How to poison a franchise

3-6-banthaThis isn’t about squicking anybody’s squee. Well, it is, but not in the way you might expect. With that being said, fuck Star Wars Legends.

I hate, HATE Legends. I have read a grand total of 0.5 Legends books, and that some decades ago. Usually I don’t hold passionate opinions about sprawling franchises that I’ve no investment in. So why the hate for Legends?

Because of the fans who won’t let that shit go.

These are the fans who are so convinced that their manic pixie dream villain Thrawn would be better than Hux, Snoke and Kyllo Ren for Reasons.

These are the fans who heap insults upon Chuck Wendig books that haven’t been released yet, up to and including one who said he hoped Wendig had an accident that permanently ended his writing career.

These are the fans who whined that there were two Star Wars movies, (In A Row!) with a woman as the main protagonist.

I am generalizing a group a bit here. I don’t think every one of the misogynistic SW fans is also a Legends EU fan, but the venn diagram kind of looks like this:

venn

Mostly overlap.

And here’s the thing: When, every time I hear, “but it should have been THRAAAAAAAAAAAAWN!” it’s accompanied by, “eeew, girls and gays all over my Star Wars!” I am less likely to want to read about Thrawn ever again.

I bounced off the EU books because they were crap.

Sorry fans.

They started off as bland corporate tie-in fiction, and they turned into a dog’s breakfast of bad plot decisions and shocking twists that failed to shock or twist much.

So, no, the Heir to Empire books should NOT be movies 7, 8 and 9. But what’s more, I’ve been re-examining a lot of Star Wars media because of how wildly successful the film was. I might have considered revisiting the Legends books. Except that fans who aren’t happy because the story they like isn’t the annointed official narrative for some reason that I’ve never been fully clear on have poisoned that well.

So congratulations Sad Banthas. You’re so worried about Disney taking Star Wars Legends off life support that you’ve killed the franchise yourself.

Meanwhile I still don’t understand why the fuck canon status matters.

Oh wait, it doesn’t.

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Happy new year 2016

Ok, I’m pretty deep in my cups, it being 1:30 a.m. January 1, so I’m going to start with that as a disclaimer for grammatical oopses and general thread-losses.

So let me start by saying Happy New Year everybody! I hope 2016 is the year when we learn from the wrath of 2014/2015 and use our newly built tech-aided telepathy to increase joy, compassion and understanding within the world.

With that in mind I’m going to be talking a bit about Star Wars and fandom. I will try to avoid spoilers (even though I’ve previously set the end of my personal spoilers embargo at Jan. 1, 2016,) but if you haven’t seen the film yet and you want to avoid any information going in you might want to stop reading now.

Launching the ships

In a Star Wars discussion group I joined after watching the film there’s been some sharing of fan fic images. These sketches have displayed various iterations of Rey/Finn/Poe ships that take for granted the chemistry between Finn and both of the other two lead protagonists new to Episode 7. My personal favourite has Rey introducing her boyfriend Finn, and his boyfriend Poe.

It’s pretty obvious, at least in certain circles of progressive fandom, the extent to which Oscar Isaac plays his friendship to Finn as a romance, if a subtle one. Isaac has actually confirmed this in an interview.

Between the press-junket soundbite from Isaac and the wonderful tendency of fandom to ship everybody with everybody else, it’s little surprise that we’re seeing so much fan-art focusing on the possibility of a relatively open love triangle between the three.

Furthermore, perfectly mature adults who, in the same group have spent quite a bit of time sharing and discussing critical analysis of the new film, have been enthusiastic both about the images and about the idea that we live in a world where a story like that might some day achieve canonicity.

Think about that for a second. We now live in a world where the idea of love being divorced sufficiently from gender that a person might love two people of different genders in effectively the same way isn’t automatically met with derision. To me this tends to support Theodore Parker’s oft-quoted axiom that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

It’s been a rough year for justice.

