Without a story Sci-Fi is Just Bad Writing

A friend sent this along. A review justifying Tron Legacy’s lack of story and character. Its unacceptable. Sci-fi is NOT just about worlds. It is about story too AND characters. Also this use of the term “hard sci-fi” is some elitist bullshit that will doom the genre and makes a great excuse for some piss poor writing.  I mean, alright, many of Jack Vance’s characters are hard to figure out and come across as kind of cold and shallow but the dude didn’t just write about worlds, he wrote actual stories (Alright, the Dying Earth lacked in story a bit. We can’t all be perfect). The Night Lamp is a story with characters (not particularly interesting ones) and if anything he spends less time on the world then on the story. Same can be said for Dune. So while I agree that there is a quality to sci-fi that makes it different beyond just the content. There is a type of character development and a way of writing that distinguish sci-fi and for some make it to “cold” too “withdrawn” to enjoy. But that does not mean there doesn’t need to be a story or characters. That’s just fucking unacceptable. ‘nough said.

Keep reading to see the original review of Tron Legacy that sparked my indignation.

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Tron Legacy Over Lunch

Today’s lunch time conversation:

Me: Have you guys seen Tron Legacy?

Co-worker: No, why?

Me: Well besides being a scientifically inaccurate film….

Co-worker: wait what? I can’t believe you just said that.

Me: Huh?

Co-Worker: well it’s a fantasy film. How’s it supposed to be accurate?

Me: That’s not the point!

Co-worker: Then what is the point?

Me: That they botoxed the hell out of Jeff Bridges face!

Co-worker: But how is that inaccurate?

Me: No, I’m just saying…

Co-worker: I mean if he’s a computer generated person then he wouldn’t age. Seems pretty accurate.

Me: Lord. Stop changing the subject.

Co-worker: what subject?

Me: Botox

Co-worker: I thought we were talking about Tron Legacy

Me: As a way to talk about Botox!

Co-worker: Why? You thinking of getting Botox?

Me:  no! Just saying his face looked like plastic.

Co-worker: is it a good movie?

Me: No. But the lead actor is very, very attractive. So that’s nice.

Co-worker: Jeff Bridges!? Hahahahahahahahahhaaha!

Me: Ugh. No. The other guy. His last name sounds like hell hound.

Co-worker: I’m so confused.

Me: well that’s what happens when you don’t pay attention.

Co-worker: That’s inaccurate!

Me: Hahahahahahahaha. You know what is inaccurate this whole idea that an army of computer generated people can come out of a grid and wage war on earth. If they did manage to get out they would be tiny!

Co-worker: huh? What is this movie about?

Me: Are we having the same conversation?

Co-worker: Yes and it makes no sense.

Me: Would you ever get botox?

Co-worker: only if I was going to a fabulous party where I would be judged by rich people.

Me: mmmmm. Makes sense.

Co-worker: Would you?

Me: No, I’d just where really great shoes. Rich people love good shoes.

Co-worker: mmmmmmm



The end.

2011 Has the Makings of a Banner Year

At the close of each year I try and reflect on the 12 months past and envision the 12 months to come. While I generally agree with Dodai Stewart’s eloquent summation of why 2010 was, to use his tone, fucked up I also can’t help but feel there is something positive to glean from each passing year. True, at the conclusion of my reflection the best thing I get from 2010 may be that I managed to make it through relatively unscathed. But is there not always the chance that there is some redemptive event or happening that has been overlooked? I concede this is not likely, but what the heck – can’t hurt to grasp at straws for a bit.

As for the year ahead? At the start of each year I like to dig through books and find some bit of wisdom that can help guide my approach to living throughout the year. Last year I found great hope and solace in the poems of Wendell Berry’s. They grounded me to the earth and reminded me that life is about building, building and building.

In previous years I’ve taken guidance from Sherman Alexie, E.B. White, Willa Cather, Martin Espada, and Ursula K. Leguin. Over the past three or so months I have been stuck on three ideas: bravery, honesty and love.

Honesty: Being honest with oneself, ones community and with the world. Can you do one without the other? While a lie is an explicit form of being dishonest, what are the more implicit ways we can be dishonest and what is the cost?

Bravery: What is it to be brave? Is being brave like being courageous in that it is being afraid of something but doing it anyway because it is the right thing to do? Is there a cost to being brave and if so what is it and is it predictable?

