Category Archives: Thoughts and Musings

The Right Time

The other day on Twitter there was (I swear) an interesting conversation about coming to stories at the right or the wrong time. Guy Kay (an author I like a lot) was ‘speaking’ without someone about a book they had read, which this person thought they would have liked when they were younger, but didn’t actually enjoy now. Kay remarked something along the lines that they had come to the story at the wrong time in their life.

That’s an interesting way of thinking about our relationship with stories. I am a great re-reader of tales, I tend to come back to favourites again and again (for reasons I’ve discussed elsewhere on this blog) and it’s a rare book in my collection that has been read only once. So on the whole, I continue to enjoy the stories that I used to like, although now that I think of it, I have experienced many of them differently as I’ve gotten (so very much) older.

A case in point that had been on my mind recently anyway – not a book, but a TV series, the 80s vintage BBC series Robin of Sherwood. If you haven’t seen it, it’s, well, a very 1980s take on the classic Robin Hood tale. It ran on that same PBS channel that got me hooked on Doctor Who, and it is, I’m pretty sure, the reason why I ultimately got into medieval history.

(As a sidebar, Robin of Sherwood is interesting to me as a good example of how we can see characters and stories like Robin Hood re-invented for each generation. This version of Robin (when the series starts, anyway) is not a disgraced earl, or the yeoman of the medieval tales, but a peasant hero, a commoner perhaps ideally suited for a modern audience. Unlike the thoroughly Christian Robin of the original stories, this one has an alliance with pagan spirituality, suiting the 1980s generally and Christianity’s receding power overall. And (I believe) this is the first time that Robin’s Merry Men includes a Muslim character – again suiting a modern sensibility that our heroes should be racially inclusive. Similarly, this show’s Marian soon ends up shooting longbows and swinging swords with everyone else.)

I watched the show in my early teens, I liked it quite a lot, and so when at I was at university and it was time to pick elective courses, I picked a medieval history course. The rest, due to a professor who took an interest in me, is history. It’s been an interesting and somewhat uneven road, but I wouldn’t change it. Through those studies, I have gotten deeper into the medieval world than Teenage Me, watching PBS, would ever have believed, and met people who I will treasure for the rest of my days.

I still have, on my laptop, the whole run of the series. I watch parts of it from time to time. Looking at it now, from the perspective of a historian, even one with sort of a glancing familiarity with the Robin Hood stories and a rather better one of medieval England – the show gets a lot wrong. In terms of giving much of an accurate sense of the 12th century, it’s … really not great.

I don’t want to dissect it, but I do wonder how I would have felt about it if I could somehow come to it fresh, without all the history the stories and I have together. Judging from the reaction my PhD supervisor had when I made her watch part of it, my guess is: rather different.

Perhaps that’s a shame, and would be an example of not being able to relax and enjoy something for what it is. Perhaps the thing is that I came to Robin of Sherwood at the right time, and now I get to keep it as a story that I love – because I still do, even though it has its problems. (John Rhys-Davies’ King Richard is still maybe my favourite)

I wonder, too, how I would feel about some of the stories that I know I loved when I was younger, if I were to read them again. I’ve seen the Prydian chronicles mentioned here and there of late, and that’s a series that I read in high school and liked a lot at the time. I’ve never come back to them, unusually for me. I wonder how I’d feel. Perhaps that was the right time for them, and that time has passed. (At some point, I’m going to have to find out)

Sometimes even a part of a story can have quite an effect at just the right part of your life. Whatever else happens with the series, I will always be grateful to Jim Butcher and his Dresden Files for just one exchange where his hero tells a sceptic: “I don’t need you to believe me.” For whatever reason, that relatively minor exchange really resonated with me, at that point someone who was really easily drawn into pouring energy into endless efforts to win debates or convince people of particular points of view. That isn’t what that exchange was about in the book, but I use it every so often to remind myself that it doesn’t matter if there are people out there who think I’m wrong on a subject or an issue. It’s fine. I don’t need them to believe me. That has, genuinely, been the source of a great deal of peace.

Anyway, this is all quite disconnected and rambly, now, but I think it’s remarkable how much power a story like Robin of Sherwood can exert over your life, if you come to it at the right moment.

Thanks for reading, and do keep reading. Those stories are out there.

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , ,

Walls, and Doubts

Yesterday (I was told), we hit the point where the same number of days had passed since the Berlin Wall came down as the entire time that it was in place. This was a neat little stat, and of course it made me feel old (well, “feel”), but it also (surprise?) got me thinking.

