Artificially Black and White

Reading yet another spork, I realized that almost every spork I’ve read recently has similar complaints about fairly standard elements of fiction, especially in the fantasy genre.

Let’s be honest: For readers to connect to a story, they have to identify it as a story—something has to be recognizable to the audience. A completely “original” story, if it isn’t built with the constraints of fiction and the human brain in mind, may well be incomprehensible. Which you might say is what happened in the modern era of Literature and is why no one reads anymore. But that’s a different issue.

Ultimately, it’s the execution that counts, that makes the difference that turns a cliché into an imaginative world. Because they may often have two similar plots, ideas, or even scenes.

Compare, for example, the Harry Potter series and the Inheritance Cycle.

A skilled author will convince her readers that they don’t need to question this world; while it doesn’t conform to ours, it has it’s own set of internal laws and limits of ability. I admit I couldn’t finish the later books of Harry Potter and have little interest in doing so, but couldn’t start Eragon with any integrity because so many readers lashed back against the only given law of “it works because I said so”.  And I accept their opinions because they coherently argue this conclusion with textual evidence, I’ve seen their other articles on works I do have familiarity with, and I can understand how their opinions skew—whereas many defenders of cheap, popcorn novels nearly always respond with “U cant say anything bcuz u dont publish” and I am being generous.

Now occasionally perfectly literate fans will confess that they enjoy those works, almost always with the caveat

I know that it isn’t very good objectively, but sometimes I just want to read pulp.

Since that spork, I think of the preview chapters of Bran Hambric: the Farscape Curse, I’ve been thinking about the “tropes” of fantasy fiction, and trying to come up with an argument to prove they aren’t necessarily bad—go back to the difference between idea and execution. Then I watched the newest fantasy-movie-based-on-a-book-so-it-will-be-a-blockbuster-and-make-lots-of-money, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole—the owl movie.

Whether it’s an issue with the film or it started in the books, I certainly can’t use this movie as an example of what works. First, because Godwin’s Law should not be invoked so easily, which I want to avoid so as not to completely invalidate the rest of my argument, but there’s no denying that the antagonists call themselves the “Pure Ones”.

Then again, even the king and queen of the guardians are snowy owls and the whitest in the movie, much like the queen of the evil empire—who *spoiler* flies off in the end so as to return for the sequels.

But, especially to emphasis this fight is against GOOD and EVIL, the movie relies entirely on tropes (in this case, we can validly call them cliché) to move the plot forward, shoehorning the characters into their roles with effectively no development whatsoever—the mystical blue-tipped Hedgehog even names them: Soren “the leader”, Twilight “the warrior”, the small female who first is spunky-damsel-in-distress but ends up contributing nothing including getting kidnapped “the token girl who isn’t a mother figure”. The nursemaid snake gets to be “the heart”. Also a snake as a nursemaid to owl kids? And they are to be the Nine Walkers—wait, “Five Flyers” to save the world.

And then poor Clyde (at least that’s what it sounded like and I missed the credits). He is the designated EVIL because he is OMG!JELUZ!1!!111! of his super-talented GOOD brother, Soren. Not that Soren ever seemed particularly concerned about what his brother was actually feeling or thinking—he’s completely oblivious. Clyde evilly tells him *spoilers* at the end “Then you don’t know me at all” (paraphrased). That’s never been said before, right? But he’s right…from this movie, Soren has never had the faintest interest in getting to know his brother.

Just as Clyde’s “you don’t know me” speech might ring just slightly familiar, so does much of the dialogue. There were a few gems; inauspiciously, none of which I can remember—and even more revealing is that I can write this review in the theater while actually watching the movie, I can follow so easily the characters and story because they are so familiar. Like a fill in the blank.

I will grant most of these issues are probably the medium. Not having read the books, I don’t know how much ground is being covered (too much). It’s more a summary than a story on its own terms—critical failure for a standalone movie.

Since the movie is never as good as the book, the creators should think of it as such.

