Social Justice Atheist Geekery

A couple brief thoughts on Creed (2015)

I’ve been meaning to see Creed for a while, and finally got around to it last night. I liked it a lot – it reminded me of how I felt seeing the original Rocky as a kid. The cinematography and sound editing of Adonis’s first bout is especially impressive – if you enjoy the art of film it’s worth seeing just for that (but don’t skip the rest of the movie around it).

My favorite character, though, was Bianca (played by Tessa Thompson, recently of Thor: Ragnarok fame). She’s the romantic interest for Adonis, and in many movies would have had just that one note. But in Creed she’s a fully realized character, and in a film about physical prowess she’s brings positive disability representation. Bianca has progressive hearing loss, and it’s neither over- nor under-played. It’s part of her life and informs her character, but again it isn’t her one note.

There’s also a wonderful moment when Adonis begins to tell Bianca the ardor of his passion, and she cuts him off. She explains that infatuation, passion, and new-relationship energy will pass, and that’s okay but they’re not enough to build a relationship on. Again, not what you hear from most romantic interests.

Thor: Ragnarok

Finally saw Thor: Ragnarok. It’s as fun as they say; after the Civil War trainwreck the Thor franchise may be my favorite part of the MCU.

My two major criticisms areĀ Banner using a racial slur as a punchline (super jarring in a movie about the consequences of empire and powerful white man-analogs imposing their will on marginalized people), and it’s weird that Asgardian Elite Forces ™ designed boob-plate armor.

On the positive side, the script explicitly acknowledges that Loki is a horrible being who has done (and will do) horrible things, despite Tom Hiddleston’s incredible charm. Cate Blanchett is a delight – imagine if Thor and Loki made a baby. Tessa Thompson is a wonderful addition to the franchise. In this movie, Thor has lots of plot but not much of a character arc compared to Valkyrie, Hulk, and Skurge. Thor has the best lines (well, most), but from a lit analysis point of view he’s working as an antagonist in other characters’ stories.

I saw Rogue One about halfway through reading Kameron Hurley’s Rapture…

…which changed my perspective on the second half of the book. As fun as R1 was, it doesn’t hold a candle to Rapture. The male cast of R1 could have played the men in Rapture, but Hurley’s cast actually has a multitude of non-white female characters (something R1 lacks, despite its diversity relative to the rest of Star Wars). Intersectional feminism is actually discussed by one of the characters, and the plot and character motivation is much stronger than R1’s.

All that to say, if you like awesome sci-fi you should check out this series.

Book Review: Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal

Review based on an advance reader copy provided by the publisher at BEA 2016.

A great read – MRK takes her strength at character and relationships and applies it well to World War I. Where before she has used her Glamourist Histories to tell various types of plots (including a heist novel featuring Lord Byron), now she tackles the wartime spy thriller. It’s a fast-paced, exciting story, and I appreciated that she took time to address PTSD (“shell shock” in this context) and its consequences for mediums channeling the spirits of hundreds or thousands of soldiers who have just died traumatically.

The elements of spycraft and codes/code-breaking reminded me of Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon, scaled back to 1916 instead of the 1940s.

The use of ghosts for communication and spycraft at times was reminiscent of Timothy Zahn’s Conquerors’ Saga, one of my favorite series. That might not be as widely known as Cryptonomicon, but I liked it. šŸ™‚

Mike Reads Wheel Of Time: The Great Hunt

The Text:
I remember liking this book more when I read it the first time in high school. Wheel of Time was the second epic fantasy series I’d read (after Lord of the Rings), and I’m starting to wonder if the series’s popularity is due to many fans not yet having read widely and experiencing better fiction.

There are some cool ideas (portal stones, the Ways, the repeating cycle of history and reincarnation), but Jordan’s execution of these ideas fluctuates between mediocre and just bad. The plots are weary recyclings of old tropes with no examination of their quality. The prose is tedious (and sometimes painful). And so much is problematic.

Everyone is white. Even when Mat sounds the Horn of Valere to summon all the great heroes of the past, aside from one “swarthy” warrior ALL OF THE “GREAT HEROES” ARE WHITE. Apparently there were never heroes in any foreign cultures?

Also, the book’s attitudes towards gender, gender roles, sexuality, and romance are positively regressive.
-No homosexual or transgender (or asexual or agender) characters – which is something a better author would have included if only to explore the worldbuilding around gender-based magic, arguments for representation aside.
-Of the four female main characters (I’m not counting Moiraine since she’s offscreen for most of this book), three say they want to marry Rand. “Say they want to” because two of them only interacted with him for a couple hours each, and the third’s motivation is that she’d just kind of always assumed that she would; none of them have a real romantic relationship with Rand, but Jordan tells us that they do. This gets messier when they talk about it – while they all say they want to marry him, they act like they’re options on a menu for him to choose from and the unchosen women will simply fade from the story.
-When female main characters discuss marriage, there’s a strict split between getting married and having a career. Egwene & Moiraine both act like there’s no chance of them ever finding love because they chose to be powerful women.
-Female sexuality is treated with a mix of puritanical attitudes and titillation for Jordan’s male readers – very Madonna/whore. All the “good” women characters want to get married; none of them express any interest in shagging the man they find attractive, and they’re only ever attracted to one man. The women who express interest in sex outside of marriage are presented as evil schemers. And this book has the first appearance of Jordan’s transparent dresses, imported by “evil foreign invaders” so that his readers can be aroused by them and still think it’s something “good women” in real life wouldn’t wear.

The Audiobook:
I started listening to self-published podcast fiction in 2008. Some of what I found was great (Scott Sigler), some was pretty good, some had writing that didn’t work for me, and some I couldn’t get past the horrible voice acting to see if the writing was any good. My biggest pet-peeves were using elongated whispers for yells and muttering through gritted teeth for angry dialog (these don’t sound like yells or angry speech – they sound like whispers and muttering).

Michael Kramer (narrator for the male POV chapters in The Great Hunt) reminds me of some of these bad narrators. Every sentence of narration is delivered like a dramatic revelation; every villain’s dialog is sneered out; Rand sounds urgent and panicked no matter what he’s saying.


Notes while reading:

  • 1.0% “Prologue: at the evil gathering of evil, even The Dark One hesitates to speak his own name.”
  • 5.0% “Rand “I know I’m not crazy because I yelled “I’m not crazy!” in response to when I was whispering “maybe I’m crazy”” al’Thor”
  • 10.0% “Children of the Light: “This steak is overdone. There must be Darkfriends in the kitchen.”
  • 14.0% “The bylaws of Moraine’s conspiracy require that meetings begin with lengthy exposition about how they really wanted to get married to princes but it didn’t work out.”
  • 16.0% “Trolloc prophetic poetry is some of the worst prophetic poetry I’ve heard in a fantasy novel. Blood blood blood blood.

    Also how much time did they have to write on the walls? That’s a pretty in-depth poem.”

  • 21.0% “If I actually imagine the characters doing and saying things as they’re described, it feels a lot like Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace. This improves the book 200% so I’m imagining this as much as possible.

    Whiny Luke Skywalker x Whiny Harry Potter = Randal Thor”

  • 27.0% “”He let out a shout that brought every man in the camp erect with a sword in hand.””
  • 33.0% “If the Warders are mystical Secret Service, I wonder if they have sec scandals.”
  • 58.0% “Thom’s not dead. [sarcasm] What a twist. [/sarcasm] I don’t remember whether this was a surprise the first time I read this…”


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