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Yes, I saw it on opening day. And it’s an extremely entertaining two hours of movie – no denying that. Unfortunately it’s also one of those films that it’s probably not a great idea to think too hard about – which, obviously, I then did.
Things I Liked
- Chris Pratt And His Raptor Beast-Friends
Any scene between Owen (Chris Pratt) and his raptors is gold. Honestly, I kind of wonder whether it would’ve just been a better idea to have the whole “evil dinosaur-that-somehow-isn’t-a-dinosaur (?)(maybe they also mixed in cat DNA?)” be just the push that gets things going into a panic mode, kills the man in charge (poor Irrfan Khan, aka Simon Masrani), and then leaves the opening for that douchy military twit (seriously, weaponized dinosaurs? Sigh. See below on Things That Were Dumb) to try to steal the raptors to turn them into military assets (again, really? really?), then Owen and his pals have to try to rescue them.
That would’ve been a better Act II, honestly. That evil dinosaur got pretty magic by the end of the film.
But back to Owen and his beast-friends. Here’s what made it so good – Chris Pratt. (actually, Chris Pratt was carrying a large percentage of that movie on his back – hope he got paid a lot) Pratt doesn’t play his raptor-whisperer like most people would, which is “oh, raptors just want hugs and cuddles and YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND MY RAPTORS OH MY GOD!”.
That would’ve been really dumb. And it probably would’ve killed the movie. (actually, I think that’s what Julianne Moore got stuck doing in Jurassic Park II: The Parkening. She played a large-animal expert with years in the field who decided that the most awesome thing to do would be to take a wounded baby T-Rex back to the base camp so that they could fix its leg, because how could that possibly go wrong? What made it worse was a statement from her boyfriend, Jeff Goldblum, which made it clear that this was usual behavior from her. Which, shit, was not only pretty stupid, but which I think we as the audience were supposed to just accept because of Moore’s ovaries. Stupid. So stupid.)
What Pratt does with the character is that he makes it clear that he has real affection for his raptors (Daddy loves his raptors! Raptors love Daddy! This was, actually, a really nice plot point at the end when the raptors protect Daddy from the evil dinosaur. For all its telegraphing, it still worked), but that he never for a second forgets that these are RAPTORS. He actively warns quite a few people that these are dangerous animals. He warns the new employee to never turn his back on the cage (cut to a great shot of one raptor being all “waaaaaaaants to eat him, Daddy! Waaaaaaants!”). When one of the kids asks if the raptors are dangerous, Owen does not hesitate before saying “Yes.” When the raptors betray the humans (because… the script. Sigh. See below.), Owen is the first one who realizes what the hell is going on, and he doesn’t hesitate before moving forward with this new state of affairs. I mean, he has a few sad and intense gaze exchanges with the raptors, but he isn’t all “I can reach them! With the power of LOVE!” – he accepts that they are going to have to be shooting at his raptors now. Kudos.
Some of the above was obviously writers who made the character of Owen awesome – basically by merging Sam Niell and the dinosaur big-game-hunter-in-short-shorts from the first film, then adding a dash of Navy Seal and then a smidgen of Sexy Bad Boy. But I think a lot was also Chris Pratt acting the hell out of that part.
Also, the raptors make the most adorable inquisitive chirping sounds at the end of the film when Blue (who was, let’s face it, completely Daddy’s Favorite) makes the decision to save Daddy (and, by total accident, those other humans) from the evil dinosaur. Kudos for that also being the only scene where Owen touches a raptor without the strange metal head-casing protection system.
- Simon Masrani Is Not A Money-Hungry Dick
This is Hollywood. A non-Caucasian non-American was the owner of this park? Oh, I was bracing myself for what was to come. (“An evil dinosaur is loose in the park? Let him eat the park-goers! They had to pay in advance, so this will just increase profits because we can re-sell their hotel reservations! Now hold on, I have James Bond tied up in the aviary with those weird T-Rex-headed dinosaur birds. Mwa ha ha!”)
But, he’s actually a pretty awesome guy. For the 8th richest man in the world, he’s got a pretty light-hearted side, and he’s a good heir to the original Bad Decision Making Boss of the first movie, Hammond. He’s worried about whether everyone at the park is having fun, whether the dinosaurs are happy (Claire, because she’s a Professional Woman, is all, “I tried to get metrics on the dinosaurs’ happiness, but they ate the surveys! I can’t handle this problem, or any other problem that involves emotions rather than spreadsheets!”)
- Simon Masrani and Dr. Henry Wu Faceoff!
That encounter where the park owner is all “Oh noes why did you do this awful thing and create a monster you are a terrible person!” and the lead scientist (BD Wong reprising his role of lead scientist from the first movie, only this time with 500% more badass) is all “Dude, I followed the memo YOU sent me. Super predator features = a super predator. Don’t come crying to me. Also, a cat is a monster to a canary. Suddenly you aren’t the cat anymore, and oh yeah motherfucker that was a mike drop moment.” I thought that was a really great scene. Also, in a movie that is, admittedly, kind of Chris Pratt heavy (which, man carried most of that film, he gets all the good scenes), that was some good acting.
Also, this scene is how the film passes the Diversity Bechdel Test.
- Dinosaur Attacks Don’t Prevent Divorce Court
The kids (Zach and Grey) have been sent for a week with their very uninvolved Aunt Claire (“I’m a working woman whose job involves overseeing a park with literally thousands of child visitors a day! I don’t know anything about children!”) because their parents are getting a divorce. Rather than tell their children that they are apparently going through the final proceedings (yet still living together and faking a working marriage – healthy, guys, very healthy), they’ve decided to do it in privacy, having farmed the kids out for what should be a delightful final week. (any happy memories, btw, would’ve been permanently soiled by coming home to realize that the house had been sold and their stuff divided between Mom’s New, Much Smaller House That She Rents, and Dad’s Condo, but what can you do?)
Grey, because he’s a child genius (this, incidentally, plays no part in anything except perhaps an assist on a car repair – which was kind of refreshing, actually. I was expecting him to have to reprogram the entire park system mainframe or something.), has figured out that his parents are in the middle of a divorce. Zach, because he’s kind of an ass who mostly stares at random girls, has not gotten even an inkling of this. Grey has to tell his brother about this, in what had to be the most awkward day on the monorail ever for the family sitting in the seats behind them. (“Let’s get ice-cream,” the parents of that family said to their children as they got off the monorail. “I think we all deserve some ice-cream.”)
As viewers, we have an initial introduction to the parents – a delightfully sarcastic father and a very earnest and peppy mother. We then get periodic check-ins with the mother, because she’s Claire’s sister, and is calling to make sure that her sister knows to feed her sons (Claire: “I bought a few containers of baby formula. The package said that it’s good for up to 18 months old – that translates to years, right? Oh my god I’m an important working woman and I can’t figure this out!”). No check-ins at all during the actual crisis – thank goodness, because that would’ve been annoying. The next time we see the parents, they are showing up at the end of the film to pick up their traumatized sons. Presumably they plan to tell the kids about the divorce during the flight home (probably to the horror of everyone sitting around them in business class), but the important thing is that at no time does this happen:
Parents: You’re safe! Thank goodness!
Gray: *wails* No, because you’re getting a divorce, and that is so worse than having that dinosaur try to eat me a dozen times!
Parents: Oh no, you found out! But it’s okay, because we reconciled years of bitter, festering issues on the flight out here, because of the power of dinosaur attacks!
Zach: Wait, I was looking at sexts my girlfriend sent me. What just happened?
No, that divorce is still happening. It’s just nice that both sons are still alive to see it.
Edited to add — Since writing the above, I have been reminded that in the original Jurassic Park, the grandchildren were also visiting in order to be comforted during a difficult time of parental divorce. So, going by observation, I’m going to state that there appears to be a link between parental divorce and dinosaurs attempting to murder children. Who knew that dinosaurs were so focused on family values?
