That thing where the person thought you knew the context of the thing.

Vaguely related to my last post, I suppose–that was about how one story can be dressed up in the shape of a different kind of story, and this is about how one story can be dressed up as itself but be misread as to what that is.

I saw Wonder Woman. (Not recently, and I mean, I think everyone saw Wonder Woman.) And I was discussing it with someone else who’d seen it, and they mentioned that they’d thought the movie hadn’t explained enough of the story. I thought the movie worked fine for explanations, but I figured that I have some cultural-background-radiation familiarity with Wonder Woman, and am generally pretty happy to sit back and watch for world-building anyway, so I asked for clarification.

They felt that if the movie was going to reference existing Greek myths about the Amazons and Themiscira, and use those as the basis of the story, they should include more details. For example, since they put time into bringing up the story about Themiscira being protected from the outside world, that was obviously something that should have mattered, and they should have explained why and how it was that way so that it wasn’t jarring when everyone got through the protection.

(This was when I started re-examining my casual assumptions about how much of what I knew about Wonder Woman was general-culture background radiation, and how much of it was my-specific-subculture background radiation.)

I mean, on the one hand, it certainly makes sense; if a story establishes something, you expect it to come back to that thing. That’s basic stuff, Chekov’s Gun sitting right there. And yet no-one else I personally know assumed that the story of Themiscira was about things that were supposed to come up; it was just a story about things that were.

I think every genre has this, to some degree. In an office romance, the annoying co-worker’s horseback-riding hobby may not signal that she is going to try to trample anyone. In a mystery, the police sergeant’s impeccable grooming may never be a plot point. Some things establish setting and character, and some things are a hook for action; the two don’t have to overlap, although they can.

(It’s like in Escape from L.A. The gizmos that Snake gets given all come up as plot points throughout the movie. On the flipside, the evangelical moral purity of America and the catchphrase “Call me Snake” do not; they establish the setting, but they aren’t keys to the events.)

((I can’t believe I’m discussing Wonder Woman and Escape from L.A. in the same post.))

I haven’t quite figured out exactly what signals the difference between establishing points and action points to the viewer, and clearly it’s subjective, but I’m turning it over; if I can figure it out, it’ll be useful for being able to convey a story’s promise more clearly.

(And I’ve just gotten my first rejection of the year! The quest for centiBrads continues.)

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October

The latter half of the month has been a bit much, but rather than focussing on that I’m going to note the positive.

First, it’s October, which is always a good month. A surprising number of the neighbours put up their decorations on the 2nd, and when I walk to the bus stop for work I’ve been walking past tombstones and skeletons and grasping decomposing hands and one disturbingly large and green plastic Slimer and cobwebs and–

Look, even the more restrained houses have hay bales. It’s a very enthusiastic neighbourhood this year.

I finally got a chance to sit down and rewatch Trick ‘r Treat, and that was comfortably reassuring as always. I usually try to watch something seasonal in October, and that was the first chance I had. (Speaking of which, a YouTube channel called CineFix did a list of the top 5 horror movies of all time once you eliminate all the famous ones, and it seems pretty solid–there are a couple in there I haven’t seen, and I think I should catch them.)

I also got a few sketches done for Inktober. Nowhere near close to one a day, but it was good to sit down when I could and scribble something out in twenty-odd minutes.

And finally, I got a couple more stories into a state fit to send out, so I’ve started collecting even more rejections; I’m pretty sure I’m on track to make fifty submissions this year.

Twenty minutes into the Future…

During the entirely too excessive amount of time I spent on planes yesterday, one of them offered Mad Max[1] as an in-flight movie. And I saw the summary and grumbled, because the summary ran

In a post apocalyptic world, Australian policeman Max seeks to avenge the death of his family at the hands of bestial marauding bikers. (115 min)

Mad Max, I maintain, is not a post-apocalyptic movie (and dammit, you hyphenate that when it’s an adjective). I would listen to arguments that it’s a world in the slow beginnings of an apocalypse as society crumbles into a new dark age[2], but it ain’t post-apocalyptic. There wasn’t an apocalypse.

I do think it’s part of a really identifiable sub-genre of dark dystopias that are very low science fiction (if any) and that I think tend to get lumped into SF because they’re set “technically in the future” rather than because they’re movies about the effects of a new technology. I mean, things are in the future and it’s different and bad–that’s part of what SF is, right?

(We shall now pause for a regularly scheduled observation that if all SF was was complaints about how everything was going to hell, it would not deserve its title as “the literature of ideas”. Future rants about the reactionary nature of time travel may follow.)

But these movies… you know the kind I mean, right? The setting of Mad Max is undermaintained and there’s been a decay of the social order for some unspecified reason, but that’s it. Escape from New York came out in ’81, and there really isn’t any new technology in there; a bunch of it was probably developed during World War III, but that never really comes up. Dead End Drive-In is a low-tech (and very low-budget) excuse to pen a bunch of unemployed hooligans up in a isolated parking lot and leave them there.

I’m not saying these different-society-plausible-technology movies are bad. Some of them are bad. Some of them are fun. Some of them are pretty cool.

But I really don’t think they’re speculative fiction, and I wish I had a name for the sub-genre. I suppose they’re dystopias, or possibly just near-future dystopias, but I kind of wonder if someone else has already thought about this and come up with a better name.

(NB: Not saying the subgenre of “twenty minutes from now, it’ll be the grim dark future” is exclusively low or no SF–you can look at Rollerball, Death Race 2000, or RoboCop for counterexamples. Or Max Headroom, which is the source of the post’s title. And I have a bit to say about both Max Headroom and RoboCop, but it’s actually still 10 p.m. on my body clock and I think I need a nap, never mind all this sunshine.)

[1] Not Road Warrior, not Beyond Thunderdome, not Fury Road, just Mad Max.
[2] The distinction between apocalypse and societal decline is interesting, and one that I suspect largely has to do with framing and speed. (Possibly enhanced by weapons of mass destruction. I suspect that a society that crumbles without anyone having the potential to fire off nukes is going to do so rather more gracefully than a society with said potential, insofar as such processes can be called graceful.)