Friday, 21 July 2017

Movie Reveiw: Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior

Directed by George Miller, 1981

Pros: lots of action, great chase scenes 

Cons: limited plot

In a post-apocalyptic Australia, scavengers fight over scarce resources, and gasoline is the new gold. Max is a loner who learns of a compound where oil is still being mined and refined. But the compound is under attack from a gang of bandits.

The film begins with a several minute voiceover explaining how the world fell into anarchy, followed by a very quick synopsis of the salient points of the original Mad Max film. Then the action starts, with a car chase and the iconic souped up cars and dune buggies driven by men in fetish gear. 

I was impressed by the number of supporting women in the film, including a few fighters.

The costumes were pretty good (I still love Max’s leather get up), and there was a lot of action and a couple of great chase scenes.

Max sports a leg brace in recognition of a wound he received at the end of the original film, which I thought was cool. Another character has his legs bound, making me believe he was paraplegic. Neither is treated as invalids, in fact, if I’m right, the minor character has a role tailor made to get around his disability.

The story is pretty basic, and most of the twists are pretty obvious.

As with the first film, there’s an off screen rape, though this one has more nudity associated with it and so can be triggering.

As an action film, this holds up pretty well. It’s entertaining and atmospheric, so it’s not hard to see why the franchise is being reborn.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Shout-out: Epiphany Machine by David Burr Gerrard

Everyone else knows the truth about you, now you can know it, too.

That’s the slogan. The product: a junky contraption that tattoos personalized revelations on its users’ forearms. It’s an old con, playing on the fear that we are obvious to everybody except ourselves. This particular one’s been circulating New York since the 1960s. The ad works. And, oddly enough, so might the device...

A small stream of city dwellers buy into this cult of the epiphany machine, including Venter Lowood’s parents. This stigma follows them when they move upstate, where Venter can’t avoid the whispers of teachers and neighbors any more than he can ignore the machine’s accurate predictions: his mother’s abandonment and his father’s disinterest. So when Venter’s grandmother finally asks him to confront the epiphany machine and inoculate himself against his family’s mistakes, he’s only too happy to oblige.

Like his parents before him, Venter is quick to fall under the spell of the device’s sweat-stained, profane, and surprisingly charming operator, Adam Lyons. But unlike them, Venter gets close enough to Adam to learn a dark secret. There’s an undeniable pattern between specific epiphanies and violent crimes. And Adam won’t jeopardize the privacy of his customers by alerting the police.

It may be a hoax, but that doesn’t mean what Adam is selling isn’t also spot-on. And in this sprawling, snarling tragicomedy about accountability in contemporary America, the greater danger is that Adam Lyon’s apparatus may just be right about us all.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Video: Movies with Mikey: Logan

Movies with Mikey is a youtube series by Mikey Neumann on Chainsawsuit Original that analyzes films. I find them pretty interesting. They go in depth, so it's better if you've seen the films he's talking about. Recently he's done Amelie, Guardians of the Galaxy, Arrival, and Logan:

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Book Review: Sovereign by April Daniels

Pros: great characters, interesting plot, complex issues

Cons: some interactions annoyed me, a bit heavy handed at times

Note: This review contains spoilers for Dreadnought, the first book in this series.

Nine months have passed since the events of Dreadnought, and Danielle has a contract to protect New Port City. She’s begun to love the feeling of power being a superhero provides, beating supervillians into submission in ways that Doc Impossible finds worrisome. Her relationship with Calamity has soured, though she’s not sure why, and multiple work and family issues occupy her thoughts. Soon after she hears news that Nemesis, the asteroid that creates quantum instabilities, is nearing Earth, a new supervillian emerges with a plan to harness its power for nefarious purposes.

I have mixed feelings about this book. There were several opening scenes that annoyed and/or made me uneasy. While some of these were dealt with in detail and worked out later on, others didn’t get much attention beyond the initial mentions.

In the first book Danielle was predominately characterized by optimism. Though her life was pretty terrible, when things got tough she constantly believed they would get better again. Dreadnought focused very specifically on Danielle’s concerns as a young woman coming of age in challenging circumstances. Sovereign broadens the outlook to show that most issues in life are complex and people can’t always be characterized as simply good or evil. Her sudden liking of violence and her enjoyment of beating people up was a little scary to read. While she’s in the pay of the government, she goes outside that purview on more than one occasion. The idea that might makes right is not ok, even if you’re the hero. Some would say, especially then. The book does deal with this, and I was happy with how the ending focused on the fact that emotional trauma doesn’t just go away with time. 

