Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

Imperator Furiosa: The Hero We Need

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In a review of director George Miller’s new action masterpiece Mad Max: Fury Road, USA Today reviewer Claudia Puig describes actor Charlize Theron asThe best female action hero since Sigourney Weaver in Alien”. I think Puig should have cited Aliens for Weaver’s action bona fides, but I also think she missed the point. It’s true that Theron is a great actor delivering a bravura performance, but what matters most is the character itself: Imperator Furiosa is the best cinematic hero in years.

Let me tell you why.

Imperator Furiosa towers above most other action-movie heroes because her character and the story of Fury Road subvert a longstanding, worn-out Hollywood action-movie paradigm—but not the one you might think. The real genius of Fury Road isn’t that its hero is a woman. It’s that the hero is the one actually driving the story in the first place.

Furiosa’s prominence in the movie has been making some “men’s rights activists” (MRAs) apoplectic, leading them to complain the Mad Max franchise was hijacked for a feminist agenda, that they were tricked by cool explosions and a freak with a flame-throwing electric guitar into watching a feminist manifesto in which Max has been emasculated. They’re at least partly wrong.

A key factor in what’s perplexing the MRAs is that Imperator Furiosa is the protagonist and hero of Fury Road, but here’s the catch: she is not the movie’s main character. Max Rockatansky (played by Tom Hardy) is not a sidekick in Fury Road, contrary to this post by Rob Bricken on io9. Max is undeniably Fury Road’s main character, its point-of-view character. He is the only character to whose inner life we are privy; he is our narrator. That said, it is true he is neither the protagonist nor the hero of Fury Road, but these aren’t bad things. They aren’t even uncommon in movies.

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In order to explain what I mean by all that, I’m going to ask that you put aside your preconceived notions of what protagonist, antagonist, hero, and main character mean within the context of dramatic writing. Let’s delve into some Dramatic Writing 101 neepery to define our terms, some of which will contradict what many of you might have been taught. James R. Hull provides a good primer on his Narrative First blog:

A Protagonist is the character whose action sets the narrative into motion. A protagonist is a person with a plan that challenges the status quo, for whatever reason.

The Antagonist is the character who most directly reacts to the Protagonist’s actions, works to thwart the Protagonist’s plans, and tries to uphold or restore the narrative status quo.

The Hero is the character we are meant to root for, the one we’re to perceive as “the good guy.”

The Villain is the character we are intended to root against — i.e., “the bad guy.”

The Main Character is the story’s principal point-of-view character, the one through whose filter we experience the story. This is also the character whose arc tends to exhibit the greatest degree of change in response to the events of the story.

When these terms are applied in the context of Fury Road, we find that:

  • Imperator Furiosa is the protagonist; by making a bid for escape with Immortan Joe’s concubines, she sets the main story in motion;
  • Immortan Joe is the antagonist; he reacts to Furiosa’s betrayal by marshaling every ally and resource at his command to recover what he considers his, and to exact his revenge;
  • Furiosa is also the hero of the story, the one with noble motives, and whose success we are meant to hope for;
  • Immortan Joe is also the villain of the piece, obviously; and,
  • Max Rockatansky is the main character, the person through whose experience we, the audience, perceive most of the major events of the narrative.

mad-max-fury-road-tom-hardy

In many action movies, the main character is also the hero. Just as often, the main character is not the protagonist: the villain is. In a great many action-oriented narratives, it is the story’s villain who acts first to upset the status quo, typically for selfish reasons. Once the actions of the villain come to light, the Main Character/Hero must act to oppose the Protagonist/Villain. This makes the Main Character/Hero function as the story’s Antagonist.

This is not a bad thing; I’m not saying that our favorite cinematic heroes are actually villains. I’m saying the heroes in action films are often depicted as reactive, while villains are more often proactive, within the bounds of the on-screen story. (I’m treating the revelation or suggestion of backstory that establishes characters’ motives as being separate from the principal diegetic action of the narrative.)

