Thursday, August 20, 2015

On Fandom

Woot! I’m writing this from Sasquan, so this is going to be a little quicker than normal. Sorry for that, but I promise I’ll be bringing you back all sorts of awesome content from the convention.

These sorts of events always make me think. Why is it that all these introverts (like me) take the time to go out to these kinds of things? We all force ourselves to be in this uncomfortable situation. What is it about these gatherings of fandom that make us want to do this?

I think it’s because SF/F fans have profound experiences when it comes to the genre, moreso than other fandoms. I can’t speak to any sort of universal experience, but with myself and other people I’ve talked to, that sense of the strange resonates. That’s part of why there are so many introverts in the SF/F community, I’d imagine. Outcasts like to see other strange people in their fiction, maybe people even stranger than them, or people who aren’t even people.

Am I right? I don’t know. I honestly don’t. What do you think? Let me know in the comments.

(Also, I promise I’ll get into less esoteric and philosophical content when I get back. This is just what’s on my mind, right now.)

Voss

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Subgenre Special: Creepypasta

What? What’s that? This isn’t Saturday! You’re an imposter!

Nope. This is a bit of a special post for a couple reasons. One is that I’m actually posting one of these. Subgenre Saturdays are kind of on a bit of a hiatus for a lot of reasons. I really enjoyed writing them, but they are an awful lot of work on my part, and I’ve just recently signed several contracts (Seriously. Three contracts in a three day span.) and I have a lot of edits on the horizon. I was also running low on subgenres I have a lot of experience with. So I do intend to pick them back up eventually, but not within the next couple weeks, to be sure.

The other reason this is a bit special? Well, I don’t know for sure that you could really call this a subgenre. Today, I want to talk about creepypasta.



Scared? I knew you would be.

Oh, you’re not? And you couldn’t lie to me?

(A note, in good faith: some of the stuff in these links is really unnerving, including pictures that portray some (Photoshopped) body horror. You'e been warned.)

Creepypasta are a sort of internet-based urban legend. But also not quite the same. Urban legends are believed, at least by someone. Enough people that they move from mouth to mouth. Spiders in the bouffant, alligators in the sewer, that sort of thing.

With creepypasta, most people are fully aware that these are fictional accounts. Slenderman, Jeff the Killer (Warning: Terrible Writing), Smile Dog. You know, reading them, that they are totally and completely not real. But it doesn’t matter, because they’re still that kind of skin-crawling terror that’s so hard to capture.

Now, what kind of name is creepypasta? You’d be surprised how few fans actually know why these stories of fear are titled with such a silly-sounding name. It comes from the term ‘copypasta,’ which is just a block of text that gets copied and pasted from one internet source to the other over and over and over. Copy-paste to copypasta to creepypasta, for these deeply ‘creepy’ stories spread through the internet the same way.

It’s difficult to pin down exactly what makes a creepypasta a creepypasta and not just a horror story that’s been posted online. Part of it is the same as urban legends compared to other legends. They could maybe happen. Most normal legends, like most average horror stories, are so far-separated from our general, modern reality that they lack that creepiness. It’s not a hard and fast rule, but it’s fairly good starting point.

As a rule, creepypasta also leave a lot of room for experimentation and modern storytelling techniques. They don’t have to be linear narratives, or even traditional narratives at all. One of my favorites of all time is the series of creepypasta connected to Candle Cove. Seriously, those stories give me goosebumps every time, even when I know what’s coming. But the original and a number of the off-shoot stories are told in forum posts and interviews and other epistolary-style formats. A lot of them use pictures as an aid, or even audio and video. I’ve even seen some using hidden HTML code that are only available if you copy the base code of the website. Things like that help set creepypasta apart as a unique internet phenomenon.

If I were to recommend starters for you… well, I’d preface it by telling you to keep the lights on before you begin your dive into the realm of creepypasta. But aside from that, I’d say that you should go through and click the links to the creepypasta that I’ve shared in this post already. On top of those, I’d check out the Russian Sleep Experiment, Squidward’s Suicide, and Ben Drowned.

