Category Archives: Sci-Fi

The Ravages of Time (and Egomaniacal Writers)

tardises

I still call myself a “Time Lord” (“Time Lady” when I’m being accurate with another fan), but I no longer call myself Whovian. And the period of time when I did call myself such was very small.

Mostly I blame Steven Moffat.

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Pictured: The Face of Evil, collapsing under the weight of its own ego.

He wound us up with episodes like Silence in the Library, and Blink, which single-handedly (together) convinced us that his takeover as head writer would herald an age of darkness (in the good way), and Gothic horror.  You know, like that episode written by Neil Gaiman.

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The Doctor’s Something-Or-Other.  Wife.  That’s it.  (But which is what?!)

Instead, we got darkness (in the sad way), and a horrifying dismissal of all pre-established lore in the Whoverse, including things he, himself, established in the episodes he wrote under Russell T. Davies. And all of it executed in such a short-sighted infantile fashion — why, the first three seasons under his reign played out more like the convoluted fever dreams of a child-fan than an accomplished, professional writer. I actually accused him (though not to his face, because we’ve never met — and ONLY because we’ve never met) of using his own childhood fan fiction (complete with hand-decorated giant binder) as the basis for every episode he wrote.

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And this is just what he wrote in third grade!  He really is a genius.

Every episode was an extreme; going from “How’s your tea?” to “WE’RE LITERALLY ALL DYING RIGHT THIS SECOND!” and back down to “What do you suppose you’ll wear for dinner?” by the end, you were either exhausted, or completely disengaged when the credits rolled. And, where before you could track the progress of tension through an entire season (with peaks and valleys for each episode), a Moffat season told you in the beginning what the Big Bad would be (or at least what to look out for), and then spent very little time laying actual groundwork for it. His energy went into packing a season’s-worth of excitement into a single episode. Every episode. And everything was wrapped up by the end in a tidy little ribbon. I’m sorry, Steven Moffat, but there are only so many times you can threaten me with the Doctor’s “super-for-reals-this-time-you-guys” death before I stop caring about it, or any danger you try to make me believe he’s in.

Seriously. You’ve proven he’s basically invulnerable and he’s never going to die, so it doesn’t matter what kind of danger he’s in. Yawnsville all the way.

Defeating the Silence

Because, honestly, it was never about whether or not he COULD die. It was about our emotional connection with him in the moment.

With Russel T. Davies and David Tenant we cared that enough damage to his body meant he wouldn’t be Ten anymore, because the Doctor spent so long being desperately afraid of it.  He dreaded this thing — this prophesied thing– so much, he fought as hard against its inevitability as he fought against anything threatening the universe. He went out of his way to put an end to it, to fight what he thought was it. Avoiding the “end of his song” consumed him. So when it finally came and it wasn’t even the apocalyptic scenario he’d spent so much time and energy fighting, we all cared.  Our stomachs plummeted with his when we all realized what it meant.

A lot of that came from within. The Tenth Doctor wanted to remain the Tenth Doctor. It wasn’t the idea that the Doctor was dying and would never live again that made us cry so hard; it was the fact that he so desperately didn’t want to go, and that he had no choice. We mourned that Doctor, because we also knew it was inevitable and unstoppable, because we spent a season fighting his demons with him, and we saw it catch him anyway. He’d cheated regeneration once! But that window had well and truly passed.  There was no way out, and we all knew it.  We spent a whole episode saying goodbye to everyone he loved — everyone we loved — with him.
And then we all cried our hardest when the regeneration finally came.

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When Ten arrived, he taught us that the Doctor is always the Doctor, no matter which Doctor he happened to be at the time. But when he left, he taught us that the Doctor dies every time he’s born again.

All of this mattered, because they took the time to connect us to the moment, and that moment was telegraphed through time with the beating of two hearts heard as drums in the Master’s mind, and four innocent knocks on a simple radiation-proof glass door, specifically so that moment would punch us in the collective gut.

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And it worked.

But, in the Moffat seasons I see episodes that establish an enemy as being the single worst thing to ever happen ( … to exposition). Because that’s how we learn how terrible they are. Not through reactions, or behavior, or casual mention in any moment before, but exclusively in the episode in which they’re meant to be a threat, and exclusively in the Doctor reciting a galactic Wikipedia entry about the threat.  All of time and space to pull from (all the 50+ years of history), and even if the enemy is brought in from the past, there’s a mountain of exposition to contextualize the encounter just for that episode, because it has no greater impact on the rest of the season more often than not.

That is, if it’s not one of the Big Three.

I see convoluted plots attempting to blow our minds with the level of their creativity, but it all means so little to me. It’s all so much “look at what I’ve built!” that I’ve mostly written it out of the lore in my head; it was too damn awful to acknowledge.

River Song

Pictured: As much context per moment as I felt from Moffat’s writing.

