Monday, July 24, 2017

Is European Fantasy "Done"?

...well, in some ways it's more popular than ever, given the Game of Thrones TV show. But a lot of readers complain that all fantasy is set in Europe.

Truth is, what they actually mean is it's all influenced by Tolkein. And there's nothing wrong with that - the work of Elizabeth Moon, for example, shows that northern European fantasy can still be good. It can, however, be a little bit boring.

Lately, the push has been to go outside Europe for inspiration, but that then runs up against (in my mind stupid) arguments about cultural appropriation and stereotyping.

Well, back in 1992, Lois McMaster Bujold (better known for the Vorkosigan Saga) wrote a book which shows there's still plenty of space in Europe.

The Spirit Ring is a true historical fantasy - it's history written as if magic was real. And it's set in...Renaissance Italy.

This is a brilliant choice. Southern Europe seldom shows up in either historical or secondary world fantasy. Take note, kids - and consider Spain, Italy or even Greece as setting or inspiration.

On top of that, Bujold's female lead, Fiametta, is...

She's black Italian. Her mother came from Africa - but was never a slave, and Fiametta is treated no differently from other women of her class. She's also a nice, strong female character who never, at any point, comes off as a "guy with breasts."

I got my copy second hand at a convention, but I've checked, the book IS available, although the hardcovers available are mostly in only decent condition, so I was glad to get mine.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Deborah Watling

I'm not happy to be talking about Doctor Who again - not happy at all.

One of the things I've missed about the new series is the avoidance of multiple Companions. When we did get them, we had lovers (Amy and Rory) or characters who barely seemed to know each other (Bill and Nardole).

The first Doctor had no less than three Companions (the word assistant was also used, but fandom dropped it a lot more quickly than many people think).

The second also had more than one, and, for 40 episodes in 1967 and 68 (remember, 25 minute episodes), he had two - Jamie and Victoria.

Deborah Watling played Victoria Waterford, the girl of the pairing (she was only 19 at the time, and the character was 14-15 years old). She was "rescued" by the Doctor after her father was killed by Daleks. The dynamic between the three was very close to a family. She returned to 1960s Earth to live a normal life - leaving Jamie bereft of his "kid sister."

Oh, and she was from the 19th century (another artificial limitation of NuWho is the lack of companions from the past, unless you count Me). Like a lot of early Companions she had a bad habit of screaming a lot (a tradition I'm glad NuWho has dropped).

She was the Companion hardest hit by the BBCs policy of not keeping episodes - only just over half of her episodes have been found so far.

In addition to Doctor Who Watling (who was the British equivalent of a high school dropout) also played Alice - as a nod to that Who established that Vicki was, at one point, photographed by Charles Dodson) and was prominent in The Newcomers in 1969. She was originally a child actor, making her first TV appearance at the age of 9...and her last in the Five(ish) Doctors in 2013.

She was only 69 years old.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

If you...

...have more time than I do, NASA just did one of their infamous mass uploads. This time, it's hundreds of historical aerospace videos. 500 videos of experimental flight including early space shuttle type. I think I'm going to have to walk away now.

The videos are coming from the Armstrong Flight Research Center. And they include blowing up a Boeing 720.


Wednesday, July 19, 2017


A Republican Congressman asked NASA if it was true there was a civilization on Mars thousands of years ago.

I realize he's a Republican but really, Dana Rohrabacher, do your basic research before asking scientists stupid questions in public. ;) (Okay, at some levels, there's no such thing as a truly stupid question, but...)

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming

Because I did promise.

So, I saw it this weekend. And it wasn't the best superhero movie I've ever seen.

What it was, was the best young adult superhero movie I've ever seen.

And that matters, because the superhero universe, on the whole, caters poorly to the middle grade and young adult audience. Kids grow out of all ages comics and seldom have anything to grow into. Ms Marvel is without a doubt the best YA comic right now, but it has very little competition.

Homecoming was a true YA movie. I've complained in the past about "YA creep" - the tendency to classify anything with a protagonist so much as a day under 18 as YA whether it is or not. Hunger Games being a classic example.

Peter is fifteen - and looks and acts fifteen. He has to deal with teenaged problems - being teased and bullied, sneaking out of the house, finding a date to Homecoming. Being neither a child nor an adult. Not being taken seriously.

He's also fighting bad guys. But the superheroics is spliced in neatly with what closely resembles a classic 80s high school comedy. (Watch for the mascot). It's a fun movie. You get to see Spidey learning to be a hero and learning to improve his classic banter. And getting things dropped on him, of course.

I have to give this movie kudos for knowing what it needed to be.

I also have to give them some major diversity points - and not just for casting Zendaya to play MJ (she actually looked great except for not being ginger).

