Monthly Archives: April 2013

Science Fiction on Television: A Reason to Hope?

I haven’t watched Syfy since Battlestar Galactica ended. Baring the occasional movie. All that changed a few weeks ago with the premier of Defiance. Damn, I procrastinated until this weekend to watch the series. But I freaking love it!

Defiance is a well written mash up of space western, post apocalypse, space opera, and Shakespeare. That all of the the various genres complement each other rather than struggling for dominance is amazing. Plus, the show wonderfully manages to juggle all of the various plots threads (at least so far).

The acting is good. And the visuals, wow. Very well done.

Defiance gives me hope for the future of science fiction on television. But, before I get called out that science fiction hasn’t exactly vanished from television, I must argue that with the rebranding of SciFi to Syfy, the end of Enterprise, and a general lack of space opera that there appears to be a dearth of science fiction on television even as science fiction becomes ever more prevalent.

So, let’s look at what is coming up.

Syfy seems to be making a course correction with all of the scripted shows they are weighing right now. Of the possibilities there are several I am seriously interested in watching.

High Moon seems to be extremely interesting. Orion I seriously want to see. Clandestine is equally high on my list. And top of my list? Infinity. The synopsis/ pitch has me salivating. These are the stand outs, but I will be willing to give all of the series listed in Deadline.com’s article a shot.

Now, are any of these shows exactly original? Not really. Orion looks to be Tomb Raider in space, Clandestine is reminiscent of Firefly (only more antihero), and Infinity is, perhaps, a more human centric Farscape. That doesn’t mean I ain’t going to give them a chance. I want to watch them all. Now, please.

But Syfy is not the only one. Starz is developing Incursion which seems to be very interesting from what I’ve heard. And may give me reason to actually see if I have Starz.

And, I do believe AMC is developing a really interesting space noir series. But I can’t remember its name. But it sounds damn awesome.

These developments give me hope. I love science fiction on television and I’ve spent the last few years in misery.  Now, I need to go check out Blake’s 7. And really start to get into Farscape again.

 

The Bard on Film

Lately, TCM has had a glut of Shakespeare films. HamletHenry VRichard IIIOthelloRomeo and Juliet, and from a few months ago, The Tempest. I’m a huge Shakespeare fan, though I’m not in love with all of his plays. I loathe Cymbeline and (shockingly) I dislike Romeo and Juliet. And I love Shakespeare on film. I love how the various filmmakers adapt the work of the Bard. 

My first encounter with the Bard on film is, as most of us no doubt encounter him, through Romeo and Juliet. The Zefferelli version still has a place in my heart,though it has been years since I last saw it. And the 1936 version with Norma Shearer as Juliet is very good, as well. I haven’t seen the Luhrmann version of Romeo and Juliet, though. Don’t really want to.

Perhaps my favorite filmed version of a Shakespeare play is Titus. I just love the schizophrenia of the play, the interplay of anachronistic Romes, and the concept of honor and family as self destructive forces. 

Keeping on Julie Taymor directed Shakespeare films, I’m equally in love with her The Tempest. Damn, making Prospero Prospera is inspired. Helen Mirren brings so much force to the role that I, honestly, have rarely seen in other versions of the play. That said, I am also in love with Derek Jarman’s version from the 70s. Now that was a truly gothic experience!

Another of my favorite Shakespeare plays is Richard III. I simply can’t choose between Olivier’s or McKellan’s version. I strongly favor playing with anachronism, but there is just something about Olivier’s that keeps me entranced. 

The same is true of Branagh’s Henry V and Hamlet vs. Olivier’s versions. Personally, I like Olivier’s Henry V and Branagh’s Hamlet more. Don’t get me started on Gibson’s horrid version of Hamlet

Before I visit Japan and Akira Kurosawa’s Shakespearean adaptations, I really should touch on Othello. I’ve only seen one version, Olivier’s. And while the acting is fine, I really, strongly, hate the black face. In this day and age, Othello should be played by an actor of African descent. Not some white dude with really bad face paint. 

Now, on to Shakespeare in Japan. I freaking love Throne of Blood and Ran. Just damn. Both films are freaking awesome and so well done. And Kurosawa does a great job of translating Shakespeare into a Japanese context. 

According to TCM’s introductions to Olivier’s Shakespearean quartet, Olivier is largely responsible for bringing Shakespeare to film (yes, Romeo and Juliet in 1936 predates Olivier’s 1944 Henry V, but Henry V was far more successful than Romeo and Juliet). 

