further thoughts on The Mandalorian

Yyyyyyyeah. I’m not going to bother watching any more, and I can’t find any particularly good reason to recommend that anybody else start.

It isn’t actively bad. The music (done by Ludwig Göransson, same guy who scored Black Panther) is great. But the second episode — of eight — had zero screen time with female characters, leaving us at a mere two minutes in over an hour of TV, and a quarter of the season. And furthermore, the pacing is glacial: the second ep, which is thirty-two minutes long, spent most of that time on a series of fight scenes. I can sum up the entirety of the meaningful plot by saying “he finds out that the bounty he’s been hired to bring back can use the Force, and then they leave the planet.” Everything else? It’s filler. Spectacle. Re-iteration of stuff we already know (like “there are other bounty hunters on the trail”) or else stuff that does absolutely nothing to forward the narrative. It just gives our nameless Clint Eastwood expy more reasons to be a badass and fight things. However well-executed the filler may be, at the end of the second episode I had even less interest and less reason to care than I did at the end of the first.

The Mandalorian

Last night we watched the first episode of the new Star Wars series, The Mandalorian. So far, color me . . . profoundly unimpressed.

The thought that kept running through my head as I watched it was, “This feels like it’s trying to soothe all the guys who are upset that somebody’s gotten girl cooties all over their Star Wars.” The episode is thirty-nine minutes long; two of those involve a female character. I guess it never occurred to Jon Favreau that this might be a problem? I know Gina Carano’s been cast in a major role, but a) we haven’t seen her yet and b) uh, this is 2019. Having a Smurfette does not really solve anything. Why wasn’t the guild official our title character is working with written as a woman instead? Or the mysterious person who hires him? Or the alien who guides him to where his target is? (That alien points out that the creatures they’re riding are all female. Maybe I was supposed to count that as representation.)

Meanwhile, the nameless protagonist is a full-on Clint Eastwood expy, now with bonus helmet so you can’t even see his facial expressions. (I pity Pedro Pascal; even the best actor in the world is going to have a hard time making a character interesting through a sheet of steel.) He is laconic and badass, and with those five words I’ve basically summed up his entire personality thus far. He shoots people a lot. A quote from an Entertainment Weekly article describes him as having “questionable moral character” — because yeah, that’s what I need more of in my life right now. Maybe he’ll grow and change over the course of the series, becoming a better person . . . but see above re: feeling like the mission here is to reassure Star Wars dudes that they need not fear being contaminated with any girl cooties.

I will give it this much credit: of the eight episodes in the first season, three are directed by women, and five by people of color. But since none of the scripts are written by women, and six of the eight are Favreau’s work — well, if this is a sample of what I should expect, then I’m not at all sure I care to continue.

How would you rather be remembered?

On Twitter the other week I posed the question:

Would you rather be remembered as having a large body of work with both some amazing things and some crap ones, or a small body of work where everything was a gem?

The results were interesting. Sixty-one percent voted for a small body of all gems; thirty-nine percent for the larger mixed body. In hindsight, I should have phrased my question better (bad anthropologist; no biscuit), because people may have interpreted “amazing things” as being not the same thing as “gems,” which was how I intended it. But maybe not; it’s entirely possible people knew what I meant, and that’s just where their particular preferences lie.

Me, I’m on the side of “large mixed body.” Because here’s the thing: even a really amazing work isn’t going to speak to absolutely everybody, and even a less-than-perfect story can brighten someone‘s day. If I have a large body of work, there will probably be more people overall who really felt touched by something I wrote — even if discussions of my writing include people saying “yeah, but let’s just pretend X never happened.”

Plus — as several people pointed out in their responses on Twitter — we can’t really control what is and is not received as a classic or a groundbreaking work. We can try our best, but in the end, that judgment is in the hands of other people. We can’t fully control how much work we produce, either; factors like health, day jobs, family demands, and the like will also cut into that. But it’s more within our grasp than reception is. If you step up to the plate a bunch of times, you won’t hit a home run every time, but your odds having at least a few are better than if you only took half a dozen swings.

So I’d rather produce a lot of work, even if some of it is meh or even (in hindsight) a bit embarrassing. And maybe somewhere in that pile, I’ll manage a few gems.

Holiday photo sale!

I’ve accumulated a number of photos left over from con art shows, and since I’m unaccustomed to dealing with a type of business where I need to wrangle inventory, I’d like to sell some of these and get them out of my house. 😛 Therefore, I give you the 2019 SWAN TOWER PHOTO SALE! Excellent for gift-giving, if you celebrate a holiday in the near future that involves such things. Or a holiday later on that involves such things. Or you know someone who has a birthday. Or you have a birthday of your own. Or just because it’s a day ending in Y. All of these are good reasons to buy!

You can peruse the photos in this gallery. All of them are ready to hang; the black-and-white ones are printed on acrylic panels with French cleats on the back, and most of the color ones are “thinwraps” with keyholed foam blocks on the back. (The exceptions are the July Column and the Point Lobos tree.) Sizes range from 8×8 to 8×16. Prices range from $50-$100 plus shipping, with the black-and-white acrylic panels, the Mongolian archer, and the skull + driftwood being on the higher end due to size or materials, and the vortex ceiling being the $50 example due to being smaller. If you’d like to purchase one of them, get in touch!

And as usual, you’re always welcome to order photos from the rest of my catalogue. Those can be printed on any medium you like — paper for framing, thinwraps of paper or canvas, regular canvas wraps, acrylic panels, metal, glass, wood, etc. — and in a variety of sizes. Drop me a line to discuss options!

