With apologies to the actual Bechdel Test, which is about gender in TV, film, and other fictional media.
I am reading Fluency by Jennifer Foehner Wells, which got 4.3 out of 5 stars on Amazon with 1,115 raters. Honestly, I am not sure how it got that rating. The story was pretty good up to the point where Aliens, aliens, always aliens
With bonus Highlander.
Anyone who’s watched OUAT, Highlander, X-Files, Continuum, or a dozen other made-in-Canada TV shows will recognize Gastown. It is the semi-gentrified “hip” neighborhood along the waterfront in downtown Vancouver. Like such neighborhoods in many cities, you can turn a corner and go from a trendy shopping area to a dodgy skid row. Most of the OUAT “Manhattan” scenes were filmed in the Alexander/Powell/Carrall street triangle.
On-screen and off-screen photos follow. Warning: Image heavy. All screencaps courtesy of screencapped.net.
So on my most recent vacation, I went to Storybrooke. Er, Steveston and Ft Langley, BC.
Most of “Storybrooke” is located along Moncton and Bayview streets between Third Avenue and No 1 Road in Steveston. This quaint little Richmond area burg appears to have embraced its alternate identity (hey, tourist money!). Although filming had not yet started, some of the buildings retained their “Storybrooke” signage. Others were disconcertingly Steveston/Canadian.
Actually walking the street and seeing where everything is relative to everything else gives you a three-dimensional context when you go back to watch the show. In each new scene, you can orient yourself and say, “The characters are near X. Yep, there it is.” It also makes you notice how often the show uses shipping pallets stacked against walls to hide the Steveston signs.
Another thing you notice upon rewatch is when the same business is sometimes named one thing, sometimes named something else in different episodes. Perhaps the name changed in real life, or maybe they just didn’t bother covering up the real name in early episodes. On-screen and off-screen photos follow. Because I really am that geeky. Warning: Image heavy. All screencaps courtesy of screencapped.net.
Depending on who you ask, the “Golden Age of Science Fiction,” is either “undisputedly,” or just “widely recognized” as the 1940’s (and possibly 50’s). Of course, one person’s Golden Age is another person’s capital-E Establishment, but historically, the 40’s and 50’s are the era when a younger generation of very talented writers weaned on the pulps and unafraid of speculative-fiction-that-incorporated-science took up pen or typewriter. Among them: Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, Tom Godwin, and Isaac Asimov.
It is interesting that of the three biggies I review here (Clarke, Bradbury, and Asimov), Asimov was always my favorite, but (perhaps due to story choices?) this time around, I was much more impressed with Bradbury.
All of these writers are masters of creating fully-realized portraits of everyday life in the future, or on space stations, or the Moon, in very few words. Continue reading “The golden age of Science Fiction”
In the past couple weeks, I have been reading science fiction short stories. In typical fashion, I have this need to be systematic and thorough, so I am choosing my stories in a chronological fashion. Obviously, I am not reading all of them, just a smattering, but here is the reading list so far:
Poe, Edgar Allen. “The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall”, 1835
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “Rappaccini’s Daughter”, 1844
Wells, H.G. “The Star”, 1897
Hamilton, Edmond. “The Man Who Evolved”, 1931
Robert Heinlein. “–All You Zombies–” 1959
My descriptions/reviews below are somewhat spoilery in terms of premise and tone, although I don’t out and out describe how the stories end.
The first two stories have been dubbed ‘proto science fiction’ in that they were written well before there was any such genre as science fiction, and were labeled in hindsight as “science fiction-like.” H. G. Wells is the first of this batch to be truly a “science fiction” writer, although he would not have used that term, since it was not invented until the mid-twentieth century.
Apparently, I’ve lead a sheltered life.
But I know why.
First, a rec from the man behind Wesley Crusher:
I have only been aware of this misogyny-in-geekdom problem in the past year or so via blog links and posts on the topic. The short version is Continue reading “When is a geek not a geek?”
More often than not when you ask me who my favorite character in a book, film, or television series is, it’s the hero. Not that I don’t appreciate the grayer characters, the morally ambiguous types–tricksters, shady allies and informants, double-agents, self-serving baddies with sympathetic pasts and motivations. But I think sometimes those grayer characters get overvalued, proclaimed “way more interesting” than the heroes, who are decried as boring and predictable when the do the right thing, and lambasted when they make a mistake. Similarly, fans who like hero characters are made to feel like throwbacks to 1952.
But where would we be without the heroes? A story full of characters whose primary motivations are self-serving or up for grabs may make an interesting read/viewing experience, but an abundance of stories like that leave me feeling ungrounded. Morally gray characters are like icing without the cake. I need to have someone in the story who I can root for without feeling like I washed myself with a dirty rag. Someone far from perfect, but who shows genuine courage, and who I know is trying to do the right thing, even if they mess it up a lot along the way. Even if, in the end, they fail.
An engaging hero character requires work on the part of the writer. Many heroic characters face odds so steep that their success, or the traits they possess that allow their success, make them larger than life and difficult to relate to. Giving them flaws that humanize them, though, is tricky. If a hero character is flawed in ways that make him or her unlikable, a reader/viewer can feel manipulated by the narrative–as if they’re “supposed” to like them, even if they don’t.
One thing to remember, though, is that there is a difference between the viewer/reader rooting for the hero even though s/he’s a better man than you, gunga din, and being able to “relate to” him or her. I often don’t relate to the heroes that I find myself rooting for. I can’t imagine being them. But I root for them nevertheless, because the writer has made them sympathetic, human, and likeable.
It’s a bit embarrassing, though, to be asked who your favorite character is and have to “admit”:
Oh, Highlander? Duncan Macleod
Harry Potter series: Harry Potter
Merlin BBC: well, Merlin, of course
Angel the Series: Angel
Star Trek Deep Space Nine: Ben Sisko
Once Upon A Time: Emma Swan
Harry Dresden: Harry Dresden
…and so on.
It’s not always the case though. My favorite ST: TNG character was Data. But of course, he was the epitome of the awkwardly sincere trying-to-be-the-best-of-humanity. And my favorite character on Lost was Hurley, but y’know, Everyman with a Heart of Gold, he was. On ST: Voyager, I liked Be’lanna Torres. I have a thing for the fucked-up tough girls. But I’m not sure I would have stayed glommed onto the angry, screwed-up babes if they weren’t flawed-but-trying-to-be-a-good-person. To wit: Faith on BtVS/AtS. Although she was never my favorite character on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I never really had one, except possibly the foursome of Buffy+Giles+Willow+Xander. The collective heroic.
Do I get points if my favorite Anne Rice vampire was Armand? He was no saint. I could never stand Lestat, but I liked Louis quite a bit. I prefer my vampires with a soul.
I got the first season of OUAT on DVD for Xmas and have been doing a rewatch. Simultaneously, I’ve been plotting the second draft of my novel using the hero’s journey as a rough template, so I had the concept of the Guide archetype in my head while watching.
Assuming Emma Swan is the Hero of OUAT, the first Guide she encounters, at least in season one, is her son, Henry. He has the “Once Upon A Time” book, and he is constantly interpreting events and people for Emma (also, for Mary-Margaret/Snow White, and Graham/the Huntsman) in terms of the book so that she can see herself in the larger picture of what she is supposed to accomplish as the “savior.”