Select Page
Toxic Fandom

Toxic Fandom

Kelly Marie Tran was a mostly unknown actress until she landed the part of Rose in Star Wars: The Last Jedi (SW8EP8).

As I have written, Rose the character, was three points short of useless and completely unnecessary. A simple explanation of the plan to the heroes would have avoided a lot of bad film-making, and absurdly convoluted actions and plot MacGuffins..

That is Rose, the character.

As I also wrote, Kelly Marie Tran did a fine job with the role. And now it seems that some so-called Star Wars fans have decided to harass and intimidate her to the point of leaving social media (Instagram, specifically). Remember, the character sucked, the acting did not (or, not beyond the level of the usual Lucas-style direction, but that is on the director). I don’t want to repeat this, but it really seems like there are a lot of people missing the point.

Character bad. Actor not bad.

This is part of the problem in fandom these days. We have come to believe that creators are somehow beholden to us…no, that isn’t it. That we, the fans, control the property they created. Hint: we don’t. We didn’t when Vader was revealed as Luke’s father (and yes, that was hotly debated at the time), we didn’t when Lucas gave us Jar-Jar Binks and the wildly racist Trade Federation, we didn’t when needless works like ‘Shadows of the Empire’ happened…or the Yuuzhan Vong dropped a moon on Chewbacca. We didn’t at any of these points, and still don’t.

Yes, we have the right to have expectations, to be disappointed, angry, frustrated, or hurt when things go in ways we don’t like. Yes, we have the right to complain about this, and wail and cry about it. Yes, we have the right, and perhaps even duty, to hold the creator responsible for their creation, and if we feel that their vision is too far from our own, we have the right to be mad, and quit consuming the content.

But we do not, ever, have the right to demand that the creators follow our vision of their creation. Their. Creation. Not yours, not mine, not ours. Theirs.

Part of that creation is including the characters they want to include. If that means characters we find annoying, unwelcome, unattractive, or whatever, that’s our problem, not theirs. And they don’t have to apologize for it. So, when Rose Tico was added to the plot and script of The Last Jedi, we had no say in that. Rightly. When Kelly Marie Tran was cast to play the part, we had no say in that. Also rightly. When the character turned out to be a poorly drawn, unnecessary, and ill-conceived part of the movie, we had no say in that either. But that is anger, disappointment, frustration, or whatever at a character. Attaching it to an actor is crossing a line.

Star Wars fandom has had this issue for some time now. From the irrational hate directed at Jake Lloyd to the current vitriol directed at Daisy Ridley and Kelly Marie Tran, there is a dark side to this fandom. I believe this is symptomatic of a larger problem in the SF/F community as a whole, but that’s another post for another time. In the SW universe, fans have the annoying habit of believing they are owed something.

Pro Tip: We. Aren’t.

Look, short of those who devote large sections of their lives to this, I am one of the biggest SW fans out there. It was the first movie I ever saw, in 1977. So, yeah, it is a thing. And yes, I was not in love with the prequels, or Last Jedi. And yes, I want a higher grade product, and have my own ideas on where the series and property should go. Like any fan. And, like the vast majority of us, I understand that I am not being consulted, and have precisely no control over this. Some folk didn’t get the memo.

So what to do about this? Really, the only thing we can do is confront it head on. And not just people attacking actors for choices and such not their own. Confront people who insist that any creative property bend to their will. Remind them that if they want that, they need to create it, and while criticism and venting is good, and welcome, there is a line. It is hard to see, sometimes, but it is there. We, as fans, have a responsibility to police ourselves, and find ways to make the best of low-quality product (including celebrating high-quality product more than we bemoan low-quality). We need to do this because we stand to loose more than the creators do.

