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It is a measure of my complete scatteredness that I completely missed Downfall of Sauron Day this year. I attribute that to three things:

1) It's usually closely associated in my mind with my spring trip home to California, which got cancelled this year for my adoption, then put back on at the last minute due to adoption delays, so I did get to Cali, but not for DS Day and in a last-minute rush.

2) The adoption: pretty much everything in my life since January has been measured in adoption timelines and bureaucratic delays. I've been on about 3-week watch to travel to Haiti for about 3 months now, and it does drive out most else.

3) Film scheduling: this has been taking up a lot of my brain power and has driven out other dates.

Anyway, I have nothing brilliant to say to DS Day this year. I really need to reread The Lord of the Rings. It's been way too long. And going into my second full year of intense reading frustration, it's probably a good time to go back and revisit a dependably good book.
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With the heightened visibility of fan fiction in recent years, conceptions of what constitutes professional-caliber fiction have been in flux, and derviative fiction (based on pre-existing works) has been slowly regaining legitimacy. I want to share my new enthusiasm for the richer, truer world that opens up for all participants in narrative when we accept the artistic legitimacy of retelling stories.

The Copyright Model

Our culture's dominant view of what constitutes quality narrative still draws its lines based on copyright. Under this model, professional writers write “original fiction”; i.e. works dissimilar enough from preexisting copyrighted works that the writer (or publisher) can claim copyright over them. Published writers who extrapolate stories in public domain are sometimes highly respected but sometimes placed on a lower tier than "original" writers. At a lower status, but still professionals, are authorized writers of works within others' copyrighted universes, such as official tie-in novels. Low status and traditionally derided are fan fiction writers, who write unauthorized derivative works.

The dividing line for professionalism in this model is how much the writer gets paid. Original and authorized authors make money through traditional publishing (and, more rarely, self-publishing); unauthorized fan fic writers are legally barred from profiting on copyrighted works. Read more... )
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Reading over summaries of anime on Soul-Anime, I came across a fascinating summary of Gungrave, one of my favorites. I don’t know if this was written by one person or edited after the fact, but it feels like a quintessential example of what I think of as the “non-narratable,” that is, a story that is so outside our cultural conceptions of what’s possible that we lack the concepts to speak about it or really understand it. (I gleaned this term from narratology, but some quick reading up suggests my use has diverged from the more standard use.)

Here’s the summary:

Brandon Heat, a silent and passive man, is living a laid back life with his friends. He's got his eyes on Maria, but her uncle forbids their relationship. After the brutal murder of his friends and Maria's father, Brandon is on the run together with the only friend he has left—Harry McDowell. When he finds out custody over Maria has been taken by Millennion, the largest mafia syndicate in town, he and Harry decide to join the syndicate. He goes through many hardships after joining the syndicate but he is willing to risk everything as long as he can be close to Maria. The plot is more about the relationship between Brandon and Harry not as much about Brandon and Maria as the current plot is describing.
--From Soul-Anime

There are some factual errors here: Brandon and Harry do not decide to join Millennion directly because Maria is with Millennion. Harry decides to join because he is ambitious and sees it as a path to power. Brandon does join, in part, because Maria is there but also because Harry is joining. The story, as the last line notes, is more about Brandon and Harry than Brandon and Maria. Indeed, it is cardinally the story of the fall and reconciliation in Brandon and Harry’s friendship.

This writer knew that; they say in black and white that it’s more about Harry and Brandon. And yet the summary describes the story as about Brandon and Maria.Read more... )
labingi: (r2dvd)
Yet Another Post on Sexism in Moffat's Shows

I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that Steven Moffat is the Ben Steed of his generation. For those not up on their BBC TV writers of thirty-plus years ago, Ben Steed was a writer for Blake’s 7 (among other things), now widely remembered in Blake’s 7 fandom as that sexist pig. This is a shame for the late Steed: in many respects he was a good writer, but he allowed his bigotry to distort the virtues of his stories, leaving a sour taste in the mouth of many fans across the decades. Steven Moffat seems committed to an updated version of the same trajectory, and it’s a shame for him too because he, too, is a good writer, but that fact is increasingly being obscured by the sexism* of his shows.

