Star Trek: The Motion Picture

Star Trek: the Motion Picture

I think this was the first movie I ever watched recognizing it as science fiction. It’s an intensely boring movie by most people’s estimates, but for some reason, it grabbed ahold of my curiosity as a five year old and still hasn’t let go.

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Ever since I was a kid, the kind of movies that let me know my place in the universe was small and dwarfed by the more mundane concerns of the rest of the universe has always appealed to me and triggered my sense of wonder. This is compounded by the fact that, as it turns out, the solar system sized robot is a child looking for its father.

The movie excels at its portrayal of mind bending alienness: a machine of unimaginable proportions wrapped in some kind of defensive cloud of also unimaginable proportions communicating on wavelengths simultaneously too advanced and too archaic. It simply wants information and a greeting, but this being millions of miles in length doesn’t know what it doesn’t know, and that’s lethal for those around it.

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They don’t know it yet, but these birds of prey are about to be cornholed. Cornholed, cornholed, cornholed.

Our best human qualities are the only things that can stand being this close to this particular fire. They are best represented in the dual opposites of Ilia, the Deltan, and Spock, the Vulcan.

Ilia Represents sexuality and perfect empathy
Ilia Represents sexuality and perfect empathy
Spock represent celibacy and perfect intellect
Spock represent celibacy and perfect intellect

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Roddenberry’s possible sexism aside, it’s Ilia’s perfect empathy, and her feelings that overcome the V’Ger (the unspeakable galactic monstrosity) programming, ultimately allowing the crew to resolve the drama of the whole movie. It is Spock’s indomitable curiosity that discovers the ultimate truth of what V’Ger is. The best parts of what being a human has to offer is represented here in these characters, and any foray into the unknown without either vital part is doomed to fail. But…

I never noticed this before, but Spock’s near slavish adherence to logic, reason, research, and his curiosity makes him a duplicitous character at times. In the course of the movie, he is warned repeatedly about risking the ship and its crew in the pursuit of knowledge. Eventually, he schemes his way into a flight suit and out of an airlock.

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This puts everyone else in a difficult position: ultimately this kind of curiosity pays off and paves the way for ultimate resolution, but it means that intelligence ultimately believes in the rightness of its conviction regardless of what convention and authority say. So, how much do you trust the intelligence of those around you? Every great advance within culture and society is abhorred by the structures preceding it.

The movie resolves in a case study of chaos theory. Knowledge of a largely symbolic gesture nearly 300 years earlier proves to be the only thing to subdue this angry toddler of a Lovecraftian monstrosity.

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Spock, in his psychedelic light trip through the guts of this mechanical creature discovers an entirely different galaxy populated by machines whose minds are so vast and alien and old as to be incomprehensible to his capable Vulcan brain. Shooting into this unknowable landscape comes our fragile ancient Voyager satellite with its inscription about a creator. A religion is made, and a timid toddler (by the scope of machines) granted a shaky kind of sentience sets out in pursuit of the creator. His only hope is to be reunited in eternity with the creator. Even machines suffer delusion.

After diligent research, the crew finds the return codes for the satellite, and it is satisfied in having found god. But, god must come with it. It must join with god and carry this experience home. It won’t leave unless the creator comes too.

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Earlier in the movie, V’ger steals Ilia – her mind being most receptive to the kind of machine magic necessary for his work – and makes a perfect mechanical copy of her to investigate the Enterprise. V’ger, perhaps showing his mechanical privilege, believes the Enterprise to be the sentient being, and the humans to be invasive parasites. It’s Decker’s (above) gentle persistence and constant reminders at the relationship he and Ilia shared that overcomes the mechanical duplicate’s programming. And it’s Decker’s love for Ilia that allows him to sacrifice himself and return with the Ilia-unit and V’ger to an unknown home world. The movie closes with Kirk’s observation that we’ve witnessed the creation of a new lifeform.

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Just in case you were curious what that new life was

 

 

 

Star Wars Rebels – “Gathering Forces” S1E9

01_ezra-cover

Rebels faced another big test this week in delivering the second half of its very first two part episode.  For me, this episode would make or break the rest of the season.  Well fan boys & girls let me say… Star Wars Rebels has unequivocally been “made.”  I loved, loved, loved “Gathering Forces!!”  I’ll tell you all the reasons why.

