Thursday, December 14, 2017

I (still) have a bad feeling about this



It’s that time of year again. Christmas? Holidays? Yeah, I guess so. But just before the winter solstice (in the Northern Hemisphere), has become the time for the latest Star Wars episode, and fans can’t wait for the latest offering, pre-ordering tickets, and queuing for hours for the first screening. I’m sure you all know I’m a die-hard Star Wars fan. Have been for many years, since I watched a movie that back then was just Star Wars. Later it became episode 4: A New Hope, after the little SF offering became a mega-hit and evolved into a franchise.

I was meh about the prequels, saw some hope in the cartoon Star Wars Rebels, (because Grand Admiral Thrawn), and waited in star-struck anticipation (tempered by the cynicism that comes with age) for the new dawn in The Force Awakens

It’s no secret that I was underwhelmed with the The Force Awakens. It was episode 4, rewarmed and with a few vegies added. Maybe a sprinkle of cheese. I won’t go into details, maybe there are still some people out there who haven’t seen Star Wars 7, and I expect that would be a good idea before they watch Star Wars 8: The Last Jedi. Way back in May 2017 I said I had a bad feeling about this and my opinion hasn't changed.

The size and importance of the Star Wars juggernaut was illustrated last weekend, when the cover of the Weekend Australian (a respected national newspaper) magazine was devoted to a head shot of Mark Hamill in Luke Skywalker costume for the new movie. Several pages were devoted to an interview with the film’s producer. I read it. Of course. And after reading that interview I (still) have a bad feeling about this.

The pattern was set by The Force Awakens. The heroine, a young girl (Rey), of unknown parentage, discovers by accident that she has Force skills. We are introduced to the senior villain (Snoke) and his apprentice (Kylo Ren), and learn of the First Order (in lieu of an empire) which is bent on oppressing the Galaxy. Oh, and there’s a band of brave rebels, led by General Leia Organa, bent on stopping the First Order. The film ends with Rey handing her/his light sabre back to the Wise Old Man (Luke Skywalker). This is all standard fantasy stuff and the parallels with A New Hope are obvious.There's even a precocious droid to rehash R2D2.

The stage is set and there’s no turning back. The director of  The Last Jedi had to build on that beginning.

Let’s take a look at my very favourite Star Wars movie, The Empire Strikes Back (TESB). (Yes, it’s still better than Rogue One – which I thought was great). It's rare for a sequel to hit the heights of the first movie, but most people agree that TESB was better than its predecessor.

Luke has discovered that the Force is with him. Now it’s time to learn. His past mentor, Obi Wan Kenobi, has voluntarily left the building, although he’s still around on the astral plain, to the extent that he can tell Luke to find the Jedi Master who instructed him. Now, I’m assuming after all these years, and if you’re still reading, a few spoilers won’t be amiss. Really, if you don’t know some of this stuff I’d have to ask which planet you just arrived from. After coming across young Skywalker in the destruction of the Death Star, Darth Vader has become obsessed with finding the young Jedi, which leads to the battle of Dagobah, which the Empire wins. However, Luke slips away to find the Jedi Master. One of THE greatest object lessons in TESB is the little green frog-like being who turns out to be Yoda. Luke’s looking for a great warrior, to which Yoda retorts, “Huh. Wars not make one great”. The whole episode on Dagobah is essentially spiritual as Luke learns the relationship between life and the Force, and the balance between good and evil, light and darkness. Then there’s the denouement. Luke fears for his friends, goes to rescue them, and faces his arch-enemy, Darth Vader, bent on revenge. The choice to fall down that exhaust vent after Vader informs Luke of his parentage is kind of symbolic. He’s reached his lowest point, mentally and physically. When he’s rescued by Leia and Chewie, there’s only one way to go.

Segue to The Last Jedi.

I’ve watched all the trailers. I’ve read a few analyses. Even now, I can see some inevitable similarities. A bit of new hardware appears in this movie, equivalent to my favourite spaceship, Executor from TESB. Snoke has a floating arsenal called Supremacy, and I’m guessing he's obsessed with finding the young Jedi who defeated his protégé, Kylo Ren. Rey has gone for training. We know who the Jedi Master is, but maybe there is another – the Bendu, who appeared in Star Wars Rebels, an entity of both the light and the dark. I’m saying that because of the reference to the ancient Book of Whills. So Rey will get trained. And one way or another, she’ll find out who her parents are/were. (Snoke? Surely not) Then there’s her friends, Po and Finn, who get mixed up in battles with the First Order. Is she going to have to gallop in and attempt to save them? Going by the trailers, the denouement scene involves Rey being tortured in a manner reminiscent of Luke being hit by the Emperor’s Force lightning in Return of the Jedi.