No, this movie did background diversity right in a world where so many movies are doing it wrong. The kids in the school looked like I would expect kids at a magnet school in New York to look - a great mix of white, black, Asian, etc. It felt right and looked realistic rather than the checklisting that's becoming sadly prominent (claims of "forced diversity" are 99% BS, but some people really do make their diversity look forced). And, of course, we didn't have the "There's one black kid in Smallville and it's Pete Ross" phenomenon.

Oh, and it's full of easter eggs - the black guy on the bad guys' team is Miles Morales' uncle (which I missed because I've never tracked Morales that much). Two Deadpool jokes - one in dialog and one in the end credits. And if that white haired girl seen a couple of the times in the background isn't Felicia Hardy they're wasting the actor.

So, yes. A lot of fun.

Watch for the mascot.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Lady Versions - Gender, Doctor Who, Thirteen and Role Models

So - I was going to write a review of Spider-Man: Homecoming today. You'll get that tomorrow because the BBC decided to rather abruptly distract me.

This is the face of Thirteen:

This is Jodie Whittaker - from Huddersfield, Yorkshire, and previously known for Attack The Block and Broadchurch. I've never actually seen either of those. So, I can't judge her as an actor, not fairly. I've been looking at Youtube clips of some of her past roles - the BBC has a little compilation here.

The thing that strikes me about the clips I've seen is her control over her body language, probably because she's done a lot of theater work. For a physically demanding role, that's important. She moves differently when she's acting than when she's herself in a very obvious way.

But, of course, the reactions have been many, varied, and not all of them positive. I don't think there's been more hate over the casting than there was over Matt Smith (Too young!) or Peter Capaldi (Too old!) - but it has been more intense hate. The Doctor Who groups on Facebook have been full of some pretty nasty comments. Memes with Capaldi's face and "The Last Doctor." "The only reason for a female doctor is feminism". Comments about the Doctor was designed as a role model for boys. Jokes about not being able to park the TARDIS (Which are hilarious because the Doctor has NEVER been able to park the TARDIS correctly). Nurse Who jokes. "It makes it less science fiction" was probably the one which offended me the most.

The winner, of course, is "Nobody wants a TARDIS full of bras." Which Don Sakers pointed out rhythms perfectly with "Yellow submarine." As in "We all live in a TARDIS full of bras." Because I've been suffering with that since yesterday, so you have to too.


Is there a legitimate complaint about a female Doctor?

There's one - it takes away a male role model who is not traditionally or toxically masculine. The Doctor has always subverted masculinity. Always. His weapon is a screwdriver - what are screwdrivers used to do? Make things. Build things. He defeats his enemies with words combined with sheer grit and determination. He eschews guns and swords. And...they have a point. They have a very good point. We do need those kinds of role models - but it highlights something else.

I was a little girl. And as a little girl I sought role models on screen. You know what?

Most of them were male.

The first female character I actually wanted to be was Emma Peel. I don't remember many others. The women in the shows I watched were often sidekicks. They were Companions, they were the Amazing Friends not the Spider-Man. So, who did I look up to? I looked up to Spider-Man, my first superhero "love." The boys of International Rescue, because who actually wanted to be Lady Penelope. Superman. Luke Skywalker - oh, I loved Leia, but I could tell she wasn't the lead. Spock - more than Kirk - because as cool as Uhura was, as a little girl I didn't understand how important her role as xenolinguist was.

And, of course, the Doctor.

Little girls have historically had to look up to male role models (even worse for little girls who aren't white).

Little boys have the luxury of not having to do that.

And little boys who never look up to women, respect them, and learn from them turn into men who don't respect women either.

So, yes, it's a good point, but: Little boys need to learn to look up to Thirteen.

And how do they learn?

The key to doing this right is going to be...the Companion. We don't know who will be chosen yet. But...and I know some feminists will howl at me for this because some already are howling about how the departure of Pearl Mackie is because "we can't have two female leads" needs to be a boy.

It needs to be a boy who learns to look up to the Doctor, to respect her, and shows little boys that looking up to a woman does not emasculate you.

(And for ratings' sake should be reasonably attractive so the young heterosexual women have somebody to drool over, which was one of the issues with Capaldi).

But I hope Chibnall is thinking about this - and I hope that whoever the Companion is they keep the balance.

Oh, and if the negative comments above depress you, here are some points to cheer you up.
1. Alex Kingston wants to come back to hit on her as River Song *ducks*
2. Colin Baker is over the moon because he thinks his daughters will love this.
3. Little girls squeeing in happiness.
4. LOTS of little girls squeeing in happiness.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Okay, People

Quantum teleportation is not:

1. The physical movement of any matter.
2. A precursor to matter transmitters.
3. Anything that can remotely lead, dear BBC-who-knows-better to teleporting people.

Quantum teleportation is:

1. A remarkably secure way to move information.

Also. Sunday Sunday Sunday...