Category Archives: SF

Of Girls, Bulls, and Artistic Intent

March of last year the sculpture “Fearless Girl” was installed on the streets of New York City standing defiantly before the now famous sculpture ‘Charging Bull.’ Greg Fallis at his blog has done a pretty goof job going over the histories of the two statues and how those histories interplay with the meaning intended for the pieces so that’s not going to be focus of my post.

Though when you get to the slipper subject of ‘meaning’ it is important to remember that the artist may intend one thing but the people who experience the art take away something utterly different or even diametrically opposed to the original intent. A case in point on that is the singer/songwriter Sting, his piece ‘Every Breath You Take’ and the scores upon scores of couple who have used it as their wedding songs.

Charging Bull‘s creator Arturo Di Modica has recently complained about the installation of Fearless Girl and expressed his desire that the statue be removed from it place before his own. Many of the fans of ‘Fearless Girl‘ have rejected his position and a common defense I have heard is that Art is often in conversation with previous pieces. This is true and since my background, and I suspect yours, is Science-Fiction let me use a well know example from that field as an example.

Robert A. Heinlein wrote the novel ‘Starship Troopers‘ and with that works explored the relationship between the common solider and his society. The book provoked a fiery conversation that continues to rage until this day. Sometime later author Joe Haldeman wrote ‘The Forever War,‘ a novel also exploring the relationship between the common solider and his society. ‘The Forever War‘ makes radically different arguments and comes of very different conclusions. Both books are considered classics and both are terribly good reads. It is considered an accepted fact that Haldeman wrote ‘The Forever War‘ in direct response to ‘Starship Troopers‘ a perfect example of art in communication with art. I would strongly urge people to read both books.

But you do not need to read both to see the value in either novel. Either can be read alone without the other and the experience is full and complete. This is not true of ‘Fearless Girl.’

Fearless Girl”s artistic expression is reliant on ‘Charging Bull‘, without the Bull she is not fearless for there is nothing to inspire fear. Further more The two are seen together changing the impression once is likely to form upon seeing ‘Charging Bull.‘ Returning to the example of ‘Starship Troopers‘ and ‘The Forever War,‘ it is as if instead of writing a new novel that could be read alone Haldeman has written six new end chapters to Heinlein’s novel and sent them out attached to the previous book. There’s nothing wrong and in fact much to respect in Haldeman’s response to Heinlein’s book but meaning is not the point. The point is there is a difference between answering an artwork with your own and changing another artist’s work. Placing Fearless Girl directly before the Charging Bull sculpture, and being utterly dependent on that earlier sculpture for context also changes the context of Charging Bull.

Di Modica has called for the removal of ‘Fearless Girl‘ feeling that in damages the artistic intent of his ‘Charging Bull.’ He is not without a point. In my opinion it is not relevant that ‘Fearless Girl‘ started life as advertising for a corporate product, intent and interpretation are different things and the powerful interpretation many hold for ‘Fearless Girl‘ is one that strikes many people to their very identity.

This is a problem with no easy solution. Leaving ‘Fearless Girl‘ clearly changes in common interpretation of ‘Charging Bull,’ but removing it creates its own host of negative impressions.

Personally I am torn without resolution, as an artist I am sympathetic to Di Modica’s point of view but the two statues together have an emotional punch that neither could achieve on their own.

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Critique: Passengers (2016)

This is not a movie review but a critique where I give you my opinion on specific elements of the film and story. In this case I will be discussing what did not work for me and why. Unlike a review spoilers will abound and if you want to remain unspoiled stop reading now.

Synopsis:

Passengers is an SF movie about an extravagantly luxurious colony ship en route from Earth to the colony of Homeworld II. The ship travels at about half the speed of light and the journey is expected to take over a hundred years. because of this the crew and passengers are in cold sleep, the lives suspended between life and death for all but the final four months of the trip. The ship encounters that tired trope of SF movies, a meteor storm and in damaged. Cascading failures results in a passenger, Jim Preston, being awakened from cold sleep. He discovers there are more than 90 years until they reach Homeworld II and there is no way for him to return to hibernation. Jim will spend his life alone on the ship, never reaching the new world. After little more than a year, his will breaks and he awakens another passenger, Aurora Lane, a beautiful writer and lies to her telling her that her cold sleep pod malfunctioned as his did. They get to know each other, they fall into a romantic/sexual relationship, and then of course the lie is exposed. Of course she reacts angrily and they live separate lives, time-sharing the android bartender for company. A third person awakens, a ship’s crew member. He discovers some of the information about the nature of the ships damage and malfunctions, passes to them the access to the secured areas and then dies from his faulty awakening. Together Jim and Aurora discover the precise damage and what is required to fix the ship. Jim is nearly killed but Aurora saves him. Jim discovers that with the Crew Chief’s access he can put Aurora back into hibernation using the ship’s ONLY autodoc. She refuses and stays with him. Ninety years later he crew awakens to discover the ship changed and the record Aurora left behind as both have died of old age.

