Winter is coming

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If you think you’ve read today’s post before you may very well have. It’s recycled.

I used to blog over at the AMAZING STORIES MAGAZINE website. I wrote posts for years for them in anticipation of the magazine being renewed. (I eventually got tired of waiting and stopped writing. I’m told that they are publishing fiction now, but I have long since stopped caring)

Either way, I have dusted off this old ditty about the coming of winter, a topic that is becoming more and more depressing to me as I shuffle off into old age.

Winter is coming.

If you’re a reader of fantasy, particularly of George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones (or you just watch the series on HBO), you’ve heard that phrase, usually said in long, Yorkshire tones by actors like Sean Bean and infused with much dread and despair. Winter is only one of four seasons but it can also be a feeling, a state of being.

There are a lot of fantasy and science fiction works set in winter environments. There are works where the winter is not just a climactic condition but an overall feeling or mood. Winter is much more than just the presence of snow and ice.

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Winter Landscape by 88grzes

It is December first today and, yes, winter is coming.

In some places, mostly in the south, winter is not a big deal. But in the north its different. And if you live in the Great White North (a.k.a. Canada) as I do, then winter is more than just a season, it is a state of mind. Canadians identify with winter. Indeed, in some parts of our country, winter defines who we are as a people. In the province of Quebec, for instance, there is a song called Mon Pays, which was composed by Gilles Vigneault in 1964. The song became kind of an anthem for Quebec and for Canadians as a whole to some extent. “Mon pays ce n’est pas un pays, c’est l’hiver” the lyrics say. “My country is not a country, it is winter.”

 

In fantasy and science fiction, winter is never usually just a setting. If there is winter it is usually symbolic. In George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice series, winter, the season that always seems to be coming, represents a return of the fearsome supernatural creatures that once held sway in Westeros. They were defeated and held back by the wall, a huge barrier made of ice. The people of the north make a philosophy of being prepared, of guarding against their return. Indeed, in the land of Westeros, winter, when it comes, can last for hundreds of years. Winter in Martin’s books is not merely a characteristic of the north. It threatens to claim the entire world.

Again, Martin’s winter is not merely climatic. Winter in Westeros means a return to the dark age of superstition and terror and an end to a world built by reason and prosperity.

mdjackson_winter_the-left-hand-of-darknessAnother world where winter holds constant sway is Gethen, or Winter, as it is called by the citizens of the Ekumen in Ursula K. Le Guin’s novel The Left Hand of Darkness. Gethen is a planet where it is constantly winter, but that’s not merely a quirk of setting. The constant winter is symbolic of the state of the planet’s inhabitants. Neither male nor female, Gethenians live in a state of asexuality, only adopting sexual difference during brief periods called kemmer. The climate of Gethen mirrors the sterile nature of the planet’s inhabitants and society.

Le Guin doesn’t just use winter as an interesting backdrop against which her novel’s narrative can play out. The nature of Gethen’s climate serves an important metaphorical purpose to the story.

Sometimes, though, an icy background is merely that—background. In the second Star Wars movie, The Empire Strikes Back, the ice planet of Hoth serves as a background for the rebels’ battle against the Imperial armada. I suppose one could stretch the setting of Hoth to represent the frozen hopes of the rebellion against the might of the evil empire, but, as I said, it’s a bit of a stretch. This is only Star Wars. One can’t expect sophisticated metaphors. The winter setting is visually stunning, however, particularly in regards to the planet’s creatures. The tauntaun on which the rebels ride while patrolling, for instance, is an interesting creature. They are sort of a cross between a mountain goat and a kangaroo and seem relatively easy to domesticate for the rebels’ purposes. Then, of course, there is the wampa, a huge, shaggy, deadly creature who captures Luke Skywalker and puts him on ice (pardon the pun) in preparation for eating him (we can only assume).

The wampa is kind of like another creature from the frozen north—the yeti.

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The yeti are ape-like creatures that live in the frozen mountains. I have used the yeti in my own artwork. This image was featured on the cover of Issue 1 of The Dreamquest magazine.

Or perhaps it is just a typical day in the Great White North? Naked yeti fighting is a popular Canadian activity. I am confident that it will soon be an official event at the Winter Olympics.

Winter as a setting for science fiction and fantasy is usually more than just backdrop. It usually serves a greater thematic purpose. Winter can represent sterility, bleakness, death, or worse. In real life there is some danger in the wintertime, but when you live in the northern part of the world, you adapt. You bundle up. You buy snow tires. You light a fire and sit back with a cup of hot cocoa and wait for it to be spring again.

Winter is coming. But it won’t last forever.

*No yeti were harmed in the writing of this post.

Houdini & Doyle

Houdini & Doyle

I know. I know.

My blog posts have been spottier than a leopard. They have been as infrequent as a UFO sighting.

Well, there are reasons for that. Some are good. Some, not so good. As I have said before I share a body with an artists named M. D. Jackson who has been too busy doing “art” stuff and has had little to no time for writing.

The “art stuff” came to an end, though and I found myself a little burnt out. So I took to binge watching some television series. I wanted to write about them each individually, but I found I’d lost my blog writin’ mojo. Nevertheless, I’m trying to stage a comeback so… here goes:

HOUDINI & DOYLE

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This series is a British, Canadian, American co-production. The premise revolves around the friendship that existed between Harry Houdini, the famous escape artists and spritualist debunker, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, writer, creator of Sherlock Holmes and famous champion of spiritualism.

doylehoudiniThis is historically true. Doyle and Houdini were friends until they had a falling out in the early 1920’s over Doyle’s belief in the supernatural. This tension between the two famous friends forms the basis for the series.

