Last week brought us the 6th episode out of 9 of WandaVisiom, entitled “All-New Halloween Spooktacular!” I’m still enjoying the series a lot. But I realized after I finished my review last week, that if the answers to the various mysteries they are aiming to aren’t close to my guesses, the series may have gone completely off the rails. Two of my favorite fan writers have commented that it’s nearly impossible to review this series because you can’t tell whether things make sense if you don’t know the ending. So maybe it’s okay that I’m somewhat conflicted. This review is so late because I kept trying to write it without it being a long recap of the episode.
This is the first episode where I was completely clueless as to who they were doing an homage to during the opening credits. I mentioned previously that due to various life events I watched virtually no television in the 1980s, right? So, due to very different life events1, I wound up missing a lot of television and other pop culture events in the 1990s.
Other viewers, more knowledgeable than myself tell me that the show skipped over the 1990s entirely to make a full-throated embrace of Malcolm in the Middle which aired from 2000 until 2006. And I’ll take their word for it.
The rest of my review/partial recap is rife with spoilers, so don’t scroll down or click below if you don’t want to be spoiled!
I can’t say more without spoilers, so…
Seriously, every single sentence below is so full of spoilers you need a vomit bag…
I’ve been a science fiction fan for Longer than I can remember, thanks to my mom being a big sf fan who read whatever she was reading at the time aloud to me from the time I was an infant. And so from a very early age I was familiar with the idea that there might be life on other planets. Was it something like we saw in movies like Forbidden Planet or The Day the Earth Stood Still? Or was it something more like The Blob? Or—as I read more science fact articles and the like—it began to seem much more likely that if we encountered alien life, it was going to be something like single-cell life living in the soil of Mars or under the methane clouds of Saturn’s moon, Titan. Which may seem less exciting than saucers descending on various national capital cities, but would be a pretty big deal for science!
During my late elementary and middle school years, because of my interest in science fiction, lots of people who weren’t very versed in the science part of sf always assumed that I believed that UFO sightings were always proof of aliens buzzing the planet. And just as more than one adult in my life felt compelled to loan me a copy of Chariots of the Gods—other books about flying saucers, alien abductions, and the like would be handed off to me when it would turn up in a pile of used books and the like. Including, yes, the one pictured above.
And the sorts of adults who would grab such a book with the intention of giving it to a kid they knew are exactly the sort who do not listen when to that kid when they try to explain that this isn’t really the same thing.
But I’m going to try to do the equivalent type of explanation about a related issue that came up in the news this week.
A whole lot of people on social media were sharing this headline: Pentagon declassifies Navy videos that purportedly show UFOs. And a lot of those people were making the same snarky comment, pointing out that since the videos show something that is unidentified, that it is incorrect to say “purportedly.” Because everyone knows that UFOs are unidentified.
That isn’t correct, for two reasons.
First, true the initialism UFO is from the phrase “unidentified flying object”, but you have to look at the entire phrase. It’s not just any unidentified thing. It is an unidentified thing which is flying, and the most common definition of flying is “the action of guiding, piloting, or travelling in an aircraft or spacecraft.” The next most common definition is “move through the air with wings or other propulsion.” In other words, it’s a loaded term. The other issue is the word object, “a material thing (that can be) seen or perceived.”
Which is one reason why the term used by scientists and aviation experts and military analyst use to describe things like those shown in the three de-classified videos is “unidentified aerial phenomena.” Because we don’t know if it’s a physical object, and we don’t know that it is actually being propelled. Some of the unidentified phenomena could be rare electromagnetic phenomena that is visible to human eyes or cameras and registers are radar and similar devices as if it is a physical thing. We really don’t know.
The other reason why using the term “purportedly show UFOs” is because not all readers interpret the collection of letters UFOs as the initialism I mentioned above. As more than one science writer I read back in the day liked to point out, a lot of enthusiasts and crackpots are convinced that the object is not unidentified at all.
