Storytelling & Anne Hathaway’s Speech in Interstellar


Last night I finally got around to watching Interstellar. The wife and kids were off at her folks’ and my friends were busy, so I decided to catch up on some movies I had been meaning to see. I ordered some Thai, sat down, and proceeded to watch one of the better movies I’ve seen in a long time. I had been meaning to do some house hunting stuff on my laptop while I watched, but I was so into the movie that that was all forgotten. I want to watch Interstellar again, which is my personal high-water mark for a movie’s quality. Then I posted on Facebook that I liked it, and got back the comment I had been dreading: in short, “Ugh, Anne Hathaway’s speech.”

If you’re not familiar, around halfway through the movie it’s revealed that Hathaway’s character, Amelia Brand, may be pushing to explore one particular destination over another because her onetime lover was sent to that destination. She gives a speech about love, about how it is a motive force, and then winds up speculating that maybe love exists beyond biology and has an extra-dimensional character to it. A lot of people got worked up about this, because they felt it was too much “new age woo” in their science fiction.

In fact, all it really was, was a bit of new age woo in a sad, lonely, and desperate person on the sharp edge of a potentially futile mission to save humanity. It was a revelation of her character. The story itself never really validated her speculation.

This is one of those neat things you can do with storytelling. Let’s say I have a character who says, “Peanut butter is God” and another character who says, “Might be, all I know is, it tastes good.” If the story doesn’t then have the characters receiving the will of God by way of peanut butter, then the author is not really trying to make a point about the divinity of peanut butter. The story is not about the divinity of peanut butter. The story is just showing that under some circumstances, someone might feel that passionately about it. If either of them decide they should go to the store and get more peanut butter, driving forward the action or the plot, that’s still not any kind of statement on the divinity of peanut butter.

Interstellar talks a lot about love and family and what drives people, especially in desperate circumstances. It does not validate the idea that love is cosmologically significant, just that it’s significant to the actions of people. Which, amazingly, it is! Like fear, hate, greed, anger, etc. The only thing Interstellar says, definitively, about the nature of the cosmos is that a) it still has secrets we have not uncovered and b) we need to leave Earth if we want to uncover them.

Another Day

I’m getting to the point where I’m just getting tired beyond tired of some things. Not, like, suicidally tired so please don’t worry in that vein, just…tired. Tired enough to ignore them as best I can for a good long time. That’s always tricky though, of course, especially if I’m to remain even vaguely engaged with social media. You never know when a valued friend is going to go on a tear about something. And not that I want to stifle anyone; they should feel free to bang the drum about things that are important to them.

But I’m tired of it, weary, worn out.

The latest thing is the sturm und drang over the Hugos and the Sad Puppy slate. I mean, it’s obviously a shit sandwich. That windbag Wright got nominated for how many separate works? Okay, whatever. As Justin Landon says very well, the whole effing thing is broken. (And whether there’s a false equivalency in the weighting of shortlist appearances for competing agendas, or one side is worse than the other, what’s clear is that it’s capable of being gamed by anyone with an agenda.) And while I could get into the arguments, and the minutiae, and advocate for what I feel is right… Right now I just can’t be arsed, beyond the occasional parenthetical commentary.

In addition to what Justin said about the failures of Internet democracy, I think this is another problem with the always-present nature of the internet and the discussions happening there. There’s a certain pressure to participate in discussions like this, and put one’s two cents in, and take a stand. And it’s like, man, all I’ve got to say is that it’s broken and I don’t have the energy to discuss it beyond that. Thankfully, as of late, no one drops by here to make me defend my assertions, so I’ve got that going for me. But that’s mostly because I do post more here than I say on Twitter and Facebook where I know I’ve got a present, if meager, audience. I’m not so worried about the spambots talking back to me here. Or you, future reader, looking back through the archives to see if I dropped some undiscovered nuggets of wisdom.

In other news, I’m also tired of looking for a house. I mean, fucking tired. Fuck that process. So much hate.

Items of Interest

Periodically, I have ideas of things to post here, things that I could talk about. Inevitably, when I sit down to actually do this, I completely forget what I was going to say or do. There’s an app for my phone which could probably help me at least register ideas as drafts, and I could go from there. One of these days, I’ll get that organized.

