Archive for March, 2009

RaceFail ’09 – Why Horror Ignores the Elephant

A few years ago, I was speaking to a fellow black horror writer and she told me that she didn’t write characters of color in her work. She didn’t think it was important, even as a black writer, for her to write black characters (and descriptions of characters with dark hair and brown eyes was enough). It was more important for her to write for her chosen audience, who she perceived as white and she didn’t want to in anyway alienate them.

This is how badly issues of race have infected and confused some people.

Yes, there is a current brouhaha brewing in speculative fiction that has since been dubbed RaceFail ’09. It started when Elizabeth Bear wrote a piece on writing the other which was then openly disagreed with. The hilarity ensued (catalogued here). I, too, wrote a piece on writing the other (in a response to something Jay Lake had written, mind you, both pieces came out a few YEARS ago) and have stayed out of this round of self-examination except to offer up a play along cultural appropriation bingo card to go along with the “fantasy/science fiction no racism edition” bingo card. And yet, as Chesya Burke laments, such a discussion has largely not reared its head in the horror community. I don’t expect it to, frankly. Not to be too pointed about a race discussion in horror, but the genre largely amounts to white folks writing about white folks for the consumption of white folks. In other words, horror circumvents the issue of “writing the other” by … not.

With a few exceptions, race isn’t discussed much in the horror genre. Most folks are afraid to discuss it or admit there is a problem. With good cause: the last horror brand RaceFail discussion involved the release of Brandon Massey’s anthology series, Dark Dreams. The bulk of the discussion revolved around the series being the equivalent of reverse discrimination (because, you know, there are no all white, even more specifically, all white male, horror anthology series) or writer affirmative action (because obviously writers like Tananarive Due, L.A. Banks, Wrath James White, Eric Jerome Dickey, Zane, or, I humbly submit, myself, can’t be published elsewhere).

In some ways, I can see why RaceFail has gone on within the science fiction and fantasy genre/communities. By the nature of those genres, they explore (and are allowed to explore) big ideas. Horror too often prides itself on being the “lowest common denominator” genre, not built for rigorous idea exploration. “I’m doing an analysis of man’s inhumanity to man” usually amounts to puerile masturbatory fantasies of rape and torture justified by someone getting their comeuppance in the end.

Let’s be honest, there are two kinds of writers/readers. The first don’t want to be challenged. They essentially want Stephen King redux, rearranging the deck chairs on a familiar cruise. They cling to their comfort zone of base elements, slaves to the tropes, as they await the playing out of the ensuing hilarity. Rarely is there an examination of the human condition, existence, or the exploration of a big idea. For every Gary Braunbeck there are hundreds of … pick your blood splattered cover.

The other kind looks for a new experience. They want to go to a new place and think about things they haven’t before. Yet, when I hear horror writers talking about their craft in term of such artistic terms, there is a chorus decrying such lofty literary ideas or critical analysis. How many times have even best of the mid-list writers complained about their publisher neutering their work for the sake of reaching their market? Their lowest common denominator audience.

Right now, the genre can barely handle a discussion on women in the genre. That discussion breaks one of two ways: who are the women who write in the genre (so the discussion becomes a listing of women writers) or it centers around “can women be scary writers?” (and yes, that discussion is as ignorant as it sounds). And that’s before we talk in general about sexism in the genre or its conventions.

I was reading Kelli Dunlap’s post on diversity in the genre. Normally, when someone tells me “they don’t see race” it sets off a red flag of suspicion with me because that typically means “as long as all the people of color act and think like me, we have no race problem.” But I’m in her peer group, I look around our close circle of writer friends and I see the guests for Mo*Con, and I, too, see the diversity. I’m tempted not to engage in a discussion about women in the genre because I’m surrounded by fierce women whose talent I’d question at my own peril. But then I have to wonder if this is a chicken or egg dilemma: was there diversity in the genre to begin with or did we, The Others adrift in the sea of The Majority, simply reach out to each other?

So could horror handle a conversation involving cultural appropriation, the concept of white privilege, or even the idea of racism in the genre (much less among its writers)? The fact of the matter is that I could probably name the prominent writers of color in the horror genre, know most if not all of them, and I don’t often hear them discussed in the various horror communities. What I hear is how race doesn’t matter, all readers care about is a good yarn. Though I suspect that’s true as long as that yarn doesn’t stretch them too far. And that’s the ultimate RaceFail.

