Dead leaves and rain

It’s really a pretty pleasant month, all things told. (I mean, most months are pleasant when you’re thinking about them while a cat is sitting on your lap and purring, but October generally suits me even without that.)

Work continues to go well. I’m working on the OcTBR Challenge and have finished ten books so far this month, which is honestly making me feel a little better about the ungoverned tsundoku pile I am dealing with.  I’m also culling books, which is giving me space to put a lot of them more neatly on shelves. Yesterday’s election could have gone much worse. All the pets are okay. I got a very small rosebush and have so far managed to keep the pets from eating it (although it’s early days yet).

I actually finished a new story this month, too, rather than just revising something. Of course, given how I usually work, this means it’s going on the pile of things to revise. I’m hoping it’ll go faster than previous ones, though.

In other news, I had a small road trip which included dinner 120 stories in the air at a revolving restaurant with a spectacular view, and seeing a lot of very old horror movie posters and props, including what everyone is very sure is the last surviving poster from the original run of Frankenstein at the ROM’s It’s Alive! exhibit. I also got to go by Wonder Pens, which is a really lovely fountain-pen-and-related shop, and think I am now sated for ink for a while.

Heading out to Surrey for SIWC soon, and hoping that will be as fun and informative as it was last year. I should go pack.

That thing where the person thought you knew the context of the thing.

Vaguely related to my last post, I suppose–that was about how one story can be dressed up in the shape of a different kind of story, and this is about how one story can be dressed up as itself but be misread as to what that is.

I saw Wonder Woman. (Not recently, and I mean, I think everyone saw Wonder Woman.) And I was discussing it with someone else who’d seen it, and they mentioned that they’d thought the movie hadn’t explained enough of the story. I thought the movie worked fine for explanations, but I figured that I have some cultural-background-radiation familiarity with Wonder Woman, and am generally pretty happy to sit back and watch for world-building anyway, so I asked for clarification.

They felt that if the movie was going to reference existing Greek myths about the Amazons and Themiscira, and use those as the basis of the story, they should include more details. For example, since they put time into bringing up the story about Themiscira being protected from the outside world, that was obviously something that should have mattered, and they should have explained why and how it was that way so that it wasn’t jarring when everyone got through the protection.

(This was when I started re-examining my casual assumptions about how much of what I knew about Wonder Woman was general-culture background radiation, and how much of it was my-specific-subculture background radiation.)

I mean, on the one hand, it certainly makes sense; if a story establishes something, you expect it to come back to that thing. That’s basic stuff, Chekov’s Gun sitting right there. And yet no-one else I personally know assumed that the story of Themiscira was about things that were supposed to come up; it was just a story about things that were.

I think every genre has this, to some degree. In an office romance, the annoying co-worker’s horseback-riding hobby may not signal that she is going to try to trample anyone. In a mystery, the police sergeant’s impeccable grooming may never be a plot point. Some things establish setting and character, and some things are a hook for action; the two don’t have to overlap, although they can.

(It’s like in Escape from L.A. The gizmos that Snake gets given all come up as plot points throughout the movie. On the flipside, the evangelical moral purity of America and the catchphrase “Call me Snake” do not; they establish the setting, but they aren’t keys to the events.)

((I can’t believe I’m discussing Wonder Woman and Escape from L.A. in the same post.))

I haven’t quite figured out exactly what signals the difference between establishing points and action points to the viewer, and clearly it’s subjective, but I’m turning it over; if I can figure it out, it’ll be useful for being able to convey a story’s promise more clearly.

(And I’ve just gotten my first rejection of the year! The quest for centiBrads continues.)

October

The latter half of the month has been a bit much, but rather than focussing on that I’m going to note the positive.

First, it’s October, which is always a good month. A surprising number of the neighbours put up their decorations on the 2nd, and when I walk to the bus stop for work I’ve been walking past tombstones and skeletons and grasping decomposing hands and one disturbingly large and green plastic Slimer and cobwebs and–

Look, even the more restrained houses have hay bales. It’s a very enthusiastic neighbourhood this year.

