entertainment, Science fiction

Stranger Things: The Definitive Whinge

Stranger Things | Stranger Things Wiki | Fandom

Time for another edition of: I finally got to immerse myself in this thing I’ve heard so much about, and discovered I didn’t love it as much as everyone else does!

Necessary notes: I won’t be holding back on any spoilers, so if you’re behind on the series, feel free to skip parts of this post. And, if I trash an aspect you really enjoyed, I am sorry. Please remember that these are just my opinions, based on my taste, and my perspectives.

I didn’t hate this show. Far from it. I was honestly surprised at the overall tone being darker and creepier than I’d expected — even from a program entitled Stranger Things. But, despite my initial misgivings, while I did get sucked in, and don’t feel watching was a waste of time or anything even close, there are a number of plot points, lapses in writing sense, and various dead ends that have me scratching my head.

Strap yourselves in — this is going to be a long one.

Stranger Things season 4 to feature four new characters

Let’s begin, as they say, at the beginning: Season 1. From the very first episode, I was a little twitchy — the obvious 1980s setting might end up turning cheesy real fast; I don’t play D&D, so while I appreciated the references, they went right over my head; and the way whatever escaped from the lab made poor Will Byers just disappear scared the daylights out of me.

You have to remember, I went into this adventure with little to no knowledge of the premise or events. I’d heard of the show — meaning, I knew it existed — but that was it. I’d never seen any ads, trailers, or clips. I found myself utterly unprepared for how disturbing, on a primal level, the atmosphere of season 1 would be.

On the surface, it’s about amoral bastards conducting heinous experiments in a secret lab; it’s about a monster from another dimension running amok; it’s about childhood friendships and sibling dynamics and small town peace being disturbed by the weirdness.

But underneath, this is a very frightening portrayal of our deepest fears — of children going missing, of the classified government lab conspiracy being true, of the unthinkable monsters being real.

And those factors were what hit me so strongly. I ached for Joyce Byers as she continued the search for Will; ached for Eleven, an innocent child raised to be a super-soldier; ached for no one believing the boys who knew there was a chance their friend was still alive.

I can concretely say I appreciated the conspiracy theory turning out to be right — because it validated all of the boys’ and Nancy’s misgivings, Joyce’s perserverance, and pushed Hopper out of his own bad choices. It made heroes out of ordinary people. It made the audience believe in miracles, made us root for characters who started out as real jerks (*cough* Steve Harrington), and cheer on the kids who unwisely rushed into danger.

Now, here’s where I start getting to the parts that rankled me.

It has to be said: Hawkins is evidently a town of morons. Yes, the lab was meant to be secret, so I completely get the residents wouldn’t realize it was conducting literally mindbending, possibly world-ending experiments. But, in so many other ways, I simply don’t comprehend how no one would have known something odd was going on.

For example, when Eleven first escapes from the lab, and the scientists murder the diner owner, Hopper is told by the victim’s friends there’s no way it could’ve been suicide — and, oh, yeah, there was a strange kid on the premises right before his death. This reaction sounds very plausible. So is Nancy insisting her best friend wouldn’t have run away — because she knew her best friend.

But, sadly, as the season continues, the townspeople lose their credibility. Barb’s parents seem utterly unconcerned about their daughter not being home in…a while. Mike and Nancy’s parents have ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA Eleven is hiding in the basement for like a week straight. Lucas’ and Dustin’s families don’t even exist on screen at this point. Joyce apparently has no relatives, co-workers, or adult friends joining her in the search for Will (which is highly unlikely in and of itself).

By the time we reach the season finale, I was rather confused, and annoyed. Why would Mike’s dad take for granted the words of the scientists who show up out of nowhere and threaten his children? How does half the middle school get destroyed by the Demogorgon and no one notice? Don’t the Harringtons ever care that Steve comes home with a bruised and bloodied face?

And there’s the not-so-small matter of Eleven having to kill all the scientists and soldiers who came after the kids the night the Demogorgon broke through the school wall. She’s just a kid, and regardless of the fact it was self-defense, it should be seen as gruesome and horrific for anyone to experience. And it’s not the same as killing the monster, because it’s a monster, who won’t stop if you beg or blackmail or send for the military. But killing people — even terrible people who should be punished for their crimes — affects someone.

How does the poor kid go on from all of that? The writers never really got to this.

Stranger Things 4 would 'feel very different,' Duffer Brothers say ...

Moving on to season 2: At first, all seems well — Will is trying to get back to a normal life; Nancy and Steve are more mature; even before we find out Hopper’s new role with Eleven, we can tell he’s changed, for the better. But, of course, there’s a new monster waiting behind the curtain, and when it strikes, it won’t be pretty.

None of that really bothers me — I mean, without conflict, it isn’t exciting, as a viewer. And there was that foreshadowing at the end of season 1, that wherever the Demogorgon came from isn’t finished with Will and Hawkins yet.

There are also plenty of hints that the loose ends from the first season have not gone completely unnoticed: The independent journalist, Murray, pressing Hopper for the real details on “some Russian girl” wandering around town (and flipping vans and breaking arms with her mind). Barb’s parents finally admitting to Nancy and Steve that they’re hiring a private investigator to find out what happened to their daughter. The new, legit scientists at the lab trying to figure out how to contain the spread of the tear into the Demogorgon’s dimension.

I liked all of this. I think season 2 was my favorite.

Except for…Max. And…Billy. And that one totally pointless episode with Eleven’s “sister”.