Friday Night Date Place – Memo to the Nice Guys

Thinking back to my single and lonely days, I distinctly (painfully!) remember how often I was trapped in the friend zone. You know what I’m talking about: wanting to date, not quite knowing how to get with a person you’re interested in, end up sidling alongside them, becoming their friend and then confidante, even best friend, but they never quite see you as anything other than a dear friend.

I was always that guy. The best friend guy. Always had a bevy of girls around because they needed to bounce their ideas off of someone (and this was before the gay best friend thing became fashionable). But I was the safe guy, the one they could talk to, the one whose shoulder was always there for them to cry on. On one level, it was nice to have the attention and to be able to hang out with so many women. I learned how to be comfortable around this strange species of humanity, how to listen to them, what things they were concerned about. On another level, it was rather emasculating. Think about it: you weren’t seen as a “guy” as much as this sexless/genderless friend. Gender neutral.

You were a nice guy (or gal pal).

You were the one who watched the object of your affection go off and date, get into relationship after relationship, making bad choice after bad choice, waiting for them to FINALLY learn their lesson and appreciate what was beside them all along. How did that work out for you?

Like a fine piece of writing, I was never appreciated in my time. This may have been a function of where I was in life. High school/college-age. Ready to settle down (then … I out grew that a few years later once I recognized the pluses of singleness). I hadn’t come into my own. The girls/women I was interested in weren’t interested in settling down or lifelong commitments. They wanted to date and have fun. They weren’t looking for husband material.

So, memo to the nice guys: your time will come. Eventually your peer group/dating pool will come to appreciate you for what you are. You just need to be prepared when you are. Don’t be living in your mother’s basement or shacked up with an ex-girlfriend. Don’t let your lifetime of “woe is me” attitude define who you are. Don’t become self-defeated by your perceived ineffectiveness at dating (or unattractiveness to the other sex). Have a job and be prepared to be, if not a provider, then at least an equal partner in the relationship. Nice guys (or gals) don’t have to finish last, only be in a place where they can be appreciated for who they are when the time is right.

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ER (Season 10) – A Review

Somewhat obsolete in this post-Grey’s Anatomy landscape, it’s hard to remember when ER ruled the medical drama roost. Now that it’s in its last year, and television viewers have to endure the season long good-bye, Season 10 is released on DVD.

Just five years ago, Season 10 was one of those pivotal years if only for the amount of cast turnover during the season. We still have some holdover faces from the original season, Dr. John Carter (Noah Wyle), Dr. Susan Lewis (Sherry Stringfield) and Jerry Markovic (Abraham Benrubi) and a few nurses to give roots to the series for long time fans. In a lot of ways, ER was Carter’s show, especially once he became the last of the original cast members to hold down the show. This season had the same feel as when David Duchovney decided to only do half the episodes of a season of X-Files before actually calling it quits, leaving the show limping along rather than just folding up.

This season introduced the characters of nurse Samantha Taggart (Linda Cardellini), Dr. Neela Rasgotra (Parminder Nagra), and Dr. Archie Morris (Scott Grimes). Because of the nature of it sprawling cast, the show left some characters with not much to do and thus nowhere to go except leave. This partially explains the departure of Dr. Elizabeth Corday (Alex Kingston), though Dr. Romano (Paul McCrane) was killed off as a punchline (reminiscent of when L.A. Law used an elevator shaft to get rid of Rosalind Shays).

“I wanted to feel like I was really doing something.” –Carter

ER revolves around workplace dynamics and relationships. The drama realizes that real life comes down to relationships, both those among the staff as well as with and around their patients. Relationships are messy, but they also are only part of what it means to become fully human. Despite the hospital heroics (and, mind you, why anyone would choose to ever go to a hospital that features so many disasters happening to and within it, no one quite explains), this is life in the ordinary. Like many of us, they’re going through the motions, stuck in empty patterns, too often characterized by this sense of an unfulfilled existence. It leads some to find peace, redemption, and purpose by getting perspective in Africa. For some, it’s simply a matter of getting outside of their own heads, drawing on a sense of a bigger mission: the calling of being a doctor or healer.

