Norwescon 2018

I’m at Norwescon this year!

Don’t miss my panel Friday afternoon, specifically: the continuing (third?) annual SF/F Battle Royale

Thursday

Reading: Erik Scott de Bie

6:00pm – 6:30pm @ Cascade 4

Erik Scott de Bie (M)

Friday

SF/F Battle Royale

3:00pm – 4:00pm @ Cascade 9

Erik Scott de Bie (M), Dawn Vogel, Brian D. Oberquell

Sunday

Why So Serious?

11:00am – 12:00pm @ Cascade 12

G. Willow Wilson (M), Donna Barr, Brenna Clarke Gray, Erik Scott de Bie

Video Games

12:00pm – 1:00pm @ Cascade 12

Erik Scott de Bie (M), Liz Barlow, G. Willow Wilson, Kiva Maginn

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Gun Control and Becoming Better Men

A right-wing dude asked me about what my “solution” to gun violence in America would be, and I thought I’d put some stuff together. This is obviously a huge topic that could consume about a million more words, but here goes:

Gun violence is a complicated issue in America and it will require multiple, complex actions to solve. Some of them are policy, some of them are cultural, all of them are necessary.

At a high level, not getting into full detail, my proposed solutions include the following:

1) Compassion is #1:

Increased investment in community outreach for troubled kids and adults, including counseling, empathy building, and proactive conflict resolution to identify potential diathesis states and head off potential stressors before they can erupt into violence.

Important note: Mental health is not the cause of violence, and it’s not what I’m discussing here. There are a great many behavioral and social issues wrapped up in potentially violent situations, and licensed social workers can be extremely useful in heading off potential shooters before they shoot. We can just say “only a mentally ill person would shoot people,” but that’s an extremely facile way to talk about mental illness. We can’t just define people as mentally ill “after the fact,” like “oh, he seemed fine until he went on a shooting rampage, but since he did that, we can conclude that he was mentally ill all along.” That’s not how it works. We need to look for people who exhibit behavioral problems, threatening or violent speech on social media or in person, people with problems at home, people who feel isolated and abused by society.

As an aspect of forging a more compassionate culture, we must address the massive economic problems in our nation. We must fix our ludicrously broken health care system, so that people’s lives aren’t ruined by an unexpected illness. We must inject money back into the working people to lift people out of poverty. Poverty is a breeding ground for all sorts of vices, which is not to call poor people bad people–only to point out that poverty makes people desperate and limits their choices. You want to talk about the world being crushingly unfair to you, try being poor for just a week, let alone your entire life.

(How exactly we do that is another question, but I think taxing the rich to pay their fair share is a good start. The scale of wealth inequality is so monstrously enormous that anything I say about it probably won’t be believed, so I’d recommend doing some independent research on the subject if you’re interested. Maybe start with this video, which is 6 years out of date, and things have only gotten worse: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QPKKQnijnsM)

Compassion is our #1 shield against violence. And no, I don’t mean the whole #walkupnotout thing. That’s a transparent attempt to blame shootings on bullying and the victims of shootings, when shooters are more often the bullies than the bullied. If bullying truly caused someone to be a shooter, you’d think we’d have a lot more LGBT, female, and POC shooters. But the vast, vast majority of school shooters particularly (and most mass shooters in general) are angry straight white dudes.

(I 100% support anti-bullying measures, as I consider bullying to be a huge problem and an obstacle to a more compassionate society. But that’s another topic.)

Why are angry white dudes angry? What can be done about defusing their anger before it boils over? And the answer isn’t “just accede to their demands” or “be nice to them.” The answer is to identify the real causes of their pain and hatred and try to halt and repair the damage before it becomes murderous.

Sometimes people can’t be reached, however, and that leads to the next prerogative: keeping weapons of mass murder out of their hands.

2) Sensible, Preventive Gun Control:

Universal background checks of anyone who wants to purchase any sort of gun under any circumstance anywhere in America. Mandatory gun safety and training classes for all gun purchases. Additional screenings for more powerful weapons, such as AR-15s and other longarms.

It should be AT LEAST as difficult and time-consuming to own a pistol as it is to drive a car. Both are potentially deadly weapons that cause a significant number of accidental injuries. Both require responsibility and some degree of skill to operate safely.