 

This film has a number of glaring problems and failures in execution. Unlike the movie I watched the night before, Get Out, Passengers becomes worse the more I consider it. Of course let’s get the monstrous sin out of the way first; Jim waking Aurora is an evil act. Perhaps you can understand his motivations, driven to near madness by isolation is a powerful thing, but understanding and excusing are two radically different things. Jim kidnapped Aurora from her life and forced her to live his. He did this to satisfy his needs and his desires. Some have called her eventual reaction to him ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ and I can’t argue with that. I am sure the writers think of it as love, but it’s hard to buy that when she has no choice and no options.

Next up on the great fail parade is the nature of the two characters. Jim is going to Homeworld II because he is a mechanic and no one Earth fixes anything anymore. He is going to fulfill his professional need to build things, and there he will help build a new world, a new society. Aurora is also going to fulfill a professional need. She is searching for the story that will allow her to outshine her father a great and award winning writer as well. He plans were to go, spend a year there and return, half slept through more than two hundred years for the chance at this great tale.

On the surface these characters seem to be treated very much alike, but they are not. With Aurora we get little video messages from her friends she has kept spelling out that what she really needs is not a great jump professionally, but someone to fill the hole in her heart. To be a complete person she must find love, but Jim has no such lacking or hole in his heart. Going there to build is enough. This is a classic bit of bad writing when approaching female characters. Their needs are too often about finding emotional completeness, and they find that in a man.

Another failure in executing her character is that Aurora has no agency in her storyline. I don’t mean that Jim forces her into the situation, but after she is awake and supposedly a full character she has no decision points, no action of hers material advances her story or her plot line. Her only meaningful decisions are about Jim and accepting him back or not. Everything about who she is gets reduced to her call on him. It’s crap writing for any character and especially for female characters.

The crew Chief is nothing more that Chief Exposition. he is awakened to grant access to Jim and Aurora, explain the situation, and then die getting his ‘mentor’ archetype out of the way for the third act. It’s lazy, blatant, and boring.

There are also the plot holes in the story.

There are no faculties for putting someone into hibernation/cold sleep aboard the ship, but there is a crew to run her at the destination. Did they not need a crew to launcher her? They only need it to bring her into orbit? Also there are no provisions for the crew to awaken during malfunctions? No regular awakenings to inspect the ship for function and damage? This is a terribly designed mission and I would not step aboard for that flight.

Passengers is a failed film that looks good and competently acted, but at its heart it is stupid and immoral.

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Movie Review: Kong; Skull Island

 

The other day I was speaking with friend who also enjoys movie about Jackson’s remake of King Kong and he commented that he enjoyed the film it got back to New York. Now if you agree with that sentiment then Kong: Skull Island likely right in your wheelhouse.

The movie has the usual first act set up of meeting the characters, providing just enough depth to satisfy the requirements of a major tent-pole action film, and getting the relationships into a rough geography.

With the housework behind them then next two-thirds of the movie is action on Skull Island. Meeting fantastic beasts, being chased by monsters, the thinnest of explanations for why we haven’t seen these giant kaiju monsters before, and then wrapping all up with a message of ecology and humility.

This movie is competently crafted without glaring idiotic errors but that landed the final product, in my opinion, just okay. It was fun and engaging on the surface but it lacked the grip to hold my unbroken attention and my mind wandered.

Now as with all things your mileage may vary and I want to repeat that this is not a bad movie. I am happy I saw it, and the spectacle is enough to justify the big screen viewing. The film does more work establishing the shared cinematic universe to come than it does in servicing its own story and that’s the biggest flaw.

There is a button that follows the end credits but if you want it unspoiled do not read the title card announcing that this film is a work of fiction. (I did read it *sigh*)

Overall a fun film for giant monster fans but I’d keep to the matinee price level.

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Retire This Trope

The other night on Hulu I watched some of the movie Deep Impact. If you haven’t heard of this Earth versus Comet movie it is because it was utterly buried at the box office by that stupidly insulting example of Michael bay’s work, Armageddon. Beside show casing Elijah Wood before The Lord of The Rings, this film was a serious attempt to convey a story about a comet on a collision and the difficulty in diverting it.