But it isn’t just the crackpots and alien enthusiasts. Language isn’t logical. Human brains don’t process language like an algorithm acting on a string of numbers. I’ve pointed out in other contexts that “any sequence of one or more sounds or morphemes (intuitively recognized by native speakers as) constituting the basic units of meaningful speech used in forming a sentence or sentences in a language.” UFO isn’t just can initialism, it’s a word. Think of it that way for a moment, as if it were spelled euephoe. Words have multiple meaning, not simply one. Sometimes one meaning is much more prevalent than others, and sometimes not.
Again, lots of people think of a euephoe as a physical machine designed by someone to propel itself through the sky. And a substantial fraction of them think that it comes from another world.
Headline writers have to take into account various common meanings of words.
Other news sites used UFO in their headlines, and once you get into the article it is clear that they are using it as a synonym for unidentified aerial phenomena. Which is a legitimate choice, though one I’m less sympathetic to.
Even though I am not an enthusiast who believes that aliens from across interstellar space have been regularly visiting us, I have to acknowledge that there are people who do. But I also have to acknowledge that even among those who think anyone who believes in the possibility of life on other planets is just like the crackpots, the term UFO means a physical machine that came to Earth from somewhere else and was built by someone. So I think the headlines that used the word purported got it right.
But it’s language. So there’s never only one right way to do something.
Last year as I worked my way through the nominees for the Hugo Awards, I posted reviews of most of the categories. It was my first time voting, and it was the first year that the Sad/Rabid Puppies had managed to completely take over several categories of the ballot with their bloc voting scheme. This year, the new people running the Sad Puppies presented it as a recommendations list, compiled openly from suggestions from readers of their blog. Since most categories had too many nominees for members to just copy and paste the slate, they wound up having no more or less success than any other recommendation list.
The Rabid Puppies stuck with their bloc voting scheme, though this year their notorious racist/homophobic leader, Vox Day, tried to be clever, putting on his list some authors who have been critical of the Puppies in the past, but who also were likely to be nominated by a lot of regular Hugo voters. Since no matter what happens, Vox always claims that the outcome was a victory and that all of us fell into his trap, I assume that when a couple of these big name authors win he’ll be crowing afterward. And if they don’t win, he’ll say this proves that the Hugo voters are part of an evil cabal who refuse to give any award to anyone he recommends. Or something.
Anyway, this year the voting process for me was a lot less stressful than last year. Last year I tried to read every nominee, regardless of whether it was on one of the slates. I wanted to be able to say with a clear conscious that I gave every work a fair chance and only deployed the No Award option when it was deserved. Which meant I forced myself to slog through some truly awful, extremely poorly written stories. And that gets to be depressing after a while.
A friend asked why I was doing that rather than what she did: she started each story, but if by the third page or so it hadn’t hooked her so that she wanted to keep turning the pages, she stopped and put the title under No Award. “The awards are supposed to be for excellence, after all.” I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of that. If a story isn’t good enough to hook me, then it doesn’t deserve my vote. Simple!
That made this year a whole lot easier. I mean, seriously so, so very much easier. Because once again, most of what the Puppies nominated did not pass that test. Yes, No Award was my top pick in more than one category.
The Retro Hugos were a bit more fun. The regular Hugos recognize works published in the previous calendar year. So the stories and other works we’re voting on for the 2016 awards all had to be published in 2015. The Retro Hugos are for works published many years ago, in years when there was a World Science Fiction Convention, but no awards were given. It’s an optional award that can be held at a WorldCon that is either 50 years, 75 years, or 100 years after one of the years when no awards were given. MidAmeriCon II, this year’s WorldCon, took nominations and is taking votes for works of science fiction published in 1941.
Why that was fun for me is because, first of all, a huge number of the short listed works are stories/books/movies with which I was already very familiar. Heck, I have copies of three of the five shortlisted novels on my own shelves! A bunch of the short stories, novellas, and novelettes are in anthologies that I have on my shelves. I own on DVD three of the movies (one is a serial) nominated in Dramatic Presentation, Long Form, and four of the shorts nominated in Dramatic Presentation, Short Form!