I am the right age that I grew up with the Berlin Wall in place. It was a fixture, if a distant one, of the world as I understood it. There was West Germany and there was East Germany. They were on all the globes and maps and where-ever else. Every 4 years there would be an Olympics and my male relatives would grumble about the East German team.

This was the world as it was.

Then (as I try imperfectly to cast my mind back), events started to happen that I didn’t really understand (being primarily an Idiot Teen at that point) which – it was suggested – meant that all of this was about to change.

I remember that I didn’t really believe it. Of course the Germanys wouldn’t really reunify. Of course the wall would stay there. Nations were immovable concepts and they didn’t get rearranged. (Sidebar: I have no doubt (but am currently too lazy to go look it up) that several, perhaps many, nations appeared, disappeared, or were renamed prior to this, during my lifetime. That these things did not make nearly the impression on my mind that the Germany thing did says something about the media, something about me, and something about the West-centred world of which I am indisputably a part. I struggle to take a broader view now as much as I can, but this was my perspective as an Idiot Teen.) Presumably just as people talked about Quebec separation, and then it didn’t happen (also one of my experiences), this would be a lot of talk that in the end, didn’t happen.

And then it did.

I can’t pretend that I had, at that time (or even really now) a deep enough understanding of the experience in East and West Europe to appreciate the impact of the events I watched unfold on the news. But I remember being truly amazed that it really was happening.

I think it’s a useful perspective. There are parts of our world that we think are absolutely fixed and absolutely immovable and that no force could ever alter them. In some cases, that may even be true. In others, they may be Berlin Walls: it may not be easy or painless to remove them or change them, but it can be done with sufficient effort. And how will we know until we try?

I’m still working on that WIP I’ve been blogging about for what seems like a very long time. It’s now become perhaps the most difficult thing I’ve ever written, with the possible exception of the PhD thesis. I think that’s because it is in some ways the most ambitious project I’ve done in writing fiction, and I’ve hit several stages (I’m kind of in one now) where I’m not persuaded it’s actually that good and the Urge to Abandon is strong.

But, I don’t think that’s the right move for my development as a writer (and some of the Eager Volunteers have been very enthusiastic about it) and so I am pressing on against my own doubts. Some days I wonder if I can do it, finish this story and finish it in a way that people will want to read. This week I am trying to tell myself it is a Berlin Wall.

——

I have (of course? surprisingly?) seen the trailer for Solo, the Han Solo prequel that is the next ‘Star Wars Movie that is emphatically not an episode of Star Wars‘. I don’t have a lot to say about it. Han is one of my favourite characters from the movies, and I’m about equal parts looking forward to seeing more of his story and hoping that they don’t screw it up. Of course, there’s the added complication of seeing the part played by someone other than Harrison Ford, and seeing someone other than Billy Dee Williams as Lando.

However, I read (and then, as I do, promptly forgot the author of) what I thought was a good article about how the (over) analysis of things like movie trailers has become a fairly poisonous part of the fan community of a lot of SFF. The trailers are dissected and analysed and theorized over to such an extent that the eventual film almost cannot possibly meet the created expectations.

Also, what we saw in the Rogue One trailer was almost entirely gone by the time the movie hit theatres, and the Last Jedi trailers managed to hide almost everything of actual significance about the movie we saw. I know I’ll see Solo when it comes out, and some of the stuff in the trailer looks neat. That’s as far as I go on this one.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

RPG (again)

Short one this week, I fear. Busy with start of term, but also the start of that D&D campaign I mentioned a while back. That, and a discussion on Twitter about whether or not playing RPGs is good for your writing, got me to thinking.

Again.

I wrote a blog a while back about how being the Game Master of a campaign reminded me how writing for an RPG is very different from the process of writing a piece of prose. Getting ready to be a player in this game has made me think about how that’s yet another different kind of creative process.

Superficially, it seems like it should be similar. You’re creating a character, hopefully an interesting one that will be fun for you to experience the game world through and for the other players to have as part of the team. But right away, that’s where the big difference comes in.

When I create a character for one of my stories, I create the star of the story (along with various others) and the whole fictional world that I’m showing you revolves around that person. The story is, more or less, about solving their problems or exploring their characteristics or understanding of the world or what have you.

However, in the game, my character is no more or less important than any of the others. They need to be a useful part of an ensemble, and in most well-run games I’ve been in, everyone gets their turn in the spotlight, but no one character is the star of the show. So, in writing a backstory for this guy, I immediately had several ideas that I would really enjoy exploring – but odds are we never will, because this story is not that character’s story, or not only their story. The story of the game is going to be what this character creates with all the other ones, going forward.

