Storytelling

Creative Constraints of Ice and Fire

One of the things about A Song of Ice and Fire that I was less than enthused about is the books’ fixation on constructing an intricately realized bizarro version of medieval England. Why so many Americans are fixated on a world that was largely gone by the time Columbus made it across the Atlantic, and whose influence a lot of our ancestors came here specifically to get some distance from, is kind of irritating.

But since Western fantasy fiction co-opts medieval Europe all the time, this isn’t really news. What apparently is news is that the books have a lot of violent sexism and misogyny, which led George R. R. Martin to tell Entertainment Weekly that the one choice necessitated the other. Naturally I was not enthused.

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Star Trek was already too Star Trek-y

Because I am very clued in, I learned that the Internet was freaking out over Simon Pegg having called genre fiction infantile after he’d already posted a reaction to the Internet’s reaction.

As to his main point, I think he’s half right. Major film studios have absolutely taken to using genre fiction as a way to deliver spectacle rather than deep or challenging narratives, but that’s hardly a problem unique to fantasy or science fiction. The Fast & Furious franchise or The Expendables both blockbuster ticket farms too, and I wouldn’t argue they have a greater enduring cultural value than The Avengers.

What’s most concerning about the comments is the context: Pegg happens to be co-writing the next Star Trek film, a role he took on after the studio booted the movie’s original director after some unspecified creative differences. In his interview, Pegg said the original script was “a little bit too Star Trek-y.”

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Black holes and the trouble with science fiction

black-hole-fireball

I should be really excited for the movie Interstellar. I think part of why I’m not has to do with my growing skepticism about movie plots in general, which I’ll have to get into later. But regardless, this sort of thing is really impressive:

 In short, in order to accurately create a visual for the story’s black hole, Kip Thorne produced an entirely new set of equations which guided the special effects team’s rendering software. The end result was a visual representation that accurately depicts what a wormhole/black hole would look like in space.

What really impressed me, though, is that apparently nobody thought to do this before. And that kind of says a lot about the state of both science and science fiction.

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Mass Effect 3 Revisionism

What's your favorite color?

Okay, when I saw that someone had come up with a 400-page plan to rewrite Mass Effect 3 I was a little annoyed that I hadn’t done it myself, because it seems like a fun project for someone who has too much time on their hands, as I occasionally do. On the other hand, the whole project seems based on exactly what I thought was so off-base about the whole Mass Effect 3 freakout in the first place.

Part of the problem is that the complaints tend not to acknowledge the constraints that arise when a script needs to be paired with the expense of creating an interactive 3D environment and pairing it with actual enjoyable gameplay and making it all work on a budget. But the bigger issue involves whether total freedom of choice is a realistic goal to begin with.

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Star Trek’s Khan Problem

spaceseedhd518

I maintain that if the producers of Star Trek Into Darkness truly wanted to recycle an adversary from the original series, they should have gone with the Doomsday Machine. Not only would the thing have been VFX gold, but it would have helped them avoid what’s become one of the most common traps in the franchise.

Most of the Star Trek movies that came after Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan tried to replicate its success. It’s not hard to see why, since TWOK is arguably the best movie in the franchise. (The Undiscovered Country is my personal favorite, but whichever.) What’s frustrating is that none of the people who’ve tried to replicate it over the years have demonstrated a clear understanding of why it was so good in the first place.

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Joss Whedon’s death problem

Maximum tragedy

I think it’s great that Agent Coulson will be a major part of S.H.I.E.L.D. and isn’t actually dead despite all the evidence from The Avengers (spoiler! …double spoiler?), but something struck me while I was reading Joss Whedon’s rationale:

The idea of the Little Guy is something that I am very fierce about, and there has never been a better Little Guy than Clark Gregg. That intrigued me, this world around the superhero community. It’s the people whose shop windows get blown up when the Destroyer shows up.

My immediate, cynical response was that he might have thought of that before he killed the guy in the first place. And that’s actually a problem I have with almost everything Whedon’s done, because an important corollary to his penchant for killing off characters is that it’s almost always the little guys who take the fall.

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The expectations trap

I'm not even sorry.

So I was minding my own business, checking my news feed, when I realized that I’d just come up with a way to link HBO’s Girls and the debt ceiling. This was not part of my plan for today.

It all began this morning, when I came across this article about how Girls’ second season dealt with all that controversy over the show’s treatment of minority characters (or lack thereof) by adding Donald Glover and an arc about interracial dating. After that came several different stories about the debt ceiling and a previously obscure idea to get around it by minting a huge-denomination platinum coin. And I started to think that both cases demonstrate a similar failure of our collective ability to figure out where the real problem is.

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Remastered in high definition!

I deliberately avoided taking creative writing classes throughout high school, despite spending most of my free time making up dumb stories. Possibly as a result, the stories I came up with tended to have somewhat questionable literary value.

Still, they were fun to make. And a couple of them stayed with me long after I’d moved on to more serious pursuits, nagging at me for a good ten years until some lazy afternoon on a holiday weekend when I decided to revive them for no reason. Hence, I give you a completely remastered re-release of Mr. Stick Saves the Universe!, now in 720p HD.

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