“I couldn’t believe in a God that would allow such things to happen … It’s really hard to feel the Holy Spirit’s presence on a day like today.” –Kovac

Reconciliation is not a human quality. God’s mission, reconciling humanity to Himself, was His initiative. In response to this, the Christian church should be a community of people who refuse to be content with human pain and suffering. We are the answer to the problem of evil. We are the ones who believe in a gospel of liberation. We need to accept our new existence as agents of reconciliation

Doctors and nurses do it because invest themselves sacrificially in the lives of others. They do it, largely without thanks, because they are crusaders in their own way, using medicine as their sword, working in the trenches of man’s inhumanity to man, day after day, without any rounds of applause. They join in God’s mission to be a blessing to the world. That is what redemption is all about. Bring reconciliation and healing to this world by being God’s hands.

“It’s simpler here. People need help, I can help.” –Carter

ER manages to retain its air of preachiness as relevance, some episodes feeling like a series of “one to grow” on moments. The show’s strength and weakness has always been the chemistry between the (hopefully interesting) characters, like the eventual dynamic between Dr. Gregory Pratt (Mekhi Pfifer) and Morris. With season 10, we have a lion in winter. Too bad we have to see this once venerable show limp along for another five years.

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Leverage – A Review

TNT continues its streak of hit shows, building on Saving Grace and the cable channel’s premier show, The Closer, with Leverage. It’s easy to label the show Mission Impossible meets The Sting, as it’s a light, witty caper show revolving around a series of misdirections and cons.

“My job is helping people. I find bad guys.” –Nathan

From the more-nimble-than-they-appear fingers of executive producer Dean Devlin (Independence Day, Godzilla), Leverage follows the adventures of Nathan Ford (Oscar-winner Timothy Hutton). The insurance company where he worked for over twenty years refused to pay for his dying son’s medical treatment. Grief-stricken and slowly climbing out of the bottle he fell into, he pulls together a team of crooks who scam the wicked to help the oppressed. Hutton anchors the show with his charisma and gravitas, balancing the four more comic members, each with their own superpower, err, specialty: Eliot Spencer (Christian Kane), the hitter; Alec Hardison (Aldis Hodge), the hacker; Sophia Devereaux(Gina Bellman), the grifter; and Parker (Beth Riesgraf), the thief. (Nathan has one too: fortune tends to “bend in favor of his machinations”)

“People like that, corporations like that, they have all the money they have all the power and they use it to make people like you go away. Right now you’re suffering under an enormous weight. We provide … leverage.” –Nathan

Like modern day Robin Hoods, the Leverage team are bad guys (at least bad guys in the eyes of the empire they choose to go up against) going after worse guys. The empire takes the form of big business, sometimes in league with big government, sometimes the criminal underworld, or sometimes just one powerful person’s avarice or pettiness. The team picks up where the law left off, following the greater calling of Nathan’s vision to defend the weak. In fact, Nathan’s vision falls in lockstep with God’s own, charging us with the mission of while we are here, we need to be about the poor, the widows and orphans. “We all pay the price” when we let our neighbor down.

“Sometimes bad guys are the only good guys you get.” –Parker

But it’s almost like thieves occupy a special place in God’s heart, too. Jesus, when he was on the cross, suffering through the slow torturous death that was crucifixion, was also the subject of cruel taunts from the crowd, soldiers, and priests. The punishment of crucifixion was reserved for the worst of criminals, those declared enemies of the Roman state. Occupying the spot originally reserved from freed criminal Barabbas, Jesus was crucified between two other criminals. Thieves, men of violence.

Initially, both thieves joined in the crowd’s scoffing, yet something changed in the (soon-to-be-contrite) thief’s mind, awoke in him. To the crowds’ jeers he heard Jesus say “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” He saw his life and his own actions in a new light. On the cross, his life nearing its end, he realized that his sentence was just. He took ownership of his actions, but not only that, he saw Jesus for who He was. Just as much as Jesus identified with sinners, that sinner had a clear view of the Christ. Jesus’ own disciples didn’t have such a clear faith as the thief did.

“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” –the thief on the cross

Leverage
is uncomplicated television, little more than a slick, modern day A-Team. Glib, moving at a quick pace, buoyed by clever banter with quirky, though fleshed out, characters, the show is absolute fun. The equivalent of comfort food, it’s Ocean’s Eleven: the series and that’s not a bad way to spend an hour.

