American sf Reading List

This semester, I’ve been given the privilege of teaching a class on American Science Fiction, ENG 146. I spent a good part of the summer writing and revising my syllabus and trying to create a reading list that is a good balance and mix of different kinds of texts, that show the range and major movements of sf.

Here’s my reading/viewing list:

Short Stories

“The Nine Billion Names of God” by Arthur C. Clarke

“The Sound of Thunder” by Ray Bradbury

“It’s a Good Life” by Jerome Bixby

“The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” by Ursula K. Leguin

Novels

I, Robot

The Martian Chronicles

Ender’s Game

Neuromancer

Ready Player One 

Novellas

Flowers for Algernon

I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream

Comics

Action Comics #1

Captain America #1

Fantastic Four #1

Amazing Fantasy #15

The Incredible Hulk #1

Ex Machina Issues #1-5

The Manhattan Projects #1-5

Films

Alien

Back to the Future

Terminator 2: Judgment Day

The Matrix

Looper

TV Series Episodes

“The Shelter” from The Twilight Zone

“The City on the Edge of Forever” from Star Trek

 
That is what I plan to teach this semester. My worry now is how willing my students will be to engage what I believe is a fantastic set of texts. I have some apprehensions as a good number of students have displayed indifference to the material. I know that if I were a student, my brain would explode with the awesomeness of this reading list. But that’s me and I’m a nerd. I just hope that the students do come around, and start seeing how much fun these texts can be, rather than trying to deconstruct them and strip them of their merits just to point out whatever it is that contemporary has taught them to see.

Shooting First: A New Year’s Resolution

When I used to play basketball regularly, I was a terrible shooter. I could make maybe 5% of 3s, if I ever tried to shoot any. My medium range shot was iffy. Though I did have an okay inside game and was pretty spot on for lay-ups. But this limited shooting ability had me develop my passing game. I was never going to be a spot up shooter, nor was I going to blaze past people with crossovers. I could handle the ball and dish to the right players, set picks, and maybe find myself spots on the floor.

I enjoyed the thrill of the assist, of zipping a bounce pass between defenders, of hitting a cutter in stride for a lay-up, of drawing defenders and then kicking to the man spotting up in the corner. Ball movement, unselfish play, getting everyone involved, that’s what I played for.

And as a pass first player, defenders were a lot looser on me. They were not expecting me to take shots. Since they knew I preferred to flip the ball to a teammate, or to pass up a shot, they thought they did not need to defend me. Which meant that once I saw them slacking off, then I would drive into the lane, surprising them with an open lay-up they were not expecting. Or finding a spot I could make a shot from while they were off double teaming a better shooter. It’s always easier to sink a shot when you’re all by your lonesome.

I get to thinking about this kind of mentality now that I am thinking about how I plan to spend the coming year. I realize that I have largely tried to adopt this pass first mentality with a lot of work that I’ve done. As an editor, I’ve always chosen to assign big stories to my writers, rather than taking them myself. I’ve always been reluctant to step up and take responsibility for things. Rather than do something myself, I will pull a team together and distribute tasks. Only when I’ve got no other choice, only when no one else is open and I am, do I like to take the shot.

Which is well and good I guess in certain situations. But the thing is, this year looks like I will be doing some things which do not allow for me to pass off. Which will necessitate my stepping up and taking the shot. To use an easily recognizable basketball reference (and not to compare my talent level in any way to these two, because really, that would be insane), I have to shift from being a playmaking Lebron, and turn into a take-over-the-game Kobe. I have reached a point in my career where I have to elevate, have to escalate what I do. It’s time for me to step up.

You can’t pass off in the classroom. You can distribute the discussion, you can involve the whole class in activities and that whole thing. But when it comes time for lectures, for presentations, there’s no passing off. You are the teacher, no matter what you do, you have to control the classroom and the activity therein. That sounds like mostly playmaker work, but when the moment comes to step up and take over, I cannot be reluctant to launch into lectures when they are needed.

And in writing, well, there is no one to pass off to. I have been struggling with this. I keep wondering if the lack in one’s writing is indicative of the lack of one’s moral fortitude. I think of whether it displays the wanting qualities of one’s character. Or if one can write through those things, in the same way that, when the fourth quarter’s winding down and the other team’s in the lead, you can push everything out of your mind, can push out all of the messes that you’ve made in your life, all the bad decisions and wrong turns, and you can just focus on that moment, take over, and at least in that one aspect, overcome and win the game.

I hope that, for all the mistakes and failures and limitations that I observe so acutely in myself, and which help to inform and enrich my writing, that I can similarly get through all that and finish the work and get it out there.

I plan to work on more films this year. I am dreaming of directing my first feature. I am deathly scared that it will be shit. I want to pass off. I do not want to be responsible, for I would be responsible for a failure if I mess it up. If it’s crap, then I will have wasted the time and efforts of everyone who will work on it. But I have already passed off. I’ve already allowed other people to attempt to execute my vision. It’s time that I did this, time that I stepped up and took the shot.

