Thursday, September 24, 2015

A Flash of Fiction: Fandom (Part 1)

It was a mild summer Saturday night in the bustling Canadian city, just about the time of night when the babyboomers finished up their evening meals on patios and the University kids were still pre-drinking and preparing for what lay ahead.

It was perfectly fitting, she thought, that she was out and about in this in-between time of day, this no-man's land of Saturday nights. She was oddly comfortable in that middle ground in most aspects of her life.

Beatrice stood on the sidewalk, nervously surveying the building and trying to see past the late setting sun's glare in the windows into the pub beyond. She was playing it cool, having arrived twenty minutes early and not wanting to be the first desperate woman inside.

She circled the block and made it back with another ten minutes to spare. Damn her nervous energy for having pushed her out of her apartment too soon. After taking out her phone and pretending to check non-existent messages for the third time, she cursed herself and went back to the double-door entrance of the pub. Get this over with.

"Tonight at 9:30. Lightspeed Dating," she mumble-sighed to herself, reading the banner above the door, written in what she knew instinctually to be the Star Wars font. "Real clever."

She had opened the forwarded email on the Monday, only deciding not to immediately junk it because the sender had been her best friend.

See below. Sounds right up your alley, you nerd.
Lots of love,
Nina

"Geek," she had corrected with a throaty harumph as she adjusted her thick-framed glasses and scrolled past the snarky intro. She read on with heavy skepticism on her brain, learning all about the city's newest themed mini-community of singletons.

Attendees were encouraged to wear costumes to the upcoming event, and Beatrice pondered the Hobbit costume tucked away in the back of her closet. She would have loved to let the beautiful hand-crafted corset adorned in shining gold and green embroidery see the light again, it had been so long since its last outing, but she cringed to think of herself walking the city streets in her big-feet-shoes on a regular non-ComicCon day. She could geek out with the best of them, but she tried to pick her moments to maintain some semblance of a sense of social awareness.

She had replied tersely to Nina.

You must think I'm pretty desperate.
-B

The reply came dinging into her mailbox faster than she'd expected.

Nuh uh. You just need to be out of your apartment for him to find you.
-Nina

Nina, bless her, had a way of talking about her single friend's future partner as if he was someone they already knew. A vague, nameless figure, out there in the world biding his time until he somehow stumbled into Beatrice's life. He was a specific stranger. Nina would often tease Beatrice, mostly in the sporadic instances when she complained about the single life, by randomly blurting out her musings on what HE was doing right this instant. She would be met with rolling eyes and a playful punch to the shoulder, but Nina loved doing it anyway and watching her friend scoff while suppressing a secret smile.

Beatrice breathed out heavily, her cheeks puffing out as she did so. She hiked up her jeans, smoothed down the front of her Battlestar Gallactica t-shirt, and forced a smile, desperately trying to reassure herself that she was cute in that I didn't try too hard, sorta way. Anyone could put on a cute dress to impress guys, but she was Beatrice, dammit, and even if she couldn't bring herself to cosplay she was damn well going to at least dress for the theme somehow. Speed dating for geeks. Oy.

She double-checked that her Keep Calm, I'm the Doctor button was still in place on her purse, quickly tilted it so the TARDIS was upright again, and she was ready.

"Beatrice Hart," she announced to the bartender standing beside a registration sign, this time in the delightfully sixties Trek font. With a name like that, her hippie parents had tried to bestow upon her their same love of all things vintage, their appreciation for the past, and all the good old days she kept hearing about. Instead she had embraced the future, science fiction, space ships and time travel, aliens and new worlds.

Her mom would flip through her record collection hoping to spark an interest in her daughter, but Beatrice's reply was always a show and tell of her iPod and the five hundred songs within it.

The bartender handed over her name badge with a wink and took her drink ticket, exchanging it for a bottle of beer. Beatrice marveled at his chiseled jaw and tousled roguish hair, sighing to herself in defeat upon realizing the bar staff was probably much more appealing than the slew of five-minute dates she was about to endure.

"Do you want to leave your sweater with coat check?" he asked with a crooked smile.

