Monthly Archives: December 2016

Rogue One

So once again I am one of the last sentient creatures roaming the planet to have seen a movie – in this case, Rogue One, and I am once again undeterred in writing a blog about it. Perhaps needless to say, this post is riddled with Rogue One spoilers, so if you haven’t seen the movie, the short, unspoilery version is that I liked it.

Go see it and read on after you have. I was ever-so-slightly spoiled going in, and I think it affected things, and wish I could know how I would have reacted without knowing what I knew. Anyway.

Here’s what I thought:

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I watched the first ‘act’ of the movie with deep misgivings. It seemed, at first, as we met characters and visited some places and saw the first threads of the plot begin to weave, that this was going to be A Very 2016 Star Wars. By which I mean one in which there would be no-one who was really very good, and we would watch one group of (partly new) essentially reprehensible characters throw down with another (mostly familiar) group of reprehensible characters and be left with the ‘shades of grey’ that seem to be very popular currently.

As I’ve said in earlier blog entries, I do understand why grim and bleak stories are popular, and I sometimes enjoy them myself (although, it is true, not so much these days). However, as I also said in my blog about The Force Awakens, one of the things I like about Star Wars is that there are generally good guys and bad guys and conflict ensues. So a ‘shades of grey’ Star Wars felt unpalatable, even as it also looked very pretty and a lot of the actors’ performances were very good.

Fortunately (for me, anyway) the whole movie pivoted in a moment, when Jyn Erso made her speech to the cowed and demoralized Rebel Alliance. She would fight even when the battle seemed impossible, because evil is evil and it has to be opposed. “You give way to an enemy with this much power, and you condemn the galaxy to an eternity of submission. The time to fight is now.” That’s a really good line, and a really good sentiment.

Up to that point the movie had really been (perhaps – I’m getting back to this) looking for a Good Guy, and suddenly it had one in Jyn, who will fight even when she might not win because the fight just that important. Because giving up in the face of oppression is unthinkable. You do everything you can, because that’s what the cause calls for. Right there, she became the movie’s Luke Skywalker or Rey, and the rest of the ‘Rogue One’ team almost naturally falls into place around her. Suddenly, for me, it was Star Wars again.

(Brief aside: It was a bit of surprise that it worked out that way because in the trailers it had seemed as though Jyn was perhaps going to be the difficult, morally-grey one who had to be talked around to the Rebel cause. I’m not sure how much of that reflects the much-ballyhooed reshoot, but her ‘this is a rebellion, I rebel’ line got cut and I love the character we got)

In fact, I’d argue she’s perhaps the most inspirational Star Wars protagonist we’ve had to this point, because she’s the one who most clearly articulates why it is important for her to fight. Luke never talks about his motives, really, and perhaps that’s Destiny at work – this is just who he’s been born to be. We understand Han Solo’s change of heart, but he never says why he did it, not honestly. Rey and Finn end up joining the Rebels and although it’s fairly clear as to why, they don’t talk about it. Leia is a leader who never (that we see) has to convince people to follow her. Perhaps that speaks to the strength of her leadership, but Jyn’s second big speech, to the ‘Rogue One’ troops in the shuttle, was pretty damned impressive too.

Ok, so obviously I like Jyn Erso, but she’s not actually my favorite character from the movie. I have two.

One is Chirrut Imwe, who the film insists isn’t a Jedi but I insist is wrong about that. His blithe faith in the Force and stoic acceptance of everything that happens around him is pretty damn cool. The bit where he takes out a turbolaser tower by shooting down a TIE fighter at juuuuuuust the right moment is also pretty damn cool. As befits a Jedi, he has more moral insight into the characters than we get anywhere else, and his faith in Captain Andor is gradually proved right, in spades. So I like that guy a lot. I don’t really understand Taoism, although I’ve explored it some, but I deeply appreciate and respect the philosophy and the attitude it cultivates, and Imwe encapsulates a lot of it. So he’s a character that I guess I would like to be like.

My other favourite, though, is Bodhi Rook. This guy isn’t a fighter at all, he’s a shuttle pilot, essentially a ‘truck driver’, as Riz Ahmed pointed out in an interview that was playing as I entered the theatre. He’s an essentially very ordinary guy who is persuaded to do one right thing by Galen Erso, and although that leads to him being tortured by the people he was trying to help, and thrown into desperate danger, he doesn’t waver, he shoulders the burden he’s been given, and agrees to do everything he can. He started out not being a guy who is in the fight at all and he ends up sacrificing his life. That’s about as heroic as it gets, because he’s not a strong-with-the-force instrument of destiny, a slick pilot with a quick gun hand, or a powerful politician. He’s a truck driver. He never backs down. Great character.

