Ron Howard Comes Home for Han Solo

Like you, I was happy to read about Ron Howard directing the Star Wars Han Solo project.

Not only is Howard a talented director / producer (We won’t talk about the Dan Brown projects), he’s got history with Lucasfilm that I think will work to his advantage. Here’s how:

People know and love ‘American Graffiti’ but did you also know that it was Lucasfilm’s first project as a production company? The film is a classic for several reasons, but Ron Howard’s contribution gave the story an emotional weight it otherwise wouldn’t have had. Here was the kid who finally broke the ‘child actors can’t get work as adults’ curse. ‘Ronny’ Howard took his first steps toward ‘Ron’ Howard with Lucasfilm. Now, forty-four years later, Ron Howard is working on a Lucasfilm project. To me, it’s like the student coming back as the master, as a healer rather than an executioner. The circle is complete, and in a good way.

Personally, I’m happy for him. This move feels like good juju and I wish Howard, Lucasfilm and the project success.

Why Wonder Woman Isn’t Just a Superhero Movie

Here’s the moment when I knew superhero movies have changed forever.

Before we get to that, let me just say this. Every time I announce my work, I feel like I split a fine line between spitting in the ocean and coming across as self-promoting. I got some suggestions on Reddit, and if you have something to add I’d love to hear it.

As I was saying, superhero movies have changed, and changed for the better. A few years from now, people are going to still be talking about this movie, and here is my take on why that will be. Mild spoiler alert – there’s a scene in Wonder Woman where Gal Gadot runs across No Man’s Land as part of her journey through the horror of World War One.

As she’s climbing a ladder to enter the battle, the camera gives us the standard detail shot. The lens lingers over her armored wrists, her tiara, and her boots. I sat there, watching, and instantly my cinematography/male brain goes “Here’s the booty shot, here’s the booty shot.” Then it happened; no booty shot. You know what I’m talking about: the booty shot. Wonder Woman has no booty shot.

Up ’til now, it was accepted that every major female character’s screen time would include some moment where the camera remains focused on their bum. That has to be annoying, not only to the actress but to every girl who sees this and the sloppy grins of every boy in the theater. It’s become a thing that every girl has grown to accept, to the point of parody. Objectification and unnecessary sexualization have been sore points in the sci-fi and superhero fan communities. Now here comes Wonder Woman (WW).

At the moment of battle, Gal Gadot climbs the ladder, the camera shows everything about her that tells us visually that she’s a strong, fierce warrior, and then poof, she’s off into the war zone. Not only is she fighting the bad guys on their terms, she’s defeating them. Everything we’ve come to expect from a Captain America or Iron Man, in Amazonian form. Booty shots are off the table, and the gloves are off for us.

I applaud Patty Jenkins for this decision. With two seconds of film, she turned Wonder Woman from another superhero movie into a culturally significant film. Movies have the power to motivate thought, action and change. At the crossroads between art and commerce, many compromises are made in the name of pragmatism. Toxic ideas fester in the gray areas between liberty and license. In one fell swoop, Wonder Woman resets the dials to zero. This film shows us that a movie with a female protagonist, helmed by an underknown actress, can succeed in Hollywood. This story shows that girls can be powerful, gentle, brave and resilient. But then, Wonder Woman gets even better.

Any other ‘girl-centric’ movie seems to sell us short. Case in point: the Ghostbusters reboot from last year, but there are other examples, too. Fight scenes that pull punches. Sexy misunderstandings. Tired speeches that try to marginalize the male characters instead of just being themselves. Wonder Woman pours gasoline on all of these cliches and drops the match.

We’re so invested in the story, the characters and the action that all of these issues fall away. As a former member of the IDF, Gadot puts a startling amount of realism into her fight scenes. WW exits the first act having navigated the treacherous worlds of sexuality, mother-daughter relationship dynamics, Mean Girls, and child bearing with equal amounts of strength and sincerity. Throughout the rest of the movie, WW is equally comfortable whether she’s throwing punches or pitching woo. When she isn’t throwing shade, she’s throwing tanks. You come out of the theater cheering for her as a person, and I think that is why Wonder Woman isn’t just a superhero movie.