Domestic violence, assaults, rape convictions, etc, all disqualify a person from owning a gun. Period. If one of these is discovered on your record, your application to purchase a weapon is denied. The end.

Note that any responsible, non-felon, non-violent, stable individual should be able to pass these checks and acquire the guns they want. I have no problem with responsible, good people having guns. I have a big problem with irresponsible, not-good people having guns, and I think that’s the point.

Also: we need to organize a national buyback program so people can get rid of their guns, no questions asked. And get a good price for them. Those who can’t or won’t play by the rules should have a means to give up their arsenals. After the amnesty period, those who hold onto illegal guns are criminals.

3) Preventive Maintenance and Liability:

Safety registration and training needs to be kept up to date. You must have a license for every gun you own, and must renew them with annual safety classes and tests. Failure to attend one of these classes/tests or failure on one of these tests leads to a suspended gun license, where you are not allowed to carry or remove a weapon from its protective safe in your house until you requalify. Repeat violations lead to gun seizure on the logic of you being an untrustworthy gun owner and a potential danger to yourself and others.

I am ambivalent on the issue of gun insurance, but I do think that if a gun you own is implicated in a crime, your gun licenses are immediately revoked and your guns claimed by authorities. Because you have demonstrated your inability to be a safe and responsible gun owner.

Also, except in a case of self-defense, if anyone is injured or killed by one of your guns, you are 100% liable for their medical and or funerary expenses, as well as any legal implications, which must be stiff. This would be a difficult balance to strike, since it isn’t like injuring someone with a car or they fell down on the stairs to your house. But it’s something we should definitely look into.

In a capitalist society, it seems the best deterrent to being irresponsible with a dangerous possession–be it a car or a knife or a gun–is not legal ramifications, which can seem abstract, but financial ones. But speaking of legal ramifications…

4) Penalties against Gun Misuse and Enforcement:

Having a gun without an active license must be a crime that leads to seizure. Purchasing a gun illegally must be an offense that lands you in jail. The existing laws we have about guns must be enforced. Loopholes closed.

We have a major hurdle in the form of the NRA.

Currently, the NRA maintains a stranglehold on our government to prevent enforcing gun legislation, let alone passing it or even *discussing* it. The CDC is currently not allowed even to collect shooting statistics or do any studies about gun violence. Let me spotlight that: the CDC can’t even study the problem. How are we supposed to do anything to fix it?

Not to mention, of course, that the NRA and their GOP servants won’t even allow us to try to prevent *terrorists* from buying guns.

Don’t believe me? Watch John Oliver explain it, and then do your own research on the subject about whatever he talks about that appeals to you: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QPKKQnijnsM

We must politically quarantine the NRA or at least cut off their lobbying efforts on our politicians to stop any of the above, because we all know they would do it. Their only motive is profit, and several necessary preventive measures (see above) interfere with their motive. We need to elect politicians who will not listen to them and will not take their money.

Also, taxing them might be nice.

5) An Honest Conversation:

We must be able to honestly, thoughtfully, compassionately discuss this issue.

We must not dismiss calls for sensible gun control as “but they want to ban all our guns!” or “guns aren’t to blame, people are!” or any of a dozen excuses the right throws out to avoid discussing this issue that’s killing us.

We must look at the 2nd Amendment in context, realize that our society and our weapons have evolved, and take some adult responsibility in discussing how to fix the problem. Note that I didn’t say “repeal” or “revise” or anything like that. That may not be the solution we come to. We may be able to find a path forward where we keep the 2nd Amendment as it is, recognize the need for sensible regulation of our “well-regulated militia,” and find a compromise that leads to fewer deaths. I doubt the Founding Fathers wanted to build a poison pill into the Constitution, and if they saw the massive gun violence rates in America today, they would be horrified that we didn’t use the built-in mechanisms of our government to do something about it.

We must call white mass murderers who target women or black communities what they are–*terrorists,* not “mentally ill” “disturbed” “lone wolves,” or imbue them with sympathetic descriptors like “sensitive” or “thoughtful” or “deep-thinker.” And we must not put a gloss over raving misogynist, homophobic, and/or racist BS spewing out of a white man’s mouth as “just talk.” It’s not. It’s hate, and it’s a warning–a promise of violence to come.

6) A Better Kind of Men:

Which is not to say white men are hazardous. It’s just easy for them to become radicalized in a society that seems to encourage them to be aggressive, in control, and not put up with people telling them no.

