Tag Archives: sff

Watching Orphan Black as a Faceblind Person

I’ve written about my face blindness before — what it means is that I generally recognize people by things like hair, clothes, context, and voice inflection before faces.  My face blindness isn’t as bad as it could be, and I mostly get along just fine, but it’s bad enough to interfere with my life, especially when I see people out of context or after long gaps.  As a gauge of severity, let’s put it this way: I’ve never not recognized my parents after not seeing them for a while, but I always worry I won’t.

So I was a bit nervous about trying to watch Orphan Black, despite the entire Internet telling me to.  Because, especially given the skills of the lead actress, I was afraid that there would be moments when the “reveal” would depend on me recognizing that two women with completely different deportments and hairstyles had the same face, and I wouldn’t.

Well, considering that I just watched two seasons of Orphan Black in two days, clearly my faceblindness didn’t impede me too much!  In fact, for anyone else who’s bad with faces who is hesitating over watching this show — you’ll be totally fine.  Once you pick up on who the clones are at the beginning, which the show is very, very clear about pointing out in multiple ways, it’s smooth sailing.  (In fact, since the show asks all viewers to differentiate the clones based on things other than face, it might be even easier to watch than other shows — I have a lot of trouble on some shows with people of the same gender/age/race having similar hairstyles and I mix them all up, whereas here, they have to make sure that doesn’t happen or everyone will mix them up.)

But if you want some interesting notes about the experience:

(here there be spoilers through the end of Season 2)

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Firefly Asian Dream Cast

"For a universe that's supposed to be half Chinese, Firefly sure doesn't have any Asians."

Part of xkcd comic http://xkcd.com/561/. CC-BY-NC.

I love Firefly.

It’s is a brilliant show, and one of the parts I love most is worldbuilding that mixes the U.S. and China as the dominant cultures in a far-flung space-faring future.  The characters are all fluent in Chinese, wear Chinese-inspired clothing, eat with chopsticks, and wear white to funerals.

Therefore, the fact that the show has no Asian actors in leading roles is a very troubling and uncomfortable thing.  It’s hard enough for Asian actors to succeed in Hollywood; it’s even more depressing when a work of media steals the shiny bits of our culture and then gives no opportunities to Asian-American actors.

“Maybe there weren’t any Asian actors up to the job,” people say, every time this comes up.

Bullshit, says I.

Don’t get me wrong — I adore Firefly’s cast.  But . . . just for fun, behold my Asian Dream Cast!  The rules were as follows:

  1. The actors had to be of East Asian descent and work in the U.S.,
  2. The actors had to be actively doing television (as opposed to purely film actors),
  3. As much as possible (just for my sake), I wanted actors I was familiar with,
  4. To avoid driving myself crazy, I did this as if we were casting in 2014, rather than trying to figure out how old people were ten years ago.  Scanning the list, it looks like most of these actors could have played the same roles I’ve cast them in in 2002 anyway, and the ones who couldn’t would have been easy to cast with actors currently ten years older than the role (as noted below, River would have been far easier to cast older, and I had a list as long as my arm of possibilities for Kaylee).

I imposed rules #1 and #2 because I wanted to prove that it is just not true that there isn’t a fantastic slate of talented East Asian-descent actors doing American television.  #3 was just because it’s more fun for me if I’m familiar with the actors I’m talking about!  (#3 was the most limiting.  I’m famous among my friends for not having seen enough movies and never knowing who any of the actors are.)

Now, drum roll, please . . .

Firefly East Asian Dream Cast

(cut because of lots of video embeds)

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Ten “Favorite” Books

I was talking to a friend today about making a list of our top 10 favorite books.

The decision is so impossible it almost feels meaningless.  I’ve read thousands of books in my lifetime.  Once I sat down to list how as many titles as I could remember reading, and I hit 500 without breaking a sweat — just of titles I could remember off the top of my head.  I have over 600 paper books just in my personal library.

And my favorite books have not always been the best books I’ve read, either.  And the ones I like to reread the most are not even always my favorites!  Sometimes I have sentimental attachments.  Sometimes a book pushes every button I have while still having problems I could write a thesis on.

So I thought, here’s an interesting exercise: try to think of the first 10 (fiction) books that might land in the “favorite” category.  The books that reached in and twisted my soul around.  The books that spoke to me so personally that I felt they were written just for me.  The books that I reread, over and over and over again, for no particular reason.  Write down the first ten of those that come to mind.

