When to Give Up

I have this feeling lately that TV is getting worse (it isn’t) and that writers on many show are relying more and more on terrible cliches and crap groupthink (they aren’t).

I’m wrong.  The sky is always falling except that it isn’t.  So why is so much of the popular genre TV suddenly dissatisfying?  Easy, so much of it is exactly the same as it ever was.  It’s the viewer (me, in this case, but I’m sure this happens to tons of folks every day) who has finally reached a point where they are no longer willing to ignore lazy writing.  And stereotypes.  And common sense/logic/beliefs that just won’t die.  And flat characters.  One could go on and on.

I think what has happened, for me at least, is two fold.  First, I’ve reached a point that I think many, many others beat me to long ago.  I hit a threshold, where I’ve seen and read enough that cliches and tropes and bad writing are utterly transparent.  Once seen, the threshold will not be unseen.

Second, I’ve found elements of genre and storytelling that, for me at least, work really well.  I know what I want or need out of sffh and television in general and I’m unwilling to settle for the crap anymore.

What this has to lead to is tightened strictures around what I spend my time on.  Just as I learned years ago when to call it quits on a book and when to give up on a movie, I may finally have found my way to a working list of reasons to drop a show, even when it promises to get better.

This is by no means exhaustive and the list is sure to grow, but for now, here are sure fire reasons to pull the trigger and drop that tired old crap.

  • Anachronism in period pieces - Period pieces (and to an equal extend history in general) are to be viewed as cultural pieces wherein the present examines the past.  As such, they are necessarily tied to their moment of creation.  It’s a given.  The way that we might depict Christian Bale as Moses must differ to some degree from how Heston portrayed him.  That doesn’t excuse blatant cases of imposing modern thought, intellectual rigor, or worse yet technologies on the past.  Attempts are often flimsy to the point of allowing the whole edifice of fiction to crumble to the ground.  io9 pointed to such a case in the most recent episode of Masters of Sex and while I don’t totally agree with their reading, the arguments are valid and worth consideration.
  • POCs solely in secondary roles - We try to pride ourselves on being a mixed, multinational, equitable, etc society yet the places where the real world has failed to catch up with all this back patting are painfully apparent in contemporary media.  Just as it ever was, yet again, but I am sick of shows and books and films that consign POC (persons of color) to secondary or worse token roles.  Not every hero need be white, male, hetero, etc.  But they pretty much are.  And while on the topic, pulling a stereotype, positive or negative, into a lead role is hardly better.  No, strike that, it’s no better.  POC characters belong, they ought to be characters and if you don’t stop pretending they exist solely in the margins, then I’m done with your story.
  • Propagating bs science or cultural myths - SF is not necessarily predictive just as fantasy is not necessarily historical, yet to some extent we tend to look on both as such.  Whatever, that is a topic for another time.  However, it must be said because there is some expectation that sf will roughly conform to the understood world of the time of release (not so with fantasy and history…).  That usually means that as works age, they cease to agree with contemporary scientific thought.  That is perfectly fine.  What is not fine are lazy and boring stories that rely on long disproved, if still popularly believed, bullshit.  Movies like Lucy and The Day After Tomorrow hinge on completely wrong precepts and thus undermine themselves from the beginning.  The human mind is still largely a memory but we use nearly 100% of it.  The effects of human influenced climate change will be catastrophic but NYC will not freeze in less time than it takes to scale a skyscraper.  Why do people pay to see this crap??
  • Women as background characters - This goes right along with the POC and is fodder for many, many discussions (and is in fact the subject of probably 10000 tumblr posts today alone.  Women are ~50% of the human population.  Anything less that ~50% of proper characters is an insult to the idea of both genre and realistic fiction (discounting, of course, stories in which one sex has been destroyed or selected against.  Have you seen Matrubhoomi: A Nation Without Women? Not for the faint of heart.)
  • Police procedurals that don’t have a damn good reason to exist - this is a quick point and rests largely in the US.  Most ideas are not improved by turning the story into a police procedural.  MOST.  Stop!
  • Long arch shows that waste too many episodes - This is a pet peeve and I totally understand that some people like these kinds of shows.  However, I could never get into House, despite really liking many of the central characters, because the bulk of the show was a plug and play formula that got tired really fast.  I want a show about House, not one about House performing X, Y, Z.
  • 30+ year old concepts (well past prime) - This is a catch all because I still have a lot of things on my plate and I feel I could give a week to this topic and keep on jabbering away.  Some stories and concepts are timeless while others, like traditional fairy tales on down to Frozen perhaps, need only be investigated through a new lens to remain salient.  Some other stories and concepts, however, are very much set in their time.  Some stories need to be told, but their time may have passed or thus far has yet to come.  How do you know the difference?  Beats me.  Market testing would probably work, but then the market allows all of the above to continue.  Sheesh

What do you think?  This isn’t really a negative.  There is so much out there that finding a way to weed it down is a net positive.  Even so, its a shame to see a show/story/film kill itself the slowest way possible.