Sitting in my chair, I was thinking about how readers and viewers *must* be invested in the story. This is an important point for me, especially if I want to be a successful storyteller myself. WW reminded me that if I’ve connected with the reader or viewer’s emotions, nothing else matters after that. Think about this: old blockbusters are famous for having plot holes and film goofs, but Star Wars is a classic *because* it connected with our emotions. Jaws is a classic *because* it connected with our emotions. WW connects with the audience’s emotions using grace, and style. One day, we’ll look back at this moment and realize that we were witnessing history.

In a world where we’re fighting to be ourselves, to be appreciated for who we are, WW steps out and does just that. It’s got heart, it’s got action, it’s got fun. A lesser film-maker or actress would allow themselves to be sucked into the pointless battle of gender issues. WW relegates those issues to the dustbin where they belong, saying: “watch the movie and have fun. That’s all you should have to worry about.”

Darn right.

 

 

‘Search and Rescue’ – New Free Short Story

After some helpful feedback at Imgur, I’m pleased to offer Search and Rescue as a free short story, along with The Superhero Shrink and Overly-Attached AI.

Search and Rescue is a simple story about a kid with a difficult job. He goes out in search of children who have been lost and are beyond the reach of other scouts. It isn’t easy to find kids no one else can find, but every rescue is important. Even this one.

Go visit ‘Free Short Stories’ and grab your copy now.

Mesh Update #3 – Why Must I Tell the Mesh Story?

As I’m building Mesh, I remembered that I promised to use the ‘Pixar Rules of Storytelling.‘ I went back and started filling these out as though I was doing an essay exam and the results have been surprising. Let me share with you the results of that exercise. I’ll post these from time to time to help you understand where I’m coming from as this novel comes together.

So what’s the answer to this question? For me, it goes like this:

I started writing this story because I wanted to prove I could write new science fiction that would appeal to other people. I also wanted to tell a story like the ones that had given me so much joy when I was younger. I wanted to explore ideas like being brave, discovering your own power, reconnecting with your parents and banding together to change the world. I also want to tell a story where kids can feel special.

So as I said before:

  • People matter.
  • Stories matter.
  • Storytellers must hone their craft if they want to matter.

I’m not saying I’m the best storyteller in the world, I’m just saying that this is the process I’m following to be the best storyteller I can be. Perhaps this will help inform you in something you’re working on, or you may have a suggestion that’s helpful for me. Thanks in advance for being awesome.

Enemy at the Gatekeepers

Reddit teaches you so much; I discovered the /r/gatekeeping/ forum and instantly fell in love. Gatekeeping is when someone takes it upon themselves to decide who does or does not have access or rights to a community or identity. Science fiction, as I’m sure you’re aware, is full of people just like this.

Don’t get me wrong: I welcome healthy boundaries. The Sci-fi genre definitely needs them. However, gatekeeping rarely seems to be about maintaining healthy boundaries as it is about pointless displays of dominance. Open discussion and spirited debate routinely get sabotaged by edgelords who think every exchange is an opportunity to practice their ‘alpha male’ behaviors.

All of this conflict does not make our community more healthy. Our behavior comes across as immature, rather than urgent. Obnoxious, rather than upstanding. Participants sabotage cooperation by going out of their way to find things to disagree about, presumably for moral posturing and virtue-signalling reasons.1  

Look, I get it. I know we’re not the most socially-developed tribe on the planet. God knows I’m dealing with my own baggage and telling stories about the future helps me deal with all the things I can’t solve today. But we should be aware of what makes our tribe work. We’ve become what we are because Elder Geeks created a community based on togetherness, inclusion, curiosity, and openness. This gatekeeping? It’s messing with that. We’re literally chipping away at the cornerstones of our community, and that will have grave consequences.

To be clear: I’m not advocating a ‘right’ way of thinking or being for the sci-fi community. Rather, I’m hoping we can be ‘less wrong.‘ Like other communities, we’re in the ‘discovery business.’ As this letter says, “[E]veryone is an active and responsible participant in the overall process, that every individual becoming “progressively less wrong” is an invaluable part of the global doing so.”

So with that in mind, let’s establish that gatekeeping isn’t working for us. Gatekeeping is turning people away from droves. Like sunflowers who can turn in any direction they need to face the sun, new sci-fi participants are turning away from traditional sci-fi. They’re seeking out mainstream movies branding themselves as ‘science fiction.’ It’s easier, it’s less drama, and it’s more fun. This is going to kill us. Science fiction is going to disappear into the maw of the Marvel/Disney Industrial Complex. Yes, sci-fi stories will still be told, but fewer readers will find them. Is that the future we imagined for ourselves?