Now it’s true that in thinking about how my character in an RPG should react to situations and behave, they would think that they’re the centre of their own universe, just as we all more or less do. Absolutely a well thought-out character has goals they want to accomplish and drives. The thing is, though, that as the player/writer, I also have to be aware that those things are all less important than the whole group having fun, and telling a good story collectively that everyone (including the DM) can enjoy.

Tricky.

But fun.

We had a sort of intro session on the weekend and I was reminded about one of my weaknesses as a player – I am not real quick on the draw with a good line. If I was writing the scene, I could come up with just the right thing for my character to say. But during a live game session, when I don’t have time to think, and try a few different phrasings and see what works best, I don’t do nearly so well. I guess that’s why I’m a writer and not an actor.

Somewhat tangentially, this also makes me very impressed with how well the people on Critical Role do playing their D&D game live on the internet. The quality of the dialogue all of them come up with shooting from the hip is really something to see.

All of this is to say that creating a fictional person and collaborating in creating a fictional world in this way has some overlap with what I do when I’m writing my own stuff, but it stretches me in very different directions at the same time. I think that’s a good thing, overall – it’s like doing a different set of exercises at the gym, strengthening different muscles and building different kinds of fitness. Also sometimes you ache in the morning.

Thanks for reading.

Tagged , , , , ,

Discarding Asimov

If you’ve read this blog in the past, you may have seen me mention the work of Isaac Asimov. This will be the last time that I do that. I have a simple reason for it.

Isaac Asimov abused women. I’m not going to go through the details of it here; Google will turn them up easily enough. Exactly what he did isn’t entirely relevant. It’s what the consequences are, and should have been, because evidently the SF world did what far too many communities have historically done and apologized for it and covered it up.

It was something I had sort of heard hints and sideways references to, but never bothered to find out very much about. Then recently, for whatever reason, I seriously looked into it, and what I (very easily) found was horrific. Of course then comes the question: Now that you know, what do you do about it?

There isn’t a lot that I can do, obviously. Asimov died years ago and even if he was still alive my condemnation would matter very little. But, after giving it some thought, I am at least going to discard my copies of all his books that have been on my shelves for a very long while. Some of them went to university with me, all those many years ago, but even these old companions have to go.

I admit one of my first thoughts about this – and it doesn’t flatter me – was disappointment that I would never read an Asimov story again. But this is exactly the reaction that has enabled not just the abuse of women, but so many kinds of abuse, to thrive: the impulse to put one’s own career, or convenience, or even one’s own passing pleasure, above the suffering of another human being.

We must do better.

Recently a lot of people have asked whether or not it is possible to separate the artist from the art, to love and enjoy their work even while we condemn the person who made it. My problem with that is two fold. First, in accepting their art, we inevitably accept the artist. We at least imply (and I think more than that) that their behaviour is ok, because we still buy the book or go to the movie or watch the TV show. This is the opposite of what we should be doing.

My other objection is that there are so very many worthy artists out there, struggling to have their work seen, that honestly we can easily do without the art that comes from awful people who hurt their fellow human beings so profoundly. Instead of being sad that I won’t be reading Asimov again, I should be (and am, really) excited about the people I will be reading instead, because there are writers who are just as good and even far better who are also far superior human beings.

Some people object in return that if we do this we will have to discard a lot of artists, a lot of people, in general. Unfortunately, they’re probably right. But, if we want to stop having a society where women are routinely harassed and abused, well, no-one said the job was going to be a small one. So, yes, Asimov is out, along with my H.P. Lovecraft. I can find books that I will be proud to fill the space on those shelves with.

It’s probably fair to ask how much of a difference any of this makes. The books are long bought and their writer is long dead, so it isn’t even a question of ‘supporting’ anyone at this point. Is it an empty gesture?

I’m not persuaded that it is, entirely. If there is really to be lasting change for our society’s tolerance for the mistreatment of women, there have to be lasting consequences for abusers. Yes, even after they’re gone. We need to send a message, that we will not brush things under the carpet because the stories were good or they were important in their field. We won’t say kind things about them, we won’t honour their name, and their books won’t be on our shelves. If that’s all we can do at this late remove, then we shall at least do that.

Thanks for reading.

——–

Today is a truly sad day for lovers of SFF and writing in general, as the great Ursula K. Le Guin has passed away at the age of 88. I’m not going to attempt to write anything about her importance as a writer or her impact on her field. Those tributes are springing up everywhere, deservedly so, and doing a much finer job of praising this wonderful writer than I would be able to.

The only thing I want to say is that I kind of encountered (not in the sense of actually meeting her, alas) Le Guin twice. I was introduced to her writing by that Prisoners of Gravity show I’ve mentioned a bunch of times, which brought up her Left Hand of Darkness I think every other episode. Again, deservedly so. So I knew she was a very good and bold writer.

