Monday, March 27, 2017

4 (Or 5?) Must See Animated Features

So over the weekend, David Gerrold (The guy who wrote "The Trouble with Tribbles) shared his list of "Essential Animated Films." You can (Hopefully) see that over on his Facebook page... assuming he hasn't changed his privacy settings again.

I thought he had some good choices. I can agree with a lot of them… but I still felt compelled to shamelessly steal the idea present my own list, for comparison and for posterity and all that jazz.

Now, as with David Gerrold's original list, this isn't in any order of magnitude or anything like that. The first movie isn't necessarily worse than the last one. But I do want to separate out one movie from the list, since I can't fully commit to calling it an "animated film." That movie is Who Framed Roger Rabbit? It's silly. It's campy. But it's brilliant. The animated portions are gorgeously created, Bob Hoskins was genius, and the combination of live action and animation was handled beautifully well. I really can't complain about it.

Now… onto the list proper!

Fantasia/Fantasia 2000
I'm cheating already. It's true. Not only is this two movies, but they're both technically a combination of live action and animation… which I said was a no-no.

Hear me out.

The Fantasia duology really need each other to make this list for me. Fantasia is one of the first forays of "modern animation" into making something for adults. It took itself very seriously, played classic pieces with sophisticated animation that still holds up.

Fantasia 2000 is really aiming at that children's market, and it suffers for it. As a whole, it's a worse piece of cinematic history than its predecessor… but the animation itself is just ballsier. It's more intense than the pieces in Fantasia, and in a lot of instances, much more beautiful. So I have to put them both here for this to really work. Watch them both. I mean, come on, they're both on Netflix.

Titan AE
Titan AE is what happens when you get Gary Oldman, Don Bluth, and Joss Whedon working on a project together. And if you're not sold on just that… what the hell is wrong with you?

Okay, okay, let's get into it: one of my biggest issues with Gerrold's list was the absolute lack of Don Bluth. In my opinion, you can't have a "quintessential animation" anything and not include Don Bluth.

But why this one? It was a flop when it was released. It's positively dripping with some kind of funky 1990's slime substance (Probably hair gel.). What makes it so worth seeing 17 years after the fact?

This movie is genius. It has humor. It has drama. It has sweeping spacescapes. It has a truly terrifying enemy. And, unlike a lot of movies this old, the animation actually holds up. So does the story. You can put Titan AE on now, and it's still an incredible experience.

The Incredibles
On this one, Gerrold and I can agree wholeheartedly. The Incredibles is, perhaps, the single best superhero film that's ever been made. Sure, I love Burton's Batman and the X-Men franchise… but they don't hold a candle to this.

Superheroes in real life, dealing with real things. What happens when someone with super-strength feels like they're losing control? Who does make all these fancy costumes? What about the massive damage to buildings and infrastructure? The Incredibles actually addressed those problems, and I think, beyond just being brilliant animation, that's really something good for the genre as a whole. It's a new direction, and that's never something I'll complain about.

Spirited Away
Now, when it comes to Ghibli and Miyazaki, I vastly prefer Howl's Moving Castle to basically any of his other films. But I can't deny the pure social and cultural impact of Spirited Away. For Western audiences, this is the one that put Miyazaki on the map. Winner of multiple awards, including the Oscar for Best Animated Feature. And it deserves all of those accolades. For many people, Spirited Away is what really introduced them to the idea of anime that wasn't Digimon and Pokemon and "Which one is which, now?"

For my money, I would rather see Howl or Princess Mononoke, but Spirited Away will never disappoint.

Now, this list is obviously far from exhaustive. For pure social impact, it should have The Lion King on it. Inside Out could easily make this list, too. Shrek. The Nightmare Before Christmas. The first eight minutes of Up. The Iron Giant. Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas. Atlantis: The Lost Empire. These are all movies that, for one reason or another, could be here.

But without limitations, this could be a list of "Disney Films that Disney Made Because Disney" or "Look at What Pixar Has" or "Hayao Miyazaki is Amazing!" And sure, those are all valid lists.

So, perhaps this isn't quintessential as much as just… watch these. Don't forget about these. In the ever-growing sea of animated, feature-length productions… these four/five movies might get forgotten in the slew of Zootopia and WALL-E. So… offer them a hand up and take a look at them.

What are your "must-see" animated movies? I'm always on the lookout for new ones.


Voss

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Top 5: Modern SF/F Magazines

I've often spoken and written about how short fiction is the life blood of sci-fi and fantasy. I grow more convinced of this all the time. Almost every great, well-known SF/F author has a massive backlog of short stories that you could peruse. Hell, some of them made their entire living on short fiction.

But that lifeblood doesn't flow if nobody can pay for those short stories… so magazines. People have to read magazines for the magazines to pay authors. And there's a lot of them out there. The list I have here is in no way extensive. These are just my five favorite SF/F rags this week. They're all magazines I think deserve a little support, because they do good work. They put out quality fiction, and that should be rewarded, in my opinion.

5: The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction
It would be hard to do this list without mentioning this particular magazine. It's been around since before the web (This marks year 67 of publication), and it's collected a lot of just straight-up quality pieces in that time. It's hard to apply a general qualifier to all of the work they publish, as it really ranges across the board. The only thing that ties it all together is how plain-old good the fiction is.

You can get a subscription to them starting at around $37. Why such a steep price? We're talking physical magazines in your mailbox.

4: Daily Science Fiction
While the whole body of work isn't going to be to everyone's tastes (They publish five days a week, 52 weeks per year.), something in DSF is going to appeal to everyone. My main reason for including this one is that it's free. Completely free, a short (Very short) story delivered to your inbox five days a week, entirely free of charge.

So if you want to subscribe, just go over here.

