Today is the last day of my vacation. Yes, I took a vacation because the low-level but persistent stress of 2020 gets tough to deal with, and fortunately, I’m in a position to actually have and use some of that accrued time.
I kicked off my vacation with the #FCPLBookBall, a virtual library fundraiser where you make a monetary donation to the library to “attend” and then just sit and read all day. It was, in a word, glorious. I highly recommend curling up someplace quiet and comfy with one of those “10 hours of ocean waves” tracks from YouTube running in the background. Since I can’t go to the beach this year, this was the closest equivalent, and it actually worked very well:
I’m going to have to try to do something like this once a month or something, a dedicated “Read & Relaxation” day. It worked wonders to help calm and recenter myself. (Also, Saturday August 22nd was the Ray Bradbury Centennial, and there’s a Read-a-Thon of Fahrenheit 451 available to stream until September 5th if you want to check it out!)
Since making my declaration about getting back into The Mariner Sequence, specifically Ravens and Roses, I haven’t actually written anything. And yet I feel like my mind is more in “writer mode” than it has been in a while.
Looking back over the last two weeks, it doesn’t seem like I’ve been writing, yet two morning walks spent talking to myself have solved some major plot problems that had troubled me for years. It just goes to show that, while a writer may not always be putting words on a page, when we have a goal in mind, we can feed everything we do into the compost of our subconscious and see what happens. It’s a weird and diverse process, one that is nonlinear and sporadic. Many of the things don’t seem to relate to writing. After all, what do the following contribute to the writing process?
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.” You can read previous entries in this series, which discuss the Scientist, Bad Boy, and Alpha Male stereotypes.
Audio Edition Coming Soon!
We all love stories about underdogs. We like hearing tales of right and justice and the forces of good beating evil and injustice, no matter what the odds are against them. We like stories about lone wolves who find out the truth about “the system” and fight against it. We love our Rebel Alliances, our Neos, our Team Avatars. We enjoy following the stories of characters who are outgunned but still pull through with cunning, bravery, and a hefty dose of luck. We admire the vigilante characters like Batman, Zorro, and V who uncover the truth or see injustice run rampant and refuse to follow protocol in order to do what is right. We’ve all read those stories, seen those movies and TV shows, played as those video game characters. The fact that we can be outmatched and still come out on top is a heady, even addictive, feeling.
Souls permeate fantasy. You find them everywhere. In books like the Vlad Taltos series; in movies like Crimson Peak; in television shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer; in video games like Jade Empire; in anime like Soul Eater; and manga like Fullmetal Alchemist. Even if souls are not the focus of the story, it is almost always assumed that souls exist. In some universes, all living things have souls, while in others only sentient races have them. In a few, only humanity is granted this unique ability to transcend oblivion.
While perusing my shelves trying to decide what to read (no easy task, I can assure you), my eyes landed on my collection of StarWars 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.)
There is a slightly frightening tendency to glorify war and battle. It’s a big part of fantasy and science fiction; we’re always waiting for the big battle between good and evil at the end. But what happens when we carry this thinking over into the real world? This us-versus-them mentality, the idea that we are the brave warriors fighting the good fight, is especially attractive if we perceive ourselves as the little Rebellion fighting against the giant evil Empire, or as Peeta and Katniss resisting the malicious Games of the Capital, or as the Alliance of Men and Elves standing against the destructive might of Sauron. Everyone loves the underdog.
That’s fine in fiction. I have nothing against battles in stories and frankly I enjoy them. Halo would be pretty boring without the Flood or the Covenant to fight. It’s when this mentality leaks into real life interactions that it concerns me. If you look at the language being passed around the internet these days, especially when it comes to politics, you’ll find buzzwords like “war,” “soldier,” “fight,” and “rebellion.” Even as the world becomes a safer place overall, the language has become far more violent and polarized. You’re either with us or against us; there is no in between. Continue reading “The Glory Illusion of War”→
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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.
Whenever I get into a fictional universe, be it books, movies, TV shows, or video games, I dig deep. Those characters with shady or mysterious pasts are the most intriguing; we want to know how they became the person we know now. If you’ve read (and enjoyed) The Symphony of Ages series by Elizabeth Haydon, you probably want to know Achmed’s full backstory more than anything else. We get tantalizing hints, but no more. Tolkien’s book The Silmarillion explores the history of the elves and Middle-Earth in almost excruciating detail. People clamored so much for more stories about Drizzt Do’Urden that R.A. Salvatore gave them the drow ranger’s backstory in the form of The Dark Elf Trilogy. Amazing RPGs like Mass Effect and Dragon Age cover the history of their worlds, the aspects of the places explored there, and the characters you encounter. And isn’t that what a lot of modern RPGs are all about? Exploration? How was this world created? What happened before the story that we see? A good origin story is a fascinating and rewarding journey.
Of course, the key word here is “good.” Not knowing parts of a universe’s history or the origins of a character leads to all kinds of juicy speculation, head canon, and fan fiction. Sometimes the creators even deign to answer those burning questions for us. That’s fine and dandy, but there is a dark side to it. No matter how much I may want to know, “What happened?!” a part of me is always a bit wary when official works drop in to fill the gaps.
DISCLAIMER:This entry is onlyathoughtexercise! I am not proposing that one stance is better than the other, nor do I condone extreme positions either for or against the diversification or homogenization of any culture(s).
I recently read an article about NASA testing equipment and programs that will theoretically carry humans to Mars. Part of me was really happy about it, but at the same time, I was also disappointed because the federal space program is pretty much dead due to lack of funds. NASA is getting just enough to play around with ideas and reinvent the wheel, but not enough to actually do anything substantial. The private sector may yet succeed with companies like SpaceX, but the lack of interest in space exploration is so discouraging that I sometimes fear we’ll never reach beyond our planet before the next great extinction.