I hope that The Last Jedi isn’t going to be a thinly-veiled rehash of The Empire Strikes Back or maybe TESB plus a few bits from Return of the Jedi. There’s potential for it not to be. It seems Kylo Ren loses his mask, which was a bit of cosplay to emulate his late grandfather. What that means is another matter. Kylo (sans mask and with a scar over his eye just like Grandpa’s) is pictured piloting a TIE fighter. (Which is interesting, because all the other human pilots wear breathing apparatus.) Are we going to see a union of the dark and the light through Kylo and Rey? And that gets a bit sticky for me. Kylo apparently murdered all of his uncle’s Jedi students, and certainly his own father. Forgiving and forgetting… yeah, no.

The movie opens in Australia on 14th December, tomorrow for the UK and US. No, I haven’t pre-ordered tickets. No, I won’t be in the queues for the midnight showing. I don’t think I’ll even see the film at a movie theatre. But I’ll be hangin’ out for the reviews to see if I was dead wrong. Hoping I am, before I watch the DVD to form my own opinion.

Oh - and if you're looking for a last minute, something different present for a die-hard Star Wars fan, s/he might like one of my books - Dryden Universe, Ptorix Empire, and Morgan Selwood are all space opera. You'll be doing a struggling writer a favour too. Merry Christmas - or Holidays if you prefer.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Feel The Conflict: Anticipation Nerves for #TheLastJedi

Have you felt it? In two days time I'm off to see The Last Jedi and I can't help feeling conflicted about it. It was the same for The Force Awakens. I was so excited to see Star Wars return and not only with the original trio but a female lead, yet trepidation over how Disney would handle it. Ultimately I loved it, even if they did play heavily to nostalgia. No, for TLJ I have a whole bunch of new concerns.

1. Will it be as good? For my own personal definition of 'good' that is. Early reactions from the premier seem mostly positive, even super-excited. You can check them out HERE - caution, I didn't see any spoilers but only skim read a few to be sure. I really want to go in with an open mind.

2. Will it progress? While I loved the nostalgia of TFA, Disney can't rely on that forever. They need to move forward, take the franchise in their own direction, and have the characters and universe continue to grow. From what I've read of the first reactions, it appears they've done that.

3. Will it be a repeat of Anakin's story? I never really understood his fall into the Dark Side in the prequels, and they also took what little sympathy I had for Vader and be annoyed over his redemption in RotJ afterwards. I definitely want to see more thought out motivation and reasoning for any relationships, betrayals and redemptions in this new trilogy.

4. Will they rely on special effects over plot? My biggest issue with Valerian, shown this summer, was while it was visually spectacular, the plot was poor (actually, calling it 'poor' is being kind). I felt like they'd spent all their time, money and energy on making it look glorious and threw in the storyline at the last minute. The trailers for TLJ definitely show snippets of some spectacular space battles (where would SW be without those?!) but I hope there's more to them than that.

And lastly, does Luke Skywalker survive?! I'm not going to lie - I'm a Luke girl through and through, ever since I first saw A New Hope at the age of eight and had my very first crush on a certain Tatooine farmboy (sigh). I love angsty heroes. If they kill Luke off...well, I might never be able to watch another Star Wars film ever again. >.<

Next week will be my last post at Spacefreighters as I go offline for the Christmas holidays, but I will post a short, spoiler free (promise!) review to let you know what I thought and if I survived!

Status Update
While I only hit 11K in my final tally for NaNoWriMo, it was all new stuff for a book that will sit between books two and three of my Keir series. It's nowhere near complete but the bare bones are down so I can now build on those. I also finished edits for Reunion, which will be going to my editor at the end of this week. With luck it might finally be ready for release early next year. Right now I'm using a rare snowfall here in the more temperate end of the UK as inspiration to work on my winter solstice SF mystery, another project more than two years in the making (and still not done). Sigh. Maybe next winter...

