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My drug of choice is writing--writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Best Contemporary SciFi (Reminder to Vote)

What is the best science fiction book (or series) written in the last ten years? 

From your nominations we have constructed our poll. Now we need everyone to come vote. Only ten days remain to get your choices on record for our new series of polls where the results will stay posted until the next such poll (likely years later).

Everyone gets three [3] votes, but as there is no way to "rank" votes, you should use as few as you can stand.

The poll itself is in the lower left at the bottom of the side menus.

If you're on mobile you can scroll ALLLLLL the way to the bottom and click on"webpage view" to see the side menus and get to the polls.

[Note- We are currently only $70 dollars towards our fundraising goal. I know people think maybe I ask for money and it just floats down like manna from heaven or I click a button and hundreds of dollars shows up in my Paypal that day, but that's NOT how it works. While I would love more patrons, right now I am just trying to make $600 ($530 remaining) to fix the laptop I do my writing on and have enough to cover my taxes. If you've ever thought that you can't be a patron, but wanted to make a One Time Donation, now would be a great time.]

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Will You Do Infinity War (Mailbox)

[Spoilers for Infinity War]

Do Infinity War!

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer a couple each week.  I will use your first name ONLY unless you tell me explicitly that you'd like me to use your full name or you would prefer to remain anonymous. I will even "do" pop culture if you give me like...a year.]  

Hey can you work your mojo on Infinity War?

How about a review of Infinity War?

Your Thor: Ragnarok review was spectacular. Do Infinity War?

Why haven't you done any MCU reviews since Thor? Would love your take on Black Panther or Captain Marvel if you've seen it.

From a writer's perspective, what did you think about Infinity War?

My reply:

I'm not going to write a full review of a movie that is really only half over, but I'll jot down some thoughts:

