All posts by Paul Weimer

All quiet on the Northern Front

So what have I been up to?

Work, mostly. I haven’t gone on any major trips in the Winter, it was a bad winter for photography and a lot of other things. I’ve struggled with depressive issues, mainly based on the problems of my recurring, permanent failures. Fail. Fail. Fail. It gets wearying.

I did take a day trip to the North Shore last week, which was healthy, but I crave a longer trip. But, we’ll see as always.

A few spoilery thoughts on The Last Jedi

Here, by popular demand, some spoilery thoughts on The Last Jedi.

The film looks GREAT. I particularly like the “ice and salt” planet that the finale of the movie takes place on. There is gorgeous red on white action in the First Order-Resistance fight there that made my jaw drop in the cinematography. And other places like Canto Bight really really came alive and looked good. The island of Skellig Michael is absolutely magnificent looking. And space battles where I can tell what is going on!

This movie really deconstructs a lot of the mythology of the Star Wars verse. I get why certain people are very upset at this movie, this movie interrogates some of the base assumptions of how the Force and the Jedi and Sith work. I was surprised.

If The Force Awakens was A New Hope Redux, The Last Jedi was a reenvisioning of elements of the Empire Strikes Back *and* Return of the Jedi. We get an ice planet, training moments, an escape from a base as the Empire is closing in, trying to turn someone to the Light, a betrayal between master and apprentice, and desperate fleet actions. And there are deconstructions of all of these. This was a movie definitely in conversation with the original trilogy. I mean, we get the “Kill the Emperor moment” in the Second Film of the trilogy.

There is a key plot point that gets very soft pedaled: The whole “How can they track the Resistance in Hyperspace” tech. That seemed to be a very important tech piece which came out of left field.

Pyrrhus of Epirus has got nothing on Poe Dameron.

I now see the reason why some people freaked out, good and bad, about Vice Admiral Holdo. I get her, I really do. This is a role that in 99.99999% of movies, would be played by a tough as nails man–and having it be someone completely different in gender and nature, is a really good thing. Especially given her sacrifice. You don’t see middle aged feminine women be badass admirals, anywhere. Definite play with expectations. Her plan, though, and a lot of the plot seems to revolve around a lack of communication between her and Poe, which feels like a plot weakness. It’s clear in the film that we should be trusting Holdo all along and Poe is wrong, emphasized when Leia shoots Poe.

I did not expect Yoda’s Force Ghost to show up. And I mourn the loss of Captain Phasma.

I’m so happy with their decision to make Rey’s parents just ordinary people. Thank God. Like Rogue One, average people are important. Kids. People of color. Women. Not just a few men, of a special bloodline. (The Kid with the broom, the last scene of the movie is really really poignant). This is a sensibility for our times.

Like Rogue One, this movie definitely strikes notes of left/populist political philosophy that you don’t usually see in Star Wars movies. I mean, this movie calls out arms dealers for crying out loud.

The Rashomon like study of what happened at the fall of Kylo Ren was real interesting.

Porgs are cute. I suspect that Chewbacca has lost his chance to eat one now, though.

I cried during the credits. Yeah.

I need to see the film again to know where I am going to put in the Star Wars canon. I definitely and happily will.

2017 Travels, Travails and Traverses: My Travel year

2017, a banner year for me traveling. I thought 2016 was hard. I had no idea what 2017 was going to be.

Major Trips:

Well, the Down Under Fan Fund allowed me to take a Trip to New Zealand and Australia. That was huge.

I also went to Worldcon in Helsinki, Finland. Not a place I ever expected to WANT to go, but I was enchanted by the city and its environs.

Those two huge trips dominated the year, quite frankly. I made a day trip now and again to places like the North Shore…

…and the St Croix valley…

…and the Minnesota River Valley…

New Records:
Furthest South: Wellington, New Zealand.
Furthest West: Warrnambool, Australia.
Furthest North: Helsinki, Finland
Furthest East: Helsinki, Finland

New Capitals Visited:
And yes, I ate at a McDonalds in each.

Onto 2018!

Not the Territory: In defense of (Good) SFF Maps

There have been a slate of articles lately about maps in fantasy. Alex Acks has talked about the terrible geology in Tolkien’s Middle Earth Map and then gone on to tell why they aren’t a fan of fantasy maps in general. Adrian Daub has talked about his love of maps, but the problems of Eurocentric maps. There are others, some of whom have been gathered by Camestros Felapton.

We’re at the point in the cycle where a defense of the form, of countering the arguments put forth, and by gum, as an amateur cartographer in my own right, I am the person to do so. It might be facile to hashtag #notallmaps, but, really, not every map is a geologic mess,not every map is a Eurocentric western ocean oriented map, with an eastern blend into problematic oriental racial types. Not every map has borders which strictly follow natural barriers and does not have the messy irregularity that real world maps and borders have.

