Category Archives: F/SF

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.

How to vote for DUFF and send me to Australia for Continuum

A writer friend on twitter wanted to donate and vote for me for DUFF, the Down Under Fan Fund. The voting page, however, could be clearer.

In the interest of getting votes and donations, I will provide clarity.

To donate and vote for DUFF, the simplest method.

1. Paypal a minimum $5 donation to one of the two DUFF administrators. (choose the option to send money to friends and family)

1a. Indicate in the notes that you are voting for DUFF and indicate your choice. In the notes list your choices (its ranked choice voting like the Hugos)

Example:

I am voting for DUFF as follows:
1. Paul Weimer
2. Hold over Fan Funds
3. No Preference

The DUFF Administrator email addresses are (use either one!)
AUSTRALASIA: Clare McDonald-Sims, clare1701@warpmail.net
NORTH AMERICA: Lucy Huntzinger (acting NA admin) huntzinger@gmail.com

Simple, right? Now help me get to Australia! Voting ends on March 10th

The keystone to the Book of the New Sun

The entirety of the Book of the New Sun, its essence, boils down to one single beautiful paragraph.

What struck me on the beach–and it struck me indeed, so that I staggered as at a blow–was that if the Eternal Principle had rested in that curved thorn I had carried about my neck across so many leagues, and if it now rested in the new thorn (perhaps the same thorn) I had only now put there, then it might rest in everything, in every thorn in every bush, in every drop of water in the sea. The thorn was a sacred Claw because all thorns were sacred Claws; the sand in my boots was sacred sand because it came from a beach of sacred sand. The cenobites treasured up the relics of the sannyasins because the sannyasins had approached the Pancreator. But everything had approached and even touched the Pancreator, because everything had dropped from his hand. Everything was a relic. All the world was a relic. I drew off my boots, that had traveled with me so far, and threw them into the waves that I might not walk shod on holy ground.

— Gene Wolfe, The Book of the New Sun
(The Citadel of the Autarch, chapter 31)

I kind of felt this, when I wandered the streets of Rome, and everything, everything felt Holy, and ancient, and new, and forever, and to touch and walk there was an act like none other.

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NOW live! The DUFF Race for 2017

DUFF, the Down Under Fan Fund, was created by John Foyster in 1970 as a means of increasing the face-to-face communication between science fiction fans in Australia and New Zealand, and North America. It was based on an earlier fan fund called TAFF which did the same for fans in Europe and North America. Other fan funds have spun off from these two, all in the name of promoting a better understanding of worldwide fandom.

So every year, either an Australian delegate comes up to North America, or an American goes “Down Under”. They switch back and forth year to year.

2017, its North America to Australia, and I have declared myself a candidate.

If you are a fan in Science Fiction, you can vote for me:
Anyone may vote who has been active in fandom on or before January 1, 2017. “Active in fandom” is defined as being involved in fannish pursuits such as fanzine writing or reading, convention running or attending, amateur film, video or podcast production and/or club participation. Only natural persons may vote and may vote only once.

Your vote has to be accompanied by a donation to the Down Under Fan Fund.

And you can vote HERE:

http://ozfanfunds.com/?page_id=77

Help me get to Australia!

My Award Eligibility Post 2016

My Award Eligbility for the year 2016

Fiction:
Sadly, I had no eligible fiction posted

Non-Fiction
I had *plenty* to nominate me for Best Fan Writer:

My reviews and columns at Skiffy and Fanty
My reviews and columns at Tor.com
My reviews and interviews at BN Sci Fi

Podcasting:
Two podcasts I frequent the most are eligible for Best Fancast
I am eligible for the Skiffy and Fanty Podcast
I am also eligible for the SFF Audio Podcast

I would be most honored if you would nominate me.

Rogue One: Thoughts

Right, so Rogue One Spoilers, naturally. Right from the get go.

I was nervous about The Force Awakens. I had seen The Phantom Menace in theaters on opening day, and turned out to be a bad life choice for me. I wasn’t sure that even The Mouse could save Star Wars movies. I turned out to be delightfully wrong. Based on the strength of that, I was cautiously optimistic that Rogue One would not bring us back to the bad old days (for me) of the prequels.