Beatrice's tongue swelled and stumbled around her mouth as she struggled to form words fit for a GQ model's ears. She handed over her cardigan and her eyes flitted around nervously, landing on the registration sign again. Lightspeed Dating. She went with what she knew.

"Make it so."

His arm hovered over the bar as the blue fabric hung between them. "Umm," he stammered, "I am."

Bombed.

Beatrice tried to recover. "Oh I know," she giggled, "it's a Star Trek reference, in the Next Generation..."

The bartender nodded his head with raised eyebrow and a polite smile, much less flirtatious than before, and turned his back to place her sweater on a hanger off to the side behind him.

She swiveled around, taking a long pull from her beer, hoping to swallow her cringing as much as the alcohol. Should have known, she thought. A hockey joke would have gone over better.

"Kirk or Picard?" came a nasally voice to her right. She lowered her beer quickly to see a portly man about her age with slicked black hair standing at her side. He wore a name tag. Matt. Another lightspeed dater.

"Well," she indulged his question, grateful that someone else spoke her language, "I'm of the opinion that they were both excellent leaders in different ways."

Matt's eyes lit up. "No, no, no," he shook his head enthusiastically and waggled a scolding finger. "That's a cop-out right there. You gotta pick one!"

A moment of silence stretched between them. Beatrice thought for a moment, pushing her brown hair behind her ears with her beerless hand. "I refuse to take sides," she smiled.

Matt huffed loudly, clearly unimpressed. "Wars or Trek?" 

Again Beatrice knew her answer would be disappointing. "Both?" she ventured.

Suddenly his arms were thrown up in the air in frustration, and he began a seemingly rehearsed monologue about the superiority of Star Trek, its utopian values and racial diversity, acting, writing, and on and on. Beatrice looked on with wide eyes, surprised to have set off such a volatile reaction. She too was passionate about the things she loved, but not to the degree of lecturing a complete stranger.

A speaker crackled to life and she was glad for the interruption, quickly looking away from the ranting fanboy at her side.

"Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Lightspeed dating! Ladies take your seats, and the men will rotate every five minutes when you hear the blaster!" A loud, laser-like pew pew echoed across the room, followed by a chorus of laughter. Beatrice loved a well executed theme and couldn't help but grin. Without a word, she hustled away from Matt who had now engaged some other poor sap in an argument about Luke Skywalker's merit as a Jedi Knight.


Round one.

"I could never date someone who thought Greedo shot first," stated suitor number one with the conviction normally reserved for heated political conversations. Now there was a dealbreaker she'd never heard before.

Pew pew!

"Word of Warcraft takes up a lot of my time, but if you play then yes - we could spend lots of time together in Azeroth."

Pew pew!

Beatrice retained nothing of what her next mini-date said over the stench of weed permeating from his every pore.

Pew pew!

"I'm into ultimate frisby in summer and snowboarding in the winter."

"Do you like Doctor Who?"

"Who?"

"No, the TV show. Doctor Who."

"Never heard of it."

"Wow," she replied with a chuckle. "Then what are you doing at a geek dating event?"

"What?" he exclaimed, his head suddenly swiveling around the room. "It's for geeks?"

Pew pew!

Beatrice spent the next five minutes desperately trying to keep the small talk going while the next guy downed two beers in quick succession, asking her nothing about herself.

"Well, nice talking to you," she offered.

"Yep," he stood and left without even making eye contact.

Pew pew!

She was starting to fantasize about the blaster pew pewing her right in the temple.

***

An hour later, she dropped her purse on the floor and shuffled into her bedroom with all the zeal of an old timey zombie. She threw herself on the bed face first and landed with a soft thud. Well that was a wash.

Beatrice contemplated texting Nina to thank her for the wonderful suggestion that she get out of her comfort zone, but decided against it. Her friend's intentions were good, and she couldn't have known it would be the wasted effort it turned out to be.