What tired garbage sends you running for the remote/keyboard to clear the screen before another minute passes?

So, Dad of the year? Anyone?

Makes me wish I had kids. If I built this for myself, as I’d obviously love to do, my friends and SO would just shake their collective heads at me. Sigh.

Link Bait BS

Not much to say except I have official grown sick pervasive and ubiquitous link-baiting.  This is an evil we must fight and one that won’t go away unless we stop biting.

Vote with your click.  Stop the painful overuse of link-baiting today.

Finding Time for New Passions

I’m sort of a routine oriented guy.  This is something I’ve known a long time but I appreciate it even more after giving myself time off from routines and finding how difficult it can get back into doing even those activities that I love after hiatus.  The routine doesn’t just make them manageable, it ensures that I get to the things I want.

We all hit an impasse at times when we feel we have to give something up to try something new.  Or else we have to let one things slide to pay proper attention to another.  I want to spend time with my lady, and my friends, and my pets.  I want to read and write daily and exercise regularly and be proactive at work and develop my career skills for the future.  I want to cook more and keep the house clean for my sanity and fight the impulse to act entirely on a schedule so that surprise wonderfuls can happen.

I am not alone in any or in fact all of this.

Then we find some new thing that we want to try, and it’s gonna require some practice.  Or maybe its something we’ve always wanted to get around to.  Like the common lament, “I wish I had time to read,” the answer is that you do.  But you have to make priorities.  You can’t do it all but you can figure out what is most important and focus on those, perhaps at the expense of all else.

I’ve been dying to start brewing for years now.  I adore beer—in case that hasn’t come across yet—and the scientific and arty cook parts of me want to dive in and start making things as I wish.  I have still only accumulated a couple of the pieces I need.  Something else always takes my time or money.  I’m really ready for that to start.  I’m ready to reshuffle some things to allow the brewing to come in.

But I’d also really like to start volunteering, preferably with the prison system.  (Please don’t read that as for them.  I want to help prisoners, not legislators and wardens and those that profit from the system.  I have very strong feelings in this regard.)  I’d also like to start taking time to meditate.

All of these require a significant commitment of time.  At least one of them has to come soon.  Here’s hoping I can figure out how to shoehorn in more.What tasks have you been putting off?  What have you always wanted to do if only the time would present itself?  Maybe we can make a pact?  Maybe I commit to you to doing something new that I’ve always wanted to try and you do the same to me and we keep each other honest? What do you think?

Gone for a week and I imagine I’ll be gone a few days more at least. In very good news, my lady and I are settled into the new apartment and it looks great. If very tiring news, I worked harder last week than I would have if I hadn’t taken the week off. Phew.

This week is about getting back into the swing of writing after the month away and catching up on all that wonderful work I missed after two weeks out of the office. As much as I’d like to get back to my regular blogging, I may not this week.

In the meantime, Crash Course History started their second series and I love the direction of this new one more than the last. If you’re interested in great YouTube and intriguing history, give it a look-see.

Snowpiercer is the WOOL Movie We May Never Get

Lots of people have been talking about Snowpiercer this week and it’s got me all excited.  I won’t go into it all but director Bong Joon-ho, who previously made The Host (2006), chose a limited US release by Weinstein rather than cut the film and add a voiceover.  He made the right choice, it seems, as his cut is fantastic, exciting, and smart and the film is on the way to being a sleeper hit.

Synopsis (IMDb): Set in a future where a failed climate-change experiment kills all life on the planet except for a lucky few who boarded the Snowpiercer, a train that travels around the globe, where a class system emerges.

Now I loved The Host.  Enough that Bong Joon-ho shares a place in my heart with Alfonso Cuaron and the Coen Brothers.  If they make it, it’s good enough reason to see.  So when I heard about Snowpiercer last year, I was super excited to see it.  Then I lost track of movies and plum forgot.

As the US release approached, the trailer started circulating again and I was once again excited and I put the movie on my list.

Dystopia is firmly in my wheelhouse, as are stories about class divisions and collisions, so even from another director this movie would have intrigued me.  Impressive cast and what looked like great SFX?  All gravy.

What I absolutely was not expecting were the similarities to a series of books I’ve talked about plenty in the past.  Snowpiercer has a great deal in common with Hugh Howey’s WOOL, and that is just greeeeeat.

Interestingly diverse cast of characters

Let’s clarify terms here.  The WOOL-verse is not terrible diverse in regards to ethnic and religious backgrounds as it tends to preserve the rough demographics of the conditions under which the silos were populated.  I don’t want to go too much into this as it is something of a major reveal in the Shift trilogy but suffice it to say that Howey doesn’t make much mention of racial-ethnic-religious difference.  Class is the division in these books.  Even so, the characters are diverse in interest and well-flushed throughout the WOOL stories.