This is tricky. Young white men especially are dealing with a lot of pressure upon them to be stoic, strong, in control, persistent, and if they ever slip up or make any mistakes, their whole persona and manhood is called into question. This is a product of Toxic Masculinity, and that is what leads directly to shooting after shooting. How many shootings come about because a boy feels rejected, or out of place, or he’s “love-sick” or some other such shit? How many come about when a boy is made to feel out of control or vulnerable and doesn’t know how to deal with it? How many come from hate of women or LGBT people or people of a different ethnic background?

It’s all toxic masculinity, and it needs to stop.

We need to foster an honest, compassionate conversation about what men are allowed to be, which is individual, sensitive, and, most importantly, imperfect. Every question posed to us is not a threat. We can screw up sometimes, and still be worthy of love and personhood.

If we can get past our toxic views of masculinity, we can find a better, more compassionate, and ultimately safer way for men to live and grow. And it is our duty, as men, to do this.

Step up and help me.

Related:

How American masculinity creates lonely men on NPR’s Hidden Brain

Review: Rites and Desires

Rites and Desires is a game of cat and bat, only Catwoman is a seductive magic-wielding mastermind and Batman is a precious cinnamon roll who has no idea what he’s getting into.

Ruby Killingsworth is the cutthroat evil queen of a media empire called Goblin Records (100% perfect), who hasn’t got where she is in life by using her powers for good. Her magic, both innate and ritual-based, allows her to manipulate and dominate most people she meets. When she loses her powers (shortly before the novel), she isn’t going to let a little thing like that slow her down: she forges a deal with Loki, everyone’s favorite trickster god, to secure a powerful artifact to replace her powers.

Along the way, she becomes increasingly embroiled in a scheme to blow up the perfect marriage of her neighbor, Cobalt City’s gee whiz tech hero Jaccob “Stardust” Stevens (like Iron Man if he were just really nice to people all the time), partly out of jealousy of his brilliant wife Liz (tall and blonde where Ruby is short and ginger, it’s a whole thing), and partly because, well, she can. She has to seduce him without her magic, and without him discovering that she has the artifact he’s looking for, and Ruby doesn’t back down from a challenge.

But in corrupting CC’s golden boy, Ruby finds herself drawn toward his shining goodness as well. Opposites attract and pull each other, for better and worse.

The result is an engrossing character study of a woman with villainous motives but, almost without realizing it, creeping toward a better path.

The majority of the narrative is from Ruby’s perspective, focusing not on action scenes but rather the details of her schemes and calculations and, as things progress, increasingly her feelings and maybe even a little doubt about her course. She’s definitely ruthless, no doubt about that, but she’s complex, intriguing, and I couldn’t help but like her more than a little bit. Not unlike the way Stardust does.

Ah, Stardust. Before Amanda wrote this novel, she came to me and asked for my blessing to put Jaccob Stevens–a character I’ve done a lot to develop, including my novella EYE FOR AN EYE–through the ringer, and boy oh boy, does she. As if there was a chance I wouldn’t give her an enthusiastic “yes!”

And I’m glad I did, because this is a smart, engrossing novel that continues in the Cobalt City tradition of telling stories of heroes who are people first, supers second. This feels like a real story–a real relationship–and says something true about all of us.

It inspired me to write more, about the fallout from this dirty bomb (flirty bomb?) Amanda had fired straight at Jaccob’s too-big heart, and I can’t think of a more perfect praise of a novel than that it inspires its readers to imagine and dream and tell further stories.

I thought this novel was great, and I eagerly await the follow-up. 🙂

Tomb Raider (2018) and the Thing about Adaptations

Tl;dr Go see it, it’s worth it, though it could have been better.

This review shouldn’t be too spoilery–you should be safe, but there is one big spoiler you should look out for near the end of this review. It’s marked. You’ve been warned.

The thing about adaptations is that they’re not the same as what they’re adapting. That sounds facile, and it is, but what I really mean is that adaptations are an entirely different story that bears some degree of similarity to the characters, situations, or themes of the original. It is, and should be, fundamentally a different experience.

How *true* or close an adaptation is to the source material isn’t the best measure of its quality, in my opinion. When I go into an adaptation, be it a Marvel movie, Game of Thrones, or, in this case, Tomb Raider, I don’t necessarily expect to get the same experience the original gave me.