Ours is not the only tribe who suffers from internal squabbling. I found myself making direct connection between the frustrations experienced in the LGBT community and what I face with my fellow geeks and nerds. Like that person, I just quite frankly don’t entirely feel like I belong in that community. Don’t get me wrong I’ve tried joining the tribe but I never felt totally accepted. I don’t identify with this tribe, but I need this tribe in order to survive. I’m not sure what the answer to this problem is.

The longer we wait to take control of our tribe, enforce healthy cultural norms, and eliminate the cliquish bullying, the more likely it is that our tribe will remain lost on the prairie. Our community is only as strong as we require it to be. Like other tribes that cannot survive contact with the outside world, we can and will be lost to time if attackers with advanced knowledge of toxic behaviors slip past our undeveloped social immune system.

It’s hoped that this post will foster some conversation and perhaps some self-awareness within the sci-fi community. Let’s work to be less wrong together. Let’s be active and responsible participants in the overall process. I’m willing to do my part to foster a healthy and self-aware sci-fi community, and I hope you will be, too.

You Learn More from Failure

Every day is another story. Drippy spring morning in Eugene. Wet earth and pine needles. Got a rejection notice from Asimov’s for “Search and Rescue.” No biggie, rejection is part of the game. What I found interesting was the advice that Asimov’s gave me. It’s a form-letter, but they thoughtfully included some insights any writer can use to improve their game. See what you think … maybe you’ll find a gem for yourself:

Dear Jackson,

Thank you very much for letting me see “Search and Rescue.” We regret that we cannot make use of it at this time.

All submissions will be examined as promptly as possible, and if suitable, will be paid for on acceptance.

Many manuscripts are rejected because of fundamental faults.  Check these things:
—Since Analog is a science fiction magazine, we consider only science fiction stories—that is, stories in which some aspect of realistic science or technology plays an integral part.  We do not publish fantasy or stories in which the science is only peripheral.
—Science fiction readers are problem solvers!  Stories with downbeat endings, in which the characters have no hope of solving their problems, are strongly disliked by Analog readers.  In a good SF story, the characters strive to solve their problems—and even if they fail in the end, they go down fighting, not whimpering.
—Good fiction demands strong, believable characters who face powerful, intriguing problems.  Without these, there is no story, no matter how fascinating the ideas or scientific background may be.
—Some plot ideas have been so overworked that it’s virtually impossible to wring a fresh story from them.  These include “scientific” retellings of biblical tales, time travelers who unwittingly change their world when traveling into the past, UFO stories, and stories in which the “alien” world turns out to be Earth.
—Write about what you know.  Analog writers should be able to do sufficient research to get their facts straight, and they should be keen enough observers of people to write realistically about them.
—Please don’t ask for individual criticism.  With hundreds of submissions per month, it is physically impossible to answer them all personally.  Many writing errors are quite subtle, and extremely difficult to define clearly in a sentence or two.

Sincerely,
Trevor Quachri
Editor

Henry Rollins is famous for saying: “I have always learned more from rejection and failure than from acceptance and success.” That’s what I’m choosing, too. I’m posting this so that you understand how true it is that the path to success is not linear. Keep moving forward. Keep failing upward. Go break things. Make something new.

Mesh Update #2 – Inspirations

Maybe you’re like me and you read the story of David Hahn, the kid who built a nuclear reactor in his mother’s shed and Taylor Wilson, the boy genius famous for building his own fusion reactor. Their stories inspire me as I write Mesh, because I think of the budding geniuses we currently have languishing in public school, waiting for their shot at changing the world.

Science isn’t just about nuclear energy, though. There are thousands, literally thousands, of directions that a geeky, science-minded kid can go in. Invent a better battery? You’ve just changed the world! Invent a better way to diagnose cancer? You’ve just changed the world! Think of a better way to clean up an oil spill? You’ve just changed the world! Sometimes the best ideas come from kids, because they’re curious enough to wonder and brave enough to try. As this article points out, gifted kids need support, so I want to imagine a world where some brainy kids do get supported, and what happens after that.

Writing Mesh is about being inspired. I hope you find some inspiration in your work, too.