Saturday, December 16, 2017

Star Wars The Last Jedi: Rebellion upon rebellion


I happened to see Star Wars, The Last Jedi yesterday in a very clean and inexpensive theater in Monterrey, Mexico (just here for a short time this trip). Watching a moving in the United States increasingly seems like a waste of money, but I digress from my point...which is commentary on the movie itself.

While I am going to commit some SPOILERS they will be of a general nature. I am not going to reveal how the story ends or some of the key bits of information the tale gives out. I do share some story details, but deliberately out of context. And while this is also a general review, I am going to focus on one aspect of the story that caught my attention that may not be the first thing most people think of with this movie.

Note that I had several problems with Episode Seven that I hoped this movie would not repeat. I felt The Force Awakens 1) copied far too much from the Star Wars A New Hope, 2) presented an insufficiently powerful villain in Kylo Ren, 3) an over-powered new character in Rey--she should not have been victorious so easily in my view, 4) and sometimes just did not make any sense. Why did R2D2 sleep until the end? How did Poe reappear after disappearing? Why did the First Order gain so much power in the first place? (and plenty of other issues)

The Last Jedi addressed these concerns of mine pretty well, as if the producers had listened to some of their critics (I was far from the only person to be concerned about the things I just mentioned). While the story has some elements that resonate with familiarity to what happened in Empire Strikes Back, this movie is far, far, different from that tale. Kylo Ren got stronger by the end but paid some consequences for screwing up prior to that. Rey was still super powerful for someone completely untrained, but in some ways showed some more limitations and vulnerabilities, which I thought was good for her character development. Though, yes, the story still makes no sense at times, but improved in that department when compared to The Force Awakens.

Though you do see some things that make no sense. Like bombers being used in orbit...um, think about that for a minute...why is a bomber not going to work in space?...er...yeah. Or how could they be so sure that only one ship was tracking them? How would they know? And how would they know the ONLY way to get filthy rich is to sell weapons? Er, since when? And some other things.

But for once a harebrained attack idea actually totally failed and the replacement plan nearly totally failed as well. Which is more realistic than Star Wars has been before. So I saw that as improvement.

I would say as a negative criticism that this story did not have the strong emotional resonance with me that The Empire Strikes Back did. But it had some high moments, including especially Luke Skywalker finally doing something to help the other characters in their dire situation. 

Overall, it proved to be an entertaining movie. A pretty good story. Not really great in my book, but definitely worth seeing.

One thing that struck me about the story though is that on both the First Order side and among the Resistance, the younger, more impulsive types were continually rebelling against their older superiors. As in not following orders. Or even more so, actively overthrowing those in power.

And that mostly worked for the younger characters. I mean, they faced few consequences of their actions. Generally, they wound up in greater positions of trust AFTER resisting authority than they had been beforehand. Poe disobeying General Organa went the worst...as did his later actions against the female commander who replaced her temporarily. But still, in the end, he is seen as a leader and is followed. Everyone respects him. He does not really feel much guilt about his actions and suffers no serious consequences.

Rey does not really need Luke (though Luke does not prove to be totally useless in the story). Kylo resists Snoke. Fin battles Captain Phasma, his former commander. Pretty much in every case it all works out for the good for these characters. Rebellion is rewarded, even though the BIG rebellion, the Resistance itself, does not do very well in the confines of this movie.

It might seem I am nit-picking here, but consider how different this was to what happened in Empire Strikes Back. Luke Skywalker, though likable, was in fact a bit of an ignoramus who needed some stern discipline on the part of Yoda in order to even begin to straighten out. The master knew more than the pupil, as was also true when Luke learned from Obi Wan. 

When Luke rushed off early to face Darth Vader, fans seeing the conflict for the first time could hope Luke could pull off a victory, but he in fact failed rather miserably, losing his hand, NOT saving his friends, only spared by Vader due to a terrible truth he was unprepared to face. The elders really did know something he did not--Yoda really was the master and Luke the student.

With Rey and Luke Skywalker--without giving away anything specific--let me say that is not the relationship at all. While he does know a few more things than her, he is mired in his own point of view, one shown to be in effect "just Luke" and not reflecting any special wisdom. While Luke and Leia do know a few things that the younger generation does not, they are not especially wise. Resisting their advice does not come with especially sharp consequences.

In the end of The Last Jedi, the collected wisdom of the Jedi proves to be disposable--the story could and did do away with it and no negative consequences came about as a result. 

Perhaps I can be accused of looking for negative issues, searching for bones to pick. I probably am, though by force of habit rather than deliberate choice. While the clearly deliberate efforts to replace male authority with female in the overall arc of the new tales and to establish greater racial balance than past stories could perhaps be criticized as bowing to modern opinion first and caring about storytelling second, such things only mildly caught my attention in The Last Jedi. The storytelling actually was pretty good and essentially believable, Social Justice Warrior influence (however much it may have been) notwithstanding.

But why was it that this new movie consistently showed older people and past tradition in a negative light, something do be defied, or worked around, a rebellion upon the rebellion portrayed against the First Order? 

I don't know. But it bothered me a bit.

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Sunday, December 3, 2017

Lessons from the Guadalajara Book Fair


Last week I traveled to the Guadalajara Book Fair, one of the largest book fairs in the world and the largest in Latin America from what I've heard. I attended a number of events and looked around the entire grounds, but only in Guadalajara for four out of nine days of the fair.