The Haunting of Molly Hartley – A Review

“It’s Never Too Late”

I’ll spare you the suspense: this movie is not good. Religious/supernatural horror is practically its own sub-genre. Christianity—typically demons or the Anti-Christ/end times—informs the horror behind some classic, and not-so-classic, movies (The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby, The Omen, The Prophecy, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Constantine) as well as television shows (Reaper or Supernatural). For that matter, teen angst has always been a source of potential terror, from Carrie to Twilight. So it’s not exactly unfamiliar territory that The Haunting of Molly Hartley covers. Not only does it not add anything new, it doesn’t do anything remotely approaching interesting with all of the potential fodder for terror.

“Stop acting like everything is going to be alright.” –Molly

The eponymous Molly (Haley Bennett), troubled 17-year-old, finds herself as the new kid at a prep school. Her mother, after a bout of the crazies, had stabbed her with some scissors in order to prevent a great darkness from overtaking her. Her worried dad (Jake Weber, Medium) seeks help from a guidance counselor (Nina Siemaszko) in order to help his daughter. Plagued by headaches, creepy visions, a cavalcade of zealous Christians, and bad pick up lines from resident big stud on campus, Joseph (Chace Crawford, Gossip Girl), Molly runs through a strictly by the numbers story which doesn’t go anywhere.

“Some people are offended that I have a close, personal relationship with Jesus.” –Alexis (Shanna Collins)

The role of religious delusions and nutjobs is what is ultimately examined in this movie (although the word “examined” really gives this movie a lot of credit … such as intentionality of forethought). Apparently Christians stereotypically have difficulty navigating the secular world. Their brand of evangelism buys into the “greatest act of love is to share Christ”/“confrontational evangelism” brand of guilting folks into a state of constant witnessing. These walking proselytizing robots forget that to be fully human we must build relationships with people. Now, if you build relationships with people for the sole purpose of trying to preach the gospel to them, you’re not really building a relationship…you’re building a customer base.

Nutjob Christians are also not comfortable viewing the Bible as “merely” a literary text but only as “the Truth!”. The problem is that we end up making the Bible into something that not only is it not, but it never claims to be. It’s not an answer book for every question in your life or to govern every aspect of your life. (People turn to it and if there’s an issue that the Bible doesn’t comment on, it must be bad). It is not an encyclopedia. It’s not a scientific text. It’s not a history treatise. It’s not a self-help guide. But when we treat it as such, we drive out the mystery from our spiritual lives. It’s this kind of reductionism that allows a person to wave around a verse thinking that should settle an argument.

Let’s face it, while there is plenty in the history of Christianity to be apologized for, neither it nor its followers are the bogeyman this movie wants to make it out to be. Religion, much like politics, has been and can be perverted to people’s own agenda and ends. People can go mad with fear, so that even basic ideas, such as the reality of demonic forces, get twisted into something dark.

“Is it too late for me to be saved? … Even if someone else chose a terrible path for me?” –Molly

The Haunting of Molly Hartley is the kind of category horror that’s ultimately unsatisfying. It’s filled with the requisite boo moments which don’t make you flinch nearly as much as the poor dialogue and acting. With no building tension or feeling of being unsettled, the movie follows the predictable rhythms of building hints of weirdness followed by lulls. Lots and lots of lulls.

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Chronicles of Wormwood – A Review

Writer: Garth Ennis
Artist: Jacen Burrows
Published by: Avatar Press

Do you remember Garth Ennis’ The Boys? And how it was cancelled by DC, despite its strong sales, due to content issues? Well, luckily there’s always Avatar, the indie publisher often the home to pet projects from creators like Ennis, Mark Millar and Warren Ellis which the major publishers wouldn’t touch. Well, with his Chronicles of Wormwood, it’s not like he has tamed anything. And I have no idea why no major publisher would touch this. I’m going to make a casual list of some characters and scenarios. You decide if this book is for you:

-Danny Wormwood, the Anti-Christ, has decided to turn his back on his destiny and simply goes about his business running a cable company much like HBO.
-He hangs out with a talking bunny named Jimmy.
-He pals around at a bar with Jay, what he calls Jesus Christ. Jay, upon his second coming, had his head bashed in by the LAPD and received brain damage. Yeah, a buddy story between the Anti-Christ and Brain-Damaged Jesus.
-His dad, Satan, isn’t exactly please that he’s turned his back on the family business.
-He spends his evenings buggering Joan of Arc
-There’s a drunken, sex-addicted Irish Pope who has him in his cross-hairs.