Also, Raymond A. Palmer was a golden age editor who deserves to be way more well-known than he is, and so it was fun to vote for him in the Best Editor, Short Form category!
Anyway, this year’s Hugo Ballot and Packet are disappointing in that so much bad stuff was pushed onto it by the Rapid Puppies, and I remain irritated thinking about all the good stuff published last you that ought to have made the ballot but didn’t because of the bloc voting. We absolutely have to pass the E Pluribus Hugo rule change this year, so that bloc voting becomes harder to do in the future.
The Rabid Puppies piddled all over this year’s Hugo Ballot, again. Like Men’s Rights Advocates, GamerGaters, Trump voters, and other angry (mostly) white (mostly) men who claim they are being oppressed any time that people who don’t look like them manage to achieve more than marginal representation, they’re going to keep causing trouble. But as I and many others pointed out last year, their malicious posturing brought a whole lot of fans who are queer, feminist, and people of color into the Hugo voting process who weren’t involved before. While each of those groups may make up a minority of the total fandom populations, I know that collectively we outnumber the Puppies.
Science fiction is the fiction of the future. Even its dystopian and post-apocalyptic sci fi is, ultimately, about hope for a better tomorrow. Love trumps hate and hope trumps resentment. And no one can take the hope for the future from me.
The first time I saw the original Star Wars I didn’t consciously have a strong feeling about the apparent love triangle being set up between Luke, Leia, and Han. I was frankly a bit surprised when some of my friends started talking about it. I mean, yes, there was the cute scene when Han realized that Luke was developing a crush, and he asked, “Do you think a princess and a guy like me–?” But he was so obviously teasing Luke. Clearly he wasn’t actually interested in the princess, right? I mean, what other possible interpretation could you have to that indulgent, slightly condescending smile?
And Han, being a much more experienced man, also, to my mind, knew that there was never any chance that a guy like Luke could win the princess, either. That was the other meaning of that smile. And during the dozens of times I re-watched the movie over the next three years, I was still convinced that there wasn’t going to be a serious conflict between Luke and Han trying to win Leia’s heart.
I was definitely in the minority. Lots of people expected, if there was a sequel, that a love triangle would figure heavily in the next movie.
I would like to be able to argue that I had somehow perceived some hint of the revelation that was going to come along later that Leia was Luke’s twin sister. But that wasn’t it. It wasn’t until after I first saw The Empire Strikes Back, that I realized what had been going on in my subconscious. Empire remains my favorite movie of the series for a lot of reasons, but after the first showing I had very mixed feelings about one subplot.
I was still deeply closeted at that point, but I was quite aware that I had a crush on Harrison Ford (or at least all the characters he played), while I had also very strongly identified with Luke, but didn’t have the same kind of feelings for Mark Hamill. I realized that my subconscious had been rooting for a romance, all right, but one between Luke and Han. Which in 1980, when Empire was released, was absolutely impossible in a mainstream film. Heck, even the most radical art house films seldom portrayed mutual same sex romances. They might show a homo obsessed with another man, but it was unrequited and tragic and depressing.
But that was what my subconscious saw precisely because we never saw it on the screen. I’ve written before about why queer people read same sex attraction into all sorts of characters in movies, television, and books. Because if we didn’t imagine them, we never got them. The unrelenting message of culture and media is that queers don’t exist, queers don’t matter, queers don’t love, and if they dare to, they deserve whatever horrible things befall them.
That’s why it’s homophobic when straight people roll their eyes or demand to know why we “do that” to characters who aren’t explicitly identified as gay. It isn’t necessarily malicious or intentional, but being annoyed that we dare to imagine such relationships perpetuates our erasure and is condescending at best.
But to get back to Empire, the movie did such an excellent job of portraying the complex emotional relationship between Han and Leia, that by the time of Han’s famous, “I know” answer just before he was frozen in carbonite, I was cheering for them. Of course they were in love! They were perfect for each other! At least that’s what one part of my heart said. Meanwhile, another part was mourning the loss of the love between Han and Luke that I’d hoped for, even though I knew it wouldn’t happen in a mainstream movie.