It sometimes seems that our southern neighbours are tearing themselves apart, between increasing discontent over police brutality and the gong-show of the long wind-up to the 2016 presidential election. Across the Atlantic, Europe is embroiled in yet another eruption of wide-spread, and sometimes frightening, xenophobia. Vast swaths of the Middle East are in a state of war with no clear solution to the conflict in sight. China’s economy, the engine that kept the gears of the world turning since 2008 has stumbled, and stuttered as a new normal suggests the years of double-digit GDP growth and an expanding middle class are over. Suddenly the seemingly harmless corruption of the past two decades seems more sinister, and regional tensions all the more volatile. And meanwhile, in Canada, we smugly congratulate ourselves for electing a government that clears the low bar of being adequate and not-entirely-heartless and then proceed to do little to make anything better.

But none of these are new problems.

Racism and xenophobia, war, political strife and political lethargy disguised as thin progress are all very old problems. Some of the oldest.

But we live in a world where the race of a couple of protagonists is so unremarkable that the most conservative construction of relationships in their film is the one that includes just an interracial heterosexual pairing.

We live in a world where I can’t find a Rae doll for my daughter in two different toy stores not because she was excluded from distribution but because she’s already sold out (though the release of her figures was still delayed far too long).

The fandom and merchandising surrounding a Christmastime movie release aren’t much in the face of the very real grief and pain caused by the injustice we still haven’t fixed, but I sincerely hope they reflect a sea-change in general public opinion. I want to believe that the Overton window has moved sufficiently that the realm of public perception is now one in which opinions that were previously on the far fringes of liberal “deviance” are now accepted as just another way to be, another way to love and to live.

I’d like to believe that, in 2016, we’ll see action movies with POC leads, with hero journeys belonging to women, with queer protagonists in all of the possible infinite diversity that love can reflect.

I do believe the world is ready for this. This doesn’t mean it will be easy to shepherd these changes into the world. The process of shaping public perception is a constant struggle between compassion and liberty on one hand, fear and isolation on the other.

But the year is over.

We’ve spent another year truly learning what it’s like to have instant access to the hearts and minds of humanity in all its diversity, good and ill. We’ve had another year to assimilate the joy and the burden of knowing the inner life of the growing majority of the population who now participate in the great transformation of online life.

And so its without bitter irony or grief that I wish you all a happy new year. We have a lot of work to do. But we can do it. We have a tall mountain to climb, but if we look down we can see the height from which we started. The arc of the moral universe is long and the path it takes is winding. There are false starts and there will always be push-back from people who fear change, who benefit from the old systems and who don’t want to lose those benefits and people who are just misanthropic and unhappy. But ultimately the arc bends, slowly and inexorably, toward justice.

Let’s make our resolution for 2016 be to do our part to help that arc curve a little bit faster. The struggle might be hard, but if we approach transformation from a place of justice and compassion, at personal, national and global levels, we can make 2016 a year to be happy about.

Sort of a review of Star Wars Aftermath

It’s hard for me to review this one. This is for two reasons:

  1. I’ve been an active participant in online debate surrounding the campaign against Chuck Wendig and am thus biased.
  2. My usual choices in Science Fiction lean more toward big-idea books rather than action-adventures; when I want the latter I usually go to various subgenres of fantasy. As such, I’m less well equipped to do a fair review of a book which is an action-adventure science fiction. That being said, if you replace the blasters and light sabres with arrows and swords, this book cleaves closer to Fantasy tropes quite a bit, so this is a much smaller concern.

Having considered these two points a few disclaimers.

The part that isn’t really a review

I think the concerted campaign to give one-star reviews to Chuck Wendig was shitty. Like a-grade shitty. I don’t care whether the motivation was because there were three gay characters in the book or whether it was because Admiral Thrawn was NOT in the book. When you’re handing out a shit sandwich, it doesn’t matter what type of shit it’s made with. It’s still shit.

Because my opinion of licensed fiction is very low, as in, I think most licensed fiction is the literary equivalent of the rice pablum that we fed our daughter as her first food: lacking in any flavour, texture or quality that might offend anybody in the slightest, I was disinclined to buy Wendig’s new book despite being a fan of his.

