Thought this post was kinda interesting – and the top comment as well. Too much generalization (in the comment) but still interesting.
Thought this post was kinda interesting – and the top comment as well. Too much generalization (in the comment) but still interesting.
Billions of words will be marshaled in support or condemnation of Star Wars Episode VIII. So of course, I want to add a few of my own. 😉
SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS
(This was me trying to avoid spoilers last week)
The Last Jedi is a divisive entry – to me, exactly the gut-punch this cultural juggernaut needed to stay relevant, but not all fans agree. At least, not on their first viewing.
My current favorite analysis is this article which details the many ways in which Rian Johnson upended fans’ expectations and franchise icons to deliver a better story. In it, the author details many important turns in Johnson’s script and their importance to breaking viewers’ expectations. Spoiler warning, of course! The Last Jedi Doesn’t Care What You Think About Star Wars (Slashfilm)
The following three points have stuck with me since seeing the film, along with a general awe for the gorgeous visuals and lovely John Williams score. (Do you think he hears another million $$ hit the bank every time a Star Wars film releases? haha)
Women leading like women would lead
Carrie Fisher is gone, but the film in its final form doesn’t trim her significance to this story. However, it’s not just Princess/General Leia who occupies an important role in SW:TLJ. I uttered an audible gasp at Vice Admiral Holdo’s critical moment in the film. (The on-sreen visuals alone elicited a “whoa.”) Holdo’s leadership style was not at all what Po Dameron wanted from his commander, and in that onscreen relationship, I saw the archetype of so many long-suffering women in positions of power with boys chafing underneath them because they don’t engage in the same brash, risky behavior that drives male leadership. A good read by Vanity Fair on how The Last Jedi stomps all over “mansplaining”
All over this film we see women collaborating, arguing, debating, nurturing, leading. I relished seeing Rose confront cowardice and greed and betrayal with both her heart and her head. Of course, Rey is a central figure in the entire trilogy, a young women who represents formidable integrity and hope in the face of dark times.
The Resistance army needs brave hot shots like Poe Dameron to score the big hits, but it needs good leaders who make careful decisions more than it needs bravado. But this isn’t an anti-male story — I genuinely believe Po is being set up for a strong finish in the next film, based on the cues we get from his character presentation in the final moments of The Last Jedi.
Good leaders come from both genders. It’s just that most of my female Gen-X peers never got to see women exercise that leadership without having to “play a man” to get it or keep it. And I’m relishing every strong, capable women I’ve seen on screen in 2017.
POV and narrator complexity
Rian Johnson offers us a complex web of stories which unite into a unified second entry for this trilogy. One singular element of the story is the conflicting versions of why Kylo Ren/Ben Solo destroyed Luke Skywalker’s Jedi training school. Like with so much of our messy human existence, “it’s complicated.” We’re hard-wired to assume Luke is in the right here, because he’s the hero we know and love. But Johnson’s story forces us to question why the son of Han and Leia would grow up to manifest the worst traits of his grandfather Darth Vader. We never get the whole picture, but we do begin to see more of Kylo Ren’s internal struggle, portrayed so well by Adam Driver. And this presentation of “what happened” reminds us that history is written by the teller. The facts are malleable, depending how you interpret them, how they’ve been warped by both Luke and Ben’s memories, and by the strong emotional overtones both men bring to their versions of the story.
There’s a parallel technique happening with Finn’s experience of his part in this story. We are all invested in Finn and his growth from being “a bad guy with a conscience and a choice” in The Force Awakens toward someone we assume will be important in the new world of Star Wars. Finn discovers throughout The Last Jedi that he snaps to judgments prematurely and needs to slow down and consider that he might not be seeing everything in play. This instructs us viewers as well not to make hasty assumptions about the folks who inhabit this universe. Will this new trilogy simply give us heroes descended from now-famous families? Or will we again see the rise of “nobodys” to positions of greatness?
It’s smart script writing and I’m pretty sure I’ll notice even more masterful moments when I see the film a second time.