What would Star Wars Celebration be without guests? Think about that. If we, as the mainline fandom, allow the lunatic fringe to push the actors away (and once them, who is next?), why would they appear anywhere for the fans? Of course, they get paid, and it may even be in their contracts, so there is that motivation. But do you think that Kelly Marie Tran, if she is cast in a future SF/F property, will have that included? Force her to meet the fans…many of whom would be gracious and welcoming, but who may have come to scream at her? Would you do that? I wouldn’t.

So, be passionate about the property. Be engaged in the community. But don’t be toxic. Don’t attack actors for the sins of the writers or directors. Don’t be a dick.

The Heartreader’s Secret

The Heartreader’s Secret

The Heartreader's SecretIt is always nice to get a book to review, and it comes with the first two in the series. It is nicer when those books are so wonderfully clever, unique, and well written that you don’t feel the weight of obligation over reading them.

The Heartreader’s Secret (book three of the Faraday Files), and the first two in the series (The Deathsniffer’s AssistantThe Timeseer’s Gambit) are just such books. What surprised me the most was how much I liked them, considering how much I dislike the main POV character. It’s a conundrum indeed.

The basic premise is this: in an alternate universe England, magic is the source of…well…everything. It powers lights, vehicles, etc., it is used to cool homes, and heat them, it is basically everything we use technology for, and then some (noise shields to keep the street noise from houses, for example). In this world, some years back, a fairly vulgar display of power, the Floating Castle (a neigh-literal name), failed in a disastrous manner, killing thousands. Including Christopher Buckley’s parents. Now, broke and desperate, he takes employment as an assistant to Olivia Faraday, consulting detective. In this world, detectives are often Truthsniffers – their powers allow them to detect lies and falsehoods – even things like staged crime scenes. Olivia, however, styles herself as a Deathsniffer, one who solves murders specifically. Christopher is a Wordweaver, which seems to be a magically powered manner of transcription. Honestly, this is one power I don’t quite get, as it seems like a complex way to avoid just jotting down notes.

In this third installment, we follow Olivia and Chris to her home in the country, looking into what may be the disappearance of their friend Emilia Banks. What is revealed is a plot of murder, conspiracy, betrayal, and reconciliation as Christopher has to deal with his feelings for the titular Timeseer of book two, his sisters governess Rachel, and his love of being the biggest jerk in the world. As a lover of backstory, I was most happy to see a lot of it here. In fact, this is a majorly revelatory entry in the series, as we get to see some of what, exactly, is up with Chris, why Olivia hates home, the William issue, and more about the world that is slowly beginning to unravel around them all.

The story here is actually really involved – there are a lot of plates spinning all at once, and McIntyre is absolutely perfect at keeping everything moving in the same direction, and not only being resolved, but resolved in an internally-consistent and personally satisfactory manner.

Except Buckley. Hot mess is not even close to how I would describe him. In places, i actively rooted for his death or removal by other means (coma, insanity, Thanos, kidnapping, running away, the Demogorgon, whatever). I really dislike him, in almost every possible way. He is spiteful, hateful, sexist, racist, petty beyond reason, bigoted (which is presented as being a product of the time, but in three books of immersion that should have shown the way, he had not changed), self-loathing, and vindictive. His treatment of almost literally everyone he considers beneath him (and that is almost everyone who isn’t Olivia, his sister, Olivia’s mother, Maris, and the police as a whole) is rude, dismissive, and…well, if I want this review on Amazon, I can’t say what I want to…but it ends in -hole. Chris is the weakest point of the book (and series), and while I was ok with it in the first book, as it made sense, by this point it is really rather annoying.

That said, I get why it is how it is – Chris is the negative lens through which the characters are seen in order to make a statement about the sexism and bigotry of the times – and of ours. It makes sense, and maybe is effective to others, but it falls flat here. I particularly dislike his treatment of William. If things hadn’t happened as they did in Timeseer’s Gambit, then it wouldn’t be so annoying. But they did. I understand (without being able to experience) that there is a cohort in the homosexual world that are Chris – gay (bi?), and unable/willing to accept it in themselves, and thus self-loathing. But that is something I cannot and will not experience, and so while I accept that it is real (I have known men who experienced this very thing), I dislike the portrayal. I think that is a result of the men I have worked with who were in a similarly self-inflicted position; gay but unable or unwilling to accept it, and thus conflicted. Understanding is not acceptance, and my fervent hope is that he is better in the eagerly awaited book four.