We picked up right where we left off.  The rebels are running from Imperial forces in The Ghost, attempting to get their new ally and Imperial defector, Tseebo, to safety.  I have to give it up the Imperials this time.  Not only did they send way more than the standard FOUR TIE fighters after their quarry, they dropped two Star Destroyers on the fleeing heroes.  A-plus effort troopers!  Lucky for Hera, Tseebo’s more than just baggage; he helps the rebels make a narrow getaway.

Always calm and collected, the Inquisitor chases the rebels across the galaxy
Always calm and collected, the Inquisitor chases the rebels across the galaxy

In the midst of the commotion we get more background on Tseebo’s relationship with Ezra.  After Ezra’s parents were abducted, he was left in the care of Tseebo who (apparently) abandoned him and did nothing to try and save his parents.  Ezra is convinced that his parents are dead.  This aspect is left lingering at the end of the episode, which is a guarantee that this will come up again in a big way.

Speeding through hyperspace, Kanan senses a disturbance in The Force – he doesn’t feel like they’ve made a clean escape.  Tseebo confirms as much and shares the specs of a new tracking device developed by the Empire.  It can actively track a ship through hyperspace – so cool!!!  And yes, you guessed it, the rebels have been hit with one all thanks to The Inquisitor.  Kanan devises a plan to draw the pursuing Inquisitor and Imperials away with Ezra, so that the others can get Tseebo into safe hands.  I really applaud the use of sweet sci-fi tech here.  It’s not forced and it weaves very seamlessly into the story.  It kept me engaged and anxious.

He man not look it, but Tseebo has got it together!
He man not look it, but Tseebo has got it together!

Kana and Ezra take the tracking device and use The Ghost’s dropship, The Phantom, to peel off from the main ship in mid hyperspace flight.  The following scene of The Phantom perilously and uncontrollably exiting hyperspace was sweeeeet!!!  I’m a little confused about how a faster-than-light object naturally decelerates in the presence of a frictionless vacuum, but then again, I don’t really understand faster-than-light travel in the first place, so I’ll let this slide.  Kanan and Ezra are headed back to the abandoned asteroid base that we first witnessed in episode 7.  I’ll lay on more applause for Weisman and his team for tying past episodes together in a meaningful way.  It’s apparent that the Rebels creative team is (and has been) deliberate and strategic with the happenings of prior episodes.  Practically ALL my grievances with continuity and random events of this season were addressed this episode; even the situation with Fulcrum!

If this is what the dark side is all about, then sign me up!
If this is what the dark side is all about, then sign me up!

More than just creating a diversion for the main mission, Kanan intends to use his time on the planet to teach Ezra more about The Force.  Instead of avoiding the “shadow-beasts” that nearly killed Hera and Sabine, Kanan wants Ezra to connect with these creatures.  A touching and masterfully delivered Master-Padawan moment ensues.  This sequence is the second best one of the entire show thus far.  The single best sequence (so far) happens right afterward!  The Inquisitor and his troops take the bait and follow Kanan to the base.  Inquisitor vs. Kanan round 2 takes place, with The Inquisitor taking the upper hand.  The Inquisitor is so flippin’ stylish and menacing that I can hardly stand it.  Consider me an Inquisitor groupie at this point.  With Kanan unable to hang, Ezra is left as the last line of defense.  In quintessential Star Wars fashion, The Inquisitor goads Ezra into harnessing his dark potential.  This plays out in the most stark and impressive show of Ezra’s untapped abilities.  We witness firsthand how powerful Ezra can be and what’s possible if his abilities are left unchecked and subject to the dark side!  This moment was defining for Rebels and has really boosted my confidence (and enjoyment) of the show.

Ezra's dark side potential personified - a shocking representation
Ezra’s dark side potential personified – a shocking representation.

It’s no surprise that Kanan and Ezra are able to elude capture from the clutches of the evil Empire yet again – they’re top class escape artists after all!  As the episode wraps up, viewers are left with just the right amount of questions and intrigue.  What will happen to Tseebo?  What really happened to Ezra’s parents?  What does Ezra’s brush with the dark side mean for his future?  I’ve doubted the Rebel’s production team’s ability to deliver continuity – this is mostly the fault of their predecessor series, The Clone Wars – but after “Gathering Forces” I’m convinced that this band of Disney TV makers knows what they’re doing.

We're sad too Ezra.  We have to wait a whole month for more Rebels
We’re sad too Ezra. We have to wait a whole month for more Rebels.

