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Author of off-kilter Sci Fi/fantasy books. Fond of apocalyptic and fantastical things. Known for phuquerie. I bite. http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00BGWZRCW

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Missed It Review: Safety Not Guaranteed

Hello hello!

It's been a while--I've been working on After the Garden, which will be out at the end of the month, and epic-failed at scheduling blog posts to compensate for it.

Now, this review is a bit special because I'm working on a novella about the same thing that prompted the movie. My own tale is completely different, but I wanted to watch this one to compare the differences.

There are a few

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

But not too many. So, without further ado, here's Safety Not Guaranteed.




Source

Summary


It's s story about love, time travel, and second chances. There are no objectified Scotsmen, and the hot redhead and sexy young career woman are two separate people, and they're a lot more complex than the stereotypes. Basically, three reporters are hunting for stories and pick up a weird classified ad by a guy hunting for someone to travel through time with him. Of course, there's more to it than that, and they have to figure out whether the guy is actually on to something or a bit off his rocker. Obviously, I'm not telling you the answer.

I like movies that don't go overboard with exposition, and this one really doesn't. Characters do say their bits, but they don't spell out their feelings, and a lot of the backstory is left to the imagination. When exposition finally does come, it's at appropriate moments, and it's given the gravity it deserves. They also don't go for cheap tearjerks or overly simplified characterizations, and that's a pretty good thing.

I really like the simple camera work and the low budget, to be honest. It's got good production values, but unlike most sci fi, it's pretty simple to look at. It was a nice change. I say "sci fi", but whether it's sci fi or mumblecore is a distinction that isn't made until the end of the film. It's also got a big heart and is very sincere, but not in a crappy, Lifetime Movie kind of way. However, I might have gotten something in my eye at the end.



Source

Pros


It's smart, subtle, and basically embodies everything good about indie movies. The acting is pretty good too--it's certainly realistic. Darius is incredibly realistic and played with a lot of subtlety. Jeff, her boss, is a douche with a scarred side, and reminds me of Peter from Fringe except that he's an asshole. Kenneth is particularly wonderful and heartrending, very Nathan Fillion-esque and sincere. And if you want a movie that's touching but not pandering, has relateable but not overly idealised characters and doesn't make things artificially easy, this is just the film.


Cons


By Hollywood standards, the pacing is a bit funky. Arnau is kind of flat and awkward, and frankly he just felt like an Indian-American Michael Cera, but he was basically just a straight-man and there to fill out the cast. He's intensely awkward too. His subplot was okay, I guess, but it didn't do anything for me, let's put it that way.

The pacing is a bit wobbly, and sometimes it feels intensely awkward--if you're susceptible to fremdtscham, embarrassment on behalf of others, this movie might make you feel funny. That's about it, though.


Final Verdict


A solid 9 out of 10. It's just about perfect, it's rewarding, it's subtle, and it wraps things up while leaving an open door in the characters' lives. I couldn't ask for more from a movie, and Hollywood would do well to learn from this sweet little film. Definitely recommend it.

*****
Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Don't miss any of the phuquerie. Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr, and find her work on Amazon. Check back on the blog to see when one of the irregular posts has careened onto your feed. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out! 

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Starry Nights: A Science Fiction Romance Brigade Midsummer Blog Hop!





Hello hello! 

Today I have a bit of a treat--a snippet from After the Garden, my next work, written specially for the hop!
***

Ember squinted up at the stars, her eyes widening to take in the light. The sky hadn't been so clear in several hundred years. She remembered looking up at them in her last life, how faint they'd been back then. 

Kerrick coughed. "This'll sound strange, but I almost miss them being harder to see," he said quietly. 

Across the fire, Chris and Eva were talking quietly, paying no attention to them. Ember smiled, feeling old for a moment. 

"Me too. We went up there once, you know. Hundreds of years ago now. Shame we never got past the moon, really."

"What do you think happened to the people up there?"

"In the colony? Oh, they died."

He nodded. "I thought so." 

The silence felt heavier for a moment. Ember edged closer to him and poked at the dying embers. A burst of flame from her fingertips reignited them for a moment. Kerrick smiled a little to himself. 

"Well, we're still alive. Not just us. All of us. Humanity," she said, straightening. 

"So? We're alive, but we're barely back on our feet. We've lost hundreds of years."

"It's still not too late," she maintained. "We could go back."

"To the moon?"
"Farther. We could get past it."

Glittering overhead, the stars made no reply. She could see the doubt on his face, but she smiled. 