To say the book is filled with Ennis’ trademark coarse humor, profanity, blasphemy, and sex, is like saying he puts the “F” in satire.

Exploring the nature of religion and faith is familiar territory for Ennis, with Preacher being the highlight of his career thus far. He has several ideas about Jesus and heaven. For example, he believes that Jay “didn’t want God to be a bogeyman. He wanted compassion and tolerance and peaceful coexistence. He wanted to tear down the temples of the money lenders, wanted men to live by sharing.” … but that “didn’t work out too well for him.”

By issue three, Wormwood and Jay visit heaven and come to find out that heaven’s about being a decent person and loving one another while you’re alive. And that just because you don’t believe in God doesn’t mean you haven’t lived according to the life He’s called you to or done His will.

Despite Ennis wanting to move past the “myth” and constraints of religion, just because you’ve removed God and the devil from equation of your life doesn’t mean that the reality of the spiritual dimension, or its occasional intrusions, is also removed. You still are a free moral agent who has to choose what kind of life to lead, to make heaven or hell.

The other theme that jumps out is the idea that you don’t have to be who you think you are. You don’t have to be trapped by a default setting idea of who you are expected to be. You are a precious creation of God. Precious. Accept this definition of yourself. No, better stated, accept the truth of yourself. Recognize that you, too, are an eikon, an image-bearer of God; worthy of respect, value, and love. We participate in the Divine Being, meant to partake in the Divine Life and Happiness. We were created in love, for love, and are to open ourselves to the possibility of love. Embrace that love.

Here’s the kicker: if you can take it, The Chronicles of Wormwood is fast-paced, entertaining, clever, and surreal. No bit of sacrilege is left unturned. He wants to jab a finger in the eye of religion all the while exploring and getting to the root of religion’s core. It’s not exactly a challenge to make spiritual connections to this book. If nothing else, it’s a definite conversation starter.

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JA Konrath and Extreme Horror

Author JA Konrath is on a blog tour promoting his latest work, Afraid (a horror novel written under the pen name Jack Kilborn coming out next month, in paperback and audio). His widely popular blog, A Newbie’s Guide Publishing, just wasn’t big enough, so he’s going around invading other people’s turf. Today, he joins me for a visit as we chat about extreme horror:

M: In the tradition of “less filling”/”tastes great”, are you an atmospheric horror guy or an extreme horror guy?

J: I won the World Horror Con Gross Out Contest a few years ago, so I’m no stranger to extreme horror. But I also beleive that a reader’s imagination is more powerful than any detailed description of gore I could come up with.

So I sort of straddle the line. I like suspense, and atmosphere, and terrible things certainly happen in my books… AFRAID has a body count of over nine hundred. But I prefer a tense lead up to the horrible deed, and then keeping the gore to a minimum. In my writing.

When someone tells me I’m being too graphic, I ask them to tell me which scene they’re referring to. In every case, they use many more words to describe the scene than I did.

M: Folks keep tossing around different phrases that may be describing the same thing. What’s the difference between splatterpunk and extreme horror (or even gross out), and why is that sort of approach making a comeback?

J: If the goal is to cause fear, it’s straight horror. If the goal is to make you gag, then it’s extreme horror. Or extreme something. It’s possible to write a disgusting scene without blood or violence.

The written word is provocative. Always has been. If used properly, it can make people laugh, cry, think, get angry, or get ill.

As a species, we’re fascinated by disgusting things. As writers, it’s our jobs to make our readers feel something. Put the two together, and some writers are bound to go for the gross out.

M: How much do you think is due to the rise in “torture porn” movies like Saw?

J: That’s just a new name for something that has been around forever. Shakespeare, DeSade, Gran Guignol, freak shows. In the 60s we had the first splatter and mondo films, in the 70s grindhouse exploitation, in the 80s slasher flims. One of the first films was the electrocution of an elephant. Reality TV shows actual death. Go on YouTube and count the number of videos featuring skaters breaking their bones.