Divorce: Exposing Children To Murderous Dinosaurs Since 1993.
- Claire Doesn’t Overtly Declare That She Now Wants Children
As we all know, the only women Hollywood will allow to declare even slight ambivalence about having babies are Working Women. (all that collating of papers and pondering of Excel spreadsheets puts their ovaries into stasis)
While talking on the phone, Claire and her big sister are slightly bantering about the effectiveness about big sister using some of their mother’s old guilt-inducing lines.
Big Sister: Yes, those lines are effective. You’ll understand when you have kids.
Big Sister: When! OH MY GOD DON’T SUGGEST THAT YOU DON’T WANT CHILDREN THAT IS UNACCEPTABLE TO MY MAMMALIAN BRAIN FOR THE LOVE OF GOD IT’S WHEN, WHEN, WHEN! DO NOT TAKE MY IMPLODING SHAM OF A MARRIAGE AS ANY INDICATION THAT YOU SHOULD NOT IMMEDIATELY FIND A DUDE AND START SQUIRTING OUT BABIES!! HOW ABOUT THAT GUY WITH ALL THE PLASTIC DINOSAURS IN THE CONTROL ROOM – HE SEEMS SINGLE!
Claire: We seem to talk on the phone regularly, but I don’t even have a vague sense of what age my nephews are. I’m going to just float this – I don’t seem to have much interest in having babies, and that’s okay.
Big Sister: *explodes into a pure goo of socially sanctioned maternal longing*
(by the way, these exchanges between Claire and her Big Sister allow the film to pass the Bechdel Test. Well done, film!)
So over the course of the movie, as her nephews are threatened with death over and over, Claire does eventually realize that she kind of doesn’t want them to be eaten. Her nephews realize that they are probably safer by staying near Owen, who is armed and awesome (no, that part is actually true. It’s hilarious.). Mostly Claire realizes that she might consider giving Owen a second date, assuming of course that he can avoid wearing board shorts (Owen makes no promises about the board shorts – but honestly, given Claire’s kind of non-response to Owen’s “you saved my life and that’s hot so I’m going to kiss you now” moment, I’m not sure they’re going to make it to a third date).
But at the end of the film, when everyone is saved and Owen and Claire kind of make a joke that assures the audience that, yes, they are now in a committed and heteronormative relationship (aw, good for you, Working Woman!), they do not mention kids. Or the having of them. Claire also doesn’t say anything like that to her sister. (also – points for Big Sister for doing what most characters like this forget to do, and showing relief that *her sister* also survived the dinosaur attacks. It reinforces that while Big Sister was terrified on the flight down about the safety of her sons (we assume, it’s offscreen, thank god), she was also afraid for the safety of her sister. Kudos, film.
By the way – this whole kids storyline is not solely because of Claire’s gender. In the first film, Sam Neill’s character was in a relationship with Dr. Sadler (ancient plant scientist) that had a hitch – she wanted kids, and Sam Neill kind of preferred traumatizing *other* people’s children rather than his own. By the end of the film, there is the clear implication that, yes, Sam Neill’s heart grew three sizes that day, and that he’s now ready to impregnate his girlfriend and begin the lifelong traumatization of his own child. (In my head, that child grew up to become the scrawny guy who falls into the raptor cage attempting to catch the runaway pig. Circle of life.)
- The Kids Are Invulnerable, But Actually Managed To Not Be Annoying
I mean, once Zach was taken out of the proximity of pretty age appropriate girls he was attempting to show off for by pretending that he had no relationship at all to his little brother. After that he managed to be a pretty good big brother, what with repeatedly saving his younger brother’s life from the dinosaur that was trying to eat them. Also, after he finally realized that dinosaurs were dangerous, Zach did make the solid decision to stick like glue to adults, avoiding any potential separation. Also, there were some very nice “You’re my brother and I’ll always take care of you” moments.
But when the boys are initially trying to avoid being eaten, Zach actually makes several smart moves – he gets them out of the protective globe once it is clear that it is being destroyed, he encourages his little brother to jump off a waterfall with him, and he takes the lead on getting a new battery into one of the old jeeps that they encounter (grandfathers – teach your grandchildren how to fix cars! That will save their lives in dinosaur parks run by your incompetent daughter!), which allows them to get back to safety. After that it’s mostly huddling and running, but that’s appropriate for the situation, so great. I think it’s pretty notable that while the younger boy, Gray, is in the usual age range for kids in these movies (old enough to run quickly, young enough to still be adorable and hug adults), Zach is well above that. At 16, he might actually be the oldest. Honestly, it helps a little. Yes, he’s a douche at times before the peril starts, but rather than it just being two defenseless kids in peril, it’s two defenseless kids in peril with the older one having to keep his little brother safe. That works better.
Honestly, though, George R. R. Martin didn’t write this dinosaur movie. The kids will get through it without even a scratch, because they are invulnerable, and we all know they’re invulnerable.
- Barry Makes It Through Alive
If you don’t know who that is, don’t worry, I had to look that name up too. This is Owen’s awesome raptor-training assistant. Mostly he assists Owen by rolling his eyes in agreement about how much of an idiot evil military dude is, but he also does some solid spotting by handling the Oh My God You Are Such A Delusional Jackass duties completely on his own during a very important raptor-face petting-through-Hannibal Lector-metal-cage session. Barry was pretty awesome, and I was convinced that he was going to get eaten. I’m actually pretty sure that he DID get eaten in an earlier cut of the movie, and then someone thankfully realized that it wasn’t a great idea to have the only surviving characters be only white people. Basically, during the night-scene-motorcycle-chase-raptor-assisted-evil-dinosaur-hunt, when the raptors have joined up with the evil dinosaur (“curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal!”), the humans get their asses handed to them. Barry is holed up inside a hollow log, with one of the raptors attacking and trying to get to him. He calls the raptor’s name, the raptor pauses.
Cut to a very separate scene (almost certainly on a sound-stage months later). Owen hears the off-screen screaming of Barry, who is in danger. Instead of running to his friend’s aid, Owen deliberately revs his motorcycle’s engine three or four times. This distracts the raptor from killing Barry (…..I don’t know why or how), and the raptor decides that chasing Daddy on the motorcycle is more fun than killing Barry, who is right in front of him and now completely unprotected. Again, no sense. The next scene is Barry sighing in relief as the raptor runs off. This is the last we see of Barry until the final scene of the film, when he is just hanging out with all the other survivors. Because, yes, he was stranded alone in the middle of the island of on-the-loose and hungry dinosaurs, with even his best friend riding off alone on a motorcycle and not seeming too concerned about his safety (“Yeah, Barry will be fine. What’s the worst that could happen at night alone and on a dinosaur-infested island?”), but he apparently got to safety without any problems and without us needing to check in on him at all until the very end.
Bullshit. Someone realized that every person of color on the island had been killed off, and realized that this probably wasn’t a great idea. Some strategic editing to change Barry’s horrible death to Barry’s survival-through-motorcycle-revving, then a quick shot of him at the end. And one other shot of Dr. Wu being loaded onto a helicopter, and suddenly things are all better!
However, I am still grateful that Barry made it through alive. Because it would’ve been pretty bullshit if, once again, the only survivors (primary characters, people – none of us give a shit about the extras who just sat in the park during the entire peril) from the island were the white people. (I’m going to note right here – yes, I know that in the second film a survivor was not white. But a .25 average for the series as a whole would not have been great.)
- Just Because There’s A Dinosaur Crisis Doesn’t Mean You Get To Kiss Your Co-Worker
There were two control-room systems techs whose names I had to look up. Boy Systems Tech is named Lowery (??) and Girl Systems Tech is named Vivian (??). Firstly, I like them both as characters – they had bit roles but did good work, Lowery’s constant sadness over people messing up his plastic dinosaurs was great, and they helped humanize the control-room portion of things, which can be tricky but necessary.