Chook Update
My girls are NOT enjoying the snow. Yesterday my two older chooks - Kyru and Scoop - refused to come out first thing, although they did venture out later. As I result I've now put food and water inside their nest box, as the last thing they can afford to do in these temperature is to lose weight. After reading up on some advice, I offered them warm porridge this morning and put down some spare barley straw we had to give their feet some protection from the now frozen bark chipping we use in their run. The ungrateful whatsits turned their nose up at the food and refused to go onto the straw even when I threw in some of their favourite treats. However, they did eventually venture out, even if they mostly ended up on their perches. Tomorrow it's supposed to warm back up so hopefully they'll feel a bit better.

See ya!

Monday, December 11, 2017

On Writing -- Muse 0: Distractions 4

So, I did it. I opted out of the next Pets in Space collection...provided there even IS a next Pets in Space collection. For the last two years, I've invested a major chunk of my time in writing and revising two successive Pets in Space novellas, and in blogging, tweeting, FBing and promoting the collection. (A genuine and valuable learning experience!)

It was a very difficult decision to send an email to the organizers telling them in advance I was opting out, but my aim is to get back on my professional track and start kicking out more of my own titles next year. I planned to get right on it. I rolled up my sleeves to tackle my next two projects, and...

Well. Easier said than done, as it turns out. Distractions are the devil, and lately I've had my share of them.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi!

In just four days! Definitely a major distraction! How is a writer supposed to write when the anticipation (and/or dread) is so high? Please, please, please, Hollywood, don't ruin a standard in storytelling that's stood for decades--most of my lifetime, in fact--by turning out yet another glib, depressing piece of motion picture garbage. Don't do that to my beloved Star Wars. Don't you dare!

The movie trailers and previews look promising...
 



But, well, we've seen that before only to have the film do a big, fat belly flop.

Again, I say, don't you do to Star Wars what you've done to so many great ideas. Ruin them. I'm holding you accountable, Hollywood. Me and millions of other fans. I hope you're shaking in your boots right now. You should be!

This latest installment better darn well live up to the bar that's been set.

And we'll find out in just four days!

Taking on the 2017 SFR Galaxy Awards

Several years ago Heather Massey had a wonderful idea to create an award program for Science Fiction Romance that focused on different stand-out aspects of different books (and the occasional movie, graphic novel or video game). The whole point behind the awards was to help readers find books they'd really enjoy reading. We teamed up together to launch the first SFR Galaxy Awards for 2011. This year marks the 6th anniversary of the awards.

Recently, Heather contacted me to see if I'd have any interest in hosting the awards for 2017, because life was just a little too full for her this year. I agreed to take the reins, at least for this next round. And so the awards will go on.

Look for the announcements to begin posting the morning of January 30th in their usually pattern--one round per hour. We also have a new judge this year, and you can meet her, as well as get re-acquainted with our returning judges, on the SFR Galaxy Awards site.

I hope you'll tune in for the festivities when they roll out in January.



The Holidays
 
Tralalalalala. It's almost Christmas! Seriously. How did that happen? Wasn't it January just last week?

I love the holidays, but they do bring their fair share of time-gobbling must-do's. Shopping, attending parties and events, decorating, wrapping, and writing out cards.

Now that I'm retired, I have no excuse not to slow down and smell the Poinsettias, so I have to allow myself the seasonal break even though it's going to cut into my writing time. After all, the holidays only come once a year, and each year, there are fewer ahead to look forward to.

Life's too short not to celebrate.

But then...

A Personal Loss

This was a very sad event indeed, so I won't go into detail and depress everyone, but suffice it to say we recently lost a long-time friend to ALS. Of all the things I'm juggling right now, this one has been the most difficult to deal with. No amount of organization or planning can "fix" the loss of a friend. No amount of holiday festivities can overcome the sadness. No recounting the memories or the good times can bring back the past.

Sometimes life is like a steamroller. It's going to flatten you as it rolls on toward the future.

There's a movie called The Village in which the residents of the small town often gather to share a big feast. Before they begin, they say a prayer.

It starts: "Thank you for the time we have been given..."

Yes. That.

Sorry to end my blog on such a somber note, but of all the setbacks mentioned, grief has packed the biggest wallop of them all.

Thanks for stopping by. And have a great week.



Friday, December 8, 2017

SFR IN THE TIME OF #METOO


Okay, in case anyone needs a definition of sexual harassment/assault, I recommend we all start with author Chuck Wendig’s excellent (and hilarious) blog post on the subject here. I’ll wait.