  1. I took the look I did at Thor Ragnarok because it an is indictment of white supremacy. I felt like I had something to say about that. While I'm capable of examining the afrofuturism of Black Panther, examining it through a post-colonial lens, or unpacking the extended metaphor of feminist defeat of dudebro control, gaslighting, emotions-mean-you're-wrong, and holding women back that pits Captain Marvel against an extended metaphor of everyday sexism, I think other voices (namely of black folks and women respectively) are doing a much better job of unpacking those movies than I could. 
  2. Marvel did something that threw a lot of critics off. They did not even attempt to make a stand-alone film. For the first time, you really were going to miss a lot of context if you hadn't seen some of the movies before. Not just a few wayward details that you could probably muddle through, but really...you were going to be a bit lost. The criticisms I saw that it was too much action and too packed with characters and had little in the way of their development (other than Thanos) rarely seemed to acknowledge that in a lot of ways the MCU itself is "The Story" and "Infinity War" is its climax. (This has some interesting implications below.)
  3. Also they aren't done. The two-hour movie (and 250-page novel) is losing its hegemony as the entertainment medium of choice. Many people watch what are essentially 8-15-hour "movies" on Netflix or enjoy multipart films that tell a single story. In addition to being the "climax" of the story of the MCU to date, Infinity War is also much more directly part one of a two-part movie, and there's not really any way of getting around that. So I think a lot of the reviews and criticism tried to judge Infinity War as a standalone when it isn't. I left the theater thinking "Shame it's going to be a year to see what happens." It's hard to know if this was a good movie or not when the catharsis is still four hours coming.
  4. Thanos is the protagonist of Infinity War. That's just the way it's written. I realized that even before the interviews started saying things that verified that read. He's got the want as well as the need. He is the proactive agent going after what he wants. Everyone else in the movie is an obstacle he has to overcome––literally, the Avengers are the antagonists getting in the way of his moral imperative. He sacrifices everything to attain his goal. His people all die in service of the cause, and he has to fight alone in the final reel. He appears to fail multiple times, including a moment where it all seems lost at the end. And then, almost miraculously, he succeeds. 
  5. What Thanos ISN'T, is some tragically misunderstood moral agent. His Malthusian aims to save resources, besides being UTTERLY fucked up, wouldn't work. Anyone with knowledge of population growth would tell Big T that he really only bought the universe maybe 50-100 years at the most, given how quickly a population doubles if it's not at its carrying capacity. Unless he's going to show up and do his uberasshole death snap every half-century or so, it is at best a VERY temporary solution. Perhaps more to the point, that's not why resource scarcity is a thing. His snap, which will inflict the entire universe with PTSD and outrageous grief at once (causing at LEAST as much suffering or more as he claims he will ameliorate) will not double everyone's allotment because it does nothing to shift the have-nots into haves. Rather, without some sort of social leveling mechanism, it will just make rich people richer as they still "own" all the resources. 
  6. Thanos is an analogue for genocide. Why not just double all the resources? I mean, if you have literally ultimate omnipotent power over time and space, why use it to kill half the sentient people in the universe rather than shrinking everyone to half size or giving every race a extra planet of resources per million people? (In the movie, Thanos is not trying to get Death to notice his huge, throbbing...deeeeeeeeeeeestructive power.) Because Thanos isn't, as many have suggested, misunderstood, tragically misguided but trying to help, an antihero, a good ends with a crappy means, or any of that shit. Thanos kills people because Thanos is a stone cold fucking murderer. He never entertains other options because he decided what he wanted to do and then came up with a reason that fit. That he describes his objectives to mass murder HALF the universe in this trauma-bonding way that he had no choice and it was for the greater good, should be sending chills up people's spines (and does except for a bunch of folks who've never been on the working end of genocide or like-atrocities and think: "Dang, this guy has some good points.") Watch what people say when they ACTUALLY commit genocide, and you'll realize that Thanos's dialogue is not random. "I had no choice. There weren't enough resources. Too many mouths to feed. Impossible decisions had to be made. I offered a final solution." 
  7. Thanos is also an analogue for abuse. (Which is why a number of people walked away wishing there had been a content notification.) Thanos tortures one daughter to get the other to do what he wants. He tells people he's hurting them for their own good. He isolates his daughters from their support and family so they have only him to rely on and then tortures them. After each act of abuse (dragging Gamora around or hurting her), he trauma-bonds with her by saying how much he loves her. He stays almost philosophical about HORRIFIC acts of violence (until he is out of control and then he becomes enraged). And he loves like an abuser loves––deeply for the idea of someone so long as they obey completely...or he'll hurt you––which is to say, he "loves" her only in the palest sense of possession. Even in the reactions to Infinity War people essentially continued to gaslight Gamora by proxy, describing Thanos's relationship to her as "tender" and "loving" even though she herself described in visceral detail how it wasn't. Thanos delights in pain, but rather than have the decency to admit it, he obfuscates it, like an abuser (or genocider), behind the idea that he is doing something for people's own good. 
  8. I don't know if they're going to get into this or not, but if half the people on Earth die, a lot more than half the people on Earth are going to die. It's not like we keep going like we are now but we get twice as many Kit Kat bars in a pack and mostly are just WAY WAY sad because half our peeps vaped into ash piles. In fact, the agencies that track things like epidemics and diseases (like the CDC and the WHO) say we're in big, big, BIG trouble if we lose more than 10% to some kind of plague. Removing 1/2 of the people at a restaurant when only half the customers are coming in might not be so bad, but removing half the people who work at a hospital, a power plant, or a water distribution pump is a liiiiiiiiiiiitle bit different. Once our infrastructure stops working, and once people don't have clean water, power, medications, or even a grocery store with food in it, civilization basically begins a domino collapse, and a shit ton more people end up dying in secondary ways. We'd bounce back before things got to Walking Dead season 7 levels, but for most of the developed world, the estimate would be around 90% casualties.
  9. A couple of above clues show a way in which Marvel is working with the meta-narrative. For example, when it comes to Thanos being the protagonist or people in the AUDIENCE actually treating Thanos the way folks treat abusers and those who commit crimes against humanity  ("Well, he does make some good points.") there is some fascinating new rules––or lack of rules, I should say. The meta-narrative of Infinity War broke the established rules of the MCU. And it does it AS THANOS GAINS INFINITY STONES. In the first TWENTY movies, basically the plot was your standard KNOW THYSELF romp of Joseph Campbell's hero's journey. The protagonists needed to learn who they (really) were, what they stood for, how to work together, or some variation of learning that they had the power to stop the antagonist all along. Infinity War turned this on its head. Quill (Starlord) got a lot of shit for screwing up the attempt to kill Thanos, but he did what he was supposed to do. He completed his full development arc and pulled the trigger to kill Gamora. He grew as a character and learned what was more important than his feels. He learned what it meant to serve something bigger than Starlord. By the 20-movie-precedent set by the MCU, he should have won in that moment.....but it didn't matter It was as if the Infinity Gauntlet reached through the movie screen and Thanos altered simply changed the laws of MCU itself. The more infinity stones Thanos gains, the more rules of the MCU he can break, culminating, of course, in the complete meaninglessness of a tearful sacrifice scene (which always works in the MCU) and at the last, evil totally achieving its objectives.
  10. I'm looking forward to seeing what happens.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Vera's Sick, No Summer School, Molasses, and What Now? (Personal Update)

Ker-ack!
Seriously though this is what a broken
black back piece looks like.
Hi everybody,

There was going to be a guest blog today, but the author is taking some time on...uh kickstarting their Kickstarter and so their promotion tour is pushed back a little. We'll still get it (and I think it's going to be awesome), but it might be a couple more weeks.
That left me hanging a little, but it makes for good timing. Because I have some news....