I finally got a chance to sit down and rewatch Trick ‘r Treat, and that was comfortably reassuring as always. I usually try to watch something seasonal in October, and that was the first chance I had. (Speaking of which, a YouTube channel called CineFix did a list of the top 5 horror movies of all time once you eliminate all the famous ones, and it seems pretty solid–there are a couple in there I haven’t seen, and I think I should catch them.)

I also got a few sketches done for Inktober. Nowhere near close to one a day, but it was good to sit down when I could and scribble something out in twenty-odd minutes.

And finally, I got a couple more stories into a state fit to send out, so I’ve started collecting even more rejections; I’m pretty sure I’m on track to make fifty submissions this year.

Twenty minutes into the Future…

During the entirely too excessive amount of time I spent on planes yesterday, one of them offered Mad Max[1] as an in-flight movie. And I saw the summary and grumbled, because the summary ran

In a post apocalyptic world, Australian policeman Max seeks to avenge the death of his family at the hands of bestial marauding bikers. (115 min)

Mad Max, I maintain, is not a post-apocalyptic movie (and dammit, you hyphenate that when it’s an adjective). I would listen to arguments that it’s a world in the slow beginnings of an apocalypse as society crumbles into a new dark age[2], but it ain’t post-apocalyptic. There wasn’t an apocalypse.

I do think it’s part of a really identifiable sub-genre of dark dystopias that are very low science fiction (if any) and that I think tend to get lumped into SF because they’re set “technically in the future” rather than because they’re movies about the effects of a new technology. I mean, things are in the future and it’s different and bad–that’s part of what SF is, right?

(We shall now pause for a regularly scheduled observation that if all SF was was complaints about how everything was going to hell, it would not deserve its title as “the literature of ideas”. Future rants about the reactionary nature of time travel may follow.)

But these movies… you know the kind I mean, right? The setting of Mad Max is undermaintained and there’s been a decay of the social order for some unspecified reason, but that’s it. Escape from New York came out in ’81, and there really isn’t any new technology in there; a bunch of it was probably developed during World War III, but that never really comes up. Dead End Drive-In is a low-tech (and very low-budget) excuse to pen a bunch of unemployed hooligans up in a isolated parking lot and leave them there.

I’m not saying these different-society-plausible-technology movies are bad. Some of them are bad. Some of them are fun. Some of them are pretty cool.

But I really don’t think they’re speculative fiction, and I wish I had a name for the sub-genre. I suppose they’re dystopias, or possibly just near-future dystopias, but I kind of wonder if someone else has already thought about this and come up with a better name.

(NB: Not saying the subgenre of “twenty minutes from now, it’ll be the grim dark future” is exclusively low or no SF–you can look at Rollerball, Death Race 2000, or RoboCop for counterexamples. Or Max Headroom, which is the source of the post’s title. And I have a bit to say about both Max Headroom and RoboCop, but it’s actually still 10 p.m. on my body clock and I think I need a nap, never mind all this sunshine.)

[1] Not Road Warrior, not Beyond Thunderdome, not Fury Road, just Mad Max.
[2] The distinction between apocalypse and societal decline is interesting, and one that I suspect largely has to do with framing and speed. (Possibly enhanced by weapons of mass destruction. I suspect that a society that crumbles without anyone having the potential to fire off nukes is going to do so rather more gracefully than a society with said potential, insofar as such processes can be called graceful.)

I think it’s the insects’ turn.

Poster for the 1988 movie MIRACLE MILE. I rewatched Miracle Mile tonight; last night, actually, by the time this post is done. (Spoilers follow.)

If you don’t know it; it’s a 1988 movie about a guy who accidentally gets a phone call telling him nuclear war is starting (has started? the missiles are locked in, at any rate), and LA will be nuked in 70 minutes. The rest of the movie is him trying to get to his girlfriend and escape the city.

He manages one of these things.