Everybody got that? Good. I agree with Chuck’s base line: We all learned to keep our hands (and other parts) to ourselves in kindergarten, or we should have. It’s no longer cool to assume your sexual interests are automatically returned by everyone in sight, Austin Powers.  I would add that, as authors, if our heroes and heroines are having trouble following those rules in our stories, maybe we ought to rethink their actions. 


In this age of #metoo, there are at least a few outmoded science fiction romance tropes we might want to send back to spacedock for some radical reworking. 

--Fated Mates—It is undeniably romantic to think there is only one person out there for each of us. These stories speak to that yearning in all of us to mate for life, like swans or wolves. But perhaps we can agree that the time of the dogged, single-minded pursuit of the alpha male of his Fated Mate may be past (can we say “stalking?”). The heroine invariably knows nothing of this Fate; she isn’t “ready.” The hero must be steadfast in his courting and never give up! Acck!  I’ve read and enjoyed dozens of these, but I will probably never read them the same way again. Now they are just creepy.

--Abducted for (Whatever)—In the pulp-fiction past these stories were known as “Mars Needs Women” tales, but they’ve recently become more popular and “mainstream.” Earth women are abducted by aliens for use as sex slaves, mates, queens and similar biological fodder. The main point here is the lack of agency on the part of those Taken. The abducted rarely escape their fate; they must make the best of it somehow. Or worse, the abduction is portrayed as a good thing, with lots of fun sex and/or a rescue from a dull Earth life!

--Harems/Reverse Harems—According to Veronica Scott’s USA Today/HEA Blog, this is an up-and-coming sub-sub-genre of SFR, sometimes flipping the script to portray stables of sexy men-beasts owned by a lucky female. Is it any more humane to keep men as slaves for the sexual pleasure of women than the other way around? Doubtful.

--Coerced Sex and/or Violence—Do I even have to say it? Forget “safe words,” some things just go too far. Slaves forced to have sex, to breed, or to fight as gladiators may be historically correct and an idea that could be projected to alien planets, but when used as titillation in a romance, we approach sexual exploitation, ie. ick factor.

But even without wading in these murky pools, if we’re writing romance, by definition the issues of sexual dynamics underlie everything we write. We owe it to our readers to examine the relationships we portray on the page to make sure: Is the hero the kind of man he should be? Is the heroine his equal as they build a relationship? Alpha males are all well and good, but Neanderthal attitudes toward women should be the last thing a reader should expect in a genre primarily (though certainly not exclusively) written by women for women.

My first novel was a Star Trek fan fiction story titled Mindsweeper. In it, Captain James T. Kirk has been suspended from his post pending a hearing for sexual misconduct. (About time, you might say! Kirk is nothing if not an alpha male with a predilection for interaction with females that skirts the line of what is appropriate.). He meets a lone-wolf trader named Kate Logan, who asks him if the story is true.

“Does it matter?” he says.

“Does to me,” she says.

Right away, we know she is his equal, and not about to take any of his usual BS. (Turns out, he’s undercover trying to ferret out a Federation mole. The misconduct rap is part of his cover.)

The risk of sexual misconduct is part of the plot in Unchained Memory, Interstellar Rescue Series Book One, too. Psychiatrist Ethan Roberts is attracted to his patient Asia Burdette from the moment she steps into his office, but, as a professional, he dares not act on the feelings she stirs in him. She’s strong and independent, no longer in need of his professional help, and, most significantly, no longer his patient by the time circumstances drive the two of them into each other’s arms.

I even wrote a Fated Mates story in Trouble in Mind, Interstellar Rescue Series Book Two. But at the first sign of their mutual fate, the heroine reacts quite justifiably as if the hero violated her, and the hero is equally horrified at his own actions. It takes the couple almost another third of the book to reconcile.

The point is that I made sure in these cases to acknowledge the elephant in the room, and deal with it as part of the plot. My heroes and heroines struggle with their sexual dynamics before they earn their happily ever after.

As SFR authors, we have more freedom than do historical or contemporary romance authors to create the world we want for our characters. All the more reason for us to be conscious of the limits we place on the men and women of the futures we build.

Cheers, Donna


About Spacefreighters Lounge

Hosted by 5 Science Fiction Romance authors with 8 RWA Golden Heart finals and a RITA final between them. We aim to entertain with spirited commentary on the past, present, and future of SFR, hot topics, and our take on Science Fiction and SFR books, television, movies and culture.