10 Books That Touched Me

  1. The Princess Bride, by William Goldman The one paperback in my library I took with me across the country.  I don’t know if it’s my favorite book, or even the one I’ve reread the most.  I just know that it’s like warm blankets and white rice and hot cocoa.  Comfort food.
  2. Deep Secret and The Merlin Conspiracy, by Diana Wynne Jones I’m cheating a little by putting these in the same line item, but they’re in the same universe and remain connected in my mind.  Everything I love about fantasy is wrapped up in these perfectly-written books, and I’m a little embarrassed to say how much I related to Nick.
  3. Bloodchild, by Octavia Butler The first Octavia Butler I read and still my favorite.  Unbelievable how much some of the stories made me think.
  4. The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury I don’t actually remember much of this book, to be honest.  What I do remember is almost crying at the beauty of the prose.  Multiple times.
  5. 1984, by George Orwell It’s the ideas behind Orwell’s dystopia that push this one onto the list.  1984 is the sort of book that simultaneously terrified me and engaged me.
  6. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, by William Shakespeare Okay, I’m definitely cheating by putting this all as one line item, especially as there are still some histories I haven’t read, but otherwise once I thought of Shakespeare he would’ve taken up the whole rest of the list.  I’ve read, studied, and performed so many of his plays, and they’ve spoken to me in so many ways.
  7. V, by A.C. Crispin I wrote about my relationship with V here.
  8. The Story Girl, by L.M. Montgomery I owned most of L.M. Montgomery’s books as a kid, and this was my favorite.  I can’t count the number of times I reread it.
  9. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams Spaceships that hang in the sky the same way bricks don’t!  I’ve only encountered one other writer with Adams’ sheer mind-blowing creativity, and she isn’t published yet. ;)
  10. A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle I used to reread this book every two years like clockwork.  I still remember explaining proudly to my second-grade teacher what the fourth and fifth dimensions were.  And of course there were all the sequels . . . (Many Waters has made me quite snooty about my Noah’s Ark knowledge in the context of the recent movie release.)

Okay!

It’s an interesting mix.  Half male authors, half female authors.  Staggeringly skewed toward books I first read as a child (8), with only one book I discovered in college (Deep Secret) and two books I discovered post-college (The Merlin Conspiracy and Bloodchild).  Three fantasy, six science fiction, one contemporary (for its time), and Shakespeare.  (Oddly, most of the books I thought of but didn’t feel “favorite” enough were contemporary, like The Joy Luck Club and The Twinkie Squad — there’s something about speculative fiction that hits my kinks much harder, that makes me think much more.)  One media tie-in book (for a series I never saw).  Seven adult books, and four books that would probably be considered young adult.  Only one author of color on the list, which I think is indicative of the fact that I made little effort to diversify my reading when I was young, and most of these books are books I read young.  (Oddly, I can name a plethora of authors of color I did read as a kid — in particular, I know I read quite a few books by Asian-American and African-American authors — but most of those books were contemporary, which we’ve established does not speak to me quite as loudly for some reason.)

Ender’s Game would have been on here if I’d been able to reread it since I found out about Card’s homophobia.  It’s not that I hold it against the book; I just . . . don’t pick it up anymore.

How correct does this list feel, if I weren’t naming the first ten books that felt like favorites off the top of my head?  Well, about half of them feel like books I’d kick and scream at if something else pushed them off the list, so I’m going to go with about half right. ;)

What about you?  What are the first ten “favorite” books you can think of?

Rest In Peace, A.C. Crispin

A.C. Crispin died today.

She’d posted to Facebook earlier this week, telling fans she was losing her battle with cancer. I left her a quick note trying to encapsulate how much her writing has meant to me.  I started thinking about writing up a post about it.

This morning, she passed.

Ms. Crispin was well-known for being a tireless writers’ advocate.  But I want to talk about what her work meant to me, many years ago, before I ever became aware of the SFF author community.

I found A.C. Crispin through her Han Solo trilogy, back when I was obsessed with Star Wars and devouring every tie-in novel I could. Despite the care I have always taken with my paperbacks, the Han Solo trilogy was soon creased and worn from frequent re-readings. I loved her writing style so much I looked her up at the library and ordered Yesterday’s Son from a neighboring branch.  I still remember the white pixelated letters on the screen of the ancient library computer—it wasn’t marked as a Star Trek tie-in; I thought it was some of her original fiction.  When it came I felt a crushing disappointment—it was a Star Trek novel!  I didn’t watch Star Trek; I was a Star Wars fan!