But I really liked that when Lowery made the choice to stay behind on the island rather than going to safety, and went in for the heroic kiss with Vivian, Vivian was all, “WHOA, I have a boyfriend!” And there was some fun back-and-forth where Lowery was made aware that Vivian made a distinction between work and social relationships. Then Vivian wished him luck and headed off for safety, leaving a fun wuh-woh moment for Lowery.
I kind of wish Vivian had been all “WHOA, misread signals!” instead of calling boyfriend (because sometimes you can like someone and still have reasons other than pre-existing relationships for why you don’t want to kiss them), but I enjoyed it.
Things That Made No Sense
- Claire and Owen’s initial relationship
There’s a whole lot of discomfort, animosity, and really unprofessional behavior going on when Claire initially has to tell Owen to join Plotline A: Evil Dinosaur. Part of it stems from Claire’s impressively shitty interpersonal relationships and complete failure to maintain a professional work environment (this, by the way, is Hollywood shorthand for Claire being A Professional Working Woman Who Has No Time For A Family Or Romance – though how she would’ve achieved the position she did, which appears to be the manager of the entire park, with such horrible interpersonal relationship skills is left to the imagination. It’s breezed through fairly quickly as the filmmakers hot-step their way to evil dinosaur on the rampage, but it felt like extremely lazy writing. We’ve seen this character in every working woman since the 1970s. It’s boring.
But, seriously. Claire and Owen supposedly went on one ill-fated date, and never went on a second. Okay, that happens. Your next work meeting then goes by with both individuals doing everything possible to get back to the previous collegial work relationship (because if you hated each other, or even had an extremely fraught relationship, you wouldn’t have gone on the date in the first place) and minimizing everything that happened on the date. Because this is probably what happened:
Claire and Owen sit in a restaurant, both staring at their menus with fixed concentration, avoiding all eye-contact.
Owen: *internal monologue* Oh my God, oh my God. She had a printed itinerary for this entire first date. This is the control freak to end all control freaks. RED FLAG! RED FLAG!
Claire: *internal monologue* Board shorts? He wore board shorts? Oh my God! My itinerary clearly listed dress code as DRESSY CASUAL!
Claire and Owen accidentally make eye-contact as the waiter arrives. They smile awkwardly, then immediately look away.
That…. is not what’s happening here. For this level of animosity, discomfort, and Owen’s shtupping jokes (“Oh, you need a consultation? I have one right here, IN MY PANTS.”), we’re talking a three-month relationship that ended poorly, and the last time they saw each other was in the parking lot of their fourth-favorite brunch spot, when they each had a cardboard box filled with the other person’s tee-shirts, CDs, shampoo, and loaned books, in the classic post-relationship-exchange-of-prisoners. (and Claire still has at least one tee-shirt that Owen wants back, but not enough to actually bug her about it)
- The Indominous Rex
It’s a dinosaur! No, it isn’t a dinosaur! We used other shit in it! But we’ve always used other shit in all the dinosaurs! It was raised in isolation and will be a social misfit because of this! But genetically it’s part raptor so it suddenly took over the raptor pack with suave ease! We are surprised by several of the traits that it is exhibiting! But wait we’re totally not because the military specifically wanted these traits bioengineered to create killing machines!
Pick a backstory, people. Pick it and stick with it.
Things That Were Kind Of Uncomfortable
- The Death of the Assistant
That was, to put it the least, excessive. Jurassic World has a whole lot of dinosaur-on-human violence, but for the most part it’s really left to the imagination. If anything, it seemed significantly toned back from the first film. Mostly there are cuts away, or the person is dragged into tall grass, or the person just gets eaten in one bite. The biggest jackass of the film, the evil military dude, is attempting to be the pack-leader of a raptor and gets his hand kinda-bitten off, then the raptor jumps to finish him off (Raptor: “You’re not my real Daddy; that’s Owen! You’re not even Cesar Milan, who I would at least respect, if not obey!”) as all the people we actually care about go running away and the camera follows (for the record, Owen tacitly endorses this death. He makes no attempts during this scene to take control of the raptor, even though he probably has a good likelihood of being able to do so. This is an Owen-Approved Raptor-Killing.).
But the killing of the biggest douche (evil military dude) of the movie is actually not the most elaborate death. That distinction belongs to Zara, Claire’s British personal assistant who gets deputized into being a babysitter for the nephews. Zara is pretty disinterested in that particular job (and, dude, who can blame her – the younger kid, Gray, is nice, but that older one, Zach, is kind of a dick for the first chunk of the film), but it really isn’t her fault when Zach makes the executive decision for the pair of them to run away from their minder and go into the main park. Offscreen, she then makes spends a large chunk of the film attempting to locate the boys (very poorly, since the boys should’ve been easily trackable by their wristbands, and stopped the first time they attempted to get on a ride, but the park is clearly run by idiots, so fine). She is reunited with the boys offscreen, and is running in their general vicinity again as the entire park gets menaced by pterodactyls. Her death occurs as she is grabbed by a pterodactyl, which then flies her over into the aquarium tank, dunks her, lifts her out, dunks her again in some pretty uncomfortable drowning behavior, then lifts her out again, then both Zara and the pterodactyl are eaten by the giant aquatic dinosaur. It actually sticks out as fairly cruel.
Where I think this came from was an attempt to mimic another part of the first movie that is somewhat iconic – the death of the lawyer as he hid in the porto-potty. It was pretty funny, yet grisly, and the audience responded approvingly. The problem was, the audience was accepting of the death of the lawyer for a number of reasons:
1. He was a lawyer. (boo!)
2. He was kind of a dick. (boo!)
3. In a situation of real and immediate peril, he abandoned two children to attempt to save his own life. (enough to make the audience eager for his death, and also a strategic blunder – dude, those kids are invulnerable in this film. You stick with those kids and you might survive)
Zara had the following:
1. She was British. (not enough, sorry)
2. She was talking on her phone instead of closely monitoring her charges. (16 and 12ish… sorry, I think you can talk on your phone. They’re not toddlers anymore, and they won’t just roam off – unless one of them is a dick and they deliberately run, in which case, Zara would’ve been screwed even if her phone had been off.)
3. In a situation of real and immediate peril… she was actually trying to keep close to the two kids, and was yelling instructions. So, um, babysitting kudos?
I’m not saying that Zara should’ve lived – it’s a dinosaur movie, and if you’re over the age of 21 and you aren’t a romantic interest or a sexy leading man, you’re in real and present danger of being eaten. What I’m saying is that the death was awfully drawn out and overly cruel for a character that I had no reason to desire special dinosaur vengeance for. (example: I would’ve been completely okay with this death for evil military dude. Possibly even for the Not-Mad Scientist.) Picked up by pterodactyl, fine. Dropped by pterodactyl into the aquarium and eaten by the giant aquatic dinosaur, okay – after all, that giant aquatic dinosaur is apparently going to be important for the climactic scene, so we have to re-establish it at least once more in the middle. (Chekhov’s Aquatic Dinosaur is what I’m going to call this from now on) But the repeated drownings – a little uncomfortable.
- Claire’s High Heels
It’s impressive that she managed to continue running in those heels for the whole damn film, but when one of your plans is to hold a lit flare and run fast enough to lead the T-Rex to the climactic battle, YOU SHOULD BE WEARING SNEAKERS.
She and Owen are in her car before they get out to start looking for her nephews on foot. She’s pretty fit – I bet her gym sneakers were in the trunk of her car. I know it was part of the character’s arc to have her in a formal skirt and top for the whole film, then slowly have the top come off and get everything else dirty, but come on – sneakers wouldn’t have been hard to do.