Failure, not success, grows us into better people
Much of the fan hate arises from critique of Luke Skywalker’s part in this tale. Those of us raised on Star Wars would love to take a time machine back to the early 80s when Harrison Ford wasn’t so wrinkly and so damn grouchy, and when Luke/Leia were the hottest characters across the pop culture spectrum (whether toys or graphic novels or Halloween costumes).
Do I want to be reminded that my celluloid heroes are now old or dead? Well, no. Momento mori isn’t what I expect from a space fantasy. Yet here we are.
And The Last Jedi is so much better because Johnson wrote like a man who has lived in our world, not just in a fantasy land where people can wield light sabers and little fighters and score impossible victories in the face of an overwhelming superior yet evil Empire.
I’ve spent my life in education. Seeing Luke recoil from his own failure as a teacher resonates so much with me. Teaching is the most fulfilling, terrifying job I can conceive of. It’s not the work of it that makes teaching hard. It’s holding in your feeble hands the minds and hearts of people who might grow up to change the world if you can avoid screwing them up or cheating them out of the challenges that will force them to grow.
Fans didn’t ask for a Luke Skywalker who is aware of his insufficiency and his failures and fearful of the consequences of action now that he understands – as an old man – what those outcomes may be. And I, a 40-something woman who yearly gains a better grasp of my own shortcomings as my life flows through middle age toward old-ness, I grab hold of Luke’s story with all of my heart. It catches me even now. I want to drop everything to run out and watch the movie again so I can see Luke the Teacher, Luke the Failure, come to grips with his actions and their interplay with the free choices of Ben Solo that turned him into Kylo Ren.
The greatest teacher, failure is. ~Yoda
Luke is confronted in that significant scene on the island to remember that teachers labor to be surpassed by their pupils. That is the calling we were given, not to exercise control over our students’ choices and lives.
I’m a sentimental sot, but if you’re going to throw teacher wisdom at me in the middle of a blockbuster franchise film, I’m probably going to bawl. So I did.
* * * * *
I know fans will rage and argue, but I think The Last Jedi is some of the best and most meaningful Star Wars writing we’ve seen in years. I applaud Rian Johnson’s outstanding work on the script, and I am thrilled he’ll be at the helm of a new trilogy in the future, in some other corner of a galaxy far, far away.
Thrilled that my top picks (or #2 pick, in one case) in the major categories for the Hugo were awarded top honors yesterday. Especially thrilled that good writing came out on top, from a variety of perspectives and backgrounds and cultures.
Please go check out the year’s winners if you need some new books in your life. In some cases, I found all the nominees in one category to be good reads – I noted that in my reviews:
Yay! I am happy to report that I genuinely enjoyed every selection in this category. These long works of short fiction (oxymoron, no?) have the space to develop good characters and deliver a good plot punch within their 50-100 pages. If you can find any of these, and some are online, they’re each worth your time.
In case you’re curious, I’ll rank them in the order that I used on my ballot, but I can recommend each to any general reader of fantasy or sci-fi.
Binti, by Nnedi Okorafor, imagines a girl from the reclusive Himba tribe of Namibia, or whatever Namibia ends up being a few thousand years from now, who chooses to leave everything she knows to accept the invitation to study at a huge intergalactic university. On the journey, she finds herself at the center of a life-and-death situation, one that highlights her unique perspective on communication, culture, and negotiation. The story blends in magic realism, some science fiction elements, and a warm cultural feel that made me nestle into the tale and make myself at home. I genuinely loved this novella, and I’m so glad to see Okorafor get attention for tackling cross-cultural communication within science fiction from the perspective of a non-Western culture. This was even cooler since I’d just happened to run into an article about the Himba, so the cultural references made sense.
Slow Bullets, by Alastair Reynolds, explores a relatively familiar dilemma in science fiction tales – that of the prisoner ship – but spins the question into a new direction by adding the “slow bullets” technology. These projectiles are used by armies to permanently “tag” their soldiers with a record of everything the soldier has ever done, along with information about their families, some familiar photos, and other snippets of memory. But terrorists can also use these “bullets” to burrow slowly, excruciatingly through a prisoner’s body. With that background in place, Reynolds soon takes the action to the aforementioned “prison ship,” allowing familiar themes like amnesia and extinction to complicate matters. But the ending left me genuinely surprised and pleased. It’s a good read.
