Road was everything The Road Warrior wanted to be, except The Road Warrior was shot on a virtual shoe string.

Nobody is really sure if Fury Road is supposed to be a reboot. A sequel seems likely — which may tell us more, about how the Fury Road universe meshes with the old movies. Will we see more of Furiosa? How about Nux? Because, frankly, the single largest flaw in Fury Road is that it is focused on both Max and Furiosa, while Nux had the fullest, most satisfying character arc. Both Max and Furiosa are largely the same people — at the end of the film — as they are at the beginning. Nux, meanwhile, did a complete 180. Naturally, Nux died. So his reappearance would seem problematic at best. But when has the death of a character ever stopped moviemakers from bringing him/her back for more?

I would have liked to see Furiosa sacrifice herself to save the Wives, with Nux returning to the Citadel. I think this would have worked much, much better, for both character arcs. But that’s just my back-seat writer talking.

The Martian is equally boggling, in terms of the visual grandeur being offered to the audience. Also, like Fury Road, this was a case of one of the trendsetting directors of the 1970s-1980s cusp period, coming back to gift us with some of his best work in a long, long time. But The Martian is a classic man-versus-nature story, with a single survivor of a space disaster working tirelessly — to the very limits of his mental, emotional, and physical endurance — to save his own life. Along the way, his comrades must overcome huge technical and bureaucratic hurdles, culminating in what essentially amounts to a crew mutiny, in order to return to Mars — and rescue Astronaut Watney.

The future Earth of Weir’s imagination, is as far from the future Earth of Miller’s imagination, as Mars is from Venus.

Of course, The Martian was every inch a Campbellian movie, while Fury Road was almost entirely New Wave.

Guess which aesthetic dominates and excites the imaginations of SF/F’s cognoscenti?

I know, I know, I am a broken record about this stuff. But it never ceases to amaze me (in an unhappy way) how the so-called writers of Science Fiction, seem to be in such a huge hurry to run away from the roots of the field. I’ve read and listened to all the many arguments — pro and con, from both sides — about how Campbell rescued the field from the Pulp era, but then New Wave in turn rescued the field from the Campbell era. So it might be true that we’re finally witnessing the full maturation of SF/F as a distinct arena of “serious” literature, but aren’t we taking things too far? Does anyone else think it’s a bad idea for the field to continue its fascination with cultural critique — the number of actual nutty-bolty science types, in SFWA, is dwindling, while the population of “grievance degree” lit and humanities types, in SFWA, is exploding — while the broader audience consistently demonstrates a preference for SF/F that might be termed “old fashioned” by the modern sensibilities of the mandarins of the field?

Now, I think there is a very strong argument to be made, for the fact that Campbellian vs. New Wave is merely the manifestation of a deeper problem — a field which no longer has a true center. The two “sides” in the discussion have been taking shots at each other since long before I was born. The enmity may be so ingrained — in the internal conversation of SF/F — that nothing can reverse it. Save, perhaps, the total explosion of the field proper. Like a puffball of dandelion seeds that’s been hit with a strong wind, the various sub and micro genres within SF/F may simply fly away into the bigger world of literature, sprouting up separately all across the spectrum, with no single colony being identifiable as the “source” or capitol of SF/F.

Lord knows that those New Wavers within SF/F who are covetous of “proper” literary recognition, acclaim, critical applause, etc., are perfectly happy to shed their “skiffy” skins when it suits them. They desperately want to have a seat at the literary grown-ups table, despite desiring to also keep a hand in with the snot-nosed propeller-heads at the kids’ table. It’s a cake-and-eat-it-too problem. Just look at some of the covers being put on “science fiction” books these days, and you can tell that there are a lot of SF/F authors, editors, and marketers, who wish very much that SF/F literature would look (and read) very differently, from the SF/F that helped make the field successful — as a broad-market force, in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s.

My personal stance has always been, “To hell with the hoity-toities! Give me my space cruisers and galactic adventure, like that which fired my imagination in the beginning!” But this is a very passé attitude. Nobody wants nuts-and-bolts SF/F anymore, do they?

Do they??

Maybe those who avidly attended screenings of The Martian, know.

Fear and Loathing at the Awards Table, part 6

It’s rhetorical pogrom season, in the Peoples Republic of Science Fiction.