Star Wars Rebels gets a Hutt-sized A+ this week.  “Gathering Forces” is hands-down, the best episode of the series so far.  It wasn’t just great compared to the other episodes, it was great relative to some of the best moments of classic Star Wars.  It was super-cool, believable (for sci-fi) and most importantly, it felt like Star Wars.  The only bad thing about any of this is that the series will be taking a break for the holidays.  We’ll all have to wait until January for the adventure to continue.  Until then we’ll all have to practice Master Yoda’s timeless lesson of patience… Patience young Padawan…

A Science Fictional Year: Lonely Sci-Fi.

Gravity (2013) • Solaris (1972) • Solaris (2002) • The Fountain (2006) • Sunshine (2007) • Moon (2009)

This sub-genre of sci-fi that isn’t actually a genre, but which I like to think of as Lonely Sci-Fi, is one of my favorites. Harkening back to Alien, being alone in space forces you to contemplate. The vastness of space becomes a metaphor for the vastness of internal space, and for most people, they’re equally dark, terrifying, and unexplored. Similarly, space instantly confronts us with mortality. Like ancient sailors and their fear of the ocean and their belief that gods and hell lie at its floor, or most recent mythologies have trimmed the “s” off gods, and he (almost certainly he) lives somewhere out there, frighteningly beyond knowable space. As such, all these movies are about death and mortality: how you face death, who pushes you to it, and if it’s worth it.

The first movie I saw in this group was Gravity. I actually struggle if this is science fiction. I actually don’t think this movie is sci-fi. It involves scientists, for sure, and it is a story, and they’re in space, but I don’t think this movie is science fiction. This is one of those movies that makes us realize that we do live in the future: every item in it is now common place. Thanks to this, I know there are currently six people in space. That’s four more people than are currently in my house, which makes being in space a relatively common event now. We’ve even had our fair share of space accidents. That means that every element of this movie already exists and therefore can’t be science fiction, especially if we (try desperately to) use my definition in which science has some role to play in urging the plot forward, and science pushes the characters toward some moment of transcendence.

That doesn’t mean that it isn’t cool to see astronauts being heroic, because it is.

As I contemplate this not actually being science fiction, it’s difficult then to also see what, if any, transcendent message it has. In fact, the movie is, blatantly, about pushing toward the terrestrial and getting away from space. Everything from the characters talking about Earth based trauma, jobs, music, and what they plan to do when they get back de-transcendentalizes this movie.

Scroll down for page 2.

Surviving A Science Fictional Year: Family Sci-Fi

Short Circuit (1986)Short Circuit 2 (1988)E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (1982)Batteries Not Included (1987)Flight of The Navigator (1986)

 

Of all my posts so far, I feel like this one has the most tenuous link between the films reviewed. But when I made my list, I had the distinct idea that these belonged together. Short Circuit and it’s sequel are obvious, but the others– less so.

So let’s start with Johnny Five. I have no reference for how many times I watched Short Circuit as a kid. I know I would show it to any new friends I made, and it was one of my comfort movies along with a handful of others. I remember seeing Johnny Five and not being quite sure to what extent he wasn’t real, but wishing I could meet him.

Because one of my favorite things to do (if you haven’t noticed) is interpret movies through a gnostic lens, I couldn’t help but see a sort of gnostic (Buddhist might be more accurate) bent to this story. The first few minutes is Johnny’s own creation story: we see circuit boards assembled, processors soldered, hardware molded, shaved, tinkered and installed. Johnny’s Eden, or life in innocence, is brute matter. No will, no awareness, no choice; a literal machine who “just runs programs” and Newton and Ben will frequently remind us. His fall from grace happens to be curiosity and choice, not too dissimilar from the Bible’s own creation story. His awakening is even a literal lightning bolt to the head, a fairly obvious reference to our own notion of a brain storm. It also has the connotation of divine intervention: Zeus’ and Thor’s lightning bolts, but the Bible is rife with examples of God controlling the weather.

 

Someday, if we’re lucky.

In terms of Buddhism (Tibetan, specifically), there’s the idea of Kundalini, or the serpent which sits, coiled, at the base of your spine. By uncoiling the serpent and allowing it exit through the top of your skull, you achieve enlightenment. Johnny Five’s enlightenment seems to have taken the shape of a reverse Kundalini.