And there’s…Bob. It was pretty clear from the get-go what would happen to him. Poor Bob.

In season 2, we finally get to meet Lucas’ and Dustin’s families, but, unfortunately, that’s more disappointment on my end. Dustin’s mother and Lucas’ parents are a perfect example of how to be clueless. This is how you get kids running off to the junkyard, at night, attempting to blow up Demodogs.

Here’s my biggest problem with this show: WHY ARE ALL THE PARENTS SO STUPID. With the exceptions of Joyce and Hopper, NONE of the mothers and fathers seem to give a flying damn where their kids are, at any given time of day or night, what they’re doing, who they’re with. How does it never occur to them that something’s up? Mrs. Wheeler had half a brain in season 1, but in season 2, that kind of fades away, and by season 3, she’s an awful excuse for a guardian.

Joyce Byers stands out as the singular, shining example of a parent willing to do anything to protect her kids, and it’s so refreshing. When Hopper more or less adopts Eleven, he gives being a dad again his best shot, and although he makes mistakes along the way, at least he TRIES. Watching Hopper and Eleven grow together, in their new roles, warmed my heart.

New STRANGER THINGS 3 Details Hint at Dark Things to Come - Nerdist

Season 3 was, well, pretty lackluster. Personally, I wasn’t very invested by this point (due to the previous failings I’ve already explained), but I watched it this past week because, well, I was curious.

Here’s my simple, straightforward thought on the plot: It’s believable. Yes, the Russians-opening-the-Gate premise works; and — despite my personal dislike of her — I can see Max becoming more an integral part of the group, her and Eleven bonding, and Mike and Eleven experiencing relationship growing pains.

I’ve heard a lot of complaints about the third season. In some ways, I don’t completely disagree. Where I’m coming from, though, is this: It’s only a hot mess when you consider it’s basically teenagers becoming superspies. That’s where it all falls apart. If it was adults trying to uncover the Russian nuclear conspiracy and whether the Mind Flayer was back, it would be much more plausible. It would resonate a lot more with the audience that somebody at the Hawkins Post — not Nancy, as an intern — came across something bizarre happening to rats; that a member of the police department started looking into a corrupt Mayor; that a store owner at the mall noticed odd behavior among some colleagues.

Placing teenagers — and Lucas’ tween sister — in brutally obvious danger (such as facing down actual Soviet military) is irresponsible on the part of the showrunners. Irresponsible socially, and creatively.

I cheered when Joyce and Hopper finally arrived back in Hawkins for the season finale, and did their best to get the kids out of the mall, and save them — even though it meant putting themselves at risk. That’s what real grownups do when the Gate is about to open and destroy the entire town.

I’m on the fence about the confirmation there will be a fourth season. I could’ve handled the end of the whole series being Joyce selling the house and hoping for a fresh start; it makes sense for the character and the plot. Joyce adopting Eleven after Hopper; Eleven not having her powers now and finally getting a chance to be a normal kid; Will and Jonathan getting a chance to step away from constant reminders of the trauma — yeah, it’s decent.

But it still leaves a lot of stuff unaddressed — and at this point, maybe attempting to get back there wouldn’t work.

My biggest sticking points:

Doesn’t Eleven have PTSD? Shouldn’t she go to therapy or something for having been raised as a lab rat/supersoldier? Won’t this come back to haunt her one day? Wouldn’t she start having nightmares, or acting aggressively, or…something?

Would the boys’ families ever get a clue, about, well…anything? That includes Max’s mom and stepdad — I mean, since Billy died pretty horribly?

What happened to the people who became part of the Mind Flayer’s army and…”melted”? Didn’t anybody care about that part of it?? Even the main characters seemed to have forgotten about it by July 5th — when it was a major traumatic event.

Even with the teasers at the end of the last episode, with the news report on “the small town that went to hell,” and that awful, heavy-handed foreshadowing to Russia, I’m not sure it’d be worth it to watch.

All in all, it seems that the title Stranger Things is more than appropriate.

Stranger Things" Star Reveals What Happened to the Byers Family's ...

entertainment, pop culture, Science fiction

My House Has Become Jurassic World

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There’s something about dinosaurs. We can’t deny it. They are magnificent, terrifying, fascinating creatures, that we’re drawn to again and again, despite the fact they’ve been gone from our world for literal ages. It’s why we keep making and watching movies about them eating people who should’ve known better than to go back to the island, buying the unrealistically plush toys of what were giant reptiles, reading picture books featuring caricatures of the incredible beasts doing silly things to our children.

White Fang was really into dinosaurs for a few years; now it’s Muffin’s turn. For the last few months, we’ve had to endure his wanting to watch videos about dinosaurs (finding non-bloody footage can be a challenge, unfortunately), to browse the toys at stores, to read primarily books about — you guessed it — dinosaurs.

Yesterday, I allowed him a bit of a splurge. And I made him narrow it down, so that caused some friction, since he, of course, wanted them alllllll. Anyway, in the end, we survived, and left the store with 3 new Jurassic World toys (age appropriate, naturally).

And so began the transition my household is making — into becoming Jurassic Park.

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On the drive home, occasionally the T-Rex (batteries included) would roar at us from her packaging in the back seat. A snide comment on my driving? “Shut up,” I told her.

Toby was not pleased to meet the intimidating IndoRaptor — although she merely used her hooked claws to pet him.