The Lessons of History )
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(Probably my last fic before my kids arrive from Haiti and there is no fic time for years!)

Fandom: X-Men, Movieverse with comics insertions

Summary: Reflections on the life Charles and Gabrielle's mentally ill son, David, through the relationships among Charles, Erik, and Gabrielle. Set during the first X-Men movie, around the year 2000.

Notes: This story is a hybrid of various canons and my own ideas. David is my own version: readers of the Legion stories will note right away that my conception of his life and powers is quite different. However, I've tried to be consistent within the fanon of my own fic, which is why Moira shows up late to Muir Island: she would have been going back to school when David was first placed there. I feel I should subtitle this fic, "People Have Lunch."

"The Calling or the Whale": Read at Ao3
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This is not a review of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, but I’ll share some impressions for context. Though it kept me entertained, I didn’t think it was very good. The story felt padded; the implausible action scenes lacked tension; the moralizing was often forced. But for all that, I’m glad the movie was made because it means that the narrative of Middle-earth is still alive.

Storytelling belongs to the public consciousness. All the copyright laws in the world cannot stop that being true. It is human nature to imitate: it is how we learn to talk, to dress, to be polite, to live in society. It is embedded in human nature to take in stories and breathe them out again. This is not to say there is no place for copyright. As long as we live in a nominally free market society, artists must be able to make money from their work for art to flourish, and copyright (ideally) gives them control over distribution of their work to prevent market saturation and grant them remuneration. But if copying must be restricted, the creation of art itself is naturally free: the mind flies to it as it flies to love, and no prison nor prison sentence can stop it.

One common complaint about derivative works is that they are often bad quality. And this is true. (It’s true of original works just as much.) I would argue that The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, despite a great deal of talent and effort, is bad quality in many ways. It’s a legal, licensed work, but aside from giving it a big budget, that doesn’t affect whether it’s good or bad art. Likewise, some still claim fan fiction has dubious legality, but that has no bearing on whether it is brilliant or painful to read. Art is speech, and democratic society has long understood that respecting freedom of speech exposes us to reams of stupid speech. That is a very small price to pay for the freedom to share thought and learn and grow as individuals and cultures. Read more... )
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It's that time again, when I get really frustrated with my inability to find anything to fan over and ask for your help. It's worked in the past, bringing me such great recs as Banana Fish and Trigun in recent memory. So please, help me, please! Here's some info on my tastes:

* I'm looking for a story that has at least two very well-developed characters (ideally more or less equally well developed) who spark off each other in an interesting way that is a major part of the story. It needn't be romantic. It should involve some sort of interesting tension/contrast. Both characters should care about something besides just each other. (Mirage of Blaze note: yes, Naoe does care about things other than Kagetora; for example, he cares about his own ego.)

* Genre: sci fi, fantasy, historical, mythical are my favorites, followed by non-Anglophone/foreign cultures, with least interest in contemporary Anglophone texts (though I may go anywhere for a really great story). Basically, I like to get beyond the daily external world I run errands in.

* Medium: any really, though I'm rather in reading mood just now. Movies tend to be a bit short for the necessary character development, but you never know.

* Women: I truly love it when I find a story with a good female character I can invest in... but this is so rare that I tend to have a knee-jerk wariness about male/female pairings. (I don't know that I have a single female/female pairing high on my personal fannish list, but there's a first time for everything. I would have had one with The Innkeeper's Song, except...)

Random stuff I've liked in the past: I've been subsisting on renewed Les Mis love this past year (it's great but I need something new). Japanese stuff includes Mirage of Blaze, Trigun, Blade of the Immortal, Gungrave, Banana Fish. Space opera TV shows: Blake's 7, Babylon 5, Crusade. Other: The Lord of the Rings, The Brothers Karamazov, The Left Hand of Darkness, Great Expectations, Wuthering Heights, the Iliad, X-Men.