But can we all just acknowledge – if Claire can outrun a T-Rex after a long day of running away from dinosaurs, and do it IN HEELS, I bet that woman has at least a silver Olympic medal back at her apartment.
This didn’t make me uncomfortable like the death of Zara did, but it did make me feel uncomfortable on behalf of her feet and calves.
Things That Were Dumb
- Chekhov’s Aquatic Dinosaur
The evil dinosaur was being attacked by the T-Rex plus the sole survivor of the raptor pack. It had already been shot at by a small army of Stormtroopers (yeah, that’s what I think about their aim), almost blown up by a rocket-launcher, attacked by four raptors who realized that they really DID love their daddy, shot at by Owen (who actually COULD hit what he was aiming at, plus was supporting his raptor babies), and then attacked by a T-Rex. Now, this was still Baby Evil Dinosaur’s Big Day Out, so I’m just going to say it – that really should’ve been enough to take it down. Having it attacked by the giant aquatic dinosaur took us to a bit of a Peter Jackson place (anyone who has seen King Kong, with its dramatic choice to have King Kong attacked by THREE T-Rexes, knows what I’m talking about here). Too much, movie. Too much.
- Militarized Raptors
Does the Navy make use of animals? Yes. Sea lions can be trained to stick bombs on enemy ships or just swim around with camera packs. Dogs have a long and glorious tradition within our military (by the way, that preview of Max totally made me cry – damn you, filmmakers!).
You know what don’t have a long and glorious tradition within our military?
Yes, millions of years of evolution have crafted these into top predators. But I don’t care if you can train these animals to not attack their trainer, or maybe even follow a few basic commands. We don’t deploy animals like this against the enemy for a few reasons:
1. They would maul everyone, not just the people you want them to maul.
2. When bored or hungry, they would probably just wander off rather than continuing on the mission.
3. Enemy combatants could shoot them or blow them up.
4. The cost would be absolutely prohibitive, particularly given how quickly the enemy would start shooting or blowing them up.
Given that each raptor would have to be cloned (oh god expensive), grow in an egg (oh god can you imagine how many probably don’t survive, so expensive), imprint at birth on the trainer (yeah, that means that has to be its SOLE trainer), be raised with a specific team of siblings (probably wouldn’t play well with random raptors, expensive), have intensive and individualized training (so expensive), and you still probably would have only a small percentage that could obey their trainer’s commands outside a carefully controlled environment.
Yes, this is totally a better plan than drones. Because, omg, drones can get hacked. You know how you hack a raptor? WITH NUMMY TREATS AND PRAISE. (“Hey Blue, your Daddy is a douche. I’ll give you TWO delicious dead rats, all for you. Who’s a good raptor? YOU! Yes, YOU!”)
It helps slightly that the only person on this island who thinks that this is a decent plan is the evil military dude, but it’s still pretty stupid. Good luck with your attempt to create your very own line of German Shepard Raptors, though. Oh, wait, you can’t, because you’re dead. So sad.
Still, though. This was the kind of plan that Bond villains come up with.
- Dinosaurs Cannot Be Shot
This isn’t stated, but it kind of happens. I think the filmmakers were a little squeamish about humans killing dinosaurs (which is kind of funny, given how many humans get eaten over the course of this movie). A lot of bullets get shot, but I don’t see any bullet wounds on any dinosaurs. Some kind of incendiary (rocket-launcher?) thing knocks the evil dinosaur of its feet momentarily, and one raptor gets killed with a direct hit from the same kind of weapon, but that’s actually it, other than some very effective tranquilizing of the pterodactyls, and one pterodactyl shot over the open ocean (but that was by a clearly evil military mercenary with a beard, so I’m not sure it counts).
- Simon Masrani Makes Really Terrible Decisions
He is only two days away from getting his certification to fly a helicopter all by himself! Yes, his flying is so terrible that it terrorizes all underlings and apparently made his flying instructor nauseous, but why should that stop Masrani from thinking that he is the perfect person to fly the helicopter when they are attempting to take down the evil dinosaur from the air? I mean, basic take-off and landing can’t be any different than when you are flying with open doors and animal control staff with giant guns leaning out said doors, right?
I was sorry that they killed Masrani, and I kind of wish they hadn’t. If Hammond lived through the first film, then I think there’s a good precedent for the Well Intentioned But Poor Decision-Making Park Owner to make it through the film alive. I get that Masrani’s death opened the door for the evil military dude to try to force a takeover (though since Claire was in charge on most days, that’s still pretty shaky from the moment she gets back from being lost in the park), but it was still a really stupid decision that led to a stupid death. And I really felt badly for the two former soldiers who died because of it. (“So, you served in Afghanistan, you say? You might’ve survived that, but you won’t survive this! Ha ha! I kid, but seriously, I hope you have life insurance.”)
- That One Dinosaur, However Evil, Caused This Much Trouble
Seriously. This plot has too much resting on incompetence on every level. (which I think, as park manager, is actually Claire’s fault. You’re terrible at your job, Claire!)
The utter catastrophe of the original film wasn’t “the animals are out.” It was a combination of:
1. The storm approaching the island resulted in most of the park personnel heading back to the mainland, leaving only a skeleton staff behind.
2. Newman, who was a dick, deliberately fucked up all the computer systems and shut down all the park fences so that he could steal dinosaur embryos and sell them.
3. The park was still months away from opening, and basic protocols regarding animal control and safety were still being refined.
Thus, when the dinosaurs all got out, those left on the island did not have either the personnel, the protocols, or the systems control to deal with the issue on any level. That is how the tragic deaths of both Samuel L. Jackson and that big-game hunter in the short-shorts occurred.
This is the catastrophe of Jurassic World:
1. A really big, really evil dinosaur escapes from its enclosure.
This is a park that supposedly has been running smoothly for at least seven years. They have been dealing with both large carnivores (T Rex) and smaller, intelligent carnivores (Raptors), successfully. They have teams of individuals whose sole job is animal wrangling. They have protocols in place to protect the 20,000 park visitors in the event of a loose animal or an emergency.
This should not have been a park-ending emergency, or even the catastrophe it became. I’m fine with the kids being in peril, because Zach is an idiot and ignored the park safety protocols. There were secondary armed fences protecting the inner portion of the park (I saw them, the kids drove up to one). The squads who went out to catch the evil dinosaur were unrealistically stupid – even if this was a new and sneaky dinosaur, these are teams that have dealt successfully with a T-Rex. Their nonlethals should’ve consisted of some really effective tranquilizers (and that evil dinosaur was in their captivity – they would’ve known just how much to use to drop it), some kind of armored vehicle to keep the teams safe during encounters (that little hamster ball held up pretty well for a while to a concentrated attack from the evil dinosaur – why wasn’t each member of the retrieval squad in one of those?), and NOT those stupid little cattle prods. Listen, those little cattle prods were beyond dumb, because they were less than a foot long, meaning that the dinosaur would have to get to less than a foot away from the person before they could be used. Meaning that the person is already being mauled before they can make use of their safety device. In a park that had been open for a number of years, they would’ve known about that, and would’ve been armed appropriately.
It was also very nice of all of the squads to wait patiently while the dinosaur mauled each of their squad members in turn. Classy, very classy.
The evil dinosaur escaping from its enclosure is fine for the first act of the movie, but there needed to be a secondary element. Maybe the evil military dude rigged parts of the system to go down so that he could justify a partial takeover to get the raptors he wanted – maybe a militant and really stupid wing of Greenpeace decided to infiltrate and bring down the entire computer systems (including invisible fences?) from the inside to make a statement about animal cruelty – maybe anything. In a pinch a hurricane would’ve worked too. But the problem was that that dinosaur ended up having to become magical in order to explain why a working park with a fully staffed containment crew hadn’t caught it (ie, KILLED IT) after the second or third encounter. And that’s a basic writing problem.