I didn’t realize until much more recently that she was an equally bold and courageous thinker about writing, and about our society. She used the platform she earned for herself to try to do good and promote positive changes and that is just as great a thing as the books she wrote.

I’m very sad that she has left us, but I feel ever so grateful that she was with us at all.

Tagged , , ,

Perfect/Imperfect

I’ve been thinking about heroes, or I guess more properly about protagonists, the last while. I confess that a lot of the reason why is connected to The Last Jedi and the reaction to it, still. (I fired off my overall feelings about the movie a few blogs back.) A lot of the more thoughtful criticism I’ve seen of the movie (there’s a lot of it that I have no trouble dismissing out of hand) centres around Luke Skywalker, and the argument that his portrayal in Last Jedi is either inconsistent with the character we saw in the original trilogy or even a ‘betrayal’ of the character.

Mostly this is because either (depending how you look at it) Last Jedi shows us a side of Luke we haven’t seen before, or introduces a significant change to the character from the last time we saw him. Original Trilogy Luke is good at everything, and with a couple of notable exceptions, he doesn’t screw up. And even when he does screw up, it works out for the best in the end. Even when Ben and Yoda are convinced he’s wrong about Vader, nope, it turns out that Luke was right in the end. He always comes through, and he’s always up to the challenge.

There’s no question that things are different in Last Jedi. Luke has made at least one big mistake that he doesn’t know how to fix, and made a series of decisions that look, at least, pretty questionable. (Now, I think this all hangs together perfectly well, narratively, but I’m not going to dig into that seriously now, except to say that I think the basic issue is the difference between Original Trilogy Luke who Does Things and after-Original Trilogy Luke who now has to be a teacher, which is not the same at all) So, if what you need or want is for Luke to continue to be a flawless hero, then yeah, the film is not going to give you what you’re after.

Now, my reaction was that I like Luke Skywalker better as a character after getting these new parts added to his character, precisely because it makes him (more) imperfect. However, this whole issue got me to thinking about whether, on the whole, we prefer our heroes to be perfect, or not. If you look around SFF (and other kinds of fiction, really) you’ll find a lot of popular examples both ways.

In general, I like my heroes to be a little less than perfect, and I think I always have. I never really liked Superman, growing up, because he really had no downsides. (I’ve come around a bit on him in more recent years, but he’s never going to be a favourite) Easily the least interesting of the characters at Camelot is Galahad – literally the perfect knight, also indisputably the least fun of the lot of them. Give me a dozen Gawain or Palomides stories, hold the Galahad please.

I think any character that has some flaws and some things they aren’t good at and some parts of their life they struggle with is easier to identify with and easier to root for. I also think they’re a little more dramatic, because you never know exactly how the balance between positives and negatives is going to shake out. (Or at least, we can convince ourself that we don’t know long enough to enjoy the story)

On the other hand, there is something reassuring about the flawless hero. They can’t ever let you down, they can’t ever disappoint you. Whatever you need them to be, that’s what they are. It’s a lovely idea to think of having someone like that on your side. I suspect that’s a lot of the appeal of Superman, for example, and perhaps part of what people liked about flawless Luke Skywalker.

I’m not sure there’s really a right or a wrong answer here, and which sort of protagonist is appropriate probably depends a great deal on the kind of story that you’re trying to tell. I also suspect that, as usual, the thing that may really be problematic for people is change – when a character that we thought was one way is revealed to be a little different. Personally I don’t have an issue with that, as a fan or a writer, as long as the change is handled with some sensitivity and we’re given a strong reason for it, but I can understand where the unhappiness might come from.

Something worth thinking about with my own imaginary people, probably. Thanks for your time.

I’ll try to ease up on the Star Wars blogs for a while.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Fireplace

I’ve kind of revised my life goals downwards as I’ve gotten older. When I was in Grade One I predicted being in charge of Earth Defense Command by age 21. By about 17 or so I thought I would be a world-renowned journalist. Turned out I took to journalism like a duck to lava. These days, my aim is to one day own a house with a wood-burning fireplace.

These things happen.

I’ve just gotten back from a weekend at a cabin in the Laurentians where I spent a good bit of the time burning about a cord of wood in the fireplace. It was pretty awesome. Aside from making the place warm, I find the whole experience of a wood fire very peaceful. The light from the flames, the sounds from the hearth, the smell of woodsmoke – I find it all very soothing. There’s something satisfyingly basic about it, as well – making a fire is part of how humans have been making a place ours for a very long time. Maintaining the fire feels like taking on a genuinely ancient task. That feeling of timelessness is sort of heightened by the cycle of watching the fire burn down at night, and then starting the next morning’s new one with the embers of the old.