Help appreciated!
labingi: (riki)
(I will now surprise no one by writing about Akira again.)

Akira (1988) is timeless. If you’re okay with violent anime, watch it. If you saw it a long time ago (and are okay with violent anime), watch it again. You may be very pleased at how well Katsuhiro Otomo’s twenty-five-year-old anime film, loosely based on his lengthy manga, stands up both as a story and work of cinematic art.

Akira is a near-future dystopian drama set in a post-apocalyptic Neo-Tokyo run by corrupt a government, a nefarious military-scientific complex, and—nearer the ground—by teen motorcycle gangs. The story centers on teen bikers, Kaneda and Tetsuo. Kaneda is the flashy, badass gang leader, Tetsuo the runt of the pack, who, we can guess, is only included in the gang because he’s Kaneda’s best friend. This power dynamic changes, however, when Tetsuo is abducted by the sinister Akira project, concerned with channeling massive energy through children. Tetsuo becomes the latest in a line of young test subjects, including the eponymous Akira, to have their lives and health devastated in exchange for superpowers. To save Tetsuo, Kaneda joins a band of revolutionaries and infiltrates the top secret Akira installation, only to discover that the friend he set out to rescue is no longer the boy he knew…

Read the rest at The Geek Girl Project.
labingi: (riki)
If you’re in the mood for some horror anime this Halloween, you may want to check out Kara no Kyoukai (Boundary of Emptiness), a series of seven anime films (Ufotable, 2007-2009) based on the light novel of the same name. Each film is a standalone story, forming the loosely arced tale of a dark and quirky detective agency investigating magic-related crimes, usually grisly ones. As character drama, the series has its moments, but it is most notable for its dark, violent, intricately plotted mysteries showcasing strong female characters. Not for kids.

The central characters are Shiki Ryougi, a somber young woman with amazing supernatural fighting abilities; Mikiya Kokutou, a kind young man who was her high school friend; and (to a lesser extent) Touko Aozaki, their boss and a powerful, offbeat sorceress. The arc narrative—sometimes more central, sometimes less—concerns Shiki’s nature and how she grapples with her incredible powers and her desire to kill. In the course of Shiki’s search for her place in society and sense of identity, the team encounters numerous murderers, sorcerers, destructive spirits, and so on.

Read the rest at The Geek Girl Project.
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Recently my uncle, Bill Sanford, passed away at eighty-two years old. Bill was a minister in the Methodist Church. He was also one of the most purely positive role models in my life. I am grateful to Bill in countless ways for his loving presence, but I want to focus on the impact he had as a Christian on me as a lifelong agnostic. What a beautiful example he is of living the loving teachings of Jesus.

To explain Bill’s influence on me, it’s necessary to talk a little bit about me. I have always been an agnostic. I learned agnosticism at my parents’ knees as others learn Catholicism or Judaism. If I asked my parents if God existed, they would reply with “I don’t know.” This belief system was ingrained in me by the time I was five years old. In the years since, my sense of what agnosticism means has grown more complex, but I have never had the desire to be anything other than agnostic.

Being an Agnostic Kid in the United States

Compared to many countries, the United States, blessedly, has a high degree of religious freedom. But it is a nation culturally dominated by Christianity, and it is not always easy to be an agnostic child among a Christian majority. Here are a few of my childhood experiences:

In kindergarten, I had a Jehovah’s Witness friend. While she and her family were always nice to me, I was not allowed to play with her outside of school: my mother explained to me that they thought I was a bad influence because I wasn’t a Christian.

When I was five or six and playing with a friend at my house, I mentioned that I didn’t believe in God. My friend burst into tears and started walking for home (three miles away). As I followed her down the road, she explained, sobbing, that she couldn't play with me because I worshipped Satan. Finally I told her I did believe in God, which cheered her up. I think this is the only time I have ever flat-out lied about it.