Here are just a few examples of reactive heroes in action cinema:

  • John McClane in Die Hard
  • Tony Stark in Iron Man
  • Neo Anderson in The Matrix
  • Alejandro in The Mask of Zorro
  • Ellen Ripley in Alien and Aliens

In Die Hard, the narrative engine comes from Hans Gruber and his team of thieves seizing control of Nakatomi Tower and taking John McClane’s wife hostage; McClane reacts to this threat by waging a one-man war against the bad guys.

The story of Iron Man originates in the actions of Obadiah Stane, who puts out a hit on Tony Stark as a prelude to a hostile takeover of Stark Industries; Tony reacts to his assault and kidnapping by developing the Iron Man armor and embarking on a redemptive quest.

Neo Anderson is the main character of The Matrix, but the protagonist is Morpheus, who does all he can to find Neo, liberate him from The Matrix, and instill in him the belief that he is “The One” who has come to free humanity from the machines.

In The Mask of Zorro, Alejandro Murietta (Antonio Banderas) is the main character, but the protagonist is clearly the villain, Don Rafael Montero, whose nefarious schemes and cruel henchmen motivated the first Zorro (Don Diego de la Vega) as well as the new Zorro.

Last but not least, Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) in both Alien and Aliens. In both films Ripley is the main character (though it was less clear in the first film, for various reasons). In neither one, however, is she the prime mover of the story. In both cases, the protagonist is the shadowy entity known as “the company” (The Weyland-Yutani Corporation) and its agents, which instigate the events that set these narratives into motion. Ripley reacts to the calamities that besiege her, but she is a reluctant participant in both cases.

Proactive main characters are more often found in antiheroes, such as Porter in Payback, Wilson in The Limey, or John Smith in Last Man Standing. It seems rare to find Protagonist/Heroes in action films. I think this is due at least in part to the fact that so many action-oriented movies are about defending the status quo of the story, whatever it might be.

That brings us to the true genius of Fury Road. Imperator Furiosa is one of the most compelling characters to hit the big screen in years because she is a true Protagonist/Hero. Her actions (in concert with those of Immortan Joe’s renegade concubines, aka Breeders) set the main story into motion. She is the one who lights the fuse on the action and becomes the prey in the chase—and she does so for noble reasons: to free herself and other women from slavery, to try to give hope to others, and to seek her own redemption. She is wounded inside and out, scarred and flawed, but also prepared to sacrifice everything to do what she knows is right.

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However, it would be wrong to argue, as some MRAs (and the previously cited io9 article) have, that this makes Furiosa the main character of Fury Road with Max a mere “sidekick.” It doesn’t. Max Rockatansky is still the main character of Fury Road. Viewers’ perceptions of events are filtered for the most part through Max’s experience. His journey is just as important as Furiosa’s.

Chase Magnett over at comicbook.com illustrated this point with exceptional clarity in his essay Why ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ Really Belongs to Imperator Furiosa

Max enters the film as a true loner. He is unhinged from any one he has held dear and desires to live apart. His role does not reflect Joe’s patriarchal society, but someone who desires to abstain from and ignore problems that he does not consider his own. He only agrees to help Furiosa at first because he cannot escape Joe without her help. In the first half of the film, he treats women like competitors for survival, threatening and shooting at them multiple times. Only through shared experience does he learn to appreciate their talents and trust them.

The same essay also provides a superb analysis of the character arc for warboy Nux, and what his story, in conjunction with Max’s, tells us about the theme of Fury Road as a whole:

Max and Nux represent two types of men, those who don’t care about feminism and those who actively oppose. Both of their arcs follow the revelation that feminism is necessary not only for women, but for the creation of a better world. Furiosa’s cause results in the improvement of her own life and the bride’s, as well as the advancement of Max, Nux, and all of the Citadel. Her struggle for equality and self-determination is a rising tide, creating a better world for everyone.