So I really did enjoy Rogue One quite a lot, although I think it still sits a little uneasily in the Star Wars universe, in part for having some of the darker characters we’ve yet seen (Andor is an assassin, albeit one with a redemption arc, and Forest Whitaker’s Saw Gerrera is a more ruthless Rebel than we’ve yet seen) and in part for its quite grim ending (which was the bit I was spoiled on – I knew ‘it didn’t have a happy ending’). I’m not sure that it would really be a very good idea to take kids to this movie and have them watch every character that we have any reason to get invested in get mowed down in the last ‘act’, or have one of the very last scenes be Darth Vader brutally murdering a corridor full of essentially helpless Rebel soldiers. The sacrifice is deeply heroic, and the film does a great job of making you believe that it is necessary, but it’s still a bloodbath of Shakespearean proportions by the end. That’s not what we’ve been used to from Star Wars, although Rogue One had me sufficiently hooked that I was on board with the grimness of how things unfold.

I should (or at least will) also say that a lot of the movie – the bunch of not-A List characters struggling to still do something great, the frustrations that weren’t entirely their fault, and the grand, spectacular disaster it all turned into – reminded me of the days when I ran a Star Wars role-playing game campaign. Except in our games the heroes found a way to get out alive, in the end, which still seems more Star Wars to me, even if it isn’t a very realistic portrayal of war, or a rebellion.  I should maybe write more about this, sometime.

I think, in the end, that Rogue One may have ended up a very 2016 take on Star Wars after all, but not the one that I was worried about when Andor murdered one of his contacts and the Rebel general ordered both the Ersos to be killed. It didn’t end up a shades-of-grey story, but it did end up one with a message that may be important at a time that many people are finding frightening and demoralizing. When evil seems to be winning, that is the time that it is most important to stand up and fight. To do what you can, to oppose it every way you can. Because the cause is important. And it is.

Rogue One was, perhaps, the least-optimistic perspective on the Star Wars universe that we’ve ever gotten, but I still found it a very good one, and I agree with those who have said that the next time I see the trench run scene from A New Hope (and there will be a next time), it will be more impactful that it has ever been before, because that moment is what Jyn and Chirrut and Bodhi and everyone else who went along on that stolen shuttle gave their lives for. The victory is possible because they made it possible, even if someone else gets the medals.

That’s more than enough words about this movie than anyone is likely to have wanted to read, but those are my thoughts. If you’d like to continue the conversation, hit me up with some comments.

I, uh, didn’t like the droid that much.

—–

I calculate this is the last blog entry for this year, barring something unanticipated that demands an extra entry. I am not (this time) going to make some ruminatory post about the passing of time or what have you, except to note that 2016 has been a year full of fun along with bad times, disappointments along with wonders, heartbreak along with very good times indeed.

So it was a year, like any other.

Thank you for sharing it with me, and as ever, I thank you for reading

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Snowfall

So, snow.

(Yes, we’re continuing the streak of blog entries with very strange inspirations. At this point I’m somewhat interested to see how long I can keep the chain going)

We got a fair amount of snow over the last week, and I had to drive to and from work in it a couple of times. On the radio and TV , there was a great deal of ominous talk about the weather, and when people talked about it, it was to describe snow as an inconvenience at best, something dangerous at worst.

Driving in it, when it is really coming down and the roads haven’t been plowed yet, it’s hard not to agree. Snow is a problem. Snow might wreck your day. Snow is scary and stresses you out. In the worst case, snow might kill you.

At the same time, though, I also remember many many first snowfalls, when everyone is excited and runs out to see the flakes coming down. This went on at least as late as university, when my housemates and I were goofily delighted at the first snow of the year. Even for people that don’t react like that, many of us enjoy drawings and photographs of snow-covered landscapes, and stand and look out at the winter world and think it beautiful.

Snow is charming. Snow is beautiful. Snow is fun, and something to enjoy.

It’s the same thing.

Now, obviously context is a great deal of what is going on here – if it’s snowing, and you can go toboggan in it, you’ll feel very differently than if you have to shovel it and then try to drive someplace without sliding into a wreck. Even so, I think it’s interesting how we can, when we want, completely change our interpretation of something based on what is associated with it, how it is talked about to us and around us, and the words linked to it. A huge snowstorm can be like winning the lottery (snow day!) or a punch in the gut.