It is a beautiful movie. If you don’t have a brain that automatically analyses everything to death, more power to you. Most everything is well-rendered (if the snake looked a bit odd) and the owls are gorgeously and generously detailed. They paid full price for every feather, and it works. Even I have to admit the fight scenes were actually cool, and fun to watch—and unlike the rest of the movie, how owls might fight (even with armor), because like Alpha & Omega, it was mostly a story about humans who happen to superficially look like animals. The fighting however was in “3D” and not just in terms of having to wear special glasses because I watched it in 2D and it still worked (movie-wise instead of story-wise). But the owls used right and left and up and down when fighting and not limiting themselves to one plane. That was fun to watch.

Also, I the soundtrack was generally strong, if at times it got a little generic. They also had the odd idea of using Owl City music for a scene and for credits. Beyond the word, one of these things is not like the other. This is a dark movie, with very dark themes and the sudden intrusion of Owl City’s cheerful optimism jarred. Keep your theme in mind next time.

Still Killing Time, Actually Part 3

My schedule got pushed back a day, which seems appropriate for triviality like this. Also, I prefer posting on even days anyway.


Here in chapter five, we’ve fully moved to the alternate universe, where Christine Chapel holds the same function as in the original timeline, we have an awkward sparring scene between Chapel and the obligatory original character (OC) alien. We’ve not heard from Chapel before so it’s time for her POV and to hearken back to Thursday’s complaint about the twu-luv overcoming all other relationships, the alien S’Parva is physically sort-of canine (more on that later), but the awkwardness is that the encounter reads like fem-slash.

Poor S’Parva, by the way, whose alienness is completely random, gratuitous, token and makes no sense, who is introduced with this gem:

“A body like a goddess…and a face like an Irish setter.”

So it can be clarified that he’s not just being mean! she really is dog-like. Yeah. Uhura objects, laughingly, and says she knows the guy, Richardson, isn’t “a bigot or a xenophobiac” but doesn’t mention or object to the misogyny. She does put him down a few sentences later by calling McCoy to neuter the tomcat on the bridge. Which makes me feel a little better, however forced the banter.

The worst part of S’Parva’s ‘characterization’ is that she’s effectively human and doesn’t have any outsider perspective or observations on her situation or the rest of the crew—other than to bemoan how different she is, to let Richardson to flirt with her. Except Richardson is apparently the only guy to speak to her so she calls him her little brother or teacher or companion because this is a word that has more than one meaning and more than one interpretation! Of course. But still, one made-up word does not an alien make. A true TOS tradition regarding aliens, I suppose.

S’Parva is also described in canine terms, specifically as a quadruped. Which makes her different, you see. Except she really isn’t.

Already she had mastered walking upright—which, she realized, was actually quite convenient….She looked at her hands, at the fork she had learned to hold with some amount of practice. Three longer fingers and a thumb distinguishable from its human counterpart only by the soft fur. Yes, the rest would follow.

So I guess she’s really just a furry human with canine habits and a doglike face—so like TOS! Only she has one fewer finger…I guess that would make it harder to film.

It just really bothers me. Because apparently, with her arrive, the entire Enterprise, or at least her lab, is being retrofitted for quadrupeds. As another character says, this is a good thing and overdue if this made-up species isn’t the only four-legged intelligent creature* allowed to space travel with the Federation, but she isn’t a quadruped? And why didn’t she learn how to walk upright before if it’s so convenient, though her species has worked with Starfleet for years?

The easiest way to read this is through a laundry list of questions that as far as I can tell are never answered. Hence the need for a spork.

Oh, and because she’s OC she’s horribly self-conscious, even though she’s apparently physic enough to determine all the different species in a room just by their thoughts, but not enough to tell what they think of her—which, if she could, would naturally all be good (other than Richardson’s comments earlier)—because by golly, she was assigned a place on the Enterprise and is even the first of her species on a starship. Actually, though, I don’t think I’ll call her a Mary Sue though. This book jumps character’s heads so often we aren’t with her enough to make her that important. Now in Demons

Anyway.

Further on in the AU, S’Parva and Chapel are in exactly the same positions, with the same characters they had before. Other than to acknowledge Spock as captain, the situation may as well occur before. In fact, when I was looking it up again, I thought it did.

