Dear Carrie Fisher: Thank You For Everything

Dear Carrie Fisher, This isn't an easy letter / post to write. When I learned that you had left us for whatever is after this life, I broke down into tears and sobs. Losing you felt so personal, even though we had never met. In a way, losing you is personal. I first saw Star Wars when I was a little kid. My parents gave me a set of the original trilogy on VHS, which I watched over and over and over. When I had to stay home from school because of severe asthma attacks, I watched Star Wars. When I needed a friend or an escape from the world, I watched Star Wars. So, in a very real way, you were big part of my life. You were one of my heroes. I learned so many things from you. When you stood up to Darth Vader, led the Rebel Alliance against the Empire, and stood your ground on Endor, I learned about the power of sacrifice and the value of standing up for what you believe in. Your strength and resilience in adverse conditions reminded me that heroes can be more than fists and guns. They are leaders with strong values -- a commitment to justice, honor, friendship, and even love. When you met the Ewoks, you didn't just stand up for the seemingly powerless, you lifted them up. You loved them. You valued them as people. And you loved your friends and respected their decisions. You were in so many ways a role model on film -- one of the first feminist heroes of my childhood. I will always be a fan of Star Wars, and Leia will be one of my heroes until the day I leave this world. Read More

The Science Fiction Canon: Function, Limits, and Problems

I have spent a lot of my time in graduate school thinking about how to talk about literary canons and ways to disrupt them. The literature classes I teach always include works that have otherwise been excluded from the Western Canon in a deliberate attempt to draw into question how canons are formed and the limited scope they present to us as readers. It's a tightrope game. On the one hand, survey courses have to teach students about crucial works of literature in an effort to provide some kind useful and repeatable literary knowledge base. On the other hand, simply repeating the canon is sort of like reading the headlines in a newspaper without ever looking at the article itself; sure, you'll have a firm understanding of a literary tradition, but you're missing out on a wide range of compelling material that could make for an even deeper reading of a field. In the realm of science fiction, that can be a bit tricky. Because science fiction is already a small bubble of a much larger literary world, text selections are often arbitrary or based on vague notions of what appears to be the "common core" of the field (we'll come back to this in a bit). Worse, science fiction "people" too often assume they know what the canon "is" and push that perspective on others as if it has weight -- which it does due to the power of cultural suggestion. I've heard too many stories of someone in the science fiction community telling someone else that they have to read X and Y if they want to be considered "educated" about the field; ironically, you'll hear the same ten names repeated in these claims, suggesting such individuals have a less comprehensive knowledge of the field than they assume. There are two false assumptions in these claims:
  1. That they speak using the authority of an existing literary canon.
  2. That the purpose of a canon is to provide a reading list one must consume to be considered "knowledgeable" about a field.
I'll return to the first of these later. The second assumption is remarkably easy to debunk. Let's use Western Canon as an example.[note]To be clear, I am not suggesting that the Western Canon is anywhere close to a perfect list. It has huge problems. It is, however, a useful starting point. Indeed, knowing something about the Western Canon is a great way to identify the gaps, which is one of my favorite things to do in my survey courses.[/note] Read More

The “True Fan” Argument of Stupidness (or, Could We Stop This Nonsense Now?)

As a giant Star Wars fan, it is inevitable that I'll come into contact with people claiming to know what a "true fan" looks like. In the last year, that argument has become more prominent than ever. In the wake of The Force Awakens, hundreds of people flocked to the Star Wars franchise to declare themselves fans. And old school Star Wars fandom wasn't happy. Those new folks didn't understand Star Wars. They didn't really love it; they were just in it for the exciting new ride. They were just half-assed fake fans. None of this is particularly new to the fan world. People have been calling other people out for being fake fans longer than I've been alive.[note]Hell, the term "trufan" dates back to 1954, though it probably appeared much sooner than that.[/note] But as an argument, the "true fan" reasoning is, at best, bullshit. There are a couple reasons for this: Read More

Addendum: Strong Male Characters (or, That Rogue One Review is Full of Crap)