Snowpiercer does that one better by doing right by POCs.  The film supports two male leads and a male and a female antagonist (all white) but there are also lots of roles including those of African and Asian decent, male and female, that fulfill no bs archetype or stereotypes with which I’m familiar.  The last remnants of humankind are from across the spectrum

Class stratification

But, as I say, in both stories it is class that creates the greatest promise for, and delivery of, conflict.  WOOL and Snowpiercer each exist in dystopic worlds in which little is what it seems.  The degree to which class difference is on display from the start differs—in WOOL it is not as clear to the participants that something is up—but both stories are concerns with crumbling facades only barely held up by traditional, control, and misinformation.  Additionally, both WOOL and Snowpiercer offer genuinely interesting reveals even for the cynic who’s guessed it all.

Play on the generational starship saving the remnants of humankind

I’ve spent the last year and a half very interested in this idea—and writing a good deal on it myself.  I might credit Octavia Butler’s sf conception of the inevitability of interstellar travel in light of the Gaia hypothesis or I might honestly look to any number of books, shows, and films.  I enjoy the philosophical allowance that humanity in hostile microcosm allows.

While WOOL addresses this idea via the silos and protection from a ruined environment, Snowpiercer does much the same with an ever-moving train … and … a ruined environment.  In each, there is but a single conveyance to assure the continuation of the world.  Just what that world is or may be or how it is administered is up for debate and, ultimately, massive response, and thus:

Past and present revolts

In each story, the disenfranchised are a mythic and historic legacy of failed revolution.  A new revolt is ever on the horizon.  The promise of something better remains and the haves have plenty of weight to throw around to tip the scales.

Unexpected power dynamics

I’ve alluded to this already but I really have no interest in giving away the big reveals from either story.  If you want spoilers, there are tons of reviews of each other there.  Enjoy.  Suffice it to say that power does not work quite as you might have imagined—unless you’re a hopelessly cynical jerk—nor is it as hopelessly entrenched as we are want to believe.

Control of communications

Tom Moylan, in his two great books on utopia/dystopia points to the control of communications in dystopia as one of the only central and ever-lasting elements of the form.  He is not the first, nor is this the mere play of fiction on fiction.  Through time, conquering armies have sought to lay siege to free communication, often to replace it with propaganda.  Snowpiercer and WOOL are no exception and the manner in which controlled communication is metered in each story has unique implications for how these writers read the problems threatening free communication in our own world.

Ridley Scott is a good director, with plenty of great credits to his name, even if I personally dislike a few of his biggest titles.  Even so, Hollywood has an abysmal record with adaptations.  Maybe the numbers are better in genre, maybe not, but I just don’t know that I’m ever going to see the WOOL adaptation I’ve wanted for years.  I’m now ok with that.  If you love WOOL, or sf films, or Bong Joon-ho, or dystopia, or great action, or mind-fucks in general, this is a must watch.  Chris Evans gives a Puncture level performance, great POC characters, lots of great supporting actors, etc, and on.  Go see it in theaters in you can or, if not, get it on demand most places right now.

Updates and a Book Recommendation

First, I took a month-ish off from writing to get right down to it and enjoy every bit of the World Cup.  Now, starting with ‘Murica Day tomorrow, I’ll be off for two weeks to watch the quarters through the final and then move everything I own and everything she owns into a single place we will cohabitate.  Sin! Scandal! Less commuting!!!

Seriously though, there’re a couple of good weeks on the horizon to me.  I may start doing some writing exercises again on non-game days so I can ease back in without too much worry that rusty writing is going into something I care about.  Writing Excuses has been working through their 3-slider method of character development and adjustment and I rather like the idea, so I may try to spin a character in a short piece or maybe I’ll rewrite an older story.  Who knows.

One thing is for sure.  I want to submit a short work for publication soon and post another here around the same time.  I’ve hinted at this in the past but never gotten around to it because to date I’ve not disseminated my sf to a wide audience.  No time like the present.

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Hoping everyone is well and getting lots of good summer reading in.  I finished Karen Lord's The Best of All Possible Worlds yesterday and I really loved it.  Her work has been compared to the social sf and other genre fiction of Ursula K. Le Guin and China Mieville and I think the comparison apt.  I was utterly unaware that Lord’s novel was primarily a romance until well over halfway into it and enjoyed the developing cross-cultural love all the more for it.  As one not particularly drawn to romance stories, I’d highly recommend it to all interested in social sf.

Now to switch gears with Daryl Gregory's Afterparty.

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Oh, and with the USA out of the Cup, my remaining teams are Brazil, Netherlands, and Germany in that order.

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