It also is important to note that Furiosa herself is not changed as much by the events of Fury Road as Max is. He starts his journey as a haunted loner and a prisoner; through his alliance with Furiosa, he reclaims the nobler part of his soul from the wasteland, earning his freedom. This more pronounced degree of character change also clearly distinguishes Max as the film’s main character, even though he is neither its central hero nor its protagonist.

In many ways this parallels the ending of the second Mad Max film, The Road Warrior, in which Max regained his honor by volunteering to drive the rig for the refinery squatters. But where that film ended on a tragic note—the idea that we chew up our heroes and throw them aside, forgotten and unrewarded—Fury Road ends with Max restored and ready to return to the wasteland, not just to survive, but to live and be a force for good.

Lest this be mistaken as some kind of perverse betrayal of Max’s character by his creator, it should be noted that there are other notable examples of cinematic main characters who were not their tales’ heroes or protagonists.

Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding from The Shawshank Redemption was that movie’s narrator, and its chief point-of-view character—but Andy Dufresne was the Protagonist/Hero. In the end, it was Red who underwent the transformation of a man beaten down and institutionalized to one ready to reclaim hope.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is the protagonist of Amadeus, but the main character is Antonio Salieri, who yearns to be lauded and remembered, only to find himself overshadowed at every turn by the prodigy Mozart.

flamethrowerGuitar

All this raises a question: How did writer-director George Miller and his co-writers Brendan McCarthy and Nico Lathouris succeed so brilliantly at inverting the stale Hollywood trope of the reactive action hero? I would posit that they did so by giving us a story in which the status quo is one not worth defending. In fact, the point of the story in Fury Road is that some states of existence deserve to be smashed down so that something better can be built in their place.

Maybe that’s why it seems so difficult to craft emotionally compelling action movies these days. On many levels, it’s becoming increasingly clear the status quo of our world, despite incremental progressive improvements over the years, remains mired in patriarchy, oligarchy, racism, sexism, ignorance, and fear. Our society seems to be hurtling towards becoming the one depicted in Fury Road, careening down the dusty dead-end of dystopia.

Could it be that when larger-than-life heroes fight to defend a status quo we know to be flawed, their victories ring more than a bit hollow? It sometimes feels as if the only way to sell audiences these ever more outrageous, testosterone-fueled spectacles is to persuade them that the New Order coming to replace the status quo is even worse (usually global annihilation), so if we manage merely to keep things the way they are, we should be happy we achieved that much and stop railing against things like rape culture or rampant economic inequality, or expend effort promoting an idea as obvious and innocuous as “diversity is good.”

That point of view isn’t good enough any more.

I think part of what makes Fury Road so impressive as a film and Imperator Furiosa so compelling a character is the truth that heroism sometimes means defiance and rebellion. When the social order itself has become part of the problem, the status quo needs to be brought down so that a better, more just way of living can take its place. It’s time for us to crawl under this sputtering war rig and turn our thumbs black fixing what we know to be wrong.

Let patriarchy and oligarchy die historical (and reviled) on the Fury Road; it’s time for us all to lift up Furiosa—long may she reign.

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Imagining a “New Hollywood”

Between drought and the ever-looming threat of a massive earthquake, it is hard not to think there might come a day when Los Angeles might become unlivable. If—the fates forfend—the drought worsens, L.A. goes dry, and then “the Big One” finally does in the City of Angels once and for all … what would become of the city’s film and television industry?

Even if L.A. were leveled, there would still be an insatiable public demand, around the world, for the visual entertainment the American film & TV industry provides. Already, many productions that are supervised in Los Angeles are shot elsewhere and finished in L.A., so it’s not inconceivable that, in an emergency, the industry could relocate if it had to. But to where?

ETA: I want to make clear that, in general, I am not talking about the production teams that shoot films and TV episodes. Those units are already well dispersed around the country and the world. What I am most interested in is the core community of “power players” in Hollywood — the studio executives, the talent agents, the corps of staff writers and producers, the people who constitute the network that drives the industry. It’s generally accepted that writers’ rooms, for instance, function best when all the writers are actually in the same room. Execs and agents like to have easy, in-person access to one another. The same goes for access to talent: producers want to be able to pick up the phone at 9am and have a writer in to pitch or an actor in to audition that afternoon, not three days from now. So what I’m really interested in exploring here is this question: If nature forced the power players of Hollywood to abandon L.A., where would these people reestablish their community?