I have been teaching myself that failure is important. I have launched into a lot of bad writing, some of it I was able to stop, some of it got out into the world. But each failure teaches us something.

Similarly, I have to get used to the idea that we have to take shots. We have to miss shots. We have to work our way out of shooting slumps. Again I use Kobe Bryant as a model here. Sometimes he has terrible shooting nights. But he keeps shooting even when the shots aren’t going down. He shoots until he finds his rhythm. It’s a simple thing to understand, you can’t find your rhythm if you aren’t taking the shot.

I will say it again for my own benefit, so that I can take heart and hold onto the idea: You can’t find your  rhythm if you aren’t taking shots.

I have to accept that once I do this, once I adopt the shoot first policy, then I will be expecting other people to feed me the ball, to pass it to me. It’s on me to make it. I have to accept that there will be off nights, nights when shots don’t go down. But unlike the depressive person that I have been, the one that wallows in shit and flays himself for each aspect of failure, I have to accept that there will be missed shots, that there will be off nights. I have to move on from the last shot, move on from the last night, move on from the last failure, and be ready to take the shot the next time that I get a pass. And not only that, but I have to learn how to create my shot. I have to learn to understand my skills and abilities better so that I can execute, create, move, score.

Allowing for off nights, this means that there will be big nights too that offset it. Those nights when it feels like everything is going down, it’s all flowing, and I can do no wrong. When this happens, I have to ride that crest and keep shooting. It won’t happen every night, but once I start shooting first, there is a chance that I might have that magical 81 point game, or those consistent 40 point performances. The only way to get better is to step up, to take risks.

2013 gimme the ball. It’s on me.

 

reaching a point where i have to take a shot. and i have to keep shooting

Why the Bat Must Be Broken and Gotham Must be Destroyed

(this was co-conceptualized with Bo Jimenez, and the plan is that this is the opening volley of a series of essays and pieces on The Dark Night Rises.)

A common reading of The Dark Knight has been as a right-wing text, a text justifying Bush-era paranoia and extremist control, and as a reinforcement of the status quo social order of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. Even in trailers for The Dark Knight Rises we were given a hint that this new film would at least, in some way, address these concerns as well, and further would bring in the 99% and concepts from the Occupy movements. While Nolan’s Dark Knight saga draw upon ideas of the post-9/11 world and have referents in the real world, I do think that it’s important for us to consider it too as story and discourse on multiple levels, not a direct critique of society. As such, I would like to examine a specific question and where this has brought us thematically, since we can see the saga in its entirety now.
The question has been What does Batman fight for? And that’s what those earlier speculations to TDK addressed. The right, the status quo, the elite, the moneyed, etc. etc. etc. But here’s my answer, and here we go:
The Batman fights for Gotham City. Okay, that sounds like something simple, something basic. Thus we will elaborate. What’s important to note is that the question and answer here reveal that the question isn’t what is Batman fighting for, as that is clear. The question is, what is Gotham City? And in the course of Nolan’s saga we see that Gotham changes, and so do Batman and his fight.
When we find Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins he has just returned to Gotham City. Gotham has deteriorated and whatever it was that the Waynes had contributed to the city had been mired in the crap that the mobsters plunged it into. Bruce is fighting because of the loss of his parents, but this isn’t about family legacy (else he would reveal his name), it is about making the city a better place. And it is, as the discourse of TDK says, being the hero the city needs. Thus we have a symbol of hope who brings down the mob and expels the fear that has been instilled in the populace. Take note that one of his big bads for the first film is Scarecrow, who uses fear. Batman overcomes this fear and in effect, inspires the city to leave behind their fears and take control back from these bad elements.
With TDK we find that the mob is largely crippled and with the crusading Harvey Dent on the scene Gotham is a changing place. Batman feels that he is near hanging up the cape and cowl because someone else can continue the struggle. Gotham does not need him. Enter the Joker and chaos. More than anything the Joker forces people to question their morals, their selves, and how the other people in the city would take care of each other. Hence the big social experiment with the two ships that are asked to destroy each other to survive, or the Joker’s offers in return for killing the accountant/snitch. Batman fights the Joker to give those people on the ships time to prove their mettle. And then he sacrifices his reputation, himself as a symbol, so that the people can continue to believe in something, that something being Harvey Dent.
What happens in the aftermath of TDK is that the right-wing, extreme control side has taken full control. The order that was fought for, the order that comes in response to the maniacal chaos of the Joker, is one that is oppressive, one that has deprived people of rights. It is an order that cannot hold. And thus, with those kinds of internal pressures on the city (and this pressure illustrated in the person of Commissioner Gordon who carries the ravages of the soul on him) coupled with the external anarchic force of Bane, everything collapses. Everything must collapse, everything must be broken.
In TDKR, at the beginning, Batman has nothing to fight for. Gotham is not his Gotham anymore, Gotham itself is lost and built on lies and injustice and oppression. Batman is spiritually broken, as Alfred cannot stop pointing out. And with broken spirit he faces Bane, and is literally broken. With Batman, the city’s guardian, the city’s gargoyle, not there to defend it, the city too falls.
But for things to happen, Batman must be broken, if only so that he can piece together what he is. And Gotham, as a city, is broken and lost and it has given up so much in the name of order, given up so much for said order and safety, that it has forgotten what it gave those things up for in the first place.
Thus we can find that this last installment brings all things full circle. It shows the struggle of the spirit, not in a religious sense, but in the sense of heart and soul and what it is that drives the Batman. He finds that what he must do is be a symbol that upholds the faith of the city in itself, the faith of the people to be better than themselves, to make their city, their world better.
With order gone, with the police force trapped in the darkness, with the world literally crumbling around them, the people are forced to assess what it is they will fight for, and what they believe in. The Batman fights for Gotham, and in TDKR, Gotham fights for its soul. It fights to survive, to become a better place in spite of itself. It fights to overcome its oppression, overcome its complacency. In the end, the police force come out of the darkness and join the fight, running into gunfire and sacrificing themselves for the hope that they might get a chance to be free, to rebuild, and to be great. As such, the Batman, rising from darkness, is a symbol of light and of hope.
He fights for Gotham. What is Gotham? An ever-changing city. Because you cannot fight for a specific law or a specific person. You must fight for an ideal, fight according to a code, and these ideals and codes are always changing too. The enemies change and their methods are always different, but the struggle is “to do good.” That is extremely vague, and something that will always elude simple definitions. But that is the place that Batman inhabits. It can be anything, but for sure it is the kind of thing that a super-hero must fight for.