Things I Really Wish Had Happened
- Clicker Training
Owen trains his raptors using (awesomely), clicker training. He does it repeatedly in early scenes, and it’s great. In that final climactic moment of the movie, when Blue has totally saved Owen’s life by betraying the evil dinosaur and risking her own life, she and Owen stand and look at each other, and it’s very Born Free.
I wish that, at the conclusion of that look, Owen had pulled the clicker out (you know that guy still had it in his pocket), clicked twice, and said, “Good girl.” That would’ve been awesome.
- Girl Systems Tech Had Stuck Around
Did they need two systems techs in that last scene? God no. Frankly they kind of didn’t even need one, if Claire had had an override code that could’ve worked on the T-Rex pen. But their interactions were funny enough earlier that I wish they’d kept it all the way through. At the same time, I respect that Vivian put a value on her personal safety. I mean, jeez, people were really bad about closing doors behind them, and I’m still surprised that raptors didn’t get into the control room and start fucking around with the computers.
Okay, just under two months left until Dark Ascension is released, and a big milestone has just been reached — the first ARCs (Advance Readers Copies) are being delivered. Huge excitement! Mixed with equally huge trepidation! This is the moment where a book that, until now, has been read by a total of me (+1), my beta readers (+2), my editor (+1), my copyeditor (+1), and Jaime Lee Moyer (+1,000,000,000,00 because she did me a huge solid when I needed reassurance), now gets released a targeted release into the wild. Most of the people who will be reading it in the next two months are bloggers and reviewers, some of whom I have a longrunning relationship with, some of whom I don’t. So this is kind of my first real indication whether people will think that the book is good, or if it sucks.
So — MUCH EXCITEMENT AT THE BRENNAN HOUSEHOLD RIGHT NOW!
So, how was Phoenix Comicon, you ask?
Pretty. Damn. Awesome.
Here’s the short-list of awesome people I met whose books you should totally buy. In no specific order:
Ann Leckie (!!!!!!)
Michael J. Martinez (or, as he is now known, Masculine Justice Martinez)
Jason M. Hough
Peter V. Brett
Paul Cornell (!!!!!!!)
(if I missed you, TELL ME! I wrote this list on the flight home, so my 3 1/2 hour delay and the turbulence might’ve given me temporary memory loss — I know that I’m probably missing about fifty people)
It’s a con weekend for me! This is a new con for me, and only the second time I’ve ever done a con off of the East Coast, so I’m pretty excited. I heard a lot of fabulous things about Phoenix Comicon from friends who did it last year (I’ve also heard that it’s a dry heat, so I’ll work with that), so it’s my big travel con for 2015.
If you’re going to be there, make sure you swing by me at some point for a high-five! Here’s my schedule:
Panel: Paranormal Romances (3:00pm – 4:00pm) (with Gini Koch, Stephen Blackmoore, and Yvonne Navarro)
Signing: With Gini Koch (4:30pm – 5:30pm)
Signing: With Max Gladstone, Melissa Marr, Jamie Wyman, Bennett Coles, and Wesley Chu (1:30pm – 2:30pm)
Panel: Mother Trucking Monsters (10:30am – 11:30am) (with Cherie Priest, Kevin Hearne, Peter V. Brett, Sam Sykes, and Wesley Chu)
Signing: With Sam Sykes, Cherie Priest, Peter V. Brett, Myke Cole, and Bennett Coles (12pm – 1pm)
Panel: Have Your Writing Critiqued (4:30pm – 5:30pm) (with Brian Staveley, Michael Martinez, and Renee Witterstaetter)
Event: Drinks With Authors (6pm – 9pm @ The Sheraton)
Panel: Urban Fantasy (12pm – 1pm) (with Gini Koch, Joseph Nassise, Paul Cornell, and Richard Kadrey)
Panel: Marketing Your Novel (1:30pm – 2:30pm) (with Austin Aslan, Paul Cornell, Renee Witterstaetter, and Tom Leveen)
Signing: With Kelley Armstrong, Ann Leckie, Paul Cornell, Sam Sykes, and Myke Cole (3pm – 4pm)
So, as you can clearly see, this is going to be amazing! Clearly there are a few panels that Cannot Miss — Paranormal Romance (me and Blackmoore on a panel! talking about romance, or possibly just taking notes from our co-panelists! EPIC!) — and there are a LOT of signings where I’m mostly going to be sitting there and watching the MASSIVE lines for my co-signers stretch out the door. (I’ll have some free copies of Tainted Blood to try to coax people near me)
Generation V turns two today!
It’s hard to believe that two years ago the adventure of a slacker emo vampire with a penchant for all things nerdy and a kickass kitsune bestie appeared on bookshelves, and that people read and enjoyed it so much that I just finished edits on the fourth book in the series! Thanks so much to everyone who has bought and read the book — this series has been such a dream come true.
So far this year I’ve read 26 books. Some of them were okay, a few were kind of shitty, and then there were the other ones — the ones I absolutely loved and think everyone should run out and read right the fuck now.
These are those books, in no particular order except the one I read them in.
1. The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy
The Forsyte Saga is John Galsworthy’s monumental chronicle of the lives of the moneyed Forsytes, a family whose values are constantly at war with its passions. The story of Soames Forsyte’s marriage to the beautiful and rebellious Irene, and its effects upon the whole Forsyte clan, The Forsyte Saga is a brilliant social satire of the acquisitive sensibilities of a comfort-bound class in its final glory. Galsworthy spares none of his characters, revealing their weaknesses and shortcomings as clearly as he does the tenacity and perseverance that define the strongest members of the Forsyte family.
A groundbreaking retelling and reclaiming of Anne Boleyn’s life and legacy puts old questions to rest and raises some surprising new ones.
Part biography, part cultural history, The Creation of Anne Boleyn is a fascinating reconstruction of Anne’s life and an illuminating look at her afterlife in the popular imagination. Why is Anne so compelling? Why has she inspired such extreme reactions? What did she really look like? Was she the flaxen-haired martyr of Romantic paintings or the raven-haired seductress of twenty-first century portrayals? (Answer: neither.) And perhaps the most provocative questions concern Anne’s death more than her life. How could Henry order the execution of a once beloved wife? Drawing on scholarship and critical analysis, Susan Bordo probes the complexities of one of history’s most infamous relationships.
Bordo also shows how generations of polemicists, biographers, novelists, and filmmakers imagined and reimagined Anne: whore, martyr, cautionary tale, proto-“mean girl,” feminist icon, and everything in between. In this lively book, Bordo steps off the well-trodden paths of Tudoriana to expertly tease out the human being behind the competing mythologies.
The fascinating story of one of the most important scientific discoveries of the twentieth century.
4. The Martian by Andy Weir
Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there. After a dust storm nearly kills him & forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded & completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—& even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive. Chances are, tho, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first. But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—& a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?
5. Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear
“You ain’t gonna like what I have to tell you, but I’m gonna tell you anyway. See, my name is Karen Memery, like memory only spelt with an e, and I’m one of the girls what works in the Hôtel Mon Cherie on Amity Street. Hôtel has a little hat over the o like that. It’s French, so Beatrice tells me.”
Set in the late 19th century—when the city we now call Seattle Underground was the whole town (and still on the surface), when airships plied the trade routes, would-be gold miners were heading to the gold fields of Alaska, and steam-powered mechanicals stalked the waterfront, Karen is a young woman on her own, is making the best of her orphaned state by working in Madame Damnable’s high-quality bordello. Through Karen’s eyes we get to know the other girls in the house—a resourceful group—and the poor and the powerful of the town. Trouble erupts one night when a badly injured girl arrives at their door, begging sanctuary, followed by the man who holds her indenture, and who has a machine that can take over anyone’s mind and control their actions. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, the next night brings a body dumped in their rubbish heap—a streetwalker who has been brutally murdered.