Let’s look at one of the two maps in Kate Elliott’s Cold Fire. The Spiritwalker (Cold Magic) versus takes place on an alternate Earth which is far more glaciated, amongst other changes. The first novel takes place in the northwest of Europe. The second novel, Cold Fire, brings our protagonists across the ocean to the American continents:

So, see, here, Elliott has provided fantasy grounded in the Americas, with American geography, and a geography which is influenced, determined and changed by the more glaciated world.

Glaciated worlds seem to be good for authors to break the molds that lead to the same old same old maps. Here is a somewhat colder, darker world by Stina Leicht in her Malorum Gates novels. Note that this is primarily a political map and is oriented so that readers know where the major polities are, rather than having readers follow the progress of people explicitly.

Other authors also break the mold. In Beth Bernobich’s River of Souls series, we get a mostly political map, and no, the political borders do not follow rivers and mountain chains in a facile manner. And the ocean is to the east of the land mass:

I suppose that, with two Hugos to the series to her credit, N.K Jemisin’s work would not need introduction at this stage. Readers of that series, though, will note that the maps are explicitly geological, splitting up the Stillness into tectonic plates. And note, Jemisin’s continent is oriented to the Southern Hemisphere, not the northern.

And then there is this map, from Tex Thompson’s One Night in Sixes.

This is a map I love because it is precisely an in-world artifact. This is a map as used by the characters, changed and remarked for current conditions. Oftentimes, a map in a fantasy novel will be in “god game mode”, an omniscient point of view at the reader, not the character level. Even if characters traverse the entirety of the map, Tough Guide to Fantasyland style, they often aren’t seeing the world of the map as the map. The style and technology of a map is often at odds with what the characters already have.

This map, here, though, is an exception to that. It’s an in-world artifact, and thus has value as part of the narrative, rather than illuminating the narrative, doing double duty thereby.

Maps are not the territory, and not every fantasy or SF novel needs a map. Certainly, Sturgeon’s Law for everything else applies for maps in SFF as well. However, I hope these maps indicate, there is plenty to love in fantasy maps.

My Schedule at Convergence 2017

I am happy to be an invited participant at Convergence again this year. Here’s where to find me:

Robert Heinlein’s Works

Heinlein was a very successful and very prolific writer from science fiction’s golden age. He wrote books, short stories, and even a fantasy novel. Come discuss his works and methods. Panelists: Bridget Landry, Paul Weimer, Dave Walbridge (mod), Tim Lieder, Sean Berry

Saturday, July 8

Ancillary Justice

Ancillary Justice is a about a ship, in human form, getting justice for its murder. Come discuss the trilogy. Panelists: Haddayr Copley-Woods, Michael Shappe, Paul Weimer, Sarah O’Connor (mod)

David Lynch’s Dune

What did Lynch get right and what did he get wrong in his filmed version of the Frank Herbert Classic? Let’s talk about it. Panelists: Paul Weimer, Kris Coulter, Norman Cates, Scott Lynch (mod), Michael Carus

Sunday, July 9

Flash Gordon (1980)

Let’s talk about the sole sci-fi entry from director Mike Hodges. How did the film get made? How did Queen come to do the soundtrack? Panelists: Kevin Eldridge, Paul Weimer, Kyle Dekker (mod), Garrick Dietze

See me at Continuum and Lexicon

AS part of my DUFF trip, I will be on two panels at Continuum, the Australian National Science Fiction Convention.

Saturday 10th June 10:00am

Fun With Fan Funds

Kinda what it says on the Tin. 🙂

Sunday 11th June 6:00pm

Keyholes and Secret Doors

Do you really have to outgrow a fantasy world? Let’s talk about the obsession with childhood and innocence in portal fantasies, and keeping your magic into adulthood.

The week before, I will also be on two panels at Lexicon, the National Science Fiction convention of New Zealand and will be at the Masquerade as well:

Masquerade and Concert
Marvel at the costuming skills on display in fandom’s equivalent to the World of Wearable Art, then listen to Seanan McGuire sing! Prizes will be awarded for best costumes.
Sat 8pm in Hine-i-tīweka (Jupiter) (2 hours)

Classic SF Predicts the Future
We often look back on classic Science Fiction to see if they “got it right.” What are some great predictions which came true and why are we so obsessed with it? Moderator Alan Robson with Alex Lindsay, Kaaron Warren, and Paul Weimer.
Sun 11am in Matawhero (Mars)

The Second State, They’ve More Than Snakes: Australia and Us
Community-building, cross-fertilisation, shared resources, and how NZ and Australia are closer than we think. With Lynelle Howell, Gerry Huntman, Lee Murray, Ross Temple, and Paul Weimer.
Sun 3pm in Hine-i-tīweka (Jupiter)

The Great Wall–a movie reaction

TL; dr: I feel conflicted and feel conflicted about feeling conflicted about my enjoying the movie.