The scene, not even seven pages long, occurs because Chapel is out of shape, and so McCoy has told her that she needs to spar with S’Parva (of a much stronger race, from a planet with higher gravity) for S’Parva’s workout. Chapel does not do her research and so doesn’t know until the alien points it out to her. (She’s a nurse, how’d she plan on getting away with it if S’Parva were injured?) However, it’s the talk after the workout that bothers me (because this isn’t too bad until the characters are ‘reflecting’ on their emotions).

S’Parva’s whiskered brow rose onto a high canine forehead. “Oh?” she wondered, absently reaching out to massage the other woman’s tense neck muscles.

Christine nodded, meeting the Katellan’s confused expression, enjoying the warmth of the hands which were experts in the art of massage.

That’s not the full passage, but I had to quote it because it reminded me of why I thought fem-slash. Then I had to stop myself quoting because we jump right into Chapel’s crush on Spock, which was transported whole-cloth from the old universe.  And it’s also used so that we can confirm the One True Pairing (OTP) of Spock and Kirk in the original universe as with this one. Hence why I know it’s the same “relationship”. So I feel perfectly comfortable dragging it into my discussion of why that storyline bothered me in TOS.

Back in conversation, Chapel says that if McCoy had being trying to “get” her, he would have made her spar with Spock, who would have gone along for the benefit of a random nurse, why? But “Chris” says McCoy wouldn’t have done so anyway (maybe because Captain Spock wouldn’t have?).  And the doctor wouldn’t have done so because…shocker…Chapel admits she had a crush on the Captain!

The only difference in this universe is that Spock is Captain, and Chapel’s shown to get over it. I would say good for her, but…

At least it didn’t hurt anymore. If she’d once felt something for the Vulcan which she’d labeled as love, that misplaced emotion had been replaced with respect—and the knowledge that whatever fantasies she hand once entertained were not only illogical, but also impossible.

The last whole post was about how much I hate this much emphasis on this trope, and I think some of this will be too, because the entire point of the conversation is to make clear no one will be sad when Kirk and Spock are finally united into their OTP. But I really want to quote the whole thing, because it is soooo stilted, and so entirely geared towards that point.

So yes, the entire point of the conversation is to show how Christine Chapel can acknowledge that she had ‘feelings’ for Spock that weren’t returned. She naturally sensed the “loneliness” in him, but all along knew in her heart that he was looking for that Special Someone and she sincerely hopes he will be happy.

  1. I never liked the ‘Chapel crushes on Spock’ storylines in TOS in the first place because she came across like a stalker—why is it supposed to be funny and why didn’t anyone do anything? The situation makes them both uncomfortable and she’s pathetic.** I hate saying it, because as a nurse on the flagship of Starfleet she ought to be a strong, competent character. But instead, as a recurring female character she is forced into a ‘comedic’ role of the lovesick girl. I know I’m supposed to wholeheartedly support and justify my gender no matter what they do, but why couldn’t Uhura pull her aside and tell her to get some self respect!?
  2. Isn’t there such a thing as friendship anymore?

No, no there isn’t. This seems to be a fanon idea—or ideal?—

“I thought I sensed a loneliness in Spock.” She laughed wistfully. “And maybe I was naïve enough to believe I was the cure.” She shrugged, not looking at the other woman. “But when I finally understood what it means to be a Vulcan…that’s when I understood that Spock can’t allow himself to become too close to anyone.”

But she wondered if that was really the answer. There had been moments when the Vulcan had been tender, even warm with her. But she consigned those times back into the past as the barely readable smile returned.

So even though she recognizes Spock’s affection for her, he still can’t be too close to anyone. Ever. Even though he’s been wandering across the galaxy hoping to find his One True Love and his father’s disowned him, and she doesn’t have feel ‘that way’ for him anymore she sure isn’t going to lend him a shoulder to cry on. If it isn’t romantic than you don’t have a true relationship, so there’s just no point.