Prometheus Review

Thundering into cinemas is Ridley Scott’s big, bold return to the Alien franchise. Let’s be honest, while the creatures themselves have maintained their scary factor (thank you Giger), the franchise itself has lost its way with the AvP mash-ups. Good to see then that Prometheus brings it, generally, back to form.  Read more of this post

Retro Reviews: Con Air

Been a while since I picked up the Retro Reviews. Too much other writing had to get done, and lots of pressure. But what better way to get back into it than with Simon West’s Con Air, one of the most wonderfully stupid, unabashedly cheesy films of all time.  Read more of this post

Pintakasi! Showing from Dec 17-21 at Robinson’s Galleria

I started working on a film a few years ago. The idea was for it to be hip-hop themed, for it to be animated, and for it to be kind of different and edgy and have a lot of new elements. After having made my contributions to the project, I left it behind (really, as a story consultant and as part of the writing team, there’s only so much you can do) and waited for the movie. A lot of really smart and creative people have made their contributions to the movie since then. And now it’s here. I am very excited to see it. This will be the second movie I’ve worked on to be produced, the first being Khavn dela Cruz’s Maynila sa Mga Pangil ng Dilim. Here’s the trailer:

The movie will be part of the Metro Manila Filmfest, in the New Wave category. Here’s the screening schedule:

PINTA*KASI:
December 18 | GALA | 6pm Regular Screening
December 19 | 3pm
December 20 | 9pm
December 21 | 11:30am
Robinson’s Galleria CINEMA 3

And here are the film credits:

PINTA*KASI
2011 December 17 to 21 | Robinson’s Galleria

Inihahandog ng Creative Media of the Philippines
Mula sa Direksyon ni Lee Meily
Official Entry for Metro Manila Film Festival: New Wave Section

Starring:
Erich Gonzales
JM De Guzman
John Wayne Sace
Boots Anson-Roa
William Martines
Giselle Sanchez
Hazel Ann Mendoza
Alwyn Uytingco
Alchris Galura
Jeremiah Carandang
Winryll Banaag

with Special Participation of Ces Quesada

Production Designer: Buboy Tagayon
Music & Sound: JM Diego
Editor: Danny Anonuevo
Director of Photography: Lee Meily & Larry Manda
Writers: Judith Albano | JM Diego | Carljoe Javier
Line Producer: Vilma Morales Bacani
Animation Director: Nelson Caliguia
Executive Producer: Imee Marcos

Please come and check it out. Feel free to repost and share.

The Adventures of Tintin (Review)

Every year brings about new developments in moviemaking technology, and so it’s almost a given that we will be astounded with some kind of visual effects extravaganza. Last year gave us Avatar, which was really Pocahontas with blue aliens. It was brilliant in action and its use of 3-D, but rather lackluster when it came to story.

Lackluster story is not something you would ever accuse The Adventures of Tintin books having. Nor this year’s film adaptation, which is surely this holiday season’s technological breakthrough. A visual feast that is powered by a compelling story and lovable characters, Tintin strings together memorable action set pieces that will be entertaining many generations of young viewers, just as the comics have done for decades.  Read more of this post