The 2016 Hugo award selection list (aka: final ballot) has been released, and we seem to be taking a trip down a familiar path. It’s Hatfields vs. McCoys, for yet another year. Or as one reader observed (last season) it’s just Campbellian vs. New Wave, for the umpteenth time. I’ve had several dozen e-mails cross my transom, all showing me what the “other side” is saying (behind both closed and open digital doors) and very little of it surprises me. The same personalities are involved. The same people are lobbying for the same result: NO AWARD for anything deemed to be part of Unfandom, so that Trufandom can rescue the Hugos from those nasty Unfans and their Unfannishness. Just gotta get Worldcon to Europe, so that rules changes can be cemented, and the Hugos will be even better insulated against Unfannery. Meanwhile, another bottle of vintage NO AWARD will be uncorked, to ensure that no rocketships are given to Unfannish types who aren’t properly bred and vetted.

I confess, the NO AWARD result (from 2015) was the only thing that truly surprised me, because not even I thought there would be enough resentful Trufans, all willing to cut the baby in half. But, not only was the baby cut in half, the ones wielding the blade cheered themselves doing the deed. They also handed out wooden CHORFholes, and thought that covering their wooden CHORFholes with a fig leaf of charity, would mask what was — beyond any shadow of a doubt — a complete and total dick move. Yeah, sorry, no. I realize that in the era of virtue-signalling slacktivism, charity is supposed to make dick moves bulletproof. But I am not sure that trick works anymore. That’s the problem with fig leaves: they cover so very little of the actual dickishness behind them.

But really, all of this has been talked to death in past iterations of the same conversation. Everyone knows its madness, and everyone also has an excuse. Everyone expects everyone else to admit wrong, and apologize, but everybody finds him or herself blameless. It’s not any single person that’s wrong with the Hugos, its the entire culture and concept of F/fandom (caps f, small f) that’s rotten. Oh, sure, there’s Scalzi and Beale, hammering away at each other with their egos, but that’s a bit like saying Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump invented the present 2016 Presidential mess, when they did not. Hillary and The Donald — two utterly self-serving narcissists — are merely emblematic of a deeper, much more pervasive problem in American culture. We (the nation) have lost our touchstones. We no longer have unifying identifiers, just as F/fandom (caps f, and small f) no longer has unifying identifiers. There are merely circles on a giant Venn diagram, not all of which overlap. And where there is no overlap, there is no commonality. No place in which to reach consensus. There is simply the jostling and friction of competing paradigms.

Which is what the Hugo Wars (or whatever we end up calling them) are all about: the F/fandom (caps f, small f) has ultimately fractured beyond repair. And the Hugos — the former totem for all — has been similarly fractured.

None of this happened overnight. None of it was the invention of a single individual. Just as dysfunctional families do not invent themselves from whole cloth. While the favored son stares in shock as his n’er-do-well sibling sets the drapes on fire, there’s much more going on than meets the eye. The burning drapes are merely the dividend of a thousand slights. And the favored son has the ignorant nerve to act surprised.

Don’t be shocked, then, that the Hugos are in turmoil for another season. There is no longer any unified agreement, about what the Hugos are for. Just as there is no longer any unified agreement about what science fiction is for, much less which types and kinds of science fiction are “worthy” of recognition — above and beyond publication or sales. Similarly, the Oval Office is in doubt. What is it for? What good does it do? Who is qualified to sit in that Oval Office? Some people want to use that office to inflict themselves and their ideas on other people. Some expect the Oval Office to be a single-shot solution to all the universe’s problems. Others have given up entirely on placing any faith in the Oval Office, and openly despise whichever man or woman sits there.

One of my favorite authors of all time — a man of considerable accomplishment and pedigree — remarked to me that he hated winning a major science fiction award. Because winning brought out all the worst, in so many of the people this author formerly considered his colleagues.

Maybe it’s for the best, that the Hugos self-immolate? We (of the Peoples Republic of Science Fiction) are evidently perfectly capable of manufacturing plenty of reasons to hate and despise each other. Do we really need another one? Especially with so many oily and competitive personalities involved? Catch the man who has fallen in love with his own mirror — with his self-perception of propriety — and you will typically find the worst sower of rancor. Because he doesn’t openly shout epithets at you across the length of the bar. He quietly poisons the well, with a thousand little shavings of rhetorical and emotional arsenic.

And the science fiction field has a surfeit of such individuals.

It’s enough to make any decent person GAFIAte, permanently. Especially since the emergence of the new Dragon Award, basically puts the Hugos into a place of permanent twilight.

