Christopher Nolan: The Karl Marx of Superheroes

People who blame Christopher Nolan for dark and gritty superhero films are bad and should feel bad.

Obligatory statement about how my new novel is coming along very well and I’m hopeful to have the reworked version of the serialized novella up in a month or so aside, let’s talk about superheroes for a change.

Watching and reading reviews about an up-and-coming superhero film, you cannot help but think that you are experiencing deja vu in regards to every one of these that isn’t Marvel Studios related or R-rated. The connecting thread? An overwhelming criticism of the film being too dark and too gritty, aka the name for the Fast and Furious reboot I’ll produce one day. Ever since The Dark Knight came around in 2008 all superhero films by DC, as well as numerous tv shows, and some other properties not DC related, have followed a similar style in which they have a similar color scheme to The Dark Knight, a similar cinematography, subject matter, brooding acting style, and a general sense of violence that is considering unsuitable to the way superhero films are supposed to be. I consider myself a detractor of Marvel Studios properties and their habit of veering too far the other direction of playing down darkness.

But I asked myself earlier when I was watching RedLetterMedia’s review of the new Power Rangers movie, if their, and other peoples, use of “Christopher Nolan-y” as a negative description of these types of superhero films that take themselves too seriously. And at that point it hit me: Christopher Nolan is the Karl Marx of superhero films. Both men have created seminal and important works, much greater than the limited field in which they have been intended for. Nolan made what is still my favorite superhero film of all time. It wasn’t despite being dark and gritty and brooding, but good because it’s story could only be told in such a way. His way of film making does, however, not have universal applicability when it comes to other characters. And while Marx observed society and had his own ideas on how capital and society operated which are still worthwhile to check out theories even if you disagree with them, both men suffer from being compared with their imitators and those who have used to apply their work in their own way without their intellect… okay, this is where the comparison is breaking down because comparing Lenin or Stalin with Zack Snyder is too edgy and dumb even for me, but I’m trying to create clickbait here people, so give me a break… Continue reading “Christopher Nolan: The Karl Marx of Superheroes”

Star Trek: A Retrospective (Or Autopsy?)

What went wrong with Star Trek? And when?

For those late to the show: I like Star Trek. A lot. I wouldn’t have written a Star Trek parody/homage novel otherwise. But being a Star Trek fan in this day and age – who am I kidding, every age – means that you are most definitely aware of the limitations of the franchise. There is virtually no mass market appeal, a lot of the old series are so dated in their storytelling that it’s hard to get new people on board, the new tv show is plagued with behind-the-scenes drama, the last movie didn’t do so well… did I miss anything?

Now as an “old-school” Trek fan and having read my review of Into Darkness, you would probably think that I believe the franchise went wrong the moment JJ Abrams took control of it. And well, you wouldn’t be all that wrong, but in search of what made Star Trek derail, as a good historian, I went a bit deeper (Note to self: insert Inception horn. Remove before publishing).

Star Trek is in its 51st year at this point and there are more than enough places it could have gone wrong, but I decided on five specific moments that, even if inadvertently so, caused many more problems in the long-haul or outright destroyed the prospect the show could have had for a brighter future:

I’m not a hardcore TOS fan, but even I will admit that almost the entirety of the first season is a great viewing experience. When it comes to overall quality only latter-day DS9 could surpass it in quality and quantity. Some of the great science fiction writers of Hollywood wrote for it, including the great Harlan Ellison. And then season 2 had a surprising amount of quality drop, barely any of the writers returned. Do you wanna know why? Going by Harlan Ellison’s 200 page “fuck you” to a 20+ years dead Gene Roddenberry, the answer is quite simple: Gene Coon and Dorothy Fontana, the real geniuses behind Star Trek’s early success, called in all their favors with great writers. Then Roddenberry pissed them off. Normally I wouldn’t just believe an old man who’s holding a grudge past the grave, but knowing Roddenberry’s antics? It seems plausible. Continue reading “Star Trek: A Retrospective (Or Autopsy?)”

The Liberating Feeling Of Accepting Setbacks

The trick is not minding that it hurts.

As an aspiring writer, I can tell you wholeheartedly, that there is no thing we fear more than criticism. Even constructive criticism. For all writers will tell you about wanting criticism and reviews, so they may learn from it, we actually don’t. Best case scenario? We want you to go on Amazon or our website, find our books, rate them highly, share the link to your Facebook timeline and tell your friends about how brilliant we are. That’s all we really aspire to deep down in our hearts. Or maybe that’s just me, but I doubt it. The fear of not being liked after we poured our hearts and minds into a work of fiction to receive negative feedback, is the worst thing that can happen to an artist. I’m not just speaking about writers anymore, it’s anyone. We all want to be loved, have achieved something meaningful with our invested time, our work of art.