Again, a lot of this is psychology, but it also reminds me that this is part of the power and responsibility of writers, and probably art in general. People can feel completely, utterly differently about something depending how it is framed and described to them. That’s a very powerful tool in storytelling – if you do it right, you can make your readers react almost however you’d like to your setting and your characters, and change it later if you need to. It does mean you need to really think about how things are being described because depending how you set things up for your reader, their reaction may be very different than you anticipated. As ever, words matter.

This is also something I think we need to recognize and use very carefully. A good writer can make you love something or hate it, to support something or reject it, to stand up for something or turn your back on it. That means that the written word can and does do amazing things, but I think we probably need to think very thoroughly about what we use it for and, perhaps, the causes we harness our writing to. You never know exactly how big your audience is. I think you want to be sure that the reaction your writing could create is one you’re proud to stand behind.

This is now getting dangerous close to Advice, so I’ll leave it there.

Thanks for reading.

——

They’ve released a trailer for the new Blade Runner movie. You can’t really tell too too much about the movie from it, but what is there looks like it might be promising. +1 for hearing bits and pieces of the Vangelis soundtrack, any road. I still feel deeply sceptical about the whole thing, though.

Blade Runner is one of my very favourite movies of all time and I think it holds up well as a classic of SF film. I also think it has a nicely self-contained story that doesn’t really call out for a continuation or a sequel. Obviously making a new movie doesn’t affect the quality of the original, but I wish sometimes we were a little more content to let a good story be over and not try to tack on sequels just because we like it a lot, or because

Maybe the people behind the new film have a genuinely awesome story to tell. I hope they do, because I would love more Blade Runner, but it also has the potential to really, really, let me down.

We’ll see.

(I guess, if nothing else, the appearance of Old Deckard seems to resolve that ‘is Deckard a replicant?’ question, although, again, I thought it was fun that that question was out there without a really definitive answer.)

(I prefer the interpretation that he’s not, because it makes Roy’s decision to save his life at the end more profound – at that point, all life is precious to him, even that of a human sent to execute him – although I realize there’s solid evidence the other way)

(Stop writing about Blade Runner, Evan)

(okay)

——

In case you missed it, author Brandon Crilly posted a marvellous review of The King in Darkness over on the Black Gate fantasy site. Black Gate publishes a lot of awesome content relating to fantasy fiction, so you should probably check them out anyway, and if you would like to read Brandon’s review it is here.

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Review

Ottawa author Brandon Crilly has posted a wonderful review of The King in Darkness over at Black Gate.  Black Gate publishes an amazing array of articles on things related to fantasy fiction, and you should check them out if you haven’t already.

Read Brandon’s review here.

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Hello Demon

Hello, Demon.

You’ve been quiet for a long time but there you are, again, today.

Because it’s been a tough week and a shit day already and that’s where you live, isn’t it?

And, hey, what’s a little shot in the coffee to take the chill off or one in the cola, and it’s the holiday season, it would even be festive, and what’s

one

little

drink

anyway

But, no – I see you.  I know this play, that you try from time to time, when you think I’m not watching.

I see it.

I see you.

Never.  Again.

I win.

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The Monk and Me

Over the weekend a Twitter account I follow (@melibus1, which is a good follow if you like medieval things) sent around a picture of the Virgin Mary nursing the Christ Child. Now, I love medieval art, I think it is amazing in all its creativity and strangeness and the wild variance in styles that you will see. Despite that, or perhaps because of it, I felt that this one had some, ah, entertaining aspects. Here it is:

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(Bodelian MS Canon Ital. 230, f. 53v., via @melibus1 on Twitter)

So I posted it on Facebook and some of my friends and I made some jokes about it, and about Nigel Farage (really) and there it probably would have lain, gathering digital dust, except of course I Got To Thinking.

I got to thinking about whoever the artist was who drew this picture, centuries ago. I don’t know the background of the manuscript it’s from (and am steadfastly resisting feeding my Procrastination Beast by researching it) but I assume it to be a monk or a nun. Something in the neighbourhood of 700 years ago, this person sat down and drew this little picture, and now here I am, looking at it in a way they wouldn’t have been able to imagine.