She grabbed for the laptop on her bedside table and decided to indulge in her little ego-boosting ritual, checking her blog's daily traffic and comment section. She logged in, her mood finally lightening again as her adrenaline began to spike. She knew it was silly to be so excited over something so small, but the feedback from her loyal readers never failed to bring her joy. Even the trolls made her laugh.

A quick scroll through the new comments waiting for approval lifted her spirits, but as she reached the end of the list, she couldn't help but feel a small wave of disappointment. Nothing from Gallifreyan82. Her favourite reader must not have paid her blog a visit today.

He could always be counted on to provide insightful thoughts on her writing. He always picked up on her most subtle uses of subtext, grasped her underlying themes, and appreciated her wit. Not to mention he was the best and least judgmental proofreader she'd ever had. Gallifreyan82 had the most charming, delicate way of pointing out typos she'd ever seen. He was complimentary and helpful. A writer's dream reader.

Strange that he hadn't made an appearance in the comments of her recent update, given that he knew what a big day tomorrow would be for her.

Beatrice kicked off her shoes and jeans and pulled the sheets up to her chin. She fell asleep to swirling thoughts of shirtless Kirk and Picard duking it out in a Gladiatorial arena

Sunday, September 20, 2015

This Week In Online Dating: Bad Names, Clichés, and Obituaries

Another week, another shit-show in the world of online dating. Even though I like to mock people (who deserve it) I want you to know I am actually trying. I do respond to messages, browse profiles with optimism, etc. I'm rewarded with conversations that underwhelm me and fade away, or dudes that flake on dates at the last minute I really am giving it the old college try!

EXHIBIT A: Other great qualities

Wow, thank you for that amazing description. Your height, obviously the #1 most important thing. In fact, SO important that FUCK EVERY OTHER THING ABOUT YOU. Come on bro, even chicks that are just looking to bang need a little more detail than that. At least, I think. Hey, chicks on tinder looking to bang, is that the only pertinent statistic to you? 

It his other great quality includes tactical warfare, I think I'm swiping left.


EXHIBIT B: A Cliché For Another Day 



I actually got so sick of seeing this stupid line that I decided to start documenting it. And then of course I couldn't find a second example, but take it from me, TONS of you dudes are using this one. "Find someone who loves you like Kanye loves Kanye." It's actually funny and I can appreciate our mutual disdain for one of humanity's biggest blunders, but I just want you all to know that you're not even close to being the only one who thought it would make a cute addition to your dating profile.

So instead of quoting a meme you saw on the internet, let's hear some of your original words. 

EXHIBIT C: Get A Dictionary



I'm going to go ahead and jump to the conclusion that if you read my blog (does anyone?!?) then you have a superior intellect. By having that enormous brain, you know exactly what is wrong with that guy's name. 



Synonyms include womanizer and debauchee. Okay, admittedly my vocab isn't good enough to know the second one, but I did know at first glance that I would be swiping right on a lech. Problem is that Tinder takes your name from your Facebook profile (stupid programming) so it's likely that this is his real name. Canada is a multi-cultural place and I welcome and accept all ethnicities, but I know that if I moved to a foreign country where my name was a derogatory word in the local language, I'd be working on a cool new nickname.

And dude, if that's NOT your real name, buy a fucking dictionary and pick better usernames!

EXHIBIT D: RIP, WTF?

Grieving is very hard, and it can be a long process in which we all express ourselves in different ways. I don't intend to mock this person if he's been through something terrible like losing a child, but I just wanted to showcase the variety of interesting and inappropriate things you find in the world on online dating.


Sir, this is REALLY not the place to pay tribute to a child who has passed away. You're obviously here for booty, or for dating, and your shirtless mirror selfie proves that. So do not include an obituary below a tasteless cheesy photo of yourself. Not cool.

Not to mention you're bringing down the whole vibe for everyone who's enjoying the casual swiping, then are smacked in the face with this reality bomb. Take it to your Facebook wall where people can express their condolences. 

EXHIBIT E: I AM THE BEST AND NO ONE CAN CHALLENGE ME

This one is a blatant show-off. I'm being totally honest when I say I get messages like this all the time. And I don't mean the one-liner, "nice profile, wanna chat?" kind of shit. I get people legit saying "Wow" and quoting bits of my profile and expressing their genuine admiration for its contents.