I have a few ideas.

 

hwood_newyork

As a longtime New Yorker, this would be my top suggestion, for purely selfish reasons. I’d love to have access to the film & TV business without having to move to L.A. or fly out there every time I want to pitch or take a meeting. But what would be in it for the industry?

For starters, they’d get to be in New York, but let’s set that aside.

New York would offer the industry easy access to financing. Many TV networks maintain corporate headquarters here. The city has a lot of inexpensive, currently vacant warehouses, industrial buildings, and lots in western Queens that could easily be converted to soundstages, much as the Silvercup Studios were. Also, of all the possible cities where Hollywood could make a new home, few have a community of actors, filmmakers, and writers as robust and experienced as that found in New York.

Moving the film & TV industry to New York would probably gut San Diego Comic Con, but it would make New York Comic Con an even bigger behemoth than it already is. I’m not saying either of those is a good thing; they’re just possible consequences.

Added Bonus: We rarely get hit by major earthquakes, and we have some of the best drinking water in the United States. Also, great pizza.

Drawbacks: Our beaches suck, and winter here is absolutely awful. Rents are already astronomical, and traffic can be a nightmare.

 

hwood_seattle

The chief arguments to be made in favor of Seattle as a new home for Hollywood are that it would preserve the industry’s West Coast identity, while moving it closer to plentiful water supplies and away from the primary risk areas associated with earthquakes.

Added bonus: Better coffee.

Drawbacks: Several. Rainy weather. High minimum wage. Proximity to an active volcano. And, most damning of all, it’s not New York.

 

hwood_vancouver

One very good reason to move the entire industry north of the 48th parallel is that so much of our production already takes place there. Vancouver is already Canada’s Hollywood (much as Toronto is its New York). So why not just move Hollywood to Vancouver and be done with it? After all, there’s a strong community of actors, filmmakers, and writers there. The infrastructure is in place. And it’s got plenty of water.

Drawbacks: Permanently moving the entire industry to Canada would likely mean that many people involved in film and television — from agents and executives to the crews and casts — would need to become Canadian citizens. That might not sound like a bad idea to some, but I’d bet there are plenty of folks who’d rather remain Americans. But Canada’s regulations regarding how many non-Canadians can work on a production in the Great White North would make it an unavoidable issue.

Also, Vancouver shares a drawback with Seattle: gray weather. One should also consider that too many shows on TV look alike because they’re all shot in Vancouver, and add to that the sad truth that Vancouver is also not New York.

If Hollywood threatened to go north, I suspect the U.S. federal government would get involved to entice it to stay in the U.S., rather than see our nation’s most exportable commodity become Canada’s chief export.

OTHER POSSIBILITIES

At a glance, Miami might seem like an interesting choice. Warm, with good beaches, diverse cuisine, an eclectic music scene. But come hurricane season, this might prove to be a less than ideal base of operations.

Chicago shares most of New York’s strengths and weaknesses, but with a higher crime rate and a less robust mass transit system.

Perhaps a new Hollywood would find a welcoming home in Austin, Texas. Lots of great food, music, and people there. Reasonable real estate prices, lots of room to spread out. And the influx of entertainment industry folks could accelerate the long-prognosticated political purpling of The Lone Star State.

ETA: I’ve already heard some good arguments in favor of two cities I failed to consider.

First, Atlanta. It already has a number of TV production entities working there, and its southern location would give it better weather for more of the year than locales such as New York.

Second, Charlotte, NC. In addition to already hosting a fair number of TV productions, the climate is mild for most of the year, and the state has no unions. This would be a thorn in the paw of the unions that form the backbone of the industry, but it would certainly attract the attention of the studio executives and the money men.