Two days ago, I wrote a post about "strong male characters" that took to task some comments made in a review by Todd McCarthy. At the time, I had not seen Rogue One, so my argument essentially rested on the idea that we don't need "strong male characters" in every movie. Now that I have seen the movie, I feel it necessary to come back to McCarthy's review to address the substance of the claims. Expect some spoilers ahead! As a reminder, here is the relevant quote from McCarthy's review:
What the film really lacks is a strong and vigorous male lead (such as Han Solo or John Boyega's Finn in The Force Awakens) to balance more equally with Jyn and supply a sparring partner. None of the men here has real physical or vocal stature, nor any scenes in which they can decisively emerge from the pack in a way that engages audience enthusiasm. Both Luna and Ahmed have proved themselves repeatedly in big-screen and television performances, but their characters never pop here, to the film's detriment. And given that Jyn is rather less gung-ho and imposing than was Ridley's Rey, there's an overall feel of less physical capacity on the part of the main characters.
None of this is remotely accurate. Actually, I'd hazard to call it complete and utter bullshit. Read More

Strong Male Leads (Or, Why You Don’t Need Them in Every Goddamn Movie)

The Bourne Identity007: SpecterThe Fast and FuriousThe Dark KnightIndiana Jones, and Rocky. What do these films have in common? Well, aside from being action films and most of them featuring the name of the main character in the title, all of these films have male leads and, at best, female supporting characters. Is this a problem for these franchises? Not really. A series about Rocky should probably feature Rocky, after all, and it makes sense that the same be true for most of the films I just listed. For the most part, men dominate action franchises, with some notable exceptions[note]The Tomb Raider series, Resident EvilUnderworld, and The Hunger Games are some notable exceptions. A more complete list of female-led action films/franchises can be found here.[/note] That's been the way of things for decades, and only until recently has that power been properly challenged, with more and more female-led action franchises hitting our screens. It's a good thing. Some of those new franchises are fan-friggin-tastic. And those other franchises are fantastic, too. We can have both! Which brings me to the latest "men aren't getting their fair share" argument in film... By now, some of you have seen Todd McCarthy's review of Rogue One at The Hollywood Reporter. As far as reviews go, it's a fairly standard piece; read it if you like, but be warned there are some spoilers. Part of the reason McCarthy's review has garnered a lot of attention, particularly on Twitter, is the following quote: Read More

On Academic Brain and Compartmentalizing

As an academic, it is often very difficult to shut off the faculties I've spent the last fourteen years building.  Since I spend almost every day of the week analyzing literature, reading or thinking about theoretical/philosophical texts, I generally use my brain in a very particular way.  Turning that off is a chore, but a necessary one.  In fact, it is often so difficult to turn off that even some of my colleagues have expressed dismay at the inability or unwillingness of other academics to turn those faculties off just long enough to have a "regular conversation."  It's a problem I've seen, too, and it sometimes results in a distancing effect between those who can't turn it off and those that can.  Since I'm so often engaged in everyday sf/f fandom, the exercise of flipping that little academic switch is, in my opinion, crucial.

One such exercise occurred last Sunday when I went with a friend to see Ant-Man, the last entry in Marvel Studio's Phase 2.  I thoroughly enjoyed it, and if I can muster the words to say something intelligent about the film, I'll write a review for Totally Pretentious.  Discussing the film on Twitter eventually prompted a brief discussion with David Annandale and John Stevens about the impact of "academic brain" on one's ability to enjoy a creative product. Read More


On the Hugo Awards: Two Scholarly-ish Projects to Come

As you may well be aware, I am currently working on two projects related to the Hugo Awards.  I know I've mentioned both of these at some point, though the second is certainly the most visible of these projects.  I'm also sure you know that the Hugo Awards have been enormously controversial this year, earning mainstream attention in major newspapers and entertainment sites such as The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal, Entertainment Weekly, NPR, Boing Boing, and so on.  That conversation is still happening; one need only look at File 770 to see it. Read More