Tomb Raider (2018, starring Alicia Vikander, who is excellent in the role, her English accent is great, she deserves every bit of that academy award she has, fight me) is an adaptation of a 20 year old franchise, from the first polygonal snarky English Lady Indiana Jones games through a complicated and at times nonsensical morass of games through to the gritty and Uncharted-esque rebooted origin story 2013 Tomb Raider and its 2015 sequel Rise of the Tomb Raider, which are fantastic games. And not coincidentally, Square Enix has recently (like two days ago) announced a third in the reboot trilogy called Shadow of the Tomb Raider (October? 2018, I’m gonna buy it immediately). And in those games, Lara varies so much it’s hard to come up with a really coherent version to base Vikander’s fantastic portrayal on, unless you pick one.

Naturally, it is the 2013 Lara this movie brings to life (though again, this is a fundamentally different Lara, since it’s an adaptation). And while I wouldn’t have minded an entire Tomb Raider movie franchise starring Camilla Luddington (voice and motion capture actor for the games and the wonderful Dr. Jo Wilson on Grey’s Anatomy, totally a great show, fight me again), it’s obvious that was the right choice and Vikander an excellent choice for the role. She is in incredible shape for the film, too, and that makes her stunt scenes very believable.

But how much does this movie owe to that fantastic game?

Well, not as much as it probably should have, really.

Sure, they share some of the same settings (the cursed Devil Sea, Yamatai island, tomb of Himiko, witch queen of Japan), same characters (Lara herself, the sinister villain Matthias played with verve and genuine menace by Walton Goggins, even Ana Miller played by Kirsten Scott Thomas, though she doesn’t actually show up until RISE), and a couple of the same themes/plot points (Lara becoming a treasure hunter, following up on her dad’s research, the treacherous sea voyage resulting in a crash and sunken ship, the airplane and parachute sequence, even a nod to the beginning of the game where she’s evading an islander crawling through small spaces to get her), the variances are significant.

In the game, Lara is a university student looking for a massive discovery, partly in support of her BFF Sam(antha) Nishimura (a young documentarian), with a while carefully sculpted crew of diverse and interesting characters, including the big and big-hearted Pacific Islander Jonah Maiava, the distrustful badass Nadine-Ross-a-couple-years-early Joslyn Reyes, and a couple father figures from her past, including Conrad and Angus, both of them tough guy adventurer types. They all crash and get separated, and Lara spends most of the game trying to survive the island’s insane inhabitants (part of a cult led by Matthias) and rescue her friends, particularly Sam, who Matthias plans to instill with the destructive soul of Himiko. There’s all kinds of hard choices and uncertainty about who to trust and what to do, and Lara keeps getting out of scrapes by the skin of her teeth and with healthy dollops of PTSD from the horrific things she sometimes has to do to survive. Oh, and zombie samurai. Anyway, the game is about summoning the grit and determination to fight, run, and survive by any means necessary. And it’s about the unbreakable bond between Lara and Sam–about these two characters who are essentially in the purest platonic love.

The movie, on the other hand, is a about 3/4 a streamlined version of that, with a lot of the “extraneous” stuff excised, to put in, uh, more extraneous stuff? Like an extended sequence where Lara is a bike courier on a merry chase through London that lands her at the police station? Flirting with her boss? Though the pawn shop scene was pretty hilarious.

We get it–she’s a bit rebellious and lost. Did we really need twenty minutes to establish that?

That’s the weird thing about this movie–it takes about 45 minutes to show us Lara figuring out she should go to the island to pursue the truth about her father, father a crew of one (Lu Ren, drunken boat captain/action hero played with charm by Daniel Wu, love that guy). It lacks efficiency. It’s a series of slow scenes showing us Lara is lost and uncertain of her way in life–something the game showed us in about a two minute opener and throughout the story. When the movie gets to the island, it abbreviated the, say, 2-4 days of the game into about a 12 hour time period told over 60ish minutes. We could have used more time on the island and less set up. The movie was a bit top heavy in that regard.

(Insert standard Tomb Raider top heavy joke here. Hahaha. Glad we’ve all got that out of our system.)

