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Ava Jarvis

A New Hope Awakens: A Star Wars Newbie Watches The Force Awakens

I was filled with trembling hope and uncertain fear as I settled in my theater seat, wondering what I would see over the next few hours. Was this going to be a repeat of the prequels I had seen with my former colleagues so long ago? The opening theme did not reassure me, nor did the opening crawl. I’d seen them before, after all, attached to movies I loathed.

And I’d only ever seen the original trilogy on my iPad screen. The idea of a movie of their stature on the large screen seemed almost ludicrous. I didn’t trust J. J. Abrams to do the job right, either.

Still, if it turned out badly, it would be a final end to my journey through the Star Wars series.

And I got more than I bargained for.

This review is full of spoilers, y’all.

[Read more]

Series: Star Wars on Tor.com

Return of the Ham. Watching Return of the Jedi for the First Time

Oh, Lucas. What have you done?

What have you done?

Last time, you showed me what you (or at least, you in cooperation with others, possibly?) could do with The Empire Strikes Back. And the result was a wonderful movie that knocked my socks off and sold me on Star Wars forever.

I trusted you, or at least past you, a bit more than I should have. Fortunately, some warnings kept me from getting my hopes up too much, but goodness.

I’ll be blunt: I don’t think Return of the Jedi is as good as The Empire Strikes Back or A New Hope.

And yet… despite not being as good as its predecessors, Return of the Jedi still strikes a chord in me.

[“There is good in him.”]

Series: Star Wars on Tor.com

The Original Trilogy Strikes Back. Watching Empire Strikes Back for the First Time

Last time, I watched Star Wars: A New Hope and found an appreciation for the older movies that I didn’t know would be there, having only seen (and hated) the prequels.

I went into watching The Empire Strikes Back with slightly higher expectations, tempered by the fact that this was, after all, still Star Wars. Three of Lucas’ movies had already failed me, after all, even if the fourth turned out to be quite good against my expectations.

But could I chance another failure?

Well, heck yeah. I can hate Star Wars with impunity if need be.

As for The Empire Strikes Back

[“You have failed me for the last time.”]

Series: Star Wars on Tor.com

A New Hope for Understanding Star Wars

Previously, I mentioned how I didn’t get Star Wars—having only seen the prequels—and planned to increase my Star Wars I.Q. in the lead up to The Force Awakens.

So I spent last night watching Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. I was fascinated. I didn’t hate it. I… I actually liked it. I won’t say I loved it, but that’s not the fault of the movie itself.

Spoilers, y’all. If there is such a thing for a movie this popular and embedded into pop culture.

[“I have a bad feeling about this.”]

Series: Star Wars on Tor.com

I Don’t Get Star Wars, But I Plan to Change That

When the first trailer for Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens came out, I had no reaction other than one of confusion. Why were people so hyped about a round robot rolling through a desert, or someone dressed up as a storm trooper, or that “the Darkness, and the Light,” line from whoever? Heck, people were excited about Han Solo and Chewbacca showing up at the end saying, “We’re home.” Why?

I don’t get it. I mean, I get the character names and suchlike. I have a vague knowledge of who they are, with Star Wars so permeated into mainstream culture, not to mention geek culture. But I still don’t get it.

[Probably because I first experienced Star Wars through the prequels…]

Series: Star Wars on Tor.com

Review: Charles Stross’ The Fuller Memorandum

“This is the story of how I lost my atheism, and why I wish I could regain it. This is the story of the people who lost their lives in an alien desert bathed by the hideous radiance of a dead sun, and the love that was lost and the terror that wakes me up in a cold sweat about once a week, clawing at the sheets with cramping fingers and drool on my chin. It’s why Mo and I aren’t living together right now, why my right arm doesn’t work properly, and I’m toiling late into the night, trying to bury the smoking wreckage of my life beneath a heap of work.”