Pain, and death, are part of life. It fascinates us. Because art imitates life, we’re going to have movies like SAW.

M: Is it just me, or is this exactly the kind of horror that seems really easy to do, and many category horror writers attempt to emulate it to be hardcore, but is actually difficult to do well? In other words, extreme stuff is easy to screw up, isn’t it?
J: Grossing someone out is a particular talent, but it’s not very hard to do. Grossing them out while also making them care is really difficult. If the reader feels for your characters, they will fear anything bad happening to them.

In AFRAID, some people die horribly. I don’t do that to titillate the reader with graphic descriptions of gore. I do that to make the reader afraid that the same thing might happen to the characters they’ve grown to like.

M: Let’s face it, there are only so many ways to describe viscera to the point where it gets tedious. We ought to be about more than just splattering blood all over the place. Artistically, we near a precipice to do, for example, postmodern exploration of horror. How can writers better use extreme horror to explore the literary form?
J: We have a prurient fascination with violence and and gore and death, whether we want to admit it or not. Whenever there’s an accident, there are rubberneckers.

As authors, we should use violence for more than just prurient thrills. Done properly, violence can enrich a story, raise the stakes, add depth and dimension, and also enhance themes.

I’m pretty sure there will be people who won’t finish AFRAID because of the violence. But those who stick with it will find themes of love, forgiveness, redemption, and courage.

So it’s like a feelgood book, that will also scare the crap out of you.

M: Is there room for extreme horror in mainstream book selling, or do you see it always being the fringe of even the horror market?
J: It’s fringe, and it will stay fringe. We’re still too conservative a society, still too uptight and judgmental, still too interested in our own sense of right and wrong and what people should and shouldn’t be allowed to read, watch, believe, smoke, etc.

On the other hand, we do have a capitalist, open market economy. If there were a huge demand for gornogrpahy, someone would be selling it by the truckload.

M: Who are some of the folks you are reading these days? And who do you think are some folks doing extreme horror well?
J: Ed Lee and Wrath James White are experts at it, though Lee is more tongue in cheek and Wrath tends to be a little more serious, except in his short stories, which are hilarious. I recently shared pages in an anthology called LIKE A CHINESE TATTOO with Cullen Bunn, who has a really gross, and very funny, story in that collection.

Jack Ketchum has an heir in Jeff Strand. Strand is known for his funny gore stories (I even collaborated with him on one called SUCKERS), but his new novel PRESSURE is a real kick in the teeth. Like Ketchum, Stand makes you care about his characters before putting them through hell.

If you want to see who is currently pushing the limits of good taste, visit www.horror-mall.com, and you’ll find a wealth of vile prose to enjoy.

Ultimately, whatever your personal taste, we need to remember that stories are there to entertain. Different people are entertained by different things.

For some, it’s a CGI lion with Ben Stiller’s voice. For others, it’s a group of psychopaths who slaughter everyone in a sleepy Midwestern town.

If you prefer the latter, AFRAID goes on sale March 31.

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Futurama: Into the Wild Green Yonder – A Review

Back in the day, when someone asked “what was the best science fiction currently on television?”, I know folks expected something along the lines of X-Files, Farscape, Star Trek, Dark Angel, or Smallville out of me, but for my money, it was Futurama. It wasn’t a space opera in science fiction trappings nor did it feature an overarching mythology. Perhaps because it was animation played for laughs—especially since it was from the creators of The Simpsons—the show might not get the respect due it. (Plus, animated science fiction apparently needs to have the words Heavy Metal or Aeon Flux, or be an anime to get any traction.)

Both Futurama and Family Guy found a new lease on life in reruns on the Cartoon Network before the former went back into production for Fox and the latter spun into a series of direct-to-DVD movies. Futurama: Into The Wild Green Yonder is the fourth and possibly last of these movies. Futurama is the kind of science fiction I like: smart, assumes its fans are smart, and delivers. Jokes about DNA, higher math, and the moons of Mars run through the opening credits alone. The show also assumes a knowledge of pop culture, which means sometimes there are jokes that only ten people will get, but if you’re one of the ten, you’re REALLY going to laugh. That’s part of the problem as well as the delight.

