Monday, August 18, 2014

Alternative Mythologies (detour 2): Guanches & The Distilled Essence of Mythology

So far, Alternative Mythologies has been my attempt to show you a glimpse of the world outside of our typically Euro-centric fantasy genre offerings. And along the way it’s easy to notice similarities that abound. People try to explain the animals they encounter in the wilderness, they try to explain the weather, they share a fear of death or of the idea that the dead may remain. Some of them may combine aspects to become things such as a rainbow which is really a massive serpent, or a cobra which holds the earth aloft. Come to think of it, a lot of mythologies involve the general idea of "snakes".

Seen here: all places where people are concerned about snakes
But the similarities make sense: our cultures have intermingled at one time or another throughout history. We not only respond to the world that we know, but the world others have known. Shared fears and shared concepts bleed across borders and vast distances. And, as I spoke of last time, at least one culture is so intermixed with every other culture around them that we hardly know them while still knowing almost everything about them. The Berbers are, for all intents and purposes, the Beatles of Mediterranean mythology.

But what happens when you take a culture and stick it in a place where there’s nothing to really interact with. Put the Berbers on a set of small, tropical islands off the west coast of Africa, away from the empires and constant movements of the Mediterranean seas, and what do you get? Well, you get people who have the most distilled essence of what mythology looks like when there is no need to explain the gods of other people. You get a people who have no Mongols, Hippos or invading drunken barbarians to worry about. In fact, while it remains true that a major driving force behind mythology is what scares or confuses people, only one thing has ever really scared or confused the aboriginal natives of the Canary Islands:

A fucking volcano.

So, of course, the only real story I have from the mythology of the Guanches of Canary Islands is one explaining eruptions. It’ll do.

Friday, August 15, 2014

WTF? Amazon wants MY help?

You don’t know it, but right now there’s a war going on for the soul of the publishing industry. It’s been fought long and hard and there have been casualties: bookstores, newspapers, the hope that any doctor’s office would update their reading selection. All in all, it’s not gone well for anyone. But the war rages on and recently it escalated because two powers decided to mobilize everything they got at each other.

Uncle Amazon Wants You
It started back with that price fixing thing I was pissed off about a while back. Several book publishers had decided among themselves to fix the prices of eBooks so they could try to make sure that none of them had to actually compete to sell a book. They effectively made the rest of us look like assholes and idiots for running our book prices as low as we could while laughing and forcing the consumer to pay more for each copy.

I hated them.

But then they got busted and they started to fold pretty quickly. One of the chief forces behind this was Amazon, who realized that their ebook market was the most successful ebook market out there and that they were making mountains of cash off of it. So someone threatening those mountains of cash by working behind their backs just would not do. Amazon went after them and everyone started to play ball except for one publisher: Hachette.

Hachette huffed and puffed and refused to drop its prices like everyone else. So Amazon decided to just stop pushing Hachette books. They figured that Hachette would fold and that everything would start coming up mountains of cash again. But Hachette had a plan, they had a nuclear option that Amazon didn’t think to contend with: authors who actually make enough money to buy the GOOD ramen.

So Amazon panicked and did something that most people can agree was pretty stupid, they tried to mobilize their Indie Authors from the Kindle Direct Publishing. I mean, they were just standing around in line at the soup kitchen anyway.

"It's a classic American novel, for $2.99"
So, seriously, WTF?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Bittersweet Lessons of Robin Williams

Yesterday, nearly a day before my writing of this and most certainly a full day before you’re reading this, something happened that made me take pause. On August 11th of 2014, shortly before noon, Robin Williams was found dead in his home in Marin County, California. By the time news of his death had reached the media, the cause of death had already been identified as asphyxiation by suicide. We lost someone inspiring in the blink of an eye.

Robin’s family released statements as celebrity families are expected to do. His wife asked for privacy in their time of mourning and asked that we focus on his life rather than how it ended. His friends sent condolences and made statements of how much they would miss him. His daughter posted a quote that said more than anyone could have said in that space.