I assumed, oh, that’s nice, that author I like did a Star Wars book. That’ll give him some financial breathing room to keep writing awesome Mookie Pearl and Miriam Black novels. Maybe I’ll read it someday.

<shrug>

<move on>

If it weren’t for the way these gamergaters of Star Wars (more on that momentarily) who call themselves the Bring Back Legends movement I probably would not have bought it.

But I did. And I really liked it. More than any other licensed book I’ve ever read. And what’s more, I’m strongly motivated to tell other people how good it was. I gave it a five-star review on Kobo, Amazon.ca and Amazon.com. I told friends and family to read this book.

So thanks BBL. Good job advertising Wendig’s book for him.

BBL is just like Gamergate, and the Sad Puppies

It doesn’t matter whether they have the same political motives. That’s largely irrelevant. You can be an asshole of an entitled fan whether your sense of entitlement has to do with women in video games, whether Larry Correia deserves a Hugo or whether Disney should continue publishing the Star Wars Extended Universe. The second you start thinking your emotional capital investment as a fan makes your preferred status quo important enough to steamroller over other fans you’re in Gamergate territory.

Some examples:

Sea Lioning in comments: Arguing at length that people who don’t want to discuss your issue are in the wrong because you are, “being polite.” You aren’t. You’re jumping up in other people’s conversations to shout your opinion. It doesn’t matter if you start by shouting please and end with shouting thank you.

“Social Media Campaigns:” The so-called raids that BBL engage in aren’t some sort of SM enabled letter writing campaign. They’re spam. They pop into facebook pages for Del Rey and Disney when new products are announced to shut down any conversation other than, “give us what we demand.”

Targeting high-profile detractors: Whether it’s sending threats to Anita Sarkeesian, writing hateful “parodies” accusing John Scalzi of various misdeeds or one-starring Chuck Wendig’s book what differs is the severity. What is the same is the fact that you’ve got a group going, “I recognize that person, they disagree with my position. I will bring them low.”

And of course in all these examples we have a group acting like they’re owed something. The gamergaters are owed video games wherein they can be as ghastly as they want. The Sad Puppies are owed Hugos denied them by us evil SJWs. The BBL team are owed more Zahn books, and Admiral Thrawn in the movies or on the cartoons.

It’s ultimately about entitlement. The bad behaviour, whether it manifests as threats against the security of the person, spurious police calls, or campaigns to harm sales of a product, is the way in which these groups forward the claim that they’re entitled to certain things, to permissiveness toward behaviours, to whatever.

The number of times I’ve heard from BBL, “we tried writing letters to Disney but they just sent a form letter back saying no. This is the only way we can be heard,” it boggles the mind.

Because, of course, they were heard. And Disney told them no.

They just refused to accept that. Just like Gamergate refused to accept that game critics might be critical of gaming culture. Just like the Sad Puppies refused to accept that their favourite authors wrote books that most fans didn’t want to give Hugo awards to.

They’re the same.

The part that is a review

I’m going to do this a bit differently, addressing prose, characters (use thereof and characterization) and plot (use thereof and interconnectivity with the greater brand) separately. You’ll note I’m going to not dwell on theme as much as I usually would. That’s because the message of this book is very simple: war is hell and messes up everybody’s shit. Wendig deals with that well. But it doesn’t need as much picking apart to get at than The Dark Forest did.

Prose style

Wendig works in present tense throughout the book. He writes in short chapters and his chapters frequently end in a cliffhangery way. I am certainly not going to throw stones. While I write in past tense (I’m just not good enough to sustain present tense beyond short story length) I also use short chapters with frequent cliffhangers. Why? Because for action adventure it works.

Among the detractors who actually read the book, this is probably where Wendig loses people the most. Because in a lot of licensed work authorial voice is as invisible as possible. I understand why: distinctive flair interferes with brand adherence. Generally that’s a bad thing for a franchise.