This is part of why I always get a little thrill looking at documents from the past. You are, in some way, making a connection to a real person who created that very thing before you, all those lifetimes ago. Medieval people very often did write (and create, in general) with a sense of ‘for the future’ in mind, so I often like to think those distant authors and artists would be pleased to know that people were still looking at what they created. But it’s hard to know exactly what they’d think, if you could explain the idea of someone looking at their work centuries later, and for purposes they would (probably) never have considered. Scholarly projects. Curiosity. Sheer entertainment.

In this case, would this monk (or nun!) be upset that we were laughing about it? I mean, the first reason I thought it was funny was that this is one of the very many examples of an artist who drew or painted a baby nursing that had, clearly, only a fairly vague idea of the female anatomy. (Which is why I think ‘monk’ is a much safer bet than ‘nun’, incidentally) So, why do this scene? Maybe they were told to do it by whoever ran the scriptorium and even though they didn’t really want to, they did their best with it anyway. Maybe (and I haven’t seen the rest of the page, so I don’t know) it’s appropriate to the written content, and so they gritted their teeth and did what they could. Or perhaps they really, truly, wanted to do this scene and made it as well as they were able.

Yes, by this point I was feeling slightly guilty about chuckling over the work of someone who has been dead for hundreds of years. But then I thought a little more and asked myself if someone made an offer to me, and said that in 700 years someone would be reading something that I’d written, but that they’d make some jokes about it, would I take it?

I’m pretty sure I would. In fact, I know I would. I love the idea of someone reading my stuff and getting a moment of entertainment or pleasure or amusement out of it, even if it’s not how I intended. (“To the SQ Mobile!” will be one of my favourite editor’s comments forever) That’s thinking about right now, but if I knew for sure that people would read something I wrote long after I was gone, that would be a thought I would enjoy very much, almost no matter what their reaction was. (Obviously, I’d prefer it if they didn’t think it was crap) That’s the closest I can imagine ever getting to living into that distant future.

So that Italian monk (pretty sure Italian, from how the manuscript is catalogued, but who knows?) did pretty well for themselves, really.

This also got me thinking about art (of whatever kind) that isn’t necessarily fantastic. And – quick sidebar here – I say that fully acknowledging the difficulty of writing, let alone drawing, with medieval tools, and not knowing the size of this picture (it is probably pretty small, judging from the text around it), and that therefore I absolutely could not do better. However, it did end up a little goofy.

I think there’s something deeply cool, in its own way, about people who have the desire in them to create art and go ahead and do it, even if what they produce is pretty flawed. (And I say that fully aware that there are or will be people who look at what I produce and would describe it as ‘pretty flawed’) But they just do it, because they want to create and that satisfies something in them and the rest of it be damned. I think that’s incredibly admirable and bold and awesome.

So by now, I’m really liking this monk, who set out to make this scene, did it as well as they could, and put it out there for an audience to look at. They did it probably not knowing exactly how big that audience would be, but even if this was a book intended to stay in the monastery, they would have known that their picture would at least be looked at by perhaps generations of their brothers (or sisters) and they put it out there anyway.

I also think this goes back to something I wrote a few entries back, Daniel Jose Older’s observation that artists need to take the pressure off themselves that everything has to be great and that everything they try has to work. You need to allow yourself the possibility of something that doesn’t work out so great, but the process of trying teaches you something or the attempt ticks off a box for you or even, maybe, you just end up with a final product that is ‘good’ rather than ‘world-shatteringly fantastic’ and you know, that’s pretty rad.

Perhaps this monk just tried drawing the BVM nursing her baby, it didn’t come out exactly great, but he figured out how to do it better on the next page. And, in the end, in sitting there in that distant, long-ago scriptorium, that person succeeded in creating a thing that we looked at on the weekend and that brought a few moments of pleasure into our lives. I like to think that would have pleased them.

Although I doubt I will ever know what the real story was behind the creation of that little picture, I think that I will be a better artist if I can remember to channel a little of the spirit of that medieval person.

That’s what I’ve got for you this week. Thanks for reading.

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Slightly Off

A few days ago one of my friends from the UK posted a picture on Facebook of a dinner they ate as part of an evening out – it was fries and a hot dog. (Hang in with me for a second here, I swear this is going someplace) What with this being a British hot dog, I was reminded of my own experience with those when I went to school in York for a year.