The Eternal Knot!

Publication is a bit of an odd beast when it isn’t going through normal book distribution channels, but as near as I can tell, today is the release date for The Eternal Knot, my Legend of the Five Rings novella! If you’re interested in the setting of Rokugan but don’t want to dive into the middle of the ongoing storyline, this makes a much better entry point; it clearly takes place in a much larger setting than is necessary for the story at hand, but it doesn’t require pre-existing knowledge of canon to make sense or be enjoyable. (And if you want more samples, flavored to the various clans, there are three other novellas out now: The Sword and the Spirits, Whispers of Shadow and Steel, and Across the Burning Sands.)

If you want to get this from a brick-and-mortar store (which is a very useful thing to do in general), you’re more likely to find it at your Friendly Local Gaming Store, though I think it’s possible that places like Barnes and Noble might be able to order it.

I had a lot of fun writing this one. The novellas are giving us L5R writers a chance to explore characters at greater depth, and to take the story into corners of the Empire that are too far off the beaten path to make it into the main story. And since mystical tattooed monks are basically how I got involved with L5R in the first place, it’s a pleasure to play around with their world in this story!

Penny wise, megaton destructive

Our household of three people has at present ballooned to six people and four cats, courtesy of Pacific Gas and Electric.

I don’t know how this is being reported elsewhere in the country (or elsewhere in the world), so I want to be clear about what’s going on. There are multiple causes for California’s wildfire problem, ranging from climate change to flawed forest management policy in past decades to the expansion of settlement into at-risk terrain. But part of it, especially here in northern California, is the direct fault of our electrical companies.

PG&E has, for years, prioritized making massive payouts to their shareholders over investing in basic maintenance and safety. The equipment that started last year’s devastating Camp Fire — the most destructive in the state’s history, the fire that destroyed the town of Paradise — was built in the early 1900s. It was over a hundred years old. PG&E knew damn well their equipment was out of date and in need of refurbishment or outright replacement. But doing that cuts into the quarterly profits, so it got put off, and put off, and put off — until there was nothing left to replace, because it had all been destroyed by the fire.

This is true all over the areas they serve. It’s why this year PG&E is aggressively cutting power to areas considered to be at risk when we have conditions of dry weather and strong winds — a common occurrence these days, thanks to climate change. Initially all of our house guests (call them what they are; refugees) were here because power was cut to their homes. But then two of them made a run up to Vallejo to rescue their four cats, because while there hadn’t yet been a mandatory evacuation order issued for their area, there was a “precautionary” evacuation underway. This was why. Fires bracketed Vallejo on three sides. We don’t know yet whether any of them were started by PG&E’s power lines, but the Kincade Fire burning up in Sonoma almost certainly was. Because PG&E may be cutting power to areas . . . but they aren’t necessarily shutting down their main transmission lines. And if your immediate thought is “they should do that!,” be aware that part of the problem in Vallejo yesterday was that PG&E shut off the power to the water-pumping stations. Which makes fighting a fire rather more difficult.

I don’t want anybody to walk away from this thinking PG&E is the sole cause of the fires. If we didn’t have such dry conditions and such high winds, coupled with sporadic wet winters that encourage the growth of new brush which then turns into tinder a few months later, the fires wouldn’t burn as hot and as far; that’s thanks to climate change, and humanity is collectively responsible for that one. And it’s true that for a long time forestry officials thought it was best to prevent all forest fires, whereas now we know it’s actually better for the environment to let (smaller) blazes sweep through periodically to clear things out. We could change our urban planning to put fewer homes and people at risk.

But PG&E unquestionably shoulders some of the blame. And so does the overall corporate culture that encourages short-term thinking, boosting quarterly profits at all costs, deferring expenses again and again so you can look “fiscally responsible” (while someone else pays a heartbreaking bill down the road).

That’s finally, maybe, a little bit, beginning to change. Corporations are starting to admit that maybe shareholder dividends should not be their first, last, and only priority. The new Long-Term Stock Exchange was founded to encourage companies to think on time scales longer than three months. We might — we can hope — eventually see a world where we once again know how to plan for the future, investing in infrastructure and building a world future generations will want to live in.

The road there, however, is currently leading through a burned-out hellscape.

Next collection: The Nine Lands!

For some time now, as I assemble sufficient quantities around relatively focused themes, I’ve been collecting my short fiction into ebooks: Maps to Nowhere for secondary world fantasy and Ars Historica for historical fiction, and then the much smaller Never After and Monstrous Beauty for two different twisted approaches to fairy tales, the latter taking a darker tone than the former.

Now I can add The Nine Lands to that list! This is also secondary world fantasy, but unlike Maps to Nowhere, all of the stories take place within the same world: the eponymous Nine Lands, the first properly fleshed-out setting I ever created. Many of the pieces in this collection are “firsts” of one kind or another for me: first good short story I ever wrote (that form did not come naturally to me), first story to earn me money, first story I ever sold. Because of that, I decided to commission my friend Avery Liell-Kok to take my ugly scribble map and turn it into the beautiful thing you see here:

THE NINE LANDS by Marie Brennan

The book will come out on November 19th, but you can pre-order it now at Barnes and Noble, Google Play, iTunes, Kobo, or Amazon US or UK — or wait until the 19th and buy it directly from the publisher, Book View Cafe.