I also enjoy the whole process of building and maintaining a fire. I was surprised, a few summers ago, to discover that my father has only the vaguest idea of how to do this. A lot of his fire-building technique involves ‘soak log with gas’ and ‘light repeatedly’. This is not very effective. I’m not sure where I learned how to get a fire going properly and keep it crackling away all day long but there’s a bit of a thing to it. How exactly I learned this is a little unclear, given that I obviously didn’t get it from Dad. I guess we’ll blame the Boy Scouts.

20180106_223501

You have to plan things out a bit before you start – your fire needs some structure before you’re ready to light it, with kindling and small pieces of wood. Once that’s going, you can think about adding bigger chunks of wood. If you try to start with the enormous logs, the whole thing dies before you get going, and if you try and add too much too fast you’ll kill it similarly. Once burning, the fire requires attention – you gotta keep adjusting things so that there’s a flow of air and adding more wood. If you don’t keep working at it, before long it will die down and go out. Once you get things burning properly, it’s easier to keep the fire lit than let it go out, and start again. A nice hot fire will quickly get its teeth into whatever new fuel you add in, but a mostly dead one takes time to build back up again. However, if your fire does go out, if you dig around in the ash a little bit, you’ll be surprised how long you can find embers still glowing down in there. So you’re not beginning entirely from scratch. Be patient, and start again.

That was, I swear, not a big pile of writing advice.

Thanks for reading.

Tagged , , ,

I guess it’s 2018

So we’re here at the start of 2018, and I see a lot of people are either doing ‘year in retrospective’ or ‘plans for the year ahead’ blogs. This is not going to be one of those, not really.

I was never big into New Year’s resolutions, and I don’t do them at all, anymore. Lots of people are – we set up lists and make declarations and then sometimes grade ourselves on our performance. I guess I’m not convinced it’s helpful. A lot of times these things just turn into ways for us to persuade ourselves that we’re unworthy, and I think most of use get enough of that.

I think there’s value in planning ahead, of course, but it’s important to recognize that we can’t always control all the things that are going to happen and therefore not necessarily what we’ll be able to get done. Waubgeshig Rice’s New Years’ comment on Twitter was that 2018 will be a grind, just like 2017 was a grind, and he’s absolutely right.

That sounds super negative, but I don’t think it was intended that way. Life always has obstacles for us and demands our best effort at times. It’s not really useful to imagine that it will be any other way – thinking the year ahead is just gonna be smooth sailing is setting up for disappointment. But, it’s also nothing we aren’t used to. Not only nothing we can’t handle, but nothing we aren’t already handling.

There will be challenges, of course. Knowing that doesn’t have to be intimidating. It means we can get ready. We can be strong, we can be prepared to weather everything the year is gonna chuck at us.

What was my 2017 like? I did the best I could with it. I didn’t accomplish all the things I might have liked to, but I handled everything as best I was able, did what was possible within my limits, and in the end I’m all right with that. What kind of year was it? It was the best year I could make.

What do I have planned for 2018? There are things I want to do, sure. But ultimately, I’m gonna do the best I can with it, what I’m capable of, and what I have the strength and energy to do. We’ll see how it ends up. But however that works out, it’ll be the best year I can make.

It’ll be a grind. It always is. That’s ok. We’re strong enough for it.

Go forth and make the year.

Tagged , , ,

The Last Jedi

Once again I followed my absolutely watertight plan of waiting a really long time after a movie to come out to go see it and desperately ducking spoilers until finally getting into a theatre. Today I became approximately the last sentient collection of cells to watch The Last Jedi. I’ve got some thoughts. This is gonna be a long one. (Sorry, Brandon)

I did manage to go relatively unspoiled, but of course it was scarcely possible to avoid seeing at least some of the reaction to the film. It was, even more than for Force Awakens, mixed. Some people loved it. Some people hated it. So (once again) I went in with a little trepidation. I saw someone on Twitter (really can’t recall who) say it was like a Harry Potter movie except that Hogwarts turns out to have been a terrible place and Harry is now a cynical failure. (I mean, Hogwarts’ is clearly a terrible place, but never mind that for now)

I don’t get it, not really. We learn that Luke failed in training Ben Solo – which we already knew. He’s not actually wrong about the Jedi, as an institution. The Jedi have always been fuckups, since the first movie, so this revelation is also nothing new. They were supposed to be the guardians of the galaxy (heh) and they let the Empire happen. They’ve always made questionable decisions. Ben Kenobi flatly lies to Luke about his father, and when he’s caught out in it offers one of the very lamest justifications ever. Luke buys it because he’s still really an extremely innocent kid not far removed from being a Tatooine dirt farmer, and because he desperately wants to believe in the Good Guys.