Throughout the movie, and this is a unifying feature of all five of these movies, Johnny is portrayed as being very childlike, which makes sense given that he’s a three (five?) days old at the end of the movie. But there’s also a Buddhist approach to his childlikeness. In Buddhism, again, there’s the notion that, at birth, a person still retains total knowledge from their brief contact with Nirvana during the death and rebirth cycle. They, however unfortunately, have no ability to communicate this total knowledge as their meat body is too poorly equipped for this. Even worse is that as a person begins to accumulate knowledge from within the world, they begin to forget their contact with enlightenment.

Johnny forgets all his material knowledge, but retains his ability to read and process. In that way, he isn’t very Buddhist, but he becomes Buddhist with his instant and intense respect of life. There’s very much the idea that the first to achieve enlightenment has the purist scope of the world with how opposed he is to killing, even expressing crippling guilt when accidentally smashing a grasshopper.

But then the second movie, Short Circuit 2… ugh. My first note I wrote is, “fucking terrible music,” because the music is the worst possible 80’s nonsense you can imagine.

I suppose if you wanted to continue with the Buddhist analysis, this is the story of Johnny’s corruption: he helps more than one person make a fortune, and ends the movie covered in gold, which could possibly be a symbol of his de-Buddhafication.

But it can’t, because it’s a garbage movie made by garbage people.

The resolution of the movie is baffling. The, apparent, greatest achievement is Johnny being recognized as a citizen though he himself never expressed such a desire: he was just tired of being treated like a machine. But as a resolution, this fails to be satisfying.

It’s fascinating to me how hungry humans are for state approval. I suppose since we live in states, it’s an almost impossible thing to avoid, but a state’s declaration amounts to little more than the loudest kid on the playground announcing that they’re cool. A state’s declaration has no actual bearing on the objective reality of a thing: Johnny Five either is or is not a living being, and being given a certificate that says one or the other doesn’t make that objective reality any deeper (or not).

Dumb. Disappointing. Dumb, dumb.

In fact, I have to run with this Buddhist interpretation for, like, two more minutes to make my life feel like less of a colossal waste for having watched this movie.

Adherence or infatuation with how a state moves might possibly be, in Buddhist and Gnostic terms, the epitome of the fall from the heavenly state. Buddhism has been described by some of its adherence as “perfect present mindedness,” pure dedication to this moment as it presents itself, worrying for no hypothetical or abstract moment. What else is a state’s movement but nothing but hypothetical and abstract movement? Getting into law reveals a complex organ of definitions and concepts that have no life outside of that organ. Even worse, as citizens in a state, when we vote on something, even if it’s for an expanded right, we’re voting on limiting our own potential as potential seeking beings. In Gnostic terms, we’re gods giving up our own godhood for no great return. In Buddhist terms, we’re voluntarily sacrificing our own presentness for a quagmire of future abstraction. Perhaps Johnny Five covered in gold is the best possible representation of trading our own enlightenment for state sponsored baubles.

For E.T., click Page 2!

Surviving A Science Fictional Year: The Terminators

The Terminator (1984) • Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003) • Terminator Salvation (2009)

 

I only ever saw the first Terminator movie once, when I was five or six. It scared the crap out of me (as a lot of the movies on my list seem to have a habit of doing, except for Predator, oddly enough). As a kid, I remember not having a firm grasp on the difference between actors and the characters they play. I knew, obviously, that movies weren’t portraying real events, but that (to some extent) the actors were having genuine experiences. It’s a difficult concept to track and lacks internal logic: evidence of it as the idea of a five year-old mind. But if you can humor the me of 1988, the moment where the T-1 is performing self-surgery, my brain interpreted that as the moment where the real life Arnold Schwarzenegger (his name is in Google’s dictionary. Weird.) was discovering that he, the actor, was in fact a robot. What terrified me more than this nonsense-relization was that he seemed to be so unfazed by this realization. As such, I never saw it again and it was crystallized in my mind as one of the scariest things possible.

Fast forward twenty years later and, with my views on James Cameron having so drastically shifted, I was concerned the movies (the first and second, the second of which was a long time favorite) wouldn’t be any good any more. I was glad to find that was not the case and the movies largely continued to hold up. I did find that for my purposes, however, the first one was a little philosophically empty and, therefore, difficult to deal with.