"Can you see it?" Kerrick avoided her eyes. She knew what that meant, but a stupid, fluttering thing inside her couldn't help fighting it. After all, they were still alive.

"No, not that far into the future. It only works on people I know. But..." she poked the fire again, this time with a branch. "I can't see, but I can hope."

***

Guess what? The Underlighters is part of the giveaway package for the Starry Night contest! 




***

You can catch more by checking out the following links.
Twitter





*****
Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Don't miss any of the phuquerie. Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr, and find her work on Amazon. Check back on the blog to see when one of the irregular posts has careened onto your feed. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out! 

Friday, 20 June 2014

Missed It: Creature (2011) Review

Hello hello!

I was editing Cult Classics for the Modern Cult, and of course, I needed an appropriate sound-track. I kinda ignored Grabbers (2012), even though it deserved my attention, but I did pay heed to (2011). And oh, lordy, I'm glad I did.

From time to time, I will post a quick review of movies and books I either a) miraculously missed, or b) just discovered, and c) definitely think you should not miss. Or, sometimes, d) think you need to miss as hard as possible, because it is e) embarassingly mediocre or f) soul-scarringly, chew-your-own-nuts-off-to-escape awful.

Which category does Creature fall into? Well, you'll have to read on to find out. This review does contain

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS 


So if predictable horror movies are easily ruined for you by premature plot revelations, stop reading and run for Netflix right now. If not, then I present to you...Creature!


Creature (2011)

Summary


Oh, man, I knew I was in for a delightfully awful ride the minute I saw totally unnecessary tits. Of course, our  lady purveyor of comely flesh lasts all of five minutes until a big old gator makes her into lunch. Good thing, because that nasty-ass swamp looks like a petri dish for bacterial infections. We then cut to a bunch of Southern college kids in a van--complete with overacting, three couples, and all the cliches you could possibly hope for.The plot that follows is so simple I won't dignify it with too much attention--personal drama, horror teasing, and of course, mass murderation. So, let's talk about the good stuff.

Of course you can count on dense Cajun accents in this one. The dialogue, particularly when delivered in the accents, is hilarious. I know lots of Southerners. They are a colourful group. But you can always count on a B-movie to take local pizzazz and crank it up to 11. Drinking game for this movie: every time you hear a contraction, or just every time you can't understand what someone is saying, take a tiny sip of your drink. I apologize in advance for your liver failure.

Oh, and of course there's incest with disturbingly hot actors--no, you're not watching Game of Thrones, this is just a horror movie trope. I will say that scenes like what appears to have been a blow-up doll and one of the worst attack cuts I've ever seen--followed immediately by one of the sloppiest overacting yells I've ever heard--make this a chocolate-box assortment of pure joy. I hope you like bad CGI and really slow chases, because they abound. Also, really fake-looking blood. There's also a lot of tits, I have to say. It's still not Game of Thrones, though. The budget is the dead give-away. Also the presence of Not-Megan-Fox, Not-Taye-Diggs, Not-Channing-Tatum, Not-Kirstin-Dunst or Emma-Stone, and a couple more Nots to round out the van.

Oh, and I forgot to mention that the red-head sometimes gets an Irish instead of a Southern accent at random times. Also, lesbian sex teasing and a girl getting sprayed in the face with snake blood at the end of the scene. And after that, there's basically a bit of an orgy. People have sex in the woods, or start to, and...I won't spoil it, but my eyebrows rose. Of course, that was interrupted by hunters looking fer the gator. The gator-monster sure is shy by monster-movies standards, though. The film focuses on shoddy gore and its shoddy actors rather than the beast. But when we do finally see it, it's as gloriously rubbery and fake as one could possibly hope for.





Pros


It's goofy as phuque. That should be obvious. It kind of verges on self-awareness, and I think that works, in this case. I can't call it an original creature feature, but it's certainly overacted and very enjoyable. The lead actor's overacting--I can't be arsed to remember his name, but he had a purple shirt--is pretty great. The black guy--does he have a name? Do any of them have names?--takes over and actually makes a very appealing badass lead. The pacing is also surprisingly decent.

The sex and goofiness and 'scares' make this a possible candidate for a good date movie. And for once, the black guy doesn't die first! Add in surprisingly good cinematography, actors who are doing the most with a crap script, and pleasantly fake gore, and you have a really smooth ride, especially for a B-movie. I can't spoil the ending, but I loved it, even though it took the most inexcusable short-cut ever with something epic.

