Star Wars: The Death of a Universe

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The first “grown up” books I ever read from the Star Wars Expanded Universe.

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While perusing my shelves trying to decide what to read (no easy task, I can assure you), my eyes landed on my collection of Star Wars books. Over the years I’ve acquired quite a few, many of which I originally read as library books and later added to my personal collection. Jedi Apprentice.  Galaxy of Fear. The Jedi Academy Trilogy. The Thrawn Trilogy. X-Wing: Rogue Squadron. The Young Jedi Knights series. Many of these I haven’t read in years. And as I gazed at them, recalling fond memories of reading those stories, a melancholy feeling overwhelmed me.

Because these stories don’t officially exist anymore.

Now, I’m going to state right up front that I completely understand the decision to make anything created before April 2014 no longer canon. (This of course excludes the six main films and The Clone Wars TV series and movie.) Although the Star Wars Expanded Universe (EU) did its best to avoid contradicting itself (and managed it far better than poor Star Trek did), I can understand why, in the interest of creative freedom, Disney and Lucasfilm didn’t want to be shackled to the expectations and events presented in the EU. While some additions to the EU are absolutely amazing, like the characters of Admiral Thrawn and Mara Jade, others are… shall we say… far less desirable. (I’m looking at you, New Jedi Order.)

So, I get it. I really do. But I don’t always have to like it.
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The Sorcerer Supreme in Cinemas

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Today we’re going to talk a little bit about the latest addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Doctor Strange.

(Those of you who know me are welcome to stop reading now; it only gets more fangirly from here.)

Oh, and SPOILERS!

*ahem* Okay, ready?

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Art by Luna Delika

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Inspiration vs. Appropriation: Where is the Line?

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There’s a term that’s been popping up a lot lately in regards to story-telling which has caused a great deal of friction online: “cultural appropriation.”  The strict dictionary definition states that: “cultural appropriation is the adoption or use of elements from one culture by members of another culture.”  When you put it like that, it doesn’t sound so bad.  I mean, cultures all over the world have adopted from one another via trade or conquest since the dawn of human history.

But now this term is being seen and used in a completely negative fashion.  Worse, it seems to have no limits or boundaries.  It seems that one can come under fire for celebrating Cinco de Mayo if you’re not Hispanic, wearing Native American costumes (especially the admittedly tasteless and stereotypical Halloween versions) if you are not a Native American, or for wearing cornrows if you are not of African descent.

Those are fairly benign modern examples, although there are more disturbing ones.  Like the wearing of blackface, which was used to reinforce negative stereotypes about blacks to maintain segregation in post-Emancipation America, or Hollywood continuing to cast Caucasians into roles that really should be given to someone else.  (See the controversies over having Matt Damon save the Great Wall of China or casting Scarlett Johansson as the Japanese cyborg Motoko Kusanagi in the upcoming live-action version of Ghost in the Shell.)  So, obviously there is negative cultural appropriation that has happened in the past and continues to happen now.  But where do you draw the line between legitimate concerns and people making a mountain out of a mole hill?
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Book Review! “Before Mako Came Yoko: A Comparative Study” by Natacha Guyot

 

This entry is part of “Natacha Guyot’s Blook Blog Tour!”


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I don’t usually care much for summer blockbusters, which usually have more explosions than compelling emotions.  However, Pacific Rim is one of those rare “popcorn movies” that I felt gave a layer of depth to its characters.  I confess that I was surprised to see Mako, a female Japanese Jaeger pilot, get as much screen time and character arc as she did!  Women as primary main characters is becoming more prominent, albeit slowly, and there is still a dearth of women of color in such roles.  Pacific Rim provided a step in the right direction, even if it fell short on certain points.  But I was unaware that a long-running 1970s comic book series from Belgium had already allowed a female Asian character to step into the spotlight.  Natacha Guyot’s brief but engaging treatise Before Mako Came Yoko: A Comparative Study Between Pacific Rim and Yoko Tsuno elaborates on how the title character of Yoko Tsuno and Mako of Pacific Rim share many key traits.