THERE IS NOT GOING TO BE A "PLEDGE DRIVE" this year.

If you've been around Writing About Writing for a while, you may know that every year in the past, I went and taught summer school for six weeks because I needed the money. It was an extra thirty hours or more added to an already overcooked schedule and my posting here usually broke down around week two. There may have even been some sobbing during that period.

In the past couple of years since I added Patreon, I have used the six weeks to run a full court press of asking for donations and patrons. Each week for the six weeks, I cannibalized a post and instead made an increasingly intricate plea for financial support. There were plans for future income and all the bellwethers we'd passed so far and a little thermometer showing how close we were to hitting a goal.

Not this year. I'm not teaching there anymore. I kind of don't need that money (though it'll be a little tight without). But really the reason is more petty. My boss used "Think of the poor children to whom we give scholarships" to try and shame teachers into not asking for their agreed-upon raises or any materials budgets, (plus they were cutting more and more corners every year), and I wasn't really okay with that. So I'll be writing a regular update schedule during that time when this summer rolls around.

HOWEVER, we do have a fundraiser.

I need to cover the increased tax burden of a freelancer who can't write off anything this year, and the cost of repairing and replacing some of the things I moved out with three years ago are starting to break down. Many of these things I can just learn to live without (Apple watches are fun, but entirely too expensive to try to replace on my salary), but the computer that I write on needs to be fixed.

It's been SLOW going on Patreon. Almost every month involves the TINIEST of net gain, but the needle moves glacially slow. Usually before the month ends I end up with a couple of dollar raise, but not before a bunch of people cancel or modify their pledges down and then a slow crawl back to where I was and maybe a little more. March has been particularly hard. It doesn't take much backsliding to wipe out such incremental change.


We've been moving like molasses to our next set of goals––the very next one that was supposed to cover the increased price of health insurance and the fact that my income counts as freelance and I can no longer write anything off. (Yep, basically covering the cost of life under Trump.) I'm still over $100 shy––well $121, now.) Given how my friends who've filed THEIR taxes have been howling, I'm not optimistic. After the insurance/taxes goal, the NEXT goal was supposed to be to start helping with all the little things that have begun to to break and need replacing. A cost I didn't have to deal with when I first moved out with all new stuff, but which eventually catches up to you when you live in a system that depends on engineered obsolescence.

Right now my overall life is okay. I can still make a budget stretch with the best of them, and starting in April there are nanny hours that will help give me a few more years to hit those Patron goals before I have to decide whether to add advertising revenue or renege on my commitment to keep everything I write available for free. 

And, of course, what I would REALLY love is more Patrons. (Even a dollar or three a month helps create a firm "ecosystem" of small patrons so that I don't lose 10% of my income if one of my big patrons can't keep paying––not that I don't love my big patrons to bits.) They let me budget and schedule and plan in ways that flat donations don't.

But in the meantime, I'm trying to fix my computer and get my 2018 taxes covered.


So every one-time donation helps. paypal.me/WritingAboutWriting

The back plastic of Vera, my writing laptop, has a crack in it, which means the hinge has stopped working and the monitor part sort of "flops" back. Right now I have some Trader Joe's Pita Bite Cracker boxes keeping it at a 90-degree angle so that I can work.  Unfortunately, like everything with Macs, it's some laser-precision cut piece, and my research suggests I'm looking at $380 to replace it. Between that and taxes, I'm hoping to raise about $600. Every dollar helps.

And then hopefully before next tax season or the next thing breaks, I will have molasses-on-a-glacier crawled to the next Patron goal with my actual INCOME, and won't need to do this again.

Note: AS ALWAYS these posts do not do particularly well on their own merits in social media proliferation. If you want to help me, this blog, and my writing, and do not have the money to spare (or do have the money to spare but want to help me twice), please consider liking, commenting, or sharing this post so that it can be seen by more people who might have a dollar or five to spare.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Forewarning

Hi folks.

Just a quick post that won't be going up on social media. For those of you who see posts directly through blogger updates or email notifications or a subscription service like Feedly, I wanted to warn you of some updates coming that I won't be putting on social media, but that you'll see through those various updates.

This post: 25 Narratives We Hear After Every Mass Shooting (And Why They're Total Bullshit) is about to get a new look (and a polish). Each of the 25 arguments is going to become a link to its own section, and those I'll be writing on WAW's off days, probably one or at most two a week. It'll take a while to get it all done, and I just wanted to let everyone know it was coming.