EATA: Other suggestions I’ve heard recently include Aspen and Denver. But I also had a thought concerning the idea of the power players moving somewhere so remote: What if the studio executives wanted to set up shop in a place that suppresses unions? I couldn’t see SAG, DGA, IATSE, WGAw, etc., standing for it. Could be a brutal showown.

The more I think about it, the more sense I think it would make for the core community of power players to relocate to New York, while dispersing their production units around the country to take best advantage of diverse climates, tax breaks, subsidies, etc.

What do you think, readers? If Hollywood had to choose a new home, where would you recommend and why?

2014 Mac Mini vs. 2012 Mac Mini

Long story short: The previous generation (2012) of the Apple Mac Mini wins in a landslide.

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I’ve been considering upgrading my home desktop computer system for a while now. I still like my 30-inch Apple Cinema Display and my peripherals, but my first-generation Mac Pro has been looking a bit long in the tooth of late. A few months ago I had set my sights on a new Mac Mini to be its replacement.

Then I saw the Mac Mini had last been updated in fall of 2012. Every consumer guide and Mac-savvy pal I knew told me, “Wait until after the October Apple event before you buy.” So I was patient, and I waited.

Today Apple unveiled its new Mac Mini models. And I was not impressed.

Yes, it’s nice that the new Mini has a Haswell processor, a step forward from the previous generation’s Ivy Bridge chips — or so it might seem. And yes, the new Mini has two Thunderbolt 2.0 ports and improved 802.11ac wireless. Very nice.

You know what it doesn’t have? For starters, a Firewire 800 port for my legacy peripherals. For another, it lacks the option at time of purchase to upgrade its processor with a quad core. The new Mac Mini only offers the dual core i7 Haswell processor on its top-tier model.

Maybe you’re thinking, “So what? It’s a new chip, dude!” Think again. Only one dual-core Haswell processor matches the specs of the Mac Mini’s new top-tier configuration, and that’s the i7-4578U. Now compare it using Intel’s own data sheets to Intel’s quad-core i7-3720QM processor, which drives the top-end model of the 2012 Mac Mini.

If those charts make you shake your head, here’s an easier comparison table: Geekbench rates various Mac processors in an apples-to-apples benchmark test. The i7-4578U is the processor in the recently launched (mid-2014) 13-inch MacBook Pro; in a 64-bit multicore test, it earns a benchmark score of 7209 (2500 is the base score, and higher is better). The i7-3720QM quad-core earns a score of 12681. In other words, it beats the pants off the new Haswell dual core processor.

Of course, one could try to justify the change by arguing that Apple switched to dual cores to reduce energy usage and make the new Mini the most energy-efficient home computer it could be. But while that would be a laudable goal in a laptop, or a tablet, or a phone, it makes less sense for a desktop system. Still, I would have accepted the premise if only Apple had been willing to leave open the possibility of a more robust platform for those of us who weren’t interested in buying a hobbled system.

But those aren’t the only strikes against the new Mac Mini. Apple changed the RAM in the Mini to LPDDR3, so it needs to be soldered into the system at the factory and isn’t user-serviceable after sale. In other words, if you’re thinking you’ll pick up a new Mac Mini on the cheap and upgrade it with some less expensive third-party RAM after it arrives, you’re in for a rude surprise. If you want more RAM in that Mini, you’ll need to pay the Apple tax to get it, and you’ll need to commit to it up front when you make the purchase.

Bottom line for me: This isn’t what I was waiting for, Apple. You just lost what should have been an easy sale. I’ve ordered a late 2012 model of the Mac Mini from a third party who still had one in stock that met my needs: a 2.6 GHz i7 quad core Mac Mini with two 256GB Solid State Drives. Sure, it only has 4GB of RAM, but at least I can upgrade this one to 16GB without a soldering iron. And because the quad-core processor isn’t a total wuss, if someone wants to invent 16GB RAM chips that fit this bad boy, my new (old) Mac Mini can theoretically handle up to 32GB of RAM (unlike the fancy new Mini, whose processors can’t handle more than 16GB of RAM, not that users could upgrade it after purchase, anyway).