Love: How does one grow the power of love within to the point where, on the day to day, you feel its white hot intensity? Are love and heartache faithfully interconnected? To love with white hot intensity all those around you, your passion, your visions, your work for justice and to write the wrongs in the world put you at risk for incomprehensible heartache? Or is it remorse….does love work in tandem with remorse?

Like most times when I am wrestling with these sorts of ideas and questions I have turned to books and the writings of some writers with far more well ordered minds then my own.

I picked up a collection of poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay and flipped the pages to a poem called Conscientious Objector. The poem opens with the line “I shall die, but that is all I will do for death”. Death is that mass of injustice that hangs over us, occupies our past, present and future. But I am the resistance and I shall never sell out those who write the map to liberation or assist the mass. “Am I a spy in the land of the living, that I should deliver men to Death? Brother, the password and the plans of our city are safe with me; never through me shall you be over come.”

While this expresses bravery, I think this also expresses honesty. The most honest person I can be is the person who will be unceasingly true to the values I hold and the vision of the “city” we will build. Never through me or because of me will these plans be compromised.

In my thinking about bravery I have found plenty of writings to go back to for inspiration. I re-read the Grapes of Wrath and the Dubious Battle, both by John Steinbeck. The bleak ending of the Grapes of Wrath is also hopeful. In misery and defeat a fire is lit that spreads to start other little fires.

But it is in a series of books that I have read and re-read countless times that I found a bit about bravery that has stuck in my head. Many people have been bemused by my love and borderline obsession with the Harry Potter books. I find great guidance in many matters through fiction. Fiction writing is a wonderful way to express ideas and concepts with which we all struggle.

In the fourth Harry Potter book a boy, Cedric Diggory, is killed by the primary villain of the series, Lord Voldemort. It is the first major character death in a series that is, in essence about lateral death and that kind of Death that Edna St. Vincent Milay writes about. Lord Voldemort represents a remorseless, hateful, bigoted and violent idea that is so destructive and corrosive that there is no choice left but to fight against it. No matter how afraid, the characters must fight and they do so willingly. Not with out fear and second thoughts, but they do fight.

At the end of book four the Albus Dumbledore, the wise and fatherly figure to Harry and a powerful wizard pays tribute to Cedric while delivering a speech to Harry and his fellow students.

“Remember Cedric. Remember, if the time should come when you have to make a choice between what is right and what is easy, remember what happened to a boy who was good, and kind and brave, because he strayed across the path of Lord Voldemort. Remember Cedric Diggory.”

It is not lost on me that drawing on books such as the Harry Potter books for inspiration and strength risks being silly and weird. But it can not be helped. It is what it is.

The ideas of remembering Cedric is something like remembering all those people, past and present whose bravery, love and honesty and inspiration have laid plans for our “city”. And when I am faced with what is easy and what is right, I should remember them and do what is right. My father used to say that the most radical idea in America is the long memory. I am beginning to see the power in that idea. I will have to be brave in all parts of my life, not just in working for a better world, but in all aspects of living. Taking on what is right, even if it is not easy, using the power of remembering all those who have come before me and their good intentions for me.

Love. Love is such a simultaneously under-explored and over explored idea. Love can be mutated and manipulated to be an excuse for all manner of hurtful and dangerous things. But Martin Luther King Jr. knew that love could be a force to be reckoned with if channeled and embraced. Hate is corrosive, love is restorative. You don’t have to love your enemies; you just have to have an abundance of love for what you dreams, for the collective aspiration to live in a better world.

The Harry Potter books are filled with references to love and its power for good. Dumbledore in different ways throughout the series tries to convey to Harry that the greatest weapon he has is his ability to love. Implied in what Dumbledore is saying is also that Harry can feel remorse and that remorse is, at times, part of love just as grief is. But it is love that gives Harry and his friends the power to fight evil such as the world has never known. Love blossoms and spreads while evil withers. But it takes a long time for Harry to realize that the abundance of love in his life: the love of his mother which saved his life when he was a baby, the love he has for his friends and the love they have for him is indeed their most powerful weapon.

It is the white hot love of life and what is good and beautiful that can bind you to others and compel great changes, leaps forward and transformations.

In the next year I want to know each of these things: honesty, bravery and love in new ways. I want to share in this exploration with others of course in the hopes that 2011 is a banner year for all.