After these two, it gets hard for me to rank the remaining stories – I think they’re all good and worth your time. So don’t take it too harshly that I ranked one above another.
The Builders, by Daniel Polansky, uses animals in ways that remind you of the best of Watership Down (but not as heavy) or Redwall. If Jacques had written his Redwall books for adult lovers of action and adventures, we would have gotten The Builders much sooner. Maybe with some Quentin Tarantino thrown in…. I smiled a lot as I read it, racing from page to page to get to the finish. If you’ve never imagined a salamander as a character in Firefly … well, now I know your imagination is actually missing out. The characterization just sparkles in this tale, and I hope you find a copy and read it.
Penric’s Demon was authored by one of established fantasy author Lois McMaster Bujold, and her experience crafts each sentence in this story to fit the mold perfectly. It’s not stunningly original, but it’s well written and fun to read. I liked the characters, I liked the story, and her world needs little exhaustive introduction. If you’ve ever read a fantasy story, played a tabletop RPG or delved into a fantasy video game, you’ve been there. And that’s ok. It gives us room to enjoy the story, which features a man coming to terms with his literal inner demons.
Brandon Sanderson’s Perfect State hardly deserves to be listed last, but I felt the others were a little more original and maybe a shade better written, if one can split hairs like that at this point? Imagine The Matrix, but spin the central question more toward the boredom that would set in for the intelligent minds occupying known cyber-reality. What happens when some just can’t stomach the fact that programmed antagonists and crises aren’t as interesting as human to human conflict? The cyber-reality subgenre is a little tired for me, but the story does ask a good question, and I absolutely agree that Sanderson’s work deserves the nomination.
Thumbs-up all around to the long-form story writers. Good stuff here, and I’m sure several more great ones that never hit my radar since they weren’t nominated.
I did read several of the ancillary works, fan writing, semipro-zines, etc etc. But I won’t take time to blog about those.
I’m glad that sci-fi/fantasy has such an active fan culture, especially in the blogging age, but I’ll be thrilled to put the Rabid Puppies nonsense far behind us. Bottom line: I want to read good stuff in each of the nominated categories. And by “good,” I mean a) well-written; b) centered on interesting questions or content; c) not trying to beat me into a particular point of view. Of course, we’re all going to haggle over the details, but perhaps we could move back toward haggling with some grace and kindness.
Not sure what’s up next on my fiction reading list. I subscribe to Lightspeed magazine but rarely have time to read it each month. Might return to more short stories, since I love those, and try to plow through my massive backlog of Wired magazines and Comment.
What is a novelette? you ask.
It’s what, as an English teacher, I would’ve called a short story just a little bit too long to assign for one night’s homework. (That makes novellas, to me, about a week’s worth of high school homework.)
I found more to like among the Novelette nominees for the 2016 Hugo Awards, though the Sad and Rabid Puppies certainly left their muddy paw prints all over this category. All 5 nominated works were on one of the Puppy slates, but usually not both.
The nominees continue to suffer, in these shorter works, from poor selection but perhaps that’s as much a result of fan voting as it is the Puppies’ attempt at chaos and domination.
In order of my appraisal:
This story, like a good sci-fi/fantasy tale, pushes people to the forefront to carry the plot, allowing the non-realist elements to create a rich background tapestry that absolutely supports the plot without shouting it down. I enjoyed pretty much every line. The conceit of the tale isn’t a new one, but King handles it well, and I think that’s worth a lot.
