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.)

I think TV Tropes has a name for this

I’ve been watching Minority Report, and while I wouldn’t call myself a fan[1], there was a kind of striking moment in the seventh episode.

To summarize the basic premise, established in the pilot: Dash (one of the precogs) is the hopeful nice one who’s voluntarily (and secretly) assisting the police, and his brother Arthur is your basic languid-sleaze-in-a-suit using his powers to steal people’s identities and generally make headway as a white-collar criminal. Lieutenant Vega is the police officer who knows what Dash is and is working with him. (There are other characters who are not relevant to what I am discussing.) Spoilers follow. Continue reading “I think TV Tropes has a name for this”

The quiet background.

A pair of hiking boots on rocky ground.
These boots were made for walking– and will take a skilled cobbler perhaps thirty work-hours to replace. When going among the radioactive hell-weasels, please try to get bitten primarily about the arms and face.

As surprises probably no-one, I am a fan of post-apocalyptic settings. (My boxed copy of Wasteland 2 came in recently!) But I was thinking lately about skillsets that would be useful in a post-apocalyptic setting that don’t get a lot of attention paid them.

Disclaimer: “post-apocalyptic” covers a huge range of stuff, from your generic brown whoops-the-bombs-fell-pass-me-my-gas-mask setting to Fritz Leiber’s chill dark “A Pail of Air” to the slow burn of On The Beach or Stross’s bureaucratically gleeful Mythos-drawing “A Colder War”. So yeah, not all post-apocalyptic settings require those skills, but they strike me as the kind of thing where it’s… hmh. Worth confirming that you don’t need them, if you don’t?

Cobbling. I mean, honestly, there is so much walking in so many of these settings; driving too, and the occasional ornithopter, but… shoes. Sooner or later the pre-existing shoes are going to be scavenged, or you’re not going to be in a spot where you can get more, or you’re just a really common size and everyone else got there first. And yet I don’t think I’ve ever seen or heard of a cobbler in a post-apocalyptic setting. Everyone’s too busy selling spit-cooked rat or something.

While we’re on rats and food… Food preservation is going to come up at some point, unless there is no way to ever raise, grow, hunt, or gather more than you need on a day to day basis. I, for one, have no idea how to can or preserve food (I think you boil it and then pour wax on it; I think I’m missing some critical steps), and would fully expect meat to rot before it became jerky.

Pharmaceutical training, too. Medical skills are a given (again, remember, this is not a discussion of skillsets that are obviously useful, it’s a discussion of useful skillsets that aren’t often paid attention to; this is why mechanics and doctors haven’t and won’t be mentioned), but even just knowing how drugs need to be stored and what interactions you can expect would be useful. Pharmacies in Canada at least often don’t print expiry dates on the prescriptions they dispense; it’d be nice to at least know where to look to find those.

Speaking of knowing things? Archival skills. It’s awesome that you have a printed copy of… well, Wikipedia and the Mayo Clinic site. But even leaving aside that modern paper tends to be acidic, what’ll you do when the black mold gets in? How’re you going to make more copies (where will you get the ink)? If it’s a single huge print-out, who’s going to index this in a useful way now that you can’t just click on a link?

I mean, I am sure there will be workarounds, and I’m not saying a post-apocalyptic setting needs these things, or needs to dwell on them. I am saying it is possibly quite cool to examine the possibilities of developing these things.

There are more, but I really do need to run off and Do Things. I just wanted to note this down while I had a moment.

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.”

As the riders rode on by him, he heard one call his name…

I like Westerns. Not as much as I like noir, but I like them. (I actually think there’s something to be said about the overlap between the two genres, but that’s a sidepoint.)

However: I love Weird Westerns, from the steampunk through the fantastic to the straight-up horror–admittedly with a strong preference for the horror end of things, but that’s just me. And there’s a new anthology possibly coming out, and the list of contributors is kind of making me wonder why I have heard almost nothing about it.

(What I have heard? Lucy A. Snyder tweeted about it. That’s it. I realize I may have missed some things, but…)

I am trying not to gush too much about that list, but one of the people on it wrote a scene in a horror novel that left me light-headed and faint. Another has written the only zombie story that made me cry. And there are thirteen authors on that list, and at the lowest pledge level that comes out to 77 cents a story and that’s not even counting any other contributors since it’s going to be open for submissions, and…

I get that genre fiction is one of those weird niche things, and Weird Westerns are the teeny-tiny cross-section of the genres that get the least space at our local public library.[1] I get that cash is often tight. I do.

But dammit, this is the Weird West, that place of high-noon glare and shrieking steam, of voices on the wind and grinning horrors in long black coats, of long shadows and bootheels clocking off the hours to midnight. And I believe with the heart of a hopeful fan that there are more than sixty-seven other people who want to get their hands on this anthology. So I figure that some people who would like it simply have not heard about it, and I am trying to pass word along.

Dark Trails. That link right there.

Maybe it’s not your thing. But if you know someone who’d like it, maybe pass the word along?

[1] It’s true. It’s sad. A bookshelf unit has six shelves each, and the horror/western paperbacks only take up three shelves combined. It kind of makes me happy that they’re next to each other, though.

A quiet kind of strange

So, despite a lot of the movies I spend time going on about, I actually do watch and enjoy movies that are commonly recognized as “good”. A couple of nights ago, I was rewatching The Cooler, which I think was one of the first movies I saw with William H. Macy.