As I tried to complete an online search for freelance work, roars and pounding feet from T-Rex dominated the other side of the table.

After Muffin went to bed, I found T-Rex behind the hearth gate — apparently that’s Paddock 9, in my living room.

This morning, somewhere around 6:30, I was woken by the growls and hisses of IndoRaptor.

Welcome to the park, everybody. Please keep your arms and legs inside the ride at all times.

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As of last night, White Fang and I have seen all of the Jurassic Park/Jurassic World movies. While we’re very aware of the more serious consequences of, for example, cloning an ancient top predator and inadverently releasing it into the world, we also agree that the idea of a dinosaur theme park is pretty freaking cool.

Riding in the gyroscope to view herds of triceratops and brontosaurs in their habitat would be awe-inspiring. Buying the plush stegasaurus in a gift shop a mere half mile from where you could see the real thing seems just brilliant.

White Fang and I agreed: It’s really simple — only breed herbivores. Because if you also breed man-eating carnivores, then you are asking for trouble. It’s pretty obvious by now (more than 20 years and 5 films into the canon).

And yet…we keep seeing it happen.

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Small children have their plastic raptors and T-Rexs go head to head on playgrounds and in classrooms across the country. There’s all the sense of adventure and excitement, without any of the serious bloodshed and demise.

Is that why screenwriters and movie directors keep coming up with new hybrids to, er, hy-breed? Because of that fascination with the possibilities? In humans, does it overcome even the urge for self-preservation?

I won’t even touch on the ethics of all this. That is a discussion for another time, other circumstances.

For the moment, my house is about to be overrun with dinosaurs.

And I don’t really mind.

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books, entertainment, movies, Science fiction

Virtual Unreality

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So, last night we watched Ready Player One. (I attempted to read the book as part of The Great American Read challenge at our local library, and did not get past page 100). While I’d like to think of myself as still “cool” (hopefully people still use that word to describe the state of being, otherwise my entire argument shall be moot), I found the idea of this story very, very difficult to get into.

It had nothing to do with the video gaming or virtual reality aspects, or the 1980s references. I’m a child of the 80s myself, I get most of those references. (See, I’m cool — I’m retro.) But what I struggled with was the very premise — apparently the world has finally gone to hell, the economy has tanked, the country is poverty-stricken…but everybody spends 90% of their time in an online VR world, that is supposedly offered free of charge to get started? To the general public, in a nation that now has no jobs, no GDP, evidently no trade or exports, and civilization nowhere other than…Columbus, Ohio?? Erm, o-kayyyy…

With the book, I had major issues with the narrator, too; I didn’t find him sympathetic or a kid that I could root for. I honestly found him stuck-up and arrogant, and a crude little knucklehead, and wanted him to fail. And the writing style got on my nerves; when a novel begins in a first person deep POV format, but within 10 pages strays to a journalistic-type article — including footnotes! — to explain all the background behind the VR game and why everybody wants a piece of it… Well, my eyes glazed over, and I began losing any hope of this book and I getting along.

However, that aside, I knew the rest of my household was excited about seeing the movie, and I was outvoted in that regard. Plus, last night, I was tired, and grumpy, and didn’t even feel like trying to read. I was in one of those funks, after having had a frustrating week. So, Ready Player One it was.

Now, my quibbles about the (extremely flawed and somewhat unrealistic) premise put on the back burner, the film is absolutely stunning to watch. Purely from a graphics perspective, it is eye candy art in its highest form. And I didn’t even know Simon Pegg was in it; I am utter trash for Pegg’s geek work, so once I discovered that, my mood immediately began to lift. And once you get past all the (unnecessary) info-dumping that’s in the novel, the storyline is decent.

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But I had to keep forcing myself not to focus on the extremely unrealistic aspects of the setting and plot. The story is only set in 2045, which is not so far in the future that it could be entirely unrecognizable to us modern humans. The Oasis, the online server, was, according to this tale, developed and released around 2025. Less than 10 years from now, the chances of the next big tech thing coming out of anywhere other than Silicon Valley or Tokyo is downright laughable.

About 6 months ago, I watched a program on, I think it was the National Geographic channel, or one of their affiliates, about the present and future of Silicon Valley, and the CEOs for Microsoft, etc. that they interviewed announced, firmly and without doubt, that the days of nerds developing revolutionary hardware in their garages is gone. Nowadays, college students who want to become IT engineers are falling all over each other to get to New York and Los Angeles.

The novel was published in 2012, which was after Zuckerberg became one of the youngest billionaires ever by changing our world with Facebook. Microsoft and Sony and gaming companies in Japan are working really hard at making virtual reality as advanced as it was in Ready Player One. But it is expensive, and takes time, and hardworking and well-trained staff. While I’m not ruling out that someone could come up with a way to crack the barrier on their own (as happens in the story), it’s highly, highly unlikely. Also, the notion of it being a socially awkward middle-aged nerd (as the author’s tech genius is) really doesn’t seem plausible.

Since the new generation (teenagers now) have grown up with the internet and technology advancing at a consistent (almost frenetic, to some) pace, I just can’t see, in the year 2025, someone releasing a VR gaming server being utterly shocking and taking over society. The idea behind this modern fiction feels so…flimsy.