Neat things:

  • “Rules of Enchantment,” the story I wrote with Tobias Buckell, which appeared in the John Joseph Adams anthology, Operation Arcana, turned up on (with our permission, natch) last weekend. Check it here.
  • After a discouraging weekend looking at houses, we might be getting a second chance on a house we thought we had completely missed out on. All depends on a relocation company seeing reason, but we’re cautiously hopeful. Apartment living is getting really old.
  • I continue to write, slowly but surely. I should do some more after I finish up this blog post.
  • I attended my first meeting of my local community theatre’s Play Reading & Casting Committee. I’m really excited about contributing to the theatre with this, and getting a better appreciation of what’s out there. I feel woefully under-informed when I have conversations with just about anyone else in the community, so I’m excited to contribute and get to know the landscape better at the same time.
  • That’s about it. Yep, that’ll do.  It’s Friday, so… yeah.

In other news: Friday.

Behind On Everything

My Inbox looks ridiculous right now and yeah, that’s about it. I had a really neat opportunity last week, that I’ll talk about more at some point, but it took a lot of thought and some time, so I found myself in a bit of deficit when it came to spare brain cycles. Plus my wife had gone out of town for her semi-regular pilgrimage back to her dayjob employer, so my workday was compressed and my evenings a little more chaotic than normal.

Plus there’s been the tragicomic search for a house. I swear, if I hear one more time, “Bad news… there’s nine million offers on that house already…” I’m going to scream. Ironically, there’s a bunch of houses we could have, but we don’t like them much. Apparently no one else does either. Which makes me think the current environment is some kind of bizarro blend of a buyer’s and a seller’s market. (Seriously, there’s like 10-15 properties we dismissed that are just… lingering out there right now.) It’s a seller’s market for people with granite countertops in their kitchens and fresh paint everywhere. For people trying to sell something with a lot of paneling or wallpaper… it seems to be trickier.

But that’s it for excuses. Today I get things back on track.


A Week It Has Been

Yeah, I wanted to try blogging every day, but that just didn’t work. For, you know, reasons. One of the big ones was that I was actually successful in getting some fiction writing done on my lunch hour. Pretty sweet, right? Right. As is typical for me, I have a dozen things I’d like to be working on simultaneously, but with kids and a day job, that’s kind of tough. I have the time/energy for one thing at a time, though I suppose I could refine the process a little, if I could perfect switching gears on command. I’m also trying to read more, of course, which makes it tricky, too.  I’m still meandering through The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter. It’s been good so far, but like with everything, if I just sink into it, then nothing else gets done, including this.

And yeah, this might not seem as important as, you know, reading, but I find it rather useful.

Life, otherwise, has been life. Work, wife, kids, house hunting, convention planning, theatre planning, and so on. Went to a convention planning party on Saturday, and that was fun as far as it went. But I do wonder if I’m not burning out on it a little. I guess we’ll see how I feel in the fall as we start to ramp up to the convention. I know a lot of people who do convention planning say this, but… I’m wondering if I wouldn’t enjoy just attending for once. It’s been a while since I did that.

Just bought two books for my Nook: The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk, which I twigged to thanks to a BBC Travel article, and Tripwire by Lee Child, third in his Jack Reacher series. We’ll see how long it takes to actually get to them…

Gentle Rebuttal: Ferrett & Star Wars


I don’t like starting internet fights (any more), but every so often, I do like to engage in a bit of contrarianism, just to keep the waters muddied. So this morning, I read Ferrett Steinmetz’s blog post about active old folks and the upcoming Star Wars movie, and didn’t so much decide to disagree as just sort of found it happening. Now, overall, I like his point: I too kind of have a hate on for the trope of dragging old heroes out of retirement for One Last Adventure. I’d rather they, like Pratchett’s Cohen the Barbarian, keep adventuring right up to the very end. (And as an aside, I don’t personally care much for the stories that revolve around the “I’m too old for this shit” trope. I get it, we’re all getting older, it’s nice to relate to in that way. But can I have some more adventures before we get to that?)

Anyway, I found myself disagreeing in two parts. In one case, despite having a hate on for the “out of retirement” trope (Is that on TV Tropes? I dare not go look…) I disagree because it makes sense from a meta-storytelling perspective. Especially, let’s say, in the Star Trek reboot, which Ferrett references. It is actually shown that Spock is off doing stuff and has been all this time. (He’s got his own little ship! Red matter!) But it’s also useful to at least imply he’s being pulled out of retirement because, for the audience, that’s true. There haven’t been ongoing adventures (for the most part, tie-in novels aside) for Spock or the rest of the crew. They are effectively retired, so it creates some resonance when the character is brought back to us if the character is being brought out of cold storage within the universe.