I did this with a specific purpose in mind. As an Evangelical Christian who writes science fiction and fantasy, who speaks Spanish and French proficiently and who has a Mexican wife, I was looking at the prospects of selling Christian-themed speculative fiction in Latin America. Some things I wanted to know included:


1. Are any Christian publishers already selling speculative fiction in Latin America?
2. Is any speculative fiction being sold at all at the fair? And if so, by which authors? Published by whom?
3. Factor X. What might I learn at the fair that I don't even know could be possible?

Probably I spent the most time on point number 2. I don't know how many books were on sale at the fair, but the number was massive. I did not see every book, but I did go to every store and look around for science fiction and fantasy and/or horror, a.k.a. "speculative fiction." Since I hoped to find a Latin American publisher for translations of stories I have either written or edited, I thought it would be great to see if any publishers in the Latin American world were already producing speculative fiction.

To my distress as I walked around the fair, while I kept seeing speculative fiction for sale, MOST of it was either in English from United States book publishers...or translated into Spanish, still published by US Publishers. Since getting backing by major US publishers like Harper Collins or Penguin Random House is rather hard, I had been hoping a Latin American publisher would be easier to access. I also saw a bit of UK and German speculative fiction (these countries were well represented at the fair), but not did not encounter a single publisher FROM Latin America who publishes speculative fiction, with the exception of literature for young children. (A partial exception to that is one publishing house from Brazil which publishes a number of fiction genres, including some speculative fiction.)

By the way, the things most in view by the US publishers were works of fiction tied to American movies or TV series. Some American comic book translations were around (both Marvel and DC), Game of Thrones (and other G.R.R Martin books), Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and Star Wars. Some Divergent and Hunger Games, too. In horror books, almost exclusively Stephen King.

I finally found a genuinely Mexican-owned establishment which carried a significant amount of speculative fiction. All was under the title of "ciencia ficcion" by the way, marking that term as their roll-up catch-all for speculative fiction, which surprised me. They had, like others, G.R.R Martin, but not much else fantasy. But they did have some classic science fiction, some not carried at the book fair 
by the American publishers (as far as I saw)--Arthur C. Clark and Ray Bradbury among them. They had Stephen King like the US publishers, but also Anne Rice. A LOT of Anne Rice. But no Harry Potter that I saw and no Star Wars.

So I drew a conclusion from what I saw that it may be the case that this Mexican establishment carries science fiction to compete with US-owned publishers but carries authors for whom exclusive contracts do not exist. Maybe that's true and maybe it isn't, but if it is true that this company is searching for lesser-known books to compete with the "big boys," it may represent an opportunity. Maybe they would be willing to give books a try that other bookstores would not.

Oh, by the way, the Mexican company I'm taking about is not primarily a publisher, though I think they do publish some books. It's a bookstore chain, one called "Ediciones B." I plan to contact them in the near future, but I may have to do so as a publisher in order to have books distributed rather than as an author/editor.

Circling around to my point 1, I saw very few Christian publishers at the book fair at all. Tyndale was there selling Bibles, as were the "Sociedades Unidas Biblicas." But there were no other Evangelical publishers there at all, even though Mexico has some (I found out at least one was hit hard in the earthquake not that long ago south of Mexico City, and that's why they were not there). I did see some Catholic publishers, but they hardly carried any fiction at all. Some for kids and some classics, but they mostly had non-fiction.

By the way, I don't know what the proportion of fiction to non-fiction would be at a book fair in the United States, Canada, or Europe, but non-fiction was HUGE at the Guadalajara Fair. Clearly a lot more non-fiction sells in Latin America than fiction. A lot was religious, not just the Catholic versions, but I also saw plenty of New Age books, plenty of tarot and mysticism and that kind of thing. (And in the category of fiction that makes non-fiction claims, I also saw plenty of Dan Brown books.) The dominance of non-fiction was a bit surprising for me, but what I saw may mean I should write more non-fiction--IF reaching the Latin American market really matters to me (which I would say it does).

As for my point 3, yes, I found some surprises. A couple of things I found that I did not expect are not too surprising in retrospect. I found some e-book and audio book distributors looking for clients. It seems both formats are growing massively in Latin America. But a surprise factor was that several of these companies have English names, including Inkit, a Mexican e-book formatting and distribution company and Storytel.es, a Swedish audiobook company with a presence based in Spain. (It seems a name in English has the feeling of "tech" all over it in the Spanish-speaking world.)

The biggest surprise was I found some governments and non-government organizations are actively seeking to promote the national literature of their countries and as a result are willing to pay for translations to and from various languages. The Sharjah Book Fair of the United Arab Emirates is especially interested in translating books to and from Arabic, something I would like to apply for concerning my books. And New Zealand is looking to fund translations of NZ books into Spanish--so I am going to see if, God willing, I can arrange the translation of some books from my friend Grace Bridges at Splashdown Books in New Zealand into Spanish or possibly Portuguese, with New Zealand footing the bill. And Argentina is funding translations of Argentine authors into English, a task which I'm capable of performing myself and would not mind getting paid to do, assuming I can find some Argentine speculative fiction I would like to publish.

So overall, the experience at the Guadalajara Book Fair was a good one. I learned some important things and found a few new opportunities I'd never thought of.

Got any questions or comments for me on this topic? Feel free to leave them in the comments section below. :)


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