I won’t say that these are the best (Although I hold that Candle Cove is one of the top creepypasta on the internet.), but they are definitely some of the most popular creepypasta you’ll find, and they do encapsulate a good amount of what you’re liable to see when you read creepypasta, if you decide you like this genre... or whatever you’d call creepypasta, anyway.

Voss

Saturday, August 15, 2015

PNW Fandom

So, in case you didn’t know, I’m headed off to Sasquan (Worldcon 2015) next week (If you’re going to be there, let me know. We’ll have coffee, maybe?). So I’ve been poring over the schedule and the guests and everything, as is my usual M.O. right before I go to a big convention. And of course, with the size of Sasquan, there are a lot of panels there that actually sound interesting, which is fairly abnormal in my experience. Normally, I discount a lot of the panels at cons I go to. Same people, same topics, all that jazz. But this time? The panels on diversity I talked about before are just the tip of the iceberg.

But one of the panels I’m really looking forward to is the Northwest All-Stars. It’s on a topic I’ve noticed quite a lot, before – here in the Pacific Northwest, we have a lot of SF/F authors. And not just small fries. Orson Scott Card, Patricia Briggs, Vonda Mcintyre, Irene Radford, Seanan McGuire. They all have ties to the PNW.

In point of fact, there are a lot of writers here, regardless of genre, plus we have Amazon’s headquarters over in Seattle.

I’ve never really considered why this happened. There’s something to be said for the Seattle area’s love of art, and something to be said for Seattle housing the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame. I think the general love of art has a lot more to do with it than anything else. I mean it. If you’ve never been to Seattle and you like art—any art—I recommend you make a visit. It’s a challenge to visit Seattle without seeing some kind of art. Street performers and buskers, murals, statues. Whatever it is.

But sci-fi and fantasy in particular? I think there are a number of reasons, not the least of which is the strong science and technology background in this state. Boeing, Microsoft, Nintendo. You can find them all in Washington State, in one form or another. People like science and ideas here, and more than any other genres, SF/F deal with ideas. Big, sweeping ideas, ideas that are thoroughly separated from our own world and view of things.

A part of it comes from the diversity of cultures and the acceptance of different types of people. We’ve got a big port with Seattle, and a lot of immigrants who came in with all of their own cultures. That’s on top of the strong Native American cultures we have here (Salish, Yakama, Sinkiuse, etc). But what common ground do we all have in spite of any cultural differences?

We don’t know how many alien lifeforms might be out there. We don’t know what could be in some other world. What binds us together are all the things that we, as humans, don’t know. Not the only thing that binds us together, of course, but it is common ground. I like to think that the search for common ground brought the local fandom together, at least a little bit.

Of course, in the end, who really knows? As far as I’ve seen, there aren’t any sort of studies on this, and they couldn’t be conclusive, I wouldn’t imagine. But if I find answers, or stronger theories, I’ll swing back in and let y’all know after that panel. So if you want to learn what I did there, make sure you’re subscribed.

Voss

Monday, August 10, 2015

Clear Lakes 44

If you were here last week, you probably saw me talking about TV shows, and you probably saw Marble Hornets on that list as my number five SF/F show, and me bemoaning the fact that, even though it's an incredible program (One of the best horror shows I've ever seen. Ever.), the experience of waiting for a new episode and seeing it posted on the channel was gone. New viewers would miss out on that one thing.

If you keep up on all things Marble Hornets, then you probably already know where I'm going with this. You probably knew from the second you saw the title of this article. If not, keep on reading because you won't be disappointed. Not at all.

It's back. Something is back and happening on the Marble Hornets channel, now called Clear Lakes 44 | Marble Hornets. three new videos have been posted so far, with more on the way, from the sounds of things. But what's more is there's something extra. Something special.


There's something strange going on over at the film's website, and possibly on the Twitter feed as well (@marblehornets). If you want the full, immersive experience, check all of it out. I recommend it. I, for one, am going to be watching out for updates from totheark on Youtube as well. Maybe nothing will be there, but it's not worth missing some information.

And of course, as fair warning: don't watch this with the lights off.

Voss

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Top 10: SF/F TV Shows (Part 2)

Hello again! Yesterday, I got started on my top ten spec fic shows to watch, but then I realized that I was on a path to write a ten or twelve page blog post and I shut it down halfway through.

