Why so serious?

I suppose I should stand up and officially scotch the (self-started) rumour that I’m going to be writing in the Star Wars universe. That was my April Fool, obviously, and probably not a good one either (Mary Robinette Kowal pretty much owned April Fool’s Day for pranking purposes; mine was a 4.30am first-coffee-of-the-day effort). Needless to say, Disney wouldn’t come to me first for a new entry to the canon, and certainly not for a continuation of the Jar Jar Binks story. Anyway, they’ve already got Chuck Wendig, and that’s enough beard for anybody.

It’s interesting to note that there seemed to be a lot less pranking than usual this time around. Paul Cornell posted on Twitter that there was more anger than anything else, though personally I didn’t see any of that through the morning. He wondered if we had been battered too much by the “absurdity” of everyday life.

It’s possible – there hasn’t been much good news this year, both in general and in personal terms. Looking ahead – US elections, idiot fundamentalists, idiot Conservatives, the demolition of the NHS and the return to Victorian-style poverty – there’s not much good on the horizon either. There aren’t too many reasons to laugh out loud. And that’s just the general stuff.

Should I feel bad over posting what was basically just an “unfunny lie”? Has April Fool’s Day become the Heath Ledger of jokes, uncomfortable, unwanted, polarising and vicious (reminds me of the troll-in-law, but less sociopathic)?

As with most things, it depends on what you’re doing and why. For example my own pranking is pointed at myself as much as anything else: I don’t take myself seriously, and I rarely expect anybody else to. I’m happy to set myself up as the butt of a joke (even a bad one) because I’ll most likely be the first one (sometimes the only one) to laugh. The world’s going to hell, led by the Pied Piper of Fart, so rather than drive myself mad worrying about it I’ll turn away for a moment and have a giggle. At myself, not at anyone else. It’s not big, it’s not clever, but it’s not directed at anybody else and it’s not hurtful either, unlike some of the other jokes.

We’re frustrated, we’re angry, we lash out – and the “jokes” hurt people.

Perhaps the world gets the jokes it deserves. If that’s the case, then if we want better jokes, then we really ought to do something about the world.

/rant.

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Star Wars – The Force Awakens: A Few Thoughts

We have Star Wars’d. After the disappointing experience of watching Attack of the Clones at the Showroom when it came out (CGI Yoda leaping in the air like Nureyev on speed threw us out of the movie, with Rachel dissolving in fits of giggles as the rest of the audience glared), I didn’t bother with Revenge of the Sith and I was wary of going into The Force Awakens with high levels of expectation.

Turns out I shouldn’t have worried. TFA is everything the prequels were not. It is a film by fans, for fans. And not just old fans like myself (Class of ’77) – it’s a film that effectively bridges the gap between my generation and younger geeks and nerds and genre fans as much as it bridges the gap between the fall of the Empire and this fresh struggle with the First Order. If you want, it’s a passing of the baton, fresh legs in the race. TFA isn’t hamstrung by its own future, as the prequels were; it can look in new directions, and do something exciting with Star Wars.

Of course it’s exciting to see the return of familiar faces and characters – Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, the droids, hell even Nien Numb gets in there! – and they aren’t just there as fan-service nods either, they play pivotal roles in the plot. But I mentioned passing on the baton, and TFA introduces a whole slew of new characters who not only take up the baton but rip up the whole damn track as they charge into the next installment of this trilogy.

Let’s start with Rey (Daisy Ridley). She’s our first new POV. Like Luke, she’s grown up on a desert world; like Luke she can tinker with droids and knows their language. She’s more go-getting and less whiny than Luke, and doesn’t have his privileges (he always had food on the table at the end of the day, didn’t he? Rey doesn’t have that – she has to slave for it). I’m determined not to let spoilers in here, but she’s a real fighter, and it’s clear from the climactic fight that she’s on the side of light. There’s some weird bullshit on the net about Rey being “too perfect”, a Mary Sue, a sop to the dictates of PC – I don’t see that, and if folks saying that have their heads stuck that far up their arses I’m surprised they managed to see any of the film at all. Rey’s no more perfect than Luke was in A New Hope; she’s just as fallible in fact, if you look at her decisions in the film. “But she has skills!” – well of course she has skills – she has to fight for her own survival every damn day!