 

The final Matt Smith season saw improvement, and a lot of that came from the fact that Moffat was no longer the lead writing name on EVERY of the episodes. Other writers were allowed to take the lead for different episodes, and it got so much better.

Though for me, sadly, it did not improve enough.

For now, when I see promotional pictures, or even something as iconic and once-beloved an image as the TARDIS … I just scroll past. I want nothing to do with it.

The same three enemies recycled endlessly. Dalek, Cybermen, The Master. Dalek, Cybermen, The Master. Eventually, they’re all meaningless; the punchlines of jokes people stopped telling a long time ago.  We don’t believe you when you say they’re defeated.  It worked in the beginning, because we legitimately weren’t expecting them.  Now we know they’ll always be there, so there’s no point pretending they’re gone, even for a minute.

Everything about the show is meaningless for me, now. They don’t give me time or a reason to care about anyone or anything in that universe, anymore. And what reason they do provide, they give through exposition, informing me why I’m SUPPOSED to care, instead of giving me the opportunity to want to care.

I made myself watch the first Capaldi season, as I made myself sit through the terrible Matt Smith seasons (terrible for Moffat, not for Matt), but I finally had to give up.

There’s only so much that love of the Davies years can overcome, and I have gone well past that limit, already. I’ve been clinging to the love of something already gone, and the hope for something that can never be under this Moffat regime, and, as with any relationship with people who have grown too different, there eventually comes a day when you have to admit that what you loved and what you cling to are no longer the same, and it’s time to let it go.

I used to be a Whovian, and for Nine and Ten, I shall quietly remain a fan, but my love ends there. As, sadly, does any last trace of interest in the show.

 

—-

Adalind Monroe is a writer in the Pacific Northwest who is very sorry to end on such a sad, sad note, but it couldn’t be helped.  If you made it this far, she rewards you with a sleepy puppy sticking his tongue out.

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Journey to the Dark Crystal: A Writer’s Tale – Chapter 1

The internet is fairly buzzing with the news that the Jim Henson company and an imprint of Random House are looking for a new writer to pen the next book in the Dark Crystal legacy.  I may have seen the Author Quest page the day it was posted, I may have not, but it wasn’t long after starting that it was shuffled my way via Facebook.  My heart flipped a little with the excitement of what could be done, and sank with the emptiness where a story could have sat, but didn’t yet exist.  The truth is, I had fan fiction ideas for Labyrinth before I was tempted by any other material.  Maybe it was David Bowie dancing in tight pants, or the dialogue between Sarah and the four guards in the (buh-buh-buh-BUM!) Certain Death riddle (OooOooOooo!), but it resonated with me in away I could cling to more easily, I think.  However, as much as I consciously thought I loved Labyrinth more, Dark Crystal had already taken up a deeper residence in my psyche, biasing me toward the unlimited possibilities of that hazy realm between fantasy and sci fi it so effortlessly embodied.

One of the things I remember the most from my childhood and watching Dark Crystal was the Gelfling Wall of Destiny.  There was so much timelessness buried in the carvings, this knowledge that a thousand years ago the wall had been carved by hands that knew the written word, by minds that understood the importance of recording history, it impressed on me the weight of ages and the fathomless passage of time marked occasionally by moments preserved in stone and prophecy.  A monument against time and the transience of memory, a glimpse into the minds of the ancestors and a promise of what was to come, the Wall of Destiny was the single most important aspect of the Dark Crystal to me, and became the seed of everything I’ve poured into Eleasia, Prince of Darkness, and nearly every other project I’ve held most dear.

When I was old enough to really analyze what Jim Henson and Brian Froud had done with their team to develop Dark Crystal, I realized I wasn’t merely watching a good movie, I was experiencing everything behind the movie.  To be specific, I could feel the influence of that special brand of fantastical sci-fi that was held over from the 1970’s; I felt the implied history of an ageless world with more whispered of off screen than could be expressed on; and, most recently, I felt the the sense of compulsory motion behind the actions of both the urRu and the Skeksis, which intrigued me most of all.

The opulent costumes of the Skeksis spoke of an almost vulgar level of flamboyance, each trying to outdo the others, but the faded lace and frayed hems spoke of a passage of time so great that all the posturing became a matter of course, happening by rote, not passion.  They had the same arguments, the same shifting alliances repeating over and over as their pool of comrades dwindled to eight, and the dull-edged blade of madness crept into the isolation of their reality.

The urRu do not appear exempt from this decay, though their activities do seem more benign, as they made their sand paintings with an air of meditative repetition rather than guided intent, and tracked the movements of the stars, and recorded their thoughts in the fabric of their coats.

For both, life is an imitation of living, a compulsory existence of movement and action punctuated occasionally by moments of lucidity.  They have spent so much time in their separate forms that the urRu and Skeksis have essentially reached a state of entropy, where memory of their origins and the why behind their actions has decayed to a point of equilibrium against the necessity to continue acting, because anything less would be to die, and I think enough of an urSkek spark remained to keep them clinging to routine so they could one day be made whole again.