I read it anyway.  A.C. Crispin is at least partially to blame for my subsequent obsession with Star Trek.

I adored her Starbridge books.  Brilliantly imaginative, with aliens who had wildly different physiologies, and characters who were real people that I felt intensely connected to (though I’ll never forgive her for killing Hing!).  Explorations of culture and language that the nerd in me gobbled up and that I felt were uncommonly creative, even for science fiction.  And for some reason, I continued to feel a strong kinship with her style.  Her prose connected with me somehow in a way my brain intensely liked.  I’ve never felt that same . . . familiarity? satisfaction? . . . in reading any other author’s prose.

Perhaps my favorite A.C. Crispin novel—or, maybe not necessarily my favorite, but the one I reread the most, until the paperback was literally falling apart—was her novelization of V.  To this day I probably can’t articulate why I liked it so much.  I’d never seen the show.  But somehow she managed to bring those characters to life in a way that hit every button I had as a kid.  Their struggles with each other and with themselves, their love for their families, their humanity.  Their courage.  Their difficult, heartwrenching choices.  How much they cared for each other.

I had some rough years when I was a child (most people do, I’m sure).  Books were my escape.  Whenever everything was going wrong in life, I would retreat to my room and bury myself in an old favorite.  I had so many bookshelves my mother forbade me from getting another one because she was afraid the floor of my bedroom wouldn’t be able to support them (which didn’t stop me). From the time I was about 8 until the time I was 18, I spent almost all of my money on books; I asked for books for Christmas and birthdays; I absorbed free books from giveaways and garage sales.

And, to return to the point, whenever everything in my young life was going so wrong nothing would fix it, I would go to my room, shut the door, and find a book.  Sometimes I’d pull a bunch off the shelves and stack them all around me, nesting myself while I read.  The books I chose at these times were not usually new books; they were books I’d reread many times.  They were best friends.  Security blankets.

My number one panacea was V.

Even thinking about rereading it gives me a great feeling of calm.  It was a mental place of solace for me.  A place I could run to when I needed to.  A fictional world that somehow enabled me to deal with reality.

Ann Crispin never knew it, but the words she wrote . . . when I think about my childhood without having them to lean on, without having her books to escape into . . . suffice to say, I’m so, so grateful I didn’t live in a world without A.C. Crispin’s work in it.  She helped one small child more than I can ever repay.

Remembering A.C. Crispin:

Captain America Meets Owen Harper

My friend and I recently watched the episode of Torchwood in which a few people from the 1950’s get stuck in modern times.  When Diane, one of the time travelers, asks Owen to catch her up on everything she’s missed, the first thing he decides to tell her about is . . . artificial insemination.

It’s a very Owen response.  “What’d I miss in the last sixty years?”  “Well, you can get pregnant without doin’ the deed now!  How nuts is that?”

The same friend and I were re-watching The Avengers tonight, and she said, “You know, it’s a really good thing Owen Harper didn’t meet Captain America in the future.  Could you imagine him as a tour guide?”

Steve Rogers: So, uh, what’s changed in the last seventy years?
Owen: Women can get pregnant without you stickin’ it to ’em now!  How’s that for the future?
Steve (with a horrified look on his face): . . . Fondue?

How to Make Jawa Eyes Tutorial

All photos of the electronics process are original and are licensed CC-BY-NC-SA-3.0.  Attribute with a link to this site.  All the screenshots and photos of full Jawas in costume are not my photography; please consider them under traditional copyright.

Last weekend, I performed in the Masquerade at Comic Con.  We were this skit AND WE KILLED (go to :20 to skip the emcees vamping):

(Masquerade friends who were involved in this, let me know if you want your names/websites linked here with credit for awesomeness.)

Considering that I cannot sew (AT ALL) but can solder (passably), my contribution was making the eyes.  I am here to share what we did with you, Internet, because there aren’t enough Jawa Eye Tutorials online yet.  The world needs another one.

Here's a screenshot from the above video.  Don't the eyes look awesome?

Here’s a screenshot from the above video. Don’t the eyes look awesome?

Credit for much of the design goes to my friend who was our (RIDICULOUSLY TALENTED) costumer.  We put our heads together over it and she suggested all the things like putting in more than one LED to make them brighter and putting something reflective behind them.  (I’ll link to her here if she lets me know that’s okay.)  And then I solder-monkeyed!