My initial thoughts were regarding the fear that machines will somehow spring to life and make the annihilation of human life its primary concern. Going back to What Technology Wants, the book by Kevin Kelly from my previous post, it is argued that the world of technology (or the technium as he coins it) is the seventh kingdom in the animal world. This sort of stuff makes you feel like a madman to discuss in polite company, but if you read his book (you should), he makes a compelling argument. Kelly discusses in his book how, like prior kingdoms, the technium is rising on the backs of mammals. He also argues that, like has yet to happen in real life, no new life form appears with the express desire of eliminating a prior life form. He acknowledges that sometimes it happens as an unfortunate side effect – such as with ice age humans and the evidence that they hunted the mammoth to extinction, or with the cyanobacteria annihilation of many anaerobic species – but for a species to make a willful attempt at annihilation of an entire other species or kingdom would be unthinkable.

Related is Roko’s Basilisk, which briefly summed is the idea that a hypothetical all-knowing machine might decide to punish those that didn’t help create it and reward those that helped it greatly. Though I think science fiction movies have yet to really explore this notion: machines are here to punish us for our sins.

And this is where the second one comes in. The first movie is a tightly told horror story, and it should be appreciated for the serious way in which it approaches a concept that, with any lesser candor, would be goofy (oh hai Terminator 3). But the second one informs us what these movies are really about: Judgment Day.

The new face of God.

For some of us, Judgment Day has been separated from its ominous roots, making it a judgment day, but the phrase and the idea is strictly a religious one. It’s the day Jesus comes back to judge the works of humanity (spoiler alert: we are found wanting) and takes up the ones who have earned favor. This reflects Roko’s Basilisk in a way where “hypothetical all-knowing machine” is replaced with “hypothetical all-knowing man-deity,” and “punishes those that didn’t help create it” is replaced with “punishes those that don’t believe.”

The problem in the world of The Terminator is that these aren’t simply events that happen, something that occurs and the fallout of which must be dealt. Judgment Day is specific punishment. This is where Kevin Kelly’s (perhaps unprovable) assertion runs aground: whether or not machines become aware and assume a state of benevolence doesn’t matter because we as humans feel like we deserve punishment. It’s perhaps our own guilt coming through these movies than any kind of rational fear. Fearing bears when one is slathered in beef jerky in the woods is a rational fear, but fearing that robots would like to murder us because our phones are getting fancier is not.

The first two Terminator movies are, I think, probably Cameron’s best. The philosophy is the most tightly contained, and the running times least insufferable. And it’s perhaps thanks in part to that fear he was trying to voice: robots probably won’t rise up, but we deserve it for our sins. Numerous sins we knowingly continue to perpetrate: sins of cruelty against each other; sins of exploitation against our resources; sins of abuse against our environment; the sin of refusing to acknowledge other creatures’ right to life. These movies aren’t, perhaps, expressing a fear, but a desire we fearfully crave: the desire of the guilty to be punished and the relief that comes after penance. The problem, however, is who will punish us when god is dead? Cameron tells us that it will be the thing most like god (second to God himself, and a little higher than ourselves perhaps), the thing that is everywhere on the planet at once, has near omnipotent knowledge, and, if hundreds of years of philosophers are correct, a child of our own creation like god.

 

Stick around (by which I mean click the page 2 button) for parts three and four.

The Ripple Effect: The New Voices of YA…An interview with Writer Brian W. Parker on his novel Crow in the Hollow

It sounds crazy, but I read like I’m a heroin addict. Given the opportunity of free time, I devour mountains of books like it’s nothing. Because of this though, it has gotten harder to come across works of fiction that are original and don’t use the same old trite, and cliché storylines. I feel there is a rather frustrating disconnect with mainstream publishing companies who really hold the keys to which stories get out there. Searching for novels that breathe new life into Fantasy and Sci-Fi can be daunting as you hunt in the small corners and obscure outlets where writing with a different perspective await.

I follow a Tumblr called Medieval POC (People of Color). If you’re on Tumblr, I highly recommend you do it NOW. It’s a fantastic blog with its aim to share art and stories of Medieval People of Color which dismantles the idea that people of color didn’t exist in medieval Europe. They also have a Patreon if you want to help out and donate money. http://www.patreon.com/medievalpoc

Recently, they posted a fiction week and listed several Fantasy and Sci-Fi novels written by and/or about people of color. It was nice to have quick and easy access to a list of stories that weren’t the cookie cutter white experience.  As an educator, this Tumblr became an extremely helpful resource. Because of the Tumblr, I was able to start buying books I wanted to read that I could also recommended to my students. One particular novel that caught my eye was Crow in the Hollow by Brian W. Parker. The artwork was intriguing and I ordered the book a couple days later.