-Chris

Thursday, March 14, 2019

BioShock Infinite: Your Argument Is Invalid (Conclusion)

Two quick reminders:

1- This is part 6 (and the conclusion) of a multipart article, and I’m jumping in with no recap. You can go back to Part 5 or all the way back to The Beginning

2- While I’m not decoding the end or discussing the plot directly, there will be spoilers.

And so…here we are…at the end. The Art Snobs are electrocuting Video Games with force lightning of elitism, but what they don’t realize is that the “dark lord” standing next to them is a geek with a degree in humanities who is going to use what he learned to turn on them.

Time to toss this “video-games-can’t-be-art" argument down a strangely placed bottomless shaft.

Okay.
Someone needs to stop throwing a tantrum about who gets to be special.
It's time for your nap and a baba.

There is so much more I could analyze about BioShock Infinite. More themes, more subtext, more elements that work to reinforce the vision, more failed topical social justice attempts. Each one of the parts of this could be telescoped out into ten more articles of examples. One could write a masters thesis on nothing but the idea of redemption as a driving motivation for nearly every character, or fill fifteen articles with careful analysis of all the symbolism without even breaking a sweat. I suspect a PhD dissertation arguing the inclusion of video games into the annals of art could be made with nothing but this one game.

However, my point was never to do an exhaustive critical analysis, but simply to show that it CAN be done. I don’t need to show all the symbols to prove that at least one exists. I don’t need to examine each element of video game design to show a couple that are working with the themes. I don’t need to examine every theme to show how they play into B.I.’s overall experience as art. I don’t need to unpack every critical review to demonstrate that the analytical tools being used to analyze B.I. are the same ones we bring to the table when we’re talking about film or literature (both “real” art forms).

I actually have the easy job here. I need only ONE solid example to disprove the claim that video games can't be art. I can kick my feet up, chomp some bonbons and write a (relatively) short article that illustrates my point. That is because I merely need to get the artistry of ONE video game on record. You don’t even have to agree that B.I. is “real art,” you just have to agree that it had the ability to be, so even the opinion that they fell short is, in and of itself, a success.

You see, in the final analysis, BioShock Infinite’s gestalt as legitimate art echoes its sociopolitical shortcomings. If the worst criticism leveled against it is that it failed in its ambition, then the medium’s potential must be acknowledged. A piece of art that has failed to live up to its potential must have had the potential to be art.

Checkmate, dillhole art professors.

No...
NOOOOOOOOOOO!
The position that video games can’t be art is quagmired from nearly three decades ago in the medium’s technological infancy when it literally did not have the ability to be artistic. (At least not in a way recognized by the ivory tower. A case could be made for the tension between impact and intent existing from the moment two rectangles and a circle were meant to be a game of ping pong.) And every moment since the 90’s has seen that claim become more and more absurd. Sure, there are disposable entertainment games, and no one is arguing that Modern Combat 27 is “real art” or that Navy Seals Commando 23 has engaging character arcs, no matter how breathtaking their graphics become. But the same continuum of artistic quality exists in every medium—there are literary books and throw-away books. There are engaging shows and mind-numbing shows. There are great films and Adam Sandler movies.

We can still be hard on games that are shallow, vapid, and unconsidered. Twitch-oriented offerings to the “hard core gamer” are seldom interested in symbolism or themes. But some games—some games—are rising above.

BioShock Infinite has a quadruple layering of almost every scene. The ostensible moment, the foreshadowing within the plot of the fact that Booker is actually in an infinite loop and everything is happening exactly as it has before, the sociopolitical implication of the cycle of violence (flawed as it may have been portrayed), and the thematic exploration of free will and the idea that we have any true moral decisions.

In parting, consider two moments:

One— half way through the game, Booker can be made to pick up a guitar and start strumming it. Elizabeth immediately begins to sing “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.” Think about how much subtext is bursting out of that moment. In the song itself the “circle” is suffering and the question posed by the singer is if there is really a paradise in which there will be no more suffering.  (The fact that it is sung in the basement of a ratty bar in a shanty town right next to a kid living under the stairs is no coincidence.) However, the “circle” can also refer to the Delphian fate of Booker's 123 loops in which he has done the same thing over and over again. But it can also refer to the cycle of violence that perpetuates violence and the fact that Columbia is a city founded by—as well as entered through—acts of violence. But it can ALSO refer to the free will of the characters and their ability to do anything other than their nature and their circumstances predetermine.

And if that isn’t real art, I don’t know what is.

Two— I’ll let you do the analysis for this one on your own. Let the implications seep in (and a chill crawl up your spine) as I leave with the QUADRUPLE layers of artistic meaning in one of the game’s more popular moments—four (see what they did there?) white men standing on a floating platform (at exactly the time Booker gets there), singing in perfectly integrated harmony that God only knows what they’d be without....you.