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”→
When I learned that Carrie Fisher had died, I was at work so I couldn’t cry. There was no time for tears, but my heart wasn’t in my job because I now knew that the amazing woman who played Princess / Senator / General Leia Organa was gone.
It’s so strange, surreal, even, because only a few days ago my friends and I watched the Star Wars Holiday Special and Episode IV: A New Hope. One of them mentioned that Carrie Fisher was in the hospital after having a heart attack on a plane. I remember thinking, “Oh man, I hope she gets better soon,” but I don’t any of us had any doubt that she would recover and go on being her feisty, witty self.
I think a lot of people underestimate the power inherent in children’s cartoons. When they hear the word “cartoon,” they picture something light, fluffy, and utterly vacuous, filled with loud noises and sight gags. Or they might think of the painfully awkward and cheerfully grating tones of newer “edutainment” shows, most of which are not nearly as good as classics like The Magic School Bus or Wishbone. (Or maybe that’s just the nostalgia talking.) Either way, cartoons tend to serve as a kind of temporal placeholder to keep little kids occupied while the grown-ups go do important grown-up-things.
This woefully misrepresents and denies the kind of narrative impact that cartoons can possess. After all, cartoons are a staple of childhood, often giving kids their first real taste of serial storytelling. Obviously different age groups will be drawn to different types of shows; one can’t expect a two-year-old to have the same attention-span as a six-year-old. And to be fair, there is a place for cartoons comprised of stand-alone episodes and humor, both physical and verbal, like Looney Tunes, Rocky & Bullwinkle, or Tom and Jerry. Such cartoons don’t require a viewer to invest a lot of time in order to get the payoff, and with no over-arching plot to worry about, it’s very easy to introduce newcomers to the show. But I do believe that longer forms of story-telling can and should be presented to children at a young age so they can come to appreciate the art in all its forms. Unfortunately, animated story-telling gets ignored because a lot of people still think that anything drawn, and in some cases even CGI, as a “cartoon” and therefore “just for kids.” I have heard people refuse to watch Avatar: The Last Airbender, one of the greatest TV shows ever made (in any style) simply for the sin of being animated. And that’s a real shame. Continue reading “The Power of Children’s Cartoons”→
Click HERE for the Audio Edition! . .
At the beginning of the July 2016 Camp NaNoWriMo, I was in the mood for some old-school anime. During Camp NaNo in July 2013, I’d inter-spaced bouts of writing with episodes of an anime called Black Jack. Every so many hours, words, or pages, I would reward myself with an episode or two. It got me through the month and it was an enjoyable show. This time, I decided to start watching an anime I’d been eyeing for a while. It’s called Space Pirate Captain Harlock, and I cannot express how hooked I currently am. It’s got that gorgeous old-school look that only anime from the late 70s and early 80s have. The drama is totally over-the-top, the science is out of whack or non-existent, and the plot lurches around like a drunken sailor. But the characters are so endearing and the adventures are so fun that I don’t even mind it. That’s just part of the experience. In fact, I’ve actually had to stop watching it for now because it makes me want to write about pirate ships and space operas, not steampunk or romances. (Oops. Wrong choice for this project’s inspirational material.)
Still, as I was watching the first several episodes of Captain Harlock on Crunchyroll, I started thinking about all of the other science fiction anime and TV shows that heavily feature nautical themes and emphasize the tight-knit family unit that the crews of these ships become. In Captain Harlock, this takes place on board theArcadia. In Last Exile, the first anime I ever watched, it’s theSilvana. In the original Mobile Suit Gundam, we have the White Base. (The power of the Bright-slap compels you! …*ahem* Yes, well, moving on.) In Space Battleship Yamato it’s… er, well, the Yamato. (Yes, I know that was redundant.)
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.
Okay, seriously, who keeps making off with all this time? Feels like the year just got started and we’re already on the cusp of 2016! (And from what I’ve heard, this sense of time distortion only gets worse… ugh.)
I am definitely in a better place at the end of 2015 than I was last year. Many of my 2014 goals have been reached, and it feels like I’ve got a better handle on life in general, which is a massive relief! I want to give a huge thank-you to all of my friends, readers, subscribers, and followers. You make this all worth-while.
Sorry, I know I haven’t been keeping up with most of my online writing, but I promise it’s because I’ve been hard at work editing Ravens and Roses. But I did want to share something fun that I’m doing at the same time: the Summer Reading (and Writing) Program from Nerd in the Brain.
I only found out about this challenge a few days before it started, but I’ve been enjoying it. There are 30 reading challenges, 10 writing challenges, and 10 “other” challenges. I’ve been reading like a madwoman, since now I have added motivation to get through the pile of library books I’ve been hoarding for weeks. The reading challenges are really easy to write a small summary for, but the writing challenges are (for me) a little harder to tackle. I didn’t want to just write a little summary of something I wrote, but I also didn’t want to post the entire response to the challenge in that small space. It could be done… I just didn’t want it to be inconvenient.
So I decided to post my writing responses here on The Cat’s Cradle, as well as a list of the books I read for the reading challenge. I’ll post a summary and a link for Nerd in the Brain, so I won’t take up all that space, but folk can see what I did if they want to. So check back throughout the summer to see the results of the challenge.
I’m sure many folks are tired of seeing Star Wars-related posts, videos, pictures, sales, and general internet celebrations by now… but I don’t think I’ve ever shared my own formative experience with these films. I’m not old enough to have seen the Original Trilogy in theaters (Episodes IV, V, and VI), but I was one of the young people who went to see the Prequel Trilogy on the big screen (Episodes I, II, and III). Children growing up after the release of the Prequel Trilogy will never experience a time, like I did, when there were only three Star Wars films.
I don’t remember exactly how old I was when I first watched Star Wars. Probably seven or eight years old at a guess, maybe even six. I don’t remember my very first viewing or my initial reaction to them. I don’t recall ever hearing or seeing anything about Star Wars before this point. (I was shy, home-schooled, and far more interested in My Little Pony and Grand Champions than with space ships.) One of the earliest memories I do have is of holding the VHS tape of The Empire Strikes Back, entranced by the cover. I’m not sure if this took place before I actually watched the movies or after; I was fond of sneaking peeks at films and books that were outside my age range. (I used to slink over to the Adult Fiction section of the library like a little wanna-be ninja. It felt so… illicit; I always expected to be caught and booted back to the children’s area by a librarian.) In any case, I must have liked A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi, because I watched them again.
Recently, a friend and fellow writer told me they felt discouraged about writing. They were upset about so many people being unable to spot the differences between a good story and a bad story. Real gems languish in dusty corners while insults to the English language fly off the shelves. And not just books, but movies too. Their question was: “If people can’t tell the difference between good and bad stories, why put forth the effort of crafting a really good story?” Thinking out the rules of the world, creating three-dimensional characters, filling plot holes to make a seamless narrative…all of that takes work. And if people don’t notice and don’t care, then why bother?