It was my first full day in England, I was still heavily jet-lagged and hadn’t eaten anything that didn’t come from an airport or a vending machine in at least 24 hours. I hadn’t been to anything to do with school yet, but I thought it was a good idea to go and explore the city. When I did, I came across a man selling hot dogs from a cart in the city centre. I was feeling pretty disoriented and dazed and confused and thought a hot dog would be a nice familiar set of sensations and so I bought one.

Boy was it not. It turns out that hot dogs in England are, for some reason, both longer and skinnier than the standard issue wiener here. The bun (at least on this occasion) more strongly resembled a thick slice of bread. The mustard was not the blazing yellow ooze we usually deploy here, but a (probably superior) product involving actual mustard seeds and a more reasonable hue. The whole thing left me feeling more disoriented and alienated than ever.

I had anticipated something I knew very well and had well-established expectations about. What I got was something that almost, but not quite, met those expectations, but was different in a number of really very subtle ways. I think this is often more disturbing and harder for us to handle than if something is a completely new experience. There’s probably some explanation here from psychology about how our brains work and look for patterns or anticipate input and then get upset when these things are undermined. I don’t really know, but I have found it generally true that things feel most alien when they are almost, but not quite, what I expect them to be. Even allowing for the jet lag, that hot dog in York was one of the most alien things I have ever eaten, because I thought I knew what I was getting and then got something that wasn’t quite it.

I didn’t directly take this hot dog experience (I mean really) and use it to inform my writing, but I think the same general principle holds true for writing horror and creepy fiction. I think we’re more disturbed by situations that seem as though they’re familiar, what we expect, and what we know, but are then just slightly off. A monster in some fantastic realm that is nothing like our own is likely to be impressive, and exciting, and we can agree it sounds pretty dangerous. But a monster that shows up on your street, or one that seems to be just like the person next to you on the bus, until it makes its move, is far more likely to really bother us. The world that conforms to our expectations of what is possible and what can occur until the moment that it isn’t quite right is scarier than one that is completely alien.

We like to think we know what the world around us is like. Experiences that suggest that that isn’t actually the case are the ones that, I think, really get to us. If you have the right (or wrong, I suppose) kind of brain these experiences are all around you. When you go for a walk in the park, and find a single shoe by the path, you know (or you’re pretty sure you know) that it was just lost or discarded. A far more unlikely explanation is that the shoe is all that’s left of the victim of some predatory creature that now lives in the woods here. And now the park feels very different.

I guess that’s what I have tried to do with The King in Darkness and Bonhomme Sept-Heures – to make the monsters of the stories part of a hopefully familiar world around us. I think they’re more likely to bother you (in the enjoyable sense!!) that way. A lot of times people ask what the difference between fantasy and horror is, and I think part of the answer is that horror is supposed to unsettle you on some level, and I think we’re most easily unsettled by what hits close to home, and to find ourselves in a world that is almost – but not quite – what we think it is.

In any case, this entry is rather dangerously like advice (but it is not advice), but I thought I’d share the train of thought my friend’s no doubt alarmingly British hot dog triggered off. Thanks for reading.

——

By chance, today’s blog falls on the anniversary of the Ecole Polytechnique shootings in which 14 women were killed by a man who was filled with hatred. I promised long ago not to let December 6th pass without taking a moment to remember. As should we all – bad things happen when we forget to oppose them. I think we’re rightly pretty proud of our society in Canada, but there is still so much work to do. There are still far too many women who are victims of violence and discrimination. We owe it to them all to do so much better. We can.

Fourteen Not Forgotten:

Geneviève Bergeron

Hélène Colgan

Nathalie Croteau

Barbara Daigneault

Anne-Marie Edward

Maud Haviernick

Maryse Laganière

Maryse Leclair

Anne-Marie Lemay

Sonia Pelletier

Michèle Richard

Annie St-Arneault

Annie Turcotte

Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz

——-

If you’re in Ottawa, you can now pick up a copy of Bonhomme Sept-Heures at the Heart Tea Heart tea shop at Merivale Mall. It’s a fantastic way to do it because they’ll even suggest which one of their amazing teas will go best with your read, and you could grab other titles from Renaissance Press and S.M. Carriere while you’re there! Give them a visit, in person and/or on the intertron here.

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Review

Robin Riopelle, author of Deadroads:  A Novel of Supernatural Suspense, has written a delightful review of Bonhomme Sept-Heures here.

It was a great pleasure to be on a panel with Robin at the Limestone Genre Expo last summer and I’m even more pleased that she enjoyed my story.

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