Well, today’s the last half, my top five. As before, these are nothing but my feelings, these aren’t restricted to live action or animation, kids or adults, indie or major studio.

Now, on with the shows!

5: Marble Hornets (2009-2014)
I’m not a big horror fan by any stretch of the imagination. Not because I get scared easily, but mostly because I find myself just laughing at how ridiculous horror movies are. Not that I’m unscareable (totally a word), but I don’t fall for the horror movie tricks easily. I’m more often a victim of unease in horror rather than traditional horror.

Marble Hornets piles on the unease like you couldn’t even imagine. It’s unofficially a Slenderman show, all available for free on Youtube (unofficial because of copyright). Their Slenderman facsimile is simply referenced as The Operator, though never on camera, if memory serves. And Marble Hornets took the internet by storm, along with the companion Youtube Channel, totheark.

What makes this show great is, in part, the fact that it had such low production value. It felt real because things were grainy or somehow off, not in spite of that. Everyone involved knew what they had to work with, and this show takes advantage of that to the fullest possible extent.

But more than that, it’s the fear. I refused to watch Marble Hornets in the dark. I admit, some of it is personal. Slenderman scares the shit out of me. But he scares the shit out of a lot of people. That’s why Slenderman works. Marble Hornets managed to make the fear visceral, make you nervous about turning the corner or looking behind you, make your breath hitch whenever your screen shivered a little bit, because it could be Slender coming for you.

The downsides? Well, there are some. If you’re a stickler for production values, avoid this at all costs. You won’t enjoy it. If you laugh in the face of Slenderman, it probably won’t be that scary. But the biggest drawback to watching this, in my opinion, is that it’s over. The series has ended, which means that you won’t be able to experience the thrill of seeing a new video posted on the channel. Part of the magic of Marble Hornets was the way they uploaded videos. Sporadically, in line with the story’s timeline so that you could believe, just a little bit, that this was actually happening. You lose that watching it now, but I still recommend it without hesitation.

4: Once Upon a Time (2011-)
Back to more current television. I mean, you had to know that this would make the list, right? Once Upon a Time is one of my few stop everything, no, I’m not watching the recorded version shows. When it’s on, that’s what I’m doing. It has my full attention.

It’s not a new concept. Fairy tales and legends are real and they’re in our world. Chaos ensues. But the show comes alive, again, because of characters. The plots go up and down in quality, though they’re never outright horrible, but it’s the characters that make you come back. You care what happens to Emma Swan and Rumpelstiltskin and Regina. And it’s as simple as that. They could be doing almost anything and I would still want to watch this show to see what happens to my favorites.

The negatives are, of course, there. It sometimes feels like the writers put themselves in a corner and then have to scramble to get out of it. Sometimes it works, but sometimes it falls really flat. Never so flat to make me want to stop watching, but a little flat. There’s also a tendency to muck up season finales, just a bit. I don’t ever think the finales are bad, per se, but they sometimes feel overstretched, like there was about half of the plot that could have been cut and have things remain basically the way they are.

But all that aside, Once Upon a Time is one of the best shows currently running on TV, and you won’t convince me otherwise. Nope nope nope.

Oh, Avatar. How I love you. Now, if you’ve seen it, this hardly needs explanation. If you haven’t watched it and assume that I’m adding this show for nostalgia, you’re dead wrong. I was hardly the target audience for this show when it came out. But Avatar is different. Avatar has the ongoing plot lines you see in adult dramas, the aesthetic and story you’re likely to find in an anime, and animation better than I’ve seen from any of the major production companies since (The Legend of Korra notwithstanding, of course.).

In a nutshell, the world is at war because of the Fire Nation. They’re attacking everyone and, to ensure their plot works, they killed off all the Air Nomads, because the next savior of the world (The Avatar) was going to be one of them. Except that the Avatar escaped and basically went into hibernation for 100 years until two members of the Water Tribe found him and freed him.

That’s just the first couple minutes, mind you. But somehow, Avatar manages to not only make this an enjoyable show for adults and teens, but also keeps it accessible to the target audience of kids. It’s a very fine line, but it treads it well, mixing humor and drama, worldbuilding and plot. I have yet to see any other western animation live up to this, and I long for the day that I do. My only complaint is the same as in Gargoyles: sometimes, it got a little too childish, but what can you expect?