But Disney has learned this isn’t always the case (see Guardians of the Galaxy) and evidently they gave Wendig the freedom to write, well, a Wendig book. This is very good. And it turns this book from a typical pew pew starships tie-in novel into an interesting work of art.

Character

Wendig populates this book with a bunch of characters who aren’t major players in the movies. There are a few standard bearers here. Fans of Wedge Antilles will… well some will love this book and others may have reason to flip tables. But he’s got a major role. Han Solo and Chewbacca have a cameo. Leia shows up as a hologram and Mon Mothma pops up in a few chapters. But there’s no Jedi at all.

And that’s just fine.

The story works by living in some of Star Wars’ best spaces – the dirty back alleys and underworld dives. It’s populated by veterans of the war who were broken by it. Interestingly three of the protagonists (four if you include Wedge) were at the Battle of Endor, each separately, and the things that happened there affect each of their arcs in unique ways: war may break everybody but everybody breaks differently.

From a franchise perspective, playing with unknowns also affords Wendig to tell a story with a big theme, without bumping into the limits undoubtedly imposed on him by Disney.

Plot

Structurally the book follows a rescue / heist model that Wendig is comfortable with. It’s also a structure that works very well for Star Wars, existing as it does on the periphery between science fiction and fantasy.

It’s a pulpy story, full of sudden reversals and unexpected changes of fortune. And it’s a book in which people can die. Wendig lets us see the blood and viscera that Lucas’ PG requirements left off-screen for much of the original trilogy.

I guess what I’m saying is that this is a Star Wars story in the best possible way: concentrating on a small collection of neer-do-wells and rogues as they stumble into something bigger than them and pull through by a combination of luck and talent.

Wrapping up

Since we’re approaching TL;DR here’s everything in a nutshell:

  1. I’m a fan of Wendig who hasn’t ever read Zahn, make of that what you will
  2. The people who are trying to burn down Wendig’s book are jerks who smell like gamergating sad puppies
  3. It’s obviously a star wars book
  4. It’s a really good star wars story
  5. It doesn’t matter that Luke Skywalker isn’t in it
  6. Buy it.
  7. No seriously buy it.
  8. Right now.
  9. Stop what you’re doing and buy this book.
  10. Then read it.

I’m reading Star Wars: Aftermath

This is the first Star Wars book I’ve read. I don’t give a pair of dingo’s kidneys for Admiral Thrawn. I’ve only dug a small way into Part 2 so I can’t properly review it, but here’s what I can say with certainty:

  1. It is very Wendig. If you like him you will like this book.
  2. The jagoffs giving it one star for any reason other than they don’t like Wendig’s highly distinctive prose style are full of shit.

This is all.

Trolls Never Sleep

a-close-friend-1499922I’ve had it up to here with the culture wars.

This was going to be a post about what happened to Chuck Wendig. Jim C. Hines has a decent write-up on that up, and while I disagree with him ever so slightly on one point it’s a good general writeup.

Wendig himself also has some stuff to say on the topic.

And this would have been enough for a full blog post right here. The issue with Wendig’s books, and the response both of the culture warriors who I’ve taken to calling antisocial injustice warriors (after all, if they oppose what SJWs stand for…) and of the EU fans who will lash out at any change to the Star Wars canon dovetails so perfectly with Gamergate and the Sad Puppies on so many levels that it’d certainly be in keeping with some of my usual topics.

But then New Zealand went and banned a YA novel on the grounds that it upset vocal Christians. When I say they banned it I’m being literal. Give the book to a friend and you’re facing a $3,000 NZD fine. Sell it in a store and your store gets a $10,000 NZD fine.

So here’s a link to Amazon.com for anybody who wants to buy it. Because with state censorship that’s basically the only response I can make.

I just can’t with all this today. I want to talk more about how parts of fandom have become toxic with what Wendig poetically calls, “weaponized nostalgia.” This vile habit of longing for an imagined better time, and attacking creatives in the present for not adhering to the standard of this fantasy land has actually soured me on the very idea of nostalgia at all. If Michael Bay’s TMNT ruined your childhood, YOU HAD AN AWFUL FUCKING CHILDHOOD ALREADY.