Now, I want to go watch more film adaptations of Shakespeare!

Next time: The future of science fiction on television. And a new entry in my Posts on Writing. Plus, I’m working on some ideas for LGBT themed posts in honor of LGBT History Month. Any suggestions?

Posts on Writing: Genre

I often wonder how writers choose the genre or genres they write in. Is it the idea that forms the basis of the work? Or is it the types of stories that the writer enjoys? 

I know from my own experience that it I tend towards the idea ruling the genre. I have, right now, sketchy plans for two epic fantasy projects. And guess what? I cannot say that I am much of a fan of epic fantasy. But I have ideas that would work wonderfully in an epic format. 

Largely, I think, because I could mix and match cultural elements in a secondary world. 

Is that to say I want to stay in epic fantasy? Hell no. I have an urban fantasy in the works. And some steampunk. And I have a few science fiction ideas running around in the back of my mind. 

And here I come to the danger of genre. 

Yes, genre is a great tool for two reasons. It provides a means of organization. This organization allows readers and publishers to know what they have on the shelf. Genre also provides guidelines for the work.

But, genre also causes problems. And no, I’m not talking about which genre is better than others. For writers, genre can become a prison. Especially for successful writers. Examples: Daniel Abraham and Iain M. Banks. Daniel Abraham writes in several genres, but he uses various pen names for each genre. And Iain M. Banks writes science fiction while Iain Banks writes literary fiction. I really don’t like this. I don’t want to hide behind countless pen names because I don’t want to limit myself to just one genre. 

And that extends, obviously, to form (which is also a type of genre). This is where I struggle.  What form works best with the idea? In what circumstances is a novel more appropriate than a comic book or a movie or a television series or a video game? I always come back to this. Each form/ genre has its own strengths and weaknesses. And challenges to break in. 

Now, I have the suspicion that the idea may inform the format of the project. Though, perhaps, more work is needed before a final determination is reached. 

So, back to my two epic fantasy ideas. Both will be novels. Why? Because once I finish with them, I will never return to those ideas. I’m not the kind of writer who will bloat a work to make a standalone a trilogy. Or a trilogy into a septology. 

When it comes to longer works, I am more inclined to comics. I don’t know, but I just like the idea of comics and longer works. There are exceptions, though. 

The urban fantasy idea I mentioned has gone from being a comic book to being a twelve book series (yes, I was inspired by the number of Fleming’s Bond novels). Now, I’ve lowered the number to about three. Or an omnibus. 

Damn, writing this post has been helpful. It has cleared up so many issues I’ve been dealing with. Now, it’s back to work. And fighting this damn cold I’ve got. Ugh.

Next time, the Bard on Film. And something else. 

 

About Fandom

Or why I really should avoid comment threads. Or message boards. Now, this is not to cast aspersions on most comment threads or message boards. Or even most fans. This is about that annoying and egregious group of fans with a little too much troll in them. 

Some fans are great. Those fans who struggled to save the original Star TrekFirefly, etc. They are awesome. But those fans who presume that they own the franchise and proceed to hurl abuse at all and sundry (including their “beloved” franchise) are, in my opinion, horrible. And don’t get me started on those who presume they own the people who work so hard to bring that franchise to life. I shudder when they pop up. Even when they are not being creepy. Of course, I find even the nicest seeming to be creepy. 

It is true that artists need a thick skin. And in the Information Age, we need skins of diamond. 

That’s all I got for this subject. To be honest, I hate discussing fandom. Anyway, let’s look at what else I have planned.

There is the latest Post on Writing. I discuss Shakespeare. I discuss upcoming scifi series. And I might castigate my writing. Sounds like fun. 

Topic of the Day; Straight from the Headlines

A proposal. Imagine, for a moment, that I have a memetic (realistic) television or comic book series in production. Let’s say some of the major characters are high school students. For a major arc of the series, I have in mind homophobic bullying arc, a teen pregnancy, a school shooting, etc. as possibilities. Is it appropriate for me to explore any of these topics because they are, perhaps, sensitive for some viewers/ readers? I don’t think so.

 I don’t think it would be inappropriate for issues of the day, often very hard and disturbing, to be explored by artists. We can’t, and we shouldn’t, shy away from hard subject matter. Even if the artist him or herself struggles. 

But is there a point where concern should be expressed? Yes. Absolutely. The artist has a responsibility to do the best work possible. 