So, the short answer is, in the main, it was an excellent war movie Star Wars movie. The movie made some choices I don’t think worked as well as they might have, though, and at least one choice that I actively hated.

So, the plot is, if you didn’t know, is the story of how Leia got the plans on the Tantive IV in the first place. How were those plans gathered? Rogue One tells us how we get there through the eyes of Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones). Jyn is the daughter of a Imperial weapons designer (Mads Mikkelsen) who tries to go straight, fails, and is dragged back to finish his great project–yep, the Death Star. Years later, Jyn, living alone, gets recruited forcibly by the Alliance only at first as a way for the alliance to reach a splinter Rebel leader (Forest Whitaker’s character) who has gotten a message from Jyn’s father about a weakness in the Death Star. In the course of that mess, she gains companions, comes to join the rebel alliance, and finally steps up to lead the mission to try and get the full plans of the Death Star to exploit that weakness.

So, what worked?

This movie is the best war story we’ve seen in Star Wars and it brings the cost and nature of war, and occupation to Star Wars that exactly none of the rest of the movies have done. We see what an occupied city looks like, and acts like. We get to finally see what the hell an AT-ST (the small chicken leg walkers maligned in Return of the Jedi) are good for–they are for urban population control. Its SO obvious, now! We get some gorgeous cinematography…like when we see our first Star Destroyer, emerging out of darkness into bright light. So gorgeous. The strong use of practical effects and keeping in with the in-universe tech of Star Wars kept me in the story–whereas the CGI shiniess of the stuff in the prequels kept looking like a video game and not really Star Wars at all. K-2S0 gives us a different kind of droid character–not the adorable small droid (r2d2, bb8 type) and not a fussy protocol droid, but an reprogrammed Imperial Droid with a snarky sense of humor. And Y-Wings (my favorite ship in the Star Wars universe, obsolete as they are) prove their mettle in disabling a Star Destroyer. Badass!

The fact that we see a lower power setting for the Death Star, “only” destroying a city, is terrifying. The Empire could use the Death Star and not even have to “go all the way”. Destroy a portion of a planet to make its mark and let the rest fall into line, keeping the valuable real estate. That’s a frightening reimagining of the level of its powers.

What didn’t work?

First and foremost, the two CGIed actors–Carrie Fisher’s Leia in a cameo at the end, and throughout the movie Cushing’s Tarkin. The technology to make them not uncanny valley is not there yet, and Tarkin, especially, when he was in groups of people was noticeably “not real” and the body language and look are all wrong. While I can see why the character was essential, making a CGI version of him didn’t work. I suspect, though, that the technology will definitely get a boost after this movie. This movie won’t be the last time we get a digitized actor in a role.

I also think the team was maybe one character too much for some really meaty development of the characters. Jyn gets an arc, but no one else really does. Cassian doesn’t, certainly, although he gets a moment of not taking a shot he could have taken. More could have been done with that. And would it have killed the movie not to Smurfette Jyn on the team?

I am of two minds about the reveal in this movie–that the thermal exhaust port was a flaw in the Death Star by design in the beginning by its designer, meant to be an exploit to be used to destroy it. While that does clear up the “why is there such an obvious way to destroy it” problem of the massive thing–it was made to have a flaw, on the other hand, the dialogue in Star Wars now feels a little discordant–“we’ve found a weakness” is not quite “Finding *the* weakness left there”. Its a subtle distinction but its a real one. In a similar mind, the dialogue about the Tantive IV being a diplomatic ship on a diplomatic mission–well, Vader knows *patently* that’s not true–because he watched it escape. Even further, in the crawl to A New Hope (and there is no crawl to this movie, by the way), the crawl mentions that the Rebels have achieved a victory over Empire forces. This was…not a victory. The Empire loses a couple of Star Destroyers and lot of materiel, but the Rebels take heavy losses, including their flagship. Pyrrhic victory at best, and if Vader had been a little faster…no victory at all.

The fact that all of the main cast die was, in the end, no surprise. It avoids the “Where were they for the rest of the movies” problem, neatly.