After reading the novel, I honestly felt more optimistic about the genre and its potential, but I also felt frustrated because it shouldn’t be this hard to find such diversity in the written word. This book should be as easy to find at Barnes and Nobles as The Hunger Games is. Crow in the Hollow was a different story, a story that I’ve always wanted to read. It’s complex and intriguing. The landscape is breathtaking, and the art has a way of drawing you further into the story. I haven’t been this excitedly pulled in by novel in,well, I don’t know how long. The internet being the awesome thing that it is, I was able to send an email to the writer and asked him if I could interview him.  I hope once you’ve read our interview, you go out and buy his work!


 

Could you give me a quick summary of Crow in the Hollow?

      Crow in the Hollow is about Suqata, the last of the Chinequewa people and he is gifted with the voice of magic. He was found wandering in the wilderness with no memory of his home and family.  Suqata is forced into slavery in the Kaelish Colonies. All the while, his power to “sing change into the world” grows inside him. When he’s taken to Orin’s Hollow to serve as the personal servant of Captain Graye, Suquata is forced to abandon his power in order to earn a place in the world of the outlanders. This soon changes with the arrival of the new governor and his mysterious daughter from across the sea. This sets actions into motion that will change the colonies. Ancient powers, otherworldly wolf packs, and forgotten gods all play at the strings of destiny. Suqata must find the power in his own voice to do the impossible.

On Kickstarter you said Crow in the Hollow was an idea that has been with you for 8 years in which you’ve continually worked and crafted this story. Can you tell me a little more about your creative process and your journey with getting this story from your mind to the public?

While I was working on my undergraduate degree in graphic design, I made an illustration for a class of a young man standing in the shadow of a massive crow. I don’t know exactly where the image was inspired from, but it stayed with me slowly taking form over time. Soon it became a story, with characters becoming more and more fleshed out as it revealed itself. I got to a point where I realized that I was going to have to make the story come to life in some form – a book, graphic novel, or maybe even a film. Somehow, Crow in the Hollow would have to be shared with others. For years I wrote and re-wrote it, illustrating scenes and constantly sketching the characters, but I was always unsure of my ability to do justice to what was in my mind. It wasn’t until I gave up the fear of getting things wrong that I was able to really sit down and create the final book.

What has it been like working with Inkwater Publishing? Looking at their website, they seem like a good company to work with if people want to get their work published.

They’re great! Inkwater Publishing has been very supportive of my work. They have a great backlist of titles, and work with very talented authors and illustrators, and employ a top notch group of publishing professionals. If you get a chance to see the final design of my physical book, you’ll see it was beautifully handled, and I love that attention to detail. I’m really hoping to work with them on my next project, The Wondrous Science.

Your art is breathtaking and I was wondering if you could speak about yourself as a visual artist and how this informs your narrative? I feel it adds a depth to your story.

When I was a kid, I really wanted to tell stories but found that I had a hard time finishing the ones that I would write. It was also really hard to get my busy parents to sit down long enough to read anything that I wrote. Luckily, both of my older brothers were pretty good at drawing and they taught me everything they knew. With art I was able to tell a story with imagery and get across my ideas much easier. By time I was in junior high, I was hooked. There is something very satisfying about envisioning a scene and to bring it to life in my sketch pad with pencil or pen & ink. Eventually I decided to go into a career as a graphic artist, but deep in my heart I have always been a storyteller.

Why do you write? And what keeps you writing?

Stories have always been a big part of who I am. My mother is a self-taught reader, and has always instilled in me a love of the written word. I admit it’s kind of geeky, but even as a small child, I loved to go to old bookstores. There was something about the smell, and that comforting feeling of the heavy laden shelving surrounding me that made me feel at home. Holding a book in your hand is the same as holding an idea made tangible. That is incredible to me, and authors always seemed more like magicians. No matter what turn I’ve made in my life and career, that love of stories and books has always driven me, and I feel that becoming a writer was just inevitable. As long as the stories keep coming to me, I know they will have to find their way out.

How much research was involved when you wrote Crow in the Hollow?

