Tag Archives: Genre

Movie Review – San Andreas

This last weekend we watched San Andreas, with Dwayne Johnson. While on the one hand, yep, it’s a disaster movie and you know what that means… on the other hand, it’s a really solid disaster movie, that doesn’t stretch out the tropes too much.

One thing I can say about disaster movies is that they make great popcorn movies – as in, there’s thrills, adrenaline, amazing effects, and somewhere along the line that can mean that tropes are relied on heavily, audience expectations that you feed on purpose – or subvert on purpose. So I’ll get to those after the jump.

But the one thing I want to say as a general, non-spoiler review: the destruction and mayhem in San Andreas is really solid. There’s no bad guy, no monster or aliens or evil corporation. It’s not even much of a social commentary, unless you count “man it would be great if we could detect earthquakes before they happen.” No, it’s just a massive, act-of-God disaster movie, without far-reaching world-destroying effects – but you know things wouldn’t ever be the same again. The effects were great, you got to see all kinds of things just fall apart. In other words, this was a fun movie. Now on to some analysis below!

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Book Review – The Mummy by Anne Rice

The Mummy coverHey look, I finished a book! It’s our first done of the year, with plans to read many more. To be fair, I cheated, by starting this book half a year or more ago… So we’ll see how I do with book number 2!

I picked up Anne Rice’s The Mummy because she’s one of those authors I figured I ought to read, but wasn’t sure where to begin. I had tried to read Interview with the Vampire but didn’t get very far… and there would have been oh-so-much to read after that! A stand-alone novel like this was a much better taste of her writing, and lets me move on to another author’s work next…

As a first thought on the novel – and as an observation that probably applies to much of the rest of Rice’s work – it’s incredibly hard to pin down its genre. The gut reaction is that it’s a monster story – like the Universal monster flicks. However, it’s not really a horror story. It has romantic elements, but isn’t a romance novel. It is placed in a historical moment, but it’s full of alternate history (you know, the living mummy). The only alternate technology is the elixir that gives long life, so not really Steampunk. Kind of fantasy with the immortality, but also like science fiction in that it must have an explanation with modern science… Modern adventure fantasy? Something.

Whatever it is, it’s good.

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Genre and Medium and the “Popcorn Movie” and Age of Ultron

So, back when Avengers: Age of Ultron first came out, I read the following review on Wired:

I felt that I wanted to see the movie more than once to really know what I thought of it. Because of the Geek Baby, that second viewing only happened recently. I’ve been mulling over the movie, with posts like this one and like this one.

To sum up reviews of the movie, I think that it was alright but nowhere near as good as the first Avengers. It’s not doing something new and different like the first one did (bringing together how many individual movie franchises), it’s not as excellent a dark trilogy sequel as some of the classics (Empire Strikes Back), and it has Too Much Going On And Being Set Up syndrome (but not as badly as, say, Amazing Spider-Man 2). Do these statements seem fair?

I talked about the first couple of things in my prior posts, so let me just say something here about Too Much Going On And Being Set Up. Some of the most hotly debated scenes from the movie – Thor’s vision quest, the Banner/Natasha “monster” discussion – had extended, deleted scenes. That was really interesting to find on the disc. These scenes that the fans saw as particularly troubling were ones that, apparently, Joss Whedon had trouble with too.

Was it because he was trying to succumb to the all-powerful Marvel plan? Yeah, maybe some. But the two versions of scenes like this show me that Joss did his best to work them into the movie in its final form. Successfully? Eh. Clearly debatable. But the theatrical versions were the ones that he meant for us to see… the scenes of lesser evil?

However, my main purpose here is the review from Wired. It says it was picked up from another site, so it was opinionated enough for syndication. It got me fired up before, but rather than a point-by-point rebuttal or some other Nerd Rage, I want to just address the main point of the article.

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Three Types of Stories

There is already a breakdown of plots into three types of conflicts – man vs. man, man vs. nature, man vs. self. The “man” there is used super loosely. However, I want to argue today for a different breakdown of story types.

  1. That which was.
  2. That which is.
  3. That which could be.

I’ve spent a lot of blog posts exploring and defending and fighting for the genres I love, for science fictionfantasysuperheroes, and Romantic Literature. For the types of stories that fall in the “that which could be” category. And that’s the place where I have the most to say – so let’s get back to that.

The first two are more obvious. Stories about the past, historical and such, are the stories about that which was. Although, many that I can think of that seem like this category were written as stories about that which is – about the current world at the time, which is now our past. And the best of these seem to become the canon of books that are read in schools, the “classics.” Those books which were about the current life and times, now our past. As a way to try to learn history in a “fun” way.