Miracle Mile is dated, and its pacing and dialogue make it a bit hard to approach, but it pulls itself together as the film goes on. Some of the scenes towards the end are surprisingly bleak; the frantic crawl through the traffic jam is something I’ve never quite seen a match for. And it is an unapologetically downer ending[1]; I find it rather touching as well, which mellows it slightly, but fundamentally this is a movie that unquestioningly accepts that  nuclear war is going to be the end of things and waits for the characters to catch up.

“People are going to help each other, aren’t they? Rebuilding things?”
“I think it’s the insects’ turn.”

I would love to see a remake of it, but I’m not sure it could be done. It seems very much a movie rooted in the Cold War; the idea that a nuclear war could happen, that it was such a real and obvious and accepted fear that with so little prompting people would behave that way. I think you could convey a world in which that fear was present, but I think that for the audience it might be a case of learning that fear, not recognizing that fear.

[1] I said, to the light of my life, “is it really that much of a downer?” And he said to me, “World War Three started, LA is nuked, the main characters drown in tar. It’s a downer.”
He has a point.

“I have something to give you. I don’t want it anymore.”

Poster for the 1994 movie The Crow.Last week (I meant to ramble about this earlier, but it’s been a somewhat hectic Thursday-evening-through-weekend), I was talking to a friend about movies, and she mentioned that she’d not only see The Wrath of Khan, she’d snuck out of school to see it when it opened in the theatres. Twice.

I never did that[1], but I was thinking about a movie that I went to see six times in the first month or so after it opened in the theatres[2], and that is The Crow. Murder, revenance[3], rain, fire, revenge, poetry quoted and lines spoken; I loved that movie so very much, and even writing about it now has some of the dialogue chiming around my head and I am smiling.

But I could never remember the ending. I mean, I remembered Sarah being kidnapped, I remembered the fight in the church, I remembered the scene with Shelley at the end. But I never remembered what Eric did to beat Top Dollar. It just went right out of my mind, which I suppose is nice in that it made the fight much tenser, since I wasn’t sure how he was possibly going to survive that.

And it’s odd, to forget that. Because it’s a deeply satisfying moment, in its way.

Same with The Shining–not the movie, this time, but the book. I remember the ending; you will remember what your father forgot, the boiler, the capering figure before the flames. But for the first few years I read it–during which I’m guessing I read it at least three times–I never remembered the scene where Jack smashed his own face with the roque mallet, and what looked out was the Overlook Motel.

In its own way, that’s as pivotal a scene to The Shining as Eric inflicting Shelley’s pain is to The Crow; the one is an extremely visceral representation of the effects of the haunted house, the other’s an encapsulation of revenge that is inarguably earned and was explicitly justified by the target not seven seconds earlier. They could have been written out, but it’s hard to imagine them being replaced by anything that would be better suited to the story.

So I’m honestly puzzled as to why I couldn’t remember them. I first read The Shining when I was eleven or twelve, and I guess it’s possible that I just had trouble grasping the concretization of such an abstract concept, but that makes no sense in the context of The Crow. I was older, and the concept there is a lot less abstract.

And of course, now I’m wondering if there are other things that I’ve forgotten the same way, blanked out after multiple readings or viewings. I suppose I couldn’t tell, which is rather annoying. (I’m guessing I’m not the only person who has these blank spots, but I’m also guessing that other people with these blank spots don’t necessarily share mine. Which makes em even more curious about what causes them, I think.)

[1] Off the top of my head, I am an extremely boring person, and the only school-related movie incident I can recall is when I got so many demerits for staying up reading after lights-out at boarding school that I was grounded and could not go see Bram Stoker’s Dracula the one day it was playing.
[2] The sixth time, my dad went with me and said I wasn’t old enough to see it again. It seems like it would be kind of a moot point by then, but moving on.
[3] This is now a word.

The radical notion…

I’ve been thinking a bit about Mad Max lately; specifically the Fury Road movie. I’m fond of the franchise in general, although my interest mostly lies with the post-apocalyptic setting of the second, third, and now fourth movies. And the fourth movie makes me extremely happy.