I talked about writer’s block a couple of weeks ago and how overcoming it comes down to accepting certain realities about both your work and yourself. An important element of that is accepting setbacks. Once you accept setbacks, both in terms of your writing and the critique of your writing, you will be able to move on with your career and your life. It’s something applicable even to other areas of your daily routine, from working out, to losing weight, to your experience at work, even homework and school. Setbacks will always happen, it’s inevitable. There are too many variables in our daily lives and in what we put into our art for nothing to ever go wrong with it. Even if you are on a winning streak, there is always something that may happen to end your running series.

The trick comes in when you realize this is only temporary and it cannot stop you for your own strength and willpower and insistence to carry on. As long as you can cling to this, you will have the ability to bounce back, be it from failure at school, or a negative critique to your work, or because you need to throw out your first draft completely and start again. I was reminded of Peter O’Toole’s performance as T.E. Lawrence in this regard:

“The trick, Mr Potter, is not minding that it hurts.”

Our creative and day-to-day struggles are exactly what they are, struggles, but they don’t need to rule over our process of creating art or moving forward with our life. Once you realize this, you will be able to let go of your self-doubts, you will regain the self-confidence any creative person needs to put their work forward to the public. In the end, once the die is cast, it’s on.

P.S: Sorry for butchering Caesar at the end there.

The Expanse: Adaptation & Do-Over

When you make changes to an adaptation do it right.

Last week saw the premiere of the second season of The Expanse, one of my current obsessions. In the time since the first season aired, I managed to read all six of the novels currently released and read up on the universe extensively. It was, however, the first season that got me interested in the books in the first place. Just like with A Song of Ice and Fire, better known as Game of Thrones.

This puts me in an interesting position, in where I am already seeing more similarities between Game of Thrones and The Expanse. Both based on popular, post-modern(ish) book series, one fantasy, one sci-fi, both adapted before the series have ended. For the record, I prefer The Expanse at this point, though that is mainly because Game of Thrones is starting to wane on me a bit as it hits its inevitable conclusion. Maybe it’s been too popular and I’m just a contentious bastard. Who knows.

But following The Expanse in both book and tv form, both in the primary text and the secondary interviews with cast, crew, and authors, I have found The Expanse to be the exact way I want an adaptation to handle it’s story. The season two premiere has only deepened that conviction.

What is, in the end, always the problem with adaptations? Either they are too faithful or too far away from the source material. Fans of the source material thus have no reason to actually watch it. Why bother twice? Straying too far from the source material on the other hand, however, leads to the opposite problem of alienation and being the series-in-name-only, or at least too different to bring enjoyment to the people who fell in love with it for different reasons. But I always believed there to be a happy medium.

The Expanse is that perfect sweet spot. The Walking Dead might have been so if it wasn’t completely unwatchable for its padded paddedness (hint: clearly an amateur wordsmith). The Expanse has the benefit of being created by people deeply in love with the source material, and having the two writers on board as producers as well. This leads to them getting to do a “do-over” of sorts on the series itself. Little things, like inserting the novellas and short stories back into the main narrative, or re-working the admittedly janky first novel. For example, in this season they introduce Bobbie Draper into the series, a book early, just as they did Avasarala last year. Both characters didn’t appear until Caliban’s War where they shared a storyline of being “awesome cop, cranky cop”. It makes sense in context. Introducing Avasarala last year meant that the first story/book finally gained the political subplot it originally was missing and all the other books had. It also lead to more characterization and humanization, and the purportedly “greyness” of the character. Season 2 will attempt something similar with Bobbie Draper, the Martian Gunnery Sergeant from hell.

This is where we hit the adaptation problem of casting a 22 year old (ish? There was no official age but I extrapolated from previous roles) in the role that called for a 40 year old Brazillian Gwendoline Christie crossed with 1970s Clint Eastwood, but I understand the limitations of the medium. And to be fair, the actress does really well and as a book reader I recognize Bobbie Draper right there. Which is damn impressive. It’s the only place where the adaptation really suffers: the medium-related limitations. The Belters are supposed to be all really tall and lanky, the Martians are (mainly) supposed to have Texan accents and look Polynesian and Indian, a lot of scenes in zero g barely feel like it. Expenses and casting in Canada being what it is, they did an amazing job nonetheless.

As a writer, seeing the two novelists that make up James S.A. Corey have some creative control and an advisory position for their adaptation is just fascinating to watch as well. Unlike Game of Thrones, The Expanse immediately learned that you needed to make changes to the adaptation and decided to get it over and done with as quickly as possible. Ultimately, this was Game of Thrones’ downfall for more than two seasons after the first three seasons were mostly as straight an adaptation as you can get. But instead of knowing beforehand that the books wouldn’t be finished in time, they decided to keep on adapting as straight as they could. It’s a credit to the showrunners, but ended up being a disadvantage after they had to make the awkward transition from literary adaptation to HBO tv show.

