Pacific Rim

Pacific Rim

On Saturday, friends of ours generously offered to babysit our three so David and I could go see Pacific Rim. The best time for us ended up being an afternoon showing in 3D–and we very nearly had a private viewing. My thoughts:

1. *squee* giant ROBOTS!

2. Wow. I have NO interest in ANY of the movies they’re showing previews for

3. I’m glad it’s dark–these 3D glasses aren’t really fashionable, are they?

4. EEEEEE! GIANT ROBOTS!

5. Hmm, this 3D thing isn’t half bad…

6. GLaDOS!

6. GIANT ROBOTS BEATING UP GIANT MONSTERS!

So, ahem, yes. I really enjoyed the movie, but then I imprinted on giant robots very early. When I was a wee Montessori-going tot (3 or 4), my absolutely favorite video was Mazinger Z, which I watched every single day after school–all four episodes we owned. Later on, I graduated to Voltron and Transformers. I love my robots.

And I loved the homage this movie paid to the genre. There was one scene where

**spoiler**

 

I almost jumped out of my seat, wanting to yell out, “Form blazing sword!”

But I’m a grownup, so I restrained my inner eight-year-old.

 

/spoiler

 

I almost always find character development lacking in movies (well, yes, I do write novels, after all), so the fact that it was on the light side in Pacific Rim didn’t bother me too much. There were characters I wish we’d spent more time with and premises that I couldn’t help extrapolating in my head (I’m a writer, I can’t help it). I liked that piloting a jaeger was an intense physical and emotional experience. I was fascinated by the two-pilot system and I felt that there was a LOT of interesting conflict in the Drift premise that didn’t get explored, but I appreciated they kept the movie focused on the “last man… er, robot… standing between humanity and extinction” plot.

Oh, and the movie also automatically got points for not being a reboot, a sequel, or an adaptation, all of which I’m rather sick of, even though I watched The Hobbit this year and will probably go see Ender’s Game (does that make me a hypocrite? But I’m also passing on Iron Man 3, Thor 2, Man of Steel, Star Trek, etc.).

But what made Pacific Rim for me?

Awesome giant robots fighting awesome giant monsters.

childhood influences: why I write what I do

In the past few weeks, I posted about why I think I write science fantasy. When that turned out to be a discussion on how to define the genre, I went on to elaborate how the different languages and vocabularies of fantasy and science fiction are blended in science fantasy.

Today I have a confession: The reason why I write science fantasy has very little to do with a reasoned, thoughtful approach to writing fiction and everything to do with my childhood influences. Behold.

(Note: science fiction elements in red, fantasy in blue, science fantasy in purple)

Exhibit A: ThunderCats

Feline humanoids with super powers flee their dying planet in spaceships and crash-land on another planet. There they encounter new friends  (unicorn-herding sorcerers, warrior maidens, galactic cops, and robotic fruit-harvesting bears), make a powerful new enemy (a five-thousand-year-old living mummy), and build a fortress and a cool tank. Their leader, a hotheaded young warrior with a magic sword, is constantly in and out of trouble.

 

These robotic bears must run on ethanol

 

Exhibit B: Rainbow Brite and the Star Stealer

A magical girl who brings spring to earth travels across the universe to confront an evil space princess who is bent on adding a diamond planet to her collection of jewels. Features talking horses, both real and robotic, robots and spaceships, lizard creatures and magical belts.

I may have been one of the few people who, upon learning of the discovery of this planet, exclaimed, “They found Spectra!”

 

“Nobody can own Spectra! It’s the light of the whole universe!”

 

Exhibit C: Warriors of the Wind

I know, I know this is the horribly-mangled English-language version of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, but I loved it as a kid and I don’t care that it cut out all the heavy-handed environmentalism. I’m grateful to the newer English version of Nausicaa for clearing up some plot points that had always puzzled me, but the dialog of Warriors of the Wind was funnier and I knew most of it by heart.

So. Blurb: In a post-apocalyptic world taken over by a toxic jungle and giant insects, a small peaceful kingdom is brutally attacked by a warlike state (with airplanes, tanks, and guns) when an ancient weapon is uncovered within its borders. Nausicaa, the princess of the Valley of the Wind, who has a strange connection with the giant insects, struggles to bring peace between the nations, and between humanity and the denizens of the jungle. There is also a prophecy.

 

I covet that glider.

 

It’s no wonder that I write genre soup, happily tossing fantasy and science fiction elements into my fiction.

What were your childhood influences? How have they affected your writing or other art?

Harry Potter: How it Should Have Ended

For your viewing pleasure. No introduction necessary.