The Great Wall, directed by Zhang Yimou, and starring Matt Damon, is a gorgeous, lean and mean blockbuster that entertained me for two hours and engaged my senses. And I feel very conflicted about enjoying it.

Matt Damon plays William. William is a mercenary who has, in the time of the Song Dynasty (around 1100 AD or so, judging from William’s comments, the location of the Chinese Capital, and so on), traveled with some companions across the length of Eurasia in search of the secret of black powder. His companions but two die quickly while being chased by Khitan horsemen, and another dies awkwardly offscreen, leaving just him and his Iberian companion Tovar (Pedro Pascal). Chased by the bandits, and having killed a strange creature in the night, William and Tovar run right into the Great Wall, which has been preparing for an invasion of the monstrous Tao Tei. Every sixty years the Tao Tei come at China, and the time for another attack is nigh. While there, William and Tovar meet Ballard (Willem Defoe) who, twenty five years earlier, came to China for the same reason, but has been trapped ever since. That’s the extent of the Western characters in this movie.

Jing Tian leads the much larger Chinese cast. As Commander Lin, she leads a Crane Troop, a group of women warriors who make death defying dives from platforms on the wall during Tao Tei sieges. It’s absolutely impractical against the Tao Tei zerg rush, but damn, doesn’t it look cool. Zhang Henyu plays the General of the army on the Wall, and Andy Lau plays Wang, a strategist and advisor whose warnings about the Tao Tei have not been heeded as well as they might. Lu Han plays Peng, a young warrior who, language difficulties aside, forms a bond with William. We also get some commanders, a cowardly and sniveling counselor, and a self-centered, cowardly and not at all flatteringly portrayed teenage Emperor who, even so, is probably more mature than Donald Trump

The movie’s visuals are amazing. This was directed by Zhang Yimou, and if you seen Hero, or House of Flying Daggers, or Curse of the Golden Flower, you know what you are in for. Gorgeous cinematography and action sequences with closeups of flying objects. Strongly coded primary colored costumes and things. (The Crane troop, for example, are all in gorgeous blue armor). Lavishly detailed framing of people and things inhabiting their backdrops. This movie was wonderful to just look at. The action sequences were consistently intelligible. The movie doesn’t drag or flag and is paced well.

I loved the proto-silkpunk tech of the movie, however anachronistic and unrealistic. Given that this was most definitely a fantastic Song Dynasty China, I just went with it, especially when they unleashed primitive and unstable balloons on top of their crossbows, crane divers, scissoring blades, interlocking shields, and the rest of the weaponry on command here (And yes, I got a Ken Liu vibe when those balloons appeared).

I am going to steal stuff for this movie for my roleplaying games, that’s for certain. The monsters themselves, some of the characters, and the ideas shown here. Its a realized world that I really like, and want to use pieces of elsewhere. I will be buying this on DVD when it comes out.

The movie was entertaining, fun, and gorgeous and yet I feel conflicted about having seen this, and it does come to the whole “Mighty Whitey” trope. You know this one. White person goes to a foreign land, or even a foreign planet, and it is he (its very often a he) is the absolute key and answer to the problem bedeviling the locals. Heck, if you look even at the movie Independence Day, the entire world seems to be just waiting and faffing for America to lead the way. Same idea. William does bring the lodestone magnet that proves key to beating the Tao Tei. His archery and heroics are crucial to the defeat of the Tao Tei.

Is he a Mighty Whitey? I feel like I can’t really answer that question, and that is what burns at me. I’m a white guy from New York City. Is it for me to determine if something isn’t a Mighty Whitey trope? Is it for me to say, no, this is okay, it’s not really a Mighty Whitey, this is something one can enjoy without concerns of depiction? I can point out the director, the production, the preponderance of characters, statements by the production and all that, but that’s again, feels like I am making a statement I have no standing to make. It would be just as bad for me to say to a woman that an instance of fridging in a movie really isn’t one, or something out and out racist really wasn’t. It wouldn’t be right. It’s not my place to say that.

And yet I saw and enjoyed the film. Does that make me a bad person? Did I do harm by seeing this film, paying the money to do so? I don’t know. Long time readers of my work know my fascination and desire for stories that transcend the “Great Wall of Europe”, especially in fantasy novels. The movie Dragon Blade, with all its absolute wrongheadedness of history, is a story of Romans meeting Han Chinese and that was and is awesome to me. I enjoyed the hell out of it. And then there is the now canceled series Marco Polo, which I really like. I want more like Dragon Blade, and more like Great Wall, and more like Marco Polo..but is it a bad thing that I want this? I really, honestly don’t know, and that is why I feel conflicted. I am not even sure I am sum up “Yes, go see this!” or “No, stay away!”.

I feel conflicted, and awful. And I feel conflicted about that, too, and on and in a recursive fashion. Maybe its best to say that this is the kind of movie that I want and enjoy…and that may in itself be a problem. Or maybe I am overthinking this. I don’t know.