The media and the public did what they normally do, of course. The media immediately ignored the requests for privacy and began to literally hover helicopters over the family home in some morbid bid to catch something or someone of interest from above. The public split into its usual factions of compassion, morbid curiosity and disgusting behavior. Though most did exactly as Robin’s wife asked and focused on the joy he brought to our lives, many couldn’t stop themselves from looking or theorizing about the details of his end. It’s of little wonder that the people who knew him needed to step away from the buzz of activity so they could have their moment of peace.

But I sit here and I don’t want to know the details of how it happened. I don’t want to hear the stories of who found him. I don’t want to see the report on what sort of asphyxiation it was. Instead I sit here trying to think of how to phrase why this is one of the few stories of this kind that I feel compelled to write about. This is a hard question to answer because it requires I do, tangentially, what others are doing now in a fashion I find far more morbid. Unfortunately, I think I need to focus on the end of his story. It is my only hope my reasons can be understood by anyone who may come across my (infinitesimally) small corner of the internet.

As a writer, I strive to be a storyteller. Above all other things, that is what Robin was. He may have been an actor, a comedian, and a fabulous human being, but he was a story teller most of all. In fact, he was the kind of story teller that I think a lot of us should strive to be - a man who could draw you into what he was saying and make you follow him no matter what detour it may take. And, because he was more than just an actor or comedian, I think many of us in the creative community can say that he was one of us.

So if it could happen to him, it could happen to any of us.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

WTF Wednesdays: Live Action Dumbo?!

In the often busy and somewhat noisy world of media news, it’s often easy to overlook stories that don’t necessarily reach your particular interests. A lot of people likely didn’t notice the fact Blade, Ghost Rider and Punisher reverted film rights back to Marvel in the last week. Similarly, while a lot of people were hyped about it, it’s possible someone didn’t hear about the fact Ghostbusters 3 may end up featuring an all female team. But what I know a lot of people missed was that Bill Murray has been signed to a different movie… a live action Jungle Book.

He’ll be voicing Baloo the bear. Yeah, Bill Murray is going to be the bear that sang “Bear Necessities” in the (first) Disney movie. Right now people are hopeful this “live action” business is CG animals surrounding a live child because very few people want to see Bill Murray in a bear suit.

It’s to be expected in today’s environment: we’re doing live action remakes of everything now. Far be it for me to jump onto the anti-remake bandwagon - I actually get excited about some remakes. But what we have here is a trend where we’re taking films that were specifically more interesting as animated features in order to make them more profitable by appealing to a more adult audience. Frankly, a movie with talking animals is rarely a good idea in anything other than animation.

And Bill Murray should know this
Disney knew this too. The last time they took a swing at a live action Jungle Book movie they did it with trained animals and Jason Scott Lee doing most of the translating of body language as a more adult Mowgli.

It’s clear here what’s starting to happen. After the success of projects like Alice in Wonderland, Oz the Great and Powerful, and Maleficent; Disney has become enamored with the idea that CG with live actors cuts down on the pesky task of drawing films. And nothing quite proves it like another project they supposedly have on the burner… Dumbo.

Let your aneurysm pass and click the jump.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Studio Ghibli Closing Might Be Good

Though I’m a novelist first, I tend to blog a lot about screenwriting, animation, comics and other forms of writing as well. This is because I approach the subject as that all storytelling is essentially part of the same field of study. The way I see it, understanding the way story is told in one format will help you understand storytelling in others as well. Someone who takes an acting class will understand how a character thinks. Someone who studies films will understand visual impact. Someone who studies novels will understand letting a scene breathe. As I told a friend of mine several times, “everything is Kung Fu.”

This means that when things happen in one of these worlds, it really kind of impacts every world of writing in a way. If someone like Stephen King were to die, I’m sure there would be just as many people talking about the movies based on his books as there would be about his books. If JK Rowling were to go into screenwriting, everyone would be watch-…oh wait, that’s right.