Somewhat justified as in this universe he’s captain, and there’s lots of theories that the captain can’t socialize with the crew, but Jim still had Bones (as well as Spock) in TOS, so why, in this AU, can’t Spock talk to anyone? Because for an example of a captain who doesn’t seem to have had any true confidants? Like Pike, who had a Vulcan to drag him off to a forbidden planet to act out pure fantasies never contacting reality again—because once the Enterprise left, he’s still effectively broken and alone. Wait! There’s a pretty lady there too, even though he doesn’t actually know her. I’m sorry, romantic love does not heal all wounds, it really doesn’t. It reduces the complexity that original works (and sometimes great fanfic) allow.

Effectively the entire seven pages is devoted to nothing more than Chapel blessing this union.

Also? She’s entirely selfish. Dragging the scene back into the plot, Chapel swoons to an echo of the original universe. Which most of the characters have. And S’Parva recognizes it as such. She reminds Chapel that this could be a bad thing. It’s happening to others in the crew, maybe we can figure it out!

And despite the fact that S’Parva was right, the though of four medical department heads—and the captain—psychoanalyzing her subconscious images caused her skin to crawl. Nothing incriminating, she thought. Just damned embarrassing! Images, yes. But…of what? First Officer Spock? She shivered. Easily enough explained—at least in her own case. Straight out of the textbooks. Knock him down in rank a few points. Make him easier to attain. The red heat crawled higher into her cheeks. No point dredging up restless—and unreachable—spirits. And the dizziness came again, refusing to leave her alone. She smiled to herself. It would be her secret…no matter what.

But instead: We could save the ship! but I’ve had embarrassing thoughts that are already totally obvious to the rest of the ship! No—let the ship burn!

Urg.

*Should this be creäture? ‘Cause this is English, I’m pretty sure, and English has used creature for a good long time.

**I have this problem with most of the canon characters fan fiction writers use as pairings for Spock, and for that matter, canon parings. During the original series almost all of his “love interests” occurred when he was somehow impaired. Spores=date rape drugs? This is disturbing subtext.

Brothers-in-Arms: or, Your Definition is Different than Mine

The Star Trek fanzine Spockanalia contained th...

Image via Wikipedia

That missing date of the 3rd from my update schedule will haunt me for the rest of my days. Or at least what days I actually see the update calendar on my main page of that month. And assuming I can keep my posting on-track otherwise. But, hey, fell asleep before I could even write my post; there was nothing to be done.

Now:

The Real Part 1 of the Killing Time review, spork, or whatever this actually is, because I don’t know what to call it. “Random-thoughts-and-notes-taken-during-the-reading-of-the-book-which-may-or-not-be-relevant-or true-but-drive-me-nuts-nevertheless” perhaps.

I started rereading this today, because I hadn’t picked the thing up since I made my original notes (but I had to because it’s very hard to finish ‘reviewing’ a book that you haven’t actually read), but had to start from the beginning to, well, get back in the spirit if you will. And promptly made more notes. One-and-a-half, actually. Although at least they are in cursive, and I have very large handwriting in cursive. For instance, I found quotes like this, from page 3 (remember, the first printing):

[Kirk] felt the familiar telepathic door swing open between himself and the Vulcan. It was something which had formed between them over the years, something which had saved their lives countless times and made them brothers.

Firstly, that “telepathic door”. Does that bother anyone else? It’s just such a…dull, but stupid, image. Too physical a metaphor for the situation perhaps: suddenly I realize I’ve never actually minded the “silver thread” of mindlinks before—although talking to a friend who actually reads much more fantasy than I do, this appears to be a fanon thing for Star Wars than fantasy itself. And why is the door telepathic, and how does that help Kirk? Talk to the doooor, Spock….

Also, those “which”s should be “that”s. Or something.

This does however lead me to the two points that I really wanted to make in this part one. Actually, first I only had one, which relates to the title, but the second is also important, and leads to the first. So I suppose it should be first anyway.

So. One thing that really stood out to me on second reading—which was actually, I think, the reason I was so bothered in the first place to start this project—was the characterizations of the characters. Now, this may be somewhat silly of me, but I have higher standards for franchise-published stories pulled from existing canon, and actual fan fiction, which doesn’t really have to hold to any standards, primarily because it’s completely unauthorized. At least the published stuff is reviewed by ‘officials’.