And this is where some of the problem comes in – I think a lot of times Star Wars fans conflate ‘Jedi’ with ‘The Good Guys’, as though the one label necessarily means the other. One of the things I love about the Star Wars universe is that there are unambiguously Good and Evil characters and they face off. I was juuust a little concerned with some of what I had heard about The Last Jedi that they were taking that away. But they didn’t. There are still Good characters and Evil characters, it’s just that Good and Jedi aren’t necessarily exactly the same. The Jedi screwed things up in the past. Luke screwed things up again, thinking he could bring the flawed institution back.

But even the idea of using the Force for good ends is still very much there. (Are we still gonna call that being a Jedi? It seems like by the end of the film, we are, or at least Luke says so, and I’m not gonna argue with him) Luke Skywalker is still, in the end, an unambiguously heroic character. It’s okay for a heroic character to screw things up (I mean, listen to Yoda if you don’t want to listen to me) and it’s ok for Luke not to actually have all the answers. That’s how it is. We do our best – and Luke did, by any standard, very well – and sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t. What he needed to learn (and I like that among the messages here is that you’re never done learning) is that failure is okay, and you pick it up and keep going on. (It’s maybe not a surprise that Luke has a problem with that, seeing as he more or less grew up surrounded by people telling him that he was the last hope and that if he dropped the ball it was all over)

So I’m perfectly fine with the movie’s take on Luke Skywalker, the Jedi, and the Force. I think it actually all hangs together really well. The Jedi were an institution that was probably past its sell-by date and weren’t doing what they were meant to be doing any longer. Great Problems Ensued. These will not be fixed by just trying to put things back the way they were. It’s gonna take a new approach, or remembering what the old approach actually was: Luke was too focused on the Jedi books and not enough on the Jedi idea. (By the way, If Luke Skywalker had showed up and fixed everything, that would be, first of all, terrible writing. You don’t create a bunch of new characters and then promptly undermine them by having them saved by one who has already done his time in the spotlight.)

Ok, so that was stuff that I kind of came into the movie thinking that I might not like and came away thinking was really good. What did I just straight up like?

I loved that there was no big clever answer to Rey’s parents. I adore that she’s ‘Rey from Nowhere’, and that’s your hero, not someone with a ‘special’ bloodline or someone long foreseen in prophecy. She’s ordinary, but she’s gonna do something special. Kylo Ren – so completely sold on the idea of destiny – tries to tell her, and probably desperately wants to believe, that she ‘has no place in the story’, but he’s wrong. It’s her story. She’s the hero. She’s the star. The person to restore the spark of hope to the Resistance isn’t Luke Skywalker, it’s Rey, or perhaps it’s the entire rag-tag band of them on the Falcon at the end. (I still kind of miss Han a little every time the Falcon is on screen.)

Now, Rey also appears to settle into this hero thing pretty easily. Just like Luke in the first trilogy, she has that perception of what needs to be done, and steadfastly goes and does it. Unlike some of our other main characters, Rey is actually right. That’s fitting for our main character. I also, however, love that in this film we have some characters learning to be heroes.

In Force Awakens, Finn mostly wants to escape the First Order and his first instinct (heh) is just to Get Away. By the opening of this film, he’s grown a bit – he’s looking to make sure he and Rey escape, but the rest of the Resistance, he’s prepared to leave – even buddy Poe Dameron, who we’ll get to in a second. It takes the events of the movie, and especially some perspective from Rose (about whom more, too) before he really buys into this cause bigger than himself, one that he’s willing to put it all on the line for. By the end of the movie, he’s proudly ‘Rebel scum’. It’s nice growth, and I expect great things in the final instalment.

Oh, Poe Dameron. What a fun character, and what a great example of a guy who has a hammer and so everything looks like a nail. He basically wants to solve every problem by blowing it up with an X-Wing (as General Organa points out) and that came across pretty positively in Force Awakens when the situation genuinely called for a lot of space fighter shoot-em-up. In Last Jedi, not so much. Poe fixates on blowing up something big in the opening scenes and sacrifices way too much to do it. (Arguably, this cues up the terrible problem the Rebel fleet ends up in afterwards) He’s still determined that there must be an Exciting Daring Plan to solve the next problem, so he doesn’t listen to Admiral Holdo, even though she’s a veteran officer and probably should know what she’s doing (and does, as it turns out). In passing, it’s certainly not a great look for him that he spends a lot of the movie not listening to qualified women and causing shit because of it. Hopefully he’s learned.