The movie plays like 4-5 episodes overlapping into a neatly complex story building to a crescendo of ridiculousness. The whole gang returns as the show opens with scenes of Mars Vegas, classic Las Vegas-type hotels demolished to make room for newer ones. Amy’s (Lauren Tom) father plans to eliminate portions of a solar system to make the universes biggest miniature golf course, crushing whatever species get in his way. In turn, she and Leela (Katey Sagal) join a militant eco-feminist collective, which leads to them being doggedly pursued by Captain Zapp Brannigan.

“If only I could explain that I’m on a secret mission against evil.” –Fry

On the other hand, Fry (Billy West) inadvertently develops the power to read minds and is recruited by a secret organization to stop a great evil running loose in the galaxy. On the other hand (this being Futurama, almost everyone has more than two hands), Bender (John Di Maggio), becomes entangled in an affair with the wife of a local mafia don-bot.

At the heart of the movie is a call to environmental concern and protection. One of the lessons from the Genesis account of creation, right after God created all things and declared them “good” (even “very good”), is that we were created to be stewards of creation. Yet, we’ve lost our connection with creation, continuing to develop new ways to either insulate ourselves from it or encroach our brand of civilization into it. Our souls are starved for God’s creation while occupying a unique place within it. Rich Vincent puts it this way:

The ancients maintained the tension of humankind’s unique relationship to God and to the earth by teaching that humankind exists as the nexus between heaven and earth. Humankind shares in the divine life and yet also is deeply grounded in the earth. As such, humankind is a microcosm of reality – encompassing divinity and creation. This particular combination of qualities is communicated by the fact that humanity bears the divine image (Genesis 1:26-27).

“There’s no scientific consensus that life is important.” –The Professor

As with all things Futurama, Into the Wild Green Yonder features a slew of pop culture figures, including Snoop Dogg and Penn Jillette . As a bonus, it finally puts a resolution onto Fry and Leela’s near-romance. There’s almost no need for a review. If you love Futurama, you’ll love this. If you don’t, you’re probably not even reading this anyway. Hopefully this won’t be the last of these movies. Buy this already, you meatbag humans.

A Reminder for Maurice

I wrote a reminder for a friend not too long ago which included all of the affirmations I’d given to them during the past year. All the reassuring comments, all the encouragements, all of the validations I’d ever e-mailed, texted, or im-ed (because, sadly, I rarely throw away or delete anything). Why? Because sometimes it’s easy to get lost in the murk of our own heads and lose perspective of who we are.

My wife came up with 25 reasons why she loves me as part of her Valentine’s Day gift. When I’m feeling charitable, I see Valentine’s Day as a ritual of memory for my wife and for those around us who have our affections. It’s a reminder occasion.

We need the occasional reminders (like my Break glass in case of emergency blog was a reminder). Why? Because it’s easy to forget. We get caught up in circumstance. We have external factors: critics; folks whom we invest in who end up draining us; sacrifice of time; the pressure of family. We have internal factors: lies about ourselves, falling prey to our own insecurities, our voices/demons that get the better of us and spiral us into depression.

Pastors and writers (artists) have similar head spaces, I think; especially susceptible to mood swings and depression. It’s easy to get down and wonder why you do the things you do. Even now, I thought against posting a reminder to myself because it struck me as an exercise in vanity. Then I remembered how easy it is for me to get twisted, tripped up in my own head. I received a few notes from friends who shall remain nameless and realized how much these notes, reminders of why I do what I do, pick me up when I get into those funks:

“I haven’t posted much lately, but I thought I oughta let you know I’m still reading your blog regularly, and man, you do inspire. I’ve had some rough times in my soul lately, and your words have really, really helped me get grounded. I want you to know that because whenever you are called to account, you’ve touched a poor old plodding sinner where it counts many a time.”

“And you know, you once told me that I was making you rethink some of your attitudes towards gay folks. Well, you and your friends have me rethinking my attitude towards Christians. I just wish more people of faith were as inclusive as you guys.”