Not that I’m objecting to fan fiction. For one, I read an awful lot of it, and fortunately have a clear distinction between what I can expect there as, well, practically a media in itself, versus other my other reading, even in genre fiction.

But in fan fiction there’s a curious thing that develops called “fanon”. It’s like canon, which is to say, the information from, in this case Star Trek: TOS. Fandom, however, takes from these facts and builds on them, and since there wouldn’t be a name for fan fiction unless it’s shared, fans themselves create information to, usually, fill in gaps. For instance, I’ve heard that Uhura was never given a first name by the show, but somehow, because so many fans use “Nyota”, official Trek eventually used in a movie—thereby making ‘fanon’, canon. But fan-made-facts don’t become canon unless it becomes accepted by a significant portion of fandom. After which point, most newer/younger/less dedicated fans may not even realize it isn’t canon, but have made it part of their experience of canon. (Writing this paragraph has made me feel like such a geek.)

The most blatant version of this in my experience is in the fanfiction.net (known for its total lack of quality control) section for Lord of the Rings. Naturally, the place got a huge boost when the movies came out, and as I was reading in high school—forgive me! I’d seen the movies maybe once, and never quite finished the trilogy, no matter how much I loved The Hobbit in fourth grade. Frankly, many characters are, well, not resembling any character of the original books, nor, particularly the characters in the movies. Especially the elven twins Elladan and Elrohir (do I actually remember that?). They aren’t in the movies, and have the tiniest part in the books as I recall, but in the stories I followed they were joke-y like the Weasley’s and great friends with Legolas—who had naturally been bestest of best friends with Aragorn for some unspecified length of time. And many of those stories were pretty good. But totally, completely, fanon.

Killing Time uses heavily ‘fanon’ versions of both Kirk and Spock.

They’re positively cuddly, for one, although I can hardly count that as it was supposed to be edited out (although I don’t know how far). But mainly, it’s the feeling of the characters. Neither acts like the Kirk or Spock who you see on the show: for instance “[Kirk] reached across the table…’I know it’s an inconvenience to your Vulcan logic to have this link with a human, but just tell me!’ But the gentle smile robbed the words of any harsh implications.” That might not be the best example, mostly because it’s such an over-arching issue, but it does get across how blatant the author wanted to make their relationship, any relationship. No subtlety here.

But because of the fanon ‘slash’ version of this relationship, the overtness is taken for granted. That doesn’t mean the author doesn’t try to show how close they are through other words, however. Like in other slash fandoms, the insistence in calling them brothers.

Back up to that first quote, paraphrased “the door that made them brothers. Or years, whatever. Why do so many slash writers, especially those transforming close friends into couples, insist on describing them like brothers? Or as close as brothers? Now, maybe it’s because I have two brothers that it bugs the heck out of me. Because I know what interactions these stories draw from: the good-natured squabbling, similar tastes, and in-jokes. My brothers do that. So yeah, creepy. Why don’t they ever think of the to-be significant other as “a spouse, but without the nagging”? Which, sexist, yeah, but not so creepy.

Other characters will also comment on the brotherly love going on, in this case, McCoy.

“When you go to sleep, the little boy in you needs someone to relate to—and that little boy automatically chooses Spock—sort of a big-brother figure for your dreams.”

Now, a sophisticated argument might say that such other characters can’t see past their assumptions to the true UST and are making excuses for the characters’ closeness, or falsely identifying the relationship. I’m not seeing much an argument from that, though we’ve only seen McCoy this once. And a threesome would be too much, so I think we can safely conclude that the primary reason for this Freudian metaphor is to ‘prove’ how much they love each other.

Which, no. As soon as you call them ‘like brothers’. Yeech. Is it something to do with maybe people having fewer siblings anymore? Is it because families no longer stay together as adults—you grow up and move out and therefore are only supposed to see your siblings no more than to stay a week every couple years if they’re far away, or drop by for dinner every couple weeks if close? I don’t know, but this trend is disturbing, and not even the same way as deliberate incest or twincest or Wincest or any of the other disturbing combinations that such fans have come up with. At least they know what they’re doing.