But it’s not just the weaponized nostalgia. It’s the regressive taint-stains who can’t tolerate the idea that the world has moved on without them: that the average person under the age of 25 is so comfortable with the idea of the Kinsey Scale that only a quarter of respondents age 14 to 24 in a recent British survey self-identified as exclusively heterosexual; that books for teens should address the anxieties, conflicts and dangers faced by modern teenagers, rather than trying to sugar-coat the world; that marginalized people have gotten enough of a platform to point out institutional biases and try to do something about them.

But these trolls, these nihilistic dinosaurs so wedded to a past that never was, are just so relentless. I go away for a weekend and they’re attacking Scalzi, I get back they’re already on to the next raid, attacking Wendig. And then another group go after this Ted Dawe author. And that’s even ignoring perennial targets like K. Tempest Bradford, who puts up with more bullshit from these trolls in a week than most people should have to in a lifetime.

And I’m like: don’t these assholes have lives to live?

So I’m tired.

I’m tired of shouting into the void that life is changing and you can either learn to live with it or get out of the way.

I’m tired of bigots being given platforms because they’re good old boys who remember when men were men and rayguns were chrome.

I’m tired of backward religious fanatics trying to cram their holy books down the world’s throat.

I’m sick of all this shit.

Hi, I’m Simon. And here’s what I pledge: if you say don’t read women or people of colour I’m going to. I will because there are some amazing people in those groups writing amazing books.

If you one-star Wendig for putting gay characters in Star Wars, or even if you do it just because you’re angry his books aren’t about Admiral Thrawn, I’m going to buy his book, read it and then give it the fucking rating it deserves on Amazon (which, considering how much I liked every other Wendig book will probably be 4-5 stars).

If you ban a book because it hurts conservative feels I’m going to bloody well put a link directly to its sales page on my blog.

These fucking trolls may never sleep. But at the very least we can make sure all they’re doing is ramming their thick skulls into the wall of historical inevitability.

Did Disney Listen?

Starwars.com reported today that Lupita Nyong’o and Gwendoline Christie have been added to the cast of Episode VII.

If they wanted to quell concerns regarding the dearth of people of colour and women in their initial casting announcements there are very few people who would be better choices.

Between Nyong’o’s academy award for Twelve Years a Slave, and Christie’s performance as Brienne of Tarth on Game of Thrones, these two women could signal an actual commitment to presenting a universe much broader in scope than we feared on May Fifth.

Now the question remains whether they will be given roles of substance. For one, I am hopeful that this casting choice reflects Disney genuinely listening to criticism from the fanbase and endeavoring to improve. Because it would be nearly as bad to have Nyong’o and Christie in this movie, relegated to background as to not have them at all.

May the Fourth be With You – But also some hard truths

May the 4th be with you

 

 

 

 

 

 

There’s been a lot of discussion regarding the Star Wars casting announcement recently. Adam Shaftoe has an excellent take on the issue over at Page of Reviews, and for something a little more light-hearted check out Max Gladstone’s blog.

I grew up with Star Wars. When I was four I used to un-ironically introduce myself to strangers as “Luke.” (I left the Skywalker part with the baffling innocence of children, leading to much consternation for my parents who had to explain that I was actually named Simon.)

When the new trilogy came out I was even more forgiving than most. After camping out for hours to buy tickets for Phantom Menace I was disappointed. I was uncomfortable with the broad racial stereotypes of the Trade Federation and the Gungans, but, even at the age of 20 I was willing to give George Lucas a pass “just this once,” because Star Wars.

As such, I feel a bit like Marc Anthony when I say that I’m very disheartened about what the recent news coming out of the new trilogy reveals.

I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.

The recent casting announcement included a grand total of two women (one new and one returning) and one person of color. On the other hand we see a lot of old white guys.