I think I did a lot of research as I was writing the book, but probably not as efficiently as I could have. When you’re writing fantasy there is a great deal of wiggle room when it comes to details, but since the world I created is very closely related to colonial America, I knew I needed the grounding of history to make the story believable. I read a lot about the French-Indian War and the politics of the early colonies. My favorite part of the research process, however, was studying the different native tribes of the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. Although the tribes in the Crow in the Hollow are kind of an amalgamation of many different native cultures from America, Africa, and Australia, their ground work is found in the Tlingit and Haida tribes of Northern Washington.

What draws you to Young Adult? And what is your hope with writing Crow in the Hollow?

Some of the most influential books I’ve ever read are considered YA, so I can’t think of a better playground for my characters. There is something about reading a story about a young protagonist that touches on something core to the human experience. There is the turmoil of facing a world that feels too big to handle, and all of the self-doubt and questioning that comes with it. Against incredible odds, heroes must grow and face their fears, and by doing so teach the reader that they can do so as well. That is the beauty of fiction – it teaches through story. The adventures Bilbo Baggins, Sparrowhawk the Wizard, and Sabriel taught me what it meant to be hero in my own life, just as much as reading about real life heroes.

Which writers inspire and inform your work?

Of course I have to give a nod to Tolkien. He was my favorite author growing up, but since then he has been joined by the likes of Ursula K. LeGuin, Garth Nix, and Neil Gaiman. I love imaginative fiction – the kind of stories that truly transport you another place and time where the rules of reality and magic are never what you expect. However, you have to read a diverse selection of authors, so I’ll include Agatha Christie, Dan Brown, and the incredible Rainbow Rowell (I loved Eleanor & Park.)

As for Crow in the Hollow, what sparked your inspiration to have your magic based in word weaving and singing. There is a strong connection to music/words and the power it has with your characters. I am also curious with the language you used. Does it belong to a particular tribe of people?

The idea of magic and change coming from the power of words is really just a nod to true and lasting power of words in our everyday life. I think that we take this for granted in our modern age, but some of the biggest changes in our shared human history have come through new ways of capturing the spoken word. From the invention of writing, to Gutenberg’s printing press, all the way to the creation of the first computers – these innovations are just ways of cataloging and capturing our thoughts, dreams and aspirations. That is kind of amazing if you think about it!

I was raised in a very spiritual home, and read Bible stories from a very young age. Genesis was always my favorite book in the Bible, especially how it begins. There is something about the idea that in the beginning there was nothing, until a still, solitary voice rung out through the void and said, “Let there be light!” Words are ideas made manifest, and with them you can change the world.

As for the language I use in the book, it’s actually a combination of syllabic sounds from the Tlingit and Haida languages. I wish I knew someone who could make full languages! I would definitely love to further explore the language of the Chinequewa.

The parallel to U.S History is pretty clear. As a reader I appreciated the other side of history and this reclaiming of a voice. What is your inspiration from history and what is your hope bringing this past voices to the present?

I guess my inspiration would have to be my own ancestry. My family comes from Mississippi, and were slaves there for centuries, but I also have Choctaw in my family tree. Both Africans and Native-Americans suffered great injustices in American history, and both are tribal cultures. However, through circumstances and events, the Native American cultures were able to hold onto some sense of who they were and where they came from. Over time, slaves began to disconnect themselves from their tribal roots, and in a way, African Americans are still trying to reconnect with their sense of history and identity.

While writing Crow in the Hollow, I wanted to paint a picture of a world similar to our own that was facing some of the same turmoil that our country faced in its infancy. By making that parallel, I was able to talk about the effects of slavery on tribal people, and in a small way express some of my own personal feelings about reconnecting with my heritage. Suqata tries so hard to be accepted in the world that he is raised in, almost to the point that he abandons his own history. The story is about not only his hero’s quest, but also about reclaiming his sense of self.

I thought it was interesting that The Umbar and the Chinequewa are of the same people but separated by water. It seems like  it opens a lot for sequels to follow. Will we get to know more about them in books to follow and will we get to see more of Suqata and the Crow?

Oh most definitely! I’ve always imagined the story unfolding over the course of years, exploring the changes that will happen in the Kaelish Colonies, and eventually the war that erupts. Without giving too much away, the connection between the Umbar and Chinequewa will be further explored, as well as the connection with Knights of Ascalion.