Against this rich background Hao tells us a story of love and loss that’s poignant and touching. The writing is a little bumpy – I know Liu is a good translator – perhaps there’s something about the cultural shifts and language usage that isn’t quite coming over clearly. But this is a story well worth your time to read.I’m not sure if this next story deserves a Hugo, but I sure enjoyed it:
As a woman who happily inhabits gamer culture, I found this story like stepping into online multiplayer – a bit crazy, a bit vulgar, and very fun. It wasn’t exactly new thinking, but the writing was great. Plus, even as a Puppy nomination (Sad, not Rabid …. since I can’t envision any Rabid Puppy being supportive of a Strong Female Lead), this story shows that “classic” sci-fi themes aren’t destroyed when authors bend the genders and honor the culture of gamers/cyberpunk with good character writing.These two stories will fall below the “No Award” bar on my ballot, for sure
SPOILER ALERT…. I don’t want anyone who’s planning to read the story to see this accidentally so again — Spoiler!! — but VanDyke didn’t even raise a deep ethical quandary IMO. Is there anything unethical about copying a human’s consciousness and having it control a weapon? well, doesn’t that depend on whether the human whose consciousness is being copied gave his/her consent or no? and it’s so materialist (in the philosophical sense) to ground a story in the idea that copying someone’s brain pattern exactly (an engram) would somehow recreate a whole *person.* Nah. This is a bad knock-off of cloning ethics, at least in the way he handles the story here, and I’m confused why VanDyke didn’t learn anything from the other, similar stories in this vein that surely he’s read.
That said, this story – like “Seven Kill Tiger” on the Short Story ballot, from this same collection There Will Be War – feels like a bunch of 50-something Republicans who like to shoot guns but never actually went to war decided to chew the fat about how much they hate Muslim terrorists and the Chinese, and turned that into a short story instead.
Cheah’s story is at best tone deaf when it comes to racial stereotyping, totally unaware of how playing into 40s and 50s era pulp caricatures of other countries should strike 21st century readers as offensive. Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure the Rabid Puppies who nominated this work consider that kind of insensitivity a badge of honor.
One final thought —
Military sci-fi can be brilliant (I thought The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu presented amazing military/space dilemmas) and very thought provoking (Joe Haldeman’s Forever War) even when it’s “fun” (eg: Hammer’s Slammers by David Drake). But Drake and Haldeman write like men who experienced combat — because they did — and their stories focus on the human side of war, not the details of the warfare itself.
To me, that’s a key difference between military sci-fi worth my time, and military sci-fi that reads like it was sponsored by the Koch Brothers.
Next up (and already in progress): Novellas! I’ve read 2.5 and enjoyed them so far. Looking forward to writing that review.
Well, that was a waste of my time.
If you are following the Hugo Award ballot, the annual fan-nominated and fan-elected winners for excellence in sci-fi and fantasy writing, you are aware of the Sad / Rabid Puppy controversy.
If you aren’t familiar, or if you just want to read an outstanding article on the issue, Wired Magazine wrote a great piece last year, in the wake of Puppy Scandal 2015. It’s hard to boil down, but the Puppies claim the Hugos have been taken over by pretentious liberals who are pushing their “agenda” into the stories, while the rest of us, whether we think the Puppies have a point or not, are tired of crap being shoved into the Hugo Award balloting as a protest move. And these Puppies do seem hell-bent on shoving women and people of color out of science-fiction, in the name of “making sci-fi fun again.” (Did these guys read The Forever War? “Sandkings”? 2001? Those aren’t “fun” novels…..)
The Culture Wars are raging at the highest levels (and all corners) of American society. Substitute weaponry for verbiage, and this could easily be the stuff of a sci-fi novel…..
Now, in the same year that the so-called mens’ rights movement was driven into a froth by Mad Max: Fury Road, in which Charlize Theron seeks to rescue a bunch of women from sex slavery (and Max is little more than a sidekick), another flashpoint emerged: Puppygate.
In our telephone call a few weeks back, Beale explained that his plan was a “Xanatos gambit.” “That’s where you set it up so that no matter what your enemy does, he loses and you win.”
Last year, many of the Puppy-nominated works were, to be frank, total shit. They were badly written, frothy, of little value literarily or conceptually. But the problem remains: Anyone who wants to shove crap into the Hugo ballot can do it if they’re organized enough. And the Puppies followers jump when they’re told.
So that explains why I spent my early afternoon groaning at the short stories nominated for the Hugo this year. I will be voting “No Award” for this category, and here’s why:
So there you go. In past years, I might have read gems from the likes of Ursula LeGuin, George RR Martin, Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Philip K Dick, Ted Chiang, and countless other great authors who put honest work and craftsmanship into their writing.