At eleven, my lifelong best friend, a Catholic, noted offhandedly that I was damned. There was no malice in the statement: it was just a fact. I wasn’t a Christian, and only Christians are saved. (I should note that today's Catholic Church has a more nuanced view than this child's understanding.)

With such experiences, reinforced by cultural narratives like televangelists’, it is perhaps not surprising that as a child I was afraid of churches and resistant to Christian teachings. My mother dragged me to church once or twice for my cultural literacy. I remember sitting in Sunday School, being forced to sing “Jesus Loves Me” with a feeling of dark detestation at the fact that I was supposed to believe Jesus loved me because “the Bible tells me so,” as if we should believe everything we read!

But these negative impressions of Christianity were not my only childhood experience.
My Uncle the Minister )
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Happy Bilbo and Frodo's Birthday! In the LOTR-verse in my head, Frodo is 84 today. (Bilbo is no longer with us, except in spirit.)

Have some dessert. It's the hobbitish thing to do!
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The Unlimited: Hyoubu Kyousuke (2013), produced by Manglobe as a 12-part anime sequel to Zettai Karen Children, follows the adventures of the original anime’s antagonist, Hyoubu Kyousuke, as he fights–violently–for the rights of “espers” (people with superpowers) in a world dominated by norms. The Unlimited has all the elements of a truly great anime but misses a lot of chances to deploy them to the best effect. Overall, it is well above average without being spectacular. I have not seen Zettai Karen Children and so can confidently say that you don’t need to in order to enjoy The Unlimited.

The story is fairly simple, though the plot has some convoluted twists. Hyoubu Kyousuke is a very powerful esper (he can fly around, use telekinesis, shoot energy waves, etc.). He was born in the 1930s, but thanks to his powers has an extended lifespan and still looks like a teen, albeit white-haired. A child hero within a special esper unit in World War II, he became disillusioned with “normals” after experiencing cruel persecution and devoted his adult life to forming a criminal esper organization, P.A.N.D.R.A., to resist and possibly exterminate norms. Opposing him is nigh everyone, including B.A.B.E.L., a norm-esper organization founded by one of Kyousuke’s esper companions from World War II, Fujiko. Unbeknownst to Kyousuke, he is also being opposed by a young esper he has recently recruited, Andy Hinomiya, a Japanese-American who is, in fact, a US undercover agent. But things are more complicated than even Andy knows, and he may find cause to switch his loyalties. The three titular “children” from Zettai Karen Children, now middle schoolers, also make brief appearances as B.A.B.E.L. agents but are not central characters.

Read the rest at The Geek Girl Project.
labingi: (ivan)
If any 19th-century woman can claim a place as quintessential geek girl, it is surely Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein. Not only is she the progenitor of one of the icons of geek culture and a founder of modern science fiction, she is also, I will argue, firmly situated in the grand tradition of women fan fiction writers. Born August 30, 1797, she would be 216 years old today.

Brief Biography
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley seemed marked for literary accomplishment. The daughter radical philosopher, William Godwin, and prototypic feminist and author of A Vindication of the Rights of Women, Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley was a natural heir to literary talent. Despite this advantage, however, her life was fraught with sorrows. Her mother having died in childbirth, she grew up close to her father. This relationship, however, was shattered when at sixteen she eloped with scandalous Romantic poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley (of the “Satanic School”).

Though the Shelleys loved each other and were surrounded by a stimulating social circle of Romantic intelligentsia, their lives were troubled, not least by the loss of several children: Percy Florence was the only child to survive his parents. After Shelley’s untimely death in a boating accident, Mary found herself a widow at twenty-four with a son to support. Though Shelley’s father was a baronet, his disapproval of his son’s elopement meant that he provided little financial support. She ended up significantly augmenting her income by writing and editing.

She was a prolific writer. In addition to Frankenstein and her futuristic science fiction novel, The Last Man, she wrote lesser-known novels, short stories, children’s stories, travel literature, and essays (and, of course, voluminous letters).