Back to my school shooting scenario in my imaginary series. What would I do to not fuck it up? I wouldn’t let it be a one and done issue. The consequences of that event would haunt the school and my characters long after the event. I wouldn’t let it be forgotten. 

The same goes with bullying. I’m thankful that I never experienced bullying to the degree that a lot of other kids, not only LGBT, have gone through. I was lucky. But exploring what such viciousness does to students is, I think, something that should be done. 

Difficult subjects should be approached with care, but they should never be avoided. To avoid that which makes us squeamish, sick, angry, frightened, or disgusted limits us. These subjects need to be confronted and surpassed. Otherwise there will be no growth, only stasis. 

PostPost: I know I probably could have written about actual shows and how they handle these topics, but I really wanted to look at it from a “what would I do” approach. 

Next time, there is a rant a coming. And look to a post where I try to figure out the levels of genre.

Posts on Writing: Influences

In trying to write this post, I came up against a wall. My first instinct was, unfortunately, to try and depersonalize it. I went on this really silly explication of what influence is. And I hated it. But how to make this more personal? By exploring my own influences.

Starting with genre, I’m highly influenced by sword and sorcery, especially the originators of the genre (and some later writers). But unlike most others who are passionate about S&S, I’m not so very interested in the rhetoric of the sword. For me, I’m far more attracted and passionate about the sorcery. What does that say about me, I wonder?

Perhaps that is why I’m somewhat more fond of Clark Ashton Smith compared to Robert E. Howard. Smith is as likely to use a sorcerer protagonist as he is a swordsman. 

Manga, especially shonen manga, also strongly influences me. Though my interest in the strong bonds that create alternative families is not exclusive to shonen (Tales of the City is also a great love of mine). But when it comes to shonen, I do find myself not as interested in the typical hero. 

I can’t say I’m as influenced by superhero comic books as I am by manga. Though there are some writers who are more influential than others (namely more recent ones like James Robinson, Kieron Gillen, and Scott Snyder).

Speaking of individual writers, where would I be without China Mieville? The Bas-Lag novels showed me how to freaking world build. And that I don’t have to be limited by the medieval in fantasy. 

Although by the same token, He-man and the Masters of the Universe and She-ra: Princess of Power are equally major influences when it comes to world building. I just love the idea of mashing up history, culture, science fiction, fantasy, etc. 

Now, there is a danger, I think, of limiting oneself to only influences (or sources) in the genre one writes in. It leads to bad derivative works. Move beyond!

So, outside of genre, what influences me? History. Academic and little studied. I’m also influenced by certain elements of critical theory. Hey, I did want to be an academic for years! And a historian (on occasion).

I won’t go into all of the history I’m influenced by. It is massive. It is rather schizo. Honest. 

Let’s move on to other fictions. I’ve already mentioned Tales of the City. Well, I do find Armistead Maupin to be a huge influence. And count among them many other gay writers. Also, a wide range of writers like Margaret Atwood (her mimetic fiction), Cormac McCarthy, Charles Dickens, Shakespeare, John Webster, Tennessee Williams, John Galsworthy, Yasunari Kawabata, etc. 

Now, I don’t have to agree with some of the writers I find influential. I loathe Ian Fleming’s politics, but his James Bond series is undeniably an influence. Much as Lovecraft’s politics are repellent, but so many writers are influenced by him.

You can also be influenced, honestly, by writers you have issues with. Take Glee. Or Dryland’s End. When I write LGBT characters, I’ll have my issues with how Kurt Hummel, et al. are written to contrast with. And when it comes to being gay and writing science fiction and fantasy, I’ll have my issues with Dryland’s End (and some other examples) to inspire me (in what not to do).

And that’s just what I’m consciously aware of. Who knows what I’m unaware of. Of course, that’s where critics (and critically minded fans come in).

Influence is conscious and unconscious. It exists in the background. It can be anything. Or everything. 

Next time. What’s up with topical episodes? And I have a rant on fandom building. 

 

“Skins Meets Superheroes,” What Was I Thinking When I Agreed with This?

Before I begin, I must admit the possibility that I am a DC fanboy. Therefore, it is possible that my criticism of Marvel Comics, and Young Avengers from Marvel Now! in particular, is rooted in my fanboy state. But I don’t think so. I am perfectly willing to criticize DC’s Teen Titanstoo (especially given that while I love the concept, I hate the writing).