Bear brings alive this Jack-the-Ripper yarn of the old west with a light touch in Karen’s own memorable voice, and a mesmerizing evocation of classic steam-powered science.
6. Hold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride
Sam leads a pretty normal life. He may not have the most exciting job in the world, but he’s doing all right—until a fast food prank brings him to the attention of Douglas, a creepy guy with an intense violent streak.
Turns out Douglas is a necromancer who raises the dead for cash and sees potential in Sam. Then Sam discovers he’s a necromancer too, but with strangely latent powers. And his worst nightmare wants to join forces . . . or else.
With only a week to figure things out, Sam needs all the help he can get. Luckily he lives in Seattle, which has nearly as many paranormal types as it does coffee places. But even with newfound friends, will Sam be able to save his skin?
7. White Fang by Jack London
In the desolate, frozen wilds of northwest Canada, White Fang, a part-dog, part-wolf cub soon finds himself the sole survivor of a litter of five. In his lonely world, he soon learned to follow the harsh law of the North—kill or be killed.
But nothing in his young life prepared him for the cruelty of the bully Beauty Smith, who buys White Fang from his Indian master and turns him into a vicious killer—a pit dog forced to fight for money.
Will White Fang ever know the kindness of a gentle master or will he die a fierce deadly killer?
A classic adventure novel detailing the savagery of life in the northern wilds. Its central character is a ferocious and magnificent creature, through whose experiences we feel the harsh rhythms and patterns of wilderness life among animals and men.
8. Vision in Silver by Anne Bishop
The Others freed the cassandra sangue to protect the blood prophets from exploitation, not realizing their actions would have dire consequences. Now the fragile seers are in greater danger than ever before—both from their own weaknesses and from those who seek to control their divinations for wicked purposes. In desperate need of answers, Simon Wolfgard, a shape-shifter leader among the Others, has no choice but to enlist blood prophet Meg Corbyn’s help, regardless of the risks she faces by aiding him.
Meg is still deep in the throes of her addiction to the euphoria she feels when she cuts and speaks prophecy. She knows each slice of her blade tempts death. But Others and humans alike need answers, and her visions may be Simon’s only hope of ending the conflict.
For the shadows of war are deepening across the Atlantik, and the prejudice of a fanatic faction is threatening to bring the battle right to Meg and Simon’s doorstep…
9. The Awakening by Kate Chopin
First published in 1899, The Awakening is widely regarded as one of the forerunners of feminist literature alongside Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and Flaubert’s Madame Bovary
Over one long, languid summer Edna Pontellier, fettered by marriage and motherhood, gradually awakens to her individuality and sexuality and experiences love outside of her passionless marriage. But as she discovers emotional freedom, so she comes to realize the true extent of her psychological and social confinement, and its terrible consequences for her future. This tender, brilliant, seductive, and devastating novel is as beautifully written as it is politically engaging. The Awakening is as relevant today as when it was first published two centuries ago.
10. The Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan
The thrilling adventure of Lady Trent continues in Marie Brennan’s The Tropic of Serpents . . .
Attentive readers of Lady Trent’s earlier memoir, A Natural History of Dragons, are already familiar with how a bookish and determined young woman named Isabella first set out on the historic course that would one day lead her to becoming the world’s premier dragon naturalist. Now, in this remarkably candid second volume, Lady Trent looks back at the next stage of her illustrious (and occasionally scandalous) career.
Three years after her fateful journeys through the forbidding mountains of Vystrana, Mrs. Camherst defies family and convention to embark on an expedition to the war-torn continent of Eriga, home of such exotic draconian species as the grass-dwelling snakes of the savannah, arboreal tree snakes, and, most elusive of all, the legendary swamp-wyrms of the tropics.
The expedition is not an easy one. Accompanied by both an old associate and a runaway heiress, Isabella must brave oppressive heat, merciless fevers, palace intrigues, gossip, and other hazards in order to satisfy her boundless fascination with all things draconian, even if it means venturing deep into the forbidden jungle known as the Green Hell . . . where her courage, resourcefulness, and scientific curiosity will be tested as never before.
11. Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
In her New York Times bestselling and Morris Award-winning debut, Rachel Hartman introduces mathematical dragons in an alternative-medieval world to fantasy and science-fiction readers of all ages. Eragon-author Christopher Paolini calls them, “Some of the most interesting dragons I’ve read in fantasy.”
Four decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into human shape, dragons attend court as ambassadors, and lend their rational, mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty’s anniversary draws near, however, tensions are high.
Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician, she joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered—in suspiciously draconian fashion. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queen’s Guard, the dangerously perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they begin to uncover hints of a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina struggles to protect her own secret, the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life.
12. The Magicians by Lev Grossman
Like everyone else, precocious high school senior Quentin Coldwater assumes that magic isn’t real, until he finds himself admitted to a very secretive and exclusive college of magic in upstate New York. There he indulges in joys of college-friendship, love, sex, and booze- and receives a rigorous education in modern sorcery. But magic doesn’t bring the happiness and adventure Quentin thought it would. After graduation, he and his friends stumble upon a secret that sets them on a remarkable journey that may just fulfill Quentin’s yearning. But their journey turns out to be darker and more dangerous than they’d imagined. Psychologically piercing and dazzlingly inventive, The Magicians, the prequel to the New York Times bestselling book The Magician King and the #1 bestseller The Magician’s Land, is an enthralling coming-of-age tale about magic practiced in the real world-where good and evil aren’t black and white, and power comes at a terrible price.
13. The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
In this stunning debut, author Scott Lynch delivers the wonderfully thrilling tale of an audacious criminal and his band of confidence tricksters. Set in a fantastic city pulsing with the lives of decadent nobles and daring thieves, here is a story of adventure, loyalty, and survival that is one part “Robin Hood”, one part Ocean’s Eleven, and entirely enthralling…
An orphan’s life is harsh — and often short — in the island city of Camorr, built on the ruins of a mysterious alien race. But born with a quick wit and a gift for thieving, Locke Lamora has dodged both death and slavery, only to fall into the hands of an eyeless priest known as Chains — a man who is neither blind nor a priest.
A con artist of extraordinary talent, Chains passes his skills on to his carefully selected “family” of orphans — a group known as the Gentlemen Bastards. Under his tutelage, Locke grows to lead the Bastards, delightedly pulling off one outrageous confidence game after another. Soon he is infamous as the Thorn of Camorr, and no wealthy noble is safe from his sting.
Passing themselves off as petty thieves, the brilliant Locke and his tightly knit band of light-fingered brothers have fooled even the criminal underworld’s most feared ruler, Capa Barsavi. But there is someone in the shadows more powerful — and more ambitious — than Locke has yet imagined.
Known as the Gray King, he is slowly killing Capa Barsavi’s most trusted men — and using Locke as a pawn in his plot to take control of Camorr’s underworld. With a bloody coup under way threatening to destroy everyone and everything that holds meaning in his mercenary life, Locke vows to beat the Gray King at his own brutal game — or die trying…
14. Undercity by Catherine Asaro
BOOK ONE IN A BRAND NEW SERIES by Nebula and Hugo Award Winner Catherine Asaro set in the world of her Skolian Empire universe. In the galaxy-spanning future, Major Bhaajan is a tough female P.I. who works the dangerous streets of Undercity.
Major Bhaajan, a former military officer with Imperial Space Command, is now a hard-bitten P.I. with a load of baggage to deal with, and clients with woes sometimes personal, sometimes galaxy-shattering, and sometimes both. Bhaajan must sift through the shadows of dark and dangerous Undercity—the enormous capital of a vast star empire—to find answers.