Apple blew it today, and I won’t forget it any time soon.

 

Theme, or, What is your book *about*?

Over the past few months, I have fielded queries about the art and craft of writing from various would-be novelists. Some have sent me e-mails, while others have chatted with me at conventions and other public appearances. All of them seemed quite capable of following along as I talked about how to structure a long narrative, or some techniques I had learned for more smoothly integrating text, action, and exposition.

Where I seem to lose them is when I start talking about the importance of a novel’s theme.

(more…)

Is today’s Star Trek fiction guilty of “lazy” quasi-racism?

In what is generally a favorable write-up of Star Trek: Seekers #1 – Second Nature, reviewer Steve Donoghue of Open Letters Monthly makes an observation I find troubling:

“In this first volume in the Star Trek Seekers series, Second Nature, Captain Terrell heads a somewhat predictably multi-racial crew — there’s a Vulcan, a Trill, an Arkenite, a Denobulan, etc. — and, unfortunately, Mack tends to lean on these race-implications just as so many Star Trek fiction writers have done before him. (It lends itself to an egregious laziness that would be condemned as simple racism if it were being applied to people from Lithuania instead of Alpha Centauri; countless times, Mack designates these characters by their races – “the Vulcan” this, or “the Trill” that).”

seekers1Considering how eagerly I and other Star Trek authors of recent years have strived to create a more inclusive portrait of humanity and of diverse ideologies and lifestyles in the novels, this note of his gave me great pause.

Have we been guilty of perpetrating a “lazy” and “casual” form of racism by using species identifiers in our prose? I know that I and some other authors do it to avoid pronoun confusion in scenes where several characters are of the same sex, and to avoid resorting to physical attributes (“the blonde,” “the tall man,” etc), or overusing the proper names to the point of distraction.

But now I’m curious. Does Mr. Donoghue have a point? Are writers of speculative fiction (including but not limited to Star Trek) committing a sin against the inclusive philosophy many of us consider important by using species identification as a form of literary short-hand? Or is this reviewer overreacting to an innocuous trope of the speculative fiction genre?

I’m not looking to pick a fight or incite people to pile onto Mr. Donoghue. This is a serious inquiry: How can we improve this aspect of SF and Star Trek fiction without creating clunky prose problems in the process? Or is this not even really a problem at all?

Why we must strive for diversity in SF/F

I get a handful of emails from fans each week. Most of them are laudatory; a few are critical. I try to limit my responses to either a perfunctory “Thank you,” or a “Sorry that story didn’t work for you,” depending upon which seems most appropriate.

Every now and then, I receive an angry e-mail from some self-righteous, aggrieved fan who simply must let me know why he or she plans to never read my work again. One of those arrived in my e-mail today. Here is the unedited and uncorrected content of the message, with the sender’s personal information redacted to protect the sender’s privacy:

 


Subject: I will not be reading any of your books.

David Mack will probable never read this email but I am writing it anyway.

I purchased and started reading your book, Harbinger and stopped when I got to the part where the Vulcan was having a homosexual affair with the Klingon spy. I deleted the book from my E-reader and will never purchase another volume authored by David Mack. You can call me a homophobe or use any other excuse you choose to write me off but the truth is homosexually is not universally accepted and I get to decided what I read and I choose not to read any more of your work. And on top of that no Vulcan would consider the situation “logical”. You can’t just remold the Vulcan persona to suit yourself.

I am just letting you know that you have lost at least one reader I am not looking for a reply.

[Name Withheld]

 

 

Well, the author of that e-mail might not have been looking for a reply, but he’s going to get one.

If he thinks the fear of alienating a few closed-minded readers is going to stop me from writing stories that feature and promote characters of diverse backgrounds—including LGBTQ characters, persons of color, and people who belong to ideological or philosophical minorities—he must be out of his mind. vanguardI’m a fucking Star Trek writer. Hasn’t he ever heard of IDIC—“Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations”?