I can say, that two movies into their ownership, The Mouse seems to know what its doing with Star Wars film. I want to see more Star Wars films, both in and out of the main storyarc. Rogue One has solidified me being excited for Star Wars again. No small feat.

The 2017 Down Under Fan Fund and me

The 2017 DUFF Race is on.

DUFF is the Down Under Fan Fund, which is dedicated to sending a fan from the US to Australia (and vice versa) for purposes of connecting fans from
each of the antipodes.

https://downunderfanfund.wordpress.com/2016/12/22/2017-nominations-now-open/

I’d like to put my hat in the ring. The thing is, I need YOUR help.

According to Lucy Huntzinger, current administrator of DUFF:

Each candidate posts a bond ($5US) promising to travel (if elected) to a major convention on the other side of the Pacific, and provides nominations from five nominators (three from North America, two from Australia or New Zealand); it used to be we had to have their signatures, but I am okay with them sending me an email stating that they are nominating you for the 2017 race. They should use this email address and I must receive their nomination by January 22, 2017.

So I need nominators from Fandom, from both sides of the world, to make this work. Would you be willing to nominate me? Email me at jvstin@gmail.com AND Lucy at huntzinger@gmail.com

Hugo Delenda Est (?!)

One of the surging Puppy memes lately, in the wake of the 2016 Hugo Awards and the inaugural 2016 Dragon Awards, is “Hugo Delenda Est”. A check of Google shows that the idea has been in Puppyland for at least a year, but I noticed it when I visited John C Wright’s blog. , when he took issue with comments about the Dragon Award winning Somewhither. At the end of that post, he signed it off for (as far as the first time I can tell) with that phrase.

In PKD** fashion, I am tempted to tell you all about the etymology of the phrase and its origins. Rome and Carthage, Cato the Elder, and all that. I do find it interesting that the Puppies have cast themselves as Rome, and the “Puppykickers and SJWs” (their labels, not mine) as the Carthaginians. Since the Carthaginians performed child sacrifice (and truthfully, at that period, so did the Romans), the anti-abortion side of the Puppies might find this parallel even MORE appealing and apropos.

I do find it interesting that the “mask” is off. Mr. Wright was genuinely pleased by his Hugo nominations, and John, fun fact, its an honor to be nominated, even if you lose. But it appears that the “Puppykickers and SJWs” use of the No Award option the last couple of years cannot be borne.

So Hugo Delenda Est?

Bitch, please.

There have been complaints about who has gotten Hugos since, it seems, since the second year of the awards (They Rather Be Right, *really*?). And as Cora Buhlert pointed out in a recent blog post, back in 2013, when the Puppies were just getting going, there were rumblings and discussions in the SF field about the kind of works that were getting nominated. Those complaints were that the award was TOO commercial and was missing important books and stories in the field in favor of much more commercial and mainstream works. (In other words, the exact opposite argument the Puppies advance). I should know about these rumblings and discussions–because I was there. I was actively tweeting and commenting and talking on podcasts at the time. I ALSO remember that some of those people who were unhappy pondered and contemplated the possibility of starting a new award. That turned out to be naught, because, well, its difficult to get an award up and running. Look at the Dragon Award, where a suspicious number of the winners match Theodore Beale’s “Not a Slate” slate.

But destroy the Hugos? Why? Isn’t destroying the Hugos because you don’t like the books and works winning a case of that charge you throw at SJWs of accusing Puppies? Are SJWs wrongfans having wrongfun?

We’re not having wrongfun, and you aren’t either when you read the works you like to read and talk about same. As I have said a thousand times, my only beef with the Puppies in regards to the science fiction they love is the use of slate tactics to put works on the Hugo ballot..

My only beef with the Puppies in regards to the science fiction they love is the use of slate tactics to put works on the Hugo ballot.

And when you try to *troll* the awards by slating Chuck Tingle, then my ire gets up to 11.

Read what you love, and be done. No one has to destroy anything. Or should want to.

**Oh yes, this SJW read and talks about Philip K Dick, Jack Vance, Alfred Bester, Robert Heinlein, and plenty of other authors that, if the Puppies are to believed, I should say penance to a statue of Astarte for if I even utter their names.