—Bob Howard, The Fuller Memorandum

You could sum up Charles Stross’ The Laundry Files series as “Dilbert meets Cthulhu,” but while I’ve never been much of a fan of Dilbert (though Scott Adams’ strips are funny and often too apt), I am a total fan of Bob Howard. It’s not just that I identify with him, a former young, talented hacker who would have been at home in Linux/BSD open source projects, and who’s now been co-opted into The System. It’s not just that I sympathize and sometimes cringe with his more normal day-to-day trials and tribulations, which any office worker slaving away in a cubicle would be familiar with.

It’s because his job is to kick the ass of supernatural threats to the entire world, and he does it from the worldview of a sarcastic, down-to-earth working stiff who happens to know about recursive algorithms, stack traces, and VMS. And those things—that ultra, deep-down tech nerdy knowledge—are actually useful for the exorcism of demons, the stopping of incursions of the Elder Gods, etc.

[Read more…]

Thrust Upon an Unsuspecting Fandom: Sherlock Holmes Meets the Beekeeper’s Apprentice

The 2009 Sherlock Holmes movie was a box office hit, grossing over $65 million on its Christmas Day opening weekend in the US alone, and currently grossing over $500 million world-wide.

As you might guess, a sequel is now in the works.

Given that Sherlock Holmes had a plot that resembled nothing that ever appeared in the canon—or in any other Sherlock Holmes adaptation—it’ll be interesting to see what Guy Ritchie comes up with next.

Especially since the character of Mary Russell will officially become part of the new canon.

[I’ll let you get your pitchforks this time.]

My Favorite and Mostly Improper Items of Holmesiana: A Letter

Dear Fans of the new Sherlock Holmes movie:

Let me apologize on the behalf of older Sherlock Holmes fandom for the bits of it that have been generating get-off-my-lawn reboot wank, not five days after the release of the movie. The Sherlock Holmes fandom has thrived for over a hundred years and multiple generations, and every generation has its… special snowflakes.

But fortunately, every generation has also produced creative fandom work (though they may not see it that way), from the solidly analytical to the wondrously fanciful. I may not agree with all of them, or even remotely like some of them, but they all occupy a place in my heart, because there wouldn’t be a Sherlock Holmes fandom without constant re-interpretation of the works. Yes, even the fic pastiche where Moriarty is a vampire who falls madly in love with Holmes.1

I present to you the more amusing pieces of Holmesiana I’ve gathered throughout the years. I’ve strived for a varied collection here that is at the very least sometimes accessible, even if it knocks out some of my absolute favorites. Too much of the fandom is out of print; I hope that changes one day, so that reading all the ‘ship wank doesn’t cost £500.

[Love and adaptation: that’s how legends survive.]

The Sherlock Holmes Fandom: Dawn of the Shipping Wars

On IMDb there’s a report that one Andrea Plunket, furious over Downey and Law’s interviews playing up possible homoerotic subtext in the Sherlock Holmes canon, is threatening to withdraw sequel permissions if Guy Ritchie keeps this up.

Plunket comments, “It would be drastic, but I would withdraw permission for more films to be made if they feel that is a theme they wish to bring out in the future. I am not hostile to homosexuals, but I am to anyone who is not true to the spirit of the books.”

Dear Ms. Plunket: allow me to introduce you to the concept of shipping wars. Because you’ve just put your foot right into one of the longest ones in unofficial existence—one that is, in fact, over a century old at the time of this writing.

[I mean, just look at the hats!]

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Fiction, Part 4

“There were eighteen months… not that I suppose he’ll ever tell you about that, at least, if he does, then you’ll know he’s cured… I don’t mean he went out of his mind or anything, and he was always perfectly sweet about it, only he was so dreadfully afraid to go to sleep….”
– Lord Peter Wimsey’s mother attempting to describe his difficulties from second-hand experience

In the first part of this series, I talked about how PTSD is experienced in real life versus many of its more popular and less accurate portrayals in fiction.

In the second and third parts of this series, I went into more detail with four examples of PTSD in fiction: Sinclair in Babylon 5, Frodo in The Lord of the Rings, the apocalyptic version of PTSD postulated in World War Z, and Josh Lyman in The West Wing.