My story’s in 2113

It’s not very often that an author gets invited to contribute to a once-in-a-lifetime project. When Kevin asked me to put a story in for 2113, I instantly knew the direction I wanted to go. I’ve been a RUSH listener since my older cousin (Mark Harman) introduced me to them in 1987. At that point, the band had been active for two decades, and I was coming to them “in the middle” with albums like Hold Your Fire and Power Windows. Not only was I attracted to the music, the lyrics especially spoke to me. I went on to listen to them (backward, to past albums; and forward, to future albums) for many years — enjoying the thoughtfulness and thought-provoking content of any number of songs. With RUSH, there is almost always a lot more “there” there. And while not every RUSH track hit it out of the park for me, there were some tracks that became personal anthems. I wrote my contribution to 2113 accordingly. Think of it like a tribute album. I am quite sure I’ll never get to participate in anything like it ever again. I hope people enjoy the story!! Indeed, I hope people enjoy all of the stories.

Of course, don’t just take my word for it. 🙂

Here’s a snippet from within:

——————————————————————–

. . . so that the clickity-clackity noise filled Shar’s small NASA office.

The framed photo Shar used to keep—of her wedding day, with Jason—was now absent from the desk’s corner.

She’d let him off easy. It hadn’t been an acrimonious separation. One day he’d come home to discover that Shar was moving closer to work. A tiny studio apartment, with easy public transit options, for getting to and from the NASA office.

“We can figure this out,” Jason had said, his face flushed.

“It’s not about figuring it out,” Shar had told him gently. “It’s about us going in different directions. We’ve been going in different directions for a long time. We can’t keep beating around the bush, or pretend that everything is just going to be alright. It’s not that I don’t love you, Jason. It’s that I don’t think loving you is enough anymore.”

He hadn’t argued with her much. Which essentially cemented her hunch that she’d been right about how tenuous their affection had become. He’d increasingly had his world—focused on his dream of the country house, far from the NASA office. And Shar had had her world—pushing forward on the building of new machines, new ships, and new technology; all designed to grow and foster the tiny, fledgling colony that was budding on the surface of Mars.

Shar’s little office was covered in high-resolution color printouts of digital photos from the colony. Unless Shar had known better, she might have suspected that they came from Utah or New Mexico. The rocks and soil stretched dryly in every direction, with an orange sky that faded to red and purple when the sun went down. Shar watched every digital movie that the colonists could send back. She spent hours talking to the people from crews which had returned. Some of them were friends from the original Wanderer mission. Others were just getting back from their first assignment. The colony wasn’t ready yet for year-round habitation. But with Shar’s help, it would be soon.

Shar leaned back in her thin-profile wheelchair, and watched the three-dimensional machining animation on her screen. In the span of thirty seconds, a five-hour printing and milling process played out, quick-time. She examined the finished product, swiveling it around on the screen, using her fingertips.

If ever the colony was going to survive unaided—in case something interrupted the supply line from Earth—they were going to need to be able to build replacement parts by themselves. The automated manufacturing units being planned for the newer missions were supposed to be able to fashion almost any part of any shape, from any refined material. Even solid steel. Every colony component that could break or wear out, was going to have to be programmed into the databases on those units. Then the units were going to have to be tested relentlessly, to be sure they worked as they were meant to.

To include being able to manufacture the parts to replace the units themselves if it came down to it.

Satisfied with her work, Shar closed the animation and put her computer on standby. It was only a little bit after ten at night. The cafeteria was closed, but she could go get some sandwiches from the twenty-four-hour desk, which had a refrigerator constantly stocked with cold foods—for the staff who often needed to eat at odd times.

She brought her hands down onto the familiar hoop grips on the sides of her chair’s two wheels . . .

. . . and the chair rolled into the office.

Alberto stood silently, his pastel-blue hospital scrubs fresh and clean. Life as a young resident was proving to be even more challenging than school itself. This wasn’t just book learning and cadavers anymore. These were real people. With real problems. The paralysis specialty therapy program at Collingsworth General was among the most advanced research programs in the country. Alberto had slaved for years to qualify for this job, and now that he was here, he could see why they weren’t just taking anybody.

“Good morning Mister Gerald,” Alberto said with a smile.

The man in the wheelchair—Philip Gerald, forty seven, wounded in combat, VA disability case, elective referral for experimental therapy—grunted.

“Doc,” Philip said, stopping his chair at the foot of the exam table. The man’s head was shaved bald, and a walrus-like mustache sprouted from his upper lip. His sea-blue eyes were sharp, but held no humor. As always, his manner was direct. No nonsense. A relic from his years in the Army, or so some of the nurses had said when he’d initially been referred. Alberto liked working with Philip, because Philip would often tell stories from his time spent overseas. And he wasn’t afraid of trying anything new.