Overall this film scores well in its science. It has some concept of the distances and energies involved. In fact the ship dispatched to divert the comet is powered by an Orion drive, something we had considered building; a ship that flies on a series of atomic explosions.

The movie did engage in one of the oldest trope in SF movies, the astronaut who gets separated from the craft and flies off into cold limitless space.

People, this is not the problem Hollywood would have you think it is.

Everything in space is about velocity. Velocity determines the size and period of your orbits. Go fast enough around the Earth and you are in orbit around the planet. Go faster and you may leave the planet but then you are orbiting the sun. Go a hell of a lot faster and you leave the sun’s influence and now you’re orbiting the center of the galaxy.

If you are working over the side on a spaceship lose you grip you may float away, but your velocity did not change all that much. You are still in the same orbit as the ship you left. Yeah it is out of reach but guess what you can move. With just a tiny burp of it orbital thrusters, not its main engines, and they can come and get you. The same is true if that ship is on its way to the moon, or Mars, or even the outer solar system. The difference between your new velocity and your old one, which was the same as the ships, is going to be insignificant compared to the ship’s ability to change its velocity.

But you know, I am starting to get an idea for a story…

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Mad Max: Fury Road – Black and Chrome

For Valentine’s Day y sweetie-wife gifted me with the deluxe Blu-ray for Mad Max: Fury Road which included not only tons of bonus material, which I adore, but the directors version of the film in glorious Black and White. I have spent the last few nights watching the movie in its ‘Black and Chrome’ edition.

(I saw the film in the theaters and one on Blu-ray in color so I didn’t feel too bad breaking it into thirds to watch it after my evening’s work was done.)

Much like Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Mad Max: Fury Road is a film that I like and appreciate more with repeated viewings. The story movies at a breakneck pace, throwing character development and backstory in amid the action. I watched it this time with subtitles turn on and followed the story a little closer without losing dialog to accents or the massive noise of the extended chases. Specifically I understood the through-line arc for the character Lux a little better this go around.

The film plays beautifully in black and white. Stripped of color the stark unforgiving landscape is particularly powerful and the characters seem harder and more raw.

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and I couldn’t hazard to guess which version may end up my default screening, B&W or color.

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It Means What you Think, but that is not what was Meant

At one of the panels this past weekend the classic SF/Horror film The Invasion of the Body Snatchers was mentioned. Naturally when the film came up people started discussing it’s message and meaning.

Of Course it is an allegory for Communism and the soul crushing power of the totalitarian state.

Of Course it is an allegory for McCarthyism and crushing power of political terror forcing everyone into the same march.

Of Course it is an allegory for Social Conventions and the crushing power of culture, particularly that of mid-20th century America to crushing people into conformity.

Which of these is correct?

Why all of them, of course. A piece of art means to you what it means. That is not to say that was its intended meaning. Various interviews have revealed the actors, director, and writers, harbored not direct allegory. Some going so far as to say they merely intended to craft a good thriller. (check that box) Do not confuse the message you take away with the artist’s intent.

A perfect example of this is the recent on-line war between John Carpenter and the Alt-Right over the meaning of his film They Live. As I mentioned in passing when I recently discussed that film here, it could be read in an anti-Semitic manner. Now if you know anything of Mr. Carpenter you know that the intended message was on attacking Yuppies, Capitalism, and Consumerism. However those of the Alt0Right saw a different theme, one that is easy to see if that us what you *want* to see.

And there is the great truth of art, everyone brings their own life experiences and filters the process through them. What you see as a clear symbol is to someone else just a jar of baby food.

When you talk about tv shows and movies and what they really meant, be wary of putting your meaning into someone else’s mouth.

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Condor 2017 Post convention report

This weekend was Condor, San Diego Longest Running SF convention. I participated in six panels, attended several more, and hung out with friends, artists, and writers. All in all it was a great weekend and I had a terribly good time.

I think every panel I participated in was crewed by intelligent, engaging, and entertaining people. The discussions were lively, and covered a broad range of topics from the merely amusing to the deeply serious. Just the sort of things I look for in a convention.

Panels I attended were of the same caliber. In addition to the panels I had lively and good discussion with friends and fellow members of the Horror Writers Association, a fine group of people.

The only thing that really marred my weekend was Saturday night as I drove home a experienced a suddenly migraine. It last throughout the night and even a bit into the next morning after I awoke. I still made it to the convention, took part in my final panel, and had a good time, but once I got home that evening the pain returned.

Here’s hoping your weekend was as fun but without the pain.

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Condor 2017

This weekend is Condor, San Diego local SF convention. I will be attended as panelist and fan.