(Note: I am a rudimentary solderer.  I was a math major, not EE.  So, uh . . . for all you engineers out there, if I did something silly during some step in this process, feel free to let me know.)

Concept

We used 3 yellow LEDs for each eye, arranged in a triangle.  The wires went down to the collar with the batteries in pouches safety-pinned to the shirt beneath the costume, one battery on each side.  The LEDs were backed by gold reflective cardboard and diffused by a sanded-down souffle cup (the idea for sanding something down came from this tutorial, but we wanted something lighter in weight).  The eyes were then mounted on a felt and foam mask, with the glowing eyes lining up with where the costumed person’s cheeks would be, and we pulled a stretchy face sock over the whole ensemble.  We then cut holes in the face sock for the souffle cups to poke through.

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Book Recommendation: The Rook, by Daniel O’Malley

The Rook, by Daniel O’Malley

How much do I love this book!

I just finished it, and I did not want it to end.  You know how some books you finish because you want to know what happens?  I wanted to know what happened, yes, but I was also enjoying reading it so damn much.  I really, really hope there’s a sequel!  I think I genuinely loved every page of it.  It’s just so much fun!  The plot is sharp, the writing is excellent, and the characters are fantastic.  The story is intense enough that I wouldn’t classify it as “light” in the same way, for instance, Douglas Adams is—there’s definitely plenty of nail-biting suspense and some panicky, worrisome, or downright tearjerking moments as the plot takes turns for the worse—but it’s witty and wildly creative and made me laugh out loud at several points.

Oh, and did I mention how well O’Malley handles gender?  Not just because he’s got a female protagonist (who is awesome, and does not read as a male fantasy, or a “man with boobs,” or someone who’s trying to be a Strong Female Character, but instead reads as a real person), and not because he’s got a bunch of women in main roles who dash about passing the Bechdel test and driving the plot together, even though that’s also true.  But because his women aren’t defined by their femaleness.  He has a cast of diverse, fantastic characters with all sorts of quirks and strengths and faults, and somewhere around half of them just happen to be women.

I really don’t know what it says that I’m this gleeful about seeing this in a book.  But I am.

Anyway, here’s a bit more about the book:

(no major spoilers, adding a click-through just in case . . . edited to add: included below is now an AWESOME book trailer I just found!  Really, this is how to do book trailers!)

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Star Trek: Into Darkness, This Time With More Rant and Many Links

So . . . in my initial reaction post, I expressed my disappointment with this movie.  Walking out of the theatre, I thought it an “eh, enjoyable” action flick but a depressingly terrible Star Trek film.  I ranted a bit about the sexism and the racism and Certain Writing Decisions, but I had liked enough elements to feel it was merely mediocre.

The more I think about it, the more I think that it might not even be a good movie, and as far as being a Trek movie goes, it’s rapidly devolving in my head to “practically a desecration.”

Here’s what I’ve been mulling about (with links!).  Warning: If you liked the movie, you probably shouldn’t click.  I have no wish to rain on anyone’s happiness.

(Spoilers below.)

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Star Trek: Into Darkness

Background: I loved the 2009 Star Trek.  I had to see it twice in theatres (which is very unusual for me) because I couldn’t stop obsessing about it, and I’m always up for a rewatch on DVD.  I thought it did a marvelous job of paying homage to Star Trek canon (which I am nuts about) while making the story its own.

I went to see Into Darkness on Thursday.  The movie’s so new that I’m putting my whole reaction behind a spoiler warning . . .

The verdict:

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Conversation(s) of the Night: Highlights While Watching The Incredible Hulk

Bruce runs into a library . . .

Me: Don’t Hulk out in the library!  You’ll ruin the books!

My friend: You are such a nerd.

Tim Roth fires a bunch of grenades at the Hulk from about ten feet away . . .

Me: Come on, that’s not how impact grenades work!  You need a lot more distance to arm them; they won’t go off at point-blank range.

::I proceed to explain exactly how impact grenades arm to my friend while we make fun of the bad CGI::

Bruce says to Betty, “Remember when we were at Harvard and we participated in those experiments that induced hallucinogens?”

Me: Yes, because it’s so normal for students to participate in studies that induce hallucinogens.

My friend: What are you talking about?  That’s what I did all the time at college.  What kind of college is MIT anyway?

Me: I feel like some writer really wanted to say, “Hey Betty, remember when we dropped acid in college?” but then figured Bruce Banner wouldn’t do that.  Cue “studies that induce hallucinogens.”

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