The book is divided into three parts that explore these similarities, as well as a few of their short-comings.  The first part, “Women of Color as a Female Lead Character” explores the history of the two characters as they developed through their respective media.  While Yoko has four decades of story to draw on and develop from, Mako only has a single film.  Yet both present strong, well-rounded, engaging characters who aren’t reduced to eye candy, exotic tokens, or inevitable love interests by the presence of male associates.  (However, like Ms. Guyot, I would have preferred Mako as the main character and focus of Pacific Rim, since I found her origins and presentation far more interesting than that of the male lead!)

The second part is “Combat, Science, and Compassion,” which looks at the skill sets Yoko and Mako possess that helps make them real people and helps solidify their importance and relevance to the plots of their respective stories.  Scientific knowledge and martial arts are a shared skill set, although Yoko Tsuno touches on religion and spirituality in a way that has little to no place in Pacific Rim.  A big difference is that Yoko faces danger on a more or less regular basis throughout the comics.  Mako doesn’t have the opportunity to fight her enemies, the alien Kaiju, until well into the film, and even then, only for a short time.  Visually and narratively, Mako and Yoko break the mold in progressive ways.

“Composite Family and Inner Circle” comprises the final section.  Yoko and Mako share many similarities in their creation of a new “family” outside their blood relations.  With so many years of development, Yoko has far outpaced Mako in this area.  This may be a necessity of the medium, but there is hope that future installments of Pacific Rim will expand on Mako’s role in the story and her circle of friends.

Before Mako Came Yoko is an intriguing look into the world of representation for female and minority characters in media. It draws connections between modern cinema and classic comics to show how progressive some of these characters are… and how far we still have to go. Be sure to check out Ms. Guyot’s website for other books and articles discussing similar topics in Star Wars, Farscape, and more!


 

natachaguyotNatacha Guyot is a French researcher, author and public speaker. She holds two Master’s degrees: Film and Media Studies (Paris III Sorbonne Nouvelle) and Digital Culture and Technology (King’s College London).

Her main fields of interest are Science fiction, Gender Studies, Children Media and Fan Studies. Besides her nonfiction work, she also writes Science Fiction and Fantasy stories.

Natacha’s Publications     |     Twitter     |     Facebook     |     LinkedIn

Character Charisma: A Collaboration with R.E. Myles

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Readers, you are getting a special treat this week.   Rather than having me ramble aimlessly, you get to have two of us rambling aimlessly!   Yup, this is my first ever writing collaboration.   The awesome co-author this week is my good friend and fellow writer, R.E. Myles.   She suggested exploring why we are drawn to certain characters and types of characters in books and video games.   We decided that the Q&A format with seven questions would be the best way to answer this so you can get a clear idea of what (and who) we like in stories. For the record, both Myles and I read a lot of fantasy, and when we say “video games,” we’re primarily referring to third person roleplaying games. With such similar tastes, there is some overlap in our answers. We apologize to the authors in advance for any mispronunciations.  Enjoy!

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Are You A Fake Fan? (Comics Edition)

In light of recent developments in the comic, gamer, and cosplay worlds, I plan to do a series of entries about “fake fans” and how established fandoms treat newcomers, women, and minorities.  This first entry is the Comics Edition, wherein I focus on the comic book community.

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How do you decide if someone is unworthy to be part of your fandom?  How do you label someone a poser, a noob, or a fake?  Whom do you invite into a fandom and why?  Whom do you reject and why?  What are the criteria to go from noob to knowledge-master?  How does someone graduate from being a “fake geek girl/boy” or “fake fan” into a “true fan”?  Is such a thing even possible?  

I’ve been reading a lot of articles lately about how unfriendly the nerd culture can be to newcomers, or even to established members if they start commenting on flaws with the status quo… especially if those members are women.  (Yes, #GamerGate, I’m looking at you.)  It seems like there are two prevailing extremes:  either the fans are portrayed as the most friendly, knowledgeable, welcoming group around, or they are seen as the most close-minded, antagonistic, sexist group alive.