While these depictions are somewhat successful, even extremely so, they tend to be either one-off Very Special Episodes (Babylon 5, The West Wing) or bittersweet finishers (World War Z, The Lord of the Rings). Writing about a character experiencing PTSD is already a difficult affair; writing about a character living with PTSD is much, much harder. So often we think that the most exciting part of PTSD is when it explodes, an event that supposedly either leaves a shattered mind behind, or must be immediately mostly or completely dealt within the next few chapters, lest the aftershocks shake the plot and character relationships too much.

Thus, there is one more example I want to discuss that particularly sticks out in my mind, because it covers the long-term portrayal of a character with PTSD who nevertheless is functional: Lord Peter Wimsey, one of the famous sleuths in the mystery genre. His author, Dorothy Sayers, whatever else she may be, had a very good grip on chronic PTSD.

[[You know, PTSD reminds me of that sword that eats people’s souls.]]

Review: Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett’s Unseen Academicals (HarperCollins) is about the parallel development of football (soccer, to Americans) in the alternate and funnier reality that is the Discworld; yet as always, there’s much more swimming in the depths of his Monty Python-esque stories. Humorous but thoughtful, Unseen Academicals combines early Pratchett at his lightest (Pyramids, Moving Pictures, Guards! Guards!) with late Pratchett at his heaviest (Monstrous Regiment, Night Watch, Thud!), resulting in an easy read with a heavy afterthought.

[Oh Terry Pratchett, when will you ever be easy to review?]

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Fiction, Part 3

“It doesn’t sound like something they let you have when you work in the White House….”

“As long as I’ve got a job, you’ve got a job.”

— Josh Lyman and Leo McGarry, his boss, in The West Wing

In part 1, I talked about how Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is actually experienced in real life, and the general ways in which fiction often gets it wrong.

In part 2, I covered in detail two specific examples of PTSD portrayals in Babylon 5 and The Lord of the Rings.

Part 3 is going to cover two more portrayals in detail, both more realistic, sometimes even more positive, than induced Set Piece PTSD or the “destroyed forever” implications when PTSD is used as a bitter(sweet) closure to a story.

[And we’re starting with zombies.]

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Fiction, Part 2

“How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on, when in your heart you begin to understand there is no going back. There are some things that time can not mend. Some hurts that go too deep… that have taken hold.”
The Lord of the Rings, the movie 

In part 1, I talked about the characteristics of memories involved in PTSD, as well as a summary of what fiction often gets wrong about PTSD.

For this part and the next two, I’ll discuss more in depth specific examples of fictional PTSD I’ve encountered that mostly get it right. A little wrong, but mostly right (some more “mostly” than others).

To start off, here are two examples; one from a popular SF TV show, Babylon 5, and one from a very popular fantasy novel, The Lord of the Rings.

[First, let’s take on….]

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Fiction, Part 1

Moonlight and dew-drenched blossom, and the scent
Of summer gardens; these can bring you all
Those dreams that in the starlit silence fall:
Sweet songs are full of odours.
– Siegfried Sassoon, “The Dream”

I have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Which is difficult to admit, because fiction—the medium through which people most often learn about the experiences of others—tends to imply that those who suffer from PTSD are non-existent at best, broken as par of course, and dangerous lunatics at worst. And sometimes the only depiction available in a story or series is the “worst” scenario.

It’s a little upsetting, not least because people fall back on the stereotypes presented in fiction when they know you have PTSD.

But, like anything else, occasionally fiction gets it right.

In this post I’ll discuss the caricature of PTSD in fiction; in a second post, I’ll talk more in depth about some specific examples that mostly get it right (and, in one case, pretty much all of it right).

[But first…]

Comfort Fiction: Because Sometimes You Need a Frakking Hug

Sometimes life goes beyond mere suckage. People you care about die; you lose your career job in this economy at the age of 50; a long-time marriage or partnership broke into jagged pieces exactly one year ago and someone is playing “your song” over the radio. Whatever the reason, the bottom has dropped out of your world. You are lost at sea, and dry land is nowhere to be seen.

And sometimes you feel so lost that you forget that there is a temporary passage through this storm (or, you know, this category-five hurricane, if your life is pretty much storm to storm).

So! Comfort fiction.1

[The fuzzy blankets of media enjoyment.]