John Boyega’s Finn attracted just as much vitriol from the arse-end of the net for… not being white. In a whole galaxy filled with aliens, we can’t have a guy who isn’t white? Hmm. See my previous comment. Meanwhile Boyega does a bloody good job of portraying a man who has seen what the First Order is, seen what he is required to be, and has decided he can’t – and won’t – do it. The panic, the anxiety, it comes across as very real. Rey and Finn work well together as a team too, and I had no problem cheering them on.

Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren is another perfectly-pitched character. He’s got his own set of stresses to go with a fractured personality, and a temper that reminds me of my troll-in-law Sebastian. The audience has very good reason to pile in against him. Rachel reckoned Adam Driver managed an understated performance; it was certainly far better than anything the prequels managed in writing a villain.

TFA does ape A New Hope in many respects – the epic opening shot, the desert planet, the McGuffin in a droid, attacking an impregnable intergalactic weapon – but I think it does this to emphasise that this is a new beginning as well as a sequel. The filmmakers have managed these homages to the ’70s trilogy so well that they don’t trip up the story, and there are enough new elements that TFA does stand on its own. I’m looking forward to what happens next.

Geeks, freaks and wordcounts

If you’ve been following the Twitter feed over on the right at all, you might have seen an occasional wordcount update. HKV (MC2) is born, and even now has risen to the heady length of 18000 words. Given that my first draft target this time around is 120k, that’s an amazing 15% covered already. Whether this 15% is any good or not, only time will tell.

Meanwhile, the first pass through the finished first draft MSS of MC1 has turned up a few provisional problems – not least of which is the pace of the thing. In some respects the end of the book is blink-and-you-miss-it. A bit like going along Gleadless Road and realising at the last moment that you’ve just hit the 1-in-6 downhill without brakes. Not good. Add this to the tweaks and name changes I’ve already identified, and there’s a fair amount of work to do.

And, back in the allegedly real world, we gear up for the release of This Year’s Biggest Blu-Ray (TM). By not having an official plot. That’s right, while we can create graphics and scale-outs at the drop of a hat for any number of dead singers, the actual planned release of something that creates footfall instore gets turned into a Blue Peter exercise. I wonder if that’s anything to do with it having the whiff of genre and thus being uncool – for some reason it appears to be cooler to go through Bob Dylan’s bins than it is to admit to liking Star Wars and SFF.

The conversation went something like this:
Management: “The RM wants us to attract all the freaks and weirdos into the store. People in costumes. Make it an event. You know where these people are.”
“Thanks. I’m a writer, not a freak. Weirdos are people who still think the Beatles are relevant.”

So, instead of a company-wide, top-down driven official effort in bring customers into store, we have to rely on Star Wars fans. In some respects that isn’t a bad thing – people like Matt Ferguson, who has created these prints as competition prizes for the HMV store in Sheffield City Centre, are extremely talented artists and designers. Hell, Mark Ruffalo loves his work so much he asked for a print of the Hulk. And the SFF fans actually outnumber the trend-of-the-week dilettantes in our shop. It’s disappointing, however, that the company can’t – or maybe won’t – get on board.

I won’t rant on too much more, but when was the last time you saw such dedication and skill deployed for Oasis? Or the Libertines? Or any number of identikit Talking Heads rip-off merchants masquerading as the Next Big Thing in ridiculous carrot trews and loafers with no socks? The “freaks and weirdos” are the ones with the talent, see. The ones doing something different.

Looking for the next big thing
Looking for the next big thing