About two days ago, I saw a link to an article called “Thing I Can Say About MFA Writing Programs Now That I No Longer Teach In One,” which I dutifully clicked, read through, and enjoyed a fair amount. Then I scrolled down and looked at the Facebook comments, and saw that a number of people were, to put it mildly, losing their utter shit. People were declaring the writer, Ryan Boudinot, a horrible person, a bitter old hag, and there was a great deal of discussion about how he represented what was the absolute worst about a certain kind of writing (read: literary), and I think a lot of people were having some PTSD flashbacks to moments in college writing classes where they were told that this wasn’t the place to write genre fiction.
First of all, writing advice is highly subjective. Some of it is going to be useful to a person, some of it is going to not be useful – and that depends on which person you talk to. If someone read the Boudinot article and promptly began frothing at the mouth – hey, fine. I do that when I read shit by Annie Lamott. (side note: a lot of people really like Annie Lamott’s writing about writing. I find it tedious, idiotic, and like gumdrops for a certain kind of lazy writer – but again, hey, that’s subjective. My utter loathing for Lamott doesn’t mean that she can’t be incredibly insightful, inspiring, and useful for another writer – and sometimes that other writer might even be someone I like and respect! Because the process is different for every damn person)
I’m a product of both an undergraduate writing program and an MFA program. I’ve done my time, I got over a dozen short stories published in literary journals, and I absolutely feel like my MFA program made a profound impact in me as a writer. And now I’m the published author of three (four in August!) urban fantasy novels, which means that I will never (NEVER) be considered for bigtime fantasy awards, and I will have the pleasure of seeing the reflexive “ew” face on any writer of serious fantasy and sci-fi when I’m initially introduced to them.
In what way is not the most hilarious artistic journey ever? Seriously, it actually is.
Not only am I an urban-fantasy writing hack, but I teach literature classes to college students as my day job – how fantastic is that? I get to force Kafka and Tolstoy and Hurston and Achebe down the gullets of nigh-indifferent undergrads on a daily basis, and then laugh an evil laugh. (plus my actual amused laugh as we get to have conversations about Kafka and Tolstoy and Hurston and Achebe, and what is useful and interesting and, yes, fucking pleasurable about reading these things.)
So I perhaps I have a different view on the Boudinot article. Did I agree with all of it? No. But I enjoyed good portions of it, and I felt like chunks were useful and had resonance. Which is why I’m taking this highly unusual step of adding actual content to my blog by responding to this, rather than just posting another Twitter conversation that involved a highly amusing poop joke. (don’t worry, I’ll get right back to that next time)
Let me go through a few of the Boudinot points.
1. “Writers are born with talent.”
Well, I’d say that caused a good chunk of the freakouts. But Boudinot isn’t saying anything particularly groundbreaking here. In fact, Stephen King said pretty much the same damn thing in On Writing. And I agreed with King, and I agreed with Boudinot.
Does this mean that talent is anointed, and you shall know the coming of an author by certain signs and miracles? No. Writing is goddamn hard work, and it takes years of getting it wrong, of going back and working on it, and honing the damn craft. And, yes, that’s if you were actually born with talent. Talent doesn’t mean that this is going to be easy – it just means that you have that something – that way of looking at the world and conveying something specific in prose, that extra flair with language, that thing that set you apart from the other kids in third grade writing exercises.
Anyone can get an undergraduate degree in creative writing (I did it, it wasn’t that hard), or an MFA in writing (believe me, there are plenty of terrible writers with that degree – I know, I graduated with a few). Take enough classes, put in enough work, and any person can become a decent writer. Being a good writer is something different – and you know the difference when you read one. Doesn’t mean that they were perfect starting out, or that it’s an easier path, but it does mean that when they put in the work and the effort, the outcome at the end is different.
Honestly, why are we having such an extreme reaction to this statement? Do you just think that Boudinot came off as a dick when he wrote it? I’d call him a bit frosty, maybe, and definitely still reeling from a few years within the MFA system, but he’s not saying anything that we haven’t all thought a bit before.
Let me put it differently: it’s clear that Tiger Woods’s dad was hardcore about teaching his son to play golf – perhaps in a way that we might not point to as an ideal parenting choice. But even with all of that training, would Tiger Woods have reached the pinnacle that he did without the benefit of having been born with some talent? Writing isn’t that different.
2. “If you didn’t decide to take writing seriously by the time you were a teenager, you’re probably not going to make it.”
Boudinot’s very next sentence is an equivocation on that statement, which I find utterly hilarious. The man isn’t an idiot – make a broad, sweeping statement (even one softened by the word “probably” rather than “definitely”) and you’re going to see nothing except a series of examples that poke holes in it (Boudinot even offers one himself – Haruki Murakami). But in the broad sense, is he wrong? No, he really isn’t.
RESTRAIN YOUR FREAKOUT FOR FIVE FUCKING SECONDS.
Being serious about writing doesn’t mean that you are a published author.
If I have to pinpoint the moment when I got serious about writing, I’d point to when I was in college – which I suppose could technically be called still being a teenager, but only barely. However, I wrote stories when I was little, I always knew that I was better at writing than the other kids in my class, and I liked the process of writing enough that I did it with some regularity.
But I got serious about writing around the age of nineteen. And then it took me another decade until I got a book published. Serious doesn’t equal published – maybe it’ll take you four or five decades – doesn’t mean that you aren’t serious. I think Boudinot kind of shot himself in the foot to a degree by specifying the word “teenager,” but, hey, tiny quibbles.
If anything, I find Boudinot’s most important statement to be under that – “Being a writer means developing a lifelong intimacy with language. You have to be crazy about books as a kid to establish the neural architecture required to write one.”
Honestly, hell fucking yeah, Boudinot. If you want to write, my feeling is that you’ve got to have a relationship with books, and an enjoyment of language. Again – it doesn’t mean publishing, people. And he isn’t even talking about the action of writing anymore.
3. If you complain about not having time to write, please do us both a favor and drop out.
OF THE MFA PROGRAM. Also, side-note – yes, I utterly co-sign with Boudinot here. When I was a college student I bitched endlessly about my workload, never even dreaming how good I currently had it. When I entered my MFA program, I had just blown out of law school, and I couldn’t believe how much fucking free time I had to write. Compared to law school, the MFA requirements felt like “laze on a field of beautiful flowers for half the day, reveling in nature – now read half a book, write three sentences, and roll into class to marinate in the beauty of language. Then we’ll head to the bar for some beer!”
I might be exaggerating slightly, but seriously. If you can’t write when you’re an MFA student, I’m sorry, but you’re never going to be able to write. Writing while balancing a full-time job and a spouse and possibly kids and something approaching a social life is terribly hard— wait, hold on, I think Boudinot actually covered this portion:
“My experience tells me this: Students who ask a lot of questions about time management, blow deadlines, and whine about how complicated their lives are should just give up and do something else. Their complaints are an insult to the writers who managed to produce great work under far more difficult conditions than the 21st-century MFA student.” (emphasis mine)
Thank you, Boudinot. That put it very nicely.
4. If you aren’t a serious reader, don’t expect anyone to read what you write.
There are people who only want to write, and don’t like to read. At all. It still blows my mind.
Boudinot mentions four books in this section: Infinite Jest, 2666, Gravity’s Rainbow, and The Great Gatsby. I think people went nuts over this because they took this to mean that what they liked to read (I assume fantasy and sci-fi, just a guess) would be judged by this writer as not being serious. Hey, maybe Boudinot is a snob. I don’t know him, I can’t judge. (though I will note that his statement that: “Conversely, I’ve had students ask if I could assign shorter books, or—without a trace of embarrassment—say they weren’t into “the classics” as if “the classics” was some single, aesthetically consistent genre. Students who claimed to enjoy “all sorts” of books were invariably the ones with the most limited taste. One student, upon reading The Great Gatsby (for the first time! Yes, a graduate student!), told me she preferred to read books “that don’t make me work so hard to understand the words.” made me nod very sadly in understanding – I, too, get very sick of teaching lazy readers)
But I think that, as writers, we all need to regularly challenge ourselves as readers. And this means reading out of our comfort zones.