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And then there are…the 80s references. I can say with a fair amount of certainty: The 80s are not considered “cool” anymore. I truly cannot envision fashions, music, or movies from that decade coming back into style. The 80s are something that make our kids look at us in confusion or roll their eyes disdainfully. Nobody gets the significance of standing outside somebody’s house holding up a boombox these days; in fact, who even knows what a “boombox” was? And that behavior is no longer viewed as an out-of-the-box way to apologize to your girlfriend; now it’s referred to as stalking.

This is one of those stories where it pays to just sit back and go along with the ride, and not dig too deep under the surface.

But that gets me wrapped in a knot, too — who exactly was the intended audience? I can’t help but wonder if Ernst Cline (the author of the novel) was aiming for an atmosphere of nostalgia, rather than near-future realism. You can’t even classify this tale as dystopia, since we’re not given enough information on the surrounding world, the government, the problems existing outside of where the narrator is immediately located. It’s so concentrated on the Oasis/VR/tech giant conspiracy motif as to be myopic.

I wouldn’t call this great fiction that’s designed to really make you think.

But it made the list of the top 100 books recommended for everyone to read at least once in their lifetime. (According to who? We haven’t figured out yet just how PBS determined what made the list and what didn’t.)

Stuff like that irks me. Sorry, folks.

And then, for all my effort, Simon Pegg was only in 20 minutes’ worth of the film. Oh, well. His performance was sterling (as he so often is).

A big component of the story does revolve around the digital world versus the real world, and I did like that the point was made: The digital world does not necessarily win out, no matter how appealing or enticing it may be. Temporarily escaping all your real life problems online does not make those problems go away; they will still be there when you log off. And the people you meet online might be very nasty in real life. Or they could be awesome — but you might never know if you don’t occasionally shut down the server.

In this age of global connectivity with the press of a button, we need to reshape our views on what makes a friendship, a community, a hobby. The world that we knew even 20 years ago is pretty much consigned to the history books. Whether that’s good or bad in the long run, we have yet to see.

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But since so much of the internet and building connections across the planet could be used for good, let’s start thinking of it that way. Let’s stop being the naysayers of the future, grouching about the fact “things aren’t how they were,” and accept that life is how it is now.

Instead of ruminating over what we’ve “lost,” think about what we could gain — greater understanding of each other, more friends and colleagues and a bigger human family.

And work on maintaining the stuff we really shouldn’t lose — like respect, dignity, trust, decency, and common sense.

The biggest takeaway, I feel, of a film about virtual reality should not be that technology is the enemy. Rather, it’s how we choose to use that technology that could let us down, or build us up.

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movies, Science fiction

The Blade Runner Discussion

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Okay, first, I feel the need to apologize to those of you who aren’t sci-fi fans. This will be a sci-fi intense post. But this subject is something near and dear to my heart, and I do want to delve into it. And, after all, this is my blog, so suck it up  just bear with me for the moment.

On the whole, I’m not a massive sci-fi person. I enjoy Star Trek, but not much else when it comes to the genre-heavy stuff. But there are some stories, in any type of medium, that I feel just transcend the “confines” of their genre, and Blade Runner is one of these tales.

The original 1982 movie is based on a novella by acclaimed sci-fi author Phillip K. Dick, entitled “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” This is not a twisty-turny, high-action sort of plot like Star Wars. Rather, Blade Runner asks one of the most important questions posed by civilization: How do we know what makes us human?

Blade Runner is set in a bleak, downtrodden L.A. of approximately 2019…which now does not seem so far away and futuristic. And, unfortunately, Mr. Dick seems to have been closer to the truth than we would’ve liked to believe we’d be in the 21st century when he first penned his tale of Replicants and the special forces police who hunt them. There is plenty of poverty, crime, environmental concerns, and inequality.

Normally, this is the type of film I wouldn’t give a second glance after about 10 minutes; but I am forever grateful that I was initially forced to watch it all the way through. The sad and dark atmosphere actually sets the scene for one of the most beautiful on-screen romances. The soundtrack is by turns melodic, intriguing, haunting, and when it has to be, just a tad sinister. The directing and acting are great, and the script gives you plenty to think about.

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The filmmaking technology in 1982 was of course not what it is today; but by the standards back then, Blade Runner really set the bar high. Its use of intricately detailed models, clever lighting, and doing more with less means that the effects are impressive for the time period, but don’t overwhelm the plot or characterizations.

Now, before I just run full-length into waxing poetic about my love for this movie, I’ll quickly get back to the subject at hand: What I adore most is the innocence and tenderness with which the topic of “how human can Replicants be?” is addressed. Replicants are BR‘s version of androids, and while it’s presented early on that they can be capable of extreme violence, it’s also shown that they can also be capable of compassion, empathy, remorse, and love. (As someone who’s known I was human my whole life, but was frequently accused of being either nearly inhuman or even extraterrestial, I completely felt the plight of the Replicants.)

Anyway, while the debate on what really makes us human, how do we know what does and doesn’t have a soul, and other existential questions abound in the film, we are also faced with the equally tough issue of: Because Replicants are androids, although they look and (mostly) act like us, they are still robots, and therefore certain laws must apply.

The 5 Laws of Robotics immediately come to my mind. One states that robots shouldn’t want to harm humans, because they don’t have the emotional capacity to truly understand how damaging that can be (to individuals, society, to the concept of humanity). Which is why Replicants who “go rogue” and have hurt or even killed humans must be “retired” (basically, executed). Another is that robots/androids are designed to help people achieve human-oriented/inspired goals, so the concept of even AI developing its own ulterior motives is just not kosher.