I am very fond of the post-apocalyptic genre, and I found the character of the protagonist–the fact that she existed, and how the movie handled her–to be deeply affecting in a good if startling way. That said, while I’d heard that the movie was being described as feminist, I don’t think I really thought about it at the time.

(I actually tried pretty hard not to think about it, because I was honestly not expecting it to be really better than most action movies, and I did not want to get my hopes up and have disappointed hopes get in the way of my movie enjoyment. I am not sure if this is selfishness or compartmentalization, and I am okay with that.)

I’ve seen arguments both in favour and against its being called a feminist movie. I’ve thought about it, and because it helps me to write things out when I think about them, I am rambling about it here. I think there are a few ways to parse the definition; looking at the creation of the work, and two ways of looking at the work itself.

Also there might be spoilers, I guess, so time for a break. Continue reading “The radical notion…”

Hectic times

Today’s actually been a really good day. It was a low-pressure morning, I got the tracking information for my incoming shinies, I installed and noodled around on Pillars of Eternity, and I went to go see It Follows with the light of my life. (Who discussed doing science to the monster in the car on the way back.)

Pillars of Eternity is fun; it feels a lot like playing Baldur’s Gate back in the day[1], although I haven’t yet resorted to the tactic of summoning kobolds to fight for me and then looting the short bows for resale when they got killed and disappeared in a puff of smoke. It’s a bit crunchy, it feels fairly linear so far, and it has some gleefully creepy moments that I’ve been enjoying greatly. It’ll be good to play through, I think.

It Follows was… I don’t want to say it was surprisingly good, because I wasn’t expecting it to be bad. (Following under cut due to spoilers–mild ones, but it’s a really solid movie and people should get to watch it without spoilers if they so choose.)  Continue reading “Hectic times”

Mnemosyne will this offset.

Bouncing around links, as one does, I ran across this post and while I am not currently speaking to the second point of the post[1], I think the first point is extremely on-point:

When you read an x-men book today, you’re not reading it because of what is in the actual book–you’re reading it because it’s the X-men and the feeling it gives you reminds you of positive memories you have of the very best of the x-men stories.

(No, obviously not exclusively!) But.

I read that and I remembered trying to explain what I felt about the second Hobbit movie, and why I’m probably going to go see the third. It wasn’t that it was good, really. It wasn’t that it was deeply moving, or well-paced. And I was trying to explain my reaction after and what I came out with was “It’s not that it’s good! It’s that it looks close enough to something that was good, when I read it when I was a kid, that I can use that to get back to how awesome it was back then.”

It’s like air being blown into a bouncy castle. >.> (An incredibly dignified image, I am sure you will agree.) It doesn’t have to be good air. It doesn’t have to have the whisper of summer-evening meadow-flowers, or the far-off breath of the sea, or have strains of far-off dwarven chanting[2]. It needs to be uncorrosive enough to not rot the bouncy castle from the inside-out. (And a nozzle that matches the valve on the bouncy-castle, I am sure, but here the metaphor is getting overcomplicated again.)

Just figured I would note down that particular case of a well-articulated point that clicked for me, because it is so bloody frustrating to not be able to set something out clearly.

[1] I am not disagreeing that it amy lead to a non-aspirational escapism, but I am disagreeing that a non-aspirational escapism deserves to be called “the worst” kind. But at that point you get into judging the values of escapism in terms of personal growth vs expansion of perception vs self-care, and I absolutely do not have time to do that at this point, so I will end this footnote now.
[2] “Gold, gold, gold, gold.”

Hugo helpfulness

I understand that there’s going to be an announcement about the Hugo voter packages very soon. In the meantime, if you’re looking for a coherent list of links to what’s available online, you could do a lot worse than check out John DeNardo’s roundup at SF Signal. It’s huge.

Myself, I’m keeping a list here, Continue reading “Hugo helpfulness”