Also, I am curious about your draw to the symbol of the crow. I’ve also had a liking to the crow and it is not often used in literature. Is he your favorite trickster archetype?

The crow is most certainly my favorite Trickster archetype. I love that fact that tricksters in Native American stories, though trouble-makers, are usually benevolent and work to help humanity. I wanted to keep that tradition alive with Cora-Vaco.

How can readers discover more about you and your work?

Website: http://believeinwonder.weebly.com/

Blog: http://believeinwonder.weebly.com/brians-blog

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BrianTheSwankyOne

Twitter: https://twitter.com/SwankyPlatypi

 

A Science Fictional Year: Matrix Inspired

Dark City (1998) • Cypher (2002) • Thirteenth Floor (1999) • Yesterday Was A Lie (2008)

I mentioned, briefly, in my discussion on The Matrix about old technology having some kind of magic effect: some ability inherent to the pre-Pentium world (Pentium being an arbitrary significator of technological progress here) to transport or contain its users elsewhere. Which is, of course, counter intuitive. Occulus Rift’s ability to transport someone to a theoretical world is at least twenty times greater than the VHS for Beverly Hills Cop, but somehow our cultural mythos seems to have a different opinion. These outmoded technological artifacts, perhaps because of their undeniable connection with the past, seem more capable of taking an individual into altered states. The movies I picked (with one exception) borrow from the past, or a conglomeration of past and present, to portray a world that you should not believe. And I say they’re Matrix inspired, though really, it’s a case of whatever was in the drinking water.

In Kevin Kelly’s (incredible) book What Technology Wants, in the chapter titled “Convergence”, he discusses evolution’s tendency (and technology’s tendency by extension) to have synchronic developments. For example, the human eye and the squid eye are identical despite millions of years evolution and several phylum, chordata, what have you, separating us. I know this seems like a non sequitur (which is why you should stop everything and read his book right now), but he coins the phrase “steamboat time” to indicate a convergence of technological development. In it, he discusses how five unrelated people in unrelated parts of the world all simultaneously invented the steamboat engine with, as far as we can tell now and then, no communication amongst the individuals. This prompted Mark Twain to write, “When it’s steamboat time, you steam,” to describe the sudden proliferation. Another example would be two totally different men inventing calculus at roughly the exact same moment. Right down to Newton accusing Lebniz of plagiarism. All this to say: whatever water The Matrix was drinking, it contained some steamboat time.

Dark City‘s conceit is of slug like aliens that pilot our dead to perform psychological experiments on us in a shifting environment, with false memories and personalities implanted in our minds. My favorite line (which I will repeat with full dead-eyed eye contact if confronted with a question I can’t answer) was, “We control your dead.” Creepy.

In terms of the steamboat time, all these movies take place in dream like worlds, with dream like cinematography, and slightly off-putting color palettes. All these worlds are meant to only make us comfortable enough to not question their truthiness (except maybe Cypher‘s world). They encourage a Matrix-style paranoia (which really traces back to the crystallized perfection of The X-Files) and distrust of the people who say, “Hey pal. You can trust me! I’m a regular human like you! I mean, ‘I’m a human just like you’!” Trust only your self, and only if you’re under thirty (as of this year, I can’t even trust myself any longer).

Dark City has the structure of a dream: you have the feeling that you’re the only person who’s even vaguely aware enough to know what’s really happening. Or perhaps the only person who has a hope of figuring it out. The geography shifts even as you get a fragile grip on it, and the whole time you have in mind a vague but compellingly necessary goal. For the hero, John Murdoch, that goal is Shell Beach, and like a dream, it’s a location that doesn’t exist yet; it’s a part of everyone’s shared and implicit knowledge. John has to fight against even the implicit reasoning of his nonsensical dream space.

Like our steamboat time in the real world, Dark City experiences its own surge of super necessary steamboat time in the form of John’s emergent telekinetic powers, which allow him to fight the slugs (who control the dead), transcend everyone’s crappy eternal night, and fashion the paradise of Shell Beach which he (and the city) so desperately needs.

Fascinating is that the world of the dream is never fully abandoned. John and his co-inhabitants still live in the floating experimental and isolated world of Dark City. Just one now has the ability to manipulate the machines of the invaders to manipulate the dream. Transcendence becomes building paradise within the dream.

Click on page 2 below to check out Thirteenth Floor and Cypher.