Reading other reviewers, they seem to find Chris a large part of their enjoyment of the series. And kudos to them all for seeing something I cannot. I love this despite him. All that above didn’t lower the score – not in the least. And that says something to me about the power of this book. It tells a compelling story in a society that is, and is not, from our own history. And that needs some comment too. I like steampunk well enough, but this is some next-level work here. The simple change I welcomed most was that this wasn’t ‘England with magic and mad science’, it was a different world altogether. None of the names were the same, the history felt different, the rest of the world was different. This is great! While not-London is fine, taking the leap to make it wholly different was welcome and contributed to the whole series in many different ways. Not the least of which was having the world be all the author’s own, so things can be where they need to be for the plot. Not inconveniently distant or close. That simple change was one of my favorite atmospheric notes in the series as a whole.

Lastly, this is classified as LGBT fiction, and many of the characters are homosexual or leaning that way, it is important that at no time does this feel wedged in, forced, or the sole point of the book. The plot and story come first, second, third, etc., and the sexuality is there as an aspect of that plot. For any who think that it can’t be done, this is precisely how you do it! Swap William for Wendy, and literally nothing needs to change except pronouns. That makes the perfect approach in my personal view, and is damn near worth a star just for that.

The Heartreader’s Secret is one of the best books I have come across in a long time. The whole Faraday Files series is that good. I cannot recommend this enough. It needs to be on your personal shortlist, and read ASAP.

Origins Game Fair – Where Discourse Is Unwelcome

Origins Game Fair – Where Discourse Is Unwelcome

First things first. I don’t have a dog in this hunt. I was not planning on attending Origins, and never would have, as it is in Ohio, and I simply won’t go to that state unless absolutely necessary. So this doesn’t impact my plans in the least.

Second things…I am very torn on this, as I am, at my core, a free speech absolutist. I believe that there should be no limits on speech, and have written at length about that. In brief, I believe that you should be allowed to speak, and operate your businesses, as you see fit – including discrimination against potential customers – without governmental interference or censure. The flip side is that you must also accept that the population may not support you, and you must not be saved from failure by the government either. Thus, I respect Origins Game Fair’s right to invite whomever they wish, and disinvite (as rude as that may be) whomever they wish. This is their right, and their excise of this right is nothing to comment on. While I think their decisions are poor, and will harm them in the long run, it is their right to do so, and I respect and defend that right, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God.

But.

There is the issue of the now-deleted tweet from Origins announcing the removal of New York Times bestselling author Larry Correia from their guest list. First, by deleting the tweet, it looks like they are either covering up, or ashamed of, their position. That is one of my main complaints about the modern world, and maybe worth a post in itself. We no longer seem to even have the courage of our personal belief, of our convictions. See books by Lars Walker for a better look at that than I can give just now. That is one issue, but the real issue, the kicker, as it were, is the wording of the tweet itself:

Third paragraph. Last sentence. “We focus on fun, not discourse and controversy”. Emphasis mine.

Discourse. Webster’s defines this as

  1. verbal interchange of ideas; especially : conversation
  2. formal and orderly and usually extended expression of thought on a subject
    1. connected speech or writing
    2. a linguistic unit (such as a conversation or a story) larger than a sentence
  3. a mode of organizing knowledge, ideas, or experience that is rooted in language and its concrete contexts (such as history or institutions) critical discourse
  4. archaic: the capacity of orderly thought or procedure : rationality
  5. obsolete: social familiarity

So, Origins, per their executive director, is not a place for a verbal exchange of ideas, conversation, or civil discussion. While I expect he meant to use the word ‘discord’, that isn’t what was written. And I think that is revealing. By refusing to honor an invitation to a man who is considered by all who have met him to be a great person, kind, gracious, gentle, etc. (disclaimer: I have never met him, but know people who have), and then saying ‘we don’t want to be a place for conversation’, Origins shows a staggering intolerance of diversity.