I've put a lot of work into it, and it's ongoing. I'm honest about myself, including flaws and quirks (obviously), I'm honest about what I'm looking for, and I've peppered it with humor to keep people reading to the end. A long profile can sometimes turn off the reader, but I'm often told they read to the end and laughed the whole way. I've also been told many times that I did a great job giving off the vibe of who I am as a person. Which is exactly what these things are meant to do, if you do them right. 

I may not get fifty messages a day, but the messages I do get (that aren't copy/paste generic BS) are from people who get a good sense of what they'd be getting into with me and decided to go forward. Quality over quantity.


I've told single straight men how to have great online dating profiles before, and I follow all of those rules myself. They work. Although I may be single right now, I have found love online in the past, more than once. Real love, not the "just for tonight" kind of love. Although lately I've been thinking of cruising for some of that too, because it's been since June for me, which means I'm quickly approaching my personal drought limit.

It'll be interesting to see with whom I break the dry-spell. Keep you posted. (nobody cares)




Monday, September 14, 2015

Book Report: The Martian

If you joined the Quirky Canuck Book Club then you must have been reading The Martian these last two weeks. You MUST HAVE BEEN.



Andy Weir had been publishing his writing on his blog for a number of years before finally self-publishing his novel The Martian on Kindle, where it sky rocketed to the top of Amazon's Sci-Fi charts. The rights were then purchased and the book was released in 2014.

Holy shit, I absolutely LOVE hearing about that happening, because as someone who is too lazy to submit manuscripts to publishers, this scenario is the dream; hoping my self-published nonsense will just become popular somehow, without all that nasty rejection.

So, in The Martian,  Mark Watney (astronaut, botanist, and mechanical engineer, what a resumé!) is stranded on Mars when his crew emergency evacuates and leaves him behind during a storm. Don't judge them; it was a safe assumption that he was dead meat. This isn't a spoiler, by the way. It happens right off the bat and is the basis for the whole book, so essentially reading the dust jacket would spoil this for you.

Mark survives the storm and his abandonment, and has to devise some pretty intense and elaborate plans to survive the next four years - the time he'll have to wait for the next Mars mission to come save him.

The concept grabbed me from the beginning. I heard the book described as a cross between Castaway and Apollo 13 which is completely accurate. We have all the life-threatening spacey/technological things, as well as the elements of invention and ingenuity for survival. With an opening like this story has, it's hard not to be rooting for Watney the whole time.

The main character is written as sassy and sweary which is always a good time. Weir manages to infuse humour into a situation that is anything but funny. The author is also super smart - the son of a particle physicist (so you know it's in his blood), and he really did his homework for this novel, like researching orbital mechanics, technology, and the history of manned spaceflight. Although I'm not a scientist, I AM a science enthusiast and I have a pretty solid bullshit detector. The events of the book felt plausible. Not quite yet, but in the not-so-ridiculously-distant future, for sure.

Weir makes a crazy situation into something believable, mostly by making nothing easy for our protagonist. Watney has to get really creative, he has to think long and hard about solutions, sometimes he has to act fast, and most importantly for the believability of a survival story - a lot of shit goes wrong.

The story is addictive. As you read about setback after setback you're inclined to stay tuned to see how (and if) Watney will resolve his numerous problems. It's a classic literary technique when you think about it. *old-timey radio announcer voice* Will our hero prevail in the face of adversity? Stick around to see if he gets out of this particular can of worms! Brought to you by Ovaltine!

The only negative I can find to say about The Martian are the sometimes long bits of math and sciencey explanations. It's like listening to the Watney's thought processes as he figures things out, which is generally great for character development, but in a case like this where lots of calculations are involved, you might find your eyes darting through the paragraphs a little faster trying to reach the end of it.

Even as I criticize these moments in the narrative, I can still applaud them for making the science and the situation real to the reader.