If you haven’t yet seen this show, then for real, get off my blog and go watch it

2: The Walking Dead (2010-)
I resisted the call of this show for a long time. I don’t like zombie stories, as a general rule. I think they’re overdone, overrated, and honestly not that terrifying. So this ranking so high is definitely a surprise to me. But I’m willing to admit that I’m a huge fan of The Walking Dead, now. And why? Because it doesn’t have to be zombies. There’s not really a lot of this show that relies on the zombie mechanic. Hell, there are entire episodes without a single zombie spotted. What matters is that there’s a threat out there, something that needs to be killed and avoided. And you never know when it’s going to go wrong.


As with practically everything, it seems, I love this show because of the characters. You see them evolve, and it’s not arbitrary. Every bit of it makes sense. The characters are easy to connect with because they seem like real people really going through hell. Plus it helps that this is a huge, tragic drama. I love tragedy, when it’s done well. I’d take it over any other kind of story without question. So to have this show come up? Now that I’ve finally watched it, I’m in, and I have literally zero bad things to say about The Walking Dead. So why isn’t it the top? Well, it’s honestly just personal preference. Number one and number two on this list are equally good, I would say, but they tell very different stories.

However, before we hit number one, though, I want to give a nod to some shows that I considered, but that didn’t quite make the final cut. No analysis on these, but I would still recommend giving them a watch, if you have the time:

Digimon (any and all of them)

Now, on with the number one spot.

1: Code Geass (2006-2008)



This is a show. This is easily one of my favorite shows of all time, and you’re not allowed to just discount it out of hand because it’s animated. If you never give another single animated show a chance, never watch anything else on this list, never turn on your set for sci-fi fantasy again, watch this show. It’s only two seasons, but I’ve rarely seen a television show that I like so much.

I can’t even give you a basic plot summary. There’s so much going on. Political intrigue, which is tied in with the descent into darkness, which comes with terrorist activity, which joins in with a secret second life. All topped off with a dose of sci-fi… or fantasy. This is another show that doesn’t bother to delineate what it wants to be, and I would never ask it to.

The main character is an asshole. Plain and simple. He’s likable at times, but he’s really not a pleasant person by any stretch of the imagination. But you love him anyway. Lelouch has lived a life that gives him permission to be an asshole. He’s been through Hell and back, and he didn’t even get a lousy T-shirt.

The other characters are just as dynamic, and the way they connect is, at times, mindblowing. And this show doesn’t pull punches. There’s death. It’s a war, for fuck’s sake. Nothing is sacred to the writers, and that’s what makes this such a delicious, heart-wrenching show to watch.

Also: giant fighting robots.

The only problem with this is that there isn’t more. And when that’s the biggest complaint about a show, you know it’s got something going for it.

So, did I miss any? Have I committed a cardinal sin? Do you agree or disagree with me? Let me know in the comments below, and thanks for stopping by! I had a blast writing this list.


Voss

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Top 10: SF/F TV Shows (Part 1)

I talk a lot about books for (hopefully) obvious reasons. But there’s more to speculative fiction than just reading. I think reading is a quintessential part of being a spec-fic fan, but sometimes you just don’t feel like reading. For most people I know, reading is an incredibly exhausting task, no matter how enjoyable it is. Your brain has to work differently when you read. It’s much more intense than other media, but sometimes you don’t want that.

I’m a big TV slut. I like to watch TV while I’m writing, while I’m researching. It’s just something that I can put on in the background. This is why Tivo and Netflix are two of my best friends a lot of the time (Also because I live in the middle of BFE and don’t actually go out and talk to people that often.).

So I figured, why not share what I think are the best spec fic TV shows out there. I should note now that Doctor Who won’t be on this list, so don’t expect it. I’m not a Whovian. I don’t dislike the show, but it’s not my first choice to put on, either.

Don’t beat me too much for that.

Now, this list is, for once, in order. It’s a mix of animations, live action, adult, teen, kids, old, current, whatever. If it made the list, there’s a reason I put it on there.

Now, without any further blithering from me, let’s begin.