Cons


Well, it's not Citizen Kane, as mentioned. If you're clinically allergic to breasts, this might also be a poor choice, and it's certainly not 'family suitable' if you don't want your kids watching sexploitational horror. Honestly, even for a shlocky movie, parts of it verge on softcore porn. No, wait, they basically are softcore porn.

This movie definitely fails at being even a little bit feminist, but it's shlock horror--unfortunately, that's part and parcel of the genre. If you're squeamish, this one won't do you any favours, either. Also, the scene where the alligator eats a girl out in slow motion--or maybe just sniffs around--was exactly halfway between disgusting and hilarious.


Final Verdict


Definitely watchable. Definitely stupid. It's weirdly enjoyable and popcornalicious. Careful editing, and you could cut together a pretty good set of porn GIFs for Tumblr. As it stands, it's a solid 10 out of 10 and a valid contribution to any schlocky movie night or marathon.


*****
Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Don't miss any of the phuquerie. Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr, and find her work on Amazon. Check back on the blog to see when one of the irregular posts has careened onto your feed. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out! 

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Forever Young: What YA Has to Offer Adult Readers (Part 2)


Hello hello!

Aaaand we're back.

I will be touching on many other books, so general

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS 



may lie ahead. So, let's get started again.

In my last post, I depressed the hell out of you all about what adulthood entails and then proceeded to bash nostalgia-goggles and the way they shape our perception of teenage years. However, I think that the same things that draw us to YA are also helping us get over those same problems.


Picking on teenagers lets adults pretend they're more mature, when they really aren't


There is no difference between the things teenagers do to "fit in" and the things adults do to "keep the peace". It's only a matter of sophistication. Is having alcohol for the first time with one friend and sneaking out to hang out with boys really so different from ignoring what one of your friends says about pretty women every time she goes to the gym just because you don't want to get in a fight? Teenagers are called "young adults" for a reason, and the same struggles that teens go through reoccur throughout life, just in different and sometimes more subtle forms. Teenagers have to compromise, assert themselves, leave bad influences behind, make new friends, and apply for jobs and other opportunities. That happens throughout adulthood, which is hardly the smooth ride towards success, retirement, and death that people pretend it is. One of the things that's been most surprising in my own journey out of high school and university is how much things do keep changing, and how just when one thinks things are under control and on lock, all sorts of weird stuff and various disasters will happen anyway. However, pretending that it's only teens who are caught offguard and unawares and make poor decisions makes adults feel better about their own errors and moments of truculence and rudeness.



Source. Because sometimes, you just have to show up to school dressed like Alice Cooper and start crying.



Going over past experiences helps you resolve them. 


Memories do change as we go over them, as I mentioned last time, and while i don't have the time or inclination to provide a fully-researched paper on that right now, I will say that the re-investigation of memories is one of the things that people work on in counselling. Ghosts are often bound to repeat the same actions over and over again, or are confined to the same locations, and that makes for an excellent metaphor on how people repeat the mistakes they haven't gotten over. By revisiting life experiences in YA and gaining new frameworks to compare life events to, people find new meaning in the things that sucked or seemed to ruin their lives. This is great, because you can't always track someone down on Facebook to apologize to them. They might have married, changed their names, or, well, died. YA stories provide a second chance at these things within the safe realms of the theatre of the mind. However, adults who've had many experiences aren't the only ones who benefit from this.


Teenagers need your sympathy, and remembering what it was like to be one really helps.


Teenagers need adults to read YA because it makes adults empathize with them more. It seems simple, but it's true. All that hindsight and self-insight and the other skills that come with a few level-ups just aren't present yet for teens. That's not their fault, it's just a matter of neural development and a lack of time. All that stuff that's all shiny and new and exciting? Well, it's also new, and that means teens have to learn to make decisions the hard way, i.e., by guessing. However, adults who are willing to listen to them can really help. Instead of calling a teenager stupid for fawning over a cute athlete who never gives them the time of day, remembering how utterly sweeping and magnificent the feelings of young love can be, and how much hope one had in spite of great odds, can be really useful. Sure, an adult will know that their crush is unattainable and actually kind of a douche, but teens haven't learned that yet, and the same beautiful hope can lead to some very stupid, heartbreaking things.


Regardless of all the age stuff, YA books are great to bond over.