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So, when we get to the long-awaited sequel film, Blade Runner 2049 — which my family watched the other night — I am having a LOT of conflicted feelings.

#1: I LOVED the clear references to the original in terms of the premise, setting, music, and history. (I can’t stand it when a film in the same world as a predecesor takes all the rules from that story and throws them over a cliff and then stomps on the ashes.)

#2: While I didn’t personally care for some of the casting choices, I thought the acting was well done, and the directing.

#3: But it begins to fall apart for me about halfway through. The sequel is loooooong, and it feels unnecessarily so. I figure the last hour could’ve been greatly reduced.

#4: The villain gets about 10 minutes’ screen time, nowhere near enough to develop what his actual devious scheme is, why he cares, or why we the audience should care.

#5: The big plot reveal (man, will this one be hard to do without spoilers!) hinges on ignoring a previously impossible notion in hardcore sci-fi. It feels extremely un-canon, and therefore I have ISSUES. Not only does it go against part of the Laws of Robotics, it goes against science, which brought the Replicants into being, and it is science that cannot be ignored, without throwing into chaos the entire system of the universe, and…well… My poor Vulcan brain is tied in knots.

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One of my biggest sticking points with movies from the 80s and 90s was that sequels — and then series — became the norm, even when it wasn’t needed. Part of what has continued to draw me to Blade Runner over the years is the way its story seemed so wrapped up in its own neat little package. Yes, there was potential for a sequel, but it didn’t feel like the end of the world if one wasn’t created.

Now this has all changed. And while I don’t hold it against the people who made Blade Runner 2049, I am exercising my First Amendment right to feel rather meh about this state of affairs.

So, tell me — how many of you who are sci-fi fans have seen the original? And the sequel? What are your thoughts? (And if there happens to be a big spoiler in the comments, sorry, folks, I take no responsibility for that. You have been forewarned!)

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Fantasy fiction, reading, Science fiction

On Historical Perspectives in Fantasy and Our Modern Expectations

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(Note: I have borrowed all of these images and have not a whit of claim to them.)

This is a discussion I’ve seen around the blogisphere a lot lately — why so much high fantasy, urban fantasy, and science fiction is sexist and prejudiced. I have several thoughts on the issue (and, necessary disclaimer, some of them might not be popular).

Well, for the first part, I can concretely say: Most high fantasy is based on approximately the 11th-17th centuries A.D. of this actual world, which was a very sexist and discriminatory time period. Sorry, not sorry, folks, it’s just the truth.

And in urban fantasy, generally it’s because the authors are reflecting the current state of affairs in our culture, and they have their reasons for doing so.

When it comes to science fiction — well, the first reason often applies, but also, until very recently, sci-fi was a genre dominated by white male authors (again, not suggesting anything, just stating a fact), so there was probably a sense of unwitting discrimination. (Meaning you have blinders on based on the society/culture you come from, and don’t realize you’re actually showing prejudice.)

Now, here’s what I think of people claiming so many of these series (some of them considered classics of the genre) are horrible and shouldn’t be read anymore in this “enlightened” era: That point of view is just wrong, and people need to stop pushing it.

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And, no, I am not defending any kind of discrimination. I am defending the accuracy of history. Whether we like it or not, there are lots of very not-nice things in humanity’s past. If we cover these things up and act like they never happened, we are in danger of repeating them.

If we remove conversations on biracial marriages, or disabled people having worth, from our fiction, then we’re denying the achievements we’ve made in these areas. If we declare none of our characters need to be chauvinist, then readers won’t understand the significance of what the heroines have overcome.

If we, as authors, want to portray a world without these damaging ways of thought (hoping that one day it will reflect reality), then please do. I do. But we also need to leave the door open for characters who don’t agree with our own POV, so that readers know what could be, and why it may be dangerous.

We have a responsibility to state the facts, even when we don’t like them.

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This probably won’t be a popular post, but I feel it’s a necessary one. (Refer to my previous posts on getting history right in entertainment to cement how strongly I feel about this issue.)

Part of the idea of society becoming more modern is that we become more tolerant of those who don’t share our opinions. There’s a huge, and vital, difference between not agreeing with someone else and believing they’re wrong, and literally attacking them to prove your philosophy is the more mature and civilized.

Guess which approach I hope wins out?

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humor, reading, Science fiction

The Genius That is The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

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It has recently come to my attention that there is a very serious problem within the book blogging community, and it is this: Not everyone has read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.

This once-cult-classic is now a mainstream sci-fi classic, and successfully joined together sci-fi and comedy (which was what the author was attempting to do in the first place — in the 1970s, and you can’t tell me that wasn’t challenging).

My introduction to this series came from my previous life in England, and I have never stopped loving it since. I’ve read all of the 5 novels in the series (that “homage” by Eoin Colfer doesn’t count), listened to the old BBC radio show, watched the Hollywood movie (ehhh), and the original miniseries so many times that I still have parts of it memorized.

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Above is the printing that I own (yes, it is a first edition hardcover, and I am immensely proud of it). There have been several re-releases since the initial publication, and it even lives in some libraries. So, if you haven’t read it yet, you have no excuse to keep putting it off.

The fantastic thing about THHGTTG is that you don’t have to be a big sci-fi nerd (yes, I’m going to use that word) to understand the content. You don’t have to be an expert at astrophysics, spaceships, or alien planets. Not only is most of the science stuff confined to relevant portions of the text, but it’s also easily broken down by the dual narration of aliens needing to explain everything to Arthur Dent, the human, and the Guide itself.