I was impressed with how the author handled Sarah and Danielle’s relationship. I loved seeing young people talk frankly about their feelings and fears instead of drawing out the misunderstandings.  

I enjoyed Kinetiq’s group work, but her first interaction with Danielle in the book kind of annoyed me. While I understand Kinetiq’s annoyance/anger that Dreadnought took credit for a group fight, their lack of consideration for Dreadnought’s age or current circumstances and insistence that she use every public appearance to push the transgender agenda ignores the fact that Dreadnought, as an acknowledged transgender superhero, already pushes that agenda.  

Graywytch was an even more horrible character in this book than the last, though she doesn’t spout slurs this time. Reading about a TERF (Trans-exclusionary radical feminist) was painful. I find it hard to attach the label ‘feminist’ to women who believe transwomen aren’t ‘real’ women, as if there’s only one experience of womanhood and all ‘real’ women share it. But it’s good to face it in fiction, as it’s often through fiction (and other types of media) that people learn empathy and compassion, and that society collectively becomes more socially aware.

I didn’t think the book dealt with the Magma and Doc issue well. Both characters have valid complaints about what happened to the Legion, and sometimes there’s no right answer that pleases everyone. While Doc was under outside control and therefore wasn’t personally responsible for the murders her body committed, Magma does have the right be angry that Doc’s lies left the Legion at a disadvantage, and feel betrayed that she never shared who her mother was. The book takes Danielle’s POV that Doc wasn’t to blame and Magma should just get over it. But this ignores that he and Chlorophyll were left permanently disabled because of that attack. I think it’s understandable that they don’t want anything to do with Doc anymore.

In terms of world-building, the author mentions several of the laws that govern superhero work. Things like the ability to buy bystander insurance and that there are legal work limits for superhero minors. One issue that wasn’t mentioned, that I’d be curious to learn the answer to, is whether superheroes have to pay for property damage incurred during their legally sanctioned missions. 

The book has a lot of excellent fight scenes, in a variety of settings. They propel the plot along and keep the pacing quick.

The plot itself was quite interesting. There’s a lot of different super powered people in this one, on all sides of the fence, and it was fun learning their different powers and where they land on the varied political spectrums.

While I didn’t like this book as fully as I did the first one, I was impressed that the author dealt with some difficult issues that many superhero books ignore. I thought Danielle’s development made sense given her life experiences, and am curious to see what the next book has in store for her.

Friday, 14 July 2017

Downplaying Romance in SFF

An article came out recently about the Bechdel test and how it’s unrealistic to expect good movies to conform to arbitrary guidelines. I won’t be commenting on the author’s complete misunderstanding of what the Bechdel test is for, instead I’ll be dealing with the conversations that have arisen from its final paragraph.

…women tend to write movies about relationships, and men tend to write movies about aliens and shootouts. Have a wander through the sci-fi and fantasy section of your local bookstore: How many of these books’ authors are female? Yet these are where the big movie ideas come from. If a woman wants the next Lord of the Rings–style franchise to pass the Bechdel Test, then a woman should come up with a story with as much earning potential as J. R. R. Tolkien’s.

As a former bookseller I can safely say that this author's not looked at the SFF section of a bookstore in a long time because there are a TON of women writing all kinds of science fiction and fantasy. He's also ignoring the fact that a woman (J. K. Rowling) has already written a fantasy series that's as big of a commercial success as The Lord of the Rings in both book and film.

But I’m not going to be talking about that either. Years ago I did a reading list for female science fiction authors (maybe I should update that list and do another one for fantasy authors). No, what I want to write about here is a response I’ve seen in reply to this article.

Barnes & Noble did a twitter post showing the spines of several books by women. A female commenter had an interesting response:

If you can't read it, she's complaining that the books all look like either young adult or romance - based on the spines (that is, based on the fact that the authors are women).

Silvia Moreno-Garcia, author of Signal to Noise, Certain Dark Things and the forthcoming The Beautiful Ones, took exception to the fact that her books are often called YA and then dismissed as not being worth reading. She tweeted the following (note, I edited the feed so it reads top to bottom and removed a few tweets due to length).

I understand Moreno-Garcia's point, that having a romance sub/plot or writing YA shouldn't make things inferior. My concern is that if we downplay romance then we feed into the belief that romance is shameful/wrong/unworthy. And I don't like that.