(I should note that I can’t guarantee a spoiler-free experience. Continue at your own risk.)

10: Zoo (2015-)
I have no love lost for James Patterson. He admitted himself that he’s not that good at actually writing and is really just an idea man. Which is fine, but he’s always the face of his books. It bothers me that his co-authors, who put in the hours at the keyboard, don’t get their fame.



But that’s not why Zoo is so low. I think Zoo is probably the best show out of the new batch of TV that started this season. It’s so low because it’s brand new and still has plenty of room to disappoint. It made this list because, despite me not wanting to bother with it, I got hooked by the characters, and then the plot really kicked in. In short, animals are turning on humans en masse, and the main characters are trying to figure out what’s going on, because it doesn’t make any sense.

It does help that Billy Burke is one of the leads. He’s brilliant, and he’s especially brilliant in this role. But all of the main characters are incredibly interesting and, more than that, have very well-created connections with each other. The continual jump to a case that doesn’t matter in the middle of an episode is definitely getting old, but it’s not enough to turn me away. I would definitely recommend Zoo if you’re looking for a good drama fix.

9: Warehouse 13 (2009-2014)
This was a bit of a sleeper compared to some of the others on this list, but I was into it from the very beginning. The idea of objects holding power because of their past has always been fascinating to me, and Warehouse 13 certainly delivered that along with a healthy dose of mystery and great chemistry between the characters.

In a nutshell, Warehouse 13 is a government storage space for empowered artifacts, some more dangerous than others. But they all need to be contained because sometimes, things just don’t go right when you give human beings power. Go figure.

The show never defined whether it was science fiction or fantasy, and didn’t even walk the line between the two. It just threw open the windows and said “Fuck it.” At its heart, it’s not science fiction or fantasy. It’s a classic cop pairing we see time and again. Two team members. One stoic, one carefree. It works in Bones, it works in Castle, and it worked for Warehouse 13’s five year run (which is available to stream on Netflix, if this has piqued your interest).

Why not higher? At times, it felt a little disjointed, and some of those moments were never fully resolved.

8: The X-Files (1993-2002)
You had to know this would be on my list, right? Just like Warehouse 13, this uses the stoic/carefree duo, and does so to great effect. It combines government conspiracy with the paranormal, fantastical, and just downright strange, but it does it in such a way that it’s believable. Not to mention that it’s one of the most accessible shows of its type. This comes from the combination of weekly occurrences (the X-file being explored in each episode) with longer running plot arcs.

Of course, it has its problems to be sure. Sometimes, the acting can be a bit questionable, particularly from the side characters. Some of the plots in individual episodes also got to be a bit hard to believe, even for a show where basically everything is on the table as possibly being real. But all in all, this is easily one of the most iconic shows in speculative fiction, and I think it’s one of the best.

I could have cheated and just put Star Trek, but in my opinion, TNG is the hands-down best iteration. I know a lot of people don’t agree with me, but the American public in the late-eighties to mid-nineties did, which is why TNG is the longest-running version of Star Trek to date.



We could argue back and forth about why one season is better than the other, but no one would end up convinced of anything at the end of that. Why do I think TNG deserves a spot on this list?

The characters. More than anything else, it’s the characters. Even a mundane thing like Data learning to dance becomes something extraordinary because of who Data is, and who Dr. Crusher (his teacher) is. Plus, with Sir Patrick Stewart at the helm, it would be hard to go too far astray with this show. Not to mention that it has some of the most enduring episodes in it. “Darmok” comes immediately to mind, as does “Sarek.” Two powerhouse episodes in an already incredible series, and they’re hardly the only ones.

Were there problems? Of course there were problems. It took them a while to really settle into their characters and this new world, which can make the beginning a bit sketchy. The characters tend to be very polarizing, and if there’s one major character you just can’t stand, it can ruin the whole experience in such a character-drive show. Not to mention that, for fans of the original Star Trek, TNG was far more focused on the drama and the personal relationships than its predecessor. But I personally think that’s what makes it such a good show.

