I will sometimes, in the course of reading a book or watching a movie, demand that the story explain itself. Not that the thing that I’m questioning really affects the plot, just that the idiosyncrasy of it will have pulled me out of my immersion in the world. The Boyfriend likes to remind me of the time I verbally chided a Harry Potter movie because ‘water doesn’t work that way’.
“They have wands,” he said. “They’re doing magic and you’re worried about the water?”
“I can’t speak to the magic,” I said, “but the world of Harry Potter is grounded in our world and outside of magic the physics should still apply and water does not work that way!” At which point I probably threw up my hands and decided to forget about the whole thing. I don’t remember the exact conversation, but that was the gist of it.
The point is that I freely admit that I have very little logical reasoning for the things that do bother me and the things I let slide. It basically depends on what kind of story is being told and how I’m feeling that day. Pulp scifi I almost never question, because from my standing point in the future it appears to be as tongue and cheek as old comics stories and it appears that it’s meant to be that way. Scope and breadth of imagination are the things that I find most important in those stories. Fantasy is next, depending on what kind of world it’s set in. The Xanth novels are entirely ridiculous, so most of that passes by unnoticed, but urban fantasy might get a few eyebrow raises from me if some part of the ‘real world’ is broken without reason.
The whole point of this is so you’ll understand that last night, while watching Alien for the first time, I spent the whole movie going:
“Why is there a cat?”
“Does the cat get frozen too?”
“How do we know that cats need to be frozen the same way as people?”
“If the cat doesn’t get frozen, what does it eat for six months while everyone is asleep?”
“OH CHRIST, YOU’RE GOING TO DIE IN SPACE, JUST LEAVE THE FUCKING CAT BEHIND. YOU CAN LITERALLY GET TEN MORE FOR FREE OFF THE STREET WHEN YOU GET HOME.”
There was also some girly shrieking and throat clutching and falling over, because seriously, giant killer face eating alien, but that was what most of my commentary was about. And I realize it’s a little silly that I so freely accept the conceit of deep space travel and mining and evil freaking robots and then draw the line at the cat.
I think I focus on these things because I’m still trying to figure out where some of my more grand notions really need to go. I think that the Big Damn Existential Scifi Novel, for instance, should be realistic. I want it to be realistic so that when the alien consciousnesses start flying it feels like they could be an extension of our world. Volunteer Vampires, on the other hand, should be as tongue in cheek as the name suggests, but I’m having a hard time allowing myself to do that. Strangely, it’s not the science-built-vampire portion of that scenario that’s holding me back, either. I feel stuck. I want to write science fiction like the science fiction I admire, both pulp and more realistic, but I don’t think I’m capable of it right now. I would settle for writing science fiction like the science fiction I enjoy, if only I could get past the nagging questions. It’s probably a good thing overall that I want to hold myself to the same standard I hold everything else to, but it can be frustrating.
The thing is, last night while I was peppering the movie with questions I felt more prepared and able to write my silly vampire in space story than I have been in a while. I felt like I might even be able to get over myself and just enjoy writing in some of the elements of the genre, as silly as I sometimes find them. It’s getting to ask those questions that so often makes me love science fiction as a genre at the end of the day.
I really enjoyed, Alien, by the way. A lot more than I thought I would, considering I hadn’t ever planned to actually watch it. The set is amazing and intricate and tight. A friend of mine pointed out to me some time ago that H.R. Giger did a lot of the design on it, and I can see that. So much of it holds up to time really well. The computers are probably the things that aged the worst, but I find that charming. I especially love that they make noise when they’re running calculations, as if they were merely flashy boxes around a tape calculator. I kind of wish my laptop would make that noise.
Heck, now that I’m thinking about it, I wish my laptop would sound like a mechanical typewriter when I was using the word processor. I wonder if there’s an app for that.
May 7, 2012 at 11:44 am
Oh, god, the cat. I fucking love that cat. Okay, so, here’s the thing: the cat is a humanizing element. Ripley is our POV character — we’re expected to root for her and freak out with her and sympathize with her. But we don’t really know that much about her, other than that she’s badass, and women aren’t allowed to be badass unless they’re protecting something small and defenseless, like a baby or a goddamn cat. This is why, in Harry Potter, Mrs. Weasley gets to kill Bellatrix — but only in defense of her daughter. The audience goes wild! And I’m sitting there facepalming over the motherfucking cliche of it all, because this is old news, an old trope: the mama bear, the idea that women’s violence is only acceptable in this context.
And you know, I love Alien, and I love Aliens, which you should also watch if you haven’t seen it yet, but as groundbreaking as they were in certain ways, they had to temper their subversion with more traditional constructs.
I also freely admit that I was more invested in the cat’s survival than Ripley’s, but I’m an asshole who really likes cats.
May 7, 2012 at 12:51 pm
Haha, it’s okay! You have to counter balance all of us assholes who DON’T like cats. Because I’m positive that if it had been a dog I’d have been way more sympathetic about her risking her life for it. 😉
I think that while I was watching the movie I understood that the cat was meant to be humanizing, but I have the privilege of not needing that in, because I live in the future and the world is more appreciative of badass ladies in our entertainment. Or, at least, I like to think we are. Some of the comments about Black Widow have made me side-eye a lot of the internet this week. And I was actually really surprised that it was all the white guys who bit it first. I did not expect it to be Ripley, Parker, and the other chick in the end. I mean, I wanted it to be Ripley and Parker, because they were the smartest ones on the ship, but I don’t always get what I want.
I haven’t seen Aliens either! I’ll have to see if I have time to watch it. I mostly watched Alien because I have to watch Alien 3 for the podcast and John was concerned that that movie would somehow ruin the integrity of Alien for me if I saw it first. I don’t know why though, since I don’t really care about spoilers ever. But I’m glad I watched this one and will probably get the second one eventually, even if it’s not before 3.
May 7, 2012 at 1:12 pm
Oh, God, Alien 3. So many mixed feelings. Watch Aliens instead, lol.
May 7, 2012 at 1:20 pm
Haha, I can’t watch it instead, because I need to watch Alien 3 for an upcoming episode of the podcast. That’s really the whole reason I went ahead and watched the first one. But now almost everyone I know is telling me to watch Aliens, so I may just break down and do it.
May 7, 2012 at 1:12 pm
I have to agree that the cat is humanizing – not just of Ripley, though, but of the whole cast, because with a crew that small it’s the ship’s cat. I also think it makes the point that, to our heroes, this is not a dangerous mission. This is, basically, Tuesday. (Not saying too much so I won’t spoil our hostess, but there’s no ship’s cat in Aliens.)