I’m not a huge fan of the classics.

So maybe that means the most obvious are the stories about that which is – about life around us. After all, the number one writing advice is “write what you know.” That gets you the vast majority of books in this vein. And yes, tons of these are fiction, and it’s made up – but the goal is to create life-like, realistic, “real” characters. To mimic that which is. To give insight into how we see things.

And the stories that are really written about how things were… well, maybe these blur in with ones about that which could be. Maybe a good example is The Da Vinci Code – sure, it’s set in the present, but it’s also a treasure hunt digging up (fictional) hidden facts about the past. So it’s really about this secret history.

A lot of fantasy could be considered a combination of stories about that which was and that which could be. That which could have been… Steam Punk even moreso fits in this, as could alternate history. They’re stories about a different world, but also constrained in a society like our past.

But when it comes to that which could be, well, the sky is the limit.

So we still tend to see realistic characters. Plenty of things we know. But then, to fit this type of story, we see things we don’t know. Things from the imagination. Not just a fictional version of what could be a real person in our world today – but a person who would be a real person in their fictional world, if it were real.

And sometimes, it’s just that that world is different from ours. Maybe the people really are a lot like we are today. Maybe this is to show us something about how we are – maybe it’s the writer writing what they know. Or maybe it’s the interpersonal relationships: maybe they’re just like what we’re used to. Reminds me of a point made on the PBS Idea Channel: Do we spot and process fictional interpersonal relationships the same way as real or realistic ones?

I would say, for all of these things… maybe the answer should be that they should be different from what we’re used to.

If a story is about what could be, then maybe it doesn’t need to resemble our world now. Maybe instead of putting in realistic racial problems, we could show a world without them, a world that’s solved them. I say this during a week when people have started calling for a boycott of Star Wars: The Force Awakens on racist grounds. I reply both that it’s fiction, and that it’s important that it’s imagining who could be a hero – instead of falling back on known formulae.

I feel like there’s always a level of backlash when some diversity makes its way into these stories set in the world that could be. But why? The point and purpose is to be different from the world we’re in. Maybe to be a little better. To do things we couldn’t do now.

Representation matters a TON in stories about what could be – because if the best we can imagine for a world that could be anything is a world exactly like where we are now – then that’s a different kind of story.

What do you think? Can stories be considered one of these three, or some combination of several? And what do you think about representation in these stories? Let us know in the comments below!

On Hugos, Puppies, and Remember that blog post I wrote…

If asked, I’ll tend to answer that one of the more important things to me is the idea of science fiction, fantasy, and the related speculative fictions being taken seriously. I think I expressed that best so far in my Realistic vs. Romantic Literature post.

I bring this up because one of the things that I feel like ought to matter for these sorts of literature to be taken seriously would be for their awards, at least, to be solid. For at least the fandom, the people who do care and who do take it seriously, to keep it together.

Which is why I have been so disappointed in the controversy over the Hugo awards. Because I want to see the Hugos taken seriously. Because I often turn to the Hugos to figure out what I should read – and I imagine others do as well. I’ve even thought of recommending the Hugo award winners as a complete set that should be held at the library. I want this to be a list of titles that matter.

For a full rundown on the controversy, I would recommend this Wired article. I read that, and it was pretty darn good. Covered a lot of the history of it, a number of good interviews on both sides. However, one of the saddest things to me was the extent to which even Wired was down on Science Fiction. Calling it a “maligned literary sub-genre” and talking about how the mainstream media barely touched it. Well, I’ll let you read it.

Wired Quote 1 part 1 Wired Quote 1 part 2

To even talk about it that way, for it to be the representation of the genre… sigh.

Meanwhile, Puppygate (ugh, can we stop calling everything -gate?), to a great extent, reminds me of the gaming gate we mentioned recently – and I think the videos we linked there apply really well here too. Even to the point of there being a more mild group that’s being used, and an extreme and strategic group using them. Which worked out kind of like this:

Wired Quote 2

I think it’s pretty awesome how many people turned out, and how many awards were actually not awarded. That there were people who declined their nominations. Because new ideas matter. Because representation matters. And because quality matters. And spiking a ballot – in any direction – doesn’t help with those things. It’s science fiction – a diversity of ideas is kind of the point.

Or, to close out with one more Wired quote:

Wired Quote 3

That would be Martin, George R.R. Who held a losers after party, because he’s that awesome.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments below!