“Whatever sort of wordsmith I may be, I can scarcely express how much this weekend meant to me. It was everything and more that I hoped it would be: thoughtful, exciting, enlightening, and FUN. I know you have help (and damn good help it is), but Mo*Con is still largely a one-man show, since it’s your vision behind it and your hands that have brought it to life. I don’t know if I’ve ever had such an all-around experience at a “horror-related” event. Or any event. Getting to meet you and so many folks that I’ve known online but never met in the flesh was kind of overwhelming; I’m really something of an introvert, have been since I was a kid, and it’s a challenge for me to hit the “on” switch and keep it going when I’m out at a con or some event with my peers, so to speak. But Mo*Con felt really good, really natural, and you helped make it so easy to stay in the “on” position. Your talent and energy are awesome, and I admire your devotion to both your writing passion and the way you present the gospel to people. As you surely inferred, I’m not a religious person per se, but I do believe I’m a spiritual person, for all that’s worth. Your way of presenting God’s message speaks to people where they live, and surely that’s the most Christ-like way to do it.”

Now the tough part is living up to being the man they talk about in these notes.

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After the Cape – A Review

Writer: Jim Valentino (Writer/Plot), Howard Wong (Creator/Dialogue)
Artist: Marco Rudy
Publisher: Image Comics

Athletes, like actors or musicians, are entertainers. And as much as we, as a society, love to build people up, we love to tear them down, or at least make popcorn and enjoy their tumble from grace. It’s part of the tendency in the human species to want to see our heroes brought low, to revel in their downfalls and use their failings as proof that they were never really better than us after all. And we are just as entertained by train wrecks as we are super star performances.

Superheroes are constantly being constructed and deconstructed. It’s the nature of their mythology which lends itself to this process. And this can be done to great effect and plumb the depths of an icon’s character. It’s part of what makes Frank Miller’s Daredevil run and his Dark Knight Returns such classics. Unfortunately, After the Cape, despite its promise, won’t come close to such classics.

“It feels like we’ve been living this crappy life of ours forever, but after today, that’s all going to change.” –Ethan

After the Cape is the story of Ethan Falls (subtly named), also known as Captain Gravity; a hero with clay … everything. Drummed out of the super hero biz due to his drinking problem, he is much like the flawed hero, Tony Stark/Iron Man. Unfortunately, Ethan continues to use his powers, and because has to support his family, he turns to crime. That is pretty much the entire character study and plot. The story takes several issues to go not much further than that.

When we think of “The Fall”, we go back to the story in Genesis about the sin of Adam and Eve. Moving beyond a literal interpretation of the story, Adam’s sin represents man seeking his own way. Our pursuit of what we hope to create out of rebellion (the lie of independence), attempting to write our own stories; all the while ignoring the grand story of which we’re a part. The Fall also gives us the main themes of Story. Relationships are broken and look at what we arises from this conflict: man vs. man; man vs. God; man vs. self; man vs. Creation. One of the things that makes suffering so bad is the sense, the part of us that knows, that things aren’t as they’re supposed to be.

“This can’t be happening.” –Ethan

Ethan’s fall came with the temptation of power, specifically to misuse power (much like Jesus’ temptation by Satan in the desert). Having been given free will, he, like the rest of us, is free to make good or bad choices … and must face the consequences of those choices. Ethan chose to short cut his way through life, to cross the line, and use his gifts for his own ends (even good, justifiable ends)

“You ruined your own life.” –Shadow Stalker

On the flip side, the mark of a hero isn’t the catalogue of his imperfections, but what he does in spite of them. Heroes only fall so far because they’ve been placed to high in the first place. Some of this is understandable, as heroes are to be held to a higher standard (thus part of why we come to resent them and infer a sense of superiority to them).

Even after a fall from grace, when you’ve watched everything you’ve worked for crumble about you, there’s still hope for redemption. God can still use fallen heroes. Yes, you have to pay the consequences, pick up the pieces, and start over, but that’s the process. Wallowing in your guilt is just as stifling as not facing your sin. Face what you’ve done and repent, then realize that at some point you’re done repenting. You bear the consequences, whatever they may be, and move on. The journey back to being a hero, to be what we were created to be, has to be a careful process.

“He’s still one of us, even if he thinks differently. And we don’t abandon our own.” –Paladin

After the Cape uses up enough black ink to make me think I picked up an issue of Sin City. The art manages to convey a world shrouded in shadows, and black and whites. Unfortunately, the story was a potentially intriguing character study undermined by not straying from the familiar path of its theme. Its lack of real exploration as it sticks to very surface treatment might have more of an emotional resonance if we “knew” these heroes. Instead, it comes across as deconstruction for deconstructions sake. And thus is ultimately unsatisfying.