Archive for February, 2015

I know: with a title like that you are so excited to read this post. But this issue has come up a couple times for me in genre television lately and part of the reason I write this blog is to think critically about such questions, so I’m at least going to try to think my way through it.

Warning: Spoilers for recent episodes of Agents of SHIELDThe Walking Dead,  Captain America: Winter Soldier,  Alien, etc., and frank discussions of race. 

The last…30 minutes or so of Captain America: Winter Soldier, I was on the edge of my seat, completely anxious. Not because the hoverships were going to assassinate everyone in DC and New York or because Cap took a bullet to the gut.

I was worried–frantic–about Sam Wilson, AKA Falcon.

Now, I knew and understood intellectually that Falcon is not a one-time character in the Captain America canon. I knew he should be back. I just didn’t know if he would. In fact, part of me felt pretty sure that Sam Wilson was a dead man.

Not just because he’s a black character, mind you. We’ve gotten beyond the more simplistic days of slasher horror which dictated that the black man dies first. George Romero has allowed a bunch of black men to reach the finish line. Hell, even Parker makes it through the bulk of Alien.

No, what made me worry about Sam Wilson is that I liked him and Steve Rogers liked him. You see, it’s not a sacrifice to off a character we barely know. But a character with motivations and empathy and a moral sense who’s connected with your protagonist–that’s a character you can kill with serious dramatic effect.

(This is after they fake-killed Nick Fury earlier in the movie but that didn’t fool me for a minute. SLJ is friggin’ indestructible.)

Okay, obviously, Sam Wilson makes it through Winter Soldier. Praise Zombie Jesus.

Fast forward seven or so months to the midseason finale of Agents of SHIELD. Shit is going down. Skye and Raina are with the obelisk while the walls close around them. Coulson can’t get in. The others are distracted dealing with an alien-possessed Mac (after a gotcha moment in the previous episode when they may or may not have killed him). It seems like there’s no backup coming–and then Agent Tripp squeezes through the gap and into danger.

Of course, they do a double fake-out, pretending like Tripp is fine while Raina and Skye turn to stone. Of course, they’re fine and it’s really Tripp whom the alien technology destroys.

Tripp was a nice guy. A little underdeveloped as characters go in Agents of SHIELD, but we had been getting to know him better. His grandfather was a Howling Commando. He seemed like the genuine version of Grant Ward–and he had good chemistry with the group.

Given what almost happened to Mac in the previous episode, Tripp’s death felt like a cruel, deliberate yank on our heartstrings, as if to say: you like these characters? Well, too bad!

There has been similar activity on season five of The Walking Dead, a show which seems determined to have no more than three black men in the supporting cast at any given time. The showrunners seem especially fond of killing off whoever happens to be the group’s moral center at any given time, most recently Tyreese and Bob, both–you guessed it–black men. Both solid characters with individual issues and quirks when they appeared in previous seasons; Tyreese in particular saw a lot of development as a fan-favorite from the comics.

But both got a lot more screen time and nuance leading up to their deaths, which is no coincidence. It’s meant to be upsetting. And this is true when any character dies, of course. And naturally I wouldn’t suggest that such action heavy shows should never kill anyone off or even refrain from offing characters of color. I’ll be the first to admit that “What Happened and What’s Going On” from The Walking Dead was a beautifully acted and lovingly made episode. Chad Coleman was as wonderful as ever as Tyreese (which made hurt more, of course). In isolation, I wouldn’t have minded at all. As a larger pattern on the show, it bothers me.

What bothers me  is 1)  the notion that any of these characters (Mac and Tripp or Tyreese, T-Dog, and Bob) are interchangeable 2) that we’re only allowed a relatively brief time to empathize with sympathetic black male characters before they’re killed off–thus making their deaths a kind of cheat or gimmick to get an emotional reaction from the audience and 3) that these characters’ sacrifices end up being mere motivational fodder for the series’ or film’s protagonists, who are so often white.

Simple representation in media (and particularly genre media) is still a huge problem–the numbers are an issue, let alone the quality of the roles. But I think we also need to think about the kinds of stories these characters get to live–and whether they live. Because it does send a message.

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That’s right–in addition to periodic “Watch it Now” posts, at the end of every month, I’ll also collate some of the best online speculative fiction reads for your enjoyment. These will include flash fiction, short fiction, novellas, and novelettes from science fiction, horror, fantasy, and everything in between. They will always be free publications, although I encourage you to support them if you can.

Of course, I have my favorites when it comes to venues, so if you have a recommendation from another source, please don’t hesitate to share.