The narration switches from Watney's perspective to NASA officials back on Earth, and again to Watney's former crew mates aboard the Hermes spacecraft on its way home. This adds some nice variety because, let's face it, the reader could get a little claustrophobic and perhaps bored if they only dealt with one person throughout the story.

Part of the reason I love reading so much is because I'm a huge fucking nerd. One aspect of being a huge fucking nerd involves a love of learning. Every book I've read, no matter the subject matter, has taught me something. Thus, I introduce a new segment to my book reports.

Things I learned about in The Martian:
  • orbital mechanics and how space missions are planned based around positions of the planets
  • logistics of food rationing and the science of growing potatoes

Reading books also inevitably expands your vocabulary.

New words I learned in The Martian:

Sojourner - this was used as the name of a Mars rover, so I looked it up. It comes from the word sojourn. The definition is perfectly appropriate for a mechanical device dropped onto a planet to see what's up.



Akimbo - This word was used to describe someone's arms and I thought "huh?" Turns out it's something I know well, but didn't know there was a word for it.


and lastly...

Heliology - noun. The science of the sun. (Someone who studies the sun would be a heliologist.)

Learn something new every book! And hey, this one's being made into a movie with Matt Damon as the lead, coming in October. I'll definitely be seeing this one on the big screen.
 


____________________________________


If you liked The Martian you might like The Martian Race, by Gregory Benford.

Benford is a legit astrophysicist and professor of physics and astronomy in California. So if you appreciate realistic science fiction, give this one a try. It's also about a mission to Mars that is rife with difficulties.






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Next up on the Quirky Canuck Book Club...

by Jeff Vandermeer

Area X has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilization. The first expedition returned with reports of a pristine, Edenic landscape; all the members of the second expedition committed suicide; the third expedition died in a hail of gunfire as its members turned on one another; the members of the eleventh expedition returned as shadows of their former selves, and within months of their return, all had died of aggressive cancer.

This is the twelfth expedition.



Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Your Highness Was A Legitimately Good Fantasy Film


Today I'm going to sing the praises of a movie that was universally panned, bashed by critics, a financial failure, and was quickly forgotten after its release in 2011. Your Highness.

Even the writers and actors (Danny McBride and James Franco) made fun of their film in This Is The End, joking that even though it was the end of the world they wouldn't make a sequel. I would KILL for a sequel! Nay, I would SLAY for a sequel!

I hold the firm belief that movie reviewers need to remove their heads from their arses and lighten up a bit. In the case of Your Highness, not only do they need to lighten up and enjoy comedy for the sake of comedy, but they got it wrong when they rated it poorly, because I'm here to tell you that this flop has all the elements of a legit enjoyable fantasy film. I hate when movies are disregarded simply because they're silly. Yes, it's silly, but it's more than that.

The story might not be entirely original (man on a quest to save woman held captive in a tower), but it does throw in some unique elements like the loser tag-along prince, and the eclipse that shall culminate in "the Fuckening" during which the evil wizard will inseminate a virgin who will then birth a dragon. Come on now. The Fuckening. That's funny.



Costumes, Props, Production Design

In my opinion (which is worth absolutely dick-all) this movie is on point with all three of these important components of a fantasy film. This one boasts gorgeous renaissance-esque gowns, full suits of armor, and some very regal court attire complete with powdered wigs.


Aside from the costumes which are both well done and hilarious at times (one codpiece in particular), the viewer is taken to some beautiful locations. We visit a castle, a bustling village, a seedy pub, majestic mountains, lush forests, an eerie labyrinth, and on and on with the eye candy. The movie was filmed in Northern Ireland after all. It would be hard NOT to have breathtaking scenery.

The sound stage sets are just as impressive. For example, our heroes stumble into the territory of one of the film's villains, and his gladiator-style arena is extraordinary. Someone built that shit. Credit where credit is due!




Baddies, Creatures, and Characters

No fantasy film is complete without some creature creations, monsters, original villains, what have you. Your Highness is replete with these kinds of characters and they are extremely well done.