Houdini is the skeptic. Doyle the believer. Set in 1901 the series is like a turn-of-the-century X-files, or, a more apt comparison would be a turn-of-the-century Scooby Doo as pretty much all of the mysteries presented in the episodes turn out to have prosaic solutions despite their supernatural trappings.

Houdini is played by American actor Michael Weston, while Doyle is played by British Actor Stephen Mangan (who played the role of Dirk Gently in the short lived BBC adaptation of the Douglas Adams novel). Mangan plays Doyle without any trace of a Scottish accent, though, which seemed off to me, but no more odd then Weston’s Brooklyn accent for Houdini.

Houdini and Doyle are joined in their investigations by Adelaide Stratton (played by Canadian actress Rebecca Liddiard), the very first female constable on the London Police force. She is assigned to both the famous men as a way of getting the meddling duo (and the troublesome female police officer) out of the Chief Constable’s hair.

Although the episodes cover fairly familiar territory (Supernatural seeming mystery investigated and revealed to be merely ingenious criminal activity — shades of Scooby Doo –) it is the contentious relationship between skeptic Houdini and believer Doyle that drives much of the action of the story. As the series progress we learn more about Houdini’s relationship with his mother, Doyle’s homelife raising two children while his wife lies in hospital in a coma and his disappointment over the lack of enthusiasm over his just released book about the Boer War (Not surprisingly, his readers only want to talk about Sherlock Holmes).

This is probably the best reason to watch the series. The mysteries themselves range from fairly interesting to somewhat turgid, but discovering more about Doyle’s life and about Houdini’s past and the revelations of the mysterious past of their companion, Adelaide Stratton, make this series compelling.

The entire first season is still available on demand through various services (and, obviously, through certain less than legal backchannels — not that I am advocating internet piracy, understand?) and at only 10 episodes it is certainly worth a look.

Sadly, it seems as though the first season is all that we’re gonna get of this series as Fox, the American network that carried it, has opted not to renew it for another season. The question is up in the air now whether Britain and Canada will continue to produce the series on their own. Still, as I said, season one is worth a look even if there is to be no more Houdini and Doyle.

 

 

Star Trek: New Voyages – The Holiest Thing

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Okay. I’m a Star Trek Geek. I don’t try to hide the fact that I am never happier than when I am watching Star Trek in any and all its various iterations…

…and that includes the fan productions.

The thing is… I know where these fan films are coming from. I understand the passion and the desire to create one’s own version of the things you love so much. And I love that they do it. Their efforts are laudable.

I was going to review the latest installment of the Star Trek: Phase 2 series of fan films, The Holiest Thing. The Phase 2 crew has been releasing Star Trek fan films since 2003 when executive producer James Cawley decided that there just wasn’t enough Star Trek. These productions have been getting better and better and they made a splash with episodes featuring some of the original cast members from the original Star Trek series reprising their roles in creative ways. They have also made use of the original series writers, including David Gerrold who directed the two-part adaptation of his infamously unproduced Star Trek: The Next Generation script, Blood and Fire.

As with all series, some episodes are better than others and, despite the fact that each film they produce gets better than the one before, it still has a number of flaws… squeaky wheels and bumps along the way.

The Holiest Thing has its share of them, but it is an ambitious attempt to bring to life the origins of Captain Kirk’s relationship with Carol Marcus in this “sort-of” prequel to Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan.

I’m not going to review this. These people aren’t getting any profit from this aside from the pleasure of creating it and sharing it with fans. If you are dyed-in-the-wool Star Trek fan like I am you can forgive its flaws and take it for what it is.

The Holiest Thing is on Youtube.

DC’s Legends of Tomorrow

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I saw the first episode of the CW’s new show DC’s Legends of Tomorrow.

I doubt I will be watching the second episode.

It’s not that there’s nothing to like about this first episode… there is… but for me, there’s just not enough of it to outweigh the really awful elements.

I mean, take Arthur Darvill. Who didn’t love him as Rory Williams on Doctor Who? Who wouldn’t want to get to see him as rogue time traveling hero Rip Hunter? Seeing his take on the Doctor’s role was something that I was really looking forward to.

However, this isn’t Doctor Who. This is an American show and American shows have to have certain level of “hero-ness” in their heroes. Darvill provides, but clearly it’s not something to which he is accustomed. His performance veers crazily over the top at times, particularly in the introductory scenes. I almost turned it off at that point.

I liked Victor Garber’s character as Professor Martin Stein, one half of the hero Firestorm. His appearances on The Flash were some of the high points for me so it was nice to see him here as well. And Wentorth Miller as “Captain Cold” Leonard Snart. I liked his character on the Flash and, again, it’s good to see him here.

Same with Brandon Routh as Ray Palmer, The Atom from Arrow and the new characters Hawkman and Hawkgirl. I loved them in the comics and it was great to see them here.

However… A TV show is not a comic book. It has a different structure and different expectations (and, yes, physical limitations, despite the wondrous age of CGI in which we live). Those elements… the setting up of the parameters that will go towards defining the sories that the subsequent episodes will tell… well, it was just too tedious. The story arcs were obvious and the twist reveal three quarters of the way through came as not much of a surprise.

I wanted to like it. I really did. But I’m afraid I have to heave a heavy sigh and call DC’s Legends of Tomorrow less than legendary.