My Blog: 2010 in review

Here we have a post mostly compiled by WordPress on how my blog did in 2010. Not to shabby considering the sporadic nature of my posting and the questionable quality of my editing and grammar. So thank you one and all for sticking with me. Especially thank you to all who made ‘The impending hatching of baby snuffleupagus” the number one post of the year. No idea what that means, but you can rest assured I’ll find ways to write more about snuffleupagus in 2011.

My blogs health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads This blog is doing awesome!.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 5,400 times in 2010. That’s about 13 full 747s.


In 2010, there were 26 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 119 posts. There were 118 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 119mb. That’s about 2 pictures per week.

The busiest day of the year was February 12th with 100 views. The most popular post that day was The Impending Hatching of a Baby Snuffleupagus.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were facebook.com, twitter.com, Google Reader, en.wordpress.com, and powlsy.tumblr.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for earthsea, snuffleupagus, pegasus, airline ad, and san francisco fog.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.


The Impending Hatching of a Baby Snuffleupagus June 2009
1 comment


Is it a bird? Is it a Plane? Eh…is it a Night Club? June 2009
1 comment


New Zine – Get in on the Action February 2009


Road Trip Through the Washington Palouse and the Channeled Scablands of my Childhood December 2009


Giving Birth in Chains: The Shackling of Incarcerated Women During Labor and Delivery July 2009

6/10: Stick with me on this one; it mostly makes sense in the end

The other afternoon I was having what I considered an average conversation with a good friend. It was about politics, love, life, friends, and sci-fi. She presented me with a problem she was experiencing with another friend. This other friend feels like if it’s not political it’s not worth writing or reading. Appalled at this proclamation my friend, shall we call her VegasaurusRex , challenged our other friend who we shall call D.B. Downer to explain himself. I’ll spare you a transcript laden with profanity and give you the essentials.

D.B. Downer hates to feel vulnerable; that kind of vulnerability that comes from being open and receptive to the world around us. Making everything about politics and political identity makes it possible to look at the catastrophe of the world around us and not feel pain, confusion, fear, sadness, rage, or hope. When you wall yourself up you miss out on the chance to feel things that remind you what you’re fighting for. For example, we’re not just fighting for everyone to have a home, but I’m fighting for Helen, the women I buy street my copy of Street Sense (the local homeless paper) from because I’ve talked with Helen and her fear at another winter on the streets is in her every word. I fight for the clients I see each day who speak of hopes that one day they will one day be cured of a disease that as of yet has no cure. I certainly fight for the memory of the forests around the place I grew up that were so mercifully clear cut.  Because when I visit those clear cuts the energy of the earth to want to regrow is palpable. I don’t fight for anarchy, I don’t fight for revolution. Those are things that may or may not come to pass. What I fight for is what it will feel like when we are free – calming, cooperative, joyous, smooth, seamless, loving, hardy, healthy, growing, lustrous – just to name a few ways I think it will feel.

Alas, D.B. Downer only feels for the political. Politically he will say how it will or will not feel. Politically he can identify what needs to change. VegasaurusRex on the other hand is like a porous sponge that sucks up the feelings of the world around her for processing and wringing out over and over. But where this argument started was with writing. D.B. Downer saying that only the political I worth writing and VegasaurusRex arguing, rightly I would say, that the articulation of the world to come is one that can be written in so many ways.

In the end D.B. Downer just couldn’t see it and VegasaurusRex in a huff asked me how to fix D.B. Downer. I thought for a moment. Thought real hard. In the end my mind when straight to what I know best – fiction books. I find a great power in the use of words to tell fantastical stories of great meaning for every day use. Fiction, particularly speculative/fantasy/sci-fi/visionary fiction can help us to articulate whole new ideas of making and shaping the world we live in, new ways of relating to each other and the earth, and help us grapple with big questions of power, violence, and race.

So I brought to my friend this: In Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series there is the concept of the One Power. This power moves the Wheel of Time. Half of the One Power is male and the other female. Some can channel the One Power, but most cannot. It can’t be controlled, the One Power just is, but it can be tapped into, or channeled for use by those who can channel.

In a great battle to defeat the Dark One (again with dark and light) the saidin or male half of the One Power was corrupted in an effort to seal the Dark One in a prison. This corruption, which I will simplify for you, led to the breaking of the world and war, strife and general chaos and upheaval. Another thing it led to was that now any males who can channel will eventually go insane and often become quite dangerous.

Ok, still with me? This is where I remind you to stick with me; it comes out in the end.