Overall, I’m happy the show is back, and I look forward to appreciating the series once again from the beginning from a new angle. Check it out once it hits Netflix or right now on Syfy or your digital store of your choice.

 

What Arrow Can Still Teach Us About Serialized Storytelling

Rule No.1 of Writing Fiction: Have a Back-up for when you are writing crap.

You all know that feeling. That feeling when you watch a certain episode of a tv show and you are truly wondering why you are sticking with something. It happens in TV shows, comics, books, anything that is a long running series. There comes the moment when you are finally fed up with a certain program and look at your hands and ask: “Why am I doing this to myself?”

When it comes to the tv show arrow, that feeling has come to me multiple times over the past three years. All the moments when the show has jumped the shark, all the moments that were just too dumb to believe. Arrow isn’t the only one, of course, it happened to book series, comics I’ve been following, but I always come back to Arrow. And then I realized that this is something I can learn from the show if I ever decide to write a serialized story, and that is to have some live rings to spare whenever one of my plot lines goes south. I’ve watched a lot of tv shows over the past few years, most of which I have decided to quit, but the most enduring show, I have ever followed in its original airing that I still tune into watching, is and remains Arrow. The show knows when to break out of its mold and try something new. More often than not it doesn’t succeed anymore for a bunch of reasons, but the solid foundation it laid four, five years ago at this point, is still strong enough, with enough side plots and one-off ideas that it keeps me invested in at least finding out how that concludes. Continue reading “What Arrow Can Still Teach Us About Serialized Storytelling”

How To Overcome Writer’s Block

How To Overcome Writers Block in some easy snake oil salesmen-esque steps. Promised.

I thought I might as well get back to writing on the blog more often, if only to keep the fire stoked until the book hits, but also in some way to be my own private little therapy session once a week, so here goes:

If you’re a writer, you probably spend your time in one of three stages 1.) writing 2.) not writing and 3.)thinking about maybe getting back to writing on Tuesday in three weeks fingers crossed. I find myself, more often than not, in stage 2 and 3. I think this is why 2015 is such a blur to me, I have honest to god no memory of that year, it went by way too quickly.

If you’re in any way like me, then you know that writing isn’t the hard part. That’s easy. The Historian’s Crusade was written over the course of seven weeks and edited over the course of another five. The big problem will be overcoming the periods where you are in-between stories and in-between ideas. Maybe something else is going on in your life, maybe you have a new job, or school obligations. What you need to understand right then and there, if you ever want to get back to writing, is to forgive yourself and not martyr yourself on the altar of the writing gods. It happens, learn to move on from it. Just because you are a writer and want to publish your stories, or not, doesn’t mean you have to think about it 24/7. I guarantee you that the people who do hit burnout by 45. I wanna be popular and adored like Hemingway,  sure, but I don’t wanna go out in an alcohol binge or with a bullet in my brain either, so learn to relax. The more you fight your writer’s block, the worse it will get. Once you are in a state of mental ease, your confidence will return.

Continue reading “How To Overcome Writer’s Block”

What I Learned from Writing A Serialized Novel And What’s Next

It’s been eleven weeks but today I published the final chapter of the serialized novel (or novella, I suppose, thanks arbitrary length limits…). I learned a lot of things over the past three months and I’d just like to ramble about that for a while so bear with me please.

First of all: Pick a title beforehand that isn’t a mouth-full. I mean, “The Very Model of a Modern Starship Captain” is a nice little homage to Gilbert and Sullivan, sure, but once you’re done writing it, the entire tweet will already be done and it makes for one lousy hashtag. Also, it doesn’t really tell you anything. So I have since decided that I will rename the book to “The Historian’s Crusade”, though I’m sure it will probably be “A Historian’s Crusade” at some point next week and then “Crusading Historian” once this is picked up as a limited superhero book by Darkhorse or some bullshit like this… yeah, self-publishing is truly a backbreaking job.

All joking aside though, the past three months have taught me more about writing than the previous ten years combined, I believe. Back in 2014 I took a creative writing class during my undergraduate phase that tried to teach you how to write for NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month. The goal? Write 50.000 words in four weeks. This has ruined writing for me for two years. As hard as it may sound, but I just can’t bring myself to ever vomit up 50.000 words in a month. In the end, you will not be left with a halfway decent first draft on which to build a successful book, you will be left with just that: alphabet diarrhea. What is the point of wasting four weeks on a novel when you will have to completely throw it away afterwards. And that’s exactly what I did, I threw that script away in mid-2015 and only kept a basic premise tangentially related to “What if Archer from Enterprise was a tragic character?” and instead went with: “what if there was a Star Trek history book?”I mean, John Scalzi can do brilliant post-modern Star Trek pastiches and he is only one of the most gifted writers of the last decade so I might as well give it the old college try.

Continue reading “What I Learned from Writing A Serialized Novel And What’s Next”