There are all kinds of reasons, from the perspective of culture and politics why this is disheartening. And Adam addressed those perfectly so I’ll leave that for now. But there’s another reason that I’m concerned with this casting choice.

It’s just bad storytelling.

The excuse I heard first to excuse the cultural and political concerns (and it took all of a picosecond for this excuse to rear its head on my Facebook wall) was that Star Wars is not set in this world. There are different rules for the Galaxy Far Far Away than there are for Earth. Perhaps the birth rate of women is just much lower. Perhaps the human-analogue species of Star Wars displays substantially reduced melanistic diversity and consequently people of colour are rarer too.

That’s grade A bullshit right there.

The fact of the matter is that Star Wars is a story created on earth by humans on earth and for humans on earth. Building characters is a deliberate process, and the choices we make about the characters we build always reflects some element of OUR world and our place in it.

Kameron Hurley knocked the ball out of the park with her article ‘We Have Always Fought‘ – which is currently nominated for the Hugo for Best Reated Work. I would like to strongly encourage anybody eligible to vote in the Hugo Awards to cast their vote for this article. It’s simply the best work of critical analysis I’ve seen specific to genre to the last decade.

Hurley’s argument, and it’s an exceptionally good one, is that our expectations regarding history are shaped by the narratives we create surrounding it.

Applying this to Star Wars, J.J. Abrams’ decision to return to 1980s style tokenism in Star Wars casting is structuring a narrative which isn’t reflective of the reality of modern western culture (which has become substantially more pluralistic and diverse over the intervening twenty years) and which frames a narrative strongly in line with the “history is made by white men” model.

This isn’t just bad politics. It’s bad storytelling.

The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones

Of course, there’s another problem. And that problem is J.J.’s marketing strategy. It’s possible that Star Wars will pass both the Bechdel and Mako standards with flying colours.

Really JJ?

Possible, but not very likely.

However we’ll probably never know until the film comes out, because of the god-damn mystery box. The same insufferable, click-baitey, pretentious marketing strategy that refused to admit that the antagonist in a Wrath of Khan remake was going to bee freaking Khan!

While Godzilla provides trailers and clips that let us know the broad strokes of the plot structure (that Godzilla will be called upon to fight other Kaiiju, that the movie will be a reflection upon the arrogance of humanity to believe we are the masters of nature), while Marvel lets us in on enough juicy tidbits of their films to build excitement for gambles like Guardians of the Galaxy, J.J. hides everything behind a wall of secrecy. He insists on details as simple as the names of characters counts as “spoilers.”

And so we only have his past work to fall back on for details. ‘Star Trek: Into Darkness’ white-washed the primary antagonist, turning him into a white British man. It did THAT (above and to the right) to Carol Marcus. It turned Kirk, Spock and Uhura into broad caricatures of their original series roles and it wrapped up this in a story that made no logical sense.

J.J. Abrams failed to understand Star Trek. He was tone deaf to what the Star Trek story meant. He was unable to understand what the story of ‘Wrath of Khan’ meant, for that matter.

We have his word that he is a fan of Star Wars. And, who knows, perhaps he’ll at least understand Star Wars. But with his childish insistence on secrecy we won’t know until it’s far too late.

You all did love him once, not without cause:
What cause withholds you then, to mourn for him?

In some ways George Lucas got very lucky with Star Wars. It was the right film at the right time to inspire a lot of people. It became a touchstone for imaginative adventure for a generation and without it cinema would be a very different place.

Because of this, it’s very easy to give Star Wars a pass. We want license to love the things we love. And a lot of people love Star Wars; and not without reason.

But the truth is that we should also have the courage to say when the ambition of the things we love out-steps their value. We should have the conviction to call out the things we love when the falter and fail. And ultimately, though I hope it isn’t necessary, it may be necessary to put a knife into some of the things we loved in recognition that, regardless of what they once did they now cause more harm than good.

And if it comes to that, I know how I’ll eulogize Star Wars.

My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar,
And I must pause till it come back to me.