What I said to my friend was something like this:

It’s sort of like he can’t tap into the One Power without going insane. It’s a lot to take on, feeling the world around you – being empathic and open to pain as well as joy. To this she replied by asking why he would go insane if he really started feeling things. Well, I thought about it again and said, the world’s been busted pretty badly by men, mostly men and that’s heavy stuff. We all feel our privilege differently and some have a lot more than others. Some of us can hide bits of who we are and where we came from, while others can’t. My dad talked to me a lot about privilege. He referred to privilege as bags we carry and that we have to start opening up those bags and casting them off. You do this by living in real time with the world around you, feeling everything. Deconstructing differences you feel with other people because of privilege, not just recognizing these differences. Building relationships with people, being genuine, living with and among people in a cooperative way, highlighting similarities instead of standing behind differences  – this is a lot of how my dad looked at privilege. VegasaurusRex called this “keeping it real”. That pretty much sums it up.

Well anyway, D.B. Downer maybe can’t handle taking a look at his privilege and doing more than just taking a look at it. He can’t live without looking at…he can’t live actively trying to deconstruct it.

To this VegasaurusRex asked again how she could fix D.B. Downer. I said the only thing you can do is just love. Be open and boundless with love. It won’t fix people but it will be a source of power and comfort.

So another part of the One Power and the corruption of the male side is that the female side can do what is called “gentle” a saidin. This is sort of like a frontal lobotomy. Not cool. But so, stick with me here. Applied in this context it could be that to gentle someone is to love them, boundlessly and openly. For real. Martin Luther King knew it, Dorothy Day knew it, Mother Jones knew it, Ammon Hennacy knew it…shit. Dumbledore knew it. Yet love, in activist circles, especially white ones that are very male, is an over looked and under appreciated source of power. Well, deal with it. Love is, to get unreasonably cheesey, like a One Power. It’s kind of scary but don’t worry, we won’t let it make you go insane.

All of this is to say: you can learn just about anything in a fantasy novel if you try hard enough and if that fails you can always turn to the movie Clueless – you can always learn something from clueless. Always.

PS. VegasaurusRex called this our corniest conversation ever.

New Issue of The Worst: A Zine Compilation on Grief and Loss is Out!

Don’t worry I won’t count this towards my 10 posts in 10 days. But I just wanted to make sure folks know that the latest issue of the Zine the Worst about grief and loss in radical communities is out and ready for you to get a copy to read. Its a truly beautiful zine full of compelling and thoughtful essays. I can’t tell you how much this zine has helped me! This issue also includes an essay by me!

Check it out and get a copy today!

5/10: A Long Memory

*editors note – this here is a fiction piece but many of you will note that part of the story sounds very familiar. That’s because I’ve taken a story about my dad, a true story and mixed it in to some measure. I’ve been thinking of this a lot lately, this idea of taking some of his life and mixing it with fiction. Hope it worked out alright.*

The street was dark besides the yellow glow of a street lamp filtered through the trees that lined the street.  My attention was mostly kept by looking at the way the wet side walk glimmered. It had rained all day, all week in fact and it wasn’t until an hour ago that it had stopped. Walking home all was quiet. All the rain had kept people inside so much they probably didn’t know how to come outside anymore. Normally this time of year people would have had their windows thrown open to let in the cool evening breeze. The days this fall had been hotter then average, but the nights had been wonderfully average.

I was startled out of my thoughts by a loud crash. Just ahead at the next intersection a car had collided with a newly installed small round-about.

The city, in all its infinite wisdom, wanted to bestow upon our rather down trodden little neighborhood the gift of a beautification campaign. The round-abouts were some city officials I idea of making our neighborhood nicer. The round-abouts were place at random throughout the neighborhood, each including 4-5 large concrete planters containing dirt and the pitiful beginnings of some flowers. Most residents viewed these odd constructions and just another weak attempt by the city to show it cares for our neighborhood.

I approached the intersection looking cautiously at the car now resting with its passenger side up on the round-about rammed up against one of the large flower planters. Dirt was tossed all over the hood of the car along with one lone pansy. The engine was still running. Walking around to the driver side I saw the door flung open and a large man sprawled face down on the bricks.

“Uncle Hank. You alright” I said nudging the man with my foot. “Uncle Hank!” this time I yelled. I got a faint mumble followed by a groan. Slowly he rolled over. “Oh lord” I said and went to help him sit up. As I knelt down to help him up I caught a nauseating whiff of liquor mingled with body odder.

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