A brief summary of the starting premise: Bernie Lootz is a “cooler”, a guy whose luck is so bad that a casino keeps him around to ruin other people’s winning streaks, which he does by standing next to them. As the movie opens, he is planning to leave in just a few days. The rest of the movie is absolutely worth watching, but this is not the point I am currently discussing.

It’s absolutely clear that Bernie’s luck is a real force. And the way this is handled is weirdly fascinating to me. One person mocks the idea of having a cooler as old-fashioned, but there is never a Mulder/Scully moment about how This Is Too Silly To Be Believed. And on the flip side, there is never a huge deal made about it. Forget the commodification and classification of bad-luck joes you might expect in a garden-variety urban fantasy; you don’t even get the organized underground betting you find in Intacto. (A decent movie, but not quite as awesome. More interesting concept development; less brilliant acting and characterization.) His luck is simply there, affecting things as luck might; plain and clear and true as a well-cut suit.

I think this is magical realism. The Oxford Companion to English Lit (apparently) describes magic realism as often having

a strong narrative drive, in which the recognizably realistic merges with the unexpected and the inexplicable and in which elements of dreams, fairy story, or mythology combine with the everyday, often in a mosaic or kaleidoscopic pattern of refraction and recurrence.

That is a little weirder than The Cooler gets–I think luck is so plain that it doesn’t reach quite the heights of strange you can find in dreams or fairy tales–but the way the real events go through the story in sync with Bernie’s luck, that seems about right. Refraction and recurrence.

It’s interesting to me not (just) because of the subtlety or the low-key fantastical elements, but because of the lack of self-consciousness. I can think of several written stories that have those qualities, but it’s a combination that’s pretty rare in movies. Would like to see more of it.

Tidying up.

Still over a week to go before 2014, but I have decided that now is a good time to formally note down a handful of things I have found online that I really like. (This will also enable me to close a few tabs in my browser. I am trying to get better about doing this. I have had tabs open for over a year.)

First, the artlog tag on EliseM’s LJ is often filled with lovely things. (I mention it first because the 3 Woman Sale is over tonight. January is looking to be chill and grey and unpleasant, and I am thinking something from that showing up in the mail is not the worst thing that could happen.  I am waffling particularly over a couple of the earrings.)

Second, Captain Awkward is an advice blog that is shockingly sensible, and very good on reminding people that you actually get to have boundaries, and that you can’t actually make other people feel things.

Written Kitten‘s cache is pretty amazing, since I have stuff still saved in there from… er… four months ago? I should copy that to a file and back it up properly. Also, you know, kittens.

TV Tropes is dangerously likely to be a timesink, but I think it’s nice to have tropes–these and others–layed out so explicitly and discussed. I felt kind of the same way about The Tough Guide To Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones.

Knitty.com‘s– oh, dammit, a new issue is up. Okay, not closing that tab. Anyway. Yes. Knitty’s an online ‘zine for knitters; free patterns, articles, how-tos, assorted usefulness, lovely pictures. The latest issue seems to have a lot of cables. I love cables.

Hmh. Remaining tabs (all, er, hundred-plus of them) appear to be falling into broad categories. May sort them out and come back later – for the moment, I think it’s time to go light a fire.

I had somehow missed this.

There’s an article in the Balder & Dash section over on Roger Ebert’s site. Written by Laura Bogart, it’s called The Trouble With Carrie. It’s thought-provoking, to say the least, and I’m still processing it.

Short version of the article, which you should go read: Carrie is remarkable because she does not kick ass for anyone else. She does it for herself. Sarah Connor–oh, my god, please understand this isn’t an indictment of Sarah Connor, who by the second movie has become a brilliant and much-beloved-by-me character in what is assuredly one of my favourite albeit not watched-to-tatters movies–does what she does for her son. Ripley is unremarkably motivated by survival (does not count; this is about doing more than what you need to do to survive), but goes above and beyond that, moving from rescuing cats to the iconic “Get away from her, you bitch.” Laurie Strode is babysitting children she needs to take care of. Kick-Ass does what she does because her father tells her to. When Nancy Thompson is done being motivated by survival, she comes back to help the other children.

But Carrie, as of the latest version, does it because this should not have happened to her, and it was not fair, and she has fucking had it.[1]

This sounds selfish.

And kind of glorious.

Scott Lynch once quoted H.L. Mencken as saying “Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.” Not for someone else’s sake. Not because it’s easy to afford. Not because other responsibilities demand it. But because sometimes, dammit, you just want to say that it’s not okay to need to eat so much shit.

I am working a lot harder to make time for this movie, now.

[1] To be clear: this “it is not fair” motivation is not unique. It happens a lot in the rape/revenge subgenre if the victimized woman survives. I generally don’t watch that genre, because Reasons I Do Not Feel Like Unpacking Now; I just wanted to note that Carrie is not something utterly new (and no, I’m not saying her movies are an example of r/r either, and now I’m getting back to the main post).

I think we left the future behind some time ago.

Brain-controlled robotic arms?  So last year. Literally.

Synthetic organ transplants? Two years ago. (Synthetic. Organs. No clones were harmed in the extraction of this windpipe!)

I watched the latest Star Trek movie, and I’m wondering why the hell I’m supposed to believe that after three hundred years of medical science (even if you argue it’s effectively only one hundred because of lost ground due to a bad 22nd C) someone getting non-instantaneously-fatally-shot is meant to kill them. Cooked, I could buy (and that’s from six years ago), but generically shot-splosioned? Please. Continue reading “I think we left the future behind some time ago.”