Most of my writing work to date has been for Star Trek. Although the various television series could have done more in their respective times to portray ethnic and gender diversity, those of us who write the licensed Trek fiction continue to do our best to depict a more progressive, enlightened, open, and harmonious future, not just for humanity but for all sentient beings. One in which love, equality, and compassion are the touchstones of civilized society.

To that end, we’ve tried to make our literary dramatis personae more closely resemble the people of Earth. We’ve tried to include more people of African, Asian, and Southeast Asian ancestry than were seen in the televised and feature-film stories. We’ve tried to incorporate characters who hail from many cultures and viewpoints. We’ve tried to imagine a future in which people of all faiths have learned to live in harmony with people of other creeds as well as those who prefer to lead purely secular lives. We’ve tried to depict a future in which people’s gender identities are no longer limited to some arbitrary binary social construct, but rather reflect a more fluid sense of personal identity.

I will never be made to feel shame for doing this. I am proud that we’ve been able to do this. I know we’ve still got more work to do, and we can do better at integrating more diverse viewpoints and characters into the ever-expanding universe of Star Trek.

The author of the quoted e-mail tries to justify his screed by declaring that “homosexually (sic) is not universally accepted”. So what? Neither are human rights of a fundamental nature. In fact, I can’t think of any notion of justice or equality that is universally accepted. Why should that limit our vision of a more open, egalitarian, meritocratic future? I reject this aspect of the author’s rant as fundamentally illogical.

As for the author’s subsequent assertion that “no Vulcan would consider the situation ‘logical’,” I would rebut that Spock himself told Valeris in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, “Logic is the beginning of wisdom, not the end.” What Spock had learned that the author of this morning’s e-mail apparently has not is that there are many ingredients to wisdom — including, but not limited to, compassion and empathy.

Another reason today’s e-mail strikes me as ironic is that I consider the doomed romance between the characters he cited — T’Prynn and Lurqal — to be one of the best story and character arcs I’ve written to date. Writing T’Prynn’s tale of agony, conflict, and heartbreak, followed by her forlorn journey toward self-forgiveness and quest for redemption, was one of the most creatively rewarding efforts of my career so far. And this guy thinks I’m going to feel bad because his world view is too small to see the truth in it? All I can say, to paraphrase Neil de Grasse Tyson, is: I prefer my universe big.

Whenever someone asks, Why do we need to keep talking about embracing diversity in stories, and seeking out diversity in the authors and creators and portrayers of speculative fiction?, I will say it’s because too many authors and artists and filmmakers still get letters like this one. We need to work toward a better future in which no one would even *think* of writing an e-mail like this.

I’m not so starry-eyed as to think that day will ever come, at least not in my lifetime. I suspect that humanity will always have to contend with prejudice in one form or another. But that doesn’t give us license to stop struggling against it. It is exactly the reason we must press on and continue to do better, to demand better, to show that it’s possible.

The effort is its own reward.

 

The Guardian ponders Media Tie-in Writing

The Guardian has published an interesting short article about media tie-in novels, albeit one a bit narrow in its examination of the field. (It spends most of its ink on Star Wars, and the closest it gets to the Star Trek books is a hat-tip to John Scalzi‘s award-winning novel Redshirts, which is more a parody of Star Trek than a franchise novel. And while John offers some flattering remarks about the craft of tie-in writing, I wish article writer Damien Walter had actually interviewed some real, working media tie-in writers.

Sadly, the article’s reader comments comprise the usual disappointing melange — complaints that “franchise novels” are just “printed television,” or repetitions of the ignorant belief that one must have seen every episode and have read every previous novel in order to enjoy the newest books, or that franchise novels “bring nothing new or original” to the page.

I give the article’s author a polite hat-tip for trying to give media tie-in novels a fair shake, but I want to throttle some of his readers.

ETA: I received a tweet from the article’s author, Damien Walter, who explained that he normally does not interview people for “opinion” pieces, and that the only reason Mr. Scalzi is quoted is that Walter happened to discuss it with him while he was preparing the article.

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