Realising that teenagers aren't so very different from adults is helpful when talking to them, and once you get over that age hurdle, you can enjoy the same things. What a teen discovers for the first time might remind their family members or friends of similar experiences, and when the two talk about a book, other things will come up. That means other books, other movies, and of course, life experiences. The adult and teen can go through the same highs and disappointments in the book together, sometimes as a mutual first, and that's great for both. Sometimes, age doesn't even matter that much when the story is really good.



Source.


Should adults grow up and stop reading YA books? Do we need to fix this problem?


Of course not. Books are a gateway drug to more books. Sure, YA is less "scary" than traditional literature, but that doesn't mean it won't make people read those other books. YA is often shorter and easier to read than, say, contemporary lit or Russian heavyweights, and that's fine. The important thing is to read, period, and because YA isn't really bound by the same genre rules, it's adventurous. Someone who generally hates romances and "weeping bait" (yo!) might find themselves genuinely enjoying it and learning that yes, it's okay to cry hard over fictional characters again. Some YA is "safer" than adult lit, focusing on simpler problems, and that can be a nice vacation when one's partner has lost their job, their kids are struggling in school, and their mother has cancer. And, as mentioned, sometimes simple questions provide the answers for handling complex problems. Escapism can create problems and lead to really bad ideas too, because books do matter, but sometimes simple things can literally inspire a revolution. 

Ultimately, YA is just the flavour of the moment for people who want a whipping boy, something to condemn for the alleged state of ignorance of modern society. However, there's a quote about all our depravity that really needs to be mentioned.

"Our youth now love luxury; They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers."

Oh, my bad. Did I say that was about modern youth? It's by Socrates and it's about the youth in his day and age. There's nothing like whining about them kids to make you feel like you're doing everything much better than they are. The kids are battered and bruised, they are dealing with a new, big, scary world, but at the end of the day, both the kids and their books are all right.

*****
Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Don't miss any of the phuquerie. Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr, and find her work on Amazon. Check back on the blog to see when one of the irregular posts has careened onto your feed. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out! 

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Forever Young: On Youth Fetishization and YA (Part 1)

Hello hello!

Did you miss my opinion pieces? I hope so, because an article that has been rattling around the internet got me thinking about what makes us love YA so much. I'll try to avoid spoilers for The Fault in Our Stars and Looking for Alaska by John Green, but I will be touching on many other books, so general

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS 



may lie ahead. So, let's get started.


What the hell is "YA", or "Young Adult" fiction anyway?


Adults love YA too, even though "young adult" fiction stars teenagers and is basically just an age category for marketing purposes that encompasses all lit targeted towards teenage audiences. I argued with some friends about whether YA should be a genre recently, and ended up agreeing that, no, it isn't and shouldn't be considered as such, although "Coming of Age" stories or "Bildungsroman" are, and should be marketed as a genre more often. The reason for this is that YA is just too damn diverse. It has some common elements--teenage characters, often girls, as protagonists, a setting in high school, a focus on personal drama, and elements that involve maturation or struggling with meaning. Existential elements and slightly simplified prose are very common.

 If you want to get technical, both Life of Pi and The Underlighters could be called "young adult" books because of their topics and the age of their main characters. Ultimately, though, calling something YA is a marketing decision. There are adult books with teen characters, such as the Idlewild trilogy by Nick Sagan, Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O'Neill, and Irma Voth and A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews. Every single one of those could easily be called YA, but they weren't, and that just boils down to commercial reasons.



Source.

What's a "young adult", anyway?


The answer for this one is going to touch on something that we in North America at least, hate to talk about and also love to talk about. Namely, it's high school. We need to contextualize something about the modern understanding of youth, too--until the Victorian era, there was a hard definition between childhood and adulthood. You finished up a few grades of school and got sent into the working world, and boom, you were an adult. Then people started to realise that there was more of a transition between the snot-nosed childhood stage and the beer-breathed adulthood stage, and we created the concept of the teenage years, or what's more correctly called "adolescence". Oh, sure, "youths" were recognized before that change happened, but they were still basically treated as adults. It was The Great Depression and the Second World War that created the concept of teenagerdom, and since then, we've been stuck with it.

Of course, that means people decided to make money from young adults as well, and teenagers have been a targeted marketing group ever since.


So why do adults care about books for teenagers? 


There's this myth is North America, at least, that what happens in your childhood and adolescence doesn't matter. Bullied? "You'll get over it." Your friends and crushes will drift away, buried in the backyard of your mind like so many Barbie heads and Hot Wheels toys lost in sandboxes.