“If it’ll get me my legs back,” Philip once drawled, “hell, I’ll kiss a rattlesnake on the lips and call her my girlfriend!”

Without needing to be told, Philip allowed myself to be maneuvered up and out of his chair—by Alberto, and one of the medical assistants. They had Philip lying on his stomach on the exam table, and Alberto peeled up the man’s t-shirt to reveal the plastic-covered network of wires that ran up and down Philip’s spine. The wires branched off and penetrated the skin at different points—though there was no blood, nor any scabbing.

“Any changes since last week?” Alberto asked.

“Naw,” Philip said, his voice slightly muffled. “Just dull little prickly sensations where I remember my legs used to be. It’s been like that since the third day after the implant.”

Alberto allowed himself a frown. The direct nerve induction system wasn’t working nearly as well as everyone had hoped.

Alberto wasn’t experienced enough yet to perform any of the surgeries himself, but one day soon he would be. Though, he couldn’t help feeling like the entire induction technology initiative was a dead end—an attempt to solve the problem without considering more elegant solutions.

“Okay,” Alberto said. “I’m going to change the battery, and we’ll take the signal up just a tick.”

“Dial to eleven if you want,” Philip said, chortling. “There aint nothin’ you can break that hasn’t already been broke by a bullet.”

“Right,” Alberto said. “I just want to be careful.”

“Roger that,” Philip grunted.

Alberto snapped the cover off of a small, slim-line plastic box, then he took out the rechargeable battery inside, and placed a fresh one in. When the battery quietly snapped into place, Philip’s legs jerked.

“Did you feel that?” Alberto said, hopefully.

“Feel what?” Philip replied.

Alberto suppressed a sigh. Yes, he was definitely going to have to find a way to get his alternative theory into the lab. This hardware-based implant program wasn’t going to do the job—not the way Alberto envisioned it should. Too clumsy. Prone to breakage and the problem of the batteries always running low. If it was going to work, it needed to be able to last a lifetime.
Alberto pulled his patient’s shirt back down, and together with the medical assistant, began to lever Philip back into the chair . . .

A Christmas Noun: The Unauthorized Spinoff – teaser trailer

CUE: soundtrack by John Williams.

ATMOSPHERICS: Camera viewpoint soars through space, eventually coming to focus on a single, fragile-looking planet — white cloud formations and blue oceans, decorated by brown land masses, which are in turn mottled by green forests. Camera viewpoint drops quickly down through the sky to the night side of the world, punctuated with the glowing light from towns and cities, eventually reaching a darkened mountain range.

Modulated voice of Torgers0n: There has been an awakening. Have you felt it?

SCENE: Brad Torgers0n is cloaked in a use-worn, black shroud. He is standing at the rocky base of the CorreiaTech fortress, on formidable Yard Moose Mountain. His back is turned to the camera. It’s mostly dusk, with snow falling loosely around Brad Torgers0n’s shoulders.

Modulated voice of Torgers0n: Nothing will stand in our way . . . .

ACTION: the cloaked shape of Torgers0n stoops over to peer at something in the rocks. It looks like grass. Camera zooms in to reveal bits and pieces of crumpled straw, covered in ranch dressing. Brad Torgers0n reaches out and reverently picks up a small handful of the vanquished remains of Straw Larry. Cut to a close-up of Brad Torgers0n holding the remains before his mask-covered face. The black-gloved hand slowly clenches; reverence turning to anger.

Modulated voice of Torgers0n: I will finish . . . what you started . . .

ACTION: Cloaked figure of Brad Torgers0n suddenly rises to his feet, throwing the remains down, and snapping out his opposite hand. The Log Saber™ deploys into Brad Torgers0n’s black-gloved hand, a tremoring beam of evil red energy springing instantly to life from the Log Saber’s™ hilt. A thrumming sound echoes around the base of the CorreiaTech fortress.

Modulated voice of Torgers0n: I will show them the power of the Darkness!

ACTION: Cut instantly to a pastiche sequence of exploding TIE fighters, rubber nipples, soaring X-Wings, Powdered Toast Man jumping to light speed, the Millennium Falcon zooming over a desert landscape, and Mr. Horse declaring, “No sir, I don’t like it!”

Feeling their way to The Force?