I was all set to say just that when I got to the end of the post and Ferrett mentioned the announced, canonical tie-in novels, and how he was sure those wouldn’t figure in. On the whole, I’m sure he’s right. They won’t even have time to reference much in them, if anything at all, and still serve the main story. Yes, having them reference stuff can add some depth and resonance. When used as it was in the first movie, reminiscing about the lost, it worked well.

When it was used in the prequels, however… well, there it went horribly wrong as Mike Stoklasa pointed out in his Mr. Plinkett reviews. There it was used simply to stand in for character development of Obi-Wan and Anakin and fell utterly flat. Now, we probably won’t need much character development for Han, Luke, & Leia… but then again, we will need a little something to show how they’ve grown and changed over the intervening years. And there are lots of ways they can do that, just as there’s lots of ways to show that they’ve been out adventuring, rather than just lounging around in idle retirement. Just showing the Millennium Falcon, for starters, goes a long way toward this. Do you think that thing was just sitting in the garage for the last 30 years? Pffft.

RIP, Sir Terry Pratchett


Well, fuck.

I first encountered the Discworld novels thanks to my sister, who had bought a couple of the Corgi paperbacks (somehow) when she was in high school, I think. I borrowed a couple of them and read them during a summer in college, I think before my senior year. I wasn’t, strangely, immediately hooked, but that did come along. I still haven’t read all of them, but that’s mostly due to time and my own personal laziness. Now, I’m glad I still have some work to discover, and cherish, since it’s officially become finite.

I met Terry once, on an escalator in Chicago at the 2000 WorldCon. My wife (then just my girlfriend) and I were headed to some panel or another, and it seemed he was headed to the same place, just behind us. I turned around and exchanged a few words with him–banal stuff like, “Are you enjoying the con?”–while my wife tried to keep it together and not fangirl all over the place. I’m sad I wasn’t able to spend more time talking to him, let it move beyond the banal. But that’s life sometimes.

Good bye, Sir, we’ll miss you.

Cloning Kids

Cloning kids. It seemed like every other movie about teens in the 1980s and 1990s decried it. Not the actual biological cloning, but that spiritual cloning attempted by overbearing parents. The coach of the bad sports team, typically, pushing his own child into something he didn’t like when all he wanted to be was a dancer, or something. Emilio Estevez in The Breakfast Club springs to mind immediately. Or maybe its the soulless corporate business types who want their kids to go to Harvard so badly. I remember reading a short story in high school (can’t remember the name of it for the life of me) about a rich kid riding to his first day of school at a prestigious prep academy in New England somewhere, a place where he’d actually failed the entrance exam and couldn’t tell his father (a distinguished alumnus) because of the pressure from his old man.

1282653415_screen-00001I’m sure he probably just wanted to be a dancer or a painter or something.

As I’m raising my kids, I’ve been taking a strange comfort in knowing I’m not like that; I’m not rich, I was never an athlete, and while I went to war–well, like a lot of people who have gone to war, the last thing I want is for my children to do it. I went to a prestigious prep school and I want nothing of the same for my kids. So I’m doing alright, yeah? My kids are going to grow up to be eclectic nerds, just like me.

Ooh, hang on a second.

Just like me? Hm.

There’s this question that floats around sometimes among nerd-parents: When do you show them the Star Wars movies? What order do you show them in? How old should they be? How old were you when you saw them? Isn’t that a good rule of thumb?

What those questions are really getting at is this: How do I best replicate my experience with Star Wars, such that it impacts my kids in the same way? How do I clone my feelings for this great thing into their brains? Because, oh those feelings! Oh that joy! The anticipation, the glee, the sheer delight with which I approached those movies. It was wondrous, transforming, life-affirming, transcendent. It was so awesome, and I want my kids to have that too! How could I not?

I was thinking about this particularly with regards to The Princess Bride. Seeing that movie had a fairly profound effect on me, though one I can’t really put into words. And so, without really understanding what it was about the movie that had so touched me, I was wondering if I could introduce it to my kids in such a way that it would touch them, too. But then, I realized that part of what I most loved about The Princess Bride was not the movie itself (though it is great, transcendent, life-affirming, etc.), but the point at which I discovered it, and how I discovered it.

