Why Harry Potter

What Rowling doesn’t have going for her:

  • >> Solid grasp of punctuation (grrrrrr)
  • >> Strong pacing
  • >> Economy
  • >> Any idea that names precede character development
  • >> Great originality

What she does:

  • >> Poster child for “show, don’t tell,” sometimes ad nauseum
  • >> Fundamental conflicts, both good v. evil and child v. adult
  • >> Characters who are recognizable “types” but still all individuals with their own goals, preferences, habits and failings
  • >> Deep understanding of the myriad ways in which people are cruel to each other
  • >> Humor
  • >> Eye and ear for mannerisms
  • >> Main character who is the reader’s stand-in for the introduction to all that is weird, wonderful and scary

Why SG-1

Over on Making Light, there’s a thread about Entertainment Weekly‘s list of the top 25 SF movies and TV shows from the last 25 years. Stargate SG-1 is not only not on EW’s list, it isn’t recommended in the 233 comments prior to mine at Making Light. Torchwood (blegh) was listed, but SG-1 wasn’t. That floored me.

Full fangeek confession here: Not only do we own five seasons of the show, we also get together with friends on Fridays for dinner and to watch. When the show is on hiatus, the only thing we’ve done that’s more than a placeholder is watch the new Doctor Who. Otherwise, we’re just waiting for our stories to come back.

I’m not sure why it’s less than cool in the SF fan community to like SG-1, but I’m not ashamed to say that I do. In the interest of combating lists with lists, here’s why.

  1. The writers know how to pay me back for an hour of my time. Too many shows right now go in for soap opera storytelling, where I have to put in hours of watching before anything is resolved. Not SG-1. The arc goes on, but something is resolved every hour (or two).
  2. The characters are geeks. Each of the team (including rotating members) has an overriding passion.
  3. The characters are bright. They’re risk takers, since it’s the nature of their profession, but they mitigate the risk where possible.
  4. There are consequences. Decisions made in one episode affect the events in later episodes, later seasons. Sometimes this is a good thing. Sometimes expediency proves to be terribly short-sighted.
  5. There are non-fatal consequences. The writers trust me as an audience member enough to ease up on the stakes from time to time. These episodes are still compelling.
  6. Enemies of our enemies are not necessarily our friends. In fact, enemies have become (uneasy) allies when a new, bigger threat looms.
  7. Our allies don’t have the same priorities we do. Our friends from other planets and races have responsibilities to their own people that come first. Everyone wants to know what the risks and potential for gain is for them before deciding whether to help.
  8. Ascension may be a long-term goal to be aspired to, but nobody’s really ready to leave behind being human while they still have another choice.
  9. Ba’al. Woof. (Four Ba’als in one room? Intriguing, but a little creepy.)
  10. The characters have frequent philosophical differences. They are rarely resolved.
  11. Nobody seems to be afraid that being funny means they won’t be taken seriously.
  12. There are good scientists and bad scientists, pragmatic scientists and space cases. Being a scientist doesn’t keep a character from being a human being. Ditto for women. Ditto for people in military or government service.
  13. Our main characters are highly competent people, but they work at it. They don’t spend a lot of time, say, in front of the TV.
  14. The new big gun/shield is always a stopgap. Technology never stands still.
  15. There’s plenty of fan service, but it never overruns the story. Except maybe episode 200. I’m not sure. I was too busy laughing for most of it.

There’s more, but that’s the top-of-the-mind list.

Perfectly Happy

I’ve written here about a movie and music experiences that have disappointed me. I’ll do it again, because it helps me understand where the artist/audience contract broke down. I don’t want to repeat the mistakes myself. However, when something makes me really happy, I want to share that, too.

I’ve picked up two albums in the last couple of months that just keep making me happier. (Really, I downloaded them off iTunes, but at least I didn’t call them records.) The first is The Killers’ Sam’s Town, which I wasn’t too sure about the first time I heard it. It isn’t quite like anything else I’ve heard. Every time I think I know where it’s going, it doesn’t. But the more I listen to it and take it on it’s own terms, the more I love it, because that unexpected choice is always right. I liked their first big album, but this blows that out of the water. If you like your music instantly accessible, this isn’t for you. If you like things a bit more complicated, give it a try–or two or three.