6: Gargoyles (1994-1996)
I did warn you that there would be kids’ shows on here. I’m still a huge fan of Gargoyles. There was no cartoon like it before, and really hasn’t been anything that captured that essence since. Which is why it’s such a damn shame that it went off the air… and that the third season happened at all. I won’t go into the full drama, but essentially, the creator of Gargoyles (Greg Weisman) got screwed out of working on the third season, and of course it was a complete failure without him. So much so that, in the official continuity, Greg Weisman discounts everything after the first episode of season three, which he wrote.

What made Gargoyles so different is hard to pin down. There are a lot of things. Unlike a lot of kid’s shows at the time (and even nowadays), the characters went through lasting changes. Things that happened in past episodes still affected the characters. Hudson’s love of reading, Broadway’s hatred of guns, Lexington’s animosity toward The Pack. These came from earlier episodes and weren’t tossed away, challenged the audience to remember when so many other shows wouldn’t take the risk.
There was also a much more adult tone to Gargoyles than anyone would expect. Goliath is a truly tragic character. His entire clan was basically destroyed, and he was destined to be alone. Then, when he was awoken, it was in a time he didn’t understand at all, with people who feared him even more than he’d been feared before.

I could continue to gush about the good things, because there are a lot of them. But I want to touch on what the biggest problem is, and it’s one that couldn’t really be avoided: it’s still a kids’ show. As great as it is, as mature as it is, there are still plenty of moments when plain-old silly things happen that remind you that it’s not a nice, cohesive adult drama. It’s a 90’s Disney cartoon. But those are so few that it hardly makes a difference, at least to this viewer.

Well, my word counter says I’m already over-budget. So, to keep this from being ridiculously long, I’m going to cut it here. What made the top five? You’ll have to swing back tomorrow and find out.

Voss

Friday, July 31, 2015

Inclusivity Rising



So, I have a bit of a habit. I’m not willing to call it a ‘bad’ habit, because it does me a heck of a lot of good. But from the viewpoint of the organizers for the various cons I attend? Yeah, it might be a bit bad.

Perhaps ‘talent’ is a better term. Or ‘sheer dumb luck.’

I tend to find backdoors to the schedules for conventions and see them before they’re put up (I’m now risking them blocking those links by coming clean, but it’s important to know how I know what’s going on.). I don’t even try is the thing. I google something about the convention and all the sudden I’m into the schedule they haven’t linked or, oftentimes, haven’t even finalized. (No, I’m not sharing the links. Then they’d be onto me for sure…)

So I know that at this year’s Worldcon, there are an inordinate amount of panels on diversity. Racial, cultural, gender, sexual. You name it. I’ll leave it to you to decide whether or not this was done as a way to give a discreet finger to the Sad and/or Rabid Puppies (I really doubt it is, myself), but the fact is that these are on the docket.

That’s interesting enough as it is, but then I started thinking a little deeper. RWA (Romance Writers of America) just had their national conference last week. One of the takeaways I’m seeing from a lot of the attendees is an overwhelming number of panels on diversity in fiction there, too. Far higher than at previous RWA conferences.

Now, I don’t know how far in advance these have been planned for the schedule. Maybe all of these were planned back in January. But I do find it odd that, right as soon as marriage inequality was made illegal (Because that’s what happened, technically. No laws were changed or created or anything. The interpretation was simply re-examined.), diversity panels come into play. As soon as people start noticing the treatment of black people in the US, we start to see panels on Afrofuturism.

I don’t think that it is directly connected to the Supreme Court ruling. But I think what we’re seeing is the beginning of something more. We’re seeing people not just wishing that they could be included in things, but people wishing that everyone could start to be included. In books and movies and comics, but also in real life. I think it’s been building, but this year, just over halfway complete, has been full of huge movements toward inclusivity. I love it, too.

I also think that’s why there’s backlash. It happens whenever there’s a large change coming down the pipeway. Look at the publishing industry itself. When self-publishing became an actual, viable option, New York publishers fought harder and harder against it. And what happened? The big six eventually became the big five before they accepted the change to the status quo. And honestly? I don’t think it’s been fully accepted, yet.

And neither has equality and inclusivity. Not yet. But I think we’re headed there. Or I hope we are, at the very least. Because that’s what I long to see: everyone just getting along. It’s not going to be an easy road, and the work’s nowhere even close to halfway done, but the support is growing. And I think that basically fucking rocks.


Voss