The simple reality is that the political position occupied by the sort of people who screech about ‘unsafe’ (and do explain how that is in any way accurate….I’ll wait) is also all about the refusal to engage in any discourse with anyone not of their specific group or flavor. In this, they haven’t exactly progressed past their origins in the early 1800s, and demonstrate they still love a good lynching. In civil society, ideas are to be discussed, to be considered, and to be accepted or rejected on their merits – not because some screeching stain says they make her (in this specific case, it was a her – isn’t always) feel, somehow, unsafe. As if someone holding a different opinion is unsafe. This back to the absurdist position that somehow conservative speech is violence, but liberal violence is speech. I am neither alone nor original in stating that 1984 was a warning, not an instruction manual.

So what is a thinking person to do (and yes, in case it isn’t obvious, I am excluding the sort of person who thinks this is right or good from the set ‘thinking’, not ‘people’) when confronted with this kind of idiocy? What is the correct response? Again, no dog in the hunt, but I think the correct response may look like this:

  • Boycott Origins. In all ways – do not support them, their sponsors, their allies, their friends, their ConCom’s businesses. You want to make this personal, on your head be it. The vendors are innocent in this, and don’t deserve to be caught in the insanity Origins has started. If you know they were there, and see them elsewhere, proceed as normal – this is not on them. Sponsors…that’s different.
  • Promote the competition of all the above – boycotting is step one. Always look at the second step, and that is to move any business from the supporters of the position you disagree with to their competitors. It isn’t enough to just not shop there…
  • Under no circumstances encourage, condone, support, suggest, or hint at any kind of violent response – even in metaphor, jest, ad absurdum, mockery, and so on. The enemy – and they have declared themselves so – chooses when to take this as an actual threat, and when to not. Hint: if conservatives say it, it is a threat, if they say it, it isn’t (even when it is by any reasonable standard).
  • Do patronize conventions where banned and disinvited authors are welcome. Be active in those communities, and keep the good cons going. Since they want segregation so badly, we can give it to them.
  • See #3…really, not even in jest. With the fallout and discussion in full froth, Mr. Correia posted that he awoke this AM to reports that people in his Facebook group made bomb threats. I suspect someone reported his wife, for the ‘nuke em’ post she made. This is how deranged the enemy is. Just think for a moment about that.
  • Strike back in their forum and manner. So Origins kicked Mr. Correia. And by doing so removed the only non-white guest from their convention. Make some noise about that! No women, no POC, only white males! How dare they – isn’t that making us unsafe? Or whatever their position is. Use mockery, as they cannot stand being mocked. Subvert their own methods and practices. We have a true spectrum of people who are on our side, people they claim have more valid voices…use those voices to make it impossible for conventions like Origins to function. Use their weapons to orchestrate their downfall.

In closing, remember to remain true to yourselves. There is nothing wrong with a convention making an unpopular choice – they have that right and must be encouraged to exercise it. To do otherwise is to be the next in line for the boxcars. Forgive them, as we are called to do. But also remember we are not compelled or called to support them either.

Book Review: Creature of the Night

Book Review: Creature of the Night

Creature of the Night cover Well. This is a quick read, at least.

This is like reviewing two books. Book one had some good commentary on the absurd obsession with ‘reality’ TV, especially the reductive contest type. Book two forgot all that, and instead went for stupid levels of absurdity, possibly trying to be funny, possibly trying to hold a ‘Clockwork Orange’ type mirror to it all. Neither was great, but the first was better than the second.

