Sci-Fi Saturday: They Live!

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I didn’t intend to do one of these today, but I ended up with a little more time than I expected to have so here we go! I learned last night from my friend and sometime co-conspirator Rose that Rowdy Roddy Piper has departed this plane of existence. Now, there are very few celebrities I’d eulogize on the blog, but Roddy surely makes the cut.

When I was a kid, I absolutely loved him. I think I was drawn to him because he was so good at mixing humor in with the standard loud-mouthed professional wrestler schtick. And he had bagpipes! (I love me some bagpipes).

What I remember him most fondly for are two cheesy movies: They Live and Hell Comes To Frogtown. Hell Comes to Frogtown is a true B-Movie. They Live, I’m not sure about. It was hard to tell the difference between low-budget and just plain cheesy in those days. Either way, They Live is one of my all-time favorites.

It’s a pretty straightforward sci-fi tale in which aliens have infiltrated the planet and are able to disguise themselves as humans. They’ve taken over the media and use broadcasting and advertising to subjugate humanity via subliminal messages. There’s a resistance, of course. And they’ve developed special sunglasses that allow humans to see through the aliens’ disguises. Hi-jinks ensue.

Early on, it includes one of the most memorably ridiculous fight scenes of all time.

And later, there’s this highly-quotable moment.

They Live is quite simply one of the yummiest pieces of action/comedy produced in the 80’s. The only thing from that era I can think of that remotely compares for pure entertainment value is Big Trouble in Little China. And we have Roddy Piper to thank for it. They Live is one of those movies that really shouldn’t work, but it does. And it works almost entirely because of the casting.

R.I.P., Roddy.

Here’s a clip of him performing at the Viper Room with Public Jones. I’m not sure what that instrument he’s playing is, but it sure is a sweet track.

Sci-Fi Saturday Netflix Review: Sense 8

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I recently finished the first season of Sense 8, a sci-fi show created for Netflix by J. Michael Straczinski and the Wachowskis. Since I don’t have a Star Wars post today, I figure why not give it a review. The concept of the show is interesting. Eight people scattered around the world suddenly develop the ability to communicate telepathically and share one another’s knowledge and skills. Of course it doesn’t take long to find out they’re going to be hunted by a big bad who has similar powers.

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The Concept

The main characters are sensate, which can man any number of things in fiction. In this case it means the eight protagonists can share one another’s headspace in strange and fabulous ways. Their telepathic link works as s sort of bilocation. They don’t just hear one another’s voices in their heads, they can actually project themselves to the same location as other members of the group. They can even “let one another in,” a sort of consensual possession which leads to some truly weird sexual encounters before they learn to control their powers properly, and to a few awesome fight scenes. If you judge it according to the standards of typical American television, this show is w-a-a-a-y out there, people.

Here are a few things I liked and didn’t like about the show.

The Good

1. The acting and characterization are the best parts, and the casting is good. The characters, once you get to know them, are compelling.

2. The camera work is brilliant at times, and gives the series a cinematic feel, which is a strength with a piece of speculative weirdness like Sense 8.Sense8Logo

3. Lots of non-heteronormative characters are depicted in believable, loving relationships, and physical intimacy between same sex & transgender couples is actually depicted in the screen. This is a big one. The show is much more sexually explicit than I like my tv to be — definitely not something to watch while the kids are awake. But for the most part, the show gets this one right.

4. There’s a comic shout-out to the Matrix early on in the series that absolutely cracked me up. You’ll know that one when you see it.

The Not-So-Good

1. Sense 8 suffers from one of the problems Game of Thrones does: loads and loads of characters separated geographically and dealing with their own subplots. I never felt like I was seeing enough of any one character. I almost gave up halfway through the first episode, which introduced all eight, because the first 40 minutes is an incoherent mishmash of opening subplots and the incoherence feels deliberate to me. The show (sorta) brings it all together in the last ten minutes of episode 1 and ends with a good hook, which is why I kept watching. This way of organizing a long story works much better in print than it does on tv.

2. The pacing is uneven. Especially in the last half of the season, there were long stretches where I was thinking “ok, I don’t want to see this scene until you tell me what it has to do with the main storyline. And can we please get back to the action now?”

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3. Despite the fact that Sense 8 deals well with LGBTQ relationships, stereotypical tropes abound in the characterization. Why does the Korean character have to be an underground kickboxer with anger issues and a wise sensei? Why does the German character have to be a tall, blonde criminal from an abusive family? And *EGAD* one of the American characters is a second-generation Chicago police officer with a soft heart.

Add in a pixie woman from Iceland who deals with a horrific tragedy by retreating into the London club scene, drugs, and dangerously unhealthy relationships, and well. That’s half the cast. Scattering your main characters around the world and making them diverse is good, but building them from standard, predictable tropes takes a some of the shine off. I will say, though. This wasn’t an issue for me while I was actually watching. Could be that I’m not as sensitive to this stuff as I should be. Could be that the characters are well-drawn enough to compensate for the problem. Your mileage will vary with this one.