Have you seen the latest trailer for Star Wars: Episode VII? (Of course you have!) Beyond the delirious joy of seeing Han Solo, Chewbacca, and Leia Organa return to the big screen, I was left with a question that’s lurked in the back of my mind ever since I saw the original three Star Wars films over 30 years ago: in the absence of a Master, how does a Sith or a Jedi discover his or her aptitude for the power?

Now, I know the Expanded Universe books have tackled aspects of this question, but from a pure film standpoint, we’ve never seen the question addressed directly . . . until now?

Kylo Ren (red warbly crossguard lightsaber = immediately bad!) and Finn (pleasant blue lightsaber = immediately good!) would seem to be the first new Dark and Light Force users to arise since Luke Skywalker himself — who is conspicuously absent from both the latest trailer, and the official movie poster. Barring some kind of reveal (entirely possible) the operating assumption is that both Kylo and Finn are “feeling” their way into their roles, as users of the Dark and the Light sides of The Force. (Leia Organa appears to have remained a muggle by choice; again, barring a reveal.)

Presumably this is similar to how it all happened in the first place, for the very first Force users, way back in the history of history. Somebody had to be first.

But if it’s possible for Kylo and Finn, why not lots of other people? The small percentage of Force-sensitive sapients in the Star Wars Galaxy would not have diminished dramatically due to the events of either the original movies, or the events of the prequels. Only known Jedi were slaughtered, not potential Jedi. And while the Emperor seemed to be seriously stingy with his delegation — Sith are fantastically few and far between — the Jedi order had no such restriction. Hell, they formalized their education and set up a damned school, and a council, and everything.

So, what triggers a Force-sensitive person into exploring his or her (its?) abilities? And how does this exploration differ from what we saw Luke go through? And why aren’t the Force-sensitive popping up all over the place, playing little parlour tricks on the muggles of the galaxy? Just because they can? The movie subtitle is, The Force Awakens. Did the death of Palpatine and then, Vader, cause some kind of cosmic Force shockwave that dimmed or diminished The Force for a period of years?

Again, there is what the EU says happened, and there is what the new film is going to establish.

I know, I know overthinking it; and without much evidence to go on, either. But when has this ever stopped Star Wars fans from speculating? (grin)

What does the Bible have in common with William Shatner?

Two pieces crossed my desk this week, each of them tangentially connected to the other. Both of them discuss what I’d call the more unfortunate side-effects of adult fannishness. In the case of the one, the article-writer is essentially complaining that adults who were born in the 1970s and 1980s have so thoroughly coopted kid culture, that today’s kids are kinda getting squeezed out of the picture. Everything that used to be made explicitly for kids, has been all-growed-up and is now pitched to an explicitly adult market: video games, comic books, TV cartoons, etc. It’s a billion-dollar consumer party, and kids — anyone below the age of 16 — aren’t necessarily invited. The other article-writer engages in no small amount of self-praise because of the fact that he’s skipped paying bills and even skipped buying food, so that he has enough money to attend his favorite science fiction convention(s) — because you’re not a real fan until you’ve suffered and sacrificed for your street cred. It takes the maniacal dedication of an aesthete to make a fan (mundane) into a Fan (caps-f).

Now, I am the last guy in the world to jump up on the “You’re doing it wrong!” soap box. I generally say, hey, whatever floats your boat, it’s your life — you go ahead and live it.

But not paying bills? Not buying food?

I think 1 Corinthians, Chapter 13 has something to say about all of this:

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

I’ve had enthusiasms all my life. Just about everybody does. Such as rooting for a favorite sports team. Or loving a favorite movie. I’ve also let some of those enthusiasms go, simply because I haven’t had the time — all-growed-up! — to keep pursuing them. Like scale model airplanes. From age 9 through age 16, my bedroom was festooned with replica fighters and bombers. In my late teens and early twenties, I switched over to scratchbuilding starships from the Star Trek universe. But even that hobby took a back seat, as the demands of being a responsible adult increased. Taking on two careers (civilian and military) followed by, eventually, three careers (batcave job: author) meant making choices about where to devote my time. And this was on top of having a marriage and a family to look after, including church responsibilities.

But at no time did I ever fool myself into thinking that a mere enthusiasm should take priority over real world commitments and necessities.