So far, I’ve been fortunate to escape the fake geek label, but a lot of people, especially women, haven’t been so lucky.  And I have yet to learn of a standard for judging someone’s relative geekiness.  Is it the number of comics you read?  The variety?  The age?  The popularity?  Do you have to be super-obsessed with one particular facet of comics or do you have to have the entire history of Marvel and DC, or every plot contrivance of Batman on the tip of your tongue to qualify as a true fan?

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Dangerous Stereotypes: Scientists

I’m going to tackle some stereotypes present in modern fiction that I think are dangerous when used irresponsibly.  Any entries part of this series will be labeled as “Dangerous Stereotypes.”  The next entry on this topic is about the Bad Boys stereotype, which can be read here.

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Professor Hojo (via Final Fantasy Wikia)

There is a nasty and detrimental stereotype in fiction:  the depiction of scientists.

In most instances, scientists are portrayed as too smart for their own good, too naive for their own good, or outright diabolical.  The threat in the story often arises from the hubris of scientists messing with something they either don’t fully understand or think they can control.  In such cases they are often called “mad” or “obsessed,” driven to complete their work, no matter the cost to themselves or to others.

Or, if the scientists aren’t deliberately malicious, they end up being naive to the extreme, not understanding how their research or experiments could be used to malicious ends.  Even if the scientist realizes his mistake (for they are almost always male), he tends to keep going “in the name of science” or is totally ineffectual at stopping the misuse of his work.  And if the scientist himself is absent from the story, the technology he created, often a robot with artificial intelligence, remains a danger, such as Superman’s foe Brainiac or HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The examples of the evil/mad scientist stereotype are myriad:  Hojo from the video game Final Fantasy VII.  Rotwang from the movie Metropolis.  Victor Frankenstein, creator of the quintessential monster in Mary Shelley’s masterpiece.  Almost any antagonist in superhero comics.  Pick a 1940s or 1950s horror or science fiction film and you’ll find that the monster or threat is, more often than not, the result of science gone wrong.

Even real people, including teens and children, who are not certified scientists, but who have an interest in that direction are often stereotyped as strange, anti-social, unattractive, and ultimately dangerous individuals.  They are often marginalized or bullied until, in a fit of childish pique (or well-planned retribution), they fight back the only way they know how:  with science and technology.  And in the end it’s up to the handsome, charming, muscle-bound male hero to save the day by blowing things up.  Seems like a bit of a cheap shot to me.  But why haven’t we moved beyond this rather lazy piece of character creation?

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Feminism in Fiction

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(click image for source)

(click image for source)

Feminism is not a dirty word.  (I actually read a book recently with that statement in the title, and I stand by it.)  A lot of people shy away from the term “feminist” because they think it means “insane man-hating career/sex obsessed woman (who may or may not be a lesbian.)”  Even I’m careful hen using this term, lest my meaning be misconstrued.  While such people do exist, they are the extreme end of the spectrum and have no bearing on what I consider feminism.  That is, that women should be treated politically, socially, and economically as equals to men.

Fantasy and science fiction are wonderful because you can break so many stereotypes.  With a lot of realistic fiction, especially in historical fiction, there are certain limitations, certain expectations and roles that people play that can be difficult to change without losing a sense of authenticity.  But science fiction is usually set far into the future, often on other planets.  Fantasy deals in alternate realities and fairy tales.  The potential to explore and turn traditional gender/racial/economic/sexual roles upside down is all around!  And I’m sorry to say that a lot of writers who deal in science fiction and fantasy don’t take advantage of that potential.

Since a lot of fantasy is set in medieval look-alike worlds, we tend to get medieval values.  Women are passive objects to be won while men do all the fighting, rescuing, political maneuvering, and pretty much anything else interesting.  Science fiction often has male military leaders, male soldiers, male explorers…  Women are very often not present at all, or, if they are, they get regulated to sexual roles or are presented in a very wooden or unrealistic manner.

Obviously this isn’t the case for every fantasy or science fiction story.  And I should point out that while there is nothing inherently wrong with having characters fill traditional gender roles, that shouldn’t be the only role that they can play.  (And that goes for men as well as women.)  Older science fiction and fantasy often get a pass from me because the social mores of the time necessarily colors the way the plot and characters are presented.  But even in modern stories, I rarely see the envelop pushed.

We can be so much more than this.

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