Let's see how this plays out.
So when word came down that Studio Ghibli, one of the greatest anime studios of all time, was possibly closing down - I took notice. Hell, who didn’t take notice?

Pictured: Internet tears
But it dawned on me in those moments that I held something of a controversial opinion on this. Some people were shouting “NOOO” in dramatic Darth Vader fashion (button provided), and others were panicking about the end of good anime for all time to come. But me? I realized it was time to dig up the old Masochist Mondays tag and blow the dust off of an old image of mine.

Because I think Ghibli closing down is a good thing.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Alternative Mythologies (detour): Berbers - They're Everywhere

A few months ago I started Alternative Mythologies with the premise that fantasy, specifically epic fantasy, was usually fairly Euro-centric. The basic premise was to start pointing at different regions of the world, selecting a handful of interesting stories, and wetting your appetite for the concept of possibly using these regions in your own writing. It’s gone well - I’ve covered Asia, Australia, and Egypt. But then I ran into a really strange speed-bump.

And believe me, if they build a speed bump in that region it's sturdy and painful
The region around Egypt has several other cultures that have existed there, some of them absorbed into what we’ll refer to as the “Crusade belt” and thus folded into the greater fantasy genre already. But others are a little more confusing and a little more subtle. For instance, the kingdom of Kush to the south of Egypt was for a very long time considered to actually just be a subset of Egypt. Only in recent times has Kush been considered by some scholars to be a distinct group of people who had a culture sufficiently different enough to be worth study. This means that even if I wanted to talk about Kush’s culture, there’s no real information for me to use except: “it’s, kind of like Egypt, but not.” On the other hand, another culture existed to the west of Egypt in what is now modern day Libya by the name of the Berbers and the Berbers were… complicated.

Like I said, Africa has a lot of skin tones.
Honestly, how the fuck do I explain the Berbers?

I considered skipping the Berbers and declaring that Egypt was enough to cover what could be called “North Africa”. But looking into the Berbers made me realize just how stupid the Euro-centric model in epic fantasy actually is. Over the course of thousands of years, the Berbers were kind of a melting pot and test-bed of cultures from all around their corner of the Mediterranean. Not sharing the background of how these cultures intermixed would be allowing the process to be ignored and let people miss the fact that all of these cultures are interconnected on some level.

They even had pyramids... round ones.
So today I’m going to do something a little different and discuss more about how things can be the same, rather than different…

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

WTF Wednesdays - Exodus: Gods and Kings... White Washing?

From time to time, the Hollywood establishment likes to dust off some old stories and do a big batch of remakes that gives them the chance to show they think they can do better than the previous generation. One of the patterns of this cycle is to dig up old biblical narratives and start remaking movies about those. This means that, at least once a generation, we start to see a batch of religious stories given the big Hollywood treatment. There was recently Noah, talk of a new Ben-Hur coming in 2016, and the decision to remake the Left Behind franchise with someone who hadn’t lost their damned mind like Kirk Cameron.

Oohh... So close.
So, of course, it was time to remake the granddaddy of them all and go straight for the tale of Exodus. Exodus has been turned into several movies and some of them have turned out rather well while others… did not. Though often overlooked, Prince of Egypt was one of the better animated films of the late 90s. Meanwhile, The Reaping, which tried to take the story of Exodus and turn it into a modern day horror premise was considered by most critics to have been a steaming pile of crap. In fact, if you were to ask the right person, they’d probably tell you it solidified “Hillary Swank movies” as the newly discovered 11th plague of Egypt.

Though that was hinted at earlier
So of course it was time for someone else to take a swing at it, and that person was going to be Ridley Scott. Of course Ridley Scott working a religious epic was a good idea because if that man knows how to do anything it’s to make you absolutely terrified of the shit you can’t see.

"Have you heard the good news?"
Just one problem: people looked at the IMDB page and found it somewhat wanting of melanin.

Well, it’s understandable. There are some black guys there like the thief, the assassin, and the lower class guys. It's not like this story is set in Africa... wait.