 

what I’m watching: avatar the last airbender

It’s more accurate to say that we are watching Avatar: The Last Airbender series as a family (more or less, dh hasn’t been there for all of them). Miss M. has seen some YouTube clips of the series and finally asked if she could watch the whole thing. The Baron was all for it (he’s three–he’s usually all for things). Sir I. took some more persuading–he’s a sensitive kid and was afraid it would be *too* scary–but there is no way he’s going to let his siblings watch something without him.

I’m perfectly happy to let them watch it–er, watch it with them–because Avatar is the best cartoon series I’ve ever seen. Hands down. It’s the sort of series I wish I had seen as kid growing up in the–okay, I’m going to date myself here–80s and the early 90s. For one thing, it actually has character development and a plot arc. And it has actual yanno, variety, instead of the same episode over and over again in different guises–namely, Good Guys Fight Bad Guys and Win, Using the Same Move They Used Last Time to Win (yeah, I’m looking at you, Voltron of the Blazing Sword).

The makers of Avatar did a spectacular job of utilizing all the strengths of their medium.  You don’t need a 5 gizillion dollar special effects budget for animated magical martial arts. Plus, animation lends itself really well to a certain type of comedy. Like the silly faces (the kids LOVE the silly faces).  The soundtrack is pretty awesome, too. The music really makes the Agni Kai between Zuko and Zhao in episode 3.

We’re up to episode 8 in the first season. Some comments:

  • I like the way they’ve created sympathy for Zuko–whose stated purpose in life is to capture Our Hero and drag him off to the Fire Nation–by pitting him against the older, stronger Zhao. Zuko is an underdog in his own nation, a banished prince with few resources, rejected by his own father and treated with contempt by the commanding officers of the Fire Nation. One can’t help but feel sorry for him.
  • They balance serious and silly really well. We get dramatic intensity leavened with comic relief. It’s a combination that works for me–and works well in animation. I can’t see it working out as well in a live-action show.
  • Already seeing a lot of character development in Sokka, especially in the Kyoshi episode.
  • The scene with Roku-and-Aang coming out of the inner sanctuary in the Fire Temple? Never fails to send shivers down my back.
  • Most hysterically funny scene so far: “That lemur… it’s earthbending!”

I’ll be posting up more thoughts on the series as we continue watching. Spoilers are included, so be warned.

In the meantime, there is a lot of fire, water, and airbending going on in my living room these days. I asked Sir I. today what parts he liked best and he responded with: “The fights. All of them.”

Yeah, that’s my boy.

what I’m watching: Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind

We’re slowly working our way through all the Studio Ghibli films we can get our hands on. Watching Hayao Miyazaki’s films is almost like reading an author’s entire body of work; after a while you can pinpoint all the familiar morifs and themes. Flying (airships, gliders, broomsticks, dragons, floating islands, moving castles) is a big one, as is the theme of environmental degradation caused by technological progress. This often takes on a spiritual element, as the environment is often guarded by animalistic spirits (like the boars and wolves in Princess Mononoke and the giant Ohm in Nausicaa). Boiling down the movies to such basic themes and elements do not do them justice, because first and foremost they are just great stories, peopled by nunaced, complicated characters and full of riveting conflict and ratcheting tension.

I grew up on the (so I have since learned) butchered English version of Nausicaa, called Warriors of the Wind. And while the newer version is far more faithful to the original (and includes all the scenes, thereby plugging the plot holes that confused me for years), I still have a sneaking fondness for Warriors. I have entire swathes of dialogue completely memorized from that film, most of which is internally playing right along with the new version, creating an interesting mental disconnect. I’m sad that some of my favorite lines–and most of the funny ones–are no longer there, and while the story makes more sense, I find the environmentalism somewhat heavy-handed.

Despite that, Nausicaa (in its Warriors of the Wind guise) remains one of my oldest inspirations. Post-apocalyptic scenarios, weird and wonderful worldbuilding, a strong, courageous and generous girl protagonist, nuanced villains, truly scary creatures (the Fire Demons… er… Giant Warriors never fail to give me the creeps), gliders and other flying contraptions, a story that just keeps getting bigger and bigger–if any of those appear in my work, they’ve grown from the seeds sown by those bazillion viewings during my formative years. My liking for adventurous music probably stems from that, too. In fact, Nausicaa/Warriors is like a well-known, well-loved orchestral piece that never fails to elicit the same emotional responses from me–from the way my stomach drops when Nausicaa launches off from a cliff (yikes!) to the deep-seated sorrow when her people are rounded up by the Tolmekeans to all the complex feelings at the final scenes on the shores of Acid Lake.

And Nausicaa herself is just a fantastic heroine, with her great physical and moral courage, her love and loyalty for her people, her initiative, and yes, her ability to really ride those winds on a not-at-all-safe-looking contraption.