And there’s so much humor, wit and banter, mixed in with light-hearted philosophical discussions, and plenty of tug-on-your-heartstrings moment, too. The only thing that might trip up first-time readers is the very British language (well, Adams was a born-and-bred Englishman), and the references to culture of the 1970s.

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But don’t let that stop you. Not for a minute.

It doesn’t even bother me that Adams makes subtle jabs at everything from organized religion to mega-corporations, social conformity to the fall of Imperialism. The man was entitled to his own opinions, for heaven’s sake (and personally, I feel it’s a really sad day when we can’t separate a few political disagreements from a wonderful story and just enjoy it for what it is).

(Anyway…)

And there are so many valuable nuggets ensconced in the pages of THHGTTG. Such as — You have to know where your towel is. DON’T PANIC. There is something inherently flawed about Thursdays. And most important: The meaning of Life, the Universe, and Everything is 42.

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Yes, 42.

The real reason was (well, according to fan legend) that it seemed like the funniest number Adams could come up with at the time.

But also — why not 42? A major part of the series is the search for the Ultimate Question (the answer is 42, but nobody really knew what the question was). And to me this just so completely reflects our modern concerns and sensibilities on this issue, in a very endearing way.

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So, moths, you tell me — Have you read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy? Do you plan to after being (so rightly) convinced by my excellent treatise? Is there still a place in this world for light-hearted, not-too-science-y fiction mashups?

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Fantasy fiction, history, reading, Science fiction

My Official Title is Book Dragon

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Once upon a time, people who liked to read a lot were called “book worms,” and the notion formed around this phrase that habitual readers were extremely shy and introverted, of course wore very thick glasses, never were seen anywhere without a book in hand, and were naturally clumsy and socially awkward and should be made fun of. The misconception that we aren’t too fond of the real world — or even worse, can’t deal with it — hence we hide in fictional tales, became rather popular.

It was a bare-faced insult to the readers of this Earth.

Sometime last year, I noticed a discussion going around the blogisphere, a sort of petition to re-name book “worms.” To something that suited our true selves much better. The possibility I subscribed to was “book dragon.”

This is really quite accurate. Dragons are fierce, not easily intimidated creatures who stand up for themselves. Certainly not the shrinking, bumbling worm of pop culture misnomers. And indeed, those of us who not only find solace in a good novel, but truly, see the way to the future in it, are fiery about our passion, and we shall defend our views with that fire.

Also, we like to hoard what we see as treasure (i.e. books, bookmarks, book-related merchandise), and often are somewhat solitary (so the introvert thing is slightly true — but it’s still not a bad thing).

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The other thing about dragons (along with the flying, which, unfortunately, some of us may not master) is that they’re very smart. They know a lot, they remember a lot, they observe and take in details. In many of the very old stories, dragons are considered wise. And often people feared them. But I have a feeling it was less because of the potential fire hazard, and more from the fact the dragon had all the knowledge.

The saying “knowledge is power” goes back a ways. Lots of people honestly believe in it.

So, shouldn’t those of us who read and learn new things on a regular basis be, well, feared?

Okay, I’ll settle for respected.

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But seriously, where did this idea come from that we’re tiny, literally spineless animals, unable to be bold and courageous? Why has it perpetuated throughout the modern age, to associate reading with something boring, a waste of time, only for chumps? When every important cultural movement has always been started by people reading something — the Bible, the Declaration of Independence, the Magna Carta, the theories of Dr. Maria Montessori, Green Eggs and Ham.

Look at all the fantastic and amazing technology that exists in today’s civilization because of people reading books by Jules Verne, Arthur C. Clarke, and Isaac Asimov. Consider how many TV shows and movies that you, average human, enjoy that may never have been made if the writers and directors weren’t inspired by reading, everything from the Grimm Brothers’ accounts of folklore to graphic novels based on ancient mythology.

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So, the next time you pass by a single figure sitting at a cafe table, armed only with their vanilla latte and the latest civil rights struggles memoir or astrophysics-for-dummies release, and carelessly toss out a, “What a nerd” remark — watch out.

Today’s nerds will be tomorrow’s teachers, inventors, architects, filmmakers, scientists, researchers, designers, neurodiversity advocates. We don’t read to escape the world we live in — we read to give us ideas on how to make it better.

So, watch out — we’re coming.

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Autism, cats, children's fiction, Fantasy fiction, movies, reading, Science fiction, writing, Young Adult fiction

My Writing Influences

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Good morning, everyone! Per the poll on my Twitter account, oh, only about a hundred months ago (no, really, about a week, I think), I will be selecting the next few blogging topics based on the feedback from those of you who actually read these posts!

The top choice was *my writing influences*. So, I present you with the answer to said subject. (Disclaimer: I did warn you ahead of time that you asked for this…)

Cats. And other animals, but a lot of cats. The tricky thing about trying to write about animals is that, as humans, we can only get inside their heads so much. Or, so I believed.

For a long time, I’d wanted to include talking animals in my writing, and my attempts fell flat. Then I started reading Warriors by Erin Hunter. I’ve waxed poetic plenty about that series in other posts, so I won’t go full throttle here, but suffice it (for the sake of this topic) to say that it completely changed my mind on what was possible.