Look, everybody scripts her own existence. No one person’s life is ever going to be lived exactly like any other person’s life. This is the beauty of free agency. But being a free agent doesn’t mean having a free pass from adulthood. Paying the bills and putting meat’n’taters on the table are so basic, so completely fundamental, they shouldn’t even be part of the discussion. This is rudimentary maintenance stuff, like brushing and flossing. If you actually have to decide whether or not you’re going to buy groceries and pay your power bill, versus spending that money on a convention . . . I’m going to gently suggest that not only is this not noble, nor does it elevate you above others, you in fact may have a serious prioritization problem that goes way beyond the silly hubris of declaring yourself more-fannish-than-thou.

Meanwhile, I do think my generation (we’re crossing into middle-agedness now, oh noes!) and the generation after mine, have a legit problem with extended adolescence. All over social media lately, I see people joking, “I had to go out and adult today!” or “I can’t adult today, I just don’t have it in me,” Where adult is a verb meaning, “Doing the unpleasant chores of the real world, which all grown-ups have been forced to do since the beginning of time.” Which is really kind of sad, considering the fact that most first-worlders live lives of astounding convenience and luxury, compared to their great-grandparents. We live much longer, we generally don’t have to worry about diseases like polio, and many of us sit in comfortable chairs behind comfortable desks, only having to log eight hours a day, a mere five days a week. Yet we talk as if this is a nigh-unbearable burden — a psychically crushing and existentially soul-destroying purgatory. Because reality won’t let us follow our bliss every waking minute of every day, all week, every month, each year.

I suspect our generational clinging to the loves of our childhood — comics, video games, cartoons — is a coping mechanism. And coping mechanisms can be good, so long as “coping” does not become synonymous with avoidance in actual practice. Real life doesn’t go away. In fact, the more a man avoids real life — escaping into his enthusiasms — the larger the problems of real life loom. In past eras, men who couldn’t deal, typically descended into pointless violence, or crawled to the bottom of a bottle, or simply ran away; abandoning wives and children. In our era? Adults who can’t deal may find themselves utterly lost in an enthusiasm, such that real life is just an annoying distraction. The enthusiasm itself becomes a replacement for reality — a secondary, preferable world. Could be a MMORPG. Could be the convention circuit. It doesn’t matter what the thing is. When the thing becomes more important than fundamentals — paying bills, taking care of yourself, and also taking care of family — you might have a problem. Dare I even say, a serious problem?

Now, lest I be accused of being a fun-hater, I want to emphasize that I am not saying we should all dump our enthusiasms and live a completely hairshirt existence. But I believe there’s got to be balance. And I do think there are times when we — all-growed-up, in body if not in spirit — have to put away childish things. At least until we’ve successfully reckoned with real life to the extent that we can plop down in that mythic beanbag chair, pull out the video game controller, and enjoy some well-earned R-and-R; knowing that the bases have all been covered.

I also think we can afford to let some things remain kid-friendly. We don’t have to drag every single damned thing we loved when we were kids, forward into our disillusioned middle age, where the sunshine of youth gets clouded over by the grimdark of maturity. One of the reasons I’ve enjoyed Cartoon Network productions such as Regular Show, Adventure Time and Chowder so much, is because they work for my daughter as well as they do for myself and my spouse. The jokes, the situations, the references, all of it operates at two levels. Which, if you think about it, is also true for much of the classic animation of yore. Example: the Looney Tunes shorts were originally written and produced for adult theater-going audiences. Not Saturday morning cereal viewers.

Regardless of whatever sort of balance each of us strives to achieve, it’s important to remember that the total universe of enthusiasms is an egalitarian universe. You like football. I like basketball. Somebody else likes baseball. You like Skyrim. Your friend prefers World of Warcraft. I prefer my throwback video game from twenty years ago. You attend a lot of conventions. I attend a few conventions. Our mutual acquaintance attends none. And it’s all good. As long as people are taking care of the fundamentals — doing what needs to be done for house and home — I think it’s no-harm, no foul.

The problem is when things get out of balance. When an enthusiasm becomes an obsession. When we get so caught up in our formerly childhood passions, we take over the landscape and crowd out the real kids. When we begin to depend on others to take care of our fundamentals for us, so that we can remain distracted by the alternate world of our formerly healthy diversions. And — last, but not least — when we mistake our out-of-balance obsession for proof that we’re better than the merely “normal” people who’ve managed to successfully keep one foot planted in the real world, while also being actively engaged in the fun of their choice.

And yes, I know, you can’t say stuff like this without making somebody angry — that’s expected. This is the internet. You can’t talk like this, and not make somebody on the internet flamingly mad at you.

My answer to the angry folk?

Let’s go back to the question I first posed: what does the Bible have in common with William Shatner?

Both of them tell us to get a life.