Does it mean you have to pick up Tolstoy? No. But it might mean giving Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice a try. Or after you read four books that were right in your wheelhouse, kick back with Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler. Being serious about your reading means that, in addition to the act of reading for pleasure, you also consider whether something will stretch your horizons, or challenge you as a reader and a person.
Reading for enjoyment is critical and important. But sometimes you don’t know whether you might enjoy something or not. Reading something outside your comfort zone might end in disappointment, or it might end with excitement and discovery.
And along those lines – I’ve read many moving accounts by people who were, at various points in their lives, told that what they loved wasn’t serious or important, and I’m sorry about that. But maybe instead of deciding to then be just as much of a dick back to the genre that you felt was a dick to you (read: literary fiction & classics), you can try, you know, not being a dick. Don’t take a shit on a book or a genre just because you’ve never read it – that applies to the classics (though, like Boudinot, I agree that this isn’t a real genre – what it does mean is that it has held up to a certain scrutiny of time and has become part of a canon of well-regarded books) just as much as to YA.
There are shitty books everywhere you want to look. I’ve read crappy epic fantasy and I’ve read crappy literary fiction. I’ve read crappy YA and books that were touted as classics that I’ve loathed. But I’ve also read books in all those areas, and more, that I loved, that moved me, that challenged me, and that I recommend unceasingly.
Scoffing at the very idea of reading a certain type of book shouldn’t give you any additional street cred in your preferred genre. That applies to fantasy and science fiction just as equally as it does to those in literary fiction.
5. No one cares about your problems if you’re a shitty writer.
“Just because you were abused as a child does not make your inability to stick with the same verb tense for more than two sentences any more bearable.”
Boudinot is harsh. He’s also right.
Kathryn Harrison’s memoir The Kiss is about the incestuous relationship she had as an adult with her father. It is moving, stunning, viscerally painful, and utterly incredible in the way that it is written. I read it in a non-fiction class during my MFA, and I still own the book. Not because it’s about incest, but because of the writing.
I read more than a few stories by classmates in my MFA program (and turned in a few myself) that were just about similar topics – shitty childhoods and periodic instances of molestation. Some were about rape. Some were about death. A story isn’t good or strong because of its topic, or even because of the *truth* of your topic – it’s good or strong because of the writing. And if someone is a bad writer, then even the most heartbreaking and painful topic will not save it.
There was a guy in my MFA program who was an absolutely painful writer. And every story he turned in was the same – about a vastly inappropriate psychosexual relationship between a gay man and his mother. The first one we all read, knew it was about his life, and tried to be tender and gentle as we addressed the difficult topic of trying to help him address the problems within the story that were preventing him from being able to say anything true or moving in the story (no plot, one-dimensional characters, painfully obvious attempts at symbol, verb tense, etc).
Then came the second story, which was about the same topic as the first. And the third story. And the fourth. And this continued for the entire two years that I spent in that program. Taking a workshop with this man (who had survived what was apparently an utter horror of a childhood to become a really standout and great guy, but just not a good writer), became a chore, because he wasn’t there to hone his writing – he was there to tell the story of his vastly inappropriate psychosexual relationship with his mother.
Having a painful life (or even an interesting life) doesn’t necessarily make someone a good writer. It’s a painful, yet true, thing.
6. You don’t need my help to get published.
I totally disagree with what Boudinot is saying here in its entirety.
Agents and editors have a place, and an important one, in the changing publishing landscape. The idea that we should all turn to each other and form our own little self-publishing communes is utter madness, and I think that Boudinot is clinging tightly to his own inner back-to-nature 70s hippie. (full disclosure: I don’t know Ryan Boudinot, so I don’t know whether he is even in the right age-range to be a back-to-nature 70s hippie. I simply have my suspicions.)
7. It’s not important that people think you’re smart.
YES. THANK YOU. I’m just going to copy, paste, and then cosign.
“After eight years of teaching at the graduate level, I grew increasingly intolerant of writing designed to make the writer look smart, clever, or edgy. I know this work when I see it; I’ve written a fair amount of it myself. But writing that’s motivated by the desire to give the reader a pleasurable experience really is best. I told a few students over the years that their only job was to keep me entertained, and the ones who got it started to enjoy themselves, and the work got better. Those who didn’t get it were stuck on the notion that their writing was a tool designed to procure my validation. The funny thing is, if you can put your ego on the back burner and focus on giving someone a wonderful reading experience, that’s the cleverest writing.”
I wonder if people’s response to this article would’ve been demonstrably different if this had been point #1 rather than #7.
8. It’s important to woodshed.
I agree on this one. I think the woodshed, where unpublished novels go to die, was less of a problem back in the days before easy self-publishing. Self-publishing has its benefits, which I won’t deny, but I think there are more than a few authors (myself included) who are desperately grateful that their early efforts died unsung deaths, and never saw the light of day.
It’s hard to let a book die, because you’ve spent so long on it and believed so hard in it. But not everything that hits 100K deserves to be read, which is the danger of easy self-publishing.
In total – everything is subjective, and nothing moreso than writing advice. Just because we disagree (or agree) on whether an article has merit usually doesn’t mean a whole hell of a lot. If you disagreed with Boudinot about everything – fine. But disagree for your own reasons – not because of various sentences that got posted out of context, or because of reflexive defensiveness.
Dark Ascension is still six months down the pipeline, but it has officially gotten its first advance reader reaction. Check it out!
WOO!!!!! Now, I was in my office at work when I read this, so I couldn’t do what I wanted, which was to run in circles like an overexcited toddler. So I just fist-pumped like crazy. Hooray!
So, there’s something to look forward to in the future. The six-month future.
In the meantime, everyone’s all caught up on Jaime Lee Moyer, right? Because you only have until October to be ready for the third Delia Martin novel.
Fort and Suze’s fourth outing is on track for its August 2015 release!
Firstly, it has now officially made it through the primary editing pass. This means a few things – mainly that the second chunk of my advance money is released (advances are split into thirds – the first chunk is yours when you sign the contract, the second chunk when your editor determines that the manuscript it at the level that the company deems largely acceptable to publish (completion of primary edits), and the third chunk on publication of the book). This is mainly exciting to my mortgage.
Secondly, it means that the book is on schedule. This was the stage where my editor was completely within her rights to say things like, “Well, maybe you should rethink the last two-hundred pages,” or “I like that the character names stayed the same, but hated everything else,” and then I’d cry and start rewriting. But there weren’t any massive alterations – mostly some trims and tucks, and some rethinking and retinkering on the front end. There was also a major challenge to my editor’s ick factor. Now, I’m on record as having great respect for my editor’s ick factor. That, after all, is why there wasn’t incest cannibalism sex in Iron Night.
Yes, that almost happened. It was only months later that I begrudgingly admitted that she might’ve had a point about the incest cannibalism sex, which at the time I thought she was mostly just being a fun-ruiner over.
There was another major editorial ick factor challenge in this manuscript (before you ask, no, it does not involve incest, cannibalism, or sex), but after some serious thought and soul-searching, I decided to leave it in the manuscript. For the sake of science. Whether or not this was a good idea will probably not be determined until August, at which point I imagine readers will make opinions known. I can only hope that readers ultimately decide, as I did, that it was important to the ethos of the world and the direction that I’ve been going with a particular race. Either way, I have a feeling it might show up in one or two reviews. Hopefully described in glowing terms. (of, I guess, “Brennan grossed me out, but it worked for me. Gritty realism for all!”)
Finally, big reveal! The Dark Ascension cover is now up at Goodreads! Feast your eyes upon what is to come:
Thoughts on the cover? Love it? Love it more? Disregard it for the sweet sweet prose, kitsune antics, and Doctor Who jokes waiting inside?