Instead, because some controlling asshat who just wants to watch the nerd-world burn is angry that there are too many non-male, non-white, non-straight people all up in his grill and competing against him for readers and sales, I had to
spend waste an hour of my time skimming stories about dinosaurs banging a lonely astronaut or tired, worn-down ideas that have been floating around for decades.
The Puppies claim they’re just trying to prove that Hugo voters don’t care about quality, that we will simply vote for people we agree with.
No. I want to vote for people who can actually write. And if these WASPy men can’t get their shit together and promote stories that might be worth my time to read, they sure as hell don’t deserve any place among the Hugo nominees.
Unfortunately, the Hugo ballot — like the American ballot in 2016 — is deeply broken. I don’t know if we’ll ever recover. And that’s pretty hella sad.
Next up: Novellas and Novelettes. The slates of nominees are entirely dominated by works recommended by the Sad and Rabid Puppies, but many nominated authors had little to do with that. I’m hoping there’s some valuable reads here.
If you’re looking for some good, recent sci-fi short stories, try subscribing to one of the fan magazines. Or grab the “Best of…2015” short story collection next time you’re at B&N or BAM.
I enjoyed several of the short stories that Microsoft released as part of a collection last year, Future Visions, especially the story by Annie Leckie that closes the book.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Wow. (Since you asked, Goodreads, “What did I think?”)
I rarely read fantasy. I generally find the genre vacuous and tedious, reveling in arcane magic babble and tired story patterns. Rarely do fantasy novels explore deeper, valuable questions about humanity … which is why I usually consume fantasy in the form of video games. But this novel breaks that mold. Grinds it to pieces, really.
I find that sci-fi and fantasy can reach new heights when the authors writing them are people outside the “mainstream,” people who bring a new voice into the genre. And people of color have been serving up some of the best new writing in sci-fi and fantasy (IMO). NK Jemisin absolutely delivers with this excellent novel about an alternate earth. Is it sci-fi? Is it fantasy? Well…. I’d say it’s fantasy with a sci-fi edge. It’s not magic, it’s “orogeny,” the ability to manipulate the actual earth, to harness its power to stabilize earthquakes or maybe level a city. Brilliant.
I loved the voice of the narrators. The shifting pronouns (using both 2nd person and 3rd person) could have been annoying but I found them a useful narrative device, drawing a tighter bond between author and reader. The plot fit tightly together, moving at a fast clip but forcing this eager reader to slow down and wait for things to develop, a tactic that builds tension and makes the ensuing “release” all the more enjoyable.
This book is earthy (other readers will get the pun – don’t groan) in all the right ways. The characters feel quite real, even though their cultures are foreign. We unite through the folkways and familiar threads of daily life, and that familiarity makes the characters sympathetic (or despicable, since they are believable and relatable). This book sets up a vivid universe and offers the potential to become a memorable series. I can’t wait for book 2…. is it out yet??!
I read this book because it’s one of the Hugo Award nominees for 2016. Honestly, since Dark Forest by Cixin Liu was snubbed in the Hugo nominations this year, I expect my top vote will go to The Fifth Season. I think it was that good.
Any critiques? Not really. I can find little to complain about, and much to celebrate. I guess if you’re prudish about people “getting it on” in the pages of your book, you might be offended by that. *shrugs* Fictional people gotta reproduce too…. Or if you’re the Grammar SS, the 2nd person narration will set your teeth on edge. Whatever. Go police somewhere else.
Learn, teach, or do calligraphy at Bill's Space.
Both together are better than one
A site to discuss better education for all
Because every night, something has to go in the oven.
Everything Deserves A Reaction
He must become more, we must become less
Living with Fattitude
Whatever you do, do it for the Lord
Pondering education, technology, and making a difference
Surviving motherhood with sweet baby laughs, wine, and sarcasm.
A blog about instructional design and technology in libraries.
Going to the moon & complaining about it
examining language and race in education
Unmasking racism, classism, and sexism in formal education: Ruby Payne, deficit thinking, Teach for America, "grit," "no excuses" practices, and the "word gap"
Pushing the Boundaries & Exploring the Realities of Teaching in Higher Education
Shalom in the City