I remember the how so clearly: late night, on the little TV in the other room while the whole family was watching some treacly Disney goop, I stumbled on this movie with Andre the Giant. And… a guy with a sword, no two of them, and a beautiful princess, and… and… And it was wonderful. It was a true discovery such that I hadn’t made for myself yet, or hadn’t made often. Most of my cultural intake had been force-fed, or carefully curated. It was much the same with Douglas Adams (again, truly great, no question)–it wasn’t some hallowed member of a canon that I had been gifted with, it was just some battered paperback in the school library. Catholic school, no less.

I know, right? That’s part of what made that discovery so incredible, so dramatic and wonderful. It didn’t really matter whether I was early or late to that particular party, but I had made it to the party, I had found my own way there. I had found it through a very, very unlikely path.

And the temptation is so incredibly strong to try to guide my kids along that same path of discovery. I look at some of the things they watch and read, and I can’t imagine how it could possibly stack up to what I watched and read at their age. Star Wars! Douglas Adams! Star Trek! Isaac Asimov! So it’s my duty, to make sure they get that stuff, otherwise I’m a bad geek parent. I have to indoctrinate them, I have to make sure they do these things, and read and watch, no matter how much they don’t like it, or…

So suddenly, I see those awful, overbearing Dads in a much more sympathetic light. Not that they were doing the right thing, they certainly weren’t. But now I understand. They had become good and respected men, or at least saw themselves that way, and they wanted that same thing. Or maybe they genuinely found joy in the struggle of athletics or business or war. And they wanted that for their kids, in part perhaps because they couldn’t imagine kids being happy doing something else, in part because they saw it as a way to security and the good life.

What I’m finding now is that I’m trying to take joy in seeing my kids develop on their own, to make their own discoveries. A few months ago, my 7 year old daughter bought a 300 page book from her school book fair. It’s not a book I would ever have picked for her. But we let her buy it, and read it (to the point that she was up super late a few nights), because it… was hers. Her discovery, her joy. And I’m trying to remember that those feelings are far more important than whatever feelings might be inherent to watching Star Wars or The Princess Bride.

Bottom line, it’s not a bad thing to want my kids to have the same kinds of experiences, to find the joy that I found, that sustained me in hard times. Just as it’s not a bad thing to want to instill similar values in my kids, or to find common ground with them. It is all, of course, how I go about it, how I get there, and how much I worry about it.

That Good Ol’ Hockey Game


The other day I was offered tickets to last night’s Detroit Red Wings games and, as soon as we made sure child care was handled, my wife and I jumped at it. It was her first Red Wings game, and my first time back at Joe Louis Arena since the early 90s. Ironically, it was her first time at Joe Louis since… Saturday when she went to one (of the two!) Garth Brooks concerts there.

The seats were absolutely excellent. Second row of the upper-bowl area, with a perfect view down into the corner. The Red Wings were attacking in our end twice, so we got to see a lot of good action, though the game winner (in overtime) was scored on the other end, and I wasn’t even really sure what happened (other than the puck going in the net) until I watched the highlights this morning on my phone. But, it was exciting, and a little bracing in the “walking around Downtown Detroit in the bitter cold” sort of way.

The only dark spot on the night was the two young-20s hockey bros behind us providing running commentary. Sadly, it was twice as inane as most color commentary in sports, and they hadn’t practiced pronouncing any of the Slavic names beforehand. Otherwise quite a lot of fun and I’d happily do it again. We’ll see if I get another chance before they build the new arena and shut down the Joe.

How Was Your Weekend?

I had a pretty good weekend–it’s the middle three performances of the play I’m in, with the last three coming next weekend. Had a nice time after each one hanging out with some of the folks from the cast and crew. (Me and one other person are in the running for making it to each after-show gathering.)  At one, spent a lot of time discussing science fiction and fantasy books and reading and such, and it was a strange relief to be talking about it with someone who is just a reader–not in the industry, no aspirations to be a writer, no real strong opinions on the health of the genre or anything like that. Just… a reader. As I mentioned before, I can be really sensitive to hype and over-discussion, and that was just the antidote I needed.

The longer I go into the run of this show, the more I’m convinced that this one of the best decisions I could have made. Now, I won’t be performing in the next show, but I am going to be helping out, and I’ve volunteered to get more involved in the actual running of the theatre as a whole. So I’m hoping that by keeping my hand in I can kind of expand my social circle and cement myself a little more into this particular community.

In other news, we went house-hunting this weekend and spotted a couple of really nice houses in our price range. We’ll see if anything comes of that…