Firstly, we have Simon, Prince Fabious' mechanical animal companion. I didn't know that was even a thing, but I love it anyway. He crows and caws and saves the day. SPOILER - he gets smashed and I cry.

I want one.

Next up is the disgusting baby-man Marteetee with his oddly deep voice. Marteetee is a diaper-clad villain who loves topless chicks and making trespassers fight to the death against his monster.

Your diaper makes me uncomfortable, Marteetee. But I laugh all the same.

Personally, I thought this baddie was completely original, and the effect well executed. To summon his five-headed serpent, Marteetee sticks his hand into a cauldron full of orange goo, and out pops his monster in the arena.

These fuckers are legitimately terrifying! "I can't suck my own venom!"


We also have the Wize Wizard. Although his scene involves child molestation references (the only part of the film I found unappealing, aside from Natalie Portman's over the top, inconsistent, and distracting English accent), it still gets mad props for the use of a Muppet-like character, which in and of itself is a nod to other fantasy films like Labyrinth.

The Wize Wizard is a combination of puppet and CGI in a really cool way. Digital fist bump to the designers of this guy. He creeps me the fuck out and I think that's what you were going for. Well done.

He'll invite you to smoke his magic herbs with him.

Here we have the minotaur (attending the film's red carpet opening), a classic element in any fantasy film. But, you see, Your Highness makes it its own by making him a horny fucker who's actually quite well-endowed. This is where critics get all up in arms because, for them, dick and fart jokes aren't funny. WRONG. They are.

I feel weird looking at this.

There's a scene of comedic gold when Prince Thadeous wants to take a trophy from his first kill, just as he'd seen his brother do with a cyclops, but can't seem to sever the horn. So he ends up toting around a much less tasteful souvenir.

Go easy on him. He's new at questing.


The main Nasty in Your Highness is the evil wizard Leezar, played brilliantly by Justin Theroux. His costumes are incredible, and his wizard staff is one of the coolest fantasy props out there. Props to the propmaker.

His makeup and hair are so killer that we forget that the actor underneath is actually super duper attractive.

Look at that staff! Looks like it could black magic the shit out of you!

Not only does Theroux look awesome in character (and his accent is perf), but he plays it in the creepiest way possible.



Fight Scenes, Action Sequences, and Special Effects

Action is a staple for a fantasy film, and Your Highness has lots of it. James Franco studied swordplay for months in order to play the dashing Prince Fabious, which was a huge investment in a film he ended up hating.

To paraphrase The Princess Bride, this movie has fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, monsters, chases, escapes, and true love. It has action beats at all the right times, whether it be a carriage chase and escape, an unfortunate encounter with a minotaur, or a good old fashioned magic fight, you won't be bored.

And the special effects to go along with the magical elements don't disappoint. This movie had a real budget!




The Comedy

For mostly improvised dialogue, this film is incredibly clever. Not to mention its incorporation of terms like fuck, jack shit, and motherfucker which appeal to me as a fan of vulgarity.
 



Most important to remember is that this film is a spoof! It's a satire of the fantasy genre! They successfully and hilariously mock tropes like the virginal damsel in a tower, the handsome prince whose life is nothing but quests, the evil wizard who threatens a peaceful kingdom, prophecies, dragons, etc.

So don't take Your Highness so seriously, but I'm asking you to not to dismiss it as crap and try to view it as a legitimate fantasy movie. We should be even more impressed that, in spoofing a genre, it managed to make a genuine contribution to it. And that contribution is a new comedic spin that has been missing in the fantasy world. The film asks fantasy fans to lighten up a little. It doesn't always have to be Mount Doom and gloom. (See what I did there?) 

There are laugh out loud moments at every turn, exciting action sequences, a not-to-be-taken-seriously romance, and magic, motherfucker! What more do you want?!

The bottom line is this: Fuck the haters and don't believe the critics without seeing it for yourself! And hell, even if you've seen it before and didn't think much of it, I ask you to watch it again with an open mind. 

This movie deserves more recognition and praise than it got, and I submit this blog post as my small contribution to boosting its reputation.
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Watch the entire movie on Youtube!