All the setup runtime could have been used to introduce Sam, at least, as a character, but that’s not where the movie goes. In fact, the female voice is largely chopped out of this movie, other than Lara herself. In the game, she has a community of women (Sam, Reyes, even Anna) who are relevant to her story. You know, the way women in real life do? That’s an easy mistake Hollywood makes in handling female heroes–treating them as isolated creatures.

The movie even headfakes this at the beginning, where Lara is fighting Lisbeth Salander look/fight-alike Rose (at least that’s who I think that is, Annabel Elizabeth Wood’s character) at her MMA gym, which at least explains Lara’s fighting skills. And the movie technically passes the Bechdel test by having Lara talk to her friend Sophie (Hannah John-Kamen’s character? Hard to say, because I don’t recall Lara naming her) about the sparring match. But then those two characters disappear, never to be seen again, and Lara sails off into the Devil’s Sea with one guy of questionable motives, and it’s basically all dudes from there on, plus one long dead woman (Himiko).

And this is my biggest criticism of the movie: I feel like they inject as much testosterone into Lara’s story as possible, and not really for good reasons.

Was the movie written by explicitly sexist dudes? Maybe. But it certainly loses the implicit feminism of Lara Croft, especially the recent reboot games.

Why couldn’t either of those women at the beginning been Sam, and then Lara had the ADDED motivation of rescuing her? Sure, it’s the damsel in distress thing, but it takes on extra depth the existing story could use.

Also: Vikander’s Lara is rarely given the opportunity to be vulnerable, the way Sam’s inclusion would have done for her. There’s one scene where she had to decide between attack or standing down to save someone important to her, but that’s it. There isn’t the sense of dread and helplessness about rescuing Sam, and thus there isn’t the will to push through it. And Lara isn’t brainy the way she is in the games, which I think further undermines her as a character. Clever, yes, but not academic. No language skills, except when the plot requires it. All the menfolk around her can be relied on to have the answers, though. :/

Next, and here’s that big spoiler I warned you about:

SPOILER

No seriously. Major spoiler for the movie.

SPOILER

Lara finds her father, Lord Richard Craft (Dominic West) on the island. Who has improbably survived seven years alone and whose mental health has quite reasonably deteriorated with all that isolation. Now, he makes a good character, and he hits some of the same beats as Roth in the 2013 game, including mentoring Lara and sacrificing himself to protect her, but I feel like his presence and story undermines hers a bit.

Not to mention suddenly all our story beats are about men doing manly things, like trying to discover a weaponizable magic plague, sacrifice themselves for their daughters, or shoot a bunch of dudes with machine guns (apparently). And that’s not really what Tomb Raider is about–it’s supposed to be about Lara. About her wit and ingenuity and grit and determination. Her heroism. It’s her story.

Much as I like Dominic West, I can’t help feeling that was an unnecessary misstep. I’d have taken Sam and/or Roth in that narrative role before Lara’s dad in a heartbeat.

SPOILERS END

(you’re safe again)

Anyway.

It wasn’t the movie I wanted, exactly, but I really enjoyed the movie for what it was, and I would heartily recommend it as an action film with a pretty awesome female lead.

Depending on where your fandom is placed along the timeline, this may or may not be your Lara. She very quickly becomes the badass we fans know and love, and she’s pretty darn good with that bow.

I will gladly go see a sequel. And watching this movie enriched my love of the 2013 game, which I would go back and replay if I didn’t have all this writing to do and Persona 3 to finish.

Review verdict: I give it 3 stealth takedowns out of 5, but the unpleasant kind where you wrap your bow around the enemy’s neck and choke them out, then snap their neck once they’re unconscious, *Jesus* Lara

A couple other random notes:

1. Unlike Angelina Jolie, Vikander’s Lara never actually fires a gun, or even holds one until a mid-credits stinger, which is mostly there as fan service. Not that the pistol was a great weapon in the games anyway, but it’s an ironic Tomb Raider thing.

2. The 2013 TR game also includes roughly 500 more falls off things, slides, tumbles, grisly death animations, and vicious slayings by a budding young mass murderer, but the movie does show Lara having a really tough time of it (the impaled midsection, falling through the trees, getting really freaked out having to kill a dude, being dragged down the river, falling into the raging sea, leaping across a chasm to belay herself with a red climbing axe) so it’s a mixed bag.

3. Three cheers for Nick Frost. 🙂