Here are the list of panel that I will be participating on if you want to stop by and listen.

Friday

Zombies, Werewolves, Vampires, and Other Tropes 12:00 noon

Writing What you Know 1:00 Pm

Mad Scientists in books and Film 3:pm

Saturday

Horror in Harry Potter 1:00 pm

Bad Science in Movies & TV 7:00 pm

Sunday

How Big will Science-Fiction Get? 2:00 pm

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Movie Review: Logan

Logan is reportedly the final outing for Hugh Jackman as Logan/Wolverine and Patrick Stewart as Charles Xavier and it is fitting conclusion for the association of these two talented actors with their icon characters.

This movie is not one for the children. It is rated ‘R’ for language and violence. In the source material Wolverine is a violent character and the illustrations usually hint of the terrible carnage wreaked by his claws. For this final film the carnage is explicit. Limbs are severed and decapitations abound. However the film is not an exploitative exploration of how much gore can fit onto an IMAX screen. In fact compared to most zombie movies post Dawn of the Dead the blood and dismemberment is positively restrained.

The themes are friends, family, and the dichotomy between what life has made us into and what we choose to be. It is set in the future of the X-Men/Mutants franchise (Which is not part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Different studios, different film rights involved.) and for the most part the gifted mutants have vanished from the world. Logan and Charles live in hiding, the days of heroism now a thing unspoken. A mysterious aliment has weakened Logan who now makes his living as an upscale Uber-style driver. Into this reclusive life comes Laura, a laconic young girl, troubled, hunted, and with a secret. Suddenly thrust into danger and trying to refuse call to heroism Logan is forced to confront his and Charles’ past and the ghosts of their actions.

This film hardly belongs in the category of ‘superhero’ movies. It is a rich character drama drawing its power from compelling characters, a tight, taut script and terrific acting. It is no surprise that veterans such as Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, and Richard E. Grant imbue their performances with heart and nuance but throughout the film I was stunned by Dafne Keen as Laura.

Dafne tackles a part that many adult and experienced actors would find difficult. Using only her eyes she conveys a range of emotions many thespians are unable to achieve. I was reminded of the work of Natalie Portman in Leon: The Professional. I hope that Ms. Keen’s career is a full, varied, and satisfying as Ms. Portman’s.

From a writer’s perspective There are a few minor flaws in the Logan. Elements of Wolverine’s mysterious illness left me with problems and some of the ‘Chekov’s Gun’ establishment was too obvious for my tastes, but these and other minor missteps are unlikely to bother people who are not regularly engaged in story construction.

This is a movie worth seeing. If you enjoy your violence loud, and in your face, then see it in IMAX, if you are sensitive to modern movies and their volume levels wait for home video as the mix is full of thumping bass, but the movie is fully worth it.

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Dream Project

Artists of all stripes have projects that they dream of attempting and I am no different. The project I have in mind is an already existing property and as I understand it totally tangled in rights issues so I have no reasonable hope of doing this.

I’d love to reboot Blake’s Seven in a series of novels.

For those not in the know Blake’s Seven is a late 70s and early 80s BBC SciFi series. Set in a galaxy under the thumb of dictatorial Federation the series deals with a band of rebels and outlaws. Once describe by its creator Terry Nation as ‘the Dirty Dozen’ in space the rebels in this show are hardly paragons of virtue, with most well across the line into criminality.

There’s Rog Blake, the engineer, idealist, and a man who has been set-up by the authorities as someone guilty of sex crimes against children. He’s the passionate do anything required to beat the government leader of the group.

Today Kerr Avon would be depicted as a hacker, but in the late 70’s few television writers understood computers (hell few understand them today) and he’s presented as more technician. Avon’s image is the self-centered criminal, sticking with Blake because its safer than being on his own, but somehow when the chips are down he never really betrays his own, so I also so him as a broken idealist.

Jenna Stannis was a smuggler before falling into Blake’s orbit where his passion and charisma converted her to a political animal, committed to the cause.

Villa Restal a talent thief he doesn’t really care about the fight but lacking the spine to cross those more powerful than himself, he follows Blake and Avon.

There are several more characters – more than seven in fact- that came and went over the series 4 season run.

The show was hampered from the start with a budget far too limited for the creator’s vision. (It had been given the budget of the show it replaced – a police procedural.) Still with duct taped costumes and sets that shook when touched they managed to craft compelling characters in a dark cynical setting.

It would be so fun to tackle rebooting the concept. Work out the world building ahead of time and really explore hard choices of heroes who aren’t always heroic.

It’ll never happen for me, but a guy can dream can’t he?

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