Creature of the Night is the story of a near-future world where humans discovered vampires, declared war, and lost. Vampires occupy some of the position that celebrities do now, only moreso. The events all occur during a brief (week?) TV show that is a contest to turn one contestant into a new vampire. This is intended as a send-up of the ‘American idol’ type show, but with an edge of insanity and depravity. Which I get.

But then the author should have committed. There is nothing in the ‘off camera’ scenes to suggest that this is anything more than posturing on the character’s end, except for all the bits about how it isn’t. Every one of them is totally into the contest, even when it becomes cruel and brutal (which is pretty much immediately).  But there is no follow-through into the ‘off camera’ spaces. And that is where we find the biggest miss. The on-camera insanity is one thing – and worthy of parody. But, the off-camera is where the story is. Where there can be drama, pathos, development, and so on. There is some, just not enough.

Where I get off the bus is the brutality. Make no mistake, I am not one of those ‘i downloaded megakillerultraviolence 2, and it has violence…1 star’ types. I don’t mind violence, and even enjoy it in the correct context. This isn’t it. There is something horribly off-putting about the whole thing. I have been trying to put a finger on it for a bit now, and all i can think is it feels wrong. Not the actions, per se, but the way it is applied. It doesn’t fit. It doesn’t feel forced, just…off. Almost, but not quite, like it was there, and an editor wanted it punched up, so the author had a ‘see how you like THAT’ moment.

I also was not on board with the ending – not the results, but the methods. I get that it was needed to complete the parody, but again, personal taste says ‘no’.

There is nothing really wrong with the book – no glaring style or craft issues. it isn’t, objectively, bad in any way. I just found the parts I disliked too much to ignore in the grand scheme of things.

 

Book Review: Down To Oath

Book Review: Down To Oath

Down To Oath coverThere is an art to writing fiction. The characters need to be likable, accessible, hopefully relatable. The plot needs to flow, and avoid the pitfalls and traps of running your character into dead ends, jumping around, and so on. Sometimes, all that happens, and you still get a book that is impossibly hard to review.

Down to Oath is that book.

While my personal satisfaction was low, the reality is that there is little objectively wrong with the book itself.

The characters are well drawn. They are believable, exactly trope-ish enough to be familiar, while retaining a uniqueness that is appreciated. The towns are decent enough – the titular Oath is the best-developed and most satisfying to me, with shades of the nameless village of The Lottery, and even shades of The Village from The Prisoner. Not so much in the surreal weirdness, but in the characterizations of the residents. I liked what I saw happening, as it fit nicely into a lot of my preferred boxes and concepts.

Then the book continues.

So this is where this stops being a product satisfaction review, and becomes a book review.

As Down To Oath progresses, the characters are developed into less monotone versions of themselves, and this growth is not without conflict. The conflict is well composed, and the evolution of the characters is both well written and well paced – there is very little downtime, and what is there is needed to continue development, but without the pressure of the plot elements. The climax hits in the right place, with the needed tension, and a predictable, if not unwelcome, ending. A sequel is set up, but not made a requirement, which is nice. Far too many books these days are written to require a sequel, and that gets tiresome after a time.

And this is all well and good, but there is one ‘review’ problem, and one ‘satisfaction’ problem. The review problem is that so much of the book has the flavor of a spoiler that writing about it in any but the most vague language feels like I am giving something away. The other town names, not so much, but the other characters, the ones beyond Oath? Yes, that seems to be a spoiler. The reason for it all…spoiler. The resolution…obviously a spoiler, but even hinting at it is giving things away. And that is just frustrating.

The satisfaction issue is that when we find out the why of it all, it is the least-good version of the why. Tyrolin Puxty does nod to other reasons – all of which I would have preferred – but sticks to her guns, and delivers. I am not down with that reasoning, however. I feel that it limits the plot, limits the characters, and limits the book itself. All needlessly.

So, my final thoughts here would be that Down to Oath is a well-written, well thought out book, and while aspects were not to taste, this will be quite satisfying ro other readers.