I think he has, because to Poe’s credit, as Admiral Holdo’s plan eventually unspools, though, and he sees that Holdo was far from a ditherer or a coward, and not only knew exactly what she was doing, but had the right plan for the situation (well, nearly), you can very nearly see the light come on. There are times to blow things up. There are times when that’s not how to win. Poe takes that lesson into the last set piece battle and realizes that there’s no sense in getting all his pilots killed. Time not to fight, time to live and stay in the struggle. Nice growth, again.

(I think it’s important that both Holdo, and Leia, ultimately realize that everything Poe does wrong is coming from a very good place – he wants to do well so very badly. It’s just that he’s also internalized a very dramatic, front-and-centre idea of what being a hero means, and that’s not always going to serve him well.)

Now, overall this is one of the lessons that The Last Jedi seems to want to hammer home – that we don’t necessarily win by blowing things up, as satisfying as that often is to do. It was the wrong plan in the opener. Holdo’s understated escape strategy was correct. Luke doesn’t show up to fight Kylo Ren, he shows up to stall and cover an escape. It didn’t make sense for Finn to die blowing up another piece of Imperial tech; the important thing was for him to live and stay in the fight. People matter. Surviving matters. Persevering matters. Sometimes the fight is not a literal fight.

I’m going to be very interested to see if they carry this through into the last part of the trilogy and give us a final victory that doesn’t come from a big space battle and something enormous exploding. It would kind of make sense if they did, because the Rebellion kind of already tried that and it didn’t end up really solving things. The amoral codebreaker (who I really hope we’re not actually done with) was right, in a way – one day they blow you up, one day you blow them up. The solution could be, perhaps needs to be something else. It’ll be very cool to see if, and how, they make that happen. (Of course things will still blow up. It’s Star Wars, after all)

I’ve seen several clever people say that The Last Jedi is a very 2017 movie, and in some ways I agree. Sometimes the galaxy lets you down: no-one shows up to answer Leia’s call for help. Sometimes there is no cavalry, sometimes if something’s important you gotta do it yourself. Moreover, the Resistance’s saviours are not coming from our old cast of characters – not Han, not Luke, not even (alas) Leia. The answer is emphatically not reaching back to the past, or assuming that because someone has a particular label that they’re The Answer. We need new ideas, new approaches, new heroes.

Speaking of, Rose is a great character. Like Rey, she’s not anyone Important. She’s not a Skywalker, she’s not a Princess, she’s not a flashy pilot or a cool smuggler. She’s a technician who is initially starstruck to meet Finn, but (somewhat like Bodhi Rook from Rogue One) she signs up for way more than she probably should because it’s necessary (or at least it appears to be). She’s able to convince Finn that the Resistance really is something pretty important. She saves his life for exactly the right reasons. Again, I expect great things.

I really loved a lot about this movie. I loved that ‘the worst place in the galaxy’ wasn’t another grungy dive bar, it was a glittering casino full of beautiful wealthy people who couldn’t find morality with a map. I love (as a friend of mine just pointed out to me) that the film suggests that the Force belongs to everyone, not just an elite caste of people with the right bloodlines and groovy robes. How great, not really incidentally, was that shot of the kid with the broom, almost looking like a lightsaber in the starlight, looking up into the night and dreaming of being in the fight. I love that the last shot of Luke was watching twin suns set, very nearly exactly like the first time we saw him.

Of course I have a few minor niggles with the film and places where I think perhaps things could have been done a touch better. But overall, I thought it was fantastic, far better than The Force Awakens, in large measure because it was a really different and new story. I can’t wait to see how it concludes.

Go get ’em, Rey from Nowhere.

(That’s a lot about this movie. I’m gonna stop here. I could write so much more. I’m just that excited about how good it was. Here‘s a good column that digs into some of the politics of the movie really well, and better than I really am able to.)

Tagged , , ,

Gifts

I write this amid a bunch of holiday-related runnings around so this will be another short ‘un. I suspect I’ll write rather more next week.

It’s the Christmas season, so of course there is a lot of focus on gifts, given and received. I have been fortunate enough to receive more than my fair share, this year and through my life. Hopefully I’ve given a few of value in return.

Among the very best gifts I have ever gotten is writing, wherever it came from. I don’t mean that in the sense of ‘I am good at it’, I mean that in terms of what writing does for me. It is indescribably cool (although I do keep trying) to create stories of people and things and places. I am delighted to share a great many of my stories with people, but I have stories that will never be told to anyone.