My most recent acquisition is Cat Empire’s Two Shoes. It’s a…uh…well, it…. Okay, look; it combines ska, hip hop, Cuban funk, and Aussie punk attitude–generally all in the same song. I was listening this morning on the way to work, and I just grinned like an idiot. The scratching and the trumpet combined soooo beautifully. It was all wrong and completely right. This one you’ll have to listen to on your own to decide whether you’ll love it or be driven insane by it. But by all means, listen.

If you like it, I recommend Madness’s “Swan Lake,” Royal Crown Revue’s “Barflys on the Beach,” and the Insane Clown Posse cover of “Let’s Go All the Way.” No, really. And if you think all this means I like weird music…oh, yeah.

The Boys in the Band

I went to see a bunch of very good musicians on Saturday. It’s a band I’ve liked for a long time, playing material I love, and I was deeply disappointed.

Okay, so some of it may have been due to the car breaking down in the middle of the street earlier that day, or a disappointing dinner someplace that serves its beer 20 degrees too cold and dripping down the outside of the mug (and onto my jeans), or the scent of patchouli hitting me in the face when I walked in the door. But I think there was more to it.

The lineup of the band has changed since the last time I saw and enjoyed them. (I saw them once in the transition process–WAY too many musicians who hadn’t rehearsed together. Highly annoying.) Their lead singer and guitarist has been replaced by two people. They’re both hugely talented. Their original fiddle player has returned to the fold. He’s not the virtuoso their interim fiddler was, but he’s perfectly competent. They’d even rehearsed.

So why was I getting more disgusted by the minute?

First there was the lack of energy. These are killer tunes that in the past have had me dancing so long and so hard I could barely move the next day. Saturday there were pauses to tune and discuss in between each song. The fiddle player was under amped, so every time he took over, momentum dropped off. And the lead singer kept “jazzing” up the lyrics by singing them with no regard for the beat. You just can’t do that and keep your audience stamping their feet.

Every time he sang one of my favorite songs, I wanted to throttle him, but I’m not sure he would have cared. He might have viewed it as his chance to stop singing that song forever.

When they played a new song and the energy of the place jumped, I figured out the problem. Their lead singer wasn’t having a good time. He was bored with the music he’d written fifteen years ago (the first time he was with the band), and the fact that we liked it didn’t matter. He wasn’t playing for us. He didn’t care whether I had a good time. Somewhere along the way, he’d lost the realization that I’m not paying him to sit on a stage and tootle a tin whistle; I’m paying him to entertain me.

The last guy was a bit of a showoff. He was at least as talented as this new guy, and he did some silly stuff on stage to keep himself from getting bored. But he always brought it back to the songs, and he always took his audience with him for the ride. To me, that means he met the bigger challenge, one the band was failing Saturday night.

Saw 300 Last Night

Eh.

It isn’t exactly a bad movie, but it is a remarkable exercise in not trusting your story or your audience. Just as less is sometimes more, sometimes more is crap. We were in a theater packed full of people who were staying up past their (well, my) bedtimes to see the movie on opening day, and I was far from the only person giggling at inappropriate times.

I wanted to see this movie, and I really wanted to like it. I mean, come on, the Battle of Thermopylae! How cool is that? Not cool enough, I guess.

Apparently one of history’s great examples of tactics and self-sacrifice just wasn’t interesting enough for the filmmakers. The precision and cooperation of the phalanx wasn’t as showy as a Spartan soldier standing alone swinging his sword at the Persians who were kind enough to approach one at a time. The odds weren’t bad enough without half the Persian army being supernatural creatures and the Greek soldiers failing to fight. It wasn’t bad enough that Ephialtes was a traitor; he also had to be a hunchback with elephantiasis. The priests weren’t villainous enough unless they had albinism and leprosy. Xerxes couldn’t just be a power-mad tyrant; he had to be a seven-foot-tall pincushion and talk like a Goa’uld. The Spartans weren’t brave enough unless they went into battle in Speedos and flowing choke-me capes instead of their armor (yes, the guys in the red capes died). We called them the March of the Abs.

Then there were the guitar licks out of left field.

Oh, and to look at the few women in the movie, it was apparently filmed during Mardi Gras.

Grr.

Did the movie have an up-side? Of course. They kept the historians’ good lines. It’s visually arresting, straddling the line between blood porn and still art. Not even the director could make David Wenham declaim all his lines. There are some nice hints of politics wedged in between the historically ridiculous fight scenes.

As I said before, it isn’t exactly a bad movie. I just wanted more. And I’d have been happier with so much less.