Instead, reviewers should start pointing out the romantic plots/subplots in books written by men. Make it clear that men also write touchy feely scenes. Point out when their romances feel realistic and natural. Mention when they’re written for the male gaze (women are only there as eye candy - eg: the sexy scientist who does yoga to maintain her flexibility - wink wink). If we bring attention to the fact that books by men also have romantic subplots, then it will become harder to dismiss women's writing because they do the same thing.

Writing good romance/sex scenes is HARD. Which is why I used to believe I hated romance in books.

Then I read some great SFF with well written romance and realized I actually enjoy it.

Here are some examples of fantasy books with excellent romantic sub-plots by women: Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold, The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope. Summers at Castle Auburn by Sharon Shinn, Poison Study by Maria Snyder.

And some by men: Lamentation by Ken Scholes, The Bands of Mourning & Elantris by Brandon Sanderson, The Tomb by F. Paul Wilson, The Elfstones of Shannara by Terry Brooks, Tailchaser’s Song by Tad Williams.

Note, these aren’t all ‘category romance’, by which I mean, they don’t all end happily ever after the way category romance must. I’m not keen on books where the main plot is two people coming together (for several reasons, often they involve a lot of lying and they fall in love too fast to be believable, but mainly because I like plot driven rather than character driven novels), but I like a good relationship that’s built up over several books and feels organic and real. I especially like good relationships that include some fun banter (one of the best I’ve read for this is Dhampir and Thief of Lives by Barb and J. C. Hendee - though the later books lose the banter and my enjoyment of the series declined).

The Tomb may have been the first book by a man where the romance is what got me interested in continuing the story. The opening scenes show a very visceral longing Jack has for the girlfriend who recently left him. I wanted them to get back together so badly, even knowing why she left.

And speaking of Tokien, the romance between Faramir and Eowyn was one of my favourite parts of Return of the King. I loved that this fierce, determined, capable woman found a man who admired those aspects of her nature. I felt that he truly respected her as a person. Was it a major part of the story? No, but it tied up her segment of the story nicely.

Society has this strange idea than women love romance and relationships and men don’t. Aside from the fact that most men want to be in loving relationships, sex and love are fundamentals to human existence. Most novels mention them to some extent, regardless of who they're written by. No, romance doesn't have to be the focus, but to state that books written by women only deal with romance and books written by men don’t deal with it at all ignores reality. It also ignores a lot of male authors who - though they often try to deny it - write romance novels.

But since not everything is for every reader, here are some fantasy novels by women that have little to no romance in them at all: The Sleeping God by Violette Malan, Transformation by Carol Berg, The Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan, Resenting the Hero by Moira Moore (this series develops a romance as time goes on, but the first two books basically just have some great flirty banter), The Summoner by Gail Martin (a rather good romance develops in the second book).

And some books where the romance takes center stage: Lord of the Fading Lands by C. L. Wilson, Archangel by Sharon Shinn, Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal, Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey, The Death House by Sarah Pinborough.

I'm only using fantasy novels as examples here (without bringing in urban fantasy), as that's what the original posts I'm responding to seemed to criticize. If I went into science fiction or other forms of fantasy, steampunk, etc. I could have even more examples. I also only used books that I remember clearly enough to know what level of romance they have (which, unfortunately, means these suggestions are very white).

So, where do you stand? Do you think romance is good in novels - as plots, subplots? Do you notice when men write good romance storylines? Do you wish romance would just stay out of books? What are your favourite romances in SFF books?

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Shout-Out: Voiceless by E. G. Wilson

Adelaide Te Ngawai was thirteen when Maunga Richards stole her voice. 
Addy is plunged into silence when a high school bully inflicts her with an incurable disease that leaves her unable to speak, write, or create. Vox Pox—a man-made malady that’s been terrorizing the city for months. Resilient, Addy fights to survive. To not be silenced. But then her brother, Theo, is infected as well. 
Desperate for any information that might help cure Theo, Addy follows Maunga into a newly developed virtual psychoreality simulator and discovers a conspiracy deeper than she’d ever imagined. How far will she go to save her brother?

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Gun powder artist

I saw this on facebook a while back and thought it was pretty incredible. Dino Tomic (youtube, instagram) is a tattoo artist from Norway who uses gun powder to create amazing works of art, some of which you can buy. He also makes salt pictures, like this one of Daenerys from Game of Thrones.