Today, aside from some slight attention to The Last Man and her novella, “Mathilda, ” about an incestuous father-daughter relationship, she is only remembered for Frankenstein. But, really, isn’t that enough?

Read the rest at The Geek Girl Project.
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Heartfelt thanks to my BFF, Melanie Powers, for her donation of football helmets to my sci-fi film, The Eater. Package received! Moreover, she's paying postage as a donation to the film. Melanie, you're awesome!

This is one of the things I love about microbudget filmmaking. People pull together to accomplish an immensely complex project out of resources something like 0.1% of what Hollywood would say you need to raise to make a movie. Now, do microbudgets look like Hollywood movies? No. Even those produced by professionals with exquisitely honed talent and rigorous production standards (I do not count myself in this group, by the way) will show the signs of extreme cheapness: fewer/poor effects, lower-grade sound, less diversity in camera angles, cheap costumes, more continuity glitches the crew couldn't afford to correct, etc.

But it's possible to make exceptional art on a shoestring. Consider Shakespeare at the Globe: actors on an empty stage. Yes, movies are a different medium, but the same basic rule applies: great actors and a great script can generate great art. With a little help from your friends, there's nothing stopping you.

What this doesn't generate is a sustainable economic model. Shakespeare's contemporaries had theater goers to buy tickets. Most microbudgets, even well received at festivals, will not get regular distribution or make much money in theaters; DVD sales are a thing of the past; and streaming or online sales brings in a pittance per view or copy sold.

And so we have a cycle of poverty, often with the poor supporting the poor. My friend, Melanie, isn't rolling in cash, which makes her contribution all the more noteworthy. I'm not rolling in cash either, which hamstrings my desire to increase the budget I contribute from my savings to pay people respectably for their work. And so people end up donating a lot of time and resources. I love them for it, but they're not making a living this way anymore than I am.

It's never been easy to be a working artist, but I generally agree with Jaron Lanier in You Are Not a Gadget that our current model of internet culture has made things harder. Or to be more fair, it's made production easier; it's made making money harder. Consumers--myself included--just aren't willing to pay much for digital copies, and with so many projects being produced, even most good ones get lost in the noise.

I don't have a ready solution. But I know this: people won't stop making art. Indie, low-budget filmmaking won't stop. Most of it will be bad quality, but some of it will be as brilliant as anything from professional studios. And this will continue to be the work of people coming together out of love of art and in friendship with each other to do it because it's worth doing.
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Aku no Hana (Flowers of Evil) (2013) is a truly different anime. This 13-episode Zexcs production, based on the manga by Shuzo Oshimi, is a dark slice-of-life teen drama. I generally detest slice-of-life teen drama, so I’m not just idly gushing when I say this series is (mostly) fantastic. It owes much of its originality–and controversy–to its use of rotoscoping in place of traditional animation. This technique, in which live-action footage is traced over, puts Aku no Hana artistically in a bit of an uncanny valley between cartoon and live action drama. The effect unsettled me at first, but the whole story is meant to be unsettling, and in the end, I found it the perfect mix of realism with a creepy, otherworldly overlay.

Aku no Hana starts out as an adventure in Schadenfreude. Shy middle-school boy, Takao Kasuga, has a crush on the beautiful and accomplished Nanako Saeki, and in a moment of bad judgment, he steals her PE uniform. Unfortunately for Kasuga, this momentary lapse is witnessed by Sawa Nakamura, a borderline psycho from his class who is desperate to find another authentic “sicko” like herself to relieve the tedium and hypocrisy she sees in middle-school life. She blackmails Kasuga into performing more and more bizarre acts in exchange for her silence about the uniform. And Kasuga, like the clueless, emotionally sensitive boy he is, lets himself get buried in increasingly unconscionable webs of deceit. All this is just the jumping-off point for an in-depth psychological investigation of Kasuga, Nakamura, and Saeki, none of whom is quite what they initially seem.