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Mythological creatures and tales. Since I was old enough to read on my own, I was hunting down stories of the ancient Greek legends, Grimm’s fairytales, and pretty much anything involving unicorns, dragons, and mermaids. I gobbled up almost everything I could find centering on all the species of faeries and animals that don’t exist. I’ve adapted what parts of the legends work best for my story when it comes to The Order of the Twelve Tribes.

Music. I do have a writing playlist (which changes to fit with my current WIP). As those of you who have read Masters and Beginners will know, I’ve placed song lyrics at the start of each chapter throughout the novel. These are homages to my playlist while I was writing/editing Volume 1. So, that will be different in each installment. But it gives you a pretty good idea of what I’ve been listening to.

My previous life in England, and all the English authors I’ve read since forever. Charles Dickens, Peter S. Beagle, Douglas Adams, Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, JK Rowling — it’s a kind of a small miracle there are any American authors on my shelves. (And, yes, there are a few.) But these Brits developed my craft, the type of pacing I follow, the use of (hopefully) clever humor, and reinforced my passion not just to tell a story but to tell it well.  

And since I spent 4 years in Great Britain, I’m just used to thinking in both American and the Queen’s English at the same time, and so many of my characters started morphing into people who originally came from London/Cornwall/Oxfordshire/Edinburgh, and I didn’t fight it.

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Doctor Who. I would flat out be lying if I claimed my writing hadn’t been influenced by Doctor Who. (I have at least three TARDIS references in Volume 1 alone, for the love of Gallifrey.) And while it may seem a bit too ambitious, I truly hope that some day, in some way, I can create something on a parallel with the beauty of some of the early episodes of the show’s reboot.

Warehouse 13. If any of you have seen that TV show, you’ll probably recognize bits of the Warehouse in the Annex, and the sort of structure of the Regents in the idea of the Council and the Order’s hierarchy. (And this is as close to spoilers as I get, I swear.) I’ve had a few really favorite programs, but few have truly stayed in my heart as much as DW and WH 13. 

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Theories on lost knowledge or cultures. Again, for those of you now familiar with the plot of Masters and Beginners, you’ll know that I’m fascinated not only with the mythology and legends of different civilizations, but you may have noticed that I’ve dug pretty deep to find some unique twists for my story. My ideas about the origin of faeries and the Nephilim are actually not completely my own; they’re developed from some very old (think the Middle Ages) and rather obscure Celtic and Hebrew lore. But I took the jist of a lot of research and bent it and molded it until it was shaped like The Order’s world.

Autism. It’s impossible for me not to see life through the lens of autism. And since I’ve read about 62% of the YA/fantasy novels ever printed, I can tell you with some authority that there really aren’t that many healthy, realistic depictions of autism out there. So I decided to write my own. In Volume 1, I’ve introduced not one but two characters on the spectrum (one it’s stated early on, the other will probably be a surprise to most of you). In Volume 2 and beyond, there will be a much greater focus on them.

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My furry angel. You’ve all seen this picture by now, as Toby is my muse for the artwork on the series. (Feel free to ooh and aaw over his cuteness.) Having a real life model for cat behavior was very helpful for putting together the characters of Jules and Sammy.

Pretty pictures. It sounds almost trite, but if you think about it, it’s really important to surround yourself with beauty when you’re hoping to be creative — especially when you’re writing about really serious things like discrimination and losing loved ones and staring down your own imminent demise. (And here you thought I was just writing about fun and glittery faeries and talking cats!) It helps to remind you that — as Samwise Gamgee would say — there is good in the world, and it is worth fighting for.

So, there we are! I hope this appeals to your sensibilities of what you wanted to know about what influences my fictional work! Don’t forget to put a specific question for me in the comments for next week’s post, Author Q & A!

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Children's Health, family, Fantasy fiction, Mental Health, Parenting, reading, Science fiction, Young Adult fiction

The Importance of Not Jumping on the Bandwagon

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Am I really dating myself here? Does anyone even use this phrase anymore? Can someone under the age of 30 even tell me what it means? (By the way, I truly hope all these answers are yes…)

Anyway, just in case you don’t know, the term “jumping on the bandwagon” refers to just blindly following the latest big thing — if I say “trend,” will that make sense across the demographics?  The idea is that it’s considered a negative behavior, that people who just run with every new thing to come along — without stopping to evaluate whether they really agree with it — isn’t smart, or healthy, or beneficial.

I see the logic of that. For example, it can definitely be dangerous to go bungee jumping or cliff diving without proper supervision or equipment, just because “everybody’s doing it.” But, to get on track for the feel of this blog, and its usual sentiments, what does this mean for books?

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Let’s say you’re a reader, a writer, or both. If you don’t live under a rock inside your personal library and keep up with new publications every year, you’ll start to see trends emerge every now and then. A strong example I can pinpoint right away is The Hunger Games. After it had been on the bestseller list for several months, with a movie deal in the works and merchandise popping up everywhere, YA trilogies along a similar theme/concept were released at a rapid-fire rate. The Maze Runner, Divergent, Legend, The 5th Wave, Delirium, Matched, Uglies — while their individual stories were very different (from THG and from each other)they were all riding high on the wave of “dystopian future/teens in danger/overthrowing a totalitarian government is hot right now.”

Before anyone gets mad at me, I’m not for a minute suggesting any of these weren’t well-written books simply because they were part of a “trend.” Hardly. Whether I think these series were worth reading or not goes straight back to my criteria for determining a good book — fun, sensible plot; well-developed characters; realistic scenarios; relatable motivations. That’s how I evaluate every new release I’ve added to my TBR.