Well, it's just not true. Yes, time does heal wounds very effectively, and memory is much less certain than we think it is--you can create memories by talking about them and believing in them, and they change a little every time you recall them. And of course, stuff that happens in the first eighteen or twenty-odd years of your life doesn't just magically go away. However, people tell you that they're supposed to. It's strange, because old age is something not all of us live long enough to experience, but the formative years that almost all of us get to enjoy--nope, not important, shrug those off. Which leads me to my next point.


Adults are both in denial about their teen years and obsessed with them. 


Frankly, it's a little weird. This early part of your life, which you'll "get over" and you're supposed to move past, is the focus for most stories. Many protagonists are young--hell, A Song of Ice and Fire involves a whole bunch of characters under the age of twenty--but there's an expectation that maturity means putting high school behind you. That's reasonable, but people also tend to mention high school a lot and use it as a reference point. We're so busy telling people to put the past behind them that a lot of people don't deal with it properly, and the petty sins and small ghosts pile up after a while. Hell, Looking for Alaska depends on the protagonist, Pudge/Miles, following in his father's footsteps to go to a boarding school precisely because his father remembers his experiences there so fondly.

Perhaps as a result of this, most protagonists are quite young, and their stories often feature a lot more resolution than real lives do. The boy/girl/tentacle monster that got away, the parental argument, the bad decision--all kinds of things that hindsight's blazing lamp illuminates--tend to be the focus for these young adult stories. However, the young adult characters often have a lot more power and self-determination than most people feel they had at the same period.

Basically, the YA characters get the best of both worlds--the adult's hindsight and the teenage freshness--partly because people hunger to live through their youthful experiences again but handle them the right way "this time". The way Hazel from The Fault in Our Stars handles a particular adult certainly felt like a daydream of revenge against someone overly idealized. Gauguin said, "Life being what it is, we dream of revenge", and YA fiction is full of delicious, delicious revenge and resolutions. I actually heard about the Gauguin quote from A Complicated Kindness, and that's a story where there really is no figure to seek revenge against, though arguably, Nomi still does take some.



We are obsessed with youth and undervalue adulthood. 


For some reason, the period of time when people have little control over their lives, little self control, less money, and no experience is the time we think is the absolute best for adventure settings. Whether it's contemporary brushes with gang violence or leading an uprising against tyrannical totally-not-parental-figure leaders (et tu, my dear Hunger Games?), young adult characters are smarter, better, and their lack of experience is generally understated compared to real life. However, teens both real and fictional do have a certain brashness and courage that real adults lack. Constant justifications about why certain things can't be done--some reasonable, some downright cowardly--control people's lives. After all, your abusive boss might be piling on extra work, but you have a family to feed, and you can't lose your job. Teenagers haven't learned about consequences yet and sometimes just don't care about them, and frankly, that's not always a bad thing. Sure, it can be, but there are times when stupid decisions are the best you'll ever make.

There's also this weird denial of death and youth-fetishization thing that happens in North American culture (possibly others too?) where the zits and other actual health problems people encounter during adolescence are ignored to focus on the easy beauty teenagers have. Their bad health habits haven't set in yet or haven't caught up to them yet, they're active, they try to look good and impress other people, and for that reason, adults look at their teenage children and neighbours, then look at themselves, and basically collapse in a puddle of envious self-loathing and hatred.


Adulthood is awesome.


This is very stupid. Adulthood has a lot of advantages, and giving up wonder, curiosity, and etcetera are not the required prices of admission. Sure, you know more, but that means that bigger and better questions can be asked. If one compares earlier twentieth century literature to current lit, there's a lot more maturity in the characters. Bilbo and Frodo, for instance, don't hit the road until they're out of their "mischievous" twenties. Both of them are fifty when they go on adventures, and that's a stand-in for being forty. But because people tend to subtly hate and resent their lives, adolescence acquires a sort of golden patina. The angst and directionlessness are forgotten because the longing to go back to a time when everything was still new, when one had more freedom (regardless of how true that freedom was), tends to lure people back. It's nostalgia, and the problem with nostalgia is that it's a lie.

All of this sounds like a strong argument for adults to put down their YA books, but it's actually not.  In Part 2, I,ll get down to the nuts and bolts of why "YA" books are getting a finger-wagging reprimand and thousands of ardent supporters at the same time, and why I think it's awesome.

*****
Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Don't miss any of the phuquerie. Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr, and find her work on Amazon. Check back on the blog to see when one of the irregular posts has careened onto your feed. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out! 



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