But once I got over my disappointment, I was totally on the Han and Leia train, and was happy to see them decades later (“You still drive me crazy”) as a realistic older couple who have had their ups, downs, and a falling out but still caring for each other in The Force Awakens.
I don’t only ship same sex couples. The first two seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer I was totally a Willow/Xander shipper. I so wanted Xander to pull his head out and realize that Willow loved him. At different times in the series, yeah, I was elsewhere. I’ve written Xander/Spike fic (and if I ever finish my WIP there’s also some steamy Graham/Riley action and hot Gunn/Buffy action in there). I adore well written Buffy/Spike fic. For a while I was a Xander/Scott shipper, but have often been completely onboard both the canon Xander/Anya and Willow/Tara relationships. I realize if you’re not familiar with the show that you won’t know that half of those are opposite sex couples. In another fictional universe, I remain an unapologetic Parker/Hardison/Spencer One-true-threesome shipper!
But yes, I saw the chemistry between Finn and Poe during my first viewing of The Force Awakens, and given how many millions of other fans saw it, it clearly isn’t an unreasonable inference. I get that other people see the Rey/Finn pairing, and I’m not saying I wouldn’t be able to enjoy that, but I would really, really like for a galaxy filled with aliens of all shapes and droids and so forth the acknowledge that queer people exist, too. (Also, hey! Why can’t we have a Finn/Poe/Rey triad? Polyamory is real, too!) That’s why I enjoyed reading Rian Johnson Gets It, where I first saw the cartoon I linked above.
As Chuck Wendig said in a post I’ve linked to before regarding people who were angry he put gay characters in an official Star Wars novel:
“…if you’re upset because I put gay characters and a gay protagonist in the book, I got nothing for you. Sorry, you squawking saurian — meteor’s coming. And it’s a fabulously gay Nyan Cat meteor with a rainbow trailing behind it and your mode of thought will be extinct. You’re not the Rebel Alliance. You’re not the good guys. You’re the fucking Empire, man. You’re the shitty, oppressive, totalitarian Empire. If you can imagine a world where Luke Skywalker would be irritated that there were gay people around him, you completely missed the point of Star Wars. It’s like trying to picture Jesus kicking lepers in the throat instead of curing them. Stop being the Empire. Join the Rebel Alliance. We have love and inclusion and great music and cute droids.
Also, I was really pleased with this: when a fan recently asked Mark Hamill on line if Luke was bisexual, Mark replied, “His sexuality is never addressed in the films. Luke is whatever the audience wants him to be, so you can decide for yourself.”
First, another reminder that voting for the Hugo Awards ends on Friday. If you are a Sasquan (WorldCon 2015) member and haven’t completed your ballot online, do it now before the servers get bogged down with the rush. The ballot is here. There is still time to buy a supporting membership to become a voter, but since processing a membership might take a while as more traffic hits the servers, you want to do that soon!
I have had two topics I’ve been trying to finish a blog post on today, one kept turning into yet another a kvetch about the Sad/Rabid Puppies bloc-voting scheme, and the other is just not quite finished (which I’m kind of sad about, as it features both another Tolstoy quote and a digression on statistics). And then I read Aaron Pound’s blog post, 2015 Hugo Voting – Roundup and Review and his first few paragraphs more calmly say some of the things I was trying to say, and I figure why not just point people to his better post (and if you haven’t read his blog before, take a look around while you’re there!).
And I have to quote my favorite bit:
The worst thing that could have happened to the reputations of many of the Puppy-promoted authors is that people would read their work, and once they were placed on the Hugo ballot, that is exactly what happened.
– Dreaming About Other Worlds blog
Anyway, don’t forget to vote! And remember that buying a supporting membership to WorldCon supports not just the Hugos, but the conventions themselves! (And I’ll try to finish up the Tolstoy/statistics post in time to post this week!)