3: Shimmer
Shimmer is a weird one. I'm not judging – they'll admit it. Their fiction is beautifully written and stylistic. A lot of magazines focus on how their fiction isn't pretentious and doesn't take itself to seriously. Shimmer is pretentious and it does take itself seriously. Very seriously, in the best of ways. It's the very fact that the authors take their work so seriously that makes Shimmer such an incredible magazine to read.

Shimmer is just $15/year, so why not give them a chance?

2: Fireside Magazine
Shimmer is strange. Fireside is strange, but more accessible to the general populous. Very heavy focus on character and concept If those are the kinds of things you like to see in your stories, I really can't recommend Fireside heavily enough. They're very selective, and it really shows.

They're also free, but they pay their authors very well, and they're entirely kept afloat by crowdfunding, so consider throwing something atthem, if you enjoy their work.

1: Clarkesworld Magazine
Now, I love all the magazines before this, as well as a lot of others that didn't make the list (Basically just because I didn't have space.). But this one was always going to be on the list. It was always going to be number one on the list. If I had to pick one SF/F mag to read for the rest of my life, it would be Clarkesworld. There's just something about these stories. They are purely character-driven, more than any other selection of short fiction I've ever seen. Their stories are consistently up for various awards when that season rolls around. It's one of very few sources of fiction that has provided me with a story that changed the way I think about science fiction and writing and the way short stories should be structured.

They run as low as $2.99 per issue, so it's pretty hard to beat that, in my opinion. I can't recommend a Clarkesworld Subscription enough. I really, really can't.

And that's my little primer on SF/F mags. As I said, there are a lot more of them out there that I didn't get to put in. Maybe I'll put them into another post… or two… or three. However many it takes.

Happy Thursday, everyone!

Voss

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

On "Arrival," Sapir-Whorf, and "Bad Science"

So, let's just get this one out of the way: there are probably spoilers in here for Arrival. So if you haven't seen it and you're planning on it, you've been properly warned.



Now that's done, let's get right into it – Dumbledore dies at the end. I know, I didn't see it coming either. It was a really weird change of pace from the aliens and science and spaceships and shit, but who am I to question someone else's artistic vision?

But really, Arrival was one that I was initially very unenthused about (Jesus, that word looks weird. I don't think I've ever seen "unenthused" written down before…). It looked like one more first contact movie, and one that was going to be taking itself a little bit too seriously to really hit any of the magic that it could have had. So of course, I didn't see it in theaters (Also because I don't watch movies in theaters. I think the last one I saw on the big screen was The Force Awakens.).

Then I found out the main character was a linguist. As a writer and as a general nerd, that really got my attention. I think we need more sci-fi with actual scientists as main characters. People doing science in science fiction shouldn't be as hard to find as it currently is. So that convinced me to watch it. Plus, at two bucks, it was more than worth the rental price (Bless those little DVD machines that sit in grocery stores, and bless whoever decided they wanted to put one in Podunk-ville, BFE Washington.).

Now, this is where we get into real spoilers, so your last warning. I won't tell you again. Flee now.

Okay, so the actual premise for Arrival is something known as the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis. There's lots of articles online and lots of information about it, so I won't go into great detail on the specifics or the history. You need to know two things about it for this article to really make sense.

1: The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, in a nutshell, states that language shapes human perception of the world. A person who learned about the world in Chinese will have not just different words, but a different experience of life.

2: The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis is, at best, heavily disputed and, at worst, a crock of shit. It all depends on which linguist you ask, but the linguists who subscribe to Sapir-Whorf are few and far between.



Why didn't they know about this? How could their science be so bad? That ruins the entire movie! God damn you Hollywood, stop contributing to the dumbing down of America!

I'm sure some people out there would have that reaction learning this information. It did initially strike me as odd when I looked into it, I admit, but I had to stop and question why… and hence, we have this entire post.

I'll get this out of the way now, then explain it: I don't think using Sapir-Whorf as the basis of the movie in any way devalues the film.

Now yes, you could argue that we should be following modern trends in linguistics if we're going to make a movie about linguistics (Also: let's just stop and appreciate the fact that there's a big-budget, popular film about linguistics out there now.). But again, I have two points to make.

1: Science fiction has always, at its core, been an exploration of possibility. What if you traveled 10,000 years into the future of Earth? What if dragons were genetically created? What if the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis was not only valid, but correct?

2: Sapir-Whorf has to be correct for Arrival to get its message across. It's about determinism, and Sapir-Whorf provided an opening for them to explore that (I'm skipping steps in there, obviously, but that's the simplified version.).

Some people will posit that, because it's not realistic enough, it's just no good. But really, did any of us expect a realistic movie about first contact? No. But what we got was, if questionably possible, very intellectually stimulating. There aren't many movies out there anymore that exist entirely to make you question things, to make you think about the world in-depth. They tend to be considered "too risky" for big production companies, I would imagine. They can make much more money by pumping out Fast­2(Furious + 47X) or whatever naming convention they go with this time around (Seriously, those movies are a mess and a half. I enjoy them… but what ever happened to 1-2-3-4-5-6-7?).

My hypothesis that I'm sure will be proven wrong? Arrival opened a door that we can start to get some more intellectual works through. We can start to have stimulating thought experiments and breakdowns of science in the two hours we spend glued to the screen watching the next big-name flick.

But even though that's almost definitely not correct and almost certainly won't happen, I think Arrival is an important movie, both for its daring and for me personally. It dared to be smart. And it made me think. It got me thinking. I hope it gets everyone else thinking, too, but it sent me down this particular rabbit-hole.

Being smart is fun. Learning is fun. Knowing things is fun. Sometimes we just need a bit of a reminder of that, and I think Arrival—in large part thanks to its use of the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis—can be that. It can do that.

To me, that's worth more than all the correct hypotheses in the world.


Voss