For February, I suggest the following 7 works for your enjoyment:

From Lightspeed“And the Winners Will Be Swept Out to Sea” by Maria Dahvana Headley. I am not afraid of monsters. I’ve never been afraid of monsters. I’m afraid of love. The prose here is frenetic and gorgeous. I also encourage you to listen to the audio version!

From Escape Pod: “The Evening, The Morning and the Night” by Octavia Butler. Technically the story is a much older one (from 1987) but is it ever a bad idea to revisit Butler, especially when she’s read so brilliantly?

From Strange Horizons: “Limestone, Lye, and the Buzzing of Flies” by Kate Heartfield. No—that is the wrong memory. That didn’t happen. Not to me. A truly unsettling and unique tale.

From Daily Science Fiction: “Marking Time” by Stephanie Burgis. Everyone’s lives are made of moments. Beautifully wrought magical realist meditation on regret.

From Jersey Devil Press: “The Nature of Johnny’s Medicine” by Sloan Thomas. I trust in my destiny as much as anyone around . . . maybe more. There’s a wonderful subtleness to this one.

From The Dark Magazine: “In the Dreams Full of Sleep, Beakless Birds Can Fly” by Patricia Russo. Better a child with wings and a beak, better a child that flew away, than one who never grew, who wasted away and died. Heartbreaking and lovely. Amazing what you could with dialogue and silences.

From Apex Magazine: “The Best Little Cleaning Robot in All of Faerie” by Susan Jane Bigelow. When everybody on the bridge of the interstellar mercenary cruiser Zinnia fell into a magic sleep… Hilarious and different and obviously it gets you at the first line.

Happy reading everyone! Tell me your recommendations in the comments!

Project: Goetia

End Date: February 20, 2015 2:50am EST

Prizes: Digital and hard copies of the game, the original soundtrack, the digital art pack, your name in the credits or secret room section of the game, a postcard pack of game art, t-shirts, your image featured in the game, the ability to produce written content for the game, a model of the main character’s grave (it’s not weird–she’s a ghost), large prints of the artwork, statues, and more!

Current Goal: $30000

Current Number of Backers: 660

Current Pledges: $18,033

Why they deserve your support: Because indie games! Because mysteries. Because ghosts. Because old school gothic aesthetics. Because gorgeous art and intriguing gameplay. Because haunting and awesome soundtracks. Because it combines the innate pleasure of puzzle games with the discovery of exploration games.

Did I donate: Still working on deciding a level, myself, but it’ll be at least $1, as usual.

 

The 15 in ’15 series concludes with this year’s exciting new genre literature!

[Note: It was most convenient to link to Amazon in this case, but please consider purchasing from your local bookstore.]

  1.  The Just City by Jo Walton (1/13) Time traveling Athena? Greek philosophy as spec fic? Yes, please.
  2. Get in Trouble by Kelly Link (2/3) Link is at the top of the Pantheon in American dark fantasy/magical realism.
  3. Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman (2/3) Gaiman only releases new collections every several years, so there are many reasons to be excited about his newest compilation.
  4. Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear (2/3) Old West steampunk from a Hugo-award winning storyteller.
  5. Shutter by Courtney Alameda (2/3) Debut horror with a promising premise–always worth a look.
  6. The Shadow Cabinet by Maureen Johnson  (2/10) I tried to avoid sequels as much as possible for this list but the Shades of London series is so good you should just go read it anyway. Besides, it’s Maureen Johnson.
  7. The Death House by Sarah Pinborough (2/26) Sounds thoroughly creepy.
  8. The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro (3/3) From the genius who brought us Never Let Me Go, his first novel in a decade.
  9. Harrison Squared by Daryl Gregory (3/24) Lovecraft meets family drama in this macabre tale of a boy searching for his mother.
  10. The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu (4/7) His debut novel! (If you haven’t read his stories, get to it.)
  11. The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor ( 5/5) Prequel to the amazing Who Fears Death, a story of another powerful woman making her way through an unforgiving world.
  12. Uprooted by Naomi Novik (5/19) From the brilliant author of the Temeraire series, a different take on dragons and sacrifices.
  13. The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi (5/26) Bacigalupi returns to a climate change ravaged future to explore a new dimension of our diminishing resources–the men who protect water supplies in desert cities.
  14. Time Salvager by Wesley Chu (7/7) A compelling new take on time travel and environmental issues.
  15. Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente (8/26) From the author of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, a reimagining of film and Hollywood in an alternate universe.

 

What books are you looking forward to in 2015?