4. The show goes a bit overboard with graphic depictions of childbirth. Now, I’m not squeamish about anatomy and such depicted in film, and at least the producers worked hard to make it realistic. But I’m talking frontal shots of bloody, crowning heads. Seven or eight of them. Everyone has their limits with this sort of thing, and Sense 8 exceeded mine.

5. The ending falls flat. I was thinking for the first nine episodes that the story was building to a truly interesting moment, but that just never materialized. The finale is a standard “rescue the princess from the castle of the evil overlord” episode. It’s cleverly-enough done, but it’s nothing I haven’t seen. I want more out of a show with this much potential.

6. And finally, the big one. In terms of deciding whether or not to give another 12 hours of my life to this program, should Netflix decide to order a second season, this is what gives me the most pause. The whole story relies on extranormal phenomena, but just how, exactly, the characters’ powers and weaknesses work is not explained adequately.

Sense 8 risks running into the same problem Lost did. I like entertainment with fantastical elements, but I want to know the rules of the paranormal game up front so I can adjust my expectations accordingly. I don’t want to get two or three seasons in and find out things don’t actually work the way the authors led me to believe they do, or to end up feeling like the producers of the show are using the fantastical stuff to sidestep the need to actually resolve plot lines.

The Verdict

Watch this show if you enjoy at least two of these: utter weirdness, contemporary sci-fi with a dystopian twist, or Big Sexy Drama with martial arts and explosions thrown in. But don’t expect too much. If you’re looking for straight action adventure from your Netflix and a satisfying storyline, give Daredevil a try first. I’m on to Marco Polo myself. I think that one has real potential, but then, I’m a sucker for period fiction.

I’m developing a rating system for my reviews, and I’ve not settled on what to use in place of stars, nor created graphics. On a five-point scale, I rate Sense 8 a 3.5, and 1.5 of that is solely for the acting, fight choreography, and camera work.

Thanks to Hannah for discussing this show with me and convincing me to give it a chance. I find it worth watching and writing about, and I am interested to see what Hannah comes up with if she decides to post about it once she finishes the season.

Star Wars Saturday: Representation Matters (and a Book Announcement)

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If we can’t write diversity into sci-fi, then what’s the point? You don’t create new worlds to give them all the same limits of the old ones. – Jane Espenson

In almost 40 years of existence, Star Wars has done some good work in terms of diverse characters, though there is still room for improvement, even in more recent creations.

Source: Wookieepedia.

Source: Wookieepedia.

I grew up with favorites such as Leia Organa, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Han Solo and Lando Calrissian. I fell in love with Mara Jade when reading Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire in the early 90s. I jumped up and down when we got Mace Windu, Bail Organa and Padme Amidala in the Prequel Trilogy. I can’t wait to see the new trio in Episode VII, as well as the new and returning characters.

Star Wars has had recurrent missed opportunities with depiction of disability. So far, most romance and characters presented were straight. I hope to see more characters of colors and other species have important roles in the future, as well as even more compelling female characters of all ages.

Yet, the franchise has done good things since it was created. It was what prompted me to return to my collection of essays A Galaxy of Possibilities: Representation and Storytelling in Star Wars, and revise it, as well as add two new chapters. Tackling the whole universe would be a lifetime work, but the following essays aim at shedding some light and discuss aspects of diverse representation in the franchise:

  • Introduction: Why Representation Matters and Why Star Wars has a Role to Play
  • Chapter 1: Star Wars Rebels: A New Text to Link the Old
  • Chapter 2 : Lando Calrissian : Iconic Scoundrel
  • Chapter 3: Star Wars’ Jedi Younglings: A Benevolent but Controversial Education System
  • Chapter 4: Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II – A Milestone for Star Wars Female Characters
  • Chapter 5: Mara Jade: Pillar of the Star Wars Expanded Universe
  • Chapter 6 : Female Wizards: Jocasta Nu and Kreia
  • Chapter 7: Tenel Ka: Negotiating Acquired Disability
  • Chapter 8: Nala: The Missing Link between Disney Princesses and Leia Organa
Cover designed by Jennifer A. Miller.

Cover designed by Jennifer A. Miller.

The New Revised Edition will be available in Kindle format on September 9 (print version TBA later this year), on all Amazon sites, including Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon Canada. You can also find the book’s Goodreads page here. I’m always happy to connect with my readers!

What about you, fellow Star Wars fans? What aspects of diversity do you think were well done in Star Wars and which ones do you hope to see improve in the future?

Blog Traffic and Engagement: What A Year of Everyday Posting Has Gotten Us

It has made us a ton of friends. It’s also put me in a position to put together another long stretch of everyday blogging next year and it’s put our goal of building Sourcerer into a blog that runs on … Continue reading

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