Read the rest at The Geek Girl Project.
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The latest X-Men film, The Wolverine, has recently opened in theaters. As you might guess, it’s about Wolverine–but I need to talk about the women. As gender fail goes, The Wolverine is by no means an egregious offender. In some ways, it handles its female characters well, but this is all the more reason to critique it: its gender fail not a fluke. It’s not a movie that just happened to be penned by a sexist writer. If anything, its handling of women is better than the norm for a Hollywood superhero flick. Yet it’s still offensive, and we have to do better. Now.

Spoiler-lite summary: the film is set after X-Men: The Last Stand, in which Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) killed an insane Jean-Grey-as-the-Phoenix (Famke Janssen) to stop her wreaking destruction. We catch up with him haunted by dreams of her and trying to put his identity as “Wolverine” behind him. But his past finds him in the form of an old Japanese acquaintance (Haruhiko Yamanouchi) he saved from the bombing of Nagasaki.* This old man wants to see Wolverine before he dies. Thus, Wolverine is whisked off to Japan where adventure ensues, including romance with his old friend’s granddaughter, Mariko (Tao Okamoto). The story is based on one of Wolverine’s more famous comic book plotlines, but I’m going to address the movieverse as a standalone.

The film does some redeeming gender work. One enjoyable character is Yukio (Rila Fukushima), a multitalented mutant sidekick with amazing fighting skills, wit, charm, courage, and culturally plausible Japanese cuteness. (But note the word “sidekick.”) Mariko is also updated from the traditional damsel in distress. Though not a mutant, she has some decent fighting skills of her own and is courageous, proactive, and intelligent.

Read the rest at The Geek Girl Project.
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I do not think War and Peace is a novel. If War and Peace is, in fact, a history text on the Russian perspective of the Napoleonic Wars, using fictional characters to portray a range of daily realities that formed part of the fabric of this time period, then it does its work, and it may be the most interesting history text on the Napoleonic Wars ever written. But if I am meant to see War and Peace as a novel--as a work of fiction whose task is to tell a story about its characters--I found it failure.

Its failure is more frustrating because it is plainly the work of a literary genius. Tolstoy may be the best writer I have ever read for comprehending and capturing the way human beings function psychologically. He creates a wide range of characters--young and old, extroverted, introverted, merry, severe, emotional, rational, capricious, conscientious, etc.--all of whom think and behave in ways exactly plausible for who they are and yet surprising and complex and evolving. And he depicts many of these experiences, external and internal, with a phenomenal eye for detail, nuance, strangeness, idiosyncrasy, and the stream of consciousness of human thought and feeling. So what's the problem?

Read the rest at Goodreads.
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The best thing I can say about the anime, Glass Fleet (2006), is it does interesting work with gender. If subverting gender stereotypes is up your alley, it’s worth watching. Pound for pound, it may include more gender fail than win, but when it wins, it wins in a pretty unusual way. The following review is substantially spoiler free. Below it, clearly labeled, is spoilerific commentary.

Glass Fleet is a 26-episode space fantasy anime about a People’s Army rebelling against the current emperor. The leader of this army, Michel, enlists the help of dethroned prince and super-warrior Cleo to overthrow the reign of the rather cold and amoral/immoral emperor, Vetti. Cleo has inherited a fantastically amazing glass battleship, which may become the pattern for a fleet: hence the title.

In many respects, the series is not very good. It looks cheap. The animation is choppy. The world building is ridiculous, inexplicable, and inconsistent even by generous fantasy standards. The space battles are absurd, though of the face-to-face fighting is reasonably well choreographed. The handling of the plot and character trajectories has some huge problems that may leave most viewers unsatisfied. So why am I bothering to pull this series out and dust it off now?

Because in odd moments, it’s deeply compelling. (Read the rest at The Geek Girl Project.)
labingi: Elek from my movie, The Hour before Morning (elek)
We exceeded our goal on the Hour before Morning Kickstarter campaign! It's a huge relief to have it over. :) Now, I need to send our rewards.


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