But this post is aimed at Young Avengers as written by Kieron Gillen. When I first read the initial issue in January, I reviewed it very positively. Perhaps, in hindsight, I was too generous. I have since then read the second issue (and am, so far, passing on the third).

The reason for my growing dissatisfaction with the series is partially rooted in genre but also, as will become clear, in narrative. I still love the art, it is the writing that is bugging me.

Let’s first begin by looking at the comparison of the British teen series Skins with Young Avengers. Why is this comparison even made? I think the clear answer lies in that terrific opening scene from issue one. Where Kate Bishop wakes up in bed with Noh-Varr. But, honestly, that is the only scene that is reminiscent of Skins (okay, maybe Loki in the dinner could count in a pinch). But that is it.

The majority of the first issue, and the whole of the second, is rather traditional superhero fare. With a heavy dose of idiot plot (as carried by pretty much every character).

What has really troubled me, on a second reading of the first issue, is the interaction between Billy and Teddy. Given the nature of the genre (superhero comics), Billy is at fault because he does not want to be a superhero any more. Guess what? Two of his friends died the last time he played hero (and though Doom and Iron Lad committed the murders of Stature and Vision, Billy’s idiocy started it all). Given the extent of Billy’s powers, would it not actually be better if he never cosplayed hero again?

The more I think about it, the less sympathetic I am to Teddy, to be honest. Yes, in the grand scheme of things  Teddy has lot everything save his boyfriend. But how does that translate to cosplaying hero on the down low? And really, “I fell in love with a superhero,”? What the fuck! So, did Teddy fall in love with Billy Kaplan or with Asgardian/Wiccan? The person or the character? Personally, the narrative might have been more interesting if Billy broke up with Teddy for that comment.

Of course, Billy being Billy, he then proceeds to perform an idiotic action. That is compounded by Loki and America Chavez performing idiotic actions. Yeah, they’re teenagers, but seriously. Couldn’t Loki have just told Ms. America that he was trying to prevent Wiccan from bringing a transdimensional parasite to their reality? And what the hell with the Not-Ms. Altman acting like Stepford Mom? Wouldn’t the plot be better served with her being less immediately antagonistic? I know I haven’t read issue three (with four and five still to drop). But again, I am bitterly let down by this initial arc.

Is it possible that I want a stronger sense of rebellion or independence in my young superhero team comics? As I said in the introduction, I love the concept of the Teen Titans in the New 52, but I don’t like the writing. And from what I’ve heard about the upcoming The Movement from Gail Simone, I suspect that I do prefer a more rebellious/ independent take. (I am, actually, looking forward to The Movement).

Has part of my problem with Young Avengers always been my annoyance at the characters cosplaying as heroes rather than struggling to do the right thing, whatever that is, with powers they don’t quite understand? Is it, perhaps, the fact that, despite the promise of these kids standing alone, they are very much still looking up to/ dependent on their role models? Perhaps.

Regardless of whether or not my issue with Young Avengers is rooted in any sense of fanboydom for the opposition, disappointment with the narrative, or general dislike for the kind of superheroics espoused,  I am leaning towards dropping this series (if I haven’t already). I just don’t feel where this series is going. Perhaps if there is more Skins and less Heinberg, the series would be more enjoyable.

Posts on Writing: Introduction

I know I should have had this post up five days ago. But I’ve been dealing with distractions (I’m a TIVO hoarder). Finally, however, I’ve gotten around to writing this post.

While many of my posts take the form of essays, I’m more often than not talking and writing myself through the various issues I’m tackling. I’ve found this to be both therapeutic and grounding.

So, these upcoming posts on writing will be me walking myself through my myriad thoughts on the act of writing.

The titles and subjects have already been decided on. At one point, I had wanted to utilize more imaginative titles like “Thinking Like a Writer, Thinking Like a Storyteller.” But the more I thought about it, I realized that I wanted to zero in on concepts. If you’ve had the pleasure of watching Art 21, you’ll recognize what inspired my subject/ title choices. So what are the posts going to be called?

Inspiration

Genre

Research

Building

Choices

Process

Goals

Publish

Hopefully, using these single word titles/ concepts as a guide will aid me in focusing my thoughts.

Now, I’m not going to spend the next nine odd posts solely discussing my thoughts on writing. So, I’ll intersperse these posts with others.

For example, I’m building up to a new rant on teen superheroes (or why I’m disappointed with the new Young Avengers).

That’s it for now. Until next post.