For a few years I had my own imaginary football league filled with teams and players, each with their own tales that will always be just for me. On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve been privileged to share two big pieces of my imagination with the whole world.  Very different in many ways, but the essential process is the same.  Creating stories makes some crystal thing deep inside me hum in just the right fashion; there is no substitute and nothing I would substitute for it. There is no feeling quite like writing my imaginary people into being, and then of course there is no pleasure quite like having someone read a thing I wrote and say that they’re glad they did.

Thank you all for reading something of mine. I’ll be so very pleased if you continue.

——–

Just (literally) finished watching the Doctor Who Christmas Special and the exit of Peter Capaldi as the Doctor. I suspect I may have a lot of thoughts about it all eventually, but on the whole it was a different kind of exit for a different iteration of the Doctor. I look forward to the next telling of the tale.

Tagged , , ,

UFO? UFO!

I was not expecting a UFO controversy. I really, truly thought that we had had our last flurry of UFO excitement (in North America anyway) in the 90s with the black triangles and all that was immortalized in the X-Files. In more recent years the only time ‘aliens’ seemed to enter the popular consciousness was that meme with the guy with the crazy haircut on History Channel.

And then this week. Revelations of a(nother) U.S. government investigation into UFOs during the 2000s. A pretty wild video of … something, apparently shot by aircrews from the USS Nimitz. Speculation that this is all a shell game being played to distract public attention away from Trump. It’s the Good Old Days again.

The Good Old Days are really pretty old, of course – UFOs in the sense we usually think of them (things that might be alien spacecraft, in general usage) (the term, not the spacecraft) go back to the mystery airships of the 1890s*, some of which were indeed interpreted as extraterrestrial craft. There was a big surge of interest in the 1950s and 1960s, coinciding (I would hazard) both with the Space Race and the appearance of genuinely very different looking aircraft in the skies. Then that other surge in the 80s and 90s.

Basically, the idea of there being Strange Stuff in the sky that might be something really quite remarkable seems to be one that we keep coming back to, collectively. We leave it for a while, and then after some time passes, for whatever reason we pick it up again.

It’s interesting to me that the UFO question still keeps grabbing us, after so many other mysteries and myths (Bermuda Triangle, Loch Ness Monster, Sasquatch) have fallen increasingly aside. I guess part of it is that UFOs do still exist in that ‘maybe’ space where it’s just about possible that there’s something weird going on, while for a lot of other things our expanding reach has closed off the avenues of possibility. That Nimitz video is pretty weird. It could be something.

I think part of it too is that the UFO question hooks into one of our broader, probably species-wide wonderings: are we alone? Are we everything in this universe? Is there more, out there? Especially as Western society has become more and more atheist, if we’re looking for something beyond ourselves and our society and perhaps greater than ourselves and our society, we’ve gotta look off-planet, because we’ve sort of eliminated the other options, intellectually.

And it is an important, interesting question – is there other life, other than what’s on this rock? What would it be like if there was, and what would it be like if it came to visit? The very wide range of very different answers people have to this question – from ‘nothing’ to ‘space friends who want to help us’ to ‘inscrutable intellects who want to use us as lab animals’ – is fascinating, and has of course been the fodder for very many wonderful SFF stories.

We’d like to know what’s out there. We can’t go ourselves, so we imagine the sorts of things that might come to us instead, to visit, to teach, to torment, or to conquer. There’s probably a lot to be gleaned from the different types of aliens we imagine, and the different types of encounters we envision.

The UFO/government (and maybe especially U.S. government) connection in particular I think twangs another part of our understanding (or imagining) of the society we have built, here in the West. Since the 1960s or so, there’s a current of thought that the government can be relied on to be up to no good – with a certain amount of evidence in support of that feeling! When you see the things that governments really have done, and you’re maybe already thinking about alien visitors, it’s not much of a reach to think of the government in league with interests opposed to our own, on a planetary rather than class-based scale.

Anyway, I’m watching this latest wave of UFO-ery with glee and interest. I would dearly love for there to be something remarkable, exceptional, and wonderful happening Up There. Those are the kind of stories I enjoy, after all, and it would be fun to have that be one that comes true. Probably.

I’m not sure that if I had set out to write a less Christmas-y/holiday-themed post that I could have done much better than the above. I hope you all enjoy time with friends and family and get some time to rest and recuperate from all this strange old world keeps hucking at us. I’m gonna try to do some writing. Thanks for reading.

*-I know you can find stuff going back much, much further than that, although it’s not always entirely clear that the weird stuff in the sky is being interpreted as we do today, so I simplified a bit.

Tagged , , , , ,
Advertisements