I don’t have a plot just yet, and tonight I begin the adventure of The World of Dark Crystal, but I can tell you what will guide my hand throughout the writing process; paying homage to a man who never let the limitations of what others thought could be done define what he knew was possible.  I write this for you, Jim.  Thank you for never being anything other than who you were.  You are, and always will be, my greatest hero.

I was too young when I fell in love with the Dark Crystal to have a life established enough on any course to have it changed when I was exposed to his work, so I can’t say he changed my life.  What he did impart, or rather, what I took from his work, was the essence of what would help me define the shape I would want my life to take.  Without his vision and passion available to me at the time, I don’t believe I’d be where I am today, passionate about my art, dedicated to writing more than a well-told sequence of events, and reading up every extent Dark Crystal book I could get my hands on to deepen my affinity for the vividly painted and desperately ancient world of Thra.

Yes, I am throwing my hat in the ring for the Dark Crystal’s Author Quest, and I encourage all of you to do the same, because without our adoration of this work it could not continue surviving and thriving thirty years later, and I firmly believe the world in which we let the Dark Crystal die is a hollow word of less wonder, magic, and beauty than our own.

I’m terrible about chronicling progress on anything, but this is one of those projects that sings deep inside me, like an urSkek song of surpassing beauty, sorrow, longing, and joy in need of expressing, but not entirely native to my senses, and if I can help anyone else discover the unique and earnest wonder of The Dark Crystal, and of Thra, and of Aughra, of the intrepid Gelfling, the tragic Skeksis, and the lonely urRu through my own exploration and self-discovery, then it will be all the more worthwhile in the end.  With any luck, and maybe a little less procrastination, I’ll keep you apprised of the journey I take as I become a part of the world of The Dark Crystal, and the magic of Thra.

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Grandpa Miler Reviews “The Last Tower” by Adalind Monroe

The Last Tower

Writer M.A. Weeden recently shared The Last Tower with his grandfather, an editor for the fledgling indie publisher Frowzy Books, and a man so well-read that terminal bibliophiles look like weekend enthusiasts with no ambition by comparison.  When asked for his opinion on the surrealist sci-fi end-of-days short, Grandpa Miler had quite a lot to say.  I should warn you now, though, that the man probably has fewer filters in place than M.A. Weeden himself, which is to say none.  He has no filters in place.  But that means that peppered in with what is unquestionably inappropriate turns-of-phrase (the best kind) is the kind of unregulated honesty authors need to hear the most, for better or worse.

“Well, he read it twice,” M.A. said as he related his grandfather’s experience with the tale, “because he said he read it the first time with ‘disbelief’.  The second go, he attempted to find a grammatical error, thought he had found a mistake but then when he looked at it further, he discovered that it was SO correct that it appeared wrong in one location.  He said, ‘No one knows that rule anymore’. Though, he could not remember where that was specifically.”

[If you have difficulty thinking of grandfathers and the elderly as people, I suggest you look away at this point, as things are about to get flatteringly inappropriate.]

“I asked him for one sentence,” M.A. continued, “and this was him, verbatim: ‘Flawlessly written, eloquently put, and maddeningly brief.  If she doesn’t write a book soon enough I’m going to call her up myself and bitch her out.  This little story was excellent . . . if I want a constant cock-tease.  Tell her I want payoff dammit!  Write a damn book!'”

Regarding what could easily be mistaken as an amusing amount of ire from Grandpa Miler, M.A. hastened to add “He’s old school, so when he ‘settles in’ for a read, he’s expecting something that will last.  I failed to warn him of its brevity so I took the blame.”  This is not the first time The Last Tower has been called out on its length, though this may be the only mark against it.  Still, it is something to definitely keep in mind while searching for a good read; long The Last Tower is not.

The Last Tower is a foray into the hazy world of the post-apocalyptic with details and colors drawn from dreams and the subconscious machinations of the mind.  Buried beneath the elegant prose and hidden behind the obvious imagery are the things that speak to everyone in unique, and often unpredictable, ways.  There’s something for everyone to discover about themselves as they read, analyze, and enjoy this most recent short story by Adalind Monroe.

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[ABOUT THE STUFF]

Adalind Monroe is a writer and part-time Magistrate of Impossibility.  When she’s not up to her eyeballs in world-building, writing, or magistrating all the Impossible Things, she likes to while away the hours conferring with the flowers as an alchemist in Skyrim.

And for those of you who feel your inner Hulks threatening to overwhelm in the face of such excellent writing available only in short form, worry not; the whispers have begun and a novel is in the works.  Stay tuned for periodic updates on “Prince of Darkness”, the first Eleasian Tale by infuriatingly talented Adalind Monroe.

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