Five Faves: Rums (Guest Post by Noah Mueller) #MonthofJoy

I want to take a moment to talk about rum. Rum is a distilled spirit that is frequently associated with the Caribbean because a major ingredient is sugar or molasses and the Caribbean has long been known for its sugar plantations. As a result, rum became the drink of choice for many of its residents. Generally speaking, there are three types of rums: light, dark and spiced. Dark rums are dark because they have been aged or because manufacturers have added coloring. I discourage buying young rums with added color because they’re masquerading as being older than they are. If you want a young rum, buy a light rum. Spiced rums frequently are darker than light rums, but this is because of a variety of spices that have been added during the manufacturing process. My favorite type of rum is the aged variety. Like Scotch, well-aged rums have a different flavor profile than younger varieties, and good aged rum can be enjoyed neat. I’ve been told that the older a Scotch is, the better it is. I’m not a Scotch drinker, so I cannot verify this, but I can say with certainty that this is not true for rum. In my opinion, the aging process for rum follows a bell curve with the best rums being aged somewhere between 12 and 16 years. Some rum manufactures will blend rums of different ages, and this is acceptable to me as long the “average” falls somewhere in this range. Now for my top 5 favorite rums. Read More

My OASIS 29 Con Schedule: Come See My Shenanigans!

I'm a guest at OASIS again! And let me tell you, I am super excited. Last year, I had the great pleasure of meeting A. Lee Martinez, who is both one of the nicest dudes that ever walked the Earth and also almost nearly as funny as me (not quite, but he gets like 9 points for being pretty cool :P; I don't know what these points are on about). OASIS is one of my local conventions, located in sunny Orlando. I'll be there for the full run of the convention -- May 19th to May 21st. This year, the Guest of Honor at OASIS is urban fantasy master Faith Hunter, author of the Rogue Mage series and the Jane Yellowrock series, among others. She has something like 9 million books published under one of her 9 identities (OK, so she's published around 32 books under three names, but 9 million is pretty close...). It should be a lot of fun to chat with her on panels in a couple weeks! And what am I up to?  Boy howdy am I in for a busy weekend. This is my schedule: Read More

Space Opera, the Course: Seeking Your Input!

Last month, I asked the following on Twitter (and Facebook): [embed]https://twitter.com/shaunduke/status/818891962673676288[/embed] The idea behind this came from a conversation with the lovely Nina Niskanen. She suggested that I might teach a course on space opera for a more general audience using an online service . Her own interest came from the perspective of a writer who wanted to write space opera but didn't know enough about it. I thought that sounded like a great idea. Alas, I didn't have the time back then to really begin putting anything in motion. Teaching full time, working on a dissertation, attending conferences, applying for jobs, etc. But I'm about to graduate with a PhD in English (focused on science fiction). That means not only will I have a hell of a good credential for this sort of thing (aside from my existing work as a podcaster, etc.), but I'll also have quite a lot of time over this summer! And so here I am asking for your input. Since a lot of people who expressed interest in this are not academics or traditional students, it's important to me to figure out how best to approach the structure, focus, and presentation of this course. Below, I've broken things down into some general categories with occasional ideas about what I'd like to do. Mostly, this post is a series of questions for your consideration. If you're interested in any of this, please leave a comment or send an email with the subject "Space Opera Course" to arconna[at]yahoo[dot]com. Getting this feedback will ultimately help me create a better product for people! If you know someone who might be interested, point them in my direction. General: Read More

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