Here’s where my concern gets applied — many, many readers (especially teens, who are impressionable) chose to read most or all of these series simply because they were popular.  And this created quite an issue among parents who felt some of these trilogies were just not appropriate for their 15, 14, 13-year-olds. (Having read at least one book from almost every single set, I wholeheartedly concur that they’re not.)

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As parents, readers, and writers, we need to be aware of the necessity of putting our foot down when we feel trends have gotten out of control. As writers, we can pen novels with more age-appropriate plots, language, and morals we actually want our kids to adhere to. (Vital note: Love triangles are not only tiresome and unrealistic in fiction, but they often glamorize unhealthy behavior, such as obsessing over your attraction to a narcissistic individual to the point of shutting out the rest of the world. Not cool to send that message to teenagers, folks. Eating and sleeping and having non-vampire/alien/criminal/promiscuous friends is important.)

As readers, we can support authors/publishers who are getting this idea. Recently I’ve seen an expansion in MG fiction, to include more serious topics (more serious than failing a math test), but keeping the discussion at a level many 12 – 14-year-olds would relate to developmentally, along with clean language and non-gory fight scenes, and romance limited to a first crush or parents getting remarried. There’s finally beginning to be a move towards separating New Adult from Young Adult. (I complained about this a while ago. My guess is I wasn’t the only one standing on the soapbox with a megaphone.)

It is important to teach our kids to think for themselves. But how can we do that if we’re always checking the hashtags, downloading something based solely on the hashtag, not stopping for a minute in the bookstore to scan through the paperback our 6th-grader just handed us?

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books, British pop culture, Fantasy fiction, movies, reading, Science fiction

Ways In Which I Am Not A Traditional Geek

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Most of the “the world” would consider me a geek. I am rarely seen without a book in my hand; I won’t be watching the latest chick flick, but a new sci-fi movie I’m game for; I have (shamelessly) cried like a baby during Doctor Who season finales.

But, there are several views I hold that would be shot down by the same “geek” community many would subscribe me to. So, I guess it’s confession time.

I don’t play video games. That’s right. The only reason I know so much about them is White Fang’s dad was a game designer. I have failed horribly at first person shooters such as Halo; been the master of mashing buttons in Dead or Alive (4, I think); and the last Final Fantasy I played was, I believe, 10. All of these experiments weren’t my idea (though I will admit to enjoying DoA and FF). The screenshot above (from Minecraft) is courtesy of White Fang, who is basically a programmer in training, and the resident Minecraft fiend in my midst. When I see ads for new games in a series I’m familiar with, or game-inspired movies, I’m a little bit in the know, but very little, and that’s not likely to change.

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I love ballet. A lot of “geeks” are into Broadway and the ballroom/jazzy/hip-hop style of dance that’s predominantly featured in those shows. But that’s just not for me. (Further confession — I don’t even like musicals. Sorry, folks.) Classical is the style I love the best, that my body appreciates and emulates the most, and that I am likely to drop everything for. (No offense, anyone, but) I won’t race to the TV for a clip of Hamilton; but a new version of Swan Lake — and children need to learn to watch themselves.

I don’t like Star Wars. This one may get me in some hot water. But it’s just a fact. And I’ll hasten to add, it’s just my opinion. If you’re a massive Star Wars fan, good for you. (I’m not one of those jerks.) But I’ll just have to politely excuse myself from the in-depth discussions about Jedi vs. Sith and the complexities of The Clone Wars.

I gave up on Doctor Who halfway through Matt Smith. Like many fans who had mixed feelings about the story arcs after Amy and Rory were close to leaving/had officially left, my drive to keep caught up on new episodes really faded out. And I just did not care for Clara or her storylines. So, since I don’t have to plant myself in front of the TV for this show, I’m not. I still fondly re-watch the Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant eras, and am content to stay there.

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I never read comic books, have barely touched manga, and avoid graphic novels. Again, this is purely personal taste. The main reason I don’t do this format is simply because I find it confusing. Following the text in the bubbles and the action in the pictures with no over-reaching narrative to explain what’s really going is super tough for me. I truly appreciate the work these artists put in to their genre, though; so, for their sake, I’m really glad I’m in the minority of non-fandom.

The only Star Trek series for me is the original. (Leonard Nimoy was one of my childhood heroes, and I want a Tribble; I’m aware of the risks.) Am loving the new movies that go back to this show’s roots.

I’ve only read through The Lord of the Rings books once. No, this does not make me a traitor, I swear. And I saw the movies before I started reading the trilogy. Still not a traitor, really.

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Along those same lines, I generally don’t read high fantasy. Not knowing how to pronounce anyone’s name, or where they’re going, is a real turn-off for me as a reader. I’d much rather (gasp!) wait for the movie to come out.

I don’t even belong to any fandoms. Stop shouting at your screens, I swear I am a true geek. When I was 7, I wanted to marry The Goblin King, and be Almathea (The Last Unicorn). Rose Tyler is the best Companion ever; it’s officially carved in a block of ice on the planet Woman Wept. For my birthday I got an Evenstar. I proudly carry a TARDIS tote bag. Minecraft has llamas now. See? For me, it’s more about time than anything else. I have a slightly obsessive trait buried down deep (because I’ve repressed it to survive), and if I